Chapter 17: Between Worlds
by Honeymane


Ensign Al-Sadat sighed at his reflection on the shiny metal surface of the wall in front of him, causing the picture of his face to fog up. Or appear to. The surface was actually a holographic projection of a wall, and the reflection and the quickly demisting surface were just a composite image of the stock surface’s texture and a camera-generated reversed image of his face. The "holosuite" was obviously both an older model, and one built for working, not for pleasure, and the effects lagged behind ever so slightly. Breathing deep the off-white leopard forced himself to relax. Part of his tension, of course, had to do with the fact that as a junior science officer, he had expected a fairly meaningless assignment to cut his teeth on, but he hasn’t expected to be assigned to… the Hoshiko. She was a former civilian ship, and it showed. Oh, her sensors were excellent, of course, and she was well suited for scientific missions of course, but still on the face of it he—.

The hiss of the holosuite’s door preceded the sudden mid-air rupture of it opening, revealing the shadow of the other source of Al-Sadat’s tension; the civilian "cadet" that they were carrying for some reason. The civilian whom he had been assigned to "train" into a competent member of the ship. ‘I sure must have pissed someone off real good upstairs’, he thought wryly, before speaking. "You’re late, Cadet."

"I – I know sir," shi said, obviously out of breath and panting ever so slightly. "I overslept and I couldn’t find my shower and I couldn’t find the place—"

"I didn’t ask for excuses, Cadet," the Leopard said sharply. "See to it you’re not late again. Provided you absorb today’s lesson, that shouldn’t be a problem."

The chakat nodded and stepped inside the room fully. Sensing that it could return to a less mind-screwing state, the door closed with a hiss and the illusion of the room was restored. Al-Sadat suppressed something between a growl and another sigh – from hir reflection, shi didn’t even know how to stand at attention. He turned on his heel and looked hir over; at the very least shi seemed to have gotten the uniform on mostly correct.

"My name is Ensign Al-Sadat, and for my sins I’ve been given the task of giving you a crash course in starshipeer," Al-Sadat said, looking hir in the eyes. "The captain is not one to share her innermost thoughts with a lowly ensign, but she and I both agree that having an untrained civilian on board is a bad idea. I strongly suggest you pay attention; this could save your life on day."

"Yes sir!" shi said promptly.

"Good. Lesson one, however, is standing at attention." Shi grimaced and came to reasonably good attention. He looked hir over, eyeing the uniform closely. "Lesson two, is the uniform. Permission to touch, Cadet?"

"Uh…yes. Yes sir!" shi answered almost correctly.

Al-Sadat crossed the intervening space between him and his charge and adjusted several aspects of the uniform. "Your uniform, Cadet, is one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll have on this ship. Not only does it represent your nation, but also your duty to discharge your tasks and it is something you should take pride in… assuming you don’t fail it." The chakat flinched ever so slightly. "However, besides those attributes, it’s also the last line of safety you’re likely to get in the event of a hull breach."

"Sir?" shi said sounding surprised. He couldn’t blame hir, it wasn’t exactly common knowledge. He finished and stepped away before continuing his monologue.

"As you may have noticed, space isn’t friendly, and if you get exposed to a vacuum, you’ll die, fairly quickly and painfully," Al-Sadat said. "The uniform we wear is designed to offer protection in case of such an event – a last ditch one, but one nevertheless."

"How?" the chakat asked curiously, before hastily adding a "sir."

"When exposed to a vacuum, the fabric around the neck will unfold explosively, as well as around your hands and feet, before it pressurises. The result is you’ll have some air and limited pressure against the vacuum." He nodded towards hir waist. "Taurs, obviously, don’t wear pants, so the lower half will expand into something like a sphere around your lower body. Now, I cannot stress it enough that this is merely a last line, seat of your pants, oh-fuck-I’m-going-to-die solution. If we know ahead of time we’re going to be engaging in activities that involve hulls depressurising, you’ll be in a specialized spacesuit. I strongly suggest wearing the uniform whenever you can, and wearing it properly, understand?"

"Yes sir." Shi nodded.

"Good! Now for lesson three." Al-Sadat turned and winked at a wall. Instantly thousands of micro lasers began drawing a UI into his eyes, bringing up the appearance of menus. He selected a preloaded file, before closing his eyes and turning back to the cadet, as a holographic model of the Hoshiko grew into existence between them. "Since you’re obviously getting lost, we’ll go over the basics of this ship’s layout."

The ship was obviously a long cylindrical shape, with massive reaction thrusters, and smaller (relatively) retro thrusters on both ends. At the ‘front’ was a massive set of what vaguely looked like teeth, but were really the ship’s sensor and deflector arrays, and all over the surface of the cylinder small notches existed, the ship’s warp "nacelles." Waving his hand over the hologram caused the computer to strip away layers of it’s skin, revealing the inner structure. Sections changed colour and small labels appeared to explain them.

The Hoshiko was a small ship, of course, and as such it only had only two main corridors. Arranged in a low-sloping double helix, they ran from one end to the other end, and despite the smallness of the ship the slope was gentle enough that for all purpose it was flat. There were of course lifts, but the corridors were far better used. Periodically a connecting corridor would run between the two helixes’ which contained the doors to the various rooms of the ship. Of course not all rooms were in the center core, but the majority of them were. All-in-all it looked remarkably like a strand of DNA, and Al-Sadat sometimes wondered if it was intentional.

The Cadet began studying the map hungrily. Whatever faults shi might have, shi obviously wasn’t going to be late by accident again, and wanted to make sure shi knew where everything was.

After allowing hir some time, Ensign Al-Sadat cleared his throat softly, causing hir to look up, and then snap to attention when shi realized shi had fallen out of it. "Since you had so much trouble this morning, I think we’re going to combine lessons three and four." He smiled only somewhat evilly. "Which, of course, is physical fitness. You will do a complete lap of the ship Cadet."

"A complete lap sir?"

"You’ll exit, go up the alpha corridor, reach the top, transfer to the beta corridor and travel down… until you hit main thrust, where you’ll transfer to alpha and continue up back to here…" Al-Sadat almost laughed at the look on hir face. "I suggest you get going."

The chakat stared for another few seconds, before turning smartly and walking to where the door was reopening.

"Oh, by the way Cadet Honeymane," Al-Sadat said, turning away to hide his grin. "The reason you couldn’t find the shower in your cabin is because at your rank the showering facilities are communal. Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll find them – and you’ll probably need them after the run!" The chakat gave him a dirty look shi obviously thought he couldn’t see, and sighed.

"Yes sir," shi said softly, before exiting and turning towards the appropriate corridor.

Honeymane grimaced as shi turned over the rag shi was using to clean the floor of the beta corridor. Despite having four feet and spending most of hir years on them, it never really occurred to hir just how dirty the floor actually was. Each time shi looked it looked as if a metropolis, inhabited by bacteria and dust bunnies had sprung up on the surface of the rag. After a few plunges into a nearby bucket, the water had turned just as nasty and shi was beginning to think the cloth was getting cleaner rubbing against the deck than it was trying to clean it in the soup.

Still, orders, as hir ensign taskmaster was fond of quipping, were orders, and shi had to carry them out, however moronic and pointless they were. At home, as with almost every modern household in the past 200 years had had, a small cleaning robot would have handled the cleaning – something that apparently a ship in the largest military in the known universe couldn’t afford to equip their ships with. And yes, the ship was formerly a civilian ship, but that made the lack of such a system even less excusable! So, muttering an oath that should in all rights stripped the grime from the decks and sent it packing, shi dipped the rag and continued washing the floors.

No sooner had shi started back to the task than shi heard someone approaching from behind – where shi had already spent the past hour painstakingly cleaning.

"Goddamnit! Go around, can’t you see I’m trying to clean h—" Honeymane’s angry rant died as shi found hirself looking at the only other chakat on the ship, who just happened to be that ship’s XO. Originally Honeymane hadn’t been certain that rank would factor into hir time on the ship, given the unusualness of hir rank and the fact that shi had few actual jobs to do. The second day had taught hir differently and shi had been trying to keep hirself from mouthing off at officers who could happily assign hir meaningless work as punishment. ‘Oops,’ shi thought.

The chakat smiled at hir not-so-hidden distress at discovering who shi was yelling at. "So I can see."

Honeymane hesitated for a moment before getting to hir feet and doing hir best to stand at attention. "Sorry, Shir. It’s been a rough day, Shir."

"Enough of that Cadet." Hoshiko chuckled softly, as the red-and-white furred chakat before hir relaxed. "I’m not here on any official business…" Shi paused with hir mouth open, before closing it and continuing, obviously on a different track than before. "Nice job with the floor by the way."

"Uh, thank you, Shir."

"But I have to ask why you don’t just activate the automatic cleaners?" Hoshiko asked, cocking hir head shyly.

"There’re cleaners?" Honeymane asked in a tone of voice that strongly suggested shi was trying not to swear loudly.

"Indeed," the older chakat said with a laugh. "You just tap your combadge and tell it to begin the cleaning cycle."

Honeymane blinked, then tapped hir badge, saying exactly what the XO had just said. After a chime, the computer announced it had begun the cycle, and at the far end of the curved hallway shi could hear a faint rumbling and scraping.

"I take it that Ensign Al-Sadat didn’t tell you?"

"He just handed me the bucket and rag and told me to start cleaning the beta corridor. Uh, Shir," Honeymane replied, frowning quite deeply.

"Really? But it’s past noon – aren’t you hungry?" Hoshiko asked, glancing at hir watch.

Before shi could reply, hir stomach rumbled insistently. After taking a moment to blush, shi explained that Ensign Al-Sadat was going to bring hir a lunch tray to eat halfway through. To hir surprise the XO frowned deeply, and empathically emitted something between anger and annoyance. "I’m afraid you’re a victim of hazing, Honeymane."

"What?" The younger chakat blinked, "Are you saying there isn’t going to be any lunch? I mean, lunch, Shir?"

"Oh no, they’ll bring you a lunch alright – only to trip over your bucket and spill it all over the floor you’ve just cleaned." Hoshiko shook hir head in dismay. "And if I’m not mistaken here comes the good Ensign now…"

Sure enough the Leopard morph rounded the far corner traveling ‘down’ the ship to where Honeymane was cleaning. He walked at a brisk pace but it seemed as if he was headed straight for the bucket as Hoshiko had predicted. "Ah, Cadet! There you are, I brought you lunch – some chilli and—" He broke off as his wandering eyes finally locked onto the other, much higher ranked chakat in the corridor. "Uh. Hello madam! Just bringing this hardworking cadet hir lunch!"

Hoshiko snorted. "I’m sure you were. I wasn’t born yesterday you know, Ensign. I highly suggest you stick to teaching Cadet Honeymane skills shi could actually use rather than trying to screw with hir."

"Yes Ma’am," Al-Sadat replied smartly, as Hoshiko took the food-laden tray from his hands and handed it to Honeymane without any incidents.

"I think I heard one of the nurses is off sick today, Ensign. Why don’t you see if our ship’s doctor can’t make good use of your tray-carrying abilities," Hoshiko suggested in a tone of voice that hinted that the suggestion was only such in theory, not practice.

"Uh, yes Ma’am!" He nodded, before turning and half-ran up the corridor and around the bend. Only after he had hauled ass did Hoshiko’s stern expression break, turning back into a friendly smile. "Eat up, Cadet. Starving yourself won’t do you any good. I’ve probably got him off your back for the rest of the day, but he’ll be back.

Honeymane did hir best to look grateful and dignified as shi balanced the tray with hir handpaw and dug into the warm food with gusto. After inhaling the first half of food, shi looked back at the chakat questioningly. "Not that I’m not grateful and all Shir, but you must have had a reason for coming to find me?"

This time it was the older chakat’s turn to blush, the redness of hir cheeks and ears coming through the cream of hir face clearly. "Ah, well… yes. I… my rut cycle is coming up in a couple of days you see...."

Now Honeymane blushed. To anyone who was familiar with chakats, this sort of reaction would likely be seen as fairly unusual, and in many ways it was. Chakats, in general, didn’t have any hang-ups over sex, which was often regarded more as a social interaction than an intimate one. And while it was perhaps more common for chakats to get into such relationships with members of their own generation, it wasn’t unheard of that two chakats of very different ages might hook up, or indeed, fall in love with one another. Of course, the chakats did have something of an advantage in the department – although they lived on average for a century and a half, they rarely started to show their age until well over a century. It wasn’t that they didn’t age, but most humans and morphs would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a 50 year old chakat and a 110 year old chakat. Even chakats had difficulty pinning an age on a fellow chakat.

In this particular case, however, both Honeymane and Hoshiko were well aware not only of their age gap, but also their experience gap – having worked in the corps for years, Hoshiko was quite used to discussing the matter – with other chakats who had also had similar experiences. During their years at the academy, cadets typically looked after one another in that manner, and even if they got onto a ship where the "other chakat" was significantly higher ranked than them, they weren’t completely at a loss. In short, Hoshiko wasn’t use to dealing with chakats who were complete newbies at life on a ship. Honeymane was also acutely aware of the experience gap, but in addition to that fact, shi was also not all that familiar with chakats being so blunt about such things. Despite what the popular conception of the species had done to their image, chakats didn’t jump into bed with the first warm body they met, and rarely were they so forward with someone who was in essence a complete stranger.

Honeymane coughed politely and opened hir mouth to speak – intellectually shi had known Hoshiko might require hir… services quite soon, but obviously shi hadn’t been emotionally. Still, shi did hir best to steel hirself and accept the unspoken offer. Before shi got very far however, Hoshiko spoke first.

"The reason I’m telling you this isn’t to volunteer you to be a fuck buddy, Honeymane," shi said quickly. "I’m sure your aunt explained to you that it wasn’t required?" Shi waited for Honeymane to nod. "That’s still true. The reason I bring this up is for two reasons. Firstly, I know your cycles are churning towards their peaks as well, and I thought I’d break the ice, so to speak, so you might find me more approachable if or when you need someone." Shi paused and licked hir lips in thought. "Secondly, your Aunt sent me a letter telling me that you’re likely to be fairly nervous about all this, so I’d like to break the ice further and invite you to a private dinner the day after tomorrow. At the very least we’ll get to know one another better, and I’m sure we’ll both feel better after."

Honeymane nodded, before slowly starting hir meal again – something that suggested to the XO that it was time to get back to hir own work. "I’ll send you a note with the time later. Finish your meal and take the rest of the day off," Hoshiko said, as shi turned back down the corridor. "And if Al-Sadat is giving you a hard time, let me know."

Marco Ipato drummed his fingers on the command chair’s armrest as he stared at the bridge’s view screen. The screen itself, as well as every other surface on the bridge, gleamed with just a hint of sparkle; the sort of surfaces that were so clean you could eat off of them. After a moment his semi-hypnotic stare broke as he looked around the bridge for the crewman he was interested in. Despite the sheer cleanliness of the ship, it was obvious that it was no tight ship – half the consoles were unmanned and most of the rest’s crewmembers were obviously not paying attention, distracted by a number of tasks ranging from napping to watching pornography on their console’s monitors. However, Ipato’s golden eyes finally settled on the one crew member who was actually paying attention. He considered the tiger-striped chakat for a moment before twitching his whiskers and turning back to the viewscreen. Centered in that screen was their target.

"How long?" he asked with an edge of anticipation in his voice.

"We’re almost in range, Marco," the chakat replied, tapping away on hir console. "In fact we’ve just crossed it."

"Good. Mark, bring us to about 200 meters," Ipato replied, his bushy tail twitching behind him.

"Aye Aye, Captain!" said a bear morph, laying down his book and snapping an exaggerated salute, before replying in an equally exaggerated Scottish accent. "I’ll give her all we’ve got, but I cannot lie captain, she’s given us all she’s got!"

"Oh cut it out Mark, or I’ll delete all those Star Trek episodes," Ipato said with a laugh.

"You wouldn’t dare!" the bear replied, this time in a semi-professional, wholly normal-if-unplaceable accent from the LNAW. "Anyway we’re at 200 meters at the moment."

"Good. Shred, you ready?"

"Yup!" the tiger striped chakat replied, turning to look at Ipato with a winning grin. "Lock’n’loaded."

"Good. Fire!" Ipato commanded.

The viewscreen’s image shifted, pulling back a bit until it showed the target at normal magnification. From the top of the screen a streak appeared. It wasn’t all that bright, and after a second its drive burnt out and stopped firing. Once it did, it was lost in the darkness of space. Ipato pressed a pre-macroed command on his command chair’s armrest, and the view screen shifted to that of the projectile they had just launched. It was fast, but it wasn’t that fast, so the target grew slowly in the missile’s lens. As the image grew however, the clearer it became, more defined, large, roughly spherical covered in spines and veins and other things that were obviously communication related. The target was a FTL communications relay, one of thousands in and around the Federation. This one in particular was in a direct transmission line between Cait and Chakona.

The missile continued to travel towards it, slowly but surely. As the satellite filled the screen, a detail directly in front of the missile began to resolve – some sort of port. The missile began releasing compressed air in front of it, slowing down even more, so slow that when it finally reached the data port, it kissed it as gently as a mother does a newborn child. Then the transmission ended.

Of course, it wasn’t really a transmission, but rather a virtual one generated by the computer and its passive sensors. The whole point of the missile was to bypass the security features of the relay, which included extremely sensitive monitoring of any local transmissions. If it detected any, it would broadcast a mayday to all ships within range and go into a complete lockdown, making it nearly impossible to get into before the cavalry showed up. The data port, however, was exposed, more due to poor engineering than anything else. The company that had made that section of the satellite had skimped on buying the proper materials, and in doing so the hatch had a tendency to warp and break off after several years of being exposed to interstellar radiation. It was a flaw, and one Ipato was going to take advantage of.

The black screen resolved to display a loading bar, which began filling up. The missile had no normal warhead, but rather a superior AI and an interfacing system to connect to the data port. Once it did, the AI would begin cycling a number of hacking tools and techniques against the satellite’s own computer, breaking in with ease. Once in, it shut down its ability to lockdown or call for help, followed by overwriting the threat assessment protocols of the security system. Having done so, it erased having done so, as well as its data link to the computer, while restoring the disabled systems. The result was a device that allowed them to open a com-channel to the satellite without its knowledge, which was useful for the next part…

"Okay, let’s hail it," Ipato said, five seconds after the bar showed that the missile’s mission should be complete.

Shreds nodded and pressed a button, after another second or two, shi nodded again. "We’re in."

"Excellent. Load Mr. Money," the Vulpine captain ordered.

"Already underway; upload should be completed in five minutes," the tiger patterned chakat said.

"Good. Yes, very good." Ipato nodded. "Start moving us away. As soon as we’re done and we’re at a safe distance, take us to warp."

Mark nodded and tapped a button or two on his console before going back to his book.

Seeing his work was done, Ipato stood up and stretched. "Call me if the situation changes."

"Roger that Captain." Shreds grinned at him "But I’d say this is another piracy job done and done."

"We’ll see," Ipato replied with an equally big grin.

Honeymane dragged hirself through hir room’s doorway and allowed it shut behind hir. Normally running up and down the corridors of the ship wasn’t very tiring, partly, shi suspected, because of hir father’s genes giving hir better endurance than most. Despite hir talent for long distance running, shi had never bothered to make it part of hir life through proper training or such. In other words, shi was out of shape, but hir "out of shape" body physique was still better than most people who were merely in shape. So, doing laps wasn’t much of a chore.

At least it hadn’t been until today. Al-Sadat seemed to have clued into the fact that the ‘punishment’ laps he was giving out like candy weren’t really affecting hir like they should, and somehow managed to get permission from the captain to increase the ship’s corridor’s gravity by .25. It didn’t seem like much, but each step required a step and a quarter’s worth of energy; what’s more the esteemed ensign had managed to put together a 50 kilogram taur-style backpack containing (shi had been told) a number of items required for long term survival on a less-than-habitable planet, should they ever need to abandon ship for one. That increased hir overall weight fairly significantly, and the result was a body that was sore and tired, and a mind that was equally tired (from inventing creative oaths and curses and inflicting them silently on hir tormentor). So it goes without saying that Honeymane glanced around the room, locked hir door, stripped, and stumbled into hir bed, asleep before shi hit the bed sheets.

That’s why when shi found hirself on hir feet standing in the middle of room, shi was more than a bit confused. Everything seemed to be an eerie red, and there was a certain energy in the air. Hir confusion didn’t last long when shi suddenly realized there was a fairly loud alarm going off. Shaking hir head shi sat down; it was obviously a red alert, but Al-Sadat hadn’t gotten around to explaining to hir what shi was supposed to do during one. Shi didn’t have a station, not yet at least.

Suddenly, although not surprisingly, the ship shook, as if hit by a large object; it didn’t throw hir off hir feet but it did make hir unsettled. And then another hit, this time much harder. This continued for several minutes, Then…

"All hands abandon ship! All hands abandon ship!" Honeymane swore; obviously that last hit hadn’t been as gentle as it had seemed to hir. Shi leapt to hir feet from hir haunches and slapped the door’s opening panel, causing it to open with a hiss. The outer hallway, which ran between the two corridors was filled with smoke, but it otherwise looked clear – which meant most of the people were either not running through them to get to the escape pods or had already done so. Neither was an appealing option, so shi dashed out into the hall, and turned towards on of the corridors and ran along it looking for an active pod-hatch. The majority of them weren’t – hopefully, shi thought in a panic, they weren’t all gone.

There! Much further down the corridor, one panel was lit green; there was still a pod left! Shi mustered all hir energy and made a wild dash for it. Quickly shi slapped the panel, causing it to open the door – shi slipped in before it was fully open and strapped hirself in before it was fully closed – a quick glance around the interior told hir it was full, so shi hit the button next to hir on the wall, and braced for the pod to eject from the ship and, hopefully, to safety.

Yet nothing happened. Shi swore again and jabbed the button a few more times, then held it down.

"Enough," said one of the passengers in the pod. Honeymane turned and blinked in surprise – it was Captain Rothschild! Looking around at the other faces, shi realized the pod also contained Al-Sadat, as well as Hoshiko. More troubling the pod wasn’t nearly as full as shi could have sworn it had been when shi came in. "This is, or was, a simulated evacuation, Cadet." The Captain continued, her mouth was still but both shi and Al-Sadat radiated the sort of aura one would expect to read off of someone who was smirking, while Hoshiko was frowning and making no effort to hide it. Honeymane looked around the room and saw the empty seats weren’t so empty after all, but had rods in them that even shi could identify as holographic projectors.

"I see."

"Good," replied the captain. "You’re out of uniform, cadet."

"I…" Honeymane glanced down – sure enough shi wasn’t wearing a stitch. Shi hadn’t thought to put anything on during the battle, and any lingering thoughts of doing so had been driven out of hir mind when the order came in. "I guess I am, Madam." Shi wasn’t particularly uncomfortable being nude – few chakats were, but shi felt uncomfortable now, and tried to cover hirself without making it look like shi was trying to cover hirself.

"Cadet," Al-Sadat piped up, taking over for the captain, "I had hoped I had expressed upon you the importance of wearing that uniform; obviously I was incorrect. However, this is hardly the only thing you did wrong today. Would you care to tell us what else you did wrong?"

Shi thought hard, but shi had never been good at recalled information just thinking at it hard, and shi wasn’t even sure shi had been explained more of the procedures for abandoning ship… "Uh, I’m sorry sir I’m not sure what I did wrong."

"I thought as much," he said, the smirk breaking through despite his efforts. "Firstly, you—"

"Enough." Hoshiko said coldly, cutting the ensign off. Both the captain and he looked at hir, somewhat surprised. "Ensign, go to your quarters," shi said, adding a firm "Now!" when he hesitated. Whatever his faults might be, he wasn’t one not to follow orders, and he leapt up and exited the pod promptly.

After a moment shi turned hir gaze to Honeymane, who despite hirself flinched. "Cadet, you should return to your quarters as well, and get dressed. Then come to the ready room. I’ll see you there as well, Elizabeth," shi ordered. Honeymane wasn’t sure if shi really could give those orders, but shi leapt to hir feet and followed in the ensign’s footsteps as fast as shi could, letting the door close behind hir before any yelling could start.

Honeymane paused warily at the room’s door, allowing it to open fully before stepping through. Shi had no idea what was on the other side and shi wasn’t particularly keen on being chewed out, if that’s what was waiting hir. The ready room was fairly large, and designed to accommodate most of the sensor staff for briefings. Since neither of them had needed to dress, both the Commander and the Captain were seated at the far end of the room, but, unusually, Hoshiko was sitting at the head of the table, while Rothschild was at hir left side. Honeymane wasn’t an expert on Star navies for obvious reasons, but it seemed to hir that the Captain normally would sit at the head of the table. Before shi could think about the unusual nature of the arrangement, Hoshiko caught hir eye and waved hir towards the seat on hir right. It didn’t seem like the sort of time to dally, so shi took it fairly quickly, and found hirself staring at the human captain: she didn’t look particularly happy, and Hoshiko looked rather grim.

"Thank you for coming, Cadet. I’ll try to keep this short," Hoshiko said, sounding as grim as shi looked. "It has come to my attention that certain things on this ship are not as they should be…" Hoshiko’s eyes turned to look at hir lover and captain. "And I’m not happy with that. Three things are going to happen today from this meeting. First, Elizabeth, you are going to place Cadet Honeymane in someone else’s hands and reprimand Ensign Al-Sadat for his behaviour. Secondly, you are going to apologize to me for your behaviour, including promises broken. Finally, you’re going to apologize to Honeymane for putting hir in this position to begin with."

Captain Rothschild’s eyes narrowed in anger, but Honeymane suddenly knew what was going on. Most people who meet Chakats causally, or even those who are mated to them, often mistake a chakat’s gentleness, or kindness, or playfulness for being submissive, which couldn’t be further from the truth. On a whole, chakats were naturally between fairly and extremely dominant individuals. Unlike morph species derived from animals like wolves, however, chakats rarely felt the need to express themselves in such a blunt fashion such as growling at one another or what have you. And, even though they had domineering personalities, they rarely brought them out to be seen – being empathic, chakats typically found themselves in groups that suited their interests, needs, or desires, without needing to browbeat them into submission. Honeymane had only seen a chakat do such a thing a handful of times in hir life, and every time it wasn’t pretty.

"I will do none of those things, Hoshiko," Rothschild said finally, staring at her mate coldly. "As I explained to you on day one, an untrained civilian is a danger to the ship and—"

"Starships, even Star Fleet ones, carry passengers, Elizabeth, many of whom know no more, if not less, about the ships that ferry them around than Honeymane does," Hoshiko rejoined, cutting her off. "A Cadet is, in many ways, no less untrained than any civilian. All the rank does is give you the power to lord over hir; which you’ve been doing, and I don’t find that acceptable."

"I am the captain of this vessel," Rothschild said angrily. "I was well within my power, power given to me by Star Fleet, and I am well within my right to do as I have."

"Bullshit," Hoshiko said simply, somehow turning a single word into something that felt like a carefully crafted argument. "The people on this ship, except for the few losers who Star Fleet assigns to us, are here because they choose to be; they accept your authority because they choose to do so. As you well know."

Rothschild, given the way she bit her lip, didn’t seem to like that at all. But before she could gather hir thoughts, Hoshiko continued.

"And frankly, many are beginning to wonder if they are making the right choice." Hoshiko paused and looked at hir mate intently. "I myself included."

The Captain blinked. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that I denmated you because I cared for the kind, gentle woman I met years ago, and I don’t like what you seem to have become." This time Hoshiko bit hir lip, before continuing. "Perhaps she no longer exists."

"I –" Rothschild began.

"Stop!" Honeymane exclaimed, cutting the captain off. Both officers turned to look at hir, in surprise, although it was obvious that Rothschild was on the verge of tears. "This is wrong."

"Pardon me, cadet?" Hoshiko asked coolly.

"This… argument," Honeymane said nervously, wondering if shi had jumped out of the frying pan and into the same fire the captain was obviously in. Still… shi took a deep breath and looked the older chakat in the eye. "It’s obvious that both of you care deeply for one another… Hoshiko, pretending to end this relationship to get your own way is no better than what you accuse her of doing, and in some ways it’s even worse, because if the lie is allowed to stand, you both might end up doing something you’ll regret for the rest of your lives." Shi paused and half-smiled, "As I am perhaps a living example of such a thing."

Rothschild’s face turned from fear and sadness to something closely resembling fury incarnate. "Is… Is this true?"

"I –" Hoshiko said, trying to get hir bearings as the rug had just been tugged out from under hir. "No, it’s not true. Not completely."

Rothschild’s expression didn’t lessen as shi waited for an explanation.

"I do love you, Liz, and… and I suppose to a degree I was threatening to end this relationship to get my own way. But!" shi said, forestalling hir mate’s angry outburst. "But these events are causing some very real doubts for me about this relationship. I can’t accept that you’d be this petty."

The human growled. "Petty, am I?"

"Yes," Hoshiko said simply. "You have been. There’s no reason to treat hir like this, yet you’ve gone out of your way, like tonight, to make sure shi was treated poorly. Nor can I see why this should be the case."

"Maybe I’m tired of getting the drop outs and shit from people, Hoshiko." She replied angrily, "We waited weeks before we got our required second chakat, and shi –" Rothschild pointed to Honeymane, "–is a civilian with no prior experience!"

"You’re taking your dissatisfaction out on an innocent bystander!" Hoshiko hit back. "It’s not hir fault shi’s in this situation, and you chose to accept hir."

"So what!?" The captain half yelled.

"Didn’t you take an oath when you were accepted into Star Fleet saying you’d stand up for the innocent and the weak?" Hoshiko roared, surging to hir feet and slamming hir hands palm down onto the table. "Wasn’t it your dream to put yourself between them and danger and protect them?! Because you’re not doing that here."

Rothschild slumped down into her chair. After a moment she mumbled something indistinctly.

"What was that?" Hoshiko said sharply, but calmly.

"I said, "Yes, you’re right."" Rothschild sighed heavily. "I’m sorry Hoshiko, I hope you can forgive me. And you Honeymane… I’m sorry about that as well."

Hoshiko sighed and visibly relaxed; obviously shi had been expecting more fight to be left in hir mate. "Thank you, Elizabeth."

Honeymane stared at the couple for a moment before mumbling hir own thanks, albeit fairly softly. Rothschild seemed to hear it anyway. "I’m afraid I can’t release you from being a cadet, Honeymane. That’d require a higher power than mine. But I’ll see to it that your stay is… less stressful."

"Oh," Honeymane said dumbly. "Well…Thanks."

"Yes." Hoshiko smiled at the younger chakat. "Now that this is resolved, I think we all better retire. We can’t just call in sick and sleep in after all." Shi stood and Rothschild followed. After half a second Honeymane got to hir feet as well, only to find hirself being hugged by the captain. She didn’t say anything but Honeymane got much more heartfelt thanks empathically than any that could be conveyed verbally. After a moment, and a polite cough from Hoshiko, the meeting broke up and they went their separate ways. As shi settled down into hir bed, Honeymane couldn’t help but wonder what the next day had in store for hir.

"I don’t know about this, Star." Browneyes frowned, looking into the crowded room.

"Don’t be like that," Fallingstar said, taking hir mate’s hand into hirs and squeezing softly. "Listen, you and I both know that social interaction is important for empaths of all sorts, and you’ve been moping since before we even came on board."

"Yes, but–"

"No buts about it!" Fallingstar said with a laugh, before stepping back and giving hir mate a push on hir lower back, causing hir to stumble forward into the dining room. Before shi could react and back out again, the Starwalker had hir by hir hand again and pulled hir towards an empty table that Browneyes noted was about as far away from the door as one could get. The room, like the ship, wasn’t all that big compared to some starliners, but, as Browneyes had quickly learned after coming aboard, most of the passengers were taurs. It seemed that more than just hirself were interested in visiting the planet, and many of them were either foster parents or (non-stellar) siblings related to the Stellars: needless to say, the ship was crowded. And normally it wouldn’t bother hir, but talking to the others made hir feel uncomfortable, since the topic of discussion was obviously going to be the Stellar Foxtaurs, and explaining why shi was there wasn’t something shi felt like sharing.

Despite hir qualms about the situation, after a short while shi found hirself enjoying the night "out". The food was good, but so was the atmosphere. Whomever had designed the interior of the room had covered the walls in adaptive paint. When they had entered, the wall was a neutral tone, but about half an hour after they had entered the room, the paint suddenly shifted to a star field, as the lights dimmed and hidden holographic projectors flared to life, filling the space above their heads with globes of light obviously intended to represent stars. Soon after, the PA system chirped and the captain of the ship began to narrate the scene. The ship had apparently dropped out of warp for a routine status check and report along the FTL relay systems that crossed the Federation. The imagery they were viewing, Brown gathered was a representation of the local stars.

After a minute of listening, shi turned back to hir mate. Hir black fur blended hir into the dim room almost to the point where shi couldn’t see anything beside hir yellow eyes. "This must be pretty homey for you, eh Star?"

Before shi could answer, a hand placed itself gently on hir shoulder. "I’ve known a few Starwalkers who’d agree with that assessment." The voice paused momentarily. "Would you mind if we share the table? I’m afraid the rest are almost all taken and the three of us would rather sit together.

Browneyes glanced up at the figure. Not surprisingly the newcomer was a taur – a deep chocolate brown female foxtaur if Browneyes was guessing correctly. Before Browneyes could politely refuse, Star cut in. "Not at all! Please, join us." After the vixentaur and hir two companions, a chakat and another foxtaur, a dusty yellow who seemed to have disproportionally sized ears, especially given her shortness, settled, Star introduced the two of them.

"Pleased to meet you, mates," quipped the second vixentaur in a passable Australian accent. "Wot brings you out from down under?"

"Not all chakats come from Australia you know," Browneyes replied sharply, more sharply than shi intended.

"Whoa, calm down hon!" she replied, this time in a more natural sounding accent, although not one Browneyes could place. "I’m just joking around is all."

"It is something of an annoying habit of hers," the chakat of the triad said with a smirk. "Perhaps one day she’ll learn to tell jokes that are not so dreadful." The chakat stuck out hir tongue as the vixentaur made a rude gesture. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves; I’m Pawlake and this joker is Afrah."

"And I’m Moliva," the dark brown foxtaur said, inserting herself between the other two before they could dissolve into one-upmanship. Shi paused before turning towards Fallingstar. "I imagine my daughter would be about your age."

"I would assume so," Fallingstar replied, hir jaw opening in a half-smile. "We are all about the same age. I assume you fostered a Starwalker?"

"What gave me away?" she said with a grin.

"Well, your colouration obviously, but I’m afraid the biggest hint was that I knew you back when I was growing up – of course I was known as Rogue back then." Fallingstar’s grin burst through as recognition flashed on the foxtaur’s face.

"Rogue?" she said, nearly knocking the table over as she surged to her feet and came around it to hug the Starwalker. "I didn’t expect to see you here! How’ve you been? I have a hundred questions!"

Browneyes coughed politely, to which Fallingstar laughed. "Brown, this is Moliva. She was one of the foxtaurs who was involved in the project. She is something of a helpful older sister to the other mothers in the village I grew up in. Not, I might add, that it stopped her from having her own little cub," shi said, mock jabbing hir finger at the older vixentaur. "How is shi?"

"Well, shi’s certainly done me proud, if nothing else. Eclipse is leading one of the work teams! Can you imagine that?" Moliva said with the sort of look only a mother could produce when talking of her child.

"Easily!" Fallingstar said as shi settled back into hir seat. "Shi gets it from you; you’re not exactly weak-willed either."

"Oh stop!" Moliva said blushing.

"Hey! You’re not the only one with a high achiever!" Afrah said with a mock wagging of hir finger. "My Sanddune’s mayor of the whole planet!"

"Shi’s not the mayor, shi’s the Director of Operations," Pawlake said exasperatedly.

"Oh it’s the same thing!" the small foxtaur said making a throwing away gesture.

"Sanddune?" Browneyes asked rhetorically. "I’m assuming a desert breed? Are you one too?"

"Me? A Stellar? I’m flattered that you think I look so young!" Afrah said with a irrepressible grin. "And that you think I look so much like my daughter. But no, I’m a fennec foxtaur."

"A fennec foxtaur?"

"Sure! You know, based on a fennec? Small desert dwelling fox? Big ears? (she tugged on her own) cute as a button?"

Browneyes shook hir head. "I’ve never heard of such!"

"I’m not surprised," Pawlake said. "The Gene Wars almost wiped out the original species and the morphic uplifted ones. Only the Fennec foxtaurs remain."

"Although, not for long." Afrah sighed, her face and attitude changing rapidly, before shi slipped back into hir normal bubbly personality.

Browneyes knew shi ought to leave it alone, but now that hir curiosity was perked shi couldn’t resist asking. "How do you mean?"

"I can explain," said Pawlake, cutting in, before replying defensively to the small foxtaur; "It is my research speciality!"

"Fine." Afrah shook hir head. "Never mate a genetic historian – they’ll never let you have a word in edgewise."

"Oh don’t be like that!" Pawlake said, squeezing hir mate’s shoulder, before continuing. "The fennec anthropomorphs were fraught with problems, including being extremely fragile when it came to injury and almost no immune systems to speak of. When taurs came about, they decided to give the genotype another try and the came up with the fennec foxtaur. They fixed most of the problems that plagued the morphs, but—"

"But we can’t have children," Afrah cut in. "You know that foxtaurs have an uneven birth ratio, well most of that’s from male embryos miscarrying. With us fennecs, the odds are even worse. We have something like a one to fifteen ration in favour of females."

"That doesn’t seem too bad. I know foxtaurs have means of getting around that; why not just put the males on stud duty?"

Afrah shook hir head. "We do, but…"

"But fennec foxtaurs suffer from a combination of inbreeding and poor starting genetics." Pawlake filled in. "Most communities of foxtaurs bring in outsiders to diversify the community’s gene pool, but the adaptations that allow them to live in a very hot climate don’t breed very well. Either the child isn’t born at all, or the child is too ill-adapted to live in the desert." Pawlake shook hir head. "That said, I suspect Afrah is overestimating the problem –."

"Oh can it!" Afrah said sharply. "I know the UNWG thinks they can "fix" our problem, but we’ve already found a solution!"

"You have?" Browneyes tried and failed to keep the note of surprise out of hir voice – foxtaurs weren’t known for their love of technology.

"Of course," Afrah said, gesturing towards Fallingstar. "Stellars!"

Fallingstar nodded, before realizing hir mate wasn’t getting it. "Foster parents for stellars were drawn from a large population, both chakats and foxtaurs, but the uptake in the fennec foxtaur population has always been about 70 to 80 percent, and I’ve often wondered why."

"We decided as a community that eventually, and pretty soon at that, we’re going to be extinct. But the Desert breed doesn’t just carry our faces into the future, but also our traditions," Afrah said with a sly grin. "Our people will survive, after a fashion."

Before Pawlake could continue hir argument with hir mate, Moliva cut hir off. "But enough about us, what brings you here Browneyes? I’m not as good with estimating the age of a chakat, but you can’t be much older than Fallingstar here, so it seems unlikely that you’re a mother of a stellar yourself, and most chakats who did foster stellars either had much older or much younger children than you ought to be…"

Browneyes hesitated.

"I want hir to meet my family," Fallingstar said, taking Brown’s hand up into hir own. "Shi’s already met my parents; I’d like for hir to meet my siblings too. And of course I’d like to see them myself – it’s been too long."

Moliva grinned with a look of sudden realization. "Of course, of course. It really has been too long."

"Yes, it has," Browneyes agreed, before burying hirself in the remains of hir dinner. It wasn’t long before they were onto another topic, and Browneyes allowed hirself to be swept away in the good company the evening had provided. It was several hours later when the two of them finally disengaged from the group and headed back to their cabin.

"You look like you enjoyed that," Fallingstar observed as Browneyes walked with an energy shi hadn’t had in days.

"I did!" Browneyes grinned and wrapped hir arm around hir mate, nuzzling hir. "I didn’t realize how much I needed that… thanks for pushing me."

"Anytime love, anytime," the stellar murmured, returning the one-armed hug.

"And thanks for covering for me."

"I wasn’t lying you know," Fallingstar said as they reached the door of their cabin. "I do want you to meet them. I mean, I know they’re not really my sisters, but we grew up together and they certainly feel like it."

"I know you weren’t, and I look forward to meeting them…" Browneyes frowned and let go of hir mate, stretching and scratching hir head. "I hope things don’t go badly and I end up being less than pleasant company."

"You? Less than pleasant? Perish the thought!" Fallingstar said with a slight edge of sarcasm.

Browneyes turned hir head and glared sternly at hir, before sighing. "I suppose I deserve that."

"Most likely, yes," Fallingstar said, hugging hir mate from behind and resting hir head on the chakat’s shoulder. "But I still love you. Now! Let’s turn that frown upside down and get to bed!"

"Yes madam!"

Much to Honeymane’s dismay, making life on the ship less stressful didn’t appear to involve a lesser workload, and shi found hirself being tutored by a variety of crew members, all of whom seemed to believe shi needed additional training and explanation (usually in the form of ‘assignments’ that shi had to do on hir off time) as well as performing tasks for the various departments that in many respects were only a step above swabbing the decks. If one good thing was coming of all this, it was that, nearly two weeks had passed since hir arrival on the ship and shi hadn’t found the time to worry over how to approach hir father when shi arrived at Arisia. However, all that work took up much of hir time and energy, and time really seemed to fly past. Perhaps then, it shouldn’t have been as big of a surprise for hir when shi woke up and realized shi had entered hir oestrous.

"Goddamnit," shi swore, thumping the bed. After lying there and staring at the ceiling, shi shook hirself mentally and rolled off the bed to find the kit shi had packed for just such an event, and while the replicator created a cup of the special tea, shi attacked the problem head on. Because of hir abnormal lack of a sex life since coming on board, shi found hirself laying back on the bed sheets panting as the replicator finally finished up brewing the cup.

However, to hir frustration, it hadn’t actually satisfied hir need. It had lessened it temporarily, but not eliminated it, even for a short while. Grumbling shi rolled to hir feet again, mixed the bitter tea with sugar and milk and gulped it down, before checking the clock and realizing shi was running late. A quick shower and a bagel-to-go was all shi had time for.

In spite of hir concerns, shi arrived at hir current place of work slash training, the sensor array’s mainframe, with a few minutes to spare.

"Ah! Punctual as usual, Honeymane!" said a vixen dressed in rather filthy coveralls. "If a tenth of my normal work crew were on time as often as you were, this old girl would be the showpiece of the whole Federation."

"I do try, Lieutenant," Honeymane said blushing, swallowing the last bite of hir bagel. "You want me to continue from yesterday?"

"Yup, the night shift cleaned another five, so you might finish it up today," the vixen nodded. "And call me Vienna! That’s an order!"

"Yes sir!" Honeymane said laughing and throwing a mock salute, before turning hir attention to the large stack of computer blades. The sensor array used a fairly large computer, broken into hundreds of smaller computers, by networking them together, the system was able to handle huge amounts of data and process it quickly, in an economic space. However, no more than 80% of the blades were active for any given voyage. The rest were removed and set aside for cleaning – dull and time-consuming work, but Honeymane found shi enjoyed watching the nano-material cleaner extract hidden dust particles.

Generally, shi’d wipe a section down of most of the visible dust, while using a small series of tools to pick at the more difficult to reach sections, before spraying a layer of the cleaner on top. It would fizz and pop, and after a few minutes, gray blobs of dust would appear on the surface, after which shi would use the scoop to suck up the blob and dispose of it. Despite the difficulty shi was having in concentrating, shi found hirself making fairly good time, cleaning a whole two blades before lunch.

"Yo Mane, pack the stuff up and get ready for lunch!" Vienna said, waving her hand at hir as the others started to pack up. "And I’d like to see you before we head out."

Honeymane nodded and put away hir tools quickly, as well as finishing setting out the next blade to be cleaned, before shi finally trotted over to the vixen. Not surprisingly, most of the other workers had left already, and the vixen was standing by the door with a bemused look on hir face. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes, firstly; good work today, you’re getting a lot done," Vienna said with a smile. "And secondly – girl you need to get laid!"

"I…well… what?" Honeymane shook hir head, wondering if shi had heard the lieutenant right.

"You know, sex? You can’t tell me you’re a virgin!" Vienna laughed.

"Yes, I know." Honeymane frowned. "It’s just not something one’s boss typically says to their underling."

"True, but Sweetie, even I can smell you’re in heat," the vixen said, lowering hir voice slightly. Honeymane blushed. Unlike many morphs and taurs, chakats had very subtle (at least to a non-chakat nose) scents during their peaks. It was only when they were especially needy that most other morphs and taurs would be able to notice their predicament.

"Uh. Yeah…"

"So get laid!" Vienna said with a grin. "Listen, you can take the afternoon off and go find Hoshiko. I know—"

"No, it’s fine thank you," Honeymane said firmly. "I’ll go get something to mask the scent if it’s bothering you."

"Are you sure hon? It’s no trouble," Vienna said looking uncertain.

"Yeah, don’t worry about it." Honeymane shrugged. "I’ll see you in the cafeteria."

Lunch was, as it always seemed to be, too short of an affair, and before shi knew it Honeymane was back working at the computer blades. Given the mind-numbingness of the work, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the work shift seemed to stretch on forever, but just as shi started to finish up on the second-to-last blade, Vienna called them to switch out with the newcomers. However, given how close shi was to finishing the blade ’Mane decided to continue for a bit longer and finish the work. It only took hir a few minutes, but by the time shi looked up, the rest of the shift had left – except for Vienna, who waved at hir from by the door. Nodding to hir replacement, shi handed him the spray and peeled off hir gloves as shi trotted over to the vixen.

"What’s up, Vienna?" Shi asked.

"I need you to deliver these reports to the Captain." Out of thin air, the vixen seemed to produce an armful of PADDs.

Honeymane groaned. "Why can’t you send them electronically?"

"Well of course I can," Vienna said with a laugh, "but you are a cadet; I am supposed to give you busy work every now and again."

"Oh sure, pick on the new kid," Honeymane said, taking the stack and rolling hir eyes.

"Don’t be like that," Vienna said with a grin. "I’ll buy you breakfast tomorrow; how’s that?"

"The food’s free!" Honeymane exclaimed with a chuckle, as shi exited the room before the supervisor could get in another comment. Once outside shi headed towards one of the two helical corridors – alpha this time – and paused to think of where the captain might be at that hour. After a moment’s thought, shi decided shi was likely in hir quarters. Once that decision was made, it only took hir a moment to get started in the proper direction and only a few more minutes to find the proper door. Carefully shi hit the call button with hir tail – hir arms otherwise preoccupied. Within a minute the door slide open, to reveal Hoshiko.

"Hello ‘Mane," shi said with a smile. "what brings you ’round here tonight."

Silently Honeymane swore – Hoshiko was the last person shi wanted to see while shi was in heat. "Uh… Vienna gave me these reports to give to the captain. Is she here?"

"She’s in the shower at the moment, if you’d like to step in and wait." Hoshiko stepped to the side and made a sweeping motion directing Honeymane into the cabin. Despite hir qualms, shi stepped quickly into the cabin and looked around for a surface to lay the PADDs on. Not surprisingly, the cabin was the largest Honeymane had seen yet – rank had privileges it seemed – but it was also one of the most unusually decorated places shi had seen also. Much of it seemed to be inspired by Japanese culture, including some pieces of art work that smelled very old, like they were originals. Shrugging to hirself mentally, shi dropped the pile onto one of the low tables – only to swear, perhaps too loudly, when the top one slipped off and fell to the floor. Shi hated being clumsy. Thankfully it only took a moment to right the matter. Straightening up, shi turned to and found hirself face to face with the other chakat.

"Thanks for bringing them, Honeymane," Hoshiko said, hir mouth quirking in a half-smile. "Will you join us for dinner"

"Dinner?" ‘Mane replied, bewildered. "Who said anything about dinner?"

"Vienna did," Hoshiko said, frowning. "She said you’d be coming to dinner and bringing some reports by – oh." Hoshiko half smiled. "Vienna is rather notorious for playing matchmaker. I assume you didn’t actually ask her to call ahead?"

"No. Of course not," Honeymane said, wondering if punching hir supervisor would get hir in trouble, and whether the weight of punishment would outweigh the satisfaction shi’d get from doing so. "If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not."

"Is it because you’re in heat, hon?" Hoshiko asked softly, tilting hir head quizzically.

"Um…" Honeymane replied, wishing shi had put something to mask it on that morning.

Hoshiko seemed to take hir hesitation for a yes. "Listen, Honeymane, I’d never ask you to do something if you didn’t feel comfortable doing it, so if you’re uncomfortable with this… we’ll have dinner some other time."

"Oh," Honeymane said, with a small smile. "Okay, well thank you for the offer, I’ll be going."

"That said… it’s not about the sex, Honeymane, it’s about being around other chakats." Hoshiko said, placing hir hand on hir shoulder before shi could leave. "I know it hasn’t been an easy time for you, but we really should spend some time together. I’m not going to make you stay."

Honeymane sighed heavily. Hoshiko was, after all, right. Shi was already starting to feel what shi could only assume where the beginning symptoms of whatever they called not having enough empathic contact. "Alright. Dinner, and that’s it!"

"It’s a start. I promise I won’t try to seduce you or something," Hoshiko said with a laugh. "Besides, I did say I’d invite you to dinner, didn’t I? Obviously less pleasant matters got in the way… anyway, I’m going to tell Beth we have a guest. Make yourself comfortable."

Dinner was a simple affair, and much to Honeymane’s surprise and pleasure, the Captain of the ship was sticking to her word and was much more pleasant to spend time with than she had been previously. As it turned out, she didn’t just rule her ship with a firm hand, she also cooked, and Honeymane had no problem complimenting her on her culinary skills. As the evening wore on, however, the captain seemed to be visibly distracted by the time, and eventually she stood and told them she’d have to leave them for the evening – she had a late watch on the bridge. She didn’t rush out the door, of course, but in short order Honeymane and Hoshiko found themselves alone in an awkward silence.

"So, um," Hoshiko said after several long minutes. "What are you planning on doing with yourself, Honeymane?"

"Doing with myself?" Honeymane replied bewildered.

"Well, you know, like for a job or something," Hoshiko said smiling apologetically. "Sorry, I know it’s not the most interesting of questions."

"Nah," Honeymane said, dismissing the apology with a wave of hir hand. Shi was just relieved it wasn’t what shi had thought it was! "I don’t know, to be honest. Maybe I’ll join Star Fleet."

"Ah," Hoshiko said with a nod. "It’s not… as easy as it might seem, you know. Most people who join the services never get anywhere. Hell, not even me or Beth are really the best examples.

"What?" Honeymane quirked an eyebrow. "Your uniform and this ship seems to suggest otherwise."

Hoshiko laughed. "Aren’t you curious as to why the ship shares my name?"

"I haven’t really had the free time to think about it," Honeymane said, wondering why they where having such an abrupt change in subject.

"It’s a bit of a long story," Hoshiko replied demurely, "See, me and Beth both joined the services back in ’00. Or we tried to."

"Tried to?"

"Neither of us was particularly good with the command hierarchy, shall we say," Hoshiko said, spreading hir hands. "So to say we didn’t last long at the academy would be something of an understatement. We both washed out – or I should say we were kicked out on our asses."


"Oh indeed!" Hoshiko said with a laugh. "The thing was, both of us had spent most of our lives at that point studying to go into space and do spacey things. So we landed on our asses, bounced, and fell into a local space mining firm’s Sapient Resources department. A few papers next and we found ourselves as junior members of a mining vessel."

"Don’t they have an hierarchy too?" Honeymane asked, hir curiosity perked.

"True enough, but it’s much more informal," Hoshiko explained. "Eventually we worked our way up the ladder and we saved enough to buy the vessel we were on out from the company we worked for. Elizabeth… well in one of her more romantic moments, named the ship after yours truly."

"That sounds very romantic, but I can’t feel as though we’ve skipped a step." Honeymane gestured to hir and the other chakat’s uniforms. "You’re obviously Star Fleet members now."

"I was getting to that!" Hoshiko exclaimed in mock indignation, obviously enjoying recounting hir story for the younger chakat. "Beth and I both wanted to be Star Fleet officers obviously, but when we were kicked out, I came to accept it was what it was and I couldn’t change it. Beth though, she never gave up her dreams—there’s a lesson in that my young friend, don’t give them up, no matter how impossible they seem—so about fifteen years ago we were out in a system doing sensor sweeps in preparation for a mining operation when we got contacted by a Star Fleet ship. The captain of her was trying to locate an asteroid that was on a collision course with a nearby planet. They knew it was in the area, because they had tried to blow it up before, but from what I gather, their tactical officer screwed up and all they managed to do was blow gravel off of it – and send it right into the ship’s own sensors, knocking them out. Essentially they were blind."

"And they asked for your help?" Honeymane said, stating the obvious.

"Of course. He was so eager to catch them, he invoked a state of emergency and had our vessel commandeered to help him search for asteroid – we just happened to have the sensors to fit the bill." Honeymane nodded. It might seem strange to find such powerful sensors suites on a civilian ship, but asteroid mining, or any other sort of deep space mining was conduced on objects difficult to find with normal sensors. "So we did. Of course most people, when the crisis is over, tell the bugger who commandeered their ship to fuck off and go on their merry way."

"But not the Captain," Honeymane said with a quirk of a smile. "And that’s how you wound up here?"

"That’s how we wound up here, yes." Hoshiko said nodding. "The legal mumbo-jumbo that allowed us to be commandeered never actually states that the vessel is kicked out after the crisis is over, just that they’re capable of resigning. So, Star Fleet is stuck with us."

"That’s good," Honeymane commented shortly, as shi frowned. Mentally shi sighed, "Listen, would you happen to have some Heartroot tea?"

"Of course," Hoshiko got up and keyed the selection into the replicator, causing Honeymane to blink in surprise "It’s in the menu? I brought my own from home!"

"Ah, well it’s restricted. I guess I forgot to unlock it for you," Hoshiko said, looking back over hir shoulder and smiling apologetically. The console beeped and shi took the cup from the output slot and handed the hot vessel to the younger chakat. "That bad is it?"

"Yeah," Honeymane nodded, accepting the cup and drinking deeply. "Thanks."

"Don’t mention it," Hoshiko said, settling down into hir seat across the table from Honeymane. "Can I ask you a question, Honeymane?" Hoshiko waited for hir to nod before continuing. "I know this is personal, but… why are you so afraid of sex?"

"I am not afraid of sex," Honeymane snapped. "Just because I don’t jump into bed with the first chakat who looks at me doesn’t mean I’m afraid of it."

"Yes, you’re right." Hoshiko paused. "But you do seem rather shy about it."

"So do you!" Honeymane shot back. "You didn’t seem too keen on it back a couple of weeks ago."

"It’s been a long time since I’ve slept with a chakat of your age, Honeymane," Hoshiko said with a shrug. "It wasn’t the sex that bothered me, I was more worried you’d be… bratty, for want of a better word. Most eighteen years tend to be fairly immature."


"Of course I found that not to be the case," Hoshiko said, shrugging. "Which brings me back to my question. Is it my age?"

"Maybe a bit." Honeymane frowned into hir nearly empty cup. "I am not shy about it either!"

Hoshiko inclined hir head towards hir, suggesting shi continue.

Honeymane shrugged, and Hoshiko waited. "What?"

"If this was a porno, I’d challenge you on that and dare you to prove me otherwise," Hoshiko teased with a wink. "But I know there’s more to it than that."

Honeymane grumbled, then sighed and put down hir cup. "How much do you know about me?"

"Beth knows a lot more than I do, I try not to overhear when she’s on the phone," Hoshiko said.

"Do you know why I’m here?" Honeymane asked.

"Only that it’s ‘personal’ issues."

"Right, well…" Honeymane looked down and ran hir finger around the edge of hir cup thinking of where to begin. "Listen – I never knew my father. My mom got pregnant and never told him shi was." Hoshiko nodded. "And shi kept us apart for years and years. I’m going to go fix that now but…"

"But?" Hoshiko prompted when shi didn’t continue.

"If my mother hadn’t been so flippant about sex, I wouldn’t have been born and put in this situation," Honeymane declared with an edge of finality. "I’m not going to do that."

Hoshiko barked a laugh, before frowning. "Sorry. Why do you assume that I’d be ‘flippant’ towards sex? Or that I’d run off and leave you to raise a kid on your own?"

"Shi didn’t run off, shi didn’t know," Honeymane said angrily.

"I know, I know, bad choice of words." Hoshiko thought for a moment, obviously trying to choose hir words more carefully. "Let me put it this way, just because your mother was… less than responsible, doesn’t mean everyone is, or that all sex is going to end badly."

"I know." Honeymane sighed. "I just…"

"Don’t want to do to a child what your mother did to you," Hoshiko finished for hir, reaching across the table and taking Honeymane’s hand in hirs. "If you’re thinking of it, then I don’t think you ever will ’Mane."

Honeymane squeezed the older chakat’s hand and sat in silence for a while, thinking. "Maybe you’re right."

"Of course I am," Hoshiko said with a grin. "You don’t think I got to my position through sheer luck and happenstance do you?"

Honeymane laughed at Hoshiko’s self-deprecation. "Alright, alright. Let’s go fuck."

"Excuse me?" Hoshiko said startled.

"This is what you want isn’t it?" Honeymane asked with another laugh. "I hope you have a bunch of condoms."

"I only want it if you do," Hoshiko said with a frown.

"At the moment, I don’t think there’s anything I’d want more." Honeymane stood up and took the older chakat’s hand, pulling hir up to hir feet and towards where the bedroom was. "This heat is killing me!"

Pushing open the door, Honeymane gave one final tug on the older chakat’s arm to get hir halfway into the room before letting go and seeking out hir top’s release. In hir eagerness shi fumbled with it before hir fingers found the compressible nodule. Shi squeezed it and hir top parted, and was quickly discarded onto the floor. Turning around shi found Hoshiko still clothed and smirking. "You’re serious about this?"

"Don’t I look serious?" Honeymane asked rhetorically, gesturing to hir naked body. "Don’t tell me you’re not?"

"Of course I am…" Hoshiko said, before padding forward and pulling Honeymane into a kiss. After a moment shi broke it, leaving Honeymane panting.

"Wow!" Honeymane exclaimed.

"Wow?" Hoshiko smiled quizzically "It’s not really anything special."

"It seemed like it!" Honeymane said with a grin. "Okay, get a condom and let’s rock."

Hoshiko laughed, before shi saw Honeymane’s puzzled look. "Listen, hon, I can do that sure, but I’d rather make love to you."

"Isn’t that what we’d be doing?"

"Let me show you," Hoshiko said with a amused sigh. "Put your top back on."

Honeymane quirked hir eyebrow but followed Hoshiko’s instructions, redressing before the smirking chakat. When shi was done shi looked down at Hoshiko expectantly.

"Okay; this is making love." Hoshiko stepped forward and pushed hir chest against Honeymane’s as shi pulled hir down into another kiss. Soon hir hands where running up and down hir back and flanks as hir tongue pushed against the cadet’s. Then shi started to undress hir. Hoshiko’s hands moved up to hir neck, and depressed the release nodule, causing the fabric to unseal, shi broke the kiss and lowered hir muzzle to kiss along Honeymane’s neck as hir hands slid into the break and pushed the top off of hir lover, slowly and making sure to caress hir breasts as they traveled downward. In short order Honeymane’s top was half off hir, and pulling back from hir, Hoshiko made a tugging motion, pulling the uniform off of hir and depositing it on the floor. Hoshiko grinned, pleased with hir work. "Now you do me," shi said, spreading hir arms in a ‘come-and-take-it’ gesture.

Mutely, Honeymane nodded, stepping forward and trying to repeat the motions shi had just experienced hirself – and failing. Still, after a few minutes the commander’s uniform joined hirs on the floor and the two of them stood naked before each other. Honeymane could see where the white of Hoshiko’s face met the black of the rest of hir body – in a jagged pattern over hir breasts. Hoshiko grinned at the younger chakat and used one of hir fingers to redirect hir gaze up into Hoshiko’s eyes. "Follow my lead, alright?"

Not waiting for a confirmation, Hoshiko slid forward gracefully and began kissing along hir lover’s nape, as one of hir hands found and gently fondled hir breast. Honeymane returned the favour as best shi could and before long shi found hirself purring in pleasure as Hoshiko’s mouth went further and began teasing a nipple directly with hir rough, wet, and warm tongue. Carefully Hoshiko pushed against hir lover, causing hir to back up against the bed. Not being able to see where shi was going, Honeymane’s foot met the edge of the bed suddenly, causing hir to fall onto hir rump, startled shi tried to get back up but hir front limbs got tangled in Hoshiko’s paws and shi tripped again – this time going all the way down. Thankfully, however, shi ended up on the bed rather than the hard floor. Before shi could get back up, Hoshiko hopped onto the bed and continued hir actions, this time hir handpaws getting into the action to manipulate Honeymane’s sheath and hir vulva. Within a few moments, Honeymane’s protests about being tripped faded into bliss.

Hoshiko eventually left hir lover’s breast and returned to kiss hir as shi had before – before shi broke it off and stood up panting, hopping off the bed and heading to the bolted-down drawer, and opening the top self.

"Hey!" Honeymane growled in frustration. "What are you doing? Don’t tell me you’re a big tease."

"I won’t tell you then," Hoshiko said, turning around and holding a wrapped up condom between hir fingers, waving it. "I assume you’d rather I didn’t sire a cub with you, so… help me put this on," Hoshiko explained, tossing it to Honeymane.

Honeymane didn’t catch it but it landed on hir chest so shi grabbed it and carefully opened it with hir teeth while Hoshiko waddled closer, hir erection clearly visible between hir legs. Calmly, shi sat on the hir hunches, giving ‘Mane access to roll it down over the throbbing cock. Once it was on, Hoshiko wasted no time in lowering hirself back down, but this time directly on top of Honeymane. Grunting, shi positioned hirself so the wrapped cock was directly over hir now wet parts. Honeymane wrapped hir arms around hir lover and urged hir on, prompting Hoshiko to push into Honeymane’s passage slowly but firmly.

Despite hirself, Honeymane let out a moan of pleasure – it really had been too long, between hir multi-week abstinence and hir deferring of hir heat’s needs, it was almost too much. Hoshiko gave hir a lick-kiss as shi hilted. "You okay?"

"Yes!" Honeymane exclaimed, bucking hir hips "Don’t stop now, for God’s sake."

Hoshiko chuckled, and obliged. Hir motions slow and practiced at first, but soon reaching a fiery tempo as shi got into it. Before Honeymane knew it, shi felt hirself going over the edge, hir muscles clenching almost painfully as shi moaned and thrashed in pleasure as hir climax washed over hir. Hoshiko grinned as shi saw hir lover come, before grunting and continuing hir ministrations. Honeymane panted, surprised Hoshiko was still going at it, but any questions shi might have had died on hir lips as shi felt need growing again under the rhythmic movements. Soon all that could be heard was grunts and moans of pleasure as the two made love, both their climaxes approaching quickly. Soon Hoshiko’s eyes were closed tightly as shi began moving faster and faster. Honeymane grunted and braced hirself even as more waves of pleasure rolled over hir. Then—

With a roar that would have made a lion proud, Hoshiko came. Honeymane could feel hir pleasure roll over hir, giving hir just enough feedback to cause hir own body to go over as well, both their pleasure-filled voices combining to make an almighty racket. Finally Hoshiko collapsed on top of Honeymane and twisted off – hir member still buried deep within hir.

"Holy crap!" Honeymane said, after shi had regained hir breath. "That was amazing!"

Hoshiko chuckled tiredly. "Glad you thought so. That’s how you make love, ’Mane."

"Wow!" Honeymane said, repeating hirself. "Just… wow! Let’s go again!"

"Good lord, Honeymane," Hoshiko said with a mock groan into the pillow hir head was resting on. "I’m not a machine you know!" With a grunt shi pulled out completely. "Just give me a minute will you? You can throw out the condom while you’re at it."

Honeymane rolled hir eyes but did what shi asked. When shi returned from the washroom, however, Hoshiko was asleep. Rolling hir eyes again shi was about to pounce on hir and wake hir up when the door behind hir slid open, Looking over hir shoulder shi saw the captain there with a small grin on her face. "Tuckered hir out I see."

Honeymane blushed and grabbed hir uniform off the floor. "Sir! I, um, I’ll just get going uh."

"Relax, Honeymane," the woman said pleasantly. "Do you think this is the first time I’ve walked in on my mate after one of these visits?"

"Oh," Honeymane commented lamely, as shi blushed even deeper. "Why are you back?"

"Forgot to take a change of uniform," Elizabeth said, walking into the room and opening the drawer and extracting a new one.

"Change of uniform? I thought you were on the bridge?"

"Nah, I’m spending the night with… well that’s none of your business," Beth said with a grin. "Hoshiko talked to me while I was in the shower about what was going on and shi suggested it might be best if I excused myself for the evening."

Honeymane blushed once more. "Oh."

"Sorry to interrupt," Beth said with a wink, before placing hir hand on Honeymane’s shoulder on the way out. "Don’t be embarrassed about this, Honeymane; there’s bigger things in life than to worry about this sort of thing."

"Thanks," Honeymane said softly. "I’ll keep that in mind."

"Don’t mention it. Now, get back at it!" Beth said with a laugh, before pausing, looking thoughtful. "Although, as your captain, I should say that it’s quarter after one in the morning and I don’t accept sore rumps as an excuse! I’ll be seeing you on the bridge tomorrow, remember."

Honeymane groaned and then promptly blushed again, this time because shi realized the captain was still there. "Uh, sorry."

"See? Now that’s something you should be worried about!" Beth said with a laugh, before turning and leaving. Honeymane turned back to the bed, only to see Hoshiko awake with a grin on hir face. "So, you still want to continue, or do you want to save some energy for tomorrow with that little hellion?"

"I think sleep would be good," Honeymane said with a smile. "I’ll get my stuff and head back…"

"Nonsense, stay here with me," Hoshiko said, patting the space beside hir. "It’s the best part of lovemaking – the cuddling!"

Honeymane looked at the uniform in hir hand before tossing it aside and pouncing on the elder chakat, giving hir a kiss and snuggling close. "Thanks for tonight, Hoshiko."

"Don’t mention it; I’m glad you enjoyed it," Hoshiko said, before hir jaws audibly cracked with a yawn. "Good night, Honeymane. I’ll see you tomorrow."

Shreds’ yawn nearly cracked hir jaw, but after another gulp of hir captain’s famous nightshift coffee, shi felt somewhat more awake, before shi threw a small wadded up piece of paper at hir bear colleague, who had fallen asleep.

Mark grunted and opened his eyes. "Don’t throw stuff at me!"

"Then don’t fall asleep on the job, Big Bear," Shreds said with a laugh, already reaching for the next sip of the joe, trying to shake off hir own dead-bone tiredness.

"Both of you knock it off," Ipato said with a laugh. "We can’t afford to fuck up this retrieval, understand?"

"Yes, Captain," Shreds said, throwing a mock salute. Mark snorted – he was not a morning person.

It was time to get the Mr Money probe back from the relay, which was always somewhere between the easiest and most difficult part of an operation. In theory, even if they tripped the alarms, they could get the probe and get out without anyone being the wiser, but Federation Engineers weren’t sloths, and neither were their commanding officers. They’d give the relay a detailed look over, and the tell-tale traces were sure to be visible upon inspection. Once those where found, it’d be child’s play to find the electronic paper trail that led to the bank accounts where all the money was flowing to begin with, making the whole operation a waste. So, caution and stealth were the name of the game. That’s why when the console suddenly beeped a warning, Shreds nearly shat hirself.

"Sensors are picking up a ship on an intercept course with the relay!" shi choked out.

"What? Are they Federation?" Ipato demanded, his head whipping around to face the tiger-patterned chakat.

"Uh…" Shreds flipped a few switches and did a check of the scan, before gulping hard. "It’s broadcasting Federation alright."

"Fuck it all!" Ipato swore, pounding his fists on the arm rests of his chair, thinking furiously. "Have they detected us?"

Mark grunted looking over the read outs for missed comm communications. "I don’t think so, they normally hail and ask for our surrender."

"Can we stay hidden?"

"Not if they’re on a zero-zero intercept, we’ll be spotted for sure," Shreds said, doing some complex astronavigation mathematics. "We… We could get in the first shot. They’re small, if we overcharge our engines and wait until they’re within 500 kilometres, we could jump next to them and maybe get in a few shots, if we’re lucky.

Ipato rubbed his chin. "Can we escape?"

"I doubt it, Marco," Shreds said, shaking hir head. "Given hir acceleration rate, shi’ll be on top of us long before we can get far enough away to warp safely.

"But you expect us to be able to beat them in a fight?" Ipato said frowning in disbelief.

"If we get them by surprise, we might be able to cripple them enough to get away, yes." Shreds nodded. "They don’t have raised shields, after all. If we’re really good, we can hold them hostage and demand they eject their sensor logs too. We might get away scot free."

Ipato sighed heavily. "Alright. Get us set up."

The bridge of Hoshiko was obviously not a standard Star Fleet Bridge, even if it was buried deep inside the ship like one would expect. Irregularly shaped, certain consoles and readouts seemed to be after market add-ons, which, Honeymane reminded hirself, they probably were, and it made for a very cramped experience, especially for taurs. Honeymane felt as if shi was apologizing every five seconds to someone hir tail was whacking or hir legs were tripping over. Still, everyone seemed to take it in a good natured spirit, and given Hoshiko knew most of the bridge crew personally, having worked with them for many years, shi suspected the abuse they were suffering at hir hand (or at least tail and paws) was nothing out of the ordinary. Honeymane shook hir head to clear it of those thoughts and carefully slid the Helm’s Engine Power Flow regulator down to the part marked "idle" and was rewarded with the ship emerging from warp in the deep dark of space. Shi looked up at the captain who was watching hir work with a grin. Despite hir reservations, the Captain had explained to hir that since shi was still learning, shi ought to learn how to control the ship’s various functions, obviously with the actual crew or the captain watching to make sure shi didn’t screw up.

"Very good, Honeymane," she said with a smile. "Now, set a course for the relay and activate it. I can’t let you take us in close, I’m sure you understand, but…" she shrugged.

"I’m amazed you’re even letting me do this," Honeymane said, for what felt like the hundredth time, before bringing up the navigational submenu and selecting the highlighted astronavigation object, that the ship’s actual helmsman had worked out. Once it was picked, the panel flashed and the numbers representing the actual position altered to a hypothetical position, turned yellow, and flashed slowly, indicating they were ready. "Permission to take us to warp, Captain?"

"Granted," Beth said with a wink. Honeymane grinned again and slid the power flow regulator (and a couple of other values) up to where they had been formally, and this time was rewarded with the ship moving smoothly into warp.

"I think you have a natural talent for this, Honeymane!" Beth said with a grin, before patting hir on the back. "Come on, let me show you tactical, and leave Mr. Isaac to fret over his precious helm."

Honeymane got to hir feet and helpfully pushed the chair back into its former position, while the aforementioned crewman shook his head bemusedly at the Captain, who was guiding hir over to one of the large consoles, which seemed to jut out awkwardly.

Quickly, Beth pointed out all the major functions of the ship’s tactical system, such as how to raise the shields or how to select a target and fire on it. It took several minutes, and by the time she was done, the ship had slipped out of warp and the helm had reported that they were approaching the relay. Honeymane watched the tactical screen eagerly as the captain walked hir through a series of simple exercises, mostly selecting and deselecting the nearby FTL relay.

"Okay," Beth said after a few minutes of this. "Raise the shields."

Honeymane nodded and pushed the ‘activate active defences’ and was rewarded with the console blinking as it began to charge the shield emitters. Then, out of the corner of hir eye shi noticed something moving from the FTL relay’s shadow, heading towards the ship.

"Hey, what’s th–" Suddenly Honeymane was thrown sideways as the tactical display showed the object firing on them. Shi hit hir head and the whole world winked out.

Outside the ship, the normally cold space was turned into a blistering torrent of energy as the unknown ship fired every weapon it had at Hoshiko. The phasers weren’t exactly military grade, but against the unshielded, lightly armed hull it ripped it apart. The first shot hit true, but much to the pirate’s surprise, the second shot was half absorbed by the building shield layer, and the third, which contained the heaviest weapons, the torpedoes, slammed against the field and dissipated almost harmlessly.

The Hoshiko twisted and turned, rotating out of the fifth volley’s hail of fire, before hir own weapons returned the favour, launching several ship-killer sized torpedoes and a blaze of phaser fire. Before the members of the ship knew what was happening, their ship was already exploding around them.

The first thing Honeymane noticed was that the room was almost painfully bright. Groaning, shi threw hir arm over hir head and twisted it on the pillow it was laying against, causing hir to yelp in unexpected pain. Before shi could figure out what was causing the pain, shi vomited over the side of the bed onto the floor as a wave of nausea hit hir hard.

"Oh dear," said a voice softly. "Had a little accident I see."

Honeymane fought to keep a second wave from emerging, and after a few moments the sensation went away, to a degree, and after a few breaths shi opened hir eyes. At the side of hir bed was a concerned looking wolf morph in a Star Fleet medical uniform – one shi remembered from Hoshiko’s sickbay.

"Don’t worry about it, sweetie," she said, glancing down at Honeymane’s rather thin vomit. "The bot’ll clean it up. How do you feel? Do you think you can speak?"

"My head hurts," Honeymane said, laying back on the bed and closing hir eyes to keep the light out. "W-what happened."

"There was a battle," the nurse said softly, over the whirring motors of cleaner bots as they did their work. "You hit your head on the side of a console pretty hard."

"It sure feels like I did," Honeymane said with a groan. "How long have I been out?"

"A couple of days m’dear," the nurse said with a pause. Honeymane could feel her hesitation. "I know it’s difficult, but I’d like to administer a few tests, if possible.

Honeymane nodded, and tried to roll to hir feet, only to be stopped as hir hind legs got tangled in something and shi felt a rather unpleasant tugging from between hir legs. "What the fuck?"

"Oh! Sorry sweetie," the wolf morph said, carefully turning hir hind quarters back into their former position. "We had to put a catheter in… I’ll get it out in a second."

Honeymane couldn’t help hirself and glanced between hir legs before shi looking away quickly – shi didn’t need to see it to feel it, and it hurt like a bitch. After a moment the Nurse declared the job done and Honeymane finally was free to roll onto hir stomach and sit up. By the time the Nurse returned from disposing of the waste, Honeymane had hirself under control, and tried to smile at the nurse. "Okay, so what’s first?’

"First, give me your name and age, the year…" the nurse said. "Follow my finger if you please while you do so."

Quickly Honeymane completed hir tests with, as the nurse said "Flying colours." By the time shi was done shi felt much better, if restless. "So when can I go?"

"In a few minutes. The Captain wants to meet with you. I’ll send the word you’re up and about now."

After a few minutes, Honeymane was growing bored, so when Hoshiko’s figure appeared in the doorway, it was a relief for several reasons. Shi hopped to hir feet and, throwing caution to the wind, darted across the room to give the elder chakat a hug. "Hey!"

"Hey yourself!" Hoshiko said, kissing Honeymane on hir nose and squeezing hir hard. "I’m glad to see you’re up and about!"

"Me too!" Honeymane grinned. "I can’t believe we got attacked!" Then shi paused a pulled back slightly. "Do you know when the captain’ll get here? I’d like to get out of here and take a nice long shower if it’s all the same to you."

Hoshiko smiled sadly. "Honeymane…" shi began. "Honeymane, Elizabeth…Beth is dead." Hoshiko sighed, biting hir lip.

"W-what?" Honeymane said, blinking. "But how?"

"One of the hits smashed into the bridge before the shields were up..." Hoshiko said, rubbing hir eyes. "Beth’s uniform got ripped on something, and when the pressure went, s-she ended up suffocating. "

"Y-you’re serious?" Honeymane asked incredulously, as shi blinked back tears. But the look on Hoshiko’s face told hir otherwise, as did the deep sorrow the other chakat wore on hir face. Hoshiko pulled hir into another tight hug. "I’m just glad you survived ’Mane."

Honeymane found shi wasn’t affected all that much by the captain’s passing – and part of hir felt guilty for it. But shi hadn’t know her well, and for much of the time shi had known hir, she hadn’t exactly been friendly. Shi tried to make up for it by spending as much of hir time with Hoshiko as shi could. After Beth had died, Hoshiko had inherited her position as captain, and shi found hirself comforting the crew and putting on a brave face for them. For much of the crew, Beth had been a personal friend for many years and it had hit them all hard. However, Honeymane found that despite hir brave face, Hoshiko had been the hardest of them all, but shi mourned privately in hir own quarters. It was only after Honeymane forced hir way into them one night, and sat with Hoshiko a while as shi finally let hir guard down and let hir grief pour out of hir that Hoshiko began to heal emotionally.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the voyage wasn’t exactly a happy cruise. However, it was significantly shorter than Honeymane had anticipated. The damage to the ship required a period of repairs at the nearest station, but Hoshiko decided to push on to Arisia Gateway anyway. As such, on the sixth day after the accident, the ship dropped out of warp and Honeymane saw hir father’s adopted home world for the first time.

Since the attack, the bridge had been relocated to engineering, so the view screen wasn’t very big, but nevertheless, shi was impressed. The planet was more land than sea, unlike Chakona, and it seemed to have an almost chaotic patchwork of bionomes.

Before shi could ask what was up with that, a voice came cheerfully crackling over the speakers: "Look who’s late!"

"Hello Umbra," Hoshiko replied, pressing a button to activate hir microphone. "Surely we can’t be that late?"

"What’d ya mean? You’re over five—hey wait a minute, you’re not the Kobayashi Maru!" The voice suddenly coughed, as if shi had accidently inhaled a drink. "But you look like one! What the hell happened to you, uh…" the voice paused for a second, obviously looking up a file. "…Captain Rothschild?"

Hoshiko grimaced before thumbing the "talk" button. "I’m afraid you’re talking to hir mate and first officer, Chakat Hoshiko, Shir."

"What? Why? I – oh." The voice fell silent for a moment, an opportunity that Hoshiko seized on. "Shir Umbra, I’m afraid we’re in rather dire need of repairs. I know you don’t have much room, but—"

"We’ll make room," the voice said swiftly, with the sound of someone trying to cover up their own crassness. "We don’t have any docking cradles ready though; you’ll have to use transporters or a shuttle."

"That’s not a problem, Shir," Hoshiko replied, nodding to hirself. "On that note, I’d like to request clearance to launch a shuttle."

"No problem, no problem," Umbra replied. "I’ll signal you when I’ve warned everyone. Umbra out."

Hoshiko half smiled to hirself, before turning to Honeymane "Well, I assume you’ll be jumping ship as soon as you can?"

"Um," Honeymane said, trying to say yes tactfully. "I wouldn’t put it like that, but—"

Hoshiko rolled hir eyes, before heading to the lift, gesturing for Honeymane to follow hir. Honeymane put hir console (environmental controls – not exactly something that needed a man on it to begin with) on auto, and jumped to hir feet to follow the other chakat. By the time they had arrived at the shuttle bay, the shuttle was already in launch position, and connected to the airlock. On a bigger ship, the shuttle bay would be a enclosed and vacuum proof, but for a smaller ship like the Hoshiko, the bay was mostly open to space, and only had room for two of the craft. However, since the airlock was green lighted and the technician at the Area Traffic Control gave them a thumbs up, the two of them walked straight into the small craft without delay. As Hoshiko secured the door, Honeymane continued on, into the shuttle’s cargo/passenger room, which occupied most of the craft’s interior.

To hir surprise, the room was filled with a number of crates, including a very heavy looking one painted in bright orange, and a couple of bags that Honeymane recognized as being from hir quarters. After a moment shi realized that along the sides of the room, there were short-coffins. Although burial at space was something much of the public seemed to think Star Fleet did, in actuality, any bodies that could be recovered were, and placed in black, bag like devices. Once activated, the bag kept the body cool to prevent decay, allowing for the bodies to be properly buried. Honeymane paused and wondered which one held the poor captain’s body, before shaking hir head clear, and continuing onto the shuttle’s cockpit.

Despite the size of the craft, its cockpit was quite large, and shi slipped into the co-pilot’s seat with ease. Honeymane only had a few moments to look over the controls before Hoshiko returned from sealing them in.

"You know I don’t have a clue how to fly this thing, right?" Honeymane asked, as Hoshiko settled in.

"That’s fine," Hoshiko replied, shrugging. "These things could do the job themselves with no pilots."

"Then why does it have a cockpit with two seats?"

"People feel safer with someone ‘alive’ at the helm, for some reason." Hoshiko shrugged again, as shi flipped switches and adjusted the screens. "I’ve never understood why – it’s not as if people don’t make mistakes."

"Why take me?" Honeymane nodded and turned on a few of hir controls too, more for curiosity’s sake than anything else. "I… I’m sure you’d rather do some of the stuff back there yourself."

"I do, but I’ll need to check you in with the station manager. I should say you’re no longer a cadet, by the way, since we’ve arrived. So you’ll have to sign some releases when we get there."

"Won’t you need a chakat still?" Honeymane asked questioningly.

"Sort of." Hoshiko shook hir head, as shi set Honeymane’s controls on autopilot. "There’s an exception for damaged ships, provided they can make dock with their home base within a certain number of days."


"Yeah. I’ll be taking the ship back to Earth as soon as I’m sure the warp engines don’t conk out of me, and we have the bridge mostly patched up," Hoshiko said with a nod. "I’m sure we’ll get back to Earth before I’m in danger of losing my mind."

"Then what?" Honeymane asked, before the comm beeped, interrupting the conversation. Hoshiko nodded at the confirmation and without further delay, the shuttle was pushed out of the bay by magnetic rams, into the stillness of space. The main display overlaid itself with a readout of the rapidly increasing distance between them and the ship, and after it reached half a kilometre, Hoshiko engaged the engines, causing the ship to leap forward. Carefully twisting the main drive joystick, the shuttle swung around, until it looked back on the quickly retreating ship, silhouetted against the night time surface of Arisia by it’s orbital lights. Then Hoshiko gunned the engines and the ship slid forward, twisting until the Gateway was centered in front of them, and the planet was somehow above them.

Honeymane could see bright pinpricks of light, obviously some sort of lights, possibly towns or cities. "I wonder if my Dad can see me?" shi said in a half-whisper.

"It’s possible," Hoshiko said, before activating hir comm. "This is shuttle Elizabeth Hoshiko-1, to Arisia Gateway. Permission to close?"

"Granted," came the reply, after which the comm fell silent.

"You named the shuttle after her?" Honeymane asked shyly.

"Yup!" the older chakat said with a grin, obviously remembering the better times. "She always said it was the worst game of poker she ever lost."

"Heh, what’s the second one named?"

"Robin," Hoshiko said absentmindedly, as the craft twisted around to meet the on-screen orientation. "If you’re wondering, it’s named after our child."

"Wait, what?" Honeymane looked over to the older chakat in surprise.

"Well, hypothetical child." Hoshiko frowned. "We had plans for having one – it’s unisexed and ambiguous enough that whether our child was male, female, herm, human or chakat, we could name them such, but… things change."

Honeymane reached across the cabin and gave Hoshiko a hug, which shi didn’t return, for obvious reasons. After a few minutes, Honeymane broke the silence between them. "How long do you think until you’re ready to leave?"

Hoshiko shrugged. "I don’t know, probably no less than a week though."

"Alright." Honeymane nodded. "I’d like to talk to you before you leave orbit."

"Heh! No problem, I look forward to it." Hoshiko said with a smile, as the station loomed in front of them, and the ship began to apply retro-thrusters to slow them down to the same speed as the massive structure. "I think I’ll let the computer handle the docking…" Shi flipped a switch, then leaned over and returned the hug Honeymane had given hir.

"I guess this is the end of journey for you, ’Mane. For all that’s happened, I’m glad I met you."

"Me too…" Honeymane said, giving hir friend a nuzzle on hir cheek. "I owe you a lot."

"Well, you can repay me by finding your dad, eh?" Hoshiko said, as the craft was grappled by the station and pulled in past the force-field that kept in the station’s air.

"I will," Honeymane said with a nod. "I’m almost there!"



To be continued in Arisia.


Chakats and other concepts © 2011 Bernard Doove

Browneyes, Fallingstar, and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane

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