copyright 1997 by Pat Powers
"Yeah, well, the Voerhaven installation was transmitting for SOMEBODY just 600,000 years ago," Tully was saying. Through the viewport we could see a Portis starliner heading for the Pelman jump point, surrounded by a swarm of smaller craft making last-minute checks and changes. Smaller craft hung in space everywhere, part of the enormous hustle and bustle that befitted the central hub of Earth's rapidly expanding interstellar trade empire.
"Just because the Voerhaven installation was transmitting, it doesn't mean any living thing was transmitting, or receiving those transmissions," Anna replied calmly. "Some installations we have found show evidence of having functioned on a purely automatic basis for over a million years. Certainly, the lack of any recoverable AI at the Sumiyatsu Voerhaven site indicates that the place fossilized long before the radio died. I'll stick with the Caslons at the most recent -- there's evidence of biological activity at the Minamaru 7 installation within the last five thousand years."
Tully, Anna, Sammy and I (Susan Holmes-Yearby) were part of the hustle and bustle of Earth's empire -- in fact, we were at its cutting edge. We were members of the elite Exploration and Contact Corps, charged with seeking out the lost colonies that had vanished to the far corners of the galaxy when the Voerhaven Pelham Point jump station was discovered between Jupiter and Saturn, and found to be operational. The problem was, there was no known way of directing the jumps at the time, so that if you made a Pelham jump, you vanished from human ken forever, as far as your individual life went. Most normal people didn't care for that prospect, but as always there were a number of discontented religious/political/what-have-you types on Earth who found the prospect of escaping the bounds of Earthly authority very appealing.
Earthly authorities were at first reluctant to grant access to the Voerhaven Pelham Point station to such groups, but after a few waves of terrorism and political unrest, their scruples relaxed somewhat, and wave after wave of malcontents boarded whatever rustbuckets they could afford and headed into space for a rendezvous with whatever they thought lay in the stars for them.
For many, it was death. The Voerhavens were not attracted to Earth-type planets. They preferred the moons of gas giants. If they'd been attracted to Earth-type planets, they would have colonized Earth, since it must have looked idyllic to most sentients who did find Earth conditons attractive, prior to the evolution of humans. The evidence was that the Voerhaven jump point in the Earth system was just a transfer point with some repair facilities.
When the first signals came back from an Earth authority drone vessel, interest in the Voerhaven facility jumped by orders of magnitude -- until then, there had been some question of whether or not it was functional. Money was poured into the study of the facility, but since whole new sciences had to be invented in order to understand it, it was still over 50 years before the Voerhaven facility began to yeild up significant secrets, and another ten beyond that before the Pelman jumps were understood.
Unfortunately, no one knew exactly where the lost Earth colonies had been sent by the Voerhaven facility. Once the Earth system had the ability to direct Voerhaven jumps, it began expanding rapidly in a spherical sort of way. As the sphere expanded new colonies were found. And new dangers.
That's why the Exploration and Contact Corps existed. We were the ones who moved on the edge of the sphere, moving into a system after a flythrough by an AI showed it to be promising, and not presenting any immediate threat to human life.
It had been 200 years since the initial exodus via the Voerhaven jump point had begun, and though many colonies had been found, many more remained to be found.
Adding to the danger were the numerous forerunner sites found. Almost every system in the Arm had a spaceborne forerunner site from SOME kind of sentient spacegoing race. Evidence was overwhelming that intelligent civilizations of some kind or another had traversed space for billions of years.
Almost all such sites were inactive, the fine bits of metal and silicon that made them work gone to dust with their creators. Still, of the 47 ECC teams that had been lost over the last 125 years, 39 had been lost to either known or suspected forerunner installations that had their defenses still active. Twelve of the system explored by these lost ECC teams were still unknown, despite the fact that they had been probed constantly by the best known AI systems since the teams were lost.
"I can't believe we're shipping out tomorrow," said Sammy, changing the subject to the one that was on everyone's minds. The relative dates of forerunner sites was one of those subjects you could argue about forever. Talking about them was a way of not talking about the impending launch.
"Something tells me it's going to be a cultural artifacts only kind of place," said Tully. He and Anna were the experienced members of our group, having been on half a dozen missions already. Sammy and I were cherries -- this was our first mission. We were too excited just by the thought of finally doing what we had been trained to do for so many years to have any really objective thoughts about the mission. Tully, on the other hand, was thinking about the level of culture we'd find.
"There might be some nifty low-tech innovations," I said. "Remember the sling-wing design they found on Argus IV, in a culture that had gone all the way back to hunter-gatherer? And this place has roads and cities."
"Exception that proves the rule," said Tully. "The reason you don't find much innovation in low-tech is that the human race spent an awful lot of time exploring the possibilities of low-tech while it was evolving on Earth. I'm betting the only thing we'll find worth exporting out of this bunch is their artwork and pottery. And there's been so many places opened up in the last few years that regressed primitive artwork is becoming a drug on the market."
"Speaking of drugs, you're overlooking the pharmaceuticals," said Sammy. "Lots of plant and animal life on that planet, it would be a real surprise if they haven't come up with a few new plant and animal compounds that'll have the big drug combines slavering."
"Real possibilities there," Tully admitted. "We'll go over this ground while we're linked and have access to the Earthside datanets."
We all nodded. This sitting around bullshitting was OK, but if there was some real thinking to do, best to do it while we were all hooked into our cybernet via DNI.
"So, who's for the pleasure dome?" Sammy asked. "Last chance for who knows how long?"
And maybe last chance ever, I thought, but did not say. The teams that had gone out but never come back -- or come back in pieces -- were in all of our minds, as well. It was not that great a risk -- most teams lived out their 20 years of service quite handily, thank you -- but still, there it was. You could die out there, all alone in the universe.
"Sounds good to me," said Anna.
"The pleasure dome ALWAYS sounds good to you," Tully said, grinning.
"It's just my sanity talking," said Anna. "I like pleasure. Imagine that."
"Imagine that, indeed," said Tully.
Being sane, we left the lounge and took a null-g tube to the Pleasure Dome bubble moored to the central axis of the station. There was a clump of empty couches not too far from the entrance -- it was a lull between shifts, which is one reason we'd agreed to readily to go. Good time.
Sammy and Anna slid onto a cot together and Tully and I slid onto another. That's the way we generally paired off, mostly because Tully and I had more similar backgrounds to each other than either of us did to Sammy and Anna, and vice versa. I'd paired off with Sammy a few times, and with Anna once, and Tully had paired off with Anna a few times, but it had been more for the sake of change than anything else.
Tully and I stripped. We embraced, kissed in a casual way, then got down to business: I slipped a DNI jack into the socket concealed at the base of Tully's neck, and he did the same for me. It was always so intimate when you let someone else do it.
We laid down on the couch together, lying on our sides facing each other, casually caressing the skin on each others' arms and chests. I especially liked to run my hands over his shoulders, biceps and lats -- all were nicely developed and good to touch. Tully especially liked to run his hands over my tits, which were unusually large for someone who wasn't pregnant, or in the entertainment or sex industries.
I'd naturally developed large tits as a kid, no adjustments needed, thank you, so I kept them as they were, as a way of flaunting their naturalness. Large tits were mine, fair and square, original DNA thank you, and though I'd made adjustments to my face and hips, I'd not made any big adjustments.
I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the smooth, sliding sensation of my hand gliding over his skin. I lost the sense of scale and place, my whole being was running through many layers of firm, smooth, rippling stuff, gliding through it towards goodness. Things opened up, I was gliding through space, skin glowing and melting all around.
I felt Tully's hand on my nipple, brushing it, making it swell and bloom. I was a pool of warm seawater, my nipple a giant anemone pulsing in my very center, sending waves of heat and desire pulsing through my entire being.
The anemone at my center began to stiffen and swell, sending out a raw current of red-hot need that made water around it curdle and ooze in a slippery, sliding, roil of desire.
I ran my hands up and down Tully's body, feeling the swell of his muscles and the bony indentations of his ribs, the smoothness of his flesh, and he did the same to me. I could feel the way his skin felt under my fingers, and thanks to the DNI link, I could feel the way my skin felt under his fingers.
In the pool of feeling that we both shared, ripples of good feeling spread from each of our roving hands, sending out waves of pleasure across our minds. Tully's hands came down to my crotch and ever so delicately caressed my pubic hair. I shifted my body slightly, opening my pussy for his probing fingers while my own fingers sought and found his stiffened cock.
The waves of pleasure now became something more powerful -- pulses that surged through my mind, as Tully's fingers first gently caressed my vagina, then slowly and carefully worked their way inside me, moving with a sureness and ease that could only exist because Tully knew exactly what his probing fingers felt like from my side, just as my fingers played his cock like a violin, because I knew what they felt like from his side.
After a time, Tully withdrew his fingers and brought them to his nose, inhaling deeply while looking directly into my eyes and smiling.
This was a joke that Tully and I shared. Once, early on in our lovemaking, we'd talked about how DNI sex had affected us.
"As a girl, I thought boys were kind of weird, bestial animals," I said. "And when you smelled your fingers after putting them inside me, it reminded me of that, because that's exactly the sort of thing that made me think men were weird and bestial. It seemed so indelicate, so gross, something a man would do as an affront to the beauty of sex. But then, the first time a man ever did that while I was hooked into a DNI circuit with him, it all changed for me. I'd never understood that my pussy could be the source of such a warm, wonderful, rich, pleasant smell. And when I felt the spangs of pleasure as the smell hit his olfactory centers and went straight to his brain's sexual center, I understood it, really understood it. From then on, I was disappointed in a man who DIDN'T smell his fingers. What sane person would pass something that good up, just for propriety's sake?"
"I'll always smell my fingers, just for you," Tully promised.
"Can't kid me," I said. "I was hooked into you when you did it. You smell your fingers for your own sake, and that's OK with me."
Still, every time we made love thereafter, Tully would smell his fingers and smile at me, and I would smile back at him.
I held out my arms to Tully and he slid over and climbed on top of me. I closed my eyes, the better to feel the sensations as he slid his cock inside me. I reached down and pulled my vaginal lips apart, and felt his shaft go in -- both with the nerves on my pussy lips, and the nerves on his cock. He felt the same, so his entry was smooth and sure and painless. If he hurt me, he would feel it, long before I could tell him about it.
As he entered me, Tully and I kissed, and for a time we were just an orgy of sensation, touching and being touched, penetrating and being penetrated, so much in contact with each other that the entire rest of the world diminished to a pinpoint.
Tully began plunging in and out of me, sensing the exact rhythyms that most affected me through the DNI link. Since he felt my excitement as well as his own, he had every incentive to bring me pleasure -- and vice versa for me.
As we moved, our nanomed systems worked in synch with the DNI link, regulating our muscular and hormonal systems so that the state of our bodies mirrored the state of our minds.
As we progressed toward climax, we became a sexual dynamo, with my excitement increased by Tully's excitement, which increased Tully's excitement, which increased mine ... I was aware, in a distant way, that I was moaning and crying out and clutching spasmodically at Tully's back, that my feet were raised high in the air and my hips reciprocated the thrusting of Tully's groin, urgency for urgency. But in my head we were two interlocked sets of needs and desires, and our physical coupling was no more than an echo of the coupling that our minds were engaging in.
When we came, it was a series of mutual explosions of feeling that flowed and ebbed, each mind and body interlaced and responding to the other. My orgasms precipitated Tully's climax, which blended so smoothly with what I felt that when I experienced Tully's orgasm with him, it was as a final, powerful, climax of my own, a climax that snuffed out my consciousness like a candle flame -- and Tully's, as well.
We came to a few moments later, both experiencing the luxurious, total langor that came with DNI-linked sex. Words would have been an imposition at such a time, an interruption of the pure pleasure we felt.
But after a time the langor wore off, and Tully looked at me and said, "Tomorrow," and I knew exactly what he meant.