The flight of the Isaac Asimov continued, week after week passing with an almost monotonous regularity, the progress of the journey only measured by the navigation instruments locking on to stars on the very fringes of Furrderation space as the ship drew steadily nearer to its destination.
Captain Walker relaxed on the bridge, satisfied as to their progress. The journey had been almost routine up to this point since their deviation from their original plan, and now they were well past communication range with their own Stellar Federation, alone in the blackness of interstellar space. The Asimov had been in almost continual warp for much of the trip, only stopping to drop off robot probes at strategic points along the way to survey star systems and to act as communication relays.
Dawnfire padded up beside him, the chakat first officer sitting neatly down and curling hir thick muscled tail around hir front legs. "Status report as you requested sir," shi smiled, handing over the datapad shi was carrying. "Navigation planning estimates we're approximately two weeks away from the fringes of Furryspace, assuming current speed."
"Good, good." Walker smiled in acknowledgment. "How are our extra guests doing?"
'You mean MayFurr, Ranthe and Sundown?" the chakat asked. "Well, Sundown's been settling in fine, and the two vulpines are behaving themselves so far." Shi grinned, and leaned over to conspiratorially whisper in the human's ear. "I saw the male and Sundown leaving Rec Two together just before my shift - and judging by the look on that chakat's face, well... you know what I mean..."
Sundown's accommodation on the Asimov looked rather like all the others that MayFurr had seen since they had come on board - a standardised design suitable for a number of species, customisable to suit the specific requirements of the Stellar Federation's races. Like his own room, the chakat's room was devoid of most personal artefacts, a consequence of hir unplanned arrival aboard their new home. Sundown entered the room first, hir paws softly padding across the carpeted floor as the aching fox followed. Shi closed the door behind them, and gestured to MayFurr to go into the sleeping area. "Take your jacket off and lie down on the bed," shi instructed him, "I'll be with you in a minute."
The fox nodded, and went behind the screen set up in the room around the bed while Sundown poured hirself a glass of water. As shi drank, shi smiled to hirself, hir tail twitching a little in anticipation. While the hermaphroditic chakats were by necessity of their physical nature completely bisexual, every chakat had periods each month where either their male or female attributes came to the fore, resulting in an increased attraction to the opposite sex in other species. That was partly why shi had invited MayFurr to be with hir tonight, as the female phase of hir chakat cycle was now in full swing. Shi watched with contemplative interest as his leather jacket got draped across the top of the screen, followed by some very foxish groans of pain. Sundown finished hir drink and walked around the screen to join him.
MayFurr was lying flat on his stomach on the bed, in the fur from his waist upwards. "Well, you've got me now Sundown," he joked, turning his head to view hir as shi crouched down on all fours beside the bed and gently laid hir hands on his shoulders. "I hope you'll be gentle with me."
"Now why would I want to be that, hmmmm?" Sundown jauntily replied, pressing down through the fox's fur with hir hands. "I've heard the only good massage is a firm one, you know." Shi gave him a firm hard squeeze as if to emphasise the point, causing him to gasp in pain.
"Hang on, this is supposed to take the pain away, not add to it!" MayFurr protested, wincing somewhat as Sundown's hands moved down his back. "Owww!" His tail stiffened in response to each jolt of pain the chakat's massage provoked.
"Lie there and relax, foxy," Sundown grinned. "Just let yourself go." Shi hummed a little to hirself as shi continued to work hir way down the fox's back, feeling him eventually start to relax under hir attentions. "That feeling better?" shi presently asked him, pausing for a few moments.
"Yeah..." MayFurr sighed, his head resting in his folded arms as he looked straight ahead, not noticing Sundown pulling hir halter top off to reveal her ample furred breasts. "It's starting to work, whatever you're doing."
Shi smiled again at that. "Good." shi replied, shifting hirself around to the foot of the bed. "I'm going to have to take your pants off to get at your lower back properly May, do you mind?" shi asked innocently.
MayFurr roused himself a little at that, but didn't turn around, feeling the relaxing effects of the massage too much to be overly concerned. Still, it was a little unexpected. "Well uhhh, I don't mind myself Sundown, but are you sure you...?" his voice trailed off questioningly. On the one paw he was enjoying the close attention he was getting, but on the other they weren't exactly close or anything yet and he didn't want to offend hir. Not to mention he knew only too well what could happen when a chakat got angry.
Sundown shook her head. "No, I don't mind at all May," shi reassured him, "I wouldn't have asked otherwise. Besides, it's not as though I haven't seen you in the fur before... or anyone else for that matter."
"Oh yeah, I guess so," MayFurr mumbled, remembering the time he'd been caught in the middle of dressing in hir house in Chases-My-Tail.
"You worried that Ranthe will think I'm taking advantage of you?"
He shook his head. "Ranthe's her own vixen in that respect, she and I... well, let's say we have an agreement."
"An open relationship you mean," Sundown offered, reaching under the fox to loosen his belt, hir hands brushing over his groin before withdrawing to tug his trousers off from around his waist.
MayFurr snorted. "Hardly. The only relationship we have is a professional one." He stirred a little, raising himself up on his knees a bit to allow the chakat to slide his pants off, leaving his tail swaying freely over his furred backside. "Not that I wouldn't mind of course, but she's never indicated otherwise, and I've never pressed her. We're just good friends more than anything else."
Sundown nodded, having finished removing his clothing by now. "I thought you two might have been life-mates or something, that's all." Shi climbed up onto the bed, the mattress sinking somewhat under hir weight as shi straddled MayFurr's prone form. "Now... let's see about the rest of your back, mmm?"
The fox murmured something that could be taken as assent, lowering himself back down. Sundown breathed out happily, easing hirself down on top of him, hir lower belly pressing against his tail as shi leaned forward, hir hands reaching down to massage his back again. MayFurr relaxed underneath the humming chakat, looking ahead towards the far wall. As Sundown worked on his back, he dimly became aware of a second pair of hands touching him, and lazily murmured "Who else have you got with us, Sundown? I didn't hear them come in..."
The sound of the chakat's giggle caused the fox to turn around, looking for the newcomer - only to find that he and Sundown were still alone, and the second pair of hands MayFurr had felt also were hirs! Sundown has assumed an almost prone position over him, the paw-hands on the chakats forelegs firmly pawing at his back while hir other hands ran over his shoulders. Seeing the look on his face, shi grinned widely, exposing hir gleaming white feline teeth. MayFurr inwardly shrugged, and rested back onto his stomach.
It was certainly soothing anyway, the way hir hands moved over his sore muscles, the fox thought to himself... it had been a long time since he had felt this relaxed and cared-for, even before the incident that had brought him and Ranthe to this place. The pleasant sight of the feline 'taur above him reminded him of other females he'd known throughout his time on Furry, and it was increasingly tempting to think of Sundown as no more than a perfectly ordinary female. Yes, indeed... the long hair, thick eyelashes, the general shape of the chakat's upper torso and the generous heavy-looking breasts, it was certainly a sight worthy of the kind of females he liked...
...except that something long, hard, and definitely unfeminine was now nudging at the base of his tail.
The sudden prodding sensation in his rear jolted MayFurr from his reverie, and again he raised his head, turning around to gaze at the creature now astride him. Sundown noticed the look on his face, and stopped what shi was doing. "What's wrong, May?" shi asked, hir voice soft yet concerned.
"I'm sorry Sundown," he sighed, this time averting his face from hir gaze. "It's... well..."
"You can tell me May... don't you like me doing this?"
"Oh I do like this, I do!" MayFurr emphatically replied. "It's just that..." His voice trailed off as he gathered his thoughts. Sundown waited patiently for him to continue.
"Well... you look so much like a female Sundown, and you're being nice to me and everything... I just forgot you're not just female, there's more to you... than that." the fox finished shamefacedly.
Sundown's face dawned in understanding, and shi lifted hir rear torso up, managing to glance underneath hirself to see the cause of MayFurr's consternation. "Oh, I see... And I take it that you're not... "
"I'm not gay, no." MayFurr finished glumly, feeling bad about disappointing his companion despite his revulsion at what he thought was happening.
"I was going to say bisexual," Sundown interrupted, now fully realising how the erection between hir hind legs had touched the fox underneath. "I've noticed the sort of looks you give to the other females on the Asimov, so I know you're not that way inclined." Shi sighed heavily. "You know, I was getting rather turned on by what we were doing."
"I must admit, I was too..." MayFurr hastened to reassure her. "And I do like you Sundown, I like you a lot since we've got to know each other better, but... feeling that is a reminder of what you are, and that's... well, unsettling. I guess I'm not used to everything about chakats yet."
Sundown nodded, shifting slightly against the fox's body. Hir sensitive nostrils had detected scents of his arousal, and of course shi had acted accordingly, letting MayFurr show the pace he wanted to go, but now shi was feeling rather deflated at his admission. The infamous chakat libido was still quite stimulated though, and Sundown also felt a sort of compassion towards the fox, wanting to help him overcome whatever was bothering him.
A thought struck hir, and shi considered it for a few moments. "MayFurr," Sundown eventually murmured, "If it wasn't for my maleness, you'd be quite happy with what we're doing now... and possibly if we went further?"
"Um, yes, I guess so..."
"Well then, I think I've got a way around that," smiled Sundown as shi slid down onto the floor, landing on all fours with a heavy thump, the chakat steadying hirself against the side of the bed with hir hand. "For a start, if you'll move over to one side on the bed, and I'll come up in front of you..."
Ranthe looked up as MayFurr entered their compartment early next morning, the vixen in the process of eating the breakfast she had ordered from the ship's replicator. "I didn't hear you come in last night," the vixen mumbled through a mouthful of toast, "Where did you get to in the end? More late night maintenance on the Fury?"
MayFurr just shook his head, and Ranthe noticed for the first time that her companion had a grin on his face that stretched right around his muzzle. She finished her mouthful, and cocked her head to one side.
"Let me guess... Sundown?"
"And you spent the night with hir, right?"
MayFurr nodded as he brushed past her, grabbing the jug of orange juice Ranthe had placed on the table and pouring himself a glass. "I know you and hir have been spending some time together lately, you two must have had a good... " Her voice trailed off as her mind came to the inevitable conclusion.
"You didn't... !"
The fox just grinned, drinking the orange juice in one gulp. Ranthe sniffed the air again.
"You did! I can scent hir on you!" she crowed. "You actually - "
"Okay, okay, I admit it!" MayFurr happily replied as he pulled up a chair at the table and started hungrily attacking what breakfast Ranthe had left behind. "Yes, we did get intimate - happy now?"
"Gawd, I love the way you put things like that," Ranthe chuckled. "Always so damn polite, you are... So anyway, what I really want to know is... what's shi like to fu-"
"Shi, as you were about to so crudely put it, was very nice, and very considerate in bed," he smiled, pausing to munch his way though the leftover toast.
"You do realise that shi's more than just a female - "
"Yes, and we dealt with that very well thanks very much." MayFurr saw no reason to go into the details with Ranthe of how he and Sundown had to eventually made love together, even though it was obvious the vixen wanted all the sordid details. What had happened that night was one of the most special times he had experienced, the chakat being an enthusiastic and imaginative lover once they had resolved his difficulty with the male aspect of hir sexuality, and recounting it to Ranthe now would simply take the shine off it. Instead, he winked at her, content for the moment to keep the previous night's events private.
"Hmph." Ranthe gave up questioning him for the moment, deciding to give herself a thorough grooming all over with a large stiff-bristled brush while MayFurr continued eating.
As he watched Ranthe work through the tangles of her fur, brushing over her arms, legs and back, MayFurr allowed his thoughts to travel back to last evening's events. Oddly enough, once he'd got used to the reality of Sundown's hermaphrodite sexuality, it wasn't as bad as he'd previously thought. As far as his feelings were concerned, the chakat still looked sufficiently female for him to respond to in a way he was used to, and it wasn't long before he was able to put to one side the fact that his 'female' lover also sported an erection. Indeed, in some ways it was probably an advantage, MayFurr thought to himself, as Sundown had been able to give him pleasures that no female had ever thought of doing - presumably because those females didn't have first-paw knowledge of how males like to be touched... Not to mention the sheer exotic factor of the chakats 'taur-form body also had a lot to do with it, and MayFurr had been simply amazed at how Sundown had managed to twist and turn hir body around in ways he'd thought were virtually impossible. He smiled to himself - the experience with her was something he'd treasure always.
The vixen finished her grooming, and after slipping back into her usual jumpsuit, she headed for the door, passing MayFurr as he cleared up from his morning meal.
"Oh, by the way May," Ranthe smirked, "Is Sundown really - " and here she whispered something into the fox's ear.
MayFurr's foxy ears pricked up in surprise, and his whiskers twitched. "Ranthe, I don't know what chakats are usually like in that area! But I think if you give hir half a chance you'll find out for yourself soon enough..."
Only six light-years from Furry Prime was the region of space known as the Frontier, a wall of energy stretching across the spiral arm, an ancient defence against a long forgotten enemy. Even this close to what passed for civilisation in the anarchy that was Furryspace, it was not a place where the faint of heart would travel. Wormholes, dust clouds and asteroid belts were simply the more natural hazards existing in this part of the galaxy, for there were those races that would cheerfully board and strip your spacecraft with no thought for your well-being - if you were lucky.
Only a few thousand kilometres away from the impassable energy barrier floated a tiny speck, an insignificant mote against the night. Measuring eight kilometres across its main docking arms and almost two kilometres from `top' to `bottom', Dreamstar Station slowly rotated on its axis, bathed in a mixture of cold distant light of the star it was orbiting and a cool green glow from the frontier itself. Far off in the distance away from the station lay a giddy psychedelic kaleidoscope of light emanating from the spinning eddy of a local wormhole. Created a few years ago to study the barrier, these days the station acted mainly as a firmly neutral port, and claimed to offer the best medical care in the spiral arm. Science research still went on, more generalised these day, taking advantage of the station's deep space location. Overall the station was a lonely beacon in the vastness of space offering refuge and sanctuary to the tired travellers that came by.
Deep inside the station, a consciousness stirred, detecting an unusual trace of something unknown entering the area of guardianship it had defined for itself. The signal was faint, and the trace was weak, but the mind had no concept of irrelevancy, only of purpose and design. Light from the frontier reflected off a massive sensor array as it reoriented itself to get a better bearing on the signal it had detected.
There it was - faint, yet clear enough to analyse after it had applied subtle filtering. The mind ran through its prodigious memory, searching for a match, a hint of recognition, but found nothing. This was unusual, but not too worrying, however the direction warranted closer investigation, and the consciousness decided to request assistance.
In the Dreamstar control room, a female feline 'morph dressed in an all-encompassing hooded cloak stared vacantly out the main viewing window, completely motionless as if in a trance. As if responding to some unknown signal the feline femme's body began to twitch ever so slightly for a few moments, her chest beginning to rise and fall as she started to breathe. Delicate clawed fingers flexed lightly against the desktop where she had been standing as she slowly came to life, her violet feline eyes refocussing on the view before her. She blinked a few times, and let out a heavy sigh, reaching up with her paws to pull the hood of her cloak off her head, causing her long white hair to spill out around her neck and over her shoulders. Behind her a panel registered the change as the complex interface systems handed control to the station's onboard Synthetic Intelligence.
Artania sighed again, and rubbed her eyes. The gesture was as meaningless as her stretch, but it helped get her mind back in a more 'normal' mode of thought. Though she would never admit it, there were times when it worried her how deep she got into the Dreamstar's computer system. She had trouble working out who and what she was at the best of times, and linking her mind into the main systems to act as a CPU only made things worse.
A set of mental impulses opened an internal com link. "Snorty, you free?"
"Fairly well at the moment," a soft rumble from the speaker answered. "What's up?"
"I've detected something heading in our direction - from the other side of the frontier." Artania replied, her voice soft and pleasant yet cold as liquid helium to the ear. "I'm going to head out and try for a better look."
"You're not using a probe?"
"I trust my sensors more then the probes, and given the approach vector, we need to make sure of this."
There was a pause. "Understood." The speaker fell silent.
"Only one ship then, if it's an attack they are being very subtle."
Artania gave Snorty a cold look. "You know of anything else we've ever had from that side of the barrier?"
The creature beside her shook his head. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to dragons of mythical legend, Snorty was the recently-appointed administrator of Dreamstar Station, a position that he was finding out to be quite a challenge after taking over from his predecessor. Standing approximately six feet tall, the dragon-morph was unusual in that instead of scales his body was covered in a short layer of fur shading from a red-gold along his back to a pure gold on his front, and that he had a distinctly feline cast to his otherwise reptilian features. His fur-covered wings riffled absent-mindedly behind him as he pondered the situation, scratching the underside of his snout with a clawtip. "What's our traffic status at the moment?"
Artania didn't bother looking up any of the station logs. "The Nighthawk and Pegasus departed yesterday heading out spinward, next scheduled traffic isn't for another three days and that's only small trading craft. Usual complement of small craft in the hangar bay belonging to station residents and long-term guests, and all capital ship docking ports are free."
"A fairly normal week then," Snorty replied. "Tell me about the contact, if it's trouble it will be coming right through us."
Artania closed her eyes, and a appeared to concentrate. Almost a light-year away, an ovoid vessel shifted slightly, reaching out with senses that rivalled Dreamstar's huge arrays and 'felt' at the fabric of space, watching a tiny ripple as it headed closer. This, despite all appearances to the contrary, was the real seat of Artania's mind, a slim twenty meter long biological starship, its shape altering constantly as it rearranged its sensors, the exotic alien patterns on its sides blending, appearing and disappearing into each other.
"It's bearing... one-five-four, mark six-two, straight across the frontier boundary, and headed right for us," she answered, her words cool and clear through the expanse of Dreamstar's command and control area.
"How long before it gets here?"
"About sixteen hours, judging by its speed. It'll be inside close sensor range in four. Oddly enough, it seems to be using an FTL drive system not too dissimilar to some of the old Furry Defence Force ships, but the configuration... it's nothing like I've seen around here." Artania paused. "I recommend that we got to full alert status once it enters our sector."
Snorty nodded slightly in acknowledgment, slipping one claw-like hand inside a pocket of his black jacket he was wearing, looking out the window to the grid that made up the frontier. No one really knew who had put it there, but the last time anyone had seen activity from it had been during the battle with the Xurians several years before. Artania had always tended towards being trigger-happy, but given she was originally created as a weapon, that was something he had grown to accept a lot better then she had herself. The feline 'morph beside him was essentially a sensor probe split off from her main body, reshaped into a pleasing form to make it easier for her to communicate with others. Over the years various habits had set in however, and he sometimes wondered just how much she consciously thought about a lot of her more emotional reactions.
"Let me know when it reaches the border then, and take whatever precautions you deem necessary," Snorty replied. "And much as I hate to do this, get ready to send to Prime for help if it looks bad." The less they had to rely on external assistance, the more independent Dreamstar could stay, he thought to himself, especially in light of recent events in other Furrderation-controlled sectors.
"I want to go over and scan them," Artania announced confidently. She looked up into the furry dragon's face. "They only have one ship, I can get a closer look and get some advance intelligence on them before they get too close."
Snorty nodded. "I'll handle the portal. If you have to fight, you don't need more distractions."
The ship in feline form gave him one of her practiced expressions of amused tolerance. "Don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs," she haughtily replied. Seeing Snorty's reaction, she caught herself, a look of mild surprise of her face as she blinked. "Sorry... I've been hanging around Primeworlders too much lately. I'll tell you as soon as I have anything better to go on."
Aboard the Asimov, preparations were under way in anticipation of entering Furrderation space. With less than six hours to go until entering the first outer star systems, the mood of the ships crew - whether they were human, chakat, or others - was of growing excitement and anticipation.
MayFurr and Ranthe were going over final system checks of the Fiora's Fury in preparation for launch down in the hangar bay, when Sundown padded up to join them. At the sound of hir approach, MayFurr stuck his head out the open hatch, to see the chakat dressed in a resplendent Stellar Federation close-fitting top, the smartly professional look complemented by hir new-found poise, attitude and confident demeanour.
"You two almost ready to go?" Sundown called out, placing hir forefeet onto the bottom step of the Fury's access ladder. "Captain says we'll be dropping out of warp to launch in thirty-five minutes."
"Just about," MayFurr smiled, climbing down the steps and giving hir a warm hug. "Our on-board nav systems' working up to spec now, and we've got all the bumps and kinks ironed out of everything else. We're just downloading our current position into her now."
"Sounds good, things should be a bit smoother than last time," Sundown replied, returning the fox's hug and brushing his cheek. A loud harrrumph from behind them got their attention, both turning around to see Ranthe grinning wickedly.
"When you've finally finished there, I need you two up in here!" the vixen announced, her bushy tail idly swishing behind her as MayFurr and Sundown made their way up the access ladder once again into the ship. The Fury was looking almost as good as new now, all the dents and paint burns having been cleaned up during the long journey, and for this mission everything was fully fuelled and ready to go.
The ladder retracted and the Fury's hatch closed as the three assumed their positions - MayFurr as pilot, Ranthe copilot, and Sundown as mission specialist. In addition to the repairs, the Fury had been modified to integrate in with the Asimov's systems, and most importantly for this flight a proper 'chakat seat' had been installed. It had involved some rearrangements, but at last there was enough room in the Fury's cabin to accommodate Sundown in comfort. Each of the three 'morphs went over final checklists as the engines started with a loud whine, the instrument panels lighting up like a Christmas tree as each part of the Fury came alive once again.
"Fiora's Fury to Asimov, ready for launch."
Dawnfire's voice came back over the commlink. "Roger Fiora's Fury, stand by to launch on my mark. Good luck."
The plan was simple. Because MayFurr's ship was already known to the Furrderation, it was decided that the Fury would act as an escort for the Asimov, though to imply that the Fury could protect a vessel more than a hundred times the size was rather ludicrous when anybody thought about it. However, it was appearances that counted at any new meeting, and Captain Walker was determined that everything would go as smoothly as was possible.
Massive discharges flickered between Dreamstar and across three of the barrier's generator nodes as Artania approached. Snorty had moved the station to within a few kilometres of the energy barrier, and was dumping close to ninety percent of Dreamstar's huge energy reserves to open a small portal in the defensive web. As the power flows stabilised, the triangle between the nodes faded, and a slim black shape leaped through.
Artania flew through space towards the new contacts with a sense of exhilaration at being back in her natural element. It had just been too long since she last did this, she happily thought to herself, part of her mind luxuriating in the familiar caressing sensations of starlight playing across her body. As she cleared the hyperspace shadow the frontier cast, she reached out ahead with 'fingers' of gravity, and tore a precise hole in space, and leapt through into FTL flight ... only to drop out again seconds later much closer to the inbound craft.
Artania extended her senses into the space around her. The original signal had split, the old signal was still there, a large ship, unknown class, but given its probable origin that was only to be expected. What wasn't expected was the smaller craft that had just launched...
It took only a few seconds for her link to the station's database to bring up a match, 'Furry Aerospace strike-reconnaissance craft, 146 class.' Now what was a ship like that doing on this side of the frontier, she wondered. She glided in closer, and reached out with a more conventional probe.
"I'm reading an inbound ship coming from the station, May... looks like it's our welcoming committee." Ranthe announced as the ovoid ship approached, silhouetted against the soft green glow of the intervening energy barrier. "We're getting a signal from them."
MayFurr nodded, glancing over his shoulder to flash a reassuring smile to Sundown. "A standard Friend-Or-Foe interrogation," he confirmed. "Let them know who we are."
"Aye sir," Ranthe answered, reaching to quickly punch in a set of codes on the comm-panel. "Transmitting response now."
"This is odd..."
"What is it Artania?"
Aboard the station the feline hmmmed. "According to the IFF response the ship out there is a Nighthawk craft, the Fiora's Fury - registered pilot is one Lieutenant MayFurr. Apparently it was undergoing evaluation trials for Furry Aerospace."
Snorty looked surprised but relieved. "Well, I suppose we can hand this off to the 'hawk then, though I would love to know what they are doing on that side of the Frontier."
"There is only one problem with that Snorty," Artania replied, an expression of doubt and concern crossing her face.
"The Fury was confirmed destroyed in action over six months ago. That can't be the same ship!"
Continue to Chapter 13
Copyright 1996 Terry Knight.
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