Chapter 1 – Crew Review
By Bernard Doove © 2011

Captain Martin Yote stepped in front of the full-length mirror in his cabin and observed his reflection. A handsome coyote morph gazed proudly back, his wiry body clad in an immaculately tailored uniform. He marginally adjusted the jacket, flicked a couple of hairs off the shoulder pads, and grinned roguishly at his reflection. He was a handsome male, the clean lines of his head unmarred by human-like hair, his ears erect and alert, and his eyes sparkling with intelligence.

"Time to rally the troops," he told his reflection who nodded in agreement.

Yote exited the captain’s cabin of the F.S.S. Phoenix, a former Star Corps exploration ship converted for use as a commercial vessel. He considered himself extremely fortunate that a starship of its size and capabilities had come along at just the right time. His ambitions as a starship captain had been dependent on his ability to find an appropriate vessel within his means. The generous bequeathal from his father, a multi-millionaire industrialist, had only gone so far. Each of his father’s children had received the same bequeathal at the age of 21 to set themselves up in the business of their choice. His eldest brother had bought into one of their father’s businesses and was likely to climb the corporate ladder rapidly. His sister had started a totally separate business, and his second brother had joined her when he had come of age. However, Martin was the youngest of the siblings, and he’d had the stars in his eyes.

His father had been surprised when he had told him of his ambitions, and reckoned that he was being foolish. Nevertheless he gave Martin exactly the same start as his brothers and sister; it was up to Martin to sink or swim. He had not been spending his time just dreaming though. He had applied himself to studies of everything needed to run a shipping company, and when he finally had the money to follow his dreams, he went shopping for a ship.

A brand new starship was well beyond his means, so that meant keeping his eyes open for likely prospects in the used starship market. When the former Star Corps ship had been retired and became available, he had snapped it up. It was large enough with sufficient power and range for his purposes, without being too big or expensive. Nevertheless retrofitting it to suit his needs had exhausted his funds and put him deeply into debt. He had needed a good first voyage to start clawing back that debt, and for that he also had needed a good crew.

Yote entered the common room where he held the crew meetings. Although he had made sure to be a little bit early, his First Officer had beaten him there. The vixen always did. You could take a person out of Star Fleet, but you could never quite get Fleet out of the person, and Commander Bethany Oakwood was the epitome of the by-the-book officer. Sometimes Yote wished she would loosen up a bit, but nevertheless he was very grateful to have her. While he had studied intensely for years before acquiring the ship, and even while it was being refitted, he had had little experience in real space travel. He had acquired a master pilot’s licence for the shuttles, but had needed someone with real deep-space experience to make up for his lack with starships. He had hardly believed his luck when her application and résumé had landed on his desktop, and he had moved her interview to the number one spot immediately.

"Good morning, Captain," Oakwood said brusquely.

"Good morning, Commander," Yote replied. She never let him use her given name – sticking strictly to her title. Knowing what had brought her to his employ, he wasn’t too surprised, but he still tried to get her to relax occasionally. However, the vixen had been burned emotionally and professionally, and she had no intention of letting it happen again, so she always kept people at a distance and maintained a strictly professional relationship with the crew. Yote did not know any of that though when he had read her application and called her in for an interview, putting her first on the list as a priority.

Bethany turned up in full uniform, impressing him from the start. She was a grey fox, and the uniform’s colours had nicely complemented her own fur colours and black hair. He asked her to be seated and then picked up a PADD with her résumé upon it.

"This is extremely impressive, Ms Oakwood. Three years at Star Fleet Academy, seventeen years of exemplary service with a rapid rise up the ranks, and with quite a potential for a lot more." He put down the PADD, folded his arms and looked at he keenly. "So what on Earth brings you to an infant starship service like mine?"

Oakwood looked uncomfortable when she replied, "I didn’t resign – I was discharged. I’m a spacer though, and I wanted to be back amongst the stars."

"That still doesn’t answer my question though. Someone with your qualifications could have the pick of employment opportunities. I could never afford someone like you, and you know it."

The vixen was silent for a long moment, and then she sighed. "Will you please keep what I have to say strictly confidential?"

"You have my word."

"I was discharged from Star Fleet with some prejudice. My name is mud with all the big commercial operations."

"And why would that be? What sort of problems would I be inheriting if I take you on?"

"None – the charges were trumped up. I chose to accept a discharge rather than to fight them."

"And what were those charges?" Yote pressed.

"Conduct unbecoming an officer. Bribery. Indecent assault. A few others." The vixen’s voice was bitter.

Yote’s eyebrows rose. "That certainly sounds like grounds for more than a discharge. What was their story?"

"That I tried to seduce a superior officer in order to gain promotion, and then got violent when he rejected my advances."

"And what’s the real story?"

There was a flash of gratefulness from the vixen when realised that she was not going to be dismissed immediately. "It’s true that I had made advances to that officer. He was a handsome tod, and I had made no secret to the other crewmembers that I found him very attractive. I managed to get a date with him when we were on shore leave, and I thought things were going quite well when he had asked me back to his apartment for coffee. I had told him that it had better be just coffee for the first date, and he had assured me that that’s all it was. To make a long story short, it wasn’t. He made sexual advances and I told him to stop. He didn’t, and things went downhill from there. I pressed charges against him the next day, but he countered with false charges of his own, and because I had made such a big deal about chasing him, his word was believed over mine."

"Surely an investigation would have exonerated you though?"

"He has powerful friends. He made it clear that if I pursued the charges, my career would be ruined. I’d get all the worst assignments and have zero chance of promotion. I’d always have to look out for subtle harassment. If I dropped the charges though, they would discharge me, and that would be the end of the matter. I’m no fool – I took the only way out. I didn’t count on them dragging my reputation through the dirt anyway to ensure that I could not cause trouble later. Because of it though, no big commercial operation will even touch me. No offence, Mr Yote, but your ship is something of a last resort for me."

"No offence taken, Ms Oakwood, and for the record, I accept your story. While Star Fleet might have a great reputation, it is hardly perfect, but their loss is my gain. I would like to offer you the position of First Officer of the Phoenix. How soon can you start?"

"Immediately, Captain."

Yote noted her immediate switch to formality as he held out his hand to say, "Welcome aboard, Bethany."

She shook his hand and replied, "Thank you, Captain, but please call me Commander Oakwood. This is strictly a professional relationship."

And Commander Oakwood it had been ever since. It was possible that she might be less formal with others sometimes, but never with him, even when on shore leave. It did not bother him too much however. She was very competent and one of his greatest assets; he would never do anything to upset the status quo.

Yote went to the replicator and ordered an espresso and an apple Danish, and then settled down at a table to await the rest of the crew. As they were all finalising their tasks prior to departure, he didn’t expect them to turn up early, so it gave him a chance to enjoy his coffee and snack before they arrived.

First to come was a trio of chakats – Burningbright, who had a classic tiger pattern and was in charge of environmental systems – Zelkie Sandblossom, who was tan with cream stripes and spots reflective of hir skunktaur sire’s pattern, and was their chief shuttle pilot and Primary Loadmaster – and Hotfoot, ochre furred with brown spots and red-furred ‘boots’, who was arguably the most popular person aboard as shi was the ship’s cook. The three were a lifemated triad who had applied together. They all had the wanderlust and liked to sign onto ships that took them all over Federation space. Yote had needed another pilot besides himself, and a competent environmental engineer was a valuable asset, but a good ship’s cook was worth hir weight in gold. Hotfoot had brought samples with hir and he had been sold immediately. However, the trio also came with three cubs – Pixiepaws, Candycane and Lemondrop – all young teens and in need of schooling while their parents were on duty. Yote had anticipated the possibility of children though, and had accepted them in the expectation of finding someone as a minder and teacher. He had asked for one of the adults to stay with him and Oakwood while they conducted more interviews so that they could get hir empathic impressions of the applicants. Burningbright had been ‘volunteered’ by the others as having the strongest E-rating amongst them.

All three chakats and their cubs came over to greet him with a hug. Although the military-minded Commander disapproved of the familiarity, this was a civilian ship, and the traditional chakat greeting was not to be denied. Actually Yote sometimes felt that they made a point of hugging their captain just to get a reaction out of the vixen. He enjoyed their warm embraces though, and he never chided them for mussing his uniform and his dignity. They went to fetch coffee and a snack also. Yote watched in amusement as Zelkie walked to the table with several plates floating alongside of hir, which flew into the hands of the waiting cubs. The chakat had inherited hir skunktaur sire’s telekinetic Talent and was quite adept at using it.

"Mum! I can do that without your help!" Candycane objected.

Of course Zelkie’s children had also inherited the Talent from their parent, though neither Candycane nor Pixiepaws whom Zelkie had sired, showed anywhere near the aptitude of the adult, for which reason Yote had decreed that they make sure they practiced somewhere that was relatively immune from misadventure. Lemondrop, whose parents did not include Zelkie, just got on with eating hir meal.

Next to arrive was the Chief Engineer – a male Caitian named R'Murran. He greeted the Captain and added, "Everything’s in the green, sir. We’re good to go."

"Thanks, Chief," Yote replied. R'Murran always preferred to report immediately before getting his drink. He watched as the Caitian ordered rarttakkan tea – R'Murran detested the taste of coffee and one of the first things he had done was to program the replicator with his favourite brew.

Yote had been extremely pleased to get the services of R'Murran as he had also been Star Fleet trained. Unlike the Commander though, the Caitian had chosen to retire, and the reasons for that choice were steadily arriving also. One by one, three more Caitians arrived, all female, along with three children of various ages – two daughters, Keera and Ner'ritn, and one son, Kannekin. They were all R'Murran’s wives, and in fact he had four wives altogether, but one had duties that kept her away from the meeting. While Star Fleet had a family-friendly policy that allowed crew to have their mates and children to travel with them, four wives and three children had exceeded that policy. He’d had three wives and two children before leaving Star Fleet, but as his Secondwife had also been a member of Star Fleet, he had been able to keep the two others. When his Firstwife had approved a fourth though, his superiors had presented him with a choice – her, or his career. Unlike Oakwood though, he was not wedded to the service, and he chose to part ways amicably with Star Fleet and marry his Fourthwife. As a highly trained Fleet engineer though, he knew that there were plenty of employment opportunities for him, although some were eliminated for the same reason that he had left Star Fleet. Yote had been lucky to gain him for his crew, and that was mainly due to the fact that M'Rarrtikar, his Firstwife, had met the chakat family and seen how well the chakat cubs got along with their own children. She had recommended that he take the position, and they had all fitted in well.

Along with R'Murran, Yote had gained the services of the four wives. M'Rarrtikar was as adept at handling ship’s finances as she was her family’s, and she was appointed the ship’s Purser. Despite her habit of working in base 8, she always had clear and concise figures in base 10 for him. M'Anissa'tk, R'Murran’s Secondwife and Aspect of Strength, did the same kind of job as she had done on the Fleet ships – maintenance technician. His Thirdwife and Aspect of Fertility was M'Lertiña, filled the much needed role of child minder and teacher for the cubs, but as an added bonus, she also had paramedical training. The ship lacked a full doctor, but M'Lertiña was a very acceptable alternative paired with the ship’s autodoc. R'Murran’s Fourthwife, the one who had precipitated his departure from Star Fleet, was naturally the Aspect of Love, for how often had love been the cause of life-changing decisions? Although of no particular use to Star Fleet, she was a very useful member of the Phoenix’s crew, providing passenger services. While primarily a cargo vessel, Phoenix also provided a cheap alternative to interstellar travellers, and M'Resk was in charge of attending to their needs and basically keeping them out of the crew’s way. That was why she was not joining the others for the meeting, as she had to keep an eye on the handful of passengers who had booked passage on this voyage.

Two more of the crew arrived, hand in hand and with a child in tow. They were both over six and a half feet tall, although that was not exceptionally tall for Siberian Tigers, or Amur Tigers as they preferred to be known. They were Anastasiya and Valentina Tartikova, a married couple from Arkhangelsk in the Russian Territories. Yote had learned that half the population of that city were Amur Tigers, all of them hermaphrodites. He had been a little disappointed to find out that the two statuesque and busty tigers were also well endowed elsewhere, but their gender did not prevent them from being useful members of the crew, despite lacking much experience on starships prior to signing on with the Phoenix. During the interview, he had asked why they had wanted to join them. Anastasiya had replied in hir heavily Russian accented Terranglo, "Valentina and I felt stifled – there is much emphasis on keeping everything within community. We wanted to get out and see universe. This is only way we know how. We have skills and we will do good job for you, da?"

Anastasiya had had security training and was quite adept at using hand weapons. Shi was also into physical training and willingly gave classes designed to keep the crew fit. Valentina had previous experience in logistics and shi applied that experience to interstellar shipping with considerable skill. The tigers were amiable and sociable, although never quite as intimate as the chakats liked to be. They also brought along a single ten year old child named Katarina who was usually in M'Lertiña’s care. They were also quite religious – Russian Orthodox – and had made a point that they were married, not mated. Anastasiya had corrected Yote once when he had referred to Valentina as hir mate, saying, "Valentina is wife, not mate. We were married properly in church!"

An all-black foxtaur walked in and made a beeline for the replicator and ordered two café lattes which materialised just as another black foxtaur, this one with white ‘gloves’, ‘boots’ and facial markings, walked in and joined the first. The second took one of the mugs from the first, they kissed, and then both went to find a place to park their rumps to chat with the chakats.

The first foxtaur was a Starwalker – a Stellar Foxtaur bred to be at home in space, and certainly not unusual to find on a starship. However, they were not usually the only one of their kind aboard. The second foxtaur was the reason for the exception. Like all the first generation Stellars, Ceres was brought up by foster parents, which in hir case were a vulpamour couple in a black foxtaur village. In fact, both had volunteered to be surrogates for the new Starwalkers, and Ceres had a step-sister named Hestia. While most of the others of hir kind had made relationships with other Starwalkers, Ceres had fallen in love with a foxtaur tod named Danson Blackfox. This had complicated both their lives however. Ceres was ready and eager to take up a job working in space, but Danson was very much a down-to-earth village farmer foxtaur. He solved it though by studying a compromise career – hydroponics – so that when Ceres’ studies were complete, they left to find employment together. The Star Corps were hiring Starwalkers only though, and the first ship that they had found that would take them both was the Phoenix. Ceres was now the ship’s astrogator and Second Officer in charge of the second shift, while Danson was happy in the hydroponics bay growing fresh vegetables for Hotfoot’s cook pot. The couple did not have any children as yet, but Ceres had indicated that shi had planned to do so once they had gotten a few more voyages under their belts.

Next to arrive was an unusual couple – a male human and a jill ferret morph. That a human and a ferret were in a relationship was not too unusual, but that they were from one of the Non-Aligned Worlds and she was his slave certainly was. Former slave, Yote had to keep reminding himself, although it was pretty well known that the slave conditioning could never be fully broken. When Yote had read their application, he had very nearly dismissed the human without a hearing. Surprisingly Oakwood had persuaded him to give the pair a chance and find out the details. Yote figured that if she could put up with an enslaved morph, then he could also, if just to find out the true situation.

"Okay, Mr Baxter," he had said, "convince me why I should hire someone from your background."

Heywood Baxter had been going through this kind of thing for many weeks now, and this was the furthest that he had gotten so far and he was desperate to make a good impression. "Firstly, sir, even though I have… had a slave, I am not a slaver. She was given to me when I was ten, and I certainly didn’t have a say in the matter. Nevertheless I was glad that they gave Menalippe to me. She has been my closest companion for years, and she means more to me than you would think for a slave. The Non-Aligned Worlds differ in their approach to slavery. On mine, every human gets a companion for life, usually on their tenth birthday. The morphs are not intended to be there simply to wait upon us – they share our lives, help us when it’s needed, and even be our lovers when we mature."

Yote interrupted, "You’re not doing much to dissuade me yet. It seems to me that Menalippe didn’t have much say in the matter."

"That’s not true, sir. Mena was bred to match my personality, so she wanted the same sort of things that I wanted without coercion. The slave bond that you are so worried about is as much for her protection, because it means that she is only responsive to my needs and can’t be commanded by another human."

"I’d heard differently – that they must obey any human’s orders unless they contradicted their master’s."

"That may be true on other worlds, but not on Celeste, my home world. We do not see eye to eye with many of the others. Also, our situation was a little different."

"How so?" Yote asked, his curiosity aroused.

Baxter was relieved when it seemed that Yote was going to hear him out. "The companions are supposed to satisfy all our base needs and desires, including dealing with hormone-stoked teenagers. However, the only social and legal relationships we could have were with other humans. We would marry for money, politics or power. Some of us had our marriages arranged long before we even got our companions. Sex with our spouses is purely for producing an heir while our companions continued to serve our more visceral desires. At the age of twenty, I was to be wedded to a girl whom I’d met only twice in my life, but I knew that I did not want this. I also knew that I was in love with Menalippe. Captain – you can do almost anything with your companion morph, but falling in love with them is a big no-no. I spent the last two years before my forced marriage learning my skills, and then the day before the wedding, I left home to find a job aboard a starship. I broke tradition, left my home, and bound my life to a morph, all because I love Menalippe more than anything else in my life."

Burningbright spoke up for the first time. And how do you feel about this, Menalippe?"

Yote realised that the chakat was not merely looking for information, but trying to get an empathic response.

Menalippe said, "It’s all true. We companions are expected to love our humans, but not allowed to be in love. Heywood risked everything for me though, and I could do no less. I am a ferret morph companion, and I am proud to say that I am in love with my human. He deserves a fair chance from you."

Burningbright looked at Yote, then smiled and nodded.

Yote was satisfied that they were telling the truth, but his curiosity was aroused. "So how did you come to be here in Federation space?"

"Pirates," Baxter replied. "They don’t just attack Federation ships, y’know? The starship that I was serving on was attacked and disabled. A Star Fleet cruiser rescued us, but that put us under their jurisdiction, and once in the Federation, slaves are never returned to the Non-Aligned Worlds. Once they finished their well-intentioned meddling, they returned Mena to me, knowing full well that I could never go back without her. So now I’m a probationary Federation citizen looking for a job to support both myself and my beloved. Will you give us that opportunity, Captain?"

Yote glanced in Bethany’s direction and she gave him a curt nod. He decided that if an ex-Star Fleet stiff like her could give Baxter a chance, then he could put aside his prejudices too.

"Mr Heywood Baxter, I offer you the position of helmsman and chief pilot of the Phoenix." He held out a PADD with the contract on display. "Here are your salary and benefits. Do you accept?"

Baxter barely glanced at the contract before replying, "Yes, as long as Menalippe stays with me."

Yote hmmmmed, then said, "We don’t have room for non-paying passengers."

Baxter began to look distressed.

Yote continued, "However, we could use someone to perform Ship’s Services – in other words, all those odd jobs that don’t fit into anyone else’s responsibilities." He took back the PADD and changed screens and tapped in a few new figures, then held it out to Menalippe. "Here’s my offer."

Menalippe’s eyes widened in surprise. "That is most generous, sir. So does that mean that we get to stay together?"

"Of course. Can’t be breaking up lovers, can I?"

Menalippe smiled gratefully, then said, "I see that you have put my name down as Menalippe Baxter. I am just Menalippe, sir."

Yote frowned a little. "You love Heywood?"

"Yes, sir – with all my heart."

"But have you formally mated?"

"No, sir."

"Then I expect you to produce a mating contract by this time tomorrow or else I will not take either of you on."

Baxter said, "I’ll see to it today, sir."

Yote nodded. "Good. That will be all for now."

The pair got up and thanked him before departing. When they were out of earshot, Bethany said, "What was that mating contract business all about?"

Yote leaned back in his chair. "I don’t intend to let it be known that she is a former slave because it could cause problems. If however it does get out, they will have a legal document to show that they are mates – husband and wife, not master and slave. It’s time that they started thinking that way too, and making them get the mating contract will help reinforce it. Besides, do you know what a pain in the butt it is dealing with bureaucrats who won’t accept that a person hasn’t got a surname?"

Bethany gave him a hint of a smile. "Devious coyote," she murmured.

Yote flicked an ear and asked, "What was that?"

Bethany said, "Nothing. Let’s interview the next applicant."

Heywood and Menalippe returned that afternoon and proudly showed Yote the mating contract. He congratulated them, got them to officially sign up, and then told them to go home, pack, and wait for the call.

After three voyages, the couple were comfortably ensconced in the crew. Aside from the chakats plus Oakwood and Yote, nobody knew of Menalippe’s true origins and Yote was happy about that.

Next to arrive was a cougar morph fem. Risha DeMar was the ship’s quartermaster and all-round handyman. Very handy – for while she was an average cougar morph in every other respect, Risha had two pair of arms and hands.

Yote had occasionally seen exotic morphs that were the legacy of the pre-Gene Wars genetic engineers playing fast and loose with the genomes of the slave species. Most of them were trivial such as absurd colours and bizarre fur patterns, although he had once seen a morph who had wings – too small to actually fly, of course, but they were pretty. This was the first time that he had seen a four-armed person before though. She explained that her kind were perfectly normal cougars, but because the trait was hyper-dominant, all offspring of a four-armed parent inherited the extra limbs, no matter how often they bred with a normal two-armed cougar morph. She was very dextrous with the extra hands though, and her qualifications were good, so Yote signed her up. Out of curiosity, he asked hypothetically if she ever wanted just two arms so that she would fit in better with all the other morphs. She asked him if he would cut off an arm to better fit in with a one-armed race. As far as he was concerned, that answered the question quite succinctly.

It was only when they had been on their way a couple of days on their first voyage that she had made it quite plain that she did not like sleeping alone, and would the Captain care to do something about that? While Yote intended to one day find a nice coyote bitch to be his mate some time after he had gotten the business securely established, he had no qualms about occasionally sharing his bed with an attractive female of another species. Of course at first he had to suspect Risha’s motives, thinking that perhaps she was trying to gain unfair advantage through sexual favours, and if that proved to be the case he would have put her off the ship at the next port of call. Time proved however that her motives were quite transparent and exactly what she said – she just enjoyed having the company of a male in bed. They shared some very enjoyable nights, and Yote discovered what a lover could do with an extra pair of hands. Outside of those times however, Risha always remained very professional and a valuable member of the crew.

The next to arrive was heard before being seen.

"Good morning everyone!"

The owner of that perky voice was a petite young field mouse fem with a nicely padded and curvaceous body, bright pink eyes, and no head hair. Her most distinctive feature though was her ever-present cheerful grin.

The other members of the crew returned her greeting and Yote nodded and said, "Good morning, Penny."

Penelope Windsor had been an unplanned addition to the ship’s complement. In fact, she was their resident stowaway – or more accurately, attempted stowaway. At the beginning of only their second voyage, Anastasiya had discovered the mouse when a security scan of a crate had revealed the presence of anomalous contents. The tiger had hauled her up to the captain’s cabin where a bemused Yote had interrogated her…

"Just what do you think you were doing? You surely didn’t think you could get away with stowing away? You’d have had to leave that crate long before we got to our next destination."

"I didn’t have to stay hidden for the entire trip," the mouse explained. "Only for as long as it took for it to be too late to turn back."

Yote had to admit that she had a point – there was no way that they would have turned back once they were under warp for their destination. "Okay, you’re right, but how the hell did you avoid detection until now? Security at the spaceport isn’t that lax."

"I had help."

"And…" Yote prompted.

"And I’m not saying any more. My helper doesn’t deserve any repercussions for my actions."

"That’s a matter of opinion, but it’s not my place to do the job of law enforcement at the port. However, it is my job to look after the welfare of this ship. So why were you trying to stow away? And don’t just say – ‘to get to Chakona’."

"But that is half my reason anyway," she replied as if it was perfectly reasonable. "The other half is that I want to get away from some people."

Yote frowned. "Are you in trouble?"

"Not yet," the mouse replied with an impudent grin.

"What do you mean by that?"

"It means that my parents would hit the roof if they find out."

"What do you mean ‘if’? We’ll be taking you back down on the next shuttle and handing you over to Port Security. I doubt that they’ll be slow to let your parents know."

"I’m hoping that you won’t do that. In fact, I’m hoping that you’ll let me stay on."

That surprised Yote. "Now why would I do that?"

"Because I’m eighteen and old enough to make my own decisions, and I’m prepared to work my passage. Also because you’d screw up my life if you send me back."

She gave Yote her best wide-eyed helpless waif look, which might have worked a lot better if she wasn’t so well fed and sexy.

Yote sighed. "Alright, let’s assume that you may have some skills that I might want. I’d still like to know why I would be doing you such a disfavour by putting you off my ship."

The mouse grimaced. "Because if you do, my parents will force me to marry Edward."

That sounded like a terribly familiar story to Yote. "So you don’t like the guy, and you reckon that leaving the planet is your best alternative? Surely you could just leave town?"

"Oh no, I really like Edward – he’s a genuinely nice guy. I’ve known him for years."

Yote was confused. "Then why are you avoiding marriage so drastically?"

"Captain, if I’m going to marry anyone, it’s going to be to the fem of my choice."

"Oh, you’re gay. Sorry, I should have thought about that possibility. Still, there’s no need to leave the planet just for that."

"It is if your name is Penelope Windsor."

Yote’s eyebrows raised in surprise. "Windsor? As in Windsor Imports? You’re the daughter of the owners of one of the biggest import companies on Earth?"

"Yep, that’s me," Penelope said with a grin. "And Dad has quite a long reach when he tries."

"I know – my father deals with him big time, and now he’s one of my clients also. Now I’m beginning to see where that inside help came from. It also makes me a bit nervous about doing anything that might harm our business relationship."

"Even if the girl you found was named Penny Lane?" Penelope asked ingenuously.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

Penelope reached inside her coveralls, pulled out an ID card, and handed it to Yote. He looked at it and saw the name ‘Penny Lane’ printed next to Penelope’s picture.

Yote looked at the mouse. "If I put this into a reader, I’m betting that I’ll get a really good fake ID, won’t I?"

Penelope’s grin never faded. "Yep."

Yote rolled his eyes. "OK, so why Chakona?"

"Why not? I’ve always wanted to go there, and I should be able to make a new start for myself, and not as Daddy’s little girl."

Yote had to admire her spirit, and it reminded him of his own desires to break free of the mould and do his own thing. Still, there were financial considerations. "So what can you do to earn your passage? And how are you planning to pay for the food that you’ll consume, plus all the other expenses?"

"Oh, that’s not a problem." She took another object out of her pocket and showed it to the coyote. "I may not be able to take a regular commercial passenger service because Daddy would track me down in an instant, but I certainly could afford it. This e-cash card has a large stash of Fedcreds on it – quite untraceable. I’m sure that we can come to some arrangement."

"No doubt we can," Yote said drily. "But what can you do for us? I can’t take you on as a paying passenger – I won’t fake the paperwork for that. An unknown stowaway has to work for her keep though."

"I’m an entertainer. I play the keyboard and sing. I tell jokes and really good stories. I’m a great game partner. Try me and see!" Penelope said enthusiastically.

Yote grinned. "I can see why your father’s plans didn’t fit you. Are you sure you’re his daughter? You sure don’t sound like the child of a big businessman."

Penny nodded rapidly, her smile never fading.

Yote could not help but be amused by her unwavering cheerfulness, and he figured that she might just work out after all. "Okay, you’ve managed to appeal to both my curiosity and my own dreams of independence. You can stay. I’ll hold onto this e-cash card for now, and we’ll work out expenses later."

"Thank you, Captain!" The mouse gave the coyote an unexpected hug.

"Um… yeah… don’t do that, please," Yote said, acutely conscious of her plush breasts pressing up against him. He turned to Anastasiya who had been awaiting the verdict. "Anastasiya, let the record show that Ms Lane was discovered an hour or so after we went into warp. Now find her a spare cabin while we finish loading up. We don’t want her spotted by anyone before we depart."

And so that was how Penny started as the ship’s Entertainment and Morale Officer. Her fake ID had been sufficient to gain her a visitor’s visa at Chakona, but Yote had advised her that if she wanted to try for residency, it would never hold up under the closer scrutiny. The point had become moot however when the girl had formally requested to stay on as regular crew. By then she had so enamoured herself with the rest of the crew that Yote would have been very hard pressed to say no. Most of them had come with her when she had made the request. The only one who had been less than thrilled when Yote had agreed was Oakwood, although not for the reason that the mouse constantly flouted formal procedures, or was less than satisfactory as regular crew. No, it was a lot more personal. Penny had developed a crush on the flustered vixen despite being informed that she was firmly heterosexual only. Yote was constantly amused by the fact that the normally unflappable commander was nearly helpless before the cuteness onslaught of the little mouse. As much as he valued his First Officer, sometimes he reckoned that she needed to have her cool exterior rocked a bit, and that was best done by someone who didn’t directly affect the running of the ship.

The last of the crew to arrive were also the latest to be signed up. Initially, Yote had felt that he had just enough crew to cover all the essential roles over two shifts, and reluctantly had decided that he could not yet afford to employ any more. They had managed to complete two voyages successfully and with relatively little trouble, but the workload was a bit more for everyone than he wanted, leaving very little free time for the crew. Yote was feeling a bit more optimistic about the future though, and he was looking into the possibility of hiring a couple more despite still being in the red financially. Unexpectedly, a solution presented itself from a surprising source, although it did leave him feeling bemused at first.

Yote had been in his cabin working on his contacts in order to secure more cargo contracts when Oakwood let him know that if he could spare a moment, he had important visitors. He told her to send them up, and he went to meet them as they emerged from the translift. One of them was in Star Fleet uniform – a jaguar fem – no, a herm, he noticed. Shi was accompanied by two incredibly cute fennec fox morph children – about twelve years old, he estimated. The only thing wrong was that Yote happened to know that there weren’t any fennec fox morphs on Earth.

"Captain Yote, I presume?" the jaguar asked.

"That would be me," he confirmed as he held out his hand to shake hirs.

"My name is Commander Aileen Ramirez, and we come to you with a request from the Federation Council."

Yote’s eyes rose in surprise. "What on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, could I do for the Council?"

"First let me introduce these people," Aileen said as shi gestured to hir companions. This is Loander and Presaith, representatives from the planet Nameth. They are Faleshkarti, not Terran morphs."

Yote smiled at the Faleshkarti and said, "No offence intended, but I have never heard of that world or your species, and aren’t you a bit young to be representatives?"

The one identified as Loander replied in softly accented but precise Terranglo, "It is hardly surprising that you have not heard of us as we have only recently opened up relationships with the Federation. As for our apparent age, while you are correct when you say that we are young, in fact we are both at the beginning of our professional careers, and at a very normal age for our kind."

"You will find them to be quite remarkable," Aileen added.

"Why would I find them anything at all? What did you come to see me for?" Yote asked.

Aileen replied, "The Faleshkarti people have requested to send a number of their kind out into the Federation to observe and assess how they might fit in. We would be grateful if you could take Loander and Presaith with you so that they can experience shipboard culture and how you interact with other worlds."

Yote was a little puzzled. "Isn’t a small commercial vessel an odd choice? Wouldn’t they be better off going in a Star Fleet ship or visiting communities on Earth?"

"Believe me, Captain," Presaith answered, "there are plenty more of our kind doing precisely that and many other tasks. Loander and I specifically requested a ship of your nature because it fits in best with our skills and desires."

"Not that I’m agreeing to take you on, but what kind of skills are we talking about?"

"I am a starship systems engineer, and Loander is a comptech."

Yote’s ears pricked up at the latter. "We don’t have a specialty comptech amongst the crew, and we have a software glitch that has been giving us problems. Let’s see if you can do anything about that, and then maybe I’ll consider taking you on. You are familiar with Terran computer systems, I hope?"

"Of course," Loander replied, "or else there would not be much point in applying for the post, would there?"

Yote noted that while they looked like children, they sure didn’t talk like them. "Hmm… right. Come with me."

Yote led them all up to the bridge and showed Loander one of the workstations. He logged into the station and pulled up one of the system programs. "This program has been regularly crashing despite being reinstalled. Our engineer has determined that the equipment that it monitors is in perfect working order, so that doesn’t seem to be triggering it. Although we have competent comp operators, we have no programming experts, so we haven’t tracked down the problem as yet. Do you think that you can do anything with it?"

Loander nodded. "If the situation is exactly as you described it, I can find it," shi replied confidently.

"Good luck," Yote said, then turned his attention to Presaith. "Now you said that you are a starship systems engineer; what kind of experience have you had with Federation systems?"

"Not a lot," Presaith admitted, "but I am fully rated on Faleshkarti systems, and I can’t see a problem learning the differences."

Yote was sceptical that a twelve year old could be a fully rated engineer, but he was not about to say that in front of the Star Fleet rep. He said to Ceres who had been standing watch on the bridge, "Keep an eye on our Faleshkarti guest, Ceres, while I take the others to meet R’Murren."

"Aye, sir," the Starwalker replied.

Yote led Presaith and Ramirez down to Main Engineering where he introduced them to his Caitian engineer.

R’Murren was as surprised as Yote had been, but a tad less sceptical. "Let’s see your qualifications," he said.

Presaith handed him hir PADD which listed hir qualifications with the Federation equivalents next to them. After scrolling through them, he said, "These look fine, but let’s see what you’re like in practice. Computer! Set controls to training mode alpha."

"Training mode alpha engaged," came the neutral voice of the ship’s A.I.

"Alright, Shir Presaith," R’Murren said as he tapped a few buttons, his claws tik-tik-tikking over the surface of the controls, "I’m setting up an emergency cold start scenario. Show us what you can do to get us going with the least amount of harm to the ship."

Presaith nodded and looked over the controls to familiarise hirself with the layout. Although they were set a bit high for someone of hir stature, shi acted confidently and with little difficulty. After several minutes shi said, "Done – optimal output reached."

R’Murren smiled. "That was very well done considering that you are new to this ship’s systems. I’ll set up another scenario. Once again his short fingers played expertly over the keys to set up the problem, and once again the Faleshkarti handled it with little difficulty.

R’Murren turned to Yote and said, "For someone who has never laid eyes on this ship’s particular design, Presaith did extremely well. I’m confident that with training, shi could almost be at my level in a short time. Captain – I know that we’ve been a bit shorthanded due to economic considerations, but I would really like to take hir on as Engineer 2nd."

Yote nodded. "I’ll take your request into consideration, Chief." He turned to the others and said, "Let’s go back to the bridge and see how Loander is doing."

Yote was surprised to see that Loander was not at the computer station, but chatting with Ceres instead who seemed to be showing hir some of the other bridge equipment. "Was there some sort of problem holding you up, Shir Loander?"

"No, Captain. I have found and fixed your software bug already."

The corner of Yote’s muzzle twitched. "You… fixed it already? You went through that complex program and found in under 45 minutes what my crew had failed to find in days?"

"Yes, sir. I found the problem in about thirteen minutes and wrote and applied the fix by about twenty. I’ve been conversing with your astrogator about your voyages since then. I hope that you will seriously consider taking us on so that we can share your travels."

Yote blinked in mute astonishment for a long moment, then asked, "Are you sure that you’re only twelve years old?"

Loander nodded. "In Terran years, yes."

Yote absorbed that, then shook off the shock. "Shir Loander, Shir Presaith, Commander Ramirez – please accompany me to my office."

Once back in his office, he sat behind his desk and waited for the others to make themselves comfortable. Then he said, "Okay, what’s the deal, Commander? If you’ve checked us out thoroughly, you should know that we’re a very new outfit, and while we’re making very nice progress, we still aren’t in the black and won’t be for at least a couple more voyages. R'Murran’s request notwithstanding, I really can’t afford to put on two new crewmembers as yet, especially ones as highly competent as these two obviously are. We’re stretched a fair bit, but almost everyone is cross-trained and can cover for other people now. So even if I wanted to, putting these two on the payroll would not be a good idea until I can afford a larger crew."

Ramirez replied, "Yes, we did check you out and know exactly how you stand, but we have an offer for you. The Federation Council will pay Loander and Presaith a wage commensurate with their positions on your ship. You will provide meals, accommodation, equipment and uniforms. This agreement will be effective for one complete round trip after which the situation will be re-evaluated."

Yote leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. With a sly smile, he said, "Commander, let’s talk details."

The Faleshkarti had proven to be excellent additions to the crew, although even now Yote still had a sense of unreality of having two children fulfilling their jobs in the manner of adults twice their age. That voyage had done much to enlighten Yote, however, and he empathised with their race’s plight. He also had to admit to being a little relieved to find out that they weren’t really a super-intelligent species – they just got up to that level much faster, and then plateaued at that level that much sooner. And to think that they would lose most of it when they reached sexual maturity! Yote fervently hoped that the Federation scientists would quickly find a solution to their dilemma. They both still had several years leeway though, and Yote was more than happy to sign them up for a second voyage. Commander Ramirez had made it plain though that if he wanted to continue using their services after that, the Federation would no longer be paying their wages.

Yote watched as the two got themselves hot chocolate from the replicator and joined Katarina. He always had to chuckle whenever he saw that happen. Despite their intelligence, sense of responsibility, and professionalism, in the end the Faleshkarti were still children, and they identified best with the tiger child who, despite being a couple of years younger, already was taller than the fennec-like aliens. Anastasiya and Valentina were happy for the Faleshkarti to be hir friends as they seemed to encourage their child to higher achievements. Valentina even seemed a bit maternal towards them.

Yote finished off the remainder of his coffee. With the last of the crew now present, he could start his pre-flight ritual. He nodded at Oakwood who had been awaiting his signal. At a touch on her PADD, the ship’s whistle blew in the room, bringing conversations to a halt.

Yote said, "M'Rarrtikar – have all our passengers arrived and been checked in?"

M'Rarrtikar replied, "Yes, Captain. M'Resk reports that they are all settled into their cabins for take-off. We have one extra – one of the passengers brought along his son at the last moment. I charged him full fare plus a late booking fee."

Yote nodded. "A bit more income won’t go astray. Risha, have we got adequate reserves to feed an extra mouth for the duration of his stay aboard?"

Risha replied, "The passenger was booked just early enough for me to get some extra supplies loaded onto the last shuttle at the last moment, so we still have the normal optimum reserves."

"Excellent. Valentina – what is the cargo situation like?"

"All freight is stored and secured," the tiger replied. "We are expecting priority parcel still though. Is due by courier drone within ten minutes – five minutes before lock-down."

"That’s cutting it a bit fine, but it’s a high priority item and they’ve paid in advance, so we’ll wait until the last moment. We cannot afford a fine for missing our departure slot though, so keep a close eye on the situation." Yote was aware of what the item was, but part of the contract stipulated total confidentiality as well as urgency. Only he, Bethany, and the two tigers knew exactly what they were carrying.

Valentina nodded and turned hir attention to hir PADD to do precisely that.

"Department heads – sit-rep please," Yote continued.

Baxter said, "Scheduled diagnostics and maintenance completed on navigation and helm systems. All nominal, Captain."

Burningbright spoke next. "Environmental systems flushed and replenished; all is green across the board."

Anastasiya was the last to report. "All cargo scanned. No suspicious goods or devices detected. All ports secured except for main cargo hatch which is awaiting priority parcel."

"Which is just arriving," Valentina interjected. "Pardon me, Captain, while I take delivery."

Yote nodded and said, "Go." As the tiger left, he continued, "My friends, this voyage will mark a milestone for our young business. With the successful completion of it, Phoenix Incorporated will officially be in the black. We have been fortunate to acquire some lucrative contracts, but it has been your hard work and dedication that has been a large factor in our success, and I thank you all. Now let’s make this the best voyage yet. Hotfoot has agreed to cook up something special for the main meal tonight, but until then, may your gods smile upon us as we get under way. Everybody to stations – we depart in eighteen minutes."

Exactly on schedule, the control tower gave Phoenix clearance to depart from its slot at Earth’s gateway station, and make its way along the carefully plotted route through the crowded spaceways around that world. Once clear of Earth’s gravity well, the starship’s warp drive engaged to begin its fourth voyage. Unfortunately for the crew though, things weren’t destined to go as smoothly as they hoped.


Go on to episode 2.


Crew of the Phoenix:

Owner/Captain – Martin Yote, coyote morph, digitigrade, male, age 24, intelligent, a little sly, good sense of humour, competent ship’s commander despite his youth. Skills – Master Pilot, strong business sense, good improviser.

First Officer – Bethany Oakwood, grey fox morph, digitigrade, female, age 38, former career command officer in Star Fleet, precise, a bit aloof and reserved. Her experience with the corrupt Star Fleet officers has left her suspicious about the motives of men, and somewhat frustrated due to the lack of fulfilment of her own needs. Skills – astrogation, hyper-spatial physics.

Chief Engineer – R'Murran, Caitian (alien felinoid species), male, age 42, graduate of the Katten’rrtsk University on Cait with further studies specialising in warp engine physics at Star Fleet Academy. Affable nature and devoted family man.

Purser – M'Rarrtikar, Caitian, female, age 41, Firstwife (aspect of intelligence) to R'Murran whom she met while he was at Star Fleet Academy, and formally mated when he graduated. Mother to their daughter, Keera. Fully qualified accountant. She handled the family’s finances while her mate was still in Star Fleet, and now applies those skills for the whole crew. Very organised and likes things to run on schedule.

Maintenance Engineer – M'Anissa'tk, Caitian, female, age 39, Secondwife (aspect of strength) to R'Murran whom he met aboard the F.S.S. R’Verrastrr’s Victory (a Caitian Star Fleet vessel) when she was assigned there as a junior maintenance engineer. M'Rarrtikar approached her as a potential mate when it became apparent that she and R'Murran had much in common with their careers. Mother to their son, Kannekin. Loves tinkering with machines and can fix almost anything. Likes to surprise her family and fellow crew with absurd gadgets.

Paramedic/Teacher/Child-minder – M'Lertiña, Caitian, female, age 38, Thirdwife (aspect of fertility) to R'Murran whom she met while he was on leave to attend to M'Rarrtikar who was due to give birth to their first child (Keera). A friendship struck up between the three which continued over several months until M'Lertiña expressed a deeper interest in R'Murran and M'Rarrtikar formally invited her to be his next wife. Mother to their daughter, Ner'ritn. Very sociable, loves children, and has a high libido for a Caitian.

Passenger Services/Concierge – M'Resk, Caitian, female, age 27, Fourthwife (aspect of love) to R'Murran whom she met again at a gathering of his clan. The last time they had see each other, she was a little girl of only five years. The two felt an immediate attraction for each other, and R'Murran invited her to visit the family home. She took up the offer and spent several days with the family, at the end of which R'Murran asked M'Rarrtikar to consider her for another mate. At first there was some resistance to the idea due to her relative youth and the problems that it would pose with his career in Star Fleet, but eventually she had to concede that M'Resk would make a good co-wife, leaving it up to R'Murran to decide whether his career or a Fourthwife was more important to him. M'Resk is very friendly, with great people skills and a talent for solving passenger problems. Currently pregnant but barely noticeable yet.

Cook – Hotfoot, Chakat, herm, age 33, lifemate to Burningbright and Zelkie. Shi has always loved to cook, and disdains replicators. Hir résumé consisted of a small amount of text and a large number of samples of hir cooking. The galley is hir domain, and if anyone gets caught sneaking in, they are put to work as kitchen hands. Mother to Pixiepaws, sire to Lemondrop.

Environmental Engineer – Burningbright, Chakat, herm, age 33, lifemate to Hotfoot and Zelkie Sandblossom whom shi met in high school and formally mated when they graduated. While sociable like chakats normally are, shi likes to work by hirself. Mother to Lemondrop, sire to Candycane.

Shuttle Pilot/Primary Loadmaster – Zelkie Sandblossom, Chakat, herm, age 33, lifemate to Hotfoot and Burningbright. Hir sire was a skunktaur which gave hir the spotted skunk fur pattern, but the fur colour came from hir mother. Hir dual heritage is responsible not only for hir double name, but also for hir telekinetic ability. The spatial awareness that psionic ability gives hir enables hir to be a superior pilot. Very organised and capable of keeping track of many things at once. Mother to Candycane, sire to Pixiepaws.

All three chakats had decided to become denmates long before they graduated. However, because they all had different career goals, they had to find work that enabled them to stay together. They all also wanted to see the different worlds. The only course that they could see that would satisfy all their desires was to become crew on starships. While Burningbright and Zelkie took classes for their chosen professions, Hotfoot stayed at home to practice hir culinary skills, and later to also be nursemaid to the three cubs that they conceived nearly simultaneously after they had denmated. When they were ready, they started hiring on to whatever starships were prepared to take on all three chakats and their cubs, and they have been wandering around the Federation ever since. The Phoenix is their latest ship, and there are rumblings about making it their permanent home as they like both the ship and their fellow crewmembers so much.

Security Officer/Physical Training – Anastasiya Tartikova, Amur Tiger, herm, age 31, married to Valentina. Born and bred in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk where shi learned both the Russian language and the universal Earth language – Terranglo – which shi speaks fluently but with a strong Russian accent. Hir skills are more on the physical side, but shi makes up for any shortcomings with a great degree of thoroughness. Shi has a bias towards hir masculine side, and in social situations with non-herms, tends to see hirself as "one of the boys". Bit of a roughneck as a youth, but settled down a lot after meeting Valentina. Sired a daughter named Katarina, and keeps promising to be the mother to their next child, but has been postponing that event for years.

Logistics/Secondary Loadmaster – Valentina Tartikova, Amur Tiger, herm, age 30, married to Anastasiya whom shi met at a nightclub. Valentina’s feminine biased personality appealed to Anastasiya, and the two started dating. Fourteen months later they got married and soon after conceived their first child – Katarina. Shi had a job as a logistics manager at a local factory before the couple decided to go see more of the universe. Mother to Katarina, and has a maternal streak which shi extends towards the Faleshkarti who don’t quite understand it due to their alien nature, but who nevertheless like the amiable tiger.

Astrogator/2nd Officer – Ceres, Starwalker Stellar Foxtaur, herm, age 28, lifemate to Danson Blackfox. Raised by foster parents in a Black Foxtaur village. Trained along with all the other Starwalkers of hir generation, but rejected the career with Star Corps in order to stay with Danson. Hir skills enabled hir to pull strings to procure training for him in hydroponics and to get them work on starships. After spending a few years in junior positions on other starships, they got senior positions on the Phoenix. Hir organisational and command skills also got hir the position of Second Officer.

Horticulturalist/Hydroponics Management – Danson Blackfox, Black Foxtaur, male, age 28, lifemated to Ceres. Typical farm-raised foxtaur tod. Like all tods, he was the focus of attention for many hopeful vixens, but he was struck by the unusual nature of Ceres. Fortunately shi had a feminine bias and the attraction was mutual. Spending time with Ceres when shi had to leave the village on regular occasions for hir training may have been helpful in not falling victim to Territorial Attachment Syndrome, and his love for hir led him to leave behind the life of a normal village foxtaur. He has never regretted the choice, and now that they have found their place aboard the Phoenix, he feels like they have a new home.

Quartermaster/Handyman – Risha DeMar, Cougar morph (exotic), female, age 23. Risha’s mother was a normal cougar morph, but her father had four arms, and the hyper-dominant gene was passed on to all his children. Risha actually likes having extra limbs and has never wished to be normal, despite some teasing while at school. She always liked to help her father in his household repairs business, and can fix most common problems easily and quickly. She later earned some money while going to college by helping her father with procuring supplies for the business and organising his accounts. These skills helped her land the position on the Phoenix. Risha has always been sexually promiscuous but discerning in her choice of partners, but although she really likes Captain Yote, she has no intention of "settling down" as yet. She does like children though, and is very protective of them. She is slow to anger, but explodes when pushed too far.

Comptech/Comms – Loander, Faleshkarti, herm, age 12. Volunteered to be amongst the many representatives for their world to get an overview of the Stellar Federation away from the official channels. Shi was trained specially in Federation computer systems in order to gain a position on a starship. Shi was paired with another Faleshkarti (Presaith) so that they would not get lonely for their own kind.

Engineer 2nd – Presaith, Faleshkarti, herm, age 12. Already training as a starship engineer, Presaith was asked to volunteer to learn about Federation starships and be one of the many representatives that Nameth intended to send out into the Federation. Shi was paired with Loander who was also intended to be placed on a commercial starship. Presaith was quite excited about the opportunity and took the post immediately. Shi is glad to have the company of Loander though when shi’s not on duty.

Helmsman/Pilot – Heywood Baxter, Human, male, age 29. Mated to Menalippe. Former citizen of one of the Non-Aligned Worlds, he chose to leave his world to avoid being forced to marry a woman whom he barely knew, so he could be with the person whom he truly loved – his ferret morph companion. While still within the authority of the LNAW, their status remained officially that of master and slave, but after being rescued by a Federation cruiser after a pirate attack crippled their ship, Menalippe was officially freed and he was able to treat her as the beloved mate she was rather than the docile companion she had to pretend to be.

Ship’s Services/Gofer – Menalippe Baxter, Ferret morph, female, age 29 (accelerated maturation, 21 actual). Species matched and psychologically optimised to be the ideal companion to Heywood. Forced maturation brought her to the same age as him when she was given to him on his tenth birthday. Intended just to provide companionship and be his helper when younger, then attending to his more physical desires as he matured, she started developing deeper feelings for him although that was strictly forbidden. She kept her feelings hidden until he told her that he loved her, and then she confessed that she loved him also. Menalippe risked punishment by helping to conceal Heywood’s secret training to enable them to leave to seek a life together away from the manipulations of his family. Menalippe’s training allows her to be very adaptable, and she performs many odd jobs on the Phoenix that aren’t handled by machines or the specialists.

Entertainment/Morale Officer – Penelope Windsor a.k.a. Penny Lane, Field Mouse morph, female, age 18. Only daughter of a wealthy importer. With a very lively personality and a penchant for singing and cracking jokes, she was the diametric opposite of what her business-minded father expected of his daughter, and she had no intention of being forced into a life totally unsuited to her. With the help of a friend who was intimately familiar with the security procedures of the spaceport, she was able to get herself smuggled aboard the Phoenix inside a crate that also had her essential possessions. After being discovered, she set about making herself a very popular addition to the crew just by being true to her own nature. While originally hoping to start a new life on another world, instead she has found a comfortable niche amongst the crew of the Phoenix, and she intends to call the ship her home for the foreseeable future.


Keera – Caitian, female, age 17. Eldest daughter of R'Murran and M'Rarrtikar. While still at school age, she has been taken under the First Officer's wing and is already learning what she needs to know for a career in space.

Ner'ritn – Caitian, female, age 14. Adolescent daughter of R'Murran and M'Lertiña. Still a school age child, but she likes to spend time down in Engineering with her father, learning what she can while she lends a helping hand.

Kannekin – Caitian, male, age 13. Adolescent son of R'Murran and M'Nissa’tk. He is a bit of a dreamer and doesn’t pay as much attention in class as he should. He also keeps bugging Zelkie to let him sit in on hir training simulations with ideas of being a hotshot pilot someday.

Pixiepaws – Chakat, herm, age 14. Artistic child who loves to dance and play the keyboard. Shi occasionally teams up with Penny to entertain the crew.

Lemondrop – Chakat, herm, age 14. Hyperactive child who does everything at a breakneck pace. Seems to have only two speeds – fast and stop. This could be very annoying except that shi also learns new stuff at the same ferocious rate, and shi gets hir chores done in record time.

Candycane – Chakat, herm, age 14. Although the three sisters were born within a few days of each other, Candycane was the first, and shi sees hirself as the eldest child and responsible for hir siblings when their parents aren’t around. Tries a little too hard to be ‘grown up’ sometimes.

Katarina – Amur Tiger, herm, age 10. Unusually shy and quiet for a tiger morph, but shi comes out of hir shell when with either of the Faleshkarti.


Go on to Chapter 2.

Characters and story copyright © 2011 Bernard Doove
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.

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