Chapter 5: The Portside Menagerie
I am standing in an alien kitchen in desperate need of coffee.
Elsewhere in the apartment I hear the steady thump thump thump thump of people fucking, a counterpoint to the pounding of my very hungover head. Fucking hell, I need coffee.
The kitchen in Hank’s apartment is small, modular, and cryptic. It's a grid of anonymous metal cabinets with latch handles. I can see that some cabinet doors have been removed to reveal a modest sink with four spouts and a flat ceramic surface that I assume is a stove. I suspect that other lockers contain a fridge and oven and hopefully a dishwasher, because sucks to hand washing. I definitely do not see a coffee maker and a lovingly labelled tin of coffee grounds. Everything is too frustratingly squared away for the hungover interloper. Like in a submarine, or I realize, like on a spacecraft.
I begin to open cabinets, fiddling with latches to unlock them. I find a pantry filled with packages covered in foreign text, something runic looking on one box and another with writing like Arabic script, but nothing remotely English looking. The bedroom noises take on a new urgency, now thump-thump-thump-thumping accompanied by an enthusiastic oh-oh-oh-oh. Assholes. I open another cabinet looking for something that is recognizably a kettle, and find pots and skillets but nothing with a spout. I find mugs, which suggests that hot beverages do in fact exist in space. I hear a grunt and the thumping stops and a deep, woman’s voice bellows an involuntary Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. There should be a law about people having orgasms before Halley gets her morning coffee. Punishment for violating it would be death.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Hank says in the doorway to his bedroom, flushed like he just finished having good sex. He is wearing a pair of comfy looking pajama pants and nothing else. Despite myself my eyes track over a torso defined by small, muscular pectorals, narrow rippling abs, and those defined hip line things that have always made me a bit crazy. My stupid horny module goes yum and I wonder if Hank ever masturbates to his reflection....
Fortunately my hungover module currently has command. “Coffee...” I croak.
Hank has the good graces to look bashful, “You must be feeling terrible... and we woke you up.... be right back.” Hank ducks back into his bedroom and I make a whining noise that might contain the word coffee. He reappears a moment later holding a blue postage stamp. “One good thing about living in the future is that the hangover cures actually work. Turn around.” I turn around and he slides my T-shirt dress, once again flaccid and loose, off one shoulder and adheres the patch to my bare skin. I feel a prickling sensation and instantly I feel a little better. “Coffee,” I remind him.
“I have some bad news.” Hank makes an apologetic face, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but coffee is native to Earth, and well, we don’t have any here.” I make a choked, sobbing sound and must be making some kind of horrified expression. “We have tea though, since the tea plant is interstellar. So I can make you a cup of black or green tea...” It was a far cry from coffee, but the idea of a familiar mug of hot tea was sort of attractive...
“We shall all drink Mud!” Declares Steadfast Freya making her dramatic exit from Hank’s bedroom wearing only underwear. She stoops a little to pass through the door, but then stretches, towering, in the common room. Undressed like this she is even more impressive. And imposing. She looms over me and somehow seems even larger, or at least more muscular in her nakedness. I can see every sinew of her body, which is lean and sculpted with defined, ropey muscles, but which still has a smoothness, a softness at the hip and ass and chest that keeps her looking feminine despite her size. Of course she also has four enormous tits. My eye level is right at the horizontal cleavage between her top and lower pairs of breasts, which, in the nude flesh, are shockingly large and firm, capped with aggressive looking nipples. As she breathes, her top breasts slowly shift and rub against her lower pair. It's been a long time since I've been romantic with another woman, but I find myself staring at this space woman’s tits. Horny module engaged.
“Mud?” I ask, hastily. “Why would we drink dirt?”
It takes an effort of will to pry my eyes off those tits, bouncing heavily and sliding against each other as she boldly marches into the room and flops into a cushioned chair. She stretches, four muscular arms and shoulders rippling, and suddenly we are at eye level. Her eyes are a very bright, sapphire blue and regard me with a frank intensity. Her generous lips quirk in a smile that dimples her cheeks a little but does nothing to soften her square, strong chin. She rubs her face with one pair of hands while her other hands sweep her long golden blonde hair out of her face. Fuck me but she's gorgeous. “We shall drink Mud because it is the beverage that other Halley’s have told me most resembles your Earth-coffee. It is a drink of Hank’s own invention,” she adds giving Hank a lover’s look.
Hank is such a blusher. “The Blue’s have this stimulant powder they snort made from the bark of a native tree. I found that if you grind the bark coarse and brew it in boiling water you get a caffeinated beverage that is kind of like coffee?” Hank pours steaming water from one of the sink spouts into a pot filled with bright red sawdust. He stirs it thoughtfully. “Mud has caffeine in it, and a few other caffeine like stimulants, but nothing too speedy. And the psychotropic chemicals that get Blues high don’t seem to affect humans.”
“So you made ersatz coffee out of alien cocaine?” I ask.
Hank chuckles, “Yeah, basically.” He takes out mugs and a strainer and pours his Mud. "Time to ride the Red Horse."
I take the mug and sniff it. It smells... earthy and kind of like cinnamon or maybe cardamom. Like dirt, spice, and botanicals. The drink looks like coffee sort of, except red like it was made with clay instead of the familiar brown. I take a little sip and... it’s okay. It has a velvety mouthfeel like coffee, the same richness, but the flavour is much more like chai and dirt than notes of chocolate, graham, and currant. Tragically It isn’t coffee, but it is an acceptable way to get my morning caffeine fix in its absence. I drink another mouthful and smile. “It’s okay. It’s good.”
Freya, who had meanwhile been taking deep lusty slurps of Mud smiles fiercely. “Huzzah!" She claps a pair of her hands, making her tits jump and wobble. "That is the courage you will need, 24th, to carve out a place for yourself here. You must seize the day, grab life by the genitals, embrace adventure!" Three clenched fists and a brandished mug of Mud.
Hank smiles apologetically, "Freya is very passionate."
"Passion is the only way to live," Freya sniffs into her Mud.
"I like passion as much as the next displaced clone," I say, trying to be folksy, "but I think I have to focus on the basics first." Like where was I going to live, or where was my next meal coming from. I am so fucked. "Girl's gotta eat, y'know?"
Hank nods. "Well, you are welcome to sleep here until you get back on your feet. And if you want to pitch in around the bar, I'm happy to give you room and board as long as you want it. I can't afford to pay you much, but I can throw in a small share of profits and any tips you get."
"Please!" I say smiling. "That's so nice! And a huge relief!" I won't be homeless and starving!
"Don't thank me too much, I'm going to make you earn it. Plus I need the help." Hank spreads his hands, "Also, you should know that Clementine has set aside some money for you as a welcome package."
"I can't accept that!"
"Don't be hasty, 24th," Freya admonishes. "The Witch is very wealthy and wants to aid you."
"At least treat it as a loan," Hank says. "You need some basics," he holds up his smartwatch thing, "like a Keyband. And some clothes."
I touched my purloined, flaccid t-shirt dress. A bigger wardrobe that actually belonged to me would be nice... "Okay..." I say tentatively.
"Then it is agreed!" Freya says. "Hank shall go and prepare his bar for the Shift Day hordes and you and I shall go shopping." I start to nod agreement... "After we go meet Halley-23."
"No, it is important that 24th meet her predecessor. Delaying this trip will not accomplish anything except for wasting time. It is inevitable."
"Wait," I say, curious despite my nervousness at the idea of meeting another Halley-clone. "You know where she is? She isn't like... dead or missing?"
"She works down by the Port. We can go and visit her before visiting the Souk."
"Halley, you don't have to do this today. You have a lot going on without adding something this big." Hank gives Freya a pointed look.
My heart is racing and I take a deep, steadying breath. The idea of meeting a clone of me, well, another clone of me, is a mind fuck. But I was definitely curious to see what Halley-23 was up to, to maybe learn why I was... decanted? Initiated? If not today, then soon. Freya was right that it was inevitable that I would seek her out. If I went today I could get it over with. And I would at least have a... friend? Backup? Someone, at least, to go with. "Okay. Let's do this."
Freya smiles and pumps her four fists. "Seize the day!"
I try a brave smile, "Grab life by the genitals."
I am drinking a fluorescent green drink to the sound of alien techno as a woman on stage takes off her clothes. Well, sort of. 'Clothes' might be generous.
The human dancer came onto the stage swaddled in sheer, silken scarves and has been stylishly losing them to music. At first she was nearly completely obscured, her limbs and body all bandaged, her face and head veiled. As the music kicked in she began to sway and slowly, teasingly, pulled a single sky blue bandage off her arm, baring a sliver of skin. She held onto the scarf, now a trailing ribbon and flowed across the stage, throwing out a leg and balancing on her other toe like a ballet dancer. Somehow she unwound a scarf from the extended leg without using her arms and with a flick of her leg she sent that scarf flying into the audience, striking a human man in the face to the rowdy approval of his mates. The dancer freed another scarf from her other arm and now whirled, scarves spiralling around her, along the stage, losing another leg scarf as if by magic. With a kick, this too was launched off stage. And so on, the dancer shedding scarves and dispatching them into the cheering, jeering crowd. At one point she unfastens a particularly wide cloth wound round her stomach and spins like a top across the stage, fabric unspooling off her, leaving only her face, crotch, and breasts covered. The human woman makes a great show of revealing her tits, pulling on scarves so cunningly wrapped that they stay in place despite slipping and moving. The dancer turns her back to the audience and, with one final tug, her halter top of scarves disintegrates into a dozen small streamers of cloth. The dancer whirls and leaps and spins across the stage, juggling these scarves, somehow obscuring her nipples despite her motion. It is playful and athletic and sexy at once and I shout a little in excitement. Freya claps two of her hands and sticks some extra fingers in her mouth to wolf whistle. The dancer does one last pirouette and sends an explosion of coloured cloth flying off the stage and bares her small, high breasts to the crowd. And now here she is dancing, hips gyrating like a belly dancers, naked except for the scarf wrapped around her crotch and the veil strapped over her mouth. Her eyes smile playfully at the crowd, her small breasts heave with her breath. The dancer does a forward flip thing and her last scarf comes off...
And suddenly I am sputtering as I am hit in the face by a silken scarf.
The dancer, naked now, is posing on stage. Her bared skin is brick red and streaked with teal stripes, maybe painted or tattooed or Shaped into her skin like a zebra. She flips her mohawk of teal hair and winks at me, then blows me a kiss over her veil. Her cock, because she has a penis, is erect and pointed right at me. I blush as I realize what hit me in the face and just want to die as I feel everyone stare at me. Freya booms with laughter and claps me on the shoulder so hard I nearly fall into my drink. The dancer whirls off stage to boisterous applause and thankfully the lights dim and its a break between acts. I take an unsteady slurp of my drink and try to keep my hands from shaking. Fuck I hate being the centre of attention like that.
Freya gives me a sympathetic look and signals the waitress to fetch me another drink. I offer up a little smile of gratitude and look around the club, this Portside Menagerie. The Menagerie is an erotic dance club located in the Port District, built into the nave of a huge metal fuel tank. The club caters to all the main species of Flotsam: packed around long tables welded to the sloped floor of the tank are raucous groups of humans, Blues, and what I am certain must be Reptilians. A table of young men in dusty outerwear with bad haircuts that I figure must be Scavengers chant a rhyme and pound their drinks. Another group of humans are dressed in clean, tight clothing covered with sockets and mounting points, and I imagine they could be a space crew. One of the spacemen sees me looking and smiles at me, wagging his eyebrows. One of his female coworkers laughs and swats him, glancing my way and rolling her eyes. Sharing our table is a group of Blues, tall and quietly talking, sipping carbonated drinks in tall, fluted glasses. In their asexual, brightly patterned fabrics and with their reserved manners they seem out of place, like grownups at a children's' party. The waitresses are all human and dressed in strapless bodysuits and heels and strut smoothly around the hall. One waitress carrying a tray of drinks seems to have real rabbit ears and a tail like a playboy bunny. I wonder if she is a another displaced Earthling or if its like that dinosaur that looks like a dolphin. Bunnygirl waitress brings us our drinks and smiles with her buck teeth and wiggles her little pink nose as Freya fiddles with her Keyband to tip her.
I spot a table of a dozen Reptilians and they really do look like humanoid alligators. They are big, all over six feet tall and muscular, with thick limbs and broad shoulders like linebackers. They are covered in rough scales, mostly black or dark green or brown, but a couple have mosaic patterned scales that are kind of lovely. Their bald heads have ridged foreheads and faces that push forward into blunt muzzles filled with sharp teeth and their slit-pupil eyes are a uniform bright yellow. They clutch tankards of some sort of red, mead looking drink in three clawed hands and drum their thick, gator-like tails on the floor when one of their group chugs. Their clothing tastes run to vests and shorts made from mammal looking black leather, like a punk gang of bikers. And much like a group of unruly bikers I think I will steer clear of them.
The stage lighting snaps back on and a figure slinks onto the stage. This dancer is petite and slender and covered in emerald scales and, I realize, is Reptilian. She stands beautifully still, holding beautiful feathers, red and purple and iridescent like a jungle bird. Except she isn't holding them, the feathers are growing from her forearms, hips, tail, and in a crest on her head. As the music starts, hand drums and a kind of woodwind pipe, she flares her feathers in a display and begins to dance. As she hops and skips around the stage, she flashes her feathers like fans, showing us glimpses of naked legs, smooth chest, tail, and hips. "Beautiful!" Freya says to me, loud enough to be heard over the music. I nod my head in agreement, "I love her feathers," I almost shout back, "do all female Reptilians have them?" The dancer spins and whips her tail feathers around, giving us the barest peek at her cloaca. I see the table of male reptilians go wild, roaring, and drumming their tails, and staring fixedly at the dancer. Freya shakes her head, "Reptilian females only grow feathers when fecund to display their fertility. This one uses drugs or Shaping to fake it to entertain males." The dancer tucks and flares her feathers tossing her head back to the music, sways her hips wildly like a hula dancer. "She is also a runt," Freya says, "most Reptilian females stand taller than me, bigger than the males, and would never stoop to performing like this. A Reptilian Matriarch would usually kill this dancer and punish any males she caught watching her." The dancer leaps and beats her feathers like wings, actually seeming to float for a moment. "Although it is a small miracle this one has even lived this long, usually females murder their runts well before adulthood." I look back at the dancer, performing more birdlike leaps before striking a very erotic pose as the music ends, face pressed to the ground tail lifted, feathers framing her exposed sex. It was hard to believe such a pretty creature was a pariah.
After a long drawn out applause the music fell to a calm synth, interspersed with the sound of chimes. A tall, lithe figure walks onto the stage, a Blue, naked with smooth azure skin. They, because I can't tell their gender, walks gracefully to the front of the stage and smoothly sits down cross legged. The Blue closes their eyes and rolls their head around in a circle, shifts their body seeking a comfortable position. Large industrial fans on wheels drive themselves onto the stage and park themselves behind the Blue. With an audible roar the fans spin up, blowing a stiff wind over the Blue and out into the audience. The Blue performer breathes deeply, over and over, sitting still. What kind of sexy dance is this supposed to be? I look around the club and notice the Blues sitting at our table seem flustered and excited. Their noses, once slits, have dilated open and are taking great sucking breathes from the air. The Blue on stage is starting to pant, chest rising and falling as they sit in the wind from the fans. I see the slit on the Blue’s crotch crack open, spreading to reveal shockingly purple, almost human looking labia which engorge into a substantial ring and glisten in the stage light. One of the Blues at our table shudders and moans and I see that some of the the group are sporting impressive looking boners under their clothing. They're really getting off on this performance... of a person sitting in front of industrial fans... aroused and sweaty and... and then I figure it out. Blues use scent to communicate sexy information. The Blue on stage isn't a dancer, but is instead some sort of erotic pheromone performer. Weird! I think I'm a bit jealous I can't smell them... or well, her. And suddenly the performer is done, standing elegantly and performing a little bow, and walking calmly off the stage. A couple of Blues from our table hastily stand and make their way to the door, hands clasped tightly. The other Blues all lean back in their seats, basking and panting, with looks of carnal contentment on their alien faces. “I’ll have what they’re having,” I say.
“What do you mean?” asks Freya.
“Its a line from an Earth movie...”
An explanation of When Harry Met Sally and Earthling film is thankfully curtailed by the arrival of the next dancer, wearing only a feather boa. At first glance this performer looks like she is some sort of Reptilian: her limbs, back, and bald head are covered in brilliant green and gold scales and she has a long sinuous lizard tail that twists behind her. But she also has mammalian characteristics like great big honking tits, pale human skin on her chest and stomach, and a hugely distended, pregnant looking belly. Which, what the fuck? Is she some sort of half-human, half-Reptilian? Is that even possible? Music kicks in and it's a kind of slinking, climbing baseline thing and the lizard-woman starts to move on the stage, in an exaggerated waddle. It wasn't what I would consider particularly sexy, but the crowd seems into it, especially the tables of Reptilian males. The dancer waddles to one corner of the stage, leans way out, her huge tits hanging heavily, and opens her short muzzle. She extends a long prehensile tongue and licks a human man in the audience who laughs happily. With obvious discomfort the lizard-woman stands back up and waddles across the stage, dragging her tail across a table of Reptilian males, brushing it against them as she goes. The males roar their approval, slamming their mugs and fists on their table. The lizard-woman labours back to the middle of the stage and stops, the music cutting out. The club grows quiet and still, people watching with rapt attention as the dancer on stage breaths heavily in a state of anticipation. Clearly I am missing something. The dancer clutches her bulging stomach and moans, a deep throaty, almost animal sound that fills the club. She squats, legs spread, and rests a bit on her tail and releases another drawn out moan. A giant hologram snaps on behind her showing a close up of the lizard-woman's very human looking pussy. The projected vulva bulge and the dancer grunts and something white tries to push its way out of her cunt and then recedes back in. With another moan the white thing stretches the lizard-woman's pussy further and this time, with an orgasmic squeal, a round, ping-pong ball looking white sphere squirts free of the dancer and falls to the stage. The lizard-woman laid an egg! Is still laying eggs as she grunts her way through the delivery of another egg. And another. She turns around resting her hands on the ground, lifting her thrashing tail up into the air, letting the room see her cunt as she continues laying egg after egg after egg. The Reptilians in the audience are in awe, clearly getting off on the display. The dancer has one last scream of pleasure and squeezes out one last egg and a torrent of fluids and stands, waist now cinched tight, smooth and toned with muscle. She looks back over her shoulder and runs her long tongue over her snout before slinking off stage, walk now a fluid and sexy strut, tail twitching behind her.
The house lights come back on and a waitress comes onto stage with a bucket and a trowel to clean up discarded eggs. "What the fuck was that?"
Freya laughed heartily. "24th, I do so enjoy your Aquarian out of water perspective and candor! It is a true delight!" She takes one last slug of her drink and signals a passing waitress. "That dancer is a human shaped to be part reptile, a Hybrid. Reptilians keep human slaves and they find it pleasing to make their favourite slaves part reptile. Especially slaves used in sexual entertainments." Freya pauses to pay the bunnygirl waitress again, who I swear actually hops a little as she leaves. I notice Freya checks out her ass and wiggly little tail. "Reptilian Matriarchs rule their clans with an iron talon, and breed according to their whim. Males, who outnumber mature females ten to one, have no sexual power. And so in Reptilian space there is a market for Hybrid slaves in sex shows or as illicit lovers. The egg show is a classic entertainment, although the Matriarchs try to forbid it. The presence of an oviparous Hybrid performer is a considerable boon to the Menagerie. Along with the Reptilian female with courtship feathers, it makes this club very popular with the Snakes."
I nod thoughtfully and sip of my refreshed bright green drink.
The houselights dim again and a fanfare blasts. A familiar fanfare. A this-is-the-theme-to-Rocky fanfare. A tall brass pole emerges from the stage and is illuminated by nested lights. "Llllllladies and Gentle-Ssssapients!" an amplified voice enthuses, "Put your hands, paws, or whatever together for the exotic, erotic, Earthling stylings of Halley Comet!!!" Fuck, here we go. Another spotlight blares, illuminating a figure wearing white go-go boots, a red trench coat, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed red hat. The woman struts to the front of the stage and the music transitions to Eye of the Tiger. She reaches out, places her hand on the brass pole, and swings around it once, ripping off her hat and sunglasses, letting a cascade of long, platinum blond ringlets whip out. Halley-23 smiles and blows the audience a kiss. My big sister clone is a stripper. Halley teasingly unties the sash of her trench coat and pauses holding it closed. Eye of the Tiger reaches the end of the strumming intro and just as it hits its first loud guitar riff Halley throws open her coat...
And I see what she's done to herself.
(That last chapter sure was long, huh? And way too worldbuildy. Hopefully this new chapter is more everyone's speed!)