The plains of Oklahoma passed by beneath the shuttle as the pilot took it low over the flat terrain, fields dotted with small farmhouses and silos whizzing past as the only points of interest in the sea of green grass and yellow crops. Raz was sat across from me in the troop bay, her giant alien figure secured to an appropriately sized crash couch with a harness as the engines shook the deck beneath our feet. She was looking out of a nearby porthole, her yellow, feline eyes tracking the passing structures and herds of grazing cattle. The round, furry ears that protruded from the mop of orange hair on her head swiveled and twitched, her similarly colored tail trailing from the back of her seat to rest on the floor like a giant snake covered in peach fuzz. She was eight feet of muscle and claws, a killing machine by human standards, a Borealan in the prime of her life.
I was bringing her to meet my parents, we had been granted a month of leave and I had insisted that she observe the human custom. We had been in a relationship for a couple of years now, and I still hadn’t told my parents exactly what she was, just that I had met someone and that we were going steady. The distances involved and our workload meant that visits like this one were few and far between. It wasn’t through any shame that I had failed to inform my parents, Raz could be crass at times, but I knew that she would do her best to make a good impression. It was just that my parents were somewhat traditional and I didn’t know how they might react to finding out that their only son was dating an alien.
I had dropped out of agricultural college to join the UNN against their wishes, to protect the Earth and her colonies from alien threats, and I wasn’t certain that my ‘salt of the earth’ parents would be able to tell the difference between enemies and allies. The Borealans were a member race of the Coalition, a multi-species alliance that had banded together to fight common threats. While integrating their vicious warriors into our units had been somewhat of a challenge, in the end it had been me and Raz who had built that bridge and found common ground between our two cultures, resulting in the two of us becoming instructors on a naval installation known as the Pinwheel. I was an instructor on the firing range, and she trained new Borealan recruits to interact with humans without ... eating them.
Borealan culture was extremely hierarchical, more like a pack of wolves than anything humans would consider a society, but their way of looking at the world lent itself well to military life. Together we had trained every Borealan shock trooper who had ever served alongside human troops.
“Is it all grassland?” Raz asked me, her eyes still fixed on the view beyond the window.
“What, the whole planet?” She had never been to Earth before, this was her first time setting foot on a planet that wasn’t her own, having served her time so far in the UNN on space stations or naval vessels exclusively. “No, this is a state, kind of like a territory on Borealis. There are different environments and geography than just this. We have mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, cities...”
“I think there’s more grass here than in all of Elysia,” she mused as she watched the fields fly by us. Her home planet was primarily hot and arid, her people lived in relatively small oases created by great lakes ringed with fertile jungles. They formed a natural barrier against the desert beyond, and trapped a microclimate that made the interior lush and hospitable.
“We can see other places too,” I said, “we don’t have to stay with my parents for more than an afternoon if you don’t want to. I just want you to meet them.”
“It’s fine, we can always come back another time and see more of the planet. You already talked me into coming, you don’t need to sweeten the deal now. I know that this is important to you.”
I smiled at her. Despite the predatory instincts roiling beneath her savage exterior, she was uncommonly understanding for a Borealan, and she always did her utmost to see things from a human perspective. Maybe that was why we had been able to find common ground in the first place, but even then, our earlier encounters had very nearly ended in maiming. In the end we had found a balance, a kind of equilibrium between us, it was tentative and unstable at times but that was part of what made being with her so damned exciting. I hadn’t quite tamed her, and she had never been able to induct me into her pack and become my ‘Alpha’, leaving the two of us in a state of perpetual low-level conflict that expressed itself as bawdy romance.
“Coming up on the coordinates,” the pilot called back to us from his seat in the cockpit, “where would you like me to put down, Sir?”
“My family is expecting us,” I replied, “setting her down in the courtyard shouldn’t alarm them.”
“Very good Sir.”
They had probably heard the vessel approaching by now, they might very well be waiting on the porch to greet us, and my heart quickened as I felt a surge of apprehension in my gut. I felt the shuttle bank, the pilot was shedding speed as he began to circle our farm, preparing to land. The vessel slowed, a mechanical clunk resonating through the deck as the landing gear deployed, the shuttle bouncing as they absorbed the impact of the landing. Raz seemed to pick up on my uneasiness, grinning at me and exposing her sharp teeth.
“Hey, at least you’re not meeting ‘my’ parents, my father is the high Patriarch of Elysia.”
There was a pneumatic hiss as the landing ramp lowered, a cool wind blowing into the troop bay as we unfastened our safety harnesses and descended. Raz stretched her arms over her head as her clawed, paw-like feet hit the dirt, relishing the opportunity to stand at full height after so many weeks cooped up on spaceships better suited to humans. I joined her, hearing the ramp close behind us as the shuttle’s engines idled. I waved her away, and once we were clear, the vessel’s thrusters flared and sent it off into the sky.
As the dust cleared, I shielded my eyes against the bright sunlight to look around, a wave of nostalgia washing over me as I saw the farmhouse I had grown up in and the barn beside it. Behind me was a grain silo, and beyond that, flat fields from horizon to horizon. As expected my parents were waiting on the porch, my father sporting his greying beard and clad in one of his signature flannel shirts, and my bespectacled mother beside him wearing a white apron over her floral dress.
I mustered what courage I could find and strode towards them, trying to appear confident in my dress blues, they expected a soldier and that was what I wanted to give them. Raz loped along beside me, taking long strides on her digitigrade legs. She was similarly clad in a blue UNN uniform more suited to her exaggerated stature, and though most of her body was hairless, the fur on her protruding hands and lower legs gave the impression that a big orange tomcat had been stuffed into a suit.
As we approached the house, it became apparent that my parents were staring, my father especially was craning his neck to get a better look at the imposing alien as we came to a stop. My mother leaned in to hug me, my father hesitating for a moment before shaking my hand, his eyes still fixed on Raz as he squinted against the summer sun.
“It’s so good to see you Stanley,” my mother crooned, momentarily more interested in me than in the spectacle that was unfolding. She beamed as she looked me up and down, scrutinizing my shining boots and the various commendations and rank insignias on my breast. “Look at you in your uniform, when you told us that you wanted to join the UNN we had our doubts, but here you are!”
“It’s good to see you too. Mom, Dad, this is Raz.”
She turned her attention to Raz, looking up at the Borealan, then after a brief moment she met her with a hug. Raz bristled, her kind didn’t like unsolicited contact, especially from strangers. But she endured it as my mother did her best to wrap her arms around her wide hips, as high as the short woman could reach, then stepped back to examine her.
“I have to say it’s quite the surprise, but any friend of Stanley’s is welcome in our home.”
“Thank you, Matriarch,” Raz replied in a formal tone. ‘Meeting the parents’ wasn’t something her people made an occasion of, and so she seemed to be giving them the only honorific she thought appropriate. That got a laugh from my mother.
“You can call me Patricia, dear, now come inside and get out of the sun.”
I was shocked at how well my mother was taking it, ushering Raz into the farmhouse excitedly as the giant alien ducked under the human-sized doorframe, but I noticed that my father had not offered her any form of greeting. It might be quite a shock, they had never met an alien before and I had kind of sprung this on them, but if he made a point of being rude I would need to have a word with him in private about it. For now it was best to just enjoy the reunion, I was sure they would have hundreds of questions to ask us about our jobs, our lives on the space station and our unconventional relationship.
“Would you like tea or coffee Raz?” My mother called from the kitchen as we sat around a low table in the living room. We were surrounded by my mother’s knick-knacks, everything from porcelain sculptures of babies and cats, to potted plants that looked as if they had seen better days. It seemed that no surface had gone unscathed, even the mantelpiece above the old wood fire was covered in heirlooms and trinkets. Raz looked incredibly out of her element, a large couch sagging under her weight as she sat uncomfortably beside me with her knees almost reaching her head. She leaned over and whispered to me, unsure of how to reply.
“What is customary?”
“She’ll just have a glass of water,” I called to my mother, patting Raz on her steely thigh to reassure her. “You don’t have to be so formal, try to relax.”
My parents walked into the room, my father taking a seat in an adjacent armchair as my mother placed a tray of assorted biscuits and drinks on the table. She handed a glass of water to Raz, who took it gingerly in her massive hand, downing it in one gulp.
“Help yourself to snacks, Raz,” she said as she sat down. “Now Stanley, tell me everything that’s happened. You never email, you never call us on the vidphone, I want to know what’s going on in your life! I thought it was odd that you hadn’t sent us any pictures of you and Raz, I thought maybe you were gay,” she laughed. “But now I see what you’ve been hiding.” She shot Raz a knowing smirk, which seemed to put the Borealan more at ease.
“I just...” I struggled to justify myself as my parents scrutinized me. “I wasn’t sure how you’d react to us, I guess I just put it off as long as I could get away with.”
“And yet you insisted I meet your parents when you heard leave was coming up,” Raz chimed in, growing a little more confident. “You wouldn’t take no for an answer, like an angry little kitten denied a seat at the banquet table.”
My mother laughed heartily as Raz nudged me with her elbow and I reddened. I was relieved to see that they were getting on so well, perhaps the sheer novelty of the situation was drawing in my mother, but my father still had not made any real attempt to engage Raz. Maybe he just needed time to adjust.
My mother picked up a mug of steaming coffee from the table and took a sip, practically gleeful as she demanded that I tell her the story of how we had met, and so for the next couple of hours we relayed the events of the past two years. I left out some of the more gory details, understanding why Raz had treated me so poorly during our first few days together took an in-depth knowledge of Borealan culture and biology, and so I abbreviated that period of conflict into a series of harmless misunderstandings. Raz seemed relieved by that, she hadn’t understood humans any better than I had understood Borealans, and only realized how her behavior had appeared to humans after the fact.
When I was done, Raz was quizzed about her culture and her home planet, really coming out of her shell as she described Elysia in detail while my mother hung on her every word. It was unusual to see Raz so restrained, she was normally so outgoing when we were on the Pinwheel, not thinking twice about starting brawls with the more cocky Borealan recruits and giving unflattering nicknames to the grizzled chief of security. She was fearless and ruthlessly sarcastic in her role as the Pinwheel’s unofficial matriarch, but perhaps I had failed to convey what this visit would entail. She had treated it as some formal event initially, perhaps afraid of being judged by my parents, but now her usual brash self-confidence was showing through.
My father listened to the tales with interest, but did not participate in the lively conversation. Before very long the sun was beginning to set, and the supply of biscuits had been exhausted.
“I’m sure you two are tired from all the traveling,” my mother announced as she stood to retrieve the now empty tray. “Stanley you can sleep in your old room, but Raz isn’t going to fit. We’re going to need to find something else for you, dear.”
It was the first night we had spent apart in a long time, I slept in my old room, and my parents laid out several mattresses for Raz in the guest bedroom. We were woken up the next day by a call to breakfast, Raz devouring a dozen fried eggs before realizing that it might not be appropriate to exhaust my family’s entire food supply in one sitting. My mother was nonplussed, continuing her attempts to feed the giant alien, and the discovery of bacon reignited Raz’s hunger and brought her back around.
Borealans ate a lot, they were the scourge of UNN mess halls across the galaxy. Not only were they physically more imposing than humans, which came with an exponentially larger calorie requirement, but they were also more heavily muscled due to the high gravity of their home planet. They had bones like concrete, and with a weight of anywhere up to five hundred pounds or more, the muscle mass required to simply move their enormous bodies around gave them the appearance of weight lifters or athletes. Raz had thighs like tree trunks, and abdominal muscles so prominent that you could have used them to wash clothes, but she was also a developed woman and her figure was soft and feminine despite the underlying brawn.
“Is Dad up already?” I asked as I finished off a plate of bacon and eggs. There were no chairs that Raz would fit on, and so she was sat cross-legged on the tile floor, though that still put her at chest height to the table due to her stature.
“Yes, he’s out with the tractors.”
“Still? He’s had those auto-tractors for years now and he still doesn’t trust them to do their job without supervision?”
The farm was mostly automated, with robotic tractors and harvesters that handled near all of the manual labor, allowing my parents to operate a good sized farm without hiring any help. The tank-like robotic tractors tilled the fields and sowed the crops, and then the titanic combines handled the harvesting, with drone trucks to bring the corn to the silos. My father was old-fashioned, he had never trusted the machines to do the job properly and insisted on supervising them. Granted they weren’t perfect and sometimes their pathfinding got screwed up, but they didn’t require his constant attention. Dealing with the occasional rogue tractor driving around the field in circles was a damn sight better than tilling the fields yourself, or having to pay an army of laborers.
“You know how he is,” she replied as she unfastened her apron and hung it on the back of a nearby chair, sitting down with a plate to join us at the table. “He spent a fortune on those things so that he wouldn’t have to spend all day in a tractor cab, took me long enough to talk him into it. Here I was hoping he’d spend more time at the house, but he just ended up spending all day watching them go round and round in the fields instead.”
“These machines drive on their own?” Raz asked.
“Yeah, like our UNN surveillance drones,” I replied, “they’re hooked up to a central computer in the barn that controls their routes wirelessly.”
“I will tell my father, I’m sure he would like to buy some for the grain farms in Elysia.”
“He does like his gadgets,” I replied through a mouthful of toast.
“Why don’t you two go out and find him when you’re done eating?” Mom asked. “You remember how to get to the corn fields, right Stanley? I told him to come back to the house for breakfast but something must be holding him up.”
I nodded, finishing the last of my fried eggs and getting up from the table.
“Come on Raz, I’ll show you around.”
We made our way down one of the dirt paths that led away from the farmhouse, the wind blowing the crops around us as the sun beat down above our heads. It was the summer harvesting season, the crops were tall and ready to be picked, I couldn’t see over them but Raz was tall enough that her head peeked over the golden wheat.
“There’s so much land,” she mused as I walked beside her, “it just keeps going as far as I can see. It’s strange not seeing a jungle in the distance, makes me feel exposed, like I’m walking along the hull of a spaceship rather than on the surface of a planet.”
“Yeah, the great plains can be a little agoraphobic if you’re not used to them.”
“Our numbers are kept low by the limited living space, but here you could house our entire population ten times over. It’s no wonder there are so many humans.” She let the wind blow her orange hair, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face, it had been a long time since we had set foot on a planet. The Pinwheel had a simulated environment, and while it was rather convincing, it still lacked these little comforts.
We followed the dirt track down a mile or so, before the sound of engines drew us towards one of the corn fields. It was partially harvested, there was an enormous combine with a gleaming white hull making its way down a row of corn on its fat wheels, its wide blades churning to pull up the plants and strip them of their crop. Where a cab would have been, there was an array of cameras and sensors, culminating in a long-range transmitter dish that extended from the top of the machine.
As we watched a similarly sleek tractor drove up beside the combine, pulling a large trailer behind it, the behemoth disgorging a waterfall of grain into the container from its chute. I looked around for my father, shielding my eyes against the midday sun and wishing that I had brought a hat with me, finally spotting him across the field. He was crouched beside his pickup truck, and I led Raz across the field to greet him. He noticed us and looked up, wiping his brow and waving in our direction.
“Hey Dad, what’s keeping you? Mom wanted you back for breakfast.”
“I’ll tell you what’s keepin’ me,” he grumbled. “These damned auto-tractors, that’s what. The proximity sensor on the one I have pulling the trailer must have failed, or maybe their programming is screwy or something, I couldn’t tell you. In any case the thing nearly ran into my truck when I was pulling out, had to swerve to avoid it and now I’m stuck in this ditch.”
I leaned over to get a better look, and saw that the pickup was indeed stuck in the drainage ditch that ran between the two fields, the back wheels suspended in the air as the truck lay across the gap.
“Can’t you get one of the tractors to come pull you out?”
“I can’t trust these damned robots to drive in a straight line, never mind tow my truck free, they’d probably just tear the front axle right off of it.”
“I’ll walk back up to the farm and bring Mom’s car around, maybe we can tow the-”
Raz dropped down heavily into the ditch with a crunch of dry foliage, and we watched her curiously as she crouched to position herself beneath the truck. She braced her shoulder against its undercarriage, planting her feet firmly on the ground, then heaved. The truck bounced, my father’s eyes widening as he watched the alien give it another shove, loosing a snarl as she lifted what must have been at least a two or three ton vehicle briefly into the air before it fell back down. The muscles in her legs bulged beneath her clothing as she strained against its weight, adding some forward momentum to her shove this time, and rolled it back onto our side of the ditch. The back wheels landed on the dirt, bouncing on their suspension as we looked on in disbelief, and she leapt back out of the ditch to stand beside it.
“Well I’ll be,” Dad mused, scratching his beard as he appraised his newly freed truck. “Strong as an ox, this one. Thank you Raz.” That was the first word he had said to her so far, and judging by his expression she had gone some way towards winning his respect. “Hop in the back, I’ll drive you two up to the house.”
I sat beside him in the passenger seat as Raz climbed into the flatbed, the truck sagging a little under her weight as Dad turned it towards the dirt path, giving the combine a wide berth.
“I didn’t really know what to think when you showed up with Raz,” he muttered, keeping his voice low so that she wouldn’t overhear him from her seat in the flatbed. “I’ve never seen anything like her before, when she stepped off the shuttle I didn’t know what to say, I was a little frightened I guess.”
“Well, that’s kind of why I didn’t tell you and Mom about her sooner, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”
“I suppose we didn’t part ways on the best of terms,” Dad said as his expression softened somewhat, his eyes focused on the road. “I wanted you to take over the farm when I retired, but you up and left us so suddenly, I thought you’d gotten your head full of propaganda and that you’d end up coming home in a box. When you told us they had made you a firing instructor, well ... you can imagine our relief.”
“I’ve seen combat,” I replied a little tersely. “It’s not as if the Pinwheel is completely safe.”
“I’m not trying to say that you’re any less of a soldier, just that I’m glad you’re not fighting on a different planet every week, that’s all. They sanitize the news to make the war look a lot cleaner than it really is, but we all know what’s really going on.”
He turned off the dirt track and headed for the farmhouse in the distance, perched atop a hill along with the grain silos and the barn, which was painted in the traditional red despite the cluster of transmitters that protruded from the roof.
“You didn’t discuss it with your mother and I, you just signed up and then off you went without so much as a by your leave. We didn’t hear hardly head nor tail of you for the better part of two years, and now you show up with a giant alien in tow. You just keep throwing me curveballs, Stan.”
“I’m not trying to be difficult Dad,” I sighed, “but you’re not always easy to talk to. Look at the auto-tractors, Mom tried to get you to buy those for years and you wouldn’t, but now you’ve come around to the idea. You tend to trust your gut reaction, but I couldn’t wait around for you to see things my way this time.”
“Well ... for what it’s worth I’m proud of you, it didn’t really hit me until I saw you in your uniform, but if you were never going to be a farmer then I can’t think of anything better for you to be.”
“Thanks Dad, that means a lot to me.”
“Raz is quite the ... er ... handful. Is my daughter in law really going to be an alien?”
“It’s looking that way, yeah. She’s pretty special, Dad, I hope you’ll take the time to get to know her before we have to leave.”
“Well you never had a way with women Stanley, I was starting to get worried about you, but it looks like you skipped the little leagues and went straight for the world series.”
We arrived home after a short drive, and Raz hopped out of the back of the pickup, the suspension bouncing as her weight left the flatbed. My father got out and stretched, the midday sun burning above us like a fiery ball in the azure, cloudless sky. The heat was stifling, I was used to the climate-controlled torus of the Pinwheel, kept at a constant comfortable temperature by the station’s computer monitored systems. Raz seemed to be enjoying it however, this was after all a lot closer to the climate of her home planet, though it still must have fallen short of the intense heat of Elysia.
“I’m gonna get on the horn with the dealership and give ‘em a piece of my mind about that damned auto-tractor,” my father complained, making his way towards the farmhouse. “Thank you for your help, you two.”
Raz seemed pleased with herself, standing in the dusty courtyard and planting her hands on her wide hips to grin toothily at me. The wind blew her orange hair, her long tail waving back and forth, and I couldn’t help but smile along with her.
“Why don’t we go for a walk? There’s a stream near here where I used to play when I was younger, it wouldn’t do to visit an alien planet and stay cooped up inside the whole time.”
“Lead the way,” she replied. As I watched, she hooked the curved claw on her index finger through the loop on her zipper, and pulled it down to the waist. She shrugged out of the sleeves, letting the torso of her blue UNN jumpsuit fall to hang around her hips. She was wearing a grey tank top beneath it that struggled to contain her exaggerated chest, stopping just below to expose her belly, fresh sweat giving her prominent abdominal muscles a reflective sheen. Now liberated, she stretched her arms above her head and yawned widely, her breasts bouncing beneath the inadequate garment as they settled. Her round, furry ears swiveled in my direction as she watched my eyes play over her muscular figure, her grin turning into a sly smirk.
“Are you going to show me around, or are you just going to stare at me, monkey?”
My brow furrowed in mock anger at the use of my pet name, originally an insult she had used in reference to my species’ simian ancestry, now a playful nickname she used to mess with me.
“Come on then, follow me, we’d better find some way to occupy you before you get yourself into trouble.”
She bounced over to me on her springy, digitigrade legs like an excited child, the low gravity letting the already agile alien jump about like she was on the damned moon. She came to a stop beside me and ruffled my hair with her dinner-plate sized hand, and we set off down the dirt path.
While most of this region was completely flat farmland, there were pockets of forest along with ponds and rivers here and there, I had spent much of my time exploring the area that surrounded my family’s farmhouse as a child. The nearest school had been quite a bus ride, and none of my friends had lived within visiting range, so most of my free time had been taken up investigating the natural wealth that surrounded me.
I led Raz down the path and off towards the nearest pocket of trees that broke up the endless fields and grasslands, one could imagine that the Earth was flat standing here, looking out over a landscape that was almost completely level from horizon to horizon. Raz sauntered along beside me, walking slowly so as not to outpace me with her longer strides.
“Everything smells strange,” she commented, “unfamiliar. There are plants and animals that I’ve never smelled before, sounds from birds and insects that I don’t recognize, I feel like I should be on edge but the Earth is a tame planet.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, looking up at her.
“Everything on Borealis has evolved to kill something else, everything is dangerous, it’s an endless competition for survival.”
“Surely you have some animals that aren’t out to get you? Pets? Domesticated livestock? Smaller creatures evolved to evade predators?”
“Yes, though they are few. Even our herd animals are perfectly capable of crushing a Borealan if provoked.”
“Well there’s nothing like that around here,” I said, trying to sound reassuring. “I suppose black bears and wolves are dangerous, but they’re rarely sighted and there certainly aren’t any near the farmland. You’d have to really get on the bad side of a deer or an elk to provoke it into attacking you rather than just running away.”
“I don’t know these animals,” she chuckled, and I patted her on the thigh apologetically.
“We’ll get you a kid’s book, you can learn your animals. A is for antelope, B is for bison...”
She whipped the back of my legs playfully with her long tail, making me stumble.
“You’ll have to visit Elysia one day,” she said, then laughed at my worried expression. “Oh you thought this ‘meet the parents’ tradition only went one way? I hope you like blistering heat, crushing gravity and vicious wildlife. Oh, and my father is the size of a Krell and controls his own fleet.”
“Maybe in the winter,” I conceded, “when is it coldest on Borealis?”
“Winter in Elysia comes twice a month and lasts for three days.”
A butterfly floated towards Raz on the breeze, and her amber eyes fixed on it, her pupils dilating from vertical slits to dark circles. Her ears twitched as she tracked it, watching the colorful insect disappear into the tall grass of an adjacent field.
“B is for butterfly,” I volunteered.
We walked a while longer, Raz taking the time to appreciate the landscape as we approached the small patch of forest where the stream was. We passed under the canopy, the rays of sunlight that penetrated the leaves stained green, pleasant shadows cooling us as we followed the old dirt path between the trunks. The air was full of insects, birds chirped as they hopped between the branches of the trees, and the sound of flowing water rose to my ears as we neared our destination. I pushed through the undergrowth and found the stream nearby, the clear water rushing over the smooth pebbles that lined its bed.
I leaned down on the bank and dipped my fingers into the water, it was cool and pleasant on my skin, I could see a few small fish darting away as my hand disturbed them. Raz wasted no time, stripping off her jumpsuit down to her underwear and crudely wading into the stream until it reached her knees. She let herself fall backwards into the water with a splash, floating as she beckoned for me to join her. I shrugged, and began to strip off my clothes. Borealans loved water, and Raz was no exception. She spent a great deal of time at the Pinwheel’s gym where there were several Olympic sized swimming pools, her affinity for water reminding me of a tiger as she lurked near the surface and waited for imaginary prey to pass by. Her home city was built around the shore of a gigantic lake, and her people spent much of their leisure time fishing and lounging around in the shallows.
Now wearing nothing but my shorts, I stepped into the stream to join her, the flow too gentle to knock me off balance or carry us away. There weren’t many weeds, it was mostly stone at the bottom, and the pebbles smoothed by eons of rushing water felt pleasant under my bare feet. She splashed me, drenching me with a torrent of water in order to sabotage my slow acclimatization, and laughed as I shivered.
“Just jump in, the water is nice.”
I gave in and let myself sink, the stream almost deep enough to reach my waist in places. I copied Raz and let myself fall backwards, floating on the surface and watching the breeze rustle the leaves in the canopy above us. It was a welcome reprieve from the heat, the sound of bird song and chirping insects made me almost want to fall asleep here.
I felt Raz coil her tail around my leg, the fur damp on my skin, and she tugged me closer to her. She caught me in her arms and crossed them over my chest, nestling my head between her buoyant breasts, the tank top that contained them was sodden and clung to her figure as I sank into her soft bust.
“Borealans don’t really have vacations,” she mumbled into my ear, “this is one human custom I wish to adopt.”
We floated there for a while, just enjoying the sounds of nature and the sensation of the cool water on our skin. I lay atop Raz like she was some kind of giant inflatable pool toy, her chest making an admirable pillow as my head sank into the soft meat of her bust. Jokes about her massive breasts aside, I was shocked at just how buoyant she was, she easily weighed as much as four or five humans and yet she was able to float on the surface of the stream with me on top of her. Maybe it was just her immense lung capacity, or perhaps evolution had favored some aquatic traits in creatures that commonly lived near large bodies of water.
“So this is where you spent a lot of your time as a kitten?”
“I was never a kitten,” I laughed. “As a child, yes. I’d come down here quite often, I spent many a summer exploring the area.”
“What did you do here?” Raz asked, watching a stray leaf as it passed us by on its way downstream.
“Sometimes I just relaxed, like we’re doing now, sometimes I brought a tablet computer with me and watched entertainment or played games. Did a fair amount of hunting too.”
That seemed to peak her interested, her ears turning to monitor me.
“That might explain why you’re so good with a rifle, what did you hunt? Is there big game here?”
“No, nothing like that. Well, there are deer and elk in the region, but mostly I just hunted rabbits and wild turkeys.” I remembered that she had no idea what those were, and elaborated. “Turkeys are big, dumb birds, good eating. Rabbits are these little furred mammals that are fast on their feet, but if you can ambush them they make a good stew. I had a little .22LR rifle, a pea shooter really, but it was enough to kill small game.”
“Quite the little Ranger, it’s no wonder they made you a firing range instructor if you’ve been shooting from such an early age.”
“How about you?” I asked, “Borealans are a martial people, when did you start fighting?”
“Even kittens playfight, but I never fired a weapon until I had come of age. You’ve seen how large our guns are, a kitten couldn’t wield one, and we never miniaturized our designs.”
She was right, the Borealan rifles that I had seen had been enormous. Their native technology was not especially advanced, though the large-bore powder guns that they used were devastating, I had no doubt that they could put a round straight through an elephant’s skull.
“You know the way we are, when I was old enough I fought my way up the hierarchy and became the Alpha of my own little pack, I came from my father’s litter after all. I got my fair share of scars, spent most of youth in the city though, I never went hunting. That’s more of a Ranger thing, and I was a member of the aristocracy.”
“Was it hard having all of those expectations on your shoulders?”
“Well, I’m not an only child, if I had failed to meet my father’s expectations my siblings would have taken up the slack.”
“How many siblings do you have?” I asked. I had never really put two and two together before now, but her people reproduced in litters of anywhere up to half a dozen kittens, she might have as many as six brothers and sisters. That would make any family reunion a nightmare, one Raz was almost more than I could handle, never mind a whole litter of them.
“I have uncounted relatives, the status of Patriarch comes with many privileges, one of them being the attentions of powerful women who wish to further their own lines. My father has bred with many women and has produced dozens of children. I have three sisters and two brothers born of the same mother, though I am the largest and the strongest.”
“Yeah, I don’t doubt that. What are they doing then? Are they soldiers in the UNN like you, or are they back on Borealis doing their own thing?”
“Two of my sisters mated, they’re raising litters of their own. My third sister is a landowner and my brother is a royal guard.”
“You’re not afraid that one of them will steal the throne from you while you’re working on the Pinwheel?”
She chuckled, her chest bouncing around my head as I rested on top of her.
“It doesn’t work that way for us. The Patriarch, or Matriarch as it may be, is the Alpha of Alphas. There’s no family succession, every Borealan starts out on the same social footing, and has to work their way up the ladder. Of course some are better bred than others, and more is expected of them. If a family can maintain their high position for several generations then they will have access to more desirable mates, resulting in larger and stronger offspring.”
“Now you’re getting it,” she chuckled, her claws combing my wet hair. “My father is a great warrior, an impeccable specimen of Elysian stock, and my mother was a Ranger.”
“A Ranger?” I asked, surprised. “You’ve spoken of your parents before, but you never told me your mother was a Ranger! How did they meet?”
Rangers were reclusive survivalists, they rejected the modern towns and cities that bordered the great lakes and chose to live in the surrounding jungles, which they considered to be the natural state of their kind. They lived off the land and spent their time hunting the vicious creatures that inhabited the dense primeval forests in order to sell their pelts and produce to their more cosmopolitan neighbors.
“They met on a hunt, it is customary for the Patriarch to slay a Rainbow Spider in order to wear its fur as a symbol of status, and she must have impressed him or gained his respect during her time as his guide. After bringing down the beast and feasting on its flesh as is customary, they mated, and I was conceived along with my siblings.”
“Quite a story, you know how my parents met?”
Raz shook her head.
“At a bar in Tulsa.”
She laughed again, her motions sending ripples over the surface of the water.
“You should give yourself more credit, Stanley. I am of noble birth, you are spawned from humble farmers, yet we have achieved equal rank and status. Either I have slacked or you are exceptional.”