Purple Heart


Cover illustration by PimpArtist: https://www.deviantart.com/thepimpartist

© 2019 Snekguy. All rights reserved.

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

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Disclaimer: This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only. The story contains the following themes: femdom, reluctant, dubcon, size difference, kissing, oral, blowjob, biting, scratching, rough, light bondage, romance, leg locking, bathing, teasing, orgasm denial, large breasts, chubby, muscle, sweat, creampie, hair pulling, massage, vaginal, long tongue.

CHAPTER 1: KRUGER

Incoming charge!”

Moralez raised his XMR over the trench wall, resting the bipod in the wet, black mud. He peered through the thermal scope, his finger poised over the trigger as he waited for the telltale heat signature of a Bug to flare in the sight. The UNN troops to his left and right did the same. They were all clad in the same black, ceramic body armor, many with the opaque visors on their helmets down. They scanned the haze, peering between the broken, shattered trees that littered no man's land.

He picked out the glow of an energy shield, a line of blue ovals coming at them through the mist. He began to fire, and the sound of automatic rifles exploded around him, plasma bolts and tungsten slugs plowing through the air and impacting the shield wall that was advancing rapidly towards them.

Now that they were in range, the Bugs began to sprint, closing ground rapidly across the blasted field of cratered mud. They were bipedal insectoids with four arms, one of which held a plasma shield aloft while the other three wielded pistols and cruel, serrated knives designed to butcher. At about five feet tall they appeared small at a glance, but that was misleading. Their bodies were encased in rigid chitin, reflecting what light made it through the cloud layer above, shining in iridescent hues that might have made them look beautiful under different circumstances. Ornate, beetle-like horns protruded from their heads, no two of them exactly alike. Or were those their helmets? It was impossible to tell where the exoskeleton ended, and the armor began. Their green eyes, or maybe visors, glowed through the mist as they rushed towards the entrenched unit. Where the hell were they coming from? They emerged from the fog seemingly at random, disappearing without a trace when their work was done. All that the defenders could do was dig in and wait for the assaults to come. It was nerve-wracking.

He squeezed the trigger, his slugs melting on contact with the energy barriers in sprays of orange sparks as they drew closer. Damn it, they had to concentrate their fire, only plasma would overload those shields and bring them down long enough for the railgun rounds to penetrate.

Concentrate fire,” he ordered through his helmet mouthpiece, his voice crackling with static. “Overload those shields with plasma!”

Moralez cursed, fumbling with his belt, trying to free the plasma receiver for his XMR so that he could swap out the railgun attachment. The XMR series, or the X-Species Modular Rifle, was a weapons platform designed for versatility. It could be used by any humanoid species of the Coalition in the fight against the Betelgeusians, known to allied soldiers as Bugs, roaches or critters. The weapon's receiver could be replaced on the fly, accommodating either a magnetic railgun or a plasma caster.

Moralez's hands were shaking as he unclipped the plasma receiver from his belt, releasing the catch on the XMR frame and sliding off the railgun, but it was too late. The Bugs were too close now. He dropped the whole apparatus, cursing under his breath as he unholstered his pistol. The M1911 would do just fine at point blank range, but the Bugs were notoriously deadly in close quarters, known to cut soldiers to ribbons in a flurry of knives and mandibles.

The Betelgeusians reached the lip of the trench, raising their ornate knives and screeching a battle cry. A good number had been felled but not enough to turn the assault. Moralez braced himself, raising his sidearm, but then he paused as a black shadow passed over him. The Bugs were thrown to the ground, scattered by several dark shapes that leapt over the trench, emerging from the mist like ghosts. They drove what looked like massive spears into the aliens and ripped them apart with their bare hands. They hissed and growled like demons, their long, furry tails waving in the air.

Borealan auxiliaries, saving the day as usual. Moralez vaulted up and over the trench wall, firing his pistol into the Bugs, now in disarray as they attempted to engage the eight-foot-tall Borealans in hand to hand combat. The larger aliens impaled them with their long-barreled, bayoneted XMRs, using the huge rifles more as pikes than guns. They split open chitinous carapaces, stabbing and dismembering, ichor and bodily fluids spraying in an orgy of technicolor viscera.

One of the Bugs came at Moralez from the left, its four limbs swirling in a whirlwind of ceramic blades. He spun to face it and fired from the hip, emptying his sidearm into it, the creature spraying yellow ichor as it warbled and collapsed to the wet earth. The other UNN soldiers were rising from the trench now, climbing over the wall and firing into the mass of colorful insects, their handheld shields counting for little in the melee.

Moralez released the catch on his pistol, dropping the empty magazine and slamming home a fresh one, firing into the melee as a Betelgeusian was impaled through the chest by one of the massive Borealan bayonets a short distance away. It raised the screeching creature into the air with the strength of the thrust, the cat-like alien snarling, baring its sharp teeth as it fired the rifle with the blade still embedded inside the Bug. The insect exploded in a shower of gore, pieces of nondescript viscera and shell fragments raining to the ground. The Borealan dove back into the fray, shrugging off a pistol shot from a panicked Bug that barely slowed it.

The enemy had been routed and began to withdraw, the arthropods covering one another as they made their retreat back towards the fog. It was not out of fear, but rather strategy, as Moralez doubted whether they even had the capacity to be afraid. The Borealans gave chase, pouncing on them and tearing into them with their hooked claws, loosing carefully placed shots from their massive weapons into the backs of fleeing Betelgeusians. The human Marines formed a firing line, cutting down as many as they could before they vanished back into the haze.

They stood over the bodies of the dead Bugs and a few unlucky humans who had fallen victim to their knives, covered in the sticky mud, the barrels of their weapons glowing orange as they cooled.

The pack of Borealans returned to where the humans were standing, draping their rifles over their backs on straps. They were tall and heavily muscled, their black body armor doing little to hide their impressive figures. Orange tails and fluffy, round ears protruded from their combat armor conspicuously as they loped over the scarred terrain on their digitigrade legs.

One of the larger males walked over to Moralez and removed his helmet, orange hair falling about his shoulders in a lion’s mane.

Lieutenant Moralez? My name is Zuga, I am Alpha of Lambda Company. We have been sent to reinforce your position.” The alien spoke with a rolling accent that almost sounded Russian, but it was understandable enough. He saluted, and Moralez returned the gesture, motioning for him to be at ease.

Good job you guys showed up when you did, I’ve never been happy to see a Mad Cat before today.”

Zuga huffed appreciatively, then turned to bark orders to his pack in their harsh, native tongue. It sounded like a cat fight, all hissing and spitting.

These Bugs are becoming more brazen, Lieutenant,” the feline continued. “Holding the trenches may not be possible next time. I have new orders from fleet command.”

The alien retrieved a small data card from a pouch on his belt and held it out in his massive, furry hand. Moralez took it, careful to avoid the wicked claws that tipped each of his sausage-like fingers, inserting it into a slot on his helmet. He lowered his visor, and the green HUD flared to life, detecting the storage device and playing the video briefing automatically.

It was Admiral Doherty, leader of the defense forces on Kruger III. The video seemed to have been recorded on an orbiting carrier, Moralez could see stars beyond the window behind him, along with other fleet vessels hanging lazily in space. The Admiral leaned over a console, speaking into a camera.

Lieutenant Moralez, as you well know, the defense of Kruger against the Betelgeusian forces is not going well. Since assaulting Kruger III, the only habitable planet in the system, they have become heavily entrenched. They are somehow able to avoid detection and have so far withstood orbital bombardment. The means by which they were able to move across the planet undetected and with such speed are no longer a mystery. Our intelligence suggests that the Betelgeusians have dug tunnels below the surface of the planet and are using them to move troops and supplies.”

Damn it, crafty buggers. They could be moving under their feet at this very moment. The thought raised the hair on his arms.

It is unknown whether this previously unseen behavior is a new battle strategy, or if they have begun colonization of the planet in earnest, but that doesn't matter right now. Your new orders are to abandon your current position, that line is no longer defensible. Instead, you are to investigate what we believe to be an entrance to the tunnel network near where you were stationed. The coordinates will be automatically uploaded to your onboard computer. It is paramount that you report back your findings. I have reinforced you with a Borealan pack, Lambda company is under your command now. Enter the tunnel network, record your findings and relay them to fleetcom.”

The video ended and Moralez ripped the data card from the slot in his helmet, throwing it angrily into the mud.

God damn it, I've lost two dozen men defending this fucking line, and now they want me to abandon it? If this order had come through two hours ago, I'd have ten more Marines at my back.”

Zuga waited patiently for him to calm down as the Lieutenant balled his fists and stamped the storage device into the wet mud with his boot. He took a moment to compose himself. This was not the first time that he had been given contradictory orders, or that the lives of his men had been spent needlessly.

Fuck it. Zuga, you're under my command now, orders of Admiral Doherty. Gather your men, I'm going to brief everyone.”

***

Moralez called over the two dozen men who remained under his command, and Zuga gathered his pack, the Borealans towering over the smaller humans as they milled about. Moralez relayed the Admiral's orders and their mission to the group, which were met with many angry exclamations from the human troops. He waved his hands, trying to calm them down.

I know it's bullshit, I know you've fought and bled to hold this position, but those are our orders. There's nothing I can do about it, they come straight from the top. Let's take this opportunity to hit the roaches where they live. Get some payback.”

A few of the soldiers perked up at that, and the outraged muttering mostly ceased. He ordered the men to collect what gear and supplies they needed, then beckoned to Zuga, who lumbered over obediently. The Borealans were massive and deadly, but they took orders well.

Zuga, I need your pack to spearhead the search party. You'll find the tunnel entrance before we do. Use your nose, it should reek of Bugs. We're probably going to meet resistance in there, and when we do, I want the Borealans at the front. Your people will fare better in close quarters than mine.”

Very well, Lieutenant. We will be ready on your command.”

***

They trudged through the mud, passing between the decrepit skeletons of dead trees, their XMRs shouldered as they scanned the gloom and mist for any sign of the enemy. Kruger III was a cursed hellscape, nobody in their right mind would want to live here. Even before the orbital bombardments had attempted to dislodge the Bugs it had been a wet, barren wasteland, punctuated by what scraggly plants could grow here. Let the Bugs have it, who the fuck cares. But obviously, someone cared enough to fight over it. It probably had some strategic value that someone poring over a star chart would recognize immediately. But ankle-deep in filth under the oppressive, grey sky, Moralez couldn't see the appeal.

There were many theories as to why the Betelgeusians did what they did. The foremost of which was that, as insects obviously operating based on some kind of communal hive society, they were always in need of new territory to house their ever-expanding numbers. Another popular speculation was that like many insect species on Earth, the Queens (if indeed Betelgeusians had them) would flee the planet of their birth to found new colonies. Being a spacefaring species, rather than flying over to the next garden, they would travel over interstellar distances.

Regardless of why they were doing it, the Bugs attacked systems all along the borders of Coalition space, seemingly indiscriminately. They never announced their invasions, demanded any kind of surrender or communicated in any way that their victims could understand. Their only goal seemed to be capturing and holding habitable planets, taking great care to fortify them when possible, if they were already inhabited by sapient species or not.

Moralez had been a soldier in the UNN before Earth had joined the Coalition, and he had been fighting the Bugs since day one. He didn't consider them to be an especially dangerous adversary on an individual basis, but their sheer numbers and persistence could wear down even the most experienced and battle-hardened units. It was nice to see Borealans and Krell filling out the ranks and taking some of the strain off the human soldiers.

Over here!”

One of the Borealan scouts was aiming his rifle at the ground, circling warily. The group ran over to him, weapons raised, and the thick fog parted to reveal a wide hole in the mud. Moralez inched over carefully, aiming his XMR down the hole and peering through the infrared scope. After a moment he lowered his gun and stepped back.

No Bugs, at least not here. It doesn't go straight down, there's a curve to it.”

One of his soldiers looked over the lip of the tunnel entrance, his face pale.

What do we do L.T?”

We have our orders, Private. Borealans go in first, we follow them down.”

They don't pay us enough for this bullshit, L.T.”

Suck it up. The sooner we get it done, the sooner we can leave. Lambda pack, move in.”

The Borealans approached the hole and jumped down dutifully, disappearing one by one into the dark opening. Moralez waiting for shouts or gunfire, but none came. Were these entrances completely undefended? Why wouldn’t the Bugs have fortified them?

Clear!” he heard one of the aliens yell from below. He exchanged a resigned glance with the soldier next to him, then slung his XMR over his chest and jumped down the hole.

***

Moralez landed in slippery mud, skidding down the curving floor of the passage before coming to a stop in an almost level tunnel a few meters below the surface. He rose to his feet, brushing himself off, then hefted his XMR and flicked on the flashlight attachment. The white beam illuminated the pack of Borealans who were waiting obediently in the tunnel, their yellow eyes reflecting the light. The subterranean passage was tall and rounded, tall enough for a Borealan to stand erect. Why was it so tall? Bugs were roughly four to five feet tall, were they using these secret warrens to transport vehicles? He knew that Bugs used spaceships, but he had never seen a Bug tank or a troop carrier before. Besides, a tank wouldn't fit in here...

He stepped out of the way as the rest of the Marines slid down into the hole, cursing and stumbling as more crashed into them from behind. Soon the whole platoon was inside the dank tunnel, at least what was left of them. Moralez shielded his eyes against the flashlight beams as they waved them around, examining their new surroundings.

God damn it, keep those beams on the tunnel,” Moralez complained as he shielded his eyes. “Form up and follow Lambda. Don't fire at anything unless I give the order, you'll cut each other to pieces down here.”

Zuga raised his bayoneted rifle, seeming to abandon the idea of firing it at this range, wielding it instead like a spear as they advanced down the tunnel. The humans followed them, their boots squelching in the wet mud, moisture dripping down on them from the ceiling.

How had the Bugs hollowed these tunnels out so quickly? They hadn't been entrenched on Kruger III for more than six weeks, and it would have taken human engineers with mining equipment months to dig tunnels like this. One of the Marines sidled up beside him nervously.

I got a bad feeling about this, L.T.”

Yeah, you and me both. Eyes forward, kid. Zuga, you smell anything?”

The Borealan shook his head.

Just Bug smell, nothing close.”

What do they expect us to find down here?” the Marine continued, “what if we don't find anything to report?”

I'm sure we'll find something,” Moralez replied, playing his flashlight beam over the uneven dirt walls as they walked. “And I bet it won't be anything good...”

***

After a few minutes of walking, they came to a junction, the two tunnels splitting off in different directions. One was angled slightly downwards, but besides that, there was nothing to set them apart. The Borealans stopped, waiting for orders.

No markings, no signposts, nothing?” Moralez examined the wall between the two tunnels, expecting to find some kind of Betelgeusian text indicating which path to take, but the wall was bare. He ran his gloved hand over the surface, finding that the soil was sealed in with some kind of hard, transparent resin. He stepped back, appraising the two routes. “What can you tell me Zuga?”

Smell is worse down there,” the great alien gestured with a clawed finger, pointing at the tunnel to their right that sloped gently downwards.

Figures they'd go deeper to avoid the orbital bombardment. Well, this was never going to be a picnic. Lead the way, Zuga.”

They marched down the tunnel, the sounds of their footsteps in the damp earth echoing along the passageway. Moralez sincerely hoped that it was just mud and soil, though he didn't smell anything foul, just damp and dirt. It smelled like a grave. The ground had not been sealed with that strange resin like the walls and ceiling had, perhaps it was structural in nature and prevented cave-ins. They went deeper and deeper underground, the slant of the tunnel staying consistent as it led them towards some unknown destination. It was bizarre. There was no visual information, no indication of where they might be going, no lighting. How did the Bugs navigate this network? They halted as they came to another fork. This time three tunnels branched off in different directions, curving out of view. Things were getting dangerous. The place was a maze, could they find their way out again if they got lost down here?

Zuga..?”

The alien sniffed the air, walking between the tunnels, considering as the Marines behind them shuffled and muttered nervously.

Smell is stronger here.”

He pointed at yet another downward curving passage.

Then I guess that's where we're going.” Moralez jogged further ahead until he was beside Zuga at the front of the pack. “Zuga, what exactly is it that you smell? Can you tell me?”

The Borealan considered for a moment, then gave a tentative reply.

Definitely Bugs, but the smell is...stronger...richer. Somehow more complex than just Bug scent. It is hard to describe.”

Do you think it could be pheromones? Is that how the Bugs communicate, how they navigate these tunnels?”

You may be right,” the alien replied. “The stronger smell seems to outline a path. Towards what, I cannot say.”

They must have traveled a good thousand meters before they reached another fork in the passageway, three more tunnels branching off in random directions.

L.T, this is FUBAR. We're gonna get lost,” someone shouted from the back of the formation, and his complaint was met with a chorus of affirmations and curses. Moralez turned, squinting through the flashlight beams.

Listen, I don't want to be here any more than you do, but these orders come straight from the Admiral. If you have a problem with those orders, then you can take it up with him when he court-martials you for desertion.” That shut most of them up, and he turned back to Zuga who had his nose to the earth like a bloodhound, crouching in the tunnel and sifting the dirt between his fingers. “Zuga, report.”

I...don't understand what I smell. The path up to here was clear, but now the smells change, they are...more subtle. Perhaps as you say, these are pheromone trails, and I cannot interpret the information that they convey. It is as if the directions are written in the smell, but I cannot read the language.”

Well that's just great,” Moralez muttered under his breath, trying to figure out their next course of action. What the fuck were they supposed to do now? The logical course of action was to split up, but if they did that, how would they ever find each other again? If they split into three teams then there would be enough Borealans for each team to have at least three, and perhaps they could smell their way back out, but it was risky. Fuck it, this whole operation was risky.

Okay, here's what we're gonna do,” he announced. The grumbling of the Marines subsided as they waited for his instructions. “We’ll split up into three groups, each group gets three Borealans. Zuga, you're with me. Gutierrez, Briggs, you're in charge of your teams. If nobody finds anything, we meet back at this junction in two hours. If one of the groups finds something and doesn't come back, the other two groups take their tunnel and go find them.”

Ain't you never seen Scooby Doo, L.T?” someone near the back shouted. There was a chorus of laughter.

Enough lip, let's get it done.”

The group of humans and Borealans split into three teams, and each proceeded down one of the tunnels. Moralez checked his helmet comms, but they were blocked by the dirt that surrounded them, they wouldn't penetrate the walls. Even if they did, who knew how long that would have lasted as the tunnels wound and snaked away from each other into the depths of the planet.

***

The tunnel seemed to go on forever, and as Moralez checked the digital watch on the screen that was mounted to his wrist, he realized they had been walking for forty minutes. They would need to turn back pretty soon in order to return to the junction on time. He shook his head, frustrated.

What the hell is this, Zuga? We've seen no Bugs, no vehicles, no storage areas. None of these tunnels even seem to go anywhere. Just what are they doing down here?”

I cannot guess, but I do know that we cannot return with no information. We must find something, anything.”

He stopped abruptly, and Moralez almost walked into him, the handful of Marines that were following behind him bumping into one another. Zuga was looking down, and Moralez edged around him to follow his gaze. There was a hole in the middle of the passage, the same circumference as the tunnel, angled directly down. Moralez leaned over the side and shone his flashlight into the opening, it looked like some kind of well, he couldn't see a curve or a bottom.

Well, this is different...”

Do we go down?” Zuga asked hesitantly, his three Borealan packmates exchanging worried glances.

How? We don't have climbing gear, I can't even see a bottom.”

A Borealan could make it, we could climb using our claws.”

Moralez thought for a moment, then shook his head.

This is too risky, we need to turn back and meet up with the other teams. Maybe they've found something of more use to us than a hole in the ground.”

When they eventually arrived back at the junction, one team was waiting for them, and one was not. Briggs greeted Moralez, a worried expression on his face as his companions milled about nearby. The three Borealans who had accompanied him quickly returned to their Alpha’s side, as dutiful as ever.

You guys are a little late, I was starting to get worried, Briggs muttered. “You find anything?”

Nah,” Moralez shook his head. “Where's Gutierrez?”

Briggs looked down the center tunnel, concern furrowing his brow. Moralez sighed, popping off his helmet for a moment and running his fingers through his dark hair.

Give 'em fifteen more minutes. If they're not back by then, we go after them.”

***

The quarter hour passed with no sign of the third team, and so the remaining troops grouped up, with the seven Borealans leading the way. As they advanced, the passage became steadily steeper, angling downwards until the humans had to dig their heels into the soil to avoid slipping. The going was slow, and it was at least five hundred meters before the floor of the tunnel leveled out again. The surface of Kruger III was wet and windy, like a cold, rainy day on some godforsaken Scottish island. But as they made progress deeper below the ground, it was becoming warmer, and uncomfortably humid.

Wait...” Zuga raised his balled fist, indicating for them to stop. The Marines raised their weapons, taking a battle stance as Moralez inched forward to stand beside the Borealan.

What is it?”

I smell blood, yours and ours,” he whispered.

Moralez signaled to the troops to be cautious, and they advanced slowly, their XMRs trained on the tunnel that curved out of view before them. As they rounded the corner, a battle scene came into view. Moralez had to cover his mouth with his hand to save from gagging at the grisly sight. Half a dozen humans and one Borealan had been completely eviscerated. Their limbs and viscera were scattered around the tunnel, splashes of blood drying on the walls and ceiling. It was impossible to tell what parts belonged to which body.

What the fuck did this?” Moralez wondered aloud. “Some kind of mining machine? I've seen people killed by Bugs, they don't break people apart like that.”

What the fuck, L.T?” One of the privates was freaking out, staring wide-eyed at the mangled bodies.

Keep it together,” Moralez barked, “we'll figure this out.”

Zuga walked over to the dead Borealan, crouching beside it to examine the wounds more closely.

Whatever did this must be a machine of some kind, I have never seen wounds like this. It takes a lot to kill Borealans without destroying the vital organs.”

Moralez shook his head, a sick feeling rising in his gut.

This can't have happened long ago, and where’s the rest of their team? Stay alert, we move on.”

There was no point checking for vitals, these soldiers were clearly beyond help. Medicine in the 2600s could do wonders, but bringing the dead back to life was not one of them. They stepped over the corpses, careful to avoid the still wet innards that had been spilled on the tunnel floor. Having every man walk over the bodies of his comrades wasn't good for morale, not in the slightest, but there was only one way forward. He heard the splatter of vomit behind him as one of the privates was overcome by the scene and doubled over.

This tunnel was winding, unlike the others which had been mostly straight, and every turn was a nerve-wracking blind spot behind which unnamed horrors could be lurking just out of view. The slant was still noticeably downhill, drawing them ever deeper into the bowels of Kruger III.

The smell is strong here, Bugs passed through recently,” Zuga commented as he sniffed the air with his pink nose.

Odd, had the gruesome spectacle they had just passed actually been a victory? Had the Bugs been driven back and pursued down the tunnel? If only the damned helmet radios worked down here, they might have been able to come to their aid sooner. They followed the tunnel for what must have been almost a mile. The odd smell was even apparent to the humans now, and the heat was starting to get to them. They couldn't be deep enough inside the planet to be warmed by magma, that would be absurd, it must be the Bugs' doing. Moralez remembered what he had been taught in school about ant colonies, how the tiny insects could build ventilation shafts in order to cool or warm areas of the hive as they wished, bringing in moisture and fresh air below the surface. Was that what this was? A Betelgeusian colony? The thought made him anxious, and he thought it best to keep it to himself.

How long are we gonna keep looking for them L.T? We're gonna get fucking lost!”

More complaints from within the column of troops. They were becoming agitated, afraid, and perhaps they were right to be. Moralez was increasingly aware that he had no plan, he didn't really know what he was doing. He had thought that he could rely on the Borealans to take on anything that they encountered in these narrow passages, but seeing that dead Borealan had rattled him. The only ways in which he had seen a Mad Cat die before today was being totally obliterated by anti-vehicle weaponry or an extremely well-placed vital shot.

Shut the fuck up, Smith,” Briggs scolded. “If that was you down there, you'd want us to come after you, so suck it up. We're not leaving anyone down here.”

What if they took them?” another private asked, a tremor in his voice. “It doesn't add up, why are half of them missing?”

This was becoming dangerous, some of the less experienced Marines might desert if he didn't rally them. He turned, illuminated by their flashlight beams.

Listen up, we have two jobs to do here!” His commanding voice echoed through the tunnel, and the soldiers fixed their opaque visors on him. Despite their current situation, he had led them straight before today, and the men respected him. They had been through a lot together on Kruger, and that shared experience counted more than any rank or badge. “We have to find out what the fuck this is, then we have to bring our men back. I don't care what the odds are, I'm not leaving a single one of you down here to rot. If you're gonna die, it's gonna be on your feet with your friends at your side, not alone in these tunnels. When we've cleared this shithole out, we're going to send teams back down here to recover those bodies and send them home. Is that clear?”

There was a chorus of affirmations, some more enthusiastic than others, but peer pressure was a wonderful tool. The detractors would stay in line as long as they faced the ire of their comrades. He waved them forward, and the column moved along.

The Borealans had remained silent throughout all of this, their loyalty was unwavering. It was kind of creepy, they didn't seem to care that one of their own had been butchered, they just marched on without a complaint.

His thought was interrupted by Zuga motioning for them to stop as they came to a blind corner. Moralez gave the hand signal for his men to take a knee and crept forward to stand beside the alien.

What is it, Zuga?” he whispered.

Something new, I don't know the smell. Advance with caution.”

The Borealans crouched low and moved forward slowly, Moralez following after them, switching off his light and using his infrared scope to peek around the passage wall. Through the red-tinted sight, he saw a warm blob a short distance down the tunnel. He couldn't make out details, but whatever it was, it wasn't shaped like a Betelgeusian. Some local wildlife that had found its way into the underground network perhaps? He glanced at Zuga, who was wrinkling his feline nose.

What is it, Zuga?” he asked. “What do you smell?”

Bugs and...death,” Zuga replied ominously.

Take up firing positions, I'm gonna get a light on that thing.”

They bunched up, aiming their long rifles down the passage in the pitch darkness. Moralez stood behind them, ready to turn on his flashlight attachment and illuminate whatever it was.

On my mark. Three, two, one...”

He flicked the switch, casting a beam of white light down the tunnel.

The thing was big, and it was hunched over, its four arms moving out of sight as its round body cast a shadow on the walls. It looked like a Bug, its blue-green, shiny carapace reflecting in the light with a jewel-like sheen. Decorative horns protruded from what must have been its head, rising into view over its back. It chittered softly, then rose from its stooped position and turned to face them.

It was fucking huge! As tall as a Borealan but wider and heavier, its green eyes glowing at them through the darkness and its serrated mandibles flexing. As it turned to face them, Moralez saw what it was eating. It dropped the partially dissected body of a human soldier, just a torso and an arm, which fell heavily to the ground with the limp slap of dead flesh. The damned thing was almost as wide as the tunnel. This was why they had built them with such a large circumference, so that these things might pass through them. It took a step forward on massive, armored legs that were as thick as tree trunks, shaking the ground beneath their feet. It extended its four arms, snapping giant lobster claws that were stained with drying, crimson blood.

Fire! Fire!”

The Borealans opened up, their massive, long-barreled XMRs deafening in the confines of the passageway. The kick rammed the weapons into their shoulders with a force that would shatter human bone. The tungsten slugs slammed into the thing, penetrating its shiny shell with spurts of orange ichor, but it didn't slow the beast. On the contrary, it accelerated, charging down the tunnel towards them. It was built like a goddamned cargo lifter, and those Borealan rifles were the most powerful weapons they had at their disposal. If those hadn't felled it, what would?

The Borealans changed their stance, raising their bayonets in order to skewer the thing, and Moralez rushed back around the corner into the column of troops to get out of the way of the melee that would surely ensue. Most of them hadn’t gotten a look at the thing yet, but they had heard the gunfire.

The Borealans drove their bayonets into the advancing beast like medieval pikes as it came into view of the column, the vicious blades sinking deep into its meat, but still it did not fall. It slammed into the line with the force of a charging rhino, knocking the massive aliens aside like bowling pins. It drove straight through them, picking one of them up in its four claws along the way and crushing him against the wall behind them. They heard the crunch of breaking bone and the crack of what might have been the clear resin shattering. The wall held, it was remarkably well enforced, and the yowling of a Borealan in pain flooded the tunnel.

The members of Lambda who were still standing jabbed at the monster with their bayonets, trying to free their comrade as the creature pinned him against the wall, laying into him with its mandibles and claws. It was futile, even their long blades would not penetrate deep enough to do any serious damage. By God, it was dissecting him alive. Moralez engaged the combat audio filter in his helmet, trying to block out the screams as the thing disemboweled the Borealan with the mechanical efficiency of a compassionless insect.

The Marines didn't know what to do, and Moralez had no orders for them. They couldn't engage that thing in melee, and they couldn't fire on it without tearing Lambda apart in the process.

Zuga, pull your pack back! We need to concentrate fire on that fucking thing! Zuga!”

The alien was in a fugue, hacking desperately at the monster, hackles raised as he tried to free his subordinate. The trapped auxiliary was still struggling against his assailant as its mandibles carved up his...

Moralez looked away, even for a career soldier this was intolerable. Zuga wasn't listening to him, and if Moralez didn't pull his men back, they would run of their own volition. Borealans had a reputation as being invincible and seeing one carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey wouldn't do their morale any good. Should he tell them to ready grenades? That might take it down, but in this confined space it would kill them along with their enemy. On top of that, the tunnel could cave in, trapping them down here.

Pull back, pull back! Form a staggered firing line and don't shoot until I give the order!”

The tunnel was just wide enough for a handful of Marines to stand shoulder to shoulder, and one line kneeled while the other aimed over their heads, readying their XMRs. They didn't have a clear shot. If the Borealans didn't follow his orders and move out of the way, then he would have no other choice but to order the men to fire through them.

A chill flooded Moralez's veins, the familiar, calm resignation of combat. He gave one last order to Zuga before telling his Marines to open up.

Zuga! Pull your pack back right now, or I'm shooting through you!”

With a glare over his shoulder and what sounded like a curse, Zuga and his men hopped backwards, retreating back down the tunnel the way that the creature had come and out of their line of fire. Moralez gave the order, and his men loosed a volley from their rifles. The hypersonic slugs peppered the thing, spraying orange fluid as they penetrated the carapace, and it dropped the dismembered Borealan to turn towards the humans.

From behind it, Lambda fired another salvo, but it shrugged off the rounds and marched towards the Marines. Its savage mandibles clicked and twitched, like the bladed legs of a crab, still dripping with dark blood.

Just fucking die!” Moralez shouted, his voice lost amongst the sounds of gunfire. The thing marched through the hail of projectiles as if it were merely rain, viscous ichor leaking from its innumerable wounds. It wasn't going down, but it was slowing. It was covered in armor, even its relatively tiny head was covered in thick plating. It could have been its natural carapace, maybe synthetic armor, it was impossible to tell.

Fall back!” Moralez ordered, using the mic in his helmet rather than attempting to yell over the racket. “Keep firing!” The column moved backwards as the thing staggered towards them, but those at the back were holding them up. The passage was just too narrow for the two dozen men to maneuver. The giant Bug reached the firing line as the soldiers scrambled to get away, laying into them with its claws and tearing the men apart. Limbs flew, and guts were spilled as the cries of fear and pain echoed morbidly through the tunnel.

Keep firing!”

One Marine emptied his XMR from the hip, spraying wildly at point blank range as the heat made the coils on his rifle glow red. The thing shrugged off a spray of slugs that would have sheared a man in half, silencing his scream with a heavy blow to the head from one of its massive, armored claws. Those at the rear of the formation were running away back up the tunnel, their morale broken. If they didn't stop this monster in the next thirty seconds, it was all over.

Moralez steeled himself and strode forward, firing carefully placed shots at its head, but it just would not drop. The shots were penetrating, at the muzzle velocity of a railgun, how could they not? Yet it wasn't enough to put the thing down. The Borealans came at it from behind, leaping onto its back and stabbing it with their bayonets, but they didn't penetrate far enough into its thick shell.

The tunnel was a brawl now, unit cohesion was a long forgotten memory. The Borealans clambered over the thing, trying to find a weak spot with their spear-like rifles. Injured and dying soldiers littered the ground, the giant Bug thrashing its arms and clawing at its assailants, trampling and screeching. Moralez unholstered his 1911, his XMR too unwieldy to use at this range, but would the .45 even penetrate its armored carapace? He didn't have the time to find out, he caught a massive crab claw to the side and was sent tumbling several meters down the tunnel, coming to a rest near where the first Borealan had been pinned and butchered.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, wincing as he wrapped an arm around his side. His body armor seemed to have absorbed the worst of the impact, leaving his ribs badly bruised instead of shattered. As he looked back up the passage, he saw one of the dying Marines lying at the feet of the monstrosity, fumbling with something on his vest with his one remaining hand.

It was his grenade belt. He coughed foamy blood, gagging what must have been one last curse before he pulled the pin.

No! Zuga, get back-”

The blast wave of the belt exploding threw Moralez onto his back, the combat audio filter in his helmet the only thing saving his eardrums from popping like cherries. He felt dirt and shrapnel impact his armor like buckshot. There was a great, rumbling cascade as the roof of the tunnel caved in, burying what remained of Lambda pack and the trashing Bug in a pile of rocks and dirt that sealed off his side of the passage. He was plunged into darkness, the rebreather in his helmet switching on automatically as dust surrounded him.

He scrambled to his feet, dazed, waiting for the smoke to clear. The pain from his ribs seared through his mind as he slapped the flashlight on his XMR, trying to get the damned thing to turn back on. The night vision filter on his visor wouldn’t work without at least some kind of light source, and his only alternative was exploring these eerie passages with the thermal imaging mode. To his relief, it flared to life, and he aimed it through the swirling haze at the pile of earth that now blocked off his escape route. The roof had collapsed completely, any Borealans or remaining Marines were either buried under it, or trapped on the other side. Panic clouded his mind as he realized that he might be alone.

No, there was movement. He stumbled towards the heap of soil and stones, dropping his XMR to let it hang from its strap and trying to dig out the shuddering figure. After a moment it sprang to life, pushing out of the dirt and shaking itself like a wet dog. It was a Borealan, female, she seemed to have no serious injuries as she stood and appraised the blockage.

Are you okay?” Moralez asked, looking her up and down. She must have been thrown by the blast just as he had been, shielded by the giant Bug perhaps? Her black UNN armor was scarred by debris, but it didn't look as if anything had penetrated.

My ears are ringing...what happened?”

Of course, the Borealan's ears protruded from the tops of their helmets unless they fastened the protective caps, her hearing might be impaired for a while. She seemed to be able to understand him, however.

Someone set off a grenade belt and collapsed the tunnel. We're stuck on this side.”

She pulled off her helmet and shook her head, her orange mane spilling down her shoulders. She glared at him with her amber eyes, reflecting the flashlight beam eerily in the gloom as his weapon swung on its strap. He reached down and picked up his rifle, angling the beam down the tunnel. It looked clear. Sound didn't carry well in this winding network of warrens, there was a chance the battle had gone completely unnoticed. The creature would surely have released some kind of stress pheromones, however. Who knew how far those would travel if the tunnels were ventilated, as he suspected they were.

What the hell was that thing?” he asked the stranger. “You ever seen anything like that before?”

The Borealan didn't reply, turning to appraise the cave-in. She pulled a few rocks away experimentally, sifting through the soil, but soon abandoned the attempt. They'd never remove the blockage on their own.

Only one way to go,” Moralez mused, flashing his torch at her. “You coming or not?”

Very well,” she hissed. She sounded pissed off, aggressive, but why shouldn't she be? Her whole pack had just been wiped out, and they were cut off from the survivors. They made their way down the tunnel, passing the ruined body of the Borealan who had been pinned. She stepped over him, oddly disgusted, almost angered by the sight. There was no pity or regret in her expression.

Moralez tested his radio, static hissing through the speakers. No matter, he hadn't expected much. The only path to take now was further into this nightmare, and deeper into the maze of tunnels.

CHAPTER 2: M.I.A

Moralez' feet were beginning to hurt, they had been walking for so long, with no sign of any other survivors or any more Bugs. These winding tunnels went on for miles, and they were hopelessly lost. The tension was constant, it was impossible to tell if or when another one of those giant Bugs might appear. If it did, then they would not be able to stop it this time. The heat was getting to him too, the deeper they went, the more hot and humid it became. It had to be intentional, this was a hive, he was sure of that now. That thing they had fought, it must have been some kind of combat variant. Were the Betelgeusian soldiers that they had been fighting all this time just drones? Did they have to become established on a planet and build a hive like this before they could grow these warriors?

The information was crucial to the war effort. If an army of those things came pouring out of the ground, the UNN would be completely overrun, and no amount of Borealans or Krell would save them. He had to get back to the UNN line, but how?

He glanced over at the Borealan. She was walking beside him with her long, loping strides, her orange tail trailing behind her. Perhaps she would be able to smell their way out? Or at the very least, help them avoid the passages where the pheromones were the strongest.

Hey, what's your name?” She didn't reply, keeping her eyes on the tunnel ahead of them. Still surly. Well tough shit, he outranked her, and they were in a combat zone. “Hey, I'm talking to you. What's your name, soldier?”

She shot him a sideways look and gave a reluctant reply.

Aziote.”

Alright, Azi, what do you smell? Anything that can help us?” She seemed annoyed by his abbreviation of her name, but she sniffed the air experimentally.

Nothing, it all smells like Bug.”

Zuga said that he could smell what might be pheromone trails, that they were stronger leading deeper into the hive. Smell anything like that?”

She shook her head dismissively.

Well keep a...nose out for it. It might be the only sense of direction that we have down here. Oh, and take this.”

He unholstered his pistol and handed it to her grip-first. She took it in her large, clawed hand and weighed it experimentally. It was comically small to her, her finger barely fit through the trigger guard. She sneered, baring her pointed teeth as she examined the M1911.

What is this?” she spat, “a chemical weapon?”

That's a 1911, that design is over seven hundred years old, still in production. Not exactly top of the line, but I never leave home without it. Those .45 rounds will still kill a Betelgeusian in a pinch.” She held it between her fingers like a toy, examining it with a disgusted expression on her face. “Take it,” he insisted. “You lost your XMR in the cave-in. Better to have an old weapon than nothing.”

She sighed and reluctantly shoved the pistol down her utility belt.

As they rounded the next turn, they came to a fork, two paths that looked identical. Moralez waited for Azi to sniff the air, then she gestured towards one of them.

This smells less of Bug,” she said. Moralez walked over to the second tunnel, then licked his finger, holding it in the air for a moment. “What are you doing?”

Hold on,” he replied, concentration etched on his face. “There's airflow here, coming towards us down this passage.”

What is that supposed to mean?” She crossed her arms, watching him skeptically.

Well, I have a theory. There are species of insect on Earth that build hives underground, and they're capable of making vents that cycle air through the tunnels. They can bring fresh air deep into the colony, control humidity and temperature, you name it. I think the Betelgeusians can do the same, and if I'm right, then this air is entering from somewhere we might be able to exit through.”

But it smells strongly of Bug down there,” she repeated as she gestured towards the first tunnel. “This one smells better, we go this way.”

Moralez frowned at her.

Excuse me? I outrank you, soldier. You'll follow my orders. We go this way.”

The Borealan bristled, her flat brow furrowing and her lips curling to reveal pointed teeth.

You are not fit to lead, my pack is dead because of you. We go this way.” She punctuated her command with a violent gesture, pointing her black, curved claw down the tunnel.

Listen here you insubordinate fuck.” Moralez aimed his XMR at her, and she seemed surprised by his response. She backed up a little, eyeing the railgun barrel that was pointed at her chest. “Get your lanky ass in that tunnel, or the only thing waiting for you when we climb out of that air vent will be a military prison.”

She seemed to consider for a moment, weighing her options maybe? He kept the gun trained on her, and eventually, she fell in line and made her way past him down the ventilated passage. He elected to follow a short distance behind her, keeping the rifle in a ready position as he used the flashlight attachment to light their way in the darkness. Borealans could be fast, and if Azi decided to turn on him, he'd need to be faster. As if they didn't have enough problems to worry about already besides fighting each other.

They walked for another half hour or so. Although Moralez could definitely feel the gentle flow of fresh air on his face now, the heat and humidity were still stifling. His boots were filling with sweat, and it was becoming uncomfortable. Azi paused for a moment, removing sections of her black body armor and dropping them to the tunnel floor. First her shoulder plates, her breastplate, then she pulled her thick leather undershirt over her head to expose her torso. She was certainly in shape. Bunches of toned muscle lined her shoulders and back, her biceps protruding as she raised her arms. Moralez' eyes were drawn to the deep channel that ran all the way down her spine. He could see her Venusian dimples peeking out over her low-hanging belt. She looked remarkably human for what she was. Beads of sweat rolled down her subtly tanned skin, glistening in the light of his torch. She wore some kind of tube top or maybe a sports bra to protect her modesty, but that was it.

He noticed that the orange fur that covered her hands, with its faded tiger stripes, ended at her elbows to make it look as if she was wearing fuzzy gloves. Her hands and forearms were adorned with a thin coat of cat-like hair, while her biceps and shoulders were smooth like the skin of a human. There was no fur anywhere else on her torso either. He glanced down at her feet, noting that they too were furred and wondering how far up her legs it extended. The only other places that it was present were on her tail, and of course the hair on her head.

Don't you need that?” he asked, gesturing towards her discarded gear. She turned to face him, her belly just as muscled as her back, with a six pack so defined that his beam cast shadows on it.

The air is stifling, it matters little. If we encounter another large Bug, it will not protect me.”

True enough...let's keep moving.”

***

He must have been right, the tunnel was starting to slant upwards. It was barely noticeable, but they had to be on the right track now. Azi's observation worried him, however. If they encountered a group of drones, they would be able to deal with them, assuming that they didn't have energy shields. Another warrior was a different matter entirely, and although he suspected that they could be outrun, in the process of escaping they would surely become even more hopelessly lost than they already were.

He fumbled for his canteen, at least it would recharge quickly in this horrible humidity, its system drawing in moisture from the surrounding air automatically. He raised it to his lips and took a draw, careful to keep one eye on Azi. They had been walking all day and probably all night too, it was impossible to tell underground. He checked the watch on his wrist display. They had indeed been down here for about eighteen hours now, he was becoming tired. But where could they rest in this maze of tunnels? Wherever they slept, they ran the risk of a Betelgeusian patrol stumbling over them. There had to be storage areas down here somewhere, or would those be deeper inside? No, it didn't make sense for the Bugs to have to travel all the way back down into the network to resupply. Logically, such caches must be placed along the tunnels that led to exits, like the one they were surely in right now.

Keep an eye out for side tunnels,” he said. “If I'm right, then there must be storage rooms around here somewhere.”

Azi didn't reply. Even she was struggling, her skin was shiny with perspiration, and her top was soaked. Moralez jogged a little to walk beside her, careful to keep his weapon pointed in her general direction, and offered her his canteen.

You look like you could use it.”

She didn't respond, simply staring straight ahead as she marched. Moralez became annoyed and decided to confront her.

What's with the attitude, soldier? I didn't kill your pack, the Bugs did. Wasn't my idea to come down here either, those were the Admiral's orders.”

Her eye twitched, he was getting under her skin. All the better. He didn't have much hands-on experience with these aliens, but he knew how to control his troops. She'd fold like any of them if he put enough pressure on her.

Well? Out with it. I asked you a question.”

She growled, a low, primal rumbling that reverberated in Moralez' bones. Was that some kind of threat display? Just who did this alien think she was?

You think I won't hit you upside the head with the butt of my rifle? I don't have time for this, you're only making things worse for us. I outrank you, so either fall in line and do as I tell you or I'm going to make you. Now drink, or you'll become dehydrated, and I'm not about to drag you out of here.”

She balled her fists, her orange, furry tail flicking back and forth in irritation. He waited for her to argue, but instead, she snatched the canteen from his outstretched hand. She took a drink, glaring at him with her amber eyes, then handed it back.

That's more like it,” he added. “I don't care if you don't like me, just do your goddamned job, and we won't have any problems.”

***

They walked in silence for a while longer, this tunnel seemed endless, and there had been no forks for a long time. Moralez was used to staying awake and often being in combat for longer than twenty-four hours at a time, but something about the temperature was just killing him. Azi fared no better. Her fuzzy, orange hair was limp and damp with sweat now, her top stained almost transparent. Suddenly she stopped, sniffing the air.

Moralez took a knee and shouldered his XMR, illuminating the tunnel warily, ready to fire on any approaching enemies.

What it is?”

She continued to sniff, moving over to the passage wall, following some kind of scent. She placed her hand against the resin wall and hesitated, then put her furry ear to the surface.

Something in here...smells different. I think the wall is hollow.”

Moralez rose to his feet and slung his weapon over his shoulder on its strap, placing his hands against the warm, smooth resin. It must be a storage space, they had to be here. There would be some kind of switch, a pressure plate maybe? How would an insect that mostly communicates through pheromones open a sealed door? They ran their hands over the surface, but they couldn't find any obvious electronics. Moralez traced his fingertips along the firmly packed soil where he expected the door frame to be, and recoiled as they met something wet and spongy.

What is it?” Azi walked over to him, leaning down to his level to examine the wall. There was a gelatinous mass protruding from the damp soil through a convenient hole in the resin, mucous green in color, embedded in the wall. Azi prodded it with her claw, and it wobbled like jello. Was it alive? With his gloved hand, Moralez gripped it and pulled, the slippery material deforming under his fingers. He unearthed more of it, but it was stuck fast, half a dozen little tendrils disappearing deeper into the soil.

Some kind of native mold?” he mused. He released the mass, and it rebounded as if it were made of elastic, settling slowly back into its original position.

It cannot be a coincidence that we found a hidden door and this odd thing in the same place,” Azi replied, scratching her chin with her hooked claw as she considered. “They must be linked somehow.”

Moralez snapped his fingers, startling Azi. Had she never seen that gesture before?

A bio-sensor! It has to be. This is the door control. Bio-sensors respond to environmental stimuli in order to serve a function, like detecting minerals or gasses.”

Okay, but what does this one respond to?”

I don't know. Consider what we've learned about how Betelgeusians communicate, pheromones and scents, we've not even seen evidence of writing so far. What if this door opens to a smell command, the same way that a human door might open to a voice command? The Bug stands here,” he moved in front of the door, standing with his legs spaced apart. “Then it releases a scent, perhaps some specific pheromone or a pattern of smells. Zuga said that the pheromone trail was complex, like a written language, he just didn't know how to read it. When the sensor picks up the scent, the door opens.”

That doesn't help us open the door,” Azi grumbled, “we cannot make such smells.”

Let's have a think about this,” he said, standing with his arms crossed in front of the gelatinous door control as it pulsed gently. “What if it's coded to only open when it senses a Betelgeusian? If we traveled back down the tunnel, maybe we could drag back one of the bodies, and-”

He jumped out of his skin as Azi slammed her leg into the door, the metal beneath the soil ringing like a bell.

What the hell are you-”

She kicked it again, driving her foot into the surface with her massive, powerful leg.

What if you set off some kind of alarm-”

She wasn't listening. The alien pounded the door relentlessly, and to Moralez' amazement, it began to dent inward. The dirt that had been somehow glued to the surface to conceal it was sloughing off under her assault, revealing the silver metal beneath.

Idiot! If you break the door down, they're gonna know we were here! I order you-”

The door fell to the ground with a heavy clang that reverberated through the passage. The gelatinous blob started going crazy, flexing and twisting as if it were in pain. Moralez had no idea what to do. Azi was out of control, she wouldn't follow his orders. Summary execution was out of the question, he needed her. If he came across a Bug patrol on his own, he wouldn't be able to fight them off. He cursed and knelt for a moment to draw a combat knife from his boot, stabbing the gelatinous blob with the blade. It wobbled and bubbled, leaking yellow pus, then went still.

Damn it Azi, what's the point of hiding in a side room if you make it obvious that we're here?” He wiped off the blade on his sleeve, then stepped over the dented door and into a small, dingy room. It was roughly circular, with a domed roof, all made from the same sculpted soil as the tunnels. There were crates in here, odd, vaguely rectangular boxes a dull brown in color that looked like they were made from some kind of poured resin. There were no light fixtures of any kind, they were probably labeled by scent just like everything else in this godforsaken maze.

Azi sniffed the air in the room tentatively.

No Bugs in here, not for a long time. It will be safe.”

Yeah, unless a patrol comes down that fucking tunnel and sees the busted door.”

She hooked her fingers under the metal plate and hefted it back up, leaning it against the door frame so that it more or less blocked off the room. Moralez shot her a sarcastic glance.

D.I.Y expert over here. Remind me never to let you remodel my house.” He doubted that she understood any of his veiled insults, but she huffed dismissively, turning to examine the crates. She kicked one experimentally.

Don't break those too!” Moralez added. “For God's sake, they could be full of sewage or chemical weapons for all you know.”

She ignored him, bringing her massive, paw-like foot down heavily on one of the boxes. It shattered like brittle plastic, disgorging dozens of Betelgeusian handheld pistols and what must have been wrist-mounted energy shield projectors onto the floor. She picked up one of the devices and thumbed the switch, a blue oval of plasma flaring to life, blinding Moralez in the gloom. She waved it back and forth, smirking at him as his eyes adjusted to the glow. She pulled his 1911 handgun from her belt and tossed it unceremoniously at his feet.

You can have this back.”

He stooped to pick it up, brushing dirt off the receiver and scowling at her as she appraised one of the Bug weapons. He walked over to the pile and picked up a shield projector for himself, might as well take one, but he didn't care for the Bug guns. His handgun had served him well up to now, and he wasn't about to start doubting the .45. He strapped the strange device to his wrist and switched it on, the blue, translucent shield wavering and fizzing as it took form. Much like the weapons that the aliens favored, the shield made use of magnetically-contained plasma, molded into the desired shape by the electromagnetic fields. It wouldn’t actually stop a bullet or a knife, but it would more than likely melt the metal before it made contact with the user. He collapsed it again and holstered his pistol.

A wave of fatigue suddenly overcame him, and he sat down on one of the crates, the relief on his feet and legs was immediate. It was still uncomfortably hot, but he could deal with that. Now that they were out of immediate danger he could think, try to puzzle their situation out, come up with a real plan that didn't involve them just walking until they dropped. He removed his armor plating, his helmet, and his backpack, stripping down to his uniform. Instead of throwing them to the floor as Azi had done, he stacked them on the crate beside him. He stretched his arms above his head, yawning. His body was a patchwork of scars and burns, mementos of old battles standing out prominently on his tanned skin. Azi seemed drawn to them, watching him as he ran his fingers through his sodden hair. He noticed her looking and pointed to one of his scars, a large, discolored burn that looked like a splash of paint across his chest.

That one almost took me out. Plasma grenade burned straight through my armor, almost down to the bone.”

She didn't reply, merely watching him, her head cocked like a curious dog. The silence became awkward, and he turned away, frustrated. Maybe it was futile to try to bond with her, he still wasn't sure if she genuinely blamed him for the death of her pack or if she was simply an ill-tempered bitch. Either way, it had to stop. Their cooperation was crucial to their survival, and he outranked her. No point bringing it up now though, he was too tired to argue.

He rummaged through his pack, retrieving a tightly-rolled sleeping bag, and lay it on the floor beside the wall. Might as well get some shuteye while they had the time. He pulled some nutrient bars from a pocket on the side of the pack and unwrapped one, chewing the dense ration. He unzipped the bag and climbed into it as Azi watched, perched on one of the intact crates. She didn't have a pack, and he assumed no sleeping bag or rations. Maybe the aliens could go a while without eating, or maybe she was just careless. He wasn't about to share with her after she had snubbed his previous gestures.

He finished the nutrient bar and settled in. It tasted pretty foul, but there were about three thousand calories packed into it, along with all the vitamins and minerals that his body would need on short notice. As he began to drift off to sleep, he was startled awake by the sound of another crate shattering. He rose to a sitting position, his heart racing, seeing Azi rummaging through the contents.

What are you doing? We need to sleep while we can.”

She ignored him, picking up a strange package wrapped in some manner of brown paper, smelling it and turning it over in her hands. She peeled the paper away, revealing some kind of black substance that looked like road tar. She licked it, then dropped it, spitting and grumbling to herself. She eyed his pack, then turned to him, her arms crossed.

Give me your food.”

Moralez laughed at her, doubling over as the effort sent a flare of pain through his ribs, still bruised from the warrior Bug's claw bash.

Excuse me, soldier?” He made sure it sounded condescending, trying to goad her into reacting. She bristled and bared her pointed teeth.

You have food, give some to me.”

That was the last straw. He unzipped the sleeping bag and rose to his feet. It wouldn't be intimidating to such a large alien, but it was a force of habit, this would not be the first time that he had been forced to talk down a disgruntled subordinate. Her insubordination and lack of respect were unprecedented, however, had this alien even completed her military training?

Let's get one thing straight, Mad Cat, I outrank you. That means you do what I say, when I say it. That isn't a suggestion, it isn't optional, I'm not asking you politely. Either you get your shit together and follow orders, or I'm gonna exercise my right under section ninety-four of the military justice code to summarily execute you for mutiny. We're still on mission, and this mission is under my command, we have to assume that nobody else made it back to the surface and that we're the only ones alive who can warn the Admiralty about the hive and the warriors. I'm not going to let your petty bullshit get in the way of that.”

He unholstered his handgun and pointed it at her chest, fast enough to surprise her, he noted. That might be useful to keep in mind later on.

So what's it gonna be? Are you going to follow orders or am I going to have to put you down?”

Azi was seething with barely contained anger. Her claws were outstretched aggressively, and her pupils were dilated into large, dark circles. She might be strong and fast, but she wasn't faster than a bullet...was she?

Moralez reached into the pocket of his pants with his free hand and tossed her the remaining nutrient bar, a gesture of goodwill. It landed at her feet, and she stared at it, a furious expression on her face. He got the feeling that this wasn't about the food at all, something deeper was going on here. Her eyes rose to meet his, and she spat a curse in her native tongue.

You are not fit to be Alpha, you are weak, you made bad decisions.”

Alpha?” he repeated, confused. “What the hell are you talking about? What does that mean?”

He saw the glint in her yellow eyes too late, the contraction of her muscles. As if in slow motion, he watched her duck and charge, propelling herself forward on her spring-loaded legs. He squeezed the trigger, the 1911 recoiling, expelling a bronze bullet casing with a swirl of smoke. The projectile blew past her hair, the only sign of its passage a ruffling of her orange mane in its wake, and she was upon him before he could ready another shot. She slammed her open palm into his chest, knocking all the breath out of him. He collapsed to the floor, heaving as he tried to suck air into his empty lungs. She stepped on his wrist until he released the handgun, then kicked it away across the dirt. She gave him a moment to recover, and he rose to his hands and knees, coughing. Azi crouched, and lowered one of her massive hands to grip a fistful of his hair, Moralez wincing in pain as she pulled his head up and snarled into his ear.

You can't even defend yourself, you miserable ape. I am Alpha now, we do what I say.”

I'll have you...court-marshaled,” he spat, still catching his breath. “You're going against the wall for this, I'll...make sure of it.”

You aren't in a position to make sure of anything, and when I'm done with you, you won't want to.”

Talk sense you goddamned fleabag,” he growled. She tugged his hair in response, and he gritted his teeth.

Keep fighting me, see where it gets you.”

There was an odd look on her face now, her eyes playing over his body. Was that hunger? Did Borealans eat humans? She flung him backwards and released his hair, slamming him against the wall, and he sank onto his sleeping bag in a heap. She stood at full height, leering down at him, and her pink tongue left her mouth to wet her lips. Fuck, she really was about to eat him. He was defenseless, except for...but he'd have to be fast. Provoke her, wait for her to get close, then strike.

He began to laugh, sputtering as his burning lungs worked overtime. Azi cocked her head, not understanding his reaction.

You call that a punch? Felt like a light breeze.”

She balled her fists again and leaned closer, angry for sure. But there was something else, a longing in her stare that set him on edge.

Oh, I can do worse,” she whispered in a mocking tone.

Why don't you say that to my face?”

She crouched and leaned closer, her pink nose an inch from his. He could feel her hot breath on his skin. His hand inched slowly towards the knife in his boot as he maintained eye contact, trying to keep her focused on him.

I can make you beg, first for the pain to stop, then for it to continue...”

He drew his knife, the blade angled downwards, and drove it towards her neck with all of his strength. She was faster than him. Her reaction times, her reflexes, the firing of her powerful muscles. There was no way that he could have taken her by surprise. She caught his wrist in her large hand, a trickle of red blood staining her orange fur. The tip of the blade had found its mark, but it had only penetrated one or two millimeters. The tightness of her grip became unbearable, and he released his hold on the knife.

She touched a fingertip to the small cut, rubbing the crimson fluid between the fleshy pads on her thumb and index finger, biting her lip.

You've stung me, little insect, and now I'm going to crush you.”

He swung a punch at her with his free hand, but she dodged it easily, shackling his arms in her steely grip. She slammed him to the floor, pinning him under her weight on the sleeping bag, then her oddly dexterous tail snaked over her back and bound his wrists above his head like a sinewy rope. He struggled against the appendage, but it was all muscle, he was completely overcome. For all his training and experience, he was powerless, immobilized before this massive alien.

She straddled him, her face reddening as she wet her lips again, tracing the contours of his body with her amber eyes. She was predatory, but Moralez felt less and less like she intended to eat him. What was her plan?

I love it when you fight me, there wouldn't be any sport in it otherwise.”

She traced his exposed chest with her wicked, hooked claws, drawing red welts in his skin. He shivered and writhed as they burned into him, the pain awakening his senses, amplifying them. He was suddenly aware of the pressure that her firm, steely thighs were applying around his waist, the heat and moisture that penetrated his clothing. He looked up at her burning cheeks and realized that she was aroused, she was burning up. What did she intend to do to him?

So fragile, so weak, so easy...”

She raked her other hand across his belly, breaking the skin slightly, leaving three scratches that welled almost imperceptibly with blood. He bucked and grunted, his body trying to save itself with futile, primal struggling. His hands were bound too tightly by her tail, and even with leverage he wouldn't have been able to lift her, it felt like an elephant was sitting on him.

In my culture, we scar people who don't know their place, it serves as a memory. Your flesh is so yielding, I could carve you up like meat. Some part of me wants to spill your guts, to watch the blood drain from you.” She closed her eyes and rolled her head back, grinding her wide, heavy hips into his groin. “But then the fun would be over too quickly.”

She leaned over him, tugging at his hair with her long fingers to pull his head aside, and pressed her fat lips against his carotid artery. His blood ran cold, and he tensed as he felt her sharp teeth dig into his skin, his racing heart making the vein pulse against her sharp incisors. Her breath was warm and sweet, and he shuddered as her long, feline tongue grazed his tender flesh to taste his sweat and his fear. He felt her chuckle as he trembled under her touch, her black, meat-hook claws tracing the line of his clavicle. She moved down to the nape of his neck, mouthing and kissing as she went, then bit his shoulder. He felt her teeth pierce his skin, burning pain flaring through his nervous system, forcing a cry from his lips that he tried desperately to stifle. Her bite force was incredible, she was locked onto him like a vice. Yet even through the pain, he could feel that she was holding back. This was nothing to her, a love bite, a hickey.

She withdrew, leaving a ring of swollen, sore tooth marks that seeped a slow trickle of blood. She dragged her rough tongue across the wounds, savoring his metallic taste as he groaned. She smacked her lips in an exaggerated display, making sure that he was watching as her agile tongue snaked forth to catch a stray droplet from her chin.

You taste so good, sweet, like syrup. Blood is an aphrodisiac to us, you know. The warmth, the texture, the aroma of a defeated enemy. It excites me.”

She ground her groin into him again, and with a pang of shame, he realized he was semi-hard. She noticed his expression and laughed at him as she rolled her hips.

Humans get the picture, eventually. This is the way of things, you'll learn how to submit to your betters.”

Fuck you,” Moralez spat, putting on his best stoic face. She giggled, an oddly feminine sound coming from such a large, heavily muscled creature.

That's the idea, L.T.” She leaned closer, nuzzling his cheek with her nose. “I'm going to kiss you now, and if you bite, I'll put your eyes out. Understand?” She pinched his lower lip between her teeth and tugged, then released it, waiting for a reply. He elected to glare at her instead. If she had wanted to fuck, to relieve stress...even to enjoy what might well be their last night alive, she could have just asked. She had a handsome, sculpted body, he wouldn't have refused. But this didn't feel like it was about sex, it was about power, control. She was asserting herself over him, and she wanted him to know it.

She pressed her soft lips against his now, parting them to tease him with gentle, tentative strokes of her dexterous tongue. The sensation sent a pleasant chill down his spine, and he felt his erection rise to full prominence, throbbing as she eased her organ deeper. She became more confident and aggressive as her kiss dragged on, cradling his head in her large hands, almost loving as she probed his throat. Her tongue was impossibly long and thick, coiling like a snake, the feline barbs tickling the roof of his mouth. He tasted his blood on her breath as her saliva mixed with his own. She wasn't just kissing him, she was invading his head. She was violating him, muddling his beleaguered mind with her unexpected affection. Worse, she was good at it. Too good. He felt his hard member press against her crotch as his eyelids drooped of their own accord.

Just as he was beginning to relax and forget the pain that pulsed in his shoulder, she scoured his ribs with her claws, leaving stinging trails that jolted him from his trance. She muffled his surprised exclamation with her roving tongue, the slippery, meaty organ filling his mouth obscenely.

She waited for him to stop struggling, then released him with a wet pop, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and smirking at him as he panted.

You don't know what to feel, do you? Don't think. Let me think in your place, then do as I say. That's the point.”

She sat up straight, pulling her sports bra over her head. Her breasts resisted for a moment, straining against the fabric, then they fell free as she removed their support. They bounced gently as they settled, firm and pert despite their immense size and weight. They were larger than his head, full and inviting, his eyes drawn to them with an almost magnetic power. Her pink nipples were erect, and beads of her sweat dripped down her bronzed skin, the sheen reflecting the scattered light of the discarded torch. Moralez felt saliva pool in his mouth despite himself, and resisted the urge to swallow conspicuously for fear that it might betray his lust. She knew he was looking, she had intended it, and his eyes followed her hand as it moved slowly down her impressive body. She paused to knead her breast, her flesh filling her palm and spilling between her furry fingers like cookie dough. When she let go of it, the sumptuous globe sprang back to its original shape, her fat wobbling enticingly. She ran her fingers down her torso and over her flat stomach, her chiseled abdominal muscles bulging, a solitary vein breaking up the smoothness that peeked enticingly over her low-cut pants. She undid her belt, then gradually lowered the zipper on her fly, teasing him. She stood for a moment, stepping out of her trousers, Moralez' arms still firmly bound above his head by her long tail. She was wearing tight-fitting spats beneath, or maybe bike shorts. They clung to her figure, the fabric straining against the bulging muscles of her thighs and butt, the crotch sodden and discolored. She hooked her claws into the waistband and tugged them down, the elastic sliding over her smooth, tanned skin and struggling to pass over the exaggerated curves of her figure. As he had assumed, the fur on her feet did not extend all the way up her limbs. Much like on her arms, the downy coat ended at her knees, leaving her round thighs clean and flush.

She dropped the garment on the dirt floor, then lowered herself over him. This time her thick thighs closed around his head, her drooling loins hovering an inch above his face, so close that he could feel her heat on his cheeks. She crooned at him, peering down over the mounds of her breasts, and splayed her delicate lips with her fingers. She exposed her glistening, pink flesh to him, a solitary rope of her excitement dripping down onto his chin.

Serve your Alpha...”

He turned his face away. She snarled and gripped a handful of his hair, yanking him painfully back into position.

If you want to keep your tongue, use it, or I'll pluck it from your head.”

He extended it reluctantly, and she drove her hips down, forcing her groin into his face. He sputtered, her leaking juices flooding his mouth and staining his lips. She was burning up, feverish, her flesh was almost too hot to touch. She yanked his hair again, eliciting a pained gasp. She was so damned rough with him and yet he got the impression that she was holding back, careful not to seriously injure him, but enjoying his discomfort. He doubted whether she would follow through on her threats to maim him, but he couldn't be sure. Nothing about her personality was stable or reasonable, she was beyond control.

He swallowed his pride and licked obediently, lapping at her glistening sex as her thighs trembled with excitement around his head and her grip on his hair became tighter. He raked his tongue between her puffy labia, painting the folds of her vulva with his saliva, doting on her as if it might somehow calm her fury. She wouldn't keep still, grinding on him, twisting and thrusting as if it might heighten the sensation.

Deeper,” she growled through clenched teeth, pinching the engorged nipple on one of her fat breasts with her free hand. He did his best to oblige, pushing his tongue into her quivering tunnel. Her satin walls flexed and squeezed around him, sucking him deeper with their powerful contractions, slick with her oozing nectar. She tasted of salty sweat, sour metal, but also of an unmistakably sexual musk that ensnared his senses.

Her hand left her boob, creeping down to her mound, and she pulled back the hood of skin that protected her inflamed clitoris to expose the nub of engorged flesh.

Here, gently...”

He pressed his lips around it and drew it into his mouth, playing his tongue over the shiny surface, drawing shapes on it and circling it slowly. He felt her legs close painfully around him as she shuddered, arching her muscled back. Was he...into this? His member raged, straining against his underwear, throbbing so much that it bounced. It was so confusing, his mind roiling with conflict as he kissed and licked at her womanhood, feeling her pulse on his tongue. He didn't know what he wanted. Was it just his body that was responding to hers, or was it something deeper, more worrying?

Do you like the taste? Get used to it.”

He resisted the impulse to bite her, instead sucking harder, lashing the sensitive bud with his tongue. Her sticky, viscous honey seeped down his chin, clear strands of her excitement linking his face to her lips and making her thighs slide against his red cheeks. Her pace became more fervent, Azi rubbing herself on his face as if he were some kind of inanimate sex aid. It should have been disgusting. Her callous disregard for his need to breathe, her selfish humping, the undignified way in which she coated him in a glaze of her juices. But his member ached and burned, yearning for her cruel touch. It confused him, but the seething, conflicting emotions only added to the raw arousal that made his erection ache with need. He wanted to touch her bronze skin. He wanted to feel the way that the glistening beads of her fresh perspiration made his hands glide, to run his fingers over her firm muscles, tracing their perfectly sculpted contours. He wanted to take hold of those ample breasts as they hung tantalizingly above him, swinging and shaking with her every thrust, and maul them until his digits sank up to the knuckle in their yielding meat. But she kept him restrained, delighting in his frustration and discomfort.

This is all your kind is good for,” she sneered, squeezing his head between her tanned thighs. “You deserve to be beneath us.” He tried to respond, but she muffled him with her groin, chuckling as he struggled. “You're a slow learner. You can't fight me, submit.”

She pulled away a little, a sagging web of her clear emission linking her sex to his lips. She waited, excited, did she expect him to give in?

I'll die before I give you the satisfaction, you bitch.”

His resistance only seemed to arouse her further, and he felt her meaty thighs flex around his head as she gazed down at him, her eyelids drooping.

You just might...”

She rose off him suddenly, releasing his wrists from her flexible tail as she stood over him. Immediately he tried to stand, already preparing to swing at her. The reprieve was only temporary, however, and she struck him with the back of her hand to knock him back to the floor.

Oh, I'm not done with you, ape. Hands behind your back.”

He rubbed his rapidly bruising cheek, then launched himself at her, aiming to hit her in the gut. It was the only weak point that he could reach. But this time she didn't react. Too late he realized that she had allowed it, and he felt his fist crumple against her rock-hard abdominal muscles. She laughed at him as he cradled his hand, then closed her fist around his neck. Azi lifted him off the ground by the throat, slamming his back against the dirt wall of the storage room and pinning him, pressing her naked body up against his. Her breasts spilled around his chest, engulfing him like an amoeba trying to devour its prey, her skin as smooth as polished metal and feverishly warm. He clawed at her furry wrist with his fingers, kicking his feet in the air and gagging as she held him aloft, but it was futile. She moved her head in close, sucking his ear into her warm mouth and chewing it softly with her sharp teeth, the lurid sounds filling his head.

Hands behind your back,” she whispered, “or I'll choke you out.”

Darkness started to cloud his peripheral vision as her grip on his windpipe increased, and he stopped struggling, pushing his hands behind his back with some difficulty as he was trapped against the wall. He felt her tail snake up and tie them like a pair of fuzzy manacles, then she carried him over to one of the resin crates, sitting him on top of it. She released his neck, and he coughed, her fingers leaving red impressions in his skin. He glared up at her, swallowing, trying to soothe the soreness in his throat.

She fumbled with his belt buckle, it was too small for her large hands, then pulled his trousers down. She gripped the conspicuous bulge in his briefs, squeezing it rhythmically in her warm palm, laughing at him as he flinched and reddened. Why was his body responding this way?

You look so angry. If you relax, it will hurt less.”

She tugged his underwear down, and his erection bounced free, as swollen as he had ever seen it. She brushed the sensitive glans with her fingers, making him flinch. She gripped the shaft and stroked it up and down, firm and slow, her lips curling into a knowing smile as his eyelids fluttered.

For all your struggling, you're throbbing in my hand. Does it embarrass you? Does it turn you on, knowing that you're inferior to me?”

He turned his head away from her, cheeks burning, but she was impossible to ignore. Every flick of her wrist sent a fresh jolt of tingling pleasure through him, his body twitching and flexing outside of his control. He felt as if his brain wasn't even a factor anymore, his body was under her influence, betraying him to his captor. She straddled him, one foot on the floor and one knee resting on the crate by his hip, her silky thigh brushing his skin. She leaned over him, her breath ruffling his hair as she peered down at him due to their size difference. Her perky breasts were at eye level to him, and his member rubbed against her belly, the contours of her slick abs teasing him. She gripped it again and angled it towards her smooth, hairless mound.

We go at my pace. I don't care if you can handle it or not, just don't go soft on me.”

Wait, I...”

She eyed him curiously, pausing for a moment. It was the first time that he'd done anything besides insult her so far. She hovered over his shaft, her juices dribbling down in strands, matting his pubic hair and coating his throbbing organ.

Just...be more gentle...and I won't report this.”

She raised her hand to her lips to stifle a laugh, then rested it on his shoulder, irritating the still raw bite wound from earlier.

It's cute that you think you have a choice. You aren't going to tell anybody,” she crooned, her grip on his shoulder becoming stronger and her claws digging into his skin. “Because you'll either be dead, or you'll be begging me for more.”

He started to object, but she took a fistful of his hair and rammed her tongue down his throat, dizzying him with a crude, wanton kiss that made his knees go weak. She released him, whispering in his ear, her hot breath tickling him.

I can be gentle though, I can go slow, make it feel good for you. All you have to do...is beg.”

I won't beg,” he muttered, more petulant than he had intended it to sound.

Then suffer,” she whispered, gleeful as she touched the tip of his erection against her hot opening. She pressed down on him, his tender glans pressing up against her twitching entrance. There was a moment of resistance where he felt as if his shaft might bend under the pressure, and then he broke through into her tight passage. He gasped, the sensation almost unbearable as the folds and wrinkles of her insides grazed his length, her muscles spasming and contracting around him. She took him impossibly deep, engulfing him to the base in her burning, slimy grip as her excitement leaked down onto his thighs. She sighed contentedly as his glans hit what must have been the limit of her tunnel. It would have hurt a human woman, but she seemed to love it, starting to grind on him slowly. She was resting all of her weight on the resin crate now, her powerful thighs gripping his hips to keep him from squirming loose. She was so strong, her muscles were like iron, and he groaned under the strain as she squeezed him mercilessly. She started to bounce on top of him, her heavy breasts bumping against his face, her sweat-drenched skin sliding against his cheeks. Her weight was too much, the strength of her downward thrusts forcing him ever deeper inside her. He felt as if his pelvis might break under the impact of the blows.

Azi was unconcerned with his pained expression and his gasps of mingling pain and pleasure, using him selfishly, twisting and stirring him inside of her as she thrust violently. His lower body was going numb but the ceaseless stimulation drove bolts of aching pleasure into his tender erection, an ecstasy that bordered on pain washing over him as what felt like luxuriant silk soaked in warm honey roiled around his buried member. She was so tight, so powerful, her pelvic floor muscles were probably stronger than his biceps. She used them to wring him like a dishcloth, crushing his cock between her undulating walls, forcing harsh and inescapable pleasure to his core.

He rolled his head back, his eyelids fluttering. He was starting to doubt his resolve, he had never felt so thoroughly...fucked. She was relentless, indifferent. He glanced down to see her toned abs flexing and bulging as he watched his member slide in and out of her, lubricated by the thick nectar that spilled out around it. She breathed heavily over his head, her chest heaving, making her impressive breasts bounce in front of his face. She delved her fingers into his hair, her touch oddly delicate.

He had assumed that she was already fucking him in earnest, but now she went harder, letting gravity carry her down to slam their bodies together with an audible clap. The soft parts of her body rippled like the surface of a lake with each impact, her fat collecting beautifully on her bountiful chest, her thick thighs and her wonderfully springy ass. Sweat rained from her tanned skin, seeming to create a mist in the solitary beam of the discarded flashlight. The brown resin of the storage crate beneath his buttocks started to crack under the strain, she was putting too much weight on it. Her pounding was punctuated by grunts, primal and bestial, Moralez feeling a string of saliva fall into his hair.

He gritted his teeth against the sensations, trying to endure. It hurt, but it was a good pain, if there could be such a thing. A satisfying ache that seemed to scour an itch deep inside him, like taking sandpaper to a mosquito bite. He realized he was shivering, and a low whimper escaped his lips as she let her weight fall on him once more, impaling herself on his pulsing cock.

I bet nobody has ever heard you make that sound before,” she chuckled breathlessly, beads of perspiration rolling down her flushed skin. “I'm just getting started with you.” She bit his ear, drawing blood, and all he could do was buck into her as his wrists strained against his bonds.

You like this, don't you? I can smell it on you, in your sweat. I can feel your heartbeat inside me...”

Stop this,” he mumbled weakly. She licked her lips with her pink tongue and lowered her face to his neck, pinching his flesh in her sharp teeth. He groaned and writhed, trying to pull away, but his struggling only further stimulated her. He was buried so deep in her moist depths, he could feel every clench of her muscles, and she could feel every twitch and throb of his manhood in turn. She started to move again, and he shut his eyes against the sensation in a futile attempt to block her out.

Can you feel it welling inside you?” she gloated, pressing his face between her breasts and using her biceps to squeeze them around his red cheeks. They were so absurdly large, quickly engulfing his head and cascading over his shoulders in an avalanche of quivering flesh. He could feel their weight pressing down on him, oppressive and yet more enticing that he cared to admit. Despite his animosity towards her, she smelled so good, her taste irresistible to him. The feminine musk of her body drove him wild, and he could scarcely stop himself from raking his tongue across her burning, glass-smooth skin. “Your body has already submitted to me,” she continued, her voice muffled by her bosom. “Even if your mind hasn't. Know your place, say it.”

She tasted of sweat, and she smelled...wonderful, intoxicating. He wanted desperately to just let go, to lose himself in her inviting body and give in to her completely, but he steeled himself against the impulse. His face emerged from the depths of her cleavage like a breaching whale, glaring up at her with furious eyes.

Is that a no?”

She held his face between her hands and leaned down for another kiss, filling his mouth with her warm, slippery tongue and teasing out gasps of reluctant excitement. His whole body was quaking under her assault, his muscles shuddering involuntarily. He let loose a cry as she raked her claws down his spine, the sting contrasting sharply with her tender, almost loving embrace.

He would break, go insane, she was too much for him. She gripped him by the hair, starting to fuck him again. As her hot sheath milked him like a clenched fist, he felt his orgasm creeping up on him, the pressure building in his loins. He tried to hold it back, but she noticed the strain on his face, grinning as she bounced on top of him.

Flood me, do it. You can't help yourself.” His eyes became bleary and unfocused, his breathing ragged as she attempted to draw out his emission. She released his hands from her tail, sneering as they shot to her body, his fingers digging into her inviting flesh. He explored the curves of her muscular figure, kneading her heavy breasts and clawing desperately at her slick skin. In his throes of passion, all thought of resistance took a back seat to his mounting climax.

Now you show your true colors, just an animal in heat. Release your seed, ape.”

He exploded inside her as if by her command, spilling thick ropes of his ejaculate into her waiting tunnel, the sensation of the heavy wads splashing against her reaches making her shiver and croon appreciatively. His muscles burned as they forced his essence deep inside her, as if his body itself had given in, indifferent to the manner by which it procreated. His brain was like a vestigial organ, what shame he felt overridden by the aching pleasure that rolled over him in sore, crushing waves. It was so powerful, encompassing, as though Azi was plucking at his nerves like the strings of a harp with her sharp claws. Over and over he thrust into her, the cruel alien slowing her rocking and letting him do the work in her stead, amused and satisfied by the sight of his desperate rutting.

He lay back on the crate, the combined mess of their encounter sloughing from between her legs and sliding down her thighs. He covered his burning face with his hands, his chest heaving as he recovered from the orgasm, twitching gently as aftershocks rippled through his pelvic muscles.

Azi rubbed her mound with her fingers then brought them up to her face, examining the gooey, cloudy mixture of fluids as it drooped from her hand like glue. She smirked and reached down to wipe it on his cheek. He rubbed it off with the back of his hand, glaring at her.

Don't relax just yet, L.T. We're not done here.”

She wrapped her tail around his neck, tugging him to his feet as if it were a leash, and led him back over to the sleeping back. She dumped him unceremoniously, then climbed on top of him, forcing her tongue into his unwilling mouth again. He lay back, his guilty arousal overcoming his desire to fight her.

***

They walked down the tunnel, Moralez trailing a short distance behind Azi who had asserted herself as the leader of their two-man pack. He had understood at least that much from their heated encounter the previous night. His hips were sore, he was covered in bruises, bites, and scratches that stung and ached. He felt as if he had fought a tiger and lost. Well, wasn't that essentially true?

Azi led him down the passage towards where they assumed a vent would be, the air becoming fresher as they went. She had not forced him to return the way that they had come as he had feared, she seemed to have reconsidered her position on the vent at some time during the night, perhaps when it had become her choice to follow the now undeniable breeze.

In a way she was right, he wouldn't report her. He was too ashamed, both of how she had overpowered him, and of the way his body had responded to her assault. If his men were to find out, would they still respect him? Would they still follow the orders of a lieutenant who had been disgraced, and had on some level, enjoyed it? He had protested and he had fought, but she had made him come over and over, eventually resulting in a kind of exhausted compliance that she had taken to mean submission. He hadn't submitted to her, not really, at least that's what he kept repeating to himself as they marched.

It was odd, after the way she had treated him she had allowed him to rearm, as if the idea that he might seek retribution had not even crossed her mind. Was it a cultural quirk? She thought of herself as the leader now, did she assume that it was in his nature to obey her unquestioningly? Either way, it didn't matter, he wasn't going to get out of here alive if he shot the only person who could actually take on the Bugs in such close quarters and reliably win. She was carrying a wrist-mounted Bug shield and one of their odd, sculpted energy pistols. Moralez hefted his XMR, lighting their way with the torch attachment.

They rounded a final corner and saw a point of light in the distance. Moralez felt his weariness vanish as he realized that it was an exit to the surface, that was Kruger's yellow sunlight shining down through the hole. He had been right, they were in a ventilation tunnel, and freedom was within reach. As soon as they broke the surface, he could use his helmet radio to report their position and call in evac.

They hurried down the tunnel towards the circle of light, but Azi halted abruptly, holding out her arm and gesturing for him to stop. He shouldered his rifle and scanned the passage ahead of them.

What is it? Do you smell something?”

Quiet!” she snapped.

A hundred meters ahead of them, one of the tunnel walls cracked open. A hidden door of the same kind that had concealed the storeroom slid aside, and a whole squad of Betelgeusian drones filed out. They turned towards the exit, their backs to Moralez and Azi. They hadn't seen them yet, if they kept quiet, the Bugs might just leave. They were heavily armed, sporting shields, pistols, and their signature daggers. They must be preparing for a sortie to the surface.

The pair stood, frozen in place as the Bugs walked away from them. If a single one of them turned its head, they were finished. Moralez doubted that even a Borealan could take on a whole squad of Bugs in such a confined space and come out on top.

Moralez cursed his bad luck under his breath as one of the aliens turned casually, then started, staring for a moment with its compound eyes. Its mandibles waved erratically, and without it uttering so much as a sound, the whole formation turned to face Moralez and Azi. They ignited their blue energy shields and unholstered their weapons, knives drawn and pistols ready. Moralez closed his visor, taking a knee and starting to fire into the group. Azi launched herself forwards on her powerful legs, racing down the tunnel, covering the ground at a speed that shocked him. He managed to down one before its shield was up, but without the support of a fire team, he'd never get any shots through the phalanx that they formed. The drones were blocking off the tunnel, and with it their only escape route.

Azi waded into them, a blurred melee of claws, gunfire and plasma. She scattered the smaller insectoids, knocking them off their feet with her powerful strikes. Moralez muttered another curse and rose to his feet, slinging his XMR over his back and whipping out his 1911. He ignited the shield on his wrist, rushing towards the brawl. He couldn't fire on them without the risk of hitting Azi, not that she deserved such consideration.

The aliens were distracted by Azi, and so he fired around the shield, catching one of them in the back as it dodged her blows. It gurgled and stumbled, leaking yellow goo before falling to the floor. Azi had dispatched a couple of them with strikes from her hooked claws and point blank bursts from the energy weapon, but she was bleeding profusely from knife wounds as the aliens surrounded her, hacking and stabbing. It looked bad, but she wasn't going down, and Moralez had to remind himself of how resilient Borealans were. Two of the Bugs separated from the group and came towards him, Moralez blocking their green energy bolts with the shield, the plasma dissipating over the crackling surface. He returned fire, but his bullets melted, turning into showers of molten sparks as they hit the barriers. He didn't have enough ammo in his pistol for this kind of engagement, and he couldn't fire the XMR one-handed and keep his shield up. He wasn't like Azi, one good stab or well placed shot, and he'd be dead.

Fuck it, he'd have to get in close and personal. Wishing that he also had four arms, he holstered his .45 and crouched to draw his knife from his boot. He was trained as a marksman, this was downright medieval in comparison. He steeled himself, raising the dagger and crying a challenge. One of the Bugs unsheathed two curved blades from shaped recesses in its armored thighs, wielding them in its lower arms, the upper pair holding its shield and pistol. It met his challenge, charging towards him with its blades swirling. Their shields blurred together as he parried the attack, crackling and fizzing as their magnetic containment fields merged and twisted, warping as the Bug brought both knives towards his belly. He shoved it back, and it stumbled, temporarily out of range. He rushed forwards and drove his combat knife into its neck as it tried to bring its pistol up to fire at him, the sharp blade piercing the unarmored joint in its carapace. Despite being stabbed in the throat, it didn’t go down, and Moralez wondered if the things even had lungs to begin with. It was distracted by the injury, however, ichor leaking from the wound and from its insect-like mouthparts. Before it had a chance to reorient itself, he spun his knife in his hand so that the blade was facing downwards, driving it into the creature’s compound eye like a pick. The glowing lens shattered as if it were made of glass and Moralez felt his blade sink into something soft, the drone’s mandibles twitching as it lurched backwards and abandoned its attack, clutching at its face.

The second Bug charged him, ducking under his shield blow and slicing at his chest. The ornate dagger dug into his armored plating, leaving a deep gash that didn't quite penetrate the Kevlar vest beneath. Those things were fucking sharp! He hopped back, taking a defensive stance and raising his shield. His opponent circled, its posture low and aggressive, its four arms constantly in motion so as to keep him guessing where the next attack might come from. It flicked its pistol under its shield, aiming low, but he parried the shot with his crackling energy barrier and took the opportunity to advance on it. It blocked him with its shield, and again the magnetically contained plasma fused, molding between the two opposing fields. Thinking fast, Moralez discarded his knife, whipping out his handgun and forcing the solid object through the two barriers. Bullets would melt, plasma would be dispersed, but objects could be pushed past the energy field. He gritted his teeth against the pain as the boiling plasma began to melt his glove, searing the skin beneath. He smelled his own flesh cooking as he pulled the trigger, the metal beneath his fingers blistering them. His opponent collapsed into a lifeless heap as ichor dripped from the exit wound in the center of its sternum.

He looked over to Azi as he cradled his blistered hand. In the time that it had taken him to kill two, she had almost finished off the whole squad. They had been routed and were scrambling to get some distance from her in order to make better use of their guns. Azi looked like a demon, drenched in cuts and crimson blood almost from head to toe, her eyes wide and wild. He didn't know how much blood her kind could lose and stay conscious, but it looked like she needed help. He unslung his XMR, the shield collapsing into the projector on his wrist, and began to fire. He cut the distracted aliens down easily, the hypersonic slugs chewing through their chitinous armor.

He rushed past the panting Borealan, waving for her to follow him.

Come on! More will come!”

She growled, bounding after him as they headed towards the light.

***

They emerged onto the rainy, windswept surface of Kruger III. Moralez savored the cool droplets of water on his face, his boots sinking into wet mud. He immediately activated his radio, scanning for active channels. They weren't out of the shit yet, he wouldn't relax until he was in orbit.

Come in, come in, anyone on this frequency. This is Lieutenant Moralez of the forty-third, I am in need of immediate evac. Repeat, immediate evac required. I have information critical to the war effort. Is anyone receiving?”

He waited for a response as his helmet radio crackled and fizzed with static, his heart racing.

Receiving you, Lieutenant, this is ground control. Why are you using an unsecured channel? Over.”

No time, I got Bugs on my tail, and I have critical information. Get me a bird down here ASAP.”

Roger that, putting your request through to the fleet, please hold.”

Please hold, what the fuck, was this a customer service line? He pointed his XMR back at the hole warily. Azi was standing a short distance away, the pouring rain washing the blood off her skin to reveal numerous cuts and wounds.

You good?” he asked.

She didn't reply, but she seemed fine. If he had any enduring anger towards her, he shoved it to the back of his mind. There was no time for that, survival was more important now.

Your request has been approved by fleetcom, Lieutenant. Stand by, sending a dropship to your coordinates. ETA five minutes.”

Five fucking minutes? If more Bugs swarmed out of the mouth of that tunnel, then they wouldn't last five seconds. He looked around frantically, searching for cover, but there was nothing. Just scraggly, sickly trees and a few scattered rocks, the whole loathsome planet was just a mud field. He still had his grenade belt, was it worth trying to collapse the tunnel?

Before he could decide on a course of action, a large figure emerged from the hole. Its shiny, blue shell reflected the sunlight in beautiful, iridescent hues. Its ornate, beetle-like antlers swayed as it marched onto the surface, sinking ankle-deep in the mud. A warrior, just as large as the last one. It extended its lobster claws, its serrated mandibles waving in a silent challenge. It must have been drawn by the fight in the tunnel, the stress pheromones and the stench of blood. It shambled towards them, picking up speed as it went.

Should they just run? The thing was massive, heavy, could it catch them?

As if to answer his question, the thing lowered its head and began to charge, digging its feet into the slippery dirt. It was faster and more agile than something of that size and weight had any right to be. It went straight for Azi, and Moralez fired at it with his XMR, the tungsten slugs failing to even irritate it.

It barreled into Azi, knocking her to the ground in a splash of dirty water. He couldn't just stand here plugging at the thing, he had to do something before it turned her into minced meat. He ran towards them as the warrior lifted its claw into the air, intending to slam it down on the Borealan as she slipped and scrambled in the mud, trying to get clear. He plucked a grenade from his belt, priming it, then threw it overhand at the monster.

Grenade!”

The warrior turned to look at him, and that gave Azi time to dig her paw-like feet into the dirt and launch herself behind it relative to where the grenade would land. There was a flash of light as Moralez threw himself to the ground, covering his head with his arms as debris rained down from the sky. He rose to his feet, expecting to see a smoldering carcass, but it was still on its feet. Trails of smoke rose from the shrapnel wounds that peppered its body, the ugly tears leaking goo. It had lost a chunk of shell, too, exposing what looked like white crab meat beneath.

It clawed at the wounds on its body with its smaller pair of lower arms, a liquid that looked like pulpy orange juice leaking from the punctures and cuts. Why wasn't it dead? That shrapnel grenade would have mortally wounded an unarmored Borealan. It locked onto him now, its tiny, armored head tracking him. The thing started to stagger towards him, its uneven gait slowly winding up into a charge. It was a good distance away, he still had time, and the grenade had wounded it. He pulled another from his belt, raising the protective cap and hitting the primer button. He cooked it for a moment, waiting for the creature to draw a little closer, then lobbed it.

There was another loud blast that threw up a cloud of filthy water, this time too close for comfort, and he felt his armor stop a hail of stray fragments that would have penetrated had he been a little closer. As the cloud of water vapor cleared, the thing was still standing. It staggered now, parts of it missing, but it kept coming. He only had one grenade left, if that didn't kill it, then nothing would. He heard Azi's pistol firing at it, but it was unconcerned, reaching its claws out towards him like some kind of shambling zombie.

He held his last grenade in his hand, flipped the cap, and pressed the button down. He'd have to run when he threw it, this was too close.

The world suddenly exploded around him, great clods of dirt thrown into the air as he was knocked onto his back by the impact. The sound of a cannon rolled over him, delayed in relation to whatever had fired on them. A Penguin gunship cruised over his head, the engines roaring as it banked for another pass on its stubby wings, the close ground support cannon on its nose smoking and glowing orange. A UNN dropship followed close behind it, the thrusters on its belly spouting blue flame as it slowed and began to hover. Fleetcom had sent in the cavalry, their evac was finally here, and it had brought an escort. The Bug was making a nightmarish gurgling sound. Its heavy shell had been split open like a fruit by the twenty-millimeter cannon, and its viscera was rolling out of it in clumps, yet still it marched inexorably towards the prone Moralez.

The gunship hosed it again, the massive rounds tearing into it and kicking up a blinding wall of dirt and water that showered down on him like a heavy rain. He felt a sharp pain in his lower leg, maybe some shrapnel had hit him. He couldn't see, his visor was covered in mud.

Where was his grenade?

He fumbled for it, trying to wipe the filth from his visor and dig through the mud around him simultaneously. His hand closed on a hard ball, and he felt for the primer, his gloved fingers slipping on the muck that caked it. If he could just press the button again, there might still be time to disable it.

His world went dark.

CHAPTER 3: IN THE LINE OF DUTY

Moralez opened his eyes, they were blurry, unfocused. He saw a white blob above him, shifting and warping as he blinked, trying to clear his vision. Was he dead? Was this what being dead was like? No, it was a light fixture on a ceiling, also white. As his eyes came into focus, he tried to raise his head to look around him, but his neck was sore and stiff. Now that he was more aware, his whole body was sore and aching, his extremities were numb. What had happened? Where was he?

He heard garbled voices, and a shadow moved over him. He squinted, trying to make out the figure.

Lieutenant Moralez? Can you hear me? You're confused, please keep still. You're in a hospital.”

A hospital? So he was alive, then. He had survived his ordeal on Kruger III.

W-what..happ...”

Don't try to speak yet, just rest, there's no hurry. Everything has been taken care of, you're safe here.”

He lay back on the soft pillow. The soothing voice, female he thought, had told him not to move but he very nearly couldn't. Every muscle in his body felt like it was cramping and his arms and legs were immobilized, was he tied down? The fingers on his right hand itched, but he couldn't move the left to scratch them. He heard movement, then felt the overpowering fatigue of a sedative wash over him.

***

When he next awoke, he couldn't tell if hours or days had passed. In fact, he had no idea how long he had been in the hospital bed. He still felt numb, and one of his feet was cold, it was probably protruding from below the blanket. Everything still hurt, but less than it had before. He wanted to check himself over, examine the new scars and punctures that were no doubt hidden beneath the sheets, but he couldn't move. Perhaps that was why they had tied him down? Surely they could tell from the innumerable scars that already littered his skin that he wasn't squeamish, he just wanted to know the extent of the damage. If he could just reach between his legs and make sure that the twins were still at home, he'd be able to relax.

His eyes were clearer now, and he looked around the room. He was in a military hospital, not a field hospital, a real one. He must be planetside, or on an orbital station somewhere, there were no windows so that he could be sure which. He was in a private room with only one bed, and various unidentifiable machines were hooked up to his body. There was no drip in his arm, that was odd. Instead, various wires snaked under the sheets to his torso. He watched a monitor with a green line that pulsed in time with his heartbeat, displaying numbers and values that he didn't know how to interpret. The room was basically a bare, white cube save for his bed, the machines and a chair beside them.

He no longer felt tired, he just wanted answers.

Hey! Is anyone out there? Hey!” He shouted at the door, his throat dry and sore. Damn, he could use a glass of water. He waited for a minute, then as he prepared to shout again, the door opened. His brow furrowed as a tall, furry creature entered the room.

It was a Borealan, but different from the ones that he had seen previously. This one looked more like a real cat. Where Azi had smooth skin and toned muscle, this one had off-white fur dotted with black spots like a leopard, and it was pudgy, thicker than the others that he had encountered. It was holding a tablet computer in its large hand and wearing a white lab coat, or some kind of scrubs that clung to its figure. It was another female, egregiously female, and his eyes were drawn to its impressive hips and bust. No, not this again, no more Borealans.

Lieutenant? How are you feeling?” She spoke good English, but her accent was unusual. She watched him curiously as he shook his head, shooting her an angry look.

No, I want a human nurse.”

She looked taken aback.

Well, I'm sorry Lieutenant, we don't have the time nor the personnel to accommodate such requests.” She walked over to his bed and checked on the machines, recording the data onto her tablet computer with a stylus. Her massive, puffy tail trailed behind her, waving gently as she wrote. She was large, taller than any Borealan he'd ever seen, probably skirting nine feet. She didn't have that wound-up, spring-loaded look that the naked variety had, it was hard to articulate.

Where am I?” he asked.

Fort Hamilton.”

Moralez wracked his brain, he had heard that name before, but where?

Pinwheel? What am I doing here? This is light years from Kruger.”

Yes, the station also goes by that name. Tell me, Lieutenant, have you any idea how long you've been here?”

No, how did I get here? What happened to me?”

She lay her tablet down on his bedside table and sat awkwardly on the chair, which was too small for her.

You were badly injured during your extraction from Kruger III. You were stabilized, put on the first available jump capable ship and brought here. Our medical and rehabilitation facilities are the best, besides perhaps Earth or Mars.”

Rehabilitation? What was she talking about?

That was nearly two weeks ago,” she continued. “You were kept in an artificially induced coma while we removed shrapnel from your body. The damage was extensive. Much of your digestive tract has been replaced, along with one of your lungs and both of your kidneys. Your heart was badly damaged and had to be repaired, and-”

I'm alive though,” he interrupted, “I survived.”

You are indeed alive,” she replied, her round ears twitching as she peered down at him. “I don't know how to put this lightly, but you're a seasoned soldier, I think you can handle it straight.” The color drained from his face, what was wrong? Brain damage of some kind? “You have lost both of your arms and one leg. Your leg was severed below the knee by cannon fire, however, it had to be amputated at the thigh to prevent a bone infection. Your arms were destroyed by a grenade, it very nearly killed you, but your armor protected your face and torso reasonably well. They were gone when you arrived, unrecoverable, likely vaporized.”

The memories came flooding back to him. The monstrous insectoid towering over him, scrambling in the mud trying to recover his primed grenade, that idiot flyboy strafing him. He reeled, he felt dizzy. This couldn't be true, she was fucking with him. He didn't trust these aliens as far as he could throw them.

No way, you're fucking with me. I know what you Mad Cats are like.”

She looked more sad than angry, but she stood, hooking the blanket that covered him in her claws and pulled it away. His cry caught in his throat, turning into a sob.

Oh fuck...no...”

He looked down at his body in disbelief, his head swimming. His torso was wrapped in gauze, what skin showed between the bandages was purple and bruised. Tears welled in his eyes, and they became bleary as he looked at the space where his leg should have been. He wanted to wipe his eyes, embarrassed by his outburst, but his arms were gone. The right was missing from the shoulder down, the left just above the elbow, ending in bandaged stumps. The Borealan crossed her arms, watching his reaction. He looked to her for support, comfort, anything. Her gaze was cold, emotionless. Someone who worked in a military hospital would be accustomed to seeing these kinds of injuries and delivering bad news. She gave him a moment, then covered him with the blanket again. He tried to squeeze the hot, stinging tears from his eyes, tried to regain his composure. But it was impossible. This must be some kind of nightmare, he must still be on Kruger III or in the dropship, knocked unconscious. This couldn't be real.

I'm sorry to have to put you through that, Lieutenant, but I find that the direct approach is the most effective in cases such as yours. Do not despair, this is something that we can fix.”

Fix?” He wanted to make sure that he had heard her correctly. “You can fix this?”

Yes, your extensive military service entitles you to advanced prosthetics. When your wounds are fully healed, I will supervise your rehabilitation.”

He was sheepish now, ashamed by his earlier insult.

Who are you?”

I am a resident doctor in the physiatry wing, which is where we are right now. My specialties are physical medicine and rehabilitation. I have been assigned to handle your case, you may call me Kaisha.”

He'd never heard of a Borealan doctor before, they were exclusively soldiers as far as he knew, and the information didn't make him any more trusting or any less wary of her. He didn't know what to do, he felt sick. His eyes stung, and he was suddenly aware that there was a metallic flavor to the air when he exhaled. Could he taste his artificial lung?

Your blood pressure is spiking, please try to relax. I can sedate you again if you wish.”

He didn't want to deal with this right now, couldn't deal with it. He nodded, and she inserted a needle into his drip. His eyelids became heavy, and he relaxed, allowing the tranquilizer to do its work.

***

The next few days were a blur. It was too early to start his rehab, too early to measure him for prosthetics, so Kaisha said. He couldn't do much other than sit in bed. He tried to pass the time by eating or watching the station's entertainment channel. He resented the presence of the alien, but she had made it clear that choosing one's own doctor was not a freedom extended to military personnel. Besides, she was busy with other patients much of the time, and it was the human nurses who fed and bathed him.

The experience was humiliating. He could no longer function on his own, and at times he wished that they had left his mangled body on Kruger III to die a dignified death. Nurses had to feed him as if he were a baby and give him sponge baths. They had even equipped him with a colostomy bag that had to be periodically emptied, although he had been assured that both his waste and sexual organs were functioning correctly. This was just more convenient, it prevented mess.

He slept much of the time. When he was unconscious he didn't have to think about his situation, he didn't have to confront the fact that as much as forty percent of his body was just gone, either replaced or soon to be replaced with cold metal and sterile silicone. Not even his heart was fully his own anymore, and he could feel the difference, even if Doctor Kaisha insisted that it was entirely psychosomatic. Although she had treated him when he had initially arrived on the station, she had not asked about the obvious injuries that were unrelated to combat. The bites and scratches that Azi had left behind, the thought of which still brought up a sense of powerlessness and vague, repressed arousal. He hadn't asked about Azi. He didn't hope that she was dead, he wasn't quite so callous, yet the idea of her walking around intact and free while he languished in this bed angered him. For all he knew, it was her who had carried him broken and bleeding up the dropship ramp, but somehow he couldn't picture it.

What muscles he still had left had atrophied in his almost month-long hospital stay, and he had lost a significant amount of weight. He ate eagerly when the nurses brought him meals. Despite his situation, he had hope, and hoping was pretty much all that he could do right now. He wanted to be strong and well prepared for his physical therapy when he finally got his new limbs, but he couldn't fool himself. Things would never be the same now, what he had lost could never be wholly regained. He might never fight again, but if he could hold a spoon and wipe his own ass, that would be a triumph compared to his current state.

***

Stretch your leg for me, as far as you can,” Kaisha said as she held his foot in her fluffy hand. He pushed against her palm with all of his strength, the muscles in his one remaining limb now sore and weak. It looked starved, gaunt. Most of his bandages had come off now, and his chest was covered in fresh, pink scars. The stitches that held the larger gashes shut were starting to dissolve as his flesh knitted together and repaired itself. It looked as if he had been hit by a giant shotgun blast, it was a miracle that his ceramic armor had stopped so much of it. The ends of his amputated limbs were still covered, and it would be a while yet before they healed enough to tolerate the irritation and friction of prosthetics.

Good, it is becoming more flexible. You must exercise it daily to prevent blood clots, Lieutenant.” She lowered his foot to the bed and tapped on her tablet computer with her thick, padded fingers. Kaisha was still very much a mystery to him. She never spoke about herself, and he never asked, but he wondered how and why a Borealan would become a doctor who specialized in humans.

So when can I get out of here, Doc? I've been cooped up in this room for a month now. Most of my bandages are off, I feel strong enough.”

You won't be out of the physiatry ward for a while longer, not until you're fully rehabilitated,” she replied as she kept her eyes on her tablet. “But if you wish, I can take you outside. I am on break soon.”

Outside? How is there an outside on a space station?”

She smiled at him, her expression oddly warm.

You've never been to Pinwheel before, have you?”

***

The artificial breeze ruffled Moralez' hair, and he craned his neck, watching the painted mural on the ceiling. The baby-blue sky and white, fluffy clouds passed over his head as Kaisha pushed his wheelchair along the street, the massive lamps that were spaced along the roof at intervals shining like a summer’s day. Trees and plants spotted the torus that constituted the main living space on the station, rotating around the central control hub. It was large enough that the curve of the floor was almost imperceptible, and the gentle rotation created a centrifugal force, simulating one standard Earth gravity. Buildings lined the walls, giving the impression that he was standing in a long city street, or an open-air mall that curved away into the distance. It was convincing, obviously false, yet close enough to the real thing that the brain was tricked and any claustrophobia or cabin fever usually associated with spending months or years in space was banished.

Throngs of people clogged the walkways, the taller aliens standing head and shoulders above the bustling crowds. There were human engineers carrying tablet computers, denoted by their yellow overalls, along with Marines in blue uniforms and civilians wearing casual clothing. Lumbering Krell marched along in their sluggish pace, the crowds parting before the giant reptiles to let them pass. There were even a few Borealan packs standing tall above the smaller humans, clustered together in tightly-knit groups. It was loud, a thousand fragments of conversation mingling into a roar, but Moralez found it comforting.

Fort Hamilton was a marvel, not only of technology and engineering, but of inter-species cooperation. Moralez had never seen so many aliens in one place before, at least not unless he was shooting at them.

So do you live here?” he asked, turning his head back and up to look at Kaisha.

I'm doing my physiatry residence here, but my home is in Russia.”

Hold on,” he said, taken aback. “Russia? But you're a Borealan.”

I'm originally from Borealis, but for the past several months I have lived in Siberia. My people have a colony there, the Republic. I'm here as part of a program with the Russian military, the Kremlin seeks a larger role in exopolitics and the war effort.”

I thought all Borealans were fighters?”

Many are, but my people prefer a more...diplomatic approach to conflict. As it happens, I discovered that I was quite suited to medical care.”

Moralez considered asking her about her people, why she looked so different from the other Borealans, but thought that it might have been rude or insensitive. She must represent a race or a subspecies. It was a fair assumption.

Out here in the fresh air, or at least what passed for fresh on a space station with oxygen recyclers, he could almost forget where he was and what had happened to him. If he closed his eyes, feeling the cool wind in his hair and the glare of the sunlamps on his skin, he could almost be in a town somewhere back on Earth.

Hey, Kaisha!”

He opened his eyes, a woman's voice? Before him a tall, red-headed Borealan of the hairless variety waved to them, a gaggle of Borealans wearing blue UNN jumpsuits were trailing behind her. They didn't look like the battle-hardened Mad Cats he had served with, were they recruits perhaps?

Hello, Raz. New pack?”

The woman nodded, the trainees behind her staring at the odd pair with wide, amber eyes. They seemed out of their element, lacking the confident body language that Moralez usually associated with their kind.

Just shipped in from Borealis a couple of days ago. I'm taking them down to Stanley's range, he's gonna teach them to use an XMR.”

How is he?” Kaisha asked. “I've not seen him for a while.”

The woman hooked a recruit who had begun to wander with her dexterous tail, tugging it back into formation by the arm without even turning to look at it.

He's been giving requisitions shit about the new model two frames, the sights we have don't fit on the new rails. He needs to put in a new batch order, or we won't be able to train with them. It's incredible that they weren't standardized.” She looked down at Moralez, as if noticing him for the first time. “Whoa, what happened to you?”

This is my patient,” Kaisha replied, but Moralez introduced himself before she could do it for him.

Lieutenant Moralez, Ma'am,” he said. The instinct was to extend his hand in greeting, but he resisted it, having no hands to extend.

Had a bad turn, Lieutenant? Kaisha will get you fixed up, she's the best sawbones on the station.” She raised her gaze back to Kaisha. “Can't stop and chat, gotta get these recruits to the range. Maybe I'll see you at the recreation center later?”

The two bid each other good day, then continued on their way.

Who was she?” Moralez asked, turning his head to watch the group of aliens as they marched away in a column.

That was Raz Elysiedde, she is the unofficial Matriarch of the station. She oversees the training of new recruits and specializes in inter-species relations. She was a great comfort to me when I first arrived here. All Borealans who live and work on the Pinwheel treat her as their Alpha.”

They walked a while longer. Well, Kaisha walked. Moralez was being pushed along in his chair as he took in the sights. There were no windows on the station, nothing to indicate that they were hanging in open space. Structural weaknesses perhaps? This was a military base first and foremost, after all, but you wouldn't know that by looking at it. The engineers had gone to such extreme lengths to make sure the personnel felt at home, and more importantly, so that they were able to do their duties for extended periods of time with no shore leave.

We must turn around soon, I will be back on duty shortly.”

Hey, er...” Moralez hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. “Sorry about what I said to you...when we first met. I let some bad experiences influence my opinion of Borealans. It was wrong of me. I really appreciate all the work you're doing to help me. Wheeling me around isn't part of your job description, after all.”

I saw the scars, the bite wounds. I guessed that was the case,” she replied. Moralez felt his face burn. “You didn't get those wounds from a grenade.”

Please don't tell anyone. If I ever get back in action, I don't want to lose the respect of my men.”

Why do you feel that you would lose their respect?”

He gazed up at the curved ceiling, wishing that the painted clouds would drift lazily as they did back home, maybe installing projectors on the ceiling would have sent them over budget.

I've lost so much already. I’m...diminished. I don't need them to know that I lost my dignity on that mission along with my limbs.” He stared at the polished floor, watching the wheels of his chair rotate. “Maybe they wouldn't care, but I don't think I could stand them knowing.”

She didn't intend to make you feel this way, you know.”

Moralez felt a pang of anger.

What do you know about it?” he asked, a little more harshly than he had intended it to sound.

There's no concept of...rape in their society,” she explained, steering his chair around a wandering Krell. “Those who can assert themselves over others do so, and sex is often an element of that process. When someone wins a battle for dominance, the instinct is to copulate with the loser in order to ensure the spread of dominant genes-”

I don't need to hear this, Doc.”

Well, you did ask. I'm just trying to explain that whoever it was who...had an encounter with you, likely had no idea it would make you feel this way.”

Doesn't change what she did.”

No, it doesn't. Our hot-tempered cousins often give us a bad reputation, but there's no malice there. The thought that you might respond negatively probably never crossed her mind, all she expected was your submission.”

Well, that's part of the problem, Doc. She got it. After we...after a while, I couldn't fight her anymore, didn't have the strength.”

Did that make you feel ashamed?”

He turned to look up at her as she towered over his chair, her off-white fur almost blinding in the artificial sunlight.

What, are you my shrink now too?”

Yes,” she chuckled, “that is an important part of rehabilitation. You can stitch a scar, but it takes a great deal more time to identify and heal mental injuries.” Her tone softened, and he felt her large, fuzzy hand on his shoulder. He flinched, then relaxed as she held it there, an incredible warmth radiating down through his clothing. “I can help you, you can talk to me if you need to.”

I'll make you a deal, Doc. Fix me, and I'll tell you anything you want to know.”

***

Kaisha held up her tablet to show him a digital image, and Moralez sat up in bed to get a closer look. It showed an X-ray of his severed femur, the cut clean and surgical. An animation played of a drill entering the bone, after which a thick rod was inserted into the hole, then the connection was sealed with some kind of gel that hardened after a short delay.

What is it?” he asked.

This is how your new leg will be attached to your body. It is designed to be an extension of your own skeleton, providing it with the maximum tensile strength possible. The advanced polycarbonates that we use will actually be stronger than your old bones were. The rod that you see inserted into the femur is just the foundation upon which we will design and build your new leg.”

Well, this is better than a wooden peg, I'll give you that.”

All of the prosthetics that we use are custom built, it actually turns out cheaper that way rather than trying to manufacture artificial limbs that can be adjusted to suit each patient. You'll be measured, we'll work out what kind of limb would best suit your needs. Powered or unpowered, pneumatic or electric, there are even low-maintenance models that use only kinetic energy to function. You can have one that tries to mimic a flesh and blood limb, one that is simply functional, or anything in between.”

He grinned to himself. This wasn't so bad. In fact, it was pretty cool. Maybe he'd put a UNN badge on it, some stickers, he could make the best of this situation.

What about my arms?”

Kaisha switched the tablet off and rose from her seated position at the end of his hospital bed. The moment that she took her immense weight off the mattress, it sprang back to its usual position.

One thing at a time, Lieutenant. When you're back up and walking, we can move on to your arms, but much the same process is used.”

The leg isn't too important, but what kind of dexterity can I expect to get back in my hands?”

She chewed the end of her stylus, considering.

It all depends on the individual, how well your body adapts to the new limbs, how well your nervous system can be wired in. There's the psychological aspect to consider too, every person responds differently. I'm not comfortable making you any promises, but I am optimistic in your case. I have to attend to some business, but in an hour or so I'll be back to fetch you, and we can go down to the printing facility to take a look at what's available.”

Moralez nodded enthusiastically, and she left the room, ducking through the human-sized door. He wanted his arms back most of all. Just regaining the ability to scratch his nose when it itched or to raise a glass of water to his lips would improve his life tenfold. He was excited about walking again, however. No more wheelchair, he could explore the Pinwheel at his leisure. She had explained to him that the change wouldn't be immediate, he would have to learn to walk again from scratch, but if baby Moralez had managed then surely adult Moralez would too.

***

The automatic doors to the printing facility opened with a whoosh and Kaisha pushed Moralez' wheelchair into the small factory. At a glance it was obviously one of the largest single structures on the Pinwheel, or would they be described as rooms? Technically they were inside the station, but the living space was so expansive that it gave the impression of being outside. In any case, it was large. There were all manner of printers and machines scattered about the shop floor, some small, some big enough to build a vehicle. He could see the raw materials that were waiting to be fed into them, massive slabs of metal and polymer. As Kaisha pushed him past one of the machines, he marveled at the partially constructed item within. It appeared to be a ceramic chest piece for standard issue UNN combat armor, suspended in some kind of stasis field that held it aloft as half a dozen nozzles on flexible, robotic arms extruded a substance that hardened on contact. The plate was slowly growing before his eyes.

It made sense, it was far cheaper and easier to ship blocks of raw material and then to build what you needed on-site, rather than having to put in orders and deal with the delays of interstellar shipping. Some things could not be manufactured in this way of course, but most basic necessities and much of the less complex machinery could be.

A man in blue coveralls walked up to greet them, leaving the console that he had been working at.

Kaisha, not seen you for a while. You here about that prosthetic order you put through?” He had a hint of a German accent, but he spoke perfect English.

Hello Kurtz, yes. I've brought my patient down for fitting.”

Kurtz looked him over, noticing his conspicuous lack of limbs.

We should be able to get you sorted out.” He turned, walking towards another large console, and Kaisha pushed Moralez after him. “Don't worry soldier, you're in Kaisha's very capable, and very large hands. She has not brought one patient down here who I didn't later see doing laps around the station.”

The wheelchair was just high enough for Moralez to see over the console, and as Kurtz typed, images appeared on the monitors. Robotic limbs in various shapes and sizes scrolled past, there were varied and strange designs, along with examples of the modular components required to construct them. Some attempted to mimic the human form, thighs and calves filled out realistically, robotic toes extending from arched feet. Others were more functional, a spartan rod of polished alloy serving as a tibia with clusters of motors and robotics at the knee and heel, the foot a simple spring design made from a single piece of curved polymer.

Take your time,” Kaisha said, leaning over him. “Choose a design that you think will best suit your needs.” Kurtz cycled through more images and a few animations showing the walk cycle of patients equipped with the different models.

Each version has different capabilities and maintenance requirements,” Kurtz explained. “The more complex and realistic, the less durable. Of course, having more moving parts and electronic components increases the potential of those parts failing. The more simple and functional designs have fewer moving parts and motors, and thus are easier to maintain. However, they lack the aesthetic appeal of a true replica limb.”

Moralez watched the animations play, considering. Did he want to serve in the field again? Yes. Could he? Nobody had told him otherwise so far. He should make this decision under the assumption that he might be using it to fight again.

***

Kurtz measured him over the course of the next hour, noting his height, the length of the missing limb and the circumference of the thigh that remained. He took Moralez over to a machine that required him to stand on his remaining leg, Kaisha holding him upright for balance while a flexible arm took a 3D scan of the stump through his bandage. The machine displayed a model of it on the computer monitor so that the connection could be made to fit perfectly down to every crease and scar. It was the first time that Moralez had seen the extent of the damage. Apparently, the limb had been shredded below the knee by cannon fire and had to be amputated at the thigh to prevent infection from Kruger III's native bacteria. Even though the wound was surgical and precise, the healing scar was ugly.

We will cap the destroyed limb with a silicone seal filled with a non-Newtonian gel, that will act as a sterile buffer between your flesh and the prosthesis. That should minimize irritation and friction on the scar tissue.” Kurtz entered more data into a handheld tablet as Kaisha watched patiently. “Of course you will need surgery to attach the frame to your femur, but by the time that is done, I will have your leg ready for you. Have you made a decision on what model you want?”

I think I have,” Moralez replied. “Kaisha, can you push me over to the console?”

She nodded, and the three of them moved to the monitors, where Moralez gestured with his head at one of the designs.

Ah, that is a good choice,” the engineer said with an approving nod. “I see that you are not yet considering retirement, Lieutenant.”

The man was perceptive, Moralez would give him that. He was obviously very familiar with the systems and their applications. Kurtz blew up the model on the screen with a gesture, and data on the design flooded each of the monitors. The prosthetic that he had chosen was towards the functional end of the spectrum, there was a powerful motor at the knee that would allow him to flex the assembly realistically, and another at the heel. The two motors were powered by a battery hidden in the calf that could be recharged either by wire, or by the kinetic energy of the leg itself, converting the simple motions of walking and running into an electrical charge to be stored for later use. The tibia was mostly just a polymer rod with a plastic cap in a vague calf shape that shielded the battery pack. The apparatus ended in a stylized foot, sculpted from a single sheet of flexible, springy carbon. It was simple, durable, and practically self-powered.

If you're sure, then I will begin fabrication.”

Moralez nodded, and Kaisha placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

I will be overseeing your surgery later today, recovery should not take long.”

Really, today?” That was so soon, he had expected the process to take weeks, not days. Excitement welled in his belly, and Kaisha noticed the change in his mood, her lips curling into a smile. “Thank you Kurtz,” he said, and the man nodded to him. “I'll shake your hand when you've built me a new one.”

I look forward to fitting your prosthetic after your operation, Lieutenant. We'll get you walking again in no time.”

***

Kaisha took him back to the physiatry wing of the medical center. He savored his short jaunts in the Pinwheel's torus, soon he might be able to leave his room of his own volition, without needing her to push him around in his chair. The operation and recovery would surely be painful, but it was another rung on the ladder that would see him restored.

When they arrived in his room, she lifted him out of his chair effortlessly and lay him in his bed. It was humiliating to be sure, she handled him like a child, able to support him in her massive arms with ease due to her size and strength. Yet there was an element of tenderness that Kaisha displayed around him, unlike the nurses who were only concerned with getting the job done as fast as possible. He got the impression that she cared, and that endeared her to him. She handed him a glass of water, holding it between her thumb and forefinger so that he might drink from it, minute in her oversized hand.

A pang of anxiety jolted him as he noticed her black, curved claws, the same as those Azi had employed to scar his flesh and subdue him. The memory of those cruel blades raking down his spine, the stinging pain melding with the unbearable pleasure of her tight, undulating insides flaring in his brain.

Is something wrong, Lieutenant?”

I-It's nothing. Just tired.”

Get some rest before the surgery, I'll be back in a few hours to take you to the operating theater.” He nodded, taking a sip of the water, then he lay back and rolled away from her to face the bare wall. She placed the glass on the table beside his bed, then stood to leave. He felt her concerned eyes linger on his back for a moment before hearing her crouch through the low door and close it behind her.

It wasn't her fault, she was doing her best, an admirable job. But despite her kindness, she still had features that he associated with Azi. He could hardly look at her without having those memories come flooding back. It helped that she was so fluffy. She didn't have the same bronzed skin, the same bulging, shapely musculature. He felt an erection growing beneath the sheets, that now familiar, swirling mixture of shame and arousal knotting his guts. Without his hands, he couldn't do anything to sate it.

***

Kaisha returned a while later and took him down to the operating theater, where a team of surgeons awaited to attach the rod to his severed bone upon which the modular limb could be affixed.

She climbed into a clear, plastic suit that isolated her whole body before entering the theater, like those used in cleanrooms or hazardous waste plants. When he asked her why, she explained that if one of her hairs fell into an open surgical wound which they then closed up, it would cause a serious infection. The suit would isolate her from the environment entirely, ensuring that she couldn't shed any fur while inside the sterilized operating room.

She lifted him out of his chair and placed him carefully on the operating table like a doll, the bright glare from the surgical lighting system that descended from the ceiling on a flexible arm making him squint. The people around him in the sterile theater were snapping their latex gloves and wheeling in all manner of odd machinery.

Breathe this in, it will put you to sleep,” Kaisha said as she placed a mask over his face. There was a dry, bitter taste to the air that flooded his nose and mouth, but he did as she instructed. He took deep breaths and inhaled the sedative, the alien’s presence somehow reassuring. He didn't feel anything at first, then as the doctors and machines closed in around him, his eyelids became heavy and he felt a fatigue that was impossible to resist overcome him. His vision blurred, seeing Kaisha's silhouette gesturing to the other surgeons above him, then his consciousness went dark.

***

Moralez strained to open his eyes. He felt so calm, so peaceful, as if he had just awakened from a deep and satisfying sleep. He blinked and saw Kaisha standing over him. He was back in his hospital bed, was the operation over?

Kaisha...is it...”

She smiled as another wave of fatigue washed over him, it was almost alarming, he couldn't keep his eyes open even if he wanted to. He heard her voice, her tone comforting, she must have noticed his expression.

Don't worry Lieutenant, this is normal. You'll wake up and fall asleep a couple more times before the effects of the anesthetic wear off completely. Just try to relax.”

Her voice faded as he drifted out of consciousness again.

When he next awoke, she was examining his leg. He rose to a sitting position and tried to stretch his arms, then stopped when he remembered that he didn't have any. The mannerisms and habits that he had cultivated over an entire lifetime were now redundant, it was as if his brain hadn't even registered that his limbs were missing yet. He knew it himself, but his mind still sent signals to appendages that were no longer present, using a map of his body that wasn't accurate anymore.

Oh, you're awake. The operation went as planned, no complications. Take a look.”

He bent over to look at the stump. The bandage had been removed and in its place was a metal pole, shorter than he had expected. It ended about where his knee used to be, and was covered in indentations. It reminded him of an XMR receiver, they were clearly attachment points for the various components that would be clipped onto it. Around it was a kind of semi-transparent cap, closing off the end of his thigh and creating a seal around the rod. This must be the gel-filled buffer that Kurtz had described. He glimpsed pink flesh beneath it, distorted through the liquid as if seen through frosted glass.

Give yourself two or three days to heal and then it should be able to support your weight. It will hurt, be prepared for that, and it may never be completely comfortable. But once the prosthetic is attached, we can start your rehabilitation.”

And when I can walk again, I'll get my arms?”

She covered him with the sheet and sat at the end of the bed, her huge, weighty body stressing the springs as the mattress sagged beneath her.

That's right. We might do it one at a time so that you can become accustomed to each in turn, but we'll see how you respond to the leg first. It's a little different for everyone.”

She stood, the mattress bouncing as her weight left it.

I must tend to another patient. Try to regain your strength over the next few days, eat well, do the exercises that I showed you. I'll see you then.”

Oh, okay.”

She was a doctor and doctors were always busy, she could have half a dozen patients besides him who required similar levels of care and investment.

So why did it bother him? Was it that he liked having her around? Was it just because she was the only person who really talked to him, who cared about how he felt and what he was going through? Moralez' work was his life, he was a soldier, and he had never really had time to cultivate friendships beyond the camaraderie of squads and battalions. The military life was all he knew, the routine and the daily grind, but now that he had time to just sit and mull things over he realized that he was...boring. He didn't really have any friends who might check up on him, those who had served under him would either be dead, or without the time or the means to track him down.

I'll see you later then, Doc.”

She nodded and retrieved her oversized tablet computer. He watched her leave, then lay his head on the padded pillow, staring at the featureless ceiling. He shouldn't get attached to her like that, this was her job, she didn't care about him beyond getting him back on his feet and out of her hospital ward. Why should she? She probably took her other patients for jaunts through the torus too, because she was a good doctor and a good therapist. He only felt this way about her because she was practically the only person who had interacted with him for over a month, that must be it. He was just lonely.

Besides, he had enough of Borealans to last him a lifetime.

CHAPTER 4: SMALL STEPS

It took three days for Kaisha to return. The nurses tended to him in the meantime, and he did his leg exercises, passing the time by sleeping or watching the insipid station entertainment channel. They wouldn't show anything too violent or stimulating. Apparently, television did not exist on Borealis, and action movies made the aliens too excited. One of the more talkative nurses had explained that after an incident where a pack of recruits had destroyed the Pinwheel's movie theater, demanding the head of a fictional villain, anything above a PG rating was no longer allowed to be broadcast on public channels.

His eyes lit up when Kaisha ducked into his room through the door, then he tried to make his expression more neutral, not wanting to look too desperate for her company.

Welcome back, Doc.”

How are you feeling, Lieutenant?”

Ready to start walking!”

She chuckled, tapping on her signature tablet computer as she walked over to the end of his bed.

All in good time, I need to check your progress first. If your leg hasn't healed enough, we'll have to wait a little longer.” She pulled back his sheets and tapped the metal rod that protruded from his stump with her stylus.

Does this hurt?”

No, but I can feel it. How odd.”

She leaned in and examined it through the clear gel, taking notes.

Color looks good, there’s no foul odor present.” She walked up the bed and placed her large hand over his forehead. She was inhumanly warm and her soft, downy fur tickled his skin. He began to blush and tried to suppress it.

No sign of fever or infection, no rejection of the implant. I think you're good to go, Lieutenant.”

He nodded, and she hooked her arms under him, lifting him out of the bed with ease and placing him in his chair. She wheeled him out of the room and down the hall. Moralez was starved for conversation and felt confident enough to ask her some more probing questions as they turned a corner, Kaisha rolling him down a ramp towards the exit to the torus.

So, if you don't mind me asking, how is it that a Borealan ended up training to treat human patients? Wouldn't it have been far easier for you to treat other Borealans?”

She hesitated for a moment, had he crossed a line? No, she was preparing her reply.

Well, humans outnumber Borealans a million to one in the UNN. It is primarily a human organization, with other species serving mostly as auxiliaries. If I was going to become a doctor, I knew I would be treating humans almost exclusively.” That made sense and he should probably have guessed as much. “I've also had...somewhat of a fascination with humans and their culture since arriving on Earth.”

Is that so?” he asked. She sounded embarrassed, like she was admitting some secret rather than simply stating a fact.

You're probably not aware of my people's history, but we are refugees from a region on the homeworld, one of the planet's frozen poles. A few months ago, my Matriarch met a human ambassador who was stationed on Borealis at the time. Through him, she was able to secure a sovereign territory for us on Earth, in the Siberia territory. We founded a Republic there, and we're still in the process of relocating the population.”

Ah, that must be why they looked different from the conventional Borealans that he had seen, they were adapted to cold climates. It was obvious now that he thought about it.

I had never left the polar territory before, I had never even ridden in a vehicle. At first, I was afraid. But seeing my own planet, my birthplace from space, really changed my perspective. The Galaxy was bigger than my frozen tundra, there would be more to do than just subsist. I was afraid, but I was excited too.

I remember the first time that I saw Earth from space, there's a name for it, the Overview Effect. It changes your attitude, you realize how fragile your home is, how petty local conflicts seem when viewed from a million miles away. It inspired me to join the UNN and become a Marine.”

Yes, I can understand that sentiment. When I arrived on Earth with the other colonists, the environment was so different. It was a paradise compared to where we had come from, and we owed it all to this tiny, ape-like alien. No offense,” she chuckled, placing her hand on his shoulder.

None taken, we are technically apes.”

They exited through the main door of the hospital and into the torus, the perpetually blue sky hanging above them.

That this human would do so much for us, for no apparent reason, confused me. We weren't part of his pack, we did not live in a territory he called home, and even his obvious infatuation with our Matriarch didn't adequately explain his actions.” Moralez began to blush, this was the first he had heard of humans and Borealans courting.

Is that...something that happens?”

It is becoming more common, yes. This man loved my Queen, and he was precious to her. Not merely because of everything that he had done to emancipate us, she seemed to enjoy his company. I got to know their relationship intimately, and I suppose I developed a certain...fascination.”

And that's why you became a doctor?”

In a way, yes. It inspired me to learn Russian and later English, to interact with other humans, to consume human media and learn about your history and culture. Earth was my home now, after all, and I briefly considered becoming a historian. Your past is fascinating, you know. So tumultuous. Vessels made of iron that float on oceans, humans who ride wild animals into battle, aircraft made from canvas and wood that weave through the air. Our own martial history seems stagnant in comparison.”

Kaisha avoided a lumbering Krell, turning around it as it marched past them, the odd poncho that it wore over its shoulders was dotted with pockets and pouches that looked like they might contain tools.

I found the work of a historian less than stimulating, so I decided to join the Russian military and become a medic in the hopes of being stationed with humans. As it turned out, I had an aptitude for medicine, and I eventually ended up here.”

Is it how you imagined?” Moralez asked, looking back at her to see that she was beaming

Oh, I love it here. The work is challenging, and Miss Raz has been teaching me what she knows about humans, she's somewhat of an expert.”

That woman we met, with the recruits?”

Yes, that's her job. She trains new recruits as part of the integration program, along with her human mate. You should ask her about it if you ever meet her off-duty during your stay, the story is quite fascinating. The two of them practically saved the program together.”

It was becoming a theme, did every Borealan of note take a human mate? Was it some kind of ritual? A cultural thing? Did humans offer them something that other Borealans couldn't? He didn't dare ask her.

Why did he care? He liked Kaisha because she was nice to him, because she talked to him. It wasn't anything more. He couldn't see himself in a...relationship with one of the aliens, not after what Azi had done. The thought had never seriously crossed his mind, had it? It was stupid to dwell on such things, not every relationship with the opposite sex had to be romantic. Besides, why should she be interested in him? He was a ruin.

He brightened up as the printing facility came into view. Kaisha pushed him through the automatic doors, and Kurtz walked up to meet them, wiping some kind of fluid off his hands with a rag.

Welcome back, Lieutenant. Is he all set, Kaisha?”

No rejection, his body is taking well to the implant,” she replied. They followed Kurtz over to a workbench that was scattered with tools, components, and loose wires. The engineer brushed some of the mess away, picking up a rough, black box. The surface was detailed with fine machinery and cabling that Moralez couldn't identify. Kurtz knelt in front of his wheelchair and lifted his stump by the metal rod, slotting the blocky device onto the end of it. Moralez felt a click that passed up through his bone, making him shiver. Kurtz then lowered his leg and appraised the apparatus.

Good fit, hang on.” He turned and picked up his tablet computer, opening a protective cap on one side and pulling loose a long wire. He knelt again and plugged it into a port on the device that was now connected to Moralez' leg. “This will hurt...a lot.”

What do you-”

He felt a tingling in his stump and looked down to see a thousand tiny, fine wires winding up the metal rod from the top of the boxy device, like worms the width of a hair. They sought out the gel seal, penetrating the semi-transparent material and digging towards his healing tissue. He became alarmed and began to protest, but Kaisha placed a heavy hand on his shoulder, comforting him.

This is normal, it won't take long.”

The tingling became a prickling, then the prickling became the stabbing of a hundred needles. The tiny wires were boring into his flesh. He gritted his teeth against the searing pain, it felt like a toothache, but compounded. It became too intense, and he started to shudder, a groan rising in his throat.

Fuck, it hurts, turn it off!”

Almost done,” Kurtz muttered, his eyes fixed on his tablet. “Hold on.”

Moralez couldn't stand it a second longer, but just as he reached his limit, the pain abated. It was replaced with an odd buzzing sensation, as if some ghost limb had fallen asleep.

What was that?” he panted, that was some of the worst pain he had ever felt.

When I took the scan of your leg, the computer noted the locations of every severed nerve,” the engineer explained. “These wires are programmed to seek them out and to make a connection. Now your brain can communicate directly with the prosthetic. Give it a try.”

Moralez looked down at the box that was now firmly affixed to the rod. It was true, he felt...something. He sent the signals that would move his now absent leg, trying to flex it, and the box moved! It bent double, motors whirring. It was a knee joint.

Good!” Kurtz exclaimed, clapping his calloused hands together. “That's the hard part over with. Now I can add the rest of the limb.”

He disappeared for a moment, Moralez experimenting with his new knee in the meantime, flexing it. There was feedback of a kind. It didn't feel exactly like his knee had, but there was an awareness that he had lacked before, as if his brain had corrected the map of his body and this one leg now extended a little further than it had that morning.

Kurtz returned with an armful of machinery, dumping it unceremoniously on the workbench.

Let's see, this goes here...this here...das ist störend, scheisse...”

He turned back to Moralez and knelt again, slotting a long, polymer rod into the knee joint. Moralez recognized it as the artificial tibia, with the battery pack hanging beneath a protective cover about where his calf muscle would have been. Kurtz wired it up to the knee, then rose and turned back to the bench, assembling more of the prosthetic. After a moment he returned with a heel that was similar in design to the knee joint and connected it, wiring it up to the battery pack. Now all that was left was the foot, a stylized, curved piece of carbon fiber that was flexible and springy to absorb impacts and push back realistically when he walked. It had no mechanical parts and simply slotted into the heel joint.

Kurtz took a step back, admiring his work.

Okay Lieutenant, give it a try.”

Moralez strained, raising his leg. The motors gave off an audible, electrical buzz as he extended the new limb. It wasn't quite...right. It was not a replacement leg, it didn't feel like a leg. There were no toes, no muscles, there was no skin. It didn't respond in the way that he had assumed it would. Yet as he lowered it to the footrest on his chair, there was tactile sensation, he felt the new foot impact the plastic. He understood now why he would have to re-learn to walk, this was not a replacement, it was an entirely new limb that he would have to get used to.

Kurtz knelt and squeezed the carbon toe of the foot attachment between his thumb and forefinger.

Feel that?”

I do! How is that possible?”

The whole system is wired up to your nerves, it will do its best to approximate realistic sensations. It won't be exactly the same as a real foot of course, but if you kicked a football or stubbed your toe, you'd be able to feel it. Stand up, see how it feels.”

Moralez looked to Kaisha, and she hooked her hands under his armpits, easing him out of the wheelchair. She supported him, making sure that he didn't put too much weight on the new leg, and he balanced precariously on his intact limb.

The floor was cold under his artificial foot, it was so odd to him that he could feel that. The sensation was diffuse, almost as if his foot was one giant, mutant toe. He put some weight on it and winced. The gel seal pressed against his healing tissue, hurting him. Kaisha steadied him as he took a tentative step, then caught him before he collapsed.

Yeah, I think this is gonna take me a while,” he laughed.

That's expected. Nobody thought that you'd just get out of your chair and start running,” Kaisha replied, helping him back into his seat.

When you're up and walking we'll move on to the arms,” Kurtz added. “I'm holding you to that handshake, Lieutenant.”

Moralez nodded, thanking Kurtz profusely before Kaisha wheeled him back out into the torus. He could even feel the vibrations of the wheelchair through the prosthetic. His stump still hurt, but the pain was waning now, and he was sure that in time it would vanish entirely.

So? What do you think?” Kaisha asked, peering down at him as she pushed his chair.

It's amazing, Doc. It's not at all what I expected, but I like it. When can we start the rehab program?”

Soon, the small wounds from the nerve link should have healed by tomorrow, and then we can get started. It might take a long time. Don't rush it, you won't be done until it feels as natural to you as your old leg did.”

They walked in silence for a while as Moralez tested his new limb, moving it around and kicking it against the side of his chair. His knee worked about the same way as his natural one had, as did his heel. Trying to flex his toes didn't seem to do anything, and none of his muscle groups responded to commands. He could even feel through the polymer tibia, tapping it against the metal support produced the same sensation as it might if it were a real shin, the same went for his knee motor. It was a marvelous device.

After a while, they passed the hospital, and Moralez turned to look up at his ward.

We're not going back to the hospital?”

Not just yet, I thought we might take a detour. I have a little free time before I have to see my next patient. We can celebrate your progress.”

Positive reinforcement? Or did she actually want to spend time with him? Kaisha was a trained psychologist, it was part of her job and he never really felt sure if her words and actions were genuine, or if it was all part of some carefully engineered program designed to improve his mental health.

After a short walk, they arrived at what almost looked like a plaza, the decorations here were somewhat more lavish. There was more foliage, potted plants and shrubs were placed strategically around the space, and more effort had been taken to make the structures that extruded from the hull of the station look like quaint storefronts. Kaisha wheeled him next to a bench, then lifted him out of his chair, placing him on it gently. He could almost be in an upscale mall somewhere on Earth, or the shopping area of a large spaceport. The illusion wasn’t completely convincing, but he appreciated the attempt.

Time for human food!” Kaisha's reflective, blue eyes lit up, and she pointed to one of the buildings with her clawed finger. “I like that place, they sell coffee, but it's bitter and tastes bad. I like their sandwiches though, they'll make whatever you want. Meat, ham, tuna, beef, pork, bacon. What do you like?”

She was so excited, practically bouncing on the spot, and he thought better of mentioning that half of those ingredients were the same thing. He considered for a moment.

I like tuna and mayonnaise.” Kaisha smiled and nodded as if he had just said something very wise, then started to walk off. “Hey, wait, Kaisha. Sorry, Doc. I don't have any money on me...”

They aren't expensive,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Consider it my treat.” She started off again, then paused and turned back to him. “You can call me Kaisha, everyone does.”

He blushed again as her back turned and she entered the store, ducking under the colorful awning that read coffee shop in stylized print. This station just got weirder and weirder the more he saw of it.

She returned a couple of minutes later with two long sandwiches wrapped in paper, the one meant for her was almost two feet in length. She sat down next to him, the wooden bench creaking under her massive bulk, and she unwrapped one end of each. She held the smaller one in her fluffy hand, keeping it at head-height relative to Moralez so that he could take bites of it. She dug into her own sandwich, juice and fat leaking through the bread and staining the fine, white fur around her mouth and on her hands. Her sub seemed to be entirely meat, were Borealans carnivores?

The bench was far too small for her eight-foot frame, she looked like an adult sitting on a seat made for a child, her knees up near her chin and the foliage of the shrub in the planter behind her brushing against her hair. He didn’t look any more dignified with one metal leg and no arms. What a pair they made.

They ate in silence for a while, then Moralez felt the need to speak up.

I...I really appreciate the things you've been doing for me, Kaisha. Every other doctor I've ever met just wanted me out of their hair as soon as possible. You don't seem like that at all.”

Don't worry about it,” she mumbled through a mouthful of sandwich, “it's part of my job!”

His heart sank, so this really was all part of her work then? He took another bite, trying his hardest not to look dejected.

Besides,” she swallowed heavily and licked her lips with her long, rough tongue. “I kind of like spending time with you.”

He almost choked on his tuna, she really did like him! She was going out of her way to spend time with him, did that validate the way he felt about her? How did he feel about her, exactly?

She confused him. He enjoyed her company, he liked talking to her, but did he want to be more than just friends? Would she be up for that? Questions swirled in his mind as he tried to figure out his own unfamiliar emotions, the sandwich hovering in front of his face.

She startled him, wiping a stray blob of mayonnaise from the corner of his mouth with a tissue.

You look concerned, Lieutenant. Don't worry, you'll have your new arms before you know it, then you'll be able to hold your own sandwiches.”

***

They finished their sandwiches, then Kaisha took him back to his hospital room, leaving him alone to continue her duties. He had enjoyed their short jaunt to the plaza, it had been the only real moment of levity since he had arrived on the station and it helped him forget about his situation. He switched on the television with a voice command, channel surfing absent-mindedly while he thought about Kaisha. She had said that she enjoyed spending time with him, and practically every time she had gotten a break from her work, she had taken advantage of it to hang out with him. He wondered what she really thought of him. She had mentioned two different peers who had taken human mates, was that intentional or was he just overanalyzing casual conversation?

He decided that he liked her, he liked the way that she made him feel. The way that he missed her when she wasn't around, the way that he eagerly awaited her return, the way that she tried her hardest to cheer him up. Azi had rattled him, but Kaisha was different, and not just in terms of her appearance. She was kind and considerate, caring, where Azi had been ruthless and callous. Maybe it was a racial distinction, hard to speculate with so little information.

He could feel the fabric of the bed sheet on his prosthetic leg, he could really feel it. The weight of it, the texture of the fabric, it was surreal. If the hands were anything like this, and they would be more accurate than the leg with individual fingers, then perhaps one day he might be able to actually reach out and touch her. Feel the texture of her fur and the warmth of her body.

No, it was too early to imagine such encounters. He would wait, bide his time and see if the buxom alien did not simply lose interest in him.

He had exerted himself more than usual that day, and so quickly fell asleep to the drone of the station programming.

***

Try taking a step, don't put too much weight on the limb at first.”

Kaisha released him, the harness that held him upright digging into his armpits, strapped tightly around his chest and attached to a robotic arm that descended from the facility ceiling. It followed him around the room as he stumbled awkwardly. He was in the rehab center, a large gym in the hospital that contained all of the necessary equipment to rehabilitate wounded soldiers. The arm would keep him from toppling over as he tried to walk. Kaisha watched him attempt to lap the room, her arms crossed.

It was so damned difficult, much harder than he had expected it to be. The leg just wouldn't do what he wanted it to. The messages that his brain sent to it were garbled and poorly interpreted because the muscles and tendons that they used to command no longer existed. The prosthetic was a far simpler system, he would have to learn to block out all of the superfluous noise that was no longer necessary to drive it.

He tried to focus on placing one foot in front of the other, but his prosthetic buckled and he stumbled, the arm preventing him from falling to the floor.

It hurts,” he complained.

It will hurt, even through the gel pack. The limb is pressing against scar tissue. Over time the pain will lessen, but it might never go away entirely. Focus, Lieutenant. The leg works perfectly, and there's nothing wrong with your brain, you just have to learn to speak to the leg in a way it can interpret.”

The robotic arm righted him again, and he took another tentative step, the prosthetic jerking unnaturally as he tried to make it walk.

Come on you stupid thing, do as I tell you!”

It buckled, and again he fell, the arm catching him in the harness. He hung there, rotating slowly, his face reddening with anger and frustration. Kaisha walked over to him, sitting beside him on the floor. She was almost at head height to him despite her seated position.

Nobody expects you to get it down all in one day, this is hard, it will take a while. Take your time. If it takes you a month or a year, then that's how long it will take,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Maybe we should have started with my arms...”

What makes you think those will be any easier?”

He rose again, trying to will the leg to obey him. He managed a few steps, then toppled over.

That wasn't too bad!” Kaisha said, trying to encourage him. “Let's try something else though.” She walked across the room and retrieved a large exercise ball, placing it before him. “Try to kick this ball.”

He screwed up his face, concentrating hard on moving the joints in the prosthetic limb. No muscles, no tendons, forget the way the old leg worked. Just focus on the knee and heel. He drew back the leg, bending it at the knee, then tried to kick. The motors whirred, and the carbon foot tapped the ball gently, causing it to roll away from him.

Good! Good! Not quite a kick, but those were the correct movements.”

I have to concentrate so hard, think about everything that I try to do. Will it always be like that?”

No, over time you'll adapt, and it will feel completely natural. Some days you'll forget that you even have a prosthetic.”

He doubted that, but it was just like learning to operate any new machine. With enough practice, it should become second nature, just with the added difficulty of being operated by his goddamned mind. There was no manual, nobody could tell him what to do, he'd just have to figure it out for himself.

If you get too tired, take a break,” Kaisha added. “Remember, you've been in a hospital bed for over a month, you'll be out of shape.”

He resumed walking around the circumference of the gym, staggering and falling after every few steps, but he persevered. This wasn't any harder than basic had been, no harder than fighting a battle. He could do this, he could win.

***

Every day, Kaisha would take him to the gym, and every day he would work himself to exhaustion. Sweat stained his shirt as he marched, suspended by the gyroscopic arm. The pain in his stump was intense, but he worked through it. He only showed a little improvement at first, but as the days dragged on, small steps became strides and he started to understand the way that the prosthetic expected him to think. He began to tailor his commands in a way that it could interpret, finding a rhythm, a gait. On what must have been the second week of trying he managed to lap the room without falling, and Kiasha stood, clasping her hands to her chest.

Yes! You're doing it, Lieutenant! Don't stop!”

He laughed through his fatigue, pride swelling in his chest as he completed a second lap. Then he missed a step and the leg crumpled under him, leaving him dangling from the chest harness. Kaisha trotted over to him, making his heart skip as she lifted him off the ground, embracing him in a powerful hug that squeezed the air from his lungs.

You did it! I've never seen a patient take to a prosthetic so quickly!”

She put him down sheepishly, realizing what she was doing, and Moralez interrupted her before she could apologize.

I get it now! I understand. It isn't perfect yet, it will take more time to get used to it, but it was just a matter of figuring out what muscles and tendons do what now. I mean, I don't have any muscles or tendons anymore. But the nerves are still there, and they're hooked up to the limb. It's as if someone scrambled your keyboard, and you had to learn to type all over again. You just have to figure out where the keys are and get used to the fact that G is now V, and F is now O, if that makes sense...”

Yes, I understand.”

I'll be able to hug you back in no time.”

I'd like that,” she replied with a warm smile. He started off again, his pace brisker now, the leg really was behaving the way he wanted it to for the most part. The heel was springy, the feedback realistic. He just had to iron out the kinks.

***

Moralez walked beside Kaisha unaided. He felt like an old man, limping slightly. His pace was slow, but he was doing it. She hovered nearby, ready to catch him with her cat-like reflexes if he should stumble and fall. The motors droned softly as they powered him forward, and he noted that he could feel the texture of the floor beneath his foot. Maybe he'd need to buy another shoe.

They arrived at the printing facility, and this time Moralez stepped through the automatic doors under his own power.

Well, look at you! Du bist hoch! I didn't realize you were so tall, Lieutenant.” Kurtz walked over to greet them, appraising Moralez as he stood unsteadily on his prosthetic. The engineer crouched to examine the leg. “Good synchronization, you are taking to it...how do they say...like a fish to water.” He stood and turned to Kaisha. “And you, fräulein, how did you manage this? Have you developed some Borealan rehabilitation technique that we humans aren't aware of?”

Not at all,” she beamed, steadying Moralez with a hand around his waist. “He did it all himself, I've never seen anything like it. He hardly set foot outside of that gym until he got it done.”

Da, a soldier to his core. Now, I assume that you're here for the next step, so to speak? Come with me.” They followed him back over to the scanning machine, and Moralez stood, what was left of his arms outstretched. The flexible arm on the machine examined his stumps with its sensor, scanning the healing tissue through the bandages, and again the 3D models appeared on the adjacent monitor. Kurtz examined them, a frown darkening his face.

Kaisha, please come and look at this.”

The two stood by the monitor with concerned expressions, using medical terms Moralez didn't understand and pointing at an X-ray. He waited patiently for Kaisha to explain what was happening. After a couple of minutes, she gave him a sideways glance, seeing that he was becoming worried and walking back over to him.

There may be a complication. When we first operated on you, we tried to save as much of the original limbs as possible, that's standard procedure. The problem is that what's left of the humerus on your left arm, the bone above the elbow, has not healed well. There are micro-fractures in the bone, the stress of attaching a prosthetic to it would likely shatter it.”

Does that mean I can only have one prosthetic?”

No, I am confident that we can simply further amputate the limb down to the scapula, to match your right arm. However, that in itself will be a complex operation that will require a long recovery. As with any surgical procedure, there are potential complications. The medical board doesn't like to approve procedures such as this in cases that aren't life-threatening, but I believe I can convince them to make an exception. It is my opinion that if you can be restored to full functionality, you may be able to resume your duties one day.”

That was my hope, yes.”

For now, we'll focus on your right arm. I was going to recommend that we do this one limb at a time regardless, so it should work out just fine.”

Kurtz waved him over to the console, and he walked towards him carefully, mindful not to trip on the wiring that connected the scanner to the bank of monitors.

There are fewer models of prosthetic arm,” the engineer said, swiping past images of different components on the touchscreen. “Precision is universally preferred by patients. We do have a few unique options available, but I assume that you'll be wanting the most advanced and accurate model we can build for you. It very closely mimics the dexterity of a real human arm, and the tactile feedback is very responsive.”

Yes, I don't care about aesthetics, but I'd like it to have five fingers with as much sensory feedback as you can cram into them.”

Kurtz nodded, selecting components and dragging them between the screens, assembling them into a mockup.

Da, I can arrange that.”

Thanks again, Kurtz. I'll see you soon.”

***

The second operation went well. Kaisha was able to secure permission to amputate the second arm, but they decided that the surgeries should be done separately to minimize risk. When Moralez finally crawled his way out of the artificial sleep brought on by the anesthetic, he had a socket on his right arm, with what looked like a kind of ball joint protruding from the flat surface. He had expected another metal rod, but Kaisha explained that there was nothing left to attach it to, as the rod on his thigh was an extension of the severed femur and his right arm had been amputated down to the shoulder. There was a similar gel layer acting as a buffer between the polymer socket and his healing flesh, and the apparatus was anchored to his scapula, more commonly known as the shoulder blade. He wasn't looking forward to having the little wires burrow into his nervous system again, but the eagerness to attach his new arm overcame his apprehension, and he waited patiently for the two days it would take to heal up before he could return to Kurtz.

He passed the time in the gym, doing laps, now without the need for the stabilizing arm and harness. He hadn't fallen for a few days. His leg was becoming more responsive the more he used it, and as his confidence rose, he felt as if it began to respond more quickly and accurately to his commands. Perhaps that was the psychological element that Kaisha had spoken of.

The time finally came to return to the printing facility, and Kaisha arrived to fetch him, her smile wide as he jogged over to her.

I can't believe the progress you've made, Lieutenant. You can practically run now. How does it feel?”

Good,” he panted, coming to a stop beside her. “The impact still hurts my stump, but its getting better and better.”

We can probably control that with medication, though I doubt it will be necessary in your case. Are you ready to return to Kurtz so that he can fit your new arm?”

He nodded enthusiastically, following her out of the building and into the torus.

***

When they arrived at the printing facility Kurtz was already waiting for them, Kaisha must have called ahead. He hefted the prosthetic arm from the workbench, holding it up so Moralez could get a good look at it.

As you can see, Lieutenant, this device is very advanced. The motors that drive it are exceptionally strong, far moreso than a human arm, though there are limiters enabled to prevent it from breaking your shoulder. While it has the strength, it lacks the leverage required to make use of that strength. It has five articulated fingers with a very comparable dexterity and response time to their organic equivalents. You will be able to fire a rifle or catch a ball, even pet a cat should you so wish. Any handicap, once you have become accustomed to the limb, should be insignificant.”

Moralez leaned in to see the device closer. It was far more filled out than the leg had been. The shaped polymer casing protected the innumerable motors and vulnerable wiring within, giving the arm an oddly muscular profile. The casing was black, with shiny metal bolts spotting its smooth surface. The motors at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist were white, with blocks of red text and warning markings around the moving parts. It looked awesome, like industrial machinery. The fingertips had treads for grip, almost like a tire or a shoe.

At a glance, it could be mistaken for armor, and the black color would blend well with UNN protective gear. Tasteful.

The motors have protective covers,” Kutz explained, “but I won't attach those just yet. Are you ready for this?”

I am,” Moralez replied, his expression stern. “Let's do it.”

Kurtz lifted the limb to his shoulder, slotting it onto the exposed joint, securing it with a click that vibrated through Moralez' bones. He retrieved a tablet computer, releasing the long, snaking wire and hooking it up to a data port at the shoulder.

Brace yourself, you know how this works.”

Moralez nodded, gritting his teeth as he felt the creeping sensation of the nerve connections making contact with his skin through the cushion of gel. They penetrated his scar tissue, and again the pain of a hundred toothaches assaulted him. It was somehow worse having it closer to his head, white-hot agony flaring as the questing wires searched out his severed nerves, fusing with them and making him reel.

He felt as if he might pass out, but Kaisha steadied him with a gentle hand as the device bored into his body.

It is done,” Kurtz stated, removing the cable and winding it back into his tablet. Moralez opened his eyes, cold sweat dripping down his forehead. He wiped it away with the back of his hand, panting.

Damn, that was really something. Is it...hey, what's wrong?” Kurtz and Kaisha were staring at him in disbelief, Kaisha's slack jaw gradually becoming a wide grin. Then he realized, holding his new hand before his face, flexing the fingers. It had only just been attached, and yet the motion had been so natural, the sensation so accurate. He hadn't even thought about it. It had taken him days to be able to use the leg in any useful capacity, but the arm already felt like an extension of his own body. It was jerky, shuddering as he rolled the wrist, but he was using it.

Well...that's a first,” Kurtz commented, taken aback.

Moralez turned to Kaisha, reaching out with the trembling hand and dragging his fingers through the fur on her arm. She didn't protest, smiling as he combed her downy coat.

Do you feel it?” she asked.

He nodded. He could feel the texture of her fur, the silky hair passing between his fingers, the warmth of her body beneath it.

It's amazing,” he muttered. “I mean, the foot was impressive, but this...” He clenched the fist experimentally, then extended the arm towards Kurtz, opening the palm. The engineer took his hand gingerly.

Don't crush my hand now. As much as I take pride in my work, I'd rather keep the original.”

They shook, Moralez' motions jerky, but careful.

Thank you, Kurtz. I don't know how I can ever repay you for this.”

Don't worry, the salary that the UNN pays me will suffice,” he laughed. “Don't forget to come back for the second one, I'm curious to see what kind of progress you make.”

***

Moralez waved goodbye to Kurtz with his new arm as they left the building, returning to the cool breeze of the torus. He felt a little off balance with the new weight on his right side, but he adjusted quickly, flexing his fingers experimentally as they walked. After a couple of minutes, he noticed that Kaisha was smirking at him.

What's gotten into you?” he asked, taking every opportunity to gesture with his new hand. The more he used it, the smoother and more precise its motions would become.

I was just thinking,” she said, loping slowly next to him to match his pace. “When you got your new arm, the first thing that you wanted to do, of all the things you could have done with it...was touch me.”

His face began to burn, realizing that she was right. It had been his first instinct, to reach out and feel the texture of Kaisha's soft fur. He hadn't even stopped to think about how it might look.

I don't mind,” she added, trying to stifle a chuckle with her hand. She extended the other towards him, opening her thick, fluffy fingers. “You can hold my hand if you want to.”

He reached out after a moment of hesitation and interlocked his fingers with hers. She only had three, and it was a little awkward due to their difference in size, but the flood of sensation through his new limb was immediate. He felt the tickle of her furry palm, the heat of her body, and the gentle pressure as she held him. It was as if a new door had opened to him. His awareness was expanded, extended, the prosthetic felt as if it was covered in a layer of his own skin. He changed the subject quickly, trying to control his heart rate as it fluttered in his chest.

So, Kurtz seemed surprised when I started using the prosthetic, why was that?”

Kaisha scratched her chin with her free hand, she looked pensive, her grip on his new arm still firm.

We've not really seen anyone take to a new limb so quickly. Your experience with your leg contributed to that, of course. However, your movements were reflexive, natural. It didn't look like you had to think about the actions that you wanted to take.”

Moralez squeezed her hand softly, and she grinned down at him.

It just feels natural to me. Maybe it's a psychological thing, you said that was a factor, right? This arm is proportioned about the same as my organic one was, it has five fingers, the color of the polymer makes it look as if I'm just wearing my UNN armor over it. If I squint, I can kind of pretend it's my real arm and that I never lost it.”

You have remarkable control over it, I imagine very little rehabilitation will be required.”

They walked together, hand in hand, until they came to the doors of the hospital building. Kaisha released his prosthetic from her grasp, and he felt the cool air on it, the absence of her warmth. There were so many subtle sensations that he had taken for granted in the past. It’s true what they say, you never know what you have until it gets taken away.

I have to get back to work,” she lamented. “Now that you're steadier on your leg, why not explore the Pinwheel a little? There's nowhere in the torus that is off-limits besides the spokes that lead to the central hub, and a few buildings that wouldn't interest you like the barracks or the armory. The recreation center is down that way,” she said, pointing downspin of the rotating torus.

Maybe I'll do that, come see me when you're next off-duty.”

She turned away from him to enter the building, then paused for a moment, coming back to face him again. She leaned down and planted a kiss on his forehead, her lips smooth and warm. She drew away, watching him blush with her big, blue eyes and then shooed him away playfully.

Off you go, tin soldier.”

He started to walk off, turning his head to watch her disappear inside the hospital.

***

Moralez would have skipped if he could manage it without falling on his face. Maybe one day he'd have enough control over the leg to allow for that kind of thing. It was no longer ambiguous, Kaisha really did like him, she had kissed him. On the forehead, but a kiss was a kiss.

Fuck Azi, he wasn't going to let his hangups concerning Borealans spoil a good relationship, he wanted to see this through.

He wandered through the massive space station, wondering how it had been built. It must have been constructed in sections and then assembled on-site, there was no way to move something this large, even if you tasked a whole fleet of jump carriers with pulling it along. Even if you had some super-motor that would accelerate it, you'd need an equivalent force to decelerate it.

It really was like walking through a city street. The curvature beneath his feet was imperceptible, the only indication that he was inside a giant ring was the way that the walkway in the far distance gradually sloped out of view. The buildings that lined the walls to his left and right were an endless curiosity to him, coming in all shapes and sizes. In the areas that personnel on leave and civilian visitors obviously frequented the most, great care had been taken to disguise them. There was less of the off-white material used as the foundation visible, painted over or hidden behind decorative plants, their facades molded from the hull material of the station to give the impression of bricks and slats. In the more spartan and functional areas where maintenance was performed more frequently, or where the military drilled, the buildings were mostly white and blocky. Wherever he went, the sky remained the same, miles and miles of blue paint dotted with clouds and broken up by the glowing sunlamps.

There were colored lines printed on the floor, like one might find in a spaceport terminal, and one needed only to follow them to arrive at one of the designated quadrants. Moralez knew the recreational facility was in the military quadrant, he wasn't stationed on the Pinwheel, but he didn't think that anyone would complain if a lieutenant dropped in for a drink. He wanted to try his hand at darts, quite literally. He followed the appropriate markings as he weaved through the crowds of people, enjoying his newfound freedom of movement.

He eventually arrived at the long, squat structure, and entered through the automatic doors. Immediately the familiar smells of acrid smoke and pub food washed over him, drawing him deeper inside like a moth to the flame. It was downright lavish, there was a long bar made from what must be imitation mahogany, lined with bottles and taps. It was dimly lit by yellow lamps, a haze of grey smoke swirling around the spinning blades of the ceiling fans. Tables dotted the large, open space, some of them occupied by UNN personnel wearing their Navy-blue overalls. A few engineers in yellow coveralls milled about a pool table, and everywhere Moralez looked there were aliens. A pack of Borealans in matching blue uniforms were hunched over one of the round tables, smoking e-cigarettes and sipping at what looked like some kind of pink-colored wine as they gazed shiftily about the room. There was a Krell playing cards with a group of Marines, and Moralez could see a few more of the large reptiles around the room. There were no Brokers, but when did anyone ever see one of those?

If only he could have been so spoiled when he had first joined the UNN, back before the treaty with the Coalition was ratified. This wasn't a boot camp or a military base, it was a fucking holiday resort.

He walked through the middle of the room, making his way towards the bar. He sat gingerly on one of the large stools, steadying himself with his new hand. He sank a little, noticing that it had a spring around the chrome support. It seemed as though the stool would sink to an appropriate height depending on the weight of its user, that way the larger aliens didn’t have to stoop. The varnished wood was smooth under his fingers. Of course, he doubted that it was actually wood, it would just be made to resemble it. Even the UNN wouldn't ship mahogany counters halfway across the known Galaxy.

The bartender walked over to him, sliding a clear glass across the bar as he went.

What'll it be?”

Oh, I'm just exploring. I don't have any money on me at the moment,” he replied, feeling a little self-conscious. The man shrugged and left to serve another customer.

No money for a drink? That won't do.” A large female Borealan took a seat beside him, her weight sinking her down level with the counter. She leaned over the bar, eyeing him with her amber pupils. “You're Kaisha's patient right?”

Miss Raz, wasn’t it?”

Hey, you remembered my name, I'm flattered.” She drummed her fingers on the bar, her black claws making a clicking sound that alerted the bartender, and he hurried over.

Miss Elysiedde, the usual?”

Yeah, make it a double. One for me and one for stumpy over here.”

You really don't have to buy me a drink...Miss.” He didn't really know how to address her, it seemed rude to use her first name, but he didn't know her rank.

Just call me Raz,” she said, catching a glass of pink liquid that slid down the counter. “Heads up.” Another slid towards them, and Moralez steeled himself, catching the drink in his hand with a click of glass on plastic.

Well well,” Raz mused, lifting her drink and swirling it idly as she looked him up and down. “Kaisha has upped her game I see. Last time I saw you, you were being wheeled around like a vegetable. Now look at you, three-quarters complete.” She raised the glass to her mouth and took a draw, then Moralez followed suit. The drink was sweet, it tasted vaguely of berries, and the alcohol content was obviously very low. Damn it, if she had asked, he would have requested a good bourbon.

The strong, silent type, are you? I see why Kaisha likes you.”

Kaisha said that she likes me?” He almost dropped his glass and had to concentrate on keeping his grip firm. “She told you that?”

Yep.”

Should you really be telling me this..?”

The tall Borealan smirked, lowering her glass and watching the ice cubes as they floated.

People don't tell me things they don't want spread, got a bit of a mouth on me. Especially after a few of these,” she added as waved her drink at him, the ice clinking. She was making him a bit nervous, she resembled Azi, though her skin was a little lighter in tone and her hair was somewhat redder. Kaisha had said that this Borealan had taken a human mate, so surely that meant he was safe around her?

You've not been around my kind much, have you?” she asked.

No, not really,” he replied a little tersely.

Let me give you some advice. Kaisha is a huge softy, both literally and figuratively. If you like her, and don't try to claim otherwise because I can smell your pheromones, be romantic. She eats that shit up.”

He stared into the pink liquid in his glass, thinking.

Raz...you have a human mate, right?”

She nodded, taking another swig.

What's that like? I mean, what's the appeal? Why do you like him, and why would Kaisha like me?”

She considered for a moment before replying, dipping her furry finger into her drink and fishing for an ice cube with her hooked claw. She raised it to her mouth and crunched it loudly between her teeth.

I'll give you the rundown. Borealans fight, that's what we do. Put two of us in a room and there's gonna be a scrap, one will come out on top. Every social interaction is all about climbing that ladder, gaining more respect, growing your pack. But humans don't work that way. You guys are all about the friendship, you're in a state of flux. One minute you're saluting a superior, the next you're joking with a subordinate. Borealans can't get their heads around that, for us, every interaction is a military one. When you pat us on the back or throw some witty banter our way, well...it makes us want to tear your arms off.”

Well, that won't be a problem in my case.”

Very astute,” she laughed. “Thing about humans is, you're tiny, fragile. We can't just claw at you until you give in and fall in line like we do with other Borealans. When we get angry, we kinda get horny too. There's a whole thing about spreading dominant genes, but the details aren't important. What's important is that you little monkeys keep that tension, that excitement going. What would be a short, brutal encounter between two Borealans is drawn out and frustrating when you throw a human into the mix. Even when you give in, you're right back at it a couple of minutes later. Borealans don't commonly have what you'd call a relationship with other Borealans, but with humans, we can.”

That sounds...intense,” Moralez replied, testing the texture of the glass in his hand.

Well, we're kind of intense. Polars less so.”

And Kaisha is a Polar?”

Raz nodded, tapping her claws on the counter again. The bartender returned to refill her cup with the same pink beverage, she must come here often. She picked up the glass, pausing for a moment as she shot him a sideways glance.

So...why are you so afraid of me?”

What do you mean?” Moralez asked, becoming uncomfortable. “Why would you say something like that?”

Because it's coming out of your pores like sweat. A Borealan didn't do...” She gestured at his body in general, “this...to you, did they?”

No. Lost the leg to friendly fire, arms to a grenade,” and dignity to a Borealan he almost added. “I did have an...encounter with a Borealan a short while before that, though.”

I'm guessing that didn't go too well for you.”

Listen, Raz, I appreciate the drink, but I don't know you. This isn't something I'm comfortable talking to you about.” He started to rise from his seat, but Raz placed her clawed hand on his shoulder, pressing down to prevent it. He locked up, images of Azi flashing through his mind. Her orange hair, her black claws raking his skin, the copper taste of her thick tongue forcing its way into his mouth.

His prosthetic arm flinched involuntarily, knocking over his glass and spilling its contents across the bar. The alien withdrew her hand, scrutinizing him as his fingers twitched. He tried to get it back under control, and as he slowly calmed down, the tremors abated.

I can help you,” she said. “It's my job, you know, finding common ground between humans and Borealans. You should come to one of my classes, meet some recruits. It will make you feel better, show you that we're not all like the one who hurt you.”

He wanted to leave, to flee the walls of the bar that seemed to be closing in around him. But he was afraid that if he didn't relax and control his breathing first, his leg just wouldn't work. Was this what Kaisha had talked about? The emotional aspect of controlling the prosthetics? How could he function in combat if every time he was afraid or surprised, they just gave out on him?

You know, Kaisha is trained for this kind of thing,” Raz added. “She's good at it. Talk to her, tell her how you feel.”

He tried to control his breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth, deep breaths. He rose abruptly, a little unsteady on his prosthetic leg.

Thank you for the drink.”

Raz watched him hobble away, nursing her beverage as he disappeared through the automatic doors.

***

The more Moralez walked, the more his limbs seemed to behave. The exercise seemed to clear his mind and distract him from his demons. Raz had rattled him, she was too much like Azi. Her appearance, her mannerisms, her subtle aggression and her palpable sexuality. He wanted to get back to the hospital and just sleep for a while. Maybe she had been right, however, maybe he should talk to Kaisha about what he was going through. He couldn't just block it out, he wouldn't be able to function like this. He had felt so optimistic earlier in the day, invigorated by his success with the arm, but now self-doubt and the creeping shame that he associated with Azi poisoned his mood.

He didn't want Kaisha to know about it. She knew that he had been assaulted, she had surmised as much from his scars, but she didn't know why it was really eating away at him. The shame he felt, the guilt as his body had yielded to Azi, the way he had just rolled over and accepted what she was doing to him after what felt like a pitiable resistance in hindsight. The way that he woke up with an aching erection after memories of his encounter with her invaded his dreams.

What if that wasn't a normal reaction? What if it gave Kaisha a negative opinion of him after they had become so close? He didn't want to risk that, and so he powered forward, jogging as if he could outrun the dark cloud that hung over him.

CHAPTER 5: HURDLES

Moralez sat at a table in the gym, leaning over a toy barn. He dropped a wooden block shaped like a star into a matching hole, then picked up a circle in his prosthetic hand, manipulating the wooden shape in his fingers and inserting it into the appropriate slot. This was a toy for toddlers, he didn't see the point of it.

Kaisha hovered nearby, recording data on her tablet computer.

The dexterity is really amazing,” she said as she observed him. “I might have to ask the imaging wing to take a scan of your neural activity, we might find out something that could help us with our other patients.” She watched him insert a yellow triangle into its hole, then set the tablet down on the table beside him. “So I talked to Miss Raz earlier today, she told me that she met you at the recreational facility yesterday. She mentioned that you had some kind of...problem with your prosthetics? Did you not want to talk to me about it? It could be important.”

He forced a square block into a square hole. Damn that Raz, couldn't she just mind her own business?

Just a glitch. As you can see, I'm fine now.”

Well...that's not all she said. She told me you were afraid, avoidant. I'm sensing some of that avoidance right now. Why won't you talk to me? If there's something bothering you, something interfering with your neural link, bottling it up won't help you get better.”

He rose to his feet abruptly, a little unsteady on his leg.

Let's go for a walk, it helps.”

Kaisha hesitated for a moment, then nodded, following him out to the torus.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, the exercise and fresh air making him feel more in control. His prosthetics began to respond more accurately to his commands. Kaisha seemed to notice it too, watching his demeanor change and his gait become more natural.

A while ago, you asked me if what happened to me made me feel ashamed,” he began. There were so many people around him, but he wasn’t worried about anyone overhearing his confessions. There was anonymity in a crowd.

I remember, yes. You didn't reply,” she said, keeping pace beside him.

I'm worried that if I tell you how I feel, you'll think less of me.”

Kaisha seemed more frustrated than concerned, looking down at him with a frown.

You're always so concerned with how other people see you, how other people feel, that you never take the time to ask yourself how you feel.” Kaisha stopped him, placing her hand on his shoulder. He feared that he might seize up again and that his leg would fall out from under him, but her touch was different. Soft, gentle. “This is about you, Lieutenant. Your recovery, your rehabilitation. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.”

But what you think does matter, Kaisha, it matters to me...”

What happened to you wasn't your fault. There was nothing you could do to fight off a Borealan who was three times your weight, nor was there anything you could have done to save your limbs. You must realize that and move past it. Nothing can change what happened, but you can go beyond it, the past doesn't have to haunt you like this.”

His leg buckled and she caught him before he fell, helping him over to a planter in the middle of the walkway so that he might sit on the side, the green leaves of the shrubs tickling the back of his head.

There's massive interference,” Kiasha said, holding up his arm as the polymer fingers twitched violently. “You have to communicate with me so that I can help you,” she insisted. She stared at him with her reflective, blue eyes, concern etched on her face.

It felt...good,” he stammered, his arm rattling audibly in its casing. His stomach churned as if he were admitting to some disgusting secret. “I was scared, I was angry. But as I lost the will to fight her and started to just...let her have her way, when I didn't have the strength left to keep resisting her...” Kaisha watched him intently, her expression neutral. “It felt...good. I felt like I had no control over my body, she moved over me, and it responded to her against my will. It didn't matter how I felt about it.”

I see,” Kaisha replied, trailing off. Moralez' guts knotted, terrified that she might just disown him and leave him here, sitting in the middle of the station on his own. Instead, her expression softened and she perched on the planter beside him, her fluffy tail trailing into the bushes behind them. She straightened the white coat that she always wore, taking a moment before continuing.

Why do you blame yourself for what happened to you?”

He had to think about it for a moment, trying to calm down and breathe more regularly.

I'm a Marine. I'm supposed to be in control of my men, the situation, myself. I'm supposed to be disciplined, but I lost everything on Kruger. The men under my command were killed, my limbs were blown off, I couldn't fight Azi. I did my best, but it was never good enough. I was powerless to stop any of it.” Moralez felt Kaisha's furry had on his shoulder again, the weight of it was somehow comforting. “If I had been a better leader, if I had made different decisions, maybe they would still be alive. Maybe there was something that I could have done to take Azi down, I tried to stab her in the neck. Did I telegraph the attack? Could I have shot her if I had drawn quicker? She forced herself on me, and some part of me enjoyed it, what does that make me?”

Kaisha wrapped her arms around him, pressing his head into the downy fur that protruded from beneath her collar, her embrace warm and gentle. He felt her breath ruffle his hair, and the heavy thud of her massive heart calmed him, the rhythm somehow soothing. She smelled good, like perfume, and her silky coat tickled his cheeks. The trembling in his arm diminished, and he gained more control over it, the vibrations ceasing as he let it rest about her waist.

You've not done anything to be ashamed of, Lieutenant. I don't think less of you, I think more of you. You went through so much in so short a time, and yet you're making faster progress than anyone I've ever treated.” He felt her hand stroke the back of his head, the sensation soothing. “Don't you feel better now that you've gotten it off your chest?”

He withdrew from her hug, and looked at his hand, flexing the fingers. Not perfect, but better, much better. It was almost as if the prosthetics were a direct indicator of his emotional state. A line-in to his subconscious mind.

I should have trusted you from the start,” he mumbled.

It's fine, these things take time. You're exhibiting many symptoms of a stress disorder, which is a completely normal reaction to an abnormal experience. I can fix that.”

I take it this won't be as easy as just bolting on a new arm?”

Not even remotely, but I can only succeed if you talk to me. We have to work together on this.”

Moralez nodded, standing up. His leg was still a bit wobbly, but if he started walking again, he knew that it would even out.

You hungry? Sandwiches are on me,” he said. He offered her his hand, the fingers extended. Kaisha took it and rose to her feet, a smile on her furry face as she towered over him. The previously garbled signals now interpreted her fluffy palm and the pads on her fingers as they closed around it.

I want bacon today.”

***

Kaisha chewed her giant sandwich happily. There must have been at least a pound of bacon in it, along with all the grease and butter that her kind so enjoyed. She must have an incredible metabolism to be able to eat as much as she did. Moralez watched her, smirking as she used her textured, feline tongue to clean the oil from her furry fingers. He took a bite of his meatball sub, savoring the taste. It would barely have been a mouthful to her, and he wondered what the cost of feeding even the minority of Borealans who were stationed on Pinwheel amounted to. One of the many benefits of living on the station was real food, it beat attempting to warm up an MRE in a rainstorm any day.

I think it's a good idea,” Kaisha commented, taking another bite of her sandwich and mumbling as she chewed. “Being around recruits could be beneficial. It’s like exposure therapy, you'll see that they aren't dangerous and that what happened to you was an exception to the rule.”

I don't know, a whole room full of Mad Cats?”

Kaisha chuckled, swallowing.

They're just kids, Lieutenant. They're probably nearly as scared as you are, it's their first time off-world, they're in a new environment surrounded by aliens.” She nudged him with her elbow. “Besides, Raz will be there to keep you safe. I can come too if you want.”

If you have the time, I'd appreciate that.”

Well, I'm free right now. Let me see what Miss Raz is doing, hang on.”

She rose to her feet and walked across the plaza to one of the walls. There were monitors inlaid at wide intervals in the hull of the station, Moralez had never noticed them before, were they some kind of payphones? She typed in what must have been an address, and after a momentary delay, a flare of orange hair appeared on the screen. She was too far away for him to eavesdrop, but the two aliens talked for a couple of minutes before Kaisha terminated the connection and returned to their bench.

We can go see her right now if you're ready,” she said. Moralez chewed his sandwich, considering. “Thinking about it won't help, better to just commit.”

Alright, let's go.”

***

It was a fairly short walk as the military quadrant was adjacent to the tourist quadrant, and the crowds of personnel on leave were soon replaced with uniformed soldiers with places to be, hurrying between the larger aliens like cars passing trucks on a highway. Kaisha led him to a building that was just across from the recruit barracks. Both were squat, spartan buildings, colored the same off-white as the floor and walls of the torus. They entered through the main door into a hallway, tall enough for Kaisha to stand without crouching, and probably for two of the aliens to pass each other without colliding. The doors that lined the walls were equally large. This structure had been constructed, or more likely modified, with housing Borealans in mind. Rather than feeling as if he were in a Borealan-sized building, the human style made him feel as if he had shrunk down to the size of a child. He might as well be a kid being dropped off for his first day of school by his mother.

Kaisha's round, fluffy ears swiveled, she could obviously hear the class, wherever it was taking place. He followed her down the hall, and they turned a corner, Kaisha selecting what seemed to Moralez to be a random door. She ushered him through, and he found himself standing in a room with a dozen seated Borealans and a grinning Raz.

Kaisha, Lieutenant Moralez, I'm glad you decided to join us.”

The Borealans watched him curiously, all clad in matching blue uniforms that labeled them as recruits, a dozen pairs of feline eyes scrutinizing him. Most were of the red-headed variety like Raz, but here and there was a head of black or blonde hair, and some had skin tones noticeably darker than the others. Their markings varied too, some had tiger stripes while others had spots like a cheetah or a leopard. It was hard to determine their ages. They didn’t seem to be children, but they clearly weren’t veterans either. If recruiting age for Borealans was anything like that for humans, they were probably in their late teens and early twenties.

He felt out of place and self-conscious as they examined him with their feline pupils. Into the goddamned lion's den, he thought to himself, his prosthetic fingers beginning to tremble.

Recruits!” Raz bellowed, her voice commanding. “This is Lieutenant Moralez and Doctor Kaisha, you are to treat them as Alphas, they will be sitting in on today's lessons.” The recruits stood and saluted in unison. They were well drilled, it must take a firm hand to keep this many of them in line. Moralez felt his confidence rise a little. This was a military setting after all, and he ranked higher than anyone here. Not that rank had mattered at all to Azi, but it was still a familiar environment.

Raz waved Moralez over, and he walked to the front of the class to stand beside her, his head scarcely reaching her bust. Meanwhile, Kaisha found a Borealan-sized seat at the back. They seemed almost as curious about her as they were about him, and he was a tiny half-ape, half-cyborg. Were Polars uncommon on the homeworld?

As many of you are fresh off the shuttle,” Raz began, “you will not have had many interactions with humans. You are here to learn, to socialize, and to gain an understanding not only of how humans behave but how you must behave around them.” She gestured to Moralez, who was standing patiently, not really understanding what he had just signed up for. “Status among humans is not decided by size, weight or strength. It is decided by,” she balled her fist to punctuate the statement, “accomplishment!”

One of the recruits asked her a question in their native language, hissing and gurgling.

English only in class, Korza,” she replied tersely. The alien steeled himself and tried again, this time in broken English with an odd, rolling accent.

How you know accomplish...ment?”

The UNN is divided into ranks. The lowest, like you fleabags, are privates. You have no accomplishments, you will obey all orders given as if they came from the mouth of your Patriarch.”

Raz retrieved a long, telescoping stick from her table, and pointed to Moralez. He was wearing a UNN-blue dress shirt, one sleeve tied where his left arm ended, and matching pants that ended in a single boot. It wasn't quite formal, but Moralez had no civilian clothes on hand, and he had been provided with standard issue replacements for his shredded gear when he had arrived on the station. She hovered over the single, silver bar on his collar.

Observe the metal badge, you will learn to recognize them. This one indicates the rank of First Lieutenant. Markings and medals also appear on the chest, here.” She moved the pointer down to his breast, although he had none to display at that time. “Any questions?”

Korza raised his hand again, and Raz nodded to him.

What happen to you?” the Borealan asked. Raz shot him an angry look and hissed something, and the alien bowed his head submissively. “Sorry, what happen to you, sir?”

Emboldened by having his rank clearly stated, Moralez felt like giving the aliens a show. The slight trembling in his digits had abated, and he raised the arm to his face, catching the sleeve in his teeth and pulling it back to expose the length of the robotic arm. He held it above his head so that they could get a good look at it, flexing the fingers. The recruits muttered amongst themselves, curious and surprised.

I lost my arms to a grenade, and one leg to cannon fire from a Penguin’s twenty-millimeter cannon.” He pulled up his trouser leg with his hand, showing off the stylized prosthetic. “We were fighting Bugs, Betelgeusians on Kruger III. We encountered a new variant, warriors, bigger and stronger than the drones that we were used to fighting. They were resistant to railgun fire, grenades, and bayonets. The only way we could bring one down was cannon fire, but it was practically on top of me at the time. My leg was hit by a shell during a strafing run, then the grenade that I had been cooking went off in my hands. My armor stopped the shrapnel from killing me on the spot, but it was a close call. Half of my organs were replaced too.”

The recruits seemed impressed by this, nodding approvingly and murmuring to each other. Borealans were a martial people, and it seemed that they respected conspicuously injured soldiers as if it were some kind of achievement. In a way, being back on his feet after such an ordeal was.

Raz gestured for him to take a seat and so he moved to the back of the class, hopping up onto one of the oversized stools next to Kaisha. A few of the aliens turned their heads, sneaking looks at the pair.

What followed was a class on military insignias and command structure. Moralez was all too familiar with it, but seemed to be a new concept to most of the recruits. There wasn't much for him to do besides wait, but as the lesson dragged on, he started to become less anxious around the massive aliens who filled the room. They were entirely submissive towards Raz, and he assumed anyone who outranked them. There was no hint of the aggression that Azi had displayed towards him. That said, Lambda pack as a whole had been submissive to him at first, it was only when Azi had seen her chance to take command that her attitude had changed.

Feeling okay?” Kaisha whispered. He nodded, clenching his mechanical fist. There were no tremors, but he felt hyper-vigilant, on edge as if waiting for something to go wrong. He missed the comforting weight of his M1911 on his hip. Come to think of it, where was his gun? He had been wearing it on Kruger. Had it been destroyed by the grenade? Unlikely. Maybe he'd inquire about it when he got back to the hospital.

His train of thought was broken as a man entered the room, he was human, wearing insignias that labeled him as a firing range instructor. Raz seemed especially happy to see him, and the recruits stood to salute.

How are they doing, Raz? Ready for some more hands-on training?”

She called the recruits to attention, and they rose to their feet, falling in and filing out of the room in a line. Kaisha stood, and Moralez followed her lead. They left the building, exiting onto the torus, and made their way towards what must be the firing range. The Borealan recruits stayed close-knit, with Raz at the head of the formation, while Kaisha and the two humans walked nearby. It reminded Moralez of ducklings following their mother.

The human instructor matched pace with Moralez, extending his hand in greeting. He took it, closing his prosthetic fingers around it.

I'm Stanley, I work with Raz to train new recruits.”

Moralez, Lieutenant.”

The man withdrew his hand, marveling at Moralez' robotic arm.

That's a fancy piece of hardware you have there. Is it one of Kurtz' jobs?”

Yeah, he did my leg too. I'll be having a second arm fit pretty soon,” Moralez replied. “So you're the weapons guy around here, huh?”

Yeah, I'm in charge of the range these days. Most of my time is spent teaching recruits how to use an XMR. We were supposed to have the new model in, but they fucked up the sights, so it's back to the classics for the time being. Where did you serve, if you don't mind my asking?”

I've been in the UNN since before the Coalition, but most recently, Kruger. That's where I...”

Stanley looked him up and down, nodding.

I've heard the reports coming in from there, it sounded bad. You're looking good though, I've seen Kaisha fixing up guys who looked a hell of a lot worse for wear with comparatively minor injuries.”

You guys know each other too?”

Stanley nodded, and Kaisha spoke from behind them.

There aren't very many Borealans on Pinwheel, despite how it might look. We tend to gravitate towards each other.”

Moralez appraised Stanley as he walked beside him. The instructor was so unassuming, was he really...what was the term the cats had used? Mated to Raz? What did that entail? He wanted to ask, wanted to know more about how humans and Borealans courted, but he felt that it might be too forward. He had just met the man, after all, he couldn't start asking probing questions about his love life just yet.

They arrived at the range, and the Borealans filed in through the door under Raz's supervision. Stanley, Kaisha and Moralez entered after them, and the familiar smells of super-heated plasma rose to the soldier's nose. The facility was bustling. Dozens of humans and even a few Krell occupied the gun range, firing off shots and modifying their XMRs, chatting and competing amongst themselves. Towards the front of the building was the range, maybe fifty booths where soldiers could fire their weapons at targets at variable distances. At the back were crates and shelves full of XMR parts, barrels and receivers, stocks and sights, any weapon attachment that he could imagine. Raz ushered the recruits to the back of the building, supervising them as they picked up the frames that were the basis of the weapons system, starting to add parts. They clearly had no idea what they were doing. Stanley's strategy must be to first allow them to fail and then instruct them on the proper assembly techniques. Moralez got the impression that Borealans might respond better to that kind of instruction.

The instructor stood beside him, grinning as he watched the Borealans adding bayonets to rifles with 18x zoom scopes and using heavy barrels without forward grips.

They're gonna fuck it up, but Borealans are stubborn. They'll insist they know how to operate a weapon unless you let them embarrass themselves first,” Stanley whispered, confirming Moralez' suspicions. “In about twenty minutes I'll go over there and save them.”

Moralez couldn't help but laugh as one of the Mad Cats sauntered confidently up to one of the booths, holding an abomination of an XMR. The kick from the poorly balanced weapon almost knocked it out of his hands as he fired it.

How about you, Moralez? You had a chance to get back to the range since your accident?”

He hadn't even thought about it. He held his mechanical hand up to his face, flexing the jointed fingers. Could he even fire a weapon now? Kurtz had said that the dexterity and response times were basically indistinguishable from those of a flesh and blood hand.

You can't fire an XMR one-handed,” Stanley continued, seeing his expression. “But I have something new that you might like.”

Curious, Moralez followed him to the back of the building, avoiding a giant Krell on the way who was hefting a huge XMR with a ballistic shield on the front. Stanley dug through some smaller boxes, then held up a small contraption, a little larger than a human hand.

What is it?” Moralez asked, unable to identify it.

This is the newly developed XMH, or X-Species Modular Handgun. We got a shipment along with the new XMR model the other day, I hear there's been a serious lack of sidearms on the front, and this is their solution. Works exactly the same way an XMR, just lower powered and miniaturized, obviously.” He passed the frame to Moralez who took it in his prosthetic hand, feeling the texture of the rubberized grip and the cold gunmetal. It was little more than a pistol grip attached to a small frame that housed attachment points for the components.

I hear that,” he said, enthusiastically. “I'd been relying on my old M1911, did the job at close range.”

Really? That old relic? I guess .45 will still stop most things when push comes to shove, but it can't compete with a hypersonic railgun slug.”

Moralez aimed the weapon, testing the balance and weight. It felt good, it had no barrel or attachments yet of course, but his impressions were positive so far.

Want to try it out?” Stanley asked with a grin. “As long as your hand doesn't go crazy and start firing into the recruits.”

It should be fine, might feel good to get some shots off again. I've been cooped up in that hospital for weeks.”

Stanley showed him where the parts for the handgun were, and Moralez placed the receiver on a shelf, selecting attachments and examining their properties. It was a little hard to assemble the weapon with one hand, but he braced it against the back wall, screwing on a long barrel, a high-capacity battery, and a reflex sight. He only ever used his 1911 in close quarters scenarios, and so he tried to build the XMH to fill that niche, with fast target acquisition and as much punch as he could cram into it. A longer barrel meant a higher muzzle velocity, as railguns used magnets placed at intervals along the barrel to accelerate the slug. More magnets meant a faster projectile that hit with more force.

He walked over to a booth, holding his arm straight and aiming down the glowing sight. It felt a little heavier than he might have liked, but his prosthetic arm would never grow tired, and it was stronger than a human equivalent. He squeezed off a shot, hitting the paper target in the shoulder. He felt the recoil in his arm, it didn't bother him, but it translated somewhat painfully into his still healing stump. Just another thing he'd have to grow accustomed to. He fired a couple more rounds. Despite being low power, as the larger XMR-sized batteries that powered the electromagnets in the rifles would not fit on such a small weapon, the projectiles achieved a high velocity. He didn't quite like the handling of it, however, and walked back over to the shelf to do some more tweaking.

He watched the recruits as he worked. Stanley was helping them now, instructing them on how the weapon should be balanced, how much it should weigh and where the contact points should be. The barrel length, appropriate sights, everything that the Borealans would need to build their personalized rifle. Kaisha and Raz were sat on a bench a short distance away, chatting and watching the soldiers work.

Moralez swapped out the magazine for a lower capacity version, trying to get the weight down a little, and added a less sensitive trigger. He examined the weapon, admiring his handiwork. It did feel good to have a gun in his hand again, even if the comforting feel of the metal was being transmitted via artificial nerves. He was glad he had come, he had been a little shaky around the Borealan recruits, but he felt better now. They really were just kids, fucking up their first XMR just as he had back when they had first been introduced.

He returned to the booth, testing both the XMH and his own arm. Kurtz had been right, shooting felt very natural. It was as if the prosthetic limb was correctly interpreting his muscle memory. There were no tremors in his fingers now, this was a setting he understood, he was comfortable here. He wasn't sure if the XMH could replace his treasured M1911, but it was a serviceable weapon. Maybe in time, he'd be able to modify it to better suit his needs.

A recruit sidled up to the booth next to his, sporting a long-barreled automatic XMR, a curved banana magazine protruding from the receiver. It was Korza, the young male that he had spoken to in the classroom. He shouldered the weapon, holding the trigger down and spraying at the target, struggling to control the recoil. He hit it, but his gun had the accuracy of a shotgun blast. The Borealan hissed and cursed, glaring at the glowing coils on the barrel as if they might somehow be at fault.

Moralez looked around for Stanley, but the instructor was busy with another student, so he stepped over to Korza's booth.

Hey Korza, having some problems?” The alien turned to look at him, surprised, then after a moment of hesitation he saluted.

Lieutenant, sir. My rifle, it...I cannot do it right.”

The alien seemed to have more problems with English than his peers, but he could make himself understood well enough. Moralez waved him back out of the booth, gesturing for him to hold the weapon up so that he could see it better. The problem was obvious, he was using a long barrel meant for a semi-automatic rifle with the receiver set to automatic, the damned thing would bounce all over the place because its weight wasn’t balanced.

Come with me Korza, I'll show you what you're doing wrong.”

The alien followed him obediently as he walked to the back of the range, sifting through crates for the parts that he wanted. He placed a medium barrel and a forward grip large enough for a Borealan hand on the shelf.

Okay, use these then see if it works better. Don't hold the trigger down, fire in bursts, a few shots at a time.”

Yes, sir.”

Korza took a minute to correct the design, slotting the new parts into place, then returned to the booth. He braced the weapon against his massive shoulder and fired it, his slugs hitting home, tearing apart the paper target's chest.

Better! Good grouping Korza, keep it up.” The alien grinned, and Moralez gave him a thumbs-up with his robot hand. Korza looked puzzled. “It means good!”

The Borealan curled his fingers, imitating the gesture, then turned back to the range. Stanley walked up behind Moralez and patted him on the back.

I see you and Korza are getting along, his grouping is really shaping up. So what did you think of the XMH? I'm interested to hear the opinion of someone who has seen a lot of combat.”

It's good, the fact that it exists at all is an improvement over letting the troops essentially fend for themselves when it comes to sidearms.” He handed his weapon to Stanley, who examined it briefly before walking over to a booth and firing it. He struggled to control the kick, seeming shocked by the recoil of the gun. He brought it back to Moralez, waving his hand to dispel the pain.

Damn, and you can fire that thing one-handed? There must be some incredible recoil compensation in that prosthetic of yours.”

Is it really that bad?”

Yeah, damn thing almost broke my wrist.”

Odd. I didn't even feel it,” Moralez mused, taking the handgun back from Stanley. He took his place in the booth and fired off a few shots. He could feel the vibration travel up through his arm, irritating his shoulder, but besides for that he felt no recoil and had little need to compensate for it. Stanley watched him, scratching his stubbly chin.

That's really something, L.T.”

I guess being an amputee isn't all bad,” he replied, spinning the XMH on his finger and attempting to holster it. There was no holster, it was another reflexive movement, almost as if the arm was tapping into his brain of its own accord and taking cues from his subconscious mind. “Sorry, I'm still...working out the kinks.”

You want a holster for that? You can keep it if you like, officers are permitted to carry weapons on the station ever since an incident a while back with some Betelgeusian boarding parties. You can come back to the range whenever you like, too, help yourself to spare parts. Might help with the whole psychological thing you have going on.”

Sure. Thanks, Stanley.”

He was genuinely grateful, following the instructor to the back of the building where he began to rummage through more boxes.

Damn it, where did I put those holsters?” Foam packing material flew around as he dug, his back to Moralez. “Hope you don't mind me bringing up the psychological thing. Raz was talking about it with Kaisha, she talks about everything.”

It's fine, you may well be right.” Moralez checked they were out of earshot of Kaisha and Raz, then lowered his voice, turning back to Stanley. “So I wanted to ask you something rather personal, if that's cool with you.”

Let me guess, it's about our furry friends?”

Kaisha told me you and Raz are...an item. How does that work? What's it like being in a relationship with a Borealan?”

Stanley retrieved the holster that he had been looking for, black leather with an adjustable strap, and handed it to Moralez. He took it, but was unable to fasten it around his waist with one hand.

Sorry, hang on,” Stanley said. He took it back and removed the strap, returning the handgun holster to him. “You can clip this to your belt.” Moralez did as he suggested, slotting the XMH into place and fastening the catch.

Thanks, man. I appreciate it, feels good to have iron on my hip again.”

Don't worry about it,” Stanley replied. “Now, you wanted to know about me and Raz?” Moralez nodded, shifting his weight so that it rested on his good leg. “I wouldn't know where to start, saying things were complicated when we first met would be like saying Betelgeusians smell a little ripe. We worked it out, in time, but when Borealans and humans interact it's all crossed purposes. We don't understand one another off the bat, it has to be taught, that's why they send all the Borealans through our program before they get deployed. Me and Raz were probably the first to ever work out the cultural differences.”

What was that like? I've seen how they can get first hand...”

Well, it wasn't boring. Let’s put it that way,” Stanley chuckled, dodging the question. So Raz must have done something similar to what Moralez had experience with Azi. Probably not as extreme, or they wouldn't be together today, but it didn't make him feel any better about the cats. He glanced over his shoulder at the seated Raz, she was still talking with Kaisha. The two looked so friendly, so jovial. It was hard to visualize them as the dangerous predators they really were.

Borealans, well...the girls anyway, they seem to like humans. They don't really have relationships like we do, they usually just have a quickie after a fight, then part ways. Polars like Kaisha seem to be a little more clingy. The whole going steady thing is new to Raz, but she seems to like it so far.”

And do you guys...” Moralez trailed off, unwilling to ask such a probing question directly.

Oh yeah,” he chuckled, “she's a handful in more ways than one.”

Raz and Kaisha seem to be good friends, do you know much about her?”

Do I know anything that can help you woo her, you mean?” Stanley laughed at his expression. “It's okay, everyone seems to have picked up on it besides you two. According to Raz, she likes you already, she won't stop talking about you when they hang out after work.”

Anything you'd suggest?”

Stanley thought for a moment before replying, returning some boxes to their respective shelves.

Kaisha is the mildest Borealan that I've ever met. Polars aren’t as aggressive as the Equatorials, they like to solve their problems with words rather than claws. She's more versed in human culture and history than probably any other alien in Coalition space. If I had to guess, she's likely waiting for you to make the first move. If someone studied human history with no bias, they'd probably make the assumption that males are the ones expected to pursue females and initiate romances.”

That seemed reasonable, maybe he'd take Stanley's advice, but how to go about it?

I gotta get back to the recruits,” Stanley said, patting Moralez on the shoulder. “Good luck with Kaisha, there's really nothing else like Borealans, don't let them intimidate you.”

Thanks for the advice, Stanley, and for the gun.”

He winked knowingly, jogging back to the group of Borealans, some of whom were struggling with their XMRs. Moralez walked back over to where Kaisha was sat, the aliens halting their conversation as he approached.

How's it going?” she asked. Raz suppressed a grin, eyeing him strangely. Had they been talking about him?

Good, I'm glad we came. Thanks for this, Raz, it helps.” The red-headed alien nodded with a smile, her cropped hair bobbing with the motion. “I feel like heading out if you're ready, Kaisha.”

Sure,” she said, standing up. “I'll see you later, Raz.”

Have fun,” the alien replied, smirking.

CHAPTER 6: HEALING

The great lamps that illuminated the torus were dimming as the two made their way back to the hospital, casting much of the station into shadow as the few personnel who were still scurrying about began to head home. Kaisha towered over Moralez, walking beside him with slow, loping strides so as not to outpace him on her long legs. The day had left him feeling pretty confident. There was a gun on his hip, his fingers were steady, and his gait was natural. His prosthetics were synced perfectly with his brain.

He wasn't calm, however. His mind was roiling, and his heart was racing as he tried to figure out how to tell Kaisha how he felt about her. She probably knew, Raz had a big mouth. But if Stanley was right, then she was waiting for a confession. The opportunity was perfect. It was late in the day, and the low light was simulating dusk. The torus was never empty, but most of the station’s population were heading home to sleep, thinning out the crowds to give them a modicum of privacy. But what to say? How to say it? Would she appreciate a direct approach or did she expect something more poetic from a human? Maybe he was overthinking it and he should just up and out with it.

You look distracted, Lieutenant. Is something wrong?”

You can call me Moralez you know, most people do.”

Okay, Moralez.”

Hearing her say his name made his heart skip, and his fingers began to twitch a little. Damn, did positive emotions overload their sensors too? They passed a bench, and Moralez gestured to it.

Let's take a break for a minute.”

Kaisha nodded affirmatively, taking a seat beside him on the bench, a little awkwardly due to her size. Her long, fuzzy tail rested beside her like a fluffy snake. They waited in silence, the cool breeze ruffling the massive alien's downy fur where it protruded from her white coat. Moralez tried to compose himself, tried to formulate some sentence in his mind that might win her over, but he had never done anything like this before. He had joined the UNN at sixteen, and any encounters with the opposite sex had been sordid ordeals in spaceport brothels. The military life didn’t allow much time for romance or courting. His arm trembled involuntarily as he stressed over it.

Something is bothering you. You can tell me, you know,” Kaisha said in a soothing tone. She expected another admission of great shame or guilt no doubt, but he didn't want to be that person, not for her and not for anyone. His days of lamenting and worrying were over. He would take charge of his life from this moment forward, leave the past in his wake to forge a new path, and he wanted Kaisha at his side.

He clenched his fist, willing the tremors to stop, and turned to the alien. He looked up into her sapphire-blue eyes, reflective in the low light. He faltered, but was suddenly flushed with courage, feeling the moment slipping away as she gazed down at him and batted her eyelashes. It was now or never.

I think I've fallen in love with you, Kaisha.”

Her eyes widened, her hand coming to rest over her bosom. He continued, it was too late to stop now, and he had to hope that this was the kind of confession that she expected from him.

I've never felt this way about anyone before, whenever I'm in that hospital bed, I'm just watching the clock until you come back to me and I can see you again. You care about me, when we're together, I feel like you're the only person who really understands what I'm going through. I guess, when we're done with this, and I'm all patched up...I don't want our relationship to have to end.”

Her surprised expression turned sly, and she scooted closer to him, draping a long arm over his shoulder and leaning closer to him. His breath caught in his throat as she pressed her lips against his, smooth and soft. Her long, textured tongue left her mouth to tease him with a gentle, provocative kiss. His mind fogged, her deft, subtle embrace sending pleasant chills down his spine. He tasted her saliva, and the perfumed scent of her fur invaded his senses as she loomed over him. Her tongue coiled around his, warm and slippery, and he felt her claws press into his back through his clothing as she held him close to her. She released him from her grasp finally, leaving him gasping and trembling, this time it had nothing to do with his prosthetics. Nobody had ever kissed him like that before. It was passionate, loving, yet somehow modest and demure. Her metallic taste lingered as she drew back, her pink lips curled into a smile.

We're not going back to the hospital tonight.”

His face flushed as she took his hand in hers. His artificial nerves told him that her palm was warm and silky, sensing the pressure of her large fingers. She pulled him to his feet, leading him away towards the residential quarter.

***

It was night by the time they arrived. Kaisha tapped a combination of numbers into a keypad beside one of the many doors that lined the long row of structures, and it opened with a whoosh of air, allowing them entry into her private residence. This was where civilian personnel and officers lived, luxurious by military standards. There wasn't the space to stack apartments in great skyscrapers as they did back on Earth, and so the living quarters were lined up like row houses on either side of the torus. They were built from the same off-white material as the station itself, albeit with more decorations and homely touches than what he had seen in the military quarter.

She tugged him over the threshold and into what could have passed for a moderately spacious city apartment on the homeworld. It was open-plan, with the kitchen and living area sharing one common space, the bedroom and bathroom sectioned off behind their own doors.

This apartment had obviously been modified to house a Borealan, the furniture was all too large for him, the tables and chairs looked like something from a forced perspective movie set. As she released his hand and strode into the living space, he began to notice the many decorations and personal effects that were prominently displayed. It was a practical museum of human culture. Archaic books lined her shelves—physical artifacts made from bound sheets of paper. There were printed pictures and posters adorning her walls, some depicted landscapes of Earth, others were reproductions of old movie posters. All manner of objects littered every available surface. He walked around, examining the relics and curiosities. He stopped at a chest-high desk and admired a scale model of a jump carrier, faithfully recreated down to the shuttle recesses in its armored hull. Beside it was a stuffed Siberian tiger, a child's toy made from soft fabric.

She seemed to be waiting for his response as he roamed throughout the room. He found a toy of an ancient road car, a doll of a human with a flannel dress and red, woolen hair. There was another model, this one an aircraft from the propeller era of flight. She had a globe of the Earth and one of Mars, their continents outlined and their cities lit with little blinking LEDs. There were framed pictures, printed photographs that showed a snowy landscape with wooden huts dotted about the scene.

What is all this?” he asked. It was a little weird, but he made sure that the tone of his voice didn't betray that to the beaming Borealan. She was clearly proud of her collection.

I am a fan of human culture,” she replied, her long tail flicking back and forth behind her. “I was born on Borealis in the Polar Territory, but I've spent so many years on Earth. I’ve learned about your culture and history, your customs, consumed your media and entertainment. Earth became my adopted home, and I wanted to learn everything that there was to know about it.”

She walked over to a high shelf, pulling out some kind of glossy, square sleeve from a row of similar objects. She slid a shiny, black disk out of the sleeve and walked over to some kind of electronic device, placing it gently on a peg where it began to rotate. She might be a fan of human culture, but Moralez had never seen anything like this before, it might as well be an alien artifact to him. As the disk spun, he heard sound emanate from the device. It was poppy, somewhat distorted, and classical music filled the room.

What is that?” Moralez asked, trying to identify the track. It was nothing he had ever heard before.

She walked over and handed him the sleeve. It had artwork on the front, a stylized picture of an Egyptian Pharaoh with the text Ash Ra Tempel. He didn't recognize it, nor did he understand the title.

Nineteen seventy-one,” Kaisha commented. “That's the year it was recorded. You humans document everything, it's fascinating. I can buy reproductions of records released over six hundred years ago, made from high-resolution images of the originals. Of course, it would be easier to buy digital copies. I could store every song your species has ever written on one data chip, but what would be the point? This is how the artists intended them to be heard.”

She returned to her shelf, retrieving another record and bringing it back to him. She pulled the black disk from its protective cover and showed it to him, the circular grooves in its surface reflecting the light from the lamp that was embedded in her ceiling.

This is analog technology, Borealans never developed anything like it. See the grooves? They're designed to be read by a needle, which a machine interprets as sound waves. I have a laser reader, but the concept is much the same.”

The odd music echoed through the room as she led him over to a display cabinet. Kaisha must have bought all of this with her own wages and had it shipped to the station, as no military branch would authorize any of this, or foot the bill for that matter. This was clearly years of investment, she was certainly dedicated.

The Equatorials like their action movies, but I like romance better.” She opened the tempered glass doors of the cabinet, slightly smoked to conceal what was inside, and revealed a wide monitor. “I store my movies digitally, standard definition looks terrible at modern resolutions. I could show you some of my favorites if you like, when we have the time.”

Moralez nodded. It was certainly an unusual hobby, but her passion was endearing. She looked like a kitten, her eyes wide and excited at the prospect of sharing her interests with him, he would have to be some kind of heartless monster to refuse her requests.

Do you want anything to eat or drink?” she asked. “I have food, no sweet beverages, unless you like raises the hair. I could make you a sandwich, I think I have some coffee somewhere. I don't get many visitors.”

She sounded almost nervous, rambling. She was usually so calm, always knowing what to do or say, and he found this new vulnerability charming. He walked over to her, curling his arm around her paunchy belly from behind as she rummaged through her refrigerator. He buried his face in the small of her back, her large, soft buttocks pressed against his chest. She paused, her tail swaying slowly as he held her, then he felt her fluffy palm close over his prosthetic. She was so warm, her body heat was incredible, inviting.

I guess we could...retire to the bedroom,” she breathed softly, “if that's okay with you?”

He felt his burgeoning erection pressing against the fabric of his underwear, her fuzzy tail grazing the bulge as it flicked back and forth.

That's okay with me,” he replied. He delved his fingers into the soft coat that lined her belly, feeling the warm, supple flesh beneath. She shivered as he probed, shameless now that it was a done deal. Her dexterous tail coiled around one of his legs affectionately as she gasped, his fingers roaming upwards towards her ample chest.

He slid his fingers under her clothes and weighed one of her breasts in his hand, the heavy mammary deforming in his grasp and spilling around his hand like melting wax. He could feel her silken fur, the weight of it, the feverish heat that her impressive body emanated and the soft meat that her support struggled to contain. She clutched his wrist, guiding his hand, its robotic nature not seeming to deter her as he kneaded and squeezed.

Kurtz...did a good job,” she breathed, her voice low and soft. He found an engorged nipple nestled amongst her fur, pressing it gently between his rubberized fingertips. Her tail tightened around his good leg as a tremor passed through her body.

Enough of that,” she said, turning suddenly and hooking her large hands under his arms, lifting him like a doll and draping him over her shoulder. Moralez was too surprised to struggle, and she carried him over to the bedroom, ducking under the doorframe so as not to knock him against it. She kicked the door shut behind her and dropped him unceremoniously onto her bed. He bounced on the mattress. It was huge, big enough for two or maybe even three Borealans to sleep side by side, covered in a rats nest of pillows and sheets.

The room was dimly lit. A small bedside lamp glowed a dull yellow, casting long shadows as Kaisha stood before him. She gazed down at him, her feline eyes reflecting the light, fixed upon him intently. He realized that his heart was fluttering and there were butterflies roiling in his stomach. He was a little afraid, hoping that the usually tame and considerate Polar would not somehow revert to Azi-like levels of selfish indulgence when the mood took her.

She raised a clawed finger to a zipper that ran down the front of her white garment, analogous to a doctor's coat, and drew it down slowly. She teased him as her heavy, generous bosom burst forth, pushing aside her clothing and spilling free in an avalanche of quivering flesh. The uniform barely contained her voluptuous body at the best of times, and now her enormous breasts hung loose, bouncing gently as they settled.

Azi had been well-endowed, but this was a whole new dimension. Each breast was so voluminous that he could have fit his head inside it several times over, closer in size to a beanbag chair than anything resembling human anatomy, as large as his own torso. They sagged due to their enormous weight, yet they retained a wonderful roundness and fullness that almost seemed to defy the gravity that fought to wrest control of them. It wasn’t hard to imagine himself sinking deep into her boundless cleavage, the generous cushions of fat pressing together under their own heft.

She dragged the zipper past her belly to reveal her fluffy paunch, the tire of her stomach protruding subtly over the waistband of her black skirt, finally reaching the bottom. She shrugged off the coat and hooked her thumbs around her elastic waistband, struggling to tug the skirt past the wide flare of her hips, her every movement making her flesh shake enticingly. The fabric created a deep indent in her meaty thighs as she wriggled out of it, finally discarding it along with her panties to join her coat on the carpet.

Kaisha stepped out of the pile of clothing and started to walk towards Moralez, who was sat on the edge of the oversized bed, staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. She reached out a hand and gave him a gentle push. He fell on his back and Kaisha clambered on top of him, the mattress sagging under her weight and the springs creaking ominously. She was heavy, heavier even than Azi had been. He began to panic a little as the weight of her huge body pressed down on his hips, images of Azi's assault flashing in his mind.

Kaisha noticed that his hand was starting to twitch, and so she leaned in for a soothing kiss. Her long, textured tongue coiled into his mouth and roiled wetly, less restrained than her first kiss on the bench had been. He felt his erection rise to press against her groin, and his mind begin to blur as her thick, slimy organ explored the reaches of his throat. She held him for what felt like minutes, locked in a dizzying, placating kiss that left him squirming and panting when she broke away. Her puffy lips curled into a smirk as she drew back, peering down at him as he caught his breath.

Relax,” she whispered, pressing her lips against his forehead with a smack. “I won't hurt you, you're safe with me.”

She pressed her groin down on his bulge, and Moralez felt her hot, sodden fur through the fabric of his pants. She was dripping, eager, her excitement matting the fur on her fluffy mound. She wanted this as much as he did.

She fumbled with the buttons on his dress shirt, too small for her thick fingers. Moralez reached up a prosthetic hand to help her, but there wasn’t much that he could do with just one. Becoming frustrated, she simply tore it open, sending the buttons clattering around the room. She slid down his body, resting her knees on the floor so that her head was level with his torso, running her padded fingers over his innumerable scars. Her gaze was covetous, did she like them? Was that some Borealan thing? He gasped as he felt her tongue leave her mouth to drag across his exposed chest, hot and slippery, leaving a trail of her saliva as she tasted his skin. She mouthed and kissed, teasing, crawling her soft lips down towards his belly. He bucked, arching his back as the tip of her warm tongue slipped into his navel. She held his hips in her large hands, the downy, silken fur of her palms tickling him.

She was so gentle, her touch light and exploratory, nothing like Azi's cruel and greedy clawing. Pulses of light addled his brain as the Borealan moved down to his pants, tugging the zipper loose and hooking her claws around the belt, pulling it down. She placed his holstered weapon to one side before discarding his pants on the floor, then squeezed his bulge through the thin cotton of his shorts. She seethed with barely contained arousal, holding his member in her lips through the fabric and breathing in his scent.

She grew more frantic as she tore his underwear loose, his erection resisting for a moment before bouncing free an inch from her nose. She eyed it hungrily as it jumped in time with his heartbeat, a droplet of his anticipation leaking from the tip.

She took him in her arms suddenly, raising him off the bed and into the air, one furry hand supporting his butt and the other on his back. Her biceps bulged as she held him aloft, effortless, his head skimming the Borealan-sized ceiling.

Woa, Kaisha, what are you-”

Relax, you'll enjoy it...”

She walked him away from the bed and over to the wall, leaning his back against the cold surface, his legs draped over her shoulders. He was at least eight feet off the floor, Kaisha suspending him in the air as if he were a mere doll rather than an adult human of average weight. He could feel her hot breath on his glans, shivering as she took the shaft in her fluffy right hand, the left supporting his weight. Her firm grip sent a jolt of pleasure crawling up his spine, her fur akin to a luxurious loofah as it brushed against his sensitive skin.

He watched her, his fingers clawing at his burning face as her long, agile tongue snaked out of her mouth to coil around his erection. The slippery muscle coated his skin with a glaze of her saliva, warm and stick. She rubbed the rough surface against the sensitive underside of his glans, making him jump and writhe, the intensity of the sensation almost too much for him to stand. She pulled it closer to her mouth, slipping her smooth, puffy lips over the head and holding him there as her tongue painted it with her warm drool. She sucked him deeper, the silky inner lining of her cheeks closing around his shaft, drawing it to the back of her throat as her muscles contracted and massaged as though she was trying to swallow him.

He sank his fingers into her hair, gripping a handful, his prosthetic knuckle clenched as she tormented him. It had been months since he had been with a woman due to his extended combat deployment on Kruger, and weeks since he had been able to do anything about his mounting frustration due to his inconvenient lack of limbs. He was sensitive and swollen, every flick of her tongue and compression of her slimy muscles sending unbearable waves of pleasure creeping through his body. She released him from the grip of her furry fingers, pushing him deeper inside her, her rosy lips kissing the base of his cock. She held him in her twitching gullet for far longer than human lung capacity would have allowed, her sinuous tongue creeping free of her mouth to taste his balls.

Moralez loosed a pained groan, a sound that he had never heard himself make before. The sensation was compounded as Kaisha chuckled, the vibrations translating into his member.

You like that?” she mumbled, her voice muffled as she tried to talk around his erection. He gasped, unable to form a coherent reply as she began to slide her mouth up and down his shaft, pausing to tease the glans before slamming down again and forcing him to the back of her throat. She was too good at this, there was no way that this was her first time with a human, not that she had ever claimed as much. She rested her downy hand on his inner thigh, caressing softly as she bobbed her head, her pace increasing as his legs dangled over her shoulders.

His mind was clouding, his hips going numb as bolts of electricity arced through his nervous system, his arm and leg shaking involuntarily. He began to see stars as he felt his orgasm rising, breathing harder and gripping one of her round ears for purchase. She seemed to notice, glancing up at him with a flash of blue irises. Her frantic pace suddenly slowed to a crawl, Kaisha backing off so as not to drive him over the edge. He grumbled and shot her a disappointed look, then lolled his head back as she squeezed his shaft in her hand, her fur matted with her bubbling saliva.

Not so fast, I want to enjoy you...”

She turned her head sideways and nibbled his shaft, catching his foreskin between her lips and tugging it gently. She gave him just enough stimulation to keep him on edge and wanting, but never enough to fully satisfy him. When she was confident that he had calmed down, she took his glans in her mouth again, holding it between her warm cheeks and lapping at it with her tongue. The fleshy papillae that he had seen her use to clean her coat grated against his most sensitive zones, driving harsh pangs of raw pleasure to his core. It almost hurt, but it hit the spot, like taking sandpaper to a bug bite. He felt a strand of saliva escape the corner of his mouth as he sat in her arms, his back supported by the wall, his eyes unfocused as he stared at the ceiling while the exquisite spasms wracked his body. She was a machine, nobody had ever worked him over like this before.

She began to stroke his shaft with her free hand, the damp fur creating an odd, pleasant texture against his skin. She lowered her head, her waterfall of slate-grey hair tickling his thighs and creating an odd, not quite analogous sensation on his prosthetic femur as the long strands fell about it. He jerked as he felt her lips kiss his balls, mouthing and licking the tender skin as she moved her hand up and down his cock. He writhed against the stimulation, reflexively covering his mouth with his prosthetic hand to stifle a moan, its polymer surface smooth and unexpectedly cool.

She sucked a testicle into her mouth gently and played her tongue over the surface. Moralez' knees went weak, the same sensation present both in his organic and prosthetic examples. There were so many new sensations, both from Kaisha's alien attentions and the way that his robotic limbs responded to the stimulation. It was almost enough to drive him crazy.

She released him from the warmth of her mouth and crawled her way back up his shaft, making eye contact and batting her thick lashes as he looked down at her. The feline slits of her pupils had dilated into large, dark circles in the gloomy bedroom, only a sliver of her sapphire irises visible now. She kissed his glans affectionately, waiting for a moment, breathing warm air on his cock as it throbbed and ached. She watched him, enjoying his obvious dissatisfaction, then relented. She slid her lips down his shaft and took him into the depths of her gullet in one smooth motion, lubricated by her slick saliva. He grunted as he felt his glans impact the back of her throat. She resumed her bobbing again, sucking and slurping obscenely as she drove his member deep inside her warm mouth, her drool pooling around him and leaking down his shaft in blobs.

He was beside himself, unable to focus as he felt her lips scrape his cock, her rough tongue scouring his glans and lapping at the juice that leaked eagerly from the tip. He felt the slimy muscles in her throat struggling to accommodate his girth, kneading and rolling against him as she fought her body's desire to eject the foreign organ. She gripped the base of his cock with her hand for leverage, her unforgiving pace driving him closer and closer to orgasm. He felt it welling inside him and delved his fingers into Kaisha's hair, squirming as her free hand reached up to drag her claws across his belly, softly enough that it merely tickled rather than breaking the skin.

He expected her to release him and direct his member away from her delicate fur, but instead, she doubled down. Sensing his growing climax, she jammed his cock as deep as it would go, her throat muscles spasming and contracting around him like a fist clad in damp velvet. It pushed him over the edge, and she gripped his hips with her large hands, preventing him from bucking and chocking her as he came. It felt like someone had shot him with a taser. A wave of tingling, luxurious pleasure washed over him, igniting every nerve ending in his body. His mind blanked, a primal growl escaping his pursed lips as Kaisha drank, the swallowing motion of her gullet milking him of every drop that he could give her. He sprayed thick, gelatinous ropes of his emission directly into her waiting throat, Kaisha drinking greedily as her tongue wrapped around his length to goad more of it out. Over and over the spasms wracked his body, almost painful muscle contractions that forced his ejaculate from him with a desperate vigor.

Kaisha held it the whole way, not making so much as a peep, waiting patiently until the writhing human was spent. She turned with him, pulling him away from the wall and dropping him limply onto the bed, his chest heaving as afterglow drowned him in its bliss.

Hey, you'd better not fall asleep,” she said as she prodded him experimentally with her claw. He opened his eyes and sat upright, still dizzy. “We're not done yet, it’s my turn.”

She sat on the edge of the bed beside him, and Moralez got the picture, trying to compose himself as he slipped off the mattress and knelt on the carpeted floor in front of her. She splayed her legs, her thick thighs opening to reveal the damp fur between them. Her scent filled his nose as she crooned, gazing down at him as he drew closer to her loins. She smelled of flowery soaps and perfumes, and underneath it was a distinctly sexual musk that set his mouth watering. He placed his hand on her inner thigh, her coat thinner and softer here, like velvet. She reached a hand down to help him out, splaying her rosy lips to reveal the glistening, pink flesh within. A trickle of clear fluid escaped as her opening twitched in anticipation, hot and ready for him.

Use your tongue,” she panted, her heavy breasts swaying as her chest rose and fell. He looked up at her blue eyes as she watched him eagerly, hesitating for a moment, then he drew closer to her and pressed his lips against hers. Her anatomy was similar to a human's, at least on the outside, and he parted her labia to slide his tongue along her vulva. She shivered contentedly, biting a clawed finger between her teeth. She tasted sour and salty, but he was too aroused to care, her inviting scent and the view of her dripping sex an inch from his face lighting a fresh fire in his belly. He circled the opening with his tongue, wishing that he had an organic finger to insert. She probably wouldn't appreciate cold metal and polymer.

He sought out the firm nub of her clitoris, sucking it between his lips and rolling his tongue over its shiny surface. She trembled, her thighs squeezing him almost painfully, the steely muscle beneath her pudgy fat layer pressing into his cheeks.

You have such smooth tongues,” Kaisha whined, sinking her fingers into his hair and gripping it gently. “I love it...”

Did she mean humans in general? That would make sense. Borealan tongues were so rough, almost too intense to use for oral sex, maybe even intolerable when applied to a clitoris. He probed her tunnel with his organ, pushing it as deep as he could manage and licking her quivering walls. Her juices leaked around his mouth as her grip on his hair grew stronger, the alien rolling her hips reflexively, grinding against his face. He mouthed and kissed, playing his lips across the textured surface of her sex, tracing the folds and creases with the tip of his tongue. He rested his prosthetic hand on her mound, sinking his fingertips into the fluff. She seemed to enjoy that, shuddering happily as he ran his hand over her groin and belly. She was pleasantly fat, and he gripped a handful of her paunch, feeling her flesh spill between his fingers with the consistency of putty. It must have been blubber for insulation along with her signature snowy fur, because she was absurdly fit in all other respects. It filled out her figure, giving her wide hips and plump breasts, spreading out and settling in all of the places that would excite the senses of a male. He returned his attentions to her engorged clitoris, following the hourglass curve of her waist with his hand, over her hip and down to her ass. She jumped, chuckling as he slid under her butt and grasped a copious handful of her yielding cheek.

Never mind a second hand, he should ask Kurtz for six or eight, he felt as if he needed them. She pushed against his mouth in response, glazing his questing lips with her nectar as he licked. He painted her bud with his saliva, trapping it between his lips and applying suction.

You're not bad at this,” she groaned. She relaxed back a little further on the bed, propping herself up on her elbows as her legs hung over the edge of the tortured mattress. Moralez dug with his tongue, his face buried in her perfumed fur, delicate strands of sopping-wet hair sticking to his face as her juices matted her groin and thighs. She was so hot, her body temperature was higher than that of a human, she was practically steaming. He felt her agile tail snake out from between her cheeks, curling around the back of his head like a cupped hand, the muscular appendage strong enough to dictate his pace. She could probably have lifted him off the floor with the damned thing, it was like a steel cable, covered in puffy fur like a feather duster. She pushed him deeper, crooning softly at the sensation. He tasted every inch of her, rubbing and nuzzling as the odd feeling of her fluffy tail on his scalp urged him on.

Tell me if it's too much for you,” she breathed, her voice low and husky. “We're so much stronger than humans and sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we forget it.”

He raised his head over her mound to look up at her, a glistening strand of her excitement dripping slowly from his chin. She bit her lip, aroused by the sight of him.

It's fine, you're...I like it.”

She rose to a sitting position, doubling over to watch the smaller human as he ate her out, her massive breasts hanging above him. She held his head in her large hands, her fuzzy palms warm in his hair, and stroked as he mouthed as though he were some beloved pet. The sensation of her pointy claws tickling his scalp sent pleasant shivers down his spine, and her tail lowered, wrapping around his torso as if it were a furry boa constrictor. He was surrounded by her fragrant fur and soft meat on all sides, imprisoned by her limbs as he serviced her. But he wasn't afraid, not now. This was his choice, his desire, not the selfish indulgence of Azi. He could allow himself to enjoy this, to want it, and his renewed erection bounced in the air as he delved deeper. He caught her engorged protrusion between his lip and his teeth, squeezing gently, and the great creature's quivering thighs closed around him to plunge him into damp darkness.

Ugh, there!” she groaned.

He repeated the action, this time teasing her swollen bud with his tongue. His lover shuddered violently, pressing him against her loins with her hands, her sinewy tail tightening around his chest as if to trap him. He raised his eyes to look up at Kaisha as she loomed over him, the alien peering down over the mounds of her breasts, her sapphire eyes gazing down at him. Her gaze was longing, wanton, a string of saliva escaping her lips. She looked like she was about to explode, her love of humans clearly didn't stop at music.

As he sucked and tweaked, she stopped him for a minute, cupping his flushed cheek with her soft palm.

Put your finger inside me,” she whispered, “gently now...”

But...” Moralez hesitated, flexing his prosthetic fingers. “Won’t it be cold?”

It’s safer than doing it myself,” she replied with a chuckle, brandishing her sharp claws. Maybe that was one of the reasons that the aliens were so sexually aggressive, they couldn’t exactly rub one out when the need arose.

He obliged, pressing the tip of his polymer finger into her dripping opening. His eyes lit up as he felt her silken walls enclose him. He could feel the oozing juices that leaked around his finger, coating it in a slimy layer, the heat of her massive body and the trembling of her passage as it undulated around his digit. It felt so real, the prosthetic reproducing the sensations in exquisite detail, his member throbbing as he imagined sliding it into her inviting sex.

It’s cold!” she laughed, wincing as he buried his finger up to the knuckle. “Keep it inside, it will warm soon. How much can you feel?”

E-Everything,” he stammered. “I can feel your heart beating, your blood rushing, your muscles clenching. It’s like I never lost my hands at all...”

She shot him a warm smile, stroking his hair again with her massive fingers.

You can start moving now, feels like you’ve warmed up a little.”

He began to pump in and out of her with a tireless rhythm, his artificial muscles and tendons boasting superhuman stamina. He didn't neglect his licking either, his attention focused on her clitoris as he glanced it with his tongue and drew it out from beneath its hood with his lips. Her trembling became more violent, her breath coming in ragged, shallow bursts as his robotic finger plunged in and out of her. He had such dexterity and control over his new appendage that he could even stroke the sensitive roof of her tunnel, feeling the way that her satin-soft flesh tensed when he brushed it with his treaded fingertip, the way that she gripped him like a vice with his every doting lick.

She growled like a beast, cursing in her native tongue as the tremors became seizing, and she rolled her head back.

Fuck,” she mumbled between her labored breaths. “The rubber on your finger is so soft and bumpy...I wasn’t expecting it to feel so...I’m getting close...”

She released him from her clutches along with a torrent of her honey that spilled into his mouth, making him cough and sputter. He watched her orgasm tear through her as she lay on her back, rubbing her mound furiously with her padded finger as her voluptuous body quaked. He wiped the goo from his face with the back of his hand, not even considering the story that he would have to invent if he should somehow damage it and have to ask Kurtz for repairs. Her inflamed loins were pink and splayed, leaking thick globs of her viscous emission, her thighs damp with it as she writhed her wide hips and strived to draw out every last spasm of her climax.

Her shuddering slowly abated, as did her rubbing fingers, and her ample chest started to rise and fall more slowly as she recovered from her seething ecstasy. Moralez leaned in and planted a kiss on her sensitive petals, and she twitched, sighing happily. She patted the mattress beside her with a heavy hand without looking up, and Moralez crawled up onto the bed. It was a little too high off the ground for a human to clamber up in any dignified manner, and he flopped down beside her, draping his arm across her pudgy belly. She was so tall compared to him, and he scooted up a little, his head level with her neck and his erection pressing into the soft pouch of her midriff. His arm rested just beneath her bust, the massive globes spreading out like balloons full of water under their own weight, cascading over her sides. Oh well, at least the conundrum of what to do with his other arm while spooning had solved itself.

She curled her arm around him, stroking his back. The soft fur and pointed claws created an odd, yet pleasant, contrast. He nuzzled, burying his face in the nape of her neck. He just couldn’t get enough of her soft, fragrant fur. Even here, it was so deep as to almost engulf his head completely.

Give me a minute, and then I'll take care of you,” she whispered, his erection throbbing against her in anticipation. She dragged her finger across his cheek, wiping off some of her emission and biting her lower lip, her eyelids drooping. “Don't forget to shower before you leave tomorrow, or you'll annoy every Borealan on the station with my scent.”

They can smell that?” he laughed. He took the opportunity to paw at her breast, his robotic fingers sinking into her flesh up to the knuckle. She twisted, tickling his spine with her fluffy palm and holding him against her warm body.

From a mile away, it's hard to believe that humans can't.”

They cuddled for a few minutes, Kaisha basking in her afterglow and Moralez exploring her body with his hand, eliciting the occasional laugh or gentle slap to the wrist as he tickled her. Her velutinous fur was so soft and inviting, the insulating layer of blubber so delicate and yielding, parting as he pushed his fingers deeper into her flesh.

You're like a kitten with a new toy,” she complained. She shifted her weight and rolled on her side to face him, her boobs squashing together under the grip of gravity. She trapped him in her long arms and squeezed him against her silky body, burying his face in her copious cleavage. He breathed in her perfume, feeling his cheeks begin to burn as the sweater meat engulfed them and her padded hand caressed his head.

She was like a giant teddy bear that could hug you back, and he felt his consciousness beginning to slip, his body longing to fall asleep in her warm embrace and never leave this bed. He felt her hot breath in his hair and flinched as one of her hands crawled down his back, her sharp claws leaving trails in his skin. She was just as powerful as Azi had been. No, she was larger, even stronger. Yet her gentle demeanor put him at ease, the slow rise and fall of her chest calmed him.

Enough of that, he thought to himself. Stop comparing the two, don't let memories of that woman ruin this perfect moment.

After a few minutes, she drew back, the air in the room now cold in comparison to her space heater body. She looked down at him, sly and lascivious, leaning closer to nibble his ear in her pointed teeth. He gasped at the sensation, at full mast and aching once again.

You ready for another round?”

He nodded, his eyelids fluttering as she crawled her lips down to his neck, mouthing softly and dragging the textured surface of her tongue across his skin.

How should we go about this?” Kaisha mused. She sat up and looked around, scratching her chin with a black, shiny claw. “Are you okay with me being on top? It won't...bother you?”

Will it remind you of when Azi fucked you against your will until the crate that you were sitting on cracked under her weight, is what she really meant. No, this was different. This was his choice, he wanted this.

It's fine,” he replied confidently. “Let's do it.”

Kaisha smirked and hooked a leg over him, straddling the smaller human as her weight pressed them both deep into the mattress.

Tell me if I'm too heavy, and I'll get off.”

Moralez nodded, his eyes tracking her swaying breasts as she shuffled into position. She had to spread her legs wide apart and lower herself down onto the smaller human, her hands resting to either side of his head, supporting her weight as her upper arms pressed the bountiful globes of her bust together. He felt the tickle of her sopping fur on his glans, a trickle of her ropy excitement escaping her loins to drip down onto his shaft. She was a good three feet taller than him, and he had to look upwards to see her face. Her hanging breasts were at eye-level, her engorged, pink nipples protruding from beneath her fine fur. She gazed down at him, her expression lurid as she slowly descended.

He winced, feeling the immense heat that radiated from her moist loins, and she smirked as his erection came to press against her opening. Her delicate flesh was so slippery, she had to reach a hand between her thighs and grip his member in her hand, angling it towards her twitching entrance. She rubbed his sensitive head up and down her vulva, coating him in her essence before plunging him inside her. There was a brief moment of resistance, her tight, muscular walls closing around him like a fist. She was so large, but her muscle tone made her incredibly tight. She rested more of her weight on him, and he slid deeper, her oozing, textured tunnel scouring his cock as she swallowed it to the base.

He gasped, his prosthetic hand gripping the sheets in its polymer fingers as she impaled herself on him, the damp fluff of her mound tickling his belly. She was fever-hot, her mammoth body trembling like a leaf as her fleshy walls bore down on him, her powerful pelvic floor muscles squeezing and undulating. Her flesh molded around him and clung to his every contour like a latex glove.

I can feel you throbbing inside me,” she crooned, chuckling as his face began to flush red. She brought a hand to his cheek, caressing it softly with her velvet palm as she began to move. She used her powerful thighs to raise herself off him until only his glans was still lodged inside her, then she lowered herself back down, driving him deeper. Every bump and ridge inside her alien vagina gripped his member as her juices leaked around it. She gazed down at him, partly to drink in his pained expression and partly to measure his reaction, making sure that she didn't drop too much of her weight on him at once.

She began to move a little faster, sighing as she drove his cock deep into her reaches, her bulk slamming down on his hips and driving him into the bed as the springs creaked in protest. He raised his hand and sunk his fingers into one of her thick thighs as they closed around him in a vice grip, her knees reaching his armpits due to her height. She sat upright, her fat boobs hanging free and wobbling with her motions, mesmerizing. She was such a large creature, yet incredibly tight, her toned muscles contracting around his length and wringing him in a maddening milking motion. He felt as if her body was trying to draw out his climax, pulling and tugging at him, her slimy walls driving jolts of shivering pleasure through him. She was so soft, so warm. The thick, syrupy nectar that spilled from her opening every time that she pressed down on him matting her fur and staining the sheets. He couldn't think straight, his mind fogging and becoming hazy as she sucked her lower lip into her mouth and chewed it covetously, looming over him and enjoying his exquisite suffering.

She leaned down, doubling over to reach him, and pressed her lips against his. She roved with her powerful organ, crude and eager. Her embrace was rapacious, and his hand began to tremble, overcome by the intense, deep kiss as she rolled her hips on top of him. She held him there, grinding into him and teasing his throat with her tongue, pausing momentarily and unlocking their lips so that he might catch a faltering breath before she plunged in again.

She cradled his face between her soft hands, hot and fluffy, careful to keep her sharp claws away from his skin. She twisted her wide hips, stirring him inside her narrow tunnel, driving his throbbing member into her fleshy walls and grunting like a beast as he scoured them. Her taut muscles compressed and kneaded him, slathering his cock in her sticky juices. He started to meet her downward thrusts, bucking his hips and jamming his member as deep as it would go, eliciting short gasps of pleasure as he scraped at her most sensitive and private depths.

Harder,” she growled into his ear, her voice soft but demanding. She cast off her inhibitions, throwing all pretense to the wind as she began to pound him into the mattress in earnest. She placed her hands on either side of his head again, supporting her weight as she pumped her hips. He reached up to grip one of them, feeling her fleecy fur between his fingers as he held on. Her breasts bounced with every slam, Kaisha biting her lip with her pointed teeth, eyeing him hungrily from above.

Her pace was slow, yet the force of her lovemaking numbed his hips as they writhed and bucked reflexively, desperate to seek out more stimulation. Her thighs quivered around him, the iron muscles beneath her soft fat layer gripping him as if he might try to escape. Her claws tore at the sheets around his head, flexing and digging furrows in the bed like a housecat kneading its favorite blanket. She was so large, so powerful, her inexorable hammering sending waves of harsh pleasure coursing through his nervous system and painting a field of stars before his bleary eyes.

You good?” she panted. Her voice cracked as she buried his member inside her, raking her tender flesh, a contented tremor passing through her impressive body.

Y-Yeah,” he breathed, “don't stop.”

She grinned down at him and started to increase her pace. Shivers crawled up and down his spine like icy fingers, tingling static flooding his brain. He was breathing hard, squirming under her relentless assault, sounds that he didn't even know that he could make escaping his lips to her obvious amusement. She placed a hand on his red cheek, slick with his sweat, and dipped her thumb into his mouth. She took care not to cut him with the claw, the strands of her fur tickling him. It surprised him, but he ran his tongue around it, avoiding the wicked hook and licking her apparently sensitive pad. She seemed to enjoy the sensation, her sex twitching and wringing him in response as her eyes glazed over. He bit it gently, sucking on her digit, dampening her silky fur with his saliva. Kaisha shook her hips like a belly dancer, circling his shaft and grazing it with her supple, warm passage.

She withdrew her thumb from his mouth, suddenly hooking her arms around his back and lifting him into a sitting position as she continued her unrelenting thrusting, wrapping him in her furry arms and pressing his head between her breasts. Their copious fat spilled around his cheeks, drooping over his shoulders and weighing him down. She placed a hand in his hair and pushed him deeper, Moralez groaning into them, his voice muffled by her bosom. The sudden change in position pressed his cock against her insides in new and dizzying ways.

Her other hand pressed into his back, her claws pricking his skin, but he didn't care. His world, his universe was now her flowery scent, the heat that radiated from her body and warmed him to the bone. The velvet fur that rubbed against his naked skin, the irresistible abundance of pliable flesh that drew his fingers to her with an almost magnetic power, he couldn’t focus on anything else if he had wanted to. He gripped her love handle, teasing her yielding meat as she gyrated, holding him against her in an encompassing bear-hug.

He felt her hot breath on his head as she buried her nose in his hair, nuzzling and breathing in his scent. It seemed important to her kind, a sense as significant as sight or sound were to a human. With what little brain power remained for him to make use of, he wondered briefly what he might smell like to her. Maybe he'd ask her when she was done ravishing him.

She compressed him, driving the air out of his lungs and loosing a low cry that surprised him, the shiver that ran through her massive body translating into her loins and stimulating his mast. She raised and lowered herself on his shaft, the pleasure of their coupling overwhelming her as they danced together, feeding off each other's trembling thrusts. He drove his hips against her, grinding into her reaches, allowing her no moment of respite even as she paused to compose herself.

Ugh, you little...”

He was emboldened, digging his fingers into her supple flesh for leverage and pushing into her. Her loins sucked him in, pulling him deeper and encouraging his motions even as Kaisha voiced her half-hearted protest. Her grip on him was fierce, and he felt her claws prick his scalp as her other arm roamed up and down the smooth skin of his back, her sinuous tail creeping around from behind her and coiling around his waist.

Are you worried I'll go somewhere?” Moralez asked, his voice barely audible from within her suffocating bosom.

You're not going anywhere, not until I'm done,” she chuckled. She traced his spine with her black claws, sending a wave of confused pleasure through his body that made him jump and throb inside her. She dragged her textured tongue across the back of his neck and shoulders, the only parts of him that her mouth could reach in this position. He shuddered as he felt the bumpy papillae of its surface tease his nerves, hot and slick with her saliva.

Fuck,” he whined into her cleavage. He could feel his climax starting to build, bubbling up from inside him like an explosion played in slow motion, unstoppable. She felt it too, his member pulsating and twitching inside her, sensing the tremors that wracked his body as she held him in her clutches.

Not yet,” she whispered, slowing her pace and controlling the thrusting of his hips with her muscular tail. They came to a halt, docked together, his pulsing erection aching as it soaked inside her. He yearned to flood her with his seed, but was unable to do so. It was maddening.

Damn it, Kaisha,” he grunted. His mounting orgasm was beginning to recede, frustration and dissatisfaction making his lower body ache. She stroked his hair softly, apologetic, combing the strands with her claws as her breathing slowed.

I want you...all night,” she panted, taking a moment to catch her breath as her heavy chest rose and fell around his face. “I'm not done with you, I want all of you, for as long as you can take it...”

He couldn't resist such a request, and his face burned crimson, hidden in her bust. She must have felt the heat from his cheeks because she chuckled, still short of breath. She held him for a minute as they simply enjoyed each other, basking in their shared warmth, the occasional tremor from their still joined loins taunting them.

When she was certain his burgeoning orgasm had sufficiently receded, Kaisha began to move again. Slowly at first, teasing his sensitive, sore member. Her tempo gradually started to build towards her previous heavy, energetic pace again. The friction was incredible despite the slippery lubricant that leaked between his thighs and dripped down onto the mattress beneath them in thick, heavy globs. Her tightness scoured his shaft, dragging back his foreskin and exposing the sensitive, tender glans to the ravages of her tormenting organ. Every crease and wrinkle, every bump and nub of her silken flesh that scraped across his raw member sent a bolt of white-hot pleasure coursing through him. He was losing himself in the haze, unable to formulate coherent thoughts as he gripped her fur like a baby monkey clinging to its mother.

She laughed softly, prying him loose and hooking a furry finger under his chin, raising his face so that she could get a look at him. He gazed up into her reflective, blue eyes, shining in the low light as she wet her lips with her pink tongue.

She muttered something in her native language. Judging by her tone it was sultry, obscene, then she pressed him back between her breasts and renewed her hold on him. He couldn't do anything to fight her, he didn't want to. He had never felt like this before, never had someone lead him along like this. He loved it, he loved her. He jerked limply in her torrid embrace, his muscles giving out as they were wracked with searing pleasure. A kind of euphoria overcame him, he felt as if he were floating, what little focus remained to him was drawn to the flaring heat of their mated bodies. She had kept him on the edge for so long, denied him release so many times that it made him feel drunk.

He dug his fingers into the fat of her back, gripping handfuls of her pliant flesh, roaming down towards her plump and plentiful ass. She jumped as he clawed at the generous meat, feeling the malleable flesh fill his palm and flow between his prosthetic fingers. He probed deeper, kneading the firm, toned muscle beneath. He longed for his second hand, it couldn't be long now. He'd have his operation, then Kurtz would hook him up. He'd be able to enjoy her voluptuous, welcoming body twofold.

Now he felt her begin to tremble. Kaisha's smooth, rolling movements became erratic and wild, her massive hips squashing him against the ill-fated mattress as it strained to support the pair. She clenched around him, gasping and sighing with every flowing contraction of her tunnel. Her leaking excitement was now a torrent of clear, gooey fluid that escaped around the powerful suction of their coupling, clinging to her furry thighs and sticking to his skin. It was almost painful, she was so strong, her muscles kneading him through the slick satin of her walls.

Her talons left red trails on his back as she clawed at him with renewed desperation, but he weathered it, the sting only adding to the sweet ache of his pleasure. His hips thrust into her, ever deeper and harder as the two pushed each other closer and closer to the summit of their shared ecstasy. Moralez raised his hand to her swaying breasts, more massive than any human could have hoped to carry. He dug into one of them, eliciting a sharp gasp from Kaisha as she bucked and squirmed against him, his hand vanishing up to the wrist in her flesh. He gripped the quivering globe and pulled it towards his mouth, sucking one of her inflamed nipples between his lips and playing his tongue over it.

She cursed in her alien dialect, the English language escaping her as he trapped the protrusion between his teeth and chewed softly, teasing it with flicks of his tongue. Her sighing became moans as her frenzy mounted, and he felt a powerful pressure welling deep inside him.

Kaisha growled like a wild animal, baring her sharp teeth and breaking his skin with her claws as she started to come, but that didn't bother him now. He wanted Kaisha, he needed this more than he needed food or air. He groaned into her bust, his hips jerking reflexively in response to the surges of crippling pleasure that wracked her body, her muscles spasming and contorting around him.

She drove him over the edge, his member pulsing inside her, burning muscle spasms forcing his emission from him. He erupted into her tunnel, flooding her with a torrent of his warm ejaculate. Over and over the convulsions wracked his body, Kaisha writhing all the while, gyrating atop him. She groaned with blissful satisfaction as she felt the hot ropes of his seed splash against her most intimate depths, drowning the deepest reaches of her loins. The pulses of pleasure rolled over him like crashing waves, one after another, until he feared that he couldn’t stand them any longer. Sweat poured from his skin, dampening Kaisha's velvet fur, joining the obscene fluids that were already sticking their heaving bodies together. Cloudy blobs of his emission mixed with her viscous nectar, the mixture sloughing depravedly from her splayed lips.

Kaisha loosed a long, drawn-out sigh, her taut muscles relaxing and her iron grip on his body growing lax, her warm breath tickling him as she rested her face in the nape of his neck. They bathed in the afterglow of their salacious act, neither willing to break away from the embrace. Time lost all meaning, as did anything outside of their little bedroom. All that Moralez could feel was her massive heart pounding in her chest and the heavy breaths that blew across his neck as Kaisha recovered. Beset by sporadic aftershocks, they basked together, wishing and perhaps believing that the moment would last forever.

Moralez finally climbed his way back out of the recesses of his conscious mind, opening his eyes as if he had slept for hours. He glanced up to see Kaisha peering down at him, her sapphire orbs full of longing and contentment.

Become my mate,” she whispered, her voice low and serene. Moralez' face flushed crimson, and he stammered as she watched him expectantly.

Y-Your mate? What does that mean? You want me to...”

Stay here with me, they won't make you redeploy if you don't want to. You can request to be stationed here instead, anyone would in your position.”

He mulled the idea over, she was probably right. If he requested extended leave or to be redeployed on the station, the Admiralty wouldn't refuse him. In their eyes he had bled for the UNN, he had done his duty twice over. His men were mostly dead, the survivors spread out and reassigned by now, nobody was awaiting his return. He had never felt like this before, never met a woman like Kaisha, maybe he had earned a break...

Please Moralez,” she pleaded, a touch of fear in her voice. “I want you here, stay with me.”

Well...I doubt that the security team here has many combat veterans. Maybe I could do some good,” he decided, resting his robotic arm on her hip.

Kaisha giggled and hugged him again, compressing him in her powerful, fluffy arms.

My own human mate,” she said, to nobody in particular. “My Moralez.”

She shifted her weight off him, releasing him and letting him fall to the bed. Their loins were linked by a mass of stringy fluid that slid slowly from between her matted thighs, and she tested it with her finger, shuddering with renewed arousal as a thick glob clung to her claw.

Recover quickly, my Moralez,” she whispered. She leered at him, her chest starting to rise and fall more rapidly again. “I want you at least twice more before the night is through.”

***

Moralez awoke to light penetrating the blinders that covered the windows. He had forgotten where he was for a moment, then the slant of the mattress reminded him that he was in Kaisha's apartment, drawing him towards the sleeping alien like a gravity well. Pillows and sheets were scattered around the massive bed, and one of them was draped over her waist, failing to conceal the high curve of her hip and her plump butt. She faced away from him on her side, her shoulders rising and falling as she breathed. He fought the desire to sink his face into her fluffy cheeks and tried to slip out of bed without waking her. His prosthetic leg clattered on the floor, he hadn't even thought about that, and one of her fluffy ears twitched. She didn't turn, and so he crept across the room to the foot of the bed, moving towards the door and trying to recover what remained of his clothing.

He had nowhere to be, but he was thirsty and wanted to raid her fridge for some of the sweet beverage that the aliens always seemed have on hand. Barring that, there was always water from the faucet.

He lurched as a furry snake coiled around his waist as he was in the process of pulling on his underwear, dragging him backwards onto the bed and into the waiting arms of Kaisha. She caught him in her arms, hugging him tightly against her soft body as her mammoth breasts cascaded over his shoulders.

Morning,” she breathed in his ear. He returned the greeting, and she nuzzled his head, pushing her nose into his hair. “You smell like me,” she crooned, seemingly pleased with herself. “On second thought, we both do. Bathe with me.”

It was more of a demand than a suggestion, but he would be remiss to refuse her. If what she had mentioned about Borealan scents was true, every cat on the station would be either aroused or offended by it.

No need for those,” she said, hooking the waistband of his underwear in her black claw and pulling them down. “Come with me.”

She scooted off the end of the bed and took his hand, leading him to an adjacent room. She opened the door, revealing an expansive bathroom, almost as large as the bedroom itself. None of this was UNN issue, that much was obvious at a glance. A large glass stall dominated the room, a giant, Borealan-sized shower with a recess in the ground that created a shallow bathtub. There were shower heads crawling up the glass on pipes that would surround the occupant with streams of water on all sides. It was downright luxurious, he would never have expected to see something like this on a space station, not even in an admiral's quarters.

Moralez walked around it, the tile floor cold on his bare foot. Kaisha chuckled at his surprised expression.

Bathing is important in my culture, I spared no expense. I had to get special permission from the head engineer for the basin in the floor, and I shipped the sheets of glass and the plumbing on special order from Earth. My water bill is large, but my doctor's salary covers the expense. It's not as if I have anything else to spend it on.”

It made sense, her whole body was covered in a layer of fur, it must be a nightmare to maintain. Whenever he was close to her, he always remarked how good she smelled. If it was readily apparent to him, then there must be a plethora of perfumes and scents radiating from her that his human nose couldn't even pick out.

Kaisha pushed open the glass door of the stall, her claws clicking on the transparent material, and gestured for him to enter. He walked under her fluffy arm, and she followed, closing it behind them. The shower seemed enormous to Moralez, although it was appropriately sized for the far larger Borealan. In fact, he doubted that it was as large or as deep as she might have liked it to be. The shower heads that surrounded them were at Borealan heights, too. He would only be able to make use of the lower two rows.

I must bathe and groom regularly in order to keep my coat healthy,” she explained, dialing in some values on a wireless control interface that was placed a little too high on the glass wall for Moralez to make out the display. “You are my mate now, it is customary for you to participate.”

There was a slyness to her tone that suggested she might just be making that last part up, but he could hardly complain. He had never showered with a...what was she to him now? His mate? Wife? Girlfriend? He didn't really know what the human equivalent was, just that they were formally in a relationship now.

I like it hot, I hope you don't mind.”

She finished tapping in the sequence, her bulk pressing against him, the spacious cubicle oddly confining when shared with the massive alien. The shower heads sprang to life, a gentle flow of warm water pouring down on them from all sides. Kaisha turned on the spot, enjoying the sensation as it dampened her fur, flowing down her body in streams. Her coat seemed to be somewhat waterproof, that must be why the basin was necessary, she would need to soak. The water slowly heated, starting to steam and mist up the glass. It became very hot, but not unbearably so. Kaisha ran her fingers through her hair and down her husky body, rinsing her fur. He couldn't see out of the stall anymore, and it gave him the impression that the outside world had melted away, that they were confined to this space together and that it was all that existed.

He sunk his fingers into her coat and searched for the inviting flesh that hid beneath it, finding purchase in her paunchy belly, her wide hips and her substantial butt. She purred happily and wriggled as his touch became more aggressive, squeezing and roving, gripping handfuls of her pliant fat as she looked down at him with her blue eyes.

Was last night not enough to satisfy you?” she asked, her voice low and suggestive as she drew closer to him. She pressed his back against the cool glass of the cubicle and buried his face in her wet bust. Her soft breasts spread against the pane, expanding around his head and engulfing him. The sensation of her sodden fur on his skin was divine, teasing and tickling as it brushed against him. She pushed her thigh into his groin, dragging the silky hair across his loins.

Help me get clean first, then you can have me any way you like.”

She released him, leaving a smear as his skin wiped away the moisture that clung to the glass, along with two boob-shaped marks.

I'll show you what to do,” she said as she lowered herself to her knees in the basin, which Moralez realized was rapidly filling with hot water. It was already at knee height to him, and it looked as if it would go as high as his belly, just enough room for Kaisha to mostly submerge her body. He thanked his stars that his prosthetics were watertight. He had showered in the hospital after his recovery, but he hadn't even considered whether submerging them completely might be a problem.

I have a brush,” she said, “but your fingers are small. You won't need it.” She reached behind her and retrieved a bottle from a shelf that was attached to the glass with suction cups, some kind of shampoo or soap, he couldn't tell. She took his hand in hers and upended the bottle, pouring a thick, creamy substance into his palm. It was definitely shampoo of some kind, it had a flowery fragrance to it. He did his best to cup the gel in his prosthetic palm, losing as little as possible. Would it even spread properly if it was applied with metal and polymer? Kaisha seemed to think so, turning her back to him and lowered herself so that he could reach her shoulders.

Rub it on my back.”

He reached out, spreading it on her sodden fur. It turned into a foamy lather, and he dug his fingers deeper into her fluff, combing her coat as he worked it in. Her back was a little darker than her front, off-white, almost grey. Black spots that reminded him of a leopard ran down her spine in an attractive pattern.

That feels good...” Kaisha moaned, leaning into his strokes. Her tail twitched as it floated in the rising water, the usually puffy appendage now thin and waterlogged. “Deeper...”

He rubbed the lather into her downy hair, reaching the yielding fat beneath, and she jerked contentedly.

That hand...it feels great. The fingers are hard, but that's great for massage.”

Just wait until I have two,” he replied, kneading her shoulder with his palm and rubbing the muscle beneath her pliable flesh. He didn't even have to think about it, the motions came so naturally. His hand knew what he wanted from it and interpreted the signals that his brain sent to it with a dexterity that was indistinguishable from that of his organic limb.

This...may have to become a daily thing,” she muttered.

Kaisha was enjoying herself, almost in a trance as he moved down her spine, spreading the shampoo and massaging her tender muscles. The water was up to his thighs now, and the heat permeated his body, making him sweat. It was pleasant, he imagined a sauna might feel this way, had he ever visited one. Most jump carriers were not outfitted with steam rooms, after all.

She shivered as he reached the small of her back, pushing his thumb into one of the dimples above her butt, which was now submerged. He couldn't resist the impulse to sneak his hand below the water and weigh her heavy ass, grasping a cheek and squeezing her abundance.

She whipped him playfully with her wet tail, splashing him with hot water.

That comes later, keep going!”

He continued to wash her as requested. She crooned and shivered, in love with the sensation of his hard fingers as they roamed up and down her back, coating her in foam. Once again Moralez was surprised by how accurately the prosthetics reproduced familiar sensations, feeling the strands of her silky fur caress his fingertips as the soap suds made them slippery. After a few minutes, she seemed satisfied, the water now at her waist. The shower heads shut off automatically, either programmed by Kaisha or sensing the water level automatically.

She leaned forward, raising her haunches out of the water and presenting herself to him, her tail curling in the air as her round cheeks waited for his hand. Her ass was like a giant peach, even with both of his arms, he might not have been able to wrap them all the way around her. The water level had even lowered noticeably in the absence of her girth.

His erection jumped under the water, the sight of her glistening, pink flesh peeking out from between her sodden thighs an almost irresistible temptation. He sunk his hands into her yielding flesh, digging his fingers into the meat of her ample butt and lifting it experimentally. It was heavy, the fat belied the iron muscles beneath, taut and twitching under his roving hand.

You're supposed to be washing me,” she scolded. He snapped out of his trance and resumed spreading the shampoo, running his hand over every inch of her bottom. He slipped his fingers between her cheeks, eliciting a low cry of surprise and pleasure as his rubbery fingertips teased her sensitive bud.

He rubbed her loins gently, spreading the lather around her erogenous zone, feigning ignorance of her sighs and gasps as he kneaded her inner thighs and stroked the tuft of velvet fur on her pubic mound. She was facing away from him, but he knew that she was biting her lip, struggling to contain her excitement as his slippery fingers glanced over her vulva. This wetness that dripped on his polymer skin might be water, shampoo, or her own leaking juices. It was impossible to tell.

He roamed downwards, gripping her thick thigh, pushing his fingers into her meat and probing for the hard brawn that held her massive frame aloft. She chuckled, his kneading tickling her, flexing her femoral muscles like bundles of steel cables. He was running out of shampoo, but she seemed satisfied, shifting around to face him. She urged him to the bottom of the tub with a wave of her hand, then lay down, stretching her tall body out in the basin. Her breasts were buoyant, floating in the water as she relaxed on her back.

Now the front,” she said, smirking at him. He waded back over to her, coming to stand between her splayed legs. She helped him with the bottle again, pouring a slowly oozing mound of gel into his hand. He sunk his fingers into one of her floating breasts gleefully, the flesh spilling around his hand as the massive globe bobbed in the water. Kaisha grunted, her eyelids fluttering.

I don't know if you quite...grasp the concept of bathing...”

He slid his hand over the boob, deforming it under his palm, spreading the thick lather around her bust. Even when suspended in the water they were incredibly heavy, the feel of them in his hands only serving to further accentuate the massive Borealan's musculature. These would destroy the posture and back muscles of any human of equivalent size.

He squeezed and kneaded, Kaisha's ample breasts a playground for his hand, and again he wished that he had two. Her bulk shifted under him, her torso twisting at his touch. Her meaty thighs closed around him, hard muscles pressing against his waist through the velvet layer of her fat. His raging erection brushed against her splayed labia, sending a shiver rolling down both of their spines in unison.

Oh, fuck it,” Moralez grunted. He shifted his hips and pushed his sensitive glans against her vulva, divinely slippery in the hot water. She bit her lip, past the point of protesting, and flashed him a come-hither glance from beneath her fluttering eyelids. He thrust, pushing past the resistance of her opening and into her tunnel. She arched her back, her paunchy belly leaving the water and her mammoth breasts hanging off her body, gripped by the artificial gravity of the station as she rose into the air.

She clenched around him, the taut muscles of her vaginal canal squeezing and undulating around his throbbing member, easing it deeper as if she longed to taste him in her depths. She became suddenly aggressive, wrapping her massive legs around him and trapping him inside her, a lascivious glint in her eye as she looked up at him. He caught her nipple beneath the lather that coated her bust, holding the slippery protrusion between his rubbery thumb and forefinger. Kaisha groaned as he pinched, her loins contracting in response. It was so hot, the water below his waist and the sweat that rolled down his body, the burning of her sex as she clutched him. It drove him onward, the frustration only adding to his pleasure.

He began to thrust vigorously, and Kaisha squeezed her powerful thighs around him, controlling his pace to drive him ever deeper. There was nothing experimental or exploratory about this, they were past that point. They rutted in earnest, unrefined and unashamed, their overpowering desire for each other goading them on. The pure, animal intensity of their coupling sent shockwaves of pleasure stabbing through Moralez' member as he rocked her in the bath, pushing her against the basin as only the buoyancy of water would allow due to their difference in weight. They made waves together, the displacement of her heavy frame spilling over the sides and onto the tile floor.

He dove his hand into the subtle tire of her belly, gripping the soft pudge for leverage, his fingers sinking into her wet fur. She twitched, ticklish, humoring him as he fucked her. His every violent thrust was punctuated with a pleased gasp, her rumbling purring echoing in the enclosed space. She reached a hand up to one of her breasts, rolling it in her fingers and enjoying the slimy sensation of the foam. She pressed them together, deformed them like she was shaping wet clay, playing with them for the benefit of her lover as his eyes lingered on her chest and his shaft throbbed inside her.

Her thighs were closed around him like he had sprung a trap, squeezing him almost painfully, the layer of insulating fat and soft fur cushioning her robust muscles. She was so forceful, emboldened by the previous night perhaps, better understanding his desires and his limitations. He did his best to meet her greedy demands, his hard member digging against her deepest reaches, rough and raw. There was no need for protection, they were different species, after all.

She brought a long arm up to his head and delved her fingers into his damp hair, watching him with her reflective eyes, her expression fierce as their savage pace increased. She rolled her hips now, meeting his furious thrusts, the force of their impact almost enough to bruise him.

Harder,” she crooned, smirking as she felt his member jump inside her. The salacious tone of her lurid request only excited him further. “Make sure to finish inside me. If it sticks to wet fur, I'll never get it out.”

She laughed as he gripped a handful of her yielding fat and drove himself harder and deeper, her chuckling trailing off into satisfied groans as he scraped the sweet spot in the reaches of her passage. She lay back, relaxing in the steaming water as he plowed her, rocking slowly, eyes closed and lips curling into a smile as she enjoyed his attentions.

He started to slow a little, holding off to delay his mounting climax, but Kaisha did not allow it. She closed her furry thighs firmly around his waist, forcing him to keep going.

I have to go to work soon,” she giggled, “there’s time for that. Keep up the pace, I'm getting there...”

She was so tight, so slippery, and the way her breasts bobbed as they rocked under the impact of their coupling drew his eyes to them. Kaisha was practically lounging, happy to let him do most of the work this time, but her unfocused eyes and the way she kept sucking her lower lip into her mouth to chew on it betrayed her mounting arousal. She started to arch her spine in rhythm, pushing against him, almost powerful enough to wind him. His knees were weakening, and he yelped as he felt her furry tail sneak between his legs to tickle his balls, the texture of her wet fluff dragging across their sensitive skin almost enough to push him over the edge.

He writhed and squirmed, her fleshy walls clinging to his shaft like he was being vacuum packed in hot silk. Kaisha would not relent, he was trapped between her velvety thighs, their lovemaking reaching a fever pitch. Although she was on her back, with no leverage in the hot water, he felt as if she were fucking him rather than the other way around. She had her calves hooked behind his butt and her tail wrapped around his waist, pulling him into her.

Stars burned in his retinas and rolling, tingling pleasure started to crawl up his spine, like someone was walking over his grave. His expression must have changed, because Kaisha rose now, doubling over so that she could press her forehead against his. Her grip on his hair tightened as she stared deep into his eyes, watching him intently as he lost the last vestiges of his self-control. His cheeks burned under her intense stare, seeing her lids droop as she enjoyed the tremor that coursed through his body, making him twitch and quiver inside her moist tunnel.

Fill me,” she whispered to him. Her voice was low and sultry, cracking as he moved inside her, her fur tickling his face. “Like that...come for me.” She teased his balls with her tail, her grip on his hair tugging at his scalp, and he felt his orgasm welling inside him. She pushed his head into the nape of her neck, gentle and nurturing now, stroking his hair. He groaned into her sodden fur, feeling his emission rise through his loins to spill into her waiting hole. He writhed and jerked, but she held him in her grip. Her thigh muscles bulged as she crushed him against her body, ensuring that the torrent of his warm ejaculate entered her as deep as possible.

His fluids left him in great, heaving spurts, every contraction of his aching muscles burning into his nervous system like fire. Kaisha joined him in his wracking pleasure, her body starting to tremble and shiver as her pelvic muscles milked him, drawing out every drop and worsening his wonderful suffering. She growled, the deep sound vibrating the glass panes of the cubicle, wrapping her arms around him and almost pulling him over on top of her as she convulsed with the force of her climax.

They panted together, the steam smothering them in a haze of heat as they sweated out their stress. They ground gently against each other, clutching and clawing at one another as if they might fall away were they to release their tight grip. They rode out the aftershocks that pulsed through their bodies, the lingering pleasure and sweltering water overcoming them. Moralez ran his fingers through her wet fur, slipping his hand down her back and rubbing his face in her bosom. Everything was wet, steamy, hot. His whole experience of reality in that moment was simply a cloying, warm dampness.

Like climbing out of molasses, their senses returned to them, and Moralez felt Kaisha's chest bounce as she began to laugh.

I could get used to this, it’s a better morning pick-me-up than a black coffee.”

She planted a kiss on his forehead, her lips smooth on his flushed skin, and relaxed her thighs to let him pull out of her. She bit her lip, reaching a furry hand below the surface of the water to rub and probe, enjoying the texture of the mess that they had created together. She shot him a lewd glance.

I haven't finished bathing, you know. Fetch the conditioner.”

CHAPTER 7: AND TOOTH FOR TOOTH

Kaisha had not been too late to work, and Moralez had been overjoyed to hear that his operation had been scheduled for later that day. There had been complications with another patient, and his slot had been bumped up. He wasted the rest of his morning wandering the station. He couldn't eat in preparation for the surgery, vomiting while under anesthetic could kill him, and so he eyed the sandwich shop longingly as he passed it on the way to the recreation center. He spent a couple of hours there, smoking what he felt was a well-earned cigar and losing to a Krell at pool. Who the hell had taught the giant reptile to play, he couldn't fathom, but it was hard to feel sore when your opponent was perpetually grinning and inhumanly friendly. He didn't meet Raz there, she must have been working, and he was glad of it. With her keen nose she would surely have picked up Kaisha's sexual musk on him despite how well they had washed, and with her big mouth, she would broadcast it to the whole station within a day.

The time finally drew near, and he practically skipped back towards the hospital. By the end of the afternoon, he would be one step closer to being whole again, or at least as whole as he could ever hope to be now. Since his romp with Kaisha, his arm had stopped trembling, and he no longer had to think about it. Perhaps she had restored his confidence, maybe helped him get over his lingering fear of the aliens, or maybe it was simply because he was happy. It was hard to dwell on your problems only a few hours after making violent, steamy love in the shower.

He had agreed a little quickly to Kaisha's request for him to become her mate, but he still felt the same way about her, if it meant he could spend the rest of his career on this station, hanging out with her, sleeping in her arms every night, he should be thanking the fates for taking his limbs. Had he not winded up on Pinwheel exactly when he did, had he been assigned a different doctor, none of this would have happened.

He entered the hospital through the main door and proceeded to his room. He had a good mental map of the whole facility now, one of the side effects of being a career soldier. He knew every escape route and vantage point of any building he entered. He would be able to check out soon and move in with Kaisha once his surgery was over and his new arm was attached. If he had any further problems, she'd know what to do about it. He should put in his transfer request soon, he was confident that it would be accepted by the Admiralty. They owed him two arms and a leg in back pay, after all.

He changed out of his clothes and into a surgical gown, then waited patiently for Kaisha to arrive. He didn't have to wait long. After a few minutes, she appeared at the doorway, greeting him with a knowing smile.

This way please, Mister Moralez,” she joked as she beckoned to him with her clawed fingers. She walked him down to the surgical wing of the facility and again donned her transparent, plastic body glove. It seemed that she would be performing the operation herself again. Familiar with the procedure by now, he made his way to the bed in the center of the operating theater, the human surgeons that crowded the room preparing to put him under.

***

He awoke in his hospital room, looking up at Kaisha through bleary eyes as the effects of the drugs that they had pumped into his veins muddled his senses.

Is...it done?”

Don't try to talk yet,” she said, leaning in to stroke his hair. “It's done, we removed the damaged bone in your arm. When it has healed, we can go see Kurtz and get you a new one.”

Good, good...”

He trailed off, his eyelids closing of their own accord as another wave of fatigue overcame him, and he fell back to sleep.

***

He spent two days in the hospital bed as his surgical scars healed, and on the third they released him, stating that he had recovered enough to resume his activities. He ached for Kaisha, their encounter was so fresh and crisp in his mind. He paced outside the building as he waited for her shift to end. His arm grew sorer as the painkillers wore off, but it was nothing that he hadn't experienced before, the dull groan of severed nerves and stitching flesh now familiar to him. He feared the searing agony of the initial attachment of the prosthetic, a pain that was still unmatched by anything that he had experienced in combat, however brief it was. He just had to keep reminding himself that it was a necessary pain. No pain no gain, as his drill instructors had told him as he crawled through mud or ran until he passed out back in boot camp.

He noticed a tall figure exit through the automatic doors of the hospital, and he beamed as Kaisha waved to him. She was wearing her white uniform again. It clung to her buxom figure, she was practically spilling out of it. She walked over and gave him a hug, laughing apologetically when he winced as she put pressure on his new stump. The arm was completely gone now, the bone deemed not strong enough to support a prosthetic, ending at the shoulder as did his right.

You ready to go see Kurtz?” Kaisha asked.

Yes, let's get this done.”

She smiled and took his hand in hers, leading him downspin of the torus, towards the printing facility. Along the way, they chatted idly. Kaisha seemed chipper, energized. He felt it too, the hopeful excitement of a fresh relationship. She was glowing, her white fur shining under the station's lamps. Her blue eyes were bright, and there was a spring to her step. He was eager to test out his new hand when this was all finished, and they got back to her apartment. He snuck a glance at her bust as it bobbed beside him at head-height, straining to break free of her taut uniform.

Eventually, they arrived at the entrance to the printing facility, their conversation about what vintage movie Moralez might want to watch later that evening interrupted by the whoosh of the automatic doors.

Kurtz walked over from his workbench to greet them, shaking hands with Moralez.

Remarkable, as dexterous as ever, Lieutenant. Hello Kaisha, you're looking radiant today! Now, I have your new arm ready. If you'll please follow me this way, I can attach it.”

Moralez followed him over to his workstation, the engineer brushing off his overalls with a gloved hand before lifting a freshly assembled prosthetic from the bench, scattering tools and stray cables. It was identical to the limb that Moralez already had attached, though inverted, as it would be replacing the missing left arm.

This is the same design as your other arm, Lieutenant, now if you'll just...” Moralez turned, raising his shirt with his prosthetic hand to expose the left side of his body. “Danke, danke. You're familiar with this process by now, I assume?”

Moralez nodded as the engineer slotted the arm into place, locking it to the metal implant that protruded from beneath his flesh with a heavy click that reverberated through his bones. He released it to let it hang limply, unpowered, turning to retrieve his tablet computer. He tapped in some values on the touch screen, then pulled loose the data cable, plugging it into a port in the shoulder and connecting to the prosthetic's internal computer.

Brace yourself, Lieutenant.”

Kaisha grasped his hand, her fur soft between his fingers, and he gritted his teeth as he felt the worm-like wires burrow into his fresh scar tissue. Pain flared through him, searing like a hundred tiny needles as they bonded with his severed nerves. It only lasted for a few seconds, but from his perspective, it dragged on far too long. Just when he was reaching the limit of his endurance, his fingers squeezing Kaisha's hand, the agony subsided and a fresh wave of sensation washed over him. It was like opening a new eye, discovering some new sense. He raised his left arm, flexing the fingers experimentally. He could feel the cool air on his simulated skin, and he pushed his two hands together, feeling their texture. It was a bizarre sensation. Individually, each hand felt as if it were made of skin and meat, so it was jarring to press them together and to feel rubber and polymer instead of the skin his brain insisted should be there.

No training wheels for you, eh Lieutenant?” Kurtz chuckled as he watched him play with the hand. “So that's it then, all of your limbs have been replaced. A fine job if I say so myself.”

I'll certainly corroborate that,” Moralez replied, placing both hands on the engineer's shoulders. “I'm a whole man again, and it's all thanks to you and Kaisha. If you ever need anything, anything at all, you come talk to me.”

It's all part of my job. The real reward for me is seeing a previously crippled man walking around again.” Kurtz scratched his stubbly chin pensively for a moment. “And my hefty paycheck, of course.”

The three of them said their goodbyes. Moralez probably wouldn't have a reason to see Kurtz again for a while, although Kaisha would be visiting him fairly regularly in order to have prosthetics built and fitted for her patients. Moralez left the building, swinging his arms happily. Arms, plural. He was a symmetrical human once again. Well, mostly.

How does it feel?” Kaisha asked, watching him with a grin. He extended his hands to her, and she took them in her fluffy palms, squeezing them gently. He ran his fingers through her velvet coat, smiling widely as his new limb relayed the signals to his brain. He could feel it, he could feel everything. The relief was immense, as if a weight had been removed from his shoulders, as if the map of his body that his brain had created was once again complete and correct.

Let's go home,” he said.

***

Over the next few days, Moralez became accustomed to his new prosthetic, his experience with the right meant that he adapted to it very quickly. He was back at one hundred percent, able to live a normal life again, and he intended to make the most of it. He checked out of the hospital, moving in with Kaisha. They spent what free time her job afforded her exploring her collection of human media and making love. Most of it was newer to him than it was to her. Almost all of her music, movies, and books pre-dated his birth, often by centuries. He enjoyed sitting on her furry lap, her arms wrapped around him as they watched her vintage movies together.

Raz visited them one night, more to sate her curiosity than anything else, eager to confirm her suspicions that what had tied her friend up for the last week was indeed her new human mate. She seemed pleased with herself, and Moralez suspected that there had been much collusion between the two Borealans where his relationship with Kaisha was concerned.

He put through his transfer request and the next day it was approved, the station staff apparently quite eager to have a combat veteran serving in the security forces. He was placed in a prominent position as head of security for one of the four quadrants, a position that fortunately, did not require him to patrol the torus or really do much of anything besides handle the occasional screwup.

***

He was eating in the mess hall one day, taking advantage of his lunch break before returning to his post and wolfing down some passable beef stroganoff from his metal tray, when he noticed someone across the room. There were always a few Borealans hanging around the mess hall, although Krell and humans usually outnumbered them. Today a new pack was passing through. The Pinwheel was as much a hub for travel and shipping as it was a starbase for troops, so it was common to see new faces who might be staying on the base temporarily while their ship was refueled or refitted, or if they were being transferred from one fleet to another. This Borealan pack was being transferred from Kruger, he knew as much because that was his job now. He had to keep track of who arrived on the station, and from where. The reports coming in from Kruger were positive, the UNN had cleaned Kruger III of Bugs and had driven them out of the system, he could only hope that the information he had obtained at such great expense had averted a few massacres. Maybe, on some subconscious level, he had wanted to be here when the returning troops arrived. If only to make sure...

There she was, sitting at a Borealan-sized table and eating a nondescript meat dish with her claws like some kind of wild beast. It was Azi.

His blood ran cold as he watched her over his fork. She was surrounded by her pack, engrossed in her meal. She wasn't talking to the others much, which based on what he had learned from Raz and Kaisha, meant that she was likely the leader. The pack Alpha. So she had been promoted while he had been stuck here, languishing in a hospital bed. He seethed with anger, seeing red, and slid his hand down to check the iron on his hip. It was still there, his XMH was armed and ready to go. Did he want to use it? He wasn't sure yet, he wasn't thinking straight, his vision was a dark tunnel with Azi at the end of it.

She didn't seem to have noticed him, she likely had no idea that he was stationed here. He watched her patiently until she had finished her meal, then she rose to her feet, her pack trailing behind her as she left the mess hall. Moralez waited a moment before getting out of his seat, doing his best to look nonchalant, following her outside. He walked a fair distance behind them as they marched through the Pinwheel's torus. Perhaps they were exploring, perhaps they were just killing time between deployments, he couldn't say. He was wearing pants with a boot covering his artificial foot and a long-sleeved shirt with dress gloves, doing his best to hide his signature prosthetics from view. The question now was how to separate Azi from her pack and get her alone.

Was he really doing this? Planning a murder on a military space station? He'd never get away with it, and he'd be thrown in the brig for the rest of his days if he was lucky enough to avoid execution. His mind roiled, he was angry, unfocused. If he did this, he'd never see Kaisha again. It would break her heart, but the injustice of what Azi had done to him burned in his veins like liquid fire. Only putting a slug through her skull would calm his rage, he felt compelled. When he had seen the data scroll past on his terminal, he hadn't believed it. Borealans coming in from Kruger, what were the odds that it would be her? Had she even survived? It had eaten away at him, he had to check, had to be sure. Now here he was, stalking her with a loaded gun on his belt.

She turned a corner, passing between two of the buildings that lined the edge of the torus. What was she doing? There was nothing down there besides storage rooms. He hesitated at the corner, making sure nobody was around, and then peeked past the wall. He couldn't see the pack, how could he have lost them? He hurried down the alley, cursing himself, his hand hovering over his holster. He reached the end wall, a cul de sac, where had they gone? He turned to the sound of a door opening behind him.

Well well well, if it isn't my old L.T. You're looking pretty ambulatory these days.”

Azi and her cohorts stepped out from a side door, a storage room, how could he have been so stupid? He was so fixated on Azi that he hadn't even noticed it. His hand flew to his holster, but as he popped the velcro strap that secured the gun, Azi's pack bristled. He knew from experience that they could cover the ground faster than he could unholster his weapon and fire it. Besides, there were seven of them. Even if he killed one, the rest would eviscerate him in short order.

That didn't work out so well for you last time,” Azi chortled, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall. She was so cocky, her new position must have gone to her head. “Why are you following me, monkey? You want another taste of me? That can be arranged...”

His face flushed red as memories of their last encounter flooded his mind, his hand beginning to tremble as it hovered over his XMH. He collected himself, willing the tremors to stop, and stood straight.

What you did to me, it wasn't right. I don't care about your worthless culture. You knew I didn't want it, but you did it anyway.”

You seemed to enjoy it after a while,” she crooned, smirking at him as he balled his fists. He pulled his gloves off, discarding them on the floor, showing her his polymer knuckles.

You took something from me, Azi. I lost a lot on Kruger, but you took something that I want back.”

Her smile faltered, and she looked to her pack. They were watching her expectantly. Clearly, he had just issued some kind of challenge, and they expected her to answer it. She walked away from the wall, taking up position a few meters in front of him. Did she intend to fight him? She dragged down the zipper on her UNN-blue uniform, shrugging it off so that the top half fell around her waist. The sleeves flopped behind her as her black sports bra and her tanned, muscled body were exposed. She cracked her neck, her orange hair falling about her shoulders. It had grown out since their last encounter.

Do you know what you're doing, L.T?” Azi asked as she flexed her hooked claws. She intended to fight him, could he win? He did the same, pulling off his shirt to reveal his two robotic arms, and beneath it a black ballistic vest. He doubted that it would stop her claws, but some protection was better than none. He raised his fists defensively. He knew boxing, but he didn't fancy his odds against the alien. The last time they had fought he had barely been able to scratch her, but maybe with his new arms...

The two squared off, advancing towards each other slowly as Azi's pack watched them eagerly, their yellow eyes tracking him. Wasting no time, she danced forward to swipe at him with her left hand, her claws as fast as lightning. He blocked the blow with his right arm, her claws glancing off the polymer. She drew back, waving her hand in pain, a surprised expression on her face. She had left a scratch in the black paint, but the polymer and metal construction was strong. The textured surface had broken her claw, it seemed. She bounced on the spot, dancing on her powerful legs as she twitched her fingers, the second claw on her left hand missing its tip.

The prosthetics were responding quickly, fast enough to parry her probing strike at least. He couldn't know if he'd be fast enough to block her when she attacked more earnestly. She bared her sharp teeth and circled around him, the narrow alley only just wide enough to allow it, her tail knocking against a stack of wooden palettes that rested against the wall. She lunged again, faster this time and aiming lower, her claws glinting as they shot towards his belly. He lurched backwards, trying to block, only partially succeeding as her claws glanced off his forearm and tore the fabric of the vest. They chewed deep into the Kevlar, scarring the material. Those claws were sharp, if they found their mark she would shred his flesh like cheese.

She smirked, circling him again. He had seen these cats fight, she was holding back, was she playing with him? Was she afraid to kill him on the station? He would make her regret her hesitation.

He stepped in, driving his metal fist forward with all of his might, the servos whirring as they powered it towards her. She chose to block rather than dodge, a mistake. The fist slammed into her furry forearm with enough force to knock her off balance. She gripped the impact point in her free hand as Moralez drew back, nursing it and gritting her teeth. Kurtz had not been exaggerating, even with the limiters enabled the prosthetics were extremely powerful. He couldn't lift anything too heavy with them, the bone that they were anchored to was not enhanced, and they would just snap off. But he could throw their full force into his punches, the shock absorbers in the joints preventing the impact from damaging his organic body.

Azi eyed him angrily, shooting him a no more miss nice girl look. She lowered herself closer to the ground, her arms spread wide, her butt shifting left and right like a cat preparing to pounce. She lunged, throwing her whole body into the charge, her legs uncoiling like springs to drive her towards him. There was no time to think, he could only act, his brain sending signals to the prosthetics. He pushed himself out of her path with his robotic leg and caught her wrist in his hand as she passed him, turning with her and swinging her into the wall face-first, aided by her own momentum.

There was a crunch as she hit the hull and her head rebounded as if her skull was made of rubber. She turned to him, dazed, raising a clawed hand into the air intending to strike him. He danced under her raised arm and hit her across the face from below, faster and with more force than any organic human limb could have mustered.

She stumbled backwards, blood seeping from her nose and a cut on her cheek. She shook her head, her red hair flaring wildly, and swiped downwards at him. He caught her forearm in his iron grip, pulling her down and raising his prosthetic knee to meet her face. He split her lip and shattered a tooth as it impacted her mouth. He released her, retreating backwards as she stumbled. She rose to full height, a hand covering her mouth as blood stained her uniform, trying to compose herself as she took up a fighting stance again. Borealans were tough, he would have to pummel her into unconsciousness in order to end the fight, as no injury that he could inflict bare-handed would do enough damage to take her down. He was fast enough, and she was making mistakes, he could win this.

Azi snarled angrily and charged him again, covering the distance faster than he could react, this time making contact with her shoulder and throwing him to ground. He skidded on his back, temporarily winded by the force of the blow, and tried to get back up before she could close on him. He was too slow, and he raised his hands to catch her claws before they plunged into his throat as she pounced on top of him. She was too heavy, too large, he couldn't throw her off him. He squeezed her hand in his grip, applying as much pressure as he could. He heard the bones in her fingers creak, and she gritted her teeth, trying to force her curved claws closer to his unprotected neck.

She wailed as he twisted her fingers, the motors in his wrists turning them unnaturally. Her bones were as hard as concrete, he didn't think that he could break them, but it must hurt like hell. Azi hopped off him, skittering backwards, cradling her hand as Moralez jumped to his feet.

She seemed almost afraid now. She couldn't maneuver properly in the alley, it was too narrow, and she was starting to realize her mistake. He had the advantage, if he could just keep the pressure up...

He charged forward, swinging his fist at her. But this time she dodged out of the way, and the blow impacted the building behind her with enough force to dent the wall. It must have been made from metal or some kind of plastic. There was no pain in his hand, the prosthetic simply wasn't programmed to interpret it, but he felt the material crumple beneath his knuckles. Azi stepped behind him and slashed at his back, penetrating the ballistic vest and digging into his skin. He felt the sting of her claws burning across his ribs, and the sickening click as one of them glanced bone. He swung around, elbowing her in the side of the head and sending her reeling.

The pack was watching in disbelief, yet not one made any move to help her. This was a question of honor. If he could lower her standing in their eyes, disgrace her, then he would have his revenge.

He didn't give her the opportunity to recover, spinning around and hitting her with a powerful uppercut under her jaw. Her head snapped back, and she fell heavily to the floor, smacking the back of her skull on the hull of the station. Moralez stood over her, hitting her twice in the face with his clenched fist as she tried to rise, groggy and disoriented. A third punch discouraged her, and she rolled onto her side, groaning and spitting crimson blood.

His heart was racing, and the fresh scars on his back were on fire. He had won, she was downed. He knelt on her neck with his metal shin and unholstered his handgun, pressing the cold barrel against her temple, his finger hovering over the trigger. Again her pack merely watched, doing nothing. Azi looked up at him with her amber pupil, the socket beginning to blacken.

You gonna kill me, L.T?” she spat as blood wet her lips.

He pushed the gun against her head, and she closed her mouth, her eyes widening.

Shut up, just shut up!” His hand shook, the knuckles stained red. He moved his finger away from the trigger, scared of firing it off by accident.

Y-You win,” she conceded, as if she had any choice in the matter when she had a gun to her head. “I submit!” She sounded afraid, but it didn't do anything to lessen his rage.

I should spill your brains all over the deck,” Moralez hissed, glaring down at her. “All you had to do was follow my fucking orders, but you had to play your goddamned dominance games instead.” She lowered her eyes to the ground, was she ashamed? He couldn't tell. “You wanted to feel big at my expense, well now who's big?”

The dropship!” she cried.

What about the fucking dropship?”

I carried you up the ramp,” Azi coughed, ejecting a loose tooth that clattered across the deck. “You were part of my pack, under my protection. You looked dead, I could have left you on that planet, but I didn't...”

He was taken aback, and his weapon left her temple to hang limply in his hand. He had suspected as much, but to hear it from her own mouth...that he owed his life to her. It fucked with his head, he didn't know what to think, what to do.

Under your protection? Part of your fucking pack!?” he shouted, his voice echoing through the alley. “Did you even check that I was still alive? Did you even wonder what had happened to me after you handed me off to the medics?” Azi kept quiet, scared to look away from him. “I woke up in that bed with no arms and one leg, a chest full of shrapnel, and you were nowhere to be found. I didn't even know that you were alive until today. What kind of leader doesn't care if their soldiers live or die? What does that make you?”

I'm...I'm sorry.”

She was usually so proud, so aggressive, and now she was submitting entirely. Hearing her say it, if she really meant it or if this was just some kind of submissive display...it was enough. He lifted his leg off her neck, letting her rise to a sitting position. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and eyed him warily, her orange fur stained with blood.

You're not worth it,” he growled. “I'm done with this, it's over.”

He didn't feel vindicated, he felt sick, queasy. This wasn't him, this wasn't what Lieutenant Moralez did. He would not let his experiences change his personality the way that they had changed his body. He holstered his sidearm, turning to leave the alley. They did not pursue him, and as he entered the torus, he turned to see them standing over Azi with disgusted looks on their faces. She had lost, and to a human at that. Her life as their leader was over now. Judging by the way that she stared at the floor, blood dripping from her split lip, she knew it as well as he did.

***

Where were you? What happened!?” Kaisha exclaimed, catching Moralez in her arms as he stumbled through the door to her apartment. A large, red stain had soaked through his ballistic vest from the deep cut on his back.

Got in a fight,” he grumbled. Kaisha helped him onto a stool by her kitchen table and removed his vest, examining the wound.

What did you fight? A Borealan?”

Yes...”

You...won? You wouldn't be sitting here if you hadn't.”

He nodded, wincing. Kaisha left for a moment, then returned with a first aid kit.

Hold still, I can patch you up. What the hell were you thinking, fighting a Borealan? You could have been killed! What happened?”

It was my fault...I found Azi.”

And you confronted her,” Kaisha sighed, shaking her head. She pinched his cut between her fingers, holding the flesh together with adhesive plasters. He stared at the floor, not knowing what to feel. He had put so much that he held dear in jeopardy, it was reckless, stupid. By all rights, he should not have succeeded. But he had, and despite the sinking feeling in his stomach and the searing pain in his back, the closure was worth it.

Your gun...did you...” Kaisha trailed off, not wanting to ask the question, fearing the answer that he might give.

No, I didn't fire it. I wanted to...but I didn't.”

She seemed relieved and continued her work, cutting silver tape in her teeth and sealing the length of the wound with it. Her furry fingers were stained with his blood, the crimson soaking into her white coat, and she walked over to the kitchen sink to wash it off.

You're lucky, very lucky. That wound is mostly superficial. You'll have a wicked scar, but you have enough of those already that I doubt you're worried about aesthetics.” She hesitated, her hands submerged in the hot water. “Did you hurt her?” she asked, without turning to look at him. Her tone was unusual, almost bloodthirsty. He had never heard Kaisha talk like that before.

Yes, but she's a Borealan, she'll live. Probably has a concussion though.”

I'm sure Kurtz would be thrilled to hear that his prosthetics took down a Borealan. You're lucky they don't like to report this kind of thing, or you'd be spending the night in the brig.”

She returned to the table, placing a glass of pink liquid by his hand, his knuckles still painted red.

Drink, you're probably in shock.” She crossed her arms and shook her head at him as he took a draw of the alcoholic beverage, gritting his teeth as the motion hurt his back. She seemed angry with him, but she was having difficulty hiding how impressed she was. It was amusing to see her struggle, unsure of how to express herself. “You do anything like that again, and I won't fix you up,” she continued. “You can go to the hospital and explain to them what happened.”

I won't,” he coughed, choking on the sweet drink as he tried to talk. “It's over now, I got what I wanted.”

Do you feel better? Are you satisfied now?”

He raised a hand before his face, examining the robotic fingers as they curled and uncurled.

I thought I would be. I thought that it would somehow fix what happened. I was so angry, I wasn't thinking straight. It felt good to get revenge...but it didn't reverse time, it didn't change what she did to me.” Kaisha watched him, a concerned expression of her face as he picked up the glass and took another draw. “In the end, she submitted. That's what her people do, right? Guess that makes me king of the Borealans or something, I don't fucking know. It doesn't fix things, but...it felt good to hurt her.”

As a trained psychologist, I can't say that what you did was psychologically healthy or a good idea. Maybe it counts as exposure therapy,” she said with a shrug of her furry shoulders. “You really beat her though? A full-grown Borealan shock trooper?”

Seems that way. Her pack weren't too pleased with the outcome. What will happen to her now?”

Kaisha took a seat beside him, stealing a sip from his glass.

Well, if she was their Alpha and she lost the fight, she loses her status. There will probably be a scuffle over who gets to be the new pack leader, but Azi will be firmly placed at the bottom of the ladder. Especially after losing to a human,” she chuckled. She noticed Moralez' expression and waved her hand dismissively. “You know what I mean, you're half our size and a third our weight, she should have wiped the floor with you. Luckily for you, your prosthetics seem to have won out.”

So she's in for a bad time, then? Good...”

I hope she at least gets checked out,” Kaisha added, scratching her chin pensively. “Even among Borealans, brain swelling isn't a good thing. Just how hard did you hit her?”

Hard enough to put her down and cost her a few teeth.”

Well, if you damaged your prosthetics, Kurtz will be very upset with you.”

They're fine, could do with a clean though.”

Kaisha rose to her feet and placed a calming hand on his shoulder.

You need to rest, sleep this off. They won't miss you at work?” Moralez shook his head. “My lunch break is over, I have to get back to the hospital. Call me on the communicator if you need me, there's one in the living area, on the wall by the cabinet. Go to bed, doctor's orders.” She left the table, heading towards the exit, then leaned down to pick up her bag by the door. She hesitated, her fingers on the handle. “Oh, and Moralez.”

What is it?” he asked, turning on his stool to look back at her.

Heal up quickly. I don’t want you popping your stitches and ruining my good sheets when I get off work tonight.”

She pushed the door open and left, leaving Moralez nursing his drink at the table, his cheeks reddening. He was excited, hurting, confused and triumphant. So many conflicting emotions roiled in his mind, yet his fingers were steady. There was no ripple in the pink liquid, the glass immovable in his polymer hand as if it were a gyroscope. Had he regained his lost confidence? Won back his dignity? Maybe he had just damaged the sensors in his arm, and they couldn't pick up his subtle signals anymore. No matter.

He finished off his drink and got up to place the empty cup by the sink, then ran his hands under the water from the faucet. He washed off the blood and a few strands of orange hair that were stuck to his knuckles. He noticed the pale scar in the black polymer of his forearm that had been left by Azi's claw, reaching down with his thumb and forefinger. He loosened the tip of her black talon and pulled it out, examining it under the light. He'd only had the arm for a week, and he'd already scarred it. Well, at least it matched the rest of him now.

He dropped the claw fragment down the sink, drying his hands with a washcloth. It was over, he had overcome his injuries, his fears. He felt whole again, confident and able-bodied. He would take a break from fighting now, from war, and enjoy Kaisha’s company. It was time to take a well-earned vacation.

-THE END-

 
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3 thoughts on “Purple Heart

  1. To be honest, I half hoped Kaisha was going to beat the hell out of Azi. Or some form of confrontation. But getting her butt kicked by Moralez works too.

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