tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Color of Iron

The Color of Iron


Note: this story is a sequel to the stories "The Color of Air." and "The Color of Sea". While this story should stand on its own, the previous story has the details on how Captain Drake and Color Of Air began their partnership.


The Port of Raxas would have been merely gloomy to the human senses that I once had. They would have seen only dimly lit corridors designed to build up a static charge of unease on the human particles navigating their crude waveguides. Now my shapeshifter senses could taste the blood tang of high-carbon steel and smell the skin particles of a hundred races exfoliated into dust and laminated onto bulkheads with layers of silicon lubricants. We could even hear the noxious stench of a grit, the reptilian rat-analog that had displaced the mammalian one from its niche across the galaxy.

Yes, we can hear stenches; synesthesia was a way of life for us. Scents, sounds, and sights all tumble together and sometimes forget their proper place. Pronouns are confusing too, since we are two souls in one: Color of Air, a shapeshifter, and Captain Samuel Drake, adventurer. She proposed, I accepted, she consumed me. Now we share the same amorphous, ever-youthful, nearly immortal body. It's not a bad deal.

Except that we had to go everyplace together. Remind me why we're vacationing in a industrial hellhole run by a despotic dictator, I thought.

It's not a vacation, Color of Air replied. Someone I care about is being held prisoner by the aforementioned despot.

The way I figure it, if it's not business, it's a vacation. If we're not turning a profit, we should be enjoying ourselves.

Now Samuel, I know that there's a heart of gold under that crusty exterior. Rescuing a damsel in distress appeals to the romantic in you.

Only if there's a reward for the damsel.

The waveguide discharged us into a cavity. The anode at the far end collecting the charged passenger-particles was an array of immigration inspectors. Clutching the immigration forms that invited us to confess to several dozen infractions and felonies, we steered towards the nearest booth. We wore Captain Drake's form, to match the registration of the ship.

"Purpose of your visit?"


The slab of vat-grown beef behind the counter raised an eyebrow. "Don't hear that too often here."

"All right. I'm a trader. I don't have anything to trade this trip, but I'm looking for opportunities. That makes it a pleasure trip."

"Wise guy." He stamped our documents. I hadn't seen a stamp before. Elsewhere all documents are electronic and are signed cryptographically. The Raxians must be fond of the ominous finality of the thud of the heavy stamp.

At the next station, our luggage was facing down a customs agent who came from the same vat as the immigration agent. The luggage was quivering with rage and flashing "Nothing to Declare" in green letters on its side. The customs agent was stolidly unmoving, but didn't realize he was still standing only because we had commanded the luggage to keep the body count low.

"Stand down," we told the valise. "He has permission to inspect." Hearing the code phrase, the luggage settled down with a sigh and reluctantly opened. Only we heard the puff of ten grams of recreational contraband vaporizing within.

The search was brief, but disarranged every article within. The compulsive within me cringed as everything was crammed back in haphazardly. The customs agent looked disappointed that he couldn't charge us with something, though he clearly was trying to make the woman's clothing into a chargeable offense in his mind.We should probably travel with only single-gender clothes, I thought. The variety could give us away if anyone knew to be looking for a shapeshifter.

But that's my favorite dress, Color of Air complained.

I very much doubt you will get a chance to wear it on Raxas, I replied, knowing that she wasn't serious.

We exited through doors the color of finely ground despair and hailed a cab for the hotel. Horizons were close and cramped. Raxas was a small world, exceedingly dense with iron, which made up their principle export.

Two days later we joined a tour of the palace. The top honcho styled himself the First Citizen, wore military uniforms, and had "fair" elections every four years that he had every expectation of winning for the rest of his life. It was all straight from the playbook that has been used by his kind since before the Caesars on Earth.

We still wore the form of Captain Drake to match the identity card we carried. The Raxians had a nasty habit of checking them frequently, which made things difficult for an honest shapeshifter. We hung near the rear of the tour as we checked out the richly woven silk tapestries, the exquisite carvings, and the magnificent and elegantly crafted electronic surveillance systems.

Are we sure she's in here? I thought.

Color Of Air replied, That was the last message I had from her. She was taken into custody shortly after she arrived here. She saw a Public Defender while the ordinary police were holding her, and managed to slip him a note that she was about to be transferred to the First Citizen's private guard. No one has heard from her since.

What makes you think she's still alive?

I can only hope. She is too ... exquisite ... for him to kill.

We were walking through the Great Hall of the Citizen now. Its most unusual feature was a ledge about ten feet above the floor of the hall, upon which a dozen black panthers sat with majestic boredom as the tour filed through. The guide was explaining, "Although the cats are restrained in no way, they are conditioned to never leave their perch above the hall. They have living quarters behind the gallery, and are trained to come to the ledge and pose whenever people enter the hall." And so they symbolize the workers of this fine planet, I finished in my mind.

I had spotted an alcove that should't be covered by any of the security cameras that I could see. We stepped within it while the tour trailed out of the far end of the hall. I dropped our clothes to the floor, thinking Panther! Our body flowed liquidly into the form of one of the big cats, skin changing to lustrous black fur. We leaped quickly to the ledge and assumed the seated pose of the normal denizens.

Give a girl a little warning next time.

I saw an opportunity and took it. Now let's see if there's a way in through the cat house.

We rose and padded languidly inside the cat living quarters. I decided I liked being a cat. Perhaps it would a good form for sleeping.

The cat quarters were more luxurious than the hotel room we had booked, reputedly one of the better establishments in the city. Cats lounged on carpeted perches, dined from labeled bowls, and drank from a running waterfall along one wall. The walls were glass, not the bars I was hoping for. However, I spied a ventilation duct above one high perch. The grating would keep the cats out, but I'll wager than none of them could reshape a claw into a screwdriver blade. In minutes we were navigating the ductwork. Color Of Air adjusted our body to a more weasel-like proportion to fit the cross-section of the duct better, and when our belly dragged in the middle she added another set of legs.

A six-legged black weasel was an efficient duct-runner, but there were a lot of ducts. We looked into seemingly hundreds of room, many of which the interstellar trade commission and the First Citizen's own electorate would have found very interesting, though none held what we sought. Hours later, when we were beginning to feel our efforts were in vain, Color Of Air finally announced, She's here!

Another grating blocked our way down into the room. Instead of tediously unscrewing screws, we simply liquified and ran through, coalescing in a puddle on the floor that drew itself up into the form of Tam Martin, Color Of Air's original host body, youthful, unsophisticated, and earnest. Also quite naked, since we hadn't carried any clothes with us.

A body hurtled across the room at us as we touched down. Reflexively I took a low stance, ready to grapple an arm and pivot the attacker's momentum across my hip, following up with an attempt to break or dislocate an arm or two. It took a heartbeat or two for me to notice that our body had done none of these things. That's the trouble with having two drivers. Instead of defending ourself we ... had an armful of warm, fragrant, and, um, furry woman. Oh well, that's the good part of having two drivers.

"Color of Air! You found me!"

"Nuritha! Of course umph..." She stoppered further words with a hungry kiss. Color of Air reciprocated in the kiss, and added a phrase in her own language: raspberry, chocolate, cinnamon, musk, lavender. Nuritha giggled, breaking the kiss, "I love your pet name for me! It makes me feel so sensuous."

Color of Air smiled. "You are sensuous, Nuritha. That word describes just about everything there is to know about you."

Now that I had gotten a good look at her, I had to agree. The first impression was fur. She had soft black fur like a cat covering her everywhere except her belly and breasts. Those were gloriously naked, vying for attention with her exquisitely carved face and intense green eyes. She wore only her fur and a collar about her neck. A tuft of longer fur concealed her sex. I had seen more skin revealed at formal dinners, but nowhere had I seen her match for graceful, exotic beauty.

"We must get you away from here. I can lift you up to the vent. You'll fit easily through all the passages, and we can find our way to the service entrance and stow away on one of the delivery vehicles." We gathered her up in our arms and began to stretch towards the opening in the ceiling.

"No! Stop! This collar will kill me if I leave this room." She struggled to get down. "If it gets more than a certain distance from a transmitter, or if it's tampered with, it sets off a neural disruptor. He demonstrated it on another prisoner. It was horrible agony, and the prisoner took a long time to die. You should get out while you can. I'll never be able to escape."

We put her down again and held her tight. She clung like a fond memory. It was hard not get lost in the feel of her warm fur, the softness of the breasts pressed hard against ours, and the spicy musk that Color of Air had riffed in the fragrance notes of her name. The last was the most overwhelming of all, since the amorphous organism that had absorbed Tam Martin to become a shapeshifter used the messages of scents and tastes for communication.

Nuritha felt it too. Her hands began roaming our naked body and her mouth sought ours again. "I've missed you so much," she murmured. "Make love to me one more time before you go. They won't check on us until evening. We have hours before there's a danger."

Her tongue flicked lightly. We let lips part and tongues meet. Hers was long and somewhat rough. Her ancestors had probably groomed their fur with them in the distant past. Despite the tongue and the fur, she was not really feline in appearance. Her face was oval and her ears would probably elicit the comment "elfin". No tail adorned the sexiest butt I had seen in a very long time.

Hey, commented Color Of Air.

You have a lovely butt, but you can make it any shape you please. That's artistry, this is art.

Nuritha pushed us back onto the bed and straddled our form. I registered in the background that for a prison, the room was comfortably furnished and the bed was soft. Nuritha lowered her face to our breasts and gave careful attention to each nipple in turn. Electric jolts went straight to our groin with each stroke of her tongue. She ground her pelvis against our thigh and we could feel the growing dampness in that silky triangle of fur. Sharp teeth nipped playfully in cinnamon-cayenne accent to lime-rough tongue. As we became more aroused, synesthesia scrambled the lines between touch and taste and scent.

Nuritha had worked her way down our belly and reached our crotch. Her tongue played a lilac symphony on our clitoris, then dipped within to indescribable depths. We were gripping the bedclothes with both hands, back arched and quivering. She lapped slowly from bottom to top and back again, plunging within on every pass just to hear the musky moan that elicited. This exquisite creature was a maestro of the body and we were her instrument.

Finally we had to gasp, "Stop! No more or I'll melt. Literally!"

She arose with a satisfied and wicked smile. "I need something long and hard. Take a male form for me."

We complied, stretching here, flattening there, flowing into the form that I had once had. "Nuritha, meet Captain Samuel Drake," Color Of Air said. "I think you'll like him; I certainly do."

"I think he looks very promising," she said, but she wasn't meeting our eyes. I looked down.

Whoa. You certainly embellished certain attributes.

I know what she likes.

One thing she liked was being on top. She climbed over us, took our cock in both hands (as I said, it was a substantial embellishment over the original), and brought it to her opening. I watched in fascination as she stretched herself around the head and lowered herself inch by inch down the shaft. She seemed much more elastic than a human, as well as a good deal warmer. We could feel her heat stretched tightly over every ridge and vein of our penis, unbelievably tight, but so well lubricated that she slid easily all the way to the base.

She began to move in long strokes. Every cell shouted red ecstasy as it slid within her. We reached up to cup her breasts and let her hard nipples run circles over our palms as she rode. She bent her head over us, eyes closed, lost in the buildup towards her release.

We can't lose control. If she pushes us over the edge, it could be very dangerous for her.

We sat up, to hold her impaled in our lap for a moment while letting our tide ebb just a bit. Then we stood, and placing our hands under her furred and velvety butt, pumped her up and down on our cock. In this position we could control our build up while driving her wild. Up and down she slid, beginning to thrash uncontrollably. Orgasm overtook her as a spasm in her entire body. She clamped herself in place with her legs around us and pulled us deeply inside. With that penetration, our own orgasm boiled up dangerously near. We bottled it up, just barely. The results of being intimately joined to a shapeshifter who loses control are drastic.

But that's what Nuritha wanted. Still racked by her orgasm, she bent close and breathed in our ear. "I've never given you the ultimate pleasure. Let yourself go now, just for me. Take me in you. It's the only way I will ever leave here. Come for me!"

She swirled her hips in a boneless way, adding a corkscrewing motion to her stimulation as well as clenching and releasing with her internal muscles. It was a tenth-level blackbelt move that we had no hope of resisting. A spicy chocolate musky wave of orgasm rose from the deeps to send us tumbling. We saw a note from ring out from a bell, and felt the color red through our fingertips. All our senses tumbled away in a vortex of roaring yellow. We came deep inside her as we lost all cohesion and started to flow away. She laid herself down on our chest and let herself sink inside.

We flowed up and around her, outside her and inside her at the same time. As we stripped away the first layers, we connected our nerves to hers and fed our orgasm into her to receive it back amplified. We had switched places, with her penetrating us now, and every inch of skin a sexual organ. Merging with a shapeshifter is the most intimate, most intense, and most final sexual act you can perform. As her life ebbed into ours, we held her and cherished her.

Color Of Air was crying. I didn't want to do that to her. She was so full of life, I don't think I can hold it all. I wanted to save her from captivity so she could go on living.

There was not much I could say to that. We lay for a time as we absorbed Nuritha, letting her layers ablate away like an expanding nebula. At the end, we set her memories free, bursting like a sweet nova to mingle with our own. It was only then that full realization came over us.

This was a trap for us! Her captors knew that we would come for her. She couldn't tell us, because she thought they might be listening. This was the only way that she could be sure that we got the knowledge to escape.

We may have a little time. They expected us to rescue her by impersonating someone in the palace. The trap is at the door. We can leave by the air shaft again and disappear into the city.

Color Of Air's thoughts had gone as grey and cold as the iron palace that held us. No. I will destroy the monster who used an innocent like Nuritha as a pawn. We are going to take her place until we get close to him. Until we tear the cold heart from his body.

What? There's no profit in revenge. The profit is in getting as far from here as possible. Did I mention the downside in going everywhere together?

On your balance sheet, be sure to put down that there's someone who knows who we are, wants to capture us, and is willing to bait traps with innocents. We put ourselves and everyone we know and love at risk by leaving him at large.

Well, since you put it that way...

We arose, found the adjoining bathroom, and excreted the excess mass we had acquired. Standing before the mirror, we watched our form re-flow into Nuritha's graceful lines. I heard Color Of Air suppress a sob. Returning to the bed, we picked up the collar that Nuritha had escaped when she dissolved away. With distaste, let our head flow until it was narrow enough to slip through the collar, which we settled on our neck. I hoped we could get it off fast enough if it came to that. Then we waited, reviewing Nuritha's memories.

It was evening when a guard finally opened the door. He said only, "You're wanted for entertainment," and gestured for the door. He had a control box for the collar strapped and locked to his wrist. We wouldn't be able to simply grab it but we probably could slice his arm off if needed, though I would want to be certain there wasn't a deadman circuit built in.

As we left the prison room, a red light suddenly scorched the anteroom. An archway that we had passed under had lit up. Two other guards who had been stationed outside were galvanized into action and pounced on the guard escorting us. "Shapeshifter!"

Our escort blanched. "No! It's a false alarm! I'm not..." The other two jumped him and forced a vial of liquid past his lips. They held him and waited as he struggled. After several minutes had gone by, they looked at each other and said, "He's not melting."

"Of course I'm not, you idiots. If I was the shapeshifter I would have set the alarm off going in. The bloody thing must be broken. Send for someone to fix it before I have to bring her back from the banquet. I'm going to be lucky if the captain doesn't write me up for drinking on the job."

Alcohol. That's what they were planning for the trap. Someone knew entirely too much about shapeshifters. If we ingested just a small amount, we lost the ability to hold a form and melted into a puddle. A large amount could kill us, as we had done to a rogue shapeshifter on Pinwheel. I was glad that they were so fixated that their target would use the frontal approach. It kept them from considering the other explanation for the alarm going off. I wondered what they were scanning for that would detect us so easily.

Our escort straightened himself up and motioned us ahead of him. We walked down endless corridors permeated with the tang of iron, punctuated with whiffs of machine oil, ozone and solvents that signified we were on the level that had the support machinery for the palace.

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