“You can’t stay cooped up in the spaceport the whole time you’re here,” Alice says, giving me an encouraging push as we make our way through the winding streets of Elysia’s capital. The city is cramped – archaic, but the cobblestones beneath my feet and the ornate archways above my head give it a cozy feel, so far removed from the glittering skyscrapers I left behind. The buildings are rarely more than one or two stories tall, their walls made from sandstone and mortar, few of them sporting any visible windows. The twin suns are dipping low in the sky, but the day’s heat still lingers, and I can almost smell the stone baking.
“I don’t know how you can stand to be outside the AG fields for this long,” I grumble, feeling the planet’s harsh gravity strain against my joints with each step. “Feels like I’m wearing a lead apron.”
“You’ll get used to it,” she replies cheerfully, dodging around a procession of towering natives. They’re so graceful in their natural environment, their vaguely feline forms sculpted by its harsh climate, shrouded in paradoxically revealing gowns and saris made from gossamer fabric. They stand eight feet tall, their skin shades of sun-kissed bronze and ivory, their hair and fur ranging from golden blondes to rusty reds and tan browns. Elysia is a cosmopolitan territory, with Borealans hailing from all across the planet making their homes here.
I shrink away as one of them eyes me on her way past, her amber irises shining like gold coins as they reflect the dimming sunlight, the way that she glides along putting my clumsy gait to shame.
“They’re quite friendly once you get to know them,” Alice continues as we round a corner into another narrow alleyway. “And that will never happen if you refuse to step outside the air-conditioned terminal. How long have we been friends?”
“The whole three weeks I’ve been here,” I reply.
“And do you trust me?”
“Alright, alright,” I sigh. “I’m already here – you don’t have to keep making your case. Truth be told, it’s kind of nice to see the city up close. I saw a little of it on my way in, but it’s even more impressive from the ground. Where exactly did you say we were going?”
“An expat bar,” she replies.
“I’m not an expat.”
“No, but it’s a place that caters to humans. I’ve been there before – it’s a cool place.”
“It’s hard to imagine choosing to live here permanently,” I muse as we pass beneath an especially ornate archway made from self-supporting blocks. “Wouldn’t you have to take high-grav meds for the rest of your life?”
“The AG fields help,” Alice says with a shrug. “Besides, you’re assuming that a lot of people who stay planetside even have joints to ruin.”
She isn’t wrong. I’ve seen the kinds of people who choose to make this harsh planet their home – ex-Navy cyborgs with more metal than meat and adrenaline junkies who relish the everyday challenges. That’s not me. I just punch boarding passes.
The bar finally comes into view, a neon sign with a blend of human script and scratchy alien lettering bathing the cobblestones in its glow, connected to a snaking power cable that trails along the side of the building. Like the rest, it’s all sandstone, the roof covered with a round dome. The heavy wooden doors creak on their hinges as Alice pushes them open, the sound of music and a crackling fire spilling out into the street.
Bar is generous – it’s more like an ancient tavern, the naked stone walls adorned with woven tapestries, exposed wood beams crisscrossing over our heads. There are couches and low chairs covered in silken cushions scattered across the flagstones, most arranged to face a fire pit that’s recessed into the center of the room, its orange flames licking at the air. I wonder how the aliens could possibly want it hotter in here, but the nights on Borealis can get very cold.
The seats are occupied by more towering Borealans clad in native garb, the revealing sling tops and skirts coming in every color, little more than translucent strips of fabric that adorn their toned bodies. They’re intended more to guide the eye and draw attention than to preserve the wearer’s modesty, each body a work of art thanks to the gravity that weighs on its every movement.
There are a few humans among the alien packs, too. I see civilian clothing like my own, the Navy blue of Marine coveralls, and even some native wear. Like their Elysian hosts, the human body becomes hard and strong in the planet’s climate, a few of the more acclimated individuals sporting knitted scars from feline claws. I spot a man with two arms of black polymer and chrome steel, his prosthetics wrapped around a pair of Elysian women as they sandwich him on the couch, his mechanical fingers scarcely reaching halfway around their muscular cores. I can’t imagine being so relaxed in such an environment.
“What kind of bar is this, exactly?” I whisper as I lean closer to Alice.
“I told you – they cater to humans as well as aliens,” she replies as she leads me over to a wooden counter. She orders a drink from the bartender, his sharp claws clinking against the glass as he hands us a couple of cups and pours pink liquid from a dusty bottle. It tastes like fruit punch.
“C’mon,” Alice said, taking me by the arm. “There are some private rooms in the back. You need to loosen up a little – I can feel how tense you are.”
She leads me away from the chorus of conversations and the sound of strange music, heading into a gloomy passageway that leads deeper into the building. Like a castle dungeon, it feels as though it should be lit with wavering torchlight, but electric bulbs with more trailing power cables have been drilled into the stone.
We pass by several wooden doors, then stop, Alice pushing one of them open. Inside is a private room with a rare window view that looks out over the desert at the outskirts of the city. The warm evening breeze is pouring through, rustling the curtains. The walls of the square booth are lined with padded couches strewn with throw pillows, a low table at its center piled with half-finished drinks.
Lounging on the couches is a whole pack of Elysians – all conspicuously female. Like their countrymen in the bar, they’re wreathed in translucent fabrics that leave little to the imagination, fine silks and chiffons draped lackadaisically over powerful thighs and ample chests. Their conversations pause as we enter the room, their gaze lifting to examine the newcomers, their furry ears swiveling in our direction.
“Alice,” one of them purrs, the way that she leans forward in her seat making her bust strain against the insubstantial cloth that cradles it. “We were starting to wonder when you might arrive. Who is your friend?”
“This is the guy I was telling you about,” she replies, pushing me a couple of steps forward. Eyes of sapphire and gold look me up and down, feline pupils dilating into dark circles, a couple of the half-dozen Elysians sharing whispers in their native language of hisses and growls. “He’s a little shy, so I thought you could help get him acclimated to the local culture. He’s been cooped up in the spaceport for weeks.”
“I can tell,” one of them says with a smile that exposes her sharp teeth. “Poor thing looks like he is about ready to collapse. Why not take a seat beside me?” she adds, patting the cushions next to her with a furry hand. “Take a load off, share a drink.”
“I think I’ll…uh…stand for a bit,” I mutter.
Alice gives me a pat on the back, then I hear the door creaking. When I turn around, she’s already halfway out of the room.
“I’m supposed to be meeting someone, so I’ll leave you guys to get acquainted,” she says as she slips away into the corridor.
“Wait!” I stammer. “Are you coming back?”
The door closes with a click, and I turn my attention back to the pack, the aliens watching me expectantly. The one sitting directly across from the door seems to be their Alpha. She’s a little larger than her neighbors – a little more developed – a physique honed by a lifetime of fighting against the planet’s 1.3Gs leaping out from beneath her sling top and cloth skirt. The fabric is so thin that I can see the hue of her skin bleeding through it. She’s a fiery redhead with fur to match, the faded stripes adorning her forearms and shoulders reminiscent of a tiger, her brilliant blue eyes peering back at me confidently.
I can hardly help but let my gaze wander down to her chest, the tangible heft of her breasts weighing against their tenuous support, their outlines clearly visible. They’re larger than my head, but their proportions are far more reasonable on her exaggerated frame, somehow firm and shapely in spite of their size. Below them is a flawless six-pack, her abdominal muscles as firm and as defined as chiseled marble, perspiration making them lustrous in the pervasive heat. Her thighs are as thick as my torso, dimpled with muscle, adorned with faded scars and misted with glittering beads of sweat.
“See something that pleases you?” one of the aliens to my right asks.
“Oh, I…” Failing to muster much of a reply, I feel my cheeks already starting to burn. “So, you’re all friends of Alice? How did you meet?”
“We all work in shipping together,” another replies, leaning back into the soft cushions. “Unloading cargo, customs – that kind of thing.”
“I work at one of the terminals myself,” I add.
“Alice seems to think that you need to get out more,” the Alpha continues, draping an arm over the backrest of the couch. She’s seated directly in front of the window, the breeze waving the strands of her red hair. “See the sights, get to know the lay of the land. What do you say?” she asks, reaching a clawed hand down towards her skirt. She gently lifts the knotted strip of fabric, exposing herself in invitation. “Want to make some new friends?”