Chapter 16: No Turning Back
by Honeymane


Honeymane slowly opened hir eyes to the sunlight sneaking through the crack in her bedroom’s curtains. Shi flicked an ear; shi could hear the loud and annoying zzi-who of what passed for a bird on Chakona. Even though shi had been living out in the country for a couple of years now, shi still wasn’t used to the sounds of the wilderness, and more often than not shi found them more than a bit annoying – especially when they woke hir up. A loud snort behind hir reminded hir of the other annoying sounds in the home, although this one was of a more pleasant sort. Turning hir head, shi came face to face with hir boyfriend’s grey muzzle. Shi wrapped hir arms around him loosely, buried hir head in his neck fur and inhaled deeply, enjoying the wolftaur’s scent.

To hir surprise, his arms responded in kind and his head leaned down to kiss hir on the top of hir head. "Good morning, sleepyhead!"

"Hmm, it feels like I could just turn over and sleep another few hours," Honeymane groaned, leaning into hir boyfriend’s arms. "We really need to think about having a cut-off hour for that sort of stuff, Diru."

Diru barked a laugh. "Maybe, but I was under the impression you enjoyed it, ’Mane."

Shi smirked. "I didn’t say I didn’t, just that—" Shi paused to yawn. , "—we might want to plan it better next time," shi finished, closing hir eyes and feeling the warmth and comfort begin to take hir.

The wolftaur licked the edge of hir ear, causing it to flick. "I hope you’re not thinking of dozing off again, ’Mane. You’ve got a fairly early meeting."

"I know, I know," shi sighed half-heartedly. Shi flicked hir ear again as Diru repeated his lick. "Urgh, stop it!"

"No!" He laughed in a tone of voice that suggested he was enjoying it. After about five more lickings, Honeymane pushed him away and rolled onto hir belly, before raising hir torso off the pillows and other soft fabrics that made up hir private bed. "All right, all right, I’m up! Jesus!" shi swore, before being cut off by a jaw-cracking yawn and an undeniable desire to stretch. It felt good as hir whole body tensed and hir muscles worked out the knots from a night’s worth of sleep. After a good half minute like this shi relaxed, feeling refreshed and energized. Flopping back down on hir belly, shi looked back over to hir boyfriend, who was lying on his backs with a look that suggested he obviously enjoyed the show. Shi rolled hir eyes as shi moved back beside him, although this time any weariness had been squeezed out of hir body. "Still enjoy my stretching, Diru?"

"Hmm." Diru grinned. "How can I not? All those muscles moving over one another, your backs arched… the look of pleasure on your face—"

Honeymane laughed. "Face? I think you mean my tits."

"Heh, those too." Diru grinned again as his hand ran down hir upper back, rubbing the thick cluster of muscles that formed hir torso joint. ’Mane could see where this was headed, not that shi minded. Shuffling over, shi pushed hir chest against his broad, flat one and kissed him on the muzzle. The sensations of lust filled hir mind, both from hirself and empathically from Diru, and it wasn’t long before shi felt his lust in a far more direct way. "My, aren’t we horny this morn?" shi whispered, as hir handpaw sought out hir boyfriend’s stiffening penis.

"I don’t think I’m the only one," Diru replied with a smirk, before nibbling hir collarbone.

"Ohhh," ’Mane sighed happily. "You might be right there…."

After several minutes of heavy petting, long meaningful kisses and other sensual things, Diru paused, and panted, "I think we’re ready for the fun, don’t you ’Mane?"

"I certainly do," shi purred, vibrating lustfully, "except for one thing – time for you wrap it."

"Aw, come on Honeymane. Really?" Diru groaned, shaking his head. "Can’t we have sex just once without me wearing a condom?"

"Maybe one day, but that day isn’t today," ’Mane replied teasingly. "You know the rules."

"You don’t wear one when, uh, you do… what you do," the wolftaur moaned.

"Of course I don’t, Diru. It’s not as if you can get pregnant from that." Honeymane shook hir head; shi could already feel the moment slipping away, and yet another argument was brewing.

"Neither can you! You’re not in heat! It’s not as if I can get you preggers." Diru crossed his arms. "And don’t give me some crap about being near heat, either. I’ve been tracking your cycles for a while now, and I know for a fact you’re nearing rut – as if other events weren’t evidence enough of that."

"Listen, Diru. I told you when we started this relationship that I wasn’t going to be taking any chances with this stuff, and you —" Shi poked his chest. "— agreed to that. If you want to have sex, you’re going to have to wrap your junk. I don’t see what the big deal is."

"I know," Diru replied, raising his voice slightly, "but this is bordering on insanity." However, he sighed and rolled off the pile, before waddling awkwardly to Honeymane’s personal drawer’s top shelf where shi kept all hir ‘fun’ stuff, and rummaging around for a condom. As he looked he muttered something shi couldn’t quite hear. "What was that?" shi said sharply.

Diru and Honeymane

"I said, I only started dating you because chakats are suppose to be easy," he said angrily, "but you’re no better than any other bitch!"

"Oh, that is IT!" Honeymane roared, rolling to hir legs. "Get out! Get out! Get the fuck out, you son of a bitch!"

"Yeah? Well I just will! Fuck you, Honeymane!" Diru roared in reply, trying to turn around in the fairly small room.

’Mane grabbed the neatly bundled pile of clothing of his from where he had left it the day before and threw it at him as he opened the door into the hallway. As his rump waddled out the door, hir foreleg swung up and nailed him right between the hindlegs, causing him to yelp in pain as his testicles bore the blunt of the blow. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of it, he grabbed his tossed clothes and high-tailed it out of the room and down the hallway, as Honeymane followed trying to get a few more blows in before he left the premises. However injured he was, however, he managed to twist out of hir arm’s reach and dash out the front door into the bright sunlight, to where shi hoped shi’d never see him again.

After shi slammed the door and the anger started to drain from hir, it was replaced with something not quite sadness, but certainly melancholy; what was worse was hir sinking feeling that his words had been said in the heat of the moment, and he hadn’t really meant them. But if he hadn’t, he probably didn’t regret them now, given he’d likely be nursing his bruises for a while. Moreover, shi was starting to miss the bastard. After a few minutes of leaning against the hallway’s doorframe, hir train of thought, mostly composed of boxcars of self-pity and loathing, was interrupted by someone clearing their throat. ’Mane sighed heavily before turning to face the newcomer, while trying to put on a brave face and compose hirself. "Morning, Sugarback."

"You and Diru have another fight?" Sugarback asked softly, looking both bedraggled and concerned in hir fur.

"You heard that, eh?" ’Mane sidestepped the question with a question of hir own as shi ran a hand through hir hair, undoing some of the tangles.

"The walls aren’t that soundproof," the chubby chakat said, as a slight grin emerged on hir face. "How about I make you something to eat and we can talk about it, hmm?"

Honeymane nodded and before shi knew it shi was inhaling the scents of hir aunt’s cooking, and listening to hir low humming of some tune; every now and again shi’d burst out with a line or two from whatever song it was that was stuck in hir head at that moment, making for a very comforting atmosphere. About half a year older than Sugarback, shi and Sugarback had grown up together for the majority of their lives together, and in a lot of ways shi was more like a sister than an aunt, and more of a friend than most of Honeymane’s modest circle of friends – among other things. Over the years shi had grown not just up, but more than a little sideways, making hir figure voluptuous and a fairly stark contrast to hir own thin and wiry build, none of which mattered to ’Mane in the least. Nevertheless, however fond shi was of Sugarback’s cooking, singing or figure, shi wasn’t in any particular mood to discuss the recent events.

"Do you want cheese in your omelette, hon?" Sugarback asked, looking over hir shoulder at ’Mane.

"Yes, please," Honeymane replied, before using the offering as catalysis to change the subject. "So, uh, are you nervous about your entrance exam?"

"Not really," Sugarback responded as shi went back to hir cooking, before playing down the significance of hir upcoming test. "They mostly just want to know you can cook before accepting you, and I think I got that covered." In about a week or so, Sugarback had an entrance exam to ‘write’ in order to get into the school of hir vocation, which was perhaps naturally a chief, and despite hir words, shi had spent most of hir time fretting over it. "But let’s not talk about me right now," shi said as shi skilfully slid two complete omelettes onto plates and placed one before ’Mane, and the other before hirself and sat down on hir haunches. "What was the fight about? Was it about —" Hir voice dropped to a whisper. "— your plan?"

"What? No, no," Honeymane replied somewhat loudly, before dropping to a whisper hirself. "I haven’t told him, and given what’s happened, I doubt I will."

"Really? I thought you would have. I mean, he is your boyfriend. Or was," shi added somewhat unnecessarily at the end. "He might have noticed something when you suddenly weren’t here."

"I dunno, – I guess the relationship’s been on the rocks for a while. I mean, I always knew he wasn’t the one, but lately he’s been rather jerk-ish and unpleasant." Mane Honeymane told the chakat across the table as much as shi told hirself. "We probably would have broken up earlier if I didn’t, um, enjoy…." Shi let hir sentence trail off into nothingness.

"Certain aspects of his body?" Sugarback said with a smirk as Honeymane blushed. "So if it wasn’t about that, what was it about?"

"I wanted him to wear a condom, because you know…. Well, anyway, he got pissy and said some things," ’Mane explained half-heartedly.

"Doesn’t sound so bad. Why do you think it’s over?" Sugarback asked, as shi began to dig into hir cooling omelette.

"Ah, well…." Honeymane looked down at hir meal. "I kicked him in the balls on his way out."

"Ouch!" Sugarback grimaced; although shi really didn’t know what such an act would feel like, shi had a rough idea. "This is why I’m glad we don’t have them."

"Don’t have what?" asked a voice as Sugarback’s own lover, a tall and thin lemur-morph, walked into the kitchen in hir mauve bathrobes, before shi leaned down and gave hir hermfriend a kiss on hir cheek that turned into a full kiss, making Honeymane feel more than a bit wistful.

"Testicles," Sugarback replied with a small grin. "Sit down, and I’ll fix you something to eat, Nuru."

"Why am I not surprised," Nuru groaned dramatically. "I suppose you’ve told ’Mane all about what you did last night."

Sugarback laughed. "No, actually, although you might have to recount that tale yourself, now that you’ve brought it up." Nuru blushed and looked embarrassed, and for once Honeymane didn’t feel interested in enquiring further. "I’m afraid it’s up to Honeymane if shi wants to disclose the essence of what we were talking about."

Nuru’s slightly pointed face turned to ’Mane with a curious expression that made Honeymane wonder if shi wasn’t part chakat.

"I, uh, broke up with Diru this morning," ’Mane said, answering Nuru’s question before it was asked. "And in the process I gave him a swift kick in, uh, the balls."

"Ouch!" Nuru echoed Sugarback’s reaction, but unlike the two chakats, Nuru did have external testicles, and did have some minor experience with the painful sensation. "So you’ve broken up? How are you feeling?"

"Pretty rotten to be honest," shi admitted. "I wish I hadn’t."

"Aw, don’t worry. I’m sure there’s someone or someones out there for you, and I’m sure you’ll meet them one day." Nuru smiled. "I mean, look at me and Sugarback. I never really imagined myself with a chakat, but here we are." Unlike Mane’s relationship with Diru, Nuru and Sugarback’s relationship was far more serious, although how far they’d take it was something only they knew.

"Here you are, love," Sugarback said, plopping a dish with another omelette on it in front of the lemur. "Eat up. And that goes for you too, ’Mane. I hate to remind you, but you have an appointment in about two hours. I’m sure shi’d understand if you don’t want to go, of course…."

"No, you’re right." Honeymane nodded and busied hirself with hir eggs. "I’d better be going if I’m to be on time. Plus, I have to make a good impression, don’t I?" With a task at hand shi felt hir unhappy mood lift off hir shoulders as shi reviewed the mental checklist of things shi needed to get down before the meeting began.

"What meeting is this?" Nuru asked, looking rather chakatish again.

"I’ll tell you later Nuru," Sugarback told Nuru’s questioning face pointedly as ’Mane wolfed down the omelette and got up from the table to take a quick shower. To hir dismay, however, the situation with Diru as well as the longer-than normal breakfast had left hir running late –, not so late shi’d miss hir appointment, but late enough that when shi exited hir room after getting dressed, shi walked in on the four chakat adults that made up the rest of the family enjoying their breakfast. Honeymane had hoped to get out of the house before they awoke, simply to avoid awkward questions about what shi might be up to.

"Hi, hon. You’re up early," Browneyes greeted hir, with a tone of surprise. "And dressed too. Are you going somewhere?"

Before Honeymane could speak, Sugarback’s father – and Honeymane’s grandparent – Dancer by the Sea answered the question. "I think shi said shi had an appointment today, with a doctor or something."

"A doctor?" Browneyes repeated suspiciously. "I hope I’m not about to find out that wolftaur boyfriend of yours has gotten you pregnant."

Honeymane shook hir head before finding hir tongue. "No, no, it’s just a physical. Besides, Diru and I… broke up."

"What? When?" Spadespot, Sugarback’s father and mate to Dancer, asked, looking concerned.

"This morning, big fight…." Honeymane frowned and crossed hir arms. "I’d really rather not talk about it."

The four chakats stared at hir a for a moment, before they mostly returned to a discussion they had been having over what colour to paint the den, save for Browneyes, who continued to look at hir in a fashion that suggested shi suspected something was going on that shi didn’t know about. After a few moments shi cleared hir throat. "Well, I’m sorry to hear that. How are you planning on getting to this appointment?"

"Uh, well I asked to borrow the PTV a while back and you said yes, so…."

"Whoa, wait!" Seeker exclaimed, cutting in. "I need to get to practice. I need the PTV today."

"And me and Spadespot were going to go shopping," said Sky, Dancer’s lifemate.

"And I was hoping to spent some time at Dewclaw," finished ’Mane’s mother. "I guess we’ll just have to drop you off…."

’Mane panicked. Shi wanted to keep hir actual plans as secret as possible for as long as possible, and being dropped off at the appropriate place would ruin it. "I… no that won’t work, I’m going too far out of everyone’s way."

"Oh? Where is this appointment?" Browneyes asked, with a look that ’Mane was far too familiar with; shi’d have to choose hir next words (and thoughts) carefully, because hir mother was actively paying attention to hir. After a moment’s thought, and hopefully not too long of a pause, shi decided on the truth, or part of it.

"It’s on the Gateway station, so I’m going to the spaceport to get a lift up to it," explained Honeymane, before inventing wildly to explain why shi’d have an appointment on the station. "I applied for a job, you see, at one of the cafés up in the civilian area, and they’ve asked me to come in for a job interview."

Browneyes frowned, clearly not buying the whole story, but as shi opened hir mouth to reply, Seeker cut in. "I think that’s wonderful, dear! I hope you can land it! How about this: your mother can take a ride with Sky and Spadespot in a PTV to the city, and you can drive me to hir practice early."

"Uh, that sounds great!" ’Mane replied in a cheerful tone of voice, before looking at Seeker and doing hir best to ignore hir mother’s eyes, which seemed to be digging holes into hir. "But I’ve got to get going soon. Will you be ready?"

"How soon?" Seeker asked, beginning to eat quickly in anticipation of the answer.

"Like, fifteen minutes, if you can manage it. I’d like to get there early."

"Not a problem. I’ll finish eating and I’ll throw something on," Seeker said between a gulp of coffee and bite of a bagel.

True to hir word shi was ready and in the vehicle with time to spare, although shi hadn’t had hir morning grooming or a shower. ’Mane had played enough chakker to know that to spend time doing that before a game or practice would be pointless. Waving goodbye to everyone, shi put the PTV in reverse and pulled out of the driveway, beginning the trip. Within minutes they were on the highway and the onboard AI took control out of hir hands to gain more speed. Besides the sound of the wind on the body of the PTV, it was quiet – so quiet Honeymane felt the need to break the silence. "So, um, how’s chakker going?"

"Fine, fine," Seeker replied absentmindedly. "Two players are out this season due to pregnancy. You know how it is."

"Yeah…." ‘Chakker’ cubs weren’t exactly unknown, but Seeker’s infertility prevented hir from having to deal with such a thing. "Are you all right? You seem distracted."

Seeker frowned, then chewed hir lower lip with a look of pained indecision, before replying. "I’m wondering if I should point out how close you came to blowing your plan, Honeymane."

Honeymane stared blankly at the red-and-grey chakat, before deciding to play dumb. "Plan?"

"You know the one I’m talking about, ’Mane. Sugarback told hir mother and shi told me – don’t worry! I’ve promised not to tell Browneyes and I’m not going to, even if it does make me feel a bit rotten keeping things from hir. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling at the moment," Seeker explained, looking at the surprised chakat closely.

"I- I- Well I don’t like all this cloak-and-dagger stuff if that’s what you’re asking," Honeymane said forcefully, throwing caution to the winds. "But it needs to be done, and if I don’t do it, who will? Not my mother, I suspect."

After a moment of examining Honeymane’s face uncomfortably, Seeker sighed heavily. "I fear you might be right. I hope you can get done what you need to get done, Honeymane."

’Mane nodded, turning back to the road and placing hir hands on the wheel as the vehicle turned off the highway on an exit that’d take them towards the stadium where Seeker had hir practice. "I hope so too."

Chakona’s Gateway Station was perhaps a study in contrasts. On one hand the station was designed as the nexus from which all traffic to and from the station travelled through, and as such it supported both a lively civilian population and traffic around the clock. Much of the station was designed to be open and airy, both to wow visitors, but also to distract them from the fact that outside was a vacuum that wouldn’t think for a moment to kill them, and only the structures and systems of the station kept them from it. The flip side, however, was the corridors and structures that honeycombed much of the rest of the station, and housed such things as the generators and control systems of the station. The were designed for both functionality and a purpose – to make the structure more difficult to take control of if the station was ever invaded.

As Honeymane walked, every now and again – usually at corners and junctions – shi’d pass by an embedded bump in the wall; having been on the station and in these sections many times before, shi knew them to be concealed turrets carrying a very deadly payload. Similarly, shi sometimes walked under or over depressions that hir telekinetic sense told hir were sealing off long pipes leading to the outer vacuum. None of these fortifications bothered hir much, and shi strode nimbly through the corridors, presenting an identification badge whenever needed, until eventually shi came upon the Star Fleet offices and work stations where hir appointment was. Strolling up to the secretary, shi made hirself known before taking a seat and waiting to be called.

It didn’t take long for hir number to be called, since shi was the only one there, and before shi knew it shi was sitting in front of a marbled-looking chakat in command – hir aunt.

"Honeymane!" Makrana exclaimed, leaping to hir feet and pulling hir into a firm hug, which was returned warmly. "I didn’t know you were coming! You know you never need an appointment to see me."

"I know," Honeymane said, breaking the hug and returning to hir taur-pillow. "But I’ve come here partly on business, Captain Makrana."

"Oh?" Makrana asked, with a bit of a smirk on hir face, returning to hir pillow as well. "And what can I do for you? I should say that if you want to sign up you’ll need to see a recruiter…."

"I know. I…." Honeymane hesitated; Makrana was hir mother’s sister. "I need you to promise thats this stays between us."

"Of course…." Makrana’s smirk faded slightly.

"I… I need a ship. One that’ll take me to Arisia," Honeymane said softly. "I want to see my father."

Makrana frowned deeply and looked troubled. "I suppose your mother knows nothing of this?"

"That’s right, and I’d thank you not to tell hir," Honeymane replied, somewhat crossly.

"It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do for you, ’Mane," Makrana said gently. "I can’t just pull a ship out of my hat, you know."

"But you’re in charge of a lot of the shipping and docking and stuff!" ’Mane pointed out. "Surely…."

"Yes, I am, but I’m not sure what you want me to do. These ships have schedules, and I don’t set them." Makrana sighed impatiently.

"Well… maybe you could see if there was a freighter or something heading to Arisia, and I could stow away in the hold…" Honeymane said a bit wildly, trying not to panic.

Makrana laughed, perhaps a bit harshly. "Even if I was going to help you break that law, the holds of most cargo ships are barely pressurized or heated; you’d be dead long before you managed to get to Arisia, ’Mane."

"Isn’t there anything you can do?" Honeymane asked angrily. "I mean, you’re sleeping with Roseblood for Christ’s sake, and shi’s an admiral! And it’s not like I’m asking for the bloody moon. I just want to see my father, at least once."

Makrana let out a low growl in anger at the mention of Roseblood, before seeming to deflate. "Roseblood hasn’t been in the best of health lately, Honeymane. You know that. It’s not as if shi’s in any condition to pull strings for you."

Honeymane grimaced and felt rotten. Several weeks ago Roseblood had suffered a heart attack which had left hir extremely weak. Shi had been undergoing nanosurgery to repair the damage, but at hir age the odds of hir recovering weren’t particularly great. "I… I know, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…." Honeymane let hirself trail off.

"It’s fine," Makrana said with a sigh, before putting hir head in hir hands. "And… ’Mane, I understand. Your mother shouldn’t have done what shi did, but I don’t know what to do, or if it’s even my place to do something for you."

"Could… could you at least think about it?" Honeymane asked timidly, wishing for the meeting to be over. "Please?"

Makrana straightened up and looked at the chakat before hir. "I will. I promise I will, but I can’t guarantee anything. Do you understand?"

"I do," Honeymane said, standing up as shi sensed the meeting was over. "Please tell me you won’t tell my mother?"

"I already said I wouldn’t," Makrana replied, with a small smile. "Not that it matters. You’re an adult now, by Chakonan law, and that makes you an adult in the Federation. Even if Browneyes knew, there’s nothing shi could do to stop you."

’Mane found hirself smiling sadly. "Perhaps you don’t know my mother…."

Makrana sighed as shi entered the small cabin shi shared with hir mate, dropping hir work PADD on a nearby shelf, causing it to begin transferring files to the cabin’s own secure computer system, in case shi wanted to conduct work while not being paid for it. Although small, the cabin was certainly comfortable, decorated with all manner of décor ranging from throw throw-rugs to strange arteifacts hanging from the fixtures on the wall, originally from far far-off worlds. Most of the objects were, in Makrana’s mind, hir mate’s. Roseblood, as a career officer in Star Fleet after many long years of service, had amassed the collection through hir various contacts and missions to other worlds. By definition, they were alien, although not all were made by aliens. Still, they felt alien to Makrana.

Shi could hardly be displeased with the longtail who had welcomed hir into hir life and hir heart the way shi had, but in many ways the rooms of their living space told the story of Roseblood’s life, and not hir own. A life, Makrana knew (although shi wished shi was ignorant of it) was rapidly approaching its end. But a chakat’s life is not snuffed out so easily, and as soon as shi had heard hir mate come in, the greying pinkish-furred chakat was on hir feet and hurrying over to greet hir.

"You shouldn’t be up like this, Rose!" Makrana exclaimed with a degree of alarm. The effort was obviously costing hir, although the longtail was doing hir best not to show it, careful to make it look as if shi wasn’t really using the wall as a support, but rather as some sort of prop in some sort of seductive move.

"Is that anyway to greet your mate, Makrana?" Roseblood covered whatever distress shi was experiencing with a smile but didn’t quite cover the pain in hir eyes. "I think I’ll have to have a word with your mother. To think shi raised you this way!"

"I could ask you the same thing," Makrana replied, as shi embraced hir mate and guided hir back to where shi had been sitting, thus sparing hir the indignity Makrana knew shi felt at needing hir help to do such simple things. Roseblood had grown up in a Star Fleet environment, and had always been required to be strong and to have no help or assistance. Shi had to help hirself, or received no help at all. But the heart attack had been major, and in hir lower heart, and had left hir smaller upper heart to do all the work necessary. Shi was weak as a kitten much of the time, nearly helpless. "What sort of greeting is it for my mate, whom I love deeply, to put hirself in pain and suffering just to say hello to me?"

To this Roseblood grunted unhappily, knowing it was true and resenting the truth for it, before speaking in hir defence. "I’m your mate, Makrana, and I know you’ve got something on your mind. I may be old and I may be sick, but I’m not dead. At least not yet. I want to comfort my mate when shi needs it, and I will even against hir wishes."

Despite hirself, Makrana found hirself smiling. To an outsider it might have sounded as if Roseblood was furious with hir, but what shi was really saying was that shi was worried and was sorry to cause hir mate more worry and concern by acting on hir worries. Quietly Makrana settled down beside Roseblood on the floor, since the futon shi lay on wasn’t built for two and leaned against, and rested hir head on, hir mate’s upper torso. Roseblood’s hand quickly began stroking hir hair as shi felt hirself relax under hir mate’s embrace. "You’re right, of course. Something has been bothering me."

Roseblood said nothing, but quietly encouraged hir to continue.

"Honeymane came by my office today, with an appointment, and a request." Makrana sighed. "Shi wants to see hir father, and shi wants me to help hir get out there." The marbled chakat could tell hir mate was thinking this information over, so shi let hir take hir time to draw a conclusion.

"I see." Not a terribly helpful response. "And?"

"And?" Makrana felt confused; it wasn’t what shi had been expecting.

"And did you say yes? Are we about to receive angry phone calls from hir mother that shi’s gone missing and is half a galaxy away now?" Roseblood sounded amused, as if the whole thing was vaguely funny.

"No. I said I’d think about it, but I’m torn."

"Torn? Why?"

"What do you mean why? I’ve been given the choice between helping my niece and screwing up my relationship with my sister, or not helping my niece to preserve a secret that I don’t even agree with!" Makrana frowned and shook hir head, trying to clear hir head of hir thoughts. "Not to mention I can’t just pull a ship out of my hat. More problematic is that I fear Honeymane might try to stow away on a ship; shi’s clever enough to do it, and I suspect I’ve taught hir – inadvertently – how to avoid the safeguards. Shi’ll either get in trouble, or shi’ll pick a ship without a pressurized cargo hold and end up dead and frozen when they discover hir."

"So help hir," Roseblood said simply, continuing hir soothing strokes. "How can I put this? I never really liked what your sister was doing, although I understood that shi was trying to make the best of a poor situation, although shi was a bit of a foolish young ’kat. I had hoped shi’d see sense, but that seems unlikely. Your sister…." Roseblood paused to gather hir thoughts, or prevent hirself from saying something shi’d regret later. "Your sister is like you are now. Shi’s torn between two possibilities, one where shi might lose it all, and one where shi at least has hope, however unreal and unformed it might be. Browneyes has never really had to make any sort of hard decisions in hir life – no, let me finish – and because of it shi’s on a knife’s edge and shi has no idea how to get down without cutting hirself."

"And what gives me the right to make that sort of decision for hir?" Makrana demanded of the elderly chakat. "Because that’s what you’re asking me to do."

"No, I’m asking you to help another young chakat get on the right path right now. Honeymane needs your help; shi needs to meet hir father, and shi needs people to stop putting hir mother before hir," Roseblood said. "I can’t order you to do so, and I can’t do it myself, but… well that’s up to you."

Makrana felt browbeaten. Perhaps Rose was right. No, shi was right. At least Makrana felt hir advice lay in the general direction of rightness. "But… what can I do? I still don’t have a ship."

Roseblood grinned brightly, before it cracked and turned into more of a grimace. "Well, uh, I might be able to help you with that. I… happen to know that there’s a research ship docked at the gateway that might be willing to take hir…."

"And… how would you know that?" Makrana asked suspiciously.

"Uh, well, I knew the captain’s grandfather you see… and uh…." Roseblood could tell by the look on hir mate’s face that shi wasn’t buying what shi was selling. "Oh very well. I’ve been helping with the personnel of some of the ships. I’ve been bored out of my mind just sitting here doing nothing!"

"You’re supposed to be doing nothing! You’re supposed to be healing!" Makrana growled, pulling hirself away from hir mate’s hand and standing up.

"I am healing!" Roseblood protested. "It’s not like I’ve been doing laps. I’ve been taking my pills and taking it easy, just like you and the doctors want me to, but I’ve got a PADD, and I’ve read as many sordid romance novels I can stand! So I’ve been doing a bit of consulting work. And I dare say I’ve saved you a lot of trouble trying to find someone for this affair."

Makrana glared at hir, before hir anger softened. "I just want you to stick around as long as possible Rose. You’re only 136; you’re nowhere near dead yet."

"And I don’t plan on being dead anytime soon," Roseblood said, reaching hir hand out and taking hir mate’s in it, while they both stared at one another, exchanging things words could not express between them. "I’m sorry," shi said finally.

Makrana just sighed and rubbed hir face. "I should have known this relationship wouldn’t be easy."

Roseblood laughed. "Aye you should have! Now, let me cook you a romantic dinner to make up for my transgression, hmm?"

Makrana wouldn’t hear of it, and rather replicated a meal for the two of them, while Rose insisted on lighting candles for the ‘ambiance’. The meal was its usual dull flavour, although it wasn’t a bad taste. Replicators had only a limited amount of memory, and every meal they produced was exactly the same. Although some personnel would swear replicated foodstuffs were of inferior make, the truth was people just got used to the exact same foods, the same tastes, and it just stopped being as good as it once was. After recycling their dishes, Makrana spent some time with hir mate, on a more intimate level, before finally getting down to work.

The first order of business was to contact this mysterious ship and her captain. Despite the late hour, hir call was connected almost straight away, with the screen displaying the tired-looking, white-furred feline face. "This is the FSS Hoshiko. First Officer Chakat Hoshiko speaking."

Makrana blinked, put off balance. "You have the same name as your ship?"

The other chakat’s ears turned pink under the fur. "Uh, the captain’s rather fond of me… she being my mate and such." Shi shook hir head and hir face and voice regained hir sternness. "May I enquire as to who’s calling, Shir?"

Makrana introduced hirself quickly, recovering from hir own surprise. "I’m told you might be in need of a chakat."

The chakat nodded. "I’ll wake the captain for you." The screen turned blank and after a few minutes it burst into life again, this time with the face of a human female on it. "Captain Elizabeth Rothschild speaking. I must say I’m glad we finally found ourselves a chakat!"

"Err, why’s that?" Makrana asked, getting the feeling shi had been mistaken for the chakat they needed.

"The blasted ‘two chakat’ rule!" Rothschild exclaimed, obviously not noticing that the ‘recruit’ had no idea what was going on. "We had a family of six on here before we docked, so we were covered, but they’ve been reassigned, and due to a paperwork snafu, I wasn’t given a replacement! And you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find another chakat who’s willing to come with us. So, what’s your name?"

Rothschild’s name sounded familiar, and after a moment’s thought Makrana realized that this was likely the same captain Security had ejected from hir office a few days beforehand – her angry yelling seemed to make much more sense now. "I’m Captain Chakat Makrana, Captain, and I’m afraid I’m not the chakat you’re looking for. However…." Quickly Makrana explained the situation to the human captain, "That way you can undock and leave to go on your research trip, and when you get to Arisia you can give hir shore leave, and you’ll be free to study the nebula in the local space. It’s win-win!" shi finished enthusiastically.

Rothschild didn’t think so. "Let me get this straight. You want me to take onto my ship an untrained, non-Star services, teenage chakat? Is this a fucking joke? I don’t like prank calls, Captain."

"No, I’m serious." Makrana was a little taken back by the captain’s attitude. "I can get all the clearances and such."

The woman opened hir mouth to reply, when Roseblood cut in, picking up the line off hir PADD and causing the call to turn into a conference. "Liz, this really is the best shot you have of getting off this station for a while. I suggest you take it."

"Roseblood?" Rothschild frowned.

"Indeed," the longtail said drily. "Makrana’s my mate, and I assure you that, short of taking my niece-in-mating onto your ship, you’re probably not going to find a free chakat to take."

Liz’s frown deepened, clearly mulling the situation over. "Is this some sort of revenge for —"

"No," Roseblood said, cutting her off.

After a moment’s silence, Makrana cleared hir throat. "Well, Captain? What do you say?"

Rothschild sighed heavily. "How soon can you get hir here?"

Dawn broke on the household in much the same way it had done the previous morning, except this time Honeymane was entwined in the warm embrace of hir aunt and Nuru, rather than Diru. Despite what he had said, shi still felt something for him. Not love, exactly, but longing, as well as a great deal of regret at hir actions and the fact that the relationship had ended on such a low note. After a few moments of trying to recapture the bliss of sleep, Honeymane gave up, gently untangled hirself and exited the room to relieve hirself. Perhaps shi’d read some while waiting for the others to get up.

On the way back from the nook where the PADDs were kept when they needed charging, shi heard the front door gently beep as it was unlocked, and creak as it swung open. Honeymane had no reason to suspect some sort of robbery, so shi peeked around the hallway corner to see Makrana, in full uniform, closing the door gently and quietly, while softly cursing hir noisiness.

"Hey?" ’Mane greeted, forgetting for the moment hir aunt-in-law was trying to sneak in quietly. Needless to say, hir comment caused the marbled chakat to jump and whip around, although shi didn’t cry out. Rather, hir mouth formed a perfect ‘O’ before shi regained hir composure.

"You frightened me, ’Mane! What are you doing up?" Makrana whispered softly, tilting hir head as if to listen for noises from the bedrooms.

"It’s morning. What else do you do in the morning?" Honeymane asked rhetorically as shi dropped to a whisper too.

"Shit like this, apparently," Makrana answered with a cub-like grin on hir muzzle. "Listen, I’ve… I’ve got you a ship."

"What!" ’Mane exclaimed, a bit too loudly, for Makrana shushed hir.

"I’ll explain on the drive over. Do you need to pack anything?" Makrana asked with a tone of urgency.

"I’ve got a bag mostly packed…" ’Mane said, thinking.

"Go grab it, and don’t worry about packing too much to wear. I mean like keepsakes and such." Makrana shook ’Mane’s head at hir questioning look. "I’ll explain later!"

’Mane thought for a moment before dashing off to hir bedroom as quickly and quietly as shi could. Grabbing the half-packed bag from hir closet, shi grabbed a toothbrush, hir personal communicator and computer, as well as a PADD packed with books. Careful not to wake the two sleeping individuals currently sleeping on the bed, shi walked around and grabbed a couple of photographs – one of hir mother and hirself, and another, most importantly, of hir father. Shi didn’t think shi could forget hir face but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Before shi left, shi couldn’t leave without giving Sugarback a small hug and a whispered goodbye, or sneaking into hir mother’s bedroom and giving hir a kiss on hir forehead and an awkward hug. Just as shi was about to leave shi thought shi heard Fallingstar, who was sharing hir mother’s bed, awaken, but nothing came of it and soon shi was in the PTV traveling down the same route as shi had taken yesterday to the spaceport. Shi didn’t speak until they were on the highway, after the AI was engaged, since hir reaction was perhaps a bit exaggerated. After a minute of a frantic ‘thank yous’ and lick-kisses, shi finally pulled back.

"Oof! You’re welcome…" Makrana said, looking bemused. "But I hope you don’t behave that way with the captain. No, let me explain. You’re going to be filling in a position on a Corps research vessel, the FSS Hoshiko. Her flight takes hir into orbit around Arisia for resupplying before going out a bit further and performing some experiments on a nebula a few light years away."

"What… what position?" ’Mane asked, wondering if hir aunt had signed hir up for something shi couldn’t handle.

"Officially your position is ‘civilian emergency conscript’," Makrana began.

"What? What’s the emergency?" Honeymane asked.

"Let me explain! Normally individuals who find themselves on ships under this provision are fulfilling something like ‘doctor’ or ‘astro-nav’. Basically, if a captain has a critical position shi needs filling, shi can draft a civilian if shi’s in a bind – a strong one mind – and have them serve for a period."

"But I’m not a doctor or an astro-nav!"

"Yes, I know, but you see, the first officer of the Hoshiko is a chakat – the only chakat currently on board. The position you’ll be filling is the position of being the second chakat!" Makrana smirked slightly. "Of course you’ll probably be doing any odd-jobs the captain cares to assign you."

"So… you’re basically setting me up to be this chakat’s date?" Honeymane said, feeling a bit… dismayed, and slightly repulsed. Shi didn’t mind sex, and this mystery chakat would probably be nice, but shi wasn’t exactly interested in being expected to jump into bed with hir every so often. "And how is this an emergency?"

"Well it’s not, really, but Captain Rothschild has been docked for weeks and can’t get onto hir assignments, so we’re bending the rules a bit, but…" Makrana let hir voice trail off as shi thought about the first question. "I know it’s probably not what you were expecting, and I can’t force you to go, but I imagine that being required to help a sister chakat out in hir time of need once or twice would be preferable to slowly starving in the freezing cargo hold of some ship." The marbled chakat paused, gathering hir thoughts. "Strictly speaking, you’re only required to… well, hang out with hir. Having some sort of intimate relationship isn’t actually required you know, and most non-chakat empaths don’t bother with such."

"I thought it only applied to chakats?" Honeymane asked.

"It applies to all empaths – it’s just that empaths are fairly rare outside of chakats, so the most frequent individuals that the regulation applies to are chakats, and the most obvious, but all empaths need the stabilizing influence of other empaths. Otherwise we go nuts." Makrana looked over at hir niece with a small smile on hir muzzle. "It’s really not that bad you know, I’ve done it, as has pretty much every chakat in Star Fleet and the Corps."

Honeymane grimaced. Shi could see the logic in what hir aunt was saying, but it still bothered hir a bit, but it also seemed like a small price to pay, given the reward at the end of the rainbow. Finally shi nodded. "All right. Do you have any advice?"

"About the situation? Be friendly, don’t wait until the appointed time to go see hir, or have hir see you; get to know one another. If it does turn out that you end up being intimate with hir, not that I’m saying it will, you’ll at least be doing it with someone you know, rather than a total stranger."

"Okay…" Honeymane said, more than a little unsure of hirself.

Honeymane had only ever visited the civilian docking section of the station before, but the one serving Star Fleet looked much the same, except perhaps that almost everyone was wearing a uniform. After a bit, shi began to feel uncomfortable, as hir own clothing set hir apart from everyone else. Perhaps more disconcerting was that many of the technicians seemed to know Makrana, and tried to engage hir in friendly chats as they passed. However, shi seemed to know what shi was doing and politely slipped out of their attempts to waylay them. Finally they rounded a bend and a uniformed fox-morph – who might have been Voxxen Voxxan – was sitting outside an airlock, looking rather bored. Upon seeing them, however, he jumped to his feet and hurried over to them. "You’re late."

"We are not." Makrana shook hir head.

"If you say so. This the chakat?" the fox-morph asked, turning to look at Honeymane, who smiled. It wasn’t answered.

"Yes, this is Honeymane. I —" Makrana began.

"Good. Honeymane, leave any bags here and get aboard. The captain’s waiting for you in her ready room," the fox-morph ordered, cutting Makrana off. Obviously this wasn’t something he should have done, since Makrana’s face grew grim and shi seemed to take on an almost negative aura. "Now see here, Ensign. I don’t know —"

Honeymane frowned, and decided to slip away and get aboard the ship so shi wouldn’t be delayed any further. Pressing the button next to the door caused it to open with a slight rumble. Shi hadn’t been on a spaceship before but shi’d seen enough airlocks on television to know how they worked. Once shi stepped into the chamber and thumbed the door closed, the outer door opened, this time onto a long, white tube; this shi hadn’t expected. Shi also hadn’t expected to find that the gravity had turned off. At first shi didn’t notice anything, but when shi took a step forward shi suddenly found hirself floating at an awkward angle. After trying to swim in the air, shi yelped as hir back hit the ceiling. It didn’t really hurt, so much as it surprised hir, but it did provide the force that took hir towards the opening of the tube. Of course, it was quite by accident that shi found a series of rungs mounted inside the tube itself; they weren’t spaced close enough to be used as a ladder, but it took hir only a moment to realize shi could use them to propel hirself towards the next one.

After a few moments, it started to become fairly fun, until shi realized shi hadn’t mastered the art of stopping. Shi tried to hold onto the next bar shi found, but to hir surprise, and pain, hir body’s momentum had other ideas, and ripped the bar out of hir hands, causing hir to continue up the tube backwards. This didn’t last too long, much to hir surprise as hir butt rammed into the inner door of the ship’s airlock. Before shi could bounce out, however, the outer door slid shut as well (causing hir to crash head first into it). As shi floated there dazed, shi didn’t notice the face of a grinning human waving to hir, before he activated the gravity. After swearing an extraordinary amount of times, and trying to rub almost all of hir battered body, shi finally opened the door and frowned at the mischievous human. "Never been in zero-g, before?" the man asked.

Honeymane muttered something unpleasant, before pulling hirself together. "Which way to the captain’s ready room?"

"I’ll show you," the man said with a laugh. And he did, although he couldn’t help but get a few more jibes in about hir lack of ‘space legs’ as it were. Despite hir lack of space legs, it quickly became obvious to hir that the ship was fairly small. Many of the outside walls were visibly curved, and in some areas shi could look down a corridor and see the other side’s wall. So it wasn’t surprising when they came across the captain’s ready room in no time flat. The human excused himself and shi was left to press the call-button. The reply came right away. "You must be the recruit," the captain, a human female, said from behind he desk. "Sit down."

’Mane did, trying not to look as if shi had just bounced hir way up a long tube.

"You’re Chakat Honeymane, child of… Browneyes and Darktoes?" the captain said, glancing at her desktop screen.


"Yes, sir, Honeymane," the captain said. "You might be a civilian, but if you’re going to be on this ship, you’re going to be working your way as part of the crew. Now, I understand that you are… how old?"

"Fifteen, Chakonan Standard, sir." Honeymane felt hirself blushing, causing hir to stumble over the ‘sir’.

"Which makes you an adult under Chakonan law, which makes you so under Federation law." The captain looked at her screen again. "Now, I also understand that you’ve never been on a starship before?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you’ve never spent much time on a space station, either, I take it?"

"No sir."

"God damn those two," the captain swore, seemingly forgetting Honeymane for a second, before shi sighed heavily. "Very well. Let me explain how this is going to work." She stood up, and turned her back to Honeymane, but her voice was no less clear.

"You are, for all intents and purposes, an untrained child who is more of a risk to this ship’s operation and mission than a one-eyed pirate. I’m taking you in – and let me make this clear – only because I need a chakat to get away from this place. If my mate hadn’t been that other chakat, I would have given hir leave and left here a long time ago." She took a deep breath. "You are not a passenger, and you are not a guest on this ship." The captain nodded towards a PADD lying on the desk, apparently intended for Honeymane to pick up. "When you sign that, you’ll be part of the crew and you will be treated as such. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," Honeymane said, picking up the PADD and looking it over, before pressing hir thumb to a signature window and letting it read the subcutaneous nanowires that rested below the surface. After a moment it beeped and shi placed the PADD on the desk.

"Very well," the captain said, taking the device and glancing at it before going over to the replicator and pressing some buttons. After a second a combadge, light grey with blue outlines, appeared, which she handed to hir. "You’re now Cadet Honeymane. Wear this at all times when you’re out of your quarters, along with the rest of your uniform. I’ll have someone come and escort you to them. You may wait outside."

Honeymane nodded, and approached the door, only for it to slide open to reveal a chakat. Hir face was white, but obviously somewhere between hir face and hir lower torso it changed to black; along one of hir flanks was a sharp grey-yellow splash, vaguely shaped like a star. Shi wore a red command uniform, and a badge signifying a rank a great deal higher than Honeymane’s. "Oh dear, I’ve missed it!" shi exclaimed, before sweeping Honeymane into a traditional greeting hug. "You must be Honeymane! Pleased to meet you!"

"Hoshiko!" The captain sounded scandalized. "This isn’t proper conduct!"

"Oh please. Since when has anyone given a damn about conduct on this ship? You should have dropped that commandeering after the crisis was over; I’ve never understood why you insisted on staying a Corps vessel." Hoshiko laughed and shook hir head as if the Captain had done something silly and absurd. "Besides, shi’s not…." Hoshiko’s eyes fell onto Honeymane’s chest, or more importantly the badge shi had pinned there moments before. "Oh come on Liz, I thought we had agree we weren’t going to do this!"

"We can’t help every chakat with a problem out of the goodness of our hearts, Hoshiko!" the captain began, before looking at Honeymane with an expression that suggested shi was about to lose a valued body part. "I ordered you to wait outside, Cadet."

Before Hoshiko could get out a reply, ’Mane scooted out the door and rested with hir back against the bulkhead as the door closed. Despite the thickness of the metal, shi could hear their voices still, although not clearly enough to determine who was ‘winning’. After what seemed like a fairly long time, the door slid open and a disgruntled-looking Hoshiko walked through. Shi glanced at hir and motioned for hir to follow, but didn’t say anything until they were a corridor down from the ready room. "I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do." Shi sighed as Honeymane looked at hir questioningly. "Me and Liz… well I suppose I’ll have to refer to hir as Captain Rothschild around you now had… discussions about whether or not to take you on board, and how you’d be treated," Hoshiko explained as they walked. "I had thought we weren’t going to have you join as a crew member, but… well here we are."

"I… see?" Honeymane half-asked.

"There’s nothing I can do, I’m afraid," Hoshiko repeated. "Well, welcome aboard! Ah, and look, there’re your quarters now." The two of them came to a stop outside of one of the various doors that dotted the seemingly impossibly long corridor. Hoshiko tapped the keypad next to it, and after a moment it beeped, followed by a whoosh as the door slide open, revealing a rather uninviting dark cavity. Hoshiko didn’t seem to be concerned, and shi stepped across the threshold. Upon entering the room, the lights flared on, revealing a surprisingly large room, furnished in the way one might expect a hotel room to be, in neutral colors and unimposing furniture.

"It’s…" Honeymane said halfheartedly as shi entered the room too, causing the door to shut behind the two of them. "A bit bigger than I imagined. Um, especially for cadet quarters?"

"True. But cadets aren’t normally on starships; they’re in academies being trained. Plus, we don’t really have any free smaller rooms that you can move into," Hoshiko said. "This used to belong to a triad of chakats and their child, if you’re wondering. That’s why it’s so big."

"What happened to them?" Honeymane asked, as shi picked up one of the cushions and sniffed it. It had been cleaned, but not recently. The surfaces of the room looked like there was a fair amount of dust on everything as well.

"Oh, ah." Hoshiko shifted hir weight uneasily. "One of the adults got killed on a spacewalk, and the others decided to resign and do other things on Chakona when we got here."

"Oh," Honeymane replied, unsure of how to proceed. And neither, it seemed, did Hoshiko. After a few minutes of growing awkwardness between the two of them, shi finally cleared hir throat and began to explain some of the finer points of ship life, and how to operate the devices in hir cabin. After about half an hour shi finally returned to the door, ready to leave. "One last thing," Hoshiko began. "I’ll be contacting you about that… thing we need to attend to, later in the week. My heat’s coming up, you see…."

"Oh," Honeymane said a bit weakly. "Oh yes, well, uh. Don’t forget to bring a condom or two."

"I won’t," Hoshiko said with a smile. "I suggest you acquaint yourself with the ship today, before you have any duties tomorrow. If you need a map, there’s one on the computer."

"Okay." Honeymane gave Hoshiko a traditional chakat hug before shi left. Once shi was gone, Honeymane looked around the quarters a bit helplessly, before the comm system chimed.

"All hands, prepare for warp speed," the voice intoned.

Honeymane hurried over to the desktop computer monitor and tapped it to bring up one of the external views; obviously the ship had been moving way from Chakona for some time now, and now the planet floated like a blue marble in space. All around hir shi could feel a hum, which seemed to build until it was inside hir head rather than without; there was a sudden lunging sensation, and Honeymane nearly lost hir footing despite the lack of any apparent movement in the room. When shi regained hir balance, and shi looked at the monitor, all shi could see was the distorted streaks of light typically associated with warp travel, and that’s when shi knew there was no turning back now….

Many kilometres away, the calmness of deep space was not being felt in Honeymane’s home. It was several hours into the morning, but no one was making any attempt to sleep. The whole of the family was sitting around the den, on various taur-pillows and couches, looking both miserable and dishevelled, having been hauled out of bed by an irate chakat. The chakat in question was currently having it out with hir youngest half-sister, who was looking more than a little dismayed and upset.

"What the fuck do you mean, sorry?" Browneyes roared. "Shi’s gone and you helped hir!"

"I… I didn’t really help hir…" Sugarback said, on the verge of tears. Chakats rarely fought, and it was equally rare for them to have these sorts of ‘discussions’. The empathic backwash typically prevented them from doing so, or having real misunderstandings, but Browneyes had found a way.

"YOU ALL HELPED HIR!" Browneyes screamed in hir face. "All of you! Did it ever occur to you that maybe I had my own plans? I said I would and I was going to!" Browneyes stopped, huffing, seemingly have blown hirself out of steam, at least for the moment. But it didn’t last long. "What —"

"Give it a rest child," Dancer by the Sea said in the sort of tone that made it clear shi wasn’t about to listen to hir any more. "What’s done is done. Deal with it and move on."

"How the fuck am I supposed to deal with it?!" Browneyes snarled, as Sugarback quietly backed away while shi could. Just then the front door of the house creaked open, and a feral look crossed Browneyes’ face. Before anyone could stop hir, shi dashed off to the door, and moments later there came the sound of flesh hitting flesh mixed with a cry of pain and rage. Naturally the group jumped to their feet and hurried to the front door themselves. The scene wasn’t exactly pleasant. Browneyes stood over Makrana, who was holding hir cheek, where shi had apparently been slapped or hit. "How could you betray me like this Makrana? How?!"

"I haven’t betrayed —" Makrana was cut off as Browneyes’ hand swung towards hir, only to find the strong and firm grip of Seeker’s tail holding it back. Then Dancer stepped in.

"How dare you strike your sister, Brown?" Dancer said, angrily. "I thought I had raised you better than that, and I thought you were a better person than that."

"I —"

"When you came to me nineteen years ago and told me you were pregnant, I was happy – for a moment. When you explained what was going on with Darktoes, I should have foreseen the trouble it would cause for me to keep your secret – for all of us to keep your secret. But we did, against our better judgement, and against, frankly, all common sense. We did it because we believed that you really were in love with Darktoes."

"I am —"

"But the years wore on and you did nothing. You made no effort to resolve this lie, no effort to work out a solution…." Dancer took a deep breath before continuing. "But we still tried to support you. And then, years ago, it seemed like you had finally decided to fix the mistakes of your past… but you didn’t! It was just another lie, and I was sick of it, and so was everyone else, including your child Honeymane. So when shi started making plans, we let hir do so; we even gave hir help – although shi probably didn’t know it at the time. But," Dancer said, poking hir finger at hir daughter’s chest, "we’re not to blame. YOU are. You and your damn lies."

Browneyes let out a sob. "But I wasn’t lying! I really was going to take hir. I was making plans and everything! In two weeks they’ll have a commercial ship that’ll go to Arisia, and I have tickets to be on it." Shi sighed miserably "It was going to be a birthday present for ’Mane’s 18th."

"This is just another lie, Browneyes! No, I don’t doubt that you have these tickets or were intending to take hir, but this is a lie of omission! Can’t you see how this has hurt Honeymane? How much shi needed to know that you were going to take hir? That you had plans? This isn’t the sort of thing you can give someone as a birthday gift, because it’s not a gift; it’s more fundamental than that, and you’ve denied it to your daughter," Dancer snapped.

"And hir eighteenth was a couple of weeks ago," Sky said, sounding as nearly as angry as hir mate did.

Browneyes didn’t say anything for a few moments, before choking out a feeble, "The launch date got pushed back."

Makrana flexed hir jaw, working out some of the pain and stiffness before speaking. "You know Roseblood or I would have helped you out, Browneyes – you could have been on that ship up there, not Honeymane."

"I didn’t want you to get in trouble…" Browneyes sighed. "When do you think shi’ll make it to Arisia, anyway?"

"Have I ever shown the slightest damn with regard to such things?" Makrana asked rhetorically. "If I get in trouble I get in trouble, but even if I get the boot from Star Fleet I should think it’d be worth it. As for the flight, it could be anywhere from four to six weeks. It’s unlikely they’re making a direct flight to Arisia."

Browneyes smiled half-heartedly. "I guess if I take my ticket, we’ll arrive at Arisia at about the same time...."

"I don’t think so," Dancer said coldly, causing everyone to look at hir questioningly. "I’ve done my best to support you every step of the way, Brown. We all have. But we only did so because we hoped you’d resolve this… and you haven’t. You’ve taken every chance and used it to keep your lies going. I can’t trust you not to just turn around and bring your daughter home without fixing anything, for example."

"But —""

"As such, I’ll be going with you," Dancer said with a note of finality. "I should have marched you into your bedroom and had you confront Darktoes all those years ago, but I won’t make the mistake again."

"I —"

"Actually, if I could interject," Fallingstar spoke, cutting off Browneyes’ objection. "I don’t mean to sound callous, as if I was trying to get something out of this bad situation, but I was hoping I might be able to snag the extra ticket."

"You?" Dancer said in disbelief.

"Yes." Fallingstar shrugged. "Like I said, I don’t want to sound selfish, but… well I haven’t seen most of my ‘family’ in nearly twenty years. Starwalkers were always a bit apart from the other stellar breeds, and it drove us closer together, so to speak. Not all of us choose to go to Arisia of course, but most of us are in deep space…."

"Why should we trust you any more than we trust Browneyes?" Spadespot asked, not unkindly.

"I can’t say I was in on any grand conspiracies, of course, but I have known Honeymane for a significant part of hir life. I noticed that shi was growing discontent with the situation and I had concluded shi was likely to do something about it," Fallingstar explained. "I didn’t really want to hinder hir either, although to be fair I did alert the local dockmasters that someone might try to stow away – for hir own safety, you understand." The Starwalker paused. "This morning I heard hir up and about, as well as some whispered conversations, and I suspected something might be afoot."

"I’m not sure that’s good enough of a promise to have Browneyes fix this when it comes down to it," Dancer said.

"That may be, Dancer, but can you honestly say that you won’t feel a moment of weakness when the time comes? Two months is a long time for anger to cool and it’s always harder to do what you would do in anger when you have a cool head," Fallingstar pointed out gently. "I only wanted to put it on the table. I do miss my family, you know."

"I’ll think about it," Dancer replied, looking over at Browneyes. "I want to see those tickets, by the way."

Browneyes muttered something indistinctly, clearly not listening; shi’d taken out a folded picture of Darktoes and shi had the look of someone coming to peace with being unable to turn back.



To be continued in Between Worlds.


Illustration © 2011 Heather Bruton

Chakats and other concepts © 2011 Bernard Doove

Browneyes, Dancer, Seeker, Fallingstar, Makrana and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane

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