Ahrrotl romped forwards into the humans’ private chamber, and Maria’s face fell. It was cramped for their standards, but the ceilings were still uncomfortably high for a Hrotata. Maria sat on a mat on the floor where their bed would be once it had been unfolded. She was sitting with her legs crossed and ankles up on her hips, her hands resting on her knees.
“Oh. What is it?”
Ahrrotl relaxed and tried to mimic Maria’s position subtly, sitting on her rear end, crossing her feet, and using her forepaws for balance while swaying slightly. Her head was lowered, her gaze on Maria’s torso and stomach and legs rather than on her face, as she was trying to present submissive behavior.
“Maria, I would like to speak with you. Privately, if you would.”
Maria nodded sharply and glanced upwards. “Mother Superior? Tommy? Privacy protocols, please.” She looked back down at Ahrrotl, trying to meet her gaze. Ahrrotl looked up into her eyes for a moment, then dropped her gaze again.
“Maria, I wanted to say that I am sorry if I’ve offended you somehow. I have the feeling that you dislike me, and I think that I understand why. I have no interest in Algernon; he is your male, and you’ve made it very clear that you claim him.” Ahrrotl sniffled; a half-laugh. “From the way that he spoke about you before I even met you I knew this.” She smiled and looked up at Maria, meeting her gaze. “My people understand this. The less males that you have the more tightly you must hold on to them, and the more valuable it makes them. To choose but one mate is to honor them greatly. I can tell that you value and love Algernon and I do not wish to interfere in your relationship.”
Ahrrotl watched Maria closely. Her eyes were cold and hard as stone when she first looked at them, but her gaze moved past Ahrrotl’s and to the door behind her. Her shoulders sagged a bit and she let out a sigh. She looked back at Ahrrotl and licked her lips.
“I want to make something clear to you, Ahrrotl. I did not actually agree to have you along on this trip. Gerry is always bringing one friend or another with us and I wanted this to be just us. Unlike some of his friends, you’re pretty quiet and undemanding.” Maria gave a small smile and Ahrrotl’s heart sped up. Did I get through to her? “Yes, you’ve been a lot more pleasant than some of his buddies.” Her face darkened again.
“Unlike many of his friends, though, I don’t know you. I don’t know you well enough to trust you. And he’s giving you pet names and patting you on the head and … look, Ahrrotl, we wanted alone time because…” she trailed off and looked away.
Ahrrotl very carefully moved forward and placed a paw on top of one of Maria’s in a gesture she had seen humans use to comfort one another. “Because you’ve been having troubles recently and you wanted a venue with no outside interference in which to examine your relationship. I understand, Maria. I’ve been there myself.” She stroked the human’s hand gently.
Hrotata produce a chemical in their bodies that acts as a mild neurotoxin to many life forms, providing feelings of gentle euphoria to all who encounter it. This chemical is aspirated when they breathe but is most concentrated in their saliva, thus making direct contact with their tongues or fur a sure-fire way to receive a dose of it. Ahrrotl was naturally aware of this function of her anatomy and had spent a good hour before this meeting grooming herself in preparation.
Maria neither confirmed nor denied Ahrrotl’s assumption, but continued to stare at the wall. It was quiet for a minute and Ahrrotl observed her relaxing more; her shoulders sank, her spine curved a bit, her breathing slowed and her pupils dilated just enough to be noticeable. Ahrrotl squeezed her hand. “We don’t need to keep heading towards this asteroid or whatever it is, Maria. If you’d be more comfortable heading back to the station we can. I can tell Al that something has come up soon that I’d forgotten. I’ll even pay you back for any fuel that might have been wasted. I consider you my friends. I don’t want to cause either of you any trouble.”
Maria smiled a little, and Ahrrotl thought that there was a tinge of sadness to it. She looked down at the Hrotata. “You know, I’m starting to think of you as a friend, too.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “It’s just not easy right now. I wish I’d have told you before that I wanted alone time with Al. I just didn’t know you well enough and I didn’t want to force it on him.”
Ahrrotl dropped her head and nuzzled her wet nose against Maria’s hand. Maria absent-mindedly scratched behind the Hrotata’s ear. “Hrotata females let males come between them sometimes too, Maria. They are very dear to us, but we must remember, sisters should always come before brothers. They’d be lost without us, and if we don’t get along we give them a poor example to follow.”
Maria actually laughed – Ahrrotl was gratified, as this was the first time she had laughed without reservation or derisiveness. “Come on, Throttle. He’s a grown man, not a child.”
“Is there a difference? Males are impulsive and emotional. If they are allowed to make all the decisions they will destroy in the name of protecting and crush that which they need to embrace. Human males are not dissimilar to Hrotata males; I’ve seen it. It’s a wonder that your culture survived to be post-solar, given that they used to dominate your species.”
Maria laughed again, more quietly this time. “I’m sorry, Ahrrotl, I think I misunderstood you.” Her nails moved from Ahrrotl’s ears to the back of her head and then her neck and shoulders. Ahrrotl felt her heart pound even more quickly. Is she aware of the effect that that’s having on me? Her hips and shoulders began to writhe gently and sinuously and she let out a couple of experimental licks to the smooth, dark skin on the back of the hand she was nuzzling. Maria didn’t seem to object.
She nosed Maria’s hand, turning it over, and breathed wetly into the palm of it. “I am pleased to find another way our cultures are similar.” She nipped the soft flesh of the mound of Maria’s thumb and wiggled her tongue against it. Maria gasped quietly and then started to chuckle. “Ahrrotl, that’s…”
Ahrrotl sensed the hesitation in her and lunged forward with the energy of a coiled spring, rocketing herself against Maria’s torso and neck and knocking her backwards onto the soft mat. She bit the soft parts of Maria’s ear. “When males come between us, we also bond intimately. It reminds them of their place and us of our sisterhood.” Her tongue dashed across Maria’s ear and neck and along the line of her jaw.
The hand that had been giving her neck such divine scratches tightened around the loose skin there. At first Ahrrotl thought that Maria was just being passionate, but a moment later she found herself scruffed, suspended over Maria’s supine body, with Maria both frowning and laughing simultaneously.
“Um… no… Ahrrotl… that’s.. pfew…” Maria put Ahrrotl on the ground and sat up, shaking her head. Ahrrotl started to romp towards her again, but Maria held up her hand palm out. What does she want? Does she want to bring Algernon in? Ahrrotl’s quiverings became even more intense at that thought. We can share him!
“Ahrrotl, that’s not… um… that’s not how human females resolve…” Maria let out a long, shuddering breath and laughed again. “That’s not how we do this.”
Ahrrotl blinked, frustrated. “What do you mean, Maria? Is it our posture? Or should you be behaving in a dominant fashion, as I’ve offended you?”
Maria threw back her head and laughed. Nervousness and frustration reached a peak in Ahrrotl and she began to laugh as well, although she was not sure where the humor was. Maria wiped tears from her eyes.
“No, no, no. Algernon and I are bonded. We’re a pair. We’re partners. We don’t share each other. Not for any reason. It’s just how we decided to be.”
“But …” She was touching me! Scratching me! Scratching my ears! My neck! Ahrrotl stilled in anger and confusion. “I thought that we should …”
“Yes, Throttle. You don’t have to say it. I get it. But no, that’s not how it works with humans.”
“Oh.” Ahrrotl was disappointed. She looked down at the cold, black poly floor and wiggled her whiskers uncertainly. She looked up. “What do you do then?”
“Lots of things. There are a lot of ways to bond that don’t involve physical intimacy, you know. Talking, often over food or drinks. Mutual … grooming.”
“Oh.” Ahrrotl said again. She was at a loss for words. I hope that I haven’t offended her further. At least I got to touch her. She should be much easier to be around now.
Mother Superior’s voice rang out. “Maria, your husband is calling for you.”
“Tell him – oh, right.” She looked down at Ahrottl. “She won’t hear me. Privacy. Look, we’ll talk more later, okay? No harm done, okay?” She looked hopeful.
“Yes. No harm.” Ahrrotl agreed. No harm but a bruised pride and interrupted libido. “I’ll head to my quarters to give you some space with Al.”
Maria beamed. “Thank you! I’ll let you know when we’re done. Maybe you can sing for us again?”
Ahrrotl bowed. “It would be my pleasure, Maria.” She turned and headed towards the door. As she exited, she noted out of the corner of her eye as Maria reached up to wipe the saliva from the side of her neck and surreptitiously sniff at her fingertips before giving them an experimental taste. Yes, you’ll be much easier to be around now.
"Sex is a weapon; it's like a drug." Wise lyrics from a generally silly song, they came to mind here. I told Laine when I first read this chapter that I shouldn't be surprised that she could present tactical seduction so well. Of course, at this point, I'm thinking of Ahrottle as the villain. Is that unfair? She's just working under the rules of her own species and culture... but at the same time, using them where they clearly don't apply. Even if the reader didn't know humans, Maria states outright "that's not how we do things." Overriding that clearly expressed restriction is pretty immoral. Or is it? Everybody getting along, being happy, that's good, right? People can follow rules to their own harm, even big rules. I think the key to why I dislike Ahrottl right now is that she's not thinking of Al and Maria's needs, just her own. Plus, psychoactive drugs. Dosing someone just for your own convenience is bad.ReplyDelete
That leads to my next concern: wouldn't the Hrotata toxin be a matter of public knowledge? You'd think that after a few years, most Collective members' response would be: "Don't touch me." At the least, changes in behavior might get suspicious, even before someone did a chemical analysis. My assumption, for this story, is either that the human characters (and their A.I.s) aren't knowledgeable enough to have heard about that xenobiological fun fact, or that the story occurs before the discovery goes public. The worse thought is that the Hrotata keep an aggressive lid on such things or spread disinformation like, "Oh, it's only a certain subrace that does that." I'm wondering now if this story will explain... maybe Mother Superior will come back in with the late warning: "I hope you didn't let her touch you." Oh, the stern disapproval.