Shadows and Light
Retribution – Part 2
By StarShadow © 2001

"Something is about to happen to Chakona..."
- StarShadow

* * * * *

"Shadow?" Breeze calls from the shuttle. "I have a call for you."

"It's not Jeff, is it?" I reply, walking over to hir.

"I can't explain, I just know it's for you." Shi hands me the comm mic and helps Silver with unloading the stuff. I put the call on the speaker.

"Hello," I say, expecting the voice of Chief Evans.

"Lieutenant, this is Captain Gray." I just stand there shocked. The call is actually from the fox-morph captain of the Joseph Banks, Captain Douglas "Doug" Gray. I can also tell from his use of my provisional rank of Lieutenant, instead of my normal status of Flight Tech 1st, that this was deadly serious.

The captain continues, "We have a serious problem that requires your immediate attention."

The tone in which he says this sends a chill down my spine.

"What's happened?" I ask.

"About 15 minutes ago, we got an Priority 1 alert from Chakona Police headquarters, asking for the immediate use of a shuttle in an emergency operation. They could not give us many details over an open line, but they did say that they need the best hostile rescue pilot we have. You must travel immediately to the coordinates I am about to send to you, and you must keep civilian involvement to a minimum." I don't like how he's using the word 'you'. I'm getting a bad feeling about this.

"Why can't you send the Endeavour down?" I ask.

"The Endeavour is in several pieces on the shop floor. We're getting it prepped for launch, but it won't be ready for another thirty minutes." His tone turns apologetic.

"I know that this is bad timing, but you know I wouldn't call you unless I thought that this was a serious situation. I've read between the lines, and I am very worried that this could turn dangerous. I think that your Star Fleet 'experience' will come in handy."

Breeze gives me a puzzled look, "Star Fleet?"

"I'll tell you later. All right Doug, if it needs to be done, I want to be the one to do it. Unless Breeze has a problem with that."

"If you're going Shady, then so am I," shi adds. I smile my thanks, though most of me is thinking, "Did shi just call me Shady!?"

"In that case," the captain replies, "I'll send you the details. Local Star Fleet authorities have given you permission to use a Star Corps civilian override. Remember, you are to use any means you deem necessary to help assist the police. Banks out."

The console immediately begins to plot a destination.

"Breeze, I want you to get the shuttle powered up now. I'll go tell the others."

The engines begin to warm up as shi looks at the final waypoint.

"Looks like we're heading for the Skunktaur Archipelago." My blood turns to ice-water.

"Please say it's not so," I plead to myself. "Please don't let Silver's and my parents be involved."

Silver rushes over to me, hearing the idling of the engines and feeling the distress that Breeze and I were both projecting. "Why are you prepping the shuttle?"

"We have to go," I reply. "There's a situation on the Archipelago. Breeze and I have to investigate."

I could her heart rate sky-rocket as she went into shock. "Oh no, please don't tell me..."

"Don't worry, I don't think they're involved. I have to go, we don't have much time." Shi just nods.

The sense of dread I have causes me to say something, something that I had hoped I would never have to say like this again. "Silver, if I don't get to tell you this, I love you."

Silver doesn't speak, wrapping hir arms around me and kissing me fiercely. I want to stay here forever, but time will not wait. I release hir and race to the shuttle.

"You return to me Shadow!" shi shouts over the noise of the engines. "You come back!"

I throw hir a salute as I climb into the cockpit; Silver and the rest step away from the shuttle to give us more room. I close the doors from my station, and then lean back into my chair with my hand over my eyes. "I don't want do this", I think. "I never wanted to have to do this again."

"Shadow," Breeze says, "Shadow, we need to go, there'll be time for regret later."

"You're right," I reply, opening my eyes and bringing up the flight path. "Have you called for clearance?"

"Don't need to," shi adds, pointing to a spot on the monitor, "as Doug said, we've been given a SCO."

"I guess that's what the captain meant by 'all means'. OK, let's go."

Breeze releases the docking clamps, and the shuttle immediately begins to rise into the air. As I expected, Control reacted swiftly.

"Shuttle Resolution, you are commencing an unauthorised take-off. Land and power down immediately."

I quickly reply, "Control, this is Lieutenant StarShadow of the Joseph Banks. I am activating an emergency Star Corps Civilian Override on this vessel Authorisation code is Shadow - Romeo - Gamma - Zulu, 3 - 8 - 5 - 1. Please respond."

There is a pause as they argue over my request/order. An SCO is one of the strongest powers that Star Corps has. In emergency situations, a Star Fleet issued SCO can release the Star Corps vessel under its influence from any civilian interference, and is considered for all intents and purposes a Star Fleet vessel. As you would imagine, this power is not granted to us very often, and for one to be issued to us in the middle of Chakona means something is seriously wrong. The feeling of dread I have deepens.

"This is Amistad ATC, we understand your situation." The controller on the other end is surprisingly calm.

"What are your requests?"

"We need direct clearance to the Archipelago", I say as the shuttle flies over the city streets. "Above all, no media attention whatsoever."

"Acknowledged, we will give you clearance. Out."

At that Breeze guns the engines, hurtling the shuttle towards the Skunktaur Archipelago and an uncertain future.

"Should we switch on the sirens?" shi asks.

"I don't see why not," I reply, flicking a switch on the panel above me. The roof makes a clicking nose as the two sirens and lights pop up from under their covers. The horns begin to blare out an alarm, while the klaxons flash brightly. Other aircraft start to move out of the way, thinking we are an ambulance. At our high speed, we soon leave to Coast of Flinders and fly out over the vast sea.

I release the controls as the shuttle accelerates on auto-pilot, a sonic boom resounding through the hull.

"Current speed: Mach 6. ETA to target, 10 minutes", Breeze says.

I remain silent, lost in my own thoughts. What is in store for us? What will we be facing? The feeling of impending doom I have continues to spread, reaching my spine.

"It feels so familiar," I think, "but when have I experienced it before?"

Suddenly, I hear a voice scream my name, "StarShadow!!"

I turn around, and find myself on that gloomy rain-soaked night, four years ago, hearing the snap of a rifle.

"SunStripe!" I scream as I see hir cut down, as I have witnessed hir death a million times in my dreams...

"StarShadow, are you all right?" I hear Breeze ask, breaking me out of my nightmare.

"I'm fine," I say shakily, "can't be spacing out on duty, can I?"

"You know," Breeze says, "you owe me a few answers. You never told me you were once in Star Fleet."

"Well... it's not something I like to reveal."

"Why is that?"

I pause for a second. Can I trust hir with what is probably the biggest secret I have? I suddenly realise that I can probably trust hir with anything. There is something about hir I find so strangely familiar.

"I suppose I can tell you, but only a few of my closest friends know this."

"I'm glad you count me as one of those friends", shi replies.

I smile, then take a breath. "I have not told you the entire truth about my past. I did enter Star Corps academy ten years ago, but what I didn't tell you is that seven years ago, I was transferred to Star Fleet SpecOps, a Hazard Assault Team to be exact."

"What was it that you had to do?" shi asks.

"There's a lot I can't tell you of course, but my main job was as a Hostile Entry pilot, flying my team in and out of hot zones. It was fun work."

"Then why did you leave?"

"Did you find anything odd about the way I reacted to you earlier?"

"Yes, I did," shi says, surprised at the change of subject, "almost as if... you already knew me."

"Exactly. You see, you remind me of another chakat I once knew. Shi was a lot like you, you have the same generous manner, even the same sort of fur colour, though hirs was a bit lighter."

"Who is shi?" Breeze asks.

"Hir name was SunStripe. Shi was my Hazard Team co-pilot." I look away for a moment, then back into hir eyes."

"And my lifemate", I say sadly.

"What happened to hir?" Breeze asks, noting the past tense."

I pause for a moment. "I might as well tell hir the rest of it," I think.

"Shi died about four years ago. Murdered actually, by a trigger-happy pirate who didn't know when he was beaten."

"Oh no." Breeze puts a hand to hir mouth. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have asked, you don't need to say anymore."

"No, it's all right", I reply, "I feel... shi would have wanted me to tell you."

"After it happened", I continue, "I resigned my commission, and swore to never fly again. I was a mess, my life was over. I didn't talk to anyone, I didn't go outside, my mind and my spirit just slowly wasted away. It took the efforts of Silver, and many of my other friends to bring me back. I still live through that night over and over in my dreams."

Breeze looks stunned. All shi can say is, "That's so terrible."

"Eventually, I went back to Star Corps and began flying again. But the experience changed me, as you would imagine. I no longer took the risks I once did, I always made sure that the passengers and the co-pilot was kept as safe as possible. It made me more sure of my own safety." I let off a sigh. "However, the feeling that I had with SunStripe, the link that I shared with hir, I've never felt that way about anyone again, not even Silver." Which is not entirely true, not anymore, but I wasn't going to say that just yet.

I look over to Breeze, who is listening intently. "Do you still feel guilty for what happened?" shi asks.

"I'm not sure. I have to admit that it gets easier every day. I've tried to get on with my life. I'll never forget her for as long as I live, but SunStripe would have wanted me to move on." I give hir a curious expression. "Why do you ask?"

"You seemed reluctant to take this mission," shi replies. "I thought maybe... you felt that you weren't ready to commit yourself again. I'm sorry if I'm offending you," shi adds.

"That's alright. It's just that I never wanted to have to enter a hot zone again. I never wanted to take a co-pilot into that sort of situation, to force hir into it just because I happened to be the pilot." I look away form Breeze. "You probably think that sounds selfish."

"No Shadow, I'd never think that". Shi puts hir hand on mine. "I made this decision myself, you didn't force me into anything. I'm doing this because I want to, and because it's my job as a co-pilot to help you."

"I suppose," I say reluctantly.

"When this is all over", shi continues "we're going to sit down and have a long chat, and hopefully I'll be able to talk some sense into you."

I smile as shi turns back to the controls, "I haven't been able to have a talk like that for a while."

A shrill alarm breaks up the conversation. "We're coming up on Serenity", Breeze remarks. I look up from the flight computer to the coastline that is laid out in front of me. At any other time, the sight of people young and old having fun on the beach, watching cubs dig sandcastles or bury their neighbours in the sand, or others simply lying on beach towels would have uplifted me greatly.  But now, all I feel is a deep sense of foreboding, as if I knew their bliss wouldn't last.

* * * * *

Serenity is a fairly large town on the coast of one of the Archipelago's many islands.  It's well known for it's laid-back atmosphere, hence the name, and for some great beaches. Because it does not have its own airport, we are being handled by a control tower nearby.

"Shuttle Resolution, this is Curtisport ATC. We are aware of your situation, and we are giving you clearance to the emergency area."

"Do you know anything about the current situation?" Breeze asks.

"All we have been given by Chakonan Police is the location of the problem, and the explicit instructions to make sure no-one else even gets close to approaching it. We have no idea why."

"Can you tell us where the party is, then?" I ask.

"No worries, we'll send you what we have. Good luck with whatever you're doing. Control out."

Breeze says, "Looks like we're heading for a small apartment block, sector 25."

"Let's see what we can see then," I reply, turning on the shuttle's auto-camera. I enter the appropriate numbers into the computer and watch as the image on the monitor pans over to the area that Breeze has suggested.

"There we are," I say, tapping the screen.

"We can't see much from here, though", shi adds. "Just a couple of flashing lights and a cluster of cars."

"I'll take us in closer then," I say, taking the controls.

"Keep us low to the ground", shi adds.

I manoeuvre the shuttle around buildings while Breeze concentrates on the camera image.

After a kilometre or two, shi says, "Hover here, I think we're in acquisition range."

"Roger that", I reply while Breeze switches to another camera with finer detail.

"Damn it!", shi curses as shi looks into the camera's telescope. Obviously shi is having some problems.

"I'll take over," I offer, "take us a bit higher, I think the angle's wrong."

"No worries," shi says, increasing the shuttle's altitude.

"Got the building", I say, transferring the image from the camera's scope to the external monitor. From here, we can make out a large group of police vehicles, all the way from motorcycles and cars up to a huge Mobile Command Centre, a good section of the Archipelago's police force, surrounding a small six-storey building.  And on top of that building...

"I can make out people on the roof," I say.

"How many are there?" Breeze asks apprehensively.

"I can't tell, the angle's still too low. You'll have to take us higher."

"Roger", shi replies.

"Okay, higher, higher, higher,... hold it there!"

I look into the scope for a bit longer. What I see freezes my soul.

"Oh!... My!... God!!" I utter.

"What do you see?" Breeze asks.

I cannot tear myself away from the scope, tapping the monitor instead.

Breeze looks where I have pointed, and quickly lets off a strangled cry of surprise before clamping hir hand over her mouth, shocked speechless. Shi takes hir hand away after a few moments and says in horror, "Is that what think it is?!"

"I think it is", I reply, pulling myself away from the scope in shock. "Get Captain Gray on the comm, now", I say forcefully.

"Right." Shi still looks a bit rattled, but was still able to work the comm. "Resolution to Banks, we need the captain on the line immediately, We have a priority situation." We wait a few moments.

"This is Gray", he states, "What do you have?"

I take the comm mic from Breeze. "Captain, this is StarShadow, we have a Code Red situation here."

"What is your current status?" he asks.

"We are about two kilometres away from the target area, a six storey apartment block in the town of Serenity. From our vantage point we can see a group of three skunktaurs, three chakats and one squirrel-morph on the roof of the building. There are also about eight humans around them, all heavily armed. We have a possible hostage situation here."

"Have you made contact with the local authorities yet?" the captain asks.

"Not yet," Breeze adds, "we thought that you should know before we commit ourselves."

"All right", he replies, glancing at something off screen. "We'll be overhead in five minutes, Security will get a tac team ready to beam down by then. Endeavour should be prepped for launch another ten minutes after that, it will have a medivac team on board."

"Who's going to pilot it down?" I ask.

"I'll take the shuttle down myself." Something that I like about Doug is that he meets problems head on, and is very popular among the crew because of it.

"In that case", I say, "I'll see you in fifteen minutes. Resolution out."

I give the microphone back to Breeze, and close my eyes as a single tear rolls down my cheek. My home, my sister's home, is in the grip of a dark force that had not been seen for centuries. The spectre of terrorism. I am almost tempted to break down, but I have a job to do, one that I couldn't fail. Chakona depends on it. If this situation turned bloody, it could start a panic that we could never recover from.

"I'm taking us in low, start scanning police channels for comm traffic", I say to Breeze.

"I'll keep the sirens on," shi adds, "if the terrorists see us, they'll think we are just another police vehicle."

I fire up the engines and race towards the apartment building.

The image of the hostages becomes larger and larger on the screen. They look panicked and distraught, as you would imagine, but they seem to be well treated. What interests me the most though, is the organisation that the terrorists seem to have. They all have jobs, they all have assigned hostages and complimentary weapons. This is not something that has been planned overnight. I shudder at the thought, "Who would plan to hurt such a peaceful world as Chakona?" I soon receive an answer.

"Shady, I can see a logo on those humans' uniforms."

"Are they all the same?" I ask, trying to get an image of one of the human's sleeves.

"I think so." Breeze stares intently into the scope of the auto-camera, and then pulls away with a surprised expression.

"What is it?" I ask.

"I've seen that symbol before."

"I look into the scope and focus on a woman who seems to be their leader. I lean back into my chair a few moments later. "Yeah, I've seen that logo as well." We don't need to say who it belongs to, as we both have seen it dozens of times. In recent history, it has become just as infamous as the Nazi's swastika, at least among us morphs. I still see it in some of my nightmares. Only one group I know uses it.

Breeze puts hir head in hir hands. "Humans First. I feel like I want to throw up."

"Me too," I reply, "but we can't choke, not now."

Her shock turns to anger. "If I ever find out who planned this, I'll tear him or her limb from limb!" Hir statement is made all the more threatening by the fact that shi could probably do just that.

"WarmBreeze, you have to stay calm," I say.

"How can I stay calm! I just found out my species is the latest target in a civil war!" shi shouts in rage.

I know this had to stop soon. "I said calm down, Technician! We can't have a distracted co-pilot," I order her.

Shi takes the hint, "Yes sir."

I give her a small, knowing smile and place my hand on hir shoulder. "There'll be time for anger later Breeze, right now we have to make sure that no-one else gets hurt."

Breeze manages to smile back, "You're right Shady, we have a job to do."

I change the subject. "Why do you keep on calling me Shady? No-one calls me that." Which isn't actually true, but for some reason I persuaded myself not to say so.

Shi looks at the floor for a moment, blushing and slightly embarrassed. "I don't know... I just thought it was a good nickname, if you don't want me to use..."

"I like it", I say abruptly, mildly surprised at the speed of my own response. If Breeze didn't have any fur, her face would be bright red by now. "No-one calls me that except you. It's different." Again, I'm confused by my own words, as if my subconscious is saying all this, and I'm just along for the ride.

Her expression lightens as shi gives me a delighted smile. "Well, if you like it..." shi says shyly. Shi is interrupted by a beeping from the comm.

"We're getting a transmission on a police emergency band," shi states.

Shi puts the transmission on the speakers.

"Unidentified shuttle, you have entered a police restricted area. Turn around immediately."

I pick up the mic, "This is shuttle Resolution, launched from SES-1301 Joseph Banks, carrying StarCorps Technicians StarShadow and WarmBreeze. We are here to provide assistance."

"A new voice speaks over the comm, "Resolution, are we glad to see you! Please land next to the MCC. Out."

"Could you land for me?" I ask Breeze, "I want to check the shield generators, we may need them."

"Roger that."

I go up back while Breeze slowly lowers the shuttle towards the ground. I hear a light bump as we touch the ground, and I think as I head back to the cockpit, "That chakat sure has some talent."

Breeze opens the doors, and I step outside, to a chorus of sirens and loudspeakers. I see a human female and a chakat walk up to the shuttle as Breeze follows me outside. Both are wearing police uniforms.

"Technicians," the human says, "I am Captain Anna Briggs, this is my deputy Captain FireTail." We get a firm handshake from both, they obviously think that this is not the time and place for a longer greeting.

"And you would be?" FireTail asks."

"I'm Flight Technician 1st StarShadow, ranking pilot on the Joseph Banks, this is Flight Tech 2nd WarmBreeze, my co-pilot."

"We've heard that you may need some help", Breeze adds.

"You can say that again," FireTail replies. "I take it you saw the show coming in."

"I saw enough to be pissed off", Breeze says, "and I'm not even a Chakonan national. A lot of furs are going to be more pissed off than I am."

"Which is why we are keeping a tight lid on this," Anna adds.

"Have they made any demands?" I ask.

"They have given us a list of HF leaders held in custody on Terra, Cait and other planets, even a few here on Chakona. They want them released and fully pardoned for their crimes against furrydom."

"And if we don't?"

"They say they'll kill a hostage every hour until their demands are met. The first hostage is supposed to be killed in fifteen minutes."

"We should have a tactical rescue team from the Banks beaming in about now", Breeze says.

"They won't get through", Anna replies sadly. "There are transport inhibiters all around the building. We can't turn them off or compensate. The terrorists came prepared."

"Your species has a lot to answer for," I reply sadly.

Is there any chance of the prisoners being released?" Breeze asks.

"On Chakona, maybe", Anna says, "but not in fifteen minutes. As for Terra and Cait, we can't say for sure, but I doubt they'll be too happy to release known terrorists. It would set a dangerous precedent."

"All right then, what do you want us to do?" I ask.

"We need to get the hostages out, obviously," FireTail replies. "Therefore, we are going to negotiate a transfer. We know that a LongTail is up there. One hostage for one prisoner."

"That's where you come in," Anna continues. "We have a SWAT team ready to deploy on the roof, disguised as a medical team. We need you to get them up there. We've heard that you have some... experience in matters such as these."

"I stopped doing things like this for a reason, Captain", I reply angrily. "Can you guarantee Breeze's and my safety?"

Anna nods, "We have a sniper ready to fire an EM smoke grenade up there. We believe that most of the humans are using electronic-based weapons, so the grenade should disable their weaponry long enough to do the job. All the team members are experienced combat veterans, so you'll be well protected."

"We don't have much time, StarShadow," FireTail adds. "Will you do it?" I look over at Breeze, who gives me an encouraging smile. I don't really have much choice.

"Okay, we'll do it. But we do it my way, my rules. Is that clear?" Anna and FireTail both look much relieved.

"We'll let them know who's in charge", Anna says.

I hear a voice from a speaker in FireTails's earpiece. "Report from the negotiator, they've allowed us to send in the shuttle, but they still plan to execute a hostage in ten minutes."

"In that case Captains," I say, "get the med-team on board. Breeze, rapid power-up sequence, ready the shields."

I turn on my heels and start to run towards the shuttle when I hear Anna say "StarShadow..." I turn around.

"Good luck." I give her and FireTail a quick salute.

I return to the back of the shuttle to complete setting up the shield generators, while the shuttle bursts to life around me, responding to Breeze's commands for a rapid start-up. When I return to the cockpit, I pass by the passenger cabin, and the four members of the 'med-team' that we are carrying, two humans, a chakat and a koala. They certainly look the part, dressed in white with numerous red crosses, and carrying what appears to be med-packs, but I have been on enough covert assault missions to know their faces were not those of the innocent medics their clothing would suggest. As I approach them, the human male extends a hand, which I promptly shake.

"Technician, my name is Corporal Jack Owens, I'd like to introduce Corporal Sarah Ryan, and Sergeants SharpEyes and Tyler Daniels."

"Pleased to meet you," I reply. "Did Captain Briggs tell you our situation?"

"Yes Technician, we'll follow your directions within reason," he replies.

"That's all I expected. Breeze, how are we looking?"

"Shuttle's hot and ready to fly", shi says.

"I have one question though", Sarah adds, "Does this shuttle have any weapons or shields?"

"Unfortunately, this vessel is unarmed. Star Corps is still a civilian operation. But we do have shields", I continue. "Which leads me to our plan. When we are given clearance to lift off, the shuttle will travel at a nice, steady pace towards the roof. One of our auto-cameras will be trained on the roof, while the other will watch the sniper down below. When the shooter fires, I expect that the terrorists will not start killing the hostages immediately, because they'll lose their only advantage. They will probably try to shoot down the shuttle, since we'll look like an ordinary ambulance, which don't usually have shields. Once the grenade hits, the terrorists won't be disorientated for long, so I'll drive in fast, pull up hard, get you on the roof as soon as possible. Any questions?"

"How good are the shields on this shuttle?" SharpEyes asks.

"Not as good as those on Star Fleet vessels, so I suggest you stay inside the shuttle until we land," Breeze says.

"Anything else?" I ask. The four of them keep silent.

"Good, let's ride!" I flick the comm. "Captain Briggs, do we have clearance yet?"

"Briggs is busy," I hear FireTail reply, "she's negotiating to delay the execution, but you may take-off soon. Standby."

We wait for a few moments. I lean back into my flight chair, my eyes closed. I figure WarmBreeze is doing the same, preparing for the ordeal we will have to endure. I do not notice my transition into unconsciousness.

Suddenly, the image of SunStripe appears in my mind, but shi is not in pain, as shi usually is in my thoughts. Instead, shi is smiling, as radiant in death as shi was in life.

"I've missed you love, it's been a long time," I say.

"Far too long", shi agrees, "but I'll always be with you, in spirit. And sometimes, in body as well," shi adds.

I don't understand what shi means by that, but I do not question her. Instead, "Why are you here?"

Shi continues, "I'm just here to say goodbye, at least until we meet again in the next world. But mainly to give you some advice. Don't try to control everything. Don't try to question all that happens to you. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and be content with where the wind takes you. Follow your instincts." Shi turns to leave.

"Wait!" I cry out. "Stay with me. I need you."

Shi turns back. "You don't need me Shadow, you never have. Besides, I'll always be with you. You'll see me in your dreams. Until we meet again. love me through you friends, both old and new"

"I'll try, but I don't think I can find anyone in this galaxy to replace the love I have for you."

Shi smiles, "I wouldn't worry too much. In fact, I think you already have..."

"Shadow, wake up!" The insistence of Breeze brings me back into consciousness.

"How long was I out," I ask.

"Only a few seconds." Strange, it seemed like minutes, even hours.

The comm begins to beep insistently. I pick up the mic. "StarShadow here."

"This is Captain Briggs, you may take-off immediately. Hold at the outer marker and wait until you clearance to approach. Out."

"All right, you heard the Captain. Everybody strap in and prepare for the ride of your life!"

* * * * *

Resolution, under the steady hands of WarmBreeze and myself, rises into the air and begins to move slowly towards the roof of the apartment building. The police has set up a two-hundred-metre perimeter around the building, so no one was below us as we approached it. We continue to rise until we are just below the roof's line of sight, about 150 metres away. There we wait, watching with no small amount of anxiety and anticipation, for the sharpshooter below to deliver the deadly package.

"This is the part that always kills me," Tyler remarks. "The waiting and watching, the calm before the storm. It's unsettling."

"Let's hope we don't have to wait too long," I add, "for their sake."

"StarShadow, have you been looking at the monitor lately?" Breeze asks. I glance at the image of the roof, then look more closely when I pay more attention to what I'm seeing.

"Why does that squirrel have two guns pointed at her head all of a sudden?" I say. Whatever reason it is, the humans are not happy about it. Sarah and SharpEyes lean over to watch.

Sarah says," I don't like the look of this... What the hell, they're tearing off her clothes!"

"Don't tell me they're going to..." SharpEyes adds, hir voice a mixture of surprise and disgust.

"I don't think so," I reply. "It's almost like they're searching for something."

They soon find what they are looking for, because a few moments later, one is holding up a small object, almost in triumph.

"What is it?" Breeze asks.

"To me it looks like a tape recorder," SharpEyes replies.

At this point, I activate the comm and call FireTail. "What's going on up there?" I ask.

"Something bad," shi replies sadly. "They found a Walkman on her, they think we somehow smuggled a wire up there."

"But it's just a coincidence!"

"Briggs is trying to tell them that now, but I don't think she's having much luck..." shi breaks off. I wonder why shi stopped like that, until I see what is now happening on the roof.

The squirrel has a gun to her head once again, but the wielder, the female leader, was nowhere near being calm. The gun is pressed to the squirrel's  temple, and the comm suddenly bursts into life, with a wide beam transmission.

"Please don't kill me! I'm innocent... It just plays music... what are you doing?... No please..."

"Shit, they're five minutes early! FireTail, tell them to stop!" I yell.

"Anna's trying!" shi screams in shock.

"Please, I've never hurt anyone... I don't want to die... No, please, I'll do anything.. Oh my god, no, NO!!"

I turn away from the screen, just before a terrified scream and a single gunshot fills the shuttle. I look back, and one of my worst nightmares becomes a reality. The sight of the now dead squirrel, the blood leaking from the single hole in her forehead already forming a puddle around her murderer's feet, the human's face cruel and remorseless for the heinous crime she has just committed... it is a sadistic work of art.

All I hear next is, "Let that be a lesson for all you... freaks", then the comm goes silent.

It is almost as silent as the inside of the shuttle right now. We just sit there, eyes glued to the screen, horrified at the sight but unable to look away.

Eventually, WarmBreeze breaks the silence, and sums up all our thoughts in one short statement, "Let's nail the bitch."

The sound of someone's voice breaks up the trance we were under. "Sounds like a great idea," I say, "but I doubt we're still a go after that."

I send a direct call to the ground, "FireTail, are we aborting the operation?"

"Like hell we are!" Anna replies angrily. "Our shooter is in position. Your orders are to neutralize the threat to the hostages using any means necessary. Deadly force has been authorised, I repeat, deadly force is authorised. Out."

I look over at Breeze and SharpEyes to see their reaction. SharpEye's face could have been carved out of stone, already prepared for the mission, while Breeze shows barely concealed anger.

"All right", Jack says, "you heard the captain, we're going in hot!"

I look back and see the four officers change their weaponry, from the standard tranquilliser guns, to high powered sub-machine guns with armour-piecing rounds.

While they are doing this, I lean over to Breeze and say, "I need to to be cool, calm and collected. Leave the violence to the experts."

Shi has obviously figured this out on hir own, because shi soon sobers up, and even gives me a little smile. "Roger that."

"Good. We ready to go back there?" I ask behind me.

"We're locked and loaded," I hear Tyler reply.

"All right, let's do it." It's show time.

I pick up the comm, "StarShadow to Base, we are ready to go up here."

"Shadow, this is FireTail. The terrorists want you gone, so move away as if you were leaving but standby for the signal."

Breeze begins to move us away from the apartment block, before giving me the controls. Breeze will deploy the landing gear and open the side doors. It is my job to make sure we don't slam into the side of the building.

Everyone stares at the view screen with bated breath, watching the shooter hidden behind a police van. Hy was assembling a grenade launcher piece by piece. Hy pauses for a second, listening to a message in hys earpiece, then nods slightly and fits a grenade to hys weapon.

"This is it, get ready." I say, as the four put on IR goggles and gas masks. I hear Jack Ryan giving orders to his officers.

"OK furs, stack up and prepare to move and clear, shoot to disable, take the shot only when sure of a clean hit. Go on my signal." The four officers move into position with practised ease.

Suddenly, the skunktaur shooter rises up from hys crouch and readies the grenade launcher. Hy leans over the top of the van, sights once, then fires like a professional.

"Go! Go!" Breeze shouts. I throw the shuttle around and push the throttle to full. At maximum acceleration we reach the roof in only a few seconds. I bring the shuttle in almost parallel to the roof, and we are a few metres away when the grenade hits.

A blinding flash fills the surrounding area and thick smoke covers the roof of the apartment building. We have no time to lose so I go in hot. The shuttle blasts towards the landing zone, and just before we reach it I slam on the brakes and wheel around to face the hostages.

"Touchdown in 3, 2, 1... contact!" Breeze opens the doors and the four 'medics' leap out with guns at the ready.

"This is the Police! Get down on the ground! Now! Do it!"

The terrorists see the approach of the SWAT team immediately, but are overcome by the blinding smoke. A few manage to fire off a couple of bullets, but this is a big mistake.

"Right, drop 'em!" I hear Jack say as they open fire.

"Let's give them a hand", Breeze says eagerly, pulling out a tranquilliser pistol from under hir control board and rushing outside.

I blurt out, "Breeze, wait!" but shi doesn't listen.

I take out another pistol and get out on the starboard side, the opposite side to hir, and enter another world. Despite my increased tolerance for chemicals, I still have to squint to see through the smoke. I can hardly imagine the agony the humans are in.

I look out in front of me to see the four officers exchange shots. However, many of those shots are not hitting their target. Although finding a target is easy enough, the smoke makes for a challenging situation. The return fire from the humans is just as ineffective, but this soon changes once we have left the shuttle.

The terrorists, seeing us as a new threat, start shooting towards us, and the hull of the shuttle makes pinging noises as bullets bounce off.

"Breeze get down!" I shout, ducking behind the shuttle door. I can't tell whether shi hears me.

A few moments later, I hear a sharp cry of pain, followed by a loud thump.

"Breeze! No!" I yell, rushing back through the cockpit to the other side.

As I do, I find an image from the past superimposed on the present, as I see the memory of another chakat I cared about gunned down in anger. I stop myself as I recognize what I just thought.

"Do I really care about Breeze that much?" I realise that I do care about hir, more than I ever realised before. SunStripe's words were becoming clearer.

All this takes only a few seconds. As I arrive next to her, I find that the situation is not as bad as I feared. I see WarmBreeze, dazed but still conscious, lying on hir side and clutching hir chest. I quickly examine what has happened.

"What... happened?" shi asks slowly.

"You were shot in the lower torso," I say, taking off my jacket and tying it around hir waist to stop the bleeding. Luckily there are only muscles in that area to worry about, no major organs.

"Could you help me back to the shuttle?" shi asks.

"Sure", I smile, taking hir hands and helping hir up as the bullets streaked around us, sometimes close but never hitting.

Shi is halfway up the entry ladder when I hear another cry, which soon turns into a terrified scream. I spin around, my sensitive ears instantly finding its source, a pair of chakat hands hanging onto the building's ledge. A pair of hands that I can see are rapidly tiring under their owner's weight, despite their probable strength.

"Damn! Shi's going to fall!" I make a quick check to see that Breeze is safely inside the shuttle, then I get and race towards the edge of the building. I can see SharpEyes looking in my direction, so I catch hir attention and shout, "Cover me! I have to save hir!"

Shi nods, understanding what I was doing, and begins to lay down fire. The three others follow suit.

I sprint towards the ledge and the stricken chakat, whose hold on life had reduced to a few fingertips of one hand. Suddenly, five metres away, I watch the hand disappear, and with a cry shi plummets towards the ground.

What I do next is pure instinct. It doesn't matter that bullets are flying all around me, it doesn't matter that what I need to do was utterly suicidal. Someone needs help, so I act. Instead of pulling up at the ledge, I increase my speed. Swallowing my fear, I extend my wings and leap off the apartment building.

Everything around me seems to slow down as I hurtle towards the falling chakat. It almost feels like I am watching this from the outside, interested but not involved. All the details become crystal clear, the terrified expression on hir face, contrasting my own committed expression. I am slightly afraid of hir face, it has the look of someone who knew shi is about to die, and there was nothing shi could do about it. If I don't intervene, this vision will come true in devastating fashion.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I catch up with with hir. In what seems like minutes, but is actually a couple of seconds, I catch hir in my arms. Shi is safe for the moment. Of course, I am now faced with a new problem, pulling us out of this dive we are now in. Usually this would have been easy for me, but I am now carrying the equivalent of two to three times my body weight.

I extend my wings and flap hard, as powerfully as I can. While one half of my mind struggles for survival, the other half watches fascinated, as the ground rushes up to meet us. I never think that this would kill me. Seriously injure, yes, but not kill.

Suddenly, no greater than fifteen metres, we begin to pull out of our head first dive, but I know it is far too late. With my last remaining strength, I spin around so that the chakat is above me, hoping I will take most of the damage. A part of me finds this ironic, shi is probably much more capable of handling a fall of this kind then I am, but I have this strange feeling that shi needs to be kept safe from harm. It suddenly occurs to me that, even though chakats are quite large, shi seems... heavier than I would have expected.

I am still thinking this when we hit the ground.

Everything goes black.

* * * * *

Valkyries seem to have a fairly good sense of time, so when I come to, I was pretty sure that only a couple of minutes have passed. I was planning on leaping up and shouting in triumph, but instead I scream in pain as I catalogue the various injuries that I have somehow survived.

I am now the owner of a massive headache, a throbbing right knee, and what feels like a couple of broken ribs, not to mention numerous cuts and bruises. Considering that what I have just done could easily be considered as fatal, I haven't fared that badly.

I hobble over to the mystery chakat, who is still unconscious. Looking at hir, shi seems to have come through the ordeal even better than I have. Like me, shi has hir share of cuts and bruises, and from the weird angle it is in, probably a broken foreleg, but nothing serious.

I place my ear against her side, using my sensitive hearing to check her heartbeat much like how I checked Resolution's engines. I listen for a little while, but then I suddenly recoil in shock. All but an unfortunate few chakats have two hearts, which means that they naturally have two heartbeats. The strange thing is that this chakat seems to have six heartbeats. First I think that I am more shaken up than I thought, until I realise the simple truth of it all. This particular chakat is pregnant, with twins no less. I smile, no wonder shi was so heavy. Shi is about one week off full term, from the swell of hir belly. I wonder why I didn't notice this earlier. Probably because I was too busy trying not to turn hir and myself into a big furry stain on the pavement.

I'm still pondering this when my exhaustion catches up to me, and I collapse to the ground with a thud. At the same time, the chakat wakes up and slowly gets to hir feet, leaning off hir injured leg. Hazily, I see hir lean over me. Shi has a wry grin on hir face.

I am about to ask hir what is so amusing, but my mind rudely decides to pack up.

I fall unconscious.

Again, it seems like only a few minutes when I wake up. This time, I am on a stretcher, restrained by numerous splints, so I can only move my head. I look around my restricted surroundings, seeing mainly the bright flashes of ambulances. From behind me, I hear approaching footsteps. Soon after, the face of Captain Gray appears over me. Even I my current state, I can't resist one joke.

"If I had to wake up looking at someone's face, why the hell did it have to be yours Doug?"

"I see that your sense of humour has survived intact", he remarks dryly. "What possessed you to jump off that building?"

"A combination of adrenalin and testosterone, probably. Instinct maybe." I change the subject, "How is shi?"

"The chakat you rescued? Hir name is IceFlame, and shi's fine. Aside from a broken leg and a few torn muscles, that is. The cubs shi's carrying are no worse off from the ordeal." He looks right at me. "You saved hir life."

"Maybe, but I almost killed myself doing it. So I assume shi has already been taken to hospital?"

"Shi has", he replies sadly, "but I don't know how much help shi's going to get." I can tell from his expression that something is very wrong.

"Something's happened, hasn't it?" I feel my earlier premonitions focus into reality.

"About the same time you began your assault, there was a massive explosion in Central Amistad. At least 40 furs are dead, with close to 100 injured. Emergency services are being stretched to the limit. We're beaming out the most seriously wounded for treatment on the Banks."

In shock I try to sit up, but I am restrained by the stretcher. "Are you telling me that my actions led to their deaths?" I say in horror.

"Not at all, Shadow", he replies. "The detonation signal originated from Gateway Station. Customs have him in custody."

"What about Silver, Myka, are they all right?"

"Don't worry, they're fine. We beamed them back to the Banks a few minutes ago." He smiles, "Which is where you're going. WarmBreeze will take the shuttle back."

"Where is shi, by the way?" I ask.

"You missing me already?" I hear hir reply behind me. Looking over I see hir walk over to me with a wry smile.

"I'll leave you two alone, you probably have a lot to talk about", Doug says. He moves away and starts talking to some government officials.

Breeze moves next to me and places a hand on my arm. I notice under hir jacket the large bandage around hir chest.

Shi sighs, "I'd like to thank you."

"For what?"

"For rescuing me. For saving my life. For helping me this morning."

"If I was really your friend, I wouldn't have let you leave the shuttle in the first place. But you're welcome."

Shi pauses for a moment. "Remember how I said earlier that I've never been happy in one place?"

I nod slowly. "I think that I'm happy here on the Banks", shi continues. "I love the work I do here. I love the ship. I love the people here." Shi looks into my eyes. "But most of all, I love you."

Shi manages to shock me speechless. I lie there, just staring at hir, too surprised to even move.

After a while, hir expression changes to one of distress. "Oh no, I've offended you, haven't I? It's just that... I mean I sensed you felt the same way about me..."

Despite my restraints, I still manage to squeeze hir hand. "It's all right, Breeze," I smile. "You're right, I do love you, very much. I loved you as soon as I first met you. It's just that... I didn't know you felt the same way."

"Me too!" shi laughs. It is the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. I shake my head.

"What's wrong," shi asks.

"I want to hold you so badly. But as you can see, I'm sort of tied up right now."

Shi smiles, "I guess you'll have to settle for this in the meantime." Slowly, shi leans over until her face is next to mine, and kisses me on the lips. Again, time seems to slow down, and everything that I've had to endure over the last day is suddenly worth it.

Breeze slowly pulls away, with a delighted smile on hir face, the same expression that I'm sure is on my face right now.

"I need to get the shuttle ready. I have to go."

"I'll see you later," I say.

Shi turns and walks away, but not before winking over hir shoulder and waving goodbye cheekily with her tail, hinting at things to come. I want to say something to hir as shi leaves, but again, not surprisingly, my brain decides that it has had enough.

By this stage, I am getting really annoyed with these inconvenient black-outs. The first thing I hear is the steady beeping of a heart monitor. I open my eyes and find myself in a hospital bed, and all but restrained. Luckily, the heart monitor is not connected to me, but to someone else beyond the pale blue curtains that surround my bed. I can also hear a faint shimmering, less a sound than it is a sensation, that veteran spacers quickly identify as the trademark of a starship.

One side of the curtains moves, and a nurse walks in, wearing a civilian medical uniform.

"I see they're bringing in medical staff from the surface," I remark to hir.

"Only a couple, to supplement the normal staff. Do you know where you are?"

"I'm in a hospital bed, with next to nothing on, talking to a chakat in a nurse's uniform. Why am I suddenly scared?"

The nurse smiles, "Well at least your sense of humour is intact. But I need to know, where do you think you are now?"

"I'm in the infirmary, on StarCorps Exploration Ship 1301 Joseph Banks, orbiting the planet of Chakona at an altitude of 36 thousand kilometres. Now that you know I'm all here, what's my prognosis? How long have I been asleep?"

"About three hours, we were letting your body regenerate. You have a medium-level concussion, which is healing nicely; you also have three broken ribs which have been set and healed, along with a repaired fractured kneecap. Your bones are already back to full strength, because of your valkyrie physiology, but we want to keep you overnight for observation."

"Is that really necessary? I have made some... plans for tonight." I phrase it carefully, hoping shi will get the message. Shi does.

"Is that so?" shi says. "Well... I suppose I can let you off this time, but you have to come in tomorrow for a check-up. Just don't exert yourself too much", shi adds with a lop-sided grin.

"I can't guarantee that I'll follow that recommendation, but I'll try," I reply with the same expression.

The nurse looks through the curtain to the outside. "Looks like you have some visitors, Mr. StarShadow. Do you want to see them?"

"Yes, of course", I say, hoping I am right on who I think these visitors are.

Before I can think about this further, Silver, Dark, Myka and Kyle rush into the room at once.

"I'm so glad you're all right!" Silver exclaims.

I receive a hug from Myka, and a lot of back-slapping from Kyle and Darkern, but it is the quick kiss from Silver I treasure most of all.

"It's good to see you all here", I say, "even if it is under strange circumstances."

"Definitely strange," Kyle says, "We just found out what you were doing over at the Archipelago. What possessed you to jump off a six-storey building?"

"I don't know, it seemed like a good idea at the time." We all burst out laughing.

"But enough about me", I add, "what happened to you furs after Breeze and I left?"

"Silver was feeling a bit down after you left," Dark says, "so we went to a quiet, empty corner of the park to cheer hir up."

"Anyway," Myka continues, "we were playing around, like we usually do, when we heard this loud bang in the distance. Everyone thought it was a gunshot, until we realised it was a lot further away than we thought."

"A few minutes later, we heard what had happened on the radio, along with most of the other furs in the park," Silver says. "It was chaos down there. People were grief-stricken, scared, angry. Before we could find out what would happen next, we were beamed back on board the Banks. That's when we learned what you and Breeze were doing."

"Speaking of WarmBreeze," I say, "where is shi at the moment? I was hoping to talk to hir when I got back."

"Because of your injuries, Breeze is doing the debriefing for you," Dark replies. "Shi said shi will catch up with you later."

Silver looks at hir wristwatch. "We'd love to stay and chat, but unfortunately us non-disabled people have some work to do before departure."

"You're still coming this evening, right?" Myka asks.

"Of course, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"We'll see you there then," Kyle says. "See you later."

"Later. Oh, wait, Kyle, could you stay behind for a sec?"

Kyle tells them he will be along in a minute. I wait until the other three had left and were well out of earshot, then I say, "Kyle, look into my left jacket pocket," pointing towards my uniform hanging to one side. He walks over to my jacket and rummages around for a few seconds. He smiles, and pulls out the brightly coloured package that Sammy had given to me.

"Thanks, Shadow. I owe you."

"What is it anyway?" I ask.

"You'll have to wait until tonight." He turns to leave with a wry grin. "See you later."

"Later, Kyle."

* * * * *

Early in the evening, the Joseph Banks leaves orbit as expected, albeit a bit late. Unfortunately, I am unable to see it, subjected to various tests and scans that leave me wondering whether they think I have FIV or something.

I eventually break out of that cell though, putting my uniform back on again and discharging myself from the infirmary. I feel great, I feel alive, and it isn't the painkillers. Honest. Okay, maybe it is. Anyway, I start to walk towards Myka's quarters, but on a hunch, I head towards the observation lounge instead. Among all the chairs and couches facing the huge windows, I find Silver lying on a lounge rug right next to the glass, staring out at the slowly receding planet.

I slowly walk over to hir; shi glances at me for a second and then returns to hir thinking. I sit down beside hir and put an arm around hir shoulder; encouraged, shi leans into my side for support.

Nothing is said, nothing needs to be said, as we are both thinking the same thing. For both Silver's and my whole life, Chakona has been our home, no matter where we happen to be in the galaxy. It has always been a peaceful world, full of joy and selflessness. But now, what was once a safe haven has become just that little bit dangerous, disunity crippling what has been a shining example of reconciliation and community.

We are leaving the colonized galaxy for at least a few months, who knows what Chakona, Terra and the other planets will be like when we return?

Silver sighs, "It's such a shame, when I want to be on Chakona the most, when I want to help Chakona the most, we have to leave."

"We'll be back again soon", I say. "The galaxy will continue on just fine without us."

"I hope so," shi replies. Suddenly shi stands up and stretches hir arms. "Why are we here sulking, we have a party to go to! Let's say we get out of here." Shi places a hand on my shoulder.

"Sounds like a good idea, but I want to tell you something first."

"Sure Shadow, what is it?"

I motion for hir to sit back down. "You know how Myka said bring a friend, and I replied that the only people I could think of were bringing you furs?"

"Yeah, I remember that. What, you thinking of inviting WarmBreeze?" shi asks.

"I was thinking of... how the hell did you know?"

"I invited hir before, and shi said that shi was surprised you didn't ask."

"You invited hir", I say surprised. "You met hir for all of what, five minutes?"

"That's just what you think," shi replies with a smile.

"Wait a minute, you've met hir before, haven't you?"

"More than that. We were roommates when I was studying on Terra 12 years ago. We went to the same university."

I stand there absolutely stunned. "So when shi said shi hadn't met you, that was just an act?"


"And Dark and the rest knew this."


"And Chief Evans?"


"Then why didn't anyone tell me?"

"We wanted to see how you went with hir unassisted."

I sit down heavily in a nearby chair, shocked by the concept.

"Now that the cat's out of the bag, did I pass?" I ask.

"I would say so, from what Breeze has been telling me."

"Uhuh, and what exactly has shi been telling you?"

"You'll have to find that out from hir, won't you?"

I shake my head. "You owe me one for this," I smile.

"Are you complaining?"

"No, but..."

"Then what's the problem?"

"I don't know."

Shi stands up and offers me a hand. "In that case," shi says, "let's not keep our friends waiting. Shall we?"

I smile and take hir hand. "Lets." We walk towards Myka's quarters.

The corridors of the ship, usually bustling with activity, are quickly becoming empty as the crew settle in for the night's celebrations. The crew quarters section of the ship is a maze of close to identical rooms, but we both know the route by heart. We soon find ourselves in front of a relatively ordinary door, the only difference to the others in its row being Myka's name on the door.

Silver ignores the Do Not Disturb sign above the keypad and punches in an access code. The door opens, and we see that the others have already arrived. Myka and Breeze are playing some sort of board game, with everyone looking on, Kyle is rummaging around in the kitchen, and Dark looks like he just emerged from the shower.

"You two certainly took your time!" Kyle says.

"We were just saying our goodbyes to Chakona," Silver explains.

Myka and Breeze, previously absorbed in the board game, notice us for the first time.

"You've arrived!" Breeze exclaims.

The two of them come over and give both of us a hug in greeting. While I'm hugging Breeze, shi manages to whisper in my ear, "Maybe we can continue this greeting later."

Kyle pulls a bottle of champagne out of the fridge, and walks into the lounge area with a stack of glasses. We all sit or lie down in a circle.

"Now that we're all here," Myka says, "does any fur have any announcements?"

Both Kyle and I raise our hands. "You go first," Kyle says.

"Okay. A few minutes ago, my good sister Silver here," clapping a hand on hir shoulder, "brought to my attention some information about my new friend WarmBreeze that I previously did not know..."

Everybody but me bursts out laughing. "I assume that by the amused expressions", I smile, "that every fur knows what I'm referring to. So, I'll just finish by saying that I'm very disappointed in all of you, and you should be expecting comebacks in the near future." They just snicker, and I can't help laughing as well. "Your turn, Kyle."

Kyle stands up. "Sorry to insert something partially serious into such a joyful evening, but I think now is the time to give Myka this gift." He takes the little package out of his pocket and hands it to her.

"Oh Kyle, you shouldn't have." Myka unwraps the package, revealing a small velvet-covered box. She opens it, and inside was a diamond ring. "Oh my... is this what I think it is?" Myka utters, shocked.

Kyle drops down on one knee. "Myka, will you marry me?"

Myka looks absolutely stunned. The whole room is utterly silent, as we wait for an answer.

"Oh my... Kyle, I just don't know. Marriage, that's a big step." She looks towards her denmate, Silver.

"Hey, don't look at me, you know what my feelings are," shi says.

Myka closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. When she opens them, she says, "Alright Kyle, I'll marry you, but only on one condition."

Kyle looks a bit troubled. "Which is?"

She pulls a coin out of her pocket. "If this coin lands heads up, I'll marry you. If it's tails, then I won't."

"If that's the only was to convince you..." Kyle says sadly.

Myka flicks the coin into the air. We watch the coin sail through the air, and fall back to land on the carpet, tails up. Kyle looks shocked. "Well, I guess that takes care of that," he says glumly.

Myka smiles, "Of course not, silly! You will be marrying me!"

Kyle looks up with a delighted grin. Suddenly, he pulls Myka to him and kisses her passionately. Everyone cheers and whistles, even when they both eventually have to stop to catch their breath.

"I suppose we better get Myka drunk before she changes her mind," I add.

Everyone laughs while Kyle pours out glasses for everyone. When we are all ready, I raise my glass. "To happiness and friendship." We all clink glasses and drink a sip, except for Silver and Breeze, who just gulp down the entire glass. Chakats can really hold their liquor.

With that toast we start the night's activities. We have learned from experience that it is much better to start off slowly before more serious activities. We start off with our usual karaoke session, and endure Silver's latest attempt to prove that shi can actually sing. To be fair, none of us would win any awards for our performances, except for Kyle maybe, he's not bad.

We also take a look at some slides that Dark brought back from his leave on Terra. Turns out he spent much of his time in Australia, so we saw some interesting pictures of him standing in front of various national monuments.

"My favourite was definitely the Great Barrier Reef, even if it took me four hours to dry my fur out," he says.

"Any others?" Breeze asks.

"I kind of liked the Big Banana."

"Why is that?"

"It reminded me of Silver."

We all chuckle except for Silver, who blushes through hir fur. "You said you wouldn't tell them that."

We play a little bit of Truth or More Truth, but we never do that for very long as it quickly turns into stories and dirty jokes, with Myka the winner as usual for quality and variety.

We also play some poker, just plain five-card draw, not that any of us have the salaries to play with real money. We're all pretty good, and the hands are split fairly evenly, even though Dark is undoubtedly the best poker player among us. We find out that Breeze has also played more than a hand or two, and shi gives him a good run for his fake money. Eventually though, as the night wears on, thoughts turn to something a bit more personal.

"That's enough poker for one night," Silver says, putting down the last hand. "So does anyone have any plans?"

"Kyle and I were hoping to celebrate our engagement", Myka says.

"I suppose that you two want to be alone for that," Dark implies.

"Nonsense, we don't mind if you two join us."

"How about you?" Kyle asks, turning to me.

"Actually," Breeze adds, "Shadow and I have some things we need to discuss in private."

I just smile. I haven't even thought that far ahead, but I'm not complaining.

"In that case, use that room over there," Kyle says, pointing behind me.

"All right," shi replies eagerly, getting to hir feet and walking towards the room. "You coming Shadow?"

"Yeah." I stand up. "Later, furs."

Breeze opens the door and we walk in; I close the door behind me. For a moment, we just stand there looking at each other, until we throw our arms around each other and we hold each other tight.

"I wanted you so bad, Shady!" shi cries, "But I never had the courage to admit it!"

"Me too, Breeze, I wanted you so much as well!" I reply, with tears of joy streaming down my face. "But we're together now, and that's all that matters."

Shi pulls away from me, with a radiant smile. I look at hir smiling there, and then lean forward and kiss her on the lips. Shi puts an arm around my chest and pulls me tight against hir, returning the kiss urgently with one of hir own. We continue like that for a few minutes, finally able to show what we have been feeling the last day, until she pulls away from me once again.

"Let's not do this standing up," shi says.

Slowly, shi leads me towards the mattress. We sit down, stopping to remove our tops.

Again, we hold each other tight as I kiss hir passionately, but I don't stop there, moving hands to scratch her belly.

"Shadow, that tickles!" shi laughs, but shi soon starts moaning as I move down towards her tail. Encouraged, shi rolls over onto hir back. I lean over hir and begin to passionately kiss hir again. Hir long furry tail, which has been previously caressing my neck, reaches around to wrap around my own tail, joining us together. Not that I am planning on going anywhere.

Shi stops kissing me and instead concentrates on licking my cheeks, my ears, my neck. I proceed to do the same thing, and shi is soon closing hir eyes and purring contentedly, matching my own panting. I continue to lick her neck for a while, and then give her a few light nips on her throat.

Shi gasps in surprise and opens hir eyes, "Shadow, keep going please!"

I continue to do as shi tells me, as shi does the same to me. Shi moves hir head down to lick my chest, but is soon moaning again as I take her hint and move from her neck to down lower.

But as quickly as I started, I stop, and move my head back up to look hir in the eyes.

"What is it?" shi asks.

"I just wanted to look at you." I smile. "I've been waiting for you for a long time, I just didn't realise it until now."

"Well now that we've found each other," shi smiles back, "maybe we can make up for lost time."

Shi turns out the light.


To be continued in Shadows and Light 2

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References to chakats, skunktaurs, the James Cook and others are Bernard Doove and are used with his permission
All other borrowed elements of this story are the copyright of their respective authors.
This story is 2001 Nathan Cooper and is not to be redistributed without his permission.
The Author asserts the moral right to be known as the author of this work.