Flight of the Phoenix
Chapter 4 – Mouse Machinations
By Bernard Doove © 2012

Anastasiya groaned and tried to stand up, but the stab of pain from the gouge in hir side, and the dizziness from loss of blood, foiled hir effort. Shi sank back into a snow bank, barely noticing that it was deeply stained with hir life fluid. Shi fumbled for the comm in hir coat pocket, but let it drop to the ground, shattered by the same assault that had so seriously wounded hir.

Shi gave a humourless laugh, certain that shi was going to die, and berating hirself for hir stupidity. Most of all shi regretted that shi would not see Valentina again.

Consciousness slipped away. An unknown time later, shi became aware of a voice calling hir name. Shi tried to focus on the person leaning over hir, shaking hir shoulder, but shi blacked out again.


Anastasiya sat up in bed with a yell, and then panted heavily as shi tried to regain hir bearings. Shi became aware of Valentina’s arm about hir, and started to calm down.

"It was that dream again?" Valentina enquired. "The one where you almost died?"

Anastasiya nodded mutely. Shi was aware of the throb of pain from the imperfectly healed wound that had almost claimed hir life.

"Father – what’s wrong?" came the voice from the doorway of a worried Katarina, woken by the yell of hir sire.

"Go back to bed, Kat, dear. Your father had a bad dream – that’s all."

"Okay," Katarina said, only partially mollified. Shi had seen the look on hir father’s face and knew that shi was in pain.

"Lie back down, Ana'. Let me massage you. You know that eases pain."

"It is you who eases pain, 'Tina, not massage," shi replied even as shi complied. "You who make my life complete. You who saved my life that night. Without you, I would have been just another dead rebellious youth."

"You get so maudlin when you have that dream," Valentina said as shi massaged the stiff muscles of Anastasiya’s back.

"Not all bad memory though. Led to me getting act together and us getting married."

"Only after you promised your Aunt Svetlana to train and get discipline, and to stay away from gang," Valentina pointed out.

"Only did for you, 'Tina."

"No, you did it for us." Valentina leaned in close and kissed hir. "And I loved you for that."

"I would do anything for you, my love."

"Oh? When will you have child that you promised?"

Anastasiya groaned. "Not this again. It’s not good time – job is too new. We need more savings. I don't want to risk child while I’m working."

Valentina dug hir claws in a little, and Anastasiya winced. "Excuses! After four voyages, our jobs look more secure than ever. We have good work, good friends, and we even will have bonus from share of reward for capturing pirates. Life is risk – if you worry about every little thing, you will die childless. Katarina needs a sister. I think that I will accidentally forget prophylactic when you are next in heat."

"You would do that?" Anastasiya asked plaintively.

"Only making you keep promise," Valentina declared firmly.

Anastasiya sighed in resignation. "You win, 'Tina. Next heat we try for sister for Katarina. Right now though…" Shi rolled over, pulling Valentina under hir. "I’m still in male phase, and I want you."

"No less than I want you," Valentina replied as shi opened hirself to hir lover.


Martin contemplated his next move. His opponent had him cornered, and his options were severely limited. A bold move could see him break free, but also leave him vulnerable elsewhere. However, being constantly on the defence would not gain him his objective. He made up his mind.

"Rraikarr to Karnass 4," he said, moving his piece.

"Rasst'kn to Siskinrek 6. Killing strike!" M'Rarrtikar declared.

Martin slapped his forehead. How had he missed that? He sighed. "I concede. Well done. That puts you two up on me, doesn’t it?"

"Three," M'Rarrtikar reminded him as she packed up the pieces of the Caitian equivalent of chess that they called Lirkar-Kr'rin – the Stalking Game. It had great similarities to the Terran game of chess, with its variety of pieces with their set moves, and even a board of eight by eight squares. Where it differed were the five extra two-by-two areas located above the main board at each corner and the centre. These were said to represent trees that gave either refuge or vantage point for pouncing.

Martin had found it easy to pick up, but tricky to master. "Enough of the games – how is our budget faring?" he asked as he keyed in an order to the replicator for coffee.

As usual, the Caitian did not have to consult her PADD for answers. "As projected, we have come out of this voyage with a modest profit. If we throw in the reward money, we can add to the budget for making improvements and upgrades," she added hopefully.

"No, I promised to share that with the crew. Upgrades can wait a little longer."

M'Rarrtikar had expected as much, but she'd had to try. "Judging by the goods that we are scheduled to pick up from Earth, we might be able to afford a number of them the next time around. However, the ship will be due for a major service then, so we will need to put aside some funds for that."

"I was hoping to give all the crew a raise by the end of the next round trip."

M'Rarrtikar shook her head. "Unless you have lined up some extra profitable consignments that I don’t know about, that will have to wait until at least one more time around."

"Nuts! I’ve been half-promising that I’d boost their wages soon. I must admit that having Penny on the payroll might be good for morale, but it didn’t do wonders for my original wage projections."

"Are you suggesting that we lay her off?"

"Good grief, no! Besides liking Penny and what she does for us, I think the crew might lynch me if I tried."

M'Rarrtikar smiled. "I’d say that was more than likely."

"We’ll get by. We’re doing okay and we have a pretty happy ship, and that makes me sleep well at night." He sipped his coffee, and then continued. "My agent has a list of prospective customers to check out when we get to Earth. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they will have something extra profitable for us. If nothing else, the way we handled those hijackers gave us extra credibility in the reliability department."

"I expect that as the news spreads, we may see more benefits come from that ugly situation," M'Rarrtikar agreed.

"And that’s half a dozen rogues who won’t give anyone problems for a very long time," Martin added.


Martin piloted the shuttle to Terra Gateway himself, leaving Baxter and Valentina to start organising the freight to be taken down to the spaceport while he attended to the inevitable paperwork. As usual, he offered a ride to those of the crew who weren’t directly involved with the unloading, as well as their two paying customers who had to go through Customs. That included M'Resk, who accompanied their passengers, Anastasiya, Hotfoot, M'Rarrtikar, both Faleshkarti, and Penny.

"I’m sure not missing a chance to do some shopping at Gateway Plaza!" declared Penny. "I still don’t dare go dirt-side, and I have Fedcreds burning a hole in my pocket."

"Wouldn’t dream of leaving you behind, Penny," Martin replied with a grin.

On the way over, the voice of Gateway Control came over the comm. "Phoenix shuttle Baker – change of port. You are now assigned Port 116."

"Acknowledged, Gateway Control – Port 116." Martin switched off the comm. "That’s odd. Level one hundred is usually reserved for important passenger transfers, not starship crews."

"Maybe they’re extra busy today and the other ports are tied up on the normal levels?" suggested M'Rarrtikar.

"Perhaps, but I hadn’t noticed any exceptional traffic." Martin shrugged. "Doesn’t bother me – it’s closer to the office where I need to go anyway."

They docked without fuss and allowed their passengers to alight first. The rest followed but stopped just outside of the airlock when several Star Fleet Security people held them up. A jackal morph holding a PADD saw Martin and checked whatever was displayed on the device. "That’s him."

One of the Security personnel stepped up to the coyote and said, "Captain Martin Yote – you are under arrest."

Martin was flabbergasted. "What?! What the hell are you talking about?" he began angrily before realising that the FedSec had his phaser firmly pointed at him, and he decided to calm down quickly.

"You are hereby charged with kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, and psychological coercion.

"Being explaining this nonsense!" Anastasiya spat out.

"Careful," said the jackal. "The scanner says shi’s armed.

Two more of the Security people levelled their weapons at Anastasiya and one said, "You will very carefully remove your weapon using just two fingers. Move slowly, or I will shoot."

"Am registered security officer licensed to carry weapon," objected the tiger.

"You are all also under arrest as accomplices to Captain Yote. Now remove that weapon as I instructed and put it on the floor and then step back."

Anastasiya did as shi was told, glaring balefully at the guards all the time.

"Who are we supposed to have kidnapped?" Martin asked.

"You are accused of taking Ms Penelope Windsor from Big Sur Spaceport on August 3, 2333. What have you done with her?"

"Me?" Penny squeaked from behind the pack where she had been lurking unnoticed.

The jackal quickly scanned her. "Positive ID. That’s her alright. Please step forward, Ms Windsor. You’re in safe hands now."

"What? I wasn’t kidnapped! I’m here of my own free will with my friends."

The jackal grimaced. "Stockholm Syndrome – just as we were warned." He tapped his wrist comm. "Bates – the Windsor girl is here at Port 116. Come collect her."

A tense half minute later, two female Fleet Security personnel – a vixen and a tabby cat this time – turned up. The vixen immediately spotted Penny and said, "Please come with me, Ms Windsor. We have some anxious people waiting for you."

"The only person I know who would be anxious to get me back would be my father, and I have no intention of going."

"I’m afraid that I am going to have to insist, Ms Windsor. Please don’t make me resort to harsher measures."

Penny just folded her arms defiantly. "There’s nothing that you can do that’s worse than making me go back to my father."

The vixen sighed. "Very well." She nodded to her cat cohort, and they each grabbed an arm and started half-carrying, half-marching her off.

Penny didn’t go quietly. She was abusing and arguing with her captors for at least as long as the others were in earshot.

The jackal said, "You will accompany us to the Security Block. If you attempt to escape, you will be shot and charges of resisting arrest will be added to your list of crimes. There you will be interviewed and formally charged. You will be entitled to one comm call. Better make it a good one, considering the deep shit that you’re in. Now move!"


Martin had never felt so furious or frustrated in his life, and that included the incident with the hijackers. It was plain that the Security personnel had already made up their minds about their guilt, and were only trying to extract details from them and find more evidence of their crimes. That there was not any to be gotten had irritated their Security interrogators considerably, making them even less charitable towards their suspects. The coyote noted how they seemed to be referring constantly to a list of details regarding the ship, its crew, and its itinerary. It was all very accurate up until the point that Penny was involved, but from there the facts got horribly skewed. The crimes that they were accused of started from an opportunistic kidnapping at the spaceport, claims of ransom demands, enforced servitude, and breaking Penny psychologically. It read like a drama script, which it basically had to be because none of it was true. It was only when an interrogator let a detail slip that the light dawned on him.

"The Shepherds!" Martin exclaimed. "Junior said he’d make her pay. He must have somehow gotten in contact with Penny’s father. Now it’s starting to make sense."

"That isn’t what I asked you about," the interrogator growled. "Answer the question!"

"Not much point in doing so as long as you’re referring to that fairy story that Windsor has fed you," Martin replied.

"Your failure to cooperate will only count against you when you go to trial."

"Your failure to be able to distinguish truth from fiction is only going to make you look stupider if you persist with this idiocy."

"Are you trying to make me believe that all this…" he waved his hand at the PADD, "…is not true, and you’re just innocent dupes? How gullible do you think I am?"

"Very, apparently," Martin replied with one of his best annoying grins.

It worked. The interrogator snarled and said to the guard in the room with them, "Take him back to his cell."

Martin was relieved. Even a jail cell was better than listening to all that rubbish any longer.


Captain Abel Karnak was a jackal morph of 64 years, 45 of which he’d spent in Star Fleet in Security Division. He had been appointed Head of Security of Terra Gateway Station seven years ago, and had dealt with a large number of incidents in that time. This latest one involving the recovery of a kidnapped heiress was going to look good on his record, and he hoped for another promotion before his retirement. The tip-off and the information that had brought about the recovery of Ms Windsor had come belatedly, but swift action on his part had caught the rogues unawares. He was feeling pretty good about his world in general.

His desk comm beeped, and his executive assistant’s voice came through. "Sir – there’s an Admiral Tartikova from Star Fleet Command here to see you."

Karnak blinked in confusion – he had not been expecting anyone from Command, and that name was dreadfully familiar. "Send the Admiral in, please."

A moment later, he began to get a sinking feeling in his stomach when a herm tiger entered his office. He stood up and saluted. "This is most unexpected, Admiral."

Admiral Svetlana Tartikova returned the salute and said, "I will cut to chase, Captain. Why have you arrested my niece?"

"I gather that Anastasiya Tartikova is your niece? Shi was arrested as an accomplice to the kidnapping of Penelope Windsor, amongst several other serious charges."

"Bullshit, Captain. Shi did not do any such thing."

"With respect, sir, even high-ranking Star Fleet officers can have criminal relatives."

"Aware of that I am. Only stating fact, not opinion. Anastasiya was a wild youth, but matured into responsible and respectable adult. On what are you basing your charges?"

"I was given a comprehensive report on Ms Windsor’s abduction, subsequent ransom demands, and a list of subsequent sightings at various interstellar locations where private investigators had tracked her down. She was found in the company of Captain Yote and his crew, wearing one of their ship’s uniforms, displaying evidence of Stockholm Syndrome – behaviour identifying with her kidnappers and very atypical of an heiress of a business empire. We acted on a tip-off that Yote was intending to smuggle her through Terra Gateway using the alias of Penny Lane, and everything we found matched the details in the report."

"And when did you receive tip-off and report?"

"About a quarter hour before Yote came aboard the station."

"And in this quarter hour, you comprehensively checked all facts, of course?" the admiral asked drolly.

"Er… no. We had to organise the arrest hastily."

"Odd then that alleged kidnapping was never reported at time it was supposed to have happened. Parents of kidnap victims invariably either call authorities, or pay ransom and then call authorities, which in this case would be Star Fleet. There was no call. Would you care to explain anomaly?"

"The parents could have responded to threats to kill their daughter if they reported the kidnapping?" offered Karnak.

Admiral Tartikova nodded. "Not impossible. Extremely unlikely considering great efforts that Windsor has supposedly put into finding their child, but not impossible. So, having located their daughter, what made you think that she was displaying evidence of Stockholm Syndrome?"

"I was supplied photographs for identification purposes. She was pictured in a smart business dress at one of her father’s business meetings, apparently learning more of the business. Very serious demeanour. We were warned that the investigators had found significant changes in behaviour in the time since her abduction, and that’s what she exhibited when we arrested Yote and the others."

"I see. And you got services of registered Telepath to verify this, of course?" the tiger asked deceptively sweetly.

"Um… no. As I said, we were rushed to take advantage of the opportunity to catch the kidnappers."

"So you took everything that was given to you at face value?"

"It all fitted!" Karnak protested.

"Best lies consist mostly of truths, as you should know. Penny was never kidnapped. At least, not until you abducted her from her crewmates and handed her over to her father."

"What… what do you mean? How could you know this?"

"Told you – my niece is a good child. Writes often. Calls me on comm whenever shi can. Anastasiya informed me of how Penelope Windsor was caught trying to stow away on Phoenix. Told me how she became friends with the crew. Introduced me to her on one occasion. I get email from Penny now also." Shi pulled out a pad from hir jacket’s pocket, opened a file, and then showed it to Karnak. A video began with Penny’s cheerful face filling the screen.

"Hi Svetlana! We’ve just got back from Voxxa, and I’ve been saving up some new jokes for you. Have you heard the one about the chakat, the Voxxan, and the Rabbi?" Penny proceeded to tell a string of jokes and funny stories until Tartikova switched it off.

"Does that look like missing person?" shi asked.

Karnak shook his head mutely.

"Does that look like someone under duress?"

Again the jackal had to indicate the negative.

"Do you think Stockholm Syndrome can turn serious business woman into cheerful comedian?"

"No, Admiral."

"You have been manipulated, Captain Karnak. You were given carefully constructed pile of partial truths with very little time before Windsor girl arrived. As Head of Security, responsibility is yours to check and verify all data, and have registered Telepath on hand to verify allegations before attempting arrest. Instead you acted in haste and falsely arrested innocent people, took Ms Windsor away, and placed her in the hands of controlling and overprotective father. Your actions and position on this facility will be up for review in light of this. Now – why is my niece and hir friends still in jail?"

Karnak slumped in his chair and hit the comm. "Lieutenant Katz, Captain Yote and his entire crew are to be released immediately."

"What? Have they all been bailed already, Captain?"

"No – we’ve been had. They’re all innocent and all charges are now dropped."

"Oh. I’ll attend to that immediately, sir."

"Did anyone track the shuttle that took away Ms Windsor?"

"No, sir. We had no reason to do so."

"See what you can do about locating it, then report back to me."

"Aye, sir."

"If you would accompany me, Admiral, I’ll take you to see your niece."


Martin was surprised to be released so abruptly and politely. Although he had made a comm call to his lawyer, he hadn’t expected to be bailed so soon, or at all, considering the charges against him. The sudden release was soon explained though.

"Our apologies, Captain Yote. It appears that we have been misinformed and all charges have been dropped. You and all your crew are free to go," Lieutenant Katz told Martin.

"That’s what I have been telling you idiots for the past few hours," Martin replied hotly. "Don’t think that this is finished. Your actions have cost us dearly in time lost, and personally too. What has happened to Penny?"

"Ms Windsor was released into the custody of her father," Katz admitted reluctantly.

"You morons! You’ve put a helpless girl back into a situation that she was trying to escape. I had a pretty high opinion of Star Fleet until this incident. I’ll certainly think twice about approaching you lot in future."

"Please, Captain, we were acting on information that said otherwise."

"You wouldn’t let us get away with a feeble excuse like that," Martin pointed out. "Why should I let you?"

Katz had no reply for that, and merely led Martin out to join the steadily growing crowd of his released crew members, including the ones that had been originally left on Phoenix.

Moments later, a herm tiger in Star Fleet Command uniform entered with Captain Karnak. Anastasiya’s face lit up with pleasure.

"Auntie! I knew had to be you that got us out of custody." Shi went over to hir aunt and the two exchanged an embrace and cheek kisses.

"Always you getting in trouble and I am getting you out," the Admiral said gruffly.

"At least not my fault this time," Anastasiya replied unrepentantly.

Martin approached the pair. "Hello, Admiral. Anastasiya has told me a lot about you, and how you turned hir life around. I gather that we have you to thank for our release?"

Admiral Tartikova nodded. "Yes. My niece used hir comm call to contact me and explain situation. I researched charges and information on my way here. Was not too hard to see what really happened – something Head of Security should have found out for himself, if not had head up backside."

Martin noted with satisfaction as Karnak winced at that statement. "I’m glad that you sorted this out so quickly. I’m very concerned about what has happened to Penny though."

"I also, Captain. Attempting to trace her whereabouts already."

"If she has her comm with her still, we can trace her with that," Martin suggested.

"Unlikely that she has comm still, but is worth a try. Karnak – assist Captain Yote with his efforts."

"Yes, sir. Please follow me, Captain."

Martin said, "Everybody except Anastasiya – go back to the ship. We have cargo to unload and we’re way behind schedule. Leave is cancelled until this situation is fully resolved. Anastasiya – come with us."

Karnak led them to Security’s operations room. They gave the tech in charge the comm frequency and encoding, and they set out to trace Penny’s comm. A few minutes later, the tech shook his head and said, "No response."

"Perhaps she’s out of range of Gateway Station?" Martin suggested.

"Star Fleet relays cover the entire globe, sir. The comm is either shielded or destroyed. If they are trying to hide Ms Windsor’s whereabouts, I would suspect the latter. However, we’re not defeated yet. Does she have an implanted transponder?"

"Yes, but they’re so short-range that they’re useless for tracking people planet-side."

"Not with our resources, sir. We do need to narrow down the search area though."

Karnak turned to Lieutenant Katz. "Has Ms Windsor been tracked as yet?"

"Partially, sir. We know that they landed at Big Sur Spaceport as per their flight plan. However, they transferred to a private aircar that was flown to a large private ranch in Oregon Territory. That is a huge property though, with several residences scattered about it, and we are unsure as to which she may have been taken, or if she’s still there at all."

"Send in locator drones to all possible sites. A transponder key will be provided shortly."

"Aye, sir."

Karnak look at Anastasiya. "I believe that you’re in charge of security aboard Phoenix. Can you provide the key?"

"Need my personal PADD, which was confiscated when we were arrested."

"Those items are being returned to your ship. I’ll see if I can locate it." A few minutes later, the device was handed over to Anastasiya. Shi unlocked it and found the information, transferring it wirelessly to the tech’s station.

"Beaming in locator drones now," the tech said. A moment later, he added, "It would seem that there is a sophisticated security system in place on three of the properties. The drones have tripped alarms on all three."

"Continue the search," Karnak instructed. "We have reasonable cause."

"Scramblers have been activated, but we are still maintaining contact with the drones."

"Military grade circuitry not easily overcome," Admiral Tartikova commented to Martin. "Good sign though – they have something to hide."

Everybody’s attention was on the screens displaying the progress of the drones. Each flew low over the residences in a search pattern until suddenly one double-beeped.

"Transponder key detected!" the tech announced.

Karnak tapped his comm. "Squad Two – prepare for beam down. I will join you shortly."

"I want to go too," Martin said.

"No, Captain. This situation has been screwed up too much already without adding your presence. Trust me to bring Ms Windsor back safely, please."

"That’s Ms Lane to you, and I don’t trust you after this experience."

"I’m truly sorry for that, sir, but you’re still not coming with us." Karnak then turned and left.

Admiral Tartikova restrained Martin from following. "Karnak is correct. Be patient."

Martin was at least able to watch though. The drones were repositioned to cover the front door, as well as various other exits. The lens captured the arrival of the security team which spread out around the house. Karnak and one other approached the door. After a delay, the door was opened by what appeared to be a butler who reluctantly let them in. Then the watchers were forced to wait while nothing happened for several minutes. Abruptly, the security people left outside regathered and were beamed out.

"What’s going on?" Martin queried.

The tech replied, "It would seem Captain Karnak has beamed back without exiting the house, so the team has withdrawn."

The truth of his words soon became apparent when a familiar voice was heard approaching, and the colourful language that was being used to describe Karnak and the rest of the Security people quite impressed Martin who had no idea she was so well versed in it.

Penny spotted Martin the moment that she entered the Operations Room, and she squealed in joy and rushed over to hug him. "Captain! Am I ever glad to see you! So you finally managed to make these idiots see the light?"

Martin was a bit shocked at her appearance. The mouse was most uncharacteristically garbed in a very feminine dress and dainty shoes, but she still did not act anywhere near ladylike. "Glad to get you back, Penny, but I’d still be languishing in jail if it wasn’t for a friend of yours." He indicated Admiral Tartikova who was standing to one side.

Penny’s eyes widened in delight. "Svetlana!" She gave the tiger a hug also. "What a way to meet in person for the first time, hey? I bet Anastasiya called you to kick some butt."

Svetlana grinned. "Yes, many butts to be kicked to get back my favourite mouse. You have more jokes for me, I hope?"

"Don’t I always? But first – one more favour, please?"

"And that would be…?"

"Get me home so that I can get these ridiculous clothes off!"

"Svetlana grinned even more. "True – they not suit you. By ‘home’, I assume you mean Phoenix?"

"I do mean Phoenix, and my friends who are more family to me than certain blood relatives."

"I will take you and your Captain there myself in my shuttle." Shi turned to Karnak. "I trust that you will sort this all out and submit report by tomorrow morning?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Penny – Ana – Captain Yote – please to be accompanying me."

"One moment," Penny said. She unbuckled the fancy shoes and tossed them aside. "God, that’s better!" she said fervently as she wriggled her freed toes. "Let’s go!"

The admiral took them over to the Phoenix where those not involved in moving cargo down planet-side welcomed Penny back enthusiastically. When Svetlana’s role in their release and Penny’s recovery was fully explained, there was much thanks, handshakes, and of course hugs from the chakats.

"You’ll stay for dinner, won’t you?" Hotfoot asked. "I’ll make anything that you like – just name it!"

"Would be shame not to take advantage of being here to visit niece and sample your cooking. I accept."

Martin said, "Glad to hear it. Now pardon me – I need to join the others and try to make up for lost time."


The evening had been convivial and very enjoyable. Martin had not let an early hint of trouble spoil it for himself or anyone else. This morning though, things were looking grimmer. Bethany found him staring glumly at whatever was being displayed on the screen on his desk.

"Are you aware of the delays in our cargo pick-ups?" she asked.

Martin nodded and sighed. "Sadly, yes, and I think I know why."

Bethany sat down opposite him. "This sounds bad. What’s happening?"

"Many of our scheduled cargoes have been cancelled, and I keep receiving more notices of delays and cancellations. It’s playing havoc with the shuttle loads, not to mention that we have too little to break even on this trip."

"Dare I guess why?"

"What’s to guess? We’ve trod on the toes of a powerful enemy, and now we’re seeing the results." Martin shut off the screen and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. "You know that Windsor didn’t have to go through that elaborate charade to put the snatch on Penny. He did it to make a point – you don’t mess with him and his baby girl. If things had gone as he had planned, we would have been tied up with the judicial process for so long that it would have ruined us financially. If it wasn’t for the fact that Anastasiya had a relative in high places, he would have succeeded."

"And what about the false accusations against us?"

"What about them? He could claim that his investigators got it wrong, or come up with some legal excuse with his team of high-priced lawyers. He might get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. Although there is a chance that something else will backfire on him."

"What’s that?"

"Loander and Presaith. Those two are not just crew, but observer representatives of the Faleshkarti, and the diplomatic repercussions of the false arrest might overcome his legal machinations."

"We can only hope."

"At least Star Fleet has extended their sponsorship of Loander and Presaith in partial compensation for their screw-up, so I won’t have to find more money to pay their wages this voyage."

Bethany and Martin were quiet for a long moment, thinking. Bethany eventually shook her head. "This kind of thing is beyond my expertise. Have you any idea what to do about this?"

"Yes, but it’s not something that I want to do."

"Why not?"

"Because it involves going to my father."

"Is that such a problem?"

"Yeah. The terms of my bequeathal expressly forbids me from getting help from him during the five year probationary period, and besides I had no intention of calling on my father’s resources ever. He had his doubts that I could succeed in this business, and I wanted to present him with a strong and healthy interstellar shipping company. Instead we may be teetering on the precipice of ruin."

"We’re not dead yet, Captain, and I think you’re going to have to swallow some pride and try."

Martin gave Bethany a twisted grin. "You’re right, of course, but it’s still not going to be fun. Oh well, it looks as if it has come time to fight fire with fire." He typed a code into his comm, and his screen lit up with the image of a female lynx. "Hi, Yvette. Would my father be available, please?"

"Hello, Martin. It’s been a while. Let me see if he’s free."

A moment later, the image shifted to that of an older coyote morph, slightly scowling back at him. "Well, well, if it isn’t the son with the stars in his eyes. Still gallivanting around the galaxy?"

"Yes, Dad, and I was doing very well at it also."

"You were? So something’s gone wrong and you’re crawling back to me for help? You know the terms of the bequeathal – you have to start a business, pay back the full amount of the bequeathal and make it profitable within five years, or come back and work your way back up through the company."

"I know that, and I can report that I was actually well on course to get into the black on schedule."

"You have the figures to back that claim up?"

"Of course."

"Hmmph! Yet I sense a big ‘but’ in there, and you’re now calling me. Why?"

"I need to deal with an extraordinary problem that is beyond my means."

"I’ve got only a bit of time to spare, so tell me, and make it quick."

Martin told his father the entire story, with his father only interrupting occasionally to ask some pointed questions. At the end, the old coyote grimaced. "Well that explains at last why his goons have been sniffing around my business. Nevertheless, the terms of the bequeathal require you to deal with this problem yourself."

Martin felt shattered. If ever there was a good reason to make an exception, he thought that this would be it. Before he could say anything though, his father continued:

"But Windsor made a big mistake messing with my business too, so I’m going to help you out this one time. Send me a copy of your list of cancelled shipments. Fortunately I think I can divert enough of my shipping needs to fill the gaps in your load, but only up to the value of the freight that you lost, and not a cred more. By the time you get back from your voyage, I expect that I will manage to get things mostly back to a level playing field again. Expect no more help after that."

"What do you plan to do?

"Son, there are some things you are better off not asking, but I’ll give you a hint. When you butt heads with someone willing to play dirty, you gotta know when to fling a bit of dirt yourself."

"Gotcha, Dad."

"Good. Now when can I tell your mother to expect you for dinner?"

"Would seven be okay?"

"That would be fine. Now I’ve got to get back to work. This company doesn’t run itself, you know?"

"One last thing, Dad – would you mind if I bring a couple of friends with me?"

"Hell! Bring them all. Give us a chance to see what kind of company you’re keeping. Now be off with you! Time’s money!"

"Sure, Dad. Bye." Martin cut the connection.

"Your father seems rather gruff," Bethany commented.

"That’s damn near soppy by his standards. I think he’s actually missed me. I suppose I’ve missed him too, although I wouldn’t have thought I would when we last talked and parted company. He still manages to surprise me occasionally though."

"But wasn’t it rather hypocritical of him to deny you help until it was his business that was being harmed."

Martin grinned. "You’re not looking at it in the right light. Dad is scrupulously fair with us kids – he can’t be showing me any favouritism. But if he’s only responding to a rival’s attack on his business, and I happen to benefit from it, then he can say he wasn’t directly helping me. Yeah, it’s smoke and mirrors, but it’s all for the best."

"I don’t suppose it’s easy to run a huge corporation and be a good father at the same time."

"No, it isn’t, which is why I don’t intend to ever grow that big. When I have a mate and children, I want to be able to spend more time with them than my father did with me and my mother. Still, even though he scarcely shows it, he cares what happens to his children, and that means a lot." Martin got up from his chair, and Bethany followed suit. "I’ve got a few things to finish before I head down to make that dinner appointment. Speaking of which – would you care to come along?"

"I think that I’d like that, thank you."

"You’re not going to make me call you Commander Oakwood all the time that we’re there, are you?"

"I suppose, under the circumstances, it will be okay for you to call me by my first name then. This is not a date though," she warned.

"Considering that I intend to ask the others if they want to come also, I think that you can trust me on that point."

"Good," the vixen replied, and then headed out the door

Oddly enough, Martin thought he detected a slight note of disappointment in that single word. He shrugged it off though – there was no way that Bethany was ever going to let herself get close to a colleague again. But she was family now, and Martin cared about her, and all the others, in ways he would not have dreamed of when he had started his venture. "We all get by with a bit of help from family," he murmured as he followed the vixen out.

Continued in Chapter 5.


Characters and story copyright © 2012 Bernard Doove.
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.

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