“Commander Alfsigr, I thought you had left us.”
The barsum female walked up to the table where Leuwtendent Leonty and his second-in-command Sargent Pramod were seated at lunch. “I had. Barsum command changed it’s mind about my reassignment. May I join you?”
Both humans sat up a little straighter. Leonty answered: “Of course. May I ask what prompted this change?”
Barsum’s rarely changed their minds. They logic personiﬁed, much like the old ﬁctional stories of Vulcans, from Earth’s history. To change their mind, you needed to point out some ﬂaw in their logic, something they had overlooked.
They rarely overlooked anything.
She sat. “As commander of this station, you may.”
“But it is not for general consumption, I take it.” She nodded. “Ok. Pramod?”
Pramod started reloading his tray. “See you back in the oﬃce.” He said, starting to stand.
“Wait.” Alfsigr put out a hand, holding his wrist lightly to stop him. “Stay. You need this information as well.”
He shrugged and sat.
“How much of Barsum social structure do you know, Luewtendent?”
Leonty went back over what he knew. For a human, he knew quite a bit, but he wasn’t a scholar. The Barsum’s were proof that anything could happen in the universe: a humaniod, and generally human-like, alien species. Humanity had ranged far and wide over the galaxy, and met many alien races, a few of which were intelegent enough to bother talking to. Most looked nothing like humans, though quite a few could survive on similar worlds. Generally specialized devices were required to even attempt to communicate with them. The Barsum were the exeption: They might as well be human, as far as the rest of the galaxy was concered. They liked it a little colder than humans, and they didn’t look exactly human, but close enough.
As for their society: They had generally the same structures and humans: A species-wide government, divisions inside that. Couples lived in pairs, though young were generally raised in more communal groups.
“The basics: Social standing is determined primarally by ablity, with some consideration to birth. Most social interaction is fairly formalized. I know enough to know to keep out of it, generally. Why?”
“Do you know the concept of ‘ryuho-ckeaco’?”
“ ‘Life partners’? I’ve heard of it.”
“A ryuho-ckeaco bonding is a little more complicated than that. Humans stay with their mates primarally because of mental compatablity, correct?”
“Yes, that’s one way to put it I guess. We normally would talk of emotional compatablity, but yes.”
“Among barsum, it is a little more complicated than that.” She sent a quick glance to Pramod, checking to see if he was following. “Individual barsum can inﬂuence who they form a ryuho-ckeaco bond with, but the bond itself is as much physological as it is mental. Once the bond is formed, our body chemestry changes slightly, so bond-mates are interdependent. Seperating a ryuho-ckeaco bonded pair is physically dangerous for the Barsum involved.”
“Ok. I’m not a doctor, but I can see how that would be dangerous. But, how does that apply to this case? You are the only barsum on this planet. Well, unless your replacement as envoy is also staying.”
“For the present, my replacement is returning to the home planet. A new envoy will be assigned, probably a bonded pair. As for myself, Barsum Command considers my loyalty divided. It seems I have inadvertantly formed a ryuho-ckeaco with a human.”
“How is that possible? If, as you say, this is a physiological process, well, humans aren’t barsum. Sure we look similar, but biologically we are still very diﬀerent.”
She shrugged. “I am not an expert in such matters myself. As it was explained to me, the trigger for a ryuho-ckeaco bond is mental, at least the ‘ﬁrst trigger’. A barsum ﬁnds someone who they ﬁnd mentally compatable within certain parameters, and that triggers a biological reaction, where the individual in question’s body samples the pheremones given oﬀ by the target of the bond and integrates them into their own biological matrix. Apparently our mental patterns are close enough for the barsum psuedo-telepathy to operate, and the biological process can work with whatever pheremones the subject gives oﬀ.”
“So, you formed some kind of ‘mental bond’ with a human here, and your body decided to react to his pheremones? It is a him, right?”
“Yes. It is a him. And that is what my doctors told me.”
“Your doctors. You got medical help on this?”
“It was discovered during a routine medical exam, upon my attempted return from a remote posting.”
“Ah.” Well, that made sense, in a way. “Does the human involved know about this bond?”
“I do not believe they are aware of my reaction to them.”
“So this bond has not aﬀected them in any way.”
“There is no reason a human should have any physical reaction to the bond.”
“So, what does this mean for you? If you are not part of Barsum Command, what is your role here? Will this cause you any medical problems?”
“Medically, this is unknown. A ryuho-ckeaco bond has never been formed with a non-barsum before. As for my role here, that is up to you. I have no assigned status at this time.”
“Ok. I’m sure we can ﬁnd someplace for you. May I ask who the bond is with? Do you know? I assume if you discovered it during a medical exam, you might not know.”
“I was told of signs to look for in my reactions. When I came into his presense I recognized who the bond was with. I am bonded to your second-in-command, Sargent Pramod.”
“As I said, I believe he was not aware of my reaction to him. It appears I was correct.”
Leonty was only slightly less shocked than his second in command, but he’d kept his mouth shut. Not that he could blame Pramod…
“Well, is there anything else you need from me?”
“There is one item. With the absence of an oﬃcial envoy from Barsum, I believe my old quarters are vacant, correct?”
“Yes. And you are welcome to use them until a new envoy is stationed.” He paused, then added the unnecessary, for form’s sake. “Provided of course that you return it to it’s present condition when you vacate it.”
“Well, then.” He cleared his throat, and rose. “I need to get back to my oﬃce. Sargent, I’ll see you when you are done with lunch.” He nodded, and left.
Hopefully Pramod would take that as he meant it: as an order to work this out between them ﬁrst, and then come talk to him. Leonty had the feeling he’d need to.
Pramod found himself facing an attentive Barsum face, trying to make sense of what had just been said.
Oddly enough, the ﬁrst thought through his head was that her hand still rested on his wrist.
He withdrew his hand, carefully. Alfsigr did not object, and calmly took her hand back. He cleared his throat. “So, um, what does this ‘ryuho-ckeaco bond’ mean to <em>me?</em>”
“I… Am not entirely sure. I have copies of all barsum research into the bond, which I will be searching for cases as similar as I can ﬁnd. Normally ryuho-ckeaco bonded pairs are expected to maintain daily contact with each other, though they will on occasion spend several days apart.”
“But not more?”
“Not normally. Again, I do not know what the limits are at this time. I hypothesize that if I could ﬁnd a job where I interacted with you each day, I should be ﬁne.”
“What happens if you cannot interact with me? If I get run over or something?”
“The situation comes up on occasion. Normally the remaining individual of the bonded pair retreats to a medical center. The loss of a ryuho-ckeaco partner is not fatal in and of itself.”
“Not ‘in and of itself’?”
“Barsum who have lost a partner have been known to suicide on occasion, from what I understand.”
“Whoa.” He sat back. She might kill herself if he died? That… Was something Pramod didn’t want to think about. What exactly could bring a logical barsum to suicide?
Time to change track. “You… How can you tell you bonded to me?”
“It is subtle. I notice a pleasant sensation in your presence, and I had a sense of your presence before I saw you. I am not surprised missed it. I believe my hand may have been reacting to your chemical signature as well.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It was… pleasant to rest my hand on your arm.”
“You are starting to sound a lot like some girl trying to tell me she loves me.”
“The physiological processes are probably similar: they serve similar purposes in inter-person relationships among opposite genders.”
Pramod could work his way through that sentence, so he knew what it meant. He just didn’t know what to make of it. “I… I think I need to get back to work. Um… I’ll see you around, ok?”
She nodded. He took that as his cue to escape.Responses
Pramod walked in to his superior’s oﬃce, just to let him know that he had come back from lunch.
“So, worked out what to do with our resident Barsum?”
Leonty was joking, Pramod could tell from his tone. The Leuwtendent was light on ‘military discipline’; it didn’t really suit a place like Outpost-36 anyway. The outpost was just too large, with too many civilian personnel, to be treated as a military base. It wasn’t quite it’s own colony yet, but it probably would be soon. The Leuwtendent was more of an transition governor than anything else.
So Pramod answered without the military formality, but with the natural responses of someone in an awkward situation. “Not quite, I think. I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea that a logical, unemotional, barsum says she loves me.”
Leonty stopped leaning back in his chair. “Love? Is that really an appropriate term?”
Pramod fell into one of the visitor’s chairs. “She admits it is the closest human equivalent. And what would you call it if a girl tells you that they want to sit next to you and hold your hand? It’s just… <em>weird.</em>”
“So what does she want?”
Pramod threw his hands up in the air. “Beats me. My presence, to be able to see me every day, or close to it. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
“And if she can’t get it?”
“Apparently barsum have been known to suicide over the loss of their ryuho-ckeaco bondmate. On occasion.”
“So she’ll kill herself if she can’t see you every day?”
Pramod winced. Put like that… “Well, it doesn’t need to be every day. But she doesn’t know what the limits are either.”
“I’d be nice to know more about this, what it means for you and the outpost.”
“Yeah. Alfsigr said she got all the data she could from the cruiser, but she hasn’t had time to go through it.”
“Well, give her a couple of days then. In the meantime…”
“How do you feel about this situation?”
“I… I’m still not quite sure. I mean, I’ve always liked Commander Alfsigr as a person, but…”
“Has she made any advances on you?”
“Well, no, not really…”
“She probably realizes it wouldn’t be logical for you to respond as a barsum would. However that is. Treat her as you always have, if you can. After all, it’s been enough so far, right? Any idea how long ago this bond formed?”
Pramod just raised his hands in hopeless ignorance.
“Well then, I don’t see why you should have to do anything diﬀerent. I assume she’s asked, or is going to ask, for a job where she can see you regularly.”
“She mentioned it.”
“Well, you’ve been saying you needed an assistant. She’s over-qualiﬁed, but if she’s willing it would be the easiest way to handle this.”
“Point. She’d be able to help me keep organized, at least.”
Leonty laughed. “Probably. And… Hmm. I should have her train with the Marines as well: We don’t need bodyguards here often, but if she could do the job, a little extra motivation wouldn’t hurt.”
Pramod shifted uncomfortably.
“Anyway, how are they doing on the number 2 reactor?”
Grateful for the change of topic, Pramod put the issue of his barsum out of his mind.
Commander Alfsigr sat down in her quarters. Well, the quarters she’d been allowed to use. They weren’t hers anymore, after all: They were the oﬃcial quarters of the Barsum Command’s representative in this sector. Which up until two days ago had been her.
She’d enjoyed her stay with these humans, but she had been looking forward to being back on Barsum, and getting back to a logical life. These humans were always so… undisciplined.
And now she’d gone and gotten herself bound to one of them. Admittedly Pramod was one of the better ones, more logical than most, and had helped her through many of the more illogical sectors of human society. But the idea that she was bonded to him was…
Logically it made little sense.
Ryuho-ckeaco bonding served a logical purpose and followed a logical course, but the process itself was not logically bound: it was one of the few biological processes that superceded the logical centers of the Barsum brain. Individuals could inﬂuence who they were bonded to by choosing who to spend time with and assosiate with, but the bonding process was never intentially triggered. As such it was one of the few random factors in barsum society.
There had been a few attempts to change that, over the centuries, but in general the beniﬁcial eﬀects of intermixing individuals had been seen as outweighing the disadvantages of a slightly less logical society. Part of that decision was practical: Ryuho-ckeaco bonding was part of the reproductive process, and trying to tamper with it was both tricky and prone to side-eﬀects. Since bonding usually occured between logical (if not the most logical) pairs, trying to optimize past the biology was not worth the risks.
The bond trigger was still incompletely understood, as it was an interaction between the barsum telepathic sense (which was the result of the strong and ordered brain patterns of their race) and their biological senses. In fact, from the research Alfsigr was reading, the ryuho-ckeaco bond was the only place both sets of senses interacted outside of the barsum individual’s concious control.
It was also completely irreversable, in either of it’s stages. And therefore, this unexpected and illogical bond was something she would have to work into her world picture. Permanently.Evaluation
Pramod eased back into his couch, turning on the TV. Saturday night, after a long week, all he wanted to do was sit back and relax.
The week could have been a lot worse, if not for Alfsigr. She had seemed genunely thankful for the position as his assistant when it was oﬀered to her, and the weeks following and proven that she was as capable as expected. She already knew much of their normal operations, and as she learned the rest she had become ever better at aiding Pramod with his job without interferring. He hardly noticed her anymore.
Any further mention of her ryuho-ckeaco bond had been avoided, which was ﬁne with him if it was ﬁne with her.
The doorbell rang. Pramod groaned and got up to answer it.
“I am sorry to disturb you on a day oﬀ, Sargent.” Alfsigr said as the door opened. “May I please come in?”
It took a moment for Pramod to process the request, between the barsum’s unexpected presense and her equally unexpected appearance. Barsums, as a rule, dressed in functional and utlitarian clothing. Human fashion was a complete mystery to them.
Apparently Alfsigr had decided to solve that mystery: She wore a gold dress, perfectly complementing her grayish skin, that would have been at home at any human high-dress ball. Nor was it oﬀ the rack: Barsum proportions weren’t quite the same as human, and this was obviously designed with her in mind speciﬁcally, drawing attention to her resemblence to a human female while subtly playing up the exoticness of her alien origin.
After a moment he managed to close his mouth and answer: “Yes, of course. What can I do for you?”
She stepped inside, and took a deep breath. “You have already done it. I hope I am not interupting anything?”
“No, I was just watching TV. Please, come in, have a seat.” He showed her to the living room, and turned oﬀ the screen. “What do you mean, I have already done it?” He sat across from her.
“I came because I needed to see you. I was… feeling the absense of your presense. I believe I have refreshed my bond enough to handle the weekend. I can leave now.” She started to stand up.
“No, wait. I thought you said you could handle a few days? For that matter, you’ve never come by over the weekend before. Why now?”
“My bonding is strengthening.” She shrugged. “I am trying to gauge it’s strength level.”
“Wait, it is strengthening? Why? Why now?”
“It has been strengthening since it formed. ‘Now’ was simply when I needed to see you. It is a normal process: A ryuho-ckeaco bond exists in two stages. The bond gradually strengthens in the ﬁrst, and holds steady in the second.”
“So you are in the ﬁrst stage of this bond.”
“What happens in the second stage?”
“The second stage occurs when the bond has been reciprocated. Once that has been detected the bond stablizes at the current level.”
“Ok, wait.” Pramod stalled for a moment, orgaizing his understanding. “So you are in stage one of a ryuho-ckeaco bond, bonded to me. Your bond will strengthen until I bond to you? Is that correct?”
“That is my understanding.”
“But I’m not barsum. I can’t form a ryuho-ckeaco bond. So what will happen to you?”
“The process by which a ryuho-ckeaco bond stablizes has never been fully explored. It is possible that I will eventually stabalize, either because there is an upper limit to how strong the bond becomes or my mental patterns may sycronize enough with yours that my body believes you have bonded.”
“Explain that last option to me again.”
“A ryuho-ckeaco bond causes the individual’s brain pattern to merge towards that of their bond partner. It is believed that this is in an eﬀort to trigger the corrisponding bond in the unbonded member of the pair. It is possible that, just as my system decided that you were an acceptable candidate for the bond, it will also decide that if my mental patterns are close enough to yours that you must therefore have bonded to me.”
“And do you think that is likely?”
“In truth, no. The probablity is low that the bond completion is triggered purely mentally. A higher likelyhood exists that it is purely a physological trigger, though even that is low.”
“Where a physological trigger is where you react to some chemical trigger I produce.”
“And until then the bond will just strengthen, until — maybe — it hits some upper limit.”
“That is my current understanding of the probable course of my bond to you, yes.”
“Ok, I understand so far, I think. I do have one question: This ‘mental sync’ you mentioned? What does that do?”
“You know that barsum telepathy only works with other barsum, I believe, and that beyond that we have only a rudamentary ablity to sense the general thought processes of other species.”
“It is more correct to say that we can sense some of the thought patterns of other barsum, depending on a multitude of factors. One of those factors is how ‘in sync’ our minds are. If there is no sync, we can sense about the same as we can with any other sentient species. As the sync improves, so does our ablity to sense details of the thoughts of the person we are in sync with.”
“And a ryuho-ckeaco bond improves this sync.”
“Yes, as do other processes: Meditation on the same logic, similar thoughts, or having similar world pictures.”
“Ok, so what does this all mean in relation to you and me?”
“I am ‘learning’ to sense your mind better, and to share some of your thought patterns. I have already sometimes noticed that I know what you will want from me before you ask it.”
“So you are becoming more like me.”
“Somewhat. A pure sync could in theory bring me to thinking exactly like you, but this is a ryuho-ckeaco based sync. I will learn your thought patterns, but the bond normally directs for complementary thought patterns. I am likely to extend your thought patterns and integrate those extensions into my own. I am not able to predict quite what that will mean in this case.”
Pramod sat back, and there was silence for a moment. “So, how do you feel about all of this? Wait, sorry, barsum don’t ‘feel’. Bad question. What are your thoughts on this?”
Alfsigr answered quietly. “Logic dictates that I accept the inevetiable. But I must admit I am… scared… by the changes I expect.”
“I thought barsum don’t get scared?”
“We don’t, at least not how you humans usually use the term. A normal barsum would not use that term in this context. I appear to be learning some of your emotional contexts as well.”
“How are you handling that?”
“I… It is unsettling, when I think about it. I have neither the training nor the experience on how to handle them. But they are enjoyable as well. Some at least.”
“Is that why you are wearing that dress?”
Pramod was unaware that a barsum could blush. It was an interesting sight. “Not precisely. Do you like it?”
“It is beautiful. May I ask why you did wear it?”
The blush returned. “I… Um… wanted you to take pleasure in my appearance.” She was not meeting his eyes.
“Alfsigr?” He waited until she was facing him again. “Was there a logic behind that desire?”
So, just how much could a barsum blush? “There were several. The ﬁrst is that I thought that if you liked my appearance you would be more likely to spend some time with me, and therefore ease the strain on my bond.”
“Probably true. And the rest?”
“You mentioned that there were other reasons. Would you tell me the rest?”
“I… I enjoy it when you are happy or pleased with me. And… you are my mate. Barsum are exclusively monogamous, and the ryuho-ckeaco bond is a large part of that. A part of me would like it if you would consider me for that role. And there is a chance…”
Alfsigr drew into herself as she answered, barely audiably: “It is possible that the act of mating could trigger a stage two bond.”
“So you wore that dress in the hopes of seducing yourself into my house, and possibly into my bed.” Pramod wasn’t appalled, or even disgusted. In truth, the idea that this logical being had come here with such a plan was so ﬂabbergasting he wasn’t dealing with it on any other level than the intellectual.
Alfsigr was regaining her composure. “That is my intent.”
“Are you sure that is even possible?”
“A ryuho-ckeaco bonded female reacts very strongly to her bondmate’s arousal. In my species the male comes into heat only once a in our solar year, and it is his desire that triggers the female into sexual response.” She leaned forward. “I know you ﬁnd me attractive on occasion. I have felt my reaction to your interest.”
“That’s… not what I mean.”
“It was a logical issue to research. Humans and barsum are anatomically compatible, at least in theory.”
“In theory.” Pramod temporized.
“The experiment, to my knowledge, has never been tried. Barsum do not generally engage in sex as recreational activity, as humans do.”
“It is not logical, is that it?”
She shrugged, and took the opportunity to inch closer. “Doing something you ﬁnd pleasant for recreation is logical. Barsum biology just doesn’t encourage it.” A slight pause, and a breathless whisper. “Unlike human.”
“So, if it is illogical, why try to seduce me?” Pramod’s head spun a little at the unconventional smalltalk, but Alfsigr otherwise had foreplay down. Which meant more than his head was spinning.
“Because you are interested, which means I am. Because it will be pleasant for both of us. Because you are my mate, and mating is a basic drive of both our biologies. And because…”
“I don’t want you to send me away. Because turning me down now is rejection, and rejection from a bond-partner is… unpleasant.” She had managed to cross the distance between their chairs.
“So I should just do what you want, because to do otherwise would hurt you, is that it?”
She knew enough to look ashamed. “No. You have the right to do as you wish. I was only stating my reasons for my… desires.” She looked up at him, purple cat-eyes at close range. “Why I am willing to do whatever you wish.”
“It wouldn’t be mating. Not unless our biologies are compatible as well.” It was an aquenesnce, and Pramod knew it.
She laughed, surprising Pramod. “Not even close. But our anatomy…” She slid back and shifted, directing his attention downward. “…is quite similar.”
Pramod heard his mouth ask: “How similar?”
Alfsigr smiled, and replied, “Shall I show you?”
She knew better than to wait for an answer, undoing the clasp on her dress and letting it fall to her feet. “Externally, the biggest diﬀerences are a barsum’s slightly longer proportions. Legs, torso, and arms are slightly longer or thiner than would be expected in a human. Additionally, a barsum female’s nutrient glands for feeding her young are bigger, on average: Human milk production is a more eﬃcient process, so it requires less space. The rest is mostly… cosmetic.”
Pramod couldn’t keep his hand from tracing what he noticed ﬁrst… “And these markings?” His ﬁngers traced their path, as they ﬂowed up her side, then in and around her breasts as if they were a natural bra.
“Remnants of natural camouﬂage: Or nearest genetic relatives use it to hide in the forest, breaking up their outline.” She let his touch continue.
“And what of barsum mating behaviors? Are they comparable?” Pramod was sliding his hand around her nude form now, preparing for the moment when he would pull her towards him.
“Barsum… in general view mating as a necessity, to be approached logically. I have researched human behavior on the issue. It appears to be more… pleasant.”
The moment came. “We are the ones who use it for recreation.” He kissed her.
“Yeeesss, you arrreee.” Either she was really reacting to this, or she was one hell of a good actor.
He spent a moment exploring the body oﬀered to him. “So, are you enjoying yourself?” It was a whisper in her ear.
“I…” She took a gasping breath. “I feel your enjoyment. My mind mirrors it.”
“And you feel none of your own?”
“I am barsum. My physiology doesn’t react as… intensely as yours does. The pleasure I feel is yours.”
“The word is… appropriate. I have never dealt with anything similar.”
“And I still have my pants on. If we continue this, that was… well, barely a start.”
“Oh, Teja!” She buried her face in his chest.
It was the ﬁrst time Pramod had heard her use the Barsum name for their god in anything but a strictly formal context.
For a moment, he just held her.
“We can stop if you want.”
She shook her head, rubbing her face against him, then pulled back to speak. “No. Please… Continue. I must…” A deep breath, and she calmed, slightly. “I wish to continue. To complete the mating.”
Pramod was thinking about what she hadn’t said. “What must you do?”
“You cut yourself oﬀ. ‘I must…’ What must you do?”
“I…” Alfsigr struggled with herself for a moment, then looked up at him again. “You want the truth so badly: I must please you.” She looked away again. “That is what I almost said.”
A ﬁnger under her chin was enough to turn her back to face him. “Why?”
Obviously that one ﬁnger held her gaze in an iron grip. The cat-slits were dilated, and frozen directly at Pramod. “I don’t know. It must be an eﬀect of the bond, but it is not one my research has come across. Either it is because of the extreme progression of this stage, or… It might be something one or both of us wants, that the bond is bringing out.”
Emotions warred in Pramod. Finally, he decided to treat her as a woman. “Does it really matter? If it is something you want?”
The kiss he gave also let Alfsigr know the question had been rhetorical.
He rose as he broke it. “Come with me.”
She willingly followed to the bedroom.
Pramod woke to the feel of woman snuggling closer against him. For an instant it confused him, but only an instant. Alfsigr’s skin was slightly cool to the touch; a part of him wondered if he would get used to it.
“What am I going to do with you?” He asked the air, quietly, so as to not wake her up.
He should have checked if she was still asleep ﬁrst. “Whatever you want.”
He looked down. “Hey. Sorry, I thought you were still asleep.”
“I do not need as much sleep as humans do. I woke some time ago.”
“You didn’t have to stay, you could have gotten up, I probably wouldn’t have woken…”
Her look cut him oﬀ. “There was no reason to leave, and it was… pleasant to stay. Your mind is quiet when you sleep.”
“You can tell?” He thought that a better question than ‘You can read my mind?’
“I could feel it, slowly stirring through its thoughts. I don’t know what you focused on, just that you were content and peaceful. It was restful.”
“And my being awake isn’t?”
“When you are awake, your mind is active; quickly darting from thought to thought. It is something I have admired about you.” She paused. “But you are trying to avoid something. Perhaps the question you asked yourself?”
He had been trying to change the subject. So much for that. “Yeah, I guess. I just… You aren’t something I had planned for.”
“I comprehend. This was not my plan either. I would not ask you to change your life for me. It would not be logical. I am willing to take whatever place you wish me to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am the one with the bond. I am the one who should make the accommodations. Also, I am… prepared to become whatever you want. It is not an imposition on me; in fact I would rather you had me become what you want than try to spare my feelings. I would sense the latter, and it would likely pain me.”
“I only ask that you keep me in your life, in some way. I realize that I may not be what you want as a mate, that you may want someone of your own species. I would not attempt to stand in the way. Or you may keep me as your mate, if you wish. But I would not impose, and the choice is up to you. I will accept and adapt to whatever you desire.”
“And you have no preference?”
“Any preference I might have had is irrelevant.”
“That is not what I asked.”
She took a moment to snuggle closer, and to take a deep breath of his scent, stabilizing herself. “It is the answer to what you asked: Any preference I might once have had is irrelevant. The stronger desire is to stay close to you, and to please you. I would rather you chose your desire than consider mine. It is also the more logical choice: The bond will ensure I accept any choice you make for yourself, whereas making another choice might cause you discomfort.”
“You do not seem troubled by the concept.” Was his polite way of saying she was nuts.
“I am Barsum: It is logical. I accept what I have no power to change. To be troubled I would have to see a ﬂaw I could not solve in my logic, or to have emotions like a human.”
“I thought you said the bond was allowing you to feel some emotions. You’ve spoken as if they inﬂuenced you actions.”
“It does. It is why I added the qualiﬁer. But the emotions I have… Are either mirrors of yours, or centered on you. My acceptance is a logical choice, to follow my emotions.”
“So you want to… I don’t know what to call it.”
“The closest term, I think, would be to say that I wanted to be your slave.”
That woke Pramod up like nothing else had. “What?”
Alfsigr was cuddling again. “I’ve been researching human societies. Trying to understand the diﬀerent ways humans have to relate to each other. It is an old term, I believe. It has had varied meanings in your history, and I understand that it has bad connotations from the abuse of the last time it was in common use. Before that… Occasionally they was even held in high esteem.”
She looked up at him. “It means someone who is owned by another. Who is constrained to obey their owner in all things.”
“I know what it means.”
“I do not mean to distress you. It appears to be best term for what I am becoming, as far as I can tell.”
“Alfsigr, do you know what humanity feels about slaves?”
“I know that it is a banned practice, in the legal sense. I ﬁnd references to fringe groups including volunteering to live as if they were, without the backing of the legal system. I understand that such is considered ‘weird’ and frowned upon by general society.”
“And this is what you want to become?”
“It is what I am becoming, and I am ﬁnding myself enjoying the transformation.” She managed a coy smile. “Last night, for instance.”
He remembered. “You didn’t even last all the way through.”
She looked ashamed. “I am sorry. I was… unprepared for the intensity. Extreme proximity, the fact that we were both focused on the same acts, the biological responses in both our species, I think they all ampliﬁed each other. I… Lost myself, for a while.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that for a time, my mind was not my own. I was reacting to yours, exclusively. I was therefore unable to ﬁlter the emotions being fed to me, and my brain was eventually unable to handle them, as they are not something Barsum evolution has prepared it to face.”
“So you are telling me that you passed out because your brain was unable to handle the emotions of sex.”
“Essentially, I believe so.”
“And before you passed out…”
“I was completely under your control. My consciousness had surrendered to the unexpected strength of our telepathic link, and the desires felt through it.”
It took Pramod a moment to completely understand that. “You know, this isn’t the most relaxing of morning-after talk.”
“I am aware I am causing you distress. But this is information that you need to know, and my modeling indicates that sharing it in this environment is likely to cause you less distress than any other.”
“What, you’ve got me relaxed and sexed up, and therefore I’ll accept it?”
“That would be a bare summary, yes: You have not yet worn out your emotional responses over the course of a day, and you have had recent experience of some of the advantages inherent in the information I am providing. Also. the environment is one of safety; while our physical proximity is likely to trigger pleasurable feelings of safety as well.”
“And why are you telling me all of this?”
“I do not wish to lie to you.”
Pramod murmured under his breath, lying back. “This whole situation is crazy.”
Barsum have good ears. “It is simply a series of logical events.”
“Only if you accept your bond as logical.”
“A premise can either be true or false. Nothing more.”
Pramod didn’t feel like arguing logic at the moment. He lay silent for a while, thinking over the revelations of the past night.
It was an order, nothing less. Alfsigr rose to obey even as she replied: “I am sorry if I oﬀended you, is there any way I can make amends?”
Pramod didn’t look at her, to keep from thinking of things she could do… “You have not oﬀended me. I need to think, and you need to re-test the strength of your bond. Take tomorrow oﬀ: don’t come in to the oﬃce. Stay away as long as you can. See if this has helped stabilize anything.”
“Of course. That is the logical thing to do.”
“Where’s your aide today? It is unlike her to be late.” Leuwtendent Leonty was leaning on his second-in-command’s doorframe.
Pramod tried to pretend he was busy. “I gave her the day oﬀ. Told her to stay home.”
“When was this?”
“This before or after she left your house at dawn?”
Pramod looked up. His commander’s face was inscrutable. The sargent sighed, and leaned back in his chair, waving a hand in invitation for the other to take a seat himself.
Leonty did so, closing the door as he stepped away from it.
“What have you heard?”
“Just that she was seen heading towards your residence late Saturday night. She was seen leaving same Sunday morning, in a dress that apparently made an impression on a few viewers.”
“The dress was her idea. And it is worth seeing, I’ll admit that. Apparently her bond has been strengthening; she was feeling some sort of distress without me, and came over to see me. With full intent to seduce me.”
“Seduction doesn’t sound like a very Barsum trait.”
“As far as she is concerned, I am her mate. I get the feeling she’s been reading up on human sexuality.”
“Ah. So, um, you said her bond is strengthening. What does that mean?”
“Short version? She needs to be near me more. Long version… Don’t ask. A part of me is trying to not think about it, even while I know I have to deal with it.”
“Fair enough. How strong is it likely to get?”
“Unknown: It strengthens until it is reciprocated. In this case, I can’t reciprocate it, so exactly what will happen is something we’ll have to ﬁnd out.”
“So, given all this, you told her to stay home because…”
“I needed time to think! Time without her oh-so-logical reasons for everything always right there. Time to ﬁgure out what I want from her. As if that matters.”
“Oh, it matters, but in the end there’s always that bond, and… Let’s just say it presents some tempting options.”
Leonty rose from the chair. “Well, I just wanted you to know rumors had started. Under normal circumstances I’d have to discipline oﬃcers who got involved with personnel under their command. In this case… Well, you were involved, in the strictest sense, before we hired her.”
“That was why we hired her, in fact.”
“True. I’ll try not to be to nosy in the future about your personal life. Just try not to let it impact the operations here.”
“Of course not.”
“Oh, one more thing:” Leonty stopped in the doorway, as if he’d almost forgotten something. “The Barsum have recalled all of their unbonded personnel from positions of routine human contact, on an emergency basis.” Pramod nodded: It would be expected, really. “No comment has been given. As the only human outpost with an unbonded Barsum who was not recalled, I’ve been asked if there is anything command needs to know.”
Pramod gulped. “I’ll… Ah, ask Alfsigr what we are allowed to mention, sir.”
“Good. Don’t forget.”
Alfsigr was sitting on his doorstep when he got home. As she rose to her feet, Pramod was reminded of a statue, coming to life.
Her dress today was the same grey as her skin. And just barely not form-ﬁtting.
“I am sorry. This was as long as I could stay away.”
Pramod walked straight past her, and unlocked the door. “So I take it the bond is strengthening still?”
“It has at least not weakened. I actually stayed away 6.4 hours longer than our last period of seperation.”
He just nodded, and let them both into his house. “How long were you sitting there?”
“Since this morning.”
From her that was an evasion. “How long?”
She looked away. “Six point ﬁve hours.”
Pramod decided not to comment. Not directly anyway. “So, based on this data, how long can you stand to be separated from me at the moment?”
“Twenty seven point three standard hours, based on the average of the last two separation periods.”
“Basically, once a day, at minimum, then.”
“That is accurate, within errors of rounding.”
Pramod decided he didn’t have to stand for this discussion, and fell into his favorite seat. He waved Alfsigr to one of the other chairs. “Just trying to get a handle on the situation.”
Alfsigr sat daintily on the edge of the seat. Pramod absently noted she was displaying her legs, took a deep breath, and put it out of his mind. “We do have two other things we need to deal with. First oﬀ, people saw you leave yesterday. And I assume they saw you waiting today. There are rumors.”
“What do you want to do about them?”
“I… I guess I’m not sure. Table that for the moment, I guess. Consider it just a piece of information. Ok, second item: Earth central has asked Leonty, as the only commander of a post with a single Barsum left in the Earth sphere, exactly what’s going on. Or if he’d care to comment, at least. He wants to know what he’s allowed to say.”
“I actually have an oﬃcial response to that: Barsum High Command thought it likely that such a request would be put to me. ‘Until further review, Barsum High Command has decided to limit unbonded Barum’s association with humans, due to an unforeseen physiological interaction. There are no unbonded Barsum on Outpost-36.’”
“They’ll ﬁgure that out.”
“Are they not meant to?”
Pramod decided not to dignify that with an answer. “Ok then. First thing in the morning, you type that up and deliver it to Leonty.”
She nodded. “Anything else?”
“No. I think that’s it. See you in the morning.” Right here was the place to stop it, really. He just hoped she’d been around him enough to stand the night.
“Of course.” She rose, and left.
Pramod let out his breath.
He’d ignored the rumors all week. Just didn’t react. Alfsigr didn’t need to be told to act professional. She always did.
They hadn’t mentioned her coming over again this weekend. They didn’t need to.
And now he sat at home, wondering exactly how long she was going to hold out.
Mid-afternoon the doorbell rang. He opened the door, and let her in.
“So, how long?” He made it a casual question.
“Twenty one point two standard hours since our last interaction.” She paused. “Based on the trend beforehand, it seems the rate of increase in bond strength is increasing.”
“Oh?” He thought a moment. “It is only about six hours diﬀerence between this week and last, and last weekend you only managed about one day. If the rate of increase was lower, how were you able to manage two days before last week, and only one then?”
“I, um… Had worked out your schedule. You tend to shop and run errands on Sunday: I had managed to be in the area, at least close enough to refresh the bond, without making you directly aware of my presence.”
“So, you were stalking me. Basically.”
“That would be one possible interpretation. I was trying to avoid imposing my bond upon you for as long as possible, and had managed to ﬁnd ways to do that.”
“Probably a nicer interpretation.”
“Thank you.” She looked around Pramod’s house for a moment, obviously trying to pretend to not focus on him. “How long may I stay?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to confuse you. I just wondered how long I would be permitted to stay this afternoon.”
“I’m not confused. The question just was unexpected.”
Alfsigr bowed her head. “I felt your mind jump… I’m sorry. I ﬁnd myself reacting to what you are thinking. As the bond strengthens, I sense more. I am still learning to interpret.” She paused. “And you are dodging the question.”
Pramod sighed. “More like ‘stalling for time’. Not that it’s helping. Um. What do you want to do? If you were to stay, that is.”
“I have no major preference. If there is any way I can help you, that would be ideal. Otherwise, I can be quiet and stay our of your way, if you prefer.” She paused. “My readings on human sexuality indicate oﬀering sexual activity would not be unexpected here, but I must admit I am still a bit unsettled by our last such encounter.”
“That’s ok, really.” Pramod decided to deal with just the ﬁrst half of the answer. “Mostly, the place keeps itself clean, although there are a few things…” A pause. “As for ‘be quiet and stay out of the way’: Wouldn’t you prefer to just go back to your place?”
“There is a minor strain to being away from my bondmate, which is eased if I were to stay here. Most of my other leisure activities can be done as easily here as there, and without disturbing you.”
Her way of saying that it was logical to stay, of course. Pramod was getting better at reading those. “How ‘minor’?”
“It depends on distance, and the amount of time spent apart.”
Pramod was also getting better at reading Alfsigr’s evasions. “Minimums and maximums, then.”
“Maximum… Is what drives me to seek you out. It simply becomes unbearable to be without you nearby. Minimum….” She fell silent for a moment. Pramod waited. “It feels like part of myself is missing. That there is a hole in my conception of myself.”
“And you always feel it. Unless I am around.”
Pramod thought a moment. “Twenty one point two hours. And the rate of increase is growing. Which means you will be back tomorrow. And next weekend.” He took breath. “I believe you have a saying that ‘acceptance of the inevitable is always logical’?” He waited for the slight nod. “Then here is my suggestion: Go home. Pack. Bring your things here, and move in. It is obviously inevitable that you will have to live with me eventually. Now is as good a time as any to make the change.”
“A most logical suggestion.” She acknowledged, and left.
Alfsigr walked slowly back to the Barsum envoy’s oﬃcial quarters, that she had been using. Part of her wanted to run, grab her bags that she had never unpacked since being told she was staying, and then run back to her mate. Who had accepted her into his life, to live with him.
Happiness was a word Barsum thought they knew the meaning of, but Alfsigr knew that normal understanding was a lie.
The rest of her though, knew something else: That she was not the same person in his presence. His wants, his emotions, and even bits of his thoughts ﬂowed through her when he was around. And while that feeling in itself was more pleasure than anything she’d ever known before, she also knew that she would never be what she had planned to be.
Of course, most of that had been ruled out by the very presence of the bond. Well before it had progressed to this level of strength.
‘Acceptance of the inevitable is always logical.’ It was a Barsum saying. Humans were more likely to ﬁght the inevitable. They wasted much eﬀort in doing so.
But Alfsigr hadn’t wanted to bring up the question of when she would move in with Pramod. She had known for some time that it was not a question of ‘when’. She had told herself keeping her distance was in the name of science: She would be able to measure how strong the bond was getting, and how quickly it strengthened.
She wasn’t sure if she had believed herself anymore.
Recently, she’d often found her mind turning to the question of what it would be like to live with her mate. She found it hard to picture, beyond the obvious. Last week’s… ‘experiment’ with interspecies sexuality had added to the image.
‘Unsettled’ was not the word for her feelings on that encounter. Barsum minds were not designed to handle that much pleasure at once. Alfsigr didn’t think it was supposed to be that intense, even for a human. Something in the way the bond works had ampliﬁed it. She was sure of it.
There was only one bed in Pramod’s house that she knew of.
Alfsigr’s feet sped up.
“That was quick.”
“I have been keeping myself ready to move, when necessary.”
Pramod looked at her carefully. “I’m surprised you didn’t bring it up.”
“I…” Somehow, the words wouldn’t come. Alfsigr found herself looking at her mate, wondering what she was going to say. She shook her head, and looked away.
“How do you feel about moving in with me, Alfsigr? I know it’s logical, and probably even necessary for you — soon, if not now. But how do you feel about it?”
“What makes you think I feel anything? It is a logical course of action.”
“It’s been a logical course of action for a while, I think. At least to discuss, as a possible contingency. And you have have been preparing for it yourself; it would be logical to make sure I was doing the same. Besides, you are avoiding the issue.”
Alfsigr set down her bag, and very carefully walked to the opposite corner of the room from him. Pramod stayed where he was. “I’m not quite the same person in your presence as I am away from it. When I am around you… Your thoughts are always with me, in my own head. It is only when I am away from you that my mind is clear. It frightens me, even as it is something I need to have. Something I want to have. Even if I cannot yet interpret your thoughts, they aﬀect mine. I had been… avoiding the thoughts of what that might mean for me once I found myself in your presence full-time.”
Pramod instinctively took a step forward, then caught himself, and turned to walk to the wall. “I don’t have any answers for you. And if you want to keep living on your own as long as you can, I don’t mean to oppose that. I just thought it was simpler, and that if staying away was a strain on you, there was no need to continue it.”
“I understand, and I thank you for it.” She paused to think, then gave a wry smile. “In your presence, it is hard for me to imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Also, I know that I found myself nearly running to be back here. I would like to stay. It is just that this is an unknown, and it frightens me.”
“Is there anything I could do to help?”
Alfsigr paused, after starting to answer, then said: “Actually, I believe there might be. Are you aware of the Barsum meditation forms?”
“I know of them, and have read a bit about them. I have never actually studied them though.”
“If you would consent to having me teach them to you, and practicing them, I believe they might allow me to clear my own head on occasion.” She had stepped away from the wall, which Pramod took as his cue that it was ok to close the distance again.
“Sure, what do I have to do?”
Alfsigr was rooting around in her bag by the time he came up. She turned and took a deep inward breath, and relaxed, smiling. “Thank you. To start, I would ask that you read this, and try to understand it. I will be on hand to answer questions. Once you understand that, we can move on to actual meditation.”
Pramod took the book and sat, starting to study, but then looked up to where Alfsigr was still standing. “I’m sorry, I’m in the center of the room. If you want me to take a chair in the corner…”
Alfsigr smiled again. “Cozi, I prefer to be as close to you as possible. I just needed space to make sure I could think clearly for that question.”
It was the ﬁrst word that caught Pramod. “ ‘Cozi?’ That’s not a word I’ve run across before.”
Alfsigr found herself bushing again. “It is, um, what I believe you call a ‘term of endearment’. Used by close couples between themselves.” She paused just a moment, and managed to get more embarrassed, but continued anyway. “There are… sexual connotations. It is not a term to use in public. I am sorry, I was not aware I had said it.”
“It’s ok. You’ve said it yourself: Like it or not, I’m your mate. I don’t intend to make you unhappy, if I can help it.”
“Thank you, very much.” And then she carefully took a chair nearby, and positioned it so as not to disturb his reading.
“You’ve done very well, for a beginner, and a human.”
“It probably helps that my teacher can tell if I’m straying oﬀ the planned meditation.” Pramod took Alfsigr’s oﬀered hand, and stood. “Thanks.”
“I believe the appropriate human phrase is: ‘It was my pleasure’. It also proved the theory; My thoughts felt more like the thoughts of a Barsum for a time.”