Not fucking again. Literally fucking, which was the problem — Kimmie’s upstairs neighbors, the skinny brown human and the curvy gold female, were at it again. For what, the fourth time tonight? The management could claim however much it wanted that the walls were supposed to be sound-proofed, the truth was that this was a shitty apartment, it clearly wasn’t up to code, and when two grown-ass adults decided to hurl their bodies together on a battered wooden bed, you could hear it. Not to mention that the girl was a screamer. You would think after getting the news that the war was finally on, they would have gone decently to sleep, but no. They were probably celebrating life or some such bullshit. Kimmie couldn’t take it anymore. She shoved back the chair from her desk, grabbed a fur to wrap around herself, and headed out into the night.
She just wanted to walk, far and fast and until her brain stopped buzzing. Sometimes walking helped. The streets were more empty than usual — everyone who had someone was probably at home, cuddling them up, waiting for the bombs to fall or the shooting to start or the diseases to spread or just for the chips in their heads to catch viruses, melt, and drip out of their brains. And yeah, the truth was that if she had someone, Kimmie would probably do the same thing. But she didn’t, and that alone was enough to make it easy to glare at the people who were glaring at her, as they always did when they saw her walking around wrapped in a fur. Fucking holier-than-thou types. How did they know that it wasn’t synthetic? It could totally be synthetic.
It wasn’t, but they had no way of knowing that, not unless they looked past the thick bright azure fur she’d wrapped around herself. Not unless they could look at Kimmie’s own orange pelt, the pointed crimson ears jammed into a knitted cap, the clawed hands, the fucking tail, and correctly identify her as Varisian. Sure, if they did that, and if they then happened to be educated enough to be familiar with the adulthood rituals of her tribe, then they might recognize that the remains of the creature wrapped around her were, in fact, real. That it was her own kill, and that she had managed to face down a dumb critter with three times her mass and armed only with what she could make herself after being dumped in the Jungle. Jungle with a capital J, because it was the only real Jungle left, huge and carefully preserved in the midst of Varisia, a world that had gone completely high-tech. And yet we still value our ancient rituals, oh yes, we care about who we are as a people, and any youngster who can’t survive the way our people did a thousand years ago (when they had no fucking choice) — well, that kid doesn’t deserve to live, does she?
Kimmie had survived it, but only just, emerging with three brutal scars scraped down her back that would tell her the weather the rest of her life. Not that she needed it here. The weather on Pyroxina Major was always the same, always programmed cool, drizzly, and supposedly-temperate — and you had to wonder what sort of colonial hang-ups these people had, that after going halfway across the galaxy, these descendants of Indians decided oh, hey, let’s make sure our planet always feels just like jolly old England in the rainy damp springtime. Whose brilliant idea was that?
Everyone else seemed to like it fine, but Kimmie was always fucking freezing here, and sometimes — truth be told, every damn day — she wondered why she’d bothered to come here at all. This was why she hadn’t just opted out of the idiotic adulthood ritual, because only those who passed it (survived it) were deemed by the planetary higher-ups to be acceptable representatives of their species to the outside universe. So fine, she jumped through their hoops, because if there was one thing she had wanted, with the burning passion of a thousand white dwarf suns, it was to go to the University of All Worlds on Pyroxina Major. And here she was, for all the good it was doing her. So she was damn well going to wear her fur, and all the judgmental vegetarian locals could just go fuck themselves.
God, she hadn’t had a steak in almost ten years. It would be ten years after the semester and the subsequent monsoons ended. More fucking rain. Ten years of eating synthetic meat, and you could taste the difference with every bitter bite, no matter what they said. Her advisor had told her, sympathetically, that graduate school was an exercise in deprivation. And she has tried, goddess knows, but this place has climbed into her brain, colonized her inside and out — she doesn’t even think of herself by her real name anymore, Kimsriyalani, but instead as Kimmie, a name that got plastered to her by an idiot grad student who had touched her fur on the first day of orientation and said loudly, smiling, that the orange shade reminded him of his mother’s kim-chee, and that if she didn’t mind, he’d just call her Kimmie.
And the worst of it was that he had been drop-dead gorgeous, and Kimmie had been lonely, and she had said yes, Kimmie would be fine, and she smiled up at him. She did like a tall man. And that had cost her five years of work.
She’d dated the bastard, helped him with his pathetic research, and then he’d bolted, taking her best results with him and claiming them for his own. He was clever with faking computer data, she had to give him that. Clever at manipulating people. Clever at all sorts of things that didn’t involve actually working. And so, five years in, she’d started all over. New topic, new research, and a new resolve not to make the same mistake again. A vow of celibacy and a hell of a lot of time in the lab. She was almost there, too, almost ready to call it done, and now there was this stupid. fucking. war. It was going to ruin everything.
Kimmie stopped walking, wrapped her arms even more tightly around herself. She was on a path in some park she’d never seen before, surrounded by trees, the light of the moons barely making it through the dense leaves. Dark enough that a human would barely be able to see at all, though she had no such trouble. It would be a good place to cry, but she hadn’t cried in a long time. She’d held herself together by sheer force of will, but now — now Kimmie couldn’t take it anymore. She’d been running the same damn loop in her head for five years now, and what good had it done her? It had let her focus on her work, sure, wrapped up in bitterness and despair, and that might be good for science, but it kind of sucked for her. She walked up to a nearby tree and slowly, deliberately, started banging her forehead against it. Her fur cushioned the blows, but still, they hurt. Bang. Bang. Bang. It was a good pain, she tried to tell herself. It was better than feeling nothing at all. Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Hey — are you all right?”
He was tall; he was dark. He wasn’t exactly handsome, with ears that stuck out and oddly thick glasses in a world where almost everyone got that sort of thing surgically corrected. But he wasn’t bad either, and Kimmie had stopped trusting handsome a long time ago. This one looked — nice. He’d stopped a careful distance away, far enough not to be threatening, close enough not to have to shout. Perfect judgement, really. Maybe that was why she turned fully around, took five long strides up to within an inch of him, tilted her head up and said, “Fuck me, please.”
“Miss?” he asked, clearly totally bewildered, and that was charming too, the odd archaic term coming out of nowhere. And she knew she shouldn’t, but he could walk away if he wanted to — he was bigger than she was, maybe even stronger (although maybe not, you never knew with these humans, they could be surprisingly fragile) — and she just didn’t care. Kimmie was up on her toes and carefully, quickly, pressing her lips against his, mouth open, breathing her breath into his mouth. Thank goddess almost nothing crossed the species barrier — one less thing to worry about, and maybe there was at least one benefit to dating humans after all. He hesitated for one breath more and then oh, thank you thank you thank you, he was kissing her back, his arms coming around her, so that she felt free to do the same, the fur falling to the ground, and moments later, she was pulling him down onto it, and he came down with her, willingly.
She peeled out of her jumpsuit as fast as she could, trusting him to manage his own clothes — human clothes always had so many weird little buttons and laces and zippers and things. And then they were naked, wrapped around each other, rolling on the ground — and no, they didn’t stay on the fur, it wasn’t that big, but it didn’t matter, the grass was great too, soft and thankfully dry. When he pushed into her, he stopped, surprised, and started to ask, “You’re not — ” and she said “No, no, it’s just been a long time. A really long time.” That seemed to be enough explanation for him, so she didn’t have to go on to explain how Varisian females were built a little more compactly inside than human females — oh, the bastard had loved that — but she wasn’t going to think about him anymore, not with this man, this gentleman, because she didn’t know his name and she had to call him something inside her own head and if he could be archaic, so could she, not with him sliding all the way in, his mouth hot on hers, his hands digging into her furry ass.
This gentleman was not being so gentle anymore, now that he was buried in her to the hilt and oh, goddess. Oh, please. Why the fuck had she been so stupid for so long? It seemed as if he were somehow inside every inch of her, from head to fingers to toes, like stars exploding as he began to move, pulling out and slamming back in again. A blazing light streaked overhead, followed by a dull explosion that shook the ground. But she barely noticed either, lost to the motion of their bodies, locked together. She writhed beneath him, and had to fight once more — it had been so long — to remember not to let her claws dig into an unguarded human back. Retract, retract, that was the rule, and she could manage it, almost — oh, there was a small scrape, and on one level she was sorry, but on another level she was a nova, and the nova had a name, and it was Kimsriyalani! and she would never ever ever be fucking Kimmie again.
This story is the opening to my novella in linked stories, The Stars Change.