The throbbing bass of the brothel’s sound show roared through Rulagh’s bones along with the pulsing lights above the mating rooms. Acrid stim-smoke saturated the air and made his eyes water. A holographic display of a high caste whore filled the ceiling. The crest on her scalp had darkened to a shade of red-black that matched the distended nipples of her scaled breasts. Rulagh flicked his tongue out. The display’s pheromonal musk tasted stale.
Most of the rooms at the first level had discreet ‘In Use’ signs flickering over their entrances. A selection of whores, male and female, strutted on the ramps wearing glitter-crusted sensilk slit open, front and back, to display their aroused crests and the spunk-drenched scales of their pubic wedges. Rulagh’s ipex hardened in anticipation of mating and three-inch long claws slid out from the slots under his nail pads. He chose the tall female with small breasts whose iced melon scent promised passion. She pulled him after her into the nearest unoccupied room.
Her name was Shrusia. Her drugged pupils were dilated so wide, her eyes looked black instead of red. He ran his claws cross the tips of her crest, down the iridescent scales of her belly and sliced her sensilk robe apart. She stretched her body out upon the mattress that took up most of the space in the room and opened her legs. He unfastened his pants, slipped them off his hips, then knelt between her legs and bent his head. Her cool taste exploded into flames against his tongue.
Shrusia laughed and pumped her hips while he savored the sweet taste of her sex. Finally, he could wait no longer. He plunged his engorged ipex into her wet slit. She twisted under his eager thrusts, raking her claws across his back when he spurted his first load of spunk into her slit and upon her scaled belly.
He lowered his head to her breasts and licked the white trails of spunk from her soft, scaled skin and engorged nipples. His ipex hardened again.
This time he turned her around, pushed her to her knees, gripped her tight muscled hips and slammed his erection into her ass and slit like a Shrennan in full mating fury. Shrusia dug her claws into the padded floor, ripped more holes in it and screamed with pleasure. “Yesss. That’s the way I like it. Give it to me hard and fast.”
A klaxon blared from the upper floor level. By the Void! The last thing he needed on his application for the Interstellar Veterinary Institute was a record of tonight’s raid. Rulagh jumped off the bed, grabbed his pants, pulled them on and raced out the door into the hallway.
An overly muscled male staggered from the adjoining room, hissed with anger and aimed his clawed hand in a wild blow. Rulagh shifted his head and the other male’s claws glanced along his jawbone. Trying to reason with an idiot reacting with his hormones instead of his brain would waste valuable time and energy. The middle of a police raid was not an optimum moment to indulge in territorial combat. The claws would leave a bruise, but for the moment, Rulagh scarcely noticed the pain under his own adrenaline rush. He flung himself backward as if he’d been hit square in the face and avoided a second claw swipe.
If his opponent were sober, he’d unsheathe his toe claws and try to disembowel Rulagh in an automatic reflex action to eliminate a sexual competitor. Instead, the drunken fool turned around and peered up the crowded ramp while the raid klaxons blared their warning. Taking advantage of this distraction, Rulagh kicked the fool aside with his foot claws fully extended, ripped a disabling gash in the male’s leg, and made a hasty exit out of the brothel into the hot, steamy air of the mid-summer’s night.
Two blocks away, he stopped, extended his hand and foot claws and climbed to the roof of an abandoned warehouse. There he lay on his belly while lights and screams below him heralded the arrival of the local law enforcement androids. A quigral climbed over the edge of the roof and flicked its tongue at Rulagh. The tiny red-furred mammal settled on its haunches and started grooming its six-legged body.
Rulagh pulled in his claws and stroked the creature’s fur with a blunted forefinger. It nuzzled his wrist, and a purr vibrated through its body. Rulagh curved his clawed forefinger and scratched the half-grown quigral behind its ears. It purred harder and deeper and leaned against his hand for more. His people looked to the stars to find alien life and forgot about animals. In their own way animals were aliens too. They looked at you with alien thoughts behind their eyes and did their best to communicate their needs without speech.
Rulagh lifted his head and peered at the chaos below. Tomorrow morning was his first day at the Interstellar Veterinary Academy. Instead of wasting his life running drugs or working mindlessly at a factory, he planned to see the other star systems, meet their inhabitants and animals. He anticipated numerous opportunities to meet and pursue suitable long-term mates of equal intelligence among the spacers. He’d heard cross-species marriages were common among spacers. Technology and gene splicing solved the dilemma of incompatible DNA very nicely.
* * * *
Six planetary years later, Rulagh inserted his index claw in the door’s access slot. A soft green light glowed above the ID panel and granted him entry to the Interstellar Humane Society.
The sensilk fabric of his pants whispered against his scales. He quickened his stride past Hajna’s work area but couldn’t stop his tongue from flickering out to taste her scent and know that Changuh’s male spunk saturated her iridescent scales. She must have come straight into work after a long night of sex with him.
A teasing tinge of black traced the sweet curve of her crested scalp. Rulagh shifted his erect ipex to a more comfortable position beneath his robe, ducked into his cubicle and muttered, “Data dump on, stats three, archive four.” A holographic image materialized in mid-air and the requested data scrolled up.
Fully trained as an exo-biologist, he could quote from memory the genetic matrices, diseases, feeding, territorial and breeding habits of over thirty thousand animal and sentient species. With four planetary years in veterinary surgery, he knew how to heal many different species. And kill.
All of his training meant nothing to his supervisors. By the time he gained enough seniority to bid on a fieldwork position, his claws would be worn down to mere nubs. Based on a logical extrapolation of probability statistics, his chances of securing a fieldwork assignment rated a hundred percent higher than the possibility of Hajna inviting him for a relaxing night of sex play. His urros ranking within the agency was too low for her to consider him as a suitable prospect.
A series of lost-and-found reports from the star systems within thirty light years flowed past his bored gaze. A lost and found notation scrolled past. Rulagh leaned forward, tapped the data flow slot and scrolled back to study the anomalous item. A hiss escaped his parted lips. Wealthy tourists had misplaced six Shrennan during a visit to a proscribed solar system.
Worst, the Humane Department had paid them an exorbitant sum for their loss and then buried the report in the archives. But why? And what had happened to the Shrennan? Had anyone retrieved the animals before they disrupted the ecological balance of the alien planet? He keyed in a second data slot and rerouted the entire report to his station.
* * * *
Sub-sector supervisor Zesci strolled through the rotating holographic display and swiftly changing streams of data as if she wandered in a garden of wondrous blooms. Brilliant blue and red cyanjewels sparkled on her wrists and reflected the colors of her scaled skin. A sleeveless metallic robe woven from spun gold filaments hung straight and heavy from her shoulders to her jeweled sandals. Green and gold with silver embroidery, the robe shimmered with every step she took.
Rulagh’s tongue itched from the acrid scent of her anger.
She reached up. A cascade of calculations flowed under her hand and extrapolated the population growth potential for six feral Shrennan during the time span of eighty of the obscure planet’s years. She inserted her foreclaw into the holographic data control grid and tweaked the parameters. The image shifted and displayed fluctuations in population growth based on hurricanes, tornados, fires and contact with the natives.
“Rich tourists and lost pets.” Zesci raked her hand through her crest. She seated herself in a black resin wood chair and stretched her arm upon the gilt carved armrest. The heavy robe fell into sculptured folds over her slender legs and ankles. “Our department should have sent an agent to retrieve those animals as soon as the report arrived. If this news reaches the interstellar council, they might decide to reduce our funding and reroute animal control to another department.”
Zesci’s scent screamed rage. Rulagh’s claws unsheathed themselves in automatic reaction. His muscles clenched, and his heart readied his body to answer her challenge. No one would notice or regret his demise, if she clawed out his throat for compiling this extrapolation and bringing it to her attention. He sheathed his claws and deliberately shifted his thoughts to mating instead of fighting.
Zesci stared at him and flicked out her tongue. She stroked her chin. “Your scent brings memories from my first season.”
Rulagh let his gaze skate past her face and focused on the floating display of ever-changing calculations. It was enough to know he’d used his wits to derail her rage. Now he needed to damp it down. No matter how much he wanted to gain ranking, seducing his supervisor wasn’t his style.
Zesci surged to her feet and circled him, letting her heavy robe brush against his leg. She trailed a blunted finger down his arm and deepened her scent to pure musk. His ipex responded with a painful hardness.
She murmured, “The problem will not disappear if we ignore it. Of course, if we remove the Shrennan, we solve the problem. The only question is how are we going to accomplish this task.”
Rulagh ran a quick and dirty estimate of the cargo space needed to ship anywhere from ten thousand to thirty thousand Shrennan to headquarters containment facilities. Did they have the spacecraft, agents and funding available for the scope of this project? He doubted it.
Zesci positioned herself in front of the holographic data field. “There are too many Shrennan to remove. Our best option is to minimize the damage by hunting them down and destroying them.” She sighed. “I hate to do that. They’re such beautiful creatures.”
She slid her index claw in the wall data slot and turned off the image. “The team will consist of four agents. You will be the fourth member.”
Rulagh’s heart slammed against his chest. He took a deep breath and retracted his claws.
Zesci rubbed her chin with her index claw. “Don’t celebrate too soon. I estimate at least ten solar years on that planet before the task is completed. Also, you must keep your presence secret. You know the rules. An interdicted planet cannot be admitted to the Interstellar Council until it achieves the proper technological level without outside assistance.”
“There will be no communication, no trips home for those ten planetary years. Your fellow agents will resent the restrictions and time frame for this assignment and will shunt the bulk of the work upon your shoulders rather than sully their claws with menial tasks.”
Rulagh mentally reviewed the funds in his private accounts. Hopefully he had enough to purchase adequate gear. He’d be lucky if the other team members allowed him access to the ship’s emergency supplies.
Zesci lifted her bejeweled hand and gestured at the exit. “Report to medical for decontamination, a full health scan and immunizations. Tomorrow, you will report to the sleep-learning facilities. Hopefully, our cultural, biological and geographical information for that planet won’t be too outdated.”
He bowed and carefully backed out of the room. His first fieldwork assignment. The successful completion of this task would accrue numerous honors and increase his official urros ranking by at least three levels.