TEMPEST

Many revs in the future, on the planet Skea.

Amilaw made up her mind. No cold feet, no choking, no being a pussy, no going back, come hell or high water, today was the day she would try flirting.

On the sneak, of course.

The Sald didn't do flirtation, mainly because the Sald didn't do sex. Not on a regular basis, anyway. Not unless regular meant once in a friggin' lifetime. The Sald put abstinence aside one time only -- to fulfill their community obligation to perpetuate the species. Using every excuse under the four moons, Amilaw had managed to neglect her civic responsibility.

Yesterday, she’d run out of excuses. And moons.

Elder Surt had put her on notice: "Pick you a mate and participate, Sister Amilaw."

Okay. So maybe she'd participate with Sethne, the Brother planting gris seedlings in his neat-as-a-pin row next to her messy as-all-hell row. Naturally, he'd first have to agree to mate with a freakazoid like her. An iffy proposition at best, as the notion of multiculturalism hadn't exactly made it to this galaxy yet, especially not regarding aliens.

No standard deviation existed amongst the Sald. To a one, the populace consisted of tall, slender, blue-eyed blonds. All dressed in gender-neutral style -- woven beige tunics and leggings, over which they draped a one-size-fits-all beige cloak. Tight-fitting beige skull hoods covered their unisex, bowl-cut hairstyle. Only small and insignificant variables differentiated the sexes.

Under the guise of planting a seedling, Amilaw lowered her gaze to Sethne's crotch.

And grinned a dirty grin.

Hmm. It would appear the studly Brother Sethne possessed a large and uber-significant variable. That was some major heat he was packing under his ballerina tights.

Experimentally, Amilaw dropped a seedling on the ground. Accidentally on purpose, she brushed her fingers against Brother Sethne's knuckles as she retrieved it. At the skin-on-skin sensation, her insides quivered. Her tummy flip-flopped. Nausea threatened. Was this queasiness love? Or payback for swiping a second bowl of gris mush at breakfast?

A scarcity of habitable land along the coast placed privacy at a premium. To counteract the enforced proximity, the Sald immediately apologized after inadvertently intruding upon someone else’s personal space. Her personal space intrusion upon Sethne had been completely advertent, but, what the heck, she'd apologize anyway. Divvying-up a phony mea culpa would give her the opportunity to take her never-before used feminine wiles out for a test drive. The yummy Sethne wouldn't know what hit him when she got through batting her lashes.

"Pardon me," she offered, batting away.

A completely wondrous and unexpected event occurred then. Breaking all manner of unspoken Sald etiquette rules, Brother Sethne locked looks with her. Yeppers! Face-time.

Well, almost. Feeling guilty for leading the good Bro astray, she lowered her gaze and muffed the eye contact at the last instant. The connection ended up being tangential, hers only skimming his before colliding with his mouth. Not a bad place to sideswipe, all and all. As she stared at his firm male lips, the corners lifted. Dare she believe that was an actual smile?

She zoomed in closer.

It was an actual smile! Going to prove not all bad deeds go unrewarded. Or, was that, no good deed goes unpunished?

Whatevah. Amilaw’s heart slammed against her ribs. A kindred spirit knelt beside her in the muck. A fellow rebel. Definitely another subversive. Could be, she’d found her soul mate.

Or, at least someone to swap DNA with at the annual gene transference.

She’d made her selection, and it was Sethne. Was the studly Bro up for the challenge?

Damn. He looked up for it. Way up for it. As she’d already observed, that was some fine-looking equipment he had there.

Then again, maybe that bulge was all for show. False advertising, as it were. She needed more than aesthetically pleasing. Hard content was what she was after. Was that bulge in his leggings functional? Would it properly inflate? Reach her where she needed to be reached? What about staying power?

Basically, all her questions boiled down to one simple concern. Was the well-endowed Sethne good in bed?

Having stowed away to watch a Sald communal mating ceremony -- done strictly to acquaint herself with cultural differences, not out of any prurient interest on her part -- she'd seen for herself that the transference of genetic material took very little time. One thrust, the curtain came down, and both parties went on about business as usual, as though nothing had happened.

Because nothing much had happened.

Amilaw didn’t pretend to be an authority on sex, but even she knew it took more than once with someone to get it right. Ironing out the yins and yangs took repeat pairings.

Then there was the question of progeny. Conception rarely resulted from these once-in-a-life-time genetic-swap meets. A good thing, too, it didn't vis-à-vis the limited resources on Skea and the landmass per square-capita population ratio. Still, since the Sald were nothing if not egalitarian, everyone got one fair shot at growing the gene pool.

Her circumstance was different. She was different. In attitude. In appearance. In basic physiology. Because of their cultural conditioning, the Sald could do the deed and feel nothing. Also, the concept of nuclear family didn't exist here. The Sald considered childcare a communal responsibility, with nurturing done in rotational shifts in the nursery tower. Thus, every child looked upon every adult as a parental unit. Conversely, every adult assumed the role of parent to every child. Possessiveness, the concept of individual ownership...jealousy...had been weaned out of the Sald long ago.

Call her petty, but upon occasion -- like when her weaving sucked and the Sister or Brother at the next loom over had created a stellar work of art -- jealousy reared its green head and consumed her. She'd been known to get possessive, too, especially of loved ones. Raised in a close-knit family, with one mother and one father, she didn't take the swapping of body fluids lightly. Making whoopee was a monumental step for her. If she conceived, Amilaw intended to raise her child in a family setting, even if that family setting consisted only of her and the kid.

Her anachronistic attitude explained why thus far she'd resisted her one chance to go forth and multiply. Knowing how she felt, would Sethne agree to mate with her?

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