My free-lance non-fiction writing credits include several articles describing new advances in the metal window and glass industry for technical journals such as Glass Magazine, Traditional Buildings and Window & Door. The Newark Star Ledger’s Travel Section has also run a lead article of mine on Flamenco in Spain. For the past ten years, I have taken numerous courses with Gotham Writers and graduated to participation in several novelists’ roundtables. My writing represents a blend of my science back ground, which includes a B.S. in Chemistry, my appreciation of technical application and mishaps in my daily work, and finally my love of Heinlein-style Science Fiction.

I am currently pitching to agents my recently completed novel set in 2156 with elements of science fiction and the American Old West. In Borgus and the Duke, a retired crippled engineer struggles to save his Saturn space station from a vengeful ex-apprentice by melding with an experimental robot and forging a partnership with the ghost of his hero, John Wayne.

For the GREEN SKY story and the new novel, Borgus and the Duke, I've been assisted by professional writing coach and sci fi novelist, Mike Sirota.

 
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She led him along as Herschel called over his shoulder. “Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Go on, Bill. Her body’s yours, really. Hit the sack with her, you’ll see.”

Then they turned the corner. Cleary stood awhile in the corridor, then raced back to his control room. He seated himself at the console and activated the camera he’d had hidden in their quarters. Sure he’d peeped on occasion, earlier in the mission, to confirm that Anna’s affection for Herschel had dimmed, that she belonged to him. But what about now?

Five:

“That was foolish of you,” she said, back in the cabin.

“And eating people for supper is sane?”

He heard her make a very human sigh, as she sat on the couch. A mobile of two interlocking solar systems hung from the ceiling. Her hand came up and pushed on a few of the planets, sending them into motion. “So many worlds, most of them barren. But we’ve learned that a few, here and there, bear life. The part of me that has Anna’s memories now understands her desire to rush to as many as possible, study all the new forms. In my original form, I was not like that. All I cared about was being accepted by my people. I think your kind has

 

something like this desire, as I can feel Anna’s need to make herself known in her field of specialty.”

erschel stood against the wall, arms folded. His gaze settled on the mobile, slowing down. “What am I going to do? If I try to get away from you, you’d kill us all, wouldn’t you? Can you do that even in human form?”

Anna regarded him, her eyes flashing green. “Any heightened stress would bring about an immediate change to my original state.” She stood. “And it begins to disturb me that you seem to be reconsidering our arrangement. Do I need to be concerned, Herschel?”

“How do I trust that this Anna-self will win out over your old self?”

Again, she poked the mobile with a finger. “I became an outcast in my world. Anna would say that we operate much like an insect hive. Each individual has a sense of personal survival, but the basic drive is to find one’s place, meld into the whole in one’s ordained function. There comes a sense of belonging, being in synchronicity, but nothing like what I felt with you on the shuttle. That was different. That was. . .” She looked at him with misty eyes. “Like some individual pours his adoration into you alone. This is not part of our normal spectrum. But how wonderful it is.”

He felt himself wanting to give way, being drawn to her. She was

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Anna at her most alluring with eyes only for him. Not the recent Anna who brushed off his advances as she crouched over her lab work or report while rubbing at her brow. This Anna reached for him, but he moved to the cupboard, poured himself a whisky, feeling the need for it. “You said you were an outcast, why?”

She settled on the couch, closed her eyes, opened them. “I’d begun to be out of step with my cluster, my group of seventy eight. We processed the incoming food from our cultivation worlds. There were two individuals that I’d started to follow, wanted to be near more than others. One began to return the interest; the other only defended itself. The group senses quickly when someone is out of place. They swarmed, gathered around me; I pushed back. Then came the day they . . . beat at me. I struck back and they herded me to an open space to do away with me. First they made me witness the killing of my, my one of interest, my. . .friend.”

erschel swallowed a mouthful of his drink. “But you survived. How?”

“Before they could finish me, the supervisors moved in and said I was actually suited for an individual job. So I was made to patrol the sectors on this planet, with instructions to drive off or kill all intruders. And what has overcome me lately is this sense of aloneness, my desire to live slowly draining away. Now I understand why the ones before me only lasted months of your time. The

 

isolation gradually wastes you. I was dying there.” She sat upright. “But you, Herschel, what you do to me is a kind of energy food, it revives me again to be more alive than I ever was. Do you understand this?”

Hershel felt safer making the Anna-thing talk; at least there was no violence, no dangerous contact, and he might learn about its vulnerabilities. The alcohol had calmed him, allowed him to think. “But where does this ability to change, morph yourself come into it?”

“Ah, just so. Well, Anna would say that it is an adaptation for survival. Like any of your Earth hives, the units come in. . . How would she say it?” Her eyes rolled, came down. “Yes--the population is differentiated into several types--workers, drones, even caretakers of the central reproducing ones--and so forth. I was a worker. And each group or cluster has its ratio of types to perform their special functions.” She smiled at him. “This is wonderful to just sit and speak with someone like. . . a new friend.”

He swallowed more whisky, then forced a quick smile. “Tell me what happens when this ratio of types is upset.”

“Yes, you follow so well. When too many of a type die or are taken, others of us change to readjust the proportion. We only discovered recently that this ability extends to other life forms of similar mass.

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But you know what I think? I think I have absorbed more than Anna’s material self. I’m beginning to think and feel as she would, getting used to operating as influenced by her memories.”

Herschel put down his empty glass. It was all so logical; it’s mind could employ reason. Was it really becoming more Anna and less the other thing? But it had murdered, he reminded himself. He should find a way to eliminate it. “You say you feel more human, but if I rejected you then we’d find out who you really were again, wouldn’t we?”

“Could you reject me, Herschel, even now?” Her eyes took on that longing, radiated pure sensual softness for him. “Could you really destroy this?” She spread her arms, offering herself. “This being who has come to love you? That has the image of all you loved?” She stepped toward him. “And you know what I also think? That my love, new as it is, revives you again. I can give that to you, too.”

 

He stood, feeling woozy. “Even with my knowing who you are?” He yawned deeply. The hours of wired alert were catching up with him.

Along with the booze.

She was next to him, pulling him toward the couch. “Maybe if my

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whole self becomes more attached to one form over the other, then this could be who I really become.” Her hand stroked his arm. “Could we try touching again to see?”

“I’m so … so weary right now, so tired.” Something in him was indeed exhausted, shutting down. She was no immediate threat; she could have killed him many times in the previous hours. Or was that the liquor talking? With his back to her he stripped off his outer shirt, pants and crawled into bed. To sleep, put this off a while longer.

*****

Cleary was dumbfounded. Through his hidden camera and audio, he’d witnessed a scene that made no sense: two people that were obviously human and married, talking like adversarial strangers. There was Anna, the one who had lain with him and complained of how bored she was with Herschel, and how together, she and Cleary could ascend the ranks in the space fleet. But now this Anna had made advances toward Herschel. She used to hold her arms out for Cleary in that way, but the longing he’d just seen in her face was even more intense than Cleary had recalled. And although in the middle of it, he’d been distracted by a communiqué from the incoming colonists, he thought he’d caught Anna making references to being a hive-thing from another world. Not possible.

He’d dashed off a quick message to the Admiral that although

 

ground crew were missing due to an unknown cause, he left the cause vague and held out hope of locating them the next day. Still, if he’d heard Anna correctly, her experience on the planet may have deranged her mind. But she had seemed so calm and self assured. He decided to leave the monitoring devices active for further developments, and set an alarm if either of the Rexrodes left their cabin. For now at least Herschel had gone to bed and he needed to sleep as well.
* * * * *

Hours later, Herschel had felt his arms go around her as she lay next to him in the bed. He was still deep in sleep but out of old habit had been drawn to her body. He lay on one side and fit his torso onto her back. As he hugged her, she reached behind her, running her hand up and down his thigh. He was still in his undershirt. She was bare and his fingers felt her soft contours, bringing him even more awake.

He felt her turn in the bed to face him. She weaved her arms around his neck and kissed him and he gave himself over to it as the fuzz in his groggy mind cleared. Remembering what she was, he pushed away from her.

“No, I. . . don’t think I--“

“That’s right,” she breathed, pulling close to him again. “Don’t think, just feel. You feel so good to me.”

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“But you might become--“

“No chance of that, my love. I’ve already gone through the change and back while you slept. Out in the living room, not next to you. I have hours now, to be with you.” She kissed him lightly on the lips and then his checks, his neck. She certainly felt and acted like a woman. His mind played back an old tasteless joke about if it looks and acts like a donkey then saddle up and ride it. He laughed aloud at the irony.

“You laughed,” she said, pulling at his undergarments. He was aroused, and still half-groggy or possibly half-drunk. She felt the way a loving woman should feel, and his body needed to feel her, feel Anna. He raised his arms over his head and let her peel the undershirt from him.

“I want to be kissing you,” she said, meeting his lips. Then pausing, “I want you touching me everywhere, show me how.”

They kneeled facing each other, kissing and caressing. He let his mind go blank and savored the sensations of feeling her body, even the fine sheen of sweat that encased her as her breath became faster. Who cared what she had been as long as she could come to him like this? His Anna was back, she had to be.

More than ready, he laid her back on the covers and she spread her thighs, stroking herself. “This is aching for you, I can feel it.

 

Come to me.”

And he thought that this was the best lovemaking they’ve had in years, the most ready and wanting she had ever been. He looked into her dreamy beautiful face as he joined his body with hers. She was liquid soft, warm, all woman and wanting him.

She arched and sighed. “My love, my love, this is what I’ve missed--“

He felt a pulse go through her. He hoped it was an arousal reaction but the next immediate pulse told him otherwise. Anna’s entire body stiffened and the softness of her skin vanished as one moment what was velvet became sandpaper.

She gasped. “Oh no. It can’t be.”

He pulled away, just as he felt the soft prickle of coarse hairs begin to sprout from her. “Go away, away!” she shouted, as her body began its awful change. He hugged himself and backed into the corner, staying within the tiny room. Bearing witness.

The thing that was Anna went through its transformation on the bed. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” It moaned as the human face became reptilian and the silky body morphed into something insect and

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crustacean. Its soft human arms became spindly and angular with exoskeletal barbs. “The stress reaction, it’s the stress reaction.” It wailed as it changed, in some kind of agony.

He felt sorry for it.

Six:

Cleary sat transfixed before his monitor. No mistake this time. Human flesh with a skeleton and muscles had mutated within a minute into something grotesque. Behind that was the horror of the loss of Anna. The female botanist who returned on the shuttle was a replica; the real woman was no more. The security of his Hub was now all that mattered.

His arm reached for the all station alert bell, then he recalled it was the middle of the sleeping shift, their “night.” Should he act alone? If this thing had overpowered the four ground staff, and the rock-hard Fineker, then he’d need backup. He pressed the mike button and thought about his announcement, then hesitated again.

Even with summoning the other ten on board, he’d have to spend precious minutes explaining, calming, making a plan with the groggy crew. By then the monster might be out on the prowl. And if they succeeded in killing it, there was still the stigma of having to explain to his superiors how he allowed this thing on board in the first place.

 

Better to have it gone with no one, except Herschel, the wiser. If he moved fast, then he’d have the element of surprise in his favor.

Cleary opened the cabinet under the console and found a laser gun. Trotting down the dimly lit hallway, he planned his attack. He had the passkey to all compartments, so he’d force his entry and then blast the thing in its head, its heart. Afterwards he and Herschel would dispose of it, shoot it out an airlock.

erschel disrupted the plan by intercepting him out in the hallway. “Bill, I was just coming to get you.” His medic was bare chested, standing in pajama pants.

“Step aside Herschel, I’ll end this beast’s life right now.”

“How do you know what she is?” Awareness dawned on Herschel’s face. “You bastard, you put a spy camera on us, didn’t you?”

“Good thing I did. That oversized bug killed six of our crew, including Anna.”

Herschel took Cleary’s arm and began to lead him from the door. “What if it can be tame as long as I’m here?”

Clearly yanked his arm away. “What? Don’t tell me you’re in its power. Are you one of them?”

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“Get serious, Bill. I’m saying in a half hour or less, we’ll have Anna again.”

Cleary shook his head. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. It has got your mind.”

“It seems to have Anna’s mind, that’s my point. Her memories, her attitudes, only somehow more orderly, less given to her ugly moods.”

Cleary considered punching Herschel. “So it murders, but with a smile?”

Herschel’s hands were on Cleary’s chest, pressing, supplicating. “That was its directive, but no more. Likes us better than her own kind, and getting more like Anna with each change, like it’s learning. I know it’s risky, but if we kill it now then all that was Anna will be gone. It could still do the biological analysis of the planet, plus—hey--be the first alien that could communicate. I’d let you do all the articles.”

Cleary found himself actually wondering if there could be a Nobel Prize in it. “How could we ever trust her, or whatever you call it?”

“If it wanted to kill the rest of us it would have already.”

 

Or it could peacefully wait for the sixty colonists to arrive and do mass slaughter. More like a Nobel disaster. Why couldn’t Herschel see that? Unless— “Did you let it on my station to get back at me for the affair with Anna? You taunted me just before, daring me to sleep with her.”

“Bill, think. It was in Anna-form when I found her, only revealed itself once the shuttle was up. If I planned revenge on you before I came on board, then I would have let her come to you alone. Why are you thinking I’d— .“ Cleary saw Herschel’s brow arch, his mouth form an O. “She told me you guys were going to dump me, but you wanted to go further, didn’t you, Bill? Have me die by some accident here on the mission?”

Cleary knew Herschel was catching on too quickly. “I never told her that—“

“No, that was your own private addendum to the scheme. You’re probably pissed it was Fineker and not me—“

“Never, Herschel. We’re colleagues, come on now!” Cleary had to get this under control. Even if the monster was impossibly tamed, it possessed memories that could damn him professionally. “Now you think, Herschel. It’s not your wife anymore, or ever will be–“

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erschel’s face hardened. “I can’t let you obliterate the part that’s still Anna.”

Cleary raised the pistol. “As Commander of this station--”

The door of the compartment opened behind Herschel and a human Anna stepped into the hallway. “I’m feeling better now. Hadn’t we best continue this inside?”

*****

The Anna-thing held Cleary’s gaze as he slowly swung his gun to aim at her forehead. “That’s the problem with you, Bill. Always overzealous. Mr. Intensity.”

As she hoped, the familiar expression made him flinch. Her hand shot out and knocked the weapon away. Then with both arms she had him by the collar and banged him against the nearest wall. She let him drop senseless to the floor and faced Herschel.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t kill, only stunned him. If you pick up the gun, I’ll take him inside.” She didn’t wait for his reply, and easily dragged the unconscious Cleary through the door. Herschel came through behind her as she laid the Commander face down on the rug. She held the hands together behind his back.

“Something to tie him with?”

 

erschel had the pistol now and held it on her. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Have I made a mistake in trusting you?”

Herschel stood there, waving the firearm around. “And what happens when he wakes up? Do you kill him then?” He grimaced. “Maybe I should let you; he may have wanted me dead, did you hear that part? My God we just ambushed our station Commander—I don’t know if I can allow this.”

She recalled that Anna liked to sit cross legged on the floor and assumed the posture now to disarm Herschel. It worked; his face softened, the gun lowered. “What are you doing?”

She patted the floor next to her. “I used to sit like this when we were students together, my books spread around me. Remember?”

He nodded and kneeled next to her. “Physics on your left—“

“And Bio on my right. I’m becoming her more and more.”

He pointed to the sleeping cabin. “Then what about—“

She shrugged. “Yes, that. Stress triggers a change, and apparently even positive stress. But look how fast I made it back to me. I could find a way to overcome it, I think.”

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She watched Herschel gesture at the unconscious Cleary. “I don’t know if I, we, could really manage together, although maybe I’m in more danger from him than you.” He sat on the couch, apart from her. “Maybe there’s a way we could get you back to the surface. . . let you go. I don’t know.” There it was; he was pushing her away. Even though she’d just saved him.

The Anna-thing felt her human hands clench. “I told you that I was slowly dying down there. I had maybe two months left in that condition. Couldn’t we give this another day? Look how far we’ve come in just in the first twenty hours.”

“Real great. I learn my wife is not my wife and my Commander wants to off me. Still, he’ll come around soon and rest of the station will be awake in a few hours, Anna.”

“You called me her name! You’ll see, we’ll get through this—now wait.” She rolled her eyes to access recollection. “That’s it. Let’s give him a sleeping drug.” She trotted into the bedroom and returned in seconds holding a capsule. “Anna kept—I kept this for defense. I squeeze and the gas released near someone’s nose will keep them out about three hours. Then we use those hours to mull it through, you and I. If by that time, we can’t come up with a plan, then somehow I’ll leave. Fair enough?”

A rhythmic beeping sounded from somewhere on Cleary. Herschel

 

rolled him over and saw a small transmitter affixed to the man’s belt, now flashing blue. “Some kind of alert. I’m going to take his pass key and check it out in the control room.” He looked at Anna. “Can I trust you in here with him?”

She pocketed the unused capsule and cocked her head. “What do you think I would do, Herschel, eat him?”

Herschel raised his eyebrows. “On second thought, I think you should come along.”

The Anna-thing watched as Herschel, seated in the control module, keyed in as Cleary. He shut the audio warning off, and said he’d look for the source of the alert. She stood behind him, scanning the screens. Something moved on the radar plot. “That quadrant, a vessel coming up on our position.”

She saw Herschel peer at the readout under the blip. “Roughly, four hundred kilometers and closing fast. Right in our orbit as well. But our backup team isn’t due yet.”

Herschel initiated a hailing frequency. The response was obviously unintelligible to him, but not to herself. Minutes later, they pulled Cleary from the floor to the couch in Herschel’s quarters. The Station Commander was half conscious and beginning to groan.

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“Bill, can you understand me? Anna has something to tell us.”

Cleary held his head in his hands. “I feel like I’ve been hit with a brick.”

“Anna put you out, but never mind, things have changed.”

Cleary attempted to rise, groaned and slumped back. “What the hell does ‘never mind’ mean? I have a split head here. Where’s my gun?”

She knelt in front of Cleary and put a hand on his knee. “There now, Bill, I’m really sorry. It was that or do worse to you, and I still carry a fondness, even if it’s not love.”

“Screw you, too,” Cleary barked.

The Anna-thing felt her lips smile. “Humans must have their little dramatic fits, so I’m learning. But Bill, there’s a vessel approaching rapidly.”

Cleary sat up straight. “Who is it? Did they hail?”

“Not ours,” Herschel said.

“Then who? And how do you know?”

 

he rubbed his knee again. “My people, Bill. It’s a warship.”

Cleary struggled to his feet and swayed. He slapped Herschel’s supporting hand away, took a step and put out an arm against a side table. “A damn what? A warship?”

The Anna-thing stood. “They have demanded that you send an acknowledgement of their hail, and then promptly leave this system. You’ve been given the equivalent of eight minutes to respond.”

Cleary sneered at her. “And what did you presume to tell them? Your so-called people?”

She folded her human arms. “While of course I understood their message, I refrained from replying. If they hear that I’m on this station they’ll get even more curious. You don’t have anything like their firepower and I assume you don’t want an army of my kind boarding.”

Cleary’s eyes bulged. “Please, heaven no.”

“In that case, I propose an alternative.”

* * * * *

Herschel had to walk Cleary to the control room, assist him into the command seat. He was inwardly reeling himself, imagining a shipload

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of these hive-creatures closing in on them. Anna—that’s how he thought of her now-- followed him into the control room, holding the pistol. Cleary broadcast a station wide order to prepare the Hub to leave orbit. A few objections came in, which he quickly silenced by transmitting the data on the approaching warship.

Cleary turned to them after his announcements were complete. “I feel like a traitor to my cause. I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do to my superiors at HQ.”

Anna shook her head. “You are saving the lives under your command. And don’t forget to warn off the settlers due in a few weeks. Now for my phase.”

Anna’s stated plan was to take Shuttle B and fly toward their pursuers. The combination of her distraction and the station moving off should help ensure their safety. As the Hub would speed out of range, she would radio her ship that she’d convinced the humans to abandon the planet. Then she’d use the shuttle to return to the ground and once more take up her post.

Cleary’s eyes looked strangely hopeful as he turned to Herschel. “Y’know with Anna leaving, there’s no more reason for animosity between us, is there?” The console flashed and Cleary made his update announcement. “Two minutes until thruster fire for orbit breakaway. Stand by, everyone.”

 

erschel saw Cleary look Anna up and down, as if memorizing her features. “So this is goodbye, I guess.”

“Think well of me,” she said and extended her hand.

Cleary didn’t take it; he only nodded with a blank stare.

Anna turned to Herschel. “Walk me to the bay, please.”

* * * * *

As they hurried down the hallway, passing crew members wearing their own expressions of worry, Herschel was relieved to be able to postpone how he’d make his farewell to the thing that was sometimes Anna. Would he shake her hand? Hug her? What would she expect? He wanted the monster gone from his life, but not Anna. He was fond of this Anna--when she was Anna--who truly adored him. He couldn’t start missing her all over again.

They entered the small shuttle bay. “Anna. You were never—I mean she was not an expert pilot, she usually left that to others. She’d never had the desire for solo flying.”

Anna climbed the first step of the ramp to the cockpit. “I do possess the rudiments from her memories. The audio controls are on the left while the main joystick is on the right upper quadrant—“

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Herschel made a cutting motion with his hands. “You’ve got it backwards and we better do this fast.”

He ran up the ramp past her and took the pilot seat. “Sit next to me while I show you once; the station is already beginning to break orbit.” She remained behind him as he leaned over the console and pointed. “Now all of your thrusters are here on the lower center section--”

Something hissed just behind him, near his right ear. He froze, dreading what he’d see if he turned around. Then everything went black.

Seven:

The human lay inert on the bunk along the perimeter of the large conical hut. The creature estimated the sleeping gas would wear off in about an hour’s time, by human measurement.

His former ground crew’s abandoned dwelling should be as good a habitation place as any and be familiar to him when he awoke. She hoped it wouldn’t start him lamenting his lost comrades. Above his sleeping form the window showed the scrub and fields beyond illuminated by the bright yellow-green sun. Back in her native form, she busily ingested a heap of vegetable and animal scraps she’d gathered shortly after she’d landed and placed the human in here.

 

She’d hidden the nuclear plug from the shuttle’s engine in a place the man could never find, ending his chance of escape from this world.

Would he really want to flee? Humans seemed to need time to show their hurt pride, their outrage, and his might be considerable once he realized he was here thanks to her ruse to lure him into the shuttle.

She told herself she would not be alone now; she could begin to live with a new purpose. Sooner or later the man would have to come to her and let her try again to love him. He’d see how much she’d work at retaining her human form, even in positive stress. So many hours could be spent in the positions of love, feeling a completeness of being individually adored that was beyond the imagining of her race. And when she felt that he’d grown to consistently feel this love for her, she could reactivate the shuttle and they could leave this place, find a new home away from her backward hive and his own suspicious race.

But what if he took on his more troubling attitude, ran from her to hide in the scrub, regarded her as hideous? What if he refused to soften to her, no matter what form she was in? What then?

She contemplated his possible rejection of her, and the desire came to simply obliterate the nuisance and ingest him. She’d go back to the steady unemotional patrolling of her sector, fulfill the directive of her hive.


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That lonely uncaring directive.

She finished her meal of scraps, skittered over to the bunk and regarded him. She rubbed her front claw, containing olfactory fibers, against his arm to gather his sweet scent.

The man stirred, rolled over, resumed his sleep. She backed off, shook her reptilian head, imagined his embrace on her softer form, and she was flooded with the more preferred feeling to caress him, be caressed, melt into him. She wanted to taste him, eat him--no, not eat him ! – just do loving things with him.

She bent her legs to lay her trunk prone on the floor and wait. He’d better wake up soon; staring at him made her hungry.

THE END

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