On diversely populated space station Brahmadanda, Wallach sets out to confirm an erotic rumour without causing a diplomatic incident.
Garnett smiled. "I can see you've not been on this side of Alliance space before."
It was true. Wallach had spent his short career as an A.I. technician in the Beta quadrant of the Terrance Alliance where most of the planets were colonized by the Alliance or by populations from the nation states that still existed on Earth (Italy and China). Some remote Omrite worlds lodged there, and the Renant and Geren had scattered colonies in the area, but he had never worked in the Gamma Quadrant, which swarmed with a menagerie of beings: Barzalians, Omrites, Geren, Saulli, Housali, Golorians, Glinn - and Mervogians.
"No, I haven't," Wallach said, "but I've heard enough tall tales there and found out it's the same in all races of beings."
"Mervogian women are different. And they do -"
"Purr." He laughed. "Oh, sure. Do they also have fur and tails?"
"They have both - though not the kind you mean."
"I'm sure you'd love it if I got cozy with one of them and asked her to purr for me. She'd either kick my ass out of bed or laugh at me."
"You won't have to ask them to do it. Just get one a little excited and you'll hear it. Believe me. You know, there are other differences."
"I know that, yes. I've seen pictures."
Mervogian women's breasts did not have nipples. They had an aureole, but in the center of it was a sunken opening that filled with milk when they nursed. Mervogian babies slurped rather than sucked when they fed. You could find this physical feature in Geren woman too. And he knew from experience Geren women did not purr.
"That's one difference," Garnett said. "Why don't you think there couldn't be others?"
In his training for this assignment, Wallach had taken a mandatory class on the races he would encounter in this particularly diverse corner of the Alliance. He remembered the instructor saying that except for the physiological features of their breasts, females of the Mervogian race were exactly like human women in appearance and everything else. Some chemical quirk made it impossible for a human male to impregnate a Mervogian female, which made things easier. Everything else was the same. None of his classes, none of the literature he had read, had said Mervogian women purred when they made love.
"It still sounds like a set-up to me," Wallach said. He took a sip of ale and then added, "Besides, there aren't any Mervogian women on the station, are there?"
"There's one," Garnett replied.
He saw her the next day.
"I'm Eanna," she said, shaking his hand. Mervogians had surnames but did not reveal them. To reveal one's family name was considered a blasphemy in their culture. Eanna had dark hair and a round face with big eyes, a small nose, and a pleasantly wide mouth. She was short - probably only 5'4' or so, trim and slender. Her frame looked athletic and she moved with energy and grace. As they chatted, the thing Garnett had put into Wallach's mind rose up. He tried to suppress it, but it surfaced like wood in water. Would this small, beautiful woman purr when she warmed up to him? Would she purr when she made love? He felt frustration and embarrassment and hoped she did not detect it.
"You speak English very well," he said, to get his mind off the purring thing.
"My father was a diplomat. I grew up on Barzalia Prime and went to the public schools there. I spoke mostly English for the first eighteen years of my life."
She charmed him. He reminded himself she was a part of the Mervogian delegation here to negotiate terms for joint colonization of Planet Phyda, the world Space Station Brahmadanda orbited above. "No social fraternization," he had been warned at a briefing conducted by the stern-faced Alliance Security Force officer on the station. "There will be no drinking or socializing with the men; and if there are women in the group, no entertaining them - and especially no fooling around. The situation is too sensitive for a fist-fight with one of the men over politics or for a Mervogian woman getting pregnant by one of the staff here."
Apparently, he had not done his research on Mervogian women. Wallace chaffed at the restriction. Eanna wore the dress uniform of her Defense Group: a light blue blouse, short black skirt, and boots. She looked very good.
"So you're in Artificial Intelligence?" she asked. Wallach was the only civilian in the gathering of military personnel.
"I'm here to coordinate our information systems. We've never tried to merge our technology codes with yours. It should be an interesting project."
The strategy session began. That night Wallach saw Eanna in the dining hall. She sat alone. He wanted to join her but remembered the instructions he had been given. A few minutes later, three of the Mervogian men in her unit joined her.
Wallach despaired of ever spending time alone with her but then saw her the next morning the gym.
He always got up early to work out. He liked to start work before most of the employees arrived on site so their presence did not distract him. As he waited by the door, Eanna walked up.
"Hello," he said. She wore athletic shorts and a white tank top over a sports bra.
"Good morning, Wallach. I see you're an early riser, like me."
"I've always been. You?"
"I grew up on a farm. We got up at 4:30 every morning to milk our stripebacks."
He knew from reading it somewhere that stripebacks were domestic animals the Mervogians milked and harvested for meat. They were identical to mesohippus, an extinct ancestor of the horse.
"I thought your father was a diplomat," he said.
"He was, but we lived on a farm. We milked ten stripers twice a day, just like he had done growing up. He pitched in every morning before he left for work at the embassy. He didn't want us to be corrupted by Barzalian culture."
The door opened and the light came on in the gym. The two of them walked inside.
"Did it work?" he quipped.
"I guess it did. The Barzalian kids were always trying to convert me to their religion but I never paid attention to them. I learned to work hard. Farm work helps you stay in shape."
He had noticed how trim she was when they met. Now that he saw her in shorts and a tank top, he could see how strong and muscular she was. She had powerful legs and arms, wide shoulders powerful abs.
"You look in very good shape."
"You too," she returned. "Did you grow up on a farm?"
"I didn't. I -" he felt a little self-conscious but decided to go on - "I'm a dancer."
She seemed surprisingly impressed by this.
"You're really a dancer?"
He did not know how to interpret her reaction.
"I am. I don't get a lot of opportunity to dance, but I grab anything that comes along. I'll be performing here on the station in about a month."
"You'll have to tell me about how you started in dance. On Mervogia, being a dancer is the pinnacle of athletic achievement. I'd love to see you dance, though I don't know if our team will be here in a month. Maybe we can have dinner or a drink and you can tell me about it."
He was too surprised to answer at first. "Sure," he murmured. He paused and then said, "Well, I mean -"
"You were probably told what I was told - no fraternization of any kind; and, they told me, especially no fraternization with men. I'm sure they told you not to associate with the only woman on the diplomatic team."
She gave him an appraising look.
"Well, I need to work out. I like breaking rules, Wallach. Maybe we can find a way around the ones we've been given." She shot him a smile and headed to the work-out machines on the other side of the room.
Wallace began doing yoga. He stole glances at Eanna as she did a series of exercises that somewhat resembled dance and then went through a three circuits of the weight machines. Assuming she would also be stealing glimpses of him, Wallach did the more difficult and acrobatic asanas - tree pose, Shiva's pose, and, as the culmination of his work, scorpion. By this time, several other people had come to train. Three of them stopped to watch him when he did scorpion, balancing on his forearms, bending his upper torso, and resting his feet on the top of his head. They applauded when he was finished. After he had done savasana and got up, he saw Eanna standing beside him. She smiled. He stood up and decided it was time to disregard rules.
"Breakfast?" he asked.
Her face brightened. "That would be nice."
"I'm afraid there isn't a Mervogian café on the station."
"Remember where I grew up. There is a Barzalian place."
They went to their quarters to clean up and then rendezvoused at Saint Anne's Grill, a popular Barzalian restaurant on the station. It was crowded but they found a table.
"What's good?" he asked. He noticed she had changed into khakis, the uniform Mervogians wore that was between a dress uniform and fatigues.
"Duck eggs and rolls are good. And Dorac bacon is good."
"What's a Dorac?"
"Like a pig - is that the right word? It's cured meat."
"I'll try it."
They ordered and talked. He found out she came from a large family connected to an even larger farming clan on Atossia, a Mervogian colony planet.
"Mervogian 'virtues' rule the day there," she said. "It can get pretty stifling. I thought the society on Barzalia was the most repressive in the galaxy. Then we returned to Daddy's home planet. Suddenly Barzalia Prime seemed like a pleasure park. I joined the army to get away from there."
As he listened to her, the thing Garnett had told him came to mind. What would it be like to take her in his arms and hear her purr? What if it were really true?
They ate and talked without stop, leaning closer as the hour sailed by. Her communicator gave off a signal. She took it out of her pocket and switched it off.
"Time to report for duty," she said. "Damn it."
"I need to get to work too. This was nice, Eanna. We must do it again. Come on. I'll walk you to the promenade."
They walked to the promenade in the center of the station, where you could pick up a tram that would take you to any location on board. Deciding it was too early to attempt a kiss, he touched her affectionately as they said good-bye, laying his hand on the top of her shoulder.
He felt it.
She smiled, put her hand on top of his, giving it a tiny squeeze, and walked to one of the tram platforms.
He had felt her purr. There was no mistaking it. Wallach had to be at work in five minutes, but he got out his phone and called Garnett.
"Can you meet me at Hop Cat for lunch?" he asked when Garnett picked up. "My treat. I need to talk to you."
Garnett said that he could.
Wallach headed for work. He had a key to admit him, came into the empty terminal and began his task.
Creating communications between Terran and alien technologies was tricky, though he found it hard to apply the word "alien" to Mervogians, since they looked exactly like Terrans. Absorbed in his work, he was not aware of the hour passing or of the room filling with personnel. At 2:00 he took a restroom break. When he emerged from the men's room, Major Gutknecht, the Chief of Operations Security, intercepted him.
"Mr. Wallach, I need to have a word with you."
They went to his office. He closed the door. They sat, he behind his desk, Wallach in a chair across from him. As usual, Gutknecht got right to the point.
"You've been fraternizing with Captain Eanna."
"We talked when she came into the gym this morning and had breakfast together, if that constitutes fraternization. I didn't know she was a Captain."
"It does and she is. The two of you walked together to the promenade and looked rather dreamy when you said good-bye."
"You're keeping tabs on me, I see."
"We have to, Wallach. Look, let's not waste time. None of us want to stand in the way of you getting cozy with a young lady - especially one as pretty as Captain Eanna. But this is an extremely sensitive diplomatic situation."
"I'm not in the military, Captain."
"True, but we did hire you and so you need to play by our rules."
"Isn't Captain Eanna an adult and capable of making her own decisions? And, I might add, I'm an adult as well."
"General Alt, her unit commander, came to me this morning. He isn't after you or her, but, like us, he knows we can't risk anything going on that might endanger this project. You and she are adults, yes, I know that. But there are Mervogians who don't want their government to make an agreement with us. One of the arguments they raise is that we are an immoral, decadent race of beings and they should not be sharing a planet with us."
"So - if you screw her - hell, even if they see you kissing her or holding her hand - they'll play it up. They have a lot of clout politically and they represent a big contingent of the Mervogian colonists we'll be sharing Planet Phyda with. They also control several planets in the Garrova system."
The Garrova system, made up of six Mervogian colony planets, shared a border with Terran space and lay proximate to Space Station Brahmadanda. The Alliance wanted good relations with the settlers there.
"So Eanna and I can't smooch or snuggle because that will get the religious fanatics in Garrova riled up?"
"I'm afraid so. Look, Wallach, I don't like this any more than you do. Don't style me the bad guy. I'm as much in favor of making whoopee as anyone else - and if I were quite a bit younger, I'd be going after Miss Eanna myself. But you need to drop it. I'll just leave it at that. Captain Eanna is in the military. She'll be getting an order to desist from fraternizing with you. Alt told me that this morning. Play by the rules - for us, for her. And let me buy you a drink tonight."
Wallach sighed and held up his hands in a gesture of frustration. Gutknecht was okay. No reason to blame him.
"I'm busy tonight. Let's make it tomorrow."
He went back to work.
When the day ended, he returned to his apartment exhausted and frustrated. So the Mervogians had ordered Eanna to stay away from him. That would end things for certain. After supper, he headed for Hop Cat, a popular tavern on the station. When he got there the bartender told him Garnett, who worked for maintenance, had been called out for an emergency. "I guess they had a leak in one of the reactors. He and his crew are taking care of it. He said he's sorry and will take a rain check on the drink."
It didn't matter anyway, Wallach thought. Maybe Mervogian women did purr, but the restrictions both sides had placed on him and on Eanna made that an irrelevant piece of knowledge. As he headed for his apartment, he heard a sharp but soft whistle. He turned and saw Eanna standing in the shadow of an advertising kiosk. She gestured for him to come over to where she saw.
"I can't -" she held up her hand to quiet him.
"Come along with me," she said quietly.
They slipped away from the kiosk and into a tram corridor. It was closed. Wallach wondered how she had found a way through the door. Security was especially tight now that the Mervogians were here; the trams were monitored constantly and secured with particular vigilance, since they often were targeted by terrorists and infiltrators. They hurried through the silent, vacant tube until they came to a door. Eanna reached in her pocket, took out a black, square device and held it to the door. It opened. They went through the door, which closed behind him.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"My place," she answered, not slowing down. He kept up with her. They came to what looked like a service door. She opened it with the same device. After a few more twists and turns, she opened an entrance that led into living quarters. Its bright lights and the colors contrasted with the institutional drab of the tram corridors and maintenance passages they had been through. She turned to him. He noticed now she did not have on her uniform but wore a red minidress and black boots.
"Wow," he said. She smiled.
"I thought I would put on civvies to be less conspicuous."
"You look very nice."
"I wanted to look nice for you. When we were finished with breakfast this morning I wanted to give you a kiss, but I knew Alt and the others were monitoring me."
He bent down and kissed her. He started to draw away but she reached up and pulled him forward so their lips touched again. After a few minutes, he heard it - a low, soft noise coming from her throat; then it seemed to radiate from her shoulders and out of her breasts.
As he kissed her, the purring came more loudly and rhythmically. He not only heard it, he felt it vibrating her body. He grew bold enough to squeeze her breasts and run his hands down her back to her bottom and squeeze there as well. The purring continued. He unzipped her dress. She let it fall off and kicked it away. He undid her bra. Going on his knowledge from nights spent with Geren women, he worked the tip of his little finger into the inversion on her left breast (other fingers were too big and would hurt her). She gasped and told him he had delighted her. He could smell her getting wet. The purring pulsed, loud, deep, melodic. She stepped back and tugged at his arm, pulling him into her bedroom. She fell back into the bed and peeled off her underwear. He took her in his arms, noting how strong she was, and gently thrust into her. She was sopping wet. They adjusted until they were both comfortable and then began to move.
She purred, resonating in long, deep waves of sound. Her body shook with the undulations of the noise. He adjusted his rhythm to sync with the noise of her purring and the rise and fall of the vibration it sent through her body. He rode the wave of the sound she made - it surged through him in almost unendurable delight. She shook. He supposed she had got her joy, but her orgasm did not interrupt the sound coming from her; in fact, her purring seemed to carry and prolong it so she flopped and thrashed in her delight for maybe an entire minute. He felt himself go in a violence of passion, emptying load and load of hot fluid into her. When he stopped, the noise of her purring quieted, though it did not completely go away.
Eanna lay in his arms, eyes closed. A quiet, sweet vibration softly rumbled in her body - like music, like a song of ecstasy, a noise that seemed to hold all pleasure in its sound. She opened her eyes. She looked drugged and then a tiny smile played on her lips. She still could not speak but pulled her body against his, putting her head on his shoulder.
Hugging her, he felt the hypnotic vibration pass into his body. It soothed him like a narcotic so that he slowly dropped off to sleep.
He woke up just before she did. After marveling at her beauty he dozed off and woke again when she stirred. They smiled, kissed and snuggled.
"I'd love some morning delight," she whispered, "but if I disrupt my routine and don't work out and show up to breakfast on time, they'll get suspicious."
He nodded. She seemed to wait. They got up, showered, and dressed.
"How do I get out of here without being seen?" he asked.
"I'll take you back through the emergency doors." She paused a long moment, looking at him questioningly and finally asked, "Aren't you going to say anything about it?"
"Well, you know. Purring."
"It was beautiful."
She gave him a probing look, maybe wondering if he were mocking her. Then she smiled, though the smile did not completely cover up her surprise.
"Well, most Terran guys go on and on about it. Maybe you've been with a few Mervogian women?"
"You're the first."
"That's pretty remarkable. Anyway, I'd better get you back."
She opened doors and led him to an exit via an access tunnel for the wiring that ran the lights on third floor. He kissed her and hurried back to his room.
He had wanted to go into rhapsodies about her purring. It was amazing, sexy, erotic, and beautiful, but he wanted her to know he valued her and so made the decision, as he had lain beside her this morning, to say nothing about it unless she brought the subject up. She had been surprised and pleased.
Wallach worked through the morning and the afternoon and established compatibility with the language and protocols of the two systems. At four in the afternoon he arranged a demonstration. Both the Terrans and Mervogians were pleased (Eanna did not come to the demo - Wallach hoped she was not in trouble for sleeping with him last night). Smiles and nods of approval went around, but as they were going through the different access pages, the smiles of the Mervogians faded when a picture of Eanna popped up on the viewing screen. Script below the picture gave information on her. Beside the picture stood a design of large black diamond
"Take that screen down," Alt said. Wallach switched it off. "How did that happen?"
"I don't know. We secured all the profile pages -"
Just then Eanna came into the room. The Mervogians all looked at her, eyes full of fear.
"Gentlemen," she said briskly. She looked marvelous in the short khaki skirt, flat brown shoes, and beige blouse. He remembered feeling her purr. "We need to discuss this incident. I received a transmission from HQ just now. Apparently they did not adjust their override as I instructed them to do - not my error, nor the error of the Terran military or of Mr. Wallach." She looked at the other members of her military detachment. Five of them outranked her, but they were all staring back at her as if she were their supreme commander. She looked at Wallach.
"Mr. Wallach, can you shut the system down until you receive notification to activate it once more? It won't be off for very long."
He nodded. Eanna gestured to the door. The Mervogian officers walked out as if they were being led away to execution. After they left, the room fell silent. Wallach turned to Gutknecht.
"What the hell was that all about?"
Gutknecht gestured to his office door.
"She's a Black Diamond operative," he said once they were inside and behind a closed door.
"It's their super-secret spy agency. Roll together the NSA, the CIA, Space Intelligence, and the Terran Special Forces, and you've got a profile of their organization. They are super-secret and their operatives are some of the deadliest killers in the galaxy. They're the best. We depend on them for information, and, thank God, they cooperate with us. When the identity of a Black Diamond operative is compromised, standard procedure is to kill anyone who discovers their identity. That's why the Mervogian officers are so scared."
Wallach licked his lips. "What about us?"
"We're safe - I think. It would create an incident if they took us out. I've told the NSA office on Phyda and a few other people just to be on the safe side. I think we're okay."
"Well - let's just say we can hope Captain Eanna does feel something for you, Wallach. It will sure as hell make life easier - not to say, more certain."
An hour later, Alt called and told Wallach to put the system back on line. The Mervogians returned (minus Eanna), inspected, and said they were satisfied. They all acted spooked, though, and kept throwing nervous glances at Wallach.
He went back to his quarters afraid. What if they decided to take him out? What if NSA decided his death would be the price they would pay to seal the deal with Mervogians and to stay on the good side of Black Diamond? He walked into the lounge part of his quarters, threw his jacket on the sofa, and walked into the bedroom. His heart all but stopped when he saw Eanna there.
She had come to kill him. Wallach stared. She wore a black dress. He did not see a weapon but thought she could probably take him out with her bare hands. Then she smiled.
"Don't worry," she said.
"How could I not?"
"I'm not going to kill you or anyone else - though there are a couple of guys in our delegation who deserve to be bumped. I orchestrated the glitch myself."
"You revealed your own identity?"
"Yes - so those shits would leave us alone. I have them in my power now. In my organization we have something called Protocol H, which authorizes us to kill with impunity. It's standard procedure to use it when your identity is uncovered. I could do all my colleagues in, wouldn't be blamed for it, and they know that. I've told them I have no intention of doing so, but also that I am very interested in you and, for the rest of the time we're on this station, I don't want to be hindered from seeing you. We'll be discrete, of course. There are some political circumstances we have to walk around. But nothing will stop us from being together now. In fact -" Eanna looked over at the bed.
Wallach heard her faintly purr.