Tales of the Folly
By Allen Fesler
Book One: The Curse
Chapter 17


Molly had slept through dinner the night before and woke up ravenous the next morning. Hardleaf was already at the table when she came in. “Good morning, Love,” she said as she carefully bent over her pregnant belly to give him a lick-kiss.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked after returning the kiss.

“I’m feeling fine, I’m not sure why I was feeling so tired yesterday It must have been all the excitement in seeing Neal and his new family.”

Hardleaf stared up at her in amazement. “What did you just say?”

Molly looked confused as she replied, “I said Neal and his crowd must have worn me out. What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Hardleaf rose so he could give her a proper hug. “I’m sorry, Love; it’s just that I’ve never heard you call him anything but ‘Captain’ and Master.”

Molly thought about it for a minute before replying, “I’ve never noticed it before.”

Hardleaf pulled away just far enough to look her in the eyes. “And it’s always been ‘Molly did this or Molly do that’, never the ‘I’ and ‘my’ you were just using What has come over you, Love?”

Molly was slow to reply, “I’m not sure it’s almost like I’m awakening from a dream or a nightmare. I seem to be able to remember everything that’s ever happened to me everything I’ve ever said and done, but not like it happened to me. I feel like I’m seeing everything fresh for the first time in my life today.”

Looking a little worried, Hardleaf asked, “And where do I fit into your fresh new life?”

Molly pulled him close again before saying, “Dead center, my love. I can remember every time you’ve fought my slave programming to give me what you thought I really wanted. I even remember overhearing some of your arguments with Neal; the funny thing is that I can now understand both sides clearly.”

“I only wanted what was best for you, Love.”

“I know, and so did Neal, in his own way I think he was right, though, you could never have gotten anything done while trying to keep the old me out of trouble.”

“And now?” Hardleaf asked hopefully.

“Now I think I can be more of an asset than a burden.” Looking Hardleaf in the eye again, Molly cocked her head to one side and gave him a grin as she asked, “And just where did you want to go?” Hardleaf had started to answer, when her stomach grumbled loudly and reminded her why she’d gotten up in the first place. “Maybe after I’ve gotten something to eat?” she suggested with a grin.

Neal was sipping the last of his tea at the end of his late breakfast when Derikk wandered in, looking a bit worse for wear.

“Long night?” Neal asked with a grin as the large Rakshani piled eggs, sausage, bacon, and pancakes high on a plate before grabbing a bottle of orange juice and plopped down across from the human.

Glaring, Derikk said, “I had never considered what it must be like for the Danzhouken, wanted by so many, but not for love or caring.”

Neal frowned slightly as he asked, “Didn’t Cindy ask if you really wanted to join her last night?” At Derikk’s nod, he added, “And did it feel like she wanted you or would any old side of beef at the market have done as well?”

Looking a little bemused Derikk said, “Actually, she made me feel rather special to have been chosen to be her companion for the evening.”

Neal let out a quiet sigh before saying, “Cindy’s had the roughest childhood of my current brat pack. You saw a sample of her father in the council chambers; she was just a way of getting what he wanted, not a child to be loved and nurtured.”

“But how much love and nurturing should a father even an adopted father give?” Derikk half wondered.

Neal gave him a half smile. “That would of course depend on whom you are foolish enough to ask,” he told his House brother. “Father/daughter, mother/son or even brother/sister relationships among humans of any age is considered incest which is highly frowned upon and underage sexual activity is strictly taboo, never mind that ‘underage’ point is also subject to whom you ask. But when among the foxtaurs, often it’s the father or older brother that is a daughter’s first at her request I might point out. And normally younger kits watch their parents ‘making’ their soon to be brothers and sisters. Hell, among chakats it isn’t even that complicated, it’s just a matter of helping fill the ‘need’; mother, sire, sister, daughter, friend anyone they think they can trust will do. And that’s just a few of the samples from Earth! I know that the laws or rules on other worlds are no less diverse or complicated on the subject. You mentioned your Danzhouken, which to an outsider unfamiliar with Rakshani needs and customs is just a known sterile gigolo. To those of us that at least think we know how you Rakshani ‘tick’, the Danzhouken are a very important part of keeping you guys happy and stable. If you get to know some of them, I’ll bet you’ll find most Danzhouken to be quite caring to those they get to know if allowed by the female in question.”

“And you?” Derikk asked with a raised eyebrow.

Neal snorted softly before speaking. “I’m an old man, Derikk. I’ve either done or have had just about everything possible done for or to me. Some actually quite a few things I have truly enjoyed, some though I have not. I can no longer see the reasons some cultures use to try to stifle themselves and others. All I see now is someone in my care that I have promised to care for with a ‘need’. I would not deny Cindy relief any more than I would Zhanch, and for the same reasons.”

“You are truly a strange human, Neal Foster,” Derikk quietly said.

“Strange enough to scare off any big old bad-ass marine hellcats?” Neal asked with a grin.

“Maybe some ‘hellcats’ would run rather than to try to fight this particular battle,” Derikk allowed. “But not this one, Brother” he added with a toothy grin.

Neal just smiled in return.

Midmorning found the skunktaurs Terra and Lighttouch taking Shadowcrest, Windsong, Quickdash and Holly on a sub-orbital flight to the Skunktaur Archipelago. After landing at New Bletchley, they were met by a chakat with fur such a pure black it looked blue in the morning sun. “Greetings,” shi said, “I am Chakat Blueblossom, daughter of Oceanfoam and Quietpool. I welcome you to New Bletchley. If you will follow me, I have reserved transportation for us.”

As the PTV smoothly slid itself into traffic, Holly asked, “Are you taking us to be tested for telepathy?”

“No, I’m taking you to my center for further evaluation of your talents,” Blueblossom told her. “You’ve already been tested and verified by your companions. Here we will get a better understanding of your talents and how to best train you to your full potentials.” Catching a hint of a thought pass between the youths, shi added, “Why yes, Quickdash, I do sound like an ad for a mind-reading school. Occupational hazard I’m afraid.” Shi then chuckled at their drooping ears. “You’re heading into an area where most have the skill, so I strongly suggest keeping your thoughts to yourselves.”

“Sorry,” Quickdash muttered, hir ears still down at being caught out so easily.

“No harm, no foul,” their guide replied, giving hir a grin. “In fact I was hoping one of you would do something I could warn you about, rather than have one of the more prickly Redpaws lay into you.”

“They were warned,” Lighttouch commented, “but they know me or at least they think they do.”

“Why couldn’t Lighttouch do the evaluation and teach us?” Holly wondered.

Blueblossom smiled as shi heard the question that almost everyone asked at some point. Slipping back into instructor mode shi said, “As you should know by now, while we gauge talents with six levels, there are many sublevels that can be even more important. Let’s take your friend Lighttouch here as an example. Even though hy’s only an average T4 strength wise, hys control of hys talent puts hym in almost T5 status ability wise *. The problem is hy can only teach and train up to hys own level of knowledge. And as hy’s not a fully trained instructor, that’s where we come in. As well as determining your true levels, we’ll be seeing just what you are capable of at that those levels.” Looking at Holly and Quickdash shi added, “Because you two have already bonded at a telepathic level, you will be tested both separately and jointly.”

*(T5 -- Greater power and subtlety than T4. T5's can "read minds", extracting knowledge that hasn't been voluntarily given. Range extends to at least all of the solar system. T4 -- Full ability to communicate with both telepaths and non-telepaths anywhere on the world. Which helps explain Lighttouch not doing any really long-range stuff while on the Folly, yet still being able to ‘dig’ into Neal’s mind.)

Shadowcrest found hirself in a small but comfortable room with taur pads scattered across the floor. A skunktaur youth just past puberty looked up from where hy’d been reading. Standing, hy gave hir a welcoming hug before waving hir to the pad next to hys. “Welcome Shir Shadowcrest. I am Blackflower of House Redpaw, child of Follower and Softeyes. If you’ll make yourself comfortable, we can get started.”

“You’re my instructor?” Shadowcrest asked, a little surprised at hys age.

“More like your guide,” hy replied with good humor. “As I’m only a year older than you really are ”

Shadowcrest smiled as shi settled on the pad. “So, how do we do this?”

“First things will be the basics, safe words and cutoffs in the case you feel you’re getting in over your head. Then we’ll move on to building a link between us, how far we go from there will be dependent upon your abilities ”

Safe words and cutoffs were just that, something shi would say or think if shi felt shi was becoming overwhelmed, and shi was handed a ‘dead man’s switch’ that would shield the room if shi either dropped it or squeezed it too tightly. The link was a light one, just like Blackflower was looking over hir shoulder and whispering in hir ear. Feeling something more than just Blackflower at one point, shi was assured that hy too had a ‘guide’ to help keep them out of trouble.

Next came forming deliberate links with others. Blackflower linked a few of hys nearby friends before showing Shadowcrest how to link someone with just a mental impression given to hir. With several side conversations going on in the links, Blackflower started asking hir to add ones from farther away. Shadowcrest found it taking a little longer with each one to find just the right mental signature, it taking more concentration to create each new link while maintaining those shi already held. Others were now asking hir to establish additional links for them, pushing hir even harder. Shadowcrest didn’t know it, but shi was grinning like a lunatic, following and conversing in over a dozen conversations, kibitzing on a chess game while watching three movies through the willing eyes of others. Something else shi didn’t notice in hir concentration and excitement was that shi was starting to pant heavily because of the effort shi was putting forth holding the many links together. Fortunately, sensors in the room had sensed the changes in the subject and lowered the room’s temperature, while others caused the oxygen levels in the room to rise rapidly.

With all of that going on, it came as a shock to Shadowcrest a short time later when a mind voice cut across hir multiple thoughts. “Relay, PSI Service, Cait. How may I help you?

Hi Mom!” said one of the numerous voices that Shadowcrest had been talking to.

Greypool? How, or should I say ‘who’ did you get to link us? I’ve told you before about bothering the T5s

But Mom, they asked us to help test hir. So I asked hir to try to get to you!

And who might this ‘shi’ be?

Shadowcrest mentally felt Blackflower ‘tap’ hir on the shoulder as hy whispered, “Let me handle this if you would please.

At hir mental nod, hy addressed ‘Mom.’ “I am Blackflower of House Redpaw, child of Follower and Softeyes. This is an evaluation and basic testing of Chakat Shadowcrest, daughter of Shadowspirit and Goldenmist. I apologize if we have overstepped our boundaries.

‘Mom’s’ voice was quiet for a moment before it asked, “Quite an impressive group link for a first-timer, may I ask how much support is shi drawing from others?

No support, just a little guidance at the beginning. May I ask why this interests ‘you’ so much?

Sorry, I’m forgetting my manners; I am called Nightwing, of the PSI service. My interest in your subject is that shi was already maintaining eighty-seven links throughout the Chakona system, and yet shi still had the power and control to not only find but to link to me here in the Cait system.

Being the key to all of the links, Shadowcrest could clearly hear the others whispering among themselves. “I didn’t know shi was holding eighty-seven of us together!” “Cait? Shit, Blackflower got to hold the reins of a high T5!” “Darn, I should’ve asked hir to link me to Earth ”

‘Who’ on Earth?” Shadowcrest absently asked the last. Moments later an eighty-ninth link was established.

I do think that’s enough for this session,” Blackflower suggested a few minutes later. “Start saying goodbye and releasing the links.

Most said goodbye and thanks as Shadowcrest released them. Before dropping out, Nightwing first sent hir a very strong and precise mental mind-image with a ‘just in case you ever need to reach me’.

With the last link severed, Shadowcrest stretched and let out a long yawn before opening hir eyes. Blackflower was still lying on hys pad, staring at hir in amazement.

“What?” shi half demanded, “Did I grow another head or something?”

“I’m sorry, we weren’t supposed to go that far,” hy told hir.

“What? To Cait?”

“Any of it,” Blackflower admitted. “The first time we just link you to a couple others nearby to get you used to the idea of linking yourself to others. You were doing so well that I suggested a couple I knew were out of my reach up on Ka’turna. Then you started taking link requests from others and we went a little overboard.”

“Just a little,” agreed a voice from the door. “I’m Jonathan Winters, Blackflower’s secondary link.”

“Why didn’t you stop us?” Blackflower half demanded of the elderly human as he entered, pushing a cart with two massive drink mugs on it.

“You said it yourself,” he gently replied, “this was an evaluation, and shi was doing so well I didn’t want to disturb the two of you. I wasn’t counting on PSI catching wind of hir. You may get ‘invited’ to join,” he warned hir as shi accepted one of the drinks from him.

“Am I in trouble?” shi asked.

“Quite a bit I’m afraid,” he said sternly before his face broke into a grin. “Drink up! You need to replace some of the fluids and energy you burned making and maintaining all those links. As for trouble? Fleet, Corps, PSI, and everybody else will be falling all over themselves trying to recruit you. I’d suggest a headband, PSI shield, and a heavy stunner, and that’s just for the polite ones.”

“Why? Just because I could link to a T5 in Cait?” Shadowcrest asked before taking another gulp of hir energy drink.

“You’re assuming that Nightwing is a T5. Even if they are, you were the one that established the initial link. Blackflower, what is Greypool?” Jonathan wondered.

“I don’t know, Sir, one of my friends gave Shady the link.”

“Find out for me if you would please? I always like to know who and what I’m dealing with.”

Blackflower closed hys eyes for a minute before opening them with a sigh. “I can’t link Greypool,” hy admitted.

“It’s all right,” Jonathan assured hym before looking over at Shadowcrest. “Ready to try another link session? Only a couple of us this time, and not too far.”

The three-way link was up in moments and Blackflower was giving Shadowcrest the mind feel of Greypool. “Hey Greypool!” hy send. “Got a minute?

Hey, I’m sorry I asked you to link to my mom, okay?” Greypool shot back.

Easy friend, easy. Nobody’s mad about that, I was just surprised we got there,” Shadowcrest assured Greypool. “May I ask you a couple questions? I’m still trying to get a handle on all this.

A lot calmer, Greypool replied, “Sure, okay. Say, was that really your first time?

It sure was! Other than a little mind-reading between my sisters and a couple of friends and none of those were as a group! First question, what are you? I’m new at mind links so I’m not sure I should be calling you he, she, hy or shi.

Shi for me,” Greypool said with a mental chuckle. “While my dad’s a Redpaw skunktaur, Mom and me are chakats.

Is your mom a T5?” Jonathan asked through the link.

Na, just a T3 like me, but shi’s real good with remembering stuff.

Which would explain why shi’s manning a relay,” Jonathan commented. “While shi can’t create a link of any real range, shi can act as a very useful endpoint.

Are you putting down my mom?” Greypool griped.

Heavens no,” Jonathan assured hir. “While the T5s may be considered the heart of the system, people like your mom are the lifeblood, they make everything else possible.

“Now what?” Shadowcrest asked once they had again said thanks and goodbye to Greypool.

“Whatever you like,” Jonathan replied. “You ‘finished’ your evaluation much sooner than anticipated, so we have some time to do whatever you’d like.”

“Could we try some more links?”

“Sure, anyone in particular?”

“A few friends before I try my parents.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow at that. “I was under the impression that your parents had authorized this evaluation ”

“Yes, and no,” Shadowcrest admitted. “My adopted father authorized the evaluation. My birth parents are on Bright Hope.”

“Hmmm, that’s quite a ways away. I want you to finish both of those drinks before you try getting out of the system again,” Jonathan told hir.

“I thought the other one was for Blackflower,” Shadowcrest said, a little confused.

I wasn’t linking almost ninety people never mind hitting Cait and Earth!” Blackflower laughed. “All I was doing was riding on your power, so I think it’s chilly in here!”

“When did it get colder in here?” Shadowcrest asked, finally noticing that shi could see hir own breath.

“It takes a small but noticeable amount of energy for you to open and then hold each link. The farther links can take even more out of you,” Jonathan said as shi accepted the second drink. “The systems saw you starting to overheat and dropped the temperature to help speed your recovery.”

“That’s what impressed Shir Nightwing, all those other links were already drawing heavily on you, and yet you still were able to reach out to find and link hir,” Blackflower added. “Most group links are done the other way around you would grab the harder distant ones first before grabbing the easier local ones.”

“What would you like to do first?” Jonathan asked as shi finished off the second drink.

“Well, before we try a couple of them, I need to make sure I know how to keep things at just the spoken level and no true mind-reading. I thought I was getting deeper than that with a couple of them,” shi said with a slight shudder.

“We can practice that a little bit first if you’d like,” Jonathan agreed. “Afraid of reading your parents?”

“And possibly ‘giving away’ more than I intend to,” Shadowcrest admitted. “When my talent came in all at once I was bombarded by the others’ thoughts. I don’t want a repeat of that.”

“How could you have not known you had that much talent?” Blackflower wondered.

“You already know that I’m only twelve,” Shadowcrest pointed out. At hys nod shi continued, “A few months ago I almost died the ‘fix’ put me into this adult body, as well as dumping this pretty much fully formed talent on me. Think of it as living your whole life underground with moss glow for your only light, and then you open a new door and the noonday sun is suddenly pouring in.”

“I didn’t think of it that way,” Blackflower confessed. “The prep work for you warned me to start with the basics and never assume you knew something, but you took to it like a fish to water.” Looking over at Jonathan hy asked, “A couple rounds of ‘liar’s poker’?”

Liar’s poker turned out to be just that. Cards were dealt and claims were made, the test being how well shi could read the players as well as how well they were reading hir.

Along with playing mental ‘cards’ with hir, one was reading while another watched a show. Two others that just happened to be together upped the stakes by getting in a little heavy petting. Blackflower kept to the background, reading them all and comparing it to what Shadowcrest was picking up. A mental ‘swat’ when shi went too deep soon had hir just scanning the uppermost ‘public’ thoughts and losing the game.

The game over, it was time for hir to take the plunge. Tentatively shi reached out for hir mother. Shi felt and heard Shadowspirit let out a shriek of surprise when shi felt hir daughter’s presence. Shadowcrest was still trying to calm hir mother down when shi felt hir sire Goldenmist join hir mother’s link.

Mom? Are you all right, Mom?” Shadowcrest half demanded, half worried about hir mother’s reaction.

Me? Are YOU all right?” Shadowspirit shot back.

I’m fine, Mom,” shi assured hir. “Just stretching my wings a little.

I hope that’s not as in ‘heavenly wings’,” Goldenmist dryly commented.

No, Father,” Shadowcrest replied with a mental snicker. Shi felt hir mother relaxing as hir mate made a joke out of hir fears.

So, Daughter is this something else we should be blaming on that captain of yours?” Shadowspirit asked.

No, more like some of the company he keeps,” Shadowcrest remarked. Feeling that something else was diverting their attention, shi asked, “Is this a bad time for you?

Not at all!” Goldenmist laughed into the link. “The rest of the group just thinks we’re going crazy, that’s all!

Now? Sorry, but I had forgotten to check to see what time it was on Bright Hope.

No harm done, but the others are of course very interested in how their cubs are doing,” hir sire hinted.

Hmmm, I may lose you for a minute, I’ve never tried to hold a mental link while doing something physical,” Shadowcrest sent as shi reached for hir comm badge. Tapping it shi said, “Tess? See how fast you can get me a real-time connection to Bright Hope: it seems the group is all together for one of their meetings.”

Tess responded promptly with, “Connecting to the local FTL relay and requesting bandwidth, it may take a minute or more to reach Bright Hope. Do you have the local number?”

The connection with Bright Hope did take a few minutes and a few minutes more for some of the teens to get to a stopping point on whatever they were up to.

While most of the parents just wanted to see how their kids were doing, a few had messages or questions for their adopted father. Neal easily fielded most of them from his day room, all but one.

Neal’s screen cleared to show a chakat he had only met once before, one that held hir hand up for silence before he could remember hir name and speak.

“May I see hir?” shi almost begged.

Neal nodded as he said, “Tess? Where are they?”

“Next level down in the toy room,” Tess replied, having already identified the caller and knowing just what they would have wanted.

“Video, please.”

The screen split to show Firestorm and Starblazer adding blocks to a growing pile. “Stormy? Daddy needs a hug,” they heard Tess’s voice say just before Firestorm looked up and over, and then took off like a shot, Starblazer close behind.

“Starblazer is about six months older, but at times you’d swear they were twins,” Neal told the chakat as they watched the two scamper down a corridor and into a waiting elevator. Neal finished clearing his desk just as they ran in, a strategically placed chair made it an easy two-step leap for cub and kit and Neal disappeared under a small pile of fur. He returned their hugs before turning Firestorm around towards the pickup. “May I present Chakat Firestorm, daughter of Rushingstream and Whitepaws.”

The chakat in the display looked like shi didn’t know what to do with hirself, “I we they ” shi sputtered.

“Take a deep breath, Sandrunner,” Neal advised. When the chakat did so, he smiled. “Hold,” he told hir. “And release,” he finally said after silently counting to twenty.

“You have friends in some very strange places, Captain,” Sandrunner began on hir next breath. “Imagine my surprise to find that I was ‘way past due’ on my anti-terrorism courses, and that my base commander thought that I needed to be brought up to speed ‘at once’ They used the scenario of a civilian space port being overrun by a terrorist group that had already gained a foothold and was well armed and shielded.”

“The New Kiev spaceport,” Neal surmised. “I asked Boyce to delete that file, but he seems to have found other uses for it ”

Sandrunner nodded. “Not that they told me. I was sent in with a group being led by a Shir Shadowchaser.”

“One of my daughters that just happened to be with us at the time,” Neal informed hir.

“We succeeded, but only because another force was hitting them from the other side you.”

“I had help too,” Neal pointed out.

“Yes, yes you did,” shi agreed. “But I didn’t know that until later, they then removed the ‘other groups’ to allow us to find and recover survivors. I thought we’d done pretty good until we were told we had missed one ”

Pegasus’s med team missed hir too,” Neal quietly informed hir. “Hell, it was blind luck that I got to hir in time.”

“But you did,” Sandrunner half muttered. “They led us back to the two taur bodies and had us scan them. I burst into tears when I realized it was our daughter and Rushingstream!”

“Whitepaws wasn’t able to save her but shi did shield hir mate’s lower torso from the phaser fire ”

“And you saved hir!”

“How did Snowfall take it?” Neal somberly asked.

“Better than I did. Shi had always felt there was something wrong with the reports we’d been sent of you shooting up the place. My supervisor called hir to come get me, as I was still too shaken from everything I’d been put through.”

“If you think the recordings are bad, try having a front row seat ”

“NO, thank you! I make things go, not run into battle with all guns blazing.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Sandrunner, I’ve seen more than one chakat get down and bloody to protect or save someone they loved,” Neal countered. “And I spend a lot more of my time keeping this ship up and running than I do shooting up spaceports or rescuing cubs ”

“I know that too,” Sandrunner admitted, “it’s just that you looked like you were ready even eager for it that look in your eyes as you fired that gun at them ”

“It was the same look he had when he was cutting open that poor foxtaur to recover your grand-cub,” a voice from behind Sandrunner quietly said. “I think it’s his ‘I have to do this/I can do this/I will do this’ face. Whatever it is, it might distress him, but he is going to do it no matter the cost to him.”

“Spying on others again, Lois?” Neal asked the dark cream-colored chakat.

Not at all!” shi mock-protested. “I just felt someone with a bad need for a hug,” shi said as shi made action fit word.

Neal waited quietly while Lois helped Sandrunner calm down. He spent the time giving Starblazer and Firestorm a little more attention. After a few minutes he looked up at the screen only to find both chakats avidly watching as he and Starblazer practiced her counting. She had dug a pair of dice out of one of his drawers along with a double handful of small paw-sized toys. The dice each had one through five dots on them, while the sixth side was blank. She would roll them and hold up the right number of fingers to match the dice and then try to say the number. If she got it right, she would then pull that number of toys from the pile. That she was doing well was shown by how quickly the remaining toys were disappearing. Firestorm had been playing with some of Starblazer’s winnings, though now shi was staring back at the staring chakat adults.

“Say ‘Hello Grandpa’,” Neal suggested.

“Grump-pa!” Starblazer proudly proclaimed.

“No, I’m the grump,” Neal corrected with a grin, “that one is Stormy’s grandpa.”

“Ump-pa!” Firestorm blurted out before bursting into a fit of giggles.

To the curious adults, Neal said, “I earned the title fair and square, but now it’s used no matter my mood.”

“I see,” Lois said, “So now we should be wary of receiving reports about a grumpy captain from our cubs?”

“Considering they all have more than enough credits to take a luxury cruise home, I don’t think they’ll be hanging around if my grumpiness becomes a problem,” Neal dryly commented.

“Just teasing,” Lois laughed. “The first few letters from the kids showed they weren’t sure what to think of you, but that didn’t last. The last few well, reading between the lines, I’m thinking more than a couple of them are trying to sound their parents out to see if they can’t stay on past their ‘homecoming’ ”

“And out to my colonies?” Neal half asked, “They may not want to return.”

“They’ve left the den, how much longer before they leave the yard?” shi replied. “It’s hard to keep them home once they’ve seen just how big the outside is.”

“They’re finding the great outside is mostly nothing but empty space, dotted with tiny pockets of people and things of interest,” Neal answered.

I will be one of those wanting to join you when you come our way,” Lois said.

“We might have an extra berth or two economy of course, as first class is pre-booked,” Neal informed hir with a grin.

“Ha! I’ve seen the pictures of your Folly, we can take a couple extra ships in that thing!”

“We are ”

“You just think you’re being clever, Captain Foster,” Lois retorted.

“No, I know I am,” he replied, “I have just a few Rakshani coming along for the ride, how many of them you can best will determine your berth.”

Lois looked like shi had a rejoinder ready, but both chakats’ eyes suddenly opened wide in surprise. Lois was the first to recover, with a look between a frown and a leer, shi said, “Just who the hell is Shadowcrest? And why does shi think I can’t screw every one of your Rakshani into the ground?”

Sandrunner looked ready to cry again as shi whispered, “Shi let me feel Stormy, thank you.”

Firestorm had also felt the long range touch and tried to hug the chakats on the screen.

Neal waited a minute before prying/tickling Firestorm off the monitor. The two chakats looked more composed now and Sandrunner quietly said, “We’re wasting your minutes.”

Neal smiled and made a throw away gesture with the hand not teasing Firestorm. “The others are still chatting, and I see this as credits well spent. I’ll have Tess send you some ‘home movies’ of Stormy if you’d like. If you would please, ask Snowfall to send me what shi remembers going on at ‘work’ just before they canned hir. I want to properly show my displeasure with the way they treated hir and you.”

“You think they had something to do with New Kiev?” Sandrunner asked in surprise.

“Maybe not directly,” Neal admitted, “but I’ll bet they were the ones that thought it would be a great idea to rub your muzzles in it. I can’t think of anyone else with the ‘motive’ to try to hurt Snowfall that way.”

“I’ll ”

You’ll do nothing,” Neal curtly informed hir. “You’re Fleet, and Fleet has nothing to do with this matter. I on the other hand just happen to be a cranky old freighter captain with a known problem of not playing nice with others if they’ve pissed me off for any reason real or imagined.”

“I’m suddenly wondering if staying on this planet is a safe thing to do,” Lois quipped.

“My weapons are more precise than that,” Neal laughed. “Though working for or with a certain company won’t be safe ”

“What will you do?” Sandrunner wanted to know.

“Well, I won’t be dropping rocks on them from space, but they may wish I had in the end ”

“Damn you ”

“Tell Snowfall not to get too busy in the mean time, I may have a little project for hir soon.”

“What are you up to?” Sandrunner demanded.

“You’ll see soon enough,” Neal chuckled as he dropped the connection.

“Tess, gather up a few hours of Stormy being Stormy and send it to them if you will.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” Tess replied, having already earmarked several of Firestorm’s and Starblazer’s exploits for just such a purpose.

While Shadowcrest helped some of the parents really ‘feel’ their kids for the first time in over a year, others now had hir on their minds. While nowhere near as rare as teleporters, strong long-range telepaths were in very high demand, and ones that could maintain multiple continuous links even more so. Nightwing had already advised hir supervisors of a new player on the field and the word was spreading, some of it coming back full circle to other areas in the Skunktaur Archipelago

“There’s a newly confirmed T5 on the Archipelago,” a red pawed skunktaur said as hy entered hys boss’s office.

“Please tell me Tyso doesn’t know about them,” begged a very small chakat. Most would have mistaken hir for a youth at least until they saw hir chest or the length of hir tail.

“Hy may not have heard yet, but you know it’s only a matter of time, Trace.”

“Damn. Do we know who and where?”

“A chakat named Shadowcrest, and in one of the evaluation rooms under our friend Blueblossom.”

“Warn hir, Mapper. Now. Shi might be able to protect this Shadowcrest.”

“Blueblossom’s wearing hir headband,” Mapper growled just before hy shivered. “Damn! I just felt something stir up Tyso’s gestalt!”

“Get us transport to Blue’s! If we hurry we might be able to help!” Trace told hym as shi concentrated, “I don’t care that you’re wearing a damn headband Blue! You have to protect Shadowcrest from Tyso!

Trace? What the hell?” came the surprised reply.

Shi’s a T5 you little idiot! Lock down those fields I’ll be there as soon as I can!

Shadowcrest was sure hir parents were hiding something from hir and was about to try again to tease them into admitting it when shi suddenly found hirself cut off from everyone in hir link other than Blackflower. Opening hir eyes to look at hym shi said, “What the hell? I didn’t feel any reason for you to shield me.”

I didn’t something outside this room must have triggered it,” Blackflower said as hy checked hys display. “Whatever it is, the entire school is now in full lock down!”

Seconds later they both felt an overwhelming presence, one that the fields had blunted but had been unable to fully stop.

I am Tyso,” the presence told them, “I will speak to Shadowcrest.”

This is an evaluation clinic! You are not allowed to just force your way in here and demand that shi talks to you!” Blackflower fired back. Hys eyes open wide in surprise, as the presence seemed to weigh on hym before hy slumped down, rendered unconscious by the much more powerful mind force.

What have you done to hym?” Shadowcrest demanded.

Never mind hym, hy is of no matter. Fully link with us and we will begin the training you will require to work with us.”

No. I will decide who will train me and how!” Shadowcrest snapped back.

No,” the presence countered, growing heavier on hir mind. “Such a new and powerful mind must be properly taught no one else but us is acceptable.”

No! Damn you no!” Shadowcrest protested as shi fought the overpowering feeling of being mentally smothered. Shi reached out seeking help. In the other shielded school rooms shi found Lighttouch, Windsong, Holly and Quickdash. It took only seconds for them to understand what was going on and offer what limited aid they could to Shadowcrest, helping hir begin to push back against the other presence.

The presence redoubled its efforts. “You can not win for we are many more than you. We will be the ones to train you to work for us.”

No,” Shadowcrest growled back, the extra help boosted by Lighttouch’s guidance was allowing hir to keep the presence at bay with a little less strain. Hir links also gave hir another advantage, though shi was borrowing their strength, the others still had full use of their minds.

Even with our help, shi won’t be able to hold them off for too much longer,” Lighttouch warned the others through the link Shadowcrest had created between them.

Maybe we can attack them from a non-mental angle,” Holly suggested. “Like dropping a big rock on them? I’ve got a better idea!” Quickdash told them. “Lighttouch, see if you can’t find the main link for their group and read it to your comm badge.”

What have you got in mind?” Lighttouch asked as he used Shadowcrest’s support to probe at the presence.

Just thinking of kerplunking their key links,” Quickdash answered with a laugh as shi keyed hir own comm badge. “That should confuse the hell out of them!” “Tess! Warm up your transporters Shady's under some kind of mental attack, Lighttouch is trying to get us a target to kerplunk.”

“Waiting for coordinates and I think you’ve managed to stir up the deities as well,” Tess reported.

All links lead to Tyso!” Lighttouch finally said in triumph. They all felt as the main force pushing on Shadowcrest seemed to lighten for a moment and then totally collapse a few seconds later.

What did you guys do?” Shadowcrest asked in surprise on their private link as the presence turned into over a hundred minor minds none of which were now able to properly focus on hir through the fields.

We kerplunked their kingpin!” Holly laughed, “They were confused when they lost their link to hym but then they tried to relink while hy was still falling!

What are we going to do with them? We can’t just let them go so they can force the next person they want to take control of,” Windsong wondered.

I had a thought on that,” Lighttouch admitted. “If Shadowcrest isn’t too tired.

I’m too mad to be tired,” Shadowcrest admitted. “What did you have in mind?

No one has the right to do what that group just attempted. I want to see if we can get a good enough mind image of each of the perpetrators to give to the proper authorities,” Lighttouch told hir.

Tess now has their main link shielded and in the brig,” Holly pointed out.

And without their linchpin, I’m able to sense over a hundred others,” Shadowcrest added. “Is that what you were after?

Yes, but ‘I’ can’t get past these fields to reach them ” Lighttouch pointed out with a mental grin.

“The Tyso gestalt just collapsed!” Mapper said in surprise as hy and Trace jumped into a waiting PTV. Hy checked hys timepiece, it had been less than a full minute from Trace telling hym to get them a ride.

“Any word from Blueblossom?”

“We’ll have to call hir on the comm as only the strongest minds will be able to penetrate those fields,” hy reminded hir.

“Tyso’s gestalt could probably do it,” Trace muttered.

“Maybe they did,” Mapper suggested with a hint of a grin forming on hys muzzle.

Shi stared back at hym in disbelief. “You really think any single mind could not only hold back but beat that gestalt? An untrained mind at that?”

“Something or someone just kicked Tyso and hys friends in the teeth or do you think they saw the fields go up and said ‘oh to hell with this’ and broke for lunch?” hy countered. “PSI Cait reported shi was holding over eighty links before making their Cait connection, I don’t think I want to underestimate this Shadowcrest at this point.”

“Agreed,” Trace admitted. “But now that Tyso tried to force hir, will shi be willing to work with anyone?”

“Only one way to find out, though we may need to render aid before we worry more about hir training ...”

They rode in silence to the evaluation clinic, each lost in their own thoughts.

Minutes later Blueblossom met them as they pulled up to the main entrance. “They’re gone!” shi blurted out without preamble.

“Who’s gone?” Trace asked the troubled chakat.

“The four I brought in for evaluation; Shadowcrest, Windsong, Quickdash and Holly.”

“Were they taken against their will?” Trace was asking as a skunktaur shi didn’t know came out the door behind Blueblossom.

“No,” the skunktaur replied, “Their father pulled them home. He thought they’d be safer there.”

“Lighttouch! What happened in there?” Blueblossom demanded.

“It seems someone learned of Shadowcrest's potential and decided they must possess it,” hy said dryly. “Shi declined.”

“But how did shi overpower the Tyso gestalt?” Mapper wondered out loud.

Lighttouch gave a glare at the other skunktaur as hy growled, “If you knew they were coming for hir, why didn’t you help us fight them?”

“We did what we could in the little time we had,” Trace replied for hym, “When we sensed the gestalt shifting, we called for the fields to come up. We had hoped that would slow them down enough for us to get over here to help.”

“But it didn’t,” Mapper added, staring at Lighttouch. “Instead, we didn’t even make it to a vehicle before this ‘Shadowcrest’ not only survived but defeated the gestalt. How is that even possible for someone with so little experience?”

“With a little help from hir friends and family,” Lighttouch admitted.

How?” Blueblossom demanded in surprise, “You were the strongest telepath in the group that came in with hir there’s no way you could protect hir all by yourself!”

“The gestalt tried to force itself on hir and shi said hir guide tried to tell them to go away that reminds me, Shadowcrest was worried about Blackflower, hy passed out when hy tried to confront the gestalt,” Lighttouch said.

“You’re avoiding telling us how shi beat the gestalt and where shi is,” Trace pointed out.

“Nor do I plan to, we may need to use it again if someone else tries to attack or force themselves on hir.”

“We’re not all like that,” Trace protested.

“Yet you live right next door to those you know are ‘just like that’ ”

“It’s not a perfect world that we live in,” Mapper protested.

“And that is why I’d prefer not to give away how we beat your gestalt,” Lighttouch told them. “I suggest you go check on Blackflower,” hy told Blueblossom.

Blueblossom frowned, but then shi turned and reentered hir clinic. “And I’ll see about getting those fields cancelled,” shi muttered as the doors closed behind hir.

“I am Trace of PSI, Chakona; may I know who you are?” the small chakat asked.

“Lighttouch, Fleet,” was the curt reply.

“Fleet has to work with us,” shi pointed out.

“Only up to a point, and I am currently on detached service.”

Mapper had been silently talking to their office and said, “Hy’s attached to some star ship named Folly, freighter class, Shadowcrest is also mentioned in the briefs.”

“Do we have anything on this Folly?” shi asked.

Lighttouch allowed hymself a small grin as the request was relayed. Hy watched Mapper quickly frown several times before turning to hys associate. “What we have is too much to go over quickly,” hy told hys boss.

Lighttouch’s grin grew into a smile at the sour looks the other two were exchanging; hy guessed that they had already tripped over one or more of the warnings to tread carefully around the Folly and her captain.

Instead Trace said, “Tyso is missing. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?”

Lighttouch nodded. “Hy’s being held by the Folly until hy can be handed over to the proper authorities.”

“The Folly has no jurisdiction and no rights to hold hym,” Mapper pointed out.

“I understand the captain said something about that if Chakona can’t keep hym from mind-raping other talents, then he would ”

“I really need to speak to your captain,” Trace told hym.

“Go ahead,” Lighttouch's comm badge said.

“Please release Tyso to my custody,” Trace said.

“How can I be sure hy won’t attack my cubs again once hy has hys gestalt behind hym?”

“I give you my word that we can control hym.”

“If you had that much control over hym, why didn’t you just tell the gestalt to leave Shadowcrest alone instead of calling for the fields and racing over?”

“How did you ?”

“There’s a reason that Fleet only pulls my chain when they’re very sure of their facts, kitten. I’ll send Tyso down, but you will not remove the headband I am placing on hys head.”

The skunktaur that appeared before them was average in most ways, nothing physical to hint at hys mental abilities, nude but for a silver headband with a chin strap. Hy seemed very nervous and distraught as hy looked around at least until hy saw Trace. Hy rushed over to hir and all but got on hys knees as hy blurted out, “Save me! You have to protect me from them!”

Trace stepped back in surprise, as shi had never seen Tyso when hy wasn’t on top of things and in control. “And what happened to you?”

“They attacked me! They stung me everywhere! They wouldn’t stop you have to protect me from them!”

“And why were you being stung?” Lighttouch's comm badge asked.

“I was just trying to help!” hy shot back, fear turning to anger now that hy was no longer where the stingers had been.

“You were trying to force yourself onto a youth and you kept trying, even after shi told you no ” Lighttouch corrected hym.

Tyso had started to glare at Lighttouch only to suddenly drop to the ground clutching the headband.

“Passive only,” the comm badge told hym, “You are forbidden from actively using your talents for the next sixty hours. Any lapses and you will be forcibly reminded and the timer will be reset,” the voice said.

“You can’t do this to me,” Tyso whimpered, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Actually, you did, and have been,” Trace quietly admitted. “And we’ve needed you so badly that we’ve been letting you get away with it ”

Lighttouch nodded. “Like not teaching a cub not to bite, they’ll keep doing it until someone bigger knocks their teeth out and they won’t be able to understand why because they’ve always gotten away with it before.”

“The headband is the only real punishment hy’ll understand, as it stops the one thing no one has ever made hym stop doing before. Sixty hours, Tyso. Sixty hours of not having your way by nudging or forcing others,” the comm badge told them.

“What was hy saying about being stung?” Mapper wanted to know.

“He was placed in a holosuite with handful of cubs for a couple minutes, everyone including hym was armed with ‘stingers’,” Lighttouch told them. “It seems Tyso never learned to take it, just to dish it out ”

“With that headband ” Trace started to say.

“Hy wasn’t wearing it at that time,” Lighttouch informed hir. “That was added when you insisted that hy be placed in your custody.”

“Get this thing off of me, I can’t stand it!” Tyso whined.

“You want it left on,” the comm badge told hym.

“No I don’t!”

“Sure you do. Because if it is removed and I detect you using your talents in any way, shape, or form, you’ll get to practice your falling again and won’t that be fun?”

“Falling?” Trace asked.

Lighttouch quietly sighed before admitting, “To break hys grip on the gestalt we had hym dropped from five thousand meters. When the others tried to re-link with hym, hys blind panic quickly shattered what was left of hys gestalt.”

That’s how you did it. A purely physical attack and totally disruptive,” Mapper muttered.

“Precisely,” Lighttouch admitted.

“Is there any chance at all that I might speak with Shadowcrest?” Trace asked.

“Shi really doesn’t think much of you guys right now,” the comm badge told hir.

“I know, but the longer we wait, the more set those feelings will get in hir mind.”

“I’ll ask.”

While they waited, Blueblossom returned with Blackflower. ‘No real harm was done to hym,” shi told them, “They just knocked hym out to keep hym from interfering.”

Blackflower just glared at Tyso, who grimaced and then tried to pull hys headband off again. “What’s hys problem?” Blackflower wanted to know.

“Hys new headband will zap hym hard enough to disrupt hys thoughts every time hy tries to actively use hys talents,” Lighttouch informed hym. “Part of the punishment Shadowcrest’s father placed on hym.”

Blackflower concentrated on Tyso for a moment before saying, “Hy still thinks hy can talk hys way out of this.”

“Stop reading me!” Tyso demanded before having to grab at hys headband yet again.

“But it’s ok for you to read everyone else?” Blackflower countered, glaring at the other skunktaur.

“Blackflower? Shadowcrest would like to see you if you’d like to join hir,” Lighttouch told hym.

“Yes! Where is shi?” hy agreed just before hy was enveloped by a transporter beam.

“So, what does it take to get me an audience with this Shadowcrest?” Trace half joked.

“Hir choice, not yours,” Lighttouch reminded hir.

“I know,” shi admitted. “I also know I’m lucky you guys haven’t just up and disappeared on us.”

“This issue has to be resolved, preferably permanently. We will be watching to see how you handle Tyso’s indiscretions before we put too much trust in whatever else you may happen to say.”

“While I don’t have as much pull with Tyso’s keepers as you seem to think, some of them will listen to my suggestions.”

“If you can’t make hym behave, someone else will.”

“Your Captain Foster?”

“Or Shadowcrest, once shi’s properly trained. Hy needed a gestalt of over a hundred to punch hys way through those fields, but shi reached me and the others through those same fields under hir own power. One on one shi could probably take hym now, once trained shi could be quite useful to whoever can command hir loyalty and trust. I imagine Tyso thought that if hy could get to hir quickly enough hy could turn hir into just one more puppet under hys control.”

“About the gestalt ”

Lighttouch shook hys head. “Shadowcrest and I gave them a bit of what they’d tried pushing on hir just a playback of what Tyso had forced on Shadowcrest and hir rejecting it. It should be interesting to see what they think of their own actions this day.”

Blackflower picked that moment to return, hy was grinning widely as hy appeared. “Wow, shi bounces back quickly,” hy told Blueblossom when hy saw hir.

“Oh? What were you two doing up there?” shi wondered with a frown.

“Just finishing up that call to hir parents on Bright Hope, they had been worried by how abruptly shi was cut off the first time.”

“Do you think shi’s ready to talk to us?”

“Just ‘talk’, no mind to mind,” Shadowcrest’s voice said from Lighttouch’s comm badge.

“Agreed,” Trace and Blueblossom said at the same time. Seconds later they found themselves in a small room with a couple taur pads already laid out for them.

A moment later, Shadowcrest appeared across from them.

Trace frowned as shi said, “You’re not really here ”

“No, I’m in another holosuite and your room is shielded from the rest of the ship. You did say you just wanted to ‘talk’,” shi reminded them.

“This does show a lack of trust,” Blueblossom pointed out.

“I just had one of your pet mind readers try to force themselves on me, and my father’s trust in you is very low right now. So was mine once I found you knew what was happening, Shir Trace ”

“While PSI uses Tyso’s gestalt from time to time, hy and they are not slaves we can’t force or control them.”

“And for that ‘use’, you allow them to do things they shouldn’t I want each of them evaluated. Enough of them thought it was ‘ok’ that Tyso received no backlash while hy was using the gestalt to attack me.”

“We will,” Blueblossom assured hir.

“Not just for what they tried with me,” Shadowcrest warned hir, “Some of those I sensed think they are always ‘perfect’ and correct, and my rubbing their nose in it will be hard on them.”

“What are you suggesting you saw?” Trace asked, looking concerned.

“Imagine you were training a student and they were injured, would you just say they were weak or would you be soul-searching a bit to see if there was something you could have done differently?”

“The soul-search,” Trace quickly replied, Blueblossom nodding in agreement.

“Some of those of the gestalt will now be looking over all the things they’ve helped do while under Tyso’s influence. I can’t imagine that all of them will be pleased with some of the things they find.”

“And we may want to help with that,” Blueblossom agreed. “Is there a way we could contact Blackflower and Mapper?”

Tess’s voice came up out of the air, “They are still with Lighttouch and Tyso, I can relay if you like.”

“Yes, please.”

“Mapper here, I take it they have some rather impressive fields up there, Boss.”

“They do indeed,” Trace agreed, “I’d almost bet that even the gestalt would have been stopped by them.”

“But that isn’t the reason for this call?”

“No, it isn’t. We need to gather up all of those from the gestalt, some of them might be taking this harder than Tyso was.”

“Already on it as we needed to question them about it anyway.”

“I knew there was a reason I have you as my second ”

“You mean it wasn’t for my animal magnetism?” hy asked with a laugh.

“You do have your uses,” shi admitted before having Tess disconnect the call. Turning back to Shadowcrest, shi said, “I know you probably think it’s too early to talk about it, but we really need to discuss you and what training we can help you with.”

Folly will be leaving Chakona soon and I will not be staying behind,” Shadowcrest informed them.

“Not a problem, as you yourself are the solution,” Trace told hir with a grin. “You’ve already proven you can reach almost anywhere, so you could contact your instructor whenever you were ready for your lessons.”

“But I still need to find one that will take me but not try to force themselves on me.”

“That’s true, and the best talents don’t always make the best teachers,” Trace admitted. Looking over at Blueblossom shi asked, “Any suggestions?”

“For a T5 of hir power? No. I don’t have anyone capable of keeping up with hir.”

“Hmmm. They don’t need to be able to ‘keep up’, just teach hir how to properly flex hir mental muscles.”

“If you put it that way, I could let Blackflower finish teaching hir all hy knows and then have hym pass hir up to the next level. None of them can truly stress hir to hir max, but they can show hir how to use hir talents without hurting hirself or others.”

“Will that suit you?” Trace asked Shadowcrest.

Shi slowly nodded. “Self paced and a step at a time I am willing to try,” shi agreed.

“Excellent! Then Blueblossom and I have a bit of work to do. I hope to see you again sometime when we can get a proper feel for each other.”

“Another time perhaps,” Shadowcrest agreed.

After the chakats had been beamed back to the surface, Neal joined Shadowcrest.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked hir.

“I don’t think they took my warning about the gestalt members seriously enough.”

“You warned them, that’s the best that we can do without pulling a Tyso and using force to make them see things our way. And the rest of it?”

“I should be able to sense if they try to have Blackflower do more than they said they would and if they have someone ‘riding’ hym.”

“Otherwise ok?”

“Yeah. It’s going to be a bit like cubs trying to teach an adult to walk, but I think that’s better than having someone trying to ‘own’ me.”

“You have to remember that there are very few T5s in the first place, and most of those they will have busy doing the things that only a T5 can.”

“I know; it’s just that my first time out and I’m attacked by an asshole.”

“From the sounds of it, hy may have stepped a bit too far over the line this time which means you taking the hit may have protected someone in the future.”

“What do you think?”

“Talents and their training are way over my head, I’m just a simple engineer and freighter captain.” Neal grinned at the dirty look shi gave him before adding, “Work with what you have. Lighttouch may not be a trainer, but hy should be a good judge of what they may try to have you do, and I take it you do trust this Blackflower?”


“Then get hys feelings on things and the instructor they offer after you’ve learned all you can from hym.”

“When I was young, I always thought that having a talent would be fun, but all this is is work ”

“Heh, through Tess I heard our terror twins griping about all the extra work one little change would make, yet when I asked them about it, they were adamant in wanting to do it themselves.”

“They were afraid you might stop teaching them.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t want to overdo it with them either well, after we leave Chakona I’ll see if we can’t get back into more teaching and less work.”

“How’d their testing go?”

“Holly appears to be a high T2 or low T3, Quickdash is a solid T3 but both might move up as they mature.”

“And Windsong?”

“They were still testing hir when Tyso tried for you, so they want hir back to try again.”

“We already know shi’s done more than most T3s can, the question was how much more.”

“And then how well, I know. Mixed with hir other talents, it should be rather interesting to see how far shi can go.”

“I’m not trying to read you, but I know there’s something else on your mind,” shi softly said. “Something I think you think will hurt me ”

Not looking at hir, Neal was quiet for almost a minute before murmuring, “It’s all on the wheel, it all comes around. It’s all a matter of perspective; hero or villain is just a matter of which side you’re rooting for. We see Tyso as the villain, forcing hys will on others. But is hy any different than you were when you tried to force Desertwind to see me from your point of view?”

Shadowcrest’s brow furrowed as shi seemed to just freeze in place. It was over a full minute before shi moved, and that was to take a full breath. Hir voice was husky as shi quietly said, “Thank the deities Lighttouch was there to stop me.”

“And hy was there to help you stop Tyso.”

“I never did thank hym properly for that,” Shadowcrest continued as if Neal hadn’t spoken. “I wonder if hy wouldn’t mind a cuddle tonight?”

“If Moonglow doesn’t already have plans for hym,” Neal reminded hir with a grin.

“One way or another, hy’s getting thanked,” shi told him with a matching grin.

“Oh and before I forget, the ship’s cook has told me to tell you to report to her domain for a very large snack, something about you burning quite a few calories this morning.”

“Is everybody watching my damn food intake?” Shadowcrest huffed.

“Just those of us that care about you,” Tess said from a nearby speaker, “Which means most of us.”

“A couple of us figure you’ll have enough keepers,” Neal added with a grin. “Go before she comes hunting you.”

“Well, that made for an interesting morning,” Shortdash commented as they were finishing lunch.

“Stop glaring at Neal, it’s not his fault Shadowcrest was attacked,” Weaver told hir.

“No,” shi agreed, “but why did he just happen to have that talent zapping headband on hand?”

“I didn’t,” Neal informed hir.

“Here’s where he tells us he whipped one up in no time from all the bits and bobs down in engineering,” Quickwind quipped.

“Someone want to tell them how I could have done it?” he asked as he looked over at the teens.

Chakat Calmmeadow smirked as shi said, “There’s nothing to the execution, like one of those shock collars to train dogs not to bark. The trick would be sensing when hy was trying to use his talents.”

Chakat Roseberry smiled as well. “He cheated,” shi told them. “That was why he wanted Tyso getting nailed by the cubs hy was doing everything hy could to get them to stop all the while I'll bet Neal had Tess getting brain scans to show which areas were active when hy tried to use hys talent.”

Slowly nodding, Neal said, “Very good, your solution is simple, elegant and it covers all the bases.”

“And it’s wrong?” Shortdash asked, glaring slightly when Neal only grinned in return.

“So, was anybody else not ready to confront their parents when Shady linked us?” Calmmeadow asked the other teens that evening.

“Catch you at a bad time too did shi?” Nightsky replied with a snicker. “Shi caught me numbly nodding to what my mom thought I’d be doing when we get back to Bright Hope while wondering how fast Tess could get me back onboard once we get there. Mom just stopped dead in shock, staring at me. I was trying to think of something to say anything to explain why I didn’t want to follow that old career path when shi just snorted and said, ‘Well, I guess that captain of yours really has turned some of you into spacers. We’ll discuses this again once you get home and I promise not to enroll you in any classes until we see what you really need.’ Dad just gave me a thumb’s up behind hir back, shi knows us both well enough to know shi’s going to have to sit on my mom for a bit to get hir to calm down and shi knows I don’t plan on changing my mind.”

Mike just shook his head. “While ‘Meadow was trying to deal with hir mom, I was talking to my folks and trying to herd cats at the same time. The little ones had decided that that was a good time to go into their ‘advanced behavior mode’ as Neal calls it. Dad was making jokes about it and my mom was wondering how I’d ever keep up with them when Shadowcrest played hir little trick on us.” Looking around at the others, he added, “While I’m not used to feeling my parents like you chakats are, all I could really feel off them was pride at what I was doing.”

Calmmeadow nodded. “Shady cross-linked us, so I felt them too, they are very proud of their wandering son. Your mom was also mentally trying to figure out what all needs cub proofing once we’re in your old house.”

If we stay there, I’m still not sure,” he reminded hir.

“No hurry, we have a few months yet,” shi agreed.

Cindy looked thoughtful as she said, “You two could always use my grandmother’s old estate. It’s more than big enough for even Mike to get around easily in and you’d be doing me a favor by making it impossible for my excuse for a father to try to lay any claim to it.”

“You mean buy it out from under you?” Calmmeadow asked.

“Try before you buy,” Cindy corrected. “While it’s a nice old place, right now it holds too many bad memories for me to want to live there any time soon.”

“To consider,” Mike agreed. “Anything else we need to talk about while we’re all in one place?”

“Just how not to get slapped in the face with a surprise link again,” Nightsky said with a grin to suggest shi wasn’t all that upset by it.

“Wear a headband,” Alex told hir with a grin. “Or, you know, maybe we could just ask Shady to give us a little ‘heads up’ before shi establishes a link next time?”

I promise it won’t happen again,” they all heard Shadowcrest say in their minds. “And before any of you start complaining about me spying on you right now, it’s kind of hard not to hear several people thinking hard about you!

“So we basically called your attention to us,” Mike stated.

Yeah, though I was going to try to talk to you guys about it sooner or later,” Shadowcrest admitted. “I was informed by several parties that that was more than a little ‘over the top’.

“My mom?” Nightsky asked.

Yes, and Blackflower and just a few others; I could feel that some of you wanted to feel each other, and rather than just open those few I screwed up and opened them all.

“Well,” Nightsky said, “I was going to say that your timing couldn’t have been any worse if you’d planned it, but nailing my mom with what I really thought of hir plans for my future probably saved us a rather long argument later. So thanks, but please a little ‘heads up’ next time?”

Can do. And the rest of you?” shi asked.

“You don’t have to tell the others we’re down here comparing notes?” Alex suggested.

Heh, I’ll have to think of a suitable bribe for keeping quiet on that subject,” Shadowcrest said, though they could all hear hir snicker of agreement in their minds.


To be continued!

Copyright © 2005-2013 Allen Fesler – Redbear1158 (at) either gmail or hotmail dot com

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

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

Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns.

The Quange were created by Roy D. Pounds II.

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

Tauna Shadowback and Vanessa/Rain are copyright Chakat Scirocco and used with her permission.

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

Chakat Blackrose is copyright Chuck (Nicolai) Percy

Chakat Blackstar, hir ships and crews copyright Alex Wiegerling.

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

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


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