Will, Slirparton, Quont, and Track met the rest of the group at the ice-cream parlor. Will sat down with his cone next to Jo. Weaver was with her and a rabbit morph that he didnít recognize. Jo said, "Will, meet Susan Pebble, the Follyís chief cook. Susan, my mate, Will."
Susan added, "I also go by Stew," and smiled at him.
"A pleasure to meet you, Stew," said Will and handed Jo his cone before offering her a hug, which she accepted. He then turned to give Jo a kiss that was brief, but enthusiastic.
Jo, holding both ice cream cones now, spread her arms out a nearly clobbered Weaver with Willís cone. Weaver reared back and, after Will retrieved his cone, asked, "Will, what is that?" pointing at his cone.
He smiled and said, "Raspberry Butterscotch."
"They have that here?"
"Actually, no," said Will, chuckling, "I made them a mixer with a small tractor beam and a chiller, so they can mix up whatever you like without it melting." He turned back to Jo and asked, "While I donít mind the ice-cream, isnít it a little close to dinner?"
Jo said, "The Folly is on an Amistad schedule, so dinner wonít be for a few hours yet. This will keep the kids from being grumpy before dinner."
Rather than try to manage this trip on the tram, Neal called a small fleet of PPTís and they made a caravan heading toward the spaceport. After clearing security and going into the private section of the spaceport they were met by a teenaged fox-morph vixen and a male cat about the same age. The vixen said, "Hi, Iím Cindy and this is Alex. Our ship is this way."
As they left the terminal and started across the tarmac, Track turned to Alex and said, "When Cindy said Ďshipí I didnít realize she meant a warp capable landing craft."
He smiled and asked, "You can tell that just by looking at the outside?"
Track nodded. "I spent a couple of tours in Star Fleet, so I know what to look for."
"What did you do while you were in?"
"Power Systems Engineer."
He pointed at Quont and said, "By the look on hys face, somebody is already exploring the Gwendolyn. Weíll give you the full tour later."
When he headed for the bridge, Track asked, "Do we mind if I tag along?"
Cindy said, "Come on, weíve got a empty stations you can use."
When they got to the control cabin, Alex folded out two of the seats suitable for Ďtaurs and Track and Quont sat down and buckled up. Cindy sat down in the left seat and the chakat in the pilotís seat said, "Hi, Iím Brighteyes."
After they made introductions, Cindy and Brighteyes went through the preflight checklist. Quont turned to Alex and asked, "I havenít seen many people qualified as pilots as young as those two."
"Weíre not fully qualified for warp operations, but those controls are locked out right now. We are qualified for surface to orbit and orbital transfer maneuvers."
Cindy asked Brighteyes, "We have clearance?"
"Our launch window opens in twelve minutes, standard. Weíre cleared for a forced phasing orbit and a constant thrust rendezvous. Weíll be at the Folly twenty two minutes after launch."
"Thanks. Tina, howís everything going back there?"
"Everybodyís buckled in. Ready to go when you are, Cindy."
As the shuttle approached the Folly, Jo had a good look at it, but didnít really appreciate the size of the ship until she recognized the cargo pods attached to the outside of it. She turned around and asked, "Neal, do you mind if I ask a question?"
He smiled and said, "Ask away!"
Weaver smirked and added, "Asking doesnít guarantee an answer."
Jo glanced between them, but went ahead despite the feeling that she was getting into an area that was none of her business. "I sometimes assist with the health screenings on incoming cargo. How do you ever get clearance to unload anything with a ship this size?"
It looked like she managed to surprise Neal, and he said, "Basically I only get clearance for what Iím offloading at said port. I donít think that anyoneís thought to ask that before."
Weaver added, "Itís not something that occurs to your typical engineering type."
"Thatís true," said Neal before turning back to Jo. "How does a trauma surgeon wind up on a health screening crew?"
"My boss wants hir medical staff to be familiar with all of the major station operations. I find it interesting and it has been helpful on several occasions."
Neal nodded. "I can see that. What other unexpected things have you done on Gateway?"
That conversation continued until the shuttle moved into a bay that was between the two spheres that Neal had somehow managed to put on the front of a long pod carrying ship.
When they docked inside the bay, Teri and Peter headed for the hatch, but one of the chakat kids stopped them, saying, "Wait, weíve got to safe it first."
When the light on the panel next to the door turned green, the chakat opened a thumb sized port on the hatch. It was made so that it would whistle if there was any pressure difference. Not hearing anything, shi said, "Itís OK now," and pressed the open button and they went into the Folly.
Teri asked, "Do you have to do that at every port?"
"No, just when weíre docking, to make sure there is a good connection."
Will, Track, and Quont went off with Neal to look at the engineering behind this ship. The others scattered in various directions leaving Jo and Slirparton with Weaver and the little ones. As they started down the corridor, Jo said to Weaver, "I was impressed by that cubís knowledge of safety procedures."
"Spitfire was raised on a small station, so that was ingrained into hir."
"How did shi wind up here?"
Weaver frowned and said, "The station was attacked by pirates and hir parents were killed, along with all of the other adults on the station. Spitfireís oldest sister had hidden them in the ventilation ducts. When we got there the pirates were still at the station, but our scans found the kids. They were beamed out and we left the pirates to some Star Fleet ships that were traveling with us."
Jo was going to ask about their families when several young chakats came around the corner with Art Foster. The kids ran off as Artís mother and a Redpaw skunktaur came around the corner after them. Mel gave Jo and Slirparton hugs and handed them combadges as she said, "Jo, Slirparton, this is Lighttouch."
Jo asked, "Where did the kidsÖ?"
A voice from the combadge said, "Donít worry, Iíll keep an eye on them. They just stopped at a section door that didnít open and I reminded Art that he had a combadges for Peter and Spots. By the way, Iím Tess."
Mel said, "Tess is the Follyís AI, and sheís an excellent baby sitter. The little ones will be fine."
While Will was an engineer, he was not familiar with the details of the operation of a star ship. He did enjoy Trackís and Quontís reaction to what Neal was showing them. They were astonished at what Neal had managed to do with the Folly. They were joined about halfway through their tour by a teenaged Caitian and a young foxtaur and chakat. Will was surprised when they went back to the bay where the Gwendolyn was parked and started explaining her design. When he asked Neal about this, Neal said, "They did a lot of the design and construction work on her."
"I have trouble believing that."
"So did their parents, until they had spent some time on the ship watching them."
"Iíve met Longsock, but I donít remember meeting Quickdashís parents."
The young chakat turned to him and said, "Youíve met three of them."
"Three? How many parents does it take to raise a chakat?"
Neal chuckled and said, "Sometimes I think that the five shi has arenít enough."
Now Will looked completely confused, so Quickdash turned to face him and said, "I am Quickdash, child of Quickwind and Shortdash. When I was trapped in a carrier with Holly and her family Ö"
"And Shadowcrest!" added Holly.
"And Shady, we wound up on the Folly. Neal adopted me, with my parentsí permission, so we wouldnít have any trouble with the child protection people on stations and planets we visited."
Holly took over the story, "They I asked Neal to adopt me, even though my mom was there, and Neal asked her to be his denmate and she adopted Quickdash so we could be sisters."
They heard someone snort and turned to find that a foxtaur tod, Longstocking, had joined them. He said, "When I caught up with the Folly, I found out that in addition to a new co-mate, I also had a new daughter." This got him a joint hug from Holly and Quickdash before he continued, "But Nealís mates have decided that heís had enough time to confuse our engineering guests. Also, Lighttouch has requested that Quont join hy and Windsong for some TK training while hy is here."
Will asked, "Have I met Windsong?"
"You may have missed hir. Windsong is a chakat who is travelling with us to hir first Star Fleet posting. Shi has telekinetic potential you might be able to help hir with."
Quont said, "Iíd be happy to help hir."
With that, the group split up and went separate ways.
When they all came to the dining hall, they met Teri with a bunch of other teenagers. Will asked, "What have you been doing?"
One of the chakats said, "Shiís been whipping out tails at tailstinger tag."
Will raised his eyebrows and Teri smiled and said, "None of them know how to move in the woods without being seen or heard."
"Wait until after dinner, then weíll get you!" replied one of the foxtaurs in the group.
Will and Neal were joined as they sat down by a pair of chakats that Neal introduced as Windsong and Shadowcrest. Windsong asked Will, "Where did Teri learn to move in the woods?"
"Shiís about ready to take hir test to be a journeyman hunter with the foxtaur village at Redpaws. Shi started hir apprenticeship while we were living with a foxtaur clan before we left Earth and they agreed to continue hir education."
"Itís a shame shi didnít get a chance to meet Tauna before she left Folly. Sheís a foxtaur hunter who was teaching me some things."
Shadowcrest said, "If those two ever get together, the rest of us wonít stand a chance."
Will asked, "You have a forest on the Folly?"
"We have several holodecks, one of which is quite large. I think there will be time for me to show it to you before our ĎAlternate Thursdayí."
"Iím afraid that Iíve lost track of what day it is on Earth."
The others just smiled as Jo sat down next to Will.
After dinner, they all went down a couple of deck and into a room where all of the Follyís residents started taking off their clothes. Neal turned to Will and said, "Youíve figured out by now that the Folly is Ďclothing optional.í In here, I recommend Ďclothing discouraged,í but I might recommend a pair of shorts for those of us without fur."
Will started disrobing and asked, "What is going on in here?"
Neal looked around and found all of his kids and mates looking at him. "Iíve been warned not to tell you ahead of time, but I think you and Jo will enjoy it, and I know your kids will."
When Quont walked into the large room and saw the holodeck projectors, hy hesitated and Song asked, "Are you okay, Quont?"
"Iím afraid that Iím Ďallergicí to holosuites."
"Huh? How can you be allergic to a machine?"
"Youíve just recently come into your telekinetic abilities, but I grew up with them. I use those as much as or more than my Ďnormalí senses to keep track of my environment. They donít work in a holosuite. To me, that makes it feel like a full motion simulation with the motion out of synch with the visuals."
"Yuch, I can understand that, but werenít you in Star Fleet? Donít they do lots of simulator training?"
"Yes, but I was a technician. I never went through pilot training because I couldnít put up with the flight simulators."
"Well, you donít need to worry about this. We do it here mostly for the other resources available here. What you see here will actually exist, but no fair using your TK!"
They joined everyone else in the room and Neal introduced them to its purpose by having Spots and Peter fling cream pies at Slirparton and Jo. Things rapidly when downhill from there.
When everyone was completely coated, Neal (at least it sounded like Neal) called a halt to the chaos and a set of heavy doors opened to reveal another room. The door was the same size and of similar construction to the section doors that Jo had seen on Gateway.
Jo gave Will a kiss as everybody started filing out of the ĎMess Roomí. They turned and followed the rest as Jo looked down and smiled as she asked, "Arenít you missing something?"
Will had borrowed a pair of shorts, but looked down and said, "I took a spill and swore I could feel someone pulling them off."
"Imagine that," Jo said, running a finger along Willís member and then giving him a grin as she licked off the mixed cream pie filling.
This had the expected effect on Will and as they came out of the mess room and into a bathing room equipped with showers, tubs of various sizes, and a pool, one of the teenaged chakats in the pool called out, "I think somebody needs to get a room!"
"I wonder if they want comp Ö glub," added another before being dunked by the others around hir.
Jo glanced at Weaver, who grinned and said, "Shi thinks you two may want to be by yourselves for a while."
Jo, "Well Ö"
Track, who is in the kiddy pool with Skyspot, Andre, and Peter, said, "Go ahead and enjoy yourselves. Weíll watch the kids tonight."
Jo turned back to Weaver who said, "Tess, can you do something romantic in the Mess Room?"
"Certainly." The door opens again. The mess was gone, replaced by a fancy shower and tub, with a variety of bathing accessories and lit candles.
Weaver smiled and said, "Go on, weíll see you later."
Jo and Will turned back into the mess room and the door closed behind them. Will wrapped his arms around Jo and kissed her, while making interesting squishy noises. He said, "Now, about that milk check Ö"
Jo chuckled, "I donít know if you can find them under all this cream pie." She looked around as they walked to the shower, "I guess it is romantic, in a sort of traditional way."
Will said, "I think that we can improve on that. Tess?"
"Can you put that forest scene in here, with the waterfall and lake?"
Rather than answering, the shower and tub turned into a waterfall and lake, and a forest sprang up around them. Will nodded and said, "Much better, now possibly a waxing gibbous moon, keyed to shipís time?"
Tess took care of that, and Jo turned to Will, "I like your taste in romantic!"
They shared a sloppy embrace and then Jo started trying to clean off Willís face with her tongue, with mixed results. Will said, "You keep on like this and Iím going to have to watch out for you when we go out in public."
"I wouldnít do that; it might make some people uncomfortable."
"And you arenít worried about making me uncomfortable?"
Jo reached down and grabbed his erection. "This isnít a sign of discomfort. Our visits to Tamarr and his mates in Redpaws have cured you of that."
"You werenít afraid of offending our hosts?"
Jo laughed. "On a ship full of teenaged chakats and foxtaur vixens? Youíve got to be kidding."
They found out that cream pie and forest loam is not the most comfortable combination. They found their way into the waterfall and then the lake and, among other things, did get reasonably clean.
As they came out of the lake, very relaxed and happy, Jo asked, "Tess, do you have a fur drier?"
"Just spread your arms and legs out and close your eyes and mouth."
She glanced at Will, a curious look on her face, but stepped away from him and did as Tess asked. A cloud of spray appeared at the end of her tail, working up towards her body. By the time it got there she was squirming and Will was enjoying the show as her various parts were jiggling in interesting ways. When it stopped, she was dry, if still slightly disheveled. She smiled, "I want one of these, do him!"
Will spread his arm and legs, but the cloud of water was much smaller and only around the hair on his head and around his genitals. He looked at Jo, "I donít think I got the full effect, no fur."
She kissed him and then asked, "Tess, how about a four poster bed?"
A bed appeared, with veils around it and a canopy. Jo shook her head, "Leave off the veils and canopy please, I want to see the sky." They disappeared. Jo smiled and said, "Thank you, Tess."
Will grinned and said, "Great, now youíll want me to carry one of these when we go camping."
"Hush, now come to bed." They climbed into bed and Jo said, "I know that you noticed that most of the adult females on this ship are pregnant."
"Um-hm, and you want to join them."
Jo kissed him and said, "Yes, and I want it to be your child as well."
Will stoked her belly. "Teri and Peter are my children."
"As the chakats say, I want him or her to be ĎChild of Jo and Willí."
Will grinned, "You sure you donít want ĎChild of Will and Joí?"
She kissed him and noticed that this talk of children had gotten him ready again. "Silly, Iíll take care of that part. I know you are reluctant to have Dr. Springstep do this procedure. I wish we didnít need to do it and could just have a child together."
"That would be nice." He kissed her again, and that was enough talking for the evening.
As Track and Andre were herded by the cubs to where they would be spending the night, Andre asked hir, "Are you alright, Track? You seem a little nervous."
One of the cubs chimed up and said, "I think shi needs to Ďget a room.í"
Andre smiled and said, "Have a little more respect please, Spitfire. You shouldnít make fun of someoneís discomfort; even if you do think itís funny."
"Iím sorry, Shir Track."
Track rubbed hir head and said, "Thatís okay, Spitfire."
Andre said, "If you want to go with Quont and Slirparton, I can watch the little ones."
"Thanks, but no. Theyíve hooked up with Lighttouch, Terra, and Hydro and were planning one of their stinky nights."
Spitfire wrinkled hir muzzle and said, "Thatís gross. We went into their room after one of those and it was terrible. I thought you would be immÖ um, Ö."
Andre said, "Immune."
"Yeah, immune to that." Shi looked up at Andre and said, "You sound like the teacher we had on the station."
"I am a teacher. I teach music."
"Cool." Shi turned back to Track.
Track said, "Being mated to them doesnít help with that, just the mental things."
"Thatís okay, weíll take care of you." Then Spitfire steered them into the cubsí room where everyone else was settling down.
The next morning Teri extracted hirself from the pile of furs on the bed. Neal cracked an eye open and asked, "You OK Teri?"
"Yes sir, I just want to get a little workout in before breakfast," shi said. He grunted and closed his eyes, the others moving around slightly to fill the place shi left, but didnít appear to wake up. Shi hadnít realized the previous night that the so called Ďterror trioí, Holly, Quickdash, and Screamingwind, were leading hir to Captain Fosterís bed, but he didnít seem to mind, despite grousing about a Ďbed full of furballsí when he came in last night.
Teri got dressed and walked down to one of the holosuites that the terror trio had shown hir the day before. As shi entered the lights came up and a voice said, "Good morning Teri, how can I help you this morning?"
Teri smiled, half expecting this, but still not entirely sure about the main computer on this ship that sounded too much like a person. "Hello Tess, do you have a simulation of the Krantith Valley Wildlife Refuge on Raksha?"
"Not specifically. I can put together something close from my databases."
A temperate forest grew up around Teri, and shi could see a river off to her right. Shi said, "Thank you Tess, this looks pretty close to some of the pictures Iíve seen."
"Youíre welcome, Teri. If you donít mind me asking, how did you know about this place?"
"One of my teachers used to live in this part of Raksha."
"How would you like to interact with this simulation?"
Teri thought for a moment and then answered, "Please make me invisible and inaudible to the wildlife. I just want to look around."
"Done; enjoy yourself, Teri."
Teri wandered around and saw several of the plants and animals that Dinae had described to hir. Shi thought that Tess was probably Ďhelping outí by increasing the likelihood of seeing some of the larger animals, which was confirmed when shi saw a tratishu drop from a tree and take down an urshur about twice her mass. After she dispatched the urshur, she gave a cough-like cry and three cubs down from the tree and started feeding where their mother had ripped open its belly.
Shi was about to call out to Tess when someone called out in Katang Low Tongue, "Greetings, Teri."
Teri turned around and saw a Rakshani about hir age walking toward hir. She wasnít wearing anything except a quiver and game bag over her shoulder. She had a short bow, unstrung, in her hand. It was a style that Teri recognized from having seen one in Dinaeís office.
Shi replied in the same language, "Greetings. I am Teri ap William na Cochran, but it seems you already know that." Teri didnít ask her name. Shi knew that doing so would be considered bad manners for a Rakshani and could get hir clawed or worse.
The Rakshani frowned and said, "You claim that human as father and family? I know he isnít your sire."
It didnít surprise Teri that everyone on the ship knew hir story by now, but the statement could be considered a challenge if shi took it that way, especially since the Rakshani hadnít given her name. Shi decided to let that pass and said, "All of the Rakshani Iíve met on the Folly claim Ďna Fosterí. Are you from another family?"
The Rakshani smiled and sat down on a stump that Teri could have sworn wasnít there a second ago, but this was a holosuite. "So he gets along well with furs? I guess he would since your mom convinced him to come to Chakona."
There was now a conveniently placed boulder for Teri to sit down on, so shi did. "It was actually his idea, but he didnít push it until Mom decided that we needed to leave Earth."
The Rakshani shook her head and said, "I canít imagine living in the HCKNA. They ought to do something about that." Teri hadnít gone into that much detail about hir past, but didnít know what hir folks had said. The Rakshani continued, "How does he keep up with your mom in bed?"
The Rakshani smiled and said, "You do know about the birds and the bees." That last bit was in Terranglo.
"I ought to pound you for that."
"Hey, youíve spent a lot of time in a foxtaur den. Youíve watched them mating."
Teri looked down and scuffed hir foot on the ground. "Well, yeah, but itís none of your business."
The Rakshani nodded and said, "You are correct, of course. Please accept my apologies." She stood up and said, "I must be going now. Perhaps we will meet again."
She seemed to disappear into the woods very quickly. Teri shook hir head and asked, "Tess, can you please create a dojo in here?"
Rather than answer, the forest seemed to melt away, replaced by something else. The floor was Ďliveí, like in a good dojo or dance studio. Three of the walls were padded and one of them had a door in it. The fourth wall was covered with mirrors. As shi looked around, shi saw a garment rack with a gi hanging from it, and a collection of colored belts. Shi took off hir shorts and tee shirt and put on the gi, pants, and a white belt.
"Tess, do you have a sword?"
"I have several patterns for swords. What would you like?"
"A katana, please."
"Hold out your hands."
Teri held out hir hands as instructed, and a sheathed katana materialized in them. Shi bowed and said, "Thank you Tess."
"You are welcome."
Dinae had been working with Teri on traditional weapons since hir family had moved to Chakona, but now she wanted Teri to start participating in these competitions as well as the bare handed ones that shi had been doing. Teri walked into the center of the room and stopped. "Tess?"
"Can you keep the others out of here while I am working out? I donít want to have to worry about hurting any unexpected bystanders."
"Of course, I do this automatically in situations like this, but you would not know that. We refer to it as securing the room. There are, however, a couple of conditions that you should be aware of."
"What are those?"
"I do not have the authority to keep Neal and certain other crew members out if they feel that they need to enter. I will inform them of what you are doing here, and they have always respected this, barring unusual circumstances. In this case, I will warn you unless specifically directed not to. In any case, unless told not to, I will always take action to protect the crew and guests of the Folly."
Teri nodded, "That sounds OK. It is their ship, after all."
"The other thing is these same people can also choose to have echoes enter the room in their place. I believe that you have had some experience with echoes."
Shi smiled, "Yes, I use them in my training in situations that would be too dangerous otherwise. So if someone shows up, I can generally assume that it will be an echo, in which case I donít have to worry about injuring it, or that you will protect them if it isnít an echo, which should be rare."
"Yes, that sums it up nicely."
Teri nodded. "Tess, please secure the room."
"The room is secure, you may proceed."
Shi tucked the sheath into hir belt, and then spread hir legs and did some deep breathing, to calm hir and get into the correct frame of mind for the exercise shi had chosen this morning. Following that, shi did some slow stretches. Finally, shi drew the sword and started the kata, moving slowly and concentrating on precision and control. After going through it three times at that pace, shi stopped and settled hirself again, then began picking up the pace.
As shi was halfway through the kata, shi saw a red and black blur come out of the wall, headed straight for hir. Shi got the sword up in time to block the paw full of seemingly enormous claws swinging at hir head. Shi didnít make contact, but at least hir head was still on hir shoulders!
Shi rolled to the side and blocked the tail coming around toward hir. Shi hit this solidly, and barely managed to keep control of the sword.
Shi saw an opening and took it, striking at hir attackerís abdomen, and missed! Shi lost hir wind as shi was struck in the gut, feeling a tingling sensation in addition to the impact. Hir sword was wrenched away and shi was slammed up against the wall, the sword being driving through the neck of hir gi, just missing hir neck, but pinning hir in place.
Hir attacker stepped away and then froze, absolutely motionless, not even seeming to breathe. Teri finally recognized hir attacker as the Rakshani named Zhanch. Shi untied hir belt, and then slid out of the gi, leaving it pinned to the wall, and dropped to the floor. Shi heard a bell sound, and then a voice say, "Teri, this is Zhanch, may I come in?"
Teri said, "Yes, please do." Shi glanced up at the wall, wondering how shi was going to retrieve hir sword and added, "I am presently unarmed."
Zhanch opened the door and came into the dojo, wearing a Star Fleet uniform with the insignia of a marine lieutenant. She smiled at Teri and said, "Itís not nice to lie to your elders."
Teri gave her a puzzled look. Zhanch continued, "Tess and I look up the public profile of any visitors we get. Between that and watching your performance here, I would have to say that I wouldnít consider you Ďunarmedí unless you were, what Neal would call, hogtied and gagged."
Teri smiled. "Well, relatively unarmed, compared to a full grown Rakshani."
Zhanch chuckled at that. "So, how do you rate your performance?"
"I think my instructor would be proud. I managed to last nearly three seconds against a Rakshani marine officer armed only with a sword, and I even got one blow in!"
Zhanch chuckled, "No, kid, you got two. Look here."
Teri stepped up to where Zhanch was pointing to her immobile double. Now Teri saw a thin line of blood across the lower abdomen. Shi said, "I didnít even feel that connect."
Zhanch shook her head, "You may not have, but I certainly did!" She rubbed her belly, and Teri noticed that the echo was not pregnant. "That and the strike that nearly took my tail off. I must be getting slack, trying a tail strike against an opponent armed with an edged weapon."
Teri looked confused, "But this is an echo. Holly told me that the sensations from your echoes were muted."
Zhanch leaned back and laughed at that. When she recovered, she said, "I was bitten by my own overconfidence. I was only worried about hurting you."
Teri smile up at her. "That tingling I felt would otherwise be my guts spilling out onto the floor, right?"
"Yes, but while I could tell from watching you that you knew what you were doing, I was sure you wouldnít manage to hit me with that thing, so I didnít tell Tess to mute my feelings from the echo."
Tess chimed in, "You should know by now to be careful of what you ask for around here."
Zhanch rolled her eyes and said, "I know, maybe Iíll learn that some day." She turned back to Teri, "So, if you had a choice, how would you have preferred to be armed?"
Teri gave her a grin, "A phaser, preferably from behind you, as far away as possible!"
"I like how you think. Ever considered a career in the marines?"
Teri shook hir head, "Iím hoping to get into Star Fleet Academy, maybe go into Star Fleet Security."
Zhanch smiled and said, "I think weíre done with this. Tess, echo cancel please." The second Zhanch disappeared and she turned back to Teri. "Have you ever been in a real fight?"
Teriís smile disappeared as shi looked down at hir hands, now turned palms up. "Yes Ö"
Zhanchís face took on a worried expression. "Itís not my business, so we can forget that last question if you want, but do you want to talk about it?" She knelt down, bringing her head nearly even with Teriís.
Teri looked up at her. "I didnít realize what had happened until a police officer asked me whose blood was on my hands. It was almost two Ö" shi stopped and did some mental calculations, "Ö just over two standard years ago, before we left Earth to come to Chakona. I was seven. My family had gone to a concert with a friend of mine. I was in the toilet when an H1 attack started. I came out and saw someone hitting my mom while two others held her. I jumped on his back and scratched his throat. He fell down and I jumped off, but by then there were a lot of men coming, mostly armed with clubs. I knew I couldnít do anything, so I ran away.
"The police found my mom, and she was in the hospital for a while, and then was limping for a few months because they hurt her leg real bad. The police used the blood on my hands to identify the man who attacked my mom."
"What happened to him?"
"We thought that he died in jail, but it turned that was faked, and he escaped."
Zhanch looked uncertain how to react to this, but held her arms out, and Teri came up and hugged her, which she returned. She said, "It sounds like you did the right thing."
Teri nodded and then stepped back. "Thatís what my instructor said. He was a marine like you are."
"Who was that?"
"His name is Lindsey Richmorland."
Zhanchís eyes got wide at that. "A little, skinny dark skinned human? Not much taller than you are now?" Teri nodded. Zhanch said, "You wonít believe this, but we served together several times." She got up and indicated for Teri to get dressed.
Teri walked over to the garment rack and took off hir the pants. Shi then stepped back and spread hir arms and legs, saying, "Tess, can I have a quick clean-up please?" Shi was suddenly covered in spray for a few seconds. Then shi said, "Thank you Tess," and put hir clothes back on, pulling out a brush and dragging it through hir hair.
As shi did, Zhanch pulled the sword out of the wall and sheathed it. She waited for Teri to finish, then handed hir the sword.
Teri held the sword in front of hir, and bowed, saying, "Thank you Tess for the loan of this fine weapon."
The sword disappeared and Tess said, "Youíre welcome Teri, Iím pleased to be of assistance to you."
Zhanch said, "It takes a few weeks before most people can do everything at once with that method."
Teri smiled. "You know that martial arts teaches discipline."
Zhanch chuckled and asked, "Whatís with the white belt?"
"My instructor in Curtisport doesnít use a belt rank system. I just donít want to offend anyone." Teri smiled, "It also sometimes throws off some of my less experienced opponents. Sheís a Rakshani ex-marine named Dinae."
They started toward the door and Zhanch said, "Iíve never met her, but Lindsey and I were once stationed at a training base together. We would get a hotheaded male Rakshani who thought that size and strength were everything, technique be damned! We would feed them to Lindsey, who would bring them down to size by wiping up the gym with them." She gave Teri an evil grin as they went out of the door. "Then I would get them, to start pounding some sense into them."
Teri laughed at that and Zhanch smiled. Teri said, "He didnít tell me about that, but it sounds like him. Iíll have to ask him about it. Weíre going to visit him when we go to Earth just after New Year."
Zhanch smiled and said, "Do ask him about that and tell him that I said hello." They started down the corridor and Zhanch put her hand on Teriís shoulder. "Shall we see if Stew has any breakfast left?"
When Will and Jo woke up the next morning, the Ďsuní just coming over the horizon, there was a Rakshani cub sleeping between them. She woke up and gave Jo a bleary eyed smile, "Donít worry Ms. Jo, you will have your heartís desire," and she gave Jo a hug. Then she turned to Will and growled something to him in Katang Low Tongue before hugging him as well. She then scrambled off of the bed and ran off through the woods.
Jo asked, "What did she say?"
"She said, ĎYou will be a proud and honorable father.í"
She smiled and kissed him. "You already are a proud and honorable father. I donít remember meeting any Rakshani cubs when we were introduced to Nealís family yesterday."
"There were too many of them for me to keep track of. How about some breakfast?"
Tess had cleaned and pressed their clothes, so they got cleaned up and dressed and walked down to the dining area where they had had dinner the night before. They got some breakfast and sat down next to Andre, across from Weaver and Bonita. Peter and Skyspot were Ďhelpingí Nightsky feed Star while Moonglow was nursing Stormy. Just as Jo was about to ask where Teri was, the door opened and shi came in with Zhanch, who was dressed in the uniform of a lieutenant in the Star Fleet Marines. Shadowcrest looked up and asked, "Whatís with the monkey suit?"
Zhanch gave hir a toothy grin, "Iíve got to go over to Star Base Two this morning and be official."
Jo turned to Bonita, "Where are the Rakshani cubs?"
Bonita gave her a confused look, "What Rakshani cubs? Four of us are pregnant, but we donít have any cubs yet."
Now Jo looked confused. She glanced at Will, who shrugged, then turned back to Bonita. "But there was a Rakshani cub in bed with us when we woke up this morning."
Weaver and Bonita exchanged a glance. Weaver asked, "Do you want to explain this or should we get Tess to drag Neal out of engineering? I know that Track and the trio are down there with him, but I havenít seen Slirparton or Quont this morning."
Shadowcrest, who had come over, grinned and said, "They were very busy last night. I felt them both shifting as I went by on the way to bed last night, and it felt like they were likely to get going again."
Jo snorted, "Theyíre not kids anymore. They ought to know their limits by now." She grinned. "If theyíre not ready to go by the time your shuttle goes down, theyíll have to walk home." She glanced at Weaver and Bonita again. "I believe we were discussing nonexistent Rakshani cubs?"
Bonita shook her head, "Did she say anything to you?"
"I donít know how you knew she was female, but she told me that I will have my heartís desire."
Bonita nodded and looked at Will, "You?"
Will repeated what the mystery cub had told him, then added, "How did she know I spoke Katang Low Tongue?"
Bonita smiled, "Your accentís not bad. When you were studying Katang, did you study any of the tales of The Traveler?" Will nodded, and she continued, "Well, we have reason to believe she might be aboard. Some strange things have been reported in the holodecks."
Jo looked confused, "The Traveler? What are you talking about?"
Will smiled at Bonita, then gave Jo a hug, "The quick and dirty story is that the Rakshani deities lived there eons ago. They have since Ďmoved oní and now have a non-corporeal existence, but they have stuck around to help their Ďchildrení. The Traveler likes to hitch rides on spaceships and asks permission by Ďpossessingí a cub and offering one of the crew or passengers a treat. If they accept it, she goes with them." He turned to Bonita, "Did I get that about right?"
She smiled and nodded, "Close enough, the cub you saw this morning might have been The Traveler paying you a visit."
Jo shook her head, then looked at the clock, "Iím still not sure what to think about this, but we had better go get Quont and Slirparton up. The shuttle is due to leave in a little less than an hour."
As they got up, Andre said, "You might want to check with Tess first. Track said that Quont and Slirparton were going to have one of their Ďstinky nightsí. The other skunktaurs on board may have joined them."
"Oh lord." Jo tapped the combadge that had been loaned to her. "Tess, is that room in any way fit for mere mortals?"
Tess said, "I put them in a holosuite and used force fields so that the real walls and floor wouldnít get soaked. I also supplied real water, rather than holosuite water, for the cleanup and Lighttouch has a shampoo hy uses for this. They donít smell like roses, but I think youíll survive and they have time for another bath before you need to go."
"Thank you Tess. If Track could afford a set-up like that at their house, shi might even let them do this at home instead of going out to a hotel." As they walked out the door, Jo said to Will, "There are times that I envy your poor sense of smell."
The door closed behind them and Will asked, "Tess, could you tell us where our skunktaurs are?"
The safety lights came one and started running to their left. "Certainly Will, just follow the lights."
They followed the lights until they came to a door. As they approached, the door opened. Jo wrinkled her nose as they stepped in and said, "Well, it isnít too bad." There was a pile of black and white fur on the bed. It looked like all five of the skunktaurs on board wound up here last night. Jo raised her voice and said, "Quont, Slirparton, are you in there?"
They saw an eye open near the bottom of the pile. "Jo? Is that you?"
They smiled and Will said, "I guess they are alive in there."
Jo chuckled and said, "Good morning Quont. The shuttle is due to leave in less than an hour and you two need another bath before then."
"Right, Iím on it. See you later."
Jo and Will left and the door closed behind them. Quont started working hys way out from underneath the fur pile, waking Slirparton in the process.
After boarding the shuttle for the trip down to Curtisport, Slirparton was chatting with Neal and Lighttouch, who was going down to visit family there, when hy broke off and looked across the shuttle to where Skyspot and Peter were playing with Firestorm and Starblazer. "Skyspot, come here please."
Skyspot came over and gave hym a hug, joined by Quontiale and Powertracker. After a few minutes, Skyspot whispered, "Bye Grandma." Shi then looked up and Slirparton gave hir a lick kiss. Shi asked, "When will I get to see Uncle Dendo?"
"Hy was at your birthing party."
Slirparton chuckled, "He will be home on leave next year, after I get back from Terra."
"Good, I like hym."
Shi ran back to the other kids, and Neal looked at Slirparton and asked, "What just happened?"
Slirparton said, "My mother, Randolph, just died."
"Iíve got a transporter on board if you need to get somewhere."
Slirparton shook hys head. "Thatís not necessary. The whole family was together with hym. We will get together on Year End and scatter hys ashes in Lake Chakat."
"Who is Dendo?"
"Dendonoral is my younger brother. Hy and hys mates are a search and rescue team on Starbase Three."
Lighttouch looked at hym and Slirparton felt a request in hys mind. "Is Dendonoral of House Redpaw?"
"No, hy is House Bluepaw."
"If you donít mind me asking, why are you working in sales and accounting when you have that much telepathic capability?"
"Randolph had some disagreements with the Council of House Redpaw in how telepaths should be trained."
"Youíre not conditioned to the headband response!"
"No, but I abide by the conventions."
Skyspot called to Slirparton, and hy said, "If you will excuse me gentlemen?" Hy got up and went over to hir.
Neal looked at Lighttouch and said, "You look like youíve just seen a ghost. What were you and Slirparton talking about?"
Lighttouch just shook hys head and didnít answer.
A week after their visit to The Folly, the Cochrans got a call saying good-bye, and they wished the Folly and her crew a safe and uneventful journey. The next week they got a call from Andy Foster. Jo took the call and said, "Good morning Andy. Youíre up early for Berdoovia."
"You could say that again, but I wanted to catch you before you went up to work. It seems Folly was attacked by pirates two days ago."
"Makers! Is everyone alright?"
"Everyone is okay Ö well, except for Folly and most of the pirates, I understand."
"The Folly is just a cargo ship, how could they defend themselves?"
"Letís just say that Neal protects his friends and family and leave it at that. The ship is badly damaged, hell, basically she got her tail shot off. So while theyíre safe enough, they wonít be going anywhere any time soon."
"Are your mothers going out there?"
Andy ruefully chuckled and said, "Most people think Iím crazy when I refer to a chakat as Ďmotherí, even here on Chakona."
"Well, since my mother-in-law has a chakat that calls hir ĎGrandmaí, thatís not as much of s stretch for me."
That got a genuine laugh out of Andy. "Thanks, Jo. I needed that. In any case, Arcs and Sparks are champing at the bit to go out there, but theyíve got other commitments that they canít get out of. Never mind that minor fact that the same message that told us of the attack included orders from Neal not to drop everything and rush out to try to help."
"Give them a hug for us, if they slow down enough to catch them. Also, please let Neal and his crew know that they are in our thoughts and prayers."
"Iíll do that, Jo. Iíve got a few more people to call so Iíd better go."
"Thanks again, Andy. Weíll talk to you later."
On Sixthday that week, Teri got home from school, sniffed the air in the house, smiled, and called hir Grandma. After shi collected Peter and got his jacket on and some clothes packed for both of them, they came out into the kitchen where their parents were. Teri asked, "Can we go visit Grandma Andre this weekend?"
Will looked down at his kids and scratched his head. "It looks like youíre already packed to go. Iím making steamed dim-sum and stir fried veggies tonight."
Jo walked up and, after giving Will a peck on the cheek, said, "I think that sounds like a good idea. Iíll call Andre."
Teri said, "Iíve already called hir, and shi said it was OK. Weíll be back on Firstday before you go to work."
Jo let go of Will and gave Peter and Teri each a hug and a kiss. They got them from their Dad as well, and then Jo said, "Have a good time and say hello to your Grandma for us."
Teri said, "OK, bye!" and he and Peter left.
Will said, "That was awfully sudden."
Jo just grinned at him, showing all of her teeth, and then wrapped one arm around his head and pulled him down into a kiss, and shoved her other hand down the front of his pants. When she finally let go of him enough so that he could speak, Will said, "That is a convincing argument. Do you want dinner?"
Jo just kissed him again and said, "Weíll send out for a pizza, later."
During the course of the evening, Jo let Will know that fingers and teeth and a tongue wouldnít cut it this time, which resulted in Will getting some special treatment to help replenish his resources. The delivery robot didnít mind that Jo was disheveled and naked when she got the pizza.
The next morning, Jo brought Will breakfast in bed, and while he was eating, she was nibbling on something else. He smiled and asked, "Whatís come over you?"
"Well, I am fertile right now," she said before continuing her Ďbreakfastí.
"That has never affected you quite this much before."
She gave him another lick, and then smiled and looked up at him. "I think this is ready. Are you done yet?"
By the time they went to sleep the next evening, Jo seemed satisfied and Will was frankly astonished that he had been able to keep up with her demands. He wondered what it was going to be like if he got the treatments from Dr. Springstep.
The next morning Andre brought Teri and Peter home. When they came in, Teri sniffed the air and then smiled and nodded. "I think that Mom and Dad are finished," shi told hir Grandma. Andre followed them to their parents bedroom, agreeing with Teriís assessment. Jo and Will were awakened by hugs and kisses from their children, an entirely pleasant way to greet the morning. After they were awake, Peter asked, "Can I Ö" He rethought that, seeing his momís look. "May I go play with Spots?"
Jo smiled and said, "Call Quont and ask hym."
Peter walked over to the com and said, "Comm on please. Call Papa Quont."
Quont answered, "Hi Pete! What can I do for you?"
Peter glanced at his mom before saying, "May I come over and play with Spots?"
"Of course, do we need to come and get you?"
Andre said, "Iíll bring him down, Quont. See you in a few minutes."
Andre took Peter to Spotsí house and Teri made breakfast for hir parents, oatmeal and fruit for hir dad and eggs and sausage for hir mom, with fruit juice and toast made from hir dadís home-baked bread for both of them and brought it to them.
Later that morning, after Will and Jo had finished their breakfast and showered, Jo came into Teriís room where shi was working on a school project. She said, "Thank you for the breakfast Honey. What are you working on?"
Teri smiled and said, "Itís a report on Raksha joining the Stellar Federation and how the Caitians and the chakats helped."
Jo rubbed hir head. "Is this an assignment for school or from Dinae?"
"Both," Teri replied with a chuckle. "Zuzu wanted us to come up with our own history project and Dinae suggested this. I asked Zuzu and hy said it sounded OK." Shi saved hir work and set the PADD down. Teri leaned up against hir mom as she wrapped her arm around hir.
Jo seemed awkward, but finally said, "Teri, youíve had a couple sessions with Yapur now."
Teri nodded. "Hy has been mostly helping me keep straight what I really remember from what I remember other people talking about. Hy said that Breeze was a big help, but shi couldnít do this because shiís not a telepath."
Jo nodded and they both sat quietly for a while. "Teri, Yapur said that, um, it would be good for both of us if I told you about some of what we have been doing in my sessions." Teri nodded and Jo hugged hir. "When I first heard about Hughes and the attack in San Francisco, the first thing I thought was that I wished you had, um Ö" She stopped and wiped tears out of her eyes while Teri gave her a hug. After collecting herself, she continued, "I wished that you had killed Hughes that night."
Jo closed her eyes and bowed her head. Teri gently hugged her. Jo opened her eyes and met Teriís eyes. She saw that the fur around her daughterís eyes was soaked with tears. "Mom, I know you donít mean that. Youíre a doctor, you save people."
Jo gave Teri a squeeze. "All I know is that you saved my life that night."
Teri looked back at hir mother. "I saved you and Peter, and Iím glad." Shi thought for a minute before continuing. "I didnít want to kill him then, I was just worried about you. I still donít want to kill anyone, even Hughes, but I wish the people in the HCKNA hadnít let him go."
Jo frowned. "Do you know something about that?"
"No," said Teri, shaking hir head, "I just decided that someone had to let him go or he wouldnít have gotten away."
"I suppose so. Yapur has helped me realize that I donít really want that either. Last week he asked me what I would do if he was brought into the hospital and I had to treat him." Teri looked up at her and she said, "I thought about it for a long time, and realized that I would do my best to save his life, just like any other patient."
"Thatís what youíre supposed to do."
Jo smiled and said, "Yes, it is. And you are supposed to be enjoying your day off, like all the other kids."
"Domi and I are going over to the park after lunch."
"But itís pouring rain out!"
Teri shrugged and smiled. "Iíll take my slicker. We just want to wander around and talk and the park will be empty."
"And what will you two be talking about?"
"Just stuff. The other kids, what we want for New Yearís, that kind of thing."
Jo stood up. "Well, have a good time and donít be late for dinner. Iíll tell your dad."
The next time hy saw them together, Yapur told Jo and Teri that, while no one was ever Ďcuredí from something like this, hy thought that they didnít need to see hym any more, but that he was always available if they wanted anything. Hy did check up on both of them informally from time to time, but didnít see any reason to change hys mind.
The man they called "The Shrew" was actually a human named Charles Davies. He was less than 125cm tall and skinny with medium brown hair and no distinguishing features. He didnít mind his nickname and sort of agreed with it.
Captain Lindrom asked, "What did you find at Sormand, Chuck?"
Davies sat down and said, "They let me in and poke around, with their IT manager looking over my shoulder. Something is definitely fishy with their records, but the tinkering was done very carefully and I couldnít nail anything down while I was there. I suggested putting a monitor in the system, and shi asked to see my warrant. Shi then showed me the door."
"Damn. Not that Iím surprised, but with what we have now all we might convince a judge of is malicious mischief, and thereís no way weíre going be able to use that for justification for putting a hook into a foreign corporationís computer system."
"Do you want me to poke around from the outside and see what I can turn up?"
Lindrom looked like shi was considering it, but finally shook hir head. "No, I donít think itís worth sticking our neck out for. Runner is still working on following up some leads shi has, letís wait and see what shi turns up."
Jo finished putting her lunch together and took the tram downtown. When shi got off she went around the corner and into the side door of the Star Fleet office building. This was primarily a procurement office since Star Fleet bought equipment in Curtisport. Jo smiled at the skunktaur at the console and said, "Good morning, Ritar."
"Hello Jo," said the skunktaur. Hy was wearing a Star Fleet uniform with the combadge indicating that hy was an ensign and the purple tunic color indicating, in hys case, logistics.
There was a tone and the lighted band around the transporter platform turned green. Several skunktaurs and a chakat joined Jo walking onto the platform. The band turned white, and then another, less pleasant tone sounded and the band started flashing yellow. Ritar looked up and said, "Jo, would you please step off of the platform?"
Jo, looking confused, stepped off and everyone else beamed up to Chakona Gateway. She just looked at Ritar and hy said, "According to my scanners, you are pregnant."
Jo shook her head and said, "But Will and I arenít Ö." She stopped and asked, "Do you have a medical scanner here?"
"Not as far as I know. Thereís not medical section here, we just use the city services. Now, if youíre thinking to convince me that you arenít pregnant, if you can provide medical evidence and have a compelling reason to go, I can override the interlock," hy grinned sheepishly at her and continued, "but being chewed out by your boss for being late wonít do it."
Jo muttered, "Youíve never been chewed out by Sungold." Ritar didnít respond, but Jo knew hy had heard what she had said. She continued at a normal volume, "Have you got anything going to Gateway?"
Hy shook his head, "Not today. I can check other carriers."
"Iíve already missed the commercial flight. The company has a contract with Amistad Orbital, anything there?"
"AOís heavy Rio Bello will be lifting from the spaceport in 35 minutes for Star Base Two. They are then scheduled to go to Gateway."
"When will they get to Gateway?"
"An hour and three quarters to the starbase, twenty minutes layover, then 60 minutes to Gateway. Call it two and a half hour to Gateway after launch."
"A couple of independents, next AO traffic is a cargo shuttle late this afternoon."
"I donít want to miss the whole day. Taking the Rio Bello is quicker than taking the train to New Bletchley. Can I get to the spaceport in time?"
Hy smiled, "Iíve booked it, slide your ID into the slot. There will be a PPV here in 75 seconds and Iíve authorized priority handling with the Curtisport traffic AI."
She gave hym a peck on the cheek and said, "Thanks Ritar," and dashed out the door.
Jo called the station and got the hospitalís AI. She said, "Hello Clyde. Iím going to be late today. Would you ask Sun to call me when shi gets a chance?"
The voice that answered was a pleasant contralto, and certainly didnít sound like a ĎClydeí. "Of course, Dr. Cochran."
Jo talked to Sun and left a message asking Will to call her on the way to the spaceport. When she arrived at the lounge in the Cargo B terminal there was a skunktaur of House Blackpaw waiting there. The Rio Bello was sitting on the tarmac. Jo thought the heavy lift shuttles looked like giant, four legged spiders crouching over their prey. In this case, the "prey" wasnít a standard cargo pod but an open frame with what looked like space ship parts.
Jo introduced herself, "Hello, Iím Jo Cochran." When hy turned to face her, she recognized the ID of one of the companies in Curtisport that manufactured warp drive components. "Is that your load?"
Hy nodded and said, "Hello Jo. Iím Vandi, Child of Tonna and Rewar. Iím tagging along to make sure everything gets there in one piece and is assembled correctly."
The outside door opened and the terminal AI said, "You may proceed to the shuttle. Please stay on the marked walkway."
They walked out to the shuttleís lift and then rode up to the control cabin, eighty meters above. They were met by Chakat Windrider, who told Jo to have a seat before heading out the rear hatch with Vandi. There were enough Ďtaur benches for six passangers so Jo converted the bench on the first row, port side to biped style, put her bag in the locker in front of her, her PADD in the slot next to the seat, and sat down and fastened her lap and shoulder belts.
A chakat came out of the flight deck and spotted her. Shi said, "Youíre Josephine Cochran?"
Jo handed the chakat her Gateway ID and said, "Yes, please call me Jo."
"Good to meet you Jo, Iím Blackstripe, the First Officer of the Rio Bello." Shi seemed to remember something and added, "We donít get many passengers. Iíll be right back."
Shi went back up to the flight deck and came back with a PADD. Shi pulled Joís ID out of the PADD and handed it back to Jo who put it into her inside jacket pocket and sealed it. Blackstripe looked at hir PADD and said, "Iím required to read this. ĎAll personal items and articles of loose clothing or jewelry must be properly stowed before launch reentry or docking restraints are to be worn at all times during the flight unless otherwise instructed by a member of the crew this compartment serves as an escape vessel in the event of an emergency all instructions from the crew must be followed immediately.í"
Shi looked up from hir PADD, and Jo smiled up at hir, her empty hands crossed in her lap and wearing her restraints. Blackstripe asked, "Do you have any questions?"
"May I please use you com system after we make orbit?"
"Data or voice?"
The chakat made a few notations on hir PADD. "When the data port next to you lights up it will be live." Blackstripe smiled and added, "Please at least look at the instructions for securing your PADD to the table."
"I will. Thank you Blackstripe."
The chakat nodded and went back to the flight deck, soon followed by the engineer and the skunktaur.
The lift off was smooth and on schedule. A few minutes later Jo felt the slight vibration that signaled the switch from repulsors to reaction drives and the light came on. She took out her PADD and plugged it in. After logging into the hospitalís network so she could get caught up on the paperwork, she got an incoming call.
"Hello, Love. Whatís up?"
"Will, Iím pregnant."
End of Book 1. To be continued in Book Two, Chapter One.
Copyright © 2010 Tim Rumph tarumph AT gmail.com
Chakats, Chakona and the Chakat Universe are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with his permission.
Skunktaurs were created by Bob Reijns.
Boronike, Arcs Foster, and Sparks Foster were created by Allen Fesler.
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