Tales of the Folly
By Allen Fesler
Book One: The Curse
Chapter 14

Amistad spaceport
(Hmmm, I guess a little before 9:00 Chakona time on 7/42/91)

A young council security guard waited patiently with hir new partner and their charge. While hir senses roamed the area looking for trouble, shi again wondered why shi was there. As one of the newer recruits, being tapped to escort a member of the council had been more of a surprise than an honor. Hir next surprise was when they had bypassed the spaceport’s personnel terminal for the cargo docks. They had watched a very large cargo pod set down a few minutes ago; they now waited to one side of the pod’s nearer hatch as it opened to reveal stacks of carriers.

Shi watched as a red-haired human came out and talked to one of the forklift operators. After handing the operator what might have been a communicator or a remote, he had started to head towards them, before being intercepted by a foxtaur vixen who had come charging out of the same exit, her saddlebags bouncing in her hurry. The four-breasted beauty crushed him in a hug and shi heard her say, "Thanks again for the ride. I’ll contact Tess when I know more about how Vanessa’s doing."

"Don’t be strangers," the human replied. "We expect to see you two before you return to Earth."

Resuming his interrupted course towards them, the human gave their charge a smirk as he commented, "Two guard kittens this time. They’re keeping you on a short leash, pussycat."

Forgetting that shi was only there to protect hir charge from harm, the young guard stepped between them with a growl, "You will show Councilfur Wildflower proper respect!"

To hir surprise, the human didn’t back down. Instead shi thought shi sensed amusement though his smile did seem to ice over slightly as he replied, "When Shir Councilor Chakat Wildflower is in council, I will show hir all the respect that I believe hir position is due. However, outside of council business shi’s just another dang furball. The only thing that makes this particular furball special is that one of my crazier daughters thought that shi would make a good lifemate." Turning back to hir charge, he asked, "Speaking of which, how is shi?"

"Wider than ever, Neal," Chakat Wildflower admitted, trying to hide a grin.

"Again?" he said, acting surprised. "Haven’t you found what’s causing it yet?"

"This time it appears to be twins," shi said.

Neal shook his head as he grinned. "What are you two trying to do? Have enough brats to take over the entire council?"

The young guard stared in shock as shi realized just how badly shi had misread the situation. Shi was trying to back out of the way without making even a bigger fool of hirself when the human put hir back in the spotlight.

Looking hir up and down, Neal said, "Is good help getting that hard to find? This one’s so green shi needs mowing."

The older guard smiled as shi stepped forward to defend hir partner. "Shi’s young for hir position, but I believe shi has potential."

Neal grinned again. "What would you know Cieila? You were still wet behind the ears the first time we met."

Chakat Cieila smiled as shi remembered the first few times shi had locked horns with this human. "That was a few council members ago," shi reminded him.

"A few," he agreed. "Though you do seem to have been stuck with this one for quite a while now."

"Blame that crazy daughter of yours. I’ve been told by a very reliable source that shi’s insisted that I accompany hir mate."

"I’m sorry that such a burden has been placed on you," he said with no hint of sincerity in his voice.

"We all have our crosses to bear, some more so than others," Cieila replied with the same tone and a grin.

Turning back to their charge, Neal said, "Is that what brings you here?"

Wildflower nodded. "I have been unofficially warned that you are to be brought before the council. They have a few official questions for you."

"You say ‘they’ and not ‘we’. I take it you don’t agree with the questions."

"Let’s just say that the questions are along the lines of ‘are you still beating your mate?’"

"I believe the proper response is ‘only when they beg me to’," Neal said with a grin.

"Which they will put down as a ‘yes’ whether there had ever been a beating or a mate, although I have been hearing some rumors …"

"Since I can guess whom, should I ask why?" Neal asked.

"Shi still thinks you have too much power and influence, both here and elsewhere."

"And I, but a lowly freighter captain. I don’t know where shi gets such ideas. Any inkling of what shi’s going to try this time?"

"Well, banning Folly from Chakonan space didn’t work," Wildflower said with a half grin.

The so-called ban had been lifted before Folly had even had time to depart. As far as shi knew, all Neal had done was let a few people know that ‘due to the council’s displeasure’ he would not be making any more deliveries to Chakona. While a couple of businesses had complained, it was Star Fleet and the Star Corps that had caused the ban to be quickly lifted. They had not even asked about dropping the ban, they had merely asked why Folly was being banned from Chakona space. Not willing to admit that a ship and her captain had been banned simply because a member of the council didn’t like him, the ban was reversed and officially reported as a clerical error.

"There have been noises that shi wants you under someone’s control," shi added. "But I don’t know how shi’s going to try to justify it."

"Could be fun. I wonder who shi might have in mind. Surely not you."

"Surely," shi agreed. "One of hir minions no doubt."

"Don’t fret little one, hir timing is as bad as ever," Neal said, causing the younger guard to frown again, as he didn’t appear anywhere near old enough to be calling the councilor ‘little one’.

"I hope you’re right. Shi may also use your ‘corruption’ of certain members of the council as reasons for removal."

"Including yourself?"

Wildflower nodded. "And some of those that helped you put together that first contact team."

Neal hmmm-ed to himself for a moment. "Don’t worry about hir getting someone to take over my Folly, that’s a non-issue. As for the rest, is this a full session? Or just an informal one?"

"From what I could discover, informal. Why?"

"Then call your friends, as well as any non-friends that might not like hir doing questionable things behind their backs. This is the type of thing when even your foes can and will aid you."

"What are you up to?" Wildflower asked as hir eyebrow rose.

Neal’s smile was not a nice one as he said, " ‘It’s all on the wheel’ my dear, ‘it all comes around’." With a warmer smile, Neal asked, "When do the games begin?"

"Thirteen fifty hours, you’re scheduled to be the last session for today."

"Why do I get the feeling that the previous session will have ended well before that?"

"Twelve seventy-five. And yours was written in at the last moment, so most of the council will be on their way home for our ‘weekend’ by then."

Turning to the older guard, Neal smiled as he asked, "Do you remember what I said when you’ve asked me how I get away with some of the things I do?"

Cieila nodded. "You’ve always said that you ‘get by with a little help from your friends’."

"I know that as guards and gofers for the council you’re not allowed to directly interfere with the council members. But that wouldn’t keep like-minded friends of yours from asking their charges if they are staying for the late session …"

"And when asked, they would then have to explain what late session," Cieila finished, grinning as shi activated hir communicator.

While shi spoke to a fellow guard about the pain of late sessions called on short notice, Neal turned back to their charge.

"Would you care to join me for lunch? I can promise to keep you entertained while we wait for our session."

"I’ve seen your ship before, and she’s much too large for a proper tour in the time we have."

"That wasn’t how I planed to keep you entertained," he warned hir with a grin.

Wildflower had opened hir mouth to ask what he might have in mind, but shi was distracted by two small blurs that streaked around the corner of the cargo pod. Focusing on them, they resolved into two small furs, the lead one appeared to be just under a year old with a fiery spotted pattern, while the slightly older chaser was a bright red with white paws and tail tip. After a couple of random direction changes, they headed for Neal.

While hir charge had been watching the cubs, the younger guard had been watching Neal. Shi saw him tense up slightly as the cubs approached, even though he couldn’t have possibly seen or heard them coming. At the last moment he turned, just as the smaller cub leaped at his back. Catching the cub, a wrestling match commenced as he tried to control the frisky little chakat.

"Ten minutes! All I wanted was ten minutes without a sneaky kitten attack. Is that too much to ask?" Neal pretended to complain as he tickled the cub. The little foxtaur watched from below, calmly waiting her turn.

The younger guard didn’t see the signal, but the little foxtaur reared back and leaped up just as the human threw the chakat cub at hir.

Neal smiled as he stroked the much calmer foxtaur kit. The young guard had instinctively caught the cub, only to realize that shi and hir partner were now both doing things other than watching out for their charge. Shi started a quick scan of the area, looking for problems and missed what was happening right under hir muzzle. Hir scan of the area was interrupted by a cool breeze across the tips of hir nipples, just before the cub gently latched onto one of them.

Wildflower failed to hold back hir laughter as the younger of hir security detail was undressed by the little chakat. Cieila also grinned while continuing hir conversation. Shi shifted hir communicator just far enough to snap an image of the kit, cub, and their holders; another touch of hir claw sent it to hir friend on the other end.

Still laughing so hard shi wasn’t sure hir legs would hold hir, Wildflower settled hir lower torso to the ground. Cieila grinned as shi shut off hir communicator before hir friend could demand to know just what shi was seeing.

For the next few moments they watched the cub show the younger guard who was in charge, six limbs and a tail dominating hir mere two and a tail tip. Kiwi finally got a good grip on the cub. Holding Firestorm away from hir open top, shi was about the claim victory when the little foxtaur joined the fray.

Putting away hir communicator, Cieila took pity on hir partner and gently pulled the chakat cub out of hir paws. Firestorm gave the unopened top a look and grinned, only to be stopped by a gentle thump on hir nose and a whispered ‘behave!’ Locking eyes with the older guard for a moment, the cub relaxed and settled for a cuddle.

Still wiping tears from hir eyes, Wildflower said, "If this is your definition of keeping us entertained, I’m not sure that we’ll be in any shape to make the session."

"We’ll see that you get there on time," growled a new voice.

All three chakats twisted around, only to find a pair of Rakshani females had used the cub distraction to sneak up on them. The guards’ initial concerns were removed when kit and cub each twisted free of their holders and picked a Rakshani to ‘attack’.

"This just keeps getting better," Wildflower said, watching the cubs. Having met more than a few Rakshani, Wildflower knew they wouldn’t put up with the cubs’ high jinks unless they were in some way related. A second glance at the cub holder made hir realize that she was more than a few months pregnant.

The Rakshani now dangling the still frisky chakat cub by hir tail caught hir look and smiled. "My mate’s adopted daughter," she said as an explanation.

"Why do I have the feeling that your mate is not a chakat," Wildflower half asked, smiling up at the Rakshani as she continued to move her arm to keep the swinging cub from reaching her top.

"No, I don’t have a chakat mate," she admitted. "But I do happen to have a chakat for a co-mate. Also a foxtaur vixen and a rabbit doe."

"Not to mention four more Rakshani co-mates, Bonita," the other Rakshani reminded her.

"Then there are my mate’s ten companions to consider, though none of them are with us right now," Bonita added as she expertly flipped the cub to land on her outstretched arm. Firestorm started to crawl up said arm, only to be stopped by hir tail still being trapped in Bonita’s paw. "Give it up Stormy, you’re not milk checking me right now."

"Your mate sounds quite ‘busy’," Wildflower said with a grin.

"You have no idea," Bonita agreed with a matching grin.

Giving Neal a calculated look, Wildflower said, "Why do I have the feeling that this will also take longer than we have time for?"

He shrugged as he smiled at hir, "Less time than it took to get you to accept that your mate thought of me as hir father. As I recall your parents welcomed me into the family before you did."

Wildflower’s fur hid most of hir blush, but the others could sense that it was there. Hir first couple of meetings with this furless, tailless, ‘son of a demented ape’ had not gone well. It had taken their firstborn to totally break hir of hir dislike for him. Shi had been exhausted from the long day, as well as the birth. With hir mate wrapped around hir, Wildflower had been unable to reach hir cub as shi started squirming away from hir. Shi was just trying to untangle hirself from hir mate when a soft voice had quietly whispered, "Wrong way little one," as he gently gave the newborn a stroke before turning hir back towards hir parents. Shi had watched him as he had silently watched as the cub made hir way back to hir, and then he had quietly left. The next morning, he and his ship were gone, off to make their next set of deliveries.

It was to be another three years before Folly again stopped at Chakona. Neal had found a message waiting for him. It had simply said, ‘When should we expect you?’ and had been signed, not by his daughter, but by hir then denmate. The invitation had included both their street address information, as well as proper transporter coordinates.

That had been many a cub ago. A few times he had been there for the birthing party, but more often than not he could only send his well wishes. As the little chakat and foxtaur were released and came over to finally greet hir, shi looked up at Neal. "And how long will you be here this time?" shi asked, sounding hopeful.

"How long would you like me to hang around?" Neal replied with a grin.

"Shi’s due in five days," Wildflower suggested hopefully.

"Then we will be here at least six, perhaps longer as we’re running well ahead of my excuse for a schedule," Neal assured hir.

"Passion will be thrilled to hear that," shi said with a smile. "Most of the family will be there, and I’m sure they’re going to want to meet your new family."

"Should be interesting to see which group frightens the other more," Neal agreed with a chuckle.

"Was my mate really that bad?" Wildflower asked.

"I didn’t say your mate would be the one scaring them, although this will be the first birthing party for most of them."

"Are you saying we’re going to scare them?" the other Rakshani inquired with a frown.

"No, Dessa, I mean more along the lines of each group finding out what the other group gets away with doing," Neal explained. "Shipboard life is very different from planet living, even for one as newly settled as Chakona."

"Chakona isn’t ‘newly settled’," the younger guard protested.

Wildflower gave hir a sad grin before saying, "Trust me Kiwi, he’s older than he looks."

Neal grinned. "If we have time, I’ll show you some old pictures from space. They show the progress made on Chakona over the years."

"I can get that out of any history database," Kiwi refuted.

"Ah, but these aren’t in anybody’s database but mine," Neal assured hir. "And some databases have been modified to hide things that others don’t want known."

"Don’t say it," the older guard advised as Kiwi opened hir muzzle. "We’ve found proof that certain archived records on Chakona have been deliberately tampered with. We’re hoping that the good Captain brought some of those original records with him."

"Why would he have been trusted with that type of information?" Kiwi asked.

Neal softly snorted. "Contrary to popular belief, the FTL connections between the different systems hasn’t always been there. Then there’s that little fact that current communications ties up most of the available bandwidth, so sending a full backup of a large database is still cheaper and easier to ship than to transmit. And, for the first few decades, almost all communications from Chakona were sent through ships like mine, playing mail carrier to places like Chakona used to be. Since my standing orders for the records were to see that they were delivered to at least half a dozen planets as a guarantee that the records would never be lost, I’ve always made an extra read-only copy that I kept isolated in a location that only I knew of …"

"Which came in handy when someone started damaging parts of our early records," Wildflower grumbled. "Neal’s brought us back copies of the backups before, but the attacker was always able to corrupt the data again."

"Won’t there just be another attack when you replace the database again?" Dessa wondered.

"From what I gather, they think they found the culprit," Neal explained. "You see, they could never tell where the corruption came from, but last time they’d timed it for when certain people were on a holiday. As the data remained intact until one person was told that the database was mysteriously working again. With luck this may be the last time I have to restore their archive."

"Who was it?" Kiwi asked.

"Don’t worry about it," Wildflower told hir. "From the sections of the database that were always damaged, and who we know had access to it at those times, I think they were recently retired."

"How would he know what was damaged? Or have the rights to view the originals?" Kiwi demanded.

"Relax," hir counterpart told hir. "The records in question were of public record and available to all. Or at least they were supposed to be … someone didn’t want parts of those records to come back to haunt them."

"Or their family," Neal countered. "Sometimes it’s hard on cubs to realize that their parents or grandparents weren’t as smart or as clever as they seemed."

"Enough talk," Bonita suggested, "Cindy said she was taking Alpha back up in ten minutes."

"Earth or Chakona minutes?" Wildflower teased.

"Folly time, and that was five of those minutes ago," Bonita replied as shi grinned and turned. "Shake a tail, they won’t hold that launch window for us!" Her comment was punctuated by the roar of a motorbike that zoomed by before barreling up the ramp they had seen Neal come out of.

Once aboard the shuttle, Wildflower discovered that they weren’t the only guests going up. A very excited little chakat cub named Hyjinx was telling anyone who’d listen about hir earlier ride on a real motorcycle. It seemed shi had helped deliver a package that had come all the way from Earth, handed off from one cub to another.

Shi was only half surprised to find Arcs and Sparks onboard Folly; they’d been down to visit their sister a couple times since their The Tinker had made orbit. The two engineers each gave hir a hug in greeting, but they seemed to be in the middle of a discussion or argument with three youngsters who appeared to be holding their own as far as shi could tell.

Wildflower wasn’t really impressed with Folly; shi’d seen her more than enough times over the years. What did impress hir though was how much more alive the ship seemed to be with more than just Neal rattling around Folly’s empty corridors. Shi also saw a little more of why hir mate could go from one state to another in a flash; seems it was inherited from hir foster parent.

First a small group of chakat cubs had charged around the corner on hearing Neal’s voice. After confirming that they’d done their morning chores, Neal had agreed that they could go play in the holosuite until lunchtime. They were gone again in a flash, including Hyjinx, Stormy and Star.

Next had come an adult foxtaur vixen, Wildflower noticing that she too was a ‘little’ pregnant. Weaver had been fielding calls coming in from shippers needing dates and quotes for expected and future deliveries. As Neal sorted through the messages he was interrupted by several teens with questions on what/when and how he wanted some tasks done. Each had given hir a smile and a nod, while one cheeky teen vixentaur whispered that she hoped she could get to know Wildflower better before she too disappeared around a corner.

With Weaver still in tow, Neal had led them all towards his ‘dayroom’, stopping at the galley on the way. He had stuck his head in the door to say: "Five extras for lunch Jackie, four chakats, one mouse. And none of Stew’s shenanigans with the spices, this will be a working lunch!" They were only a few steps down the corridor when yet another pregnant female bound out of the door Neal had just been at. The rabbit had run up behind Neal, turned him around, kissed him hard, and then dashed back into the galley.

Weaver laughed at Neal’s expression. "You know you should have let Tess relay the message."

"I –" Neal started before gasping for a moment. "Tess, have a glass of milk in the replicator please," he choked out as he picked up his pace to his dayroom. Once inside he quickly took a large swig of the milk and started working it around his mouth as his eyes watered.

"Enough of us are in milk mode," Weaver pointed out as he took another gulp.

Neal gave her a funny look and swallowed before asking, "Do you really want me to rub whatever this is all over your tits?"

"Probably not…" Weaver admitted. "Now, if you’re done playing?" she asked, bringing up the next note on her PADD.

Who was doing what, when, and where took a little while and then it was time for lunch. The others found it amusing how carefully Neal was eating, almost like he suspected someone of spiking his food, though he did relax a bit after Firestorm begged for a taste of something and Stew didn’t panic.

They were just finishing their late lunch when Tess interrupted.

"Sorry to bother you, boss, but Alex is reporting that a couple of chakats are looking for you. They are dressed as council flunkies and acting like they own the spaceport and anything on it … Oh," she seemed to add as an afterthought, "No offense to our onboard council flunkies."

"None taken," Cieila assured her with a grin.

"Sounds like it’s a good thing I didn’t stay dirt-side," Neal commented. "And it’s a good thing you came by before they made me disappear," he said as he nodded at Wildflower.

"Oh, not even Dunes would dare try to make you ‘disappear’, but shi’s not above trying to have you locked up and out of sight."

"Alex is playing it ‘by the book’ so far," Tess told them. "His request for the warrant that gives them the right to search the pod and shuttle for Neal has them sputtering."

"Good for your Alex," Wildflower said with a laugh. "I’m afraid that Dunes’ people have gotten so used to pushing others around that they don’t know what to do when someone knows their rights."

"Tess? Ask Alex to try really hard to hide the fact that I’ll be down on one of the next pod deliveries," Neal suggested. "That way they’ll be watching the cargo section of the spaceport, and we should be able to sneak in the passenger side without being noticed."

"You’re freight shuttles won’t be allowed in the passenger landing areas," Wildflower pointed out.

"That’s why we won’t take a shuttle down," Neal assured hir. "Tess? Let Tina know that she’ll be departing shortly. If we bounce the request through a couple relays I’ll bet Dunes’ goons will never know where Gwendolyn came from."

"Landing request sent chief!" Tina reported. "I can’t wait to see my first planet up close!"

At Wildflower’s surprised look Neal chuckled. "I told you I had plenty of things to keep you entertained."

"And Tess is moving one of your special PTVs to my bay, so you can drive straight there," Tina said just before adding, "Landing permission granted, you have fifty Chakona minutes before I have to start moving to get us there on time."

"Why would you carry your own PTV?" Kiwi asked. "I’d think it would be cheaper to just rent or purchase one on Chakona."

"True," Neal admitted. "But this one won’t have a fresh paper trail that can be quickly tied back to me or Folly, as it’s been in your planetary database for decades. Part of not being spotted is not doing anything they might be watching for. Another trick is giving them something else ‘interesting’ to watch."

Mike grinned as he and Calmmeadow finished their meals. "And we’ll be setting a fresh pod down at the same time Gwendolyn’s landing, so we’ll have their attention more than long enough for you to be on your way."

Firestorm refused to be left behind when they prepared to go down, so Shadowcrest joined them to cub-sit while they were in council.

Most of those still on the Folly also ended up riding Gwendolyn down, some to shop and sightsee after checking on this part of Neal’s family, while Neal and the five chakats boarded the PTV as Weaver punched in a request for several rental units. While set up to adapt to taurs and bipeds, Kiwi thought there was something wrong with Neal’s PTV, but shi couldn’t put hir claw on it until they were climbing out of it in front of the council hall. With it sitting next to a standard PTV, the differences stood out. The basic shape and color was the same, but it just seemed ‘beefier’ with heavier tires and thicker windows as if it was made for a more unfriendly environment.

A quick comm call by Cieila confirmed that the council was ready, and that they were waiting for Neal. A short ride in the lift and he was in the council chambers. Wildflower assumed hir taur pad behind the table as Cieila and Kiwi joined the other guards that sat around the perimeter of the room. Neal took the center of the half ringed table, able to see and be seen by the entire council.

Dunes was hurrying back to the council chambers from hir office. Hir security team had failed to find and detain that damnable captain, so shi now planned to hammer out a request to have Star Fleet help arrest him. Shi turned the last corner and stopped dead in hir tracks. Shi could see him through the open doors to the council chamber. He had somehow made it past the building’s security systems, but shi had him now!

"You’re under arrest!" Dunes shouted from just beyond the doorway.

"And you no doubt have a warrant for my arrest?" Neal asked as he turned with a raised eyebrow to the chakat who was striped in two shades of what Neal would uncharitably call dirty dishwater blond.

"I don’t need one!" shi exclaimed.

"Actually, you do," a voice from inside the council chambers informed hir. "Unless of course you have proof of a crime?"

Dunes stepped up to the door and peered in. Shi had expected to find a mere half dozen of hir fellow council members, each asked to be there because shi was sure shi could convince them to do things hir way. Hir muzzle fell open in surprise at what shi found. Instead of the planned paw-full of supporters, the chamber was filled with almost the entire council – but only two of the six shi’d planned to have assist hir.

"I do," shi said, no longer sounding quite as sure of hirself.

"A news report isn’t proof, Dunes. That is, if this about what I think it is. Have you actually confirmed that any charges were pressed or that a warrant was ever issued?" an older wolfmorph asked hir.

"No, but …"

"No buts, Dunes. We must ask you to provide proof before you try to detain him. You two do have a history between you." Tormic Graybrow had been a council member for over fifty years, and sometimes it felt like most of them had been spent keeping Dunes from implementing one scheme or another.

"I assure you …"

"Produce the warrant or back off, Dunes," the wolfmorph insisted.

"Even if I can’t have him arrested for murder yet, I also have kit-napping charges – and he won’t be talking his way out of those!" Dunes said defiantly.

"May I ask whom I’m supposed to have kidnapped?" Neal asked with a frown.

"Cindy Grayson. Her father was more than happy to file charges against you," Dunes told him as shi tapped a key on hir PADD, glad that there was something he couldn’t get out of.

"Her thief of a father is here?" Neal chuckled, startling Dunes. Tapping his comm badge, he said, "Tess, let Cindy know her excuse of a parent is here to take her home."

"You caught her in the middle of something, boss. She’s asking for twenty minutes to get ready and get down there," Tess replied.

"Tell her she’ll be before the Chakona Council, she may want to dress accordingly," Neal suggested.

"Is there a reason she might come dressed improperly?" one of the council members asked.

"Depending on what she’s up to, she could be wearing a grimy set of overalls," Neal pointed out.

"You’re forcing her to work?" Dunes demanded, seeing something shi could use against him.

"Well," Neal smirked, "If I had indeed ‘kidnapped’ her, it would have to have been for some purpose. On the other hand, if I had suddenly found a dozen stowaways and had to find something to keep them occupied, I might have put them to work."

A soft snort from behind Neal made Dunes realize that he hadn’t come alone. A massive black and gray striped chakat was holding a fiery colored chakat cub. "Your friends can wait outside," Dunes told Neal, angrily.

"I didn’t think it wise to leave them alone without some kind of adult supervision," Neal replied, getting a couple chuckles from the other members of the council.

"Shi’s obviously an adult!" Dunes retorted.

"I’m only twelve," the large chakat quietly countered.

"I find that a bit hard to believe," Dunes scoffed.

"Nonetheless it’s true," Shadowcrest told hir with a raised eyebrow. "If you like, you can call my birth parents and ask them," shi suggested as a middle aged rusty-gray fox entered the council chambers.

"Mr. Grayson, is this the person you say kit-napped your daughter?" Dunes quickly asked the newcomer before other questions could be brought up.

"He’s the one!" the fox stated, having hardly given Neal a glace. "Where’s Cindy?"

"She’s on her way," Neal assured him. "While we wait for her, why don’t you explain to the council how I supposedly kidnapped your daughter."

"What’s there to explain? You took my daughter! You’re going to pay for that!" the angry fox groused.

"Was she alone?" Neal asked, watching the council’s response.

"No, you took some of her friends too!" he insisted.

"Yet she and all her friends admitted to their parents, including you, that they had all stowed away in a cargo carrier that ended up on the wrong ship. And you’re the only parent that wouldn’t accept it," Neal commented, paying out the line.

"I told you to leave her at your first stop and have her take the next ship home!"

"Why yes, you did demand that," Neal agreed. "On the other hand Cindy didn’t want to be abandoned, and stranding an under-aged child against her wishes runs counter to even my limited parenting beliefs." The last phrase eliciting snorts and chuckles from some of the council members that knew of his first batch of kids.

"You had no right to make that decision!"

"As someone who had promised to take care of her, I did."

"After you kit-napped her!"

"This is a very serious charge if he can substantiate it," councilfur Benson admitted, getting nods from several of his fellow councilors.

Neal snorted lightly at his accuser before turning his attention to the wolf and setting the hook. "He’d have better odds of this being true if Star Fleet counselors hadn’t already had a little chat with me, as well as each of the kids in question. Somehow I think Admiral Kline would have locked me away if there had been anything remotely suggesting that any of them had actually been kidnapped."

"Kline?" Dunes gasped out, shock evident on hir muzzle, giving Neal confirmation of where a couple loose threads had come from.

"That’s right," councilfur Quenteta said as shi gave Dunes a grin. "You had bragged to me that Admiral Kline had provided you with personnel to rein in a certain problem captain. Trot them out Dunes! I for one want to see if any of your schemes are going to work today," the forest breed Stellar foxtaur finished with a chuckle.

Dunes scowled as shi again tapped a key on hir PADD. Moments later two Rakshani, a male and a very pregnant female wearing Star Fleet Marine dress uniforms marched in. They stopped a meter from Neal, their expressions stern as they looked down at the captain.

Eying them back with what looked like disdain, Neal asked Dunes, "Did you really think you could control me and my ship with a pair of hellcats?"

"They are here under Admiral Kline’s orders," Dunes shot back, but hir voice wasn’t as confident as before.

"Oh, I’m sure that they are," Neal chuckled in agreement. "But to aid you or me?" Looking up at the Rakshani, Neal asked, "Well?"

"Before we get into the official business, there is something else that we need to take care of," the female stated. Opening a pocket, she removed a blue and aqua ankle bracelet. Handing it to Neal, she softly asked, "Will you do the honors?" as she gently put her left foot on his thigh, being careful not to puncture his pant’s leg with her claws.

Neal looked down at her ankle, which already held a red and brown Rakshan ankle bracelet. "Over or under?" he asked.

"Over," she told him. As Neal snapped the bracelet in place, she added, "While I may have two mates, you are my first mate and my family name is Foster."

"FOSTER?" Dunes didn’t quite hold back hir shriek.

Whitetail turned to Dunes and touched her House sash. While it had a red and orange trim denoting Derikk’s House colors, the primary colors were the blue and aqua that her sister marines had picked out to surprise Neal on Raksha.

His hand still on the Whitetail’s ankle, Neal looked over at the now very worried looking chakat. "You mean the good Admiral didn’t tell you that Whitetail and I were mates?" he asked with an evil grin. Turning back to his mate as she lowered her leg, he gave her a smile and a quick belly rub. "How’s the little one doing?"

Catching his hand to keep it on her belly, "Fine by my last scans," Whitetail purred to him.

Looking at the male, Neal asked, "Has she been behaving herself?"

Derikk nodded slowly. "About as much as one would expect from a pregnant female. Better since the Admiral put her back in uniform," he added with a small grin as she playfully growled at him.

"Folly has three more in her condition, you may be getting in over your head," Neal warned him.

Derikk toothy grin widened slightly as he said, "Whitetail and I have discussed that issue, and she has agreed to ‘share’ me with her co-mates."

"That’s between you and them," Neal agreed.

"One thing that is between I and you is this," Derikk said, as he pulled a matching sash from his own pocket. "I was hoping your family had room for another member."

"It does," Neal assured him.

Stepping up to Neal, Derikk offered him the sash before kneeling to make it easier for Neal to place the sash over one shoulder and under the opposing armpit.

Closing the sash under his arm, Neal waited for Derikk to stand up before giving the large Rakshani a hug. "Welcome to chaos," Neal said as he stepped back before adding, "Brother," in Katang Low Tongue. Derikk looked startled and Whitetail and several of the council members looking surprised by the greeting. (I’m thinking ‘brother’ means a bit more than male sibling in this case, more on that later.)

Quenteta grinned at Dunes as Dunes just stared openmouthed at the Rakshani. "And just what were the admiral’s orders?" the Stellar inquired.

"Why, to obey those in command of the ship we will be serving on," Whitetail assured hir. "While we’ve received promotions, the ranking Rakshani marine onboard Folly will still be Lieutenant Zhanch ap Nashene na Foster, our co-mate to Captain Foster."

"In other words, I’ve already got plenty of ‘keepers’," Neal told Dunes with a grin. "But I thank you for having them send a couple more Star Fleet types for me to further corrupt."

Cindy picked that moment to enter. She was wearing a neat jumpsuit of the same dark blue Neal used in his work shirts and was carrying a document bag. She nodded at Neal before she walked up to her father.

"Are you Charles Thomas Grayson?" she asked him.

"You know very well who I am!" her father snarled.

"Yes, I do," Cindy admitted with some disdain, "but this is for the record. Are you Charles Thomas Grayson?"

"Yes," he stated, reaching for her.

Cindy avoided his grasp and pushed a sealed envelope from her bag into his outstretched paw.

"What the hell is this?" the surprised fox demanded.

"You, Charles Thomas Grayson, have hereby been served. You are charged with stealing from the accounts my grandmother left me."

Charles threw the envelope down as if it had bitten him.

"Pick it up," Cindy told him. "I have a whole room full of witnesses; you won’t be able to claim you didn’t get it."

Ignoring the packet, Charles made a lunge at Cindy, who twisted away from his grab and sent him crashing to the floor with a well-placed kick.

As he stared up at her in astonishment, she smiled. "I’m not frightened of you any more," she informed him. "And after wrestling with Rakshani, you’re not even a warm-up."

Charles tried to spin around as Neal quietly said, "Is that what you feared? Cindy learning to be independent?"

"His worse nightmare," Shadowcrest murmured in agreement from where shi sat keeping Firestorm quiet. Several of the council members that looked hir way as shi spoke did a double take when they thought they saw a coppery ghost helping hir keep the cub entertained.

Neal also frowned at the astral-projecting chakat. "Tess, tell the cubs I expect them to keep Windy so tail stung shi won’t have time to play games in council chambers."

"Yes boss," his comm badge replied as the coppery ghost appeared to let out a silent squawk of indignation – hir tail bottle-brushed as shi disappeared.

"Tell hir to come in here!" Dunes demanded, angered that Neal seemed to be mocking hir authority in front of the whole council at every turn.

"That would take a minute or three," Neal informed hir, "unless of course you’ve figured out that I can still get my transporters through the security measures that have been put in place since my last visit."

Letting Dunes fume, Neal clapped his hands. "Now where were we? Oh yeah, we’re still waiting for Dunes to produce a murder warrant with my name on it, and we have this accusation of kidnapping to deal with. Cindy, did I kidnap you?"

"No, Captain," she replied.

Neal nodded as he continued, "And I also claim to have not kidnapped you, so now the only person saying otherwise is you, Charlie."

"Which proves nothing!" Charles blustered as he scampered up off the floor. "I want him arrested for kit-napping!"

Neal let out a long sigh as he shook his head. "At least this will be quicker to clear up than Dunes’s attempt at a murder rap," he commented as he turned from Cindy to Charles. "Tell you what Charlie, we can have this solved in no time. You see those three skunktaurs over there?" he asked, pointing at two bluepawed and one blackpawed skunktaurs. "They’re all mind readers. I’ll be willing to let them snoop around in my head to look for proof that I kidnapped Cindy. When they find I didn’t, they’ll be reading you to find out why you’re lying." (Telekinesis for House Bluepaw; Telepathy for House Redpaw; and Out-of-body Projection for House Blackpaw.) Not that I’m thinking Charlie would know which color meant what. ;-)

Charles’s muzzle was open, but no words had come out when Cindy spoke up. "They have my permission to read my mind as well. That will prove I ended up on Folly by my own actions and not Neal’s." Giving her father a dirty look, Cindy added, "Drop the charges, or everybody will know your dirty little secrets."

Playing along, the council’s skunktaurs appeared to look interested in Neal’s offer. The blackpawed skunktaur smiled at Charles. "Three of us to three of you. This works well as there need be no overlap. Not to mention we can speed things up by doing all of you at once and giving the council our full findings. Be advised that we will only be looking for things pertaining to a possible kit-napping. From what we’ve heard so far, this will include why the good captain didn’t turn his ship around or drop her off to find her own way home; why Cindy didn’t want off; and of course why you’re seemingly in such a panic to get back a child that obviously doesn’t want to go back with you."

Neal nodded at the skunktaur. "I’ll be happy to throw in what’s been discovered by a private investigator in this matter. I’ll include his contact info and a release so that the council can confirm that I haven’t altered the data."

"That would be most helpful, Captain." Looking back at the now very uncomfortable looking Charles, hy said, "We have Neal’s and Cindy’s permission to proceed, do we have yours?"

"You have no right to read my mind!" Charles sputtered.

"And you have no right to falsely accuse Neal of kit-napping!" Cindy fired back. "Ante up or fold…. Now." As her father continued to sputter, Cindy looked to Neal, who raised an eyebrow and gave her a ‘your call’ sign. Turning back to Charles, she said, "I’ll give you one last option. I know which accounts you were skimming from, you can have those accounts… in exchange for me."

"Just what do you mean by that?" Councilfur Graybrow asked.

"It’s not really me he wants, but the credits under my control. While I’m giving him a choice, I already know which way he’ll jump. While several accounts were set up for me, those were by far the largest. But this cuts the cord, I don’t want him in a position to steal anything else from me or my grandmother’s estate."

"What’s the deal?" Charles asked sounding interested.

"I sign the accounts over to you. In exchange, you disown me and any rights to me or what’s left of grandmother’s estate," Cindy informed him.

"That includes the evidence of what you’ve already stolen from Cindy and the estate," Neal added. "As well as me calling off the private investigator."

"Done!" Charles cried. More than a few of the council members looked disgusted at the idea that a parent would pick credits over their own child.

Cindy also looked disgusted as she pulled the required forms from her bag. "I don’t know which of you is more revolting – you or that supposedly empathic chakat that sided with you," she said as she glared at Dunes. "You dragged me through this for what? So you could help him steal from me? At least your interference will free me from him once and for all!"

"Captain Fos –," Dunes started.

"HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!" Cindy shouted hir down. A little quieter she said, "It could have been any ship and any captain with even half a heart, and Charles would have tried this ‘kit-napping’ crap to regain control over me. Would you have fallen for his bullshit if it hadn’t been Neal?"

"A very good question," councilfur Graybrow commented while Dunes sputtered. "If you answer yes, then you show that you are very easily fooled; if no, then you’re admitting to being very hostile to the captain. Either would be reason enough to ask you to step down from this council. So which is it Dunes?"

Iceglitter, a snowy-colored female lion morph dryly commented, "I’ve also heard that shi’s been trying to get some of this council’s members removed for helping Captain Foster with a first contact team. I went over the list of those chosen, and while I would have chosen a couple others, I understand that timing and availability played a major role in the selection."

"Let’s get this money-grubbing excuse for a father out of here, and then we can deal with the issue of Shir Dunes," one of the other council members suggested.

"We do have enough for a full council," Iceglitter agreed.

Once the papers signed and properly recorded, Charles wasn’t quite given a bum’s rush out the doors before the council turned back to Dunes.

"The question to you Dunes, was whether you’re incompetent, or if you’ve been manipulating this council to attack Captain Foster and others for your own personal reasons," Iceglitter stated, her voice matching her name.

Dunes was saved from immediately replying by the chakats that had accompanied Neal. Firestorm had rolled out of Shadowcrest's arms and was now heading for the council members.

"Stormy…" Neal said when he saw where shi was heading. Firestorm stopped and tried to look innocent of any intent to cause mischief.

"You have no right to boss that cub around!" Dunes snarled at him, happy for any distraction.

"As one of my adopted brats, I do," Neal shot back as he kept his eyes on Firestorm.

"No you don’t!" Dunes insisted, "You have no rights to tell anyone what to do!"

Several of the council were surprised when Neal suddenly switched gears. "Fine, I wash my hands of the matter," he agreed. Turning back to Firestorm, Neal smiled as he said, "Have fun!"

Firestorm watched Neal for a moment to make sure he wasn’t teasing hir, then shi ran for the table Dunes was behind. Dunes made to give the cub a hug, but Stormy had other plans. When a quick inspection of Dunes’s top didn’t reveal any fasteners, Firestorm tore it open with hir claws, being careful to not damage the contents.

"What the hell?" Dunes exclaimed, as the cub shredded hir top. "You put hir up to this!" shi growled at Neal.

"No, he didn’t," Shadowcrest growled back at hir. "Neal knows Stormy likes to ‘milk check’ anything with breasts, and he tried to stop hir. You’re the one that demanded that he not control hir, so any problems were caused by you!"

The other council members tried to not laugh as Firestorm gave the still sputtering Dunes hir ‘milk check’. The urge to laugh was quickly forgotten when the cub backed away from Dunes after just a moment, with a noise that sounded like shi was gagging on something. They watched as Firestorm then started licking hir paws as if to get a bad taste off hir tongue.

The Folly comm badges Neal, Shadowcrest, and Firestorm were wearing had relayed the events to other interested parties, who were now laughing in Neal’s earplug as well as in Shadowcrest’s mind. Shadowcrest also grinned as shi mentally suggested something; moments later shi heard the slight hum of a transporter beam as something was added to hir saddlebag. As Dunes reached for Firestorm, who quickly ran down the table to avoid hir, Shadowcrest reached into hir saddlebag and tossed Dunes a new top with a bright flowery pattern. At Dunes’s stare, Shadowcrest said, "I told you shi likes ‘milk checks’, though you’re the first one shi didn’t like the taste of."

Mountainwind, one of the oldest of the current chakat security guards, was stationed behind Dunes and perked up a little as Dunes donned the replacement top. An accident decades before had left hir with one eye that couldn’t see as far into the infrared or ultraviolet as a normal chakat. This eye was now telling hir that the colors on the back of the top were changing as the cloth was warmed to body temperature. Closing hir ‘good’ eye made it easier to see what was going on.

‘Founding member of the ‘Chakona is flat’ society’ the back of the replacement top read.

The words now visible to hir caused Mountainwind to choke back a laugh.

Hearing the snort of amusement, Dunes spun around to stare at the elderly chakat, who could now see the front of the new top.

‘I messed with the captain of the Folly, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!’ was too much for hir. Mountainwind hid hir muzzle in hir paws as shi laughed hysterically.

"What the hell’s wrong with hir?" Dunes demanded as shi felt others growing more amused at hir by the second.

One of the other chakats touched the elderly chakat’s shoulder. "Are you alright?" shi sent.

Without looking up Mountainwind sent, "Put on a dark yellow lens and ‘look’ at hir new top. If you can keep a straight face, I’ll buy you dinner!"

The others watched with growing interest as shi reached into hir kit and removed a set of protective yellow lenses. Looking through the lenses at Dunes, shi choked back a laugh of hir own when shi saw the words that were in plain sight for those with more limited vision. Looking over at hir old friend shi admitted, "You win." Turning back to Dunes, shi dryly commented, "You should be more careful of gifts from those that have no reason to like you."

"What’s that suppose to mean?" Dunes demanded, pulling hir top away from hir breasts as shi tried to determine why the others were finding it so funny.

"Only that you have to be blind to see," shi cryptically replied with a grin before resuming hir seat.

Iceglitter was not grinning. "It seems that even cubs know that you’re not what they’re looking for Dunes. Today alone you tried three attempts to attack Captain Foster. I, too, have seen the full footage of the New Kiev attack; the good Captain is the reason more furs didn’t lose their lives that day, including the one that thinks you taste bad. Your kit-napping charge was no more than a thief trying to get back the key to the coffers he’s been robbing, and Admiral Kline seems to have disagreed with how much control needs to be added to the Folly. I’m not going to ask you to explain yourself; that would be a waste of our time and yours. Instead, I will ask your fellow council members if any of them has anything to say in your defense." Looking around the tables, she said, "Anyone … anyone at all?"

Dunes looked to the two shi’d thought would have helped hir with Neal, but they were carefully avoiding eye contact with hir.

Iceglitter gave the silence a full minute before speaking; "I recommend a vote of no-confidence on Shir Dunes’s ability to conduct hirself in a manner that would be considered proper for this council. I also recommend that shi be removed from this council at this time."

"Seconded," Tormic added, beating out several others.

The vote itself took mere seconds, the ‘ayes’ were a deafening roar, while there wasn’t a single peep when the call for ‘nays’ was given.

Dunes sat there in shock until a pair of the guards helped hir to hir feet and out of the council chambers.

There was a notable sigh of relief when the elevator doors closed in the corridor.

Neal frowned at Iceglitter and Tormic before commenting, "While I don’t mind helping the council from time to time, I prefer to know when someone’s planning on using me as bait."

"I’m sure that we don’t know what you’re talking about, Captain," Iceglitter replied with a ‘cat that ate the canary’ expression.

"Your tricks might have fooled Dunes, but I have better resources," Neal shot back. "I know you kept Wildflower and Cieila in the dark, but you slipped up. When Cieila sent that warning of the late session to hir friend, it should have caused a cascade of calls on the council networks as the word was spread. But I happen to know that that flurry of calls never occurred; yet everyone seems to have gotten the word. Also, while you did have enough for a full council, no full session was ever called to order."

Tormic chuckled. "That was why we chose you, Captain Foster. Bait that we knew shi couldn’t refuse, and bait that would bite back. The reason for now was shi’d started playing hir games on ships and crews without your ability to fight back. As we still don’t know who’s controlling hir, we used you to cut hir strings."

"Risky," Neal murmured. "Whoever was behind hir will probably go to ground for a while."

Iceglitter nodded in agreement. "True, but it couldn’t be helped. You were the best bait we had to dangle over hir nose, and we didn’t dare wait until the next time you decided to grace us with your presence. Speaking of which, how’s your buildup for another colony coming?"

Shadowcrest’s rumbling chuckle came from where shi’d remained sitting. "Does anyone not know what you’re up to?" shi wondered out loud.

Neal shrugged. "I just told a few people, but it appears they might have told a few, who then told a few …"

"I just happen to know a few furs that think that there will be a new colony opening in the next year or so. Rumors say that a lot of the prep work has either been done or is underway," Iceglitter commented. "The funniest thing was that most of those rumors pointed back to one unusual ship, run by one seemingly foolish human."

"Rumors can sometimes hide the grains of truth in them," Neal admitted. "But you can’t always count on which grains are true," he added with a smile.

Iceglitter smiled in return. "I’m not asking for confirmation Captain, just if things are going well and if you might need any favors as it looks like the council owes you yet another one."

"No," Neal replied, "everything’s moving along nicely so far, but I do thank the council for the offer."

"Remember it’s there when you do have need of it," Iceglitter teased him as she stood. "A most productive late session. Unless someone else has something for the captain?" She received mostly smiles and headshakes from the others, so she said, "Then I suggest we adjourn for the weekend. Any opposed? Those in agreement?"

As there had been no noise at all when she had at for opposition, the others started getting up as they voiced their agreement. This came to a stop when they heard their most elderly council member quietly say, "Captain? May I have a moment of your time?"

"What are you up to, Dewblossom?" Chakat Q asked hir. Dewblossom’s granddaughter, Darkbrow, had been sitting in hir place on the council for several years now. Q had been wondering what had brought hir old friend out of hir semi-retirement.

"This is about a private matter that doesn't concern the council," Dewblossom huffed.

"That’s what Dunes wanted us to believe," Q said, sitting back down.

"I assure you …"

"Shi said that too," someone else pointed out, the rest of the council resuming their pads and seats as Neal approached the elderly chakat.

Giving up on the council, Dewblossom turned to Neal. Pushing a data chit towards him, shi said, "I'm hoping that this is a suitable bribe for you to take my granddaughter and hir family out to that new colony we've heard you're setting up."

Pushing it back without reading it, Neal smiled as he told hir, "Not enough."

"So what do you want?" Dewblossom demanded.

"You, kitten. You were brought up on Chakona when it was a much rougher place. My colony can use someone with your talents much more than any credit chit. Think of it as payment for the others being taken out to my colonies."

Dewblossom laughed weakly. "At most I’ve only got a few more months to live, not long enough to get there, never mind being of any use to anyone."

"I’m willing to gamble that you’ll not only make it, but become a valuable asset to the colony," Neal insisted.

"Even if I made it, I’ll be more of a burden than useful," shi pointed out.

"That is true …" Neal admitted, "I would also need someone willing to take care of you for however long you do happen to last." Looking at the rest of the group, Neal asked, "Who’s up for some babysitting? Or should I say old furball sitting?" Dewblossom glared at him, but remained silent.

Several of the council started to protest his treating of their colleague and friend - only to be stopped by a mental growl from Shadowcrest that sounded a lot like, "You idiots wanted to stay to watch the fun - now shut up!" Several of them still didn’t like the way Neal was treating their longtime friend, but they held their peace for the moment.

The security guard that had laughed at Dunes’ replacement top stepped over to Dewblossom and settled down to carefully give hir old friend a hug. Looking up at Neal, Mountainwind said, "I'll look after hir."

"It may be longer than both of you think," Neal warned them.

"The longer the better," Mountainwind replied.

Waving Mountainwind off Dewblossom, Neal said, "Considering hir condition, I think we should start hir ‘indentured servitude’ now." Tapping his comm badge he said, "Tess, please process Dewblossom for hir new task."

"Yes boss."

As Dewblossom disappeared, Neal smiled at Mountainwind. "Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?"

"No," Mountainwind admitted. "But shi looked after me when we were younger, and your daughter seems to think it’s a good thing."

"You're trusting your future to a twelve year old?"

"If that’s what shi really is, yes."

"So be it. Tess? Are you ready for hir partner?"

"Just got done boss," she said as she beamed Mountainwind away.

Neal flipped the still unread chit at Darkbrow. "Those staying behind might have a better use for this."

Darkbrow ignored the chit. "Why did you put hir through that?" shi growled.

"To make sure shi really did want to go. If shi hadn’t shown at least a little of hir old spunk, I would have stopped pushing."

"You say that as if you knew hir well," Darkbrow said accusingly.

"Long before shi became a part of this council, shi and Mountainwind used to haunt the spaceport," Neal informed hir. "Or at least that’s what they called that scorched section of ground way back then." (2219 – a mere 113 years ago. Settlement and development of Aquila 19D8A-04 ceded to the Chakat-led Anthropomorphic People's Lobby. Planet is renamed Chakona and its sun named Chakastra. So Dewblossom and Mountainwind can be older than Chakona has been Chakona.)

"How would you know that?" another of the older council members protested.

Neal smiled back in response, "Pogo Stick’s security scans of the time showed that those two seemed to have been there every time Pogo Stick was. And those same sensors caught them more than once in the pods that had been set down the trip before."

"Are you now calling hir a thief?" Darkbrow demanded.

"Or a ‘Robin Hood’," Neal softly said. "I know the administrator they had overseeing the colonization didn’t like the way a few of the things were ‘liberated’ out from under hir control."

"There’s no proof of that in any of the archives," Iceglitter pointed out.

"Only because your archives were sabotaged to help hide how some things were really accomplished," Neal told her. "Among other things, I received a request through this council for yet another set of copies of some of the older council records that Pogo Stick had carried during the first thirty years of Chakona’s development and colonization. You’ll find that several near disasters were averted because of equipment being where it was most likely to be needed, and not sitting in some ‘spares locker’ as the colony administration thought it should be."

"You can hardly pin that on Dewblossom," Q commented. "There were thousands of people involved in dispersing cargo from the spaceport."

"True," Neal agreed, "but an inventory PADD was misplaced early on that had read/write control over the settlement’s entire inventory systems. With it, it would have been easy for someone to mislabel certain shipments and get them routed elsewhere."

"Surely a rogue PADD would have been detected and cut out of the loop as soon as it was used," Q chided.

"One way to find out," Neal said as he tapped his comm badge. "Tess, send an update request to the central database with what’s coming down in the next pod please."

"Sending now," Tess’s voice replied. Moments later a soft beeping could be heard coming from one of Darkbrow’s saddlebags.

As surprised as anyone else, Darkbrow opened the bag and withdrew an old style PADD. "But, I didn’t pack this!" shi exclaimed.

Iceglitter gently took the PADD from the still surprised chakat. Activating it, she found she could pull up not only the Amistad government storage areas, but all the other Chakona government sites as well. The problem was that some of the entries were color coded, and some locations claimed there were two items in the same location. Looking over at Q, she said, "You have full access to inventory, what do you have in A4.6T.U7.16?"

Opening hir own PADD, Q queried the database. "Surplus. Insulated panels, one meter by three by five centimeters. Why, what does that one say?"

"Well, that’s the funny thing, it agrees with yours in blue, but in red it says: power regeneration units, solar, roofing rated…. So what’s really there, and why would shi be trying to hide it?"

"Wasn’t there a proposal last year for a new settlement?" Tormic asked. "Dunes and some of hir cronies were sitting on it, but it sounds like Dewblossom was planning an end run around them."

"Even with hir no longer coming to council sessions, shi was keeping hir paw in for Chakona," Iceglitter murmured with approval. Then she growled as she started checking random pages, "It’s going to take us months to straighten out the supply system …" Looking up at Neal, she said, "You can’t have hir, shi’s ours."

"Not your decision to make, kitten," he replied.

"You said shi was starting hir ‘indentured servitude’," Iceglitter pointed out. "What exactly did you mean by that?"

"Just what it sounded like, a trade of time and labor for transportation," Neal admitted. "I’m throwing in a little something to help make hir a bit more productive once shi and Mountainwind get there."

Iceglitter was about to ask another question when Neal’s comm badge beeped. "Boss," Tess’s voice said without preamble, "something has changed in the ‘process’."

"What’s wrong?" Neal demanded as Shadowcrest began to look concerned.

"They’re already awake," Tess replied as her transporters beamed down two now very youthful chakats. "And they have demanded to be returned to the council chambers," she added after the fact.

The now very young Dewblossom looked around and spotted hir old PADD in Iceglitter’s paws. "Oh goody, you found it. Look under ‘to do’ for what I had planned for what, where and why." Turning to Neal shi said, "We graciously accept your job offer, Captain. We’ll just be heading off to pack." With that, they were both out the door and gone.

"Well," Q said with a chuckle, "I guess we know shi’s not going against hir will." Looking to Darkbrow, shi added, "Looks like shi left you holding the bag until your voyage begins."

"Great, now we’ll have two members to replace," Tormic grumbled.

Q laughed. "One you’re glad to be rid of and the other you already knew was leaving. And we have half a year or more before Darkbrow leaves us, so quit being cranky."

Iceglitter was still staring at the door the two chakats had run out of. "Shi was to be ‘more productive’, he said. In more ways than one it seems."

"Shi’s outlived all hir mates," Darkbrow softly said before shi went quiet so shi could concentrate on sensing Dewblossom. Seconds later hir head came up suddenly and hir eyes were wide with a mix of shock and embarrassment. It seemed Dewblossom and Mountainwind had only made it to Mountainwind’s room a few floors below, and shi had caught them already into something chakats their ages weren’t normally too interested in any more.

Knowing the process would have made them more than a little ‘frisky’, Shadowcrest chuckled as shi approached Darkbrow. "Think of your very first heats and ruts … and if shi hasn’t been able to fully enjoy ‘it’ for a while because hir body had gotten too frail …" shi quietly explained.

Locking eyes with Shadowcrest, Darkbrow realized that shi wasn’t hearing excuses, but the voice of experience. "You really are only twelve," shi said in surprise.

"And my first heat and rut were amazing!" Shadowcrest agreed. "You may want to warn the rest of your family to prepare for a pair of sex-crazed kittens until they get it out of their systems."

"They?" Darkbrow asked.

"I sensed that they were lifelong friends the first time," Shadowcrest pointed out. "This time around, I think you’ll have problems separating them."

"Why? Are they trying to be more productive already?" Iceglitter asked with a laugh as the council members finally did start to leave.


Continued in Chapter 15.

Copyright © 2005-2009 Allen Fesler – Redbear1158@hotmail.com

Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.

Admiral Boyce Garald Kline Jr and some of his family are copyright Boyce Garald Kline Jr.

Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns.

The Quange were created by Roy D. Pounds II.

Windsong, Fireglow and Mythril/Myth are copyright Gregg Anderson, and used with his permission.

Tauna Shadowback is copyright Chakat Scirocco and used with her permission.

Chakat Digs-in-Dirt is copyright Daniel Davis and is used with his permission.

Chakat Blackrose is copyright Chuck (Nicolai) Percy

Chakat Blackstar, hir ships and crews copyright Alex Wiegerling.

Captain Suzanna Cortez, Panzer, and the rest of the Rendezvous crew copyright SoulBlade.

The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America, and the Amazonia war are copyright John Plunkett

(If I’ve managed to step on anyone else’s toes (paws, claws or tails), let me know and I’ll either give you credit or change my ‘tale’)


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