Ahalahtrr lit the tiny stick of incense as her body swayed in front of the altar, draped in rich, red cloth. She trailed the incense about the projected image of Httraku, Goddess of the Wealth That Comes of Unusual Circumstance, and also around Ahraktta, the Leaping Lord of Lascivious Licentiousness. The first pass of the incense was a petition, begging for aid in finding a better source of income in this remote corner of space. The second pass was as an apology, as Ahalatrr did not feel that she had been paying close enough attention to her patron. It was hard to live her devotion to him on an underpopulated station filled with prudish and occasionally hostile aliens.
The holographic icons wiggled and shifted their whiskers in pleasure as she passed the incense in front of them, and Ahraktta winked. Though she knew that they were programmed to do so, she found it comforting. She carefully put the incense out (life on a station required that one carefully control combustion) and writhed against the front of the altar for a moment, trying to work up enthusiasm for her day in some form, and failing to even arouse herself. She sighed and dropped to the cushion before the altar, curling up head-to-tail.
“I can’t care about this place, Lord Ahraktta. I can’t care about these people. I’ve tried… I’ve tried so hard. This dull, quiet job, these rigid Zig, angry Mauraug and stick-in-the-mud humans… My Lord, I fear that I won’t be able to pursue my devotion to you properly here. Perhaps I will need to pray to one of the human gods instead, or abandon my faith entirely. No one wants licentiousness, warmth, and comfort but the other Hrotata, and they already know of your glory. They already know the release that you grant. It’s the heathens that need to understand, my Lord, and I don’t even know where to begin with them.”
She threw herself on her back in a dramatic pose of surrender, shivered, and went still. Being the mobile creatures that they are, a Hrotata holding still was either very ill, in the throes of despondency, or dead. Her immobile histrionics served to underscore the weight of her plight. “Give me something to work with, Lord Ahraktta. Give me a direction, please…”
Her prayer was interrupted by a beep at the door. Her head, hanging off of the pillow backwards and at an angle, perked up and all of a sudden she was all motion. She pulled herself into a sitting position, licked at a few persistent ruffles in her fur, removed the ash of the incense from the altar, and moved to face the door, her back to the altar, swaying slowly and sensually in mock serenity. How do the humans say it? Fake it till you make it. An admirable sentiment.
“Come in.” She called out in a singsong tone. The door opened quietly, and in the doorway stood a very disheveled looking Hrotata. He has not come to her before, but she had seen him around the usual gathering spots. He was dressed in a security guard’s uniform, his fur was standing up in places, and his huge eyes were half-lidded. This in combination with the slow roll of his hips and shoulders showed exhaustion and deep concern.
“Please be comfortable…” She couldn’t remember his name.
“Please be comfortable, Hrrrkil. None observe us here but each other and the Gods. Do come inside, and share my seating.” She gestured magnanimously at an open spot on the large, soft cushion.
Hrrrkil seemed to pause at the door, and looked back and forth in the hallway behind, then dove forward, landing on all fours, and scampered over to the cushion. The door slid shut behind him. He paused before climbing on the cushion, shivering slightly, apologetically. “I am not a believer.”
Ahalahtrr smiled and her swaying grew a bit more pronounced, welcoming. “You don’t need to believe in the Gods to benefit from the services that their followers grant, Hrrrkil. My oaths apply to any who come and seek my aid, not just those who agree with me. Lie on your belly that I may help you to relax as you speak.” She made a gesture, and the lights dimmed and music began to play, a music as thick as oil, as sweet as honey, punctuated by percussive trills reminiscent of a whispering lover.
Hrrrkil took a deep breath and dove forward onto the cushion, burying his face in the velvet close to her base. Odd that he isn’t touching me. He’s spent too long among Zig and Mauraug. We must correct this. She bent over his prone form and began to gently nuzzle the back of his neck and his shoulder areas, tongue out slightly and combing his fur with it and the tips of her claws.
“What burdens you, Hrrrkil? What knots your fur so?”
At her insistent grooming he started to relax, his tight, almost mechanical wiggle beginning to loosen up into a more natural and fluid movement. “Dark times have come upon me, priestess. Upon all of us.”
You don’t know the half of it. Ahalatrr mused to herself. She continued to groom him, occasionally digging deep to work to unknot his muscles as well as his fur. He would keep speaking, this one. She knew the type. Males who, like most males of her kind, preferred being on the front lines of action rather than involved in the women’s duties of governing, who nonetheless saw themselves as maligned and put-upon by the stress of their position. Their self-importance and the pride that they took in their “work” (which, as far as she was concerned, generally involved romping about and posturing aggressively) was almost cute. Try being a devotee or running a den for a month. Then you’ll really know what stress is. Most males didn’t have the attention span or the emotional self-control for that sort of work.
As she continued to massage, he started to speak again. “It’s the Mauraug, of course. One was murdered, its companion is missing, and they both have ties to the Apostacy. Meanwhile, there is word of Vislin going rogue, aligning with Sha...” he cut himself off before uttering the name of a distasteful deity in her presence. “… with the standard faith of the Mauraug. I’m sure you've heard the rumors.”
She hadn’t heard any such rumors. “Of course, Hrrrkil.” She said, taking time to nibble on his ears, combing the fur into place with her teeth and stimulating blood flow. “Giving voice to your worries can help you to relax, though. Take your concerns, make an image of them, and expel it from your mouth as you speak. I will help to replace it with joy and contentment.”
She could feel the tension mounting in him again. Yes, yes, I know. A life full of play and strutting can be so exhausting! She chided herself for such uncharitable thoughts, knowing that they would help neither of them, and made her massage more gentle, trying to coax him.
“Why do we support them, priestess? Why do we allow the Mauraug of the Dominion into our numbers but shun the Apostates? Fear of the Dominion is why the Collective formed in the first place. Then hundreds of years later, we take them in, have to work with them and act as though it’s all right. Meanwhile, we deny aid to the Apostacy. The Apostates don’t want anything but to be left alone by the Dominion – the same reasons that our ancestors brokered the treaty with the Zig and the Tesetsi. Yet we treat the Dominion as an ally and the Apostates as foes…” He tensed and froze for a moment, an angry denial. “It’s wrong. I can’t see how it could be anything but wrong. The Mauraug hate us, they hate our freedom, our ability to express ourselves, even your faith, priestess. The Apostates want all of those things, and yet we treat them as terrorists and traitors.”
Which is why it is best for males to keep out of politics. Sadly, the Covenant has more – and bigger – weapons. Ahalatrr nipped the back of his neck sharply as she climbed up on his body, straddling his back. “Sweet Hrrrkil, the Den Mothers know what they are doing. Their wisdom has guided the Great Family to the stars, always in safety. The Mauraug may be disagreeable, but with them as allies rather than enemies, we can change them gently. Cease your worries – you know that stress can damage your fur, but were you aware that it can add fat to your belly?” She tickled his sides gently and then stroked both of his upper shoulders for emphasis and was rewarded with a shudder of relaxation.
The door beeped again. Hrrrkil grumbled in displeasure beneath her, and she tapped him on the head. “Quiet, little one.” She called out, “Who is it?”
“Detective Ushkar Bash’Torkal. May I speak to Sergeant Hrrrkil?”
Ahalatrr wrinkled her nose in frustration and was about to dismiss the detective when Hrrrkil lifted his head and called out, “Come in!” He turned his eyes up to meet hers. “It’s important.”
Ahalatrr kept him firmly locked down between her knees as the door slid open. She was not going to let him go, no matter how “important” he thought his business was. When their guest left she would need to remind him of his place - physically. It was often helpful to do so with males when they refused to relax.
The door slid open, and in the frame stood a Mauraug. Its black jumpsuit was trimmed with the greenish-blue color of Security. Its fur was white as snow, as a star, and the skin beneath, where she could see it around its face and the palms of its hands, was a glossy, smooth black as though the void of space had produced a reflection. Not just a Mauraug, but a pureblood! She had heard that there was a pureblood Mauraug, one of the rare ones whose genes had not been damaged by the hideous plague of their past, on the station, but had not yet seen it. Its longish fur looked very soft, and she had to fight the urge to climb up off of Hrrrkil to stroke it.
It did something that she never would have expected. Its legs bent, its knees touching the ground, and it opened the palms of its simian hands wide and spread them on the floor in front of it. It closed its eyes and bowed its head.
Ahalatrr had seen this gesture before - a gesture that Mauraug make to superiors, especially to their priests – but had never seen it directed to a member of any other species. She forced herself to sway gently atop Hrrrkil atop the cushion, but the surprise must have been evident in her features when Ushkar looked up.
“In this place you Dominate, priestess. Here I am Ushah’bna to you. Are my interruptions truly welcome?”
She felt Hrrrkil begin to respond from beneath her, and she surreptitiously dug her lower claws into his flank. He let out a small gasp which she quickly spoke over. “Hrrrkil is engaged in serious devotions at the moment. If you would enter, you must join us on the cushion, though you need not give obeisance to our Gods.”
Ushkar paused to absorb this, and she felt the short, sharp twitches representing confusion from Hrrrkil. “Please ask him if he would contact me when he is free. I mean no disrespect to your rites.”
Ahalatrr sensed that he was being genuine, which confused her more. Since when does a Mauraug – a pureblood at that – not take the opportunity to disrespect any belief not their own? She decided to salvage the situation as well as she could, and with decorum. “I will inform him of your need once he is free, Ushkar Bash’Torkal.”
“Then I will depart, with thanks.” It rose to a fully bipedal position, steadying itself on the doorframe.
“My thanks to you for your respect, Ushkar. It would delight me to have you return when you can, at a time when your duties and mine are less pressing.” She had to get a chance to touch that fur.
Ushkar laughed softly before touching the floor again and withdrawing. “Perhaps I may.” His tone changed, pitch raising and becoming more formal. “Many a master is served/during the time from sleep to sleep/though dreams erode our pride/true service brings us strength. May you find strength in your service, priestess.” He stepped back and the door slid shut, leaving Ahalatrr more than a little flabbergasted.
She had almost forgotten about Hrrrkil lying beneath her when he whined, “I thought I told you that it was important.”
Ahalatrr smiled, dreaming of soft white fur and glossy, smooth black skin. Dreaming of a Mauraug that would bow to her, that would come unashamed to her altar. Something snapped inside her and she grabbed both of his shoulders and pushed him down into the cushion. “It is not your place to decide what occurs in the temple, little one. You are lucky that your friend was so polite – you have already earned pain for your presumptions. Mother dominates you here, not your metal-speckled playmate.” She continued to push him down into the cushion, her claws digging deeper now, and she nipped viciously at the base of his neck. Sometimes males can relax on their own, but sometimes they need to be reminded who is in charge. It is time to crack this shell and taste the sweet meat underneath. She turned all of her outward focus to her supplicant, but memories of feather-soft fur and powerful shoulders invaded her thoughts well past the conclusion of their benediction.