Conor stood in the opulent reception hall of the Merchant House of Kor, feet sunk in the plush pile of the carpet as he watched the morning crowd arrive. The galaxy, he thought, is a strange and wonderful place. All around him, merchants, agents, pilots and purchasers teemed in all the variety of which life, in its galactic sense, was capable. Con had been raised on a small and isolated planet, and until he'd left home he'd seen only a handful of races, most of them other human sub-variants. Now his childhood encounters with squat heavyworlders or the stripe-haired colonists of system's other planet were stripped of their exotic mystique by the daily barrage of amazingly varied species. From his desk he could see the Isks, Ko and Itzo, scampering along on their way to the mailroom, their eight-legged, golden-furred bodies swerving as if on tracking. Their small frames were simply disks of flesh with slender limbs spaced evenly around them, a two-foot tail in the back, and no visible sensory organs. He still wasn't sure how they "saw," or whatever they did. In the corner, Jonah sat in his place by the window, immobile and impassive. He took some warming to; Con still found it hard to consider the sofa-sized mass of knobbed mineral sentient, although Jonah had been forgiving when Con had sat on him on his first day at the office. It was something of an initiation ritual amongst the non-"professional" staff. Cool Salariki merchants, their sleek fur and feline grace draped in rich robes, still made him pause, but only in admiration – he saw them almost daily as they worked to send the galaxy’s finest to their luxury-loving homeworld. Amidst the welter of fur, feathers, chitin, and tentacles, human-variants hardly registered as variants with him any longer, and anything even vaguely bipedal had lost the power to charm him.
Anything but Meer Kass. He watched from his alcove as she stood bowed in the doorway for a moment, throwing back the deep cowl of her cloak to reveal eyes like broad green platters, sleek fur with the luster of tarnished silver, and feline features with a winking, knowing expression. She was Salariki, and tall for the race; she topped Con by several inches, and moved with easy power and a panther-like gravity of grace. Her fur glowed with health and luxury, and he sighed quietly to himself as he thought again of what it would feel like under his fingers. Sensuous, he thought wryly – for the few seconds he'd have left to live if he dared that transgression. He looked away as she headed across the lobby, pretending to monitor his security screens as she moved towards the desk.
"Corridor one, room five, please." Her voice was a lazy, throaty purr that jolted his libido as it lingered caressingly over the r’s and s’s. He reached for the passcard, looking up into her calm, faintly mischievous eyes as he held it out and felt her claws slide like polished ivory over his palm.
"Con. I listened to that music of yours." She chuckled, a low purr, and her eyes narrowed with humor. "How barbaric. I enjoyed it." She smiled, showing perfectly pointed white dentition, and nodded to him as she took his disk from a belt pouch and slid it over the counter to him.
"Oh, you don't have to give it back," he gulped out quickly, pulse suddenly pounding in his ears. She's listened to it! She'd actually listened to it! Now if he could just get her to do it again ... "I have a couple more like it. I can run you some copies if you want."
She cocked her head thoughtfully, sleek pointed ears flicking back to the noise of the lobby and forward again to him. "Yes, I may take your offer. I found your primitivists most refreshing. Perhaps more of the drummers?"
Con nodded eagerly, trying not to blow it all by looking too delighted. From the glint of humor in her eyes, he thought that she found his behavior amusing. She must know of his desire for her. He'd heard that Salariki could detect scents as subtle as those associated with particular states of mind, and she must have known by looking at him how excited she made him. If only that wouldn't make her suspicious. He thought she wasn't; he was pretty sure that she just found him cute and puppyish in his obvious admiration. She had the typical Salariki self-possession, an assurance bordering on arrogance. It would take more respect for him in order for her to regard him as a threat. As it was, she no doubt regarded his fascination with her as entirely understandable in a human underling.
She nodded and smiled again, tapping his palm with hers in a gesture of thanks as she turned. He watched her move through the paneled doors in a swirl of dark gray cloak and allowed himself the luxury of leaning his head on his hands and groaning.
A skitter and tweaking at his arm made him look up. Ko was there, tickering a staccato message on the noteboard it wore around its middle. It held it up and waved a couple of finger-like arms:
"TWENTY HUNDRED CREDIT I GET YOU ON HER NEXT SHIP. I GOT CONTACT."
Con laughed and pushed at the board. "Get out of here, Ko. You work in the mailroom."
Ko rattled on the keyboard with four of its limbs. "EVERYTHING GO THROUGH MAILROOM! HEEHEEHEE CON GOODBOY." Ko emitted a chittery chirping sound and scampered up his arm to sit on his shoulder, curling its tail around his neck and tugging his hair playfully with one limb. "CON NO LUCKY TODAY?"
"Yeah, maybe tomorrow."
"STOP SHOW MUSIC SHOW MAN-THING. YOU HUMAN NO GOT?"
"Yeah, that'd be real subtle, Ko. That the way they do it back on Isk?"
"ISK, THEY DO BEST! YOU NO GOT FIVE ISK, YOU NO DO IT RIGHT. ONLY NEED THREE BUT WHO WANT STOP THERE? HEEHEEHEE!" Ko chittered and rocked until it nearly fell off Con's shoulder.
"Right now, I'd settle for one."
"OK RIGHT CON. MAYBE SHE PLAY YOU LITTLE MAN-THING FOR YOU. SURE THING SHE LOVE YOU SKINNY NAKED APE SELF." Ko scampered around his neck, tickling him with its legs.
"Ko – fuck off back to the mail room."
"HEEHEEHEE! OK GOTTA GO CON. NO LET KASS SCRATCH CON'S BACK - OOOOOOH CONNNN PRETTY MONKEY BOOOYYYY!" Ko waved the board tauntingly, then dodged about the countertop as Con swatted at it. With a wave of its tail, it sprang into the crowd in the lobby and scuttled off towards the offices.
He couldn't help laughing. Ko was a little freak, but it was good for a laugh. It was right, though. Kass wasn't going to fall for some bald primate. Salariki thought pretty highly of themselves, and he'd never heard of one seeking a liaison outside of its race. But it was more than that. Meer Kass had been a pilot and a freelance runner; she still owned her own ship, and now shared in the Merchant House's profits as a very young but very respected associate. She had managed to carve herself a career in a risky and demanding field, and had grown rich doing it. She'd earned the Salariki honorific "Meer" at an unusually young age, and was commonly known to have sufficient independent capital to match or exceed her Merchant House salary. She was usually subtle about it, but she didn't hide it - it wasn't Salariki custom to hide superiority or to deny oneself the conveniences that skill, talent, or money could provide.
What could he offer compared to that? She was wealthy, adventurous, intelligent, sensual ... he stopped himself there with determination, and turned his thoughts to himself. He was barely skilled, a desk jockey; his position as "security" was laughable. The only effective thing he could do was to sound the alarm for the real police. And he had to admit that he'd bought into the Salariki way of seeing things. They were an amazingly race: graceful, refined, physically beautiful. No Salariki would consider courting the stumbling nakedness of a human, let alone a human so far down on the social scale. She was out of his reach.
But not out of his mind. And now, he thought, almost not daring to think it … and now, she wasn't quite out of his reach. Not any more.
Kass Kass Kass Kass Kass likes music Kass likes music Kass likes music Kass likes music Kass likes this music this music this music Kass likes this music wants more hear more hear more this music Kass likes this music Kass wants more this music trusts Con likes Con good music likes music likes this music Cons music more music wants more music wants more of Con smusic Kass likes music Kass wants more music Kass wants more Cons music Kass wants more Cons music Kass wants more
Kass stopped by the desk the next morning, a little earlier this time. She actually took him by surprise, so that for once, he didn't have to pretend to be looking at something else as she approached. He caught a glimpse of motion and then heard her soft rumble purring over his name.
"Con." She smiled. She usually did. Did it seem wider this time? He was imagining things. She'd heard one disk - ONE DISK, he reminded himself. Stop being an idiot. He wrenched his eyes up and smiled, trying not to look as guilty as he felt.
"Corridor one, room five?"
She nodded, then placed a velvet-furred hand on the counter, milky white claws tapping it lightly. Her paws, his mind noted irrelevantly, were darker; they shaded into a gray so deep that it was nearly charcoal. "So tell me, Con. Where do you find your native music on this planet? It is very enjoyable. I may need to invest in some." She smiled at the small joke on the daily business of investment that went on around them.
"Oh no need, no need. I have it sent over by my parents in packets from home. It'd be pretty hard to find here, but I can make you copies of everything I have. It's no problem."
She paused for a moment, an uncharacteristic hesitation. "I should pay for the disks, at least, Con?" She ended it as a question; she seemed uncomfortable offering him money, but equally uncomfortable accepting repeated presents. He crossed the fingers of one hand under the counter as he slid the newly prepared disk across it and smiled.
"Don't worry about it, Meer Kass. It's a pleasure to me to find someone interested in our world, and it's no trouble to run the disks. Maybe you'll find a market for it." He grinned. "Then you can remember me."
Kass laughed and took the disk. "Very well, Con. I shall keep my source in mind." She slipped the disk into a belt pouch and took her passcard from him, then turned and was gone in a breath of spicy-sweet herbs.
Kass likes music Kass likes music Kass loves this music Kass loves Cons music Kass loves Con Kass trusts Con Kass likes Con Kass loves Cons music Kass wants to hear it again Kass wants to listen to more Kass trusts Con Kass likes Con Kass likes to see Con Kass loves Cons music Kass wants to listen again Kass wants to listen again Kass wants to listen again Kass loves Con Kass likes to see Con Kass wants to touch Con Kass likes to look at Con Kass wants to talk to Con Kass loves music Kass loves this music Kass loves Con Cons music Con Con Con Kass wants to listen again again again again
It was a strange dream. It was an absurd dream. It was ... repulsive.
It was fascinating.
Kass groaned and eyed the soft glow of the clock, hearing a tired sigh from the rumpled tawny form next to her. The pilot had been by all means satisfactory – in terms of stamina and grace, nothing was left wanting, and his golden fur and bright green eyes were certainly striking.
But she'd dreamed of naked skin ... and strange sunken blue eyes.
She sighed and got up, swirling a robe around her as she padded over the cool tiles to the kitchen. Leaning against the wall, lapping down a glass of milk, she shook her head and ran idle claws through her mane. She wasn't going to get back to sleep. With a resigned sigh, she moved out to the work room, feeling the rich pile of the woven rugs caress the pads of her feet. She sat in the egg-shaped velvet scoop-chair in front of her terminal and switched on the elegantly arching lamp. As she opened the latest account data, she picked up the discreet little remote and turned the music system on, just that room, very low. The steady bass throb and intricate overlays of the drumming were somehow soothing, and soon she was curled up in the chair, dozing lightly while her ears flicked and twitched with the music.
Con hunched over his drink, eying the doorway. Soon Dag’s tall, gawky figure filled it. He waved to him from the bar.
Dag slid down next to him, glancing along the bar cautiously. Con shoved over the drink he’d ordered for him.
“Don’t worry. The service sucks. I got you set up the last time he bothered to look over.”
Dag nodded and took a deep drink.
“Ah, damn that’s good.” He hesitated a moment, then plunged in. “So. How’s it, uh … going?”
Con shrugged. “Well, she hasn’t tried to kill me yet, and I’m pretty sure she listened to the first disk, so it’s good so far.”
“She look like she’s feeling any effect?”
“Hard to say. She seemed a little more friendly today, but it wasn’t anything major.”
Dag nodded. “That’s good. Don’t want to move too fast. She might work it out.”
“Yeah. But can you burn me a few more? I want to be ready to move ahead. She’s listening to them anyway.”
“Sure. I brought the next one with me. I’ll send some more in the next day or two – just keep sending me what you want on them.”
Con nodded, taking the disk that Dag handed over. He eyed it, then spoke a little sheepishly.
“You think it’ll work?”
Dag laughed, shaking his head. “If it does, she’ll never know. We just have to make sure we don’t get it too high range. If we’re low in the borderline perception frequencies, she just won’t register anything, but if we get too far toward conscious perception frequencies, it’ll start hitting the conscious mind. We know she doesn’t hear it consciously now; let’s not fuck with it.”
Con nodded. “No kidding. Don’t screw around with it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Dag nodded, then grinned as he clapped Con’s shoulder.
“Hey, think positive, though. Maybe it will.”
"Good morning, Meer Kass. Corridor one, room five?"
He did his best to sound brisk, professional, and disinterested. He wasn't sure how successful he was; it's hard to lie to someone who can smell your level of tension. But he did his best to stay cool, and he was slowly upping the amount of cologne he wore in hopes that it confuse the issue. He was the first to admit he had no clue what he was doing, but he tried to be subtle. (Evidently not quite subtle enough; he'd backed off after Ko's terse interrogative – "MONKEY BOY GOT FLEA? STINK TO KILL?" If the Isk could notice it, Kass probably found it overwhelming.) He tried to imagine gutting fish to keep his mind (and other organs) from going into overdrive.
Kass looked preoccupied. She nodded and reached out to take the passcard. Was it his imagination, or did her slightly rough fingerpads linger longer on his hand than necessary? He looked up and she suddenly glanced away, almost as if disconcerted, and jerked the card to her. She was rattled! He'd never seen her anything but coolly detached. He hesitated, not sure if he should push things at this moment – but he had the disk made, and if she got any more nervous, she might start to avoid him. He slid the disk over the counter, pretending to look at something of interest on a monitor in order to avoid eye contact.
"Oh, I made you a disk of some of the latest music that my parents sent over. I remembered that you liked the one drummer gang I sent you last time, so I put a bunch of their stuff on it. Hope you enjoy it - sorry, I need check this out."
He rattled away on a keyboard, pretending to deal with the non-existent "problem." It was cheesy, he knew, but he hoped that she might take the disk and not quibble about it if he cut off communication. She stood there for a moment, eyeing him; he could feel her gaze burning into him. Then her claws scraped briefly on the countertop. When he finally allowed himself to look, she and the disk were gone and the paneled door was drifting slowly closed.
Kass loves Cons music needs more of Cons music wants to listen to Cons music wants more of Cons music wants more of Con likes to see Con Kass loves to look at Con Kass wants Con Kass trusts Con Kass trusts Con Kass trusts Con Kass loves Con Kass loves his bare skin Kass wants to touch Con Kass loves Cons music Kass wants to listen again again again again Kass wants to touch Con Kass wants to please Con Kass loves Con Kass loves Cons music Kass loves Cons skin Kass wants to touch Con Kass wants to lick Con Kass wants to please Con Kass wants to touch Con Kass wants to worship Con Kass loves Con Kass loves Con Kass loves Con Kass wants to listen again again again again
Ko was in hysterics. It was chittering and wriggling so frantically that it couldn't type, and Con finally grabbed its board and swatted it with it.
"What the hell are you talking about, Ko? For fuck's sake, settle down and spit it out."
It rattled away at the board, still twitching and chirruping with merriment, its typing erratic and requiring frequent corrections.
"KASS!!! HO HO HO MONKEY BOY! YOU NOT ONLY ONE SHE NOT LIKING! HEEHEEHEE!"
It convulsed and rolled about the countertop, its frantic skittering suggesting uncontrollable mirth.
"OUT ON STREET! OUT ON STREET SHE THROW KIMTOK! ALL HIM CLOTHING OUT THE WINDOW! HEEHEEHEE! ALL OVER STREET!"
Con stared. Kimtok was a Salariki pilot who sometimes worked freelance for the Merchant House. His liaisons with Kass were common knowledge, as were her encounters with several other Salariki. They were a casually sensual race.
"SQUALLINGS AND BITINGS! KIMTOK BIG SCRATCH DOWN HIM! HE SWEAR SHE CRAZY CAT. THROW SHE WINE ALL OVER HIM HEAD. CALL HIM NASTY HAIRY CREATURE!"
Con tried to laugh, feeling a tightening in his gut and a prickly creeping up his spine. "She poured her wine over his head? I thought she was doing him regular!"
Ko chittered and whipped its tail about, then clicked on the keys again. "SHE WAS! DO HIM EVERY PORT CALL! LOOK LIKE SHE NO DO HIM MORE. CON WATCH CHANCE, MAYBE SHE LONELY TONIGHT. JUST NO WINE BRING OR CON WEAR IT." Ko giggled again, then stiffened, jerked its board onto its back, and skittered away at speed. Con looked up to see Kass approaching the desk.
She looked tired. Her green eyes were half-slitted, and her slightly curling mane was rumpled and straying around her neck. Her eyes met his and did not look away. They seemed dazed, tired ... almost resigned. He felt his chest tighten. They remained, unspeaking, for several long seconds. At last he pulled himself together and fumbled the passcard for her office from its slot. Without looking away from her eyes, he held it out to her and felt her hand touch his. It jolted him like a current. He felt every detail of the scrape of her smooth claws, the rough pads of her fingers, the sleek tickle of the velvet fur edging the pads. Her hand drifted over his for an epochal moment, and her green eyes remained fixed on his, open ... almost beseeching. As she drew the card from his hand, her claws raked slowly, lingeringly down his palm, then over his fingers to rest lightly on the tips for a long moment. She withdrew her hand, still meeting his gaze – then turned slowly and walked toward the corridor, moving wearily.
He watched. Later that day, he slipped a disk into her mailbox with a short note explaining that he hadn't finished it by that morning. He had, of course, but he didn't want to give her a chance to refuse the gift. Things were reaching the point where she might.
She lay in the embracing comfort of the chair, idly flicking through fleshplay channels on the screen. In the background the drumming played with a low throb. She'd put all four disks into the player and set them to repeat, listening to them as she paced restlessly through the house. She'd spent the early part of the evening in a flesh den near the port, trying to jolt her flagging libido with Twilek brandy and the expert caresses of a paid attendant. The bracing bodyrub had failed to stimulate her, however, and his fawning manner, so unnatural to a Salariki, had only disgusted her. It was revolting to see a member of her race so bereft of dignity. In the end, she stood abruptly and left when she found her eyes straying to a thinly clad human male serving a party of wolfish Gigorans.