Who Curses the devil?
The rain on Xon came down like Morse code, with dense strata of 10- and 20-meters dot-and-dash downpours delimited by 50 meter spaces. Even in the wet lair-houses like Delta by the Sea of the Red West the Kaalysti had rarely seen rain and certainly nothing like what precipitated out of the thick Xon troposphere.
Ariel got up from their bed totally relaxed, from the top of her ears to the tip of her tail, more relaxed than she had been in ages, maybe in all six-squared orbits of Xon about her primary. How long would that be in Earth years? she wondered. Thirty-six. She had spent half her conscious life as a Kaalite, a member of a vaguely feline race that had evolved on the planet the current inhabitants called Grace. Ariel had long ago ceased to think of herself as a changeling, a human who had undergone a DNA metamorphosis while in stasis. She was of the Kaalysti, a little taller than most, fur a bit ruddier, face a little flatter, but a Kaalite, and an attractive one at that. Despite their imposing intellect Kaalites still appreciated physical attractiveness. It took Ariel years to find this out about her people, so much did their mental aspirations overshadow their primal nature. In fact, when she first encountered the Kaalysti, after the shine on her awe of them dulled a bit, she mischaracterized them as a bit cold and calculating. However, she understood the depth of her error in judgment as she experienced firsthand the depth of their passions. The Kaalysti are a race devoted to understatement, subtlety, nuance, and their emotional scale is so fine that volumes are held within a gesture, an utterance, a scent. By contrast, the sensations of her human past seemed coarse, crass, vague and unrefined, and thankfully distant.
Yet occasionally she did think human thoughts, calling up human memories in spite of herself. She had believed all traces of her former existence as an acolyte of the Church of the New Life had been erased, but there they were. The nanobots that had changed body, and the Kaalite discipline that had changed her mind about so many things had failed to erase her memories of Earth. And for this some secret part of her was strangely glad, as painful as many of those memories were.
But at this moment on the inhospitable planet Xon, with its tympanic downpours, she was completely relaxed, having finally mastered the complimentary massage technique known as annaas with her lair-mate, Lree. The big male was even more terse than the average Kaalite; on Earth Lree would have tread the fine line between social awkwardness and aloofness. It had taken Ariel a long time to decipher his few words, even though she was completely fluent in the language of the Kaalysti. But it was about the time that she realized that physical attractiveness had a place in Kaalite relations that the light bulb turned on and she understood Lree's intentions. It was a flash of memory that did it, a spark of remembrance from when she first saw herself in her new form. When she had first seen her tail, protruding from her coccyx and extending to the floor--thin, lithe, sexy--Ariel wasn't sure then why that should be important to her. But Kaalites have very long attention spans in their very long lives, and their relationships tend to develop slowly. Lree was patient, waiting for the moment of self-realization he knew must bloom in her.
Ariel and Lree had paired two real time years after their exodus from Lanta. They were two people who were the closest thing to outsiders in a society that could not ostracize them because it did not understand the concept. Perhaps it was Lree's physical size that had attracted her: he was the only male she had met who was bigger than she, and after living her former life as a petite, almost pixie-like human woman, she concluded her preference for big men must have come with her across the gulf of species.
Their pairing was not for the purpose of procreation; however, it was the furthest thing from a platonic friendship. Unlike primates who copulate with monkey-like madness until the novelty wore off, their hours-long intercourses escalated and developed over their years together until each could sense the other's slightest thought from the tiniest twitch of a tuff of fur, whiff of musk, or subvocalization. For the Kaalites, coupling was the deepest form of communication, not a way to increase their numbers. If offspring were needed then it was up to the Lair-house Mother to select a mate and conceive a child. However, even though the entire Kaalysti population was in exile on Xon, it was healthy and stable, and a population increase was not warranted.
Xon was a smaller planet than the world the Kaalites had inhabited since achieving sentience. It circled the yellow star known to Terrans as Kappa Ceti, whose coronal mass ejections had been tamed centuries earlier by some advanced race that had then inexplicably moved on. Xon was in a tighter orbit than Lanta, a small, hot world, swampy, with a thick smoggy atmosphere beset with swarms of stinging insects. No moons lit the night sky, so Xon's shallow seas had only lethargic solar tides. Moreover, the world was well on its way to becoming gravitationally locked to its primary, and the days had lengthened measurably in the time the Kaalites had emigrated. An unpleasant place; still, their advanced technology had made life there comfortably, if foreign. Perhaps after several hundred orbits they would think of this place as home, but Ariel doubted that. There was still enough human tucked away in her to resent their expulsion from Lanta.
Once, Ariel had taken a small craft across space to spy on the invaders of their homeworld. The Kaalysti were an old space-faring race but had little inclination to travel; that tendency did not diminish the sophistication of their vessels. Ariel could cover the distance six plus light year distance between Xon and Lanta in a few relativistic shiptime months, and once there she was there she could observe the marauders without being detected. As Ariel spied she repeatedly unsheathed and retracted the claws on her feet, a sign of frustration at her people's refugee status. It was a deeply-rooted human reaction to atrocity bubbling to the surface as a Kaalite gesture.
Vincent Fitzroy had once been the Prelate for Reverend Pater Diego de Velazquez , spiritual and lawful ruler of the Church of the New Life, the global religion that proclaimed that extraterrestrial life was nearer the Divine than humanity. Unopposed, it had swept the entire population of Earth (and ultimately the Solar System) into its gaping maw and then looked outward. As captain of the Arc, the moon-sized pilgrim ship sent to Grace (Lanta), Fitzroy had been sent to worship at the feet of the Kaalysti, but under his command the mission turned from one of worship into one of conquest. Only some lingering doubts saved the Kaalysti from genocidal extermination, and if Fitzroy had had the technology he would have pursued them to Xon to finish them off.
Ariel had been one of those Pilgrims, her transformation sanctioned by the Reverend Pater for the purpose of understanding the Most Holy Kaalysti. But as she came to comprehend the extent of Fitzroy's brutality and violence, she abandoned her human allegiance and sought sanctuary with her new adopted siblings in Lair-house Moraine. It was above that community that she hovered in geostationary orbit, watching from afar the Pilgrims and their descendants pillage what they couldn't possibly fathom. Ariel wished she could interdict the plundering, but her ship was unarmed, as were all Kaalite ships, as were all civilized ships in the galactic community. Revenge was not an instinct she retained from her human days, more of a childhood memory, but it gnawed at her. However, there was nothing she could do, not by herself, and after a few days of tortuous observation she returned to Xon.
Lree waited the thirteen years real time for Ariel's return with the patience that defined the Kaalysti. Their thirty years of commitment to each other and their long lifespans made the separation practically inconsequential. Practically. Her excursion was something she had to do, he understood, and she would be bringing back interesting information. But the debriefing could wait; they were paired, and their fondness for each other only grew during her absence. The Kaalysti are a race devoted to subtlety and nuance, and the couple had more than a dozen years of nuance to catch up on.