Forest Tales, Episodes 20 to 27
More Terrible Than Chains (a.k.a. Leannaís Story)
By Bernard Doove © 2003 – 2006

Chapter: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8


Chapter 1: Perilous Freedom  


The nude fennec fox morph stood in the middle of the extravagantly decorated bedroom, next to the huge four-poster bed that dominated it. Her crotch was damp and her penis still partially erect and slick as she watched the human form on the bed twitching from seizures, spittle dribbling from his mouth. "Hurry up and die!" Leanna whispered softly but defiantly, her voice tremulous from fear. The fennecís petite form quivered with the tension of the moment, her iron resolve battling with the strong slave-indoctrination that was pushing her to call for medical help. On top of all that were her unrequited physical desires; her penis still straining to perform its function, demanding to have its cravings satiated. However, for once in her life, she defied both the will of her master and the demands of her body in order to end an existence that was no longer tolerable. That it would mean her death sooner or later, she no longer cared.

Her masterís life slowly ebbed out of his body. She glanced at the pills on the chest of drawers that were responsible for his present condition. The seizure brought on by the drug overdose would be fatal if she didn't get him medical assistance urgently, yet she made no move to the comm unit that would bring help in moments. Instead, she watched as the human breathed his last, then nervously reached for his arm. Afraid that any moment he would suddenly revive, she could hardly bring herself to touch him. Eventually though she picked up his arm and checked for a pulse. None! Triumph filled her. "Free," she said almost unbelievingly. "Free from him after all this time!" The massive relief she felt soon came crashing down, to be replaced by terrible sobs as the burden of fear and uncertainty replaced it. Eventually though, the sexual urges that plagued her resurged anew. Her master had died without fulfilling those needs today, but her body would not, nor could not, accept delays. Her partial erection grew to its utter fullness, demanding to be sated. With a cry of anger at still being forced to do her dead master's will, she climbed onto the bed. Moving the manís body into position, she plunged her throbbing penis into him again and again, weeping tears of humiliation at the manner in which she was compelled to assuage her needs.

[Several weeks previously...]

"But master, Leanna needs you!" Leanna desperately said. She had gone into rut this morning, and as always, her body demanded attention.

"Why should I attend to your needs when you canít even fulfil the task that I set for you?" Leannaís master sneered contemptuously at his special slave, a slave with many hidden talents designed to serve his purposes. A slave who had let him down. "All you had to do was find out what Phoebeís new product was, and you failed to get even a hint!"

"But master, mistress Phoebe would not say anything, no matter what Leanna tried. Leanna could do no more without revealing that she is not merely an idiot sex slave."

"Pah! Stick a cock in that woman and she would tell you anything! Youíve done it before and you know that she has the worst ability of any of our competitors to keep a secret."

Leanna cringed, knowing that this was indeed the truth, but last night had been different. "Leanna knows this, but for some reason this time she would not talk at all. Perhaps she suspects where the last leak came from?"

The man sneered. "That woman suspect? She isnít that smart. Anyone who lets out their secrets so easily merely for sex hasnít got what it takes to survive in this business. No, I blame you, and for that you deserve to be punished."

Leanna knew that her master had equal contempt for most of his competitors. At one time or another, her master had gifted the services of his Ďspecialí sex-slave to them after, or even during, some special function. Everyone knew that his sex slaves were invariably so stupid that they were barely smart enough to fulfil their designed function. No one dreamed that the unusual fennec morph was not only intelligent, but probably even more so than them. She was very adept at wheedling out information from her unsuspecting victims without them ever realising anything, but this time she had failed. "Master! Leanna tried her best! She always tries to satisfy your demands. Please tend to Leannaís needs!" she pleaded.

The man turned away. "No. I am displeased with you and you will be taught a lesson. You will stay in your room until I tell you otherwise." With that, he stepped out of the room and the door closed automatically behind him.

Leanna stared in disbelief at the closed door, anger swelling within her. How could he do this to her? She had never failed before, but it was inevitable that it would happen one day. Why did she deserve such a harsh punishment? Just then, her swollen member throbbed and a surge of raw lust crashed through her body. Leanna groaned, knowing that as strong as this was, it would only keep getting worse. She collapsed on her bed, desperately trying mental exercises to relax, only to have another surge of sexual desire undo all her efforts. For the thousandth time, she strove to put her hand on her rigid penis to masturbate, only to have the memory of her painful conditioning force it away again. There would be no relief until her master decided to give it, and if she judged him correctly, that would not be soon. Leanna wept from frustration, anger and the growing pain due to lack of relief from the sexual demands of her body.

Half a day later, Leanna stopped drinking. She couldnít concentrate on anything now, not even assuaging her thirst. Her bed was a wreck due to her thrashing about constantly, vainly trying to find a position that was marginally less stressful. At one stage, she had beaten at the locked door screaming for her master to come and service her. All that had achieved was several large dents in the door and another surge of hormones that only increased her needs.

Another day without relief or sleep passed before the dehydrated and exhausted fennec collapsed into unconsciousnessÖ.

"......... almost certainly would have died if you had left calling me any later.Ē Leanna realised that there was another person in the room. She didnít open her eyes yet, but after a brief moment of fear, she realised that the lust was gone, and this was most likely a doctor called to help her, and he had neutralised the rut in some manner. She kept listening.

"Why should I care if she had died? I could always make another like her." Her masterís callousness was shocking even to Leanna who thought she was used to his sadistic nature by now.

She sensed the doctorís disapproval in his tone, but he obviously could not bluntly tell what a master could do with his slave. "The medication I gave her should stop the return of the physical demands for sex until the next cycle, but she should be otherwise be back to normal soon, although what is normal for this unusual morph of yours, Iím not exactly sure. Have your slaves give her plenty of liquid nourishment when she awakens, and I recommend that you let her rest a day or two also."

"Iíll judge when she is ready to return to her duties, doctor. Now if youíre quite finished, the major-domo will see you to your vehicle."

Leannaís sensitive ears picked up the low murmur of contempt from the doctor, either not heard or ignored by her master. Then the door closed and Leanna realised she was alone in the room. She opened her eyes. The first thing that she saw was the drip tube feeding into her left forearm. Considering the amount of fluid that she had lost in the 40 hours or so that sheíd been in the rut, it was hardly surprising. Leanna sat up in her bed and examined herself. Her penis was back in its sheath, completely flaccid and undemanding, and once again she looked almost completely like the fennec vixen that she considered herself to be, rather than a freak with extra male genitals. What still shook her up though was her masterís casual contempt for very existence. Despite her lowly stature, she had always felt that she had some value in her masterís eyes, whether it was for her services as his assistant or merely to satisfy his personal sex kinks. In two sentences though, he had wiped out her entire sense of self-worth. Tears started to flow as misery more intense than even when she was in the rut crashed down upon her.

"Now this is what I call travelling in style!" Forestwalker declared as shi plonked hir travel bags down on the stateroom floor and luxuriated in the roominess and lush furnishings of hir accommodations for the next several weeks. Hir cubs, Snowcloud and Patchwork started exploring the room, but their sister, the newborn Windrunner, stayed fast asleep in hir saddlebag carrier on Forestís back.

"Rrank has its privileges, as you say on Terrra," Rosepetal Silpurr said, rolling her Rís in typical Caitian fashion. She smiled in amusement at Forestís reaction.

The two were an odd duo, with their only resemblance being that they were both felinoids. Forestwalker, or just Forest to hir friends, was a chakat and, despite the fact that hir kind had only been around for a couple of hundred years, a native of Terra (or plain old Earth to the natives). Hir species had been created in the genetic laboratories at the end of the Great Reconstruction, and they had represented the pinnacle of scientific achievement in that field at the time. They were also radically different from anything ever created before. For starters, they were taurforms, a fairly new concept in morph species at that time. This meant that they had a four-legged torso which, in this particular case, was based on the powerful and sleek form of one of the Big Cats. However, where the neck would normally begin, instead began another torso, this time vertically aligned. This part strongly resembled a humanoid female with the exception that it was covered with just as much of the thick jaguar-patterned fur as the lower torso. The hands were almost human with the exception of claw-like nails and short dense fur covering them except on the finger and palm pads. The breasts were very large and firm. However, the head that sat upon the neck was anything but human. A felineís head, similar to that of a jaguar except for the higher forehead indicating a larger braincase, topped the body out at about 170 centimeters, or five feet seven inches in the old style which still inexplicably persisted for measuring peopleís heights in casual conversations. Chakats tended to have hair that was long and thick like a mane, but Forest kept hir raven-black hair cropped neatly to about shoulder length. This completed the base form of the feline centauroid, but there were a few things that made chakats significantly different from other taurforms other than their species. For starters, their tails were exceptionally long, strong and prehensile. A look at their forepaws would reveal that the digits were much longer than a natural cats, and the dewclaw extended into a semi-thumb, thus enabling them to grasp objects in their Ďhandpawsí. But the biggest difference, although not terribly obvious at a casual glance, was that they possessed both sets of genitals. Despite hir very feminine looks, Forest was a fully functional hermaphrodite.

Rosepetalís kind, on the other hand, didnít even originate from Earth. Despite the resemblance to a cat, she was an alien from a world named Cait, which was the Terran form of the actual name of the planet. Since it was pretty much unpronounceable to almost every other species though, most settled for using the common name. Even the name Rosepetal used was the Terran version of her true name. It translated roughly to mean ĎPetal of the Thorn Flowerí, and so she chose her Terran name to closely reflect that. Unlike Forest, she stood on two legs, although she was digitigrade, thus basically only her toes normally met the floor. Her balance was very good, helped a lot by the long tail that swung casually behind her, the tufted end a frequent target for the playful cubs. The snugly fitting ship uniform that she wore showed off a lean and lithe feminine form that only reached as high as five foot four, and she had moderately-sized breasts filling out her top. Unlike Forest though, Rosepetal was only female. Her hands were blunter and more paw-like than Forestís, but had retractable claws which she meticulously maintained. Her head had a smaller muzzle than Forest, resembling a house catís, and shi had large golden eyes. Her hair reached halfway down her back and was light brown in colour, softly contrasting with the tan and beige fur that covered the rest of her body.

Both wore Star Fleet duty uniforms, although where Rosepetalís reached from neck to ankles, Forestwalker only wore the top half on hir upper torso. Typical of many taurforms, chakats generally disdained wearing clothing on their lower torsos except for special occasions. Both were mostly black except for the cuffs of the long sleeves and a diagonal section of colour that covered both shoulders, but ended just under the armpit on their right side, and at waist level on their left side. Whereas Rosepetalís had a blue swatch though, Forest had a green one, indicating that hir department was life-sciences, while Rosepetalís indicated that her department was the physical-sciences. The collars bore radically different rank markings. Rosepetalís had the three round pips that indicated that she was a full Commander, and she was the First Officer of the ship both were currently on: the Pegasus. Forestís collar had bars though, indicating a civilian rank. Shi had come aboard as a mission specialist, and while shi didnít have any naval command authority, shi did have authority to order around lesser-rank Star Fleet personnel assigned to hir department.

"Youíre the one with the rank, not me," Forest demurred.

"As the mate of the Captain of this vessel, not to mention my co-wife, youíre entitled to nothing but the best also. You have several cubs to look after too, so youíre going to need all these rooms," Rosepetal countered.

"You wonít get any argument out of me there, Rose! My travels with Midnight were pretty comfortable, but just adequate for taurs like us. Iím more than happy to have this much room."

Rosepetalís voice purred with amusement. "Pegasus is a pretty big ship. We can spare the space."

"I noticed how big it was. Iím going to have to study the layout of the decks to make sure I donít get lost! I donít have the advantage of the regular crew in being familiar with Fleet ships."

"Iíll assign a yeoman to you to make sure you get orientated and the cubs are adequately cared for in your absence. In fact, I might as well assign Yeoman díArmand. She already looks after my daughter and keeps Kayla from getting underfoot when I have to be on duty. Sheís very good with children."

"That sounds like a very good idea to me. Iíll get started on the unpacking in the meantime. Hmm, have you seen our elusive mate anywhere? I thought he might be here when I arrived."

Rosepetal smiled. "Knowing Boyce, youíll probably find him down in Engineering, going over the upgrades personally. You know him. You can promote the man out of the engineering department, but you canít take it out his blood!" Both laughed at that. They knew how much he still enjoyed taking a hands-on approach to everything, but it undoubtably made the regular crew nervous when a Fleet Admiral came digging into equipment that theyíd already checked over.

Rosepetal turned to leave, but paused at the doorway to say one more thing. "Just a reminder, Forest. Unlike the Star Corps vessel you were on previously, this is a military ship, and discipline is much tighter. When youíre on duty, and pretty much anytime youíre outside these staterooms, I am Commander Silpurr, not your co-mate Rosepetal. Donít presume on familiarity unless it is offered first. If I give you an order, it is not subject to debate or vote. The same should be true with Boyce, although heís been guilty of many appalling lapses of his own, but when youíre his rank you can get away with a lot more!"

"Itís okay, Rose, I understand. Hopefully I wonít slip up," Forest replied soberly.

Rosepetal nodded, then left the room, the door swooshing shut automatically behind her.

Forestwalker looked around and realised that the room was too quiet. ĎNow what are those little troublemakers up to?í shi thought, then headed for the bedroom in search of the twins.

Rosepetal, or more precisely Commander Silpurr now, headed for her office. Her mind was turning over the ramifications of having Forestwalker on the crew this mission, but she didnít foresee any major dramas. However, to forestall some possible problems, she made sure that the first thing that she did when she got to her office was to contact Yeoman díArmand and assign cub-minding duties to her for the first watch. She then picked up the PADD laying on the desk, displaying the roster of new crewpersons assigned to the Pegasus. Sheíd gone over the records of the new people and had been satisfied that they would fit in well in their new assignmentsÖ all except one. The Pegasus had need of a new Assistant Chief Medical Officer since their previous one had been promoted to another ship. Doctor MíLai Saarath had come with high recommendations for her medical abilities, but with a personal history of strange incidents that had followed her from ship to ship. The trouble was that most of them were sealed under Personal Privacy, leaving Rosepetal with no information to go on when evaluating her new medical officer, and why so many had frequent problems with her. Therefore she had left orders for the doctor to report to her office before commencement of the voyage so that she could do a personal evaluation, and she was due very soon. Rosepetal was reviewing MíLaiís qualifications when the door chimed.

"Enter!" she ordered.

Rosepetal and M'Lai

The door slid quietly open to reveal a Caitian female, the doctor Rosepetal had been expectingÖ only not quite what she had preconceived. There was nothing unusual about the tan fur that covered her evenly as far as could be seen, and her long, glossy reddish-brown hair and tail-tuft were attractive but quite normal. However, while Rosepetalís height of 157cm (5í2") was very tall for a Caitian, MíLai towered at 193cm (6í4"), a totally unnatural height for any Caitian. Nevertheless, Rosepetal had seen tall felinoids before, both Terran morph species and the even taller Rakshani, so that initial surprise was quickly put aside for the sheer disbelief of MíLaiís other outstanding attributes. All Rosepetal could think of was the human term because Caitian didnít really have an equivalent Ė she was absolutely stacked! The medical uniform that she wore was obviously straining to contain breasts that simply did not grow that big on Caitians normally. Rosepetal had a modest bust by human standards, yet in the upper sizes by Caitian standards. She felt totally flat-chested next to MíLai though. This hardly seemed to be a Caitian; more like an amazon!

MíLai waited patiently, quite used to the reaction from Caitians and Terrans alike. When she felt that the commander had gotten enough of an eyeful, she moved over to the desk, saluted, and said, "Lieutenant MíLai Saarath reporting, sir!"

Rosepetal shook off the shock she was feeling. She had a suspicion that she already knew part of the reason why trouble followed this person. "Sit down, lieutenant. I need to discuss a few things with you."

MíLai nodded and sat down on the indicated seat, slipping her tail through the slot designed for people with that appendage in mind. "If I may, sir, I think I can save us both a lot of time and explain a few things about myÖ unusual nature."

Rosepetal glanced at the uninformative PADD that she was holding, then put it aside, crossed her arms on the desk in front of her and leaned forward. Her ears swivelled to focus on MíLai. "Iím listening."

MíLai took a deep breath to start a familiar story. "Until the time that we females start the growth spurt that signals the beginning of our adolescence, I was an absolutely normal child. That soon changed though when my parents realised that I was growing much faster than everyone else. At first they were pleased that I was growing into such a big strong adult. That changed when I didnít stop growing, and neither did my breasts. When my first estrus came, we all knew something was definitely wrong. I nearly went out of my mind with sexual desire. The stress nearly killed me, and only prompt medical attention saved my life. While recovering though, I was subjected to a battery of tests to discover the cause of my condition. They eventually discovered a benign tumour in my brain that had been overstimulating the gland that controls growth. Because of its location, doing something about the tumour was excessively risky, but eventually they were able to devise a procedure to deal with it, but not before I reached this height."

"And that bust size?" enquired Rosepetal.

"Yes," MíLai acknowledged. "My height wasnít the only thing that was greatly enhanced. And yet, my physical attributes are not my biggest problem. Commander, the information that you havenít found out about me, because itís locked behind Privacy protocols, all revolves around my biggest problem Ė I am a clinical nymphomaniac." MíLai saw Rosepetalís eyes open wide in surprise and let her digest this information for a moment before continuing. "Parts of my brain were affected also, mostly in the pleasure centre. That area is about three times the size it should be, and any sort of sexual stimulation has a far stronger effect on me than for any other Caitian. Before we knew it, I was hooked on the ecstasy of sex. I literally crave it constantly."

"How can you function like that though?" Rosepetal asked, genuinely concerned. "Couldnít the medics do something about it?"

"Of course they did. I had several options. Firstly, surgery to reduce the part of the brain that was doing this to me. The dangers are obvious Ė damage to areas that shouldnít be touched, not enough done, too much, or worst of all, total loss of the ability to feel pleasure."

"The skill of brain surgeons is quite great. Surely the risk was trivial?"

"While their skill is great, theyíd never dealt with something quite like this before, so there was plenty of room for error. Besides, I didnít really like this option at all."

"Why not?"

"Because to me it would be depriving me of something positive. How would you feel if someone took away over half your ability to feel pleasure?" Rosepetal shuddered at the very idea. "Sure, I had far more than was normal, but to me this was normal. I might lack control, but by the Goddess, I really enjoy it."

Rosepetal wasnít entirely sure that MíLai shouldnít have tried the procedure anyway, but obviously she hadnít, so, "What other options were there? Drugs?"

"Yes, exactly. The medics eventually found a combination of drugs and hormone treatments that would dampen my sexual desire without destroying my ability to feel pleasure. I have an implanted drug-delivery device that delivers the medication as required, and will need to use it for the rest of my life unless some new procedure is found. Even so, I walk the knife-edge between control and total lack of constraint. Too much of the drugs impairs my brain functions, so I must be judicious in their use."

"Iím guessing that occasionally you have slipped up and that accounts for theÖ incidents on the other starships?"

"Unfortunately, youíre correct. Times of exceptional stress coming at a bad time of my sexual cycle can overload the system, and once that happens, I no longer have any inhibitions and my judgement is no longer very rational And while some captains have understood and sympathised with my problem, theyíve all felt that Iíd be better off on some other ship than theirs."

"How did you end up as a medical doctor though? And in Star Fleet?" Rosepetal asked curiously.

"Not surprisingly, my constant trips to the hospital to deal with the tumour, etcetera, got me interested in the medical profession. However, itís because this was the biggest hospital of the capital city, Kt'trr'nass, it was also used for sick visiting aliens. I saw my first human there, soon followed by many other species. I was absolutely fascinated by them, and this eventually led me to pursue a career in medicine specialising in xenobiology. I did exceptionally well, which attracted the attention of Star Fleet which offered me a position as a starship medical officer. I took it immediately. It was a dream come true for me."

"That makes sense. And I suppose being a medic allows you to monitor your own condition better too?"

"Yes, thatís true," MíLai agreed.

"Well, that isnít enough for this ship, lieutenant," Rosepetal said sternly. "You will apprise the Chief Medical Officer of your medical needs and what is necessary to maintain your control. While I canít order you to disclose subjects specifically covered by Privacy protocols, I strongly urge you to take advantage of doctor-patient confidentiality and fully inform Dr Kelly of all aspects your condition." She added to herself, ĎItís a good thing Dr Kelly is a female also!í

"Iíll do that, sir," MíLai agreed, unsurprised by the orders.

"Good. I need to be able to rely on all my crew, and I donít want to have any incidents like they had on the other ships. I donít expect miracles of you, MíLai, but I do demand that you do everything within your ability to see that your problem does not interfere with your duties. Is there anything else that can be done to this end?"

"As a matter of fact, the counsellor on the last starship I was assigned to had recommended trying martial arts as a form of self-discipline just before I was transferred. He felt that it could help supplement the drugs, and help at those rare times when things went wrong."

Rosepetal mulled this over in her mind, then nodded. "I agree. Therefore Iím going to assign you to classes with our Chief of Security. Lieutenant Commander Midnight holds these classes daily after first shift. I expect you to attend every day for the first week, until or unless the commander recommends otherwise."

"Understood. Is that all, sir?" MíLai queried.

Rosepetal nodded. "I think that should do for now. I think I have a handle on you, but Iíll be keeping my eye on you." She smiled. "Donít worry, lieutenant, Iíll just be getting up to speed on all your quirks, just as I do with any other crewmember. I think youíll find that youíre hardly the only unusual character that we have on this ship. The Pegasus seems to attract some oddballs for some reason, but the crew is stronger for its diversity. Welcome aboard." Rosepetal rose from her seat, holding up her left hand palm-forward in the Caitian manner, rather than the official Star Fleet salute.

MíLai stood also and placed her left hand against Rosepetalís. "Thank you, Commander. Believe me, Iíll be doing my best."

Rosepetal nodded, then lowered her arm. "Dismissed!" MíLai turned and headed for the door. As it slid open, Rosepetal added, "And please, do try to get a uniform that fits a little lessÖ snugly."

Leannaís rut had been finally satisfied, to her immense relief, although fucking a corpse was only moderately bad on the list of the least pleasant things shiíd had to do in her life. Only then did shi push the comm button that would bring the paramedics to the mansion. She then took the glass of water that was by the bed and emptied the remaining contents into the ensuiteís sink, replacing it with fresh water. She made no attempt to hide the pills though. They may have been the cause of his death, but her master had provided them, not her. She knew what they were though, and she also knew that they were illegal because they had serious side-effects; lethally serious. That she was unlikely to survive for long without him was almost inconsequential to her, but she wasnít quite ready to give up her dreams now that her greatest hurdle had been overcome. She heard the sirens of the approaching emergency vehicle and went to meet its crew at the door. As she opened it, she shifted her expression to that of a confused, dimwitted sex slave. Two human paramedics jogged up to the door with a load of equipment.

"Who called for paramedics? What is wrong?" he demanded of the little fennec slave.

"Leanna call," she replied in the baby-talk typical of sex slaves. "Master said he sick. Master not wake up now." Let the humans think she was little more than an idiot fuck toy. They wouldnít even dream of the fennec fox being smart enough to even think of acting against her master. Even now they were being distracted by her exotic nature as she was still completely nude. Slaves rarely were allowed to wear more than a breechcloth or shorts, and often nothing at all in their masterís home.

The first human tore his eyes off Leanna, then ordered, "Take us to him!"

Leanna did so, offering no other information or help. They quickly realised that he was beyond reviving. "Bloody idiot pet must have waited too long to call us," said the one in charge.

"Thatís what you get when you rely on animals instead of humans. Hey, get a look at these!" He picked up the bottle of pills. "Looks like Ďstallyonsí. I think weíve found our cause of death."

"Damned spoiled brats. They have everything, but theyíre still not satisfied. Oh well, better call in the cops. Take a few blood samples for them to test."

Leanna smiled to herself. The paramedics were making the case for her. Now her only problem was what they would do with her and the other household slaves now that their master was dead. She doubted that it could be anywhere near as bad as serving her deceased master though.

Forest had learned when Midnight finished hir shift, and shi wanted to see hir about a minor matter before shi started the martial arts class. As usual, Midnight was trying to convince hir mate to join the class too.

"You know Iím a lover, not a fighter, dear," Forest demurred with a sly smile.

"A fat lot of good that did you when dealing with that nutcase with the bow last month," Midnight replied seriously.

"Next time I promise to hide rather than attack, okay?"

Midnight rolled hir eyes and was about to argue more when the first of hir new students arrived. It was difficult to tell who was more surprised. Midnight had never met such a big Caitian before despite having met quite a lot during hir years of service. Forestwalker, who hadnít met any other Caitians besides Rosepetal before, merely looked at her curiously, and admired her gorgeous bust. MíLai was wearing a bodysuit that allowed flexibility and some protection, but left little else to the imagination. MíLai had seen chakats before, but remarkably had never had direct interaction with one yet. However, she was familiar not only with their biology, but she also knew their tactile nature and proclivities. As she felt the familiar feelings welling within her, she wondered if Commander Silpurr had made a mistake assigning her to this class.

Midnight turned back to Forestwalker and gave hir a hug. "Weíll talk about this more later. Iíll be done in about an hour if you want to have dinner together."

Forest squeezed hir lovingly, then asked with a grin, "Is that an order, commander?"

"You bet!" Midnight laughed. "Now shoo!"

Forest released Midnight, turned, winked at MíLai and left the room. MíLai was wondering what was going on, but was glad it stopped before she got too stimulated by their actions. The remaining chakat was easier to deal with than the one that just left though. Hir solid black fur, interrupted only by a brief halter top in Security gray, gave hir a much more imposing impression, while the jaguar-patterned one radiated friendliness. This one had to be the Chief of Security though. Black fur and a name like Midnight made it a virtual certainty.

Midnightís expression turned completely serious. Shi padded up to the Caitian and said, "In case you were wondering, that was my lifemate. The only time that youíll be laying hands on me is when youíll be trying to throw me. Do I make myself clear?"

Suddenly MíLai realised that Silpurr might not have made a mistake after all. "Yes sir!" she barked out.

"Good. You must be Lieutenant MíLai Saarath, correct?"

"Yes sir!"

"Commander Silpurr has told me little about you, but she says that you need to emphasise self-discipline in your studies. Care to explain more about why?"

MíLai thought briefly. "Maybe later, sir, when we both see how this is working out."

"Hmmm, okay, that is your right." Midnight paused, sniffing. "Are you on heat, lieutenant? That may affect your training."

"No, sir," MíLai answered.

Midnight was only half listening to the answer though, concentrating on what hir empathic senses were telling hir Ė a half-truth. She smelled like she was on heat, but was telling the truth when she said she wasnít, yet shi also sensed a qualification to that answer and repression of strong sexual desire. Well, the truth would come out eventually, and shi already had a reasonable idea about why she required self-discipline. Just then, the other two students shiíd been expecting arrived, so shi shelved any more speculation for the moment. "Okay, now that everyoneís here, weíre going to begin with basic exercises...."

Leanna was herded into what would have to be called barracks along with two dozen other female slaves of various species. The slave dealers had been a little disconcerted about what to do with her at first, but eventually decided that she acted like a female, and looked female except for her sheath, so they classified her as female too. It seemed that her research had been correct Ė while there were a lot of fetish slaves, there didnít seem to be any other true hermaphrodites on this world. Knowing something about the kinks of many human masters, she found this rather surprising. She could only guess that perhaps she had been the first successful one to be bred. ĎLucky me!í she thought facetiously.

At first, when the slave dealers had been selling off the other household servants, they had tried to find a position for her too, but it seemed her unique sexual nature had been a disincentive for a sale. Although she didnít really have any plans as to where she wanted to go, she nevertheless felt mildly insulted that no one felt her to be a worthwhile purchase. Perhaps no one wanted to publicly admit to having a fetish for a dual-sexed creature? It wasnít as if her services werenít enthusiastically used when her master gave her to a client for his or her use for the night. Leanna had a sudden nasty thought Ė perhaps the humans suspected her of being responsible for her masterís death? They didnít need proof; the mere suspicion would be enough to mark her as tainted goods. Anyway, she was now being shipped to another of the non-aligned worlds in the hopes of a better market.

Not that she could tell that she was on a spaceship. This wasnít a liner catering to the whims of tourists. All she knew was having been marched through several corridors, up stairs and an elevator, then more corridors and into a cramped room lined with narrow bunks. A multitude of species was represented by her barracks companions Ė rabbits, cats, minks and wolves were popular, but the foxes outnumbered them all. Unfortunately, none of them were fennecs. Leanna sighed. There was only one thing that all of them had in common, and that was that theyíd obviously been bred as sex slaves. Leanna looked over them, trying to identify which kink each had been bred for. Some were obvious, such as the ones with huge breasts, or the ones with more than one pair of breasts. There were slim ones and zaftig ones, fems with thick luxurious fur and those with a slick coat of short hair. Jet black ones and some with gorgeous colouring. Leanna was actually quite plain in comparison to most, but then again it was obvious what kink sheíd been created to satisfyÖ at least on the surface.

Leanna chose a bunk and prepared to be bored stiff. No form of entertainment or diversion would be coming; their keepers fully expected them to amuse themselves. Hell, a couple of them were at it already! Leanna wasnít interested in that though, at least not while she was not in heat. She didnít feel sorry for them though. In their own limited way, they were happy, and in several days, she might be enjoying their services too. She had no idea how long the journey would take, but she knew an interstellar trip took days or weeks, and she could never forget her own cycleÖ.

Leanna woke up, sensing a warm form snuggled closely to her. She looked to her left to see one of the rabbit does sleeping peacefully and memories came flooding back. ĎSo I got to play bunny rabbit this heat?í she thought to herself. ĎIt must be the ears, I suppose.í She no longer felt any extreme cravings, so her excessive sexual desires must have been satisfied while under the influence of her heat. The best thing that she could say about it though was that it had killed a couple more of the otherwise mind-numbingly boring days. She didnít disturb the doe. Although she no longer needed her services, Leanna felt comforted just having someone snuggling up to her. She closed her eyes again and attempted to go back to sleep.

Several days later, Leannaís attempts to meditate to stave off the boredom were rudely interrupted as the entire contents of the room were thrown against one wall, accompanied by a clang that seemed to shake the whole ship. Leannaís bunk was against that wall, so she was relatively okay. That is for the fraction of a second before the inhabitant of the bunk on the opposite wall slammed into her. It was the mink, and her jaw seemed to have connected with Leannaís knee. She was unconscious and Leannaís knee hurt like hell, not to mention that her ribs felt as if theyíd been kicked in. She started disentangling herself painfully from the limp mustelid, noticing others in similar situations, trying to block out the screams of pain and fright. Then Leanna noticed another sound almost drowned out by the noise in the room Ė a klaxon was sounding non-stop. Something was seriously wrong, and there was nothing that she could do about it! ĎWell, I expected I might die soon, but I never anticipated itíd be like this!í

Then the lights went out.

Leannaís sensitive ears were assaulted by new screams of fear before the emergency lights blinked on. When the cries died down, Leanna noticed that the constant murmur of the ventilation system was suddenly absent. ĎCatastrophic systems failure? No, the artificial gravity is still operatingÖí It promptly cut out. ĎOh, shit,í she thought, feeling a bit nauseous by her sudden loss of weight, not to mention a feeling of disorientation. ĎAnd weíre all packed in here, helpless to do anything but wait to die a slow death from asphyxiation. I doubt the humans are much concerned about we animals right at this moment. Theyíve probably thinking about how to save their own skins and not even giving a thought to coming to checkÖí Leannaís eyes opened in surprise at a sudden realisation. She floated unsteadily over to the door. The tell-tales on the electronic lock were out. Now if the safety protocols were the same as for buildingsÖ Leanna put her hands on the door and, bracing against a nearby bunk, attempted to slide it open. She cried out in triumph as her guess was proven correct and the door reluctantly slid into the wall. ĎOkay, we might all yet die today, but at least it wonít be locked in a box meekly waiting for our fate.í She looked back into the room to see most of the eyes focused on her. None of them was even attempting to follow. ĎOr maybe not.í She sighed. ĎI suppose I shouldnít have expected more from those morons.í Leanna considered her options, then decided that there wasnít much else she could do before she learned what was happening.

"Robertson! Tell me that you can at least get the damn gravity back on!" Strain showed obviously in his tone.

"No can do, captain. The last power surge took out all the main systems. Iíve been trying to re-route the power, but it looks as if the generators are fried now too."

"Garcia, howís life support coming along?"

"Minimal life support will be back online soon, sir," she replied. "However, Iím going to have to use the one operating emergency back-up power source, and you know that wonít last indefinitely."

The captain groaned. "Thorsson, any response to our Mayday yet?"

"None, but you gotta realise that without our main power, the signal strength is too low to be detected by Grandia control. In fact, the only ones likely to hear us are nearby ships from the Federation."

All were silent briefly. While within the systems of the non-aligned worlds, or participating in free trade between them, they couldnít be touched. However, this area of space was under the control of the Stellar Federation, and if they encountered the slave traders adrift helplesslyÖ

The captain sighed. "Robertson, what are the chances of us restoring warp drive?"

"None, sir."


"Marginal, and weíre well outside the range of any destinations reachable by impulse anyway."

The silence stretched out for a long moment before the return of the ventilation system noises heralded emergency life-support coming online.

"Well, at least we can breathe easy for the moment," Garcia said.

"Not good enough though. We could be waiting for a long time before they realise weíre overdue and send out a ship to look for us, and by that time we could all be dead. Iím going to order everybody to the life pods."

"But sir, what about the cargo? We have a lot of money tied up in those slaves!"

"We all do, Carter. In the pods, we can get to safety and arrange a salvage ship. If weíre lucky, the cargo will survive until then."

"Life-support isnít likely to last that long, sir."

"If you have a better idea, Iíll be glad to hear it."

"We could bring a few with us in the podsÖ" Carter began.

"Idiot! You know the life pods are designed solely to support a certain number of people for a certain amount of time. Add just one slave and no one in that pod may get to the destination alive."

"Damn cheapskate operation and the absolute least in safety gear. If the owners had sprung for decent shield generators, we wouldnít even need those pods!"

"Youíre welcome to take it up with them if we get back safely," the captain replied unsympathetically. "Now, turn off the emergency distress signal. We donít want the Federation finding this ship before we come back for it. Just leave the normal navigation beacon on low power. Is the p.a. working?"

"Yes, now that weíve got some power for it."

Moments later, the captainís voice came over the public address system Ė "Now hear this: All hands to the life pods. Abandon ship! Abandon ship! All hands to the life pods. Abandon ship!"

Leanna suddenly realised that the crew would be emerging from the bridge and would spot her overhearing their conversation. She scrambled to get under cover, hampered by her unfamiliarity with manoeuvring without gravity. Whether she succeeded or whether the crew were in too much of a rush to notice, she wasnít challenged. Leanna watched the humans leave with a sinking feeling in her heart. Theyíd virtually condemned every morph on the ship to die a long, unpleasant death. Her room had been equipped with a water supply and toilet, but the food had been brought by their keepers. However, she suspected that theyíd run out of life-support before they starved.

When she felt muffled thumps start, she assumed that they were the life pods launching and that it was probably safe to come out of hiding. She had no idea what she could do to help their situation, but the most likely place seemed to be the bridge. She hauled herself through the doorway and promptly got stranded in mid air. Swimming seemed to be minimally effective, so she had to wait until she drifted to within reach of a handhold. She batted aside a piece of harmless flotsam. ĎAt least Iím not puking my guts out from spacesickness,í she thought. ĎItíd be really unpleasant in here.í She reached a control panel and grabbed the arm of the chair bolted to the deck in front of it. She surveyed the panel, not recognising most of the instruments and read-outs. One finally caught her eye though Ė the distress beacon. This got her to thinking. ĎIf the slave traders donít want this Federation finding us, perhaps weíd be better off if they do find us. I wish the global-net library had had more information on them though. I hate to make a choice with so little information.í She pondered for a while longer, then decided. ĎI donít exactly have much to lose, so itís worth a chance. Better not try getting that beacon going just yet though. The crew could still be too close and decide to come back to find out why the beacon is going. Best to wait until theyíve reached a point of no return. Canít wait too long though if the life support wonít last long. I wish I knew how much time I have before they return.í She checked out the rest of the panels without much inspiration, then propelled herself out the door, careful this time to make sure she didnít get stranded again.

She began exploring the rest of the ship. She found a well-provisioned galley, so that looked like being able to cope with one problem. However, there was a ship full of slaves to deal with, and she couldnít handle them all by herself. She headed back to the barracks level. She noted the door locks were operational again. ĎMaybe thereís a way to turn off power to all the doors. We need to conserve it for life-support.í The locks were very simple, designed to keep people in the rooms, not for keeping them out. A single button press opened the door. She remained in the corridor though, afraid that it might close behind her, trapping her within. She wrinkled her nose as the stench of vomit assaulted her. ĎIt seems not everyone has as strong a stomach as me.í She surveyed the room, noting that this one consisted of all male morphs, mostly exotics. Without much hope, she asked, "Has any one of you been trained to cook or other household duties?" They looked back blankly. Leanna sighed. ĎJust a pack of sex slaves whoíd be lucky to have a vocabulary of a few dozen words.í She closed the door and went to the next room. She had no luck there, nor for the next. Upon opening the one after that though, she immediately had her hopes raised. For starters, the morphs in there were of both genders, something that slavers usually didnít do with sex slaves unless they were breeding them. Far more important were the concerned gazes turned upon her. She could see the intelligence in their eyes. Finally it seemed she had found the smarter morphs who were trained for servant duties and needed to be intelligent enough to follow instructions. She repeated her question.

"Why do you want to know?" answered a supercilious red fox.

"The humans have abandoned the ship and left us to fend for ourselves. Thereís a couple of hundred slaves on this ship that need feeding, and I canít look after them all by myself. I want morphs who can man the galley to help me."

The fox looked Leanna over, noting her most obvious oddity. "And why should I, a high-class servant, follow the orders of an exotic sex slave?"

"Because so far Iím the only one who was smart enough to figure out how to get out of our barracks and find out what has happened. I may be an exotic, but thereís far more to me than what you can see!" Leanna replied with acerbity. "Now, does anyone here have the abilities Iíve asked about? Speak up!"

The fox was taken aback. His only experience with other morphs was that they were invariably docile and stupider than he was, and that heíd been trained to control them as a major-domo. This pint-sized creature not only wasnít intimidated, but she also seemed unimpressed with his position. Slaves like her werenít supposed to be able to think and give orders.

Several of the other morphs answered, responding to the authority in her voice. "Iím a household servant," said a collie. "Weíre all trained chefs," responded one of four identical grey rabbit bucks. "Iím a maid, if that will help," volunteered a cute Persian cat fem.

Leanna nodded. "Okay, all of you come with me. Be careful manoeuvring in freefall, and for heavenís sake, if you feel nauseous, try not to throw up everywhere and on everyone." She poked her finger into the foxís chest. "Since you seem to think youíre in charge, Iíll make you responsible for keeping them under control."

Leanna started heading off in the direction of the galley. The fox was torn between outraged refusal and complying, however a lifetime of conditioning to obey authority swayed him to follow. Whatever else this fennec was, she was obviously top dog for now.

MíLai landed on her rump with a cry of indignation and frustration.

"Youíre still not concentrating. In fact youíre acting more distracted all the time," Midnight told her. "The other students mastered the throw. Iím not letting you go until you get it right also."

"Ssptkít! I took this class to learn self-discipline, not be celibate!" she blurted out.

Midnight settled on hir haunches, crossed hir arms under hir breasts and looked interestedly at MíLai. "Care to explain that further?"

MíLai realised that she had said more than she should have, then she sighed in resignation. She got to her feet and brushed her fur straight. "Okay, I suppose I should have said something sooner, but itís not exactly something that I want everybody to know about."

Midnight nodded in understanding. "Computer! Privacy mode!" The compliance tone sounded indicating that the door was locked and non-critical communications deferred. "Feel free to tell me as much or as little as you wish, but the more that you tell me, the more I can help you."

MíLai sat down on a bench and proceeded to tell Midnight everything that she had told Rosepetal. She finished by saying, "Iíd been hoping to get more self-discipline to stave off my craving for sex when the effects of the drugs faded. Instead Iím constantly grappling with a creature that is the epitome of sexuality to many others. Worse yet, spending my spare time with you has taken away from my time to find a possible bed-partner. If I donít get something soon, thereís going to be another of those incidents that have dogged me."

All the pieces finally came together for Midnight. "I see. I wish youíd told me all of this sooner. I would have tailored a different program for you. I also would have offered other courses of action. In some ways, you have more in common with chakats than your own kind."

"What do you mean, sir?" asked MíLai curiously.

"You said it yourself Ė chakats are viewed as extremely sexual creatures, and in many ways, theyíre right. As a species, we have to learn self-discipline also, although admittedly we donít have the problem of being always on a sexual peak as you are. We have evolved ways to deal with it though, and thatís part of what has given us our reputation. Are you aware that itís a hard rule that there is never to be a single lone chakat on a starship?"

"No, I wasnít aware of that."

"It was made specifically to deal with our needs. There must be either two or more chakats, or none at all. Thatís so we have another to deal with our physical and psychological needs. On voyages where I didnít have my mate with me, I did what all chakats do on these trips Ė I sought out whatever chakats were assigned to the ship and socialised with them, getting to know them well. Then when one of us went into rut or heat, we had another to help us through it gracefully. Some of us find our mates that way, others just make good friends. Either way, we have our needs attended without disrupting the ship in any way. You may be a Caitian, but your needs are similar, and I feel the solution would be also."

"Are you suggesting that I should find other Caitians? Iíve been trying! Iíve found one male but heís not interested in taking on another mate, and spends all his spare time with his family. I donít blame him, but it doesnít help me!"

Midnight padded over to MíLai and cupped her chin in hir hand, looking solemnly into her eyes. "No, MíLai, Iím suggesting that you do what chakats do and ask a friend."

Suddenly MíLai understood. "Species isnít a complication for you chakats, is it, commander?"

"It never has been. A friend is a friend, no matter what species or gender, and if that friend has a need, then we will always do our best to help."

"Are you offering to be my friend, sir?" MíLai asked curiously hopeful.

"My name is Midnight, MíLai," shi replied simply.

MíLai smiled. "Would you care to join me in my cabin, Midnight?"

Midnight smiled back and tapped hir comm badge. "Midnight to Forestwalker." A moment later, Forest acknowledged hir. "Donít wait for me, love. A friend needs me this evening."

An answering chuckle told hir that the situation was understood. "Iíll let the others know, hon. Forestwalker out."

Midnight looked at MíLai. "Shall we?"

MíLai reached out and took Midnightís hand, thrilling in anticipation at the touch.

Midnightís comm badge chirped persistently, then a voice override operated. "Silpurr to Midnight. Acknowledge please."

Midnight suddenly came fully awake and answered. "Midnight here, sir!"

"Sorry to disturb your sleep, commander, but a situation has come up. Weíll be requiring your presence on the bridge as soon as reasonably practicable."

"Whatís the situation, sir?" Midnight asked as shi climbed off the bed carefully, trying not to disturb MíLai.

"Weíve detected an automatic distress signal. Itís coming from a non-Federation ship, so things might get interesting."

"Understood, sir. Iíll be there as soon as possible. Midnight out." Midnight grabbed hir halter, then realised that shi would have to make a detour to grab a uniform top, not having brought one with hir when they had left the gym. Shi paused to look at MíLai, surprised to see her gazing back at hir.

"Thanks, Midnight," she said. "The experience was wonderful, and you helped me a lot. The urges are almost gone, in fact."

"Youíre welcome, MíLai. I must admit that making love to a nymphomaniac has its attractions." Shi grinned as shi recalled some of their more lusty moments, hir empathic senses lapping up the pleasure that MíLai had been experiencing. "I suppose youíre never quite free of the urge, but if it ever gets too much again, you know where to find help."

"Iíll make sure to ask only when I really need it, but before it gets beyond control."

"Yes, well weíll just have to see about increasing that control, wonít we? Lessons resume at the usual time, circumstances permitting, but with a revised curriculum."

"Iíll be there, sir!" MíLai replied cheekily.

Midnight grinned again, then turned for the door, saying as shi went: "It might pay to get up. Your services might be required also."

Leanna had strapped herself into one of the chairs to stop herself from floating away. She had successfully managed to turn on the distress beacon, and now was waiting for any sort of response. In the days since sheíd found help amongst the morph cargo, sheíd managed to organise them to feed the others and to clean up the barracks. Some still suffered from spacesickness, but at least nobody was throwing up anymore. After the initial phase of trying to figure out where everything was and how to use it, the circumstances had quickly gotten boring again. She really wished there was more to keep the servant-type morphs occupied because that fox kept being a pain in the butt when he wasnít kept busy. The fact was though, he wasnít anywhere near as smart as Leanna was, nor as well-versed in complicated equipment as she was, which meant that she needed to try to deal with the overall situation by herself in spite of his self-important opinions. She had more important things to worry about now, because the air was already noticeably starting to get foul.

The time had come when she felt it safe to turn on the distress beacon, and she came back to the bridge regularly to check for a response. This time she stayed, worn out by the latest run-in with Sylvester. She thought that the name sure suited him. Her reverie was interrupted by a beeping coming from the panel in front of her. Looking frantically for the source, she identified it as an incoming message. She hoped that she had figured out the equipment properly and pressed a button.

"Öessed cargo ship. This is the Federation Starship Pegasus answering your Mayday. Please respond, distressed cargo ship. This is the FederationÖ"

Leanna slapped the key that should hopefully transmit her reply. "Pegasus, this is the distressed cargo ship. We need help badly. Power is running low and life-support failing."

"Weíre on our way. Please give us some details. What is your shipís name and who is in charge? How many people are on board?"

Leanna only knew the answer to the first question because of badges on the bridge. "This is Markoís Venture, and while Iím not part of the crew, Iím the nearest thing to someone in charge. There are around two hundred slaves aboard."

There was a long silence as this information was absorbed. "Markoís Venture, how many crew are aboard?"

Leanna replied, "None. They all abandoned ship and left us to our fate. They hoped to return and salvage their cargo, but I doubt that any of us would be alive by the time they returned. We need your help badly."

"No crew? Who are you then?"

"Just one of the cargo, Pegasus."

Commander Silpurr looked at Admiral Boyce Kline in surprise. Sadly, both had encountered slavers before, but this was the first time that they had encountered a slave that was capable of doing much more than basic tasks. Now here was one that seemed to be doing far more than thought possible.

"This sounds like anything but your usual rescue, donít you think?" asked Boyce.

"Indeed, sir," Rosepetal replied. "Iím curious to meet this person."

"Me too. That will have to wait though. Weíre going to have to organise places to put a couple of hundred various morphs. See what space we have available on the cargo deck, and whatever unallocated cabins we might have spare. I want security to keep a close eye on those morphs to make sure they donít get into trouble and to coordinate their distribution to those places. Alert sickbay that there might be some patients to attend to. However, if at all possible, I want contact between those slaves and any non-human crewmembers to be kept to as close to zero as possible. Iíve seen those morphs, who have been slaves all their lives, confused by other morphs or aliens giving orders. Until we get all those people safely quartered, weíll take advantage of their conditioning to obey humans unquestioningly. There will be plenty of time to let them get used to their new status later."

"Aye, sir," Rosepetal said and set about delegating those tasks.

Boyce continued, "Mr Murawrr, have we gotten scans of that ship yet? What can you tell me?"

The Caitian navigator never took his eyes from the instruments he was scrutinising. "Long-range sensors detect no loss of structural integrityÖ no shieldsÖ no mains power at all. A single backup generator only operating. Very little systems response. Catastrophic systems failure in fact."

"Are there docking facilities?"

"Yes, sir, but no power to operate them."

"Mr Silpurr, alert the Transporter Chief. Weíre going to keep his staff busy for a little while. Mr Mazantod, re-open the channel to the Venture, please."

"Channel open, sir," the Voxxan communications officer replied.

"Venture, stand by for a boarding party. We are going to arrange to beam you all on board our ship as soon as we can."

"Youíre going to what us, Pegasus?" the female voice asked, puzzlement clearly in her voice.

"Weíre going to bring you over by matter transporter beam, a teleportation device," Boyce elaborated, wondering if she would understand even that.

After a pause, she came back. "Understood, Pegasus. Weíll be waiting."

Boyce rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Interesting. The non-aligned worlds did not possess matter transporter technology, but this slave had very rapidly caught on. He was more intrigued than ever.

As soon as Leanna finished talking to the rescue ship, she launched herself out of the bridge to head back to the levels with the slave barracks. She had avoided identifying herself until now because she hadnít wanted them to know that there werenít any passengers to come rescue. They might not have been so keen on rescuing a pack of slaves. She had no idea what this Federation did with slaves, nor how it would deal with a smart one who had assumed control, so she intended to play it safe and blend in with the others until she could figure out what was happening. Plenty of humans had underestimated her abilities before, and she was relying on them doing so again. This teleporter of theirs was a complication she hadnít anticipated though, and who knew just when they would start popping up out of thin air. She was relieved to get back to her barracks without incident and took the chance to inform some of the others that help had arrived.

She heard voices calling long before the first of their rescuers reached their room. Two male humans, dressed in a mostly black uniform with a red section from the shoulders down to a diagonal that went from the right armpit to left waist, took a quick look around the room. Bulky boots seemed to be holding them onto the floor.

"Another two dozen female sex slaves in here. Weíll beam this bunch over next. Rajiv, take Lim and check the next room. If there are more of these, organise them to go after this bunch."

The man nodded and left the first alone with the slaves. Leanna thought that perhaps he was being a bit overconfident until she noticed a small device almost lost in the manís large hand. Although she didnít recognise it, she was sure it had to be weapon of some kind. ĎOkay, not so silly as I first thought.í

She watched as the man ordered the four nearest slaves to come out into the corridor. Shortly after they went out of the line-of-sight of the doorway, she heard him say, "Transporter 2, another four ready to beam over." There followed sparkles of light reflecting off the wall that she could see through the door, and then the man returned alone. Another four went with him before Leannaís turn came. He told them to stop in the middle of the corridor, then tapped his badge. Apparently it was a communicator because it chirped softly and the man repeated his phrase to Transporter 2. What happened next almost broke Leannaís calm. For an instant, she felt utterly immobilised, then every sense failed for a moment before she fell to her knees, blinking her eyes due to the brightly lit room that was blatantly not on the cargo ship. For starters, gravity was back, and all the slaves had collapsed onto the floor, struggling to regain their feet after so long without weight. They werenít allowed to dawdle though. Other humans, both male and female but dressed in similar uniforms as the ones on the cargo ship, helped the slaves to their feet and then herded them firmly off the platform where they had appeared and out of the room. ĎSo that was their teleporter. Such an amazing way to get around!í

A steady stream of slaves was herded from that room and an adjacent one. They were taken to what appeared to be a cargo deck where she was tagged with an identification number. It was also there that someone took a good look at her for the first time. The woman who was taking down her details blinked in uncertainty for a moment, then turned and called out to another crewmember.

"Hey Carl! Iíve got an odd one here!"

"Have you found our elusive smart slave, Jess?"

"Nope, something else really unusual."

Carl came over, looked at Leanna, did a double-take and said, "Whoa! A normal hermaphrodite without any weird enhancements or kinky additions! First time Iíve ever seen a slave like that before, and Iíve seen far too many bizarre ones on this job."

"What do you think we should do with hir?" The last word confused Leanna. What was Ďherrí supposed to mean?

Carl scratched his head thoughtfully. "Well, shi has to be given a thorough check-up like the others," he began, throwing in another strange word. ĎShay?í "But we obviously canít quarter hir with the other fems. Youíve been given a list of people to call on if we have an odd situation, and Iíd say this qualifies. Who do you have best suited to our odd fennec fox here?"

Jess consulted her PADD. She saw a name near the bottom of the list and pointed to it. "Chakat Forestwalker. If anyone can deal with our herm friend here, shi should be able to."

And with that most simplistic of reasons, Leannaís life was to be forever changed.


Chapter 2: Unexpected Revelations  

Like most of the other people on board, Forestwalker had been warned to stay at hir station and avoid the influx of slave morphs. However, shiíd also been asked to stand by in case they needed some extra hands. Mostly they were trying to scan all the slaves for identification, classification and check their health after being left alone in a dying ship for a while, and as a biologist, Forest was qualified to do all those procedures. Shi hadnít really been expecting to be called though, and was surprised to be proven wrong. Shi was directed to a private cabin where the one shi was supposed to examine had been taken. All the spare rooms had already been requisitioned for other uses, so this was the only alternative.

Shi reached the cabin. It had been locked from the outside, so the slave had been left there alone. Forest touched the door control and the door slid quietly into the wall. Shi stepped inside and stopped. The slave was just inside the room, lying on the floor with just some cushions for padding. Forest was wondering why the couch at the back of the room was ignored, when the slave turned around and looked at hir. The fennecís eyes bulged in surprise and confusion while the Forest regarded hir with great curiosity. While foxes were a common morph species, hir creator had obviously chosen a fennec fox as hir model, a species Forest believed hadnít existed since before the Gene Wars. Forest estimated that shi would be just under five foot tall, not counting hir ears which easily added another eight inches to hir height. Hir build was lean but wiry, suggesting more than average strength for hir size. Light beige fur shaded into cream on hir face, breasts, belly and inner thighs, and hir head was topped with waist-long light brown hair. Firm C-cup breasts with proud pink nipples sticking out of the fur beautifully complimented hir sensually curved female form, which only made it more unexpected to see the sheath with the tip of a penis just showing from it. Yet it was clear that shi wasnít merely a feminine-looking male. The lack of a scrotum clearly showed the labia that would lead to the vagina.

While Forest was examining the fennec, Leanna was struggling to make sense of what shi was looking at. That this creature was a morph was obvious; based on a jaguar, shi guessed. However, the configuration of this morph was completely weird. It had four legs! It had an upper body similar to many feline morphs, yet from the waist down looked mostly like a feral animal. Yet it was clear that this was no animal. Besides the keen intelligence in its eyes, it was wearing a uniform top similar to the others, only in green this time. It also had some sort of device slung over its shoulder. The breasts that filled out the uniform quite well told Leanna that it had to be a female. ĎWhat sort of weird slave is this?í shi wondered. ĎAnd why is she allowed to wear clothes?í Slaves almost never got to wear clothes. If they were outdoors, at most they got panties or a breechcloth, and perhaps something to protect them from inclement weather. Leanna had seen a couple of male personal servants wearing a fancy vest when serving their masters, but had never seen a female slave wearing any sort of top outside of something exotic in the bedroom. The masters in the Federation had to have different dress standards for their slaves. The creature approached, and Leanna noticed the really long tail being held alertly in the air, seemingly moving with a life of its own. Leanna was wondering what purpose such a bizarre creature fulfilled when it spokeÖ

"Hello there. I am Chakat Forestwalker, but you can call me just Forest. Iím here to check you over. First though, whatís your name?"

Leanna noticed that there was a certain amount of authority in her voice. Even amongst slaves, some had higher standing than others. Leanna surmised that this was an overseer Ė a slave in charge of a group of slaves Ė and reasoned that it would be best to be careful how shi responded. "This one is named Leanna, mistress," Leanna replied.

Forest frowned. "Iím not a mistress, and as I said, call me Forest. Tell me, why were you lying on the floor instead of the couch?"

"Mistress know slaves be under masters. Leanna not use couch unless her master say so," Leanna answered a little nervously. Despite hir confusion, Leanna carefully maintained the use of the idiot-talk that shiíd used before to fool people into thinking shi was stupid like all sex-slaves.

Forest inwardly groaned when Leanna failed to stop calling hir Ďmistressí, and noted the way shi referred to hirself in the third person. Heavily ingrained slave speech obviously. "Leanna, you are no longer a slave. Once we rescued you from that ship, you came under Federation protection. Your former masters can never get you back now. Youíre free!"

Leanna listened and understood the words, but hir mind refused to comprehend the possibility that morphs could be anything other than slaves. Perhaps this Federation had a different idea of how to deal with hir kind? Or maybe it was a trick? Shi decided to humour this strange morph for now and try to work out for hirself exactly what really was going on. "Yes, mistress, Leanna free. What want Leanna do now?"

Forest sighed. This was going nowhere fast. Shi had a job to do though, so shi might as well get on with that. Shi lifted hir scanner. "I need to scan you thoroughly and report my findings back to my department head." Shi started recording. In a firm voice, shi said, "Subject name: Leanna. Species: fennec fox. Gender: herm. Assigned refugee number P235-096. Beginning full bio scan... now!"

Leanna stood obediently still as Forest scanned hir, mildly curious about the compact yet sophisticated device. From everything that shiíd seen so far, it seemed that this Federation had a much higher degree of technology at their disposal than the Non-Aligned Worlds, and judging by this Chakat Forestwalker, they were no slouches at genetic engineering either. The examination was quickly completed and Forest set hir scanner to transmit the details to the person in charge. Now shi should get back to hir own normal work, but instead hir curiosity was well and truly aroused.

"Leanna, why donít you pick up those cushions and put them back on the couch and sit down so we can have a talk?"

Leanna did pick up the cushions and replaced them, but remained standing. "What mistress want?" shi asked.

Now Forest was getting annoyed. "I told you, I am not a mistress or a master of any kind. Now call me Forest and sit down!"

"Yes, Forest," Leanna said meekly and complied.

Forest groaned. Leanna still wasnít convinced. Shi realised that the fennec had done as shi had asked because shi'd phrased it as a firm order. Shi padded over to the food replicator. "Black tea, hot, one sugar!" shi ordered the computer. A steaming mug materialised in front of hir. Hir empathic senses picked up a burst of surprise from Leanna. ĎSo, no food replicators either where shi comes from,í shi thought. Shi turned to Leanna and asked, "Would you like some tea also?"

"Leanna not know tea, Forest."

Forest handed over hir mug to Leanna. "Try that and see what you think." Leanna obeyed, careful of the hot liquid. "So, what do you think?"

"Good, Forest."

"Keep the mug. Iíll get another." Forest did so, then settled on hir haunches facing Leanna. Shi sipped the hot brew, watching as the fennec continued sampling the tea, and considered what to do next. It wasnít as if shi had to do anything at all. Hir only duty was to assess this refugee and then shi was out of hir hands. However, hir senses were telling hir that there was far more to this person than met the eye though. Shi was doing a great job of concealing it, but Leanna was definitely smarter than shi was acting, and thus the fennec was trying to hide something from hir. Maybe shi could draw it out.

"Okay, Leanna, let me fill you in on a few details. First of all, I am a chakat. My kind is one of several taur species developed on Earth, our home world. The word Ďtaurí refers to any species which has an upper and lower torso, with four legs on the lower, and two arms and a head in a humanoid configuration on the upper. Otherwise weíre not so different from other morph species. There are cattaurs, foxtaurs, skunktaurs, wolftaurs and even equitaurs." Forest had hir empathic senses scanning Leanna. Shi sensed curiosity and comprehension. No, this certainly was no dummy! "We were all developed after what were called the Gene Wars, and like all other morphs after the wars ended, we were also completely free and independent, equals to humans." A surge of disbelief went through Leanna, mirrored only by a slight widening of hir eyes. "Iím not making this up, Leanna. In the Federation, by law, all morph species have the same rights and privileges as humans. There are no masters or slaves. That may be hard for you to believe, but you will soon see that there are many different species on this ship, and they are crewmembers, not slaves. Now that you have been taken from the clutches of your former masters, you are no longer a slave either. In fact, once youíre given some sort of orientation, youíre going to have to start being an independent person. Thatís a pretty scary prospect after a lifetime of security as a slave, donít you think?"

Forest had definitely been right in one thing Ė Leanna did find it hard to believe, and yet, everything that had occurred so far indicated that Forest was telling the truth. For the first time in ages, Leanna dared hope that hir dreams werenít quite so impossible as shi had always thought. Still, stubbornly shi refused to accept anything completely without seeing for hirself. Shi had to be careful. So far shi had concealed most of hir nature from almost everyone. This chakat seemed more perceptive than most however, and shi didnít want to jeopardise hir plans until shi was sure of the facts, so shi just nodded in general agreement, not committing to anything.

Forest wasnít giving away anything either though. Shi sensed each of Leannaís emotions as they passed through hir. By the time Leanna gave hir non-committal agreement, Forest was sure that the fennec was playing it cagey. Hir admiration went up a notch. Any slave that could confidently try pulling the wool over a superiorís eyes was someone worth getting to know better. Forest got back onto all fours and put hir mug back on the food replicatorís shelf where it automatically was recycled a few moments later. Shi beckoned to Leanna. "Follow me. Weíre going to get something appropriate for you to wear." Shi stepped into the bedroom.

Leanna blinked in surprise. "Something to wear, Forest?" shi asked as shi obediently followed the chakat into the other room.

"Yep," Forest begun. "While I donít have a problem with you walking about nude, this is a military ship with rules and dress standards. Weíre going to get you ready for a little tour of the ship. You need to see some things for yourself. Now stand on this spot," shi said, indicating a place in front of a full-length mirror. Leanna complied. "Computer! Scan subjectís clothing statistics."

The compliance tone sounded. After a moment, the computer voice said, "State subjectís name."

"Leanna Fennec," Forestwalker answered.

"Leanna Fennec is not listed on the shipís roster," the computer complained in its unemotional way.

"Add Leanna Fennec to database. Refer to refugee listing P235-096. Status: refugee."

"Database updated. Leanna Fennec, please state your name for voice identity record."

Leanna looked a little startled. The computers that shi was used to dealing with werenít this interactive. That was a slaveís job! "This one is named Leanna Fennec."

"Voice ident recorded. Please raise your arms to shoulder level for comparison scan."

Leanna obeyed, saying to Forest as shi did, "Leanna always just called Leanna, not Leanna Fennec."

"Scan completed," stated the computer.

Forest smiled back at Leanna. "Believe me, itíll be simpler to have that surname on record. Just remember to use it for official records. Almost always youíll just be called Leanna anyway. Sorry I wasnít a bit more creative, but it seemed a simple and obvious name to use though. Itís not as if itís common anyway, and it can always be changed later if you really wish to."

Leanna was curious. "May Leanna know why no more fennec?"

Forest replied, "I donít believe Iíve ever come across any other fennec morphs. I might be wrong, but I donít think they were one of the species to survive the Wars, unlike several other species of fox morphs."

Leanna was hugely disappointed at this news. Shi had long ago accepted that there were no others of hir kind on the world shi had been created on, but had begun to hope that the situation might be otherwise in this Federation. "I see."

"So you can say ĎIí after all," Forest said slyly.

Leanna cursed herself. Too many of those slips and shi would give herself away. "Leanna is sorry. Leanna not make mistake again."

"Uh-uh! Youíre not getting away with it that easily. Thereís a brain behind that slave talk, and youíre not fooling me. I have a few talents of my own that you donít know about, and deceiving a chakat isnít that easy." Forest took the pressure off after a few moments. "Leanna, I realise that youíre worried about what will happen to you, but believe me, things are only going to get better from now on. In the meantime, I want you to stop referring to yourself in the third person. Nobody on this ship will find the slightest thing unusual about you using the word, ĎIí. In fact, quite the opposite! If you really want to be conspicuous, keep saying Leanna do this and Leanna do that in your slave talk style."

Leanna digested what Forest told her, then concluded that shi wasnít fooling Forest. Shi replied, "I understand. Forgive me if I slip up. A lifetime of habit wonít be easy to shake."

Forest nodded. "Thatís better. Now letís get you dressed. Computer! Subject: Leanna. Bikini briefs, herm style." An item materialised on the replicator shelf. Forest took the plain white bikini style underpants and gave them to Leanna. "Here, put this on."

Having had to wear similar things when out in public, shi had no problem with wearing the pants. It was only the method of manufacture that intrigued hir. Obviously it had to be the same technology that had produced the tea. Shi noticed that although they were a female style, they were designed to allow for hir sheathed penis. While donning them, Forest ordered the computer to create a halter-top, and shi held that out for Leanna to put on. Leanna eyed them with uncertainty. "Forest, I canít wear that," shi said apologetically.

Forest was puzzled. "Not that you need it, in my opinion, but why not?"

"Leanna wasÖ I mean I was forbidden to wear anything else. In fact, no female slave may wear anything but panties, breechcloth, or the like. The only exceptions were sexually attractive items only ever used for special occasions, or protective gear if we had to be outside in bad weather. IÖ canít wear that."

"Well, I can see how conditioning would make you feel that way, but believe me, itís quite okay to wear such things here. In fact itíll be a lot less conspicuous."

Leanna hung hir head. "Thereís more to it than just that."

Forest waited a moment. "Well? Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to drag out every revelation?"

Leanna decided that there was no harm in telling Forest. "You must realise that I was designed as a special sex slave."

"That was pretty obvious, although your intelligence seems strangely counter to that goal."

Leanna knew that was true, but preferred to steer away from that subject for now. "As such, my body has been primed for sexual response. Amongst other places, my nipples are hypersensitive to stimulation. After just a few minutes of wearing that top, I would be just about screaming in sexual desire, all other thoughts being driven out of my mind."

Forest stared, then the corner of hir mouth twitched as shi tried to control the laughter shi felt welling up. Obviously it wasnít a laughing matter to Leanna, but it tickled Forest to realise that here was a person with a medical excuse for walking around bare-breasted. Shi chucked aside the halter-top. "Okay, no tops. The crew will just have to deal with the situation. Weíll just have to try to figure out something a bit more flattering than just undies later. Thank the heavens those arenít a problem though." Forest tapped hir communicator badge. "Forestwalker to Midnight."

After a brief pause, a voice replied. "Midnight here."

"Is it okay yet for us to move freely about the ship again?"

"Weíve just quartered the last of the slaves, so I would say itís fine."

"Thanks Midnight. Be advised that Iíll be taking one of the refugees around with me to see some of the ship and its crew." Forest refused to use the word Ďslaveí in regards to Leanna.

Even from this distance, Forest could sense hir mateís surprise. "May I ask why?"

"Itís a bit complicated. Iíll explain later. Forestwalker out." Shi turned to Leanna. "Shall we start our little tour?"

Leanna nodded and followed the chakat. Out in the corridor, Forest took the fennecís hand. "Just stick with me. If you want to look at anything more carefully, just let me know."

With the curious fennec fox in tow, Forestwalker headed off in the direction of the trans-lift to take them to the upper decks. When the doors opened, it was onto a broad walkway with a high ceiling, large view ports and stylish architecture. Leannaís jaw dropped in amazement. Shiíd only ever seen the most utilitarian of ships, or hir masterís private space-yacht. This was awe-inspiring! Forest smiled and towed the bedazzled fennec along the promenade, while Leanna craned hir neck to see all the wonders of this ship.

"I suppose that youíre wondering why the ship is so fancy?" Forestwalker queried. Leanna nodded distractedly without looking at the chakat. "This is the flagship of Admiral Kline, and as such, it is used for ambassadorial and ceremonial purposes as well as the usual military purposes. This section of the ship was deliberately designed to impress."

"It certainly has achieved its aim then," Leanna acknowledged.

Just then, a group of crewmembers overtook the dawdling pair. Three out of five of them were morphs, a fact that Leanna immediately noticed, and they were obviously not only crew, but a group of friends discussing a game they were about to attend. One of the morphs, a vixen, even had an extra rank pipÖ she was the humanís superior officer! Leanna could scarcely believe that a morph species that was so synonymous with slow-minded sex-slaves on the non-aligned worlds was not only obviously quite intelligent, but also in a position of responsibility. Leanna came to a halt. Shi stopped looking at the distracting architecture and started observing the people who were coming and going.

Forestwalker stood back and let Leanna observe. This is what shiíd hoped would happen, in fact. Leanna needed to see for hirself that morphs were not only not slaves, but equals with humans which no amount of talking would be sufficient to do. This way shi could convince hirself, and the intelligent fennec was very quickly realizing that everything that Forest had said was true. Several times shi received curious glances from both humans and morphs, but nothing that shi could attribute to disapproval, but plenty shi could either chalk up to mere curiosity or normal casual sexual attraction. For the first time in hir life, Leanna felt underdressed for the occasion!

Forest cleared hir throat and Leanna took the hint. The chakat led the fennec to another section of the ship where they could observe the crew at work. It was the final evidence needed to convince Leanna. There was no way that morphs would be allowed to do the things that they were doing if they were indeed a servant species. And yet it all seemed far too good to be true. Leanna wondered if perhaps this had all been laid on for hir benefit, yet such a conspiracy theory seemed equally unlikely. Still, if this was the carrot they were offering hir, shiíd take a chance and see how events turned out. It wasnít as if shi had terribly many choices available, and cooperating with them might bring opportunities that shi could use to hir benefit. Leanna turned to Forestwalker and said, "Okay, I believe I understand now. Strange, but itís going to be hard for me to get used to the idea that I will no longer be a slave." Shi paused a moment, then continued, "I think that itís even going to be a little bit frightening. Iíll have to take care of all my own needs and be responsible for all my actions, unlike a slave." Shi hoped that was what the chakat wanted to hear, and that shi projected enough sincerity to fool Forest.

"Thatís okay, Leanna. You wonít be expected to know everything, nor will you have to do so without help. If you wish, Iíll help you adjust," Forest offered.

"Thanks, Forest. Iíd appreciate that. Can we go back to the room now? Iím feeling a bit overwhelmed by all this."

"Thatís understandable. However, I was thinking of taking you back to my cabin. I thought that you might appreciate some normalcy, or at least what passes for such in a chakat family," Forest added with a grin.

"Could I get something to eat too?" Leanna asked hopefully.

Forest laughed. "Easily done. We appreciate a good meal also." Shi beckoned to the fennec to follow, and shi took hir up to hir cabin. When the door opened, shi was pounced by hir cubs whose empathic senses had picked up hir approach. After initial nuzzling, hugging and verbal greetings, the cubs turned their boundless curiosity on the new person. Their noses quivering as they sniffed at the stranger, they decided they liked this newcomerís scent and proceeded to rub up against hir legs and purr.

Leanna was delighted. "How adorable! These are your children, Forest?" Shi scratched behind the ears of one. Then the other reared up and put hir forepaws on Leannaís thighs, looking for the same treatment. Leanna laughed and complied.

Forest was pleased with hir cubsí response. They were excellent judges of character despite their youth, and the response they provoked often gave insights into a personís nature. "Yes, theyíre my firstborns, twins sired by my lifemate, Midnight."

"Oh, the one you talked to on your comm.?"

"Yep. Shiís a totally black-furred chakat, so you wonít mistake hir when you see hir. Anyway, the one with the snow-leopard patterning is Snowcloud, and the tortoiseshell imp playing with your tail is called Patchwork, although we usually just call hir Patches. Iíd gently dissuade hir from doing that to your tail though, or else shi might end up doing that constantly."

"If you say so. I donít really mind though."

Forest shrugged. "Itís your decision." Shi then turned to the crewperson who had been quietly and patiently waiting while the introductions were being made. "Thanks, Yeoman. I trust that they havenít wreaked too much havoc?"

Yeoman DíArmand grinned. "No more than other children left in my charge anyway. Windrunner and Ember have been mostly asleep, but I reckon that your early return is fortuitous because Windrunner will be due for a feed soon, and I know that you prefer feeding hir in person rather than the stored milk."

"Didnít take you long to realize that!" Forest laughed. "Anyway, you can go now. Iím going to be spending the rest of my duty period here."

The yeoman grabbed her PADD and shoved it into a satchel. "Okay. Same shift tomorrow?" Forest nodded. "Have a good evening then." She then left with just a passing fond stroke to each of the chakat cubs who took it gracefully, but were still more interested in the newcomer.

Forestwalker turned to Leanna and asked, "You said you were hungry?"

Leanna suddenly remembered that shi was very hungry. The recent events had pushed the sensation aside, but once reminded of it, it came back clamouring for attention. "Yes, I am. We werenít getting as well-fed as we should have been due to the breakdown of the shipís systems, and itís been a while since my last meal."

"We can soon fix that." Forest started heading for the replicator.

"You have a servant to prepare your food?" Leanna hazarded a guess.

"Nope. Better than that." Shi pointed at the replicator. "This device is a food replicator like the one that made the tea, only a little more sophisticated. Part of its mechanism is based on the Transporter technology that beamed you over here. Watch and listen. Computer - unlock replicator." The compliance tone sounded. "Computer Ė grant access to this replicator to Leanna Fennec." Another tone. Forest turned to Leanna. "We had to put a lock on it because since the cubs began talking, theyíve wreaked havoc with voice-commanded devices whenever given a chance. Anyway, just touch this panel and the unit will be activated and await your order, like soÖ" Shi touched the panel and said, "Hamburger with the lot!"

Leanna watched as a sparkling began inside the replicatorís bay that rapidly resolved into a steaming-hot hamburger. ĎThatís how I must have looked like coming through the teleporter,í Leanna mused.

Forest took out the hamburger and promptly took a large bite out of. "Mmmm! Perfect! I needed a snack before settling down with Windrunner. Anyway, feel free to order whatever you like. If itís in the computerís memory bank, it will replicate it for you."

Leannaís mouth was watering from the smell of the hamburger. "I think Iíll try one of those too." Shi imitated Forest and took out the hamburger. Shi looked at it closely. "It looks exactly the same as yours."

"It is. Theyíre replicated from the same pattern, so theyíll always be virtually identical."

Leanna was impressed, and even more so when shi took a bite out of the burger. "Itís delicious! And you say that I can order any food at all?"

"As long as itís in the replicatorís memory, or you program in something new, yes you can."

"Amazing!" Leanna then devoted hir efforts to finishing off the hamburger.

Forest grinned. "Feel free to experiment and eat and drink as much as you like. Iím going to look in on my kitten. I sense hir stirring."

"You can feel your baby from here?" Leanna asked curiously.

"We chakats have an empathic sense, and itís particularly sensitive when it comes to our children. I can clearly feel hir waking up and being hungry." A mewling cry came from a nearby room. Forest smiled. "Right on cue!"

Leanna was impressed again. It seemed to be one revelation after the other, non-stop. While Forest padded off to the other room, Leanna turned hir attention to the replicator. Touching the panel, shi ordered, "Orange juice." Moments later, shi took out the glass and sipped the chilled juice. ĎNo doubt about these Federation people, they like the best-tasting food!í shi thought.

Forestwalker returned with a Siamese cat coloured infant chakat in hir arms. "Would you hold hir for a moment, Leanna?"

Leanna took the gently protesting kitten into hir arms and looked it over carefully. So adorable! Shi looked up to see Forest pulling off hir uniform top, revealing breasts that were even larger than shi had previously thought, now that they werenít restrained by the fabric. "Are you sure your kind wasnít made for physical pleasures?" shi asked.

Forest looked down at hir proud breasts and grinned. "Well, these beauties are somewhat larger than average, but the only people they were intended to pleasure are our children and lovers, never a master. Besides, youíll learn that their extra capacity is very useful to us. Taur children drink a lot more, and they certainly came in handy when the twins were born!" Shi settled comfortably on a lounging rug, then reached out for Windrunner and Leanna handed hir back over. Forest continued, eyes on hir child, "Shi canít drink more than the contents of one breast though, so my lovers still get to enjoy my milk too." Shi put Windrunner to one nipple and the kitten began to suck enthusiastically.

Leanna watched enviously. After a moment though, shi asked a question to take hir mind off that wish. "You have been using the words Ďshayí and Ďherrí with your child, and I heard one of the crew using those terms when talking about me. What do they mean?"

Forest looked thoughtful. "I suppose itís not surprising that those terms are unknown on your world. Theyíre pronouns used specifically for hermaphrodites. ĎShií is used in place of Ďsheí or Ďheí, and Ďhirí replaces Ďherí, etcetera.

Leanna nearly choked on hir orange juice. "YouÖ you mean your child is a hermaphrodite too?" shi sputtered.

Forest looked at Leanna with a little concern. "Of course. All chakats are herms. Didnít you know that?"

"Obviously not! You keep telling me that your kind werenít made as slaves or sex-toys, but everything that I learn about you seems to point otherwise."

"I suppose thatís what it could look like, but in fact chakats were created to be an ideal blend of male and female, amongst other things. This has proven to be very successful and chakats are so numerous now that a new world was colonized for our kind to grow."

Leanna shook hir head in disbelief. "My master created me purely to serve his particular sexual pleasures, and as far as I know, there werenít any others exactly like me on my world."

"I believe that there are some pseudo-herms on most human-inhabited worlds, but I really donít know much beyond that."

"Pseudo-herms? What are they?" Leanna asked.

"Morphs that have the opposite genderís sexual equipment, but no reproductive ability whatsoever. A female may possess a penis, but no testes, or a male may possess large breasts and/or a vagina, but no ovaries, and neither has the genetic coding to produce a herm child anyway. Are you a true herm or a pseudo?" Forest asked curiously.

"Ah! You mean the exotics. Yes, I know a few like that, but I think Iím designed as a true herm because I both go into heat and I can ejaculate semen. However, my master told me once when I asked if I could have a child that I was incapable of having any because I was sterile."

"Hmmm. That could be just because of imperfect genetic coding rather than because your genitalia are purely for sexual pleasure, or maybe some other reason. Maybe he even lied. I might have to get the doctor to give you a thorough examination. No hurry on that though. The bottom line is that chakats are completely dual-sexed, and while I have only been a mother so far, I can and will be a sire one day." Forest rolled over on hir side, careful not to disturb the suckling kitten, and lifted a hind leg to reveal the sheath there before rolling back upright. "Midnight will be the mother when that time comes."

Leanna was overwhelmed by the concept of a happy and successful hermaphrodite species. It reignited hir own hopes and desires to have a family. So many days spent looking out the office window into the park next door, watching the children at play and their doting parents, had fanned the flames of longing for a child to call hir own. And yet there was still hir masterís pronouncement on hir fertility. Perhaps this Federationís wonderful technology could do something about that?

Both Windrunner and Leanna ate in thoughtful silence for a while.

Forestwalker spent the rest of the shift acquainting Leanna with as many of the basics of ship life as possible, ranging from various equipment that shi could use, to the protocols between passengers and crew. Forest wanted the fennec to not feel lost amidst so many unfamiliar things, and to prepare hir for the arrival of the others. When the shift ended, it wasnít an adult who turned up first though, but a young Caitian girl. She came into the cabin and stopped in surprise when she saw Leanna.

Forest was quick to reassure the girl. "Kayla, this is Leanna, a guest of mine. Leanna, this is the daughter of my mate and his first mate, Rosepetal. Kayla has just finished school for the day."

Leanna got up from hir chair and walked over to the girl, giving her a quick assessment. Her tan fur and brown hair werenít exactly remarkable, but the hazel eyes seemed to be unusual. Shi judged hir to be around nine years of age, and shi was already approaching Leannaís full grown height of 150cm. She wore a comfortable but stylish day-robe that allowed free movement of her long tail. "Hi, Kayla," shi said with a smile.

"Hello," replied Kayla whoíd been similarly assessing Leanna. "Why are you just wearing undies?" she asked ingenuously.

Leanna blinked in surprise. For only the second time in hir life, shi felt improperly attired. "IÖ I donít have any other clothes," was all shi could say.

"Oh. Okay!" Kayla shrugged. "Seeya!" She headed off to her room.

Forest watched in amusement as Leanna stared after the child in slight shock. "You know, youíd have gotten less of a reaction if youíd been completely nude. We donít dress much in the privacy of our quarters. Then again, she might have been intrigued to meet another herm species."

Leanna turned to Forest and said, "I never thought Iíd say this in my life, but I think I need to get some proper clothing."

"Hmmm, a bit of a challenge when you canít wear anything over your breasts, but Iím sure that we can work out something appropriate for the rest of you. I might suggest that you try getting the services of someone with better fashion sense than me."

"You mean to say youíve even got shops on this ship?" Leanna asked incredulously.

"No, not as such, but we do have a general store for the civilians aboard. Theyíre usually the mates and family of the Star Fleet personnel, and they frequently do non-essential services that free up the crewmembers. A couple of them run the school for the children aboard, where Kayla just came from. Thereís often someone who likes to design clothing or help others with their fashion choices. A quick enquiry should find this out, and we can outfit you in something suitable."

"Iíd appreciate that." Shi looked down at the underwear shi had on. "Do you think I should keep these on or not?"

"No one in this family will particularly notice youíre nude, so suit yourself."

Leanna sighed in relief and pulled off the underwear. "Iíve worn clothing before, such as harem costumes, but not for so long, nor out in public. Thisíll take a bit of getting used to."

"Nobody should blame you for that, Leanna. You no longer have to answer to a master, and our society is far more tolerant of eccentricities. Take your time and find your niche."

As with Forestís previous statements about slaves, Leanna took these with a grain of salt. "Thanks, Forest," Leanna said just as the door opened again to admit an all-black chakat who was instantly mobbed by two cubs calling, "Daddy!!!" and hugging and nuzzling hir. After greeting hir cubs, Midnight and Leanna looked each other over. Midnight was curious about what was obviously a new herm species, while Leanna noticed that this chakat was significantly less busty than Forest, but otherwise very similar in build. Hir crystal blue eyes made a startling contrast to the deep black fur. Leanna spoke first, "Midnight, I presume?"

"Correct," Midnight replied. "And would you be the refugee that Forest said shi was taking out?"

"Thatís right. My name is Leanna."

"Good to meet you, Leanna. Pardon me, but I need to freshen up. Weíll talk more soon." Midnight first gave hir mate a cuddle, then took a cub under each arm. "Bath-time, kids!" shi announced. The children squealed in a mixture of anticipation and indignation as they headed towards the bathroom. The door barely closed before another person arrived. This time it was another Caitian, a full-grown female this time in a Star Fleet jumpsuit style uniform.

Rosepetal looked at Forestwalker questioningly. Forest took hir cue. "Leanna, this is Commander Rosepetal Silpurr, second-in-command on this starship, but more importantly to me at least, she is my co-mate and mother to Kayla. Sheís the one to whom you will have to answer for just about anything to do with this ship. Rose, please meet Leanna Fennec, one of the refugees we just rescued."

"Indeed," Rosepetal said. "Iím pleased to meet you Leanna. I hope youíre settling in well."

"Forest has been helping me with that, Commander. Shiís been very understanding."

"Shiís like that, although Iím wondering why you in particular," she said, looking in Forestís direction.

Forest gave her a lopsided grin. "Shi caught my interest for several reasons."

"I see. Aside from hir unusual gender, I perceive that shi is intelligent, unlike most slaves weíve encountered."

Leanna was startled. Shi had completely forgotten to put on hir dull-witted act. Fortunately, it seemed it wouldnít be needed with these people. Shi looked hard at the Caitian and realised that there was an even sharper mind than hers in this female who was little taller than hirself. Shi reminded hirself that this person wouldnít be second in command for nothing.

Rosepetal smiled warmly. "Youíre welcome here, Leanna. Itís nice to see a former slave who for once has such potential. Now please excuse me while I change out of my uniform." She headed off to her bedroom.

Forest smiled at Leannaís reactions. "Youíll get used to her."

Leanna grimaced. "I hope so. Anything more to watch out for?"

"Well, now that you mention it, Iíd better warn you about the person who is mate to all of us. His name is Admiral Boyce Kline, and heís the captain of this vessel. Most importantly thoughÖ." Shi was interrupted by the door opening to admit a man. "Ö heís a human," shi finished belatedly.

Leanna was instantly shocked and cowed. After meeting all these different morphs and aliens, shi hadnít been expecting a human to come into the cabin. Now all hir ingrained conditioning came crashing down on hir again.

"Hello, who have we got here?" Boyce asked cheerfully, unaware of what effect heíd had on the fennec.

"This one is called Leanna, master," Leanna spoke deferentially, eyes downcast.

Boyce frowned. "Iím not your master, and youíre nobodyís slave!" he said more sharply than heíd intended. Naturally the commanding tone only made things more confusing.

Forestwalker padded over to Leanna and took hir into a gentle embrace. "Itís okay, Leanna. This human is a good man. Heís also my denmate and father to Windrunner. You couldnít find a human more sympathetic to your situation if you tried."

Leanna looked up timorously to see Boyce looking at hir with concern. With a tremulous sigh, shi relaxed, disgusted with hirself and hir lack of control. Shiíd been caught by surprise though, and it was timely reminder that although shi might not be slave anymore, shi was still a captive to a lifetime of conditioning that would not be overcome in a single day.

Boyce had taken the time to change into some casual clothing, emerging from the bedroom in the company of Rosepetal. They had settled onto a couch together while Forest served up refreshments. Even Leanna was seated, although shi didnít feel at all comfortable while under their scrutiny.

"Your voice," began Boyce. "I believe Iím familiar with it. The last I heard it, the owner of that voice said that they were one of the cargo." He looked at Rosepetal. "I believe weíve found our intelligent slave."

Rosepetal nodded. "Youíre right, I recognise it now. I hadnít expected to find the owner of that voice in our cabin though."

Leanna was chagrined. After all hir efforts to avoid being identified, shi had walked straight into the company of the very people shiíd been trying to avoid.

"Why were you hiding from us?" Boyce asked. "We were answering your distress call, after all."

"Letís just say that I havenít exactly heard good things about the Federation. I wasnít sure how accurate those reports were, but I wasnít about to be singled out for special attention in case they were true."

"If you were so worried about those rumours, why did you call us at all?" Rosepetal asked.

"While I was prepared to die, I didnít think every other slave on that ship deserved that fate, so I had to do something, and the alternative was almost certain death."

The admiral looked angry, and Leanna wondered if shiíd said something wrong. Shi was relieved when he said, "Damned propaganda! All that misinformation and lies has made our job so much harder. Even those worst affected by the practices of the Non-Aligned Worlds are afraid to deal with the Federation because they think itís even worse than what they have already." He looked squarely at the fennec. "Leanna, Iím not going to blow smoke in your eyes. The Stellar Federation is not perfect. We have our problems too, and currently weíre dealing with a major problem affecting all morph species. However, overall the Federation is enormously better for you and your fellow former slaves, especially the intelligent ones, however few there are. Youíve must have seen many of the crew of this ship and the humans have no more status nor rights than the morphs or aliens, other than the rank theyíve earned. Itís merely a coincidence that this ship is commanded by a human, myself. There are far more out there that are commanded by non-humans, even those based from Terra. Every morph has the potential to make the most of their destinies within the Federation, while they have no choices whatsoever on one of the human-settled Non-Aligned Worlds. Believe me, Iíve been patrolling the Gosper Fringe long enough to know what Iím talking about!"

Rosepetal laid a hand on Boyceís arm. "Calm down, dear. Youíre beginning to sound preachy."

Boyce gave her a look, then grimaced. "I suppose I am." He turned back to Leanna. "Iíll just end it then by saying that youíve nothing to fear. And seeing as youíre Forestís guest, youíre welcome here for as long as you wish."

Leanna nodded. Hir suspicions of hir hostsí veracity was getting more and more shaky. "Thank you, Admiral. I admit that this seems a bit too good to be true, but Iím prepared to make the most of it while it lasts."

"Youíre not a crewmember. You can call me Boyce if you wish."

"Iíd rather stick to your title, sir. Iím not yet comfortable with dealing with you so personally."

"Fair enough. Weíll see if we can do something about that over the next few days while we head back to the Starbase."

Just then, Midnight arrived with two freshly scrubbed cubs. "Looks like the gangís all here. What did I miss?" Shi looked a little puzzled when everyone broke into laughter.

Forestwalker came over to nuzzle hir lifemate. "Donít worry, love. Just a minor crisis. Letís all have a formal dinner and have some conversation. I think we all have plenty to talk about. Boyce, would you care to make a batch of your best coffee for us?"

"Coming right up!" he said, hoisting himself out of the chair. Leanna was again surprised by Boyce taking orders from one of the others when he was supposedly the head honcho.

There was a period of organised chaos while everyone got busy. Even Leanna was conscripted to keep the cubs amused while the rest were busy, and shi was a little dazed at how well they worked together in order to get results exceptionally fast. "So this is a family? I wonder if theyíre all like this?" shi thought to hirself.

Soon, the table was laden with plates of delicious-smelling food, with a large pot of steaming coffee waiting to be poured. Forest beckoned Leanna over to a chair. "You sit here. We chakats donít need chairs, of course."

"Are you sure itís okay to be at the table like this?" Leanna was still uncertain if a naked sex-slave fitted in at this table, even though both chakats were obviously comfortable topless.

"Leanna is right," Rosepetal said. "This was announced as a formal meal, so you two chakats go put on one of your good tops. Leanna, letís fix you up with something."

Leanna looked at Forest who grinned back at hir. "Donít look at me! On this ship, we go by Caitian family custom normally, and sheís senior wife!" Shi winked at Leanna and headed off to get a top, closely followed by Midnight.

Rosepetal took Leannaís arm and steered hir in the direction of another room. Leanna protested, "But I canít wear a top." Shi then explained briefly why not.

"Hmmm, thatís a problem. However, we can still fix you up with something smart for the time being. Perhaps a sarong that wraps around your waist with a sash that goes over your shoulder and passes between the breasts? That will avoid your sensitive nipples. Yes, I think that will work nicely. Weíll work on something better some time when we donít have food getting cold on the table."

Minutes later, the two rejoined the others. Forest gave Leanna a purr of approval at hir outfit. Leannaís inner ears pinked in a blush at the unaccustomed attention and appreciation that was not aimed at hir specifically for sexual reasons. It felt good!

The main meal went well. Nobody pressed Leanna for any details beyond what shi offered voluntarily, but as shi relaxed, shi began to talk more and more about hir past. "I suppose you could say that I was my former masterís ultimate creation, able to do far more than the average morph slave due mostly to my intelligence, something nobody ever expected to find it in an exotic sex-slave. That was my masterís most clever idea. While I was sent ostensibly to service a guestís every whim, in fact my main purpose was to ferret out information that could be used in his or her business dealings. I was very good at this, and I thought my master was pleased with me. I found out how little I really meant to him though, and I could no longer bear the other humiliations that were heaped upon me. His death meant my freedom, even though I was still a slave."

"You were fortunate that he died at an early age," commented Midnight.

"Yes, fortunate," agreed Leanna in a strange tone of voice. Midnight gave hir a keen look that unnerved the fennec, and shi decided to say no more on the subject.

With dessert finished, and the coffee too, all were feeling replete. Leanna had learned a lot more about the people in this family than they had learned about hir, but shi wasnít ready yet to tell them everything yet. Only shi knew that all their good intentions wouldnít help hir when hir time came, and that time was near.

Forest opened the door to the cabin nearby to their own and waved Leanna in. Rosepetal had agreed that Leanna needed a room of hir own, but they didnít have one to spare. However, shi did manage to locate a small cabin that nobody wanted, but was perfect for the fennecís requirements. "Welcome to your new abode! Or at least until we get back to Earth anyway."

"Earth? I thought you were dropping us off at a Starbase?" Leanna queried.

"Well, yes, but youíre a special case. You donít really want to be treated as one of the herd, do you?"

"I suppose not," shi shrugged. "In fact, I could get to like this."

Forest grinned. "Itíll be great. Just wait and see!"

Leanna thought that Forest was a hopeless optimist, but then again, who could argue with someone who was so obviously leading a happy life? Shi looked about the room and nodded in satisfaction. Although it was very basic by the shipís standards, it was very well appointed by a slaveís standards; positively luxurious in fact.

"Youíve got all the basic computer functions here, as well as a basic replicator. If you have any problems, just address the computer as youíve heard us do, and get it to help you. Iím betting that youíre pretty tired by now, so Iíll leave you now. Iíll drop in on you tomorrow morning before I go on to my work shift, okay?"

Leanna nodded. "Thanks, Forest. Iíll see you then."

Forest gave a cheery wave as shi exited. Leanna sighed as shi sat down on the edge of the bed. Shi needed a shower, something shiíd not been able to have since being herded onto the slave ship. It was a wonder the others hadnít complained about the look and smell of hir fur, but they were a courteous and understanding lot. However, there was one need that took precedence over that, and shi began to attend it immediately, only to be surprised by the door opening again.

Forest entered, saying, "Sorry, I forgot to tell you how to key the door to yourself, so thatÖ people wonítÖ just barge..Ö in." Hir voice trailed off as shi saw what Leanna was doing. Leannaís right hand had lifted hir left breast up to meet hir muzzle and shi had been strongly sucking on it. "Iím sorry, my fault for intruding."

"Wait! Itís okay, Forest. I suppose I could have told you about this."

"Whatís to tell? Itís your privilege to do what you want to do in the privacy of your own room."

"Thatís just it. Itís not something I particularly want to do, but something I have to do."

That comment aroused Forestís insatiable curiosity. "Oh? Why so?"

"My master designed me to lactate. Many clients love to suckle on their sex slaves, so naturally I was designed to do so too. However, like everything else about me, it was done to an extreme. In some ways, Iím more like a dairy cow. I produce lots of milk, and it never stops. If my breasts arenít emptied, they will fill until it begins to hurt, and keep filling until it becomes agony. I need to drain my own milk every day if no one does it for me."

"I see. I bet your former master took a lot of pleasure in suckling on you."

"He did, but not as much as you might think. You see, he liked the fact that I had to be milked, and he would sometimes delay it just for the sadistic pleasure of watching my discomfort grow. Also, he actually preferred to watch me suck on myself when he would let me relieve my burden of milk. In fact, the man sucked on thisÖ" shi pointed towards hir penis, "Ö more often than he sucked on these! That was just one of his many quirks."

"His loss," Forest judged. "UmmÖ I donít want to be too forward, but I have my own fetishes, and... well... suckling someoneís milk is one of them. If you ever want a little help...." Shi trailed off with a hopeful tone of voice.

Leanna stared at the chakat who had a wistful expression on hir face, then nodded. "I suppose I owe you a lot, so go ahead." It was something that Leanna had been designed to do, and it certainly couldnít hurt to humour the chakat.

"No," Forest said firmly. Leanna was deeply surprised. "Leanna, you donít owe me for anything. There was no price for what we all did for you. If youíd rather I didnít drink your milk, then just say so and Iíll leave with no ill feelings. As I said, itís just a personal fetish which I indulge with people who enjoy that sort of thing. I certainly wonít force myself upon you." Shi turned to leave.

"Wait!" Leanna said urgently. "Iím... not used to people asking my permission to do something. Itís hard for me to offer something rather than be expected to give it. What Iím saying is that Iím grateful for all youíve done, and Iíd truly like to offer something in return. If this would give you pleasure, then please indulge yourself. It doesnít bother me, and it will relieve me immensely too. In fact, it would give me pleasure to let you do so." Shi said the last with a touch of wonder in hir voice. To have the power to control hir destiny in a way that put hir own desires first and still please somebody was amazing to hir.

Forest grinned. "Thatís more like it! I can genuinely enjoy this now." Shi sat in front of the fennec and lowered hir muzzle to hir right nipple, sealing hir lips to it and started to suck. Leannaís milk was warm and sweet, and subtly different from any shi had drunk before.

Leanna had no great emotional involvement in the act aside from the new sensation of doing something of hir own volition, but the physical involvement was great. As shi had told Forest, any stimulation of the breasts would get hir very horny very quickly. Actually suckling on them quickly brought hir to climax. Shi leaned hir head back with eyes closed and panted in pleasure as small orgasms constantly swept over hir.

When Forest had drained the first breast, Leanna offered the other, and shi suckled eagerly on that one too. When it was also finished, Forest leaned back with a satisfied sigh. "Thanks, Leanna. That was very nice. Youíre quite tasty."

Choking back the stimulation of the session, Leanna managed to reply, "So Iíve been told, and I quite like the taste of my milk too. Iíll be happy to let you do this again sometime in the future, but right now Iíd like to shower and get some sleep."

"Right! Iíll be going now. The others will be wondering why Iím taking so long." Shi headed for the door.

"Forest..." Leanna said.


"Arenít you forgetting something?"

Forestwalker slapped hir forehead. "Díoh! The door lock!" Shi gave Leanna the simple instructions and bade hir a goodnight.

"Enjoy your night too," Leanna replied cryptically. Forest shrugged it off as being an unusual way that they said goodnight on the world shi came from. Later though, in bed with Midnight, shi had an overwhelming urge to make love to hir mate in the male mode. It provoked an amused comment from Midnight that Forest was trying to screw hir brains out, not that shi particularly minded. When shi was finally exhausted, and thought about hir mood that night, Leannaís words came back to hir.

"Well, Iíll be damned!" shi said aloud.

"Why?" Midnight replied dreamily. "Not for that performance anyway."

"Nope. I was just thinking what a sneaky idea it was to design a naturally occurring aphrodisiac into breast milk. If youíre going to use a sex slave as a spy, thatíd be a very useful tool."

"No need to ask what delayed you tonight then. Go to sleep! We all need to get up early."

Forest snuggled up to hir lifemate and happily complied.


Chapter 3: Problems and Solutions  

Leanna woke from the soundest slumber that shi had experienced in years, momentarily dizzy from disorientation before shi remembered where shi was. Panic that had been growing within hir chest at the prospect of having overslept and hir master was awaiting hir with mounting displeasure. With a sigh of relief shi realised that, for the moment, shi had no master expecting to be attended. If hir hosts were to be believed, shi no longer had anyone to order hir around, and shi was now completely responsible for hir own destiny. Leanna didnít know which prospect frightened hir more.

Shi stretched languorously, revelling in feeling so well-rested. ĎI could get used to this lifestyle,í shi thought to hirself. ĎEven if they placed me in some sort of entertainment position, if I had this to come back to, Iíd be dozens of times better off than I used to be.í Then hir thoughts darkened. ĎAssuming of course that I survive beyond the next few days. My time is due any moment now, and I donít have a clue what will happen.í Shi laid there staring at the cabinís roof for a long time before deliberately shaking off the mood. ĎAt least if I die now, it will be free from that thrice-damned bastard! Ha! Itís not as if I expected to live long after killing him.í That took hir thoughts in directions that shi did not want them to go though because the memories of those supercharged moments brought back a surge of unwanted sexual desire for hir dead master. Angry that the dead human could have such control over hir still, shi used hir disgust and determination to bury those feelings. ĎI swear that if I live long enough, Iíll overcome these urges!í

In an effort to clear hir mind of unwanted thoughts, shi started reviewing what had occurred the previous day. The biggest puzzlement to hir was why shi had been so garrulous while with the family. It was not as if shi hadnít had plenty of practice at being quiet and discreet, but it seemed that shi could hardly stop hirself from talking when asked a question. There was something about these chakats that shi hadnít figured out as yet, but shi was determined to do so, if not for any other reason than pure curiosity!

"Good morning, sleepyhead!" Midnight greeted hir bleary-eyed mate.

"Jeez, what are you doing up so early?" Forestwalker asked as shi shuffled off to the galley to get some much-needed coffee.

Midnight laughed. "You obviously didnít hear it, but Ember was squawking for a feed, so I got up to attend hir. Anyway, it isnít all that early. Youíre just still tired from last nightís effort."

Forest grimaced. "Well, I donít regret it at all, but having your sex drive kicked into overdrive does seem to have its repercussions."

"So I see. I suggest that you donít do that too often then. Or if you do, go to bed earlier!"

"Youíre so sympathetic," Forest grumbled.

"Youíll survive, Iím sure. And Iím equally sure that youíll do it again." Shi got up and trotted over to hir mate and lick-kissed hir cheek. "And Iíll be looking forward to it too," shi added with a wink.

Forest gave hir a lopsided grin. "Youíre probably correct. Right now though, I just want this coffee!" Shi proceeded to imbibe large draughts of the hot, strong brew.

"Better wake up fast, hon. The cubs are already waking and theyíll be wanting breakfast. I have to go now to do a couple of things before my shift starts, so theyíre all yours."

Forest groaned. "We need a full-time nanny! I didnít think it was going to be this bad away from the rest of the family. If it wasnít for Yeoman díArmand, Iíd be exhausted!" Shi looked curiously at Midnight. "How is it that youíve been so chipper all this voyage anyway?"

Midnight finished settling hir uniform top and slung a tricorder over hir shoulder. "When youíre in the military, you learn to adapt. Youíre just not used to having two extra children along on this trip compared to the first time we travelled together. Think about the problem and consider the time and resources you have on hand. Youíll find a way to cope. Now I gotta go, love." Shi gave Forest a long hug and then stepped up to the door. As it slid aside, shi added, "You never know, the solution might be right under your nose!"

The door had barely closed before two excited cubs came barrelling out of the bedroom, Snowcloud holding a tail-ribbon in hir hand that evidently belonged to Patchwork, judging by the way shi kept trying to get it back from hir sister. As the two tore around the room like a whirlwind, Forest determinedly prepared some breakfast for them all. As soon as it was ready, shi stepped in front of Snowcloud at a strategic moment and deftly removed the ribbon from hir grasp, handing it over to Patchwork. "Okay you two, food is on the table. I want you to eat it in peace while I attend to your baby sister."

"Yes, mum!" they chorused, the incident with the ribbon forgotten in their eagerness to get to their breakfast.

Forest watched hir twin terrors for a moment, still proud and happy to have borne them, even if they sometimes made life hard. Still, there was another who needed more attention right now who could not cope for hirself as yet, and Forest went to fetch hir youngest child. Shi was lying entwined with hir cot-mate, Ember, stirring uneasily as the pangs of hunger penetrated hir sleep. Gently shi disengaged Windrunner from the other cub and brought hir into the living-room. Shi settled behind a table with hir huge bowl of cereal in front of hir, a spoon in one hand and the cub in the other, lifting hir to a breast. Both ate in silence to sate their gnawing hunger.

They were soon joined by Rosepetal, closely followed by Boyce. Forest had sensed their alertness long ago, and realised that they were preparing for the day before coming out into the main cabin. They both greeted Forest and the cubs cheerily before going into the galley to prepare breakfast for themselves. Boyce came back with a plate loaded with bacon, eggs and toast. Rosepetal had a selection of cold meats and fresh fruit to follow them. By this time, the cubs had finished their breakfast, but thankfully had gone off to quietly play with their toys, perhaps slowed down a bit by their full bellies. The adults concentrated on their food for a little while before conversation started, which immediately turned to the subject of their newest acquaintance.

"Leanna isnít quite what any of us expected," Rosepetal started. "Iíve never seen a sex slave that was so intelligent and determined. Frankly I thought we were going to have a harder time winning hir over than we did. Instead shi was positively talkative at dinner last night."

Boyce nodded. "After shi pulled that Ďmasterí crap on me, I thought that we were going to have to break a lot of conditioning over a period of days, or even weeks, before weíd get any real information out of hir."

Forest waved hir spoon to indicate shi wanted to say something while shi finished a mouthful of cereal. After swallowing, shi admitted, "I might have had something to do with that."

Rose looked at hir keenly. "And may I ask just how?"

Suddenly Forest felt a little uncomfortable under the scrutiny of hir senior co-mate. "Well, I was sort of projecting trust and sympathy on an empathic level all the time. Whenever shi started to balk with suspicion or fear, I projected reassurance to hir."

Rosepetal frowned. "I know all chakats have a certain degree of psionic empathy, but I donít know what youíre E-rating is."

"Both Goldie and I were tested when we were young. Shiís about average, but I was a strong E4, maybe even an E5 with training."

"E5!" exclaimed Rosepetal. "Thatís very strong. No wonder Leanna was so forthcoming. Arenít people with your degree of Talent supposed to get trained for special careers to make use of that level of Talent?"

"Yes, they wanted me to go into a special program for people who had that high a score, but I turned them down. I already knew what career that I wanted to pursue, and Empathic training wasnít required for a biologist. Although I do have to admit that it has come in handy occasionally for detecting some elusive beasties."

Boyce spoke up, "That time that Malena told us about, how you were able to let her experience the male physical sensations of lovemakingÖ that was a manifestation of that strong Talent, wasnít it?"

Forest nodded. "Thatís something that Goldfur hasnít been able to do for her. I didnít even know for sure that I could do it until I did, but even so I had the inner feeling that it was possible. I can Ďreadí peopleís feelings from far away quite easily if I concentrate. Iíve often used the Talent when dealing with difficult people."

Rosepetal still looked disapproving. "Thatís why people like you are expected to take that program. You shouldnít be influencing people like that without official sanction and training."

"Bullshit!" Forest said defiantly, refusing to let Rosepetal dictate hir life despite her seniority. "Chakats of all levels of Talent do things like that every day of their lives. Itís why our kind is known to be good at negotiations and leadership. We as a species desire pleasant relationships and mutually beneficial results, and this is good for everyone we interact with. Itís one of the reasons why a chakat is always desired as part of the crew of any starship. The authorities know what we do and how we do it, but theyíre usually wise enough to let it work by itself and not force it." Shi smiled briefly. "Although in Goldfur and Garrekís case, they were not above manipulating the circumstances in the hopes of getting a certain result. They actually got more than they bargained for, which is one reason why they shouldnít mess around at all. When our species was designed, our creators intended the Talent to operate mostly unconsciously to prevent misuse. Only those of us who showed an extraordinary level of Empathic Talent are trained for special purposes, usually those that the Turners never intended. I preferred not to do that training and I will choose when to use my Talent. Iím not perfect, but I think my judgement has been sound enough, and more honest than then the officially sanctioned ones."

Rosepetal struggled with this. One side of her, the part conditioned by Star Fleet, said that such Talents should always be trained and controlled, clamoured for ascendancy, but the other side of her, the part that was independent-minded and co-mate to the chakat, told her that Forest was right. Then Boyce put his arm around her and hugged her.

"Let it go, Rose. You canít dictate this to hir. Itís neither your right, nor your obligation."

Rosepetal looked at her mate, then sighed. "Yes, husband, you are right. My apologies, Forest."

Forestwalker smiled at her. "No problem, Rose. Everybody has their own opinions. Although I might add as a final word that if I was truly abusing my Talent, we wouldnít have had this disagreement in the first place, no?"

Rosepetal had to admit that that was probably true. "So, you arenít actually pushing Leanna to tell us all this information?"

"Nope. All I do is empathically reassure hir that we can be trusted and have nothing but hir best interests at heart. Shi actually wants to talk about this stuff. Itís just that shiís never had anyone to trust before, so itís a slow process, even if you think itís been unusually fast. Be patient and shiíll be forthcoming with everything you need to know. Maybe not everything you may want to know, but nobody has the right to be that nosey."

"This from a curious feline?" Boyce smirked.

"Oh, I might still ask the questions," shi said with a wink, "I just donít demand answers! And speaking of questions, I have some too. What is this great interest in Leanna about? Youíve got quite a load of former slaves on board. Why the special interest in hir?"

Boyce sighed deeply and then replied, "Because shiís a true rarity. Not for hir physical nature, but for hir keen intelligence. Do you know how few of the slaves that ever get liberated are actually smart enough to answer questions, let alone operate independently like Leanna did? Very, very few! There were only a handful in that entire shipload that could do more than speak more than a few dozen words, and of those, only a few were capable of acting on their own. One was Leanna, and another was a foxmorph trained as a major domo. The latter though is nowhere near as intelligent as Leanna, nor very flexible in his capabilities. He couldnít even answer many of the questions that we put to him. Leanna though has the capability of being a mine of information, especially in light of what shi told us shi was trained to do. Star Fleet Command is keen to get any insights into what is happening on any of the Non-Aligned Worlds."

It was Forestís turn to frown. "Is your only interest in Leanna as an informant? What about hir future as something other than a sex slave or spy? What about all the other former slaves who arenít any use to you? Are they just going to be dumped or have you some way of dealing with them?"

Boyce held up his hand in order to halt the stream of questions. "Forest, love, I admit we do have particular interest in Leanna because of what shi can tell us, but I assure you we also have hir best long-term interests at heart. In fact, shiís a much needed ray of hope in a very bleak outlook. That foxmorph, some trained kitchen staff and a few others of the smarter slaves will be found employment and accommodation in which they will be happy for the rest of their lives, but the conditioning that is bred into them will never be completely broken. Despite the best efforts of some very clever people, no one has ever managed to remove the subservient conditioning of any slave ever rescued or confiscated. The rest of the slaves are even worse. Leanna may well be the first to be able to have a full and independent life outside of slavery. After so many failures, Star Fleet needs a conspicuous success to boost morale."

Forest was partly mollified, but shi was still concerned about the other slaves. "You said that the rest of the slaves are worse off. Canít you treat them in some way and give them jobs too? Surely thereís some hope for them?"

Rosepetal and Boyce looked at each other, sadly aware of things that Forestwalker was ignorant of. Boyce looked back at Forest and said, "Youíve never met any other slave besides Leanna, have you?" When Forest shook hir head to indicate that shi hadnít, he continued, "After breakfast, you will come with me down to the bays where weíre holding the slaves. Youíre going to get a rude education."

"But what about my duty shift?" shi asked.

"Is there anything that youíre currently doing of great importance or that cannot be reassigned to another person?"

Forestwalker thought for a moment. "Well, Iíd prefer to finish what Iíve started, but other than that, I suppose not."

"Then as of now, Leanna is your assignment. Seeing as you have taken hir under your wing, you may as well keep on doing what you can to make our unusual fennec a useful and happy part of our society. Good luck, because it isnít going to be as easy as it sounds."

Forestwalker was about to protest a bit more when the door chime announced somebody wishing entry.

"Enter!" Rosepetal commanded, and the computer automatically unlocked the door and slid it open to reveal Yeoman díArmand.

She stepped inside and said, "Reporting for nanny duty!" she said with a salute and a smile.

"Good morning, Yeoman," Boyce said. "Shir Forestwalker and I will be going to be inspect the rescued slaves soon, but shi will be back a little later with Leanna Fennec whom I believe you met yesterday?" The yeoman nodded in confirmation. "Due to a change in circumstances, the times when your services will be required may vary after that. Forestwalker will indicate if and when youíre needed. If you are not, see Commander Rosepetal about reassignment."

"Understood, sir," she replied.

"In the meantime," Rosepetal added, "You can find out why my lazy daughter still hasnít come out of her room and started getting ready for classes yet."

DíArmand grinned. "Pardon me, Commander, but sheís like every cat Iíve ever owned Ė hates having her sleep interrupted!"

Rosepetal liked the yeoman, and so let her get away with the cheeky observation, especially as it was quite true in Kaylaís case.

Boyce got up from the table and took his and Roseís plates and utensils to the replicator to be cleaned while Forest took hir kitten, slumbering again after filling hir stomach, back to the cot to rejoin Ember. By the time shi returned, Kayla was sitting at the table disdainfully eyeing a bowl of what looked like kibble, but was actually the Caitian equivalent of breakfast cereal. Obviously shi thought it a poor substitute to continued sleep and Forest smiled sympathetically. Shi then went to don hir uniform and straighten hir hair, then met Boyce at the entry door.

Boyce touched the door sensor and it slid open. "After you, Specialist Forestwalker."

"Thank you, Captain Kline," shi replied, and with that they were both officially on duty.

"While a handful of those we rescued have been given a cabin, like Leanna," Boyce explained as they headed to their goal in the trans-lift, "We donít have more than a very few spares. Therefore weíve had to make most of them comfortable in a couple of the hangars. Frankly though, a cabin would have been wasted on most of them."

"Why do you say that?" Forest queried.

"Youíll soon see. Most cannot even appreciate what theyíre given."

"That sounds suspiciously like bigotry, which is most unlike you."

"As I said, you will see for yourself. If you have any suggestions after that, Iíll be glad to listen."

Forest was quietly confident that there had to be something that could be done to improve things for the refugees stay in the ship. Shi was soon going to regret that assumption.

"Here we are - port and starboard main hangars. Weíre going into the control room between them," Boyce directed. He let the chakat precede him and followed closely behind. He nodded acknowledgement to the crew members stationed there monitoring the living cargo. "Come over here to the direct observation window, Forestwalker," he said, walking over to the port window.

Forest did so and saw the huge number of morphs; feline, canine, vulpine, musteline, and many, many more. The first thing that shi noticed was that at least half of them were engaged in sexual acts of every imaginable kind. Shi carefully refrained from extending hir empathic senses into that morass of emotions. Then shi started noticing some of the more extreme body modifications on some of them and hir eyes were glued to the scene in horrid fascination.

Admiral Kline, who had seen this sort of thing several times before, was more inured to the sight, and he proceeded to explain some details. "About 95% of any slave cargo consists of sex slaves of one kind or another. Up until Leanna, not one of those has ever been found to have more than sufficient intelligence to eat, go to the toilet, bathe, and follow the basic instructions for sexual intercourse. Most can barely talk. All of them are programmed with a deeply ingrained desire to have sex, often and in many ways. If they do not have a master to take care of their lusts, they find the next best thing. None of these creatures are capable of appreciating a proper cabin, nor use any of its facilities other than the head or shower. The temporary facilities that we have set up here are more than adequate for those needs. By keeping them together, they can at least tend to their sexual needs. You donít want to see what happens if you keep them apart for a few days. And thatís just your standard sex slave. Then we have the exotics."

Forest was already beginning to get an idea of what Boyce meant by Ďexoticsí. Shi felt shi needed to say something, but hir jaw just hung slack and no words came out.

Boyce continued. "As you can see, some of them have been greatly modified to suit some personís particular fetish. Enormous breasts, some so big that the poor creature can barely walk with them. Some produce enough milk to put a dairy cow to shame, but with no control over the flow. A couple of pseudo-herms amongst this lot, not true herms like Leanna. Some incapable of walking upright despite obviously being a biped, and forced to move about on hands and knees like horses or cows. Some with extraÖ orifices, shall we say. Some even permanently pregnant and popping out virtual clones of themselves every few months. And this isnít even the full gamut of every kink Iíve ever seen."

Forest felt tears of pity welling in hir eyes. Here was everything about bio-engineering gone insane. How could people do this to living creatures?

Boyce put his hand on Forestís arm to steer hir over to the starboard observation window. Forest was reluctant to go, frightened of what shi was going to see there, but realising that shi had to witness everything to know fully what shi was talking about. "And now, the males. If you thought the females were bad, you should see some of the things that they do to the males."

Forest gasped as the scene hit hir senses and shi closed hir eyes in denial for a few moments before forcing hirself to look again.

Boyce continued stoically. "Again we have the common male sex slave, average build, but with a non-stop desire to have sex. Theyíre the lucky ones. Over there you can see several with permanent erections. And not because of a penile bone either. Imagine the pain of an erection that just wonít quit. Some have huge penises, probably too big for many females. One," Boyce pointed to a particular morph, "has a cock so big it drags on the floor. Utterly useless for intercourse, but apparently stroking it gets him off just as much. The size of their testes varies from large to ridiculously huge. Some of these creatures have huge appetites for food, half of which is to provide energy for constant sex, the other half to produce virtual rivers of semen. There may be far fewer males than females, but keeping their hangar clean is a far greater task than for the other. Once again we have those with extra appendages, several she-males, a couple of equinoids with hooves instead of hands that need help to perform various functions, and Iíve even seen one morph whose tongue is literally another penis, complete with semen produced in a scrotum under his chin. I wonder if he can properly taste food at all.

"And people have the nerve to say that chakats are sexual perversions," Forest murmured. "Those people should see this sort of thing before they judge anyone."

"Indeed," Boyce agreed. "And then there are the truly sad cases." He indicated a cluster of very beefy types who were just sitting around in a bunch, seemingly uninterested in anything. "Those are heavy labour morphs. They are built for strength and endurance, and theyíre utterly sexless. They are incapable of feeling any sort of physical pleasure, but because they have to be smart enough to follow complex instructions, they are also smart enough to know that they are missing out on something pleasurable. Their only reason for existence is to work until they drop."

"Enough!" cried Forestwalker, tears streaming from hir eyes, partially blinding hir as shi tried to make hir way out of the control room. Shi stopped outside, sobbing hir heart out. Boyce joined hir, putting his arm around hir shoulders in comfort. Eventually shi calmed down enough for him to say, "Now do you understand why dealing with rescued slaves is a difficult business?"

Forest nodded. "HowÖ what do you do with thoseÖ creatures?"

"As I said, most are incapable of doing anything except provide sexual services. If we neutralised their sex drives, they would literally sit around doing nothing until they keeled over from lack of interest in living. Frankly, there are no good solutions, only the least unacceptable ones. The best slaves are treated to bring them as close to normalcy as possible, and are usually found places at legal brothels where their needs are taken care of for the rest of their lives. They actually have very happy lives, better than any other alternative. The trick is to do the same for the more extreme cases. Not all can be helped. Some donít even want to keep living."

"I donít think I dare ask what happens to some of them," Forest admitted. "Can we go back to our cabin now? I need some time to recover."

"Definitely," Boyce agreed, and they both headed for the trans-lift. As it moved swiftly to their destination, Boyce asked, "Now do you understand why we find Leanna to be so important?"

"Because shiís intelligent and capable of making a life for hirself without constant intervention from Star Fleet," Forest speculated. "Shi will be a symbol of hope."

"Hope. Such a powerful emotion. We live in the hope of putting a halt to this cruel trade. All morphs deserve a better fate than those weíve just seen."

Forestwalker sipped at a soothing mug of tea. Boyce gave hir a hug and kiss before saying, "I have to go now, love. Other duties call. When youíre ready, go fetch Leanna and learn what you can about hir, and start teaching hir everything shi needs to know about fitting into Federation society. Shiís your number one priority until we get back to Earth."

"Okay Boyce. I mean yes, Captain."

Boyce smiled. "Leannaís lucky to have you to help hir." Then he left, the door swishing quietly closed behind him.

After Forest felt sufficiently revitalised, shi made hir way to Leannaís cabin. Touching the door chime brought an immediate response, and shi stepped inside the room to see Leanna seated in front of the computer, apparently looking up some information. "Find anything interesting?" Forest asked.

Leanna started apologetically, "I found it unlocked and I assumed that it was okay."

Forest held up a hand to stop hir. "Itís alright. If we didnít want you to use it, we would not have given you access to it. Sensitive military information and other subjects are only accessible to those with the appropriate clearance, so anything else you find on there is freely accessible to anyone. So, how are you feeling today?"

"Very good, thank you. Iím still wondering whatís in my future though."

"A lot of that is up to you, Leanna, but in the meantime, letís talk about each otherís lives. For starters, what would you like to be doing right now?"

Leanna looked thoughtful, then said, "Can we go play with your cubs?"

Forest was startled. "Why do you want to do that?" shi asked with a hint of suspicion, hir motherly protective instincts kicking into gear.

"You wanted to know about my life? Well, for a long time Iíve wanted a mate and children of my own, but youíve told me that there are no other fennec morphs to your knowledge, and my master told me that I canít have children, so the thing that most closely comes to fulfilling my desires is to play with and care for other peopleís cubs. My master wouldnít let me do that either. Will you?" Shi looked Forest directly in the eyes.

Forestwalker extended hir empathic senses to verify what shi was saying. Earnestness. Sincerity. Hope! Forestwalker relented. "If the cubs keep taking to you like they did yesterday, I canít see why not. I could do with a bit more help with them." ĎRight under my nose, Midnight told me. Shi may have been more right than shi had realised.í

The two made their way back to Forestís cabin. There they found Yeoman díArmand attending to an upset chakat cub. Ember had woken early, but without hir mother there to comfort hir, shi had been grizzling and misbehaving. "Any problems, Yeoman?" Forest asked.

"Nothing unusual," she replied with equanimity. "But seeing as youíre here, would you like to comfort Ember while I prepare a snack for hir to drink?"

"Actually, pass hir to Leanna," Forest replied. "Letís see if you have the touch, my dear."

The Yeoman carefully handed the cub over to the slightly nervous but willing fennec. Whether Leanna indeed had the touch, or whether Ember was merely distracted by the new friendly face, the child stopped hir griping and stared curiously at Leanna, who tickled hir under the chin and otherwise played with the cub. Soon shi was gurgling with laughter and Forest was quite pleased with the first encounter with the infant. Nevertheless, a chakat cub is considerably larger than a biped cub, and bigger again than a petite fennec child, so Leanna was soon showing the strain of holding hir. Forest gave Leanna a nudge and indicated that shi should put Ember down on a couch, which shi did so with a tinge of relief. The Yeoman held out a bottle of warmed chakat milk with a bit of honey mixed in it Ė a treat for a cub. Leanna put the teat to Emberís muzzle, and shi grabbed the bottle, pulling it closer to suckle on it enthusiastically. It was the first time Leanna had ever fed a baby, and the dream of it didnít match the pleasure of the real thing. Shi turned to look at Forestwalker.

"Could IÖ would I be able to feed herÖ hirÖ some of my own breast milk?

Forest smiled knowingly. "I can understand you wanting to do that, but I think weíd better get your milk tested first before we try that. Knowing something of whatís in it, I think weíd better be safe than sorry."

Leanna nodded, disappointed but understanding. Ember quickly finished the small snack and was now quite happy, fed and in the presence of several people paying attention to hir! Shi squirmed in Leannaís grasp and slid free to the floor, then toddling away, distracted by whatever trivial thing caught hir attention next.

"Well, I think thatís one vote in," said Forest with a smile. "Now, whatís keeping my two little terrors so quiet?"

Yeoman díArmand said, "A new game that I brought them today. Just one thing in my arsenal of child-minding tricks." She gave Forest a broad grin.

"I may have to get you to make a few notes for me, I reckon," Forest replied. "Come on Leanna, letís see if we can join in!"

And so Leanna was introduced into the family life of Forestwalker, who watched carefully as the little fennec indulged hir wildest dreams. Shi had wondered if the reality of child-care would live up to Leannaís long-held fantasies, but after a day spent playing, teaching, scolding, feeding, and all the myriad other things that raising children entails, Leanna came through with a blissful smile on hir face. Forest was much encouraged. Perhaps a sex toy could aspire be something more than what shiíd been made for. Forest earnestly hoped so.

Leanna participated in the family meal again that evening, and Rosepetal had made sure that shi was dressed as attractively as possible considering hir problem. The others made an effort to dress for the occasion too, because Boyce wanted to make it a semi-formal occasion to give Leanna hir due. It was a carefully orchestrated affair in order to bolster the fennecís ego and to help put hir more at ease with the rest of the family, but nevertheless it was quite sincere.

"So, you have a choice now, Leanna," Boyce told hir. "Weíre quite happy to let you use that cabin and its facilities until we put in at the Star Base, with no obligation from you, or else you can take on the important task of looking after our precious children. Everybody has given you glowing reports so far, and Iíd like to find out if this would suit you."

"Would it!" Leanna started enthusiastically before recalling hir incipient problem. A little more restrained, shi added, "I think Iíd like that, but perhaps we should wait one or two days before we finalise that?"

"That would probably be best anyway," Boyce added nodding. "A probationary period until all the family agrees that your dedication and abilities are no longer in question.

Leanna nodded agreement. "Thank you, everyone. I never expected in my wildest hopes to have been taken in by such wonderful Ö people such as yourselves." Leanna had almost slipped and said Ďmastersí, which shi knew would have annoyed them, even if shi still truly believed that shi was a slave and they were hir new owners, even though they were kind and considerate to a fault. This was how a master/slave relationship should be, and Leanna was content with the arrangement.

Forestwalker came looking for Leanna next morning in hir cabin. Shi had been expecting the fennec to turn up by hirself, but not only did shi fail to arrive, shi wasnít answering the intercom. Fortunately, Yeoman díArmand had turned up as usual, not having yet been reassigned, which left Forest free to investigate. The cabin door was locked, and no response was made to the call button. Forest contacted Midnight to get hir to override the security and went inside. Shi halted just within the doorway, brought up short by the intense scent in the air of the cabin. Male mating scent. Shi spotted Leanna on the bed, a huddled mass of matted fur slowly writhing. A soft moan came from hir.

"Nooo! Go away!" Leanna almost hissed.

Forest started approaching hir anyway though, only to be brought up short again as a wave of intense emotion struck hir empathic senses - a mixture of fear, despair, sadness, and above all, lust. Forest braced hirself and began walking forward again. Stopping at the bedside, shi could see that Leanna was sporting a huge erection. Although it wasn't quite Forestís own in size, for the little fennec, it seemed impossibly large. It was fully engorged, veins bulging, and the tip glistening with natural lubricant, yet there was no indication that Leanna had actually ejaculated. Not understanding what was happening, Forest watched for a moment before thinking, ĎLeannaís in high rut, but itís obvious shi hasnít given hirself relief. Why in heaven not? Shi looks like shiís been like this for ages

Shi reached out to Leanna who shrank away from Forestís touch and cried out, "No! Only the master!!!"

"The master? What do you mean, Leanna?" Forestwalker asked urgently.

For a brief moment, Leanna seemed to become more lucid. "Only my master may touch me when Iím in rut. Only the master can take my pleasures. Only he can help Leanna now. Bring me my master!" shi almost shrieked the last.

"Your master is dead, Leanna. Youíre free, remember? Canít I help you?" Forest implored.

Leanna panted heavily for a few moments, then said, "Leanna is never free. Her master controls her even now. He forbids Leanna to be with anyone else when she is in rut, or else he will punish Leanna. Punish Leanna. Punish! PUNISH! PUNISH!"

Forest reeled backed from the force of the emotion. Just when shi thought that shi couldnít be shocked any further, Leannaís desperate need and utter frustration tore at hir. ĎHir master conditioned hir to accept nobody else while shiís in rut! Shi will tear hirself apart if I donít do something.í Forest decided to help hir in the typical chakat manner, a decision shi would soon regret making so hastily. Shi reached out to Leanna again, straining hir untrained Talent to project calmness, reassurance and a desire to help. Leanna still flinched back from hir touch, but did not restart hir tirade. Encouraged, Forest slowly reached further until shi laid hir hand on Leannaís shoulder.

The fennec moaned, but didnít withdraw. Shi whimpered, "Help LeannaÖ helpÖme."

"Leanna," began Forest earnestly, "We Chakats go through rut also, and when we need relief, we seek a friend if we do not have a mate to help us. Let me be that friend. I can relieve your needs."

"No, must haveÖ master," Leanna grated out. However, Forestís attempts to soothe the distressed fennec were beginning to work, and some lucidity was beginning to return again. "But master... is dead. Leannaís master canít help hir now. LeannaÖ free?"

"Yes! Youíre free to choose, Leanna. Choose to relieve your needs with me. I will understand your needs and help you. Just donít let your dead master rule you anymore!"

Leannaís eyes finally met with Forestwalkerís, the desperation now tinged with hope, but strangely, also with concern. Forest could not understand why the latter emotion was present, but was willing to work with what was offered. Shi took the emotion of hope and stoked it with hir abilities, praying that shi was doing it correctly, and for the first time regretting not having taken the training that shi had been offered. "Let me be your partner, Leanna. Fulfil your need in me."

For a moment there was a glimpse of desperate clarity. "You donít know what youíre asking, Forest. Truly you donít."

"Let me be the judge of that, Leanna. I might not have been raised as a sex slave, but Iíve certainly had a lot of experience."

Leanna actually laughed at that, but it was a horrible humourless sound. "You have no idea what itís like to be a sex slave. You only think you understand. You donít want to understand!"

Forest was determined though. "All I know is that a friend is in need and I can help hir."

Leanna was about to argue more when another wave of hormones hit hir and shi shuddered under the impact. Hir reason was clouded again, but it left behind the one impression Ė the means to hir release. Hir desperation was such that it achieved what had never happened before. Shi looked at Forest consumed by raw desire.

Forest wasnít thrilled about the look of pure animal lust that Leanna gave hir, along with the matching wave of emotion, but shi was hardly going to back out now. Chakats werenít hampered by foolish notions about sex, and if this would help, then shi would go through with it. It couldnít be too bad. How wrong shi would realise shi was! Shi turned hir rear to Leanna, lifting hir tail in invitation.

Leannaís eyes locked on Forestís sex, then shi totally lost control. Shi surged up off the bed and, totally without any subtlety, rammed hir penis into Forestís waiting vagina. Forest yelped, utterly stunned by the violence of the entry, too shocked to react quickly. During that moment, Leanna took a death-grip on Forestís tail in one hand and a handful of fur in the other. Shi then drew back and thrust again with such power that it utterly belied the petite fennecís size. It took all of Forestís willpower to restrain the reflex to expel the offending appendage from within hir.

Forest was now doubly distressed. Hir empathic Talent worked best when in intimate contact with the subject. Now it was working far too well. Hir senses were instantly flooded with Leannaís raw emotions, an inexorable need for sex dominating hir. Forestís penis virtually exploded from its sheath as it engorged at an almost painfully fast pace, its ache to be utilised nearly matching Leannaís. In taking on Leannaís needs, shi had also taken on hir problems and shi now felt much of what Leanna had been suffering for hours. Nevertheless, shi gritted hir teeth and bore the brutal pounding of the fennecís mounting. For what seemed ages, Leanna thrust into the chakat again and again, but in fact it was only seconds before Leanna yelped in release as hir semen started pumping into Forestwalker. This barely slowed hir down though, because after only a brief pause, Leanna resumed hir thrusting. However, this time the torture lasted much longer before Leanna cried out again, pumping yet more of hir seed into the already flooded vagina.

Forest whimpered, only now fully comprehending Leannaís warning. Shi couldnít even seem to be able to break the empathic link that inexorably poured the full gamut of Leannaís emotions into hir. Yet there was one straw to grasp at in that flood, and Forest latched onto it in desperation. Shi sensed that Leanna was finally attaining the much-needed relief, and some semblance of sanity was returning to the chaos of emotions. Leanna resumed hir thrusting yet again, but unlike the first two times, the sheer desperation was gone. Now there was merely a strong need rather than a blind urge. The sex was rough but tolerable, and Forestís echoed need for sex was now abating. With a moan, Leanna climaxed for a third time, then slowly collapsed onto Forestwalkerís rump.

Forest looked back at Leanna, watching as the fennec panted raggedly. Shi took the moment to try to gather hir own scattered wits and wondering if shi would have to go through any more like that. Leanna finally stopped panting and stirred, then opened hir eyes, the light of sanity in them returning. Leanna returned Forestís gaze tiredly, then deliberately started disengaging from the aching chakat. "Iím sorry, Forest. I tried to warn you, but I have no restraint whatsoever when Iím in rut. I knew you would not like the experience."

"Yes, youíre right, but I survived and learned a lesson. How in the Makerís name did your master survive such treatment though?" Forest asked as Leanna withdrew that disturbingly large penis from hir vagina, noting that it was still erect and ready for action.

Leanna slumped up against the bed, too spent for the moment to bother getting off the floor. "He didnít have to. He also conditioned me to never harm him. Even at my worst, that conditioning prevented me from ever going beyond a certain point with him." ĎAlthough that eventually didnít stop me from overdosing him,í shi thought to hirself. "I had no such compulsion holding me back with you though, so you got the worst of it. I tried to stop you for that reason, but I couldnít get my thoughts together coherently." Shi looked down at the offending appendage. "This thing has ruled my existence every cycle of my lifetime."

"You didnít masturbate. Am I right in presuming that you were conditioned not to relieve yourself?"

"Thatís correct. He wanted nobody else to take my male pleasures during rut, not even myself. He controlled me utterly. He still controls me."

"No he doesnít. You broke the conditioning this time enough to seek relief with me. We can work on breaking that entirely. You donít know what our medical staff can achieve."

Leanna hesitated, hardly daring to hope that Forestwalker was correct. "I suppose I must believe that what science can do, it can also undo. At least the old-fashioned way has helped me for now."

"Yes, but youíre trying to fool me now. I can tell that you still need more."

Leanna wanted to deny it, but eventually nodded. "Youíre right, the urge is still there, but itís under control for the moment."

"Would one more time abate it completely?"

"Not totally, but for several hours at least. I canít ask you to do more than you have already though."

"Letís face it, Leanna. You couldnít do more to me than you already have. I can take another mounting at the level youíre at now and it would hardly affect me, but for you it would make a great difference. This may have been a partial mistake in the first place, but at least letís finish it so we can deal with it better afterwards."

Leanna was tempted to argue, but Forest had quite possibly saved hir by hir ill-considered actions, and shi did not wish to seem ungrateful for the chakatís sacrifice. Shi nodded agreement, and Forest resumed the position. This time though, the mounting was controlled, making the most of the time spent joined to salve Leannaís remaining urges. This time, when climax came, it was not merely a physical pleasure but an emotional one also.

Forest latched onto that emotion with relief. It soothed hir upset nerves and released the remnants of the lust imposed upon hir body. For the first time, Forest also orgasmed. The two sighed in unison as the mutual release drained the last of their energy. They laid together, still joined, until Leannaís penis finally became flaccid and retracted.

A long time passed before Forest felt they were both ready to proceed. Forest got up off the floor, then helped Leanna up also. "Letís both get cleaned up. I think Iíd better take you to see the doctor after that to see if we can do something a bit more permanent about your problem. I donít think I want to go through that experience ever again. I think thatís what I should have done in the first place."

Leanna paused as hir impulse to keep quiet warred with hir newly awakening sense of independence. Eventually shi said, "Yes, you should have. Forgive me if I seem ungrateful, but you had no right to do what you did. I was in no state to make a balanced decision, and if I am as free as you keep insisting, that should have been a consideration."

Forestwalker was startled, then hung hir head in shame. "Youíre right. I can only say in my defence that itís how we Chakats usually go about dealing with such problems, and itís a reliable and pleasant method. Sometimes I need to be reminded that not everyone thinks like a Chakat."

Leanna nodded, willing to let it go at that. Shi realised that shi needed to learn more about these creatures, not to mention the other species in this Federation, before shi started making too many waves. For the moment, shi would try to keep hir mouth shut and hir eyes and ears open.

The two cleaned up in Leannaís bathroom, Forest letting Leanna go first while shi prepared an energy drink for the fennec. After all that time in rut, shi had to be badly dehydrated and hungry. Leanna had to be restrained from drinking it too fast. Forest told hir to let it settle before having more if shi needed it, then went to have hir turn in the bathroom. When Forest was done, shi came out to find Leanna asleep on the couch, the empty glass slipped out of hir hand and dribbling its dregs onto the fabric. Forest was struck by how cute and innocent Leanna looked like that, in such stark contrast to how shi was really like.

Forest took advantage of the time to check back with Yeoman díArmand, then got clothing for Leanna ready for when they went to see the doctor. Shi then settled onto a rug to rest while shi waited for Leanna to wake. Without intending to do so, shi fell asleep also, worn out from the encounter.

Shi woke, disturbed by the sound of Leanna going to the bathroom. Despite hir tiredness, other neglected needs had awoken the fennec after only about an hour and a half. Shi smiled at the Chakat. "It seems I wasnít the only one to zonk out."

"Obviously not," Forest replied with a lopsided grin as shi got up off the rug. "Are you hungry, or would you like to go see the doctor now?"

"I need a bit more to drink, but then Iíll be ready. You want me to put on these clothes?" shi asked, indicating the apparel that Forest had left beside hir.

"Yep. Same reasons as before. We really need to get you outfitted better."

Leanna was dubious about that. Shi still felt uncomfortable when wearing anything but hir fur, but recognised that it was hir conditioning making hir feel that way, and this was a different culture. "Strange that you can get away with leaving your nether regions unclothed, while all the bipeds seem to require covering up."

Forest smiled broadly. "Yeah, itís a ítaur thing. Perhaps itís because our lower torsoes are so much like a natural animalís that bipeds seem to have a blind spot for that. Now just you see what happens if I try to get away with not wearing a top while on board this ship!"

Leanna actually smiled at that. It amused hir to think about those strange double standards of humans. Perhaps even some of the other morphs too, if hir observations were correct.

When Leanna was ready, Forest took hir up to sickbay. Upon entering, the only person that shi could see on duty was a rather tall Caitian who looked up from the samples she was examining and smiled at the newcomers. Forest smiled back and asked, "Would you happen to be Doctor MíLai Saarath?"

"Thatís correct. Let me guessÖ youíre Chakat Forestwalker. Midnight told me about you." She stepped up to Forest to give hir the traditional chakat greeting hug.

Forest responded in kind, appreciating MíLaiís pneumatic chest at the same time. "And shi told me about you too. Shiís rather impressed with you, but donít tell hir that I told you that!" shi added with a wink.

MíLai laughed. "You didnít mention what shi was impressed with. Anyway, I doubt that you came here to discuss that. What can I do for you, Forestwalker?"

"Iíd like you to meet Leanna Fennec. Shi is one of the morphs whom we liberated from the slaver ship. Shi has a problemÖ several problems actuallyÖ and weíre hoping that you can do something about them."

Leanna stepped forward. Shi gazed up at MíLaiís smiling face. At 193cm, she towered over both the chakat and the fennec. Shi observed MíLaiís strong build and extra large breasts, then asked, "Are you a lion morph? You seem to have been built for the sex trade also."

MíLai was startled by that ingenuous comment, then laughed. "No, Iím not from a former sex slave species. In fact Iím not even a morph. Iím a native of the planet Cait. My endowments, although unusual, are natural."

"A Caitian?" Leanna said in a puzzled voice. "Iíve met a Caitian named Rosepetal. I see a similarity, but she is far shorter than you, and with much smaller breasts. You also have a slightly different body language."

Both Forest and MíLai were startled by the keen observations. MíLai answered, "Youíre correct, and Commander Rosepetal is indeed a far more typical example of my species. Why Iím like this is a long story, and not one Iíll be talking about right now. I believe youíre the one who came in for examination, yes?" She smiled reassuringly at Leanna.

Leanna nodded, then got up onto the examination table that MíLai indicated.

MíLai asked, "So what are these problems that you want me to treat?" Forestwalker then explained Leannaís condition, with the fennec occasionally interjecting some comments. MíLai absorbed the information, fascinated by the task that had been laid upon her. When the two had finished giving her all the details, she said, "Okay, Iíll do a thorough scan of you, Leanna, and run a few tests. At this time, do you wish to ask Forestwalker to leave so that we can conduct the examination in privacy?"

Forest was startled by that, but quickly realised that the doctor was correct. As a free person, Leanna had the right to a confidential examination. Leanna was even more surprised. Nobody had ever given hir such rights before, and they sat uncomfortably on hir as much as clothing did. Nevertheless, shi made a decision and said, "No, let hir stay. Shi may need to know these answers also."

MíLai nodded, then started the examination. Firstly, she took a sample for DNA analysis. While that was running, automatic scanners built into the examination table dealt with many of the other tests. MíLai also brought out a variety of specialty equipment to take specific readings of various aspects of Leannaís unique anatomy. Finally the lengthy examination was completed, leaving a mountain of data for the doctor to analyse.

"Okay," MíLai began, "This is going to take a while to go through and thoroughly analyse, then start building a treatment program. I will get you to come back tomorrow for more information, but there are some things that I can do in the interim. Do you have any questions that I can deal with right now?"

Leanna said, "Yes. Is there anything that you can do to stop the rut that Iím going through right now."

MíLai answered, "Yes, but it would only be a stop-gap treatment at this stage. The problem would recur next cycle."

"What can you do for me right now?"

MíLai hesitated, then said, "I really must insist on privacy when discussing this with my patient, Shir Forestwalker. If shi chooses to discuss this with you later, thatís hir privilege."

Forest nodded. "Alright, but may I ask one question before I leave? Leanna may choose to not have it answered if shi wishes."

"Certainly. What would you like to know?"

"When I saw Leanna in rut, shi had a full erection. Hir penis was disproportionately large for hir body size. In fact I canít see how it could fit in hir sheath when flaccid. Can you tell me the reason why?"

MíLai looked at Leanna who said, "Actually Iíd like to know that also. My master never explained how it was like that, just the why Ė he liked big cocks. He wanted to have the biggest that could be inserted into him. I was the recipient of that desire. Why he should want a vixen to have a penis too, I fail to understand."

MíLai frowned in thought. "Leanna, do you think that youíre just a vixen with male equipment added?"

Leanna was surprised at the question. "Of course. I have the body of a female, all the lusts of a female when not in rut, and when Iím normal, all I ever think of is getting a male mate and starting a family with him. The male organs were just my masterís kinky fetish."

MíLai shook her head. "Leanna, the data says otherwise. You have a 100% integrated sexual reproduction system, and as far as I can see so far, every other aspect of a male. You are a true hermaphrodite, equally capable of siring a child as bearing one, just like a chakat. The equipment is not just for show or sex."

Leanna was a little disturbed by that news. Whatever else that had happened to hir, and despite the changes shi had already undergone recently, shi still thought of hirself as a vixen, albeit one burdened with extra equipment. This revelation was going to take a lot of thought and adjustment. It frightened hir. Then one fact MíLai mentioned came to the fore. "You said I could both sire and bear children, but my master told me that I was sterile, incapable of having kits."

MíLai double-checked her data. "No, youíre quite able to have children, once the contraceptive implants are removed. Werenít you aware of those?"

Leanna was shocked to the core. One of the most fundamental barriers to hir happiness had always been hir inability to bear children of hir own, and to learn that it was not the caseÖ. Leanna pounded the table with both hir fists. "That son-of-a-bitch LIED! That misbegotten bastard deceived me! He said that I could never have a family because he had made me infertile. Why? Why did he lie to me?"

Forestwalker said, "Because it made you easier to control. Because it made you feel bad, and he seems to have enjoyed doing that to you. He was probably looking forward to the day when he could reveal that you were in fact a future breeder, and still deny you a true mate. Iíll bet he planned to make you a baby factory."

Leanna was burning white hot with rage. Never in hir life had shi felt like this. Never had shi been in a position to be able to react. For the first time in hir miserable life, shi released all emotional restraint and screamed. Shi pounded the table, denting it with the force of hir blows. Shi lashed out at everything in reach until strong hands restrained hir. Shi wailed and burst into tears as shi struggled against the restraint. Eventually though, the catharsis of crying brought hir back to hir senses.

"You can let go now," shi told the others.

They did so, and MíLai fetched a cloth to wipe Leannaís tear-soaked fur.

"Thank you," Leanna said. "I apologise for the outburst. In a way though, this was a worse thing than my rutting ever was."

"No need to apologise, Leanna. We understand. And the good news is that you can look forward to eventually finding a mate and having a family if thatís what you wish."

Leanna smiled thinly. "First I have to figure out how I stand. Finding out that Iím as much male as female is going to take a bit of a mental adjustment. But youíre right, that is a goal that may be in my reach now."

"Donít let your bias fool you, Leanna. Iím a true herm, but I favour my female side. Midnight favours hir male side, and my sister, Goldfur, is pretty much middle of the road. The only constant is that we always enjoy the flip side of our sexuality also. You can be a herm, yet enjoy behaving like a vixen. Just donít lock out other possibilities also."

"Are you always going to be this full of advice, Forest?" Leanna asked with curiosity tinged with tolerant amusement.

"Iím afraid so," Forest answered with a smile. "Iíve a bad habit of wanting to get involved and helping people, whether they ask for it or not."

Leanna nodded. "I think I can live with that for now," shi decided. Then shi remembered something. Turning to MíLai, shi said, "You never did get a chance to answer that question about my penis."

MíLai called up an image on the screen and pointed out various features as she explained. "Itís pretty ingenious actually. Youíre right in suspecting that there canít possibly be enough room in your sheath to fit your flaccid penis. Your sheath is actually only an exit point for an opening that goes into your abdomen. It must have taken some fancy calculations to figure out how to do that without complications such as interfering with your female plumbing and passing through the abdominal wall, but the result is that you have room for a vastly larger penis than your size would normally allow, while making your non-aroused form look almost completely female. Thatís why I didnít realise that you were a herm until Forestwalker started using the herm pronouns in relation to you."

"I see. At least I can pass as a vixen if I really want to."

"Indeed," Forest said, "and youíll steal some hearts, Iím sure. Well, I got my answer, even if it was the long way around. Iíll leave you two in privacy now. Shall I wait outside, or will it be too long?"

MíLai said, "Suit yourself, but I recommend you do something else for a while. Iíll page you when weíre done."

"Okay. By the way, Doctor, have you met our Captain yet?" Forest asked.

"No, only Commander Rosepetal. I believe heís seen only the Chief Medical Officer so far on this voyage."

"Ah! Well I think he might be interested in meeting you."

"Oh? Why?"

"Letís just say that youíre his type," Forest said enigmatically as shi padded over to the examination roomís door.

MíLai frowned in puzzlement. "Not that I have anything against humans, but why would he be interested in me?"

"Did you know that he and Commander Rosepetal are lifemates?" shi asked with a grin as the door closed behind hir.

That surprised MíLai. While she frequently fraternised with humans as much as any other attractive males, she hadnít considered that one would want to actually want to be lifemated to a Caitian. Various thoughts were conjured up by this new piece of information, until Leannaís gentle cough brought her attention back to the fennec. "You knew that too?" she asked Leanna.

"Of course. I also know that Forest is also his lifemate. That human has got broad tastes, it seems. I originally thought he was a master who liked having several furries at his beck and call. Turns out that itís Rosepetal who runs the family even though the captain runs the ship."

"Thatís typical of a Caitian family structure. Maybe Forest was correct. I might have to find out for myself why a Caitian chose to have him as a mate." She shook her head to clear those thoughts. "But now, youíre my priority, and we have much to discuss. Make yourself comfortable in that chair, and Iíll go over the main data with you and answer any questions that I can. Iím warning you though that I wonít be able to answer everything until the full analysis is completed by the computer, and maybe not even then if thereís some aspect of your physiology that needs more detailed analysis. A starship sickbay has to cope with a very broad spectrum of possibilities, and is equipped for that purpose. A specialist facility back on Earth might be needed to fully understand you."

"Thanks, but I hope it wonít come down to that," Leanna acknowledged.

MíLai spent quite some time going over the most relevant details with Leanna, but shi had a preoccupation with one particular itemÖ.

"So youíre saying that I donít have to look for another fennec to have children? Forest said that shi wasnít sure that there were any fennec morphs on Earth anymore."

"I could do a database search for you, but it wonít necessarily tell us for sure if there are any other fennecs. I do know many subspecies on Earth were wiped out in the Gene Wars, but survived on the Non-Aligned Worlds. However, according to this data, any vulpine species should be able to interbreed with you, foxtaurs excluded of course. And thereís no shortage of foxmorphs on Earth, I assure you!"

"Thatís good news. Now what about dealing with my rut, and later with my heat period?"

"Is your estrus as bad as the rut?"

Leanna was silent for a while, debating how much shi wanted to say on the subject, then decided that it was likely that the doctor would find out anyway. "In a way, itís worse."

"Worse? You could die if you arenít serviced during your rut. How could there be something worse?"

"Because although Iím as desperate for sex as during the rut, that isnít what bothers me the most, especially since my master never limited me to just himself while I was on heat. No, the problem is that when the heat starts, my mind is quickly reduced to the level of a moron. All my thoughts are replaced by sexual ones, and all my higher intellectual abilities are swept away. I can actually feel myself getting stupider by the minute. Can you imagine what itís like feeling your mind reducing to that of a sex-crazed animal, and not just your body? My master deliberately made me this way, and I will do absolutely anything Iím told to do while in that state. He would then do things to me, or have things done to me that would utterly revolt me later. That is the true horror of the condition Ė I remember everything that happens while Iím in that state, and some of the things that I was made to do while in that condition were unspeakable. My masterís sadistic specialty was never physical. His trademark was mental cruelty."

MíLai almost felt ill at the images that revelation invoked. "Weíve got to make normalising your cycle a priority!"

"Agreed. So what can you do?"

MíLai looked at the results of the analysis again, but the facts hadnít improved. She sighed. "I have two options for you. Thereís the thorough but difficult way, and thereís the easy but incomplete solution."

"Whatís the easy way first?"

"I inject you with drugs that will counteract the hormones that trigger both the rut and the heat. That will stop both of those extremes from ever happening. However, you would have to continue using those drugs forever, and they might have unwanted side effects, maybe even prevent you from having the children that you say that you want. Of course the Terran laboratories might be able to figure out better drugs than I can provide, but take it from one who knows, theyíre not always a good solution. Your bodyís modifications are so complex that it defies a complete analysis, especially as it seems to be in a state of constant flux locked into your cycle."

"And the difficult way?"

"We let your cycle run its course. I will take thorough readings every day during one full cycle, and more often during the peaks. With that data, we should be able to start analysing every bit of that complex body of yours and unravel its secrets, thus enabling us to figure out how to work gene therapy on you that would have permanent results without the bad side effects. But youíll have to go through both the rut and the heat without drugs distorting the readings. So, would you be willing to endure one more estrus like what you described?"

As much as shi despised losing hir mental faculties during hir heat, it was what was done to hir during that period that had always been the worst problem. "If I take the latter option, would there be someone to protect me during my susceptible period?"

"Youíre in the care of a chakat. I donít think itís possible to have a better person protecting you."

"Thatís the impression that Iíve been getting lately. Unusual people, these chakats. However, what about during the remainder of my rut? After what I went through with Forestwalker, Iíd really not have to deal with hir again like that. It would bring back too many unpleasant memories for both of us, and I think shiís already done enough for me in that respect."

MíLai thought for a moment. There was one alternative she could suggest, but wasnít sure whether she should or not. After a few moments, she shrugged and decided to offer it anyway. "Leanna, let me tell you a little about myself and how it relates to you." MíLai then told Leanna the full story behind her childhood illness and the subsequent effects it had on her. "So unlike you, I have a permanent sexual need that is only partly compensated for by drugs. Now what I have to say next must be regarded strictly as a personal offer, and not as a doctorís recommendation. If youíd like, you could spend the remainder of your rut with me. You could work off your needs, and I could work off mine. There would be nothing more beyond that."

Leanna looked at MíLai curiously. "Donít your medical ethics prevent you from asking things like that of your patients?"

MíLai replied, "Well, Caitian ethics differ from standard Federation ethics, so I can stretch a point for this. Thatís why I strongly emphasised that this was a personal offer. Iím sure that Iíd be able to find other sexual partners, and the case is probably the same for you. With me though, you will still have as much confidentiality as you desire."

"Actually Iím only a little concerned about the question of ethics and more about your motives, but they seem quite transparent. Okay, I will take your offer as an option. That only leaves me to decide if I want to go through this cycle one more time, or to finally put an end to it."

"One last thing Ė itís quite possible that the Terran facilities can properly analyse you despite the drugs. I donít want you to think that thereís only two solutions even if theyíre the only ones that I can offer onboard."

Leanna smiled reassuringly at MíLai. "Stop worrying so much. As a sex slaveÖ or I should say former sex slave, having sex with you is not a problem. I donít think youíre taking advantage of me. For me, the prospect of having a family of my own at last is the most important thing, and the sooner that can happen, the better. If you can slap the results of a complete analysis into the hands of someone who can do something about it as soon as possible, then Iím prepared to endure one more cycle knowing that Iím in the hands of people who care for me, for whatever inexplicable reason!"

"I think thatís probably the best course, and Iím glad that you are taking it. How long will it be before you will need to be serviced again?

"Iím not exactly sure, but about eight hours from the first time. The period increases until the rut ends."

"Then perhaps you can rejoin Forestwalker until that time comes. Iíll be off-duty by then. I might have to arrange a duty break for the time after that, but thatís a minor problem."

"Okay, thatís what weíll do then. When do you want me to call you?"

"The moment that you feel that the urge start building again. I want to capture the data as the process is in its early stages. Then we can work on heading it off in the most enjoyable way before it becomes a problem."

"Sounds like a plan. Iíll head off to Forestís cabin now and call you in a few hours."

"Good. Do you want me to call Forest to take you back?"

"No need. I know the way, thanks."

MíLai watched the fennec walk confidently out of sickbay. "Look out universe, thatís one person whoís going to make a place for hirself, no matter what you throw at hir," she murmured to herself.

Leanna was greeted with delight by the cubs, and they all played together until dinnertime. Leanna gave them all a summary of what had been learned about hir, but omitted a few details, mostly pertaining to hir arrangement with MíLai. When the sexual urge returned, Leanna paged the doctor and excused hirself. Shi suspected that Midnight at the very least had figured out what shi was going to do, but was circumspect enough not to say anything.

Shi rendezvoused with MíLai at sickbay. Although the doctor was officially off-duty, she had arranged this special session with the other duty personnel to whom she introduced Leanna as her special patient. Leanna also got to meet Doctor Kelly, M'Lai's boss.

The actual scanning didnít take too long as the calibration for hir had been done already in the first scan. MíLai set the computer to compare and analyse in her absence, and the pair left for MíLaiís cabin. There she pulled out a surprise gift for the fennec.

"Whatís this?" Leanna asked.

"A bra especially designed for you."

"Iíve already explained that I canít wear a bra, or any other top for more than a short period."

"Youíre not the only person with hypersensitivity problems. When Iím in estrus, I often have the same problem, but I sure canít report for duty topless. That bra is built similarly to mine, and theyíre a variation on a maternity bra. Itís padded on the inside, the thickness of which increases the closer it gets to your nipples. Then the padding stops, leaving an open area for the nipple to fit inside without allowing it to actually touch the bra. This one was designed using the scans that Iíd made during your examination, so it should be a perfect fit. Itíll add a tad to your bustline, but youíll be able to wear tops when the occasion demands. Actually I think youíre quite pretty without a top, but now at least youíll have the option."

Leanna decided shi had nothing to lose, so shi tried it on. Once it was correctly fitted, it was very comfortable despite the fact that shi wasnít used to wearing anything, and amazingly, it did indeed do what MíLai claimed it would do Ė stop hir super sensitive nipples from being stimulated. Impulsively, shi hugged the Caitian. "Thanks, MíLai. I love it! Iíll definitely use it for special occasions."

"Youíre welcome, Leanna." She could feel the little fox reacting in other ways too though. "Now itís time to take it off again, as well as the rest of your clothing, no?"

Leanna smiled. "Yes, I think youíre right."

As shi undressed, MíLai noticed hir growing erection. Despite her empirical knowledge, she was still impressed by Leannaís fully erect penis. "An oversized cock for an oversized Caitian. How appropriate!" she murmured.

Leannaís large ears caught the comment and shi grinned. This was the first time ever that shi had chosen a partner for male sex, and the fact excited hir. To be free meant being able to choose, and that was proving to be a delicious thrill. That evening, shi chose to celebrate hir new freedom by giving MíLai the best night that hir skills were capable of doing. Hours later, two tired but very satisfied lovers fell asleep in each otherís arms.


Chapter 4: Getting To Know You  

Leanna was woken by M'Lai quietly getting out of bed. When the Caitian realised that the fennec had woken, she said, "Sorry, Leanna, I had intended to let you try to sleep undisturbed. Iíve got to start getting ready for my next shift. I need to have a shower and breakfast, especially the first! I thought youíd be very tired still and need to sleep in."

"Speak for yourself, M'Lai. I was made for stamina and fast recovery. Iím already fairly refreshed."

"Well, in that case, would you care to join me forÖ breakfast?" M'Lai had briefly entertained the notion of having Leanna join her in the shower, but decided that not only didnít she need any sexual attention at this time, it might prove to be such a distraction as to make her late.

"Now that you mention it, I am hungry. Would you like me to make something for you?" Leanna asked, hir old habit of serving hir bed partners automatically bringing the response.

"No, Iíll get the replicator to have it made fresh and hot when Iím ready. You just take the opportunity to be lazy. Your doctor prescribes taking it easy after yesterdayís events." She winked at Leanna as she entered the bathroom.

Leanna just wasnít used to being treated this way, so it took hir a few moments to get relaxed enough to follow M'Laiís order. Shi took stock of hir body Ė aside from a mild stirring of interest from watching the naked Caitian, hir male urges were still under control and shi felt physically better than any other time in hir life during hir rut. "Looks like I might owe Forest an apology," shi murmured to hirself. "If this is the way things are going to be from now on, Iím already a hundred times better off than my old life." Shi continued to muse over what could have otherwise happened until M'Lai exited the bathroom fully dressed in her duty uniform.

"Your turn now, Leanna. Take as much time as you feel like."

Leanna nodded and took her at her word. Shi even found a pleasant-smelling fur conditioner that seemed to suit hir perfectly. Unlike M'Lai though, shi left the bathroom still unclothed, and totally unconscious of the fact.

M'Lai was just finishing a large breakfast when the fennec came into the living area of her cabin, and grinned when she saw the shiny and fluffy fur and nothing else. "Perhaps we can find something more appropriate for you to wear besides just the undies you arrived in. Would a standard ship outfit suit you?"

Leanna wasnít sure, but had an idea. "Do you think I could have a uniform like yours? That new bra you gave me should enable me to tolerate it."

"That should be doable. So you like the jumpsuit style? Sure you wouldnít prefer the skirt version?"

"Maybe Iíll try one of those later, but let me try the jumpsuit first."

M'Lai nodded and raised her voice to make a command. "Computer! Replicate one standard duty uniform, jumpsuit style, life sciences division, measurements to suit Leanna Fennec." The computer gave the compliance tone that showed that it had understood the order and was processing it. "Go back into the bedroom, Leanna. The replicator for clothing is in there."

Leanna did so, and came back with a one-piece uniform in hir hands, as well as the special bra M'Lai had made for hir. "Strange, it doesnít seem as elastic as yours does."

"How do you think we furred people put on such form-hugging uniforms?" M'Lai asked.

"I had been wondering that," Leanna admitted.

M'Lai grinned. "Put on your bra and just step into the uniform, and Iíll show you the miracle of modern textiles."

Leanna did so, easily slipping hir legs into the loose leggings, then the arms. The back was still open though from under hir tail all the way to the collar. M'Lai came over and straightened it slightly. "Okay, now reach behind your neck and push the two ends of the collar together. Leanna did so, and was startled to feel after a moment the two ends pull themselves completely into alignment and stay together. Shi was about to ask what to do next when shi realised that shi could feel the two sides of the back of the uniform pulling together. "If you feel your fur stopping the seam from merging, just wriggle around a bit to let it slide free. A bit of practice and youíll find what works best for you." A few moments later, the uniform had closed up almost invisibly, stopping just over the base of Leannaís tail, covering it without constricting it. The uniform still hung loosely on hir though. "Last step Ė on the left collar tab, youíll find a hard spot inside. Squeeze it for a second." Leanna did so, and then suddenly the uniform started shrinking. It settled snugly but not too tightly against hir fur, moulding itself to every contour of hir body. The bra did its job well though, so while Leannaís smallish bust was proudly evident, shi had no undesired stimulation from the snug fit. Shi twisted around and bent hir limbs, but the material twisted and stretched effortlessly to match hir movements. It was almost like having another fur coat.

"Iím impressed. Maybe they have similar materials back where I came from, but Iíve never seen this. I like it!"

"And thatís how we get into a tight uniform without seriously rubbing our fur the wrong way. I personally like the jumpsuit, but other furred species like a looser style of clothing, like the two-piece version with the slacks instead. Give them a try too sometime."

"Iíll do that," Leanna said, nodding. "What about shoes? I noticed that some species wear them and others donít."

"Humans always wear them, but their feet tend to be soft and easily injured. Besides, a part of it is a throwback to the times when there was only the human race and they always had footwear as part of the uniform. Nowadays though they have to cope with morphs and aliens also. Digitigrade people like myself usually go barefooted for many reasons, but mainly because itís better for our balance. We do have shoes suited to our feet though, but theyíre only for use where protection is a safety issue, or for full ceremonial uniform. Plantigrades like yourself may go barefooted also provided your feet are suited to that. Did you want shoes?"

"Oh, no I donít. Iíve never worn anything on my feet." Leanna was relieved not to have to cope with those at this time. "How come you gave me the Life Sciences uniform? Isnít there a general purpose one?"

"No, not in the proper uniforms anyway. There are shipsuits for off-duty use, or for non-crew usage. I thought this division suited your need best, even though youíre technically not crew."

"What do all the other colours stand for anyway?" Leanna asked ingenuously, although shi was actually seeking more information to help hir get a better handle on hir plans.

"Letís seeÖ Green you already know is for Life Sciences, including Medical, red is for Operations & Command, gold is for Engineering and Technicians, blue is for Physical Sciences, purple covers Communications, Cryptography, Intelligence and Logistics, grey is worn by Security, Weapons Officers and Fighter pilots, while white is the colour of Protocol and Ambassadors. Then there's the tan ones which are used by Ship's Services personnel which I suppose would have suited your position better, but you'd be too likely to be grabbed by anyone and be given a job for which you aren't qualified."

Leanna nodded, absorbing that information for later use. "Thanks. I suppose I do qualify as an interesting Medical subject." Shi said it with a smile though so that M'Lai would not think that shi was serious about being regarded as a test specimen.

"Youíre welcome. However, my time is up and I need to head off to sickbay. Do you want me to escort you back to your cabin?"

"Itís okay, I can get there by myself."

"Good. Help yourself to some breakfast first if you want. And as before, as soon as you feel the urges coming upon you again, come see me for a scan andÖ ummÖ clinical treatment," M'Lai added with a wink.

"You can be sure that Iíll do that, M'Lai," Leanna said sincerely as the Caitian departed and the door swished closed behind her. Leanna checked the time and decided that shi had better head off to Forestís quarters without taking the time for breakfast first. Shi could easily enough get it there, and shi wanted to test something first before they started looking for hir. Shi exited M'Laiís cabin and started walking down the corridor, not like an unsure visitor might, but as a crewman familiar with the route and somewhat blasé about it. Shi deliberately took a longer route rather than the most direct one so that shi would encounter more people along the way. Several crew persons saw hir but ignored hir, or gave hir the type of smile that was intended as being friendly to a fellow crewmember whom they did not know. Either way, Leanna passed as completely unremarkable in hir uniform, nobody recognising hir for what shi really was. Leanna had to suppress a grin of self-satisfaction. "This ought to give me a bit more freedom of movement without being questioned as to why Iím in certain areas," shi thought to hirself. An accomplished spy like hirself found this to have been ludicrously easy, although shi had to admit that it was M'Laiís inspired bra design that made it possible. Shi had been prepared to try tolerating a uniform top for a while to accomplish hir plans, but shi was relieved not to have the need to do so.

Although shi took a longer route, nevertheless shi needed to get to Forestís cabin before shi came looking for hir. Shi didnít want to have to tell anyone about M'Laiís Ďtherapyí session as yet. Shi observed and memorised as much as shi could en route though. Arriving at the cabin, shi touch the door announcer.

Forest hirself opened the door, hir face lighting up with pleasure at seeing the fennec. "Ah! I was just about to fetch you. Youíre looking good this morning," shi added as shi stood aside to let Leanna enter. "Where did you get the uniform, and how come you donít seem to be having a problem with it over your breasts?"

"M'Lai provided it for me, as well as the solution to that problem Ė a special bra that prevents my nipples from being stimulated."

Forestwalker smirked. "Now thatís something that did not immediately occur to me. I like the feel of tops across my breasts. A bit of a blind spot with me, I suppose." The bumps of hir nipples clearly showed on hir uniform top, and Leanna was sure that the chakat also liked letting others see that.

Rosepetal had just finished her breakfast, and she walked over to Leanna. "Good morning, Leanna. I trust that the doctor was able to treat your needs adequately?"

"Yes, Commander," Leanna replied. "It was very effective, although Iíll be needing a couple more treatments before the cycle ends. Iíll probably be needing another in a few hours."

"Fine. In the meantime, youíll be doing much the same as you were yesterday. I have something for you though." Rosepetal held up a comm badge for Leanna to see, then attached it in place on hir uniform. "This comm badge has been coded to you so you can contact us anytime, anywhere. Itíll also provide a monitor on your state of health just in case something happens that stops you from responding by yourself."

Leanna was dismayed and chagrined. Shi had totally forgotten about the badges. Hir disguise had had a near fatal flaw, although one that wasnít critical on hir test run. Shi mentally kicked hirself for overlooking that. Shi was dismayed though for another reason also. This badge would have the potential to track hir movements. Although shi was reasonably certain that they werenít concerned about unauthorised movements, shi would still have to allow for this next time shi made a sortie. "Thanks, Commander," shi said ironically.

"It certainly completes the uniform," Rosepetal added. "Iím not sure that you should be wearing that, but Iíll allow it, considering that you are going to be taking an active role on board this ship."

Leanna spent the rest of the morning playing with the cubs, reading to them, and doing educational exercises with them. Forest was getting more and more impressed with the depth of the former slaveís abilities, and the children obviously adored hir. Shi made a mental note to find a way to test the breadth of Leannaís knowledge and abilities. It wasnít until about lunchtime that Leanna felt the renewed urges of hir rut. Shi grabbed a bit of food to help keep up hir energy, then excused hirself to seek out M'Lai again.

The doctor had obviously set up the unscheduled appointment, so she had no trouble getting Leannaís scans done and then taking a break to go to M'Laiís cabin. Both knew that this was not the time for a lengthy leisurely session, so their sexual intercourse, while still quite pleasant, was kept to the minimum required to satisfy Leannaís needs. M'Lai then went back to her duties, leaving Leanna to make hir way back to Forestís cabin. However, that wasnít Leannaís intentions.

Leanna stepped into the trans-lift. From overheard conversations, shi had a pretty good idea of where shi wanted to go without asking for suspicion-raising directions. Forest wouldnít be expecting hir back yet as shi had been purposefully vague on the time the treatments would take, therefore shi had time up hir sleeve to make an unannounced excursion. "Hangar deck!" shi commanded the computer controlling the lift.

Upon arrival at that level, Leanna quickly identified the direction shi needed to take. Pausing outside the control room, shi steadied hirself for what would come next. Hopefully the uniform would allay suspicion, and there would not be a problem for hir to be there, but shi had to try. Shi stepped inside the control room and noticed the large observation windows. Before shi could go to either though, a crewman on duty there spoke to hir.

"Is there anything that I can do for you?" the Voxxan tod asked curiously.

"I just wanted to have a look at the slaves that we rescued. Would that be okay?" shi asked ingenuously.

The tod grinned. "You must be one of the last not to take a peek at them. Quite a sight, they are. Iíll let you have a couple of minutes, but then youíd better leave. Officially theyíre not supposed to be a peep show."

"Thanks," shi smiled gratefully, but inwardly wondered about what the general attitude towards hir fellow slaves really was like amongst the crew. Shi moved over to the right-hand window and observed all the slaves in there, noting that they were all male. After observing their conditions, shi checked out the females in the other hangar. Shi frowned. Even allowing for the fact that ship obviously wasnít designed for transporting large numbers of people, shi wasnít totally satisfied that this was the best that they could do for them. Shi turned to the crewman. "Excuse me, but why are the males and females kept separate?" shi asked.

The crewman looked at hir in disbelief. "We always provide separate quarters for males and females. Besides, think of the orgies that would happen if we mixed them!"

"As opposed to what is happening now?" Leanna asked archly.

"Well, you do have a point there, but itís not my policy to change anyway."

Leanna nodded. Shi knew other reasons that shi couldnít say aloud as it would reveal knowledge that could make him suspicious. Male and female sex slaves were typically mixed in order for them to keep their lusts under control. Being mostly sterile, unwanted pregnancies werenít a problem, although breeders still had to be kept apart. In the short term, segregation wasn't too bad, but long-term separation forced them to seek out relief in other ways, or else made them suffer from abstinence. If the slave-ship had not broken down, they would have been at their destination by now, and and mostly likely in their intended positions where their needs were met. Shi empathised with the plight of hir fellow slaves, and wondered what shi could do about it without revealing any of what shi was doing without permission. However, it was time for hir to get back to the cabin before shi was missed. Shi would contemplate on the problem later.

"Thanks again," shi told the crewman before shi left, quite aware of the appreciative gaze the tod was giving the diminutive fox as shi left. ĎI wonder what he would feel if he knew I was a herm?í shi thought with grim amusement.

Leanna was quietly satisfied with the side trip. As long as nobody tried to trace hir through the comm badge, future unauthorised excursions would likely be possible. In fact shi reckoned that this had been too easy. Perhaps shi could give Midnight a bit of advice on security if shi could ever do so without compromising hirself.

Leanna deftly but subtly steered dinner conversation towards the subject of the slaves, and in the process "discovered" how they were segregated. Shi then raised the point on the deleterious effects of keeping the sexes separated.

"Are you sure thatís a good idea?" Boyce asked. "They were separated on the transport ship."

"True," Leanna conceded, "But they werenít intended to be kept that way for too long. Besides, the slavers donít care as much about their cargo as you claim to do."

"Thatís a bit of low blow, donít you think?" Boyce asked pointedly.

Leanna realised that shi was pushing it a bit too hard. "I didnít mean to offend, Captain, but if you want to help the slaves, thereís more that you can do for them, which I know because I am one of them."

"Was one of them," he replied. "I keep telling you that you are free now."

"Thatís the only reason why I have the nerve to mention this, sir." ĎDonít offend him. Donít reject his statements. Humour him. Heís a human, and they always have been our masters, even when they have their little idiosyncrasies,í went through Leannaís mind. Still, more and more shi was questioning whether this doctrine was completely true. "Aside from those heavy construction workers, the shipment was just for sex slaves, so there shouldnít be a problem putting them together. Thatís what we were bred to do, and thatís what we enjoy doing, whether itís just a matter of being conditioned to feel that way, or we just naturally do."

"Well, for starters, there were a few slaves not intended for sex which we wouldnít want to put in the mixture, such as the rabbit boys who are helping in the galley, and the major domo trained fox that you mentioned."

Leanna stared at him incredulously. Surely he realisedÖ? But no, he seemed genuinely unaware. "Sir, those are sex slaves also. In fact theyíre some of the more sophisticated ones."

"What? But they havenít given any indication of such," Boyce said in puzzlement.

"The bunny brothers, theyíre 100% homosexual, and theyíve been bred to order for a homosexual client who likes two things above all else Ė good food and a good fuck. Left just to themselves, the brothers have been content to cook for everyone half the day, and spend the rest having sex with each other. They were eager to start their job with their intended master as it promised more variety in their sex and a challenge to their culinary talents. As for the major domo, heís been bred as a dom. In the company of humans, heís a supercilious but subservient household controller. Alone with his owner though, she would be sexually submissive to him and he would control all sexual encounters. Thatís exactly what he was bred and conditioned to do, because thatís what the customer wanted. Every slave on that ship who isnít obviously a sex-slave, excepting the heavy labourers, has some sort of hidden use intended."

Boyce mulled over this new information, then sighed. "More headaches. Okay, Iíll see what we can do for them. Thankfully theyíll be out of my hands soon. I donít know if Zhane is going to appreciate my dumping them on her though."

"What about the labourers?" Leanna asked.

Boyceís eyebrow arched inquisitively. "What about them?"

"Have you provided them with entertainment?"

"Iím told that they are tooÖ well, not to put too fine a point on itÖ slow of mind to appreciate anything."

Leanna restrained an exasperated sigh. "Nobody treats them with any respect. Theyíre worked hard and then shoved into a hut to be fed and sleep, then straight back to work. Nobody stops to think that while they are slow of mind, that they wouldnít appreciate some entertainment. Just because they are incapable of sex doesnít mean that they canít appreciate other pleasures. While we were waiting for rescue, I got to know them well, and while none will ever be a chess player, simple games such as checkers utterly delighted them."

By now, Boyce was starting to feel annoyed at having possibly misjudged so many things. However, he now saw the perfect opportunity to approach a subject that heíd been wanting to broach with Leanna since discovering who shi was. "Leanna, I can see that we need some up-to-date information on the slave situation, and youíre obviously the perfect person to help us out there. Starting tomorrow, I want you to come down to where we have them quartered and give us advice. Right now though, you could tell me anything else that you know about the slave trade. I want to put a stop to this widespread abuse of morphs by the Non-Aligned Worlds as much as possible."

Leanna was a bit apprehensive. Shi had painted hirself into a corner. And if that same crewman happened to be on duty when the Admiral took hir down there, shi would have a lot of explaining to do at the very least. Itís not as if shi could even claim that it was another fennec now that shi knew there werenít any others. Still, shiíd deal with that if and when it happened. Perhaps now was the time to start ingratiating hirself further with some information.

"I suppose I can try to help you there. However, I donít understand what you mean by the widespread abuse. My former master and his clientele certainly werenít pleasant people to ever meet, let alone have to deal with intimately, but they arenít a typical example of the usual slave-owners, and Pharos, the world I come from, is something of a pariah amongst the Non-Aligned Worlds."

"Why is that?" Boyce asked.

"Unlike all the other worlds, they donít have anything in their charter to protect the rights of slaves. In fact, so long as you donít make it too obvious to ignore, you can do pretty much anything you like to a morph with impunity."

Until now, the others had been content to listen to the conversation. Now though, Rosepetal broke in. "Are you saying that all the other worlds supposedly care for their slaves? What about all these sex slaves we rescued that were bound for another N.A.W. world? What about all the others bound to different worlds weíve either intercepted or were forced to leave alone over the years?"

"Theyíre all black market, of course," Leanna said as if it should have been obvious. "Anything that exceeds a worldís slave rights can still be found on the black market if youíve got enough money. Thatís what makes these cargo runs so risky but lucrative. Surely you donít think a world that breeds its own slaves would need to import others otherwise?"

Boyce said, "What about the bed slaves that we know exist on all the other worlds?"

Leanna briefly felt a pang of envy, one shiíd experienced many times before. "They are some of the best treated of all the slaves. Their duties are simply to give normal sexual pleasure when required, or some pleasant cuddling when itís not. They comfort and soothe their owners, help relieve their stress, and are very good listeners. Good bed slaves command very high prices, and their comfort and happiness is a high priority for their owners. Many of them are even allowed to breed. I would have been very happy to be someoneís bed slaveÖ at least anywhere not on Pharos."

"What about the other slaves that werenít bred for any sexual reason?"

Leanna looked at them curiously. "Havenít any of you done a budget for yourselves? Slaves arenít cheap to buy and maintain. If you can afford one, youíre going to look after it well. The average slave is very well treated. In some ways, they are better protected than ordinary citizens in whom someone does not have a financial stake. Some are liked so much that they virtually become part of the family!"

"What makes Pharos so different then?"

"The slave-breederís guild is too strong. They were leaders in the field of breeding sexual playthings, and the fortunes they made enabled them to weather the storms of protest against mistreatment of morphs, and their lawyers and government stooges successfully managed to prevent a bill of rights from ever being passed. I suppose many slave owners would still treat their morphs okay, but many take advantage of the lack of controls. I was pleased to be shipped off that world."

Rosepetal asked, "How is it that you are so familiar with the state of things on other worlds?"

"My master trusted nobody. He expected everyone to be as morally bankrupt as himself." Leanna smiled sardonically. "The only one he trusted was me, because he controlled me absolutely." ĎOr at least, so he thought,í shi added mentally. "When I wasnít satisfying his lusts or his twisted desires, I was his personal assistant. I handled a lot of sensitive information and dealt with a lot of people from various worlds. I even travelled with him on business trips. Many humans never realised that the person they were talking to on voice-only communications was not in fact human, so I could deal with them with on an equal basis on my masterís behalf. Add to that the activities that I have previously mentioned, and you can see that I was very well informed."

Everyone at the table was quietly lost in thought at the implications of what Leanna had told them. Shi felt that shiíd said enough for now, and excused hirself to spend some more time with the cubs before they were sent to bed.

Rosepetal looked at her husband. "We were right when we thought that Leanna would provide us with a lot of information. However, we certainly didnít anticipate the answers that shiís given us so far."

Boyce nodded glumly. "Who would have thought that there would be worlds full of contented slaves? Even Leanna admits to wanting that. I wonder how accurate hir information is? Are all the other worlds like shi believes them to be?"

"We're going to have to try to investigate the worlds that shi has been to, but happy or not, they are still slaves, living and breeding at the whim of their owners. No member of the Stellar Federation is going to tolerate that, so none of the Non-Aligned Worlds may ever be brought into the Federation while that situation stands. Star Fleet may have to rethink its strategy."

Boyce nodded his agreement, his thoughts concentrated on the new information. The chakats, who had not taken an active part in the conversation, left the tables glancing meaningfully at each, subtle empathic messages passing between them. Whatever Star Fleet might decide, they knew that the Chakona High Council would have a thing or two to say when this information got to them.

Leanna woke up in the early hours of the morning, long before shi was due to get up and go to join Forest. The returning sexual urges had disturbed hir sleep with some peculiar dreams. The one that shi could best recall had hir as a male fox with a harem of female lovers. As shi continued to think of hirself as predominantly female, it rather disturbed hir to even dream of hirself as just a male. Shi shook hir head to try to dispel the images. "Itís just a dream!" shi told hirself sternly. Then shi used the comm to call M'Lai. As much as shi was loath to disturb her, M'Lai had been quite explicit in her instructions to call her when the urges began, no matter what the time was. M'Laiís sleep-blurred voice answered, then told Leanna to meet her at the sick-bay as usual.

By the time M'Lai turned up, she seemed to have refreshed herself and the examination went smoothly. M'Lai said, "I think your cycle is nearly at an end. Indications are that all the sexual systems are significantly less active than the previous scans. How do you feel?"

"Youíre right, I think. Although I feel aroused, itís not as strong as before. The timing seems right, although itís a bit hard to tell by that because Iíve never been serviced in such a way before."

M'Lai smiled. "Well, in that case, itís time for your final Ďtreatmentí, donít you think?"

Leanna returned the grin. "I agree. I think that this will be the first time ever though that I will have even the slightest regret for my rut passing. Would you like to retire to my room for a change? Itís a minor thing, but Iíd like to be able to have felt that I invited you over for a bit of mutual pleasure rather than a mutual need."

"Iíd be honoured, Leanna," M'Lai replied.

The two thoroughly enjoyed what could possibly be their last time together before the clock told them that they both needed to get ready to start the new day. After the two refreshed themselves and dressed, they both left to go to Forestís cabin. M'Lai decided to drop by and update Forest as the cabin was on her way anyhow. Leanna didnít use the announcer this time because the family had given hir free access to their cabin, so shi palmed the entry plate and walked right in. Forestwalker greeted them both cheerfully, a cub still nursing at hir breast. M'Lai had just finished updating hir when she was startled by Midnight entering the room, dressed only in hir fur.

"MidÖ Commander! What are you doing here?" M'Lai blurted out.

"Hello M'Lai," Midnight said, padding over to Forestwalker to give hir a lick-kiss. "This is my family. Where else would I be?"

M'Lai mentally scolded herself. Of course the chakats would be together. She just hadnít thought of it before. Just as she had gotten back her mental balance though, it was rocked even harder when Rosepetal and Boyce emerged from the same bedroom, both dressed only in a robe.

"Good morning, Doctor," Rosepetal said. "I didnít expect to see you. Is everything fine with Leanna?"

It took M'Lai a moment to find her voice as she was still stunned by the fact that apparently the three had been sharing the bedroom that night. "Leanna is perfectly okay, Commander. I believe shi will be fine for quite a while, and only need come in for a daily scan."

"Thatís good to hear. Iíd like you to stay on as hir regular physician for the duration of hir stay. Let me know if thereís anything unusual to report."

"Yes, maíam!" M'Lai replied. Then she noticed that the human, whom she had assumed to be Admiral Kline from what she had been told the other day, was still staring at her. And even more strangely, she felt an immediate attraction to him in response.

Rosepetal noticed the gaze and sighed. While her mate was both diplomatic and considerate when dealing with the female gender, if he was caught by surprise, his strong attraction to certain types could cause some embarrassing distraction. She knew already that he found Caitians desirable, and large busty fems of all kinds also. M'Lai combined both and she had intended to pre-warn him when introducing him to her, but hadnít gotten around to it as yet. She stepped between the two. Although she wasnít tall enough to actually break their gaze, she did provide sufficient distraction to get their attention. "Husband, I would like you to meet Doctor M'Lai Saarath, our new chief assistant medical officer. Doctor, this is Admiral Boyce Kline, Captain of this starship, and to whom I am Firstwife. Forestwalker is Thirdwife and Midnight is Fourthwife. This mixed family unit has mated according to Caitian family customs."

The long introductions allowed both Boyce and M'Lai to compose themselves. Boyce was the first to speak up. "A pleasure to meet you, Doctor. I hope that this assignment has been working out well for you."

M'Lai responded, "Yes, sir. Itís been very pleasant, and educational too. My shift is about to start though, so I had better go now."

"Very well. Perhaps youíd care to join us for dinner sometime though so we could get to know our new medical officer better?"

M'Lai wondered what he would think if he knew how well sheíd already gotten to know a couple of them. "I think Iíd like that sir," she nodded, then abruptly saluted, turned and departed before anything else could happen.

Rosepetal noticed the way Boyceís gaze lingered in the direction of the departed Caitian. This started some interesting thoughts. ĎI wonder....í Her thoughts were derailed when Leanna spoke up.

"Commander, may I ask what you meant by Ďthirdwifeí and Ďfourthwifeí?"

"Hmm? Oh, itís part of the common Caitian mating custom," Rosepetal answered as she moved to the kitchen area to prepare her breakfast. She noted Leannaís keen interest and decided to give her more details. "First you must realise that amongst my kind, female births far outnumber male births. Our society is based on a system that is known as a ĎPrideí in Terranglo, or a Krrtítress in my tongue. Like a Terran lion group, each family has a dominant male. Usually in these modern times, that means just the husbandÖ" she paused a moment as Boyce handed her a fresh cup of coffee. "Thanks, Boyce. A single male has low status though, despite his rarity. He must first impress a prospective wife. Back in less civilised times, that meant bringing trophies and fighting challengers. Nowadays it means other desirable traits such as intelligence and career achievements. Once the male has gained his first mate, it then becomes her honour and duty to find other prospective mates to enlarge the family. The familyís status grows with the addition of each new wife up to six. The titles of Firstwife through to Sixthwife are Terranglo equivalents that tend to lose a lot in the translation. While it isnít illegal to have more than six wives, status actually goes down after that because itís believed that a male cannot maintain harmony and satisfaction amongst more than six, and that it also violates the tenets of the six Virtues of mating."

Rosepetal paused long enough to take a drink from the coffee mug and a mouthful of food. Leanna took the opportunity to ask, "What are these virtues, and do they influence your choice of the next mate?"

"The Virtues are Intelligence, Strength, Love, Courage, Fertility and Wisdom. Aside from the first, they are in no particular order. The Firstwife though is supposed to make an informed choice of mate, so she is always assigned the virtue of Intelligence."

"My virtue is Love," interjected Forestwalker with a grin.

"Mine is Courage," added Midnight quietly.

"And Zhaneís is Strength," Boyce finished. "Youíll understand why when you meet her."

"So that leaves just Fertility and Wisdom to go," Leanna concluded. "So youíre looking out for two more mates with those particular virtues?"

Boyce started protesting. "Hey! I think I have enough mates already, not to mention Companions who arenít included!" He shut up though when Rosepetal gave him a look, although he rolled his eyes and shook his head when she looked away. Leanna was still impressed by the effect she had on him.

"By Caitian custom going back centuries, itís the Firstwife who decides if there will be any more mates. Boyce has already bent the rules in that regard. Still, I could not fault his choice." She looked in Forestís direction who grinned happily back at her. "Anyway, to answer your question, the Virtues are supposed to be a guide to mating harmony, and we look for the that dominant Virtue in a prospective mate. Realistically we donít always find the ideal match, but we try our best. Not all Prides get to six wives either. Still, ours is doing well to have four so far."

Leanna nodded, satisfied with the explanation and speculating on how well it would work for other species. Shi then began making hir breakfast and preparing mentally for the scheduled trip down to visit the slaves.

M'Lai found it a bit difficult to concentrate on her work that morning. Her encounter with Admiral Kline had had a strange effect on her. It was hardly the first time that sheíd been sexually attracted to a human male, especially as there were many who found her to be of desirable size andÖ attributes. They had all been passing fancies though, an evening or two of mutual pleasure and then an amicable parting of ways. This thoughÖ this was different. Was it because he was already mated to a Caitian? Any such male was already marked as desirable. That had to be it. It was her culture that was influencing her thoughts. So why couldnít she concentrate still?

Leanna was immensely relieved to find a human female on watch in the hangar control rooms. Shi had dressed in the skirt style ship uniform this time in an effort to minimise the recognition of hir by others shiíd briefly encountered on hir previous trip to this deck, but no clothing would have hidden the fact from that tod.

Boyce and Rosepetal took hir into the hangars and noted the recognition that shi got from most of the slaves, and the apparent pleasure they had in seeing hir again. It was quite apparent to both of them that Leanna had had quite an effect on them all during the period that they had been waiting for rescue. Even some of the least bright of the sex slaves knew that Leanna was the one who had made things better for them.

Leanna introduced all of them, a feat of memory that impressed the others. Shi explained what shi knew about them and what could best help each. Shi made sure that the ones who needed the opposite sex for their mental wellbeing were given the opportunity to be with each other for at least some time in a storage room attached to the hangar. Above all though, shi persuaded Boyce to have a game of checkers with one of the heavy labourers on a board shi specifically had made for this visit. Rosepetal observed the rest of the bear-like labourers apparently raptly watching the lucky one who got to play the human. Their bored and miserable faces had lit up with interest, and they were excited when their comrade made a good move. Obviously Boyce wasnít playing at his best, but it was the game itself that was important, not the winning. Rosepetal realised that Leanna had been right Ė they were just immensely bored and unfulfilled. Perhaps a place in Federation society could be found for them after all. How much more could shi teach them about the slaves and the culture behind them?

M'Lai had finally managed to get her mind fully on her work by burying herself in it. The end of her shift came as a surprise when one of the other personnel pointed out the time to her. She was just about to leave sickbay when Commander Silpurr stepped in.

"Could I have a word with you, doctor?" Rose asked.

"Of course, Commander," M'Lai answered, indicating her office.

"That wonít be necessary. Iím only here to invite you to have dinner with the Captainís family tonight. Would that be a problem for you?"

"No, not at all. I have nothing in particular planned this evening unless Leanna needs me."

"Good," Rosepetal nodded. "It will be a family occasion, as I said, so donít bother to dress overmuch. I suggest one of your less fancy outfits, just in case the cubs get a bit rambunctious."

"I consider myself fairly warned," M'Lai replied with a smile.

"The meal will be held in two hours, but feel free to drop around to our cabin any time before that. Give yourself a chance to know the little terrors first," Rosepetal smiled in return. To herself, she added, ĎAnd it will give me a chance to see how children and you get along.í

"Iíll be around as soon as I freshen up and change clothes."

"Excellent. I will see you soon then." With that, Rosepetal departed, leaving M'Lai with the return of that strange feeling that had distracted her earlier.

ĎCould Rosepetal be on Takkatuur, on mate-search? Myself mated with a human? Surely not!í And yet the feeling persisted.

M'Lai had opted for a robe of the type she often wore when on shore leave. It looked smart, yet was very practical also. She suspected she would need it! It was only a little over half an hour after seeing Rosepetal when she turned up at the cabin. Leanna let her in when she pressed the announcer. The fennec was dressed only in a skirt.

When M'Lai lifted an eyebrow curiously, Leanna said, "The bra gets uncomfortable for me after a little while. Iím still not used to wearing anything up top after a lifetime without doing so. Iíll put it back on just before dinner."

"That makes sense. So whatís happening now?"

"Just the usual stuff that happens before dinner. Midnight is presently feeding Windrunner. Forest is playing with hir cubs, and I was keeping an eye on Ember. Boyce is helping Kayla with a school problem while Rosepetal is organising the dinner. Just come in and join us.

M'Lai did so, immediately garnering the attention of the twins. Although she was not a stranger to the energy of young cubs, the hyperkinetic chakat children soon tested her ability to keep up with them. Fortunately Rosepetal announced that dinner was about to begin before she was completely exhausted. Leanna disappeared into a bedroom and came back in only a minute, now fully dressed with a top that matched hir skirt.

While the food was excellent and the company genial, M'Lai still couldnít help feeling that she was being examined. The Admiral seemed keenly interested in her background, and she was the last to finish her meal due to talking so much. Nevertheless, by the time dessert had been eaten, M'Lai realised that whatever else that strange feeling had been trying to tell her, this family was both harmonious and interesting, and she was thoroughly enjoying herself. Later, after all the children had gone to bed, the adults continued their conversation late into the evening.

"So how does the inclusion of two herms into a Caitian style mating arrangement affect your relationships?" M'Lai asked.

"As it relates to Boyce, not too much," Forest answered first. "Although he never hesitates to pleasure our male side when weíre in the mood, we basically relate to him as females. Midnight and I fulfil the masculine side of our natures with each other, or with other partners outside this family unit."

Rosepetal added, "And to me, Forest and Midnight have always been just co-wives. Unusual ones, but little more. We still have our turns with our mate, and I have no interest in their male sides."

ĎIíd have a near impossible time ignoring that!í M'Lai thought privately. "From what Iíve seen, it does seem to be working out. The children certainly are happy enough."

"And they like you, too," Forest said authoritatively. Nobody could argue with a chakatís abilities to judge feelings.

Boyce added, "Youíll get to meet my son when we arrive at the starbase to unload the refugees. Zhane is commander there, and we have a lot of catching up to do."

"I look forward to meeting them," M'Lai said sincerely, then yawned hugely. "Pardon me, but I think itís time that I left and got some sleep. I didnít get enough last night." she said while looking meaningfully in Leannaís direction. She added, "I still want to take daily scans of you for the time being. Would the beginning of my shift each day be a convenient time?"

"I donít see why not," Leanna responded.

"Good, thatís settled then," M'Lai said as she got up from her chair. "I bid you all good evening. I certainly enjoyed the dinner and company."

Everyone gave their farewells and M'Lai left for her cabin. It wasnít long before she was making herself comfortable on the sheets. She briefly thought about how comfortable she had been made to feel with the family that evening before sleep claimed her.

Back at the Admiralís cabin, Rosepetal was feeling very satisfied with how events had turned out.

The next few days settled into comfortable routine for Leanna. Each morning she would dress in one of the ship uniforms and go to the sickbay just as M'Lai arrived. The doctor would take hir readings, then shi would proceed to the Admiralís cabin to take up hir child-minding duties. Forestwalker continued to talk to hir about hir past, comparing it to hir present circumstances, and how it might affect hir future. Leanna surprised Forest one day when Kayla came looking for help with a mathematics problem and Leanna offered to help.

"You know this complex stuff?" Forest asked curiously.

"Yes, and a lot more," Leanna acknowledged. "My former master had me thoroughly educated in order to be the most effective spy. When I wasnít actively doing something for him, I got bored and did a lot of reading. I learned a lot more than he ever intended me to know, Iím sure."

"What other subjects did you learn?"

Leanna shrugged. "Whatever took my fancy at the time. I got bored easily." Forestwalker noted that as a sign of hir active mind. The very intelligent needed constant stimulation in order not to get bored. "I studied all the common subjects, although I tended to concentrate on the sciences."

"Oh? How much do you know about biology?" Forest asked intently.

"Whatever was in the high school textbooks, plus a bit more that I looked up out of curiosity."

"Hmmm. Would you mind if we do a bit of a test?"

"No, I donít mind, as long as I can still watch the cubs while doing that."

"Thatís fine," Forest said, then started to quiz hir on a range of subjects that should be common to any world. By the end, Forest was amazed at the depth of knowledge that the little fennec had. Although shi had not been able to answer everything, Forest knew it was because Leanna had never come across that particular information, and not because shi had failed to recall or comprehend it. "Leanna, do you have an eidetic memory?"

Leanna paused a moment. "My master never said so, but I would say that is possible."

ĎNot to mention shi knows what eidetic means!í Forest thought. Aloud, shi said, "Leanna, your talents may be wasted on being a cub-minder."

Leanna got a little defensive then. Having children to care for had been a lifelong dream and shi wasnít going to willingly let that go. "What do you mean, Forest?" shi asked cautiously.

Forest sensed the fennecís mood immediately. Shi held up hir hands reassuringly. "No, no! I didnít mean that you couldnít still do that! What I would like to know though is whether you have considered being a teacher? With your depth of knowledge, your obvious intelligence and ability to get along well with children, you could be an excellent teacher. Leanna, if it appeals to you, I think we may have found your perfect niche."

Leanna looked intrigued. "You want me to be your childrenís teacher?" shi asked curiously.

"Well, first weíd have to make sure that you were completely up to date with the curriculum, and have you formally tested, but yes, I think that as a combination teacher/cub-minder you could be a huge asset to my extended family. Itís completely your choice as always, but it is a role that some chakats take in larger extended families, and I see no reason why you couldnít do an equally good job."

Leanna felt excited. More and more it seemed that events were stacking up in hir favour. Nevertheless shi didnít intend to jump into this without due consideration. "I think Iíd like that, Forest, but letís see first what the tests say before we get carried away."

"Fair enough," Forest said.

"Is anybody ever going to help me with this problem?" Kayla complained.

That evening, instead of going straight to hir cabin, Leanna took advantage of the anonymity of hir ship uniform to go looking for the recreation deck. Shi found the coffee lounge that shiíd heard about from eavesdropping on conversations with hir sensitive hearing. Shi ordered a cappuccino from a live attendant instead of a replicator. The human said conversationally, "I havenít seen you here before."

Leanna quashed the instinctive reactions to a human and replied calmly, "Iím new on this ship, and my shift changed. Besides, I donít drink much coffee."

"All good reasons," he replied with a smile. "I hope you enjoy it enough to come back again."

Leanna liked this man. It was obvious that his job wasnít merely to make coffee but to facilitate morale. Shi smiled in return and said, "Thanks, I might just do that."

He winked at hir and then turned to another customer. Leanna took hir coffee to a seat next to one of the panoramic windows, slid hir tail through the tailslot in the seat and made hirself comfortable to watch the stars crawl by. A spectacular nebula filled about a fifth of the view, and Leanna admired it as shi sipped hir cappuccino. Shi had much to mull over after the events of that afternoon. A teacher? And still get to love and care for cubs? It seemed so perfect that there had to be something wrong with it. Leanna was startled to realise that shi was actually afraid. Shi looked like gaining so much Ė what if it was a false hope? Would they reject hir if shi didnít try, or if shi failed the tests? Shi knew that shi had already gotten attached to the children and would be devastated if shi could no longer be with them. Yet was shi up to the task? Memories of punishments for past failures made hir shudder involuntarily.

"Are you alright?" an unfamiliar voice asked.

Leanna looked up to see what shi could now recognise as a foxtaur vixen looking at hir in mild concern. Leanna tried to smile reassuringly. "Just some problems and memories stirring me up."

"So youíre trying to think it over here? Itís exactly what I do when I have problems. Mind if I join you?" Leanna considered the request very briefly, then gestured to a spot next to hir, knowing that the foxtaur would not require a chair. The vixen squatted next to hir and said amiably, "My name is Moyshu Blacktail of the Yellowstone Clan."

"Iím Leanna Fennec of no particular place," replied Leanna.

"Ah! A drifter, or someone looking for a place to belong?" Moyshu asked shrewdly.

Leanna was startled that the foxtaur had hit the nail on the head so quickly. "Yes, the latter," shi admitted. "But what about you? Iíve read that foxtaurs are rare in Star Fleet."

Moyshu laughed. "The rarest! We foxtaurs almost never leave our home territory, and vixens even less than tods."

"Then what are you doing way out here?" Leanna asked, intrigued.

"Iím one of those very unusual foxtaurs who get the wanderlust. I wanted to see what there was to be seen out in this big universe, and Star Fleet seemed to be the best way for me to do it. I lead scouting expeditions on newly explored worlds using knowledge that is common to the foxtaur clans. Between times, I teach survival training. What about you?"

Anticipating that possible question, Leanna had an answer ready. "Iím a non-specialist. I fill the odd roles sometimes required. Currently I am helping out with the rescued slaves." Shi had plenty of knowledge to back up questioning on that job if necessary, but the vixen was apparently satisfied with hir answer.

"Is that job giving you your problems?"

Leanna saw the sincere interest in the vixenís eyes. "No, but it has led me to an opportunity that may or may not work out."

"Youíre afraid that you might lose what you already have?"

The foxtaurís observations were so spot on that Leanna had to ask, "Are you empathic?"

Moyshu laughed. "No, Iím not, but I have gone through much the same thing as you in the past. I had to give up a lot to follow my dream. I went through exactly the same sort of doubts and worries."

"So youíre saying that Iím worrying needlessly?"

"Heavens, no! Your circumstances are probably a lot different from mine." Leanna noted that she didnít pry into exactly what those circumstances were. "I am saying though that you will never find fulfilment if you donít at least try to follow your dreams. Sticking to what you have now will probably mean that youíll be reasonably happy, but you will never achieve your full potential. It wasnít easy for me either, but I persevered and Iíve found my niche in life."

Leanna realised then that Moyshu must have had to work hard to get to where she was now. Shi on the other hand had an opportunity virtually being handed to hir now. All the hardship was behind hir. All shi needed was the courage to take that last step. Shi downed the last of hir cappuccino in one gulp and stood up. "Thanks, Moyshu. I think I know what I need to do now. Do you often come down here to dish out wisdom?"

Moyshu grinned. "Nope. I just like watching those stars pass by. Itís what I left my village to see, after all."

Leanna grinned back, then gave the vixen an unexpected hug. "See you later, Moyshu!" shi said as shi left the lounge. Shi made hir way back to hir cabin, and went straight to bed, satisfied now that shi had made hir decision. If a teacher they wanted, shi would be the best damn teacher in the Federation!


Chapter 5: Future Courses  


"Are you sure this is what you want to be doing, Leanna?" Rosepetal asked.

The past few days had seen Leanna slip into a routine of childminding and studying. Every morning after hir daily scan by MíLai, shi joined the family for breakfast, then was left in charge of the children. Having decided that Forestwalker had learned enough about the fennec, shi had been put back onto helping with the massive task of sorting through the ex-slaves and assessing their capabilities, leaving Leanna to cope with the cubs by hirself. Shi was pleased with both the responsibility and the trust they had in hir, and strove never to let the family down. Occasionally Forest would ask Leanna to join hir to get the fennecís insight on some of the more promising or needy morphs, leaving Yeoman DíArmand to hold the fort, but even so hir days had their quiet moments, and shi put them to good use studying various subjects that shi had determined to be necessary to qualify formally as a teacher. This had not gone unnoticed by Rosepetal though, and she had asked what Leanna was doing.

"Itís the first time in my life that Iíve had a career goal other than minding cubs, and it feels right to me," Leanna insisted.

"I just wanted to be certain. I love and trust my co-mate, but chakats have a habit sometimes of getting over-enthusiastic about some things that they think are good ideas, and I donít want you to be doing this just because you have been swept up in hir zeal."

"Believe me, I gave it a lot of thought before deciding to go ahead. Someone helped me put things into perspective, and this is the right thing for me to do."

The Caitian smiled. "Then Iím certain that you will succeed. Let me know if you need any help though. Any one of the family would be only too happy to assist you. Weíre all wanting you to find your place in our society, and in our home."

Leanna was gratified by Rosepetalís support. Although the material wasnít terribly difficult, it was nevertheless intensive study. After dinner, Leanna went straight to hir cabin to continue hir studies in peace. However, as shi still liked to do occasionally, shi took a break to do a little discreet exploration of the ship. Shi had a pretty thorough knowledge of the layout of the starship by now, and had been considering how to go about investigating sections that were obviously off-limits to the civilians. Shi had finagled hir way into some low-security areas already and, as hir explorations had continued, hir confidence had grown also. Shi would find a way. But not tonight. Leanna headed to hir new favourite spot: the coffee lounge.

Leanna sipped some of the foam off hir hot cappuccino as shi admired a particularly impressive star cluster that they were currently passing. Out of the corner of hir eye shi noticed a form settle to hir side. Thinking that it was hir friend, Moyshu, come to join hir for one of their regular coffee chats, shi was taken by surprise when another personís voice spoke.

"I never tire of sights like these either."

Recognising the voice, Leanna turned to observe the totally black-furred chakat seated next to hir, gazing out the windows. Midnight had on hir uniform top with the silver-grey of Security and hir rank tabs of Lieutenant Commander and, although shi also had a mug of steaming coffee in hir hand, Leanna felt that the chakat was never truly quite off-duty when in uniform. This had implications that shi wasnít too happy with as shi had yet to tell anybody about hir trips to the coffee lounge, not to mention other exploratory trips.

"Am I in trouble, Midnight?" Leanna asked apprehensively.

A slight smile quirked on Midnightís muzzle. "For having a cappuccino? I donít think so."

The humorous answer threw Leanna momentarily, and shi sipped some of the beverage to steady hirself. The fact that shi was away from hir cabin without notification was now obvious, so shi might as well get it all out in the open.

"I thought that this being a military ship, you might not want me to be anywhere except my cabin, yours, and sickbay."

Midnight smiled reassuringly. "While this is indeed a military ship, the Pegasus also carries many families and dignitaries, so there has to be a certain amount of freedom of movement. If we had been concerned about your movements, we would have had you escorted everywhere, and your cabin door would be locked." Shi peered off into space, apparently enjoying the view, and said, "However, there are places where neither that uniform youíre wearing, nor sexual allure, would gain you admission. There are others where even trying would get you thrown into the brig." Midnight glanced at Leanna, adding, "And parts of the ship are outright dangerous to those ignorant of the workings."

Although Midnight had not even hinted that shi suspected Leanna of trying to do anything untoward, at that moment Leanna knew with absolute certainty that the Chief of Security somehow knew of hir first visit to the hangar decks, and probably most, if not all of hir subsequent unannounced explorations. Shi thought quickly and hard, covering up by seeming to concentrate on hir drink. Shi quickly came to the conclusion that Midnight was subtly warning hir unofficially, and it was in hir best interest to listen.

"I completely understand, Midnight," was all shi said.

The chakat nodded in acknowledgement and the two finished off their drinks while watching the stars pass. When Leanna put down hir empty mug, Midnight asked, "Would you like another, Leanna?"

Leanna shook hir head. "No thanks. Any more than one cup of coffee makes me hyper, and I need my sleep to cope with your cubs tomorrow."

Midnight laughed. "Yes, I can fully empathise with that! Iíd better head off to bed myself," shi added, getting up. "Iíll see you in the morning, Leanna."

"Goodnight, Midnight," Leanna said and watched the shadowy felitaur leave. Then shi considered what had just happened. Midnight had always struck hir as being sharp of mind. Tonight had set that notion firmly in concrete. Obviously there were a lot of differences between security on the estates of hir former masterís competitors and that of a military starship. Very sophisticated ones. Perhaps it was time to stop hir secret, or not-so-secret-anymore, investigations. Leanna decided that in future, shi would never assume that shi had gotten away with anything when it involved the shipís head of security.

A few days later, Leanna learned another side of the panther chakatís nature. Midnight came off hir shift early and asked Leanna for a favour.

"Sure, Midnight, what is it you want?"

"Iím setting up a surprise for Forest. I just need a little assistance now, and later shi and I will be very pre-occupied, so could I get you to stay back tonight if necessary to help with the cubs?"

This got Leanna curious, but there was never any doubt that shi would knock back the childminding duties. "No problem. What can I help you with?"

"I need a bit of help with my wardrobeÖ."

When Forest returned to the cabin, Leanna was waiting for hir with a drink and an energy snack. The chakat looked at hir curiously. "This is unusual, Leanna. What are these for?"

Leanna grinned widely. "Believe me, youíre going to need them. Midnight asked me to tell you to have these, freshen up, then meet hir in the sleeping quarters."

This naturally put Forestwalkerís curiosity into overdrive, and shi started moving in the direction of the bedroom. Leanna, still wearing the grin, smartly blocked hir way. "Shi also said to stop you from jumping the gun, so I suggest you do as shi asks."

Forest knew that the diminutive fennec could hardly stop a determined chakat, but also knew that getting past Leanna wouldnít be as easy as it looked, and shiíd annoy hir lifemate in doing so. Forest then took the only course of action left to hir: shi did as shi was told. Only then did Leanna let hir go join hir mate.

Forest entered the sleeping quarters and immediately beheld a sight that shi had never expected to see. Midnight was standing in front of the huge bed, posing for hir in an outfit of white leather, brass studs and rings. Shi had on arm-length gloves, matched by fingerless glove-leggings on hir forelegs, while the hindlegs and feet had a complex strap-style sandal. The leg-wear was attached by rings to the part of the costume that went around hir lower torso and between the legs, eventually connecting to harness at waist level. The thing that most drew Forestís eyes though was the cupless bustier that Midnight was showing off to maximum effect, hir breasts with their black-flesh nipples proudly standing out. This was obviously done with Forestís tastes in mind, but Forest could hardly conceive of Midnight wearing such an outfit. Shi tended to de-emphasise hir female side, yet this was totally the opposite. Forest gasped in amazement and arousal. Shi just stood there for a long moment, drinking in the sight. Midnight was very much enjoying the effect shi was having on hir lifemate.

Finally Forest found hir tongue. "Not that Iím complaining, but why?" shi asked.

"Happy Anniversary, love!" Midnight said as shi threw hir arms about Forest and kissed hir deeply.

Forest happily cooperated with the kiss, and let it stretch out for a long time. Finally they broke though, and shi said in puzzlement, "Our fourth anniversary isnít for a few more days yet though."

Midnight grinned. "True, but Iím on heat right now."

Forest gaped at hir. "You meanÖ?"

"Yes, love, itís time for me to keep my promise to you, and have you sire a cub in me. That is my second present to you, and also from you, my dearest mate."

Forest looked into Midnightís crystal blue eyes and felt the adoration and sincerity coming from hir. Shi felt hir heart would burst as it filled with the love and desire shi had for hir raven-furred goddess of beauty. Shi drew hir over to the bed, even as hir penis reached full erection, demanding to be used. Midnight positioned hirself on the bed in anticipation of being mounted. Shi lifted hir tail fully to show that the white leather strap that went between hir hind legs, split and passed on either side of hir vulva which was already moist with hir arousal.

Forest said, "The leather covers your sheath though."

Midnight replied, "I wonít be needing my cock for a while. Iíll be using yours for a long while instead! Iím waiting for it, love!"

"Right away, dear one!" Forest responded happily. Shi mounted hir with both familiarity and excitement. While they had made love this way many times, this was the first time that they would do so with the goal of getting Midnight pregnant. As shi settled onto Midnight, hir hands cupping the breasts and stroking the black nipples, Forest asked, "Shouldnít we be making an oath of commitment for the child?"

"Weíre lifemates now. I think thatís a given. Now please shut up and screw my brains out!"

Forest willingly complied.

A couple of hours later, the costume had mostly been removed. As was usual for chakat matings, they had swapped gender roles briefly, giving each a respite, but they had finished as they started, with Forest pumping the last of hir seed into Midnightís fertile womb.

Forest sighed happily in repletion. "Think that will do the job, hon?" shi asked.

Midnight replied dreamily, "Probably, but thereís no reason why we canít make doubly sure tomorrow night, donít you think?"

Forest giggled. "Nope. If a job is worth doing, itís worth doing well!"

"So, you enjoyed your present?"

"Oh, definitely! That outfit was a stunning touch. How did you get into it?"

"I asked Leanna to help me. I had to explain why, so shi was a willing accomplice."

"Iíll have to thank hir personally then. Are you going to wear that thing for Boyce sometime?"

Midnight considered the question for a moment. "Maybe. Maybe not. I might save it for another special occasion just between us."

"Mmmrrrr! Sounds good to me, love."

Leanna chuckled in amusement. Although the rooms were reasonably soundproof, hir large ears were quite capable of picking up the majority of what was happening inside.

"Whatís so funny, Leanna?" Rosepetal asked curiously.

"When I first saw a chakat, I thought they were very strange. But now, especially after tonight, I see that they are so like humans in many ways that you couldnít tell them apart easily if you couldnít see them. Itís both funny and reassuring."

"Because theyíre not so unfamiliar anymore?"

"Yes, but also because despite their different standards, they still respond in predictable ways. I think I have a handle on them now."

"If youíre going to be a cub-minder and teacher for chakats, thatís a very important point. Having them as co-mates was also a learning experience for me."

"Speaking of which, I need to get back to my studies. Iíll see you in the morning, Rosepetal."

"Goodnight, Leanna." Rosepetal watched the fennec depart. Such a turnaround since the day they had first met! She purred in amusement as she wondered if Forestwalker had managed to take on more than shi could handle in that one. Who would be running the household in a yearís time?

"This meeting is to present the final assessment of the liberated slaves before we rendezvous with Starbase 3," Boyce formally announced to those gathered in the Captainís Ready Room. "I believe you have a few special cases to report, and some recommendations?"

Forestwalker, who had become the de facto head of the special investigation, was the first to report. Also there was Leanna, who would be giving hir insight on the matters. Rosepetal and Midnight were present in their capacities to make their comments on Forestís assessments.

"Iíll start with summing up the basics," Forest said. "As Leanna told us, and we have subsequently confirmed, aside from the group of heavy labourers, all the liberated morphs were sex-slaves, and mostly exotics at that. Although some werenít obviously so, each of these poor beings has been physically and/or mentally altered to perform sexual duties that range from moderate to extreme. Having studied older reports on previous slave rescues, I am sure you are familiar with the fact that they are also of very low intelligence, some barely functional. However, we are pleased to say that this shipment seems to have varied from this, and we have found quite a few whose IQ has fallen within normal parameters. This bodes well for their rehabilitation. However, a few have some extreme physical liability to overcome as well."

Leanna interjected at this point. "Actually, I suspect that Star Fleet has managed to overlook some slaves with normal intelligence previously."

Boyce frowned. "Why do you say that, Leanna?"

"When I first met Forest, I was using the usual slave talk, the simplistic and self-denigrating speech we are all conditioned to use when speaking with our masters. On top of that, most are forbidden to speak unless spoken to, and then only with the absolute minimum possible. It is the duty of all slaves to humble themselves before their masters. If an observer is careless, it would be extremely easy to mistake someone for a lack-wit."

"Star Fleet has always more fully assessed every slave back on Earth," Boyce informed hir. "Surely they would pick this up?"

"With respect, Captain, I observed some of your crew doing just that, despite the fact that they were supposed to be on the look-out for intelligent ones. Itís very easy to jump to conclusions."

Boyce frowned again. "I find that rather disturbing, and I promise to follow up on that. Iíd appreciate details of specific instances. Iíll also emphasise this possibility in my report to Star Fleet so this wonít happen again, hopefully."

"Thank you, Captain," Leanna said, then let Forestwalker continue.

"You are already aware of some of the exceptions, namely the bunny brothers and Sylvester, the major domo fox. We're confident that the latter will respond well to socialisation and will be able to have a fairly normal life. Ironically though, it may be doing exactly what he was bred to do. We have been talking with the authorities back on Earth, and they referred us to ILM, Interstellar Labour Management, a highly-respected professional workforce placement business. When they learned of Sylvesterís training, they had an offer of employment almost before his details were transmitted!"

"Good help is hard to find?" Boyce asked dryly.

"Something like that, I suspect," Forest agreed. "Theyíll be using the time spent shipping the slaves from the Starbase in devising an appropriate program for him. That brings me to the bunny brothers: Roger, Peter, Oswald and Harvey."

Boyce almost choked for a moment. "Youíre kidding me, right?"

"About what, Captain?" Forest asked innocently.

"Four rabbits named like that! Someone must have had a sense of humour."

Forest grinned. "It would seem so. Anyway, you are aware that we asked your permission to let them exercise their talents in the kitchen."

"The galley," Boyce corrected.

"Yes, the galley. Anyway, the four had been practically desperate to get back to what they loved doing, and that was cooking. Are you aware that since they started serving up their non-standard fare, the number of crew who have taken their meals there, rather than getting them from a replicator, has nearly tripled? The boys have gotten quite a reputation for some delicious and highly varied meals. They practically kicked out the rest of the crew on kitchen duty, leaving only the head chef in charge. His job is looking a bit shaky too," shi added with a big smile.

Rosepetal spoke up. "We wonít be leaving the galley solely in charge of the rabbits, and we canít be abusing their conditioned instincts to serve."

Forestwalker shook hir head. "I didnít really expect them to be left to themselves, but youíre wrong if you think theyíre being abused. These four truly love what they do. I probed them while they were at work, and they were quite happy then, but when they were complimented on their cooking by the crew, their pleasure verged on the orgasmic! They have even arranged shifts for themselves so that they can cook for the most people for the most time. The head chef has had little to do besides making sure that the appropriate food supplies are ready for them, and that the kitchen staff cleans up after them. Today was the kicker though. Captain, they have formally petitioned you to stay on as permanent cooks for the Pegasus!"

That caught Boyce by surprise. "They have? I have got to check out this for myself!"

Forest continued, "I recommend that you go have a meal there, and let them petition you in person. Judge their feelings for yourself."

"Wait a moment, Forest," Rosepetal objected. "They havenít even been processed yet, and neither have they been formally admitted as Federation citizens. We canít just be handing over an official position on a Federation starship just like that!"

"Iím sorry, Commander, but I see the situation differently. By taking on the slaves, you have already taken them into the Federation. You might as well let them do their work while the bureaucracy gets around to making things official. I have examined them in conjunction with the Shipís Counsellor, and we agree that they are ideally suited to the position, and definitely not a threat to anyone. Rose, I donít want to see officiousness prevent the very thing weíre trying to achieve with this exercise."

Rosepetal was about to say more, but Boyce held up his hand to stop her. "I will go see them and judge their case personally. I have the power to bend the rules occasionally, and this seems like the right occasion. However, thereís still one aspect you havenít addressed, Forest, and that is their sexual dispositions. As youíve said, theyíve all been bred as sex slaves. How does this affect their situation?"

"Actually, in their case itís not a problem. Although they are totally homosexual, their sexual inclinations arenít of a compulsive nature, unlike many of the others. They are all capable of having a normal relationship. In fact, all four of them have met and socialised with crewpersons of similar sexual leanings already."

Midnight spoke up at this point. "Before anyone protests, I have had the brothers under discreet observation during their time in the galley, and kept a close eye on theirÖ interactionsÖ with the crew. Let me assure you that neither the bunny brothers nor the crewpersons were abused in any manner, and that the rest is none of our business."

Boyce nodded agreement. "Okay then, Iíll go see them as soon as possible. Whatís next on the list?"

Forestwalker grinned. "If you thought that was an interesting situation, this one is going to top it. One of the exotics and one of the crew have fallen in love! They intend to apply for a cohabitation arrangement immediately. I asked them to wait until I reported their situation, but Iím telling you now that Iím going to support their request."

Rosepetal rolled her eyes, and Boyce groaned. "Good grief! I suppose I canít question the genuineness of their love if youíre the one who has confirmed it, but this is damn awkward. Okay, which of the slaves, and which of my crew?"

"The slaveís name is Billy-Jean." Forest touched a button on hir PADD, and the main monitor displayed a picture of the very exotic morph. The species was a horse of some kind, one of the sturdier breeds apparently, and the ex-slave was the epitome of equine beauty. Soft sensuous eyes were set in delicate equine features, long wavy auburn hair framing the face. The body was curvaceous, padded in all the right places, with a very generous bust, all covered with a glossy chestnut coat. Billy-Jean was the essence of equine feminine beauty, which only made it more jarring when you noticed the very male, and very human genitalia. A much larger than average penis surmounted a heavy scrotum, very visible because, like all the rescued slaves, he was nude.

Forest continued when shi was sure Boyce and Rosepetal had absorbed the sight sufficiently. "Billy-Jean is not a hermaphrodite like Leanna. In fact, despite the fact that those breasts lactate, heís 100% male, or perhaps more accurately a she-male, apparently bred as a companion for someone whose tastes lean that way. He has no problem with wearing clothes, and when dressed, looks and behaves exactly like a female, and prefers being addressed as such, so from now on I will refer to him as female. She has no interest in women at all, so apparently she was intended to be sold to a male owner. As we have been talking about slaves who are of normal intelligence, she had the wit to assess her intended fate, and had been a bit dubious about being simply thrust upon her intended new owner. Give a person intelligence and you run the risk of her questioning her fate, despite the standard slave conditioning. So we asked her how she felt about herself and, if she had the opportunity, would she want gender reassignment surgery. She was quite horrified at the prospect. She likes herself exactly the way she is. I delved as deeply as I could into her feelings and they seem unforced. I think her feelings stem from the nature of her body rather than conditioning, so Iíd be reluctant to force anything on her in the name of making her supposedly Ďnormalí. Then something happened. As part of the testing to see how the intelligent slaves behaved in social settings, the ones who werenít crippled by some form of conditioning were allowed to meet and mingle with the crew in places like the lounges and dining areas. There Billy-Jean met Crewman Harold Shire. Do you know him, Captain?"

"The name rings a bell. Who is he?"

"More to the point, what is he? Harold got his surname from his breed; heís a Shire breed horsemorph. When he and Billy-Jean laid eyes on each other, it was a wonder there werenít fireworks going off around them. Even a chakat is reluctant to use the term Ďlove at first sightí, but this was damn close."

"But Crewman Shire couldnít know about Billy-Jeanís gender then. You must have had to break it to him?" Boyce queried.

"Of course. As soon as we realised what was happening, we hastened to enlighten him before he got too emotionally involved. It only made things worse. It turns out that heís bi-sexual, and Billy-Jean was his ultimate dream-girlÖ erÖ boy. By that time, you couldnít have torn them apart with tractor beams. Weíve been watching their relationship for several days now and, as far as we can tell, theyíre only falling deeper in love all the time. When Harold realised that Billy-Jean was going to be offloaded with the other slaves though, he immediately put in his cohabitation request. Now, I know that he has the same bureaucratic problems as the bunny brothers, but I canít see why they canít be granted their request."

Boyce sighed in resignation. "I suppose if Iím considering one case favourably, I need to treat them all equally. Alright, I will make a decision on them also. However, I want the news of this kept buttoned down as much as possible for the moment. I donít want more of the crew suddenly getting the idea to take on a former slave as a mate. I canít be sure of them all having such pure intentions. Now, whoís next?"

"That would be Giselle, a rabbit doe," Forest said after checking hir PADD. The screen lit up with the image of the rabbit. If there was perfection to be found in a rabbit morph, she was it. She was around five feet tall, six including her long ears. Her fur was a luxuriant soft brown and beige, with black trimming the ears and tail. She had a full figure, pert breasts with large nipples peeking through the fur, lush thighs, and cute behind topped by her fluffy tail. Large expressive blue eyes peered at you shyly. She was the embodiment of sex appeal, and the only one in the room not to feel any sexual attraction was Rosepetal.

Forest eventually broke the spell upon them by continuing. "We came across Giselle in a corner of the hangar deck. She had stacked some containers around her, essentially trying to make a private cubicle. We failed to realise why at first and, because she was a slave, she didnít volunteer anything. It was Leanna who accidentally found out why Giselle was trying to avoid contact with others. In trying to reassure her, Leanna accidentally triggered her special conditioning."

Leanna looked embarrassed. "Iíd grown careless. I should have asked her in privacy before trying to initiate any physical contact, however harmless it seemed."

"You canít know or anticipate everything, Leanna. Stop berating yourself over it," Forest insisted.

"Is anybody going to tell me what happened?" Boyce asked.

Forest hastened to explain. "Giselle has been deeply conditioned, on top of having several sexually sensitive trigger points. They are in the obvious spots Ė her nipples, crotch, and under her tail, but also her ears for some reason. Ear fetish, I guess. Touch her in any of those points, even inadvertently, and you trigger her special response. She immediately becomes sexually fixated on the person who touched her, male or female, or herm for that matter, and her lust virtually explodes."

"All I did was give her a reassuring hug," Leanna interjected, "but that put me in contact with her breasts, thus triggering her response."

Forest said, "Basically, once triggered, Giselle will not stop her demands for sex until she has been brought to orgasm two or three times, depending on the degree of stimulation. Giselleís intelligence has since been tested to be of average level, but during this period it plummeted to nothing but a sex-crazed animal." Leanna looked a bit uncomfortable at the mention of this piece of information, but she wasnít about to discuss hir own similar problem with those in whom shi hadnít yet confided. "Leanna provided the necessary stimulation, and her intelligence seemed to come back again as abruptly as turning on a switch."

Boyce looked keenly at Leanna. "I thought that you didnít like having male sex?"

"No, itís more that I regard myself as female, sir," Leanna replied. "However, at that point, it was irrelevant. When we realised her need, it had to be done. As a slave, I was required to provide both male and female sexual satisfaction at a momentís notice. Doing so for Giselle was not an arduous task. I also take care of my own mistakes, sir."

Boyce nodded. "Fair enough. So we have an intelligent sex bunny who loses her intelligence when triggered. I suppose this was some pervertís idea of a party trick. Be served by a beautiful bunny, and when youíre ready, trigger her into your mindless sex toy."

"Thatís what we figured out when we managed to interview her properly. It seems she was a big hit at parties, especially as she immediately Ďresetsí after each time. She could be used many times each day, and each time her intelligence is ripped from her. Thatís why she built the barricade, so that nobody could accidentally do to her what had been deliberately done so often. She was so desirable, apparently, that one of her masterís guests had made him an offer he couldnít refuse, and she had been en route to her new masterís world. Since learning that she would not have to go there any more and that she would be free to make her own choices, she has been trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She has some enormous hurdles to overcome yet. She can wear little more than an apron without hyper-stimulating herself. Her conditioning is so deep, it may never be broken. In the meantime, sheís getting very bored. The trouble with being intelligent is that the more you are, the more mental stimulation you need. She wants something to do to stave off boredom, yet not risk triggering the Ďparty trickí."

"And have you any recommendations?" Boyce asked.

"For starters, donít put her off at the starbase. The personnel transport that is picking them up has only multi-person bunkrooms, and no spare cabins. She would be in constant contact with others, with a high risk of being triggered frequently. I do have a viable alternative though. We have trialled her in the kitchen as an assistant. In the privacy of the kitchen, being nearly nude wonít matter, and she wonít have to come in contact with almost anyone."

"Youíre going to put a rabbit doe in with four rabbit bucks?" Boyce asked incredulously.

"You forget Ė the bunny brothers are strictly homosexual. They arenít interested in her sexually in the slightest, and sheís not interested in sex of any kind at this time. They do have high praise for her competence as a kitchen assistant though, and she was happy to have something to do other than stare at a monitor all day."

"So, providing I agree to keep the bunny brothers on, I should also keep her on, at least until we get to Earth?"

"Thatís our recommendation, Captain, Of course, the final decision is up to you," Forestwalker conceded.

ĎAs if theyíve left me any option that wouldnít leave me looking like a jerk,í Boyce thought to himself. Still, that was responsibility. "Any more?"

"Yes, there are more." A touch of the PADD and the monitor displayed an ermine with bright green fur. She had no human-type head hair, but subtle curves and petite breasts marked her as a female. This wasnít a still image like the others though, and as shi moved, the watchers could see the fluidity of motion that was unmatched by any others outside of closely related species. "This is Bellarinka, and no, that isnít a dye job. Her fur grows in that incredible colour. However she might be one of the greatest finds ever despite that obvious trait. Sheís a dancer, and an extraordinary one at that. I was fortunate enough to have the presence of mind to record the following impromptu event. As with the others, she had been brought out to meet and socialise with the crew. She was enjoying it so much, she decided to dance for the people in the mess hall."

Forest stopped talking then and let the video speak for hir. Bellarinka had immediately commanded the attention of all the crew, and for more reasons than she was dancing entirely nude. Boyce lacked the formal knowledge of the skills involved with dancing, but even he could tell that here was something special. The ermine glided around the room, pirouetting, leaping, spinning and bending with all the flexibility of a member of the mustelidae family. Not a sound came from the recording until the dance was finished, and then the applause and cheers were deafening. Bellarinka bowed in acknowledgement, then retrieved her discarded clothing just as the video recording ended.

There was a period of silence in the cabin until Boyce finally spoke up. "No need to make your recommendation for this one, Forest. If she isnít the best dancer in the galaxy, sheíd have to be in the top ten. Iím going to make a call personally to see what I can do about fast-tracking her into an appropriate program to make sure her talent is seen by as many people as possible. Itís obvious that girl loves to dance, so letís grant her wish."

"I took the liberty of looking up some appropriate contacts, sir," Midnight said as shi keyed hir PADD to transmit the details to Boyceís computer.

"Thank you, Commander," Boyce said. "What I donít understand is: why is this one in a cargo of sex slaves?"

"Because thatís what she was," Forest replied sadly.

Boyce was incredulous. "You mean to say that they had such an extraordinary talent, and the most that they used her for was sex?"

"Weíre not certain that they knew the depths of her talent," Leanna answered, "but even so, you have to take this in perspective. On some of the worlds, you cannot acknowledge that a slave has a greater ability than a human, so the only way they feel that they can be superior to her is to reduce her to a common bed slave after her performances."

Boyce shook his head in disgust and disbelief. "Just as you think youíve seen it allÖ! Tell me, does she always dance in the nude?"

"Aside from the occasional prop, we believe so," Forest replied.

"Oh well, I suppose it can be put down to art. If Bellarinka is amenable, Iíd like you to organise a show for the crew. Such a talent should be given the chance to express itself, and the crew would appreciate it, judging by this video."

"Very well, sir," Rosepetal replied.

"So, whoís next?"

"Just three more, Captain. This fellowís name is Casanova. Youíre familiar with him. In fact, you told me about him when you took me down to the hangar deck to show me the slaves." The monitor showed a handsome white-tailed deer buck, complete with a modest rack of antlers. He was a handsome specimen, but not exceptional except for what seemed to be a large wattle under his chin.

Boyce was startled as he recognised him. "Thatís the morph with the penis-tongue! You mean to say heís one of the intelligent slaves?"

Forest grinned widely. "Yep. Surprised us too until we found out that he had been bred as a gigolo. You need to have a clever mind as well as sex appeal to serve adequately in that position. It seems that the physical modifications to his tongue do not interfere with ability to speak, at least when itís not in the aroused state, so we interviewed him. We found out that he was witty and engaging, and I was having trouble maintaining a professional detachment. We enquired about his unusual endowments and whether he wanted to look into surgery to bring him to physical normality. He practically burst into tears and begged us not to do that to him. At this stage, he was still thinking he was a slave and in the hands of some strange new owners. We had to explain to him that we had no intention of forcing anything upon him that he didnít want, but it took a while before he was reassured. After that, we asked him to explain more about his endowments. It turns out that of the two penises, he prefers using his tongue, so having it made Ďnormalí wasÖ wellÖ I think you can imagine."

Boyce shivered at the thought and nodded fervently in agreement.

Forest continued. "As far as we can determine, he has a normal sense of taste, and his articulation, while not perfect, is nevertheless perfectly understandable despite the modifications. Without us asking, he gave us a demonstration of how quickly he could engorge it at will. Despite that, he could still manipulate it Ė a prehensile penis in effect. Later tests showed that the second set of gonads supplying the tongue produce sperm identical in nature to his normal ones, and both are quite fertile. He literally can get a female of a compatible species pregnant with his tongue! We lack the facilities though to determine whether this feature is genetically inheritable."

"So what do you recommend we do with him?"

"Obviously he will need to be properly psychologically examined to make sure that his attitudes arenít merely conditioning, but my impression is that heís quite proud of his extra endowment, and canít wait to put both it and his training to use. I suspected that the licensed brothels would be interested in his services, and made a couple of enquiries. Now theyíve started a bidding war to get him to sign a contract, despite the fact that he hasnít even been cleared yet! I predict that boy is going to have a very happy future, and is going to be richer than the lot of us combined!"

Boyce rolled his eyes. "And what reason are you going to give me for keeping this one on board?"

"Why, none, Captain," Forest said in a tone that implied that shi wondered why he could possibly imagine that shi would have one.

"Then what was the point of all this?"

"You wanted a full report on all the intelligent slaves. Well, he was intelligent. He just doesnít have any need not to be shipped back with the rest of the slaves, and he can put his libido to good use amongst them until they get to Earth."

Boyce growled in mock annoyance at his cheeky mate. "Alright then, Iíll add my recommendation for him. Two more to go, I believe?"

"I left these two for last as theyíre not really exciting because, although they do qualify as being intelligent, their IQ's are very low on the scale. Both can talk reasonably well, but theyíre basically thick as a brick. Dumb blonde jokes would enjoy a revival with them. Nevertheless they can perform their functions well enough."

Forest flipped the image of a Persian cat onto the screen. She was pure white, with gorgeous blue eyes. Her fur was long and luxurious. Although all the former slaves so far had been nude, this one was wearing a classic French maidís outfit. "No prize for guessing her duties. About the only thing that Eva can do well is maid work. Of course, as Leanna pointed out, all the morphs are sex slaves of one kind or another. As far as we can figure out, she was assigned to guests to take care of all their needs just like a normal maid, but with sexual services thrown in. Weíre not sure why such an ordinary slave is doing on a shipful of exotics, but weíre speculating that she belonged to one of the crew. Evaís sweet, affectionate, compliant, and definitely not a candidate for poster girl for your crusade."

Without waiting for Boyce to comment, Forest immediately put up the final ex-slave on the screen. This one was a male collie: tall, lean and handsome. He had the typical English Collie fur colour and pattern, as well as the long narrow muzzle. Forest continued her narrative. "Like the Persian, Emmanuelís a household servant for pretty much the same purpose, but with one unique twist. Once again we were wondering why such an ordinary slave was doing in this shipment. Fortunately he demonstrated for us. Crewman Vasquez volunteered as a guinea pig, as she was very sceptical about his claim."

The scene shifted to a view of a short olive-skinned human standing with her arms folded defiantly and a cocky grin on her face. The collie moved up to her hesitantly and said, "Are you sure of this, mistress?"

Vasquez responded, "Give it your best shot. You ainít got nothing that other men havenít tried on me before."

Forest commented wryly, "Vasquez is a bit man shy."

Emmanuel shrugged, and for a moment nothing apparently was happening. Abruptly, Vasquez threw herself at the collie, hugging him, stroking him, kissing him frantically. Then she started tearing off her uniform with her intentions quite clear. The recording stopped at that point.

Forest said, "We had a male crewman standing by and at that moment we told him to restrain Vasquez and for Emmanuel to leave the room. Despite the fact that the crewman is quite burly, he almost failed to control Vasquez, such is the strength of the compulsion. As you can surmise, Emmanuel is able to trigger extreme sexual attraction in any female, and weíre presuming that herms may be similarly affected, which is why Leanna and myself stayed out of that room for the experiment. The effects didnít wear off for a couple of hours. Afterwards Vasquez said she felt fine, but a day later I unobtrusively scanned her empathically, and I could feel an emotional tug that hadnít been there before."

"Does Emmanuel do this all the time, or only when ordered to do so?" Boyce asked.

"Emmanuel says he only does it when he is told to do so, but every female heíd been told to serve had either been expecting it of him, or else heíd been instructed to use it on them. He has never done it of his own accord."

"Thank heavens for that at least. Do you know how he does it?"

"We need some more specific tests, but it would seem that it is a two-fold system. Firstly, he can control the release of a super-pheromone that kicks sexual attraction into overdrive. So far we canít exempt any female from its influence, including non-Terran species such as Caitians, without more trials."

"I decline the offer to be a test subject," Rosepetal commented dryly.

Forestwalker grinned but continued, "The second part seems to be of a psionic nature. I felt its influence from the observation room next door. It seems to direct that sexual drive at Emmanuel, making him the object of the womanís desire. Thatís why the male human in the room was not targeted by Vasquez, even after Emmanuel left the room. She remained fixated on the collie."

"Iíll bet some humans had it done to themselves just for the thrill of it," Boyce speculated.

"If they did, they might have regretted it later. As I mentioned, Vasquez seemed to have lingering feelings. Two days later, she requested to see Emmanuel again. I scanned her again and felt a need growing there. At this point, we donít have enough data, but Iím speculating on a couple of possibilities. Firstly, the psionic nature of the second component of the compulsion may not let her quit until it is satisfied. In other words, she would have to have sex with Emmanuel before it would abate."

"And the second?" Rosepetal asked.

"The super-pheromone might be addictive."

"Or both?" Rose queried.

"Or both," Forestwalker conceded.

Boyce said, "You should never have let Vasquez do that test. I canít hold Leanna responsible for this situation, but I expected better of you, Forest."

Leanna felt a bit ashamed anyway. Of all the people on this ship, shi was the one in the best position to know some of the strange and unusual modifications that had been done to morphs.

Forest said, "In hindsight, it wasnít one of the smartest things Iíve ever done. Iíve arranged for both more medical testing and counselling sessions for Vasquez."

"Good," Boyce agreed. "In the meantime, despite the fact that Emmanuel claims to have never done this to someone of his own will, I think it prudent to take some appropriate precautions with him. Make sure heís made to understand that he is not to do that again at least until he reaches Earth. The experts there can investigate him more thoroughly. Make sure he keeps away from females until then, unless itís with one of the slaves who have already been with him. As for Eva, she might have potential if the doctors can do anything back on Earth, but for now she rates no special treatment and goes back with the rest. That just leaves us with the non-intelligent ones."

Rosepetal spoke up. "I have had the medical staff treating the more extreme cases, and for now it would seem that they are all content. Itíll be up to the authorities to decide what to do with them when they take them off our hands."

"Pardon me," Leanna asked, "But what is going to happen with all those? Are they simply going to be put into some corner and forgotten again?"

Boyce looked at the fennec gravely. "Leanna, every one of those morphs will be screened again, especially in the light of what you have told us, and they will be physically and mentally assessed thoroughly. Where medical intervention is called for to give them a reasonably decent life, it will be done. But there is a limit to what our medical sciences can do, and as you know for yourself, these remaining morphs are mostly morons, incapable of looking after themselves properly. The vast majority, if not all, will probably be declared wards of the government, and appropriately dealt with. I believe that most will end up in licensed brothels anyway. There they will have as much sex, or as little, as they wish, and the fees charged for their services will go towards maintaining them, giving them sustenance, entertainment and health care, for as long they live. They will have happy and healthy lives, even if we donít particularly like their limited futures. The fact is though that we canít fix everything, and sometimes all we have to choose from is the lesser of two evils. Not all are as fortunate as you are, Leanna."

"I understand, Captain. I should count my blessings, right?"


The Pegasus finally made its rendezvous with Starbase 3, Rakshan sector. Their arrival was due near the end of the first watch, so Leanna had been warned to prepare for an outing, with dinner to be held on the base. Midnight had arrived later at the cabin with Yeoman DíArmand in tow.

"Are the cubs ready, Leanna?" Midnight asked.

"As much as theyíll ever be, Midnight," Leanna replied.

"Good. I want you to leave them with Yeoman DíArmand for the moment and get into one of your ship uniforms. Youíre coming with me."

Even as shi hastened to comply, Leanna asked, "Where are we going?"

"Youíve been invited to watch our arrival at the starbase from the bridge by the Captain. I wouldnít keep him waiting."

Leanna was surprised but gratified by the opportunity to visit the bridge, a place that was very much off-limits to those who werenít bridge staff or explicitly invited there. Shi hastened to put on hir special bra and duty uniform, then followed the chakat to the trans-lift.

While there wasnít anyone in earshot, Midnight said, "Leanna, you are to behave as if you are a member of the crew performing a yeomanís duties for the captain. As such you will have little to do at this time other than waiting for instructions from him. You will stand quietly at the left side of the captainís chair and, aside from reporting in, wonít say anything unless addressed directly by him, Commander Rosepetal or myself. Very few people know your exact status, and weíd prefer to have it remain that way for the moment. Understood?"

"Understood, sir!" Leanna responded smartly.

Midnight smiled slightly at the reply. "Good. Other than that, enjoy the experience."

"Thanks. I will!"

They stepped onto the trans-lift and Midnight announced "Bridge!" to the trans-liftís computer system, which recognised hir voice and hir authority to go to that destination. The lift started off smoothly and Midnight continued hir talk with Leanna.

"As weíve mentioned, this is a Rakshani run base, and although you will find many species there, Rakshani will be in the majority. They are a large and powerful species, and very intimidating when you first meet them. Seeing as one of them is my co-mate, youíre going to have to be prepared to meet her."

"Most species are bigger than me, Midnight. Iím reasonably prepared to deal with that."

"Weíll see," Midnight said knowingly as the liftís doors opened to reveal the bridge.

Stepping out onto the bridge, Leanna took a moment to glance around and orient hirself. Shi noted that Midnight left hir to take hir own station. Leanna strode down the ramp and up to Boyce who was scrutinising something on his chairís display screen.

"Reporting as ordered, captain," Leanna said, saluting as shi had seen others do.

Boyce looked up and said, "Very good, Mr Fennec. At ease." Then went back to looking at his screen.

Leanna took the position that shiíd been instructed to take, then started observing keenly all that was happening on the bridge. A couple of the crew had given hir slightly curious looks before returning to their tasks, but otherwise hir arrival passed without note. Shi realised what a hive of activity that the bridge was and wondered if this was normal, or a consequence of their imminent arrival at the starbase. Shi took in what shi could, but realised that this was beyond hir present abilities to comprehend. Shi turned hir attention to the main view screen that showed the starscape with a slowly growing object in the centre.

A male morph that Leanna identified as likely being a black-footed ferret spoke up. "Captain, Starbase 3 control has contacted us."

"Open a channel to them," Boyce said. The ferret nodded and Boyce spoke up, "This is the Federation Starship Pegasus, Admiral Boyce Kline commanding."

The view screen image changed to show a view of a control room, presumably that of the starbase, with Star Fleet personnel of various species in the background. Dominating the view though was a female Rakshani. Resembling a tiger, she had all the power and grace of that species, combined with a voluptuous form. Despite it being an image, Leanna gained a strong impression of her size and it was very imposing.

"Welcome, Pegasus," the Rakshani said. "I believe you have quite a cargo for us?"

"You could say that, Captain. Permission to dock?"

"Permission granted, Admiral. You are cleared for dock four. Please report to me as soon as possible after docking."

"Acknowledged. Kline out." Boyce turned to Leanna. "In case you didnít realise, that was Captain Zhane ap Nashene na Zhane, commander of the starbase. Iíll be introducing you to her later as youíll be dealing with her while weíre docked here."

Leanna nodded in understanding.

Boyce turned his attention back to the business at hand. "Standard approach, Mr Murawrr!"

"Aye, Captain!" the Caitian helmsman responded.

For a while, the bridge crew quietly and efficiently carried out their tasks. Meanwhile the starbase grew rapidly on the screen, filling it, then exceeding its bounds. Leanna was impressed by the immensity of the structure. Shi spotted another starship docked there already, dwarfed by the station. Leanna had read up on the starbases when shi had learned that they would be docked at one for a little while. This one had been established soon after the Rakshani had joined the Stellar Federation, catering for the needs of the sector once exclusively controlled by the Rakshan Empire. It had been a near thing though. The Rakshani had almost gone to war with the Stellar Federation at first, determined to keep control of their territory to themselves, but a skilful team of Caitian negotiators had successfully convinced them that there were greater advantages to forming an alliance with the Federation instead. The Rakshani still controlled their territory, but with free trade open between their worlds and others of the Federation. The Rakshani, being a warrior race, were often enthusiastic participants in Star Fleet, frequently taking the more militaristic positions. After seeing Zhane, Leanna wasnít at all surprised.

Despite hir confidence in the crewís abilities, Leanna still found it a tad nerve-wracking during the actual docking as the helmsman skilfully manoeuvred the huge ship into position. The final coupling was done by the stationís docking computer though. There was no room for egos when dealing with two such massive objects.

"Docking completed, Captain," the helmsman said.

"All stations stand down. Mr Murawrr, you are officer of the watch. Commander Rosepetal, Commander Midnight, Mr Fennec, please accompany me to pay our respects to the Starbase Commander."

The four trooped into the trans-lift. "Docking Bay One!" Boyce told the computer. On their way, he grinned at Leanna. "So, what did you think of that, Leanna?"

"Very impressive, Captain. Thank you for inviting me onto the bridge."

"Youíre welcome. Best way of satisfying curiosity too, donít you think?"

"Indubitably," Leanna agreed, wondering if Midnight had said anything to him, or whether he had figured out hir activities, or even if it was just a coincidence.

They got off the trans-lift into a short corridor that led directly to a spacious room with an airlock. The viewport in the airlock door showed that the outer door had been opened to reveal another airlock door at the end of a corridor that shi believed had to have been extended to mate with the ship, similar to an aircraft jetway. The far airlock was just opening as shi watched. A stern-looking wolfmorph was stationed at a counter near the door. He wore the grey of Security, so shi presumed the purpose of this room was to monitor and control personnel boarding or disembarking the ship, and possibly goods also, depending on where they were docking.

"Air pressure has been matched and you can disembark now, Captain," the wolf said as he toggled the switch that opened the final door.

"Thank you," Boyce replied, and he stepped into the corridor, followed by the others.

They were met at the other end by Captain Zhane with the standard complement of security personnel. Although shi had been determined that shi would be prepared to meet the Rakshani, Leanna was still awed by the massive felinoid alien. At 218cm, the tiger-patterned alien towered over Leanna's 150cm height, and while Zhane was very femininely curved, Leanna could also see the muscles working beneath the uniform in her powerful limbs.

"Permission to board, Captain?" Boyce asked formally.

"Permission granted. Welcome back, Admiral," Zhane replied. "You too, Commanders. And if Iím not mistaken, this crewman is the person whom you said youíd be talking to me about when you arrived. Youíre welcome to Starbase 3 also."

"Yeoman Leanna Fennec is currently assigned to my family. The full explanations can wait though."

"Indeed they can. Would you care to accompany me to my office?" Zhane asked.

The group headed to the nearby trans-lift. They were soon at Zhaneís office, and when the last of them was inside, Midnight touched the door locking plate, then nodded at Zhane. Leanna was startled to watch Zhane grab Boyce, pulling him into a strong hug cushioned only by her impressive breasts, and lowering her muzzle to passionately kiss him. Boyce wasnít idly letting it happen though. He was returning the kiss with enthusiasm, his arms stroking the ardent feline.

Leanna noted that Midnight was grinning at the sight, and Rosepetal was patiently waiting for her mate to finish. Leanna had been told that Zhane was also one of Boyceís co-mates, so the scene wasnít untoward, just a bit abrupt in its transition from formal to unrestrained. Finally the two finished their long kiss.

"There, thatís a much better welcome for my lifemate," Zhane said with satisfaction. "You need to visit this base more often."

"You present a strong argument, love," Boyce replied with a grin.

Zhane turned to Rosepetal and exchanged a slightly more formal greeting with her co-mate, one that Leanna had been shown to be used between Caitian co-mates. As the Rakshani had mated into a Caitian family unit, she honoured their customs where she could. However, when she turned to the chakat, it was quite different. Midnight reared up on hir hind legs so that the two could exchange a bone-crushing hug, both grinning in pleasure. Leanna shuddered at the thought of either doing that to hir.

All greetings having been properly made, Zhane invited them all to make themselves comfortable and offered refreshments. Leanna had to force hirself to stop jumping up and serving them. Old habits died hard. Then when all were settled, Zhane turned her attention on Leanna.

"So you are the intelligent slave that Boyce found? How are you finding freedom so far?"

"Confusing at times, but far better than my old life."

"Even if heís got you working as crew already?" Zhane asked, indicating the uniform.

"Actually the uniform was my idea, and the work I do is my choice."

"Hiding behind the uniform, hey? Not a bad idea considering the furore that youíve already caused. Anyway, itís obvious that Boyce trusts you, or you would not have been part of this group. I wish you luck for the future."

"Thank you, Captain."

The conversation turned to the rest of the slaves and plans to transfer them to the starbase until a personnel transport could rendezvous to transport them to Earth. After that, they started catching up on family news. Leanna was starting to get quite bored before they decided it was time to make dinner plans. Boyce announced that he intended to wrap up a couple of things on the ship first and come back for the meal. Midnight said shi would go back with him and change out of hir uniform, which Leanna thought a good idea.

Rosepetal said, "I need to clear up one item of business with Zhane first. Iíll catch up with you soon."

"Okay, love. Letís go," Boyce said to the others.

"So, whatís the business?" Zhane asked as the door closed behind them.

Rosepetal replied, "The family kindÖ"

Leanna was dressed for the dinner in a new outfit that had been designed especially for hir. It complimented hir fur and build, and could be worn with or without hir special bra, only discarding the top that went with it if shi chose not to wear the bra. It was themed on an ancient Egyptian outfit, and Leanna had to admit that it really suited hir. Because this was a Star Fleet station though, shi chose not to take the more comfortable option. Technically shi knew that shi was within hir rights to go topless as shi wasnít actually a Star Fleet member, but shi preferred not to make waves. Rosepetal had dressed in her finest Caitian style garments. Midnight had dressed up a lot also, much to Leannaís surprise. Shi had never seen the chakat dress much more than the minimum, with the exception of the special outfit for Forestwalkerís benefit. In fact, everyone was dressed in their best, even Kayla who looked like she would much rather be in something more comfortable. Leanna had been introduced to Kernos, the son of Zhane and Boyce. The Rakshani boy was already taller than Leanna, although shi had been reassured that he was the same age as Kayla. Rakshani children grew up fast and tall! The boy had been hyper all evening, excited at seeing his father again. Despite the differences between their species, the two got along exceptionally well. It wasnít unusual for Rakshan children not to see their fathers very often, and the times that they could be together were exciting for them both. Boyceís entire family was gathered here together for the first time in a long while, and it was a special occasion for all. Leanna felt honoured to be included in the gathering.

The evening went exceptionally well, interrupted only by having to put the cubs to bed. Both Kayla and Kernos protested when their time came, but both had already well exceeded their normal bedtime. That just left the adults to chat for a while longer. Eventually though, Zhane got up and announced, "This has been a grand evening, but if itís all the same to you, my mate and I have a bit of catching up to do of a more intimate nature. I love you all, but I want you all out of here now!" She grinned to show the humour behind the statement, but showed just enough of her fangs to indicate that she meant it. Leanna had read that Rakshani tended often to be blunt, and it came as no surprise to the others also. Zhane made her farewells first, then disappeared into her bedroom. They gathered the sleepy cubs and headed back to the Pegasus, leaving only Boyce.

Boyce headed for the bedroom, taking off his jacket at the same time. He entered it to find that Zhane had redecorated it since his last visit. It now resembled the room of a traditional Rakshan manor with its colour theme of blacks and reds, including fake view windows and a huge four-poster bed. Dominating the room though was Zhane, artfully posed on the bed, wearing a black bustier, a red boa, and nothing else besides her fur. She looked at Boyce sultrily.

"I hope that youíre ready to make up for lost time," she said.

Boyce grinned and walked over to her, stripping off his shirt as he did so. "I did nothing but cuddle with my mates these past two nights, just so that I could be at my best for you, darling."

She reached for his trouser belt and undid it, pulling his trousers down. "Youíve never disappointed me yet, my dear." She continued to undress him with his help, then she wrapped her long thick tail, so unlike a tigerís, around her mate, pulling him close to kiss him.

When they parted, Boyce started caressing her breasts. She started a deep rumbling purr. He said, "Thatís a new bustier, isnít it?"

"Yes it is. You like?"

"I love! Itís the best one yet. I love how your nipples peek over the edge." He leaned down to lick one, feeling it harden to his touch. "But the best thing about a bustier is getting the contents out!" He started pulling on the ties, unlacing it until her breasts fell free. She threw it aside as he buried his face between hir ample breasts, stroking them with one hand as his other wandered familiarly over the rest of her curvaceous body. Her rumbling purr grew louder until she suddenly gasped in pleasure.

"Oh! Take me now, my mate!" she demanded.

Boyce, inflamed by her heady scent, was only too ready to do so. With the ease of experience, he entered her hot body and they made love. It was a good thing that he had rested up beforehand because the two continued in similar fashion for a few hours before both were spent. They ended up falling asleep, Zhane curled possessively around him. Indeed he had never disappointed her in the bedroom, and rarely outside of it, and she had never regretted taking the Terran as her lifemate.

The next day saw a large portion of the shipís personnel take leave on the starbase, availing themselves of the various divertissements there. The rescued slaves had been all offloaded during the Ďnightí, thus leaving many free to relax. It was Zhane who came on board the Pegasus though for the next family dinner, a somewhat less formal affair than the one on the starbase. Because they never left the captainís cabin, Leanna elected not to wear the top for hir outfit this time. The broad Ďnecklaceí though came down to just above hir breasts, and shi did not seem inadequately dressed. This time they invited MíLai to join them and introduced her to Zhane. MíLai felt strange at not being the tallest person in the room for once, but liked the rough humour of the Rakshani. They talked a lot before Boyce arrived with Kernos and the meal could be served. Father and son had been spending some quality time together that day, and both were in high spirits and had ravenous appetites.

MíLai was surprised at how much interest that Zhane showed in her, but put it down as something different from the usual topics of conversation amongst the family. By the time she left to go back to her cabin though, she was wondering when she had last talked so much.

Leanna arrived at the captainís cabin at the usual time, although this time accompanied by MíLai. A message left at the doctorís office had asked her to see Rosepetal after Leannaís appointment. The Caitian was curious about what the First Officer wanted with her, but was reassured by the pleasant smile that she was given upon reporting. Rosepetal asked MíLai into the study as Leanna took charge of the cubs. Rosepetal closed the door behind them and invited MíLai to make herself comfortable, taking a seat at the study desk at the same time. Being seated brought them closer to being of the same head-level, a more comfortable situation for them both.

"So, how can I be of service to you, Commander?" MíLai asked.

Rosepetal came straight to the point. She asked, "Mur Lai fola Saarath, trrket su ent rramrrk setgarrut?"

The sentence, spoken in Ratarsk, the Caitian common speech, surprised MíLai hugely. Translated, it meant, "Daughter Lai of the house of Saarath, are you the one for whom I have been searching?" It was the sentenceís formality that mostly threw the doctor, as it was only used by a female looking for a new co-mate. She was being propositioned as a potential mate for Admiral Kline!

The conversation continued in the Caitian tongue. MíLai asked, "Are you sure that you want someone like me as part of your family? You know my history better than most."

"I do, and I know my mateís tastes just as well. I have also consulted with all my co-mates for their opinion of you, and we unanimously agree that you would make a good fifthwife."

"IÖ Iím stunned. I mean, I had seen the signs of interest, but I had never dared to believe that a freak like myself would ever be considered mate-worthy."

Rosepetal smiled. "You must surely realise that ours is a rather unusual family. Believe me, you fit right into our odd relationship! I have been impressed by your dedication to your craft in spite of your handicap, and you have a good rapport with all the family members, including Leanna. Besides saying that you have all the rightÖ ummÖ physical attributes, Forest says that you have a good heart and will make a good match with Boyce. Coming from someone who is almost an E5 level empath, I put a lot of faith in hir opinions. Zhane approves of you too. She said that it was about time we got another decent-sized female in this bunch!"

They shared a grin at that opinion before Rosepetal continued. "Midnight added one more point in your favour: shi says you make a competent and pleasant lover."

MíLai blushed at the realisation that Rosepetal apparently knew all about the times she had spent together with Midnight, assuaging her insatiable need for another day. In retrospect, it should have been obvious. As a security officer, it was impossible to drag a secret out of Midnight, but as a chakat, shi saw nothing wrong in the relationship, nor inappropriate in keeping hir co-mates apprised where it mattered. In truth, shi was quite discreet because shi knew that none of that knowledge would pass beyond hir family, and none of them had any objections, especially Zhane who regularly had trysts to serve her needs as Rakshani females usually had.

But Rosepetal was not quite finished yet. "And if itís your desire to have children in the future, weíve ample proof that Boyce is quite capable of giving you them. You can find complete fulfilment as part of our family. So, do you have an answer for me, or would you prefer to think it over for some time?"

MíLai still felt flustered, but tried to get her thoughts in order. She had been asked formally, and an answer of some kind was required. "It has been my dream to be asked to be part of someoneís pride. One that I felt would never be anything but a dream. To actually get the opportunity is frankly staggering, but I have to admit that yours is the most interesting and likeable family that Iíve ever met, and I would be a fool to turn down the opportunity. And as you know, I am a xenophile, and find Admiral KlineÖ BoyceÖ to be quite handsome and desirable. Oh, listen to me! Iím babbling on and on. I suppose what I mean is: I accept! Saartask sur gitarsh!"

By this time, MíLai was weeping tears of happiness, and Rosepetal embraced her in congratulations and comfort. When MíLai had collected herself again, Rosepetal said, "I will speak to Boyce about this at our midday break. If all goes as planned, will you be ready for the traditional pre-mating night tonight?"

"Iíve been waiting for it since I came of age! Anything else can wait!" MíLai responded with finality.

Rosepetal grinned. "I rather thought that would be the case. But now itís time for us to go on duty. I will see you later, future co-mate!"

MíLai smiled broadly in answer, and the two departed to their posts, waving goodbye to Leanna on their way out.

Rosepetal didnít have any problems with Boyce when she announced her candidate for fifthwife to him at lunch break. She was careful though to make sure that his mouth wasnít full when she said it. Boyce took it quite well however, leading Rosepetal to believe that all those lessons on Caitian culture had not been wasted on him after all. It wasnít the first time that he had been in this situation, of course. Rosepetal had proposed Zhane a few years back, and although heíd found it hard to believe that his wife actually wanted him to have another wife, he was quite taken with her choice. Later, he had made the major faux pas of finding a new mate without the approval of his firstwife, but it had all worked out in the end.

Boyce mulled over the announcement in his mind. At this point, by tradition he could demand of his firstwife proof that the proposed new wife would be an asset to the family, but Boyce was already convinced of that. Then there was the compatibility test, but that was to be decided as part of the pre-mating night. He smiled a little at the thought of what was in store for him that night. Everyone in his family already knew that he found MíLai to be sexually desirable, but this night would prove just how compatible they were also. It promised to be enjoyable, but it had its serious side as well.

"When will the pre-mating be done?" he asked.

"Tonight after the children are all put to bed," Rosepetal replied.

"Wow! Things sure are moving fast," he observed.

"Thatís as it should be," she said authoritatively. "When all the proper protocols are observed and the firstwife has done her duty correctly, then her mate should be presented with a candidate who not only is ready for the position immediately, but also should be assured of being found compatible. The rest is just tradition."

"Letís hear it for Caitian tradition!" Boyce said, raising his glass of orange juice in a toast.

Rosepetal just shook her head in resignation. He was a good husband, but such a silly human sometimes.

That night there wasnít a formal dinner, but there was a lot of excitement in the air that puzzled the youngsters. This made them feel like staying up to find out what was going to happen, not realising that nothing would happen until after they went to sleep. When the last was finally tucked in and Leanna had left for hir room, Rosepetal gathered everyone together, with Boyce on her left side, and MíLai on her right, holding the nearest hand of each.

"Tonight is special," she began. "We have chosen a candidate for fifthwife for our beloved mate, and they will decide if they are truly suited for a lifetime as partners in our pride." She turned to Boyce. "Husband, I know that you will uphold the honour of our family, and decide fairly." She turned to MíLai. "Candidate, I hope you will do your best to show that we have chosen well." She brought their hands together. "Go now, and fulfil your duties."

The two grinned at her, and started for the bedroom. As they reached the door, Rosepetal added with humour in her voice, "But try not to keep everyone on this deck awake with the decision-making process, okay?"

Boyce closed the door firmly behind them and noticed that MíLai was already starting to undress. Unfastening his own jacket, he commented, "Not that I have any objection, but I find it hard to understand why the pre-mating exists."

MíLai took her time with the undressing, giving Boyce a bit of show while doing so. "Itís not so difficult when you realise that it dates way back into our history when Caitian civilisation consisted of a large number of nomadic clans. Long before we knew the nature of genetics, we understood the need for new blood to have strong and healthy children. When a female accepted a place as a wife, it was frequently with another clan for this reason. However, one is hardly likely to make a lifetime commitment without knowing whether your potential mate and yourself are compatible, especially in the area of love-making. So it eventually became traditional for the females to try out their potential mates first, thus saving many from a potentially unhappy life, both male and female." She finished her explanation with a sultry roll onto the bed. "So, do you like what you see so far?"

Boyce completed his undressing and paused to admire her. "Milady MíLai, Iíd do my current mates a disfavour if I said that you were the sexiest person whom Iíve ever seen, but my dear, you rank equally amongst them. Besides, I think my reactions speak for themselves."

MíLai observed the salute she was being given and grinned. "A very good start." She got onto her hands and knees then reached out in invitation. "Now come here, lover!"

Boyce obeyed with alacrity, and they were both quickly familiarising themselves intimately with each otherís body, which quickly became more and more passionate until MíLai cried out, "Take me, Boyce! I need you in me now!"

Boyce mounted her then, and together they built up to the heights of passion. MíLai, ever sensitive to sexual stimulation, came to climax long before Boyce, but was quickly brought to her second orgasm in time to share it with Boyceís, and together they cried out in the height of their passion. Panting, they smiled at each other, praising the otherís performance with looks and touch. The night was yet young though, and both were soon ready for another round. This was one tradition that they intended to fulfil to the maximum!

Leanna had not returned directly to hir cabin after leaving the Admiralís quarters. Instead, shi went to what had become hir favourite haunt, the coffee lounge. Shi was pleased to see that Moyshu was already there as shi was in the mood to socialise with her for a while, and the foxtaur was equally glad to see the fennec. They chatted over cappuccinos, Leanna happy to discuss those aspects of hir job that were neither restricted nor revealing of hir background. Then the subject drifted off into safer areas.

"I know you told me that foxtaurs are rare amongst Star Fleet personnel. Donít you miss the males of your kind?" Leanna asked at one point.

"Foxtaur tods, you mean. No, I donít miss tods at all," Moyshu replied, but with a hint of a strange tone in her voice, and an odd expression. "I find enough distractions out here, usually."

Leanna tried to get more information out of her, but it seemed that the subject was closed. Eventually Leanna felt that shi had better head back to hir cabin in order to get some studying done.

"Iíll walk with you," Moyshu said, putting down the coffee mug. Her quarters were on the same deck as Leannaís, so this wasnít the first time that she had done so. However, Leanna sensed that Moyshu was a bit nervous tonight.

When they reached Moyshuís door, she seemed to want to say something, but didnít seem to know how to start. Leanna asked with some concern, "Is everything okay, Moyshu?"

Moyshu drew a deep breath, then seemed to come to a decision. "Actually, there is one thing bothering me. Would you step into my cabin for a moment?"

Leanna agreed willingly, although slightly puzzled.

When the door closed, Moyshu said, "Weíve become very good friends, havenít we?" At Leannaís nod, she continued, "Then I hope that nothing more of this will go beyond this cabin. Leanna, have you ever heard of a vulpamour?"

"No, Iím not familiar with that term."

"Literally, it means fox-lover, but when applied specifically to foxtaurs, it has a very specific meaning. Vulpamours are vixens who like other vixens. In other terms, theyíre lesbians. Leanna, I donít miss tods because Iím a vulpamour, and I find myself very attracted to you. In fact, I have been ever since the first time we met, and Iíve been trying to gauge your feelings also, but keep getting mixed signals. I guess what Iím saying is, would you like to be more than friends? How would you feel about having a foxtaur girlfriend?"

Leanna was stunned. Not by the prospect of a female lover, because that was hardly a unique event in hir life. It was because shi hadnít seen it coming. Shiíd grown used to having Moyshu as a friend and confidante, and shiíd never caught the subtle signals that she had been giving. Shi was either slipping badly, or had grown a blind spot in regards to the vixen. ĎNow what do I do?í shi questioned hirself. ĎItís not as if being her lover would be unpleasant, but she doesnít even really know my true nature. Then again, perhaps that is the answer.í

"Moyshu, before you go any further, I need to show you something. Itís a very private thing with me, and only a few others on this ship know about it, but you deserve to know." Leanna started unfastening the tail fly of hir pants while Moyshu looked on in both puzzlement and hope. Leanna was pretty sure that the foxtaur would not be concerned about nudity considering what shi had learned about the species, and the fact that they almost never wore anything on their lower torso anyway. Showing her was going to be more convincing than merely telling her. "Moyshu, my dear friend, I am a hermaphrodite," Leanna told the foxtaur as shi lowered hir pants to show the unequivocal truth of hir statement.

It was Moyshuís turn to be stunned. Out of all the scenarios that she had imagined after telling Leanna her feelings, this was one that she hadnít anticipated. Shi stared at the awful truth until Leanna pulled hir pants back into place and re-fastened the tail fly. Then she looked up at Leannaís concerned face, and asked, "Youíre a herm, like a chakat?"

"Except for some minor differences, yes, I am," Leanna confirmed.

"I never even knew that there were herm fennecs," Moyshu said uncertainly.

"Have you ever seen any fennec morphs at all?" asked Leanna hopefully.

Moyshu paused, trying to think, and then she shook her head. "Come to think of it, I canít recall ever seeing anything but fennectaurs before."

Leanna sighed in disappointment. For a moment there, the vixen had raised hir hopes that the others were wrong. Shi quickly brought hir attention back to the problem at hand. "So, how do we stand, Moyshu? Are we still friends? Do you really want someone like me for something more than just friends? Or am I just a freak to you now?"

That jarred the foxtaur. "Oh no, Leanna! Youíre still my friend. Itís justÖ wellÖ I have to re-examine my feelings. Iím just so confused now."

Leanna came over to give the vixen a hug. "I still need you as a friend, whatever else happens. Come talk to me again when you have figured it out." Then shi touched the door control and let hirself out of Moyshuís room, glimpsing the vixenís troubled face watching hir go as the door slid shut.

Leanna stood there in the doorway for a few moments, trying to take stock of the situation, then headed at last for hir cabin. After getting hirself a mug of hot tea to help settle hir agitation, shi tried to study for a while to get hir mind off the recent turn of events. Shi felt that shi wasnít accomplishing much though, so eventually gave up for that evening and started preparing for bed. After showering, shi attended to hir bodyís special needs, and was about to climb into bed when hir door announcer chimed. No one ever visited at that hour, so Leanna had very little doubt about who was on the other side of the door. Just in case, shi put a pair of shorts before opening the door. If there was another person there besides Moyshu, or a crewman was passing by coincidentally, shi didnít want them to see anything. Shi couldnít care less if they got an eyeful of hir breasts. They were however what Moyshu looked straight at when the door opened.

The vixentaur blinked in surprise, then smiled in appreciation as she lifted her gaze to look at Leannaís face. "May I come in?" she asked.

Silently, Leanna moved to one side and gestured to invite her in, closing the door behind the foxtaur.

Moyshu settled on her rump, looking a bit embarrassed. Leanna patiently waited for her to speak. Finally she spoke, staring at the floor, "I think Iíve been guilty of fantasising about what you and I could be like together. I had this silly dream of you being delighted with my announcement and telling me how you felt the same. I just couldnít pin down your feelings though, and I finally know why." She lifted her eyes at last to meet Leannaís. "You were projecting both male and female signals because youíre a herm, but I only picked up on what I wanted to see, while the others just muddied the waters."

Leanna was startled. Shi continued to think of hirself as a female with an unwanted addition to hir physiology, and yet here was yet another person telling hir that shi was coming across as bisexual. Was there a part of hirself that shi didnít properly understand? Moyshu misinterpreted hir reactions though.

"Now that I have had the truth thrust upon me, so to speak, I realise that I was idealising you," she continued ruefully. "So I had to examine my feelings, and I have come to the conclusion that that I need you more for a friend than as a lover, although, I must add that I donít think that I would mind trying a herm lover for once." She held up a hand to forestall any comment. "But right now, what I miss most is someone to share the den with me. We foxtaurs donít generally sleep alone, and Iíve been feeling the lack badly lately. What I would like to ask you now is: would you care to have a bed companion? Nothing more, just the comfort of a friend?" she ended on a hopeful note.

Leanna considered what the vixen had told her, and truthfully shi had to admit to hirself that shi found Moyshu sexually appealing, although shi wondered how much of that was because of hir nature, and how much was because shi genuinely liked the foxtaur. Nevertheless, a compromise had been offered, and considering the fact that shi had rarely slept alone all hir life, and Leanna had been feeling the novelty of the empty bed wearing off, shi couldnít think of a good reason to reject hir friendís appeal. Shi smiled at Moyshu. "I think I would enjoy having someone to cuddle tonight."

Moyshu yipped in joy, then looked a bit embarrassed at her reaction.

Leanna grinned, then headed for the bed, stepping out of hir shorts as shi went. Sitting on the edge of the bed, shi said, "Well, are you going to take off your uniform and join me?"

Moyshu returned the grin, and rapidly pulled off her uniform top and then the bra before jumping onto the bed beside the fennec who stretched out with hir back to Moyshu. The bed wasnít made for two, but that was okay with the vixen. It gave her an excuse to snuggle closer to Leanna. Her longer body curled partially around the petite fennec, and she put a foreleg and an arm over hir.

"Comfy?" asked Leanna.

"Oh, yes!" affirmed Moyshu. "I feel better already!" She couldnít resist giving Leanna a good-night kiss.

Leanna smiled indulgently. "I have to admit, Iím glad that Iím not sleeping alone tonight. Sleep well, my friend."

"I know I will tonight, and I hope you do so as well." If foxtaurs could purr, Moyshu would have been doing so.

"Lights out!" commanded Leanna, and the computer extinguished all but a small nightlight.

Leanna could feel the tensions and cares of the day draining from hir more quickly than usual, and realised just how much shi needed this; maybe as much as Moyshu. As shi drifted off to sleep, Leanna briefly wondered if this boded well for hir future relationships before pleasant dreams overtook them both.


Chapter 6: One Perfect Day  

Leanna drifted pleasantly out of the unconsciousness of the most restful sleep that shi could recall in a very long time. Something was differentÖ. A deep breath behind hir and the feel of an arm draped over hir waist reminded Leanna what it was. Shi smiled softly to hirself and enjoyed the feeling for a bit longer. Shi examined hir feelings a bit more closely in light of the events of the previous night, and was forced to the conclusion that shi had yet to learn everything about hirself. ĎAnd here I thought that this Ďfreedomí business meant that I would want and need different things. Iíve been silly enough to turn a blind eye to my existing desires.í

Shi snuggled up closer to the vixentaur, unwilling to let the precious feeling go as yet, but shi was fully awake now, and nothing could stop hir from thinking. ĎEvery time I think Iíve gotten a handle on these new circumstances, something else changes. Sometimes I think that it was a little less confusing when I had a master and knew clearly where I stood.í Just then, Moyshu shifted her arm into a sleepy hug, and Leanna smiled. ĎBut then again, the benefits have thus far outweighed the drawbacks. I needed this even when I was still enslaved to my former master, but he was never considerate of my needs like the Admiralís family. I couldnít have found a better family to serve.í The irony was that Leanna still could not think of hirself as a completely free individual, but shi didnít care and was more comfortable with the idea of hir perceived position within their family.

Just then, a softly chiming alarm interrupted hir introspection, reminding hir that it was time to get hir morning routine started. Moyshuís shift started much later than hirs though, so shi carefully disentangled hirself from the sleeping foxtaur. Leanna paused long enough to look at the slumbering vixen and smiled. It made hir happy to see hir friend look so contented. Shi then busied hirself with breakfast and only left getting into hir uniform until the very last. Shi could tolerate it better now after so many days, but shi still felt the most comfortable while completely nude. Shi became aware of a feeling that shi was being watched, and turned towards the bed to see Moyshu with her head propped up on an arm, watching hir with an appreciative smile.

"Good morning," Leanna greeted the vixentaur.

"A very good morning indeed," Moyshu agreed. "Itís been a long time since Iíve woken up to such a pleasant sight."

Leanna felt oddly pleased. It was hardly the first time that someone had admired hir, but Moyshu gave the impression of admiring Leanna as a whole person rather than just sexually. Shi came closer to blushing than shi ever had in hir life. "Thank you. Iím glad you spent the night with me." Shi completed dressing as shi added, "But now I need to get to my duties. Iíll see you tonight as usual." Shi walked over to Moyshu and gave her a lick-kiss which was promptly returned. Leanna left the cabin with a feeling of excitement that shi hadnít felt before.

M'Lai noticed Leannaís mood as she gave the herm vixen hir daily check. "You look almost as happy as I feel," she commented.

Leanna grinned at the Caitian. "So, it was a pleasant night, I take it? I was wondering if youíd even be here this morning. After all, your pre-mating night must have been tiring."

M'Lai grinned. "Oh yes, it was a very energetic evening, but even thatís par for the course for my physiology. Boyce, on the other handÖ." She left it unsaid, but Leanna easily filled in the blanks and returned the grin.

"Anyhow, your readings are still the same as the previous couple of days, so thatís all for today. You can tell me later what has gotten you so happy. You need to get to work now, I think."

"Youíre right. Cubs canít wait!" Leanna said as she got off the examination couch. "And I want to be with them as much as possible. Catch you later!"

M'Lai grinned as she watched Leanna scamper out. ĎIíd almost think that she got laid too!í She shook her head in puzzlement though. ĎBut who could get a former sex slave that excited?í

Leanna found Boyce having his breakfast already when shi arrived. Although shi had seen him more energetic in the mornings, he seemed otherwise okay, and he greeted hir cheerily enough.

"A good evening then, sir?" shi asked.

"A very good evening indeed, Leanna. Iím glad that I have a Caitian Firstwife who knows my tastes so well. Iím a damn lucky man, and I hope M'Lai feels the same way."

"I think that I can safely say that she does, judging by how she looked this morning," Leanna assured him. "So, the mating ceremony will be going ahead this afternoon?"

"Yes, itís all rather rushed, but we canít stretch out this layover at the Starbase any longer. We need to depart again tomorrow, and Zhane insists on being at the ceremony. Fortunately M'Lai doesnít seem to mind the haste."

"I think the Caitians seem to know their minds a bit more clearly in this matter than humans, if you donít mind me saying so, sir."

"Relax, Leanna, I know that very well. Chakats are even more so, which is how I ended up with Forestwalker as a mate. Midnight was a different set of circumstances though, but once shi made hir decision, shi was as wholehearted about it as Forest. Chakats are a very passionate race."

"So Iíve noticed," Leanna replied with a smile. Just then a squeal from one of the bedrooms interrupted them. "Sounds like duty calling. Have a good day, sir."

"You too, Leanna, but please call me ĎBoyceí when weíre home in private."

"Yes, sir," shi replied, cheerfully defiant.

Boyce sighed. It seemed that was going to be a difficult habit to break hir out of.

Rosepetal had come out of the bedroom at that time and gave her mate a good-morning kiss. She had noticed the interchange and said, "Give it time, my love. Hir conditioning wonít be broken so quickly."

"I know, but it still irks me."

"You have other things to worry about today. I believe weíve got a mating ceremony to put together, hmm?"

Boyce grinned up at her as she draped her arms about her seated mate. "What do you mean, Ďweí, love? Youíve got this completely under your management, havenít you?"

"You better believe it, Boyce, and since this is the first time weíve been able to do it traditionally since Zhane, weíre going to do this properly! Now, get about your duties and let me get to work!"

"Yes, dear," Boyce replied, cheerfully accepting her authority in this matter.

Leanna was surprised a little later when Forest walked in with Yeoman díArmand. "Are all the kids okay, Leanna?" Forest asked.

"Of course, Forest. Whatís going on?" Leanna asked curiously.

"The Yeoman is going to look after the cubs this morning. You, Kayla, Kernos and I are going for an outing on the Star Base. This is the last chance for the kids to have a bit of fun there, and while I expect you to keep an eye on the kids, at the same time I want you to have some fun too."

Leanna was surprised, but happy to comply. Hir curiosity had been whetted by the one visit to Zhaneís office, and shi knew that there was a lot more to be seen on such a large structure. Even then shi underestimated how much more. Previously they had been taken through the more official sections. This time they headed in a completely different direction that opened onto a long and wide concourse. Lining it were shops and entertainment venues of almost every conceivable kind. Potted trees and planters gave the place an open, airy feeling, the illusion only shattered by the huge panoramic windows overhead which showed only the blackness of space dotted with stars bright enough to be seen over the glare of the concourse lighting, and a couple of huge starships moored within view. Leanna gaped in awe. Shi had seen the Pegasus on the viewscreen of the slaver ship, and shi had spent some time exploring the ship itself, but neither had given hir a real feel for the sheer size of the vessel.

"Yeah, I did much the same when I first saw the ship directly," Forest commented when shi noticed the fennecís gaze. "However, I think youíd better do your gawking later, or else weíre going to lose track of our two charges."

Leanna guiltily tore hir gaze from the Pegasus in time to see Kernos dragging Kayla away in the direction of some amusement. Leanna knew that because Kernos often lived aboard the starbase, Forest really wasnít concerned about his safety, nor Kaylaís, but wanted to keep the group together. Let the kids enjoy themselves, but the grown-ups were going to get their share too.

Kernos shamelessly took advantage of Forestís generosity so that he and his half-sister could enjoy the amusements and stuff their faces with treats. Forest laughed when shi saw Leannaís face lit up with glee as shi played some of the interactive games with the children. Shi was like a great big kid hirself. In a very real way shi was, considering how shi had been bred. Then shi and the kids dragged Forest into another game and soundly thrashed hir, of course.

A little later, while Kayla and Kernos feasted on ice cream sundaes at a bench outside some shops, Forest and Leanna investigated a boutique that had attracted their interest. Neither had much interest in the regular clothing shops, but this one named ĎFur Fineryí specialised in articles that could be worn by fur-bearing persons who had little need of clothing, but still appreciated things that enhanced their looks. While the shop had a section for expensive items such as gold and jewellery, it also had a larger section devoted to reasonably-priced goods such as scarves, necklaces, ribbons, bracelets, hats, beadsÖ you name it! Forest soon found some additions to hir tail-ribbon collection and a couple of pretty anklets. Shi paid for hir purchases, and then went to find out what Leanna was doing. Shi found hir looking at hirself in a mirror, modelling a broad-rimmed hat. It had been designed with long-eared wearers in mind, and fitted hir perfectly. Forest was a little surprised at what had attracted the fennecís attention, but had to concede that it looked good on hir, although a bit out of place in conjunction with the ship uniform shi was wearing.

"Have you decided to buy that?" Forest asked Leanna.

A slightly sad look came over Leannaís face. "How can I? I donít have any money."

Forest smiled. "What makes you think you donít?" shi asked as shi pulled a card out of hir hip pouch and handed it to Leanna.

Leanna looked at what shi held. It was an e-cash card, with ĎLEANNA FENNECí embossed on it, hir image in one corner, and hir details recorded on the microcircuitry within. Leanna looked at Forest in puzzlement. "This is mine? How come?"

Forest hugged the confused fennec. "Leanna, we keep telling you that youíre not a slave. Youíve been doing a full-time job with us for quite some time now, as a childminder, teacher, and assistant for dealing with the rescued slaves. Boyce, Rose, Midnight, Zhane and I discussed this and decided on a fair wage for all the work youíve done for our family, and of course the consulting work youíve done for Star Fleet was referred to the paymaster. Once we got into the Star Base, your account was finalised with the Federation Credit Network and that card issued. Your accumulated pay has been deposited into that new account. Iíve been aching for an opportunity to surprise you with it. Itís all yours to spend as you wish. Now, are you certain you donít want to get anything else?"

Leannaís expression changed from uncertainty to gratitude, and shi hugged the chakat so strongly that Forest wondered if shi was trying to squeeze the breath out of hir. Then Leanna said, "Wait here for a moment!" and then dashed off. A slightly puzzled but amused Forestwalker waited patiently for the fennecís return. Before long, shi did, wearing a matched pair of leather-strap armlets. "These would go well with my Egyptian-style garments, donít you think?" shi asked Forest eagerly.

Forest grinned and nodded appreciatively. "I like them. Although you really donít need my approval, you have it anyway."

Leanna practically danced with happiness, then dashed off to the counter to pay for them. Forest brought along the hat that Leanna had left with hir. "Still want this?" shi asked hir as shi handed the armlets to the clerk.

"Oh! I was so excited that I forgot about that. Yes! I do want that still."

When the clerk gave hir the total, Leanna proudly handed over hir brand-new card, then placed hir hand on the identity scanner that verified that shi was indeed the same person to whom that card was registered. The computer then deducted the cost of the goods directly from hir account on the Pegasus. The clerk then handed back hir card and a bag with hir purchases, smiled and said, "Thank you for shopping at Fur Finery. I hope you will come again."

Leanna hugged the bag to hir chest. Hir first ever personal purchases! Paid for with hir own money! Leanna looked at Forest. "Are you sure there isnít a catch that you havenít told me about?"

"Of course thereís a catch," shi replied. Leanna looked alarmed. "Itís the same catch that we all have to deal with Ė income tax!"

Leanna gave Forest a dirty look for getting hir worried, but Forest just laughed. "Sorry, but I couldnít resist that. Come on, letís collect the kids. Itís about time we got back to the ship anyway. Rosepetal will be expecting us to be there to finalise the ceremony."

Two bored kids awaited them. Having long finished their sundaes, they had been quickly running out of patience. Kayla though, despite being much smaller than her half-brother, was a few days older physically, and many months in maturity, and had kept Kernos from sneaking off. Nevertheless she was much relieved when Forest and Leanna turned up at last. She scolded them for leaving them waiting for so long, which they took with guilty amusement. In truth they were gone only a short time, but that was an eternity to kids with nothing to do but wait.

Back at the ship, when shi got a moment to hirself, Leanna queried the computer about hir account. When shi saw how much was left, hir eyes widened in surprise. Hir purchases hadnít made much of a dent in the balance, and Leanna wondered what shi would do with hir new-found riches.

"We need a couple more witnesses who are not part of the family," Rosepetal said. "Iíve arranged with Lieutenant Murawrr to represent the Caitian people. Has anyone any other suitable recommendations?"

Midnight spoke up. "Iíd like to invite Sparks."

Rosepetal nodded. "Good. Iíll let hir know."

"Sparks?" Leanna queried Midnight.

"Chakat Sparks, the Chief Engineer of the Pegasus, and a close friend."

"Iím told that you chakats all get to know each other well on these ships for social needs."

Midnight grinned. "A little on the simple side, but essentially correct."

"What about you, Leanna? Do you have someone youíd like to invite?"

Leanna was caught by surprise. "Me? Who would IÖ?" Then a thought occurred to hir. "Well, actually there is someone, but sheís on duty at this time."

"Considering that weíre currently docked, she could probably be excused. Who would you like to ask?"

Leanna gained the impression that Rosepetal already knew which person shi was going to suggest. "Moyshu Blacktail."

"Ah, yes, I know her," Rosepetal nodded. "I will arrange to have her present for the ceremony."

"Thank you," Leanna said. It felt nice to have such consideration shown to hirself. There was a bit over an hour to go before the ceremony, so the invitees had plenty of time to show up.

Leanna checked the younger cubs who were having a nap, while Kernos and Kayla were engrossed in a game. With nothing in particular to do, Leanna followed Rosepetal into the room where M'Lai and the others were doing their preparations. Both Caitians were engrossed with what appeared to be Caitian script with Terranglo writing sharing a split screen. Midnight startled Leanna by being elaborately adorned in a blue satin taur-dress that matched hir eyes. Shiíd never seen the chakat so thoroughly dressed up. Outside of wearing hir uniform while on duty, or some kind of smart top at other times on the ship, Midnight invariably preferred wearing nothing, so the contrast was amazing. This was even more spectacular than the leather outfit shi wore for Forest, although obviously without the sexual connotations.

Midnight grinned at the goggling fennec, accurately assessing the reason for the surprise. "Iím just a sucker for formals," shi explained. "In my opinion, theyíre the only time when itís worth getting decked out like this."

"I suppose that Iíd better start thinking about getting into my own formal attire soon," Leanna said. "Someone will have to keep an eye on the kids while Iím away though."

"No problem," Midnight assured hir. "Iíve nothing much left to do before the ceremony anyway."

"Thanks," Leanna said gratefully. Shi looked in the direction of M'Lai and Rosepetal. "What are they doing?" shi asked curiously.

"Basically, theyíre translating the ceremony from the Caitian tongue to Terranglo, and adapting it to our special circumstances. Theyíre almost done. Just putting the final touches now. Then theyíll both finish getting dressed while I hold down the fort."

Leanna was a bit puzzled by that expression, but was smart enough to understand the meaning. "And where is the Captain?"

"Boyce was dressed ages ago and is currently nervously waiting with Forest, rehearsing his part. Youíd think heíd be used to this by now!" shi snorted in amusement.

Leanna nodded fervently. From what shi had learned, these wives of his were hardly the only partners heíd acquired. "I think Iíll go now and have a shower first. Iíll see you well before the ceremony to take the cubs back off your hands though."

"Take your time, hon. We wonít start without you."

Leanna had added hir new armlets to hir Egyptian style ensemble. Shi was as ready as shi could be for the ceremony, but the cubs were not. They had awoken from their nap shortly before shi had returned, and were getting into mischief. Finally Leanna managed to get Snowcloud and Patchwork engrossed in drawing with crayons. Patch had plonked down on the floor close to where the ceremony was going to be done, but Rosepetal had assured hir that the cub wouldnít be in the way. Thankfully, Ember was content to curl up next to Snowcloud, head and shoulders cushioned on hir sisterís back, and go back to sleep. Little Windrunner was getting a quick feed from Forest, and was likely to follow Ember to dreamland.

Leanna spent the remaining time with Moyshu who had also gotten dressed up quite formally despite the short notice. Theyíd been introduced to the other two witnesses Ė Lieutenant Murawrr, the Caitian chief navigator and helmsman whom Leanna had seen briefly when shi had visited the bridge, and Chakat Sparks, head of engineering on the Pegasus, who turned out to be very short at a mere 152cm (just under 5 feet) and very prettily Siamese patterned, but with a rough sense of humour at odds with hir delicate look. Murawrr was 165cm (5'5"), very tall for a Caitian, but although he towered over Sparks, the little chakat dominated the duo with hir personality. Leanna learned that the two, despite their vastly different duties and rank, were actually close friends. Their acquaintance was made long ago during a shipboard mixed-species volleyball game when they were randomly paired as partners. The quiet and reserved Caitian seemed a mismatch with the loud and colourful chakat, but they had found that they played well together, not only ending up winning the ship's competition, but also becoming firm friends.

Murawrr said to Leanna, "I'm a bit envious of the Captain to be gaining a fifthwife. I've only got two so far."

Sparks replied, "Ever consider a chakat, hon?" Shi gave him a nudge and then blatantly snuggled up to him amorously.

Murawrr shot back, "Too much for me! I prefer my mates to have just two legs and one gender, thank you!" Everyone chuckled in amusement, but Leanna didn't miss the affectionate stroke that he gave the chakat's back.

Just then, Rosepetal entered from the main bedroom, dressed regally in a Caitian desert robe that was somewhat reminiscent of Arabian style, but elaborately decorated with gold and silver threads, and with colourful beads forming traditional patterns. She walked gracefully to the ceremonial area in front of a large view portal that had been simply decorated with some drapes, Caitian moonflowers, and a golden bell. Rose was carrying a ceremonial staff carved from a reddish-brown timber that she lifted to rap the bell twice, then paused momentarily, then tapped twice again, another pause then a final two taps. As the sound of the bell diminished, she then firmly rapped the staff on the floor. Everyone had come to a complete silence by then, and she began the ceremonies.

"Ektar mrítesh tu kollar! Welcome family and friends! We are gathered today for that most joyous of occasions Ė the induction into our family of a new mate. Although this will be a formal Caitian ceremony, for the benefit of those not fortunate enough to be born of our species, the rest of this ceremony will be conducted in Terranglo." There was a brief smatter of laughter as she prepared to continue.

"Because we have no Mentarkan Priestess to conduct the ceremony, tradition says that honour falls upon myself as firstwife. I ask our mate, Admiral Boyce Kline, to join me now."

Boyce then emerged from the bedroom, clothed in his finest Star Fleet dress uniform adorned with his service ribbons and decorations. He took his place at Rosepetalís left side, smiling in pride and affection at his mate.

"Welcome, my love," Rosepetal continued. "As your firstwife, and the avatar of the Virtue of Intelligence, I have chosen a suitable candidate for your fifthwife, and I am prepared to formally present her to the family. Do you approve?"

"I approve," Boyce replied, "but as tradition dictates, I will hear from my other mates first."

"Then I call upon the candidate to come forth and present herself for their appraisal!"

At that cue, M'Lai entered from the bedroom. She was dressed once again in the loose but elegant dress that Leanna had first seen at the formal dinner that had introduced her to the family. With excitement and anticipation in her eyes and her step, she approached Rosepetal and stopped at her right side, facing the audience.

Rosepetal addressed the audience. "I, M'Rrrtītītärkñ Silpurr, have sought out M'Lai Saarath to join our family as fifthwife, mate to Boyce of the house of Kline. M'Lai, I have come to know you well, and I have chosen you as the avatar of the Virtue of Fertility. Will you accept this role?"

"I, M'Lai Saarath, will accept this Virtue," she affirmed.

"I call upon the secondwife, Zhane ap Nashene na Zhane, avatar of the Virtue of Strength!" Rosepetal announced. "How find you the suitability of the candidate?"

Zhane stepped forward, resplendent in her Rakshani robes of ceremony. Normally seen in the familiar trappings of a Star Fleet officer, today she had dressed totally according to ancient Rakshani high tradition. Her race's culture was highly militaristic, and this was reflected in the style of the clothes. Bold coloured fabrics were defined by dark leather used for reinforcing and pseudo-armouring. The leggings were roomy, allowing ease of movement, and were tucked into leather boots polished to a highly gleaming black. They were not only designed to suit her digitigrade feet, but also were open at the toes to allow her claws to be extended. Military decorations profusely adorned her fulsome bust, and a long , flowing maroon cape with gold trim finished off the effect. She made a very imposing figure as she faced the others and said, "It is my opinion that M'Lai has shown great strength in adversity, overcoming significant handicaps to make a success of her life and career. She will bring this quality to our family for its betterment." She then stepped back to rejoin the others.

Rosepetal said, "I accept the assessment of the secondwife and now call upon the thirdwife, Chakat Forestwalker, avatar of the Virtue of Love. How say you about the candidate?"

Forestwalker stepped forward as Zhane had done. Shi was dressed in an eye-catching halter-top, over which shi wore a silken blouse embroidered with flowers. Hir recently bought tail-ribbons matched the blouse in finery. Shi smiled at M'Lai. "I have found M'Lai to be a beautiful and loving person. Despite her physical needs, it is her heart that rules her, not her body. Boyce will ever know love and caring from her."

Forest stepped back to rejoin the others. Rosepetal said, "I approve of the thirdwifeís assessment, and now call the fourthwife, Chakat Midnight, avatar of the Virtue of Courage. What is your assessment of the candidate?"

Midnight stepped forward, hir dress rustling and flowing as gracefully as the chakat hirself. "M'Lai has had the courage to take on many new challenges, undaunted by failures. Now she has chosen to accept a mating outside of her own species, something that is never to be taken lightly, yet she faces it with both joy and anticipation. I wholeheartedly approve of her as a co-wife." With a wink in M'Laiís direction, Midnight rejoined the rest.

Rosepetal smiled at the group. "Thank you fourthwife, I accept your approval." She turned to M'Lai. "M'Lai, do you accept our assessments?"

"I do accept them, M'Rrrtītītärkñ."

Rosepetal then turned to face Boyce. "Beloved mate, you have heard the assessments of your wives, and we are unanimous in our approval of M'Lai of the house of Saarath as a potential new mate. Does she meet your approval as a potential fifthwife?"

"Beloved wife, I approve of your recommendation."

"There is but one condition to be met then. How went the pre-mating night? Boyce, is there any reason to believe that you and M'Lai would be incompatible?"

Boyce looked at M'Lai and smiled in fond memory. "No, there is no reason that I know of. M'Lai was an ideal partner, and I feel that will only become better as we get to know each other more."

Rosepetal then addressed M'Lai. "And do you, M'Lai, agree with our husband? Do you feel that a human can be a desirable mate?"

M'Lai smiled confidently. "I have known many good men of several species, but none whom I would say who is better than Boyce as a potential mate. I agree that we are very compatible."

Rosepetal smiled in approval. "Then it is my pleasure, privilege and honour to declare that the candidate is accepted and the mating may proceed. Boyce and M'Lai, you may exchange your mating vows." She stepped aside, and Boyce and M'Lai moved together and held hands.

Boyce spoke first. "M'Lai Saarath, I knew it was a moment of destiny that we met, and my mates must have known it too. How else would they have known that we belong together? You are beautiful in both my eyes and my heart. I am looking forward to spending our future together, both as partners and as a family. I vow that you will know happiness and fulfilment as long as it is within my capability to give you them. And if you wish to have children, they too will be loved and cherished by all. Do you accept my vow?"

M'Lai replied, "Boyce Kline, I had not known that my destiny lay with a human, but our time together and the opinions of your mates have shown me that it does, and my heart is filled with joy. I vow that I will do my best to bring prosperity to the family, and love and happiness to you. As the avatar of the Virtue of Fertility, I promise you children to love and to complete both of us. I accept your vow wholeheartedly. Do you accept mine?"

"I accept your vow, M'Lai."

Rosepetal stepped forward and put her hands upon theirs. "Your vows have been heard and witnessed by family and friends. I declare that M'Lai Saarath is now fifthwife of the house of Kline. Let us now celebrate their union!"

Everyone began cheering as Boyce pulled M'Lai into a long kiss. She cooperated willingly, and it was a breathless couple that eventually parted. Then the laughing crowd dragged them away to a table laden with food for the mating feast. Leanna went over to Patchwork who was looking at the crowd in puzzlement. "Címon squirt, letís grab some food before they eat it all," shi told hir.

The celebrations had gone on for hours, but finally Sparks and Murawrr had left and the new couple stood up and excused themselves. Mating night was to be spent much as the pre-mating night, but this would be the last time that M'Lai and Boyce would have purely to themselves for a long time, and they intended to make the most of it. Zhane had invited Midnight to spend the night with her, and the chakat had accepted, leaving for Zhaneís quarters soon after. Leanna helped put the last of the cubs to bed and Forestwalker gave Leanna a kiss goodnight and went to join them as it was hir night to watch over them. That just left Rosepetal, Moyshu and Leanna who said that it was time for them to leave also.

Before they left though, Leanna paused in the doorway and said, "It seems to be a bit unfair. You have been left alone tonight."

Rosepetal smiled reassuringly. "Unlike my co-mates, the average Caitian female does not need regular sex, and a firstwife must also be prepared to allow her co-wives their fair share of time with our husband. Besides," she added with a grin, "do you know how rarely I get a peaceful nightís sleep all by myself? Now shoo! You need your sleep too."

Leanna returned Rosepetalís smile, said goodnight, and then left with Moyshu.

Moyshu said, "They really care for you, you know. I can tell."

"Really?" Leanna said in surprise. "I know that they have done a lot for me." Just how much, shi really didnít want to tell Moyshu as yet.

"You werenít just there as a witness like I was. It's obvious to me that they consider you to be family. The cubs are a sure sign, and even chakats donít kiss everyone like Forest did to you. Youíre more than just assisting them with the slaves, arenít you?"

That was one of the things that Leanna liked about hir friend. Moyshu was very sharp and missed little. It also made Leanna a bit uncomfortable at how close to the truth she was getting, but shi didnít know if telling Moyshu hir origins was a wise move as yet. "Yes, there is more, but I donít want to talk about it now. Perhaps some other time."

Moyshu considered that and accepted it. "Okay, Iíll let it go for now. Instead, can I persuade you to join me in my cabin tonight? I have a larger bed at least," she said as she smiled slyly.

Glad of the change of subject, and happy at the prospect of being snuggled up to the lovely vixentaur again, Leanna readily agreed.

Once at the cabin, Leanna remembered something that had slipped hir mind. Normally one of the things that shi did when getting back to hir cabin after work was draining hir breasts of the milk that constantly filled them. Today shi had had no such opportunity, and experience had shown hir that shi could not leave it until morning without suffering from painfully full breasts. Shi either needed to find an excuse to be alone for the time it took to empty them, or.... Leanna had to face it Ė there was no way shi could find that time without hurting Moyshuís feelings. However, it was very likely that Moyshu would like an alternative.

As the pair undressed, Leanna said, "Moyshu, thereís something that I have to deal with first. I have this... physical condition that has affected me since maturity." Leanna neglected to mention that shi had been Ďborní mature.

"Oh?" Moyshu said, her curiosity aroused.

""My breasts, they lactate constantly. I need to empty them of milk at least once a day."

Moyshu hadnít heard of that problem before. Usually it was the opposite Ė trying to get a new mother to lactate for her child. "What do you normally do about it?"

"Simple enough. I donít need any equipment." Leanna lifted one breast and bent forward, hir narrow muzzle just long enough to meet with the nipple and seal against it so that shi could suck on it. Shi did so a couple of times before looking up to see Moyshuís reaction. "Does this bother you?"

Watching Leanna suckle hirself made Moyshu feel as horny as hell. ĎI'm never going to get a better opportunity than this,í she thought. "May... may I do that for you?" she asked with a little trepidation.

As Leanna had guessed, the lesbian foxtaur found hir need to be a turn-on. Problem solved. Shi would not have to hurt her feelings; indeed shi could make this the highlight of Moyshuís night. Leanna smiled and cupped a breast. "Be my guest," shi invited.

Moyshu eagerly took up hir offer. She gently but enthusiastically put muzzle to breast, licking the nipple and playing with it a bit before she started suckling. She was aware of Leanna stroking her hair and back as she did so, and was surprised by the sweetness of Leannaís milk as it flowed into her mouth. Despite the new sensation, Moyshu was getting more and more turned on.

As for Leanna, shi was feeling even better than Moyshu. While self-stimulation of hir breasts made hir extremely horny, it did not trigger orgasm. Someone else sucking on hir breasts certainly did though. Of course shi had been bred to receive much sexual pleasure from this activity, but having it done by a companion at hir own invitation was utterly arousing. This was even better than when shi had let Forestwalker drain hir. That was a need being very pleasantly fulfilled; this was a lover. Yes! Not just a friend, nor a companion. Moyshu was hir lover! Leanna exploded with an orgasm that felt more delicious than any that shi had had so far on this journey of discovery on the Pegasus.

Moyshu meanwhile had been caressing Leanna with one hand while playing with hir other breast with the other. She pushed her forepaw between her hind legs, feeling the dampness of her arousal, and started to stimulate herself even more. She fantasised that it was Leanna's paw that was pushing her up to heights of ecstasy and very quickly orgasmed also.

Leanna was too lost in hir own pleasure to notice Moyshu's self-stimulation. Between them, they had many more climaxes before the breasts were emptied and they collapsed into each otherís arms, tired but satisfied.

"So, what did you think?" Leanna eventually asked curiously.

Moyshu thought for a moment, then carefully replied, "Your tits are every bit as nice to play with as I had thought they'd be. Your milk is a bit too sweet for me though. Forgive me if I don't care to do that too often. Fondling your breasts is a huge turn-on, but I'm not into a milk fetish."

Leanna stroked the hair back out of the foxtaur's eyes so that shi could look into them earnestly. "I really didn't expect you to do so, but thank you for doing such a good job of it anyway. I'll make sure that I have them emptied in future."

"Does this mean that I get to play with your tits again soon?" Moyshu asked hopefully.

"I can't see why not," Leanna replied, happy to have pleased hir companion.

Moyshu grinned in delight and hugged the fennec tightly. Together they silently bathed in the warm glow of their togetherness until they began to drift into sleep. By coincidence, the last thing that both thought before slumber overtook them was, ĎWhat a perfect dayí.

Moyshu woke up earlier than normal. Checking the clock, she saw that it wouldnít be long though before Leanna would have to get up to begin hir day. Shi was still peacefully sleeping however, and Moyshu was loath to disturb hir. She did take the opportunity to admire hir though. Hir cute fennec features were surmounted by those sexy long ears and framed by that magnificent long reddish-blond hair. It was a face that Moyshu had found attractive from the very first day that they had met, and even more so now that she knew hir better. But even better, Leanna had a beautifully proportioned body, with modestly-sized but perfectly proportioned breasts with just the tips of the nipples peeking through hir fur, and a nice waist with hips that were pleasantly wide. Moyshu honestly didnít care much whether her vulpine lovers were taurs or bipeds, so she also appreciated Leannaís shapely legs with thighs that were neither too thin nor too thick, and small yet sturdy feet. Leanna was almost perfection in her eyes as a dream vixen.

But of course there was that added feature that had surprised her so much, and Moyshuís eyes shifted back to there. It had taken her some time to grapple with her shattered illusions about Leanna, but once she had, Moyshu had come to realise that hir penis made no difference to her feelings. In fact, combined with the body language and other subtle signals that sheíd been getting that she had previously failed to recognise, that male organ actually completed hir. Leanna was a herm vixen, and thatís the way shi should be. A grin spread on Moyshuís face. There was one thing that definitely set hir apart from a female Ė Leanna suffered from that most common of male afflictions, the morning erection. She was a bit surprised to see how big it was considering the size of Leannaís sheath, but had to admit it did not look out of place on hir anymore. Although Leanna was definitely feminine in many things, Moyshu could no longer imagine Leanna just as a female. She looked back at Leannaís face and wondered. ĎWhere did you come from, my lovely one? Iíve never seen a fennec morph before, and Iíve been unable to find out anything about your kind on the hypernet, at least not in the Federation. I know that some breeds of morphs have herms, but they are not common, so they tend to stand out, yet there is no mention of yours anywhere that I looked. I wanted to surprise you with something familiar, yet all I found was a mystery. Will you ever confide in me? Would you turn away from me if I knew? I donít think that I want to know that badly.í

Just then, Leannaís eyes fluttered open as shi started to rouse out of sleep even before the alarm went off. Their eyes met and Leanna smiled dreamily. "What a nice sight to wake up to," shi said.

"The feeling is mutual, I assure you," Moyshu assured hir.

"Shouldnít you still be asleep? You need more sleep than I do."

"I have to get up to pee," Moyshu admitted. ĎBut not so desperately that I couldnít steal some time just to admire you,í she added to herself though.

Leanna propped hirself up and lick-kissed the vixentaur, then said, "Go then. I need to start getting ready. Weíre leaving the Star Base today and schedules are going back to normal."

"Okay," Moyshu said and rolled off the bedding and walked off with a flirt of her tail.

Leanna grinned at that and took a moment to appreciate Moyshuís swaying rump and lively tail before it disappeared into the bathroom. So far this arrangement was working out well for both of them. Leanna desperately hoped it would stay that way.

Leanna ordered the computer to produce a new duty uniform for hir in Moyshuís replicator. Shi didnít think that it would be wise going back to hir own cabin in hir fancy Egyptian clothing. Last night alone shi had caused a couple of double-takes on the way to Moyshuís cabin. Now the corridors would be a lot more crowded, even for the short distance from this cabin to hirs. Shi could drop off those clothes on the way to hir morning examination though.

Moyshu came back and climbed on the bedding, but still watched Leanna as shi got hirself breakfast. Leanna was aware of being watched, but that was nothing new to the former slave. If the vixen liked to watch hir, that was fine by hir. Then shi went into the bathroom to pee, shower, dress and brush hir hair. By the time shi emerged, Moyshu was asleep again. This time it was Leannaís turn to admire hir companion. The pretty grey fox colouration had always been attractive to Leannaís eyes, and her black hair framed an intelligent and attractively patterned face. She had breasts similarly sized to Leannaís own, but with pink nipples prominently shown. Her taur body was sleekly furred, with the well-toned musculature visible as it flexed. Her paws were dainty yet strong. There was no question that Leanna found her sexually attractive, because it was built into hir to find all people attractive, male or female, human or morph, biped or taur. However, hir time spent with the foxtaur had built on that foundation, and Leanna truly felt an admiration for the taurform that went above and beyond what shi was programmed to feel. Moyshu was a very sexy and intelligent person, and shi would be glad to have her companionship, hopefully for the duration of the voyage. Still, Leanna worried about what would happen if Moyshu learned hir true origins. ĎYou and I seem to have hit it off well on many levels, yet I havenít been completely honest with you. Iím afraid to. Would it disgust you to know that I was little more than a fuck toy a lot of the time, and a sneaking spy the rest of the time? If you knew that I had killed my master, would you recoil in horror? If I went into rut while with you, would I be able to resist harming you? I care too much about you to hurt you in any way.í

Leanna sighed, then leant over the sleeping vixen, kissing her on the forehead. Moyshu murmured something sleepily, but did not wake as Leanna picked up hir clothes and left the cabin to start a new day.


Chapter 7: Growing Closer, Pulled Apart  


Although Leanna could scarcely have imagined such a thing a few months ago, life fell into a comfortable and fulfilling routine. The morning after the mating ceremony, everyoneís pace seemed to pick up. Shore leave was finished and the ship was scheduled to depart the Star Base at the beginning of the first shift. Leanna found Midnight already back at the cabin when shi arrived as usual. The chakat was wearing a bandage around one foreleg, but seemed very cheerful in spite of that.

At Leannaís look of curiosity, Midnight said, "Zhane and I like it rough."

Leanna nodded, instantly understanding. Frankly shi wondered how the Admiral could cope with such powerful and aggressive mates, speculating that they must work it out of their systems with others.

The rest of the family was also cheery but business-like. Boyce and Rosepetal were both leaving earlier than normal to make sure everything was ready for departure. Before they went though, they filled in their itinerary with Leanna.

"We were due to make contact with an exploration team on a newly surveyed planet," Rosepetal said as she passed the syrup to Leanna. "Besides bringing supplies and bringing back samples and data, some of the crew are going to provide relief for those currently there. The incident with the slave ship has pushed back our schedule a little bit, so we will be going there as expeditiously as possible."

"So the next few days will be pretty consistent then?" Leanna asked.

"Yes Ė school for Kayla, child-minding for the cubs. Thereís one other thing that you can do though. How are you at racquetball?"

That question caught Leanna by surprise. "Racquetball? Iíve never played it."

"Would you like to learn? You see, I feel that Kayla has been getting a little lazy lately, and I want her to get some more exercise. I know that she likes racquetball so, if youíre willing, Iíd like it if you were to give her a few games after school. Get Yeoman DíArmand to look after the cubs while you do so."

"Not that Iím unwilling to play with Kayla, but why not get DíArmand or someone else to play this game with her?"

Rosepetal grinned. "Yeoman DíArmand is a competent, cheerful and an exemplary crewmember, and possibly the worst racquetball player in Star Fleet! But seriously," she took Leannaís hand and looked hir earnestly in the eyes, "Leanna, youíve become very close with our family now. You have chosen to become a carer and a teacher. I want you to make strong relationships with all the children in as many ways as possible. I particularly want my daughter to realise her full potential, but my work doesnít allow me as much time to devote to her as I might wish. Iím entrusting you to fill that gap. At the same time you might learn a few new things, and also get a better idea what you are getting yourself into. Besides, a little exercise would probably do you good also."

Leanna knew that Rosepetal could have easily found a suitable member of the crew to do everything that she was asking of hirself. Instead, she was putting her trust in Leanna, and that was a heady feeling. "Iíll do my best, of course," shi promised Rosepetal fervently.

It didnít take much to persuade Kayla to teach Leanna how to play. The biggest surprise was the court itself. When Kayla stopped at a doorway marked ĎRecreational Suite 3í, Leanna was puzzled. On one of hir exploratory trips, shi had been able to spy inside, and there certainly wasnít a racquetball court in there. A subsequent visit hadnít clarified its use beyond the cubsí playground that shi had seen as the computer had denied hir access, saying that shi did not have a reservation for the use of the suite. Kayla had no such problem though. The computer recognised her voice in combination with the comm badge, and the doors slid open. Leanna was startled to find a proper racquetball court inside, and not a sign of the playground equipment, sand-pits and toys that had previously filled the room.

"Whatís the matter, Leanna?" Kayla asked curiously when she saw the fennecís puzzled expression.

Leanna gestured all around hir. "None of this was here a few days ago."

Kayla grinned. "Youíve never been in a holosuite before?"

Leanna looked keenly at Kayla. "Holosuite? Are you saying that this court is just a hologram... an illusion?"

"Well, most of it. Check this out," Kayla replied, excited to be able to show a grown-up a clever trick. "Computer! Adjust setting to competition court."

Abruptly the plain walls disappeared into stadium seating in a room far larger than the suite could possibly be. The illusion was perfect, and Leanna was fascinated.

Kayla enjoyed Leannaís reaction for a bit, then went a step further. "Computer, add spectators to the scene."

Suddenly a crowd of onlookers occupied two thirds of the seats, and the court was filled with the roar of conversation. The sound illusion was as perfect as the vision and, if Leanna hadnít known otherwise, shi would have sworn that shi was in the real thing.

"Computer, reset to normal," Kayla said, and the room reverted to a plain court.

Leanna shook hir head in amazement. "Iíd heard about the sophistication of Federation holo technology. It sure beats anything that I have seen before. So the playground that I saw previously was all illusion? What about the equipment like the swings and such?"

"It gets replicated when needed, and put back into storage when itís not. That way we make the most of the available space."

Leanna suspected that it was a little more sophisticated than that, but it was a child explaining the process, not an expert. Nonetheless, shi was very impressed. "What other tricks can it do?"

"The large one can make just about anything and anyplace. Want to go hiking around a Caitian forest sometime?" Kayla asked with a smile.

"I bet that they donít let just two people hog a facility that big," Leanna guessed shrewdly.

Kayla deflated a bit. "Yeah, you need a big group to use the big holosuite."

"You can show it to me some other day when thereís something appropriate going on. Meantime, weíre here to teach me how to play racquetball."

Kayla quickly became serious and, despite her youth, proved to be good at teaching the game and the skills involved. Leanna was a very fast learner though, and was soon her match. Shi was careful not to exceed her though. The purpose was fun and exercise, not beating a child at her favourite game.

It was two weary but satisfied people who returned to the cabin just before dinnertime. Forest was playing with the cubs, and Rosepetal walked out of the bathroom just as they arrived. She was just wearing a loose robe, and was brushing her hair after her shower.

"How went the game?" Rosepetal asked.

"Leanna is good, satri, but I still beat hir. I want to play again tomorrow!"

"Well done, tara. If Leanna is available, then you are welcome to play again."

Leanna smiled to hirself. Of course shi would be available, but it was best that Kayla thought that this was all her own idea and not feel obligated. Her mother knew what she was doing, and Leanna filed away the experience for a time when hopefully shi would have hir own children to teach and persuade.

The next few days were unremarkable. Leanna looked forward to both hir work and hir after-work activities. Shi always had dinner with the family, and it amused hir to see the friendly manoeuvring to see who spent the night with whom. The night after they left the Starbase, it was Forestís turn to spend time with the Admiral. Midnight approached M'Lai and said with a smile, "As Chief of Security, it is my obligation to see that you get your regular therapeutic sexual intercourse. As your co-mate, I wish to work on our relationship, and as a chakat, Iíd love to make love to you again. Will you spend the night with me?"

M'Lai replied with a straight face, "Okay, but do you think that I can satisfy all three of you?"

Midnight laughed. "Letís find out, hey?" shi replied as shi held out hir hand for M'Lai.

Rosepetal shared a grin with Leanna before she bade the fennec goodnight and she headed off to spend the night with the cubs.

The next night, Rosepetal and Boyce retired together, while M'Lai accepted an offer from Forestwalker to get to know each other better while Midnight had cub duty. Sometimes the lucky human had several mates sharing his bed. Shi had to admire his stamina as, unlike hir former master, shi was assured that he took no medical enhancers to cope.

As for Leanna, shi was happy to be able to finish off each evening sharing Moyshuís bed, the two of them content to snuggle up together. Shi always slept better in her company. Then one evening, something changed.

Leanna made hirself comfortable as usual, curled within Moyshuís larger form, but for some reason shi still felt keyed up and unable to relax. Worse yet, shi was developing an unbidden erection. Leanna was certain that shi wasnít in rut, so it didnít take long for hir to realise that it was Moyshu who was the cause. She was in heat. Leanna hadnít anticipated being affected by the foxtaurís pheromones so strongly. Outside of hir rut, Leanna normally could consciously control hir erections and shi could stop it with an effort of will, but shi could never relax in this condition, let alone sleep. Leanna started trying to extricate hirself from the huddle without disturbing Moyshu, but she wasnít asleep as yet.

"Where are you going?" Moyshu asked.

Leanna rapidly assessed possible answers to that question, but in the end decided that the unvarnished truth was the best. Shi turned to face Moyshu so that she could see the problem. The vixenís eyes widened as she saw the extent of Leannaís arousal.

Leanna said, "Your being in heat is turning me on badly, Moyshu. I know that as a vulpamour, you favour female sex, so I didnít want to bother you with my problem. Iíll go to my cabin tonight and deal with it." Leanna hoped that separation and perhaps a cold shower would do the trick because shi still could not break the conditioning that prevented hir from touching hir penis for masturbation. Shi started to move away to get dressed, but Moyshu reached out to grab hir hand, preventing hir from leaving.

"Leanna, let me tell you a little more about vulpamours first," Moyshu said earnestly. "Broadly speaking, there are two types. The first kind is a radical lesbian. Sheís not only not interested in males, she is actually repulsed by male genitalia. Those vixens almost never have children because of this."

"Then thereís the second kind. Those vixens, while not particularly attracted to male genitalia, are not repulsed by it either. Given a choice, those vixens will always choose a female partner over a male one, but when the time comes when they want to have a kit, they have no problems accepting a tod."

Moyshu looked at Leanna sincerely. "When I am with you, I see everything that I like in a vixen Ė your cute face, your curvaceous form, your adorable breasts, and your feminine personality. Being actually a herm has not changed that one bit, and Iím the second kind of vulpamour, so your erection doesnít bother me at all. In fact, it means that at least one of us would never need a dildo to pleasure the other! Leanna, I asked you once before if you would be my girlfriend for as long as weíre together aboard this ship. You never really answered that, so I am asking you again in full knowledge of what you are Ė will you be my girlfriend and lover?"

Leanna felt a bit choked up, excited and confused, and shi felt a little weak at the knees by the vixen's revelations. It had surprised hir to find out that she didnít mind males because shi had never related to her on anything but a female basis. Shi really hadnít properly understood what a vulpamour was until now. Shi was still trying to come to terms with what a true herm was! Yet should shi make a decision that could be strongly influenced by pheromones? Then shi recalled the pleasure that they had taken in each other when Moyshu had drained hir breasts, and shi realised that it didnít matter about the pheromones because shi wanted Moyshu again, even before they had become a factor. More and more, shi had been learning to appreciate hir male side. It was time to stop reacting to a need and start acting on hir desires.

With hir decision made, hir expression cleared and shi smiled at Moyshu and said, "It would be my greatest pleasure to be your hermfriend, if thereís such a word. I want to be with you too, but it will be as a complete package, the entire me."

Moyshu returned hir smile. "Done!" she said, then finally let Leannaís hand go. She then rolled over onto her back and propped her upper torso against the headrest. She winked at Leanna. " You and I both need some sexual relief right now. Later, I'll show you how a vulpamour truly makes love to her partner. But for now, this way we should get off to a great start," she said as she spread her hind legs in invitation.

Leanna grinned as shi moved to take up her offer. As shi kneeled in front of the vixen, shi thought to hirself, ĎFirst I mounted Forest out of sheer desperation, then had intercourse with M'Lai out of a mutual need. But now, for the first time ever, I am going to do this as a lover. How things have changed!í Shi leaned over the foxtaur, and hir penis rubbed against the vixenís labia. Seeing Moyshuís readiness in her eyes, Leanna pushed hir rigid cock deeply into her warm, moist vagina, and they both groaned in relief and pleasure. Leanna settled hirself comfortably around Moyshu as the vixen put her hands on Leannaís breasts, thumbs rubbing against the turgid nipples. She leaned forward to meet Leannaís muzzle then, tilting her head, she began kissing the fennec deeply while fondling hir breasts. The two enjoyed this for a couple of minutes before Leanna leaned back, smiling lovingly at Moyshu. Shi then started a deep, steady thrusting into Moyshu, and the vixen threw back her head and basked in the pleasure. Leanna used hir training and skills to rapidly bring the vixen to a screaming orgasm, then a second time. The third time, Leanna let loose hir own tensions and, virtually together, they climaxed in a chorus of yips and groans. Leanna, still buried within Moyshu, relaxed on top of the vixen who stroked hir hair and crooned her thanks to hir.

Eventually Leanna slipped free and settled into hir usual position, Moyshu curling around hir. "Thank you, Moyshu. I feel a lot better now. Were my efforts to please you what you expected them to be like?"

"You certainly didnít disappoint me, Leanna. I like having a girlfriend... sorry, hermfriend... who can be so soft and cuddly, yet have the capability to do so much more at the same time." She laughed softly. "Perhaps I should have tried a chakat lover before this!"

"Itís nice to have oneís abilities appreciated so openly and honestly," Leanna replied. "Chakats are good at that."

Moyshu was thoughtful for a moment, then replied, "I gather the impression that you didnít get too much of that in your life. Do you mind if I ask you a very personal question?"

Leanna giggled. "How much more personal than we already have been? I donít promise an answer, but you can ask me anything."

Hesitantly, Moyshu asked, "Were you a slave, Leanna?"

Leanna stiffened in surprise. That was one question that shi hadnít anticipated. Had shi given hirself away somehow? To buy hirself more time, shi immediately replied, "What the heck makes you think that?"

"Lots of little things," Moyshu answered. "Your unusual accent made me wonder where you came from, and I wanted to find out a little more about you after we first met. I kept getting odd results though. The computer would not release details of your background. The only fennec morphs that I could find were all reported from the Non-Aligned Worlds. Herms are very rare too, and are almost always the result of someone breeding them for fetish purposes, either before the Gene Wars, or currently in the N.A.W. Then thereís the fact that I never met you until after we encountered the slave ship. You also make small mistakes in things with which the shipís crew would be totally familiar. And then thereís the very unusual way that the Admiral and his family treat you Ė completely unlike just another member of the crew. There are other things, such as your relationship with the slaves, but they all point to only one conclusion Ė you were a slave rescued from that ship."

Leanna though fast and hard. Shi was almost certain that shi could explain everything away. Shi had already thought of excuses for several. However, Leanna was tired of the subterfuge. Shi had found someone who could be a friend and lover, someone in whom shi could confide and be intimate in more than just a physical manner. Admiral Kline and Commander Rosepetal had asked hir not to let on to the crew about hir true nature, but as shi wasnít truly a member of Star Fleet, shi wasnít bound by a request. If they had framed it as a direct order, then shi would have had to comply, but they wanted hir to be independent and make hir own decisions, as hard as that concept seemed to hir, and this was one of the consequences. Well, shi would make a decision this time!

Leannaís turned over and met Moyshuís eyes. "I like having an observant and intelligent girlfriend. You are correct; I was one of those rescued from the slave ship. How do you feel about that?"

Moyshu smiled. "I think we both got lucky that day. Will you tell me what it was like being a slave, or is that a touchy subject?"

Leanna thought for a moment before replying. "Not everything about my past life should be told. A lot is very unpleasant, and some of it is downright ugly. There are things that I was forced to do that I wish that I could forget, but I canít. I have perfect recall, and every one of those moments is still clear in my mind. All that I can do is to try never thinking about them. However, I can tell you about how things were in general, and several events. You may even ask me for more details, but there will be some subjects that must remain a secret, or are too touchy to talk about. Can you accept that?"

"Of course I can, Leanna. Iím your friend, not your interrogator. Just tell me what you can so that I can understand what it was like for you and for the other slaves."

For the next couple of hours, Leanna talked and Moyshu asked the occasional question. Once in a while, Moyshu comforted Leanna as a particularly upsetting thing was related. By the time that they were too tired to go on any longer, Moyshu was greatly enlightened as to the true state of the slaves of the Non-Aligned Worlds. For Leanna though, it was a greatly cathartic session, and shi drifted off to sleep more at peace with hir past than at any other time in hir life.

"Moyshu knows that I was a slave," Leanna said matter-of-factly.

Rosepetalís fork paused momentarily on its way to her mouth as she eyed the fennec, then completed the journey. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then after swallowing, asked, "Did you tell her, or did she figure it out for herself?"

"She put a lot of clues together correctly and then asked me about it directly last night. I chose to confirm it despite your wishes," Leanna said a little defiantly, surprising hirself with hir temerity.

"Good," Rosepetal said with a reassuring smile. "Thereís a time and place for everything, and that was as good a time as any to tell her. It also pleases me that she worked it out. Good observation and deduction are desirable qualities in a mission leader."

"Mission leader?" echoed Leanna in puzzlement. "What mission?"

"What has she told you about her duties?" Rosepetal countered.

"Sheís a planetary scout, and she teaches survival courses while aboard the ship."

"Correct, and sheís very good at it. And when we get to our next destination, she will be taking a team down to do a general survey. We will be coming back to pick them up on our next tour, unless some emergency requires an earlier visit. Moyshuís unique abilities, combined with her intelligence and leadership skills, made her a perfect choice for mission leader."

"So she wonít be aboard when we get to Earth?" Leanna asked. Rosepetal nodded in affirmation and Leanna continued. "So that is why she said Ďfor as long as weíre together on this shipí, and not until we get to Earth. When does she leave?" Leanna was starting to feel upset.

"We get there in eight days."

Eight days? Having found someone whom shi could be completely intimate with, shi was going to lose her so soon? Why hadnít she told hir? Leanna felt like running out and demanding answers, but hir sense of duty stopped hir. Nevertheless shi was going to have a few sharp words with Moyshu when they got together this evening!

"I intended to tell you tonight!" protested Moyshu. "I just didnít want to spoil things last night. Everything was going so well between us, and then later it was all about your past. I didnít think it was the right time to bring up my assignment."

Leanna was partially mollified, but wasnít quite satisfied. "What about before last night? There were plenty of opportunities then."

"I was only assigned to the mission yesterday. Up until then, it could have been two others who got the position, and I would either have just been just one of the team, or assigned to another mission, or even returned to Earth without an assignment, hoping that the next voyage would give me my big break. Leanna, this is a big promotion for me. Iím still pretty young for a team leader. Something must have convinced them that I was ready for the job."

Leanna was startled. ĎSomething? Or Someone?" shi wondered. Shi filed away that thought for further consideration later. Right now, someone more important was waiting, and they had no time to waste anymore. Besides, Moyshu was still in heat, and both of them felt the need to do something about that!

"May I be blunt, Commander?" Leanna asked Rosepetal.

Rosepetal was a bit surprised. Leanna usually was only that formal with Boyce, and that because of hir conditioning in regard to humans. She gave the fennec her undivided attention. "Certainly, Leanna. Whatís the problem?"

"Are you responsible for assigning Moyshu to the upcoming survey mission?"

Rosepetal had wondered if, or more likely when, Leanna would find out, and how shi would react. "Iím not the final authority; Boyce is. However, he usually acts on my recommendations, and I put Moyshu on the top of the list of candidates for the job."

"Was it because of me?" Leanna demanded. "Did I step over some bounds and youíre getting rid of her? Did she make a mistake in associating with a slave? Or is she being rewarded for making that slave happy? She mentioned that she was quite young for such an important position, so why did she get it?"

Rosepetal sighed. If this had been a crewperson, she would have had hir up for insubordination. However, this was someone who had come from an entirely different culture, a former slave, and someone who had good reason to be suspicious of motives. She had to be sympathetic but stern. "Leanna, above all else, this is still a Star Fleet vessel, and Moyshu is a Star Fleet officer. Although her relationship with you is quite acceptable and of benefit to you, she is still here to perform her Fleet duties first. Moyshu has proven herself to be a very good planetary scout with the ability to lead others and, despite her relative youth, more than qualified for the position, as I mentioned yesterday. However, recent events did affect our decision. She, as well as the other two candidates for the position, have been under closer scrutiny since before we met up with the slave ship. How they deal with people and situations is critically important because they will be isolated from the rest of the Federation for a long period. Moyshu showed a high degree of flexibility, ingenuity and decisiveness, combined with an excellent ability to get along with others. So yes, how she interacted with you was a factor in our appraisal, but hardly your fault. As much as we want you to be happy and forge relationships, Moyshuís work comes first. This is her career, and it would be selfish of us to hold her back just so that she can continue being your girlfriend. I hope that you can understand that."

Leanna could indeed understand that, and intellectually agreed with Rosepetal. That didnít make the fact any easier to deal with emotionally though. Still, shi had learned another lesson Ė just because shi wasnít a slave anymore didnít mean that everything was going to be perfect. Life was never fair, and shi had to learn the new rules before they blindsided hir again. "Thank you, Commander. I understand now. I should be happy for Moyshu."

Rosepetal reached out to take Leannaís hand in hers, reassuring the fennec. "It certainly isnít the end of the world. Moyshu will be back, and if your relationship with her is strong, you will be able to continue where you left off. Meanwhile, I suggest that you make the most of your remaining time together."

Leanna nodded. "We will," shi said fervently.

Of course, that plan came unstuck also. For a couple of days, Leanna resumed the regular routine, although shi did take a bit of time off hir studies in order to spend more of it with Moyshu. This morning though, it had been particularly difficult to part company with the foxtaur. Theyíd made love for longer than normal, and Moyshu needed her sleep before starting her shift later. Leanna still felt horny though, but shi managed to restrain hirself to merely cuddling and stroking her fur until shi realised that shi was running late.

Leanna hastily dressed, frustrated by a seeming lack of coordination this morning. Too late for breakfast, shi rushed off to Doctor M'Laiís office, not noticing the startled expressions on the faces of the morphs shi passed, especially one red fox morph.

M'Lai did her usual scans, then frowned at the results. "Are you feeling okay, Leanna?" she asked.

"I had a late night, didnít get enough sleep, and missed breakfast because I was running late. Other than that, I feel fine."

M'Lai wasnít entirely convinced, but if Leanna said shi was fine, she would have to take hir word for it until they established a proper medical baseline for the fennec. "Okay, but let me know if there are any problems. Itís important that I keep track of any changes in your body that might be relevant."

Leanna gave the Caitian a quick hug. "Of course I will. Gotta go!"

M'Lai reluctantly let Leanna leave, and shi hurried off to the Admiralís cabin. In the trans-lift, shi momentarily forgot to tell the computer where shi wanted to go, but it made virtually no difference to the amount of time that shi was tardy anyway.

Forestwalker greeted hir at the door as shi came in. "Good morning, Leanna. Had a rough night?" shi asked cheerily.

"Leanna slept in," the fennec admitted.

"Leanna slept in?" Forestwalker echoed. "Whatís with the slave speech?"

"Oh! Sorry, I must be more tired than I thought and slipped back into old habits."

"Did you even have time for a decent breakfast?"

"No. I had better grab something to eat quickly if you will look out for the cubs a moment longer."

"Take your time. Youíre not really late."

Leanna headed for the replicator for food, but just then Boyce emerged from the bedroom, ready to start his day. He greeted the fennec, "Good morning, Leanna."

Leanna immediately detoured to give Boyce a hug that was a tad more than just friendly. "Good morning, master," shi said, and gave him an intimate grope.

"Leanna!" Boyce said sharply, shocked by hir words and actions.

Leanna stepped back from Boyce, a look of dismay dawning on hir face. "Leanna sorry! I mean Iím sorry! I didnít mean... oh no...."

"Whatís wrong, Leanna?" Forestwalker asked as shi felt the torrent of conflicting emotions pouring out of the distressed fennec.

Leanna shook hirself, appearing to be trying to clear hir head. Shi looked at the two desperately. "Quick! Call Yeoman... Yeoman...."

"Yeoman DíArmand," Forestwalker supplied.

"Yes, her!" Leanna said emphatically. "She must look after cubs now. I cannot. Iím... Iím going into heat."

Forestwalker instantly knew what was happening. Shi turned to the puzzled Admiral. "Boyce, I need to help Leanna. Can someone cover for me? Iíll explain later."

"Leanna is still your first priority, so go ahead. Take as much time as you need. Iíll call DíArmand and fix things here."

"Thanks! Come on, Leanna, weíre going to see M'Lai."

Doctor M'Lai Saarath wasnít terribly surprised to see Leanna so soon, but she was a bit upset. "I knew I shouldnít have let you go so soon without a deeper examination. Whatís wrong?"

"Shiís going into heat, and we both know what that means," explained Forestwalker.

"Yes indeed! Leanna, get up onto the scanning bed. Weíre going to take those detailed readings now."

Leanna did so, and M'Lai started the process of pre-programmed scans. As shi laid there, Leanna said, "Sorry. Getting stupid. Did not realise I was going into heat."

"Itís okay, Leanna. We understand," M'Lai replied. "Iím the one who should be sorry. I could have guessed what was happening, even if I couldnít interpret the data right then." She gave a Caitian mrrrp of surprise. "Although, looking at these readings, I would not have known what was happening without prior warning. This is very strange stuff." Her voice trailed off as she got engrossed in the data.

Forestwalker gave the doctor a subtle nudge. "M'Lai, do you still need Leanna? I think that we need to get hir back to hir cabin as soon as possible."

"Hmmm? Oh, sorry. Yes." She pressed a button that lifted the scanner out of the way. "Iíll be making a visit or two later to take more readings though. I want as much data on the changes as possible."

"Okay. Letís get you back to your cabin, Leanna."

Leanna nodded, following the chakat meekly. Safely back in hir room, Leanna started undressing. "No point in wearing these for a while," shi commented.

Forestwalker asked, "What do we need to do for you while youíre in heat?"

Leanna frowned, finding it hard to focus hir thoughts. "Make sure I eat properly. I might not operate the replicators well, or at all, while I am stupid."

"No problem," Forestwalker replied.

"Lock door. Stupid Leanna must not leave room."

"I can understand that. Computer! Do not open cabin door for Leanna Fennec until either myself, Doctor M'Lai, Chakat Midnight, or Commander Rosepetal discontinues this instruction."

The computerís even tones stated, "Security code or authorisation from Leanna Fennec is required for this action."

Forestwalker looked at Leanna as shi did not have the necessary security code. Leanna hesitated a long moment, then said, "I, Leanna Fennec, authorise this action."

"Command accepted," the computer replied.

"Next?" enquired Forestwalker.

Although hir thinking was getting fuzzy, shi had previously thought out what shi wanted to do, but shi had to push hirself to remember. When shi did, hir expression turned very earnest. "Tell Moyshu... tell Moyshu that Leanna canít see her... two nights! Moyshu must never know this happen to Leanna. Never!" Although shi could not articulate hir reasons properly anymore, Leanna was determined that Moyshu would never witness hir degrading descent into animalistic sexual behaviour. This was one secret that shi intended to keep. If all went as promised, it would never happen again.

"I promise, Leanna," Forestwalker said. "Weíll come up with some good excuse to tell her."

Leanna looked grateful and relieved.

"What about sexual relief? You told me that it wasnít a matter of life or death as with your rut."

Leanna looked at the chakat keenly, and Forestwalker sensed a surge of lust that the fennec tried to suppress. "Leanna like..." shi started, then tried again. "I would grateful... if you would do me the favour... of making love to me," shi ground out carefully.

Forestwalker was dismayed at how quickly Leanna was losing the ability to talk cogently without a great deal of effort. However, shi had made this particular point unambiguous. Nevertheless, after what had happened during Leannaís rut, shi had to be certain.

"Are you sure that somebody else couldnít do the job just as well? I will do this for you, but I need to know that I wonít be taking advantage of your state. Maybe one of the male sex slaves?"

"No! Leanna decided days ago... you best! You help Leanna in rut. You help Leanna get good work. You bring Leanna family. Now you take Leanna and make love... please!" The fennec came over and hugged the chakat, nuzzling hir. The close physical contact threatened to overwhelm hir empathic senses and hir self-control.

"Okay, Leanna, Iíll do it. When and how often?"

Leanna seemed to struggle to comprehend. Finally shi said, "Not now. Want now, not need now. Need tonight. Need in morning."

"So, if I understand correctly, although you already desire sex, you wonít actually need relief until this evening, then again in the morning. At least twice a day until itís over?"

Leannaís concentration seemed almost comical as shi listened to Forestwalker, then hir face lit up with the simple happiness of being understood. "Yes! Yes! You come see Leanna then; Leanna make you happy; you make Leanna happy; Leanna remember!"

ĎThatís right,í Forest thought to hirself, Ďshi always remembers everything when shi comes out of heat.í "Okay, Leanna, I will try to give you happy memories. I promise."

Leanna hugged the chakat happily, and with the success of giving Forestwalker the instructions, finally seemed to succumb completely to the moron phase. Shi completely disregarded hir own instructions and started groping Forestwalker very intimately. Forest gently but firmly disengaged the fennec. "Not now, Leanna. Later, okay?"

Leanna looked very disappointed and hir soulful eyes looked upon Forestwalker with undiluted lust. Forestwalkerís erection was unavoidable, but shi did hir best to suppress the urge. Shi hastily left the room, promising again to return. Outside in the corridor, Forestwalker sat with hir legs close together, obscuring hir aroused state until it subsided. Shi got a few curious looks from passers-by, but it was better than the alternative. As shi sat there, shi reflected on what had just happened. ĎItís been less than half an hour since shi arrived for work as usual, and in that short time shiís gone from almost normal to totally lost in hir moron heat phase.í Forestwalker shuddered. ĎAnd to think that shi will recall every moment of what happens during it. Iím glad that Iím not hir right now, but shiís had to go through dozens of these. Poor dear Leanna. Iíll make sure to give you something worth remembering!í

When walking was practical again, shi headed back to hir cabin. Boyce was still there, apparently having left Rosepetal in charge so that he could find out what was happening with Leanna as soon as possible. Forestwalker filled him in completely as to what was happening and why.

"You can take as much time as you need to attend to Leanna," Boyce told hir.

"I donít think that thereís much that I can do at the moment. Iím going to instruct the computer to play hir some simple programming in hir cabin that ought to keep hir from getting bored. Iíll check to see that shiís getting food and water okay in hir current state. Otherwise, there really isnít much that we can do. Iíll tell M'Lai the situation so that shi can get in and out without a problem, and get her readings."

"Very well. Just let me know if anything extraordinary happens. DíArmand has things under control here, so you may as well go back to your regular duties until you need to attend to Leanna." He got up from behind the small desk that he used when not in the Captainís Ready Room, straightened out his uniform, and said, "Iíd better get to the bridge now. We may be in dull interstellar space, but the Captain is expected to put in an appearance occasionally."

Forestwalker went back to hir work, but was unable to concentrate 100% on the job, and constantly checked with the computer on Leannaís status. ĎA good thing that it doesnít get sick of me asking the same questions over and over,í shi thought with a small smile.

At the end of the shift, shi went to Sick Bay and collected M'Lai. The doctor had prepared some sophisticated equipment to get her readings in Leannaís cabin instead of Sick Bay. Forest informed her of Leannaís request to give the fennec sexual relief, and M'Lai asked the chakat if it was possible to get another set of readings soon after.

"I need to know if anything is counteracting the hormones that trigger the suppression of hir cognitive abilities," M'Lai elucidated. "Shi gave me the impression that the more that shi got serviced during that phase, the shorter it was. And if you notice anything at all worth mentioning, let me know."

Forestwalker shrugged. "Iíll do what I can. Iím playing this by ear at the moment."

"Until I get enough data, so am I, so I certainly understand your position," M'Lai commiserated.

Forestwalker helped carry some of the items for M'Lai. When shi opened Leannaís door, the fennec practically pounced on hir, resuming hir previous attempts to arouse the chakat.

Forestwalker had mentally braced hirself for the assault, and firmly ordered Leanna to lie down on the bed. "Lie still for a few minutes, Leanna. As soon as M'Lai is finished, we can start having some fun."

Only the direct order acting on Leannaís slave conditioning kept hir there for even the few short minutes that the doctor required. M'Lai quickly and efficiently took her readings, then took a small blood sample.

"Shiís all yours," M'Lai said as shi packed up. "Iíll wait to hear from you." She then departed, leaving the chakat and fennec alone.

Leanna was immediately all over Forestwalker, but this time the chakat relaxed and went with the flow. In only moments, shi had a full erection, and Leanna positioned hirself to receive Forestwalker. The first time was a short but powerful burst of intercourse meant just to ease the fennecís desperate desire for sex, and the orgasm came quickly, followed by a second shortly afterwards. After that, it became a lot less frantic and a bit more interesting. Leanna was enthusiastic and enjoyed every moment, but had no creativity in hir current condition. It was up to Forestwalker to try different things in the hopes of giving Leanna some enjoyable memories when shi got back to normal. Forestwalker enjoyed those parts a lot more, and they were the only times that shi too orgasmed.

Leanna threatened to wear out the chakat before shi was finally satiated. ĎGood thing that Trina has built up my stamina,í Forestwalker thought.

Surprisingly, Leanna started drifting off to sleep. Forestwalker gently extricated hirself from the fennecís arms and called M'Lai. The doctor turned up promptly and took her readings without disturbing Leanna, even when she drew a second sample of "after" blood.

"How does it look?" Forestwalker asked in a low voice.

"Initial readings bear out what shi mentioned Ė lots of orgasms seem to counter the effect somewhat. I need to figure out the exact mechanism, but itís promising."

"So, the more shi gets, the shorter it lasts? Now thereís a helluva course of treatment!"

M'Lai smiled a little. "Yes. If it wasnít for the unwanted mental effects, it would almost be funny. Now, what about you? You didnít stop for dinner first."

"Come to think of it, Iím ravenous! I suppose that while Leanna is sleeping would be a good time to get something to eat. I also need to go see Moyshu. Iíll check with Midnight to find out what would be the best time to do that. Then Iíll come back here, hopefully before Leanna awakens."

"Sounds like a plan. Iíve left the instruments set up to auto-run the scanning program for Leanna. If you could do a scan before and after hir next bout, I would appreciate it."

"Not a problem," Forestwalker replied as they headed out the door. "Do you want me to call you at all?"

"I anticipate that she may be wanting sex again sometime after midnight, and again in the morning. Call me after that so that I can get another blood sample."

Forestwalker pulled a face. "Oof! That much male sex? I wish that I was in male phase at the moment. That would make this a lot easier. Chakats may have a reputation for having lots of sex, but the truth is that we donít have it anywhere near that much. My penis is going to ache!"

M'Lai laughed as they stepped into the trans-lift. She put a consoling arm around Forestwalkerís shoulders. "For once, Iím glad itís not me that has to deal with that kind of problem. Come see me though if it becomes a real issue."

Forestwalker had time to have decent meal before shi left to rendezvous with Moyshu. The vixen was surprised to see Forestwalker and not Leanna when she arrived.

"Hello, Forest. Is there something wrong with Leanna?" she asked with concern in her voice.

"No, not wrong per se," demurred Forestwalker. "Shi did ask me to tell you that shi wonít be able to see you tonight or tomorrow night at least. Shi will possibly be back on a normal schedule the night after that though. Shi wanted me to reassure you and shi will be looking forward to seeing you again as soon as possible."

"Did Leanna get into trouble?" Moyshu asked, wondering if exposing hir past had caused Leanna problems.

"Oh, no!" Forestwalker hastened to reassure her. "All I can say at this time though is that this was an anticipated problem involving Leanna. Shiís fine, shiís not in trouble, but shi canít be with you right now." Forestwalker put a hand on Moyshuís arm. "Donít push hir about it when you see hir, Moyshu. I assure you that it doesnít concern you, and shi wonít be talking to anyone about it."

"Thanks, Forest. I suppose that I can find some other way to occupy myself this evening. So, the night after tomorrow then?"

"Weíre pretty sure. Please donít be disappointed if it goes a bit longer than anticipated though."

"Okay. I suppose that I canít ask for more than that. Iíll see you later, Forest!"

"Goodnight, Moyshu!"

Forestwalker followed the foxtaur out after Moyshu had had enough time to get out of sight, then headed off to Leannaís room. Shi was relieved to see that Moyshu had apparently not decided to try her luck there after all, then went inside.

Leanna woke up the moment the door opened, and it was quickly apparent that shi was ready for another round. Forestwalker insisted on Leanna getting something to eat and drink first, and then struggled to get hir to cooperate long enough to do another set of scans. Only then did Forestwalker accede to Leannaís demands. The chakat discovered however that apparently the dull-witted fennec hadnít figured out that shi needed to empty hir breasts of milk, so Forestwalker took care of that for hir, suckling them both dry. Not only was it very pleasant for both of them, but the milkís aphrodisiac effects made it easier for Forestwalker to sustain hir erection also. After a shorter bout than the first time, Leanna was again satisfied, and Forestwalker encouraged hir to go back to sleep. This time, after doing another scan, Forestwalker laid down next to hir in the hope of getting some good sleep also.

Forestwalker awoke from an erotic dream to find Leanna playing with hir cock. Groaning, shi looked at the clock to see how much sleep shi had managed to get. Ė less than shi had hoped for. ĎLooks like I wonít be sleeping too well for a couple of days,í shi thought unhappily, then turned hir attention to the persistent fennec. Fortunately, the lingering effects of Leannaís milk helped sustain Forestwalker to pleasure Leanna to orgasm a few times. After that task was accomplished, shi took Leanna into the bathroom and showered them both. Even that Leanna turned into sexplay, but in the end they both emerged fresh and sweet-smelling.

Forestwalker made sure that they both had a good breakfast before shi left the fennec in order to go to hir own cabin. Windrunner was just starting to mewl for a feed. Glad to have something else to do before having to go to work, and not wishing Midnight to be disturbed, Forestwalker contentedly fed the hungry cub. Just as shi was almost done with that pleasant task, a rather dishevelled Midnight walked in.

"Youíre up early," the black-furred chakat commented. "How did the night with Leanna go?"

"A bit rough. Leannaís appetite for sex seems virtually insatiable in hir present condition. Itís gone past the point of enjoyment and become more of a chore."

"Well, I have a bit of a consolation prize. I was saving my milk because I couldnít be sure that youíd be around for feeding time. Looks like you get to empty the milk jugs."

Forestwalker smiled. "Now thereís something that I donít think Iíll ever get tired of."

Midnight settled down next to Forestwalker, careful not to disturb the feeding cub while Forest suckled on Midnightís tit. For several minutes, the trio shared milk, stroking and empathic bonding, glad to be together as lifemates and child.

All good things come to an end though, and Midnight had to get ready for hir shift. Forestwalker settled Windrunner down to sleep off hir meal, and then went back out into the main room. By then, everyone else was up and getting breakfast.

Boyce looked up, concern crossing his features. "You look worn out, love. Is Leanna letting you get enough sleep?"

"No," admitted Forestwalker.

Rosepetal spoke up. "I think it would be best if you go straight to bed now. I know you chakats need more sleep than we do, and I donít want one of my crew running on empty. Iíll let your department head know that you wonít be coming in until later."

"But what about my project?" Forestwalker protested weakly.

"Thereís nothing that canít be put off for a couple of days," Rosepetal reassured hir. "Same goes for tomorrow if necessary."

"Listen to the First Officer, Forest," Boyce said, getting up to give hir a hug. "Keeping things running smoothly is her job, and that also means making over-conscientious chakats get much-needed sleep."

"Yes, dear," Forestwalker acquiesced, leaning into the hug. Shi then gave Rosepetal a cheeky salute. "Yes, maíam!"

It was about lunchtime that Forestwalker checked on Leanna. Neither got anything to eat though until after Leanna had worked off hir urges once more. Forestwalker finally got to work on hir project before the shift ended, then it was back to Leanna, after which events occurred much as they had the previous evening.

Forestwalker was surprised to wake up normally at a late morning hour. ĎLeanna hasnít tried anything this morning?í shi wondered. Turning over, shi found the fennec sitting on the edge of the bed just watching hir.

"Good morning, Leanna," shi greeted hir.

"A very good morning, Forest," agreed Leanna.

Forestwalker raised an eyebrow. "Youíre back to normal, I take it?"

Leanna grimaced. "Kind of. My intelligence is mostly returned, but Iím at the tail end of my heat, so Iím pretty horny still."

"But not uncontrollably so..." Forestwalker began.

"... that Iíd wake you while trying to arouse you?" Leanna finished for the chakat. "I was just remembering that. You were remarkably tolerant despite my abuse. My deepest thanks."

"I just wish that I had had a bit more warning," Forestwalker commented.

Leanna looked embarrassed. "Iím very sorry about that. I had already considered my alternatives long before it started. Iíd already rejected the captain for several reasons, and while Midnight is more male inclined, I donít connect with hir as well as I do with you, and you have had experience with me before. But after I had made my decision, I put it out of my mind. Youíd think that a slave would be more blasé about such things, but this is one that I truly abhor to the point of not wanting to think about it any more than necessary... or forgetting to tell people that I plan to involve."

"Itís okay, I would have agreed anyway, but why not simply get one of the male sex slaves to do what he does best? He probably would have had more stamina than me."

Leanna shook hir head. "With one of them, it would have been nothing but pure animalistic rutting. That kind of memory I can do without. With you, however, it was more meaningful and enjoyable. I can recall those moments with some degree of satisfaction." Shi leant up against the chakat, smiling. "Youíre worth remembering."

"Thank you. Iím happy to have made your time more bearable."

"Thereís one other thing. Sometimes you get more than you bargain for if you take a sex slave. Iíve done things under those circumstances that I would never do willingly when Iím normal." Shi shuddered. "Some very nasty things."

Forestwalker stroked Leannaís back-fur as shi soothed the fennecís upset at recalling those moments. After a minute, Leanna relaxed a bit as shi managed to put those memories aside. Forestwalker then said, "I sense that youíre still trying to control yourself because youíre not over your heat."

Leanna sighed. Shi had not wanted to burden Forestwalker with that problem anymore. "Itís true. The moron phase passes when I come off the peak, but it takes the best part of the rest of the day for the urges to ease off."

"You still need servicing then?"

"Youíve already done enough for me, Forest. Itís not something that I canít cope with, and I know that you are tired of the task."

Forest grinned. "Well, youíve let me have a good sleep in, so Iíll make you a deal. The thing that I most disliked was that you were too obsessed with the physical aspect of sex to make it as interesting and intimate as we chakats like it. It was just intercourse, and that palls rather quickly. So, I will help you work off the rest of your cravings and, in exchange, you give me the most interesting and intimate mating that you can."

"Youíve got a deal!" Leanna declared immediately.

"Scan first though!" Forestwalker said with a laugh.

The scans were done, and then the two set off with gusto. This time it was everything both wanted in sex-play. It was truly making love rather than mere intercourse, and despite having partners of both the taur and the biped kinds, Forestwalker was still surprised and delighted with some of the things that the fennec came up with. After a couple of orgasms apiece, they concentrated their efforts into one last shared climax. Forestwalker opened hir empathic senses into a full two-way connection, much as shi had with Malena, and the two exploded into a doubled helping of both physical and emotional pleasure.

Leanna laid on top of Forestwalker, both panting from their exertions. "Thatís a... nice trick," Leanna said between breaths.

"Well I... couldnít have you... one-upping me... in everything!" replied Forestwalker, equally short of breath.

"No fair! ... I canít... do that!" Leanna laughed.

"I think that... Moyshu should be... well satisfied... anyway," Forest opined.

Leanna thought about the foxtaur, and then realised that despite the servicing that shi had just enjoyed, shi still felt a thrill of lust at the thought of being with Moyshu again tonight. Then hir belly gurgled loudly.

Forestwalker giggled. "I think that weíre both more than a little bit hungry. Letís have some brunch, then go see M'Lai."

The doctor was delighted to see Leanna walk into Sick Bay dressed once again in hir uniform. "Leanna! Youíre back to normal already?" she asked.

"Mostly. How much is up to you to measure exactly, no?" Leanna replied with a grin.

Forestwalker handed a datacard to M'Lai. "Hereís the data from the other scans that I did for you."

"Thanks, Forest," M'Lai said, taking the card and inputting the data into Leannaís file. "One more deep scan and you can let me do some analysis. Iíll still expect to see you back here at the usual time for the regular scan though, Leanna."

"Whatever it takes to rid me of the problem permanently, Iíll do. Just reassure me that I wonít have to go through that again."

M'Lai smiled confidently. "While it may take a lot of analysing and computing to find a permanent solution, I already have enough data to produce a counter-agent for the key hormones. You will have that available to you long before your next heat."

Leanna hugged the Caitian. "Thank you very much, M'Lai."

M'Lai stroked the fennecís hair affectionately. "Youíre very welcome, Leanna."

Moyshu headed straight for the coffee lounge as soon as her shift ended. She approached its doors nervously, wondering if Leanna would be there, then hesitated for a moment before entering, afraid of being disappointed. It took only a moment to spot the fennec sipping hir cappuccino, watching the stars crawl past the view windows. Quietly she walked up behind Leanna and put her arms around hir. Shi smelled extra appealing tonight.

Leanna, unsurprised, looked around, a big grin of happiness on hir face. The shi reached up and pulled Moyshuís face to hirs and proceeded to give the vixentaur a full-muzzle passionate kiss in front of everyone in the lounge.

Startled at first, Moyshu quickly went with the mood, returning the kiss in full. When they finally breathlessly pulled apart, there were a few good-natured jibes to "get a room". Moyshu grinned. "Shall we take their advice?" she asked Leanna.

"The sooner, the better," agreed the fennec.

The pair left hand-in-hand. As they walked to Moyshuís cabin, she asked, "I have no intention of stepping on anyoneís toes, but is there anything that you want to tell me about the last couple of days?"

Leanna had expected the question, and had already considered hir reply. "Thereís not much that I can say about those days except that my absence was not by my choice, and you would not have wanted to be with me then. The circumstances were unpleasant, and I intend to bury most of those memories as deeply as possible. One thing that I can say though is that I missed you a lot, and I wanted to be with you. We have some time to make up."

The duo did their best to cram three nights of love-making into one, and the action got very hot and frenetic at times. Eventually they had had their fill, and they snuggled up together comfortably.

"Youíre in heat, arenít you?" asked Moyshu. "Feeling better now?"

"Right on both counts. How about you? Two whole nights without me Ė you must have been suffering!" Leanna added mischievously.

Moyshu merely grinned. "I didnít like it, I admit. Iíve gotten used to having you here with me at night. Iím really going to miss you when I go."

"Itís going to be strange for me. Iíve never been in the position of having a girlfriend or boyfriend before, and now Iím going to have to give one up!"

"Iíll be back," promised Moyshu, "but donít wait for me. There are plenty of other people out there who would find you just as delightful as I do. You have a whole new life waiting for you on Earth, so make the most of it."

"I intend to," Leanna said fervently. "I think that I have found the niche that will suit me best and make me happy. I couldnít have gotten where I am now without people like you, Forest, M'Lai and all the rest. Maybe especially you because now I know something about what a real relationship feels like."

"I think youíve given me some fresh insights also." Moyshu then yawned hugely. "I think my deepest insight right now though is that we both need to get some sleep!"

Leanna giggled. "True, even if I do have more stamina than you. Goodnight, dear."

"Sweet dreams, love," replied Moyshu.

And their dreams were sweet indeed.

Things returned to normal the next day, or as close to normal as they ever got for Leanna. With the promise that shi would never again have to go through the sex-obsessed moron phase again, a weight seemed lifted from hir shoulders, and shi approached each task with gusto. Then each evening after dinner, shi would immerse hirself in hir studies until just before Moyshu was due to come off her shift. Leanna would then head for the coffee lounge and order their drinks so that Moyshuís was ready when she arrived. The duo could just have easily have rendezvoused at the foxtaurís cabin (still preferred for its larger bed), but they enjoyed relaxing and chatting over their coffees before engaging in more strenuous and intimate activities. Life was good for the former slave, which meant of course that it couldnít last.

Far too soon for Leanna, the starship dropped out of warp and went into orbit around Pelago III. The timing was such that both were in the coffee lounge to witness the planet heave into sight. It was a bittersweet moment as they both knew that this would be their last night together for a very long time.

"Are you going to beam down to the surface with me tomorrow to see me off?" asked Moyshu.

"Of course I will. Commander Rosepetal has already told me that I could do so if I wished it, and besides, how could I resist stepping out onto a new world? I just wish that my girlfriend wasnít going to be left behind on it."

Moyshu had no answer that hadnít already been voiced before, so they contemplated the blue and green world in silence as it grew larger in the view-windows.

"So beautiful," murmured Moyshu.

"Yes, and probably full of unknown dangers," Leanna added. "You be very careful down there!"

"Yes, dear," Moyshu agreed with a giggle. "Iíve got added incentive to come home intact now."

Leanna got up from hir chair and held out hir hand to Moyshu. "Come on. Letís go and add onto that incentive."

"Sounds like a grand idea to me!" Moyshu declared as she took Leannaís hand.

Leanna found hir second experience with a Transporter just as fascinating as the first, although at least shi knew far more about what was happening now. It was all quickly forgotten though as shi and Moyshu stepped out of the base of operations, to be confronted by the beautiful vista spread out before them. The encampment had been set up in a clearing close to a small river that cascaded down a rocky slope for about a hundred metres. The drop in the terrain enabled the two to look over a broad valley that was lightly forested, interspersed with meadows near the banks of the river as it wound its way between the weathered ranges on either side. A herd of some dark-coloured animal could even be seen in one of the nearer meadows. Although they had yet to see any birds, this world definitely had its equivalent of insects. Even as they shooed away some of the more persistent ones, both faces were grinning with the pleasure of being on a new world, one only seen by a small handful of people so far.

"This reminds me so much of a place that I know not too far from home," Moyshu commented. "Of course, once I start looking more closely, I will soon see hundreds of differences. Some will be beautiful, some dangerous, but all will be very interesting."

"Youíve got a whole world to play with," Leanna said. "Iím almost jealous."

"Jealous? Why?" asked Moyshu curiously.

"With all this," Leanna said with a sweep of hir hand, "you wonít have time to think of me!"

Moyshu laughed. "I donít think even all of this will make me forget you!"

"I hope that doesnít distract you from your job," a new voice with a touch of humour in it commented from behind them.

The pair turned to see two people who had come up behind them unnoticed. One was Admiral Kline who had come down as much to see the sights as to touch base with the exploration team commander. The other was a foxtaur whose uniform consisted of little more than a halter top and comm badge, and it had been this person who had spoken.

At first glance, Leanna thought that this was another grey foxtaur vixen like Moyshu, although the fur colours varied. The parts that were white on Moyshu were light warm grey, and the reds were stronger. Nor did shi have normal hair, but instead had a shock of white fur that almost qualified as hair cut really short. Bright green eyes contrasted with Moyshuís brown ones. Then Leanna caught the scent coming to hir and realised that this person was a herm!

Boyce spoke up, interrupting Leannaís thoughts. "Ladies, Iíd like you to meet Commander Twilight. Shi is the coordinator of the exploration teams here on Pelago III. Commander, this is Lieutenant Moyshu, your new scout mission leader, and Leanna Fennec, who is part of my personal staff."

Moyshu saluted Twilight and said, "Lieutenant Moyshu Blacktail reporting for duty, Shir!"

Twilight gave her a casual return salute. "Welcome to Pelago III base, lieutenant. Now unless you plan to get on my bad side and force me to fall back on protocol, we will address each other less formally here. My teams need to live and work closely together for a long time, so we need to be able to get along socially and more casually than the usual Fleet outfits. So Moyshu, I expect you to settle yourself with your group, get to know your team-mates, and enjoy your first day on this planet. Your work really begins tomorrow," shi said with a grin.

"Iím looking forward to it immensely, Twilight," Moyshu said, matching the commanderís grin with her own.

Twilight turned hir attention on Leanna. "As you are obviously her companion, would you like to join us for dinner? It will be your last chance in a long while, Iím afraid."

Leanna looked at Boyce for permission, who gave hir a smile and a nod. "Iíd be delighted to accept your invitation," Leanna said.

"Good. Well, I need to keep an eye on the incoming supplies, so I will bid you farewell for the moment. I will see you all at dinner in three hours."

As the unusual foxtaur left, Leanna repeated questioningly, "Three hours?"

Boyce smiled. "It may still be morning shipís time, but here itís mid afternoon."

"Oh! Of course," Leanna said, chagrined at not realising a simple thing like that. Shi had mistaken the low sun to be mid morning without considering the possibility that it might be afternoon instead. Shi had another thing niggling at hir curiosity though. "Shi was awfully informal for a Star Fleet officer, wasnít shi?"

Boyce nodded. "True, but Iíve seen Commander Twilightís records, and shi has well and truly earned hir rank, and if shi chooses to use this style of command, that is hir prerogative. Besides, hir species tends to affect the way shi relates with others."

"About that Ė I didnít realise that there were herm foxtaurs. Are they a cross between a chakat and a foxtaur?"

Moyshu spoke up first. "Nope. If you cross a chakat with a foxtaur, the resulting child is still a chakat, so that isnít the answer. Oh, sorry sir, I shouldn't have butted in."

"Youíre correct though," Boyce acknowledged, then turned back to Leanna. "As Moyshu already knows, Twilight is a Stellar Foxtaur, and there are seven breeds of them. Each breed has special extra adaptations that enable them to excel in specific environments. Twilight is a Forest Breed, but there are others adapted to desert areas, polar regions, marine environments, mountainous territory, open plains, and even one adapted to space, though not without a spacesuit, I hasten to add. The Stellars are almost all found out here on the frontier at the forefront of exploration and development, so itís very unlikely that youíd ever meet one on Earth. They filled the need for skilled foxtaurs that the Clans could not."

"Yeah, the homesickness," Moyshu confirmed. "Only a few like myself ever leave home territory because of it. For some reason, it never affected me."

"So, these are all relatively new breeds, I take it?" Leanna queried. "Are they all herms like hir?"

Boyce answered, "Yes. They took what they considered were the best traits of both chakats and foxtaurs, and put them into the Stellars. The herm gender was considered to have been a great success with the chakats, so thatís what they did for the Stellars also."

"Does that mean that the Stellars are an improvement on the chakats?" Leanna asked keenly.

"Not really. The Stellars are specialists, while the chakats are highly flexible generalists. They tend to complement each other."

"Makes me feel a little redundant," Moyshu said a little sourly.

Boyce laughed. "Donít worry, lieutenant, youíll have a job for a long time yet. For starters, there arenít a lot of them yet, and secondly, theyíre intended to bolster our resources, not replace them. Your skills earned you your promotion to team leader, not your birthright, and the same applies to the Stellars."

"Thatís a relief. Well, I had better get settled in. I donít have as much time as I thought that I would. Iíll see you at dinner, Leanna," Moyshu said as she gave the fennec a hug.

As the foxtaur walked off, Boyce said to the fennec, "Walk with me for a bit, Leanna."

Leanna nodded and fell in step with the Admiral. They approached the perimeter of the camp, protected from unknown dangers by force-fields set up between generator posts.

"What do you think of this place so far?" Boyce asked.

"It looks very beautiful, but I canít tell much just from looking from here."

"Wise of you to say so. Every new world has its new vistas, and its new dangers. Moyshu is likely to face those dangers sooner or later. However, she is well trained and highly skilled at what she does, and itís unlikely that she will come to serious harm."

"I realise that, sir," Leanna replied. "Is that all you wanted to tell me?"

"Not at all," Boyce replied as he sat down on a fallen tree trunk and indicated that Leanna should sit next to him. When shi had done so, he continued. "Leanna, we all know how you and Moyshu have become very attached to each other. We are very concerned about how you feel about this. Would you feel better if you could stay here with her?"

That caught Leanna by surprise, and shi had to think about it for a minute. Then shi said, "I thought that you wanted to bring me back to Earth for various reasons? Also, what about my permanent cure?"

"Leanna, weíve tried to impress upon you that your life is now your own to control. What we want and what you want are two different things. You are free to make these choices. Admittedly a frontier world is not the best place for someone not trained in this sort of work, but a place could be found somewhere if you really wanted it. Having seen what you can do, Iím confident that you could fit in quickly. As for your permanent cure, that will remain available to you whenever you finally get to Earth. Thereís no time limit on the offer. I will say though that weíd miss your services."

"I see," Leanna said, then fell silent as shi considered the offer. Boyce patiently and quietly waited while the fennec considered hir options, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while it lasted.

Eventually Leanna came to hir decision. Turning to Boyce, shi said, "Thank you, but I decline your offer, sir. I have already chosen a new career, and I need to pursue that. I also want to continue staying with your family and caring for the children, as that gives me a lot of pleasure. Like Moyshu, I have made a commitment to a job, and I intend to keep to it. And lastly, although Moyshu is my lover and I will miss her terribly, she is not the lifemate that I am looking for. I have learned that there doesnít seem to be any other fennecs in the Federation, but perhaps there will be another morph with whom I can have children of my own. Stranger things have happened."

Boyce smiled widely. "Quite right, and I should know! Iím glad that you will be staying with us, and the family will be also. Youíre one of us now, and weíd be the lesser without you." He got up and straightened his uniform. "You can come back up to the ship whenever youíre ready. You donít need to be back until after the dinner, which is when weíll be getting under way to our next destination. Enjoy yourself!"

Leanna spent the next few hours checking out every aspect of the camp. It amused hir when shi realised that the survey crew thought that shi was an inspector assigned by the Admiral, and were on their best behaviour whilst shi was around. All too soon though, it was time for the promised meal. The last of the unloading of the supplies had been completed about half an hour ago, but the ground crew were still sorting and storing the goods. Various crewpersons from the ship had beamed down for some "real" air and sunshine once they had finished at their end. It was a real party atmosphere, and Leanna made the most of this last opportunity to spend time with Moyshu. Then in what seemed to be no time at all, they stood by the Transporter awaiting hir turn to beam up. They kissed and hugged until a noise from the Transporter technician indicated that they were holding up the line. Even then they parted slowly. The last sight that Leanna had of the foxtaur was of her blowing a kiss in hir direction.

Leanna was nursing hir usual cappuccino at the usual time at the usual place. It seemed that shi had gotten into a habit, but it was a lot less satisfying without Moyshu there beside hir. Shi was considering having an early night, but inertia kept hir there; the coffee rapidly getting too cold to drink.

Unexpectedly, a familiar voice next to hir said, "I know how you feel. It isnít easy being away from loved ones, especially if itís your first."

Nearly spilling hir coffee from being startled, Leanna turned to the voiceís owner. Midnight sat on hir haunches, having silently padded over to the fennec, as was hir wont. "Midnight! Arenít you up a bit late? I know that you need more sleep than I do."

"As chief of security, Iím on call at all times, and I had a bit of unfinished business to deal with first," the chakat replied.

Leanna noticed that shi did not elaborate on what that business was, and wondered if it was hirself. "I feel like I have left something unfinished also," Leanna admitted.

"Donít worry, itís not fatal," Midnight said with a grin. "Youíll see Moyshu again soon enough."

Leanna sighed. "Intellectually, I know that, but in my heart itís unsatisfying. Funny how so quickly I got used to having her by me at night."

"Well, weíre not quite the same thing, but youíre welcome to join Forest and me sleeping with the cubs tonight."

"Wouldnít I be disturbing you two?"

"Forest is probably asleep by now, and even if shiís not, we usually donít do much more than cuddling while weíre with the cubs. Come on, I think youíll feel better that way."

"Thatís very considerate of you, Midnight."

"Youíre part of the family now, Leanna. How could I not think of you?"

That almost brought tears to Leannaís eyes from the power of the emotion that sentence evoked. Family Ė it was the strongest of the reasons why shi had chosen to stay aboard. Shi had a family now, and shi would do virtually anything to keep it.

Midnight held out hir hand to Leanna, who took it in hir own. Together they walked to the Captainís Quarters where they found Forest sound asleep with the cubs draped on and around hir. The two divested themselves of their uniforms and joined the snuggle pile, and were soon fast asleep. Leanna dreamed very happy dreams of family that night.


1 Satri Ė common familiar Caitian term for mother.

2 Tara Ė common familiar Caitian term for daughter.


Chapter 8: A New Home  


The journey from Pelago III to their next destination was pleasant routine for Leanna. The testing phase completed, Leanna no longer needed to make regular trips to the sickbay, so shi was able to spend more time with hir adoptive family, and wake up in a leisurely manner in the mornings. Shi did miss hir evenings spent in the coffee lounge though, and managed to persuade various members of the family to share a cappuccino with hir most nights. This evening, Rosepetal had accepted Leannaís invitation. They had been chatting idly, mostly about the cubs. A short quiet moment was broken by Leanna.

"Do you mind if I ask a more personal question, Rose?"

Rosepetal smiled back. "You donít get to be a top officer by being thin-skinned, as the humans say. Ask away! The worst that can happen is that I will decline to answer."

"Thanks. I was wondering how you can deal with having so many co-mates, and how you donít get to sleep with the captain more than a couple of times a week."

Rosepetal laughed. "Is that all? First of all, as a Terran morph, you tend to behave and think like most of the other Terran species. Caitian females do not want nor need sexual intimacy very often. Even a mated pair with no other females will rarely have sex more than once or twice a week, so the current situation is actually quite comfortable for me. Unlike MíLai, of course, who is the exception to the rule due to her condition. She is, for all intents and purposes, permanently stuck in heat, the only time when weíre interested in sex every day."

"Okay, so the lack of sex isnít a problem," Leanna conceded. "How about not being with him as much as youíd like? Midnight and Forest take their turns, and MíLai seems to be getting many more nights than any of you."

"I spend every day in his company. It was the closeness and comfortableness of our working relationship that led us to become mates in the first place. We still share that relationship while on duty. Off-duty time isÖ whatís the expression? Ö itís gravy. As for MíLai, I knew that she would need more attention. In fact, I anticipated this situation completely. You must realise that she could never be happy in a normal Caitian relationship. No male could keep up with her needs even if she was his only mate, and no male would deliberately keep his status so low with only one mate. By becoming Boyceís mate, she not only gained a suitable life partner, but also two other co-mates who are able and willing to take care of her needs. I know that you have also made love with her, so thatís a bonus if you choose to continue that. Anyway, MíLai is happy, my lifemate and co-mates are happy, and Iím happy that my ship isnít likely to suffer an incident such as her previous ships did because my chief assistant medical officer is getting enough therapeutic sex."

Leanna grinned. "So, you had other motives when considering MíLai as a suitable fifthwife?"

Rosepetal returned the smile. "A good firstwife is always looking at all the possibilities, and a good first officer looks for ways to improve the performance of the crew. I got to kill two thakit with one stone, and everyone comes out on top."

"So now youíll be on the lookout for a sixthwife?"

"Yes, but not yet. Itís a bit too soon to foist another potential mate on Boyce, and a bit unfair to his newest mate. But Iím always alert to possibilities."

A thought occurred to Leanna. "YouÖ havenít been grooming me for the role, have you?"

Rosepetal looked at Leanna with a touch of surprise, then shook her head. "No. Although Boyce really likes you, youíre not really his type, and I also believe that you would never be comfortable with a human mate."

"True, although Iím getting used to having him as a friend."

"Yet you still call him Captain or Sir," Rosepetal pointed out.

"Itís the conditioning. The slavers perfected that long ago, and I couldnít address the captain familiarly even if I fervently wished to do so. I can become totally indistinguishable from any other morph member of the crew in all ways, yet if the captain ordered me to strip naked and have sex with the entire bridge crew, I would do so without a momentís hesitation because he is the ultimate human authority on this ship, and according to my conditioning, that makes him my current master. Heís not the only problem though. If any human was to give me a firm deliberate order, I would be forced to obey that too, provided it didnít conflict with my masterís wishes. My intelligence and strong will enable me to reject frivolous and casual orders though."

"Hmmm. Iím not sure how much progress has been made in breaking that conditioning. I really donít want you causing an incident due to an unfortunate order from a human. I think that there is one way of heading that off though, but it will have to wait until tomorrow." Rosepetal gave an amused purr. "Solve one problem, and another pops up to take its place straight away. Thatís typical of the job. Still, there are some similarities between you two. Youíre both enslaved to your bodies in some ways."

"Thatís something that Iíve been meaning to ask. Iíve learned a lot about the amazing things that they can do with medical technology, yet they havenít found a solution to MíLaiís problem. Why not?"

"Who said they hadnít?" replied Rosepetal.

That startled Leanna. "Are you saying that MíLai rejected a cure?"

Rosepetal replied, "Let me ask you this Ė do you enjoy having sexual intercourse?"

Leanna nodded, wondering where this was going. "Very much so. We sex slaves are made so that any sex is extremely pleasurable to us. That makes us want to please our partners more, so that they pleasure us more in return. Itís a positive feedback thing. Even with my hated former master, sex itself was very enjoyable."

The cookie

"I thought so. Now imagine this." Rosepetal leaned over and took a cookie from a bowl on the table. She held it up in front of her. "Imagine that this is a cure for you. Take this, and you will never have an uncontrollable rut or animalistic heat again. Would you take it?"

Leanna looked sceptical. "On the face of it, that would be exactly what I am looking for. However, I sense a catch."

"Correct. Take this and you would be cured, but your enjoyment of sex would be immediately and permanently reduced by more than half. Now would you take it?"

"I would look for another solution because the interim treatments hold the rut and heat at bay without the unwanted side-effects."

"Exactly." Rosepetal put down the rejected cookie. "Thatís the situation with MíLai. Thereís no way to permanently fix her problem without that side-effect, and while some might find that an acceptable trade-off, MíLai definitely doesnít. At the moment though, the conditions for stability are optimal, so itís a win for her and everyone in the family. Hopefully the same will be said about you once we get to Earth and we get your data to the experts." Rosepetal rose from her seat. "Right now though, itís time to go to bed. Itíll be a big day tomorrow."

As Rosepetal had hinted, the routine was broken the next morning at breakfast.

"Leanna," Boyce said, "weíre going to arrive at Melkot III today. I want you to have Yeoman d'Armand on standby to look after the children. I want you to see what the planet Arisia is like, and the people pioneering that world."

"Yes, sir," Leanna replied. "It sounds interesting already. If I may ask, what is so special about this world?"

"Arisia is the site of the first Stellar Foxtaur combined exploration and colonisation project. After Star Fleet completed its survey and classified the planet as suitable for colonisation, it was handed over to the Star Corps for appropriate development. By that time, the first generation of the new Stellar Foxtaur species were ready. 99% of the personnel on Arisia are Stellars, and they are combining scientific investigation of the world with pioneering new territories, establishing frontiers for future colonists. Itís a new approach to the task of developing new worlds, and so far it seems to be working very well."

Leanna thought for a moment, then asked, "Arenít the Stellars being exploited then? What happens when colonists start flooding in? Are they going to be told Ė Ďthank you, now go awayí?"

Boyce had actually anticipated Leannaís scepticism this time. He smiled reassuringly. "For starters, each one has a contract that guarantees them several things, first of which is a handsome wage. They will also have free title to a certain amount of land and resources as theirs forever after the initial colonisation phase is completed. By putting in the hard work in the early years, they will reap the most benefit, and yet the Star Corps is still on schedule to open up the world for full colonisation and exploitation years sooner than normal, and with an enormously greater understanding of the planet than is usual for new worlds. Itís definitely a win/win situation for all."

Mollified now, Leanna was definitely getting intrigued. "Will I get to meet some of these Stellars?"

"You certainly will. I will be beaming down to the spaceport where I will be meeting the port administrator and the project director. I want both you and Forest to accompany me. Itíll be both educational and fun. After that, I want all the cubs to get off the ship for a while and get some fresh air and sunshine. Iím sure that theyíll like meeting the Stellars also."

"Iíll have them ready, sir."

"Thanks, Leanna. And please call me Boyce," he reminded hir for the hundredth time.

"Happy to oblige, captain," Leanna replied, cheerfully ignoring the latter statement.

"Bloody conditioning," Boyce muttered in frustration.

Rosepetal sensed an ideal moment to bring up the subject that she and Leanna had been discussing the previous evening. "That conditioning could potentially cause us some other problems." She told Boyce about the slave response that Leanna had informed her about. "However, until the experts on Earth can do something about it, I propose that we use it. A few well-chosen commands from you could avert virtually all the problems," she concluded.

Boyce nodded and asked Leanna, "Do you have any problems with this idea? An honest answer, please."

Leanna replied, "I think that it makes sense, sir. While I am glad to have my freedom, it could result in something that I would greatly regret, and that bothers me a lot more than being commanded."

"Very well. Leanna, do you acknowledge that I am the ultimate authority on this ship, and therefore technically your master?"

"I do, Captain," Leanna responded.

"I hereby order that you will accept no orders from anyone, especially humans, that are not directly within their areas of responsibility, or any that would override my orders. You will do nothing to jeopardise this ship or the personnel aboard it. You will behave as a responsible member of the crew until we reach Earth, but otherwise are free to act on your own recognizance. Do you understand?"

"I understand and will comply, captain," Leanna acknowledged. "Do you have any specific orders for me, sir?"

"Only to carry on with your current work looking after the children, and continuing your studies whenever I donít have anything else specifically for you to do. I will call you and Forest to the bridge later this morning when we approach Arisia. Have the children ready for an excursion a couple of hours later. Weíll be touching base with the colony director."

"Understood, captain," Leanna replied, then smiled. "Iím looking forward to seeing this colony world."

"Make that two of us!" Forestwalker added.

The call came about ninety minutes into the shift. Leanna left d'Armand in charge of the children and joined Forestwalker en route to the bridge. The computer recognised that they had permission to go to the bridge, and whisked them there rapidly on the trans-lift.

"Reporting as ordered, captain," Leanna said as they stepped out onto the bridge.

"Good. You and Forestwalker will observe until we leave to go planet-side," Boyce commanded.

"Yes, sir!" Leanna and Forestwalker said in chorus.

"Final approach to Arisia Gateway, captain," announced the helmsman.

"Put it on the main screen," ordered Boyce.

A space station filled about a third of the screen, but it grew rapidly. Although it was quite large, even the inexperienced Leanna could tell that it was still under construction. Incomplete sections were surrounded by handling equipment, and as the station grew closer, Leanna could spot some moving figures in the same area. By the time that the station was twice as big as the screen, their movement relative to it halted.

"Parking orbit achieved, sir," announced the helmsman.

"Thank you, Mr Zisk. All stations stand down. Mr Mazantod, please connect me to Gateway control."

"Thereís an incoming call already, sir."

"On speaker."

"Aye, sir."

"Ahoy Pegasus!" came the voice over the speaker, "Permission to come aboard?"

"This is Pegasus, Admiral Kline commanding. Is that you, Nimbus?"

"You got it, Admiral. Caught me out on site."

"Itís grown quite a lot since my last visit," Boyce commented.

"Yes it has, and itís three weeks ahead of schedule, so I can afford to take a break. Iím approaching you now."

Nimbus Starwalker

Leanna just then spotted a growing object that had been previously lost amongst the background of girders and gleaming sheets of metal. Quickly it grew large enough to be recognisable as a space-suited form, then shi realised that it was a taur.

"We see you, Nimbus. Permission to come aboard granted. Use airlock two."

"Iíll be there in a jiffy. Nimbus out."

ĎObviously not Star Fleet, judging by that exchange,í Leanna thought. ĎProbably part of the Star Corps then.í

Boyce got up out of the captainís chair. "You have the bridge, Mr Silpurr. Mr Fennec, Forestwalker, Commander Midnight, letís go greet our guest."

The last look at the view screen that Leanna got showed Nimbus nearly filling the screen. ĎA foxtaur,í shi thought. ĎPresumably one of those Stellars that I was told about; the Starwalker breed. I wonder what shi looks like?í

They didnít have to go far to get to airlock two as it was located close to the bridge. It was already cycling though, indicating that their visitor had beaten them there. After a few seconds, the door opened with a hiss, and the occupant stepped out, removing the spacesuitís helmet at the same time. Revealed was a totally black-furred fox face, with bright golden yellow eyes alive with good humour. Shi reached out to clasp Boyceís forearm in greeting.

"Good to see you again, Admiral," shi said.

"Same here, Nimbus," Boyce replied. "Looks like youíve got some sections completed now."

"Well, theyíre not officially open for business, but yes, theyíre ready to be used. Iíll give you a tour later." Nimbus turned to Midnight and gave hir a brief hug. "Great to see you too, Midnight. Have you reconsidered my offer to join us? You know youíd blend right in."

Midnight grinned. "The answer is still no, and the best reason is standing right next to you. Nimbus, this is my lifemate, Forestwalker."

Nimbus stepped up to Forestwalker and gave hir a greeting hug also. "Pleased to meet you. Donít tell me, let me guessÖ youíre the Admiralís mate also?"

Nimbusí grin was infectious, and Forestwalker found hirself grinning back. "Guilty as charged," shi admitted.

"Heís got a real thing for chakats. Good taste too." Nimbus turned to Leanna. "But I donít know you. Iím Nimbus Starwalker, maintenance chief on the Arisia Gateway construction project."

Extending hir arm to greet Nimbus in the manner that Boyce had, Leanna said, "Iím Leanna Fennec, personal assistant to the Admiral, newcomer to his family, and not a mate of his."

Nimbusí grin broadened on hearing the emphasis on the word Ďnotí. "Glad you cleared that up," shi said. "Anyway, youíre invited to take a tour of the finished portions of the Gateway along with the others." Turning back to Boyce, shi continued, "Aside from a couple of urgent items that we were expecting, is there anything special about this visit?"

"Not really. Weíre dropping off a couple of personnel and taking back a couple of others, but otherwise this is just a regularly scheduled patrol of the system. Star Fleet doesnít want you people out on the frontier to think that weíre ignoring you."

"Especially with all the time, money and people already invested in this system," Nimbus agreed. "But that means that you wonít be around for long. Will you have time for a game of poker with the gang tonight?"

"After the way you lot fleeced me last time, I donít know if I dare!"

"Canít help it if weíre better players. Even Midnight did better than you, and shiís proof that it was an honest game."

"Okay, I surrender," Boyce said, holding up both hands. "Iíll suck in my pride and be the sacrificial lamb."

"Can anyone join in?" Forestwalker asked.

"The more suckersÖ er, players, the better," Nimbus said with a broad wink.

An insistent beeping started coming from hir suit comm. Shi looked at the wrist display and sighed. "No more time for socialising right now. How about we meet up at Gateway around 1500 Arisia standard time? Yes? Good." Shi started putting hir helmet back on, and Midnight double-checked it for hir. Shi waved goodbye as shi stepped into the airlock. It quickly cycled, evacuating the air and turning off the artificial gravity field. With a quick accurate push, shi left the airlock with unconscious grace.

Leanna commented to Boyce, "Theyíre not in Star Fleet, obviously. I take it that they work for the Star Corps?"

"Thatís correct, although the Star Services cooperate in matters that overlap. I was here the day that the Star Corps freighter arrived with the core module, along with the Starwalker engineers who would be building the Gateway station. Thatís also the first time that they relieved me of my excess cash! Theyíre great fun to socialise with though. You have to learn to tell them apart by their voices however, or by scent if your nose is good enough, because they all look the same. Theyíre not adverse to playing practical jokes on those who canít tell whoís who, but Iíd trust them with my life where it counts. Theyíre a hard-working and hard-playing breed."

The landing party consisted of Boyce, Leanna, Midnight, Forestwalker, and two Star Corps personnel whom they had brought from Starbase 3. The Pegasus had been the first starship scheduled to visit Arisia, so they had taken advantage of that; otherwise they would have had to wait another few weeks before taking up posts on the frontier world.

They all beamed into the Star Corps headquarters and were greeted by an unusual-looking foxtaur. Leanna noted the dense smooth fur, short ears and streamlined body that resembled the characteristics more like an otterís. Hir fur was mostly medium brown, with beige markings on throat, chest and tail-tip. Shi was dressed in a smart vest adorned with a comm badge over the left breast, and a badge that proclaimed that shi was Portmaster over the other.

Midnight murmured in Leannaís ear, "That is one of the marine breed of Stellar Foxtaurs." Leanna nodded, comprehending immediately. This breed was obviously optimised for swimming and insulation from cold, wet environments.

"Welcome to Arisia Freeport, Admiral Kline. Itís a pleasure to meet you," the foxtaur said, holding hir hand out in greeting. "My name is Tempest."

"Thank you, Tempest," Boyce replied, clasping forearms with hir in the same manner as he had with Nimbus. Let me introduce Midnight, my Chief of Security and lifemate; Forestwalker, biology expert and also a lifemate; and Leanna Fennec, my personal assistant and part of the family too. Also with me are Candace and Frank Montgomery, the Star Corps personnel who will be relieving their counterparts here."

Tempest greeted them all before Boyce continued, "So, you took over from the previous Portmaster not long after my last visit? Shi told me shi was retiring from the post soon."

"Thatís correct. I worked my way up from a small fishing village further south where I was born."

"A whole generation on this planet Ė no surer sign that this world is ripe for a colonisation wave."

Tempest grinned. "Yes indeed. The port facilities are virtually ready for the influx, and weíll be ready to cope when Gateway opens for business."

Boyce nodded. "From what Iíve heard, theyíve got colonists champing at the bit to start up here."

"They wonít be disappointed, Admiral. My fellow Stellars have done the requisite job and more. Arisia is going to make its mark on the Federation very quickly."

"Good to hear. Well, Iíd best pay my respects to the colony coordinator and get these people to where they belong."

"Just one more matter, Admiral," Tempest said. "I have a passenger for you to take back to Earth."

Boyce raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh? I wasnít informed of anyone."

"A recent development. A mining engineer named Strata has bought out hir contract and is returning to Earth for personal reasons."

"Alright, if everything has been approved, have hir meet us here in approximately two hours. I assume that shi is ready to leave at short notice?"

"Shi is, and shi was aware that your ship was due today. Iíll inform hir immediately. Have a good day Admiral and gentlefolk." With that, shi left the landing party to themselves.

"This way," Boyce said, recalling the route to the colony offices. This took them out of the Portmasterís office block and out into the walkways between harbour docks on their right, and spaceport facilities on the left. This central facility obviously was the hub for colony supply and commercial traffic. When the colony started producing enough goods to export, the spaceport would grow to meet the needs. Although the buildings on this young world were still very basic and functional rather than very aesthetic, a lot of effort had been put into the surrounding gardens which softened or hid those failings, and it was quite a pleasant walk. Aside from a few people using a type of scooter to travel more quickly, and perhaps greater distances, it seemed all the locals walked and the walkways were well utilised. Seeing as they were all Stellar Foxtaurs, they were well adapted to walking as a means of getting about.

Leanna took little notice of the scenery as hir attention was on the plethora of different Stellars. Shi saw that many were marine breeds like Tempest, and seemed to be the most common in this area. Shi surmised that a lot of them worked on the docks, if not the actual ships tied up there. There were also several forest breeds like Twilight, differing mostly in their hair colour and arrangement of their breedís coat pattern. The others were new to hir however. Midnight pointed out each new one to hir.

"See the one that looks like a red fox on stilts? Shiís a veldt breed. They specialise in the plains, grasslands and other open areas. Theyíre fast runners with great endurance. Over there, the one with the off-white base coat with brown back, face markings and socks Ė shiís a mountain breed. Theyíre very strong and hardy, able to deal with damp, cold alpine conditions. The ones that look like fennec-taurs are the desert breed, specialists in hot and dry climates. I havenít seen any of the polar breed yet. Itís probably too warm for their comfort here. Youíll know them easily enough though as they resemble Arctic foxes Ė white with black markings in winter, but a lot more brown and black fur during the warmer months. They can live and work in areas that are constantly snowbound."

Leanna absorbed this all with great interest. Shi also noted that there almost nothing but Stellars here. Shi did spot what could have either been a Voxxan or foxmorph couple, plus one Caitian, but otherwise nothing but taurs. They were dressed to wildly different degrees also. Some wore nothing but a hip pouch and went otherwise nude except for ornaments such as bracelets, necklaces, earrings and such. Some wore halters, but many wore vests that seemed mostly decorative. There was scarcely a uniform to be seen. As a biped in uniform, Leanna felt very out of place, and indeed was the subject of a number of curious stares.

"Why arenít there more non-Stellars here?" shi asked.

Boyce answered, "This world is partly an experiment to see how well the Stellar Foxtaurs work out, so virtually everything is done by them. All the field teams are 100% Stellars. In fact, the only place that you will find employees who arenít Stellars is right here in the port township. Only visitors like us might be seen in other places. Star Corps personnel like Frank and Candace here fill in liaison and clerical positions that have no direct effect on the development of this world. Only mated pairs like them serve here due to the lack of social contact with others of their kind, and their term of service is limited for the same reason. Anyway, you could say that Arisia is the final exam for the Stellars, and so far they look like passing with honours.

"And do they get to keep this world after they open it up for colonisation?" Leanna asked.

"Many villages have already been established, and those lands are permanently theirs. The Stellars and the Star Corps negotiated before and during exploration to determine what land and resources would be theirs, and yet leave a fair amount for the settlers who would follow. On the one hand, all the Stellars are technically employees of the Star Corps, but on the other, they have spent the majority of their lives here, working hard to find and exploit resources. Theyíve earned a good share of the spoils."

Leanna looked thoughtful. "I see. I might have a deeper look into this place if I can find the time."

"Not a bad idea," Boyce agreed. "You can make comparisons to Federation methods versus N.A.W. slave labour. Iíll be interested in the results."

They reached their destination just then. The receptionist directed the two Star Corps personnel to the appropriate department after telling Boyce that "the Director of Operations will see you in a moment, sir". A couple of minutes later, Leanna and Forestwalker were surprised when a chakat came out to meet them.

"The director is a chakat?" Leanna asked Midnight quietly, but the other chakatís sensitive ears heard hir nonetheless. Shi smiled at them all, but particularly at Leanna.

"Good morning. I am Bluemist, personal assistant to Director Sanddune. May I offer you refreshments while you wait? I anticipate that hir current business will take at least another ten minutes."

The foursome took up Bluemistís offer. It was closer to fifteen minutes later when the chakat returned and ushered them into the Directorís office. Waiting for them was the smallest desert breed Stellar Foxtaur that Leanna had seen so far. Leanna was taller than hir by several centimetres. Shi wore a flattering formal top with the inevitable comm badge on one side and an Arisian logo badge on the other. A modest amount of jewellery completed hir ensemble. However, while shi was small in stature, hir personality dominated the room, making hir seem bigger than shi actually was. Shi smiled in recognition at Boyce.

Reaching up to exchange arm-clasps, shi said, "Admiral Kline, such a pleasure to see you again, and Commander Midnight also."

"The pleasure is mutual, Director. May I introduce Specialist Forestwalker, biologist and lifemate."

Sanddune smiled and gave the chakat a greeting hug. "Another chakat mate? You must have interesting evenings!"

An unpretentious leader Ė Forestwalker liked hir already.

Boyce continued. "And this is Leanna Fennec, my personal assistant, but not a mate this time."

Sanddune laughed. "I really didnít think that you were that busy!" Shi exchanged a friendly arm-clasp with Leanna.

"Donít bet on it," Boyce replied with a grin. "Rosepetal found me a fifthwife Ė another Caitian this time."

"Good heavens! That might teach me not to jump to conclusions with anything in regards to you. At this rate, youíll have a sixthwife before you return to Arisia again."

"Maybe, but Iím hoping to leave it at five for a long while. Iím only human!"

"Half true. You seem to have more going for you than most. Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

"Mostly just a courtesy call this time. Star Fleet will be maintaining a presence in the region after Gateway opens, and you will be able to call on us in an emergency. Pelago III looks as interesting as Arisia, so the next generation of Stellars who might be looking for adventure could possibly set their sights there. As for the rest Ė basically Iím just showing Forest and Leanna what you have achieved here."

"Look around as much as you want, Admiral. Arisia is virtually ready, and Gateway isnít far from completion. I envisage things getting very busy in a few months."

"Thatís an understatement if ever I heard one. Still, this has been in the planning for a long time, and with you at the helm, I believe that it will all go smoothly. By the way, speaking of Gateway, the Starwalkers have invited me to a game of poker this evening."

"They have?" Sanddune tapped hir comm badge. "Bluemist? Can you come in here for a moment, please." When the chakat entered, Sanddune continued, "Have we anything scheduled for tonight?"

"No. Not as yet, anyway," Bluemist replied.

"We do now. The Starwalkers are having a poker night."

"Hot damn! Finally a chance to win my money back!"

Sanddune laughed. "Thatís what you said last time, and the time before that."

"They canít win forever," Bluemist replied confidently.

"There you go, Admiral. My lifemate and I will see you on Gateway. When is it starting?"

"Weíll be joining them for a tour of the place first at 1500, then dinner, so I expect that we wonít start the actually game until the usual time around 1650," Boyce replied.

Forestwalker said, "Bluemist is your lifemate?" as shi eyed the difference between the chakat and the diminutive foxtaur.

Bluemist and Sanddune

Sanddune put hir arm around Bluemistís waist. "What can I say? I like Ďem big!"

From what Forestwalker could sense between them, mere size had little to do with the strength of their attraction, but a mental image of Sanddune telling people, "Iíd like you to meet the little missus!" amused hir.

"Iíll let them know that youíll be there," Boyce promised.

"Thank you, Admiral. Now Iíd better get back to work if I am to get there on time. Have a good day, all of you."

As they left Sandduneís office, Leanna said to Midnight, "Courtesy call, my foot! This was mostly about the poker game, wasnít it?"

Midnight grinned. "Not just any poker game, but the hottest game in the sector. Theyíve been doing this since before I joined the Pegasus as the new Security Chief."

"High stakes game, I take it?"

"Nope. Penny ante. The real prize is the prestige of winning it. Besides, the Star Services frown on heavy gambling, especially Fleet."

"Oh. Then can anyone play?"

"Usually itís invitation only. Why? Did you want to join in?"

"Sure! Although I have never played, my former master often did, and I know all the rules and how to bid, etcetera."

"You poor lamb," Midnight said as shi gave Leanna a pitying look. "Okay, if you want to be fleeced, Iíll see about getting you in."

After Midnightís immediate disparagement of Leannaís chances, suddenly shi wasnít quite so confident anymore. However, if shi was destined to lose, shi was determined to have fun doing so.

The foursome stopped at a café with outdoor seating under some trees that gave dappled shade. They enjoyed the refreshments as they watched the hustle and bustle going on around them. They kept garnering curious looks, and Leanna was well aware that they were the odd ones out here, especially the Admiral and hirself. On the other hand, in one way shi fitted in better than ever Ė on a world inhabited almost exclusively by herms, shi was utterly unremarkable. Shi found that thought quite appealing.

When everyone was ready and time was almost up, they ambled back to the port offices. Waiting for them in the reception area was a mountain breed Stellar who approached the group as soon as they entered. Leanna noted hir off white base fur with brown fur starting at hir shoulders and spreading down the backs. The brown blended into light red which then blended into the off-white. Shi had the typical gloves and socks of the same brown, and hir ears and half hir bushy tail to its tip was also brown. Shi had a mask of brown too, but hir head was topped with off-white headfur. Hir lower torso had a shorter barrel than other breeds, and shi seemed quite strongly muscled. Shi had conspicuously large breasts, barely restrained by hir halter-top. The only other thing that the Stellar wore was a pouch belted around hir waist.

"Good afternoon, Admiral. My name is Strata, and I will be travelling with you back to Earth," shi announced.

"You have everything packed and ready to board?" Boyce asked.

Strata indicated a small pile of luggage on a cart. "Everything that I currently own is in that lot."

"Good, you can beam up to the ship with us. Commander Midnight will take you to see the First Officer who will deal with you appropriately."

"Yes sir," Strata acknowledged.

The group went to the Transporter station and were beamed back to the Pegasus. Strataís luggage was put aside, and shi left with Midnight. Boyce hung back for a moment to talk with Leanna and Forestwalker.

"You two have until 1450 Arisia time to take the cubs and do some exploring. Enjoy your day out, but remember that weíll be going over to Gateway to have that tour and enjoy the Starwalkersí hospitality. Despite the seeming casualness of the occasion, itís still an honour to be invited, so donít forget to allow time to get ready if necessary."

"Yes sir," Leanna responded.

"No problem, captain," Forestwalker acknowledged.

They collected the cubs from Yeoman d'Armand and beamed back down. Kayla was pleased to be visiting a new world, but kept her hand in Leannaís as they walked about, a touch uncertain about this strange place. The chakat cubs seemed fascinated by the Stellar Foxtaurs though, and could barely be restrained from chasing after each new one. The cubs were treated with amused tolerance though, so they didnít cause any problems.

The port township was an interesting mixture of weathered temporary buildings interspersed with a smattering of new structures that were being built with the influx of new colonists in mind. Old or new though, each building was surrounded by trees and gardens. The foxtaur affinity with nature shone through in their landscaping. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were walking through a park instead of an industrial area. The children certainly played around in it as if it was one. Indeed, many of the foxtaurs could be seen enjoying the pleasant weather and lounging on the grass (or whatever the short vegetation was on this world), or having a picnic lunch with friends. Leanna noted that while the foxtaurs would often form groups of their own particular breed, just as often there were mixed breed groups, and there didnít seem to be any obvious tensions between them. After the park-like area, they entered a broad tree-lined avenue with shops and stalls. This seemed to be the centre of commerce for the young township, and Forestwalker went shopping for souvenirs. Shi came away with very little though because the town wasnít geared towards tourism as yet. However, it did cater very well to the foxtaurs who came in from the outlying communities for supplies, and frequently made a social occasion of it. The population seemed predominantly cheerful and happy to talk to a couple of strangers passing through. Leanna was startled to be the subject of a pass made by a very friendly desert breed foxtaur, despite not being a taur. Leanna presumed that shi appealed to the foxtaur for hir similar fennec-like looks. The only non-taurs that they saw were almost all crew also on shore leave from the Pegasus.

The group had a very enjoyable and relaxing day, but the time came when they had to return. Back at the office before they beamed up, Leanna picked up some more detailed information about the settlement, especially the parts inside the port, for later reading.

The children were returned to the care of d'Armand, also just back from shore leave. They rendezvoused with Boyce, Rosepetal and, surprisingly, MíLai, and they beamed over to the Gateway station. They were met by what seemed to be the entire Starwalker crew, all eager to show off their accomplishments. The first thing that struck Leanna was that they all looked the same Ė black fur all over without a pattern. Only because they had chosen to wear tops with a name on a patch did it make it possible to tell them apart by sight. Telling them apart by scent was possible but difficult when they were all crowded together. However, the second thing that Leanna noted was how differently they all talked. Each had a distinctive accent and speech pattern, making it very easy to tell them apart by voice. They were so different that Leanna suspected that they deliberately cultivated a unique style of speech for the sake of individuality. Later, when shi got an opportune moment, shi asked them why their species was created with everyone having all-black fur instead of having patterns. Shi was informed that the fur contained a special pigment that helped protect them in the harsh environment of space, and interrupting it with a pattern would diminish that protection.

The Starwalkers showed off the completed portions of the Gateway station. This section was designed to cope with large shiploads of people, such as the colonists who were due in a couple of months. It had offices for administration, arrival and departure lounges, engineering and resupply departments, and a warehouse. The décor was a clean bright modern look, although they were told that there were going to be a lot of potted plants added shortly before the place opened for business.

They were shown the sealed airlock that would eventually lead to the second stage of the construction of Gateway. When the colony world finally grew big enough to get regular visitors and then tourists, this stage would be added to provide shopping facilities and a hotel. Not quite as grand a scale as the starbase had been, but definitely the same principle.

One thing that particularly delighted Leanna was meeting the Starwalker kits. There were four of them Ė two just over a year old, and two a year older. When they visited the zero-G recreation room, the kits bounced and spun around in all directions and rotations with utter confidence. It was a graphic demonstration of the Starwalkersí complete adaptation to microgravity environments. Leanna saw that they were also grasping holds with their paws. Although they werenít quite like chakat handpaws, they seemed to be able to perform a similar function and were more than adequate for the task.

"This is the one that I sired," Nimbus told Leanna as shi deftly plucked one from mid air. "Eclipse was the mother. A number of us are now planning families now that weíre near completion of stage one."

"What happens when itís finished? Will you be dragging the children off to a new frontier?" Leanna asked.

"Oh no. Many of us will still be needed to run the station, provide services and perform maintenance, then make a start on stage two. The children will grow up here. Some of the adults will exchange with others from different families so that we can stir up the gene pool, but otherwise this place is also our home."

"Donít you ever go down to the surface?" Leanna wondered.

Nimbus laughed. "Weíre not isolationists. We like to visit the planet occasionally. Weíre just most happy out here where we can really move when we want to. Gravity sucks!"

Leanna couldnít argue with that in light of what shi had seen.

The tour completed, the Starwalkers treated them to dinner. The black foxtaurs hardly let that stop them from talking though.

"You donít get visitors often, do you?" Forest asked. Upon confirmation, shi continued, "I thought so. Youíre just like chakats who havenít seen family in a long time Ė you donít seem to be able to catch up with the news quick enough!"

The Starwalkers were amused by that and readily agreed.

Everyone was relaxing with drinks after dinner when Sanddune and Bluemist arrived, along with a handful of other stellar foxtaurs. It quickly became apparent that these were poker night regulars as they all quickly organised themselves into groups, arranging the people from the Pegasus so that they wouldnít have to play each other in the first round. They had twelve groups, four of them with four players and the rest with three.

Leanna was pitted against a Starwalker and a Veldt breed. It didnít take long to disillusion the fennec as to hir true level of skill at the game, but shi did surprise hir opponents at how quickly shi learned. Shi managed to reverse hir fortunes from nearly going bust to winning hir groupís pot. Shi knew though that shiíd had some luck with the draw, so shi wasnít going to rely on that.

Midnight made it an all-black group, pitted against two Starwalkers, and shi too won hir pot. Forestwalker was amused to be pitted against a Forest Breed named Autumnleaf, but wasnít so amused when the foxtaur thrashed hir and another Starwalker. Leanna asked Forestwalker later why hir empathic talent didnít help the chakat more and was told, "Youíve heard of a poker face? Well, these Stellars seem to have a poker mind. I couldnít get any hints from them unless I probed them actively instead of passively reading them. That would be cheating though."

The winning hand

To his chagrin, Boyce bombed out early, losing to Frostbite, the first Polar Breed theyíd met. "The cards werenít with me tonight," he said philosophically. They werenít with Bluemist or Eclipse either, and Frostbite took the pot.

MíLai found herself pitted against two Starwalkers and a Mountain Breed, and surprised them all by beating them easily. Later she confided, "We played poker every week at medical school. The suckers never learned then either!"

Rosepetal put up a strong fight, only to be eliminated by Sanddune. Nimbus made it through also, along with three other Starwalkers, plus a Mountain and a Marine breed.

The winners of the first round drew lots to see who played whom in the second round of four groups of three. MíLai ended up playing against Sanddune and a Starwalker. This time her family werenít so surprised when she won the round. Leanna played Frostbite and the Marine Breed, but despite hir best efforts, lost to the Polar Breed foxtaur. Midnight wasted little time in defeating Autumnleaf and another Starwalker. Nimbus quietly won again against another Starwalker and the Mountain Breed.

And so it was down to the final four. First they had some refreshments, both players and spectators needing a break from the action. Then the last round began Ė a chakat, a Caitian, a Starwalker, and a Polar foxtaur Ė all determined to outplay the others. Midnight sat opposite to Nimbus, with MíLai on the chakatís left and Frostbite on hir right. Nimbus dealt first, and the atmosphere became very intense as the players concentrated and the spectators watched in keen anticipation. The first three deals brought no big bets, and little changed, but a betting flurry in the fourth changed the balance. Frostbite was soon struggling, and was the first to be eliminated. Shi bowed out gracefully and the remaining three continued. Midnight had a decent win on the next hand, only to lose it all and more on the next on a betting plunge that only failed through sheer bad luck. The next few hands whittled away at Midnightís chips until shi too was eliminated. MíLai had been playing a bit more conservatively, and was left to challenge Nimbus for the championship.

Nimbus shuffled the cards and said, "You might make history tonight, MíLai. While several non-Stellars have played before, none have yet won. Only Midnight has ever gotten down to the final two."

"Oh? And to whom did shi lose," MíLai enquired.

"Me," Nimbus answered with a grin.

"Let me guess Ė youíre still the reigning poker champion?"

"You got it!" Nimbusí grin grew even wider.

"Well, I was champion of Marnnassta Medical School for three years running. Shall we see who is better?"

That riveted the audience, and the excitement was tangible. Hand after hand was played with neither making a significant breakthrough. This continued until one hand where each kept upping the bet until each committed everything they had. Both seemed calm and unperturbed while the spectators were nearly going crazy with anticipation.

MíLai showed her hand first. "Straight, king high," shi announced, laying down her cards.

Nimbus eyed the cards, then laid hirs down. "Straight, ace high!"

The room erupted. The Starwalkers all went over to congratulate their champion, while the rest commiserated with the chagrined Caitian.

"I thought that I had hir," she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Almost the same thing happened to me," said Midnight sympathetically.

"I admit that you almost did have me," said Nimbus. "I hope that youíll join us again the next time that your ship passes through. That was an exciting game."

"You bet! Iíll be trying to win all that back!" MíLai agreed with a grin.

The rest of the evening was spent in good-natured conversation until the visitors, in ones and two, bade their farewells and departed. The Pegasus party also followed suit after the chakats and Leanna had given hugs to every one of the Starwalkers.

"Thatís one talent that you never had in your file," Rosepetal commented to MíLai as they walked to their cabin.

"Never give away any advantage when it comes to poker," MíLai replied with a wink.

When everybody who was on shore leave had returned, the Pegasus departed, heading at cruising speed for Earth. Leanna played racquet ball with Kayla again, but also accepted a game with one of the other crew because shi wanted to stretch hir ability at the game without hurting Kaylaís feelings.

That evening, Leanna brought Forestwalker to the coffee lounge for the nightly cappuccino and conversation. There they discovered Strata sitting by hirself, sipping a hot drink, watching the starscape. Taking their freshly-filled coffee mugs, they stepped up to the Mountain Breed foxtaur.

Strata Mountain Stellar Foxtaur

"Excuse us, but would you mind some company?" Forestwalker asked.

Strata looked at them and recognition flashed in hir eyes. "By all means, join me," Strata said with a smile.

Leanna and Forestwalker introduced themselves. Strata replied, "My name is Strata, and Iím a mining engineer for the Star Corps, although perhaps not for much longer."

"Why is that?" Forestwalker asked. "Didnít you like the work?"

"No, I loved the work. I got to explore a lot of new territory, and made a lot of geological findings of great interest. I even discovered a new kind of precious gem. I called them starstones.

"Whatís so special about these starstones?" Leanna asked.

Strata dug into hir hip pouch and dug out a small cloth bag. Opening the drawstring, shi tipped out half a dozen large gems into hir hand, then passed one each over to Leanna and Forestwalker. Both noticed one thing immediately about them Ė these gems did not merely reflect light like a brilliantly cut diamond. In the low light of the lounge, it was apparent that there was an actual glow coming from within.

"Oh wow!" Forestwalker exclaimed. "These are beautiful. I can see these becoming popular once they start replicating them."

Strata grinned. "They wonít replicate. Thereís some unstable component that is the likely cause of the glow, and the replicators either donít work with it, or they produce a dead stone. Thatís good news for me though."

"Iíll bet!" Forestwalker said fervently. "That would make these very rare and valuable."

"Correct, and they are what I used to buy out my contract with the Star Corps."

As Leanna handed back the gem, shi said, "So, if you loved your work and you were making good money from the starstones, why did you quit, if I may ask?"

Strata replaced the gems in the bag and put it back in hir pouch before replying. "Personal issues."

"Then itís none of our business," Forestwalker declared.

"Itís okay, I donít mind talking about it. Itís not as if I am ashamed of the situation, and it wonít improve if I donít discuss it with people who might be able to suggest something." Strata paused to consider how shi wanted to state the problem, then continued, "On a world that is populated almost exclusively by bisexual herms, I was straight."

Forestwalker was puzzled. "Straight? How can a herm be straight?"

Strata replied, "Because I am almost totally male by nature. I am only interested in sexual relationships with me in the male mode. Can you imagine any normal bisexual person tolerating that in a long-term relationship?"

Leanna, who up until recently had regarded hirself as basically female until Forestwalker and Moyshu had freed hir misconceptions and inhibitions, wondered if it was a psychological problem, or just the way things were like for homosexuals. A thought occurred to hir. "What about when you go into heat?"

Strata nodded. "Yes, that is the sole exception. For a couple of days during my heat, hormones override my normal feelings and I get into the mood for female sex. And I really do enjoy it, but once itís over I lose interest entirely again. Thatís not enough for a life partner."

"I see," Leanna nodded. "So, are you going to try to find a mate back on Earth?"

"Thatís my hope," admitted Strata. "With the large and diverse population there, I reckon that there should be someone suited to me. The trick is to find that someone."

Forestwalker said, "That wonít be easy. While most people are tolerant of herms, there arenít a great number who find them sexually attractive. Then youíd have to find one who would be happy to have you as a male mostÖ of theÖÖ time." Forestwalkerís voiced trailed to a halt as an idea occurred to hir. As shi turned it over in hir mind, the others looked at hir quizzically until hir attention snapped back and shi returned hir attention to them. "Youíre not going to believe this, Strata, but I think I already know of somebody who might be perfect for you. If youíre interested, I can look into it and see if that person is still looking and interested in return."

The stellar foxtaur was surprised. "I expected to spend many months looking, and youíre telling me that you already have someone in mind? Of course Iím interested! Who is this person?"

"Are you sure that you want to know before I check whether itís possible still?" Forest queried. "I donít want to get your hopes up too much without cause."

"Just give me the gist of it. I promise not to get my hopes up too high."

"Alright. I know a foxtaur vixen who expressed interest in a chakat mate. If she finds a chakat attractive, might she find a herm foxtaur even more so? And being female, she would mostly be interested in your male side. Perhaps there would be some compromises when sheís interested in your female side, but that would be up to you two if this works out."

"It sounds almost too good to be true, so I wonít get overexcited yet."

"Iíll get you an answer as soon as possible. In fact, Iíll send off a message as soon as we get back to our cabin." Forestwalker drained the last of hir coffee. "And if you really feel the need, there are three chakats aboard who would be sympathetic to your needs. You might want to check with our chief engineer, Sparks, especially."

Strata looked at Leanna. "Is shi always doing this kind of thing?" shi asked.

Leanna grinned. "For as long as I have known hir anyway. Shi canít seem to help hirself!"

Forestwalker took the ribbing with good grace. "I didnít hear you complaining," shi pointed out. "Now if youíve finished with that cappuccino, I want to get back to the cabin. I need my beauty sleep!"

Putting the cubs to bed

Leanna swallowed the dregs of hir drink and put the mug on the table. "Done. Itís been a pleasure talking with you, Strata. Maybe we can chat some more tomorrow evening?"

"Iíd like that. Goodnight, both of you."

Leanna and Forestwalker strolled back to their cabin. While the fennec settled down with the cubs, Forestwalker settled down in front of the comm to compose a message.

Dear Malena,

We are currently on the final leg home to Earth, and should arrive on the scheduled date. Weíre bringing home an unexpected passenger, which leads me to ask you something. I recall you telling me about your friend, Fellana Blacktail....

"Iíve been thinking about your rut problem, Leanna," Forestwalker said the next day as they readied themselves before breakfast. "In particular, how you cannot relieve your needs by yourself."

Leannaís interest was piqued. "Did you have some idea about how to fix that?"

"I believe so. If I have my facts straight, your problem is twofold. First, you have the slave conditioning to obey your masterís commands. Your former master firmly ordered you not to touch your penis in order to masturbate. Then second, he reinforced that order with painful punishment whenever your extreme need overcame the standard conditioning, so that even attempting to masturbate now brings flashbacks of the pain."

"That sums it up in a nutshell," agreed Leanna.

"Well, the first problem should be straightforward. We deal with it in the same manner as how you are protected from the inadvertent orders of humans Ė we get your Ďmasterí, Boyce, to countermand the orders of your former master."

Leanna nodded. "In principle, I agree that would work. The captain would have to be very forceful in his commands though to counteract the degree to which I was indoctrinated. That would still leave the pain conditioning which is much worse."

Forestwalker smiled reassuringly. "Thatís my specialty. Remember how I fed my own sensations into you when we made love? I believe that I can use that same talent to neutralise the pain. It will not be easy or pleasant, but I think that you would agree that the results will be well worth it."

Leanna had never willingly backed away from a challenge, and this was the most promising course of action that shi had come across. Despite the daunting prospect of feeling the pain again, shi felt a surge of excitement at the prospect of being free from that particular aspect of hir curse. "Are you sure that you can do this, Forest?"

"Well, I donít know if itís ever been done before, but I seem to have been getting a lot of practice with my empathic talent lately, and Iím reasonably certain of success. The bigger question is whether you can deal with the pain until we eliminate it?"

"Iíve fought it at every rut, so Iím no stranger to it. Iím willing to try."

"Good for you! Iíll arrange with Boyce to do his thing, then we can go to your cabin and work on breaking the pain conditioning. Iíll arrange to have some psionic dampers put around the room to block any radiated pain and distress. Hmm, speaking of distress, my belly is growling. Time we got our breakfast! Smells like Boyce has got the coffee ready."

Leanna followed Forestwalker out into the main cabin, bemused as always at how the most powerful person on the ship (and hir erstwhile master) was reduced to coffee-maker for his family, and didnít seem to mind a bit.

Boyce was happy to cooperate. Mindful of their insistence on his being forceful with the countermanding, he went the whole hog. He straightened his uniform, put on his most serious commanding officerís face, and then spoke in his most stentorian voice: "Leanna Fennec, front and centre!" Leanna practically jumped to comply. "Leanna, I hereby rescind your former masterís command that you not touch your penis for any purpose whatsoever, including sexual. From this time forth, you are instructed to relieve yourself by masturbation if you desire at any appropriate time and place, or if thereís no other means available. Your body is exclusively your own. Do you understand and comply?"

Despite having asked him to do so, Leanna was still a bit surprised at how forcefully Boyce had spoken his orders, and actually recoiled a miniscule amount. "Yes sir!" shi barked hir response. Then shi searched hir thoughts and realised that, along with hir willingness to obey, that had done the trick. Shi had no qualms about touching hir cock anymore. However, as soon as shi let hirself think about touching it for sexual purposes, the memory of the pain assaulted hir, and the hand that had drifted to hir sheath jerked back as if burnt.

"Are you okay, Leanna?" Boyce asked in his normal voice.

"Itís alright, sir. Your order seems to have broken my former masterís command successfully, but we still have to deal with the pain conditioning."

"Then itís Forestís turn. Good luck to both of you. From what you have described, that isnít going to be a picnic."

"As soon as d'Armand gets here, weíll get to work on that," Forestwalker said.

"Fine, but take it carefully, dear. This isn't exactly something that you've trained for, and I don't want either of you hurt. Anyway, itís time that I got to the bridge and carried out some normal activities." He turned and headed out the door. Both Forestwalker and Leanna heard him mutter though, "Damnedest orders that Iíve ever had to give...."

The fennec and chakat grinned at each other for a moment before being interrupted by the door chime as Yeoman d'Armand arrived to take care of the cubs while Forestwalker and Leanna were busy. The pair then headed for Leannaís cabin.

Once inside, Forestwalker instructed the computer to turn on the psionic shields. An unpleasant feeling of disconnection from the background hum of emotions indicated to the chakat that the shields were operational. Meanwhile, Leanna had disrobed. Forestwalker told hir to sit on the edge of the bed, then got up onto the bed behind hir and laid down. Shi had Leanna lean back against hir and shi put hir arms around the fennec.

"Okay, letís get this started," Forestwalker said. "First, you need to be aroused." That was easily done by the chakat who fondled Leannaís sheath while projecting erotic thoughts at Leanna. The fennecís penis rapidly unsheathed and grew to full erection.

"So much for the easy part. Alright, Leanna, are you ready?"

"As much as I will ever be, Forest."

"Right. When I say so, I want you to just touch your penis. Take it as easy as you want. The purpose of this initial stage is to try to identify the source of the memory of the pain. I can block it, but that wonít achieve much in the long term due to your perfect memory. I will need to trace every memory, every ghost of the pain that still haunts you. Only then can I deal with it. However, Iím learning my way here, so take your time and donít overwhelm either of us."

"OK. Here goes." Leanna gritted hir teeth and moved hir hand towards hir cock with arousal in hir thoughts.

Forestwalker yelped and drew back, the pain echoing through hir mind. Leanna immediately stopped what shi was doing and looked over hir shoulder in concern.

"Are you okay, Forest?"

"Am I okay?" Forestwalker asked incredulously. "Are you okay? What on Earth was all that pain? I asked you to go easy at first."

"That was easy, Forest. It gets a lot worse."

"A lot? How much worse? How could that much pain be inflicted just to condition you?"

"Itís called a pain-rod," explained Leanna. "Itís a device that stimulates the neural system, the pain receptors in particular. In essence, it inflicts pure pain without incurring any physical damage. It can be varied from low to excruciating. It took such a severe conditioning method to overcome my extreme rut compulsions."

"Oh, you poor dear," Forestwalker said as shi hugged Leanna. "I had no idea that it was that bad."

"Does that mean that weíll have to give up?" Leanna asked in disappointment.

"Not at all! I was just caught by surprise by the intensity. Iíll be better prepared for the next try. Come on, letís get back to it."

Resuming their positions, Forestwalker instructed Leanna to repeat hir previous actions. This time the chakat was ready with a mental block. Mentally shi felt for the source of that memory, pushing back the sensation, dissipating then obliterating it. In some ways shi felt that this was achieved more easily than trying to suppress real pain because this was only an echo, but on the other hand, it was a very strong echo, and if shi understood Leanna correctly, the echoes would continue to gain strength as they progressed.

"A bit more now, Leanna," shi instructed, then grunted as the pain returned. Again shi blocked it and erased it. Slowly they worked closer and closer to the problem, until Leanna actually touched hir penis. Then the pain flared incredibly. Forestwalker blinked away tears of shared pain as hir empathic talent tried to cope with it. Leanna pulled hir hand away, but Forestwalker continued determinedly to trace the offending memory to stop it wreaking its havoc.

Forestwalker drew back with a sigh as shi finally dealt with it, then said to Leanna, "I donít know about you, but Iím having a break for a rest and a drink. How about you?"

Leanna was quite happy to agree. Forest ordered tea for both of them. As they sipped the hot soothing beverage, shi glanced at the clock.

"Good grief! No wonder Iím thirsty. Weíve been working at this for nearly three hours already."

"I can believe it", Leanna replied. "My cock is beginning to ache from being aroused continuously for so long. Itís beginning to be like being in rut without relief."

"We can quit and continue another day if you wish?"

"No way!" Leanna emphatically denied. "As bad as it is, I can feel progress being made. Whatever you have done to me, merely thinking about touching myself no longer triggers the pain. As long as you feel up to it, I want to continue."

Forestwalker nodded. "Fine with me. This has got to be one of the most unpleasant jobs that I have ever done, but I wonít back out now. Iím really beginning to regret not getting that special training for my talent though. That might have made this easier for both of us."

Leanna shrugged. "You could have hardly anticipated this need."

"True," Forestwalker agreed with a crooked grin, "and this sort of work wasnít what I wanted for a career. So, I suppose that I will just have to cope. Iím going to have a snack to help keep up my energy. Do you want one?"

"Good idea," said Leanna as shi realised that shi was beginning to feel a bit peckish.

Forestwalker had the replicator provide energy snacks for both of them. Then after they had been completely refreshed, they resumed their positions and began where they had left off.

It was both harder and easier this session. Harder because the closer that Leanna came to actually masturbating, the worse the pain became. Easier because practice was making Forestwalker more adept at blocking and eliminating the pain. Shi ruthlessly traced every one of those appalling memories assaulting them and bent them to hir will until they were reduced to a mere memory of the event, but without the actual pain echoes. The chakat lost count of the number of times that shi had to do that, and in the brief moments between efforts, shi decided that death had been a far too kind fate for Leannaís former master.

Abruptly the pain started tapering off, the incidents getting more scattered until shi felt the sensation of a barrier suddenly collapsing. Hardly daring to believe it, Forestwalker saw Leanna firmly grasping hir penis and watched hir tentatively slide hir hand along its length. No pain! The conditioning had been broken!

"You did it," Leanna whispered in awe. "You really did it!" Shi spun around and hugged Forestwalker ferociously, tears of relief and happiness spilling onto the chakatís fur. Forestwalker hugged hir back, a huge grin on hir face partly due to the fennecís antics, and partly because shi had succeeded in hir ambitious goal.

Leanna leaned back to look at Forestwalker and started to say something, but burst into a giggle instead.

"Whatís so funny?" Forestwalker asked.

"Take a look at yourself in a mirror," Leanna replied.

Forestwalker got up and looked at hir reflection. Although furred morphs like hirself didnít perspire much, one area that they did was on their scalps, helping to cool the brain. Sweat had soaked hir hair into limp hanks, while tears from the pain had soaked into hir cheeks, making a mess of the fur. It could have been a pathetic sight, but in their elation at the success of the exercise, they both found it extremely amusing instead.

Forestwalker chuckled and said, "I think we should both freshen up a bit. Time to hit the shower!"

ĎFreshening upí was hardly what they did though. They made it a long leisurely affair, shampooing each other and playfully rinsing each other off. After they dried themselves, they realised just how ravenously hungry they both were and ordered a meal that they ate at a casual pace.

Forestwalker leaned back from the table with a satisfied sigh, then shi asked Leanna, "Now that you can, are you going to give yourself a test run?"

Leanna snorted. "Hardly! Do you know how worn out my cock feels? Even a sex slave has limits!" Then shi grinned. "But tomorrowÖ."

Forestwalker grinned. "Let me know how well it goes."

Leanna volunteered to sleep with the children that night, leaving the rest of the adults to have an evening where all the mates were together. The next night shi excused hirself to hir cabin. Shi was actually so excited about the idea of being freely able to masturbate without fear of repercussions for the first time that shi had a massive hard-on as shi walked to hir cabin. Fortunately shi had chosen to wear the skirt style of uniform this day and was able to be discreet about hir condition. Shi practically threw hir clothes off and jumped onto the bed and made hirself comfortable. Then shi pulled up an image in hir mind of hir absent lover, Moyshu, and started stroking hir cock. There was barely a memory of the punishments that shi had received for doing that, and no pain whatsoever. Shi increased hir efforts, sighing and groaning in pleasure, and before long shi shuddered and jerked in orgasm, hir semen spilling onto hir belly fur. As the climax passed, shi leaned back into the pillows and basked in the afterglow, ecstatic at hir new freedom.

After a while, another lover came to mind, and the erection returned. Shi began to stimulate hirself again, taking the time to enjoy a lengthy session this round, fantasising about hir loverís ministrations. When orgasm came, it was even stronger than the first time, with a second dose of semen scarcely less than the original load. This time Leanna decided to call it quits. Shi had satisfied both hir need and hir curiosity by now. Shi had a quick shower, then returned to the captainís cabin. There shi found Forestwalker bedded with the cubs, and shi snuggled up to the chakat without waking hir. Shi gave Forest a fond kiss, then went to sleep, content with knowing that yet another link in hir chains of bondage had been broken.

"Thatís another game to me," Leanna said. "I thought you said that you knew how to play racquetball?" shi asked cheekily.

Forestwalker replied, "I never said that I was particularly good at it!"

Leanna had in fact been thrashing the chakat at the game for about an hour. Despite hir greater speed, Forest's bulk was a hindrance within the confines of the court. Nor had shi played the game very often, but shi didnít want to turn down Leannaís invitation to a game. Besides, shi needed the exercise. Shipboard life was not conducive to fitness.

"Iíll let you off the hook for today then. Besides, I think our allotted time is up. Somebody has booked this holosuite for whatever."

The tired pair headed off to their cabin for refreshments. However, they were mobbed by the cubs the moment that they stepped through the door.

"WhenarewegoingtotheforestAuntieLeanna?Iívegotmybackpackallready. Donítforgetyoupromised!Iwanttocatchabigbutterfly.CanIgoswimming?" The childrenís voices, all rushed and tripping over each other, assaulted them from all sides.

"Whoa! Calm down everybody! Itís not our time yet, and Leanna and I need a break first," Forestwalker said. "Besides, the big holosuite will be set up with the Australian Rainforest program all day. Kayla, dear, could you fetch us some tea? As for you two terrorsÖ" shi grabbed Snowcloud and Patchwork, tucked them under hir arms and carried them squealing and giggling to the lounging mat, "ÖIím going to tickle you until youíre too tired to go bushwalking with us."

"No, mummy!" they chorused and tried to squirm out of hir grasp. "Help us, Auntie Leanna" Snowcloud pled. Patchwork might have asked also, but shi was laughing too much from the tickling that Forestwalker was giving to hir.

Leanna came over and said, "Help tickle you? Sure, I can do that." Shi then put action to words and started tickling the cub.

"No, no! Hee hee hee hee!" giggled Snowcloud.

The twins were saved by Kayla arriving with mugs of tea, and the cubs made their escape as Forestwalker and Leanna gratefully accepted the steaming beverage from her. The two slaked their thirst whilst resting for a few minutes before taking off again on a family excursion. The main holodeck was reserved for major events that the majority of the crew could enjoy, but it also meant that the number of scenes were fewer as they were used for a full day, and particular favourites had to be requested a long time in advance. Forestwalker had promised the cubs an adventure in an Australian forest, so when it finally came around, the children had gotten very excited. Forestwalker had been missing the sights and smells of home, so shi was no less excited, but a lot more restrained. It was to be no less of an adventure for Leanna as shi would be getting a taste for hir new home world.

With the cubs trying to hasten them all the way, Forestwalker and Leanna headed for Holodeck One. Unlike the private closed sessions in the smaller holosuites, they needed no authorisation to enter. In fact, people would be going in and out all day, taking advantage of the change of scenery to relieve the claustrophobic feelings of being confined to the starship for days or weeks.

The group stepped through the doors and into a lush forest. Leanna looked behind hir to see the doorway set into the side of a steep hill, with no other indication that there were walls there, or even a roof above. Looking up, all shi could see was sunlight struggling to reach them through the gently waving treetops. Shi heard the birds before shi spotted any of them, but there were also insects in plenty buzzing around them. And the smells! Leanna drew in deep breaths of the wonderfully scented air and marvelled that such a rich illusion could be made.

"Butterfly!" cried Snowcloud, chasing after hir quarry.

Leanna started to chase after the errant cub, only to be restrained by Forestwalker.

"Let hir be. Shi wonít come to any harm here, and the cubs need a chance to be unrestrained for a while." Forestwalker turned in Snowcloudís direction and raised hir voice, sending an empathic nudge to get the cubís attention as shi told hir, "Just follow the path and meet us by the pool when youíre ready, hon."

"Yes mummy!" Snowcloud said, and then disappeared into the bushes after a tantalising yellow and green butterfly.

Patchwork tugged on hir motherís fur. "Can I go too?" shi asked.

"Certainly, dear. Keep your sister out of trouble, okay?" Forestwalker requested with a smile.

"OK!" Patchwork said, and then took off in Snowcloudís direction.

"So serious for such a young cub," Forestwalker commented with a grin.

"How do you know that they will be safe?" Leanna asked curiously.

"This facility has more safety protocols than you can count. No animals will bite, no insect will sting, they cannot fall and seriously hurt themselves, nor harm others accidentally. They might get minor scrapes or such, but they shouldnít be completely swaddled in cotton wool. Itís the perfect opportunity for them to just run free and be kids without fearing for them."

Leanna looked at Kayla. "What about you?" shi asked.

"Iím looking forward to swimming in the river pool," she answered. "I love swimming. Come on, letís get moving!" she urged the others.

ĎAnother good source of exercise for the young girl,í Leanna thought.

The group walked down the forest path, and Forestwalker pointed out the various plants and the occasional animal that they spotted, and attempted to identify some birds just by their calls. Then the forest canopy opened up as they reached a stream that formed a series of swimming holes carved in rock. Several other crewmembers and children had had the same idea as Kayla, and she hastened to join them. Forestwalker settled down on a ledge where shi could watch and laze in the sunshine. Leanna sat next to hir and drank in the view. It was still amazing.

"I know how big this ship is, and I know the physical limitations of this holodeck, yet all this defies belief. We walked much further than we should have been able to, thereís far more in here than seems possible even allowing for illusion, and I can hardly believe that tomorrow there could be something different but equally incredible in here."

"More tricks up the computerís sleeve than just illusions," Forest explained. "Manipulation of the gravity plates can make even a slight mound seem like a hill, for example. A combination of gravity and illusion can make you feel like you have climbed twenty metres up a tree, but in fact be only a couple above the floor. The winding path seems a lot longer than it actually is. Sounds are deadened or amplified to give aural illusion. You can seem to be alone in the forest, yet be only a few metres from someone else who also thinks that theyíre alone. Itís all been perfected from decades of refinement."

"The realism just makes me worry more about the children. I donít like not knowing where they are," Leanna fretted.

"Iím the one that should be doing the worrying," Forestwalker countered, "but Iím not concerned. Besides, theyíre both about twenty metres in that direction," shi said as shi pointed to the left and slightly behind hirself.

Leanna strained to hear the cubs, but even hir ears failed to pick up any hint. "How do you know that? Is it your empathic talent?"

"Yes, I have an empathic bond with my cubs. Being a strong talent, I can usually place them with fair accuracy. The computer canít fool that sense."

"It must be nice to be able to sense their presence all the time."

"Yes, itís very reassuring, but it isnít all roses. If theyíre hungry, upset or frightened, I feel that also."

"I think itís still worth it."

"Me too," Forest affirmed with a happy smile.

For a while, they lazed in silence. Forestwalker luxuriated in the familiar sights, sounds and smells of hir home country. Leanna admired those also, but spent more time watching Kayla play in the water with the other children. So carefree; so filled with the joy of life. Then the memory of hir own Ďyouthí intruded. As an engineered being, shi had been Ďborní the equivalent of a young teenager, already indoctrinated and partially educated before ever leaving the tank. Shi had had no childhood, no chance to play or socialise. Instead, from the first day that shi awoke, shi had been assaulted with demands for hir obedience, further harsh training, and coping with the sexual demands of a body that shi did not understand. The unpleasant times that Leanna could never forget made Leanna whimper in distress.

Forest turned towards Leanna, concern written over hir face. "Whatís wrong, Leanna? Youíre radiating unhappiness like a beacon."

Leanna struggled to regain the happy mood that shiíd had only moments earlier. "Bad memories," was all shi could get out.

Forestwalker leaned over and hugged the fennec, projecting a soothing calm. With the chakatís help, Leanna was able to push aside those memories, burying them once again where they could be ignored, if not forgotten.

Leanna said, "Iím sorry to have bothered you, Forest. Having a perfect memory is a curse that sometime afflicts me at the most unexpected moments. This time it was my wish for a childhood like our familyís children that triggered it. IÖ need some good memories to obscure the bad ones that still plague me."

"Sounds to me that you need some children of your own to substitute your bad experiences for good ones. With that contraceptive gone, you can plan on doing that now. In fact, if you will permit me to meddle a little bit more, I think there might be someone who could help you along that path."

Leanna nuzzled Forestwalker. "Youíve done so much for me already. I trust whatever you are planning to do."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence. I know this person genuinely likes herms, so that isnít an issue. Iíll talk to him tonight and let you know what I can do."

"Thanks, Forest. I feel better now. Iím curious to see what you come up with." Giving Forestwalker a quick lick-kiss, shi got up and stripped off hir top, leaving just hir shorts on. Shi would have taken off the shorts also, but aside from dress regulations, shi was still maintaining the perception that shi was just a female crewmember. "Iím going to join the kids in the pool!"

Forestwalker watched Leanna jump into the pool, and the cubs let hir join in their games. The chakat smiled a little sadly, knowing that while the fennec would enjoy hirself, shi was also trying to compensate for the lack of a childhood at the same time. Forestwalker pondered on how to give Leanna some of that innocent joy while still living up to hir adult responsibilities. As dedicated as Leanna was to hir goals, shi would have to be persuaded to just enjoy life a bit more without other responsibilities repressing hir. Freeing hir from needing sex so that it became a matter of choice instead, had been one important step. Perhaps it was time to enlist the cubsí help. They at least knew how to have fun. Speaking of whichÖ.

Forest surged to hir feet, ducking to one side as two mischievous cubs erupted from the bushes behind hir to try to surprise pounce hir. Forestwalker laughed and took off into the trees, hir twins in gleeful pursuit. Even adult chakats knew when to have fun!

Forestwalker approached Boyce about hir idea that evening. "Iíd like to request several sessions with a real-time subspace comm link."

Boyceís eyebrows raised in surprise. "Those put a high demand on the shipís resources, you know. Thatís why crew are allocated very few slots for personal use."

"I know, but this is in regards to Leanna. You know that shi has dreamed of finding a mate and having a family, but there arenít any fennecs known on Earth. However, we know that shiís compatible with other fox morphs, and I know at least two who might be interested, and definitely like herms."

"Youíre going to hook hir up with Kris and Trina?" Boyce asked.

"Thatís the idea, yes. First Iíll need to speak with them to make sure that theyíre okay with the idea, but knowing them like I do, Iíd be surprised if theyíre not. Theyíve been trying and trying to have another child, but it seems Markus may be the only time that theyíll be successful. If Leanna is more compatible with one or both, then everyone can come out ahead with this."

"So you want to be sure that theyíll be compatible on a social level before committing on the physical? That makes sense. Disappointments are more likely to be avoided, and itíll save time if they do get along well together. HmmÖ Well, I did promise you whatever resources needed to get Leanna as well integrated as possible, but I hope that shi realises that there will need to be some quid pro quo for all that weíve been doing for hir. Iíll speak to the head of communications to arrange the comm time."

Forestwalker hugged Boyce. "Thanks, love."

Boyce hugged hir back. "Youíre welcome, but Iím doing this as much for the Federation as for you. Leanna is going to create quite a stir when shi meets with the Ďexpertsí."

"Thatís probably true, but I really donít care much. Iím far more concerned for Leannaís happiness."

"We each do what we must. Good luck, Forest."

"Thanks, Boyce," shi replied with a nuzzle.

Shipís time was comparable to the time zone on Earth where shi lived, so Forestwalker was able to place a call soon after dinner. Hir lifemates were delighted with the rare opportunity to talk with hir live, and the trio spent a few minutes catching up on a few important matters. Reluctantly though, Forestwalker had to cut that short because shi didnít want to abuse the privilege that shi had been granted. Shi explained what shi had in mind for them and Leanna.

Kris said, "I can tell you that weíve been keen to meet Leanna after all you have told us about hir in your letters to us. As shiís one of the family now, weíd been wondering how shi would wish to relate to us, but if shiís that keen to have children, then that certainly sits well with me."

"Me too!" Trina interjected. "When do we get to talk with hir?"

"As soon as I talk to hir and fill in some details so that shi can decide for hirself. Iím only setting this up, not pushing it through. However, Iím almost certain that shi will like this idea once shi gets to know you two. So be prepared for another call soon."

"Weíll be waiting. Give our love to everybody," Trina said.

"Iíll do that. Tail high!" With that, Forestwalker closed the connection and sought out Leanna. Shi explained what shi had in mind, and told hir that all shi had to do was to talk with them for a while and see if there was any chemistry between them.

"But these are your own lifemates! When you said that you had someone in mind, I thought it was with a friend. Wonít there be anyÖ problems?" Leanna asked apprehensively.

"Not a bit. Kris and Trina have been intimate with many others before you, and occasionally both together. Theyíre actually quite excited at the prospect of you being there. They reckon itíll be nice to have another biped fox in the family!" Forestwalker added with a grin.

Leanna blinked and wondered if Forest truly had a blind spot. "No, I meant you. How will you feel about me being intimate with your lifemates?"

"What? Oh, thatís not a problem. I know they love me, and nothing that you could do could take that away from me."

"You truly donít feel jealousy at all, do you? Thatís amazing. Iíve seen some terrible things done by jealous lovers."

"I sometimes pity the majority of people. Theyíre stuck with that ugly emotion, and all the havoc it causes."

"So you donít think that sharing your lifemates detracts from your relationship with them?"

"No. In fact I think that it enhances it. It brings change and vitality. Variety is the spice of life. While I wouldnít stop loving them, it could get a bit dull after a while, and thatís not fair on any of us."

Leanna felt reassured. "Well, in that case, Iíd like to give it a try."

"Great! We can do it immediately," Forestwalker said enthusiastically.

Leanna was hardly the shy type, but shi did feel a touch of shyness as Forestwalker formally introduced hir to Kris. This was totally new and different, and just a tiny bit scary. This could be another turning point in hir life.

Kris was handsome and athletic; Trina was beautiful and vivacious. Leanna liked them on sight, and their unforced friendly demeanour was even more attractive.

"Forest has told us so much about you," Kris said. "Letís get to know each other better. Trina and I will answer any question that you want to ask, and you can fill in some details that have us curious."

With a satisfied smile, Forestwalker left the threesome chatting animatedly. Shi didnít need a special talent to know that Leanna was more than a little interested.

The remainder of the journey to Earth was unremarkable. Leanna still slept with the family each night, a couple of times even enjoying a bit of sex-play with MíLai when the rotating sleeping arrangements left the Caitian with no partner for therapeutic intercourse. Hir cabin was still used each evening however, partly in order to concentrate on hir studies, but now also to spend time on the subspace comm to chat with Kris and Trina. As the arrival date approached, Leannaís excitement became palpable, rubbing off on the empathic chakat cubs and making them a bit more hyper than normal. Leanna had to draw on hir self-discipline to calm hirself, and thus the children.

Shi brought all the cubs to the observation lounge when told that they were approaching Earth. Shi felt the odd sensation of the ship dropping out of warp, and the nearby stars ceased moving visibly. Within minutes, shi spotted a brightening point of light that rapidly grew into a recognisable planet with a single moon orbiting it. The children watched in fascination as the blue and white spheroid grew large enough to fill the whole view. Then an orbiting structure became visible as the ship altered course to circle the planet. A satellite the size of the Rakshan starbase approached at a rapid but diminishing speed until it too filled the forward view. Leanna was startled to see an enormous hatch start to open to reveal an even bigger docking bay. Apparently they werenít going to beam over but actually moor inside! The fennec was no less fascinated than hir charges as the huge ship slipped precisely through the hatch and into the allocated dock. Pegasus came to a halt and tractor beams secured the starship in place.

"Welcome to Starbase One," came a voice from behind hir. Shi turned around to see Midnight and Forestwalker standing behind them. They had apparently been watching the approach also.

Midnight continued, "I wanted to watch with Forest. Itís an impressive sight, even for someone who has seen it several times."

"I donít expect that Iíll see it again," Leanna said. "So Iím glad to have gotten the chance to see it this time. What happens now?"

"Well, as chief of security, I have to stay here for a while longer, as will the Captain and Commander Rosepetal. MíLai will meet with you in the cabin soon, as sheís only the assistant head M.O., and Doctor Kelly will be responsible for her section. Then once you are completely packed and ready, you can accompany Forest and disembark through airlock five where a boarding tube will be connected. Sign off with security there, and your tour of duty on the Pegasus will be officially over. Head to the Personnel Transporter and beam down to Melbourne Spaceport. Kris and Trina will meet you all there with the bus."

"Iím virtually ready now. As soon as the cubs are ready also, then we can go," Leanna replied.

"Thatís my cue," Forestwalker said. "Iíll catch you later back home, love," shi added, giving Midnight a quick hug.

Forestwalker, Leanna and the children went straight back to the cabin where they organised the last of the packing and loaded it onto a couple of hover trolleys. Snowcloud and Patchwork insisted on riding on one each which MíLai and Forestwalker pushed while Leanna took care of little Ember while Windrunner was in hir usual place in the carisak strapped around Forestwalkerís taur torso. They met Strata who had been waiting for them near Airlock Five. Forestwalker had been insistent that the foxtaur stay as their guest until shi could take hir to meet hir potential mate at Garrekís village. It hadnít taken much arm-twisting to make Strata agree. Shi rather enjoyed their company and had no other place to go anyway. They all dutifully signed off and walked through the boarding tube into the starbase.

Forestwalker had arrived through this base, but that didnít make hir familiar with the place. MíLai had passed through several times, however, and knew the way quite well. Leanna was only slightly tempted to sightsee. Shi was too excited at the prospect of finally setting foot on Earth and meeting Kris and Trina in the flesh. There was a short queue at the Transporter station from the crewpersons who had left the Pegasus before them, but before long they were stepping off the Transporter pad at Melbourne Spaceport.

As they stepped out of the room, Leanna asked Forestwalker, "Can I stop pretending to be a normal crew now?"

Forestwalker replied, "I donít see why not."

"Good!" Right there, Leanna promptly pulled off hir uniform top. Then shi dropped the skirt portion. Forestwalker was relieved to see that Leanna was wearing a blue mini-skirt underneath the uniform. Shi really didnít want to try to explain to anyone why a naked fennec was walking through the spaceport. Leanna took off hir special bra and sighed with relief. "You donít know how sick and tired I was of wearing all those clothes. It may be a part of my slave upbringing, but I feel so much more comfortable without all that stuff on!"

Forestwalker laughed and agreed. "I think Iíll lighten up too," shi said, stripping off hir uniform top and leaving just a comfy singlet.

MíLai chuckled at the two, but didnít join them.

This time it was Forestwalker who led the way, having been here a few times before. Shi led them out of the restricted area and into the foyer where several people were apparently waiting, probably for other crewpersons from the Pegasus. Forestwalkerís face lit up with delight when shi recognised a medium tall red fox morph clad only in blue denim shorts. ĎWell, itís summer now and itíd be too hot for comfort with any more clothes,í shi thought, Ďand it sure shows off his rugged buff figure!í

Forestwalker brought the party to a halt and turned to Leanna and said, "I know that youíre eager to meet Kris in person, but let me have a moment with my lifemate before you monopolise him."

"Of course, Forest. Thatís only fair."

Forestwalker turned back to Kris and bounded over to him to give the fox a huge hug that was just as warmly returned. Then they kissed with the enthusiasm of lovers parted for too long. Finally they broke, grinning happily at each other.

Forestwalker glanced around, then asked, "Whereís Trina?"

"We were running a tad late, so when we got here, all the convenient parking spaces were already occupied, and those that were left were too small for the bus. So Trina drove off in search of a good place to park, while I walked inside to make sure that there would be someone here to meet you if she didnít get back in time."

"Good idea. So, are you ready for a very excited fennec?"

Kris glanced over hir shoulder at Leanna. "Are you sure this is what you want, Forest?"

"Of course! Otherwise I wouldnít have suggested it. The better question is whether you are okay with this? As much as I want to help Leanna, I donít want it to be at your or Trinaís expense."

Kris smiled reassuringly. "Itís okay. As we told you over the comm, shiís a very interesting person, and quite attractive. Knows how to dress appropriately too, I see," he added with a grin.

Forest giggled. "I canít argue with that. Go get hir, foxy!" Shi walked back over to the others and said, "Heís all yours, hon."

Happy first meeting

Leanna flung hir arms around Forestwalker and hugged and lick-kissed hir. "Thanks for everything, Forest!" Then the excited fennec ran over to Kris with open arms, leaving behind a dishevelled but pleased chakat. Kris wrapped Leanna in his arms and they held each other for a few moments before he said, "Itís nice to be able to hold you at last, Leanna. Welcome to Earth, Australia, and hopefully your new home."

"Thank you, Kris. Between you, Forest and Trina, Iím sure that Iím going to love it here."

"Aaw! I missed the meeting," came a female voice. Everyone turned to face the owner of the voice to see an Arctic Fox fem dressed in tight small shorts and matching halter walking over to the group. She noticed Leanna in Krisís arms and headed for them. She gave Leanna a hug and a lick-kiss and said, "Great to have you here, Leanna. Now donít let me interrupt you two anymore."

"Thanks, Trina," Leanna replied. "Weíll talk more later, Iím sure. Right now, I think Forest needs at least one of hir lifemates."

"No less than I need to have hir in my arms again, I assure you," Trina agreed with a grin. She gave Leanna a wink, then bounced over to Forestwalker. Flinging herself on the chakat, she gave hir a cheeky grope and said, "Ravish me, my long-lost lover!"

"Donít think that I mightnít!" Forestwalker said with a laugh. "Iím in a male mood, and Iíve been horny at the thought of seeing you all morning."

"Take it from the one who has had the unfortunate experience of doing it in the wrong places," began MíLai as she walked over to the couple, "you donít want to do it here." She began herding the giggling duo in the direction of the exit. Kris and Leanna laughed and followed, with the children in tow and Strata bringing up the rear.

The Ďbusí was a PTV designed for several taurs, but it did have seating for several bipeds also, which enabled Trina to drive it both there and back. As soon as she got onto the highway though, she put it into full automatic and let the A.I. drive them home. That way she got to cuddle with Forestwalker and chat with the others without distraction. The locals pointed out the scenery and landmarks to the newcomers until eventually the PTV pulled into the driveway and smoothly came to a halt in front of the doorway.

Snowcloud and Patchwork piled out of the door as fast as they could, but they were still met halfway by other cubs pouring out of the house, followed at a more leisurely pace by Goldfur and Garrek. The cubs all quickly disappeared as they went romping around to the back of the house. Goldfur and Forestwalker engaged in a long embrace with much stroking, nuzzling and purring, ecstatic to be together again after such a long separation. When they were finally done, MíLai, Leanna and Strata were formally introduced to the family before they went inside for afternoon tea.

Over hot drinks and special treats that Goldfur had specially prepared for hir sisterís return, Leanna and MíLai were made to feel welcome in the den, and told to treat it as their home. They and their guest spent a long time in relaxed and enjoyable conversation. Twice Garrek was embarrassed to be caught ogling MíLaiís prodigious bust, but he soon figured out that the Caitian had been forewarned about his breast fetish and was deliberately teasing him. After that he unabashedly admired them and the statuesque Caitian who proudly showed them off.

Leanna was introduced to Tailstalker as the little cub slept through an afternoon nap, and the rest of the cubs when they tired and came inside to raid the goodies that the adults had left behind. Shi liked the central sleeping area and its satellite rooms, and commented that it was a much more practical arrangement than the starship cabins. Shi was given a guest room with the warning that shi would have to share it at times because the family had practically outgrown the house. Leanna didnít care. Shi could hardly believe that shi had only been there a couple of hours but shi was being treated as if shi had been part of the family for years. Shi kept wondering when things were going to go sour, but it was hard to be pessimistic in the face of all the friendliness of the chakats.

Goldfur announced that they were going out for dinner, and they had a table reserved at the Cootamundra Gardens, their favourite restaurant.

"Whoís going to look after the cubs though?" Leanna asked.

"Most of them will be coming too," Goldfur informed hir. "Itís a family-friendly place, and the owners know us well. Tailstalker and Windrunner will have cub-sitters though, and if my ears donít deceive me, thatís them arriving now."

Goldfur led Leanna to the front door and opened it to reveal two chakats emerging from a two-seater taur model PTV. One had reddish fur all over, and the other was white tiger-striped. Goldfur greeted them both with hugs. Then shi said to Leanna, "This is Desertsand, my sire, and Longstripe, my mother. Dad and mum, Iíd like you to meet Leanna, the newest addition to the madhouse."

Goldfurís parents gave Leanna the usual greeting hugs and then had to greet their other child, Forestwalker, when shi turned up at the door also.

"Thanks for coming early to cubsit for us at short notice," Goldfur said.

"Well, we were coming over anyway for Christmas eve, so this way we get to meet Leanna also," explained Longstripe. "And of course we can chat with Forest when you get back from dinner. We have a lot of catching up to do!"

And that was all that they got to say before the children discovered that their Ďgransí were there, and started clamouring for attention. It took the efforts of most of the adults to get the excited cubs ready for the outing. Leanna had decided not to wear hir Egyptian outfit as shi was told that it was a bit too fancy for the restaurant. Shi looked through the other clothing that shi had brought from the ship. Forestwalker had advised hir to take advantage of the clothes replicator while shi had the chance, and Leanna now possessed a fair wardrobe. Shi chose a simple skirt that was split down the sides that looked very nice and didnít inhibit hir at all.

"How do I look?" shi asked Forestwalker as shi modelled it for hir.

"Very nice! What top are you going to wear with it?"

"Top? I thought that it was okay to go bare-breasted in this society?" Leanna asked with a frown of puzzlement.

"It is," Forestwalker reassured hir, "but for formal situations, itís considered good taste to wear a top to suit the occasion. Heaven knows that I go topless often enough, but I like to dress up for special times like these."

"Oh. Okay, I can live with that. I think that I have something that will go well with this skirt." Leanna actually had a couple of nice tops that suited. Shi chose a blouse which shi put on over hir special bra. Shi received several compliments on hir outfit, and shi in turn was impressed by those that the others wore. Trina, who had spent the entire day clad in nothing but her tight shorts, now had an attractive dress on, and Kris was in trousers and a sports jacket. Forestwalker had changed into an elegant halter, while hir sister had gone for a vest over a silk shirt. MíLai impressed them all with a Terran style jacket and trousers which she told them she only ever seemed to have a chance to wear rarely. Garrek wore a foxtaur style vest and matching armbands. Kayla had a Caitian day robe, Markus had on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, while all the chakat cubs wore pretty tops. The latter were the hardest to dress because chakat cubs were notoriously hard to convince to wear anything at all.

By now they were regular customers at the Cootamundra Gardens restaurant, and the proprietors greeted them with pleasure. After introductions of the newest members of their company, they were shown to their table where they celebrated the homecoming with a very fine meal and lively conversation. Leanna was seated next to Kris who devoted a lot of attention to hir, and later walked home with the fennec arm in arm. Leanna was flattered by all the attention, and still felt a bit guilty about taking him away from his lifemate. However, Trina was also paying a lot of attention to Forestwalker, and they both firmly ignored hir the one time that shi tried to suggest that Kris should be with them and not hir. After that token effort, shi let hirself fully enjoy being with the tod.

As pleasant as all the socialising was, shi felt even more excited when it came time to retire for the night. This was as close to a dream come true as could possibly be Ė a handsome and willing male who wanted to make love to hir for hirself, and not because shi was a sex slave, or in physical need. Trina and Forestwalker of course were committed to making up for lost time, but that left MíLai single.

"Donít worry about me," MíLai assured them. "Itís not as if I canít go one night without sex. Iím not that bad."

"Nonsense!" Goldfur stated emphatically. "No family memberís needs are ignored in a chakat household. If nightly sex is whatís best for you, then thatís what you get."

"Oh? Are you volunteering for that, Goldfur?"

"Actually I was thinking of volunteering Garrek," shi replied.

"Huh? What?" Garrek was startled, then realised sheepishly that heíd been caught staring again.

Goldfur grinned at hir mateís embarrassment, then said, "I think youíll appreciate a skilful male lover like him, and it might just help get his mind off your boobs if he gets a chance to work it out of his system."

MíLai grinned back at Goldfur. "Sounds good to me, and I must admit to being curious about bedding a foxtaur tod. How about you, stud?" she asked Garrek.

The foxtaur shrugged and replied, "Works for me, although I donít think I have much say in the matter."

"That leaves you alone, Goldfur. What will you do?" MíLai asked.

"Iíll be sleeping with mum, dad and the cubs, of course. I donít have a long-parted mate to catch up with."

And so Leanna soon found hirself in one of the private alcoves of the sleeping area with Kris. Shi started to remove hir clothes when he stopped hir.

"Allow me," he said, and he unbuttoned the blouse and set it aside. Then he skilfully undid hir bra and paused to admire hir modest-sized but pert breasts whose stiffened nipples poked through the fur. He bent over to give each of them a slow lick-kiss, and a thrill went through Leanna. He then unfastened the skirt, and it fell to the floor. Leanna stepped out of it clad only in blue panties that were cut for a herm like hir. Again Kris paused to admire hir, and this time Leanna posed for him. Finally Kris crouched down in front of hir, then pulled down the panties. He leaned into hir crotch and breathed in hir scent, something that not even Forestwalker had done. Shi wondered if it was a fox thing, or hir scent that made him do so.

Kris then stood up and stepped back a couple of paces to look at hir better. By now, Leanna was getting very aroused, and that meant that hir penis was also rapidly unsheathing itself. Again shi posed for him, and he admired hir as shi came to full erection. His eyes wandered all over hir body as he drank in hir beauty, and Leanna soon realised that shi was getting more aroused by his gaze than shi had been by some othersí intimate touches. It became too much to resist, and shi stepped over to the tod and embraced him for a long moment while shi regained a measure of self-control. Then shi started undressing him as he had done for hir. Eventually he too was nude and proudly erect, and after Leanna had a chance to admire his well-toned and tautly muscled body, they embraced again.

Gently, Kris lowered Leanna to the bed and he began to caress hir, starting from hir cheeks, then hir shoulders. He brushed over hir breasts, cupping them and teasing the nipples with his thumbs before moving down to the belly. When he came to hir rigid shaft, he gave that equal attention before moving down further, stroking hir sheath then down to the pubic mound. Shi thought that he was going to dwell there, but he only teased for a moment before moving down to the thighs, then hir calves, and finally tenderly massaging hir feet. Leanna had never been treated like this in all hir career, and shi found it to be profoundly erotic. Shi closed hir eyes and shuddered in pleasure. When shi opened them again, his face was above hirs, gazing at hir in desire. He leaned in to kiss hir, and shi eagerly joined in. For a couple of minutes, the pair embraced, fondling each other as their tongues met and played. Then they parted, both panting a little before Kris resumed his exploration of the fennecís body.

Kris makes love to Leanna

This time he sat on the edge of the bed and had hir sit in his lap. Shi loved the feeling of his erect cock against hir back while he stimulated the rest of hir with his hands. This time they lingered on hir breasts, and the hypersensitive nipples rapidly built hir pleasure to the point of orgasm. Shi gasped and shook in ecstasy as it hit. Kris held hir and nuzzled hir cheek as it passed, then repeated the effort. This time the orgasm was even stronger, and shi nearly jerked out of his grasp before it abated. Shi was more than ready to accept him now. Shi got up off his lap and turned around. Pushing him back onto the bed, shi climbed over him and grinned predatorily. Shi took his hand and placed it on hir groin, letting him feel how wet hir fur was from the flowing love juices. He slipped a finger between hir labia and teased hir clitoris until shi was nearly mad with desire. Shi took his rigid penis in one hand, and with hir other, moved his hand away. Shi lowered hirself onto his cock until the head pushed hir labia apart, then with one smooth movement, took him entirely within hirself. Shi moaned in delight, and Kris let out a growl of pleasure. They enjoyed their joining for a long moment before they began the thrust and retreat of the ultimate act of love-making. Trained as shi was in control of making love, shi still found it almost impossible to withhold the impending orgasm, wishing to make this last as long as possible for both their sakes, but especially for Kris. He sensed hir hesitation though and played his final card. He stroked hir penis, and the extra pleasure combined with the distraction to send hir over the edge. Shi threw back hir head and groaned loudly in sheer ecstasy as a massive climax exploded through hir body. It took a long time to come down from those heights, but when shi did, shi grinned at Kris.

"You didnít have to do that. You havenít come yet," shi accused.

He smiled back slyly. "Oh, but I did have to, and I will." He then commenced to stroke hir breasts again, playing with the rock-hard nipples, taking advantage of hir extreme sensitivity. Well before the pleasant glow from hir previous orgasm had abated, shi was already building up towards another. Kris was relentless, but shi could use it too. Shi massaged his penis with hir inner muscles, slipping up and down on his shaft, and doing hir utmost to push him to climax also. It worked, and he started thrusting wildly as orgasm overcame him, just before shi too lost control and climaxed a moment later. They growled and writhed in shared pleasure until they finally lay panting in intimate embrace.

Neither spoke or did anything for several minutes as they enjoyed the warm glow of their sexual satisfaction. Eventually though, Kris propped himself up on one arm and started caressing hir body again.

"MmmmÖ havenít you had enough yet?" Leanna asked with a smile.

"I wouldnít mind another round, but not quite yet. You need this more than I do."

Leanna arched an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"

Kris ran his fingernail teasingly along the length of hir erection, making hir squirm a little. "This tells me that youíre not satiated yet

Leanna knew that was true, but had not intended to make it an issue with Kris. "I thought that you would be most interested in my female side."

Kris shook his head. "Iím making love to a beautiful herm vixen. Why would I stop at pleasing just hir female side?" With that, he leaned forward and licked hir penis once, then again more slowly.

Leanna clutched at the sheets as the sensation sent a huge thrill through hir. Shi tried to protest, but could not find the will nor reason to do so. Instead, shi watched as Kris took hir rigid cock into his muzzle and started pleasuring hir even more. Helpless to do anything else, shi let hirself enjoy the attention, and quickly came to release. Shi squirted hir cum into his muzzle with each quick thrust of hir hips until shi collapsed in repletion. Hir penis finally started to relax as Kris sat back up again, licking his lips with a smile of satisfaction.

"Youíre really good at that," Leanna commented.

"I should hope so. Iíve been practicing on chakats for long enough!"

"Come here, lover," shi demanded, holding up hir hand.

Kris took it, and shi pulled him down upon hirself. Shi then put hir other hand behind his head to pull him into a long passionate kiss. Shi tasted hir own seed in his mouth and was turned on again. This time it was shi who caressed his body until shi felt his erection come to fullness. Then shi guided his penis to hir waiting sex, and he gently entered hir again.

Shi smiled at him and said, "Once more for the both of us."

Kris smiled and nodded. They took their time to wring out every last bit of enjoyment from their joining. When Leanna judged that the optimum moment had come, shi brought them both to simultaneous orgasms. They then laid together as one until Krisís fading erection slipped free. They cuddled for a very long time without talking. Leanna was sure that Kris would be capable of one more orgasm, but judged that he was already satisfied with what they had achieved. As a sex slave, shi had also been taught to know when enough was enough, and there was such a thing as too much. Being what shi was, shi could go on for as long as was necessary, but with Kris replete, shi felt an unusual degree of satisfaction. Wrapped around each other, they drifted off into peaceful slumber.

The next morning as Forestwalker ate hir breakfast, Leanna ran up to hir and gave hir a huge hug. Surprised, shi said, "Not that Iím not enjoying this, but whatís it for?"

Leanna looked up at Forestwalker with a big grin. "For giving me such a wonderful lover, of course."

"Ah! Youíre very welcome. I trust that you had at least as good a time with Kris as Trina and I did last night?"

"Better!" Leanna said mischievously.

"Is that so? Well, Iím going to have to get a report from Kris then. I think Iíll take it from him tonight while Trina double-checks your claim."

"I get Trina too?" Leanna asked in surprise.

"If Trina likes you, then itís nearly unavoidable. In this case though, she has been particularly eager to snuggle with a herm fox as you were to do so with a male one."

Leanna pondered that. Shi was still learning how to be a proper companion to a female. Moyshu had been very good for hir, but the foxtaur was still basically lesbian and Leanna was still not quite comfortable with the male side of hir nature. However, shi wanted to be. At the least, shi was as proficient at sexually pleasuring females as males, but this could be so much more. There were so many uncertainties, but also so much to gain. Shi had enjoyed talking with Trina over the comm almost as much as with Kris, so there should be plenty of common ground. Also, Forest was eager to have hir spend the night with Trina, and the chakat had been right so far. Shi looked at hir and said, "Iím up for the challenge."

Forestwalker gave a knowing smile. "Everybody thinks that at first. Weíll see."

MíLai joined them at the tail end of their conversation. Turning to her, Forestwalker asked, "What about you, MíLai? Were you up to the challenge?"

"You didnít tell me how well endowed he is," she accused both Forestwalker and Goldfur, who grinned back.

"That would have spoiled the surprise," Goldfur explained. "Was he too much for you?"

"Oh, it was tight thing, but we had a lot of fun getting there. We also found out how well his long cock and my big breasts work together. I think weíre going to be the new tit-fucking champions of this family."

The chakats laughed and applauded, realising that they had been one-upped on their little joke. Leanna couldnít help but grin along with them. Shi found the chakatsí good humour and honest feelings addictive. They werenít above harmless pranks, yet when it came down to what was truly important, shi trusted them implicitly. So if Forest thought Trina would make a good partner too, shi needed no more recommendation to give it a try.

Leanna didnít have much of a chance to think about the matter for the rest of the day. The family was busy with two things. First was making arrangements to visit Garrekís village soon. Second, they still had a lot of preparations to make for Christmas, and besides doing some pre-cooking for the Christmas feast, there was still the last-minute shopping to be done, especially for presents for the cubs. Forestwalker insisted that Leanna accompany hir and Trina. MíLai asked to come along, and Strata surprised them by requesting to go too.

The foxtaur explained: "Actually I want to drop off a starstone at a jeweller or two to get them appraised. Besides, Iíd like to get out of the house for a while."

Messy Cook

"Fair enough," Forestwalker said. "Kris, could you keep an eye out for Goldie. Donít let hir try to help with the cooking."

Kris laughed. "Will do. Iíve learned that lesson."

Forestwalker explained to the curious fennec, "Goldfur is an excellent technician, but put hir in a kitchen and shi has two left hands and can burn water!"

"Youíve got to be exaggerating!" Leanna said in disbelief.

"Oh? Donít say we didnít warn you."

Leanna still wondered if they were pulling hir leg, and how much.

The day was very hot, and Forestwalker chose a simple purple halter to wear. Trina went in her usual shorts and matching bikini top. Leanna also chose shorts, not concerned anymore whether people noticed the bulge of hir sheathed penis, but shi left out a top. If shi didnít have to wear something to suit an occasion, shi was going to choose comfort every time. MíLai decided to match the fashion and selected shorts and a halter also. Fortunately Garrek wasnít around at that moment to be stunned by her sexy outfit. Strata disdained clothing of any kind. "I never wore anything except protective overalls for my entire time on Arisia, except for the days that I arrived and departed," shi explained. Forestwalker shrugged. Taurs could get away with nudity; shi had done it often enough when the mood struck hir.

Despite the heat, Forestwalker and Trina preferred to walk to the township. Both were incurable hikers, but they offered to let the others use the PTV.

"Iím sticking with you!" declared Leanna.

"Iím in no hurry," MíLai said, "and my home climate is as hot as this, so it doesnít bother me."

"Then Iíll stick with the rest of you for now while Iím unfamiliar with the territory," Strata decided. "Besides, Iím no stranger to walking in all sorts of conditions. There were very few vehicles out on the frontier."

So they trooped off to the shops together. They passed a jewellerís shop first, and after letting Strata know where to find them, left the foxtaur to hir business.

Leanna was beginning to pant with the heat and exertion. "Darn fur is too thick for this season," shi grumbled.


"Iíve an idea," Forestwalker began. "Iíll buy you an ice cream. Thatíll help a little. Meanwhile you need to rest a bit." Shi startled Leanna by picking hir up with ease, twisting around and seating the fennec on hir taur haunches. "You can ride for a while. Now, what flavour ice cream would you prefer?"

Although shi was surprised, Leanna quickly gathered hir wits and asked for spearmint choc-chip. Shi found it very easy to keep hir seat on the chakat and guessed that Forestwalker was walking in a careful manner that was most stable for a rider. Forestwalker gave hir a huge cone with more ice cream than shi really wanted, so shi offered to share it. Trina happily accepted the offer. They alternated licks of the rapidly melting ice cream, Trina occasionally licking it off Leannaís hand instead with slightly sensuous laps of her tongue. They enjoyed the cold treat as they ambled down the shady tree-lined avenue. The cone was finished off just as they reached their first destination, and Leanna slid off Forestwalkerís back and gave hir a thank-you hug. Then they went ahead with their task and Leanna began hir initiation into the art of Christmas shopping.

The shopping party returned tired but successful. They discovered that Boyce, Rosepetal and Midnight had arrived in their absence. Forestwalker was delighted to see that they'd made a detour first, and picked up their sister, Quickpaw. Much hugging and nuzzling ensued. Leanna was introduced to the calico chakat, and they soon discovered their mutual interest in children. Forestwalker left them animatedly discussing the care and raising of kittens and cubs.

There were also four other unexpected guests.

"Fancy seeing you here, Roger," Forestwalker said to the bunny boy. The rabbit brothers had started wearing their hair in different styles to enable others to easily tell them apart. Roger had chosen to cut his fairly short and neat, while Peter had had gone for shoulder-length hair, Oswald tied his uncut hair into a ponytail, and Harvey went for a rather wild cut and style.

"The ship is down to a skeleton crew right now, so cooks arenít needed," Roger explained. "When we heard that the captain was going to his Earth family home for Christmas, we asked who was doing the cooking. So here we are!"

Forestwalker blinked in surprise, the said, "That isnít necessary, Roger. Aside from a little help in preparation, weíll be okay. Why donít you guys take a well-earned vacation?"

Roger shook his head. "Weíre not interested in a vacation. We want to try out recipes for traditional Christmas foods. That hunky tod, Kris, has already taken Peter and Harvey shopping for fresh ingredients."

Forestwalker didnít know what to say. Boyce came up beside hir and gave hir a hug. "Give up, honey. You donít stand a chance of winning this argument, that much Iíve learned. Heck, short of at gunpoint, I couldnít even get them to set foot off the Pegasus until I gave them signed guarantees that they could stay on permanently as the official shipís cooks. Fortunately Star Fleet HQ was sympathetic and agreed that they were well placed there and officially signed them up."

Roger grinned unrepentantly. A direct firm order from the human could have made them leave, but they had already realised that the captain was sympathetic to their cause, and had done their best to guide the course of events to this conclusion.

Forestwalker sighed in defeat, then smirked at the rabbit. "Donít think youíre going to get anywhere with Kris though. He likes herms, but isnít into outright homosexuality. So feast your eyes, boys, because thatís all youíll get!"

Rogerís grin faded a little. "Oh well, canít win them all I suppose."

Forest left Roger and Oswald familiarising themselves with the kitchen facilities, and occasionally making a comm call to their brothers to get them to purchase something extra. Seeing Trina walking into her office with a fresh cup of coffee, shi idly wondered if shi could challenge her to seduce one of the bunny brothers. It would be the classic irresistible force meeting the unmoveable object! Trina loved a challenge, but Forestwalker knew that the rabbits literally had zero sexual interest in females. Shi grinned at the image that presented in hir mind, but decided not to tease hir lifemate or the brothers.

Not content with planning tomorrowís feast, the brothers whipped up dinner with hardly any effort. Forestwalker decided that shi could get used to this!

The house was filled to capacity with family and friends Ė just the way chakats liked it. Perhaps it was the excitement of Christmas coming the next day that made it extra special. The cubs wore themselves out after dinner, playing outside for hours in the extended daylight of the Australian summer. As darkness finally fell, they were put to bed and the adults settled down for a few hours of pleasant conversation. The bunny brothers served up coffee and cake before finally being convinced to stop fooling around in the kitchen and relax with the rest. Surprisingly, they were good conversationalists, with several amusing or intriguing stories from before the time when they were sold and shipped off-world. Eventually though, they headed off to bed also, claiming to need to get up early to start their preparations for the feast. They were soon followed by the chakats, all of whom needed more sleep than the average biped, but not before they got out all the presents for the children and put them under the Christmas tree. Finally the last of the adults called it a night and either joined the communal bed, or sought more privacy in one of the satellite bedrooms.

Leanna checked on the cubs before retiring, but they were all peacefully asleep, along with several adults. Shi looked up to see Trina leaning on the doorframe of one of the private rooms. She had a smile on her muzzle, both pleased and amused by Leannaís concern for the children.

"You know youíre not on child-watch 24 hours a day?" Trina said softly.

"I know that," Leanna replied as quietly, "but I like to be aware of their status."

"How about my status?" Trina asked with a grin.

"Horny?" Leanna hazarded a guess.

"As hell," Trina confirmed. "Not backing out on me, are you?"

"Of course not," Leanna said as shi walked over to the vixen.

"Good," Trina said as she moved inside and let Leanna pass. She closed the door behind them, then walked over to the thick padded rug that served as a mattress in that room, and settled down on it. "You seem hesitant."

"Trina, Iíve had sex with dozens of females while I was a slave, and Iíve had sex with Forest and MíLai out of need, then I had a relationship with Moyshu, but sheís a vulpamour who prefers my female side. How do I stand with you?"

"Iíve told you that Iím completely bisexual, so I presume thatís not what you need to know. Perhaps you think that Iím obsessed with the idea of having sex with a herm fennec? I can assure you that despite all the times that I have had sex with others, each was an act of love. I love my friends, I love my family, and I love you. Oh, I know itís not yet the deep love of soul-mates, but itís the base on which such is built. We learned about each other on those long comm chats, Iíve seen how my mate likes you, and Iíve seen you be almost a mother to every child put into your care. Thatís the kind of thing that turns me on, Leanna. Not your looks; not your gender; itís your spirit, and that is so beautiful that it makes me desire you enormously, and I intend to express it in my favourite way."

Trina seduces Leanna

Trina pulled on Leannaís arm to bring hir close, and kissed hir full on the muzzle. Leanna was so distracted that shi didnít notice Trina deftly undoing hir special top until the arctic fox held it up.

Leanna gazed at Trina with growing arousal, but shi still had one question. "They reckon that you hope to get pregnant by me. Is that what tonight is all about?"

"No, dear. I hope to have another child, and I do think youíre the strongest contender for the sire, but I would never have sex with someone just to have a baby. Tonight is about finding out about each other, and whether you would make a good mate for me and Kris."

"You both want me as a mate?" asked Leanna.

"Leanna, Kris and I are lifemates. We would never take on another mate if we both didnít benefit from the relationship. You are the first person since we mated with Forest that we felt could be ideal for both of us. Kris gave you high marks after last night, and now itís my turn."

"Are you saying that youíre judging me by how well I please you?" Leanna asked with some concern.

"Again, no. Itís how well we can please each other. Your happiness is equally as important as our own, and we intend to determine if this is the right thing for you as well. Sex is just one of the more pleasant ways to get to know each other better."

"Do you prefer my male or female side?" Leanna asked curiously.

"As I said, I like both," Trina replied as she fondled one of Leannaís breasts, "but perhaps tonight would be a good time to concentrate on your male side."

"Iím still discovering that side of me," Leanna confessed.

"Letís discover it together, hon," Trina said as she pulled down Leannaís shorts to free hir turgid penis, then giving it a teasing stroke.

That evening, the master of sexual pleasure met the mistress of making love, and finally met hir match. Hours later as the two lay in each otherís arms, still joined by Leannaís slowly fading erection, Leanna whispered, "I can hardly believe that so much good stuff has been happening to me lately."

"Sometimes, love, good things do happen to good people."

"Trina, Iíd be honoured if you choose me to try to sire a kit for you."

"Thanks, Leanna. I think that I will take you up on that. Now better get some sleep. Weíll have a busy day tomorrow. Merry Christmas, dear."

"Merry Christmas, Trina."

The advantage of sleeping in one of the private rooms on Christmas morning was that the cubs didnít wake you too early as they got up to find what the jolly fat human had left for them. Consequently, Trina and Leanna, Forestwalker and Kris, Midnight and MíLai, and Strata all got to sleep in. That didnít last too long though because some of the children couldnít wait to show their parents what Santa had brought them.

The bunny brothers were all wearing red and white-trimmed Christmas caps as they served up breakfast to excited cubs and bleary-eyed adults alike. When everyone was up and fed, they gathered in the living room so that the adults could exchange gifts. Forestwalker had bought several on the stops during hir voyage, as had Boyce. After that, they cleared up the typical explosion of gift-wrapping paper and moved outside to lounge in the pleasantly warm morning sun to converse or play backyard cricket with the cubs. During a break for drinks, Leanna said that shi had an announcement to make.

"By now, you all know about my background and my wish to start a family of my own. In light of the fact that there doesnít seem to be any fennec morphs on Earth, Forestwalker very kindly put me in touch with Kris and Trina. A couple of weeks of conversation by FTL comm led us to believe that I could fit in well with them, and the past couple of nights I got to Ďtest driveí them."

There was a smattering of laughter for that last comment. Leanna grinned and went on. "This morning, Kris joined Trina and I for a serious talk. Kris has agreed to try to father a child in me, and I will try to impregnate Trina, thus giving all of us the children that we have been hoping for. Wish us luck, everyone."

There was a chorus of well-wishing and congratulations. When it died down, Forestwalker spoke up. "So does that mean that youíre also declaring yourselves as denmates?"

To Forestwalkerís great surprise, Leanna shook hir head and said, "No. Kris and Trina discussed that with me also, and we all agree that thereís something else that I should do." Leanna stepped over to Forestwalker and took hir hands. "Forestwalker, I truly love you. Will you do me the honour of being my mate?"

Forestwalkerís jaw dropped in surprise. For a moment shi was dumbstruck, but when shi finally found hir tongue, shi asked, "You want me as your mate? I thought that having someone like Kris was your lifelong dream?"

Leanna had anticipated Forestwalkerís surprise and patiently explained. "It was, and you were the one to enable me to have both him and Trina. You are also the one who realised that I was more than just another slave. You encouraged me, cajoled me, consoled me, and helped me even when I was sure that I didnít need help, and was wrong. You gave me a family, children to nurture, and a sympathetic ear. You helped me through the very worst of my sexual excesses, cared for me during my helpless periods, broke my pain conditioning, and gave me a life that is gathering more joy every day. You helped me understand my true nature and resolved the conflict that I had within. Above all, you gave and continue to give me love. Today I am declaring that I intend to love you as much and for as long as I live, and I wish to do so as your mate. So I ask of you once more, Forestwalker my love, to please do me the honour of accepting me as your denmate."

There was a hush of anticipation as the onlookers waited for Forestwalkerís response. Shi gazed into Leannaís love-filled eyes and searched hir own feelings. Only then did shi realise how deeply involved in hir life that the little fennec had gotten, and just how much shi enjoyed it. Shi already knew that shi loved Leanna, but had not considered how deeply. Shi chuckled as shi recalled a moment a few yearís back involving hir sister and Malena, the foxtaur vixen who would become hir second denmate. Forest turned to look at Goldfur and said, "It looks like you arenít the only one who canít see whatís right under hir nose." Turning back to Leanna and shaking hir head in amazement, shi said, "I donít know how you crept so far into my heart without me noticing. I wasnít looking for another mate, but it seems one has found me anyway. I accept your proposal, Leanna, and I am honoured to be your denmate."

The spectators burst into applause as Leanna threw hir arms around Forestwalker and started crying for joy. Kris and Trina joined the hug as Leannaís new co-mates, pleased to have gained a delightful new companion and lover, and to have made their lifemate even happier.

Then Trina spoke up: "What do you have to do now that youíve officially declared yourselves as denmates?" she asked the crowd as much as the newly mated pair.

There was a chorus of answers from those who remembered Forestwalker being formally mated to Boyce Ė "You consummate the mating!"

Forestwalker grinned at them, then took Leannaís hand. "Please excuse us for a while. Iím going to open my special Christmas present in private!"

There were more laughs and well-wishings as the chakat led a very willing fennec to a private bedroom where they made love to the utmost of their skill and devotion. Hours later as the satiated pair lay curled up together, enjoying just being with the other for a while longer before being summoned to the Christmas feast, Leanna thought, ĎI have a gorgeous mate, a loving home, and a fantastic life ahead of me. Love has broken the chains that bound me, and for the first time in my life, I know that I am truly free!í

Consummating the mating


A few weeks later...

Doctor Wurrumgidgee, a kangaroo-morph Star Fleet senior medical officer, stood in the doorway of her office and spoke to the occupants of the waiting room. "Leanna, would you and your mates please join me?"

Leanna got up and followed the doctor inside her office, accompanied by Forestwalker, Kris and Trina. They all made themselves comfortable in their various fashions around the desk.

The doctor smiled at them. "Itís good to see you all again, although I think that by now youíll all be glad to put all these tests, interviews and other inconveniences aside to get on with your lives. Iíve been asked by the Star Fleet bigwigs to express their gratitude for your cooperation in their various investigations. However, thatís not what you came here today to hear."

She tapped the PADD in front of her, looking briefly at its display. "First, the bad news. As expected, the treatments for the slave conditioning that we tried on you were minimally effective. We continue to lag behind the L.N.A.W. in that field, and they are truly masters of the art. We will continue to work on that problem, not just for your sake, but for all the emancipated slaves. Donít hold your breath waiting though. It seems that the conditioning is virtually hard-wired into your genetics, and undoing that is an extremely delicate process."

Leanna nodded and replied, "I understand. In fact Iím not terribly surprised. If it was easy to break, I suspect that there would have been a lot of slaves rebelling and causing problems by now." ĎIncluding intelligent fennecs killing their masters,í shi added privately in hir thoughts.

"You said that you had deliberately submitted to Admiral Kline as your surrogate master in order to avoid potential problems. Are you satisfied with that choice still? Do your mates think that you could do better?"

"The admiral has never abused that trust that I put in him, and I continue to believe that he is my best option."

Forestwalker added, "As he is also my lifemate, I trust him implicitly, and I cannot see a better alternative either." Kris and Trina nodded in agreement.

Doctor Wurrumgidgee nodded and tapped the PADD again. "Alright, weíll consider that subject closed until further notice. Now for some good news. As I mentioned before, due to Doctor MíLai Saarathís excellent data, we were able to formulate a solution to your physical problems very quickly. Fixing the idiot phase of your heat was the easier task as it was triggered by one key hormone. Eliminating that completely negated the effects. Because your extreme heat wasnít also accompanied by extreme pleasure, we were also able to tone down that without affecting your enjoyment of sex during that period. The rut was trickier because it had an element of conditioning added to it that forced you to have sex, whether you wanted to or not, before it would abate. However, we figured out the key to that, and we can announce that the latest tests indicate that the treatments have been 100% successful, and you need never fear your rut or heat cycles again."

"And what about my milk?" Leanna asked.

"We tested it most thoroughly, and there seems to be only one extra component - the aphrodisiac. Otherwise it is entirely normal for a foxmorph, and perfectly suitable for cubs of any kind, although seeing as you have a chakat denmate, I hasten to add that it lacks the CKF that chakat cubs require, and is therefore unsuitable on a long-term basis if you wish to nurse them. The aphrodisiac itself seems to be able to affect sexually mature people only, so cubs are totally unaffected by it."

Leanna gave a huge sigh of relief, then smiled at the doctor. "Thanks, doctor. You and your team have done a fantastic job."

The kangaroo smiled back. "It was genuinely our pleasure, Leanna. We have one other thing to report though. Because you told us that it seems that you were intended to be bred, we took a good look at your ova and sperm. Most slave breeding is done in tanks, artificially maturing and educating them in a very quick time. Natural breeding is a lot slower and more expensive, so there had to be an ulterior motive. We discovered that your sexual proclivities were also encoded in the genes, and any child you either sired or bore would have your problems all over again. However, worse yet were a couple of other things that we were shocked to discover. Your former master was a true genius with genetic engineering, and possibly one of the worst monsters that the human race has ever produced. I am not going to tell you what we found, but suffice to say that we not only fixed the known problems, but eradicated those sick additions also. You may be assured that however many children that you have, they will all be normal herm foxes."

"Thatís a greatly reassuring, Doctor. I think that I might be able to figure out what my former master could do, but I donít think that I really want to know. I just want normal happy children. And on that note, did you do those tests that I asked for?"

Doctor Wurrumgidgee nodded. "Yes I did, and you will be delighted to know that both Trina and Kris seem to be quite compatible with you. We canít see any reason why you wonít be able to have as many children as you like with them. In fact, it looks like you were optimised to be able to breed with any fox species, taur excepted. I believe that you were a prototype baby-making machine in some respects. I think that you might need to seriously consider contraception in the future."

"Iíll keep that in mind, Doctor. So, is that all now?"

The doctor stood up and said, "Yes, thatís everything. Aside from that slave conditioning, you are now more normal than several species of Terran morph that I can name, so enjoy your new life, Leanna."

Leanna and the others all stood and gave their thanks to the doctor and her staff, then jubilantly left to make plans for the cubs that they could now safely conceive.

Leannaís heat cycle was the first to arrive, and shi and Kris spared no effort to ensure that shi was well and truly fertilised. Trinaís came eight days later, and Leanna enthusiastically did hir best to sire a kit in the vixen. Then there was the nervous wait for the results of the pregnancy tests. Leanna had put hirs off until Trina had had her chance, so they could learn together if they had been successful. The call eventually came from Chakat Redears, their med-tech of choice. Both had conceived! Leanna and Trina squealed for joy, hugging and dancing around each other. Nobody got much sleep that night as the entire family celebrated their great fortune.

Kris impregnates Leanna Leanna impregnates Trina

Admiral Kline and Rosepetal Silpurr are the creations of Boyce Garald Kline Jr and are used with permission.
All other characters and this story are © 2003 – 2006 Bernard Doove.

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Forest Tales continues in Episode #28.

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