The Yotoori Shore
By Duo Radon
Quodelli was a wild country, a dark blue-green tuft of dense Nidu forest and undulating rivers tacked on to the southwestern coast of the Mora continent. It had centuries ago been proclaimed unsuitable for poleepkwan habitation, due both to its challenging topography and delicate ecosystems teeming with species, many of which were found nowhere else on Patakatifu. The sole and avidly maintained exception was Yotoori, a relatively tiny swatch of beach resort in the middle of the country's coastline. The shimmering blue waters of this shore were rich in a variety of minerals that the poleepkwan people found uniquely beneficial in the healing of wounds and when recovering from illness. So, when need arose and schedules permitted, ailing poleepkwa would migrate to Yotoori to soak in the sea for a day or three.
The vacation spot wasn't limited only to residents of Patakatifu. A limited number of outsiders were permitted to rent a bungalow on the shore for a few days at a time and the accommodations catered to the comforts of a variety of species. It was for this reason that Yeen was certain his human companion would be quite contented in the resort, even while his custom made accoutrements were thousands of miles away. They had stopped in Quodelli once before, only briefly, to eat at Yotoori's famous grill before continuing north to Oolund. Yeen was delighted to have the opportunity to secure a week long stay for them both. Reservations were typically very difficult to acquire, but as always, the Ulu Mahan carried more than a little sway.
And Wikus was definitely in need of some rest and relaxation; he hadn't stopped moping since his awkward and supposedly unfruitful encounter with Princess Abayomi. The drone was familiar with the natural human propensity to over-dramatize a stressful situation and it was difficult to gauge how much of his partner's angst was legitimately heartfelt. Even so, Yeen was pleased when Wikus's mood lightened upon arrival in spite of the fact that his woes were probably still weighing heavily on his heart. The human couldn't hide his amazement as he and his Sugati trailed after their poleepkwan concierge, Tolk, walking along a pristinely kept path cut through the balmy jungle.
"Whoa," Wikus marveled as they stepped out into a clearing, "What is that?"
"Your lodging, Human," their guide answered cordially, enunciating the last word as though it were a formality.
What Wikus saw before him was obviously a building...at least, it had a door. But it was unlike any he'd yet encountered. The cabin was a black metal framework in the shape of a cube, but little more. Its walls were constructed of some kind of energy field; blue, luminous, opaque and featureless, roof included. Wikus pressed a hand against the apparent surface and it was solid as well, cool to the touch, with a impression similar to a sheet of glass under water. "Why is it like that?" he queried his companions.
In the center of the panel they faced, the metal frame diverted up from the ground to encase a standard automated door. Tolk pressed a thumb to the door's bio-touch lock and it slid aside quietly, then he stood nearby to allow his guests passage.
"Go in and see," Yeen coaxed merrily, swinging a hand at the open door.
Pushed forward by his innate curiosity, Wikus strode through the entrance. The interior was very sparsely furnished, not at all like the sort of room a human would expect at a comparable retreat on Earth. To the left one saw a shoulder-high wall that secluded the toilet and baths. Directly in front of Wikus and parallel to the back wall stretched a huge hammock bed, though it was fixed at multiple points on each end and didn't swing to and fro. It was generously piled with a variety of blankets and coverings, each neatly folded and wrapped in plastic, awaiting their first use. Just beyond the hammock, a railing prevented guests from toppling over a ledge, below which could be found an open sitting area accessible by the steep stairway against the right hand wall. And in the nearest right corner, a table sat surrounded by standard poleepkwan bench seats.
Yet it wasn't the decor that raised an eyebrow. The strangest thing about the cabin was the disappearing act performed by the roof and all four encompassing walls. The black frame was visible, yet there was no hint of the odd projected surfaces; no shimmer, no seams, no illumination. Wikus was looking out at the very forest he'd just traversed. "...The hell..." he mumbled, and ducked his head out of the entrance to peer at the exterior, then in again, and out, earning a confused head cock from Tolk. "How's that work?" he asked as Yeen gently shepherded him back inside.
"Ah...well then," Tolk interjected briefly, "I'm available for whatever you might need, whatever the hour. Just call the visitor's station."
"Thank you," Yeen smiled and bobbed his head politely at the departing concierge.
"Yeah, thanks, man!" Wikus added while he moved to the wall to press his outstretched hands onto the invisible field.
Yeen returned his attention to his waiting novice. "This is Bilateral Semi-Permeable Surface Projection technology, in which light from the visible spectrum-"
"Wait! Give me the dumb version, please."
"As you wish. It's a force field that can use light in different ways. You can make it appear solid on one side, and transparent on the other."
"So this isn't a teleplay of the outside, we're actually seeing it. Like through a window."
"We can also control what passes through it with this panel here," Yeen pointed at a small glowing port near the table. "You can let a little air flow through, or shut it down all together, depending on how much of the outside you want...inside."
"Whattaya know..." Wikus mused as he admired the colorful Nidu. "The future is amazing..."
"Uhf," Yeen grunted with a lowered brow and slumped shoulders, "How many times can I tell you? This isn't the future! It's simply a different experience than what you're accustomed to."
"It's the future to me!" Wikus persisted.
"It most certainly is not!"
Before the green worker could maintain their disagreement, Wikus moved to stand at the top of the stairs, his gaze now directed out at the sea. "Look at that view..."
"Oh, yes...it is beautiful, isn't it?" Yeen sighed, casting aside his exasperation. He stood close to his Sugati, draping a friendly arm over the smaller creature's shoulder.
Indeed, the structure of the room was designed to pull focus to the most important of Yotoori's attractions, the ocean. The rock on which the cabin was built fell away sharply as the land tumbled down to the shore, so facing the room's back wall was, in effect and in reality, like standing on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the sea. Once the terrain met with the water, it continued outward still in the form of black rock jetties, narrow fingers that stretched into the deep blue and partitioned a widespread shoreline into dozens of smaller, partially secluded beaches. The little bungalows, hidden from one another by vegetation, were like sapphires set onto the knuckles of an enormous bear paw with too many digits, its long, stony claws pointed towards the horizon.
Wikus was content to stare at the scenery only briefly. "Let's go swimming!" he declared excitedly, dropping his duffle in a corner before sitting and pulling off his shoes.
"Of course. I just need to use the toilet first..."
"Meet you there!" Wikus replied, having stripped down to his shorts.
Before the drone could vocalize any reason why the man should wait, Wikus was out the door and around the corner, heading down the staircase carved into the rock. "Be careful on the stairs, they might be slippery!" Yeen shouted after him.
As predicted, the steps were slick in places, as was the single railing that accompanied them, yet Wikus spared them very little caution. They were small enough to take them two at a time, his bare feet making pip pap sounds against the flat rock in quick succession. It was nothing short of a miracle when he reached the sand without tumbling end over end.
Inside, hoping that he would not find his partner in a crumpled heap at the base of the hill, Yeen hastened to take care of business in the restroom. Several moments later he, too, was standing on the beach, relishing the warm sun on his carapace. He could see his human standing waist deep in the sea, intently focused on an inescapable spectacle nearby.
Several yards away in the sand, the docile surf lapping at their bodies, a trio of pink-skinned Logatuuri were evidently consummating some type of relationship, vigorously and noisily. They were an unusual species in that they utilized three genders, yet as far as Yeen could tell from his prudent glances, this group appeared to be two of one, one of the other. As the uneasy drone strode past into the water, the aliens paid him no mind, writhing and groping at one another as though they had the place to themselves.
Attempting to ignore the ruckus, Yeen made his way through the waves to his own partner, who was observing the lustful display unabashedly. His brow furrowed, Wikus rubbed at his chin as though he were attempting to solve a difficult equation.
"Wikus!" Yeen clicked in a lowered voice. "Stop that!"
"I'm just...trying to figure out what it is I'm looking at, here..."
"You shouldn't stare," Yeen stated uncomfortably.
"Hey, if they don't want anyone watching'em, what're they doing outside, man?"
"I know, but still...come on, let's try the next beach over," Yeen coaxed, taking the man by his upper arm and leading him through the water toward the nearby outcropping.
Wikus allowed himself to be tugged along, yet he couldn't seem to break focus. "Which one's the girl?"
Each jetty featured several affixed ladders to allow bathers to cross over them easily and Yeen gently shoved Wikus onto the nearest. They clambered up the slope and were relieved to see the neighboring beach free of guests, let alone intercourse.
With childlike enthusiasm, Wikus hurried to the opposing ladder and hopped off the last step into the water. As soon as he'd righted himself he pushed out further, to the place where the sea gradated from aquamarine to a shining blue and the rhythmic waves began to lift his feet off the sand. Blissfully he drew his knees up to his chest and bobbed in the water like a cork, then wheeled backwards and upright once more. Ever since he was small, Wikus had been as adequate as any little boy at sports, but he seemed to have a knack for swimming. Living in a country bordered on three sides by ocean, he'd had plenty of opportunities to practice. And once grown, his long limbs and lithe body made the task a snap. Even the few extra pounds he carried now didn't seem to hinder his ability to move through the water.
Yeen, however, approached the plunge much more cautiously, and for good reason. The poleepkwan body was superbly built to run, jump and climb, but it floundered in deep water. A large set of lungs helped keep the head near the surface, but they were still fairly heavy creatures. Unlike a human's smooth skin, a poleepkwa's striated plates and spikes created drag in the water, and with a modest surface area on the hands and feet, paddling expended a relatively high degree of energy. Like most civilizations, poleepkwan settlements traditionally clung to bodies of water, utilizing its resources for their livelihood. Yet the people themselves rarely cared to venture into the stuff past their necks, and an outright fear of the water was common; ironic for a race that so closely resembled a crustacean on Earth.
Yeen was braver than most, yet justifiably hesitant. Wikus knew this and was quite content to play in the shallows. Together, they passed the day inventing games and investigating the little animals that darted through the water and crawled on the sand. When the effort of moving through the waves tired them out, the couple set out on board one of the small sea craft provided for the resort's guests. They motored out among the larger waves and came inland as well, inspecting mangrove alleys and weaving in and out of cavernous channels carved in the rock.
Inevitably, the sun drew close to the horizon; play-wearied and hungry, they were forced to leave the beach behind for the day. Yeen placed their dinner order via his comm link and then led his Sugati back up the stone steps to their refuge.
There the dutiful worker set about preparing their bed while they waited for Tolk to deliver their feast. It wasn't all that common for Wikus and Yeen to sleep in the same bed. A drone's spiky shell could cause serious abrasions or puncture wounds in the human's comparatively soft flesh if either sleeper tossed too much during the night. Wrapped in tough pelts, Wikus was typically safe. But as they'd been left at home, Yeen readied a comfortable cocoon of blankets on one side of their shared hammock.
Sitting at the table, back and head against the wall, Wikus stared up at the invisible ceiling and chuckled to himself. Twilight was setting in and with it, the jungle's nocturnal animals were rousing from their hideouts. Occasionally a small winged creature would alight on the cabin roof only to skid across its frictionless surface and take to the air again, confused and disoriented. Entertaining though it was, it couldn't distract the Earthling from his growling stomach.
"I'm so...sooooo hungry..." Wikus groused.
"I know, Spucky. Try to be patient, it will be here soon," Yeen replied without turning from his task.
"I'm not going to make it, man. Take my body home and bury it by the lake...so I can be close to you..."
Yeen rolled his eyes. "Drink some water..."
"I don't want any more water. I need protein. Look...look!" he insisted, holding out his hands so Yeen could see them tremble.
"I see them. I'm hungry too, but it takes time to cook that much food. You wouldn't want it undercooked, would you? See it all come up again?"
"No," Wikus grunted, slouching further in his seat.
Finally satisfied with his handiwork, Yeen joined his friend at the table. "Look at that sunset. We don't normally get to see it...certainly not over the ocean..."
"Can't eat a sunset..."
"You are very grouchy when you're hungry. You know that?"
At last the door buzzed and Yeen quickly rose to answer it. "Oh, thank the stars..."
Tolk dipped his head respectfully as he entered the cabin, toting a hovering cart laden with food behind him. Wikus would normally have commented on the novelty of a "flying table" but the savory aroma emanating from it was far more important to him at present. "One 32, one 4 and two bottles of Goyai, yes?"
"That is correct," Yeen affirmed gratefully, helping their host transfer the meal to their table. "Thank you very much!"
"Please, enjoy!" the visiting drone clicked, then he was gone again.
The primary intent of Yotoori had been, and still remained, a recovery center. As proper nutrition was a crucial element in any rehabilitation, the resort's chefs were among Patakatifu's finest. They specialized in the cuisine of seven different races to accommodate the range of visitors Yotoori saw. Yeen had promised his partner one of the menu's sample platters as a payoff for his efforts on Maj, and that was what sat on the table before him.
The #4 variety tray included selections from all seven sets of menu offerings. It was heaped with roasted meats, vegetables stuffed with spiced fillings, piles of steamed grains and tender, minced roots, little cups of sauces and some things that Wikus couldn't quite identify but looked scrumptious. It was most commonly ordered for a group of guests to share, much like an enormous plate of appetizers, so there was no chance the human would go to bed hungry tonight.
Pausing only to unbuckle the waistband of his shorts, Wikus attacked the food like a lion on a wildebeest carcass. The first bit he chose was a single bone impaling a lovely chunk of meat the size of an ear of corn. It was blackened and glazed outside and when he tore a mouthful off, he could see a tender, pink interior welling over with juices that ran down his fingers.
Yeen popped the lids off their beverages, sliding one within the man's reach, then started on his own bowl of food. He'd chosen a poleepkwan favorite, consisting largely of braised meat and fungus pods in a thick, creamy sauce. After a few welcome mouthfuls, he posed an obvious question to his voracious companion. "How is it?"
"Mnfmygahd, if SO good! Mn. Howf yourf?"
"Delicious! I'm so glad we came..."
"Oh, yeah," Wikus agreed once he'd swallowed another bite, "and we have'ta bring everyone with us next time!"
"I'm sure we can arrange that," Yeen smiled.
They ate without much conversation, both of them savoring their expertly crafted repast. They could hear the various buzzing and chirping animals from the surrounding wilderness, capped off with a faint, repetitive fwoosh from the surf in the background. The daylight grew faint as they polished off the last bits and Yeen had to flick on the bars of white lights that ran around the ceiling's framework. With the moon yet to rise, they were encapsulated within a little cube of light, enveloped by blackness, only a sliver of orange and blue on the horizon. The force field walls played another strange trick on the eyes...when they were transparent, they did not reflect any of the cabin's interior light, but neither did they allow any to pass through to the outside. The bright white glow that lit the room should have cast its illumination onto the ground and Nidu just outside, yet it stopped abruptly, leaving an eerie, intangible void surrounding them.
Yeen placed the empty dishes in a neat pile and alerted their host that they could be collected. The especially sizable bowl of food had filled him up very comfortably, so much so that he hadn't been able to help Wikus with his meal much. Surprisingly, the human hadn't needed it. With the exception of the few handfuls Yeen had eaten, and a trio of seasoned pods that had proven too spicy for his taste, Wikus had finished the entire tray.
"You really were hungry."
"Yeah. I told you," Wikus replied matter-of-factly, picking at his teeth with a fingernail.
"What do you say we wash up and get ready for bed?"
"Sounds good to me. But, hey...do you think we can turn these walls solid...say, just these three?" the man suggested, pointing a thumb at the back walls of the cabin.
"Certainly. You don't care for the darkness?" Yeen grinned.
"Well it's...you know, SO dark. Its givin' me the creeps...knowing anything could be out there and we can't see it."
"It can't see you, either. Or reach you."
"I know. That's a lot better," Wikus nodded as his partner adjusted the control panel and what was once invisible morphed to a solid, plain gray-blue, much like any standard poleepkwan structure. In an instant the atmosphere of the room felt cozy and secure. Satisfied, Wikus stood with a heavy groan, the waist of his open shorts pinched in one hand to keep them up.
"You probably won't need those," Yeen pointed out.
"Oh. Yeah, what am I thinking," Wikus muttered before he dropped his shorts and shoved them aside with his foot, content to leave them on the floor.
The bathing area offered guests a sampling of options. There was the quintessential poleepkwan steam shower, though this one was large enough to accommodate a soldier even Tarzier's size. Opposite that, a huge, oval shaped basin sat affixed to the floor with the same sort of circulation system Wikus knew from the Fiordraa. Water was sucked in at the foot, cleansed, then reintroduced into the bath at the other end. This tub also featured an elbow-high shelf at one end, angled slightly downward, and at the roof level an assortment of spray fixtures, so one could enclose the entire basin and shower if desired.
"What'll it be?" Yeen asked.
"Ohf...I'd like to sit, please," Wikus answered with a wide yawn.
"I don't blame you," Yeen chuckled, then knelt beside the tub and started setting the water temperature, speed and chemical content.
"Eh...what's that look for?" Wikus prodded.
"You know what- that one! Why're you looking at me like that, man?"
"Don't be upset, Spucky. I'm just...happy that you're doing so well."
Wikus contorted his face in an exaggerated frown. "I'd ask if you were drunk but we've spent the whole day together so I know that's not it..."
By way of explanation, the green worker nudged at his human's distended belly with the backside of a curled finger.
"Oh, that. Yeah...well...probably shouldn't have had it all, but it was too good to quit," Wikus sighed and ran his hand over his gut.
"I see no problem with that," Yeen chirped as the water began to fill the basin.
"No, I know you don't...hey, waterfall. Nice."
Warm, sweet smelling water gushed from the angled shelf into the basin, filling the air with steam and that wonderful white noise that only falling water can make. Without comment, Yeen pulled off the Earthling's undershorts and tossed them over the half-wall in the general direction of his duffle bag.
"Hey!" Wikus protested with mock irritation, covering his chest with his arms. "You think just because you buy a guy dinner you can take advantage of him? My mother warned me about people like you..."
"I have no idea what that means. Now get in."
"Yeah, yeah...some fun you are..." Wikus grinned, leaning on his friend for support as he climbed into the tub. He settled into the warmth and scooted back a bit, letting the water cascade over his neck and shoulders. "Ohhh man, that's good stuff..."
"I am fun," Yeen argued with a flick of his mandibles.
"I don't know...if you have to say so...maybe not."
"Hmph." Yeen palmed the man's face and shoved his head backwards beneath the artificial waterfall. "Was that fun?"
Choking and sputtering from a combination of laughter and inhaled water, Wikus threw a few handfuls at his partner.
"You're getting water all over the floor. That's not nice," Yeen chided through the poleepkwa's characteristic chattering laugh.
"Wise ass!" Wikus smirked.
While his counterpart lounged in the bath, Yeen steam cleaned his carapace in the shower tube. A much more efficient process than regular bathing, it only took a few minutes and he was sanitized and squeaky. Afterward, he settled down on the floor next to the tub to keep his Sugati company.
All things considered, there was something to be said for a hot bath, something more than just a need to cleanse. Wikus was obviously enjoying the water. The herbal additives it contained did an excellent job removing the sand and salt from his lightly tanned skin, even without soap. He meticulously massaged through his hair and in every nook, but his feet proved too difficult to reach with such a full belly. Yeen gladly dipped his hands into the bath, poking a fingertip between each of the man's toes to loosen the aggravating sand grains.
"Hm...your toes are sort of cute...but it seems like they wouldn't be of much use...they're so small..."
"Well...small compared to yours, I guess," Wikus considered, leaning back on his hands. "I guess they must do something. Keep me from falling over, anyway."
"Ha! You're a riot."
"I told you," Yeen smiled over his shoulder.
Once every exterior component was clean and dry, and fresh underwear was donned, Yeen lifted the exhausted human into the hammock and then carefully joined him.
"Yes, very," Wikus yawned again.
"Good," he clicked, settled himself in and flipped off the lights.
As soon as the hut was dark, a billion points of light came into focus above their heads, a heavenly snapshot of a galaxy Wikus never would have imagined existed before contact with extraterrestrials. The starlight was enough to cast a ghostly silvered edge on everything in the room.
"Whoa..." Wikus whispered. "You know...you've been to all kinds of galaxies and planets...do you ever get bored of seeing this?"
"Yeah. Hey look, a shooting star..."
"You know, the...thing...just went by...zoop," Wikus gestured at the sky, swishing a finger in the direction it had fallen.
"It's not a star-"
"I know, that's just what people call it."
"Because, that's what it looks like!"
"It's nothing at all like a star..."
"This is another of those human 'expressions'..."
"I will never understand your people's need to use descriptive words incorrectly."
"Oh, geez. Maybe we should just...get some sleep."
"I think so," Yeen agreed softly. "Today was...a very good day."
"Yes. It sure was," Wikus replied. "Thank you." And then he did something that had once been as commonplace in his life as tying his shoes or driving a car. Like those other human norms it had fallen out of practice, a thing no longer applicable; but he couldn't think of a better opportunity to share it than now. Wikus twisted himself sideways for a moment and planted a kiss on his Sugati's plated face, in the relative vicinity of his "cheek".
Although it was entirely alien, Yeen understood the gesture's meaning and responded with his own version in the form of a throaty rumble and a tender nudge with his forehead. Nothing else needed to be spoken, even assuming either of them had the energy to do so. Sleep came quickly thereafter, and it was equally as pleasant.
Yeen was the first to wake, prompted by the late morning light. He sat upright immediately with the intent to get ready for work until full consciousness and a quick survey reminded him where he was. Fighting his work instinct, the drone set himself back into the hammock to wait quietly for his partner. Beside him, limbs flung over the edge, Wikus snored away.
Inevitably the man woke as well, rolling, stretching and yawning lazily. When his heavily lidded eyes met Yeen's, the worker acknowledged him with a special sort of click only employed first thing in the day...a poleepkwan equivalent to "good morning".
"Mr'ninchris..." Wikus slurred, and began inexplicably poking and the poleepkwa's tentacles.
"Did you- stop that- did you sleep well?"
"Mnohyeah, great. You?"
"Yes. Maybe a bit too long...it's late."
"Aaahh. It's a vacation, man. Mf...bathroom..." With a clumsy flailing of limbs, Wikus rolled out of the hammock, crawled beneath it, then staggered to the restroom to answer nature's call. By the time he'd returned he was much more lucid, walking properly and rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Yeen remained in the bed for lack of anything better to do, his hands folded behind his head and knees up, feet together. Instead of taking his own spot, Wikus scrambled onto his friend and utilized him like a lawn chair. He sat on the drone's belly with a foot to either side, back propped up by a pair of powerful, armored legs.
"Huh...looks like rain today, doesn't it?" Wikus wondered out loud as he craned his neck at the overcast sky.
"Most likely. It is the tropics...it probably won't last the entire day. Are you comfortable, there?"
"No. Not really. You're very bony."
With a mischievous grin Yeen straightened his legs and flipped the human back onto his own side of the hammock.
"AH! What'd I say?" Wikus squawked. Another bout of shifting and struggling finally got him into a sitting position, the blankets cuddled around his legs like a nest. "Ahhh...well...so what do you want to do, eh?"
"Nah. Not yet."
"Play out in the rain?"
"Well, any suggestions?"
"I can think of something..."
"Well? What?" Yeen raised his brow, playing coy.
"You know...c'mon. You're not going to make me beg, are you?"
Yeen's expression warmed and he sat upright to face his companion. "I would never."
"Good! Because I wasn't going to. Just so you know."
"I know." The drone couldn't resist straightening Wikus's riotous hair. "It grows so fast...needs to be cut again."
"Yep. Hey...can we do that...upside-down thing...from last month?"
"You like that?"
"Fook yeah! Who wouldn't?"
"As I recall, when it was first proposed to you, you didn't want anything to do with it."
"I can admit when I'm wrong," Wikus smiled sheepishly. "Of course, if you'd explained it right the first time..."
"Oh, of course. I see."
"But listen...when we get home, I don't think we should tell Brutus we did that one without him..."