1998 - 2006 G. Dallman
May 3, 1998 Version 2.0
Revision Date: 05/20/2006
Despite his awkward arrival, Howard smiled down at the sand a few centimeters beneath his nose, sifting a hand-full of the white granules through his fingers. The laughter of his Teacher still reverberated through SoulRipper's Portal chamber 151 light-years away.
In amazement, the Human watched the soil of another world, another star system, fall, slowly, in gravity much different from his normal experience.
Howard looked up, examining the rough-hewn, crystal-flecked stone walls of the Portal chamber. Silently, a dark clawed, digitigrade foot planted itself next to his left hand and a huge tawny paw was extended, offering him a hand up.
"I am so happy my Student could drop in!" laughed Heffnss, easily pulling the Human to his feet.
Howard stood silently, breathing in the alien air; squelching the alien sand between his toes. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by the wail of klaxons as Teff's defensive system activated. A moment later, a Hand of Dirhal, in black Kevlar battle armor, double-timed out of the access tunnel and into the chamber, weapons at the ready.
"Lord Heffnss!" growled the leader of the Hand. "I had not expected you."
"You may stand down, Torrnn, my Student seems to be a bit gravitationally challenged at the moment," rumbled Heffnss as he effortlessly pulled Howard to his feet.
As though she hadn't noticed the Human until that instant, Torrnn warily eyed Howard, her upper lip slightly curled in a silent, menacing, canid growl.
"What is that, my Lord?" asked the TwoRing male standing on Torrnn's left, as he gestured toward Howard with the barrel of his weapon.
"It is my new Student, Rinn. Treat him with respect, for he may be S'Challh.
Rinn blinked, a confused expression rippling across his muzzle, "I had expected…"
"Had not we all," replied Heffnss. "Yet the prophecy is unclear."
"My Lord, please instruct, hrrr… him… to identify himself to the defensive system. The noise is giving me a headache," requested Torrnn, waving the muzzle of her weapon in the Human's direction.
Howard felt an acute flare of embarrassment as the female ThreeRing sniffed, coldly examined him from head to foot, her topaz eyes lingering at his midriff. For a moment, thoughts of Krrfinn surfaced.
"My Student, the identplate," prompted the priest, aiming Howard in the desired direction.
/Howard F. Ripley is identified,/ replied the system in both English and Sennal as the Human placed his hand on the cool glass.
As soon as Heffnss repeated the identification procedure, the jarring klaxons shut off and several strategically placed plasma cannons pulled back into their recessed enclosures. Howard was relieved to note that the Watchers' ears seemed to raise a bit from against their skulls, though they were still ill at ease in his presence, all but one trained the muzzles of their nasty-looking weapons in a direction other than at him.
For several seconds, everyone stood still, each studying the others, until Heffnss gestured toward Torrnn's Hand. "My Student, these are the Guardians of this Portal. Torrnn and Rinn, you have just met. The others are Stonn and the twins; Ke'Heff and Ne'Heff. Ne'Heff is the one that looks like he still wants to shoot you."
Indeed, the nearest of the twins was still eyeing the Human, an undeniable hunger in his amber eyes. His left hand tenderly caressed the receiver of his weapon, just above the trigger. His twin stood passively, his face an unreadable mask.
Torrnn was also staring intently at him, but the hunger in her eyes was far more easily defined; Howard had seen it often enough in Krrfinn's eyes. Her reaction did not go unnoticed by the Feline. For the second time, circumstances forced him to rethink his opinion of his Student.
At the sound of his name, Stonn's ears perked up and his jaws opened in a typical Sennal grin, his long tongue lolling slightly to one side. Howard was surprised by the twins; rather than being the dusty gray most common in the Dirhal race, their pelts were a glossy, midnight black.
"You are released," Heffnss commanded.
Smartly, all but two of the Guardians turned back toward the tunnel mouth, Torrnn and Ne'Heff stood, still eyeing Howard, radiating their separate needs.
The ThreeRing slowly turned to follow her cohorts, but after several reluctant steps turned again, uttering a plaintiff whine. "Lord Heffnss, I do not understand what is happening. It is your Student. He… attracts me."
"It is to be expected, Torrnn. I become more convinced by the MilliCycle that he is S'Challh." Heffnss smiled for a moment, his eyes shifting from the Watcher and to his Student. "Do as your body commands. He may be unwilling at first, but soon his need will be as strong as yours. Escort him to my quarters and remain with him there."
While Howard didn't understand any of the exchange between Torrnn and his Teacher, he was more than cognizant her intent, becoming increasingly uncomfortable as his own need began to mirror hers.
"My Student, I have pressing business to attend. Torrnn will escort you to my quarters. I shall be along in about two SubCycles." The Sasskal quickly stepped back from the two and dematerialized with a small displacement implosion, preventing his Student from seeing the wicked, knowing smile that graced his fearsome muzzle.
Howard could feel the first wisps of panic stirring at this unforeseen turn, but was distracted by the touch of warm paw-pads on his bare arm. Reluctantly, he allowed himself to be guided through the access tunnel, as Torrnn established a firm hold, her gray-furred arm now wrapped around his.
As Howard and Torrnn exited the access tunnel, they found themselves in a large open space, perhaps a kilometer across. The vaulted ceiling almost disappeared into the dimness above. This was the hub of all Portal activity, the Great Vestibule of Teff. Around its periphery, on a dozen levels, were thousands of other access tunnels, each identical to the one they'd just left; each leading to another Portal chamber; each Portal leading to another world. From a tunnel on their right came the unmistakable roar of an opening Portal. Around them were thousands of other Sennal, representing every species, all either arriving or leaving the Monastery Asteroid.
Torrnn guided the Human across the vast expanse of polished granite floor to a huge multi-arched doorway leading to what Howard recognized as a train station. Small maglev vehicles silently glided through tunnels at either end of the station. Another two minutes walk brought them to a platform, lined with seemingly hundreds of stone kiosks, each about two meters high. Torrnn approached a random kiosk and growled a few terse words, placing a paw on Howard's chest to indicate he was to wait.
After about a minute, a single car stopped in front of them, its door hissing open with pneumatic sibilance. As three Gashka occupying the car got out, they came to a full stop on the platform, unabashedly staring at the Human. One of the Ursines consulted his datapad and turned to the others. "It is one of the strange furless creatures inhabiting the World of the Progenitors," he growled.
As the first Gashka's companions circled Howard, exchanging growling comments among themselves, a female in the group sniffed, taking a half step toward them. Torrnn tightened her grip on the Human's arm, pulling him into the newly vacated car. "This one's mine. Go get your own!" she shouted through the closing doors.
The air inside the car was still redolent of male Gashka as Torrnn motioned for Howard to take one of the overstuffed seats, each large enough to accommodate the largest Sennal. Obediently, the Human took one of the window seats. Torrnn immediately snuggled into the one next to him. Automatically, the seats adjusted to their occupant's stature.
The three Ursines were still gesturing and arguing as the maglev pulled away, quickly gathering speed.
Outside, the dark tunnel walls streaked by, illuminated only by the light streaming from the car's windows. In silence broken only by the whisper of the ventilator and an occasional muttered growl from his Dirhal companion, Howard started to relax. Soon his eyelids became too heavy to bother holding open and he dozed.
Beneath a thin veneer of sleep, The Dream began anew; the peace of its bucolic scene again overridden by the deeper force of S'trriff's compulsion. Torrnn sniffed, smiling to herself as the Human moaned softly in his sleep, his need becoming physically manifest.
'Lord Heffnss errs, you will beg like a youngling at First Heat,' she thought, one eye on the strange maleness, wanting; the other on the chronometer as it counted down the milliCycles until arrival at their destination. Not enough time.
Howard was jarred from his troubled sleep as the maglev suddenly decelerated. Again hot embarrassment flared, nova-bright, as he followed Torrnn's stare to its target. His own need amplified by S'trriff compulsion and Torrnn's scent were driving him to a place he feared to go. Quickly, he rolled away to face the window, shrinking from the warm paw that lightly caressed his thigh. The Dirhal broadened her smile. The chase was on!
Seconds after the car glided to a stop the door hissed open, admitting a wave of cool air and the sounds of Sennal voices on the platform beyond. Torrnn tugged lightly at Howard's elbow, urging him from his cocoon of embarrassment. "Come, shy one, the chambers of Lord Heffnss await," she growled.
Surrendering to Torrnn's prompting, Howard allowed himself to be guided from the car, onto the busy platform. At a harsh bark from his Dirhal companion, a group of Sasskal priests, shining Scholar's Blades at their backs, reluctantly parted, clearing a path scarcely wide enough for Torrnn to negotiate. Howard felt course fur brush against his back and thigh as his guide propelled him along the platform. Behind him, the Human could hear the sibilant growls of the priests, their emerald eyes tunneling into his back like lasers. A hundred other eyes watched as the two left the station and were soon swallowed by the dim mouth of a pedestrian tunnel.
To Howard's infinite relief, the walk from the station to Heffnss' living quarters was less than two hundred meters. Along the way they encountered only a solitary Toccal technician working on a control box recessed into the stone wall. Torrnn stopped and touched her hand to an identplate next to a three meter high door. The portal slid open with a slight electric whir, revealing a dim interior. The air inside was somewhat chill and carried the strong, wet iron scent of Sasskal.
As they entered, the lights brightened to a pale yellow, and the details of a space long lived-in became evident. The floor was covered with a thick brown carpet, which felt like silk beneath Howard's feet. The walls, unlike those of the Portal chamber, were polished to mirror perfection, covered in places by strange reddish-gold tapestry. The opposite wall framed a tall, arched opening, revealing Heffnss' sleeping chamber. The camber's far wall was pierced by a large window about three meters on a side, giving a view onto the Eternal Dark. Perhaps two billion kilometers away, Teff's primary, the white dwarf, Llennel burned. A tiny spark in the far distance. Everywhere Howard looked there were small artifacts; some on tables, others resting in niches carved into the polished stone. Sasskal, being very tactile creatures and loved things such as these.
Behind him, the door whirred closed and Torrnn released his elbow, moving to an ornate coat-tree where she commenced removing her body armor. The removal of each piece was punctuated by the rip of parting velcro. Soon, Torrnn was standing dressed only in what Nature provided, her fur matted from long hours encased in kevlar.
On Howard's right was a fabric-covered lounge, big enough to accommodate four large Sennal. Torrnn gestured to it, her voice as soft as it was unintelligible. "Repose, shy one. We have more than a SubCycle before Heffnss' return. Your need betrays you as mine compels me."
Howard was determined he wouldn't allow his cowardice to shame him in Torrnn's eyes. With a slight smile, he climbed into the bowl-shaped depression of the lounge, patting the soft fabric beside him. All his life he'd cursed his inability to sustain a relationship. Now, thanks to his unique genetic endowment, he had every female, and seemingly several males, who came with fifty meters falling all over him. On SoulRipper there were the constant sidelong glances from dozens of female Watchers, controlled only by their commander's rigid discipline. Pheromones. With the closest Human female over one hundred light-years away and S'trriff's imperative reaching the point where it couldn't be refused, Howard surrendered to the Will of the Patrons. Rolling onto his back, he felt the Dirhal climb onto the lounge beside him; her breath warm on his throat; her hand searching; her scent robbing him of reason.
* * * *
Heffnss sniffed, smiling as the door closed silently behind him. With Feline stealth he crept past the two entwined bodies sprawled on his lounge. His Student was asleep, his arm draped across Torrnn, her Wolven head pillowed by his chest. The blend of scents in the air told him all he needed to know.
The Dirhal stirred slightly as he past, an ear twitching, a smile on her muzzle. "It is as you said, my Lord. His, is the passion of Ne'Heff." she whispered, sinking again into sleep.
A short while later, Howard woke to a slight metallic sound as Heffnss removed his Scholar's Blade and reverently placed it in its special wall niche. As he breached the surface of true wakefulness, Howard felt Torrnn's breath on his cheek and remembered. How like Krrfinn she was. Yet… despite her almost hungry desperation, she totally lacked the intimidating presence that stood between himself and the Alpha female. Slowly, he allowed his hand to glide down the warm, silken fur of Torrnn's ribs, eliciting a sleepy mrr. Through lidded eyes, Howard watched Heffnss silently pad about his sleeping chamber. Soon exhausted sleep reclaimed him.
Heffnss silently studied his Student for a while before commanding the lights to dim. Both had learned valuable lessons today, perhaps this, the ability to see through species differences was the most important. S'Challh would always endure some constraint in his relationships with Sennal beings, but that was a part of his genetic heritage he would never completely overcome, until the Final Change. With mild surprise, Heffnss realized his acceptance of his Student was now complete.
As sleep overcame him, Heffnss grudgingly decided that Aarrl was right. Perhaps he was prejudiced. But, if his Student could overlook much greater differences, so could he.
* * * *