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Pilgrimage 1

Page history last edited by Anima 13 years, 5 months ago

 

Pilgrimage

 

Part one of two

(A sequel to 'Lost and Found', a Furry fantasy focusing on vore and food-related themes, by Anima)

 

 

      Burning off restless energy, the cattaur slammed the small rubber sphere against the matte black wall of the rec room. The gigantic starship's recreation room echoed with the racket of a powerful creature letting off steam. In fine physical condition, she kept up the activity for another hour or so before admitting defeat to her opponent. A silvery bipedal creature with long, flowing neon filaments for head-fur dipped its serving tool in response: the customary winner's gesture. The game ended, the ship's integrated computer shut off the lights and lowered the temperature. Shivering slightly with fatigue and disappointment, the beaten felineoid padded slowly back to her cabin. Outside her door, a small cleaning robot sucked dirt from the lush carpets, humming quietly. Treeva considered slicing it open with a blow from her paw, just out of spite, but didn't want the blame and subsequent expense. Opening with a quiet hiss, the cabin door admitted her and adjusted conditions to her default settings. Flopping down on her bed, the lonely, bored 'taur slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

      "Time to rise, Clev Treeva. Your allotted breakfast time is approaching." A matronly voice whispered in her ear. Treeva stirred, and flopped off the cot onto her four sturdy paws. Gazing into a mirror on her way to the dining hall, Treeva paused to smooth her face-fur. Cat eyes peered at her from a mud-brown furred face, one winking at her before she set off. Her stomach grumbled all the way to the dining hall, drawing concerned glances from passerbys. Many of the beings on the ship couldn't understand, and therefore feared the cattaur's eating habits... Opaque double doors slid aside before her at the hall, letting conversation and food-smells spill out into the corridor.

      "Oh, hi Treev. Join us?" Murmured another 'taur, patting a cushion by a long dining table. Treeva sank onto the brightly colored pillow, and requested her meal via a small computer embedded in the table.

      "Kreel was just telling me about your game last night. Rather intense, even for you, it tells me." Treeva's seat-mate said, a concerned look on her boldly-striped face. Starting to reply, Treeva was cut off when her meal arrived. Encased in a capsule, the sleepy creature gazed at her. About two feet long and in the usual plump condition, the animal made the pred's mouth water! Tipping the capsule, the alarmed critter slid into her mouth. A painful sting ripped through Treeva's throat tissue as the hurvok defended itself in a panic! She swallowed quickly, feeling its struggles as it slid down her fleshy throat and *plunked* into her hollow-feeling belly. A small medical kit took care of the laceration in her mouth, and she returned her attention to the friend. The twitching in her gut ceased soon enough, much to her disappointment.

      "I'm simply sick of being cooped up. It's all right for *you* in first class, and with your friends..." Treeva murred, eying the male cattaur stroking the friend's still-wriggling tummy. She smiled at the male, then shook her head at Treeva.

      "No, I don't think it's just that. Even without Nabacc and the nice facilities, it wouldn't be that bad. You'd never see *me* putting dents in the rec room!" She snorted, nuzzling the affectionate cattaur as he stroked her. Treeva smirked and rose, a bit heavily.

      "Thanks for the pep-talk, I needed that." She threw back over her shoulder, and padded out the doors.

'Maybe she's right though, and I could find a male to occupy me easily enough. Like that nice 'taur in cargo...' Treeva realized, and found herself wandering near a ship-to-ship transport pad. Curious, she stepped up and consulted the directory. Running a clawtip down the computer screen, she found 'Cargo Bay' and pressed the colorful icon. Her sight faded abruptly, and returned an eye-blink later. The bay was deserted at first glance. Lights snapped on when she was detected, and a snoozing worktaur looked up blearily from a blanket on the floor.

      "Oh! H, hi Clev. Can I, *yawn* help you with something?" He asked, trying to force his eyes to remain open. They were a lovely color, sort of a neon yellow with deep violet pupils. Swishing her tail, Treeva padded up to the sleepy taur and licked his muzzle once, in greeting.

      "Not really. I just wondered if you'd be interested in keeping me company tonight..." She purred, gazing full into his eyes. The officer gulped visibly, and backed away like a meal afraid of being cornered.

      "Sorry miss, but I'm on duty. The night shift. It's stupid I admit, nobody comes around here. But orders are orders..." His laugh was hollow, as he quickly padded away. Treeva's lip trembled, what had happened? She'd never felt unattractive before...but after this... Depressed, the lonely taur reentered the transporter and vanished in a mild white glow.

 

II

 

      Stripple peeped out around the crate he had taken refuge behind, and heaved a sigh of relief.

'Hate to put her out like that...but what else could I say?' Another sigh, a louder one from deep inside his body drifted out, heavy with regret and sadness. Padding over to his padded nap-spot, he slowly fell asleep once more, dreaming of the lovely passenger. Hours or minutes later, the lights snapped on once more, and he startled. Was she back again? A heavy paw settled on his shoulder, tiny pinpricks digging into his flesh.

      "Have a nice nap?" A rumbling growl woke him immediately, and he rushed through an apology. Tawny fur rippled over the huge muscles in his supervisor's crossed arms, the cold light outlining his form. While Stripple tried to save his silky hide, Boss chuckled in the subsonic.

      "I don't blame you; the night shift is always a drag. But you could at least try to keep a semblance of professionalism, eh? What if a passenger got lost and ended up here? A fine display of our incompetence for them!" Stripple grinned weakly, glad Boss hadn't learned of Treeva's visit.

      "Well, since you seem to have already gotten some sleep, you can help me get a trainee settled." His supervisor muttered, grimacing as another form flickered into being on the transport pad. The rest of the morning flew by while Stripple taught an enthusiastic tripedal alien all about the cargo handling procedures and equipment operations. By afternoon the 'taur was exhausted again, and collapsed into his bunk. Soon asleep, his quiet snore reverberated through the room.

 

      "Mrev Stripple, I require your assistance in Shuttle Operations," announced a silvery voice, rousing him out of a sleepy haze.

      "Wha, what? Whozzat?" He mumbled, switching on the comm.

      "An accident has rendered two pilots unable to perform their duties; you have been pegged as the replacement. Report to Shuttle Ops immediately." The voice insisted, and abruptly ceased. Quickly, Stripple fastened his utility belt and padded down the corridor to the nearest 'port pad. A shimmering confusion later, he looked out upon an expansive grey-toned landing bay scattered with a dozen stubby spacecraft.

      "Ah, you're here..." That silvery voice said from behind him, and the felineoid turned to see the supervisor for the bay. It was all silvery gleaming skin, and glowing neon filaments that sprouted from its egg-shaped skull. Gender was impossible to discern, as the thing had no features facial or otherwise. Stripple was reminded of the mannequin puppets at the arcade...

      "The shuttle Bosara was damaged in a landing failure, injuring its pilot and another on the ground. You will assist our engineer in repairing her, and then take over the invalid's responsibilities." It murmured, and pointed toward a shuttle in several pieces on the deck. Stripple nodded quickly, and rode a cargo platform down to the deck. A tentacled engineer waved him over to the crippled Bosara, several tools gripped in its claws. Lifting heavy equipment, making delicate electronics repairs with a laser-tool, and sealing hull ruptures with repligoo filled the rest of his day. It was good, solid work that made for a nice change from cargo duty. It was more taxing however... Aching by the end of the shift, Mrev Stripple tottered back to his cabin. Lights and soft music keyed on when he entered, and he strode for the cleanser. Hot water sluiced over his body, removing grease and stray filaments of repligoo from his soft grey-white fur. Using a brush to remove the more stubborn stains, the 'taur considered his position.

      'Finally, a piloting job. No more cargo inventory for me! And until we reach Earth, I'll have more free time than I know what to do with.' Purring happily to himself, Stripple stepped out of the cleanser and into a ring of airjets. They ruffled his fur in a most undignified manner, but evaporated the remaining damp. Muscles still complaining from the unaccustomed labor, he padded to his cot and flopped down. Employing his tail to smooth his abused fur, Stripple relaxed and snuggled into his blankets. The tailtip brushed his sex, and though his mind experienced a fleeting sensual sensation, his body didn't stir. Sighing unhappily, he drifted to sleep.

 

      A soft tone indicated he had a message waiting on his comm as Stripple woke, so he attended to that first.

[Report to Shuttle Ops for a shakedown cruise on the Bosara. -Supervisor Kreel. ] Leaving his cabin and padding quickly, his eyes accustomed to the soft corridor lighting on his way to the bay. Soon he was in his shuttle, checking instrumentation and systems. All checked out green, so he remotely opened the clam-shell doors and zipped off into vacuum. Exhilarated, the young alien swooped around the bulk of the large passenger ship in increasingly complex stunt maneuvers. Before he knew it, the shuttle's clock read 1200, and he was required to file the shakedown report. He tapped in the landing sequence and set down neatly in the row of other shuttles. Stripple worded his report in a professional manner, and deposited the datachip in Kreel's office receptacle. Giddy with the excitement of his first non-simulated flight, he went straight to the arcade.

 

      Standard on a ship this size, the arcade was meant to be a cure for cabin fever. Electronic games, mild sexual delights, and a food court made the arcade one of the ship's major meeting spots.

      'Oh yes! The combat sims are open, and a few others are starting a game...' Stripple thought, and hurried to a booth before the setup was completed. Entering his ID information and game preferences, Stripple slipped a cable into place behind his left ear and felt the contacts dig in and hold. His vision flickered for a moment, and the booth was replaced with the walls of an armored personnel carrier rumbling over a jungle landscape. Two others sat in the APC with him, securely harnessed. They both wore combat gear, camo-armor plating and visored helmets. Both were cattaurs, and that assured a good game. Suddenly their carrier ground to a halt and the doors slid open. A voice boomed out.

      "MOVE IT! You've got fifteen minutes to take out the sensor cluster in this area, and shoot anything that moves. If yer not back on time, we leave without your blasted pelts!" The amplified voice sent them scurrying to the weapons rack, where each selected a firearm. Stripple settled for a light thermo-grenade rifle; the two others selected heavier weapons that were easily capable of leveling the installation they were after. Soon the trio were in a loose formation, pounding through the thick vegetation in search of their target. All had great reflexes, and downed several patrols of spiny aliens before reaching the sensor cluster. Stripple pumped the action on his rifle, sending three grenades into the main dish. It ruptured and fell to the jungle floor, spraying a dazzling arc of light. His two comrades fired high intensity beams of pink light into the powerplant, which vaporized the rest of the facility as it exploded.

      "That's twelve minutes, we'll have to run!" He roared, and sprinted through the jungle. The two others were keeping up, but barely. The APC was revving it's engine when the three piled in, and the driver screamed at them for their incompetence. Inside, one of the 'troops' removed her helmet. Stripple gulped behind his visor.

'It's her! The one who, who propositioned me in the cargo bay!' He squeaked mentally, glad she couldn't see him. Scent him, however...

      "Do I know you, sir? You seem familiar..." She purred, priming and reloading her weapon. This action did nothing to reassure him, and Stripple decided to remain anonymous.

      "No, I don't think so. Get ready, the next target should be coming up." He responded gruffly. She looked at him a bit strangely, but donned her gear again and readied her firearm. The next mission was much more difficult, and all three were mown down by a heavy crossfire within minutes. Stripple sighed and removed the mindjack, and tried to sneak away without the female seeing him.

      "Hey, good game friend." A voice assailed him, he slowly turned around and gasped in shock! The felineoid was in a body truss, three of her six limbs encased in a medical plastic. Diagnostic equipment was arrayed on her side and back, all blinking softly. Her eyes widened and dilated, and an unhappy look crossed her face.

      "Shuttle accident. I was kind of...bored after you shot me down, and took a joyride. " She murmured, pinning him with her gaze. Stripple's heart fell, another tragedy on his head.

      "I'm really, very sorry. It's not that I wasn't flattered by your offer...but I, I," He broke off mid sentence and his ears collapsed against his skull pitifully. A look of understanding crossed her face, and she replied more softly.

      "You have someone else, don't you? I wish you'd told me...anyway, I'll see you around." And with that, she limped out of the arcade.

      'Sheesh, that's a relief.' Stripple sighed, and began padding toward his cabin when he realized something.

'She must have been one of the pilots injured in the Borasa's crash...' He thought, saddened further as he climbed into the cleanser. Emerging a few moments later, he set out for the mess hall. After a wonderful hour spent dining, Stripple rubbed his bulging stomach and joined a few other pilots in the Shuttle Ops' lounge.

 

III

 

     "Mrev Stripple, welcome aboard. My name is Greek, I hope you fill Treeva's role admirably..." One pilot slurred, rising to his bony feet. He was of a species Stripple was familiar with, a yellow-greenish fleshy creature encased in an external skeleton. Three bright, milky blue eyes regarded him gravely as the 'taur bent slightly at the waist.

     "That is my hope as well. I was curious though, how did the accident occur?" Stripple inquired, stepping up to the broad, round table in the center of the lounge. The alien grimaced, and gave his account of the incident.

     "Well, Treeva came wandering down to the bay, checked out a shuttle for testing, and flew for about an hour. I was monitoring at the sensor board, and noticed she was flying a bit erratically. I called her up, and she insisted she was fine. Treeva requested clearance to land a few moments later and I opened up the doors. She came in too low, pitched to one side. The tractor beam compensated of course, but the craft was forced off its original course and into another shuttle. Another pilot was making repairs there, and was severely injured. Both were sent to the Medical Bay, and suspended from duty until further notice." Ending his story, Greek's face fell. (Their species was especially suited to this, having no internal skeleton.) He was a pitiful sight.

     "I can't figure out why that happened though, she'd never make a mistake like that normally. Something was wrong, I saw it in her face when she came through." He burbled, and broke down in shivers. Stripple hurried to comfort him, easily lifting him onto a couch. The two other pilots were a cold-blooded species, and didn't respond at all to the scene.

     'Hmph, great under pressure, but numb to their associates' emotions.' The felineoid thought, shooting a disgusted look in their direction. Greek continued to shiver, obviously taking this hard.

     "Relax, friend. She's still alive, isn't she? And she'll make a total recovery." Stripple soothed him, a handpaw resting on his thick, bony shoulder. Reluctantly, Greek nodded and returned to the table. Not needing a chair, Stripple leaned back on his haunches and ordered a drink from the computer. He passed the rest of his free time discussing the shuttles and each pilots' exploits, and Greek relaxed visibly. The alien walked him to the mess hall for a late snack, both choosing favorite tidbits from the menu. The critter-capsule and a plate of vegetables arrived a few minutes later, and Stripple lifted his eagerly. Greek chewed on a tuber, watching with mute interest as the 'taur popped the capsule and tilted it into his gaping jaws. The animal was awake, and scrabbled desperately at the slick walls of the container. Gravity won out though, and the two-foot bristly creature plopped onto his tongue. It reached outside Stripple's mouth and braced himself against the lips. Grinning at the pitiful ploy, he squeezed his mouth hard enough to force his prey to withdraw it's limbs to avoid having them snapped. He flipped his tongue up against the roof of his mouth, pinning the animal slimily. It wriggled in terror, making Stripple sigh with pleasure at the feeling. Greek propped his head in his hands to watch, his veggies forgotten. Being a complete vegetarian, this was a new sight for him. Stripple gulped strongly, and managed to get the animal into his gullet without an injury. Limbs pinned against it's sides, it slid down quickly into an eager tummy. Sighing with delight, the cattaur rubbed his rippling stomach. Stripple nearly always selected this type of animal, known for it's struggles long after air in the stomach had been expended. This one was strong, and Greek's eyes bulged along with Stripple's silky flanks.

     "Your species must have a lot of fun at meal-times," Greek sighed wistfully, poking some green object on his plate. Stripple grinned, and nodded.

     "Goodnight sir, I'll see you tomorrow." He said, and padded a tad heavily to his cabin. Flopping down on his cot, another dreamless sleep carried him through the night.

A chime at his door woke Stripple the next morning, and he cued it open from his cot. Holding a pillow over his head, he mumbled a greeting to whoever was accosting him at this hour.

     "Ah, yes, hi Stripple. Um, I wanted to know if you'd like to do some joyriding." A quiet, hesitant voice said. Sleepily, the cattaur rose from his bed, and saw Greek.

     "Oh, sure. Just let me get a quick shower." He mumbled, and padded over to the cleanser. A half hour later the pair was in Greek's shuttle, the Stelk, and leaving the launch bay.

     "I've made a few modifications to the engines, hang on okay?" Greek smiled, and yanked back the throttle. Stripple's eyes widened when he heard the roar crash through the ship, injuring his sensitive ears. The little craft leapt into space at an incredible rate, and both beings screamed in excited terror! Stripple had no idea what Greek had done to the engine, but it was major and probably illegal if the readout he gleaned from the panel was correct.

     "All right friend, ease it down eh? This is a real drain on the fuel cells...and I need to do some more work on the Bosara." The taur's voice was even higher than usual, and Greek started to worry himself.

     "You're right, back we go." The bony alien whipped his shuttle about and sped back towards the ship. Back on the ground, Stripple tailwaved farewell and padded over to the equipment compartments. A few hours of greasy, intricate work optimized the 'Bosara,' and Stripple had it purring like his cousin after a big meal. Supervisor Kreel approached him later, as he emerged from returning his tools to the appropriate containers.

     "Mrev Stripple, I must compliment you on your work. You have been assigned to the shuttle complement, and you'll be transporting personnel, passengers, and cargo to the surface. Your first shipment will assigned tomorrow, when we reach Earth. Report early, I recommend." With that, the silvery biped did a smooth about-face and retreated back into its office. Stripple rubbed his handpaws together in pleasure, a purrrrr building in his throat.

     'Well, I could go to the arcade again, but Kreel's right about getting some sleep.' He thought, and 'ported back to his part of the ship. In his cot, the felineoid finally dreamed. Of the beautiful planet he was going to see, the increased pay he was about to receive, and the possibility of attracting a mate when he returned...

'Maybe I'll have more success as a pilot than a cargo handler in that department, though I don't see how.' He mumbled, his spirits drooping a bit as he awoke. Starlight streamed into his cabin, outlining his meager possessions in sharp relief.

     "Well Stripple, up and at 'em. Don't want to be late on your first real workday..." He cheered himself, and cleansed before starting toward the bay. For the first time, Shuttle Operations was a veritable hive of activity. At least fifty felineoids strolled around the bay, having arrived early in hopes of special treatment or good seats. The two reptile pilots were virtually pinned against the wall by 'taurs, who clamored for their attention. Most of the crowd was female, though around there were a handful of males present. Stripple was pleased to see Greek chatting excitedly with someone...they were out of view beneath a catwalk. He descended to the deck, and was shocked to see Clev Treeva chatting with the bony alien. A few of her casts had been removed, and he could see that previously-bandaged patches of her fur were gone. Greek caught sight of him, and hollered a greeting. Treeva turned as well, and grimaced.

     "Ah, hi Greek, Clev Treeva. Are you going down on this flight, Clev? Stripple asked carefully.

     "That's correct Mrev. The captain thought it would be beneficial. He's treating me with more care now that the techs have announced the accident was caused by equipment failure." She replied, idly scratching a cast on her arm. He knew from experience those things were infuriating; getting an itch and not able to scratch it! Stripple nodded, and asked which shuttle she had been assigned to. Treeva consulted her personal computer, and mentioned the 'Bosara'.

     "It was my old ship, I'd rather not take it." She murred, and Stripple smoothly reassured her.

     "The chief engineer and I have taken it apart and replaced every trouble component. Plus, I'll be piloting that craft, it will be alright." He said, and escorted her to the loading area. About seven 'taurs to a ship gave Treeva plenty of company, as the shuttles were filled. In the cockpit, the new pilot ran system checks and fired up the engines.

     "Shuttle Bosara, you're clear to enter the corridor to Earth. The Navigation computer has been fed the appropriate data." Kreel whispered in his headset. Stripple acknowledged, and lifted from the bay into space. The passenger ship was far enough from their destination planet so that the occupants of the shuttle didn't appreciate the view of Earth until the trip was half over. Swirling clouds entwined the blue jewel, orbited by a palely gleaming moon.

     "Wow...look at all the ocean!"

     "And the variety in terrain! Are those mountains there?"

     "But what's that swirling shape there? In the clouds? It's beautiful..." The comments varied, but all the passengers were in awe of the planet Earth. Stripple switched on the shuttle's shielding and dived into the atmosphere.

     'I certainly hope the engineer and I took care of that equipment failure...' He thought suddenly, and quickly reviewed the instrument panels. Everything was green, but one panel. It was dark. Stripple adjusted a knob, and activated the console.

[Stealth field generator-inactive]

Stripple swore, and slapped on the panel. That button should've been active by default!

     "Clevs, I fear we may be in for trouble. The shuttle was unstealthed, and may have been detected by the natives." The new pilot spoke shakily, scanning for incoming missiles or energy weapon signatures. Finding nothing, he listened with half an ear while the felineoids in the back conversed quietly. Distracted with his worries, he failed to notice that he was guiding the shuttle right into the swirling mass they had admired from above. A rocking seized the craft, and quickly became a rattling. Being rather large and stable on their four paws, the 'taurs remained upright during the violence, but the shuttle wasn't nearly so steady. Soon it pitched onto its side, spilling all but the strapped pilot against the wall panels.

     "Everyone grab onto a bulkhead, this is some sort of Earth weather phenomenon!" he announced, trying to pull his craft free of the violent vortex. The shields prevented the Bosara from being torn apart, but couldn't prevent the pitching and yawing.

     "Weather!? I've never seen anything this violent on the homeworld!" One 'taur shouted, upside down atop another. Stripple glared at the shield generator readout, urging it to stay up.

     "Come on, come on! Just a few more minutes..." He muttered, wrestling with the helm. Abruptly, the craft went dead. Back-up lights snapped on, a wan blue. Treeva moaned, and rolled her eyes.

     "This is what happened last time, when I crashed. The ship is useless." She cried, and tried to brace herself more effectively. The crew didn't long to wait; a few seconds more of free fall found them slamming into the surface, and then all was dark.

 

IV

 

     Stripple groaned, and opened his eyes. A blinding flash of red arced along his optic nerve, and he jerked his head in pain. Lying quietly, he heard more sounds of discomfort as the rest of the passengers awoke slowly. Stripple carefully tried opening his eyes again, and fought the pain down. The groggy cattaur struggled to his paws and surveyed the damage. The ports indicated they were in a body of water somewhere, floating. Most of the 'taurs were sore but intact, while Treeva had cracked some of her casts and wrecked the medicinal dispensers. Another felineoid was unconscious and not responding to stimuli.

     "Alright everyone, we have to get out of this ship. We have the standard emergency kits, and they should help us remain hidden until help arrives." the former pilot stuttered, and handed out the packages. The hatch opened hesitantly, and the crew piled out into the tepid water. Two of the more capable swimmers supported the concussed female, while another assisted Treeva into the first portable lifepod. When each was sealed in one of the pods, they linked together with some metallic cable and submerged.

     "Are all the beacons active?" Stripple queried over the comm, and all that were able responded positively. He then took readings of the area, and discovered a communications facility within range of his group. Not one of theirs, and crude...but...

     'If I could patch into that, I should be able to get a message to the ship with our coordinates' He thought, growing excited even over this remote possibility. Suddenly a rapping sounded on his pod's hull, and he activated an external sensor.

     "Mew. Friends, we have a native visitor." He murmured into the comm, and was answered with a chorus of sighs, groans, and one curse. Suddenly the comm crackled, and another voice cut in.

     "Hello, Mrevs and Clevs? I'm one of the officers at the advance base; please surface and get in the boat." Stripple couldn't believe his ears. But the translator embedded in his brain confirmed it. The voice he heard was accompanied with the signal of another implanted translator working.

     'What luck! I guess we didn't veer far from the navigation corridor in our descent. We must be quite near the base to be detected this soon...' Stripple quickly drained the pod's tanks, and the chain rose like a string of iron pearls to the surface. It was only a quiet pond, not very deep. The boat was a small two seater, (and only one if you're a 'taur.) The human in breathing gear nodded to the aliens as they emerged, and loaded the unconscious one into the boat. The rest of the group lingered in the pods while he ferried the invalid to the shore, where she was loaded into a window-blacked bus. The rest of the group eventually took the same trip, Stripple going last. Just as he clambered into the boat, he heard more human voices. The male helping them hissed a command to reenter the pod, and quickly rowed back to shore. The lone alien filled the pods' tanks again, submerging, and waited for the man to return. He never did. Stripple suddenly felt a jerk shudder through the pods, and the submerged chain began to move! Stripple panicked, and clawed at the hatch in vain. It wouldn't open underwater!

     'What am I thinking? I'll just have to deal with this. It might even be another ploy of the base here.' he reassured himself, and released the rest of the pods from the chain. They sank into the muck at the bottom of the pond, quickly taking on the appearance of simple rocks. Acting according to his training, he activated the sensors again and saw a series of ropes tangled in the exhaust ports of his pod. He was being hauled toward shore, and it didn't appear deliberate. Suddenly the pod broke water, and Stripple emptied the ballast tanks. What was the point? It just made hauling him more difficult. A minute passed, and another. The cattaur braced himself as he felt the pond's bank under the hull, rocks scraping along the alloy of the pod. Motion suddenly halted, and the confused 'taur looked at his sensor outputs again. The felineoid quickly became bored after a few minutes went by, and rapped on the inside of the hull. A hesitant rap answered his, then a quiet scratching at the door. Slowly, Stripple eased the door up and peeked out. What he saw gave him no cause to relax. A young female human stood in the weeds by the shore, ropes attached to a winch on the front of a wheeled vehicle and held in her tiny, graceful hands. Her green eyes were wide, and Stripple knew she hadn't expected this. She was alone, but what if someone nearby heard her scream? Quickly he pushed open the door and emerged. His paws sank into the marshy ground, and he mewled in disgust. He and the human female stared at each other, neither one willing to make the first move. Without warning, the woman collapsed in a heap in the grasses! Crying out in surprise, he leaped to help her up. It might create more of a stir if a local died! But she remained asleep in his arms, keeping the felineoid worried.

     "Um, human? Please, wake up! Oooh, don't die on me!" He whimpered. A loud whirring sound assaulted his sensitive ears, and he glanced up. A mile or so off, a flying craft was hovering, using rapidly spinning blades to stay aloft. Making a new sound of alarm in his throat, Stripple slapped the destruct button on the pod, and stuffed the human into the wheeled craft's rear seat. He climbed in the front and sprawled across the seats in the cramped cockpit. A few moments later the distant whirring had come and gone, and the unnerved felineoid checked on the human. She moaned and turned on the bench seat, but did not awaken. Stripple gently laid a paw on her arm, and tried again to shake her awake.

     "Please human, wake up! I really don't have time for this, someone might find me..." He whispered in what he thought was her ear, whiskers delicately tickling the furless skin. Again the woman moaned, and tentatively opened her eyes. The sight of the violet cat-pupils nestled in buttery irises was not reassuring, and she squeezed her own eyes shut again. Squirming away from the alien, she sat up gingerly and looked over the being. The thing before her resembled a feline version of a centaur: a horizontal animal body with a vertical torso sprouting from its front. The torso was humanoid, but thickly furred and topped with a feline's head. The eyes were intelligent however, which further 'humanized' the alien.

     "Who or what are you?" She stammered, slowly blinking again and again, perhaps in the hope Stripple would suddenly vanish. Stripple gazed at her in relief.

     "I'm an alien, a visitor to this planet. My race's name, (I'm told,) registers below your hearing range, so just refer to me as a felineoid. My name is Mrev Stripple." He said gently, careful not to bear his teeth when he smiled.

     "That's great, I suppose then that you're not the first on this world then." a nod. "Well, if it's of any consequence, my name is Janine." She smiled uncertainly, and extended her hand. Stripple shrugged mentally, and licked it. Janine yelped, then quickly dissolved into nervous giggles at the smooth feel of the tongue.

     "That's not the way we normally greet each other, but I'll make an allowance. Why are you here?" She asked, absently wiping her moistened hand on her jeans.

     "Well, that will take some explaining. I really need to get undercover before I'm seen; can you pilot this craft?"

     "Yeah, I'm legal. Where would you go? The MIB?" Janine looked puzzled.

     "There's a base here with others of my kind, some personnel will soon arrive to look for me. We can follow them back. I heard one mention it's in a place called 'Gills Rock'." Stripple murred, keeping a lookout for the base's van.

     "Oh, I know how to get there. It will take a few hours though..." She said excitedly, and stuffed her hand in her pocket for keys.

     "Oh good, I was hoping you'd come with me. We can't reveal our presence on Earth yet, and you'd be easier to keep track of at the base." He confided, and tried to scrunch up against the car's passenger door so Janine could 'pilot'.

     "I suppose I should be offended by that...but I'm okay with it. Everyone in this 'berg thinks I'm nuts anyway, and wouldn't believe me. I can really see your base? What are you doing here on this poor backwards planet anyway?" The human was almost gushing now, obviously excited as she pulled the truck onto the road and sped along at 60 mph.

     "Yes, you'll see the base. My race is interested in your race as mates." Janine nearly ran off the road.

     "WHAT! What are the chances of you being sexually compatible with humans, much less finding them attractive!? I mean, I know some weird people who'd enjoy a union with one of your race, and I admire you physically, but what in blazes is this!?" The human swore as she ran a stop sign, but the only witness was a lazy cow chewing cud by a fence.

     "My species doesn't reproduce sexually, they...consume a mate orally, and process its personality and mind through to the womb. The elements are integrated into a cattaur body, and he is born." Stripple stumbled through the explanation, not reassured by the incredulous looks he was receiving.

     "He? It can't be female?" Janine asked, zipping through a small town at high speed.

     "It can be, but it's much more difficult to find an adequate bond between two females. And males don't reproduce. There aren't many of our species..." He added sadly, looking a bit nervous as they crossed an old wooden bridge. Janine nodded thoughtfully, and returned her attention to the road.

     "A bond? It's not that important here. Just pick a horny guy and a willing filly, and you'll get offspring whether you want it or not." A hint of bitterness crept into her voice, and Stripple raised an eyebrow.

     'Sounds like she had a bad experience, but I suppose mating is much more important to them than us, since it can result in a cub.' He thought, resting his head on the dashboard with his 'taur body sitting on the bench seat.

     "The bond is necessary; a mental link is established when the cub-to-be is consumed. You could imagine that any negative emotions in the link could cause harm..." Stripple winced as he recalled the few instances when such a thing had happened. Death was the only possible result, at least of the mother. Sometimes the 'cub' had been saved.

     "No, I don't really understand. But it doesn't matter of course, I don't plan on getting consumed." she smiled at him, and he returned the grin. Stripple realized he forgot to hide his fangs, but Janine didn't seem affected.

     "So if males can't reproduce, why are you here?"

     "I was a pilot, ferrying supplies and female felineoids to the surface. Some freak weather crashed the shuttle, we ended up floating in that pond. What were you doing dragging the pond anyway?" Stripple changed the subject, ashamed of his crash.

     "Well, I heard on the police ban about a drug bust, some dealer ran off the road into the pond in a Mustang. I wanted to find the car..." She confided, smiling. "I need the money, it wouldn't need much work." The felineoid's translator puzzled over this one for a while, then he realized she wanted the 'car' for salvage.

     "Oh, guess you brought in more than you bargained for." He chuckled. Janine grinned.

     "I was shocked, I didn't know what the thing was I pulled up. But I'm glad I did; this was shaping up to be another awful, mundane Monday." She grimaced, and rolled down her window for a breeze.

     "You mean you're enjoying this? You don't find it an inconvenience?" Stripple asked, a bit puzzled.

     'Really, she is going along without a fuss, but I assumed it was because she knew I was no real threat to her world, but feared me.'

     "Yeah! I mean, I have virtually no respect for the human race. Do you know what we've done to our planet and ourselves? Well, I'm glad to see that we aren't alone in the universe, and that we might get some help if we finally head down the path of no return. I didn't have to come with you, you know." Janine grimaced, and pulled aside her jacket to reveal a wicked glimmer of steel and tooled rubber.

     "A girl has to have some defense, even in Beaver's Dam." Stripple didn't recognize the exact model of the projectile weapon, but knew they were vicious, terrible weapons.

     "Well, I hope you'll be willing to give it up when we reach the base." The alien stammered, wondering how quick the human could draw. Felineoids were fast, but even they couldn't out-maneuver a bullet, and in this enclosed space... Janine nodded, and asked a few more questions about Stripple, and his planet. Eventually she asked who had been here first.

     "As far as *we* know, one of my species, a female was the first visitor to your planet. Her life-pod, (similar in some ways to the pod you found me in,) crashed here after her ship was destroyed. The weather was nasty, and in search of shelter, she managed to befriend a human male hermit who lived in the woods. He fed her and cared for her, and in fact came to desire her. They became lovers, but an accident forced the felineoid to consume and impregnate herself with him. She almost died, for the human didn't love her enough until he had learned more of her mind... They're part of the advance base's personnel, you'll meet them. Solorna and Frederic, beautiful couple." He added, smiling. They had been hailed as heroes when they had been rescued, Fred's birth had been made a major topic of media debate and conversation.

     "Really? I would like to meet them. Frederic likes his new body?" She asked, eyes wide.

     "Very much, from what he told the journalists." Stripple replied, smiling coyly. Suddenly, the car ground to a halt at the peninsula that was Gills Rock. The cattaur growled happily when he saw the van the other 'taurs had been picked up in.

     "Wait here, I'll take a look." Janine whispered, and slipped out the door. Stripple watched her enter a small sheriff's office across the road. Minutes crawled by, the Mrev scritched his flank worriedly. Then she ducked her head out the door, and waved him on. He jiggled the car's door, and tumbled roughly out. His paws sank into an inch of damp sand, seemingly the turf of choice in this little town. Making a face, Stripple shook off his paws one at a time, and loped over to the office. Janine held the door for him, and he stepped inside the small room. Another human sat at a desk idly, scratching on a few papers.

     "Ah, Mrev Stripple. Your passengers have been settled, and your craft retrieved. It's in the repair bay now, awaiting your delicate touch." He smirked, and handed the felineoid a map of the area.

     "Everyone in this town is aware of us and what we're doing, feel free to talk to anyone. This young lady is with you?" He smiled at Janine, she gave him a withering stare.

     "Yes, I'll get her settled. Thanks sir." Stripple took 'his' human's arm, and led her outside again. A little confusion with the map found the pair at the mess hall, which turned out all right since both found they were hungry.

     "You may find this kind of disturbing..." The 'taur warned Janine as they entered the hall, which was half full at the moment. Several aliens of varying species sat in twos or threes, but most were felineoids.

     "I'm surprised at the variance in pelts, I assumed yours was the base hue. That tall female over there is bright yellow with green, jagged stripes..." Janine's eyes were wide now, but got much wider when the female she had mentioned gulped a large rabbit down, whole and alive! She obviously relishing its struggles as it slid down her throat.

     "We all eat this way; we find dead meat repulsive. Of course, there is food more suitable for you..." Stripple guided her to a seat, at a table of mostly humans. There were lots of males of course, but no females so far. She engaged one in conversation while her host padded away to fetch food.

     "Hi, I'm Janine." The man took her hand warmly, and smiled.

     "My name's Matt, nice to meetcha."

     "How did you find out about this...operation, Matt? And why were you happy to help?" Matt grinned, and launched into an explanation.

     "Well, there's a certain sexual fetish that attracts most of us at first. Ya know what 'furries' are?" Janine shook her head. "Really, they're just intelligent animals. Sometimes they walk on two legs, wear clothes and such, but intelligence is the base of it. We're a real finicky lot; the best looking human woman isn't enough for us, we want warm soft fur, and primal emotions too." He blushed, perhaps not used to explaining this.

     "And all of you feel this way?" She asked skeptically, eying him.

     "Most of us. Some just happened to meet a 'taur, and liked their personality enough to ignore the unusual body." Stripple returned with a couple slices of pizza for Janine, and a woodchuck or something for him.

     "You don't have to watch if you don't want to..." He whispered as he unscrewed the tube's cap.

     "Hello Mrev, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting a male 'taur yet." Matt drawled, and offered a hand. Stripple was about to lick it as he did previously when Matt took his paw, pumped once and released it. Stripple gaped, looked at Janine and blushed. She grinned, and scruffled his headfur gingerly.

     "You didn't know. I kind of like your custom better anyway." She whispered, and bit into her pizza. The Mrev grinned, shrugged, and tipped his capsule. The critter was about two feet long including the tail, and quite shaggy. He got his jaws around its head, grabbed its furry rump and stuffed it. The head slammed against the back of his throat and down, a few seconds later the wriggling bulk was sliding freely toward his rumbling gut. Janine had forgotten her pizza and watched, a hand half-extended to touch the bulge in Stripple's neck. The cattaur nodded, and Janine stroked the bulge slipping quickly from view.

     "Oh, wow!" She breathed, feeling the lump slip sway from her and plunk somewhere inside the 'taur. Matt was smiling,

     "Did you like that, Janine? That's a more obscure fetish, called vore. Some of us here, including me, enjoy watching our mates eat." He licked his lips, and they both laughed.

     "Are you going to stay with the Mrev?" He asked indicating Stripple. Janine slowly shook her head.

     "I don't know, what does the map say, Stripple?" He looked the map over, and discovered the housing personnel had put them in the same cabin.

     "Don't worry about it, I'm sure we can both be comfortable. They look like big dwellings..."

Janine agreed slowly, and pulled her cabin mate to his paws.

     "I'd like to get settled in. You?" She said, motioning at the doors. Stripple looked at her apologetically.

     "I'd really like to visit some of my passengers in the clinic, I feel responsible for the crash." The human nodded, and a few more wrong turns later they found the facility. Treeva was resting comfortably, all her damaged casts and equipment replaced.

     "I feel fine, really. However, Pethle wasn't so lucky. She's in a coma." The Clev sighed, indicating another bed. Janine and Stripple crept over, and stood over the patient. Her pelt was white with a single red stripe across her eyes, her legs peppered with black spots. Though her breathing was steady, and the diagnostic monitors were all green, she simply wouldn't wake up. A doctor of Greek's species approached, and gave his diagnosis.

     "Simple trauma. It normally wouldn't affect one of this species so drastically; I'm not sure what's wrong. I expect her to come out of it anytime, though." He murmured, checking the charts once more before moving to Treeva.

     "Well, I don't think I can do anything else here... Let's go get settled in." Stripple said, trying to be cheery. They trotted across the compound to a small cabin, three rooms plus a bathroom. There was a large couch Janine could sleep on, while the low, soft cot was claimed by Stripple.

     "No, you take the cot Janine. The couch looks fine."

     "I don't think so. Watching your people indicates to me that you can't support your weight very well for long periods... You need the padding. I often slept on the couch at home..." She replied firmly, and finding that the couch unfolded into a bed sealed the arrangement.

     "Why don't we get some sleep early tonight, I'm sure we need it." The felineoid yawned, and flopped on his cot. Janine stroked his head goodnight, yielding to the irresistible urge to pet a cat, (Or something close, anyway.) He purred in appreciation, a deep bone-shaking sound that surprised and delighted the young woman. She smiled, and stepped into the next room to try out her new bed. Moments later, both were happily asleep.

 

V

 

     "Stripple, wake up! I want something to eat, kitty." Janine laughed, tugging on his 'taur ears. Grumbling, he awoke slowly and gave her a puzzled look.

     "Kitty?" He mumbled, rubbing his muzzle with his handpaws.

     "It's short for kitten, what we call the young of a animal on this planet that resembles your race." She explained, pointing out the bathroom in case he wanted to wash. Stripple did, and enjoyed the shower before joining Janine in the mess hall. A snap, gulp and a thick swallow later, the pilot returned to the clinic to check on his crew members.

     "Hi Mrev, human. Sleep well?" Treeva asked, tail swishing as she reclined Sphinx-like on her cot. Janine assured her they had, and checked up on Pethle. She showed no change, and the doctor shooed them outside while they tried to decide whether to stay or not.

     "Mrev Stripple? I'll show you to your shuttle. It needs repairs, and every craft is needed on the ship. I've also been informed you are stripped of pilot status until your accident has been investigated." A human male told Stripple quietly, ignoring Janine. She followed the pair to a hanger, and tried to help as the felineoid pieced his ship back together.

     "It wasn't your fault, don't they know that? I'm sure you have a flight recorder or something on that thing." She commented, handing over a small tub of repligoo.

     "It does, but I did make some mistakes. I wouldn't have been distracted if I had turned on the cloaking field, and perhaps would've detected the.. 'hurricane'?...before flying right into it. It's my fault, really." He answered, smearing the goo on the hull and idly watching it fill in a spider web of cracks. Janine shook her head, disagreeing.

     "They should've known about the weather, and briefed you. I don't think it should weigh on your conscience." Stripple blinked, and slowly nodded.

     "Maybe you're right, and if that's the case I'll get reinstated as pilot!" He smiled at that thought, and sped up his work on the shuttle. They finished all the repairs that day, and returned to sickbay to check up on Pethle and Treeva.

 

     "Cripes, Guyver! Where are you!" A demanding voice reverberated through the mess hall, as well as Guyver's brain.

     "I'm coming, Doctor." He responded meekly, standing from his place at the table. The bony head of medicine glared at the human as he stepped past him towards the clinic.

     "You take your breaks at the worst time, Mister. The unconscious taur has taken a turn for the worse! I'm worried she won't make it unless she awakens today..." He muttered, and the small man's heart sank.

     'I tried so hard to be there for her, my first patient. And look what happened...' He cried mentally, beating on himself. Breaking into a sprint, he raced across the compound and skidded through the clinic's doors. Patients glanced up, glad for some entertainment as the harried human ran into Pethle's room, panting. A medium-sized gayer/white 'taur glanced up as he entered, and smiled.

     "Ah, Mrev. May I help you?" He stammered, eyes flicking across the monitors. His shoulders slumped in relief, everything was green, if not nominal.

     "No, not really. Just checking up on the casualties of my little accident." A look of confusion flitted across the human's flat face. "I was the pilot of the shuttle full of 'kitties' that crashed. The name's Stripple, by the way." He added, and received the hand the man offered and licked it once. Giggling, he returned the introduction in a more human fashion.

     "Ah, yes, ahem. I'm Machiavellian Guyver. Everyone calls me Mac; my parents intended it as a joke."

'Like my life.' He thought bitterly, but kept a smile on his face as he adjusted the flow of stimulants and nutrients feeding into Pethle's too-still body.

     "Yes, you handled that crash very well. It could have been much worse..." Mac commented, and took another look around at the monitors.

     "I'm glad that's the impression in the camp, but I could've done much better too..." Stripple mumbled, and tailwaved goodbye as he padded out. Mac crept quietly to the sleeping felineoid's side, and reached out to stroke her, almost touching before realizing what he was doing.

     'Just like a friendly kitten, impossible not to pet it...' He grinned, and contented himself with watching her breathe. The harsh lighting did little to accent the snowy pelt, but the male nurse thought it the most gorgeous sight he'd seen in years.

     "I hope you're comfortable, Pethle. I hope you can't hear me now, I don't want you thinking I'm some kind of assuming pervert..." He said quietly, hand on his chin. Pethle remained mostly still, only her hindpaws twitching slightly in a dream.

     "Sorry I left you, I needed a bite to eat. I'm sure you'll want to do the same, when you get off this nutrient solution." Mac stuck out his tongue in sympathetic disgust as he watched the gold liquid run into the alien. In that moment, the human could've sworn he saw a fleeting smile on her face.

     "Hmm, I wish when you'd wake up we could be friends, but from what all my paired friends say, I'm not your type. Too small, too young, talks too much..." He chuckled at the last, memorizing every detail of the sleeping beauty on the cot. His eyes were roaming across her face when her eyes snapped open, magenta irises around black shining pupils.

 

     A shout and a gurgle echoed from a room down the hall, sending Treeva gingerly padding down the corridor to Pethle's room. She peeked in, and gasped in shock! And then doubled over in laughter. Pethle was sitting up in bed, clutching the young nurse who'd been attending her. It looked as if he was enjoying the impromptu cuddle, or at the least, not resisting it. Seeing the other 'taur seemed to bring the recovered felineoid out of whatever haze she'd been behind, and she released the human in embarrassment. He sucked in breath, his ribcage no longer compressed by thickly muscled arms.

     "I'm so sorry, I, I was just glad to see anyone, and it looked like you'd been caring for me..." She mumbled, pleading with her eyes for understanding. She found it in Mac, who was sitting on the cot to recover his breath. He turned again and tenderly took her paw, smiling up at her.

     "I understand, really I do...how do you feel now?" The nurse asked, stroking her handpaw. She smiled at him happily.

     "I feel fine, actually. I don't know why I'm even here..." Pethle blinked and looked around, holding Mac's hand a bit tighter than was comfortable, evident by the pained expression on his face.

     "You were unconscious, so we kept you here for observation. We're still not sure why you wouldn't wake up..." He broke off as a ominous rumble filled the room. Treeva's shocked face brought a smile to the human.

     "It's just thunder..." His smile faded as Pethle shook her head shyly, and stroked her belly.

     "Afraid it's me, sir. This...nutrient gunk really doesn't fill you up..." She grinned, and all three burst out laughing. Nurse Guyver quickly detached the IV lines, and helped the unsteady felineoid to the mess hall. Taking a tray to the counter, he turned to Pethle.

     "How much would you like? Have you tried any weasels yet? I've heard other cattaurs love them." She hadn't heard of them, but liked what she heard when Mac described them to her. She requested three weasels. Mac balanced a tray with three capsules on it back to the table, and sat it down before his new friend. She opened her jaws, loosening them before indicating he should feed her. The nurse smiled, and split open the first container. The hyperactive weasel within scratched frantically at Mac, but he'd had the foresight to pull on a pair of heavy gauntlets. Stretching out the wriggling creature, he fed it head first to Pethle. She slurped it in quickly, the sloped shoulders and smooth fur making it pure pleasure to consume. The weasel wriggled in terror, poking at the insides of her mouth, and a few moments later, her throat. Kicking paws vanished, then its slinky tail, slipping past her eager lips. A powerful gulp stretched her neck briefly, which Mac massaged to feel the critter's final struggles. A faint, muffled bulging of her stomach showed the frantic fighting, while Pethle held her belly and purrred, eyes slitted.

     "Next please..." She murmured, and stretched her maw again. It took hardly five minutes to feed Pethle the other two, the 'taur and human loving every second of the meal. When she was done, Pethle's stomach sagged slightly, the outlines of the weasels visible through the snowy fur. Mac escorted her to the cabin she was assigned to, and helped unpack the luggage waiting for her.

     "Would you like me to stay the night, in case you need anything? I can sleep on the couch," He said quickly, jerking his thumb at the piece of furniture.

     "Actually, I'd rather you sleep on the bed with me, I'd like the comfort." She purred, looking down at him plaintively. Mac shivered, hardly daring to believe this was happening to him... All his daydreams and impossible fancies were coming true! This gorgeous, wonderful creature was looking to him for help, comfort...and perhaps even love... The nurse smiled, and softly stroked her arms.

     "I can manage that." Mac whispered, quivering slightly at the feel of her fur under his palms.

     'It's softer than I imagined...' He was surprised out of his meditative caress by the felineoid's belly gurgling happily to itself.

     "That's another thing, Mac, I'm going to need something else to eat tonight. I don't think my body has recovered yet from the accident..." She smiled coyly at this, and ran her six-inch tongue over her lips and fangs.

 

VI

 

     "Did you hear, Stripple? Pethle is awake, and looks like she has already hooked a mate..." Treeva happily informed the pilot and human when they entered the clinic.

     "Really? That's great! When did she awake? Where'd she go?" The questions gushed out, as Stripple was eager to know if she would be okay and to apologize for the crash.

     "She's getting settled. You should probably wait 'till tomorrow to speak with her." A sly grin crossed her face, shocking Janine and dampening Stripple's enthusiasm.

     "You mean, the two of them, just like that!?" Janine muttered, looking from 'taur to 'taur with disbelief. "That kind of relationship won't last..." She finished, flushing.

     "I'd be surprised if they had already mated; it takes time to work up to that. Most likely, they're simply bonding..." Treeva assured her, placing a bandaged paw on her shoulder. Janine looked a bit sheepish, and nodded.

     'At least this race puts some value on relationship...' The human thought happily, and dragged the two furry aliens out of the clinic to visit the lake. It was early evening, the sun hovering over the horizon and casting golden patches of light on the water. Both felineoids balked at the water's edge, a sharp contrast to Janine who fairly dived into the water. Treeva and Stripple tried to observe Janine secretly, curious as to the females of the species. Janine sported a brief swimsuit bought at a shop within the alien haven, different shades of blue patterned to look like water. Gingerly, the male cattaur waded out into the chill water and began dog-paddling after Janine.

     "This water is freezing...you do this for recreation?!" He gasped, and the human could've sworn Stripple's forehead jewel turned blue.

     "Perhaps you two would prefer the hot tubs..." Janine murmured, eying the bluish jewel with concern. There happened to be a large enough tub at the community center across the road, and all three relaxed in the therapeutic waters.

     "This, I like." Treeva sighed, while Janine noted that the fur of the aliens wasn't much affected by water. Maybe their fur was like that of otters...layered, to be mostly waterproof.

     'Hmph, I had looked forward to seeing them like drowned cats...' She giggled mentally, and splashed Stripple. He grinned, and retaliated. Several other aliens nearby, swimming in an indoor heated pool smiled at the trio, and started their own splashing match. Pretty soon, a very masculine life-guard stomped in angrily and slipped on the slick floor! All motion stopped, and several swimmers scrambled out of the pools to help. Grumbling, the man refused help and got to his feet.

     "We're getting complaints from some of the residents, please quiet down. If you want to make all that noise, you'll have to take it to the lake." He growled, and stomped back out. A muffled snicker followed him as he slipped again before exiting.

      "I didn't know humans could growl..." One young female 'taur said in wonder, and everyone burst out laughing!

      "You know Stripple, I'm pretty beat. Can we go get some sleep?" Janine pleaded, toweling off her long, black hair poolside. The wet cattaur nodded, and grabbed a towel of his own.

      "Sure, you go ahead, I'll walk Treeva home." He purred, and waited for the Clev to finish drying. Janine waved, and bounced out the door.

      "What do you think of her?" Stripple asked his companion as they started down the path to the clinic, the moon shining now through a cloud and dappling the ground.

      "Janine? I like her. But you aren't thinking of getting involved with her...are you? I thought you had someone else..." She turned to face him, green eyes wide and striking amid her dark fur.

      "Why not? I mean, if she wants me. Of course nothing can come of it, but at least we can have some fun. Have your eye on any human yet?" Treeva glared at him for such an obvious maneuver, then shrugged.

      "No, not yet. I sure hope that life-guard isn't any indication of the pickings here..." Treeva murred, glancing about for the beefy man. A chuckle from behind the pair indicated agreement on someone's part.

      "Aww, that's just Jon. Don't worry about it; once you get to know him, you'll realize he's even worse than you thought. You two just get in?" A warm voice rumbled, and they turned to see a male felineoid.

      "My name's Fred, you may have heard of me." He smiled at their faces, and extended a paw. Both were in shock, not only of his preceding reputation, but his exquisite fur. It was violet, rose, and deep orange. Most felineoids had bi-color fur, single hue rather rarer. Tri-color fur was the rarest of all... The colors were arranged like a sunset, cloud shapes drifting across a sea of gold.

      "I wasn't aware you were part of the welcoming wagon, Frederic. I'm pleased to meet you...my name's Treeva." Treeva smiled, and licked his muzzle gently. He grinned, and returned the greeting.

      "And you must be Stripple, Mrev. I read over your report, and though I have no official voice in operations, I'm putting in a good word for you." Fred murmured, and licked Stripple as well. The pilot thanked him profusely, clasping his handpaw. Frederic chuckled, and patted him on the back.

      "Please, it was the least I could do. My weather reports were ignored by your command, I should've argued a bit more for their use. Two were injured, and I'm sorry." His eyes dropped in regret.

      "I really doubt you had any fault in the matter, Mrev." Stripple stammered, and Treeva nodded in agreement. Frederic seemed to cheer a bit, and invited the pair for dinner at their cabin.

      "We'd be honored, thank you." Stripple said excitedly, and the three bounded across the damp grass to a larger cabin than the ones the new arrivals had seen. Frederic stepped up to the door, and keyed it open with a paw-print reader.

      "I'll inform Solorna we have guests, wait here until I call." He winked, and slipped inside.

      "You left them on the PORCH!?" A voice inside yowled, and Fred's muzzle appeared at the door very quickly.

      "Come in, come in! Please!" The scolded kitty said, grinning, and opened the door. Padding down a brief hallway, the trio entered the den and politely licked Solorna in greeting. Both Treeva and Stripple struggled to keep from staring, as their host was easily the size of all three of the 'taurs combined. Her soft body puddled on a large pile of cushions, her rippling pelt splashed and ribboned with gold, red, and orange. She obviously weighed more than a ton, more probably two or three. Frederic snuggled into her billowing side, pulling some of the flesh over his back like a blanket. Solorna smiled affectionately, and stroked her mate.

      "Please, have a seat. I'm afraid Fred took the best one, but the cushions are pretty comfy too." Solorna playfully swatted Fred for his selfishness. He eeped, and snuggled beneath her fat. Obediently, the two settled down on another pile of cushions facing the mates.

      "May I ask, do you like your new body, Frederic? I've heard some of the humans worrying about that facet of the relationship..." Treeva asked, eyes wide in curiosity. The gorgeously patterned male peeked out and grinned widely, showing off his fangs.

      "Like it? I adore it! The only thing I love more is my big kitten, here. You don't know what it's like, having these senses, coiled spring muscles, and...stamina." He purrred slyly, pawing at Solorna's rippling belly. The other three grinned, while Solorna purrrrrred low at the pawing.

      "Maybe we should leave you two alone, hmm? Oh my, Janine is waiting for me too..." Stripple exclaimed, and got to his paws.

      "We would never do anything to make you leave, but if you have a love of your own waiting for you..." Solorna started, but Fred interrupted her.

      "Janine? A human?" He asked in interest, whiskers twitching. Stripple nodded.

      "We aren't involved, she's just staying with me until she gets a cabin for herself." The gray/white felineoid hastened to add.

      "Well, I think it's great your race is meeting the females of our...um...my former species as well. Who knows, you may be compatible..." He smiled gently, and resumed kneading his love. Solorna snorted at that, knowing two such matches in a race were impossible, even if males could have birthed. Stripple licked the mated pair goodnight, and hurried Treeva to the clinic.

      "Have fun with your human." She laughed, padding through the double doors. The pilot grimaced, and bounded across the compound to his cabin. The lights were on, and Janine had prepared dinner for them. A large beaver for the 'taur, and a hamburger for her.

      "Sorry for leaving you alone, I was talking with the originals." Janine glanced at him blankly.

      "The first felineoid/human pair, Fred and Solorna. Fred's already been digested and birthed as a new 'taur. They really seem to love each other..." He explained, thoughts wandering.

      "That's something I've been wondering about. If all your species were originally other species...how is it you're not mated to your 'mother'?" Janine queried, munching on her burger. Stripple settled down at the other side of the table, and clutched the large food capsule to his chest possessively.

      "Well, a lot of the species consumed don't carry over into the new body. Their soul is transferred, their minds and brains are not. So, the source of my material was once an alien who mated with a female 'taur loving her, but I had no feelings for my mother. She raised me, but we mature quickly and she was freed to take another mate." Janine's face fell at this, and a tear leaked from her eye.

      "That's awful...that wonderful, trusting relationship terminated? How can the mother live with that? And why are humans different?" She asked, the words sticking in her throat.

      "Well, the mothers just cope. We're a very social race, and support each other in those times. We're still not sure why humans are different, but our genetic structures are very similar. In fact, during the mesh they fit like a hand to glove..." He murmured, and extracted the beaver from the capsule. Janine pondered this, and watched Stripple stuff the beaver tail first into his mouth. She noticed his fangs seemed to vanish or retract as the animal slid inside, its paws scrabbling at Stripple's furry handpaws. He worked quickly, his throat bulging with the thick-furred animal. A last squeak, and its head vanished inside the warm darkness of the cattaur's throat. A mighty gulp, and the bulge slipped neatly down Stripple's throat. Janine watched his neck swell, then the fur on his chest. She could follow the animal's progress all the way down, until it passed from his humanoid torso and into his 'tauric barrel. A quiet squelch, nearly inaudible, indicated when the beaver hit the cattaur's soft gut. Janine placed a hand on his stomach to feel the last struggles of the beast, which continued for over a minute. At last, a great belch signaled its defeat.

      "Well, *urp*, did you have any more questions?" Stripple sighed, eyes slitted in pleasure as they both stroked his silky stomach.

      "No, let's just hit the sack." Janine showered and changed, then hopped into her hide-a-bed. Stripple stumbled to his cot and flopped down, thinking he'd take a shower in the morning...

 

 

End of Part One

 

Continue to Pilgrimage 2

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