Pond stretched out, relaxing in the warm sun, while making sure to keep an eye on hir charges, Honeymane and Sugarback. The day had started off rather gloomy, but after a few hours the sun had broken through and the temperature had skyrocketed. It had been Pond's turn to cubsit the children of the family, being hir day off, so as soon as it had started to turn nice, shi grabbed the chakker ball and took the kids down to the local park.
The game, while disorganized and not played with the most skilled players, was fun. Pond had forgotten how much shi had enjoyed the game, and shi could feel hirself getting back into it. In the years since the accident, there had been a great deal of changes, in rules, teams, favourites. Even the Chakker ball had changed somewhat; so Pond found hirself spending much of hir free time learning it all. Recently shi'd been trying to watch some games live, and the week previously, shi had been invited to fill in for one of the players in an informal game in the same park. Shi had done so, and sadly found hir limit.
Pond sighed wistfully. Hir lack of exercise over hir life since the accident meant shi wasn't in the best of shape, but... if shi gave it hir all, shi was sure shi'd be able to play a full game.
"Grandma Pond," Sugarback said, snapping Pond out of hir thoughts as the young cub shook hir. "Can you get the ball?"
"Where is it, hon?" Pond asked, getting to hir feet.
Wordlessly, Sugarback pointed to the lower branches of a Timo tree. Pond frowned. Normally the cubs would just climb it to get it back, but Timo trees were covered in spines dripping with a mild poison. Ironically, the poisons weren't threatening to anyone but chakats — not in the causing illness sense; the toxin was mild enough that it would affect most species, but for chakats it was just toxic enough to provoke a immune response. Brushing against the branches would produce a rash that itched like hell and wouldn't go away for a few hours at least. Pond would have to be careful.
Glancing around, Pond tried to see if there was a stick shi could use, or perhaps a rock. But there was no such luck. Sighing, shi balanced hirself on hir haunches and tail and stretched out as much as shi could towards the ball, but it was too high and hir fingers were only just touching it.
Pond frowned and rubbed the bridge of hir nose. If shi was to get it back, shi'd have to try climbing the tree — shi'd probably itchy for weeks given the dose shi'd absorb.
"Having some trouble with that old Chakat's Bane?" said a voice behind hir, laughing in a friendly manner. "Give me a boost and I'll get it."
The speaker turned out to be a well toned middle-aged fox morph, or possibly Voxxan, who wore fairly simple but sporty clothing branded with one of the major sports company's logos. "What do you say? I'm lighter than I look."
"Uh... sure." Pond cupped hir hands together to provide a foothold for the biped, who promptly stepped into it. It wasn't until hir face was more or less shoved into the fox-morph's crotch that shi wondered who he was. Thankfully he didn't seem to be interested in rubbing himself against hir face, and nimbly retrieved the ball, before hopping back onto the ground. Pulling a tissue out of his pocket, he rubbed the ball clean and tossed it to the two eager cubs.
"There!" the fox morph said, satisfied, dusting his hands off.
"Well, thanks," Pond said, settling back into hir former spot, "I don't even know your name. Care to share?"
"Karl Spencer," the fox morph said, holding out his hand for Pond to shake, before sitting down beside hir. "These your kids?"
"No, one's my granddaughter and one's the child of two of my mates." Pond shifted uncomfortably, unsure of this fox's intentions. "How'd you know about the Timo trees and chakats?"
"I work with a lot of chakats," Spencer said cryptically, leaning back. "Every now and again one might prank one of hir friends with a few branches of the stuff in a duffle bag or whatever... you pick the stuff up."
"Well, one would expect to work with a lot of chakats this is Chakona," Pond pointed out. "That's like going to Earth and being surprised at the number of humans."
"Yes, I suppose it is," Spencer laughed. "It's nice to know the mighty chakats have a weakness."
"We're hardly invincible you know," Pond said defensively. "And it's not our fault other species were the product of random chance and not..."
"Careful and well planned creation?" Spencer offered with a grin. "I know, but it's hard not to become jealous or frustrated surrounded by perfect beings."
Pond snorted. "Chakats aren't different from anyone else. We find love, sometimes we lose it, or sometimes it isn't what we thought it would be. We still get sick, we still suffer and die..."
"But hopefully not for a long while, eh, Shir..." Spencer patted hir on the arm and smiled apologetically. "I don't know your name either."
"Bit of an odd name, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I've been thinking of changing it." Pond shrugged, turning to look at the playing cubs, who had learned their lesson and now were playing at a distance from the Timo Tree.
"I see... So, you into chakker, Shir Pond?" Spencer said, trying to sound casual, but with a definite air of ‘I-already-know'
"Yes..." Pond frowned, turning hir head back to the fox-morph. "How'd you know?"
"I saw you playing earlier and last week, I"
"Have you been following me?" Pond demanded, getting to hir feet and turning towards the morph.
"No! No... well yes, I suppose it could been seen as that"
"How dare you? What are you? Some sort of perverted stalker?"
"No, no, calm down, let me explain," Spencer said hastily, getting to his feet. "I was watching that team of players for a couple of weeks before you showed up"
"So, what? I'm just stalked by collateral?" Pond said angrily, wondering if shi ought to grab the kids and walk away.
"I was watching them because I work for the CCA..." Spencer said, producing a card from his inner pocket. "...as a scout. I think you showed a lot of raw talent for someone your age who's never played before."
Pond frowned and took the card. If it was fake, it was a good one. "Raw talent isn't enough, even I know that and I've not been following the game since I was young."
"Hence, why I'm here." Spencer smiled, taking the card back and replacing it in his wallet. "Pond, listen, chakker is crazy popular, but we're always losing players, so they send people out to look for more players."
"And when we find someone, we extend an invention to a chakker training camp on Ouroboros island." Spencer finished. "I know it's a lot to think about, and I know I screwed up if you want to discuss this more, take this" Spencer handed hir a security card, "and come visit our office down on the corner of Shiner and Jackson streets, okay?"
"Uh." Pond accepted the card, unsure of what toy think. "Sure..."
"Hope to see you there!" Spencer said, before turning and walking through the trees to the nearest path.
When Pond arrived home, it was still fairly early, and shi hadn't expected anyone else to be around, so shi was quite surprised when hir lifemate, Spadespot, nearly pounced on hir when shi opened the door of the condo shi shared with the family. Grunting, shi dropped hir things and returned the hug as the two kids darted around the two adults to go play in the den. Pulling back, shi could see Spadespot had a huge grin on hir tan muzzle. "Something good happen?"
"Yeah." Spadespot grinned even wider. "I got accepted!"
"Accepted? To what?" Pond asked in a confused tone.
"To Star Corps' Project Zempat!" Spadespot laughed at hir mate's confused look.
"Excuse me?" The red-and-grey chakat frowned.
"Come on into the den and I'll explain." Spadespot shut the door and pulled hir lifemate along. Once they were in the den, Spadespot laid down on a taur-pillow next to a table with an open package on it. Pond quickly did the same. When they were both settled, Spadespot began to explain as promised. "Alright, well, you know how we've been the last few years, right?"
Pond nodded. Reconnecting to their childhood friend Dancer had been a wonderful blessing, but leaving the farm on Earth had been a bit difficult not only were there a lot of memories tied up in it good and bad, but coming and living in a big city like Amistad meant they'd also had to give up their profession. Nether of them had the education to really qualify for anything else, and they didn't want to, either. On the other hand, sixty was far too young for them to retire, so they had worked odd-jobs around the city, most recently at a coffee shop.
"Well, a couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a couple of Star Corps officers, who were talking about this project the Federation was starting up." Spadespot was practically bursting with excitement. "When they heard I used to be a farmer, they suggested I submit my application and..."
"You got accepted?" Pond guessed cheekily.
"I did!" Spadespot laughed, pulling a badge out from where it was half hidden in the package, a silver thing with a golden arrow. Pond recognized it as a Corps specialist badge.
"That's wonderful!" Pond said with a grin, hugging hir lifemate. "I'm glad you were accepted... but why didn't you tell me?"
Spadespot frowned at that. Lifemates rarely kept secrets from one another; it wasn't that they shared every facet of their lives, of course, but the level of trust that was implied in a lifemate bond meant little was hidden. "I'm sorry Pond, it's just I didn't expect to get in, I didn't want to get you excited or hopeful. And the officers told me they were nearly filled up... the last thing I wanted would be for only one of us getting accepted. I know we've both been looking for a bit of meaning after all..."
Pond smiled and gave hir lifemate a lick-kiss. Selling the farm had netted them a tidy sum, and they weren't at a want for money, but retiring so early had left both of them restless and wanting a bit more in their lives. Darktoes was their only child, and shi was too far away to look after—of course Spadespot had Sugarback to look after, so it did make sense for hir to not want Pond to get jealous. "It's alright. But, doesn't this mean you'll be going away?"
"Maybe for one or two trips," Spade said, looking relieved. "Let me explain. You remember the food crisis of 2330?
"Of course." Pond chuckled. "Remember that time when that poor vixen showed up on our door step and tried to pay for food with sex?" Since the Gene wars, the Federation had struggled to feed itself. Part of the reason for colonization was to try to create large farms to feed everyone within its borders. But that hadn't gone so well. Habitable planets were rare, and even the planets they found that were habitable, most, if not all, had plant and animal life so biochemically different from Earth's, that it was indigestible, if not outright toxic. Most colonies were only set down on planets that had edible food, but it wasn't always enough. The Crisis of 2330 had been caused by only a handful of crop failures in the colony worlds, but it had nearly brought the Federation to it's knees.
"Yeah." Spadespot sighed. "I wish we could have done more for her." Spade shook hir head. "Anyway, Project Zempat was developed to address that failure."
"Well, the idea is to colonize a planet and turn it into a global farm." Spade explained, pulling a small holo-emitter out of the package and activating it to show a rather dull looking planet. "Meet Bounty she's our target. The atmosphere is almost completely carbon dioxide, and it's very warm. We'll place robotic factories on the surface to build farming equipment, and space ports, and turn it into a very large greenhouse."
"So why don't you have to leave?" Pond inquired as shi digested the information.
"We're going to use telepresence. The atmosphere is too toxic for us, so we'll operate everything remotely." Spade smiled widely, before getting up and picking hir daughter up and hugging hir, before putting hir back down as shi squirmed. "And I'll be home with Sugarback."
"That's wonderful Spade." Pond leaned in to give hir mate a kiss as Spade returned to hir spot. "I have some news of my own..." Pond explained the strange affair with the fox morph in the park, including showing hir the papers he had given hir.
"I dunno, Pond." Spadespot frowned, rubbing hir chin. "I don't want to crush your dreams or scare you, but this might not be all that it seems."
"I know," Pond admitted. "Will you come with me?"
"Of course; I'm sure some of the others will want to come too," Spadespot said. "I hope it is what it is supposed to be though, I feel bad for this whole job thing."
"Don't be, hon," Pond began, before Spadespot interrupted hir.
"I know, I know. It's just, maybe I should be content with having Sugarback to fulfill my life... I feel greedy."
"Hey now, I had the first one!" The red-and-grey chakat said. "No reason you can't be a mother too."
"I suppose." Spadespot shrugged. "Speaking of which, we better get these kids in the shower before Dancer or Brown gets home and freaks."
Pond laughed, "I suppose. You two heard Spade go take a shower."
"Together?" Honeymane asked with wide-eyed innocence.
"No sweetums, separately." Spadespot laughed. "But I think Sugarback will still need me to help hir."
"Nuh-uh!" the two-toned brown cub said. "I canna on my own mommy."
"Oh? How about you show me what a big chakat you are and take a shower then." Spade laughed as the younger of the two cubs dashed off to the shower.
"Whata 'bout me?" Honeymane asked.
"You can wait, or I can take you home so you can get clean there," Pond said, giving the eight year old cub a scratch behind the ears.
"'ll wait." Honeymane purred, leaning into the scratching contently.
"Were you able to find that information I was looking for?" Pond asked, turning back to hir lifemate. "About changing one's name?"
"Oh yeah." The tan chakat nodded. "There's a couple of forms you need to fill out, and... you'll have to meet with the clan leadership."
"Really? Why?" Pond frowned, before smiling at Honeymane and helping hir onto hir lap so shi could stroke hir backfur.
"Oh you know..." Spadespot waved hir hand dismissively. "They've been trying to put a bit more culture into chakat culture. Recently they've latched on to the whole naming ceremony thing and tried elaborating it, saying you need good reason to change one's name or something."
"Of course." Pond rolled hir eyes, before blinking as the sounds of the shower stopped. "That was quick, wasn't it?"
"Yeah it was..." Spadespot frowned, hearing the washroom door open. Moments later the two adults stared in disbelief as the younger cub came dashing back into the den, naked as the day shi was born, the whole backside of hir soaking wet.
"Sugarback!" Spadespot groaned.
"See mommy? All by myself!" Sugarback grinned youthfully, apparently not seeing anything wrong with dripping all over the carpeting.
"I think you forgot to dry," Honeymane said, looking up from where shi was relaxing. "Silly Sugar!"
Pond chuckled as hir mate got up to take the cub back to the washroom and dry hir properly.
After the others had arrived home, Pond and Spadespot informed them of the good, and maybe good, news that had come from their day. The family was happy for Spadespot, and somewhat bemused by Pond's concerns. Even so, they had agreed to humour hir and agreed to call the police if they didn't return home in a timely manner. With the arrangements made, the two chakats set off, taking a PTV to the downtown location. Although it was fairly late, the information Pond had been given had suggested that they'd still be open.
The building turned out to be a fairly old one, only three levels, and Pond couldn't help but breathe a sign of relief upon seeing it Pond had never had cause to wander down to this section of the city, but the building was more or less plastered with signage declaring what it was, with a smaller sign saying they were always interested in new applicants. As hir concerns left hir, Pond found hirself filled with certain anticipation this might be hir ticket to following hir dreams.
After showing hir papers to the secretary, the two were whisked up to the third floor to talk to the director who ran the facility.
"So!" the director, a chakat exclaimed, while looking over the papers, and looking a couple of things up on the desktop computer. "Spencer scouted you out, Shir...?"
"Pond. And yes." Pond nodded, as the two took seats at the offered chakat mats in front of the desk.
"How'd you find him?" The chakat was a very plain dark gray, with large red splotch on hir muzzle.
"Err... To be honest, I thought this might be some sort of stalker trap." Pond laughed, half embarrassed.
The director sighed and shook hir head. "I was afraid so. The man has an excellent nose for talent, but he's not too good with the approaching part. Maybe I ought to pair him with someone who is..." the chakat shook hir head. "Never mind that! And look at me, being rude and not introducing myself. I'm Chakat Bloodnose."
The three of them exchanged traditional chakat hugs and Spade introduced hirself. Settling back in, Bloodnose began to take down all the necessary information needed to produce the application. After a few minutes, Spadespot interrupted.
"Excuse me Shir."
"Yes?" Bloodnose turned toward Spadespot, with a slight knowing grin on hir muzzle.
"Are you the same Bloodnose that played for Riverina Serpents?"
The chakat grinned widely. "I am indeed, retired now of course."
"Wow!" Spadespot exclaimed, "Just Wow! You were one of my favourite players."
"Always nice to meet a fan." Bloodnose nodded, before turning toward Pond. "But I'm not your fan? Rooted for a different team eh?"
"Not really." Pond frowned. "I've only recently gotten back into chakker. I used to play it a lot when I was younger... but I dropped it for a long while."
"Oh?" Being empathic, Bloodnose could obviously tell shi wasn't getting the whole story, but was wise enough not to press it. "Well, no matter, we'll make a hardcore fan out of you yet. Now, last question: is there anything medical we should know? Illnesses? Allergies? Genetic problems or mixed heritage?"
"Uh, no." Pond frowned, unsure if shi should tell. "Well, I'm infertile."
"Really?" Bloodnose said with a touch of surprise. "How'd that happen?"
"I'd rather not say." Pond sighed.
"Well, you're going to have to tell me a bit more, hon, sorry. At least tell me how you're infertile; male? Female? Etc." Bloodnose rubbed hir chin.
"I'm missing both sets of gonads." Pond forced out after a few moments of steeling hirself, as hir mate gave hir an one armed hug.
"Do you take drugs to replace the hormones?"
"Not directly. I have an implant that produces them." Pond closed hir eyes, even though shi had come to terms with the disability, shi still didn't like talking about it. "It's supposed to be extremely rugged, it shouldn't be a problem."
Bloodnose nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer. "Sorry about that Pond; I'm only doing my job."
"I know." Pond rubbed hir forehead.
"Not to sound morbid... but I hope you're a good player, you might make it big time." The director mused.
"Chakker suffers from pregnancy and player rotation," shi explained. "Your infertility means you'll become a pretty famous, and well known because you won't be rotating off because you've gotten knocked-up."
"I see." Pond muttered. "I wouldn't want any chakker kits anyway."
Standing up, the director clapped hir hands together. "Well, we're done here. I'm printing your information, maps, and tickets down the hall. The next ship leaves on fifthday next week. I should warn you, the training is pretty intense, it'll take five weeks, during which you won't be able to visit your home. Is that alright?"
Pond nodded and hugged hir mate as the director left to fetch the package.
"I'm proud of you Pond," Spade murmured into hir ear.
"For being brave enough to try and change." Spade lick-kissed hir mate's cheek. "You should think up a name and we'll change it as soon as you get back."
"Alright..." Pond nodded and looked out the window into the twilight, wondering what the future had in store for hir.
Pond's hearts pounded, shi could feel hirself sweating. The ball bounced off hir handpaws, spinning rapidly, the red and grey of it becoming a blur. Breathing hard, Pond looked back up; two chakats were dead ahead. No time to hesitate! The brown one, to hir left, charged, trying to take the ball from hir. Pond kicked the ball extra hard and leapt! Hir powerful legs lifting hir body high off the ground; a quick glance down dealt hir the sight of the ball passing right between the legs of the brown chakat, just as shi planned. Landing gracefully, shi controlled the ball, but the other chakat, a yellow-tiger furred one wasn't going to be so easy to bypass.
And shi knew it. The tiger gave a smirk and readied hirself to grab the ball away. Behind hir was Pond's objective; the goal ring, and this Tigress was going to do hir best to live up to the title of goalkeeper. Pond feinted to the right, then the left; taking a quick glance around shi could see shi was alone, no one to pass to, no chance of a rebound. Shi mentally nodded to hirself; shi knew what shi had to do.
Taking a deep breath, shi put on a burst of speed, the ball still within hir tight control. Mere meters from the goal, shi over shot the ball; it worked, the tigress moved to intercept a ball that was no longer there. Wrapping hir tail around the slowing ball, Pond pivoted, hir hind legs coming off the ground and causing hir tail, and the ball gripped within it, to whip around.
Release! The red and grey sphere flew right over the back of the goalkeeper and into the ring, while the tigress got nothing but a face full of mud! Pond pumped hir fist in the air and let out an ecstatic roar. They had won! Shi had scored the winning goal!
Turning, Pond looked at the score board, which showed the new goal and grinned even wider, before snapping out of it and helping the defeated Goalkeeper to hir feet. Grimacing, the Tigress scraped some of the mud off hir face. "That was quite the goal, Pond."
"Thanks." Pond blushed at the compliment. "I didn't think I'd be able to get through; you've saved nearly everything we threw at you today."
"Ah, well in that case, I guess it wasn't a good goal I was just tired," the tigress joked.
"Pff!" Pond rolled hir eyes. "Meanie!"
Before the yellow tiger chakat could come up with a witty retort, the coach blew hir whistle and motioned for both teams to hit the showers. The showers of the mock stadium were a communal affair, so shi'd still be able to carry on the conversation with hir friend, which was good. Today was the last day of the camp, and for hir shift, the final match. Pond had grown quite close to many of the players, and shi'd miss them, so any extra time with them was a blessing.
Stripping down to hir fur proved to be more difficult than normal; various teammates of both teams, and even some from teams who hadn't even played in that match, were giving hir rough-handed pats on the backs to hugs to fairly passionate kisses with promises of "more" later. At first Pond had found this rather disconcerting, but such high spirits were a natural consequence of empathic creatures playing such a highly emotionally charged sport. Even so, shi was glad to drop hir gear in the laundry and finally step into the shower room, even if it was fairly crowded.
Marching past various shower heads, and trying to keep hir eyes and mental senses off the various "cleaning" activities that the other chakats were engaged in, Pond finally found hir Tigress friend, who by now was half clean. "How'd you get here so fast, Dapple?"
"Ah well, not too many want to congratulate the goalkeeper who let the winning goal in." Dapplestride grinned. "Plus, it might have something to do with the layer of mud I got on me. Mind soaping my back?"
Pond grabbed the fur shampoo and began to work it into hir friend's upper and lower backs. "Last day."
"Sure is." Dapple nodded, vigorously soaping hir front, before purring, "Damn! you make a good back scratcher!"
"Gee, thanks," Pond replied sarcastically.
"You're welcome!" the tigress said cheerfully, before turning hir backside towards the showerhead, the water washing the grime of the practice out. "I bet you'll be glad to be back with your mates."
Pond nodded as shi got to work on hir own body, carefully scrubbing every crevice. Turning towards Dapple, shi murred as hir friend returned the favour of soaping hir backs, and at the sensation of the fingers massaging hir muscles that were just beginning to realize they were tired.
"So, you pick a name yet?" Dapple asked.
"Ugh," Pond groaned. "Not really, although I have a couple of ideas."
"Oh? Can I hear them?"
"I dunno," Pond sighed, washing hirself off. "They're kind of lame."
"Try me," Dapple replied, stepping out of the spray, and waiting for Pond to finish as well.
"Well, one is Chakkerkat, or... chakker." Pond said hesitantly.
"Well those are lame," Dapplestride said, sticking out hir tongue. "What else you got?"
Pond finished washing, and stepped out to join the tiger-furred chakat, which prompted the two of them to head to the drying room. "Um, well, what about Stridetaker or Lavakat."
"Well, Stridetaker is boring enough to be anyone's name. You deserve something better," Dapple said, as the two of them tried to concentrate on one another and not on the air nozzles blowing warm air into some very sensitive areas. "And Lavakat don't make any sense!"
"Well, see I'm red and grey, so like..." Pond shrugged and finished lamely. "Like lava."
"Right. Come on, Pond, I know you saved the best for last what ya got?"
Pond blushed, and not because an air jet had given hir the aerobic equivalent of licking hir vulva. "I was thinking... Goalseeker?" Hir friend nodded, before motioning to hir to elaborate on it. "Because it's kind of chakker related, but it also reflects that I'm trying to reach my goals... um. Right?" Pond shook hirself and the pair began leaving the drying room, mostly dry. "Or maybe just Seeker."
"Hmm." Dapple rubbed hir chin. "I like Seeker, but are you going to be able to endure the Quiddich jokes."
"It's a fictional sport from a series of books published in the early 21st century." Dapple explained. "One of the positions was called ‘a seeker'."
"Oh." Pond frowned. "Do you think I should go with something else?"
"No." Dapple wrapped hir arm around hir friend, giving hir a hug. "I think it's a good name, I'm just teasing you."
"Ah." The damp red-and-grey chakat nodded, before slowly smiling and trying the name on for size. "I'm Chakat Seeker, child of Jamaica and Coral. How does it sound?"
"Very good." Dapple spun the combination on hir locker, as Pond did the same, both pulling out tops to put on. The next few minutes were spent in silence as they dressed. Before either of them could restart the conversation, another chakat wearing a staff T-shirt came up to them. "Chakats Pond and Dapplestride? You're wanted in Cabin one G."
The two friends exchanged looks, but before they could question the chakat, shi was gone.
Shrugging, the two of them gathered their items and hurried over to the cabin in question. Like the majority of the structures, Cabin 1G was made up of a wood-like material that the trees of the planets could produce, in a ‘log cabin' style. Dapplestride led the way and opened the door for hir; inside there was an administrative setting, with several chakats and other species; the only one shi recognized was Bloodnose. Before either of them could speak, Bloodnose greeted them. "Good to see you got the message. Chakat Dapplestride, Pond, I'd like to congratulate you both on being successful graduates of the training camp."
"Oh?" the tigress opened.
"Yes, you're both to be courted." Bloodnose grinned, before gesturing to the group behind hir to Pond's left. "This group of representatives is here to try and get you to sign with their teams, Dappled, and the other group," shi gestured to the group on Pond's right, "is here to do the same with you, Pond."
Pond gasped in surprise. Shi hadn't expected to get this far, certainly not with such little time invested. Even those who got selected for these training camps didn't always get picked. Shaking hir head to bring hirself back to realty, shi caught the last half of Bloodnose's statement. "...After you've decided here and now which teams you want to seriously go after you, you can pack your stuff and get ready to head home. Representatives will call you in two days, and when you've decided to sign, that team will send a contract to your home for you to sign." The retired chakker player clapped hir hands together. "Good luck to you both!"
Pond grinned widely, and hurried over to hir "Group". Not surprisingly, it was a whirlwind of congratulations, offers, suggestions, and other contract-related things. After a few minutes, shi could feel a headache coming on. Thankfully, after selecting only the handful of representatives whose teams were reasonably close to hir home, and having them each interview hir one at a time, shi was able to come to a decision shi could live with. After, it was a rush to call home, and pack hir things together, and of course, seeing hir fellow players for what would possibly be the last time.
Pond couldn't say shi'd miss the island; it had been fun, but shi missed hir family terribly, but shi would miss the people who shi had developed friendships with over the course of hir short stay there, and it was a surprisingly tearful goodbye. The emotion of the moment was made all the more bittersweet by the fact that not everyone shi had worked, slept, and played with and against, had been selected by any teams. The un-picked all dealt with it in their own way, some cried, some kept a stiff upper lip, and several were surprisingly upbeat about ‘next year'. It wasn't until shi was on the boat headed for the mainland that shi met up with Dapplestride again.
"So," Pond smiled, coming up behind hir friend and giving hir a hug. "What teams are on your top three?"
"Just the Curtisport Paws," Dapple grinned, giving Pond a kiss on the nose. "Home town and all that. You?"
"Likely the Amistad Aphrodites." Pond turned to look out over the sea through the observation deck window. "For the same reasons. I'm going to be traveling enough as it is; no need to more of it."
"Guess that means we're going to be on opposing teams." Dapple grinned, before it slowly turned into a frown. "Listen, Pond... could I stay with you for a few days?"
"Well, I doubt I'll say no, but why?"
"There's a large tropical depression that's supposed to hit Curtisport tonight, so it's not likely I'll be able to fly in." Dapplestride explained. "It'll only be for tonight and a bit of tomorrow."
"It shouldn't be a problem." Pond hugged hir friend. "You can meet the family, and maybe if I'm ever in your neck of the woods, I'll meet yours."
"Sounds like a date!" the tigress grinned.
The homecoming was as Pond had expected, full of hugs, kisses, and an almost party atmosphere for most of the evening. Having brought a guest home helped redirect some of the excitement, to Pond's relief, and Dapplestride was actively enjoying it. Adding to the excitement was Pond's (and Dapplestride's) selection as chakker players, something the adults of the family were pleased with, and the two cubs were eager about; the idea of playing for work was something that suited them very much indeed! Eventually, however, the evening wore on and the children tired themselves out to the point that they were asleep, curled up next to the adults. As the children slept, the conversation turned to less exciting topics.
"So, you think up a new name for yourself, Pond?" Browneyes asked softly, as shi gently petted hir daughter's back, causing Honeymane to purr contently in hir sleep.
"I was thinking of Seeker," Pond replied, equally soft. "But if anyone thought up any ideas while I was gone, I'd be happy to hear them."
"You shouldn't change your name if you have doubts," Sky pointed out. "Your chosen name is very important it says something about you."
"I don't know," Dancer said. "A name is just a name. It doesn't have to define you as a person to the point that's all you are. Take me for example I like dancing, but I hardly dance any more, and I certainly don't dance by the sea any more."
Spadespot held up hir hand, cutting off any further discussion. "I think Seeker is a fine name. If that's what my lifemate wants, I'll support hir in it." Spadespot leaned over the sleeping form of Sugarback and gave Pond a rub on hir back. "I've got the papers ready; you just need to sign them, and I've got an appointment with the clan matriarch for tomorrow."
"Thanks." Pond smiled back.
"So, should we start calling you Seeker right away?" Sky asked.
"If you want," Pond said, shrugging. "Speaking of which, has anyone explained this to the kids?"
"I've mentioned it in passing," Spadespot said, as Browneyes nodded in agreement. "They might not get it though, so you might have to live being called Pond by them for a while."
"Doesn't bother me if they do, but they're both smart, I'm sure they'll figure it out." Pond smiled, before softly clapping hir hands together. "Either way, I think it's time to turn in." As the other adults of the group nodded, and the two mothers picked up their children to move them to the family bedroom, Pond turned to Dapplestride, who had spent most of the evening either playing with the children or making small talk, and told hir the sleeping situation; "We don't really have a guest room, so you'll have to sleep in the den. I hope you don't mind, I'll get you some extra pillows and such."
"Of course not." Dapple smiled. "Your family barely knows me, there's no reason I shouldn't be treated as a guest when I am one."
"Even so..." Pond sighed. "Would you like some company for the night?"
Dapple paused, obviously thinking for a moment before replying. "Yes, but not you."
"Wh-" Pond began before shi was cut off.
"Hon, it's your first night home you should spend it with your mates and family." Dapple gave the red-and-grey chakat a hug. "I'd be grateful if you asked if anyone else wanted to, but if no one wants to, that's fine as well. I'm sure in the course of our chakker careers, we'll probably share a bed a good number of times."
Pond nodded and returned to the family bedroom, and asked the collected group of chakats if any of them wanted to go. To hir surprise, Browneyes volunteered. "Why?" Pond whispered to the calico patterned chakat before shi left.
"Why what?" Browneyes replied cheekily.
"Why volunteer?" Pond rolled hir eyes. "I thought you'd be the last to want to go."
"Well, I don't know if you realize this, but the two of you are damn sexy." Browneyes explained bluntly. "Before... it wasn't that you didn't look good, but now you're toned, well muscled... Mmm!" Browneyes licked hir lips before laughing softly. "One of the reasons I was attracted to your daughter was that shi was so buff. Even if we don't do any more than cuddle... well I can't just pass on it can I?"
Pond blinked. "But what about Honeymane?"
"Shi's nine years old; I think that's old enough for hir to start being alone at times not that shi is with you guys." Browneyes shrugged. "Shi'll be fine. Goodnight Po— Seeker, sleep tight."
Pond shook hir head half in amusement, and turned back toward hir mates, shi was too tired and needed to get up early, so there'd be nothing more than snuggling tonight, but having not had it for the past many weeks, it would be more than enough.
Despite the name, chakat clans really were more like community organizations than any group connected by family ties. As a species, chakats ended up being a highly diasporic people, traveling far and wide, either globally, or when interstellar travel opened up, whole other worlds. In those days, the communications were spotty at best, so more often than not, one's family ended up being whoever you knew within walking distance. The founding of Chakona changed that. Since every chakat was, and still is, considered a citizen of Chakona, many chakats ended up migrating to the world. It helped that the founding coincided with a vast economic downturn for many of the earliest colonies ore veins were tapped out, the SDV outbreak causing many chakats and their clans to move to Chakona. Some retained their original clans, while other clans merged or were absorbed into the locals. The family's local clan wasn't like that. Of the 217 official clans on Chakona, Clan Quiller was one of the oldest.
In spite of this, Pond had only visited the clan building a handful of times. Once to put down that shi was now living in the area, and once more a year before when the clan matriarch had passed away. Like all clans, the clan building was actually the home of the clan matriarch, passed down generation to generation from the original founding family. Outside the two-storey building was an obvious Chakonan colonial style building, although repaired and modified over time. After being admitted, Pond could clearly see that the interior followed the exterior in design as well, including a center courtyard and garden. Within a few minutes, the teenaged chakat who had admitted Pond and Spadespot returned and led them around to the kitchen, where the rather old, nude chakat sat. Looking closely, Pond could tell shi had, at one point, been striped like a tiger, but age had almost greyed hir fur colors completely out.
"So, you're the chakat who wants to change hir name, mmm?" the matriarch said, motioning the two to sit down.
"Yes, Longtail..." Pond grimaced, groping for the name. "...Gloves?"
Shi grinned. "Tigerforest, actually. Did you forget my name?"
"Sorry..." Pond blushed hard and looked down at the table.
"I'm hardly surprised, your family hardly visits." Tigerforest shook hir head in amusement. "Well! More doing and all that. Let's get down to business, shall we? You've filled out the forms, yes?"
Pond nodded and produced them, before asking a question about what one of the more ambiguous questions were. Once sorted out, Pond completed the last area quickly and gave it to the longtail.
"Mmmm," shi murmured, placing a monocle in hir eye and looking it over. "Everything seems to be in order, yes... Pond to Seeker eh? Not bad... Well now, just the ceremony left!"
"What's it going to be?" Pond asked, "I didn't even know there was one for renaming an adult."
"There isn't!" Tigerforest winked, "I'm been thinking about it since your mate contacted me. I'm just going to use the adult naming ceremony, with a few modifications, if that's alright with you?"
"Good!" the greyed chakat exclaimed. "Now, there's not going to be a crowd, and we're going to do it now, rather than at dawn. That's easier on us all I'd think. Your parents will..."
"Oh," Pond interrupted. "My parents aren't here, Shir."
"What? Of course they are, they're sleeping in one of the upstairs bedrooms."
"What?" Pond felt hir lifemate's hand on hir shoulder, who wore an apologetic smile on hir muzzle.
"I invited your parents for the ceremony a few weeks ago. It was meant to be a surprise," Spadespot explained.
"Why weren't they staying with us? At our home?" Pond asked.
"Where would they sleep? We're already nearly bursting at the seams in the family room as it is with all of us in there. Honeymane and Sugarback aren't that small any more..." Spadespot shrugged. "Besides, we thought it'd be a nice surprise."
"Speaking of which," Tigerforest said, pointing behind them both, "Looks like at least one of them is up."
Pond turned towards to doorway, where a chakat with an almost psychedelic fur pattern composed of both natural and dyed hues, stood dressed in a large T-shirt, looking as if shi had just rolled out of bed. Upon seeing Pond, shi brightened up immediately, and came over to hug hir. "Mornin' Sweetheart."
"Hi mom." Pond buried hir head into hir mother's shoulder blade, before pulling away and getting a look at the hundred year old chakat. "You look good."
"Thanks, sweetie. You look wonderful yourself. I'm glad you've stopped dyeing your fur." Jamaica smiled. "I knew you'd... come around one day."
Pond nodded, before changing the subject. "I see I'm not the only one who's made changes; what happened to your dreads?"
"Ah well..." Jamaica said, running hir hand through hir straight hair. "I'm getting older, it's not as much fun to spend hours preening as it use to be."
"So where's Coral?" Spadespot asked, as shi got up and hugged the older chakat.
"Probably still in bed, knowing hir," Jamaica chuckled. "I just came down to get something to eat. I wasn't really expecting you until later.
"Really?" Pond asked. "It's well past midday..."
Jamaica groaned and shook hir head at the news. "Jetlag's a real bitch."
"I guess so." Spadespot smiled ruefully.
"I hate to interrupt," Tigerforest spoke up. "But I'm not getting any younger. Jamaica, dear, if you could get Coral and meet us in the courtyard, we can get this done and you can have all the time in the world."
The three of them nodded in embarrassment, and prepared for the ceremony; Pond stripped hir top and belt off, whereas Jamaica trotted off to find hir lifemate. Within ten minutes, the five of them had assembled in the courtyard. When everyone was in position, Tigerforest turned to Pond, and began to speak. "It's very rare for an adult chakat to change hir name. As you know, choosing one's name is considered to be the first real adult decision a chakat makes. I hope you have good reason to change it..."
As Tigerforest began to trail off, Pond's father, a pink-furred chakat, spoke. "What is your name?"
"Chakat Pond, child of Jamaica and Coral," shi replied promptly.
"And your new name?" Jamaica asked softly.
"Chakat Seeker, child of Jamaica and Coral," Pond said, with only a slight bit of hesitation.
"What is its story?" Coral asked gently, giving Pond a warm smile.
"I... I've realized I need to seek happiness out, because it won't always land in my lap. And because I like to seek out opening to score goals in chakker."
Jamaica frowned. "Are you unhappy sweetie?"
"No, I'm happy enough..." Pond said quickly, trying to salvage the ceremony before it got too far off track. "I've just realized I could be happier."
"Well..." Hir mother's face was calm, but hir empathic projections betrayed hir inner concern. "Why do you feel you need to change it?"
Pond took a deep breath; this question was the sort shi'd been dreading. "When I was young, I got hurt, badly. I never fully recovered physically, but more importantly I never recovered mentally either... When I choice my adult name, I chose it not because it was a reflection of myself, but rather it was something that wasn't even close, so I could run from my troubles. But I'm done running." Suddenly Pond snorted. "Well, except for chakker; I'll be running loads if it works out."
The five of them chuckled, before looking at Tigerforest. "Good enough for me! Hope this new name works out better for you and your life, Seeker."
While one would normally follow up such a ceremony with a party of some sort, Seeker found that after a group hug and well-wishes, the lot of them, minus Tigerforest, piled themselves into a PTV and sped back home where the various papers had arrived to be signed. Of course, only fools sign something without reading it, and Seeker had to consult one of the family's lawyers (a second cousin) for clarification. Before long shi had signed what needed to be signed... but by that time the day was almost over.
After eating take-out and catching up with hir family, Seeker had got a vidcall from Dapplestride, telling hir shi had arrived safely after leaving earlier in the day. Without Dapplestride being there, Seeker was able to offer hir parents the use of the living room, but within a few minutes of trying to get a bed arranged, it was clear it simply wasn't going to work. After much thought, Browneyes volunteered to house them in hir own place down the hall, which they accepted, saying they'd like to spend more time with their grandchild anyway.
Without the extra four souls, the place felt more roomy, but everyone seemed to agree they might want to think about looking into a bigger place. Nevertheless, eventually they were all able to get to sleep comfortably.
Seeker twitched hir tail nervously. This was going to be hir first real game. Looking over at hir teammates, who occupied a waiting area located behind one of the stadium's walls, shi could see and feel an almost surreal calm... something despite hir best efforts shi had failed to achieve. To make matters worse, the whole family, sans hir daughter and other members who were off-world, was in the stands watching. Even hir parents were there... and the ones not there physically were watching if they could.
Shi was going to fuck up, shi just knew it.
Frowning, shi tried to adjust the ‘chakat special' sports bra under hir uniform. Normally chakats had no need for support of any sort, but chakker was just so intense... Even though Seeker knew the need for the different parts of the uniform, it felt highly uncomfortable, ranging from the cup to the pads. Oddly the same sorts of clothing hadn't felt this way back when shi was at the training camp. Maybe it was all in hir mind.
"Hey..." Seeker's teammate whispered, "Relax it'll be alright."
Seeker was too nervous to reply, so shi merely nodded, trying to listen to the distorted sounds of the commentators, to see how long before they'd be on the grass. Before shi could work out what they were saying, the wall rolled up, and fresh air and warm sunlight washed over them, as they strode out onto the field. Seeker smiled, and gave a wave as a sudden feeling of euphoria washed over hir... maybe it would be alright after all.
To be continued in Quality Of Life.
Chakats and other concepts © 2011 Bernard Doove
Pond/Seeker, Browneyes, Darktoes, Spadespot and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com
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