Browneyes sighed contentedly as a cool breeze came through the open window. Chakona’s weather was, for the most part, relatively tranquil, and as it was a planned world almost all of its settlements were located in areas that were as a safe as possible from geological events and violent storms. Every now and again, however, the residents would encounter some unusual weather.
Today, for example, had been an extremely warm spring day, and while the temperatures weren’t any higher then what they’d experience during the summer months, it had been quite a change from the cooler temperatures of the season. Nevertheless, Browneyes and hir family had taken the opportunity presented by the warmer weather to take a trip to one of the local parks in Amistad, and allow the young (and young at heart!) to have a day of it. After a long day of play, the cubs were put to bed, and the adults retired to the den for some relaxation, tea, and quiet discussion before they too retired. Although Browneyes had hir own condo now, just down the hall, it wasn’t unusual for hir to spend the night at hir parents’ place anyway, and both hir and hir mother agreed that letting their children spend as much time as possible together was for the best.
Browneyes wasn’t really doing much hirself, being the young mother of one of the two children in the family. Shi had found hirself running around and being the center of attention for the cubs almost all day; a role shi was happy to perform, but a tiring one, and Brown was more then than content to just lie back and listen to the soft murmuring of hir parents’ and parents’ mates’ voices. Suddenly hir respite was interrupted by a rapid tapping on the condo door.
Browneyes opened hir eyes to see the other occupants of the room staring at the door.
"It’s rather late for a social call," said Sky, Brown’s sire, as shi stood up and headed for the door.
Curious, Browneyes followed the stormy grey chakat to the door, reaching it as Sky opened it to reveal a marbled dark grey chakat dressed in a red Star Fleet uniform, and carrying a duffel bag. "Hello mom," the chakat said to Sky. "Lieutenant Commander Makrana reporting for home duty!"
"Makrana!" Sky exclaimed, practically pouncing on hir daughter and giving hir a bear hug. "What are you doing here?"
Makrana giggled and nuzzled hir mother. "I’ll explain in a moment, but I might as well explain to the whole family at once, so if you’ll go and tell them I’m here, I’ll go throw my bag in the guest room."
The grey chakat released hir daughter and nodded in agreement, before hurrying off to the den. Browneyes, on the other hand, lingered. "It’s good to see you, sis. Do you need some help with your bag?"
The marbled chakat stuck out hir tongue. "I think I can carry one bag by myself, hon."
"I don’t know, Mak; it looks pretty heavy," Brown replied cheekily. "I’m not sure you can manage."
Makrana struck a dramatic fainting pose. "Well, perhaps I’ll need the help of my youngest sister someday, when I’m old and decrepit, but not today; you’d best be joining the rest of the family if you want to hear my explanation."
Browneyes nodded and turned towards the den. "I’ll see you there then."
As Brown had expected, the atmosphere in the room was positively charged with excitement, and no sooner had shi lain down in hir previous spot than hir sister emerged from the hallway, sans uniform, or any other clothing, and was struck with a barrage of questions, hugs and nuzzles.
"Mak! What are you doing home? Is everything all right?"
"Yes dad I’m fine…"
"Did I hear you say you’re a Lieutenant Commander now?"
"Yeah, I was promoted because…"
"Is that an earring?!" Sky interrupted.
Everyone turned to look at Sky, then back to Makrana who, sure enough, had a very small hoop earring in hir left ear. "Please tell me that’s just a clip-on. Please don’t tell me you’ve gone a-and mutilated yourself."
Makrana frowned, and subconsciously fiddled with the ring. "Actually, this is part of the reason I’m home; you see, it started about three weeks ago. As you know from my last letter, the ship I had been assigned to, FSS Tigerstone, had been asked to take part in negotiations with the Dalians."
"Who?" Brown asked. Sentient Aliens were relatively uncommon in the known universe, and it was rare for a new species to be discovered, and for it not to be major news, yet Brown hadn’t heard of such a species before.
Mak scowled in annoyance that hir story had been interrupted again. "They are, or were, a species of war beasts from the Gene Wars. During the rebuilding that took place after the wars, they managed to steal one of the prototyped warp-capable ships in development, and left the solar system. Up until a year ago, it was widely believed that the ship had malfunctioned during their flight and disintegrated, as no sign of them had ever been found."
"What happened a year ago?" asked Pond.
"I’m getting to that. A year ago the Sagan Deep Space Telescope II detected a star located in an area of space where no star was supposed to be. At first it was thought to be a sensor glitch, but to be sure Star Fleet dispatched a ship to take a closer look. Sure enough, when they got to that area of space there was nothing there; a lot of people in the science department were quite upset, as a glitch of that sort can take months to hunt down and correct.
"Luckily the ship hadn’t any pressing issues to attend to, so they were taking the time to deploy some sensors when on the third day one of the sensor probes suddenly disappeared. Given how expensive the probes are, they headed for the last known location of the probe, only to find themselves completely blinded."
"That sounds terrifying," Dancer said.
"It was," Makrana confirmed, "but they had enough sense to push ahead at impulse, and lo and behold, the sensors suddenly came back up, and there was the wayward star. After doing some experiments, they finally figured out what was going on – the star was located in the middle of a dark matter cloud. The whole solar system was hidden from view because of this cloud. It was quite the find."
"How was the telescope able to see it at all?" asked Sky. "If I’m understanding what you’re saying, the dark matter would be blocking all the light from the star."
Makrana nodded. "Indeed, but the cloud wasn’t perfect, and it had several imperfections that were open to space; as the cloud rotated, the star would be seen from different angles through these holes."
"So anyways, soon after their sensors came back, they realized one of the system’s planets was inhabited by some two billion people, and soon after that they were attacked by the Dalians. Apparently, rather then than having their ship disintegrate in flight, they had ended up inside the system, and colonized the fifth planet."
"So what does this have to do with your ear?" Brown asked.
Makrana sighed before continuing. "As I said, I was asked to take part in negotiations with these people; although their ships aren’t really armed well enough to do much damage to most military grade ships, they posed quite a threat to civilian ships like freighters. The discovery of this Dalian system actually solved two mysteries; the other one was a series of pirate attacks over the last fifty years.
"So there we were, about six months later, having come to a number of agreements, and both parties were ready to sign the treaty and... uh, this is where we ran into trouble." Makrana paused and fiddled with hir earring again. "You see, before negotiations like this ever go forward, the diplomatic corps try and gather as much information on the other culture as possible, you know, so that we don’t run into problems by accidentally insulting them or such. One species years ago, for example, was offended by the white used for our diplomatic division uniforms because years ago that color had been used by a dictator not unlike Earth’s Hitler. That set the dialogue back six months. Anyway... our information was either inaccurate, or the investigators just overlooked it... or something. You see, the Dalians look a lot like rabbit morphs, with a few differences, and nearly all of them have multiple ear piercings of all sorts, and we thought that they were just, well, for decoration, but they weren’t."
Makrana paused again and rubbed hir forehead. "In Dalian culture, rather then having parties sign a piece of paper or such when making formal contractual agreements, the parties have their ears pierced. As long as those piercings stay in, the contract is seen to be upheld."
Sky got up and went over and hugged hir daughter. "Oh baby."
Makrana nuzzled hir mother before continuing. "So, as you can imagine, everyone is very shocked, including a lot of the higher ups. One of the admirals has ordered a full investigation, because they would never have asked chakats to take part in the negotiations if they had known about the piercing thing."
Brown also got up from hir seat and gave hir sister a hug. "So why are you home then, hon?"
The marbled chakat licked hir sibling on the cheek before replying happily. "Well, because of this incident they’ve decided to transfer all those involved to their homes to rest up as a sort of an apology for screwing up. I’ve been assigned to the Chakona Gateway for now, as well as promoted."
The grey chakat smiled. "Well, congratulations, sweetheart. You certainly deserve it."
"Thanks, mom. I just wish it had been under better circumstances."
After a few more minutes of asking Makrana questions, the adults decided to retire, as it was getting to be extremely late, at which point Makrana pulled Browneyes aside for a moment. "I meant to ask when I first got here, but how are the little ones?"
Brown smiled. Hir sister’s tours of duty had been extremely long, and other than a few days after Honeymane’s birth, Makrana hadn’t seen hir at all for nearly two years, and hadn’t yet seen Sugarback at all. "They’re both doing fine, and big enough now to sleep with the family, so you’ll see them both tonight, and I’m sure they’ll both be very pleased to meet you."
Makrana grinned, and gave hir sister a hug. "Sounds good. By the way, I have something to tell you, but I think I’ll wait until morning."
"Oh? Well I suppose I can wait until then," Browneyes said jokingly. "Let’s get to bed so tomorrow will come that much faster."
Like most chakat family bedrooms, Browneyes’ parents’ room was lined with dozens of pillows and other soft surfaces. Padding in shi immediately went over to check on hir cub, who was snuggled up close with the other cub of the family, Sugarback. The two cubs were wrapping around one another in a tight embrace, and both them were empathically sending off waves of contentment. Satisfied, Brown lay down beside them and wrapped hir arm around them, as the other adults did the same all around the room, and sleep came almost immediately.
The morning began for Browneyes with an earnest nuzzling and lick-kisses from hir daughter. Hugging the child, shi rolled to hir feet and saw Spadespot and hir mother about to be similarly aroused by Sugarback. Chuckling to hirself, shi exited the room with Honeymane in tow, and put the kettle on for some morning tea. It wasn’t long before shi was joined by a very tired looking Spadespot and Dancer, followed by Sugarback.
"Morning, Brown," said Spade wearily as shi sat down at the kitchen table and scooped up Sugarback to breastfeed hir. "What ya making for breakfast?"
"Nothing yet. I was waiting for more people to wake up, but I was thinking maybe omelets," the calico chakat replied. "Didn’t sleep well?"
Dancer walked over and gave hir daughter a hug. "Sort of; we woke up early and decided to...err...well..."
Brown giggled and nuzzled hir mother’s cheek. "Say no more, Mom; I understand." Hir mother had always been a bit of a horndog.
"Mommy!" said Honeymane, pulling on Brown’s leg fur. "I’m hungry!"
"All right sweetie, what would you like in your omelet?" Brown bent over and picked hir cub up; at just over two years of age, Honeymane was getting quite big, and recently had been weaned.
"How about I do that, sis?" Makrana said, appearing at the doorway. "Seeing as I’m home now, I may as well help out, eh?"
Padding into the kitchen, Makrana turned towards the cub in Brown’s arms. "So, what would you like, hon?"
The red chakat cub looked puzzled for a second, before blurting out, "Who are you?"
Mak smiled at the young one. "I’m your aunt Makrana, sweetie. You’ve met me before, but you probably don’t remember me."
Judging from the look on hir daughter’s face, and the feelings coming through their empathic link, Brown could tell that Honeymane was still a bit confused, but all that changed when hir stomach rumbled. "Ham and cheese and t’mato please!"
Makrana laughed. "All right, hon, coming right up. What would you guys like, hmm?" shi said, turning towards the refrigerator to pull out the ingredients and a pan from the cupboard.
The three other chakats gave their orders, before slipping into idle chat.
"Makrana, I realize we’ve never really spent enough time together to form any sort of close bond, but why is it I can’t seem to sense you empathically?" asked Spadespot, now tickling hir cub on top of the table.
"Actually, I’ve been wondering that myself," Brown said. "It should have been very hard for you to surprise me and Dad last night like that, so what gives?"
Makrana chuckled while cracking the eggs into a bowl. "I must admit that was partly my idea. You see, the Dalians’ ears are lined with organs designed to detect the same sorts of things empaths detect – that is to say emotions, – but, unlike us empaths, they only sense it in a second-hand fashion, you know, to help them find and... do away with combatants on the field." Makrana glanced at the two cubs in the kitchen. "I’m not sure I should be discussing this sort of stuff around them."
Brown shook hir head. "They have to learn sometime, but I don’t think they’re listening. Are you dear?" shi said pointedly at hir cub, who was intensely investigating the frying pan’s contents. Getting no response, Brown shrugged. "I guess cooking egg matter is more interesting."
"I guess so," Makrana said, pausing to manipulate the eggs in the pan before continuing. "Basically, the organs are only meant to sense the emotions, and because this was all before Talents were really understood, or even existed in large numbers as they do today, they’re hypersensitive. Empaths, to them, feel like really bright lights, or really loud noises really close to one’s ear – it hurts, a lot. So Star Fleet’s solution was to give all us chakats and skunktaurs an injection of a drug that... well, it doesn’t turn off our empathy, but it’s more like it slows everything down into a blob."
"A blob?" said Dancer with a touch of skepticism in hir voice.
"Well, it’s not like that’s the scientific term for it, Dad, it’s sort of like... if empathy worked like a very active wave, the drug sort of forces all the little humps together until they mash together into something that’s still a wave, but not nearly intense." Makrana paused, then added, "Basically it made our empathy less chaotic and ‘loud’ to the Dalians. That being said, I thought it would be worth the looks on your faces if I showed up unexpectedly."
Dancer frowned. "I can still feel you though."
Makrana shook hir head as shi served up the omelets onto plates before setting them down in front of the occupants of the table. "The drug is powerful, but it can’t break the strong empathic bonds I share with you, or anyone close to me. Having said that, what you’re feeling is sort of a mixture of ‘phantom emotion syndrome’, and what’s left of my talent." Seeing the concerned looks on the other chakats’ faces, shi smiled and tried to reassure them. "Don’t worry. The drug has been wearing off all night; I should be back to normal by bedtime tonight."
Bending over, Makrana picked up Honeymane from the floor, and placed hir on the table next to hir omelet, which shi swiftly attacked with the gusto only a hungry cub could muster. Laughing, the marbled chakat grinned. "It looks like my niece has the right idea. Dig in!"
After a long, leisurely breakfast, Browneyes found hirself and Makrana watching over the two cubs as they played, while the older chakats went for a walk. Sky and Pond, both late risers, had been somewhat miffed that they hadn’t gotten any of the omelets, and Dancer and Spadespot had offered to take them out to one of the local restaurants for a late breakfast, before they had to head to work.
"They’re beautiful cubs," Makrana said with a touch of sadness in hir voice, breaking the silence.
Brown smiled, then frowned. "What’s wrong, sis?"
Makrana rolled onto hir back and stared up at hir sister. "I don’t know. I guess my biological clock’s ticking. I wish I could meet someone and fall in love."
The calico chakat smiled and give hir sister a cuddle. "Children aren’t all fun and games, you know."
The grey marbled chakat nodded and returned hir sister’s hug. "Yeah, I know, but you can’t help romanticizing it all a bit though, hmm?"
Browneyes grinned. "If you want to, but I’ve got the real deal and shi can be a pain in the ass sometimes." In truth, Browneyes really did love hir cub dearly, even though shi had been unplanned, and shi was raising hir without the help of a mate. "Not to change the subject, my dear sister, but what exactly did you want to tell me last night?"
Makrana hmmed for a moment before remembering what it was shi wanted to tell hir sister. "Oh yeah. I was wondering... have you done any dating since Darktoes left? I know a guy from my ship and I was thinking maybe you could use a date...?"
Browneyes’ jaw dropped. "Are you serious? I told you when Honeymane was born that I didn’t really want to go out on any dates or whatever anymore. My heart belongs to Darktoes, and that’s final."
"But you have two hearts, do you not?" Makrana said, smiling wily. "Look, Brown. I know you’ve said you don’t want to do any more dating and all, but could you at least give it a chance? You never know; you might like hym."
"Hym? A skunktaur?" Brown said. Perhaps Makrana was right; it wouldn’t do hir any good skulking around for the next two decades or so, assuming after all that time shi could still even think of going to see Darktoes. But, although shi had sent hir a letter basically saying they should try to move on, Browneyes hirself had struggled with the idea, both emotionally and physically – it was rather hard to meet people when you had a child to look after, even with the support of hir family, and even though chakats generally loved children, they do tend to break the romantic mood of the moment.
Mak nodded. "Yeah, as I said, hy’s one of my ship mates. Well, I suppose that’s not really true; hy was one of the people helping with the talks."
Browneyes sighed. In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes. "Well, what’s hys name? House?"
"Hy’s name is Ariston of the house..." Mak paused. "Redpaw. And hey, think of it this way; if you two hit it off, you’ll basically get free training for Honeymane!"
The calico frowned. "Wrong house; Honeymane is Bluepaw, not Red. Hy’d be of no help to hir."
Makrana waved hir hand in the air in a dismissive fashion. "Nonsense. These skunktaurs practically have mind orgies with one another. Even if hy’s not of the right house you can bet hy knows all about how telekinesis works, and how to use it, and could share that knowledge."
"I don’t know Mak, I don’t know if I’m ready for another relationship."
Brown’s sister rolled into an upright position and gave Brown a one-armed hug. "Please? For me? Besides, it’ll give me an excuse to get closer to my niece and sister, if you’re going out on dates."
Sighing, Brown nuzzled hir sister. "All right. I suppose you’ll be setting it up?"
Makrana grinned and licked hir sister on the cheek. "Already have. 16:65 tonight."
"Wasn’t that taking a bit of risk? What if I had said ‘no’?"
"Well, I guess I would have had to go and pretend I was you," remarked Makrana cheekily. "I kind of want to get with hym anyway; I hear hy’s a bit of a stud, so if you two do hit it off, maybe we could do a three-way sometime?"
Browneyes gave hir sister a look. "I’m not sure that’d work. I mean, hy’d probably know it was…"
Both chakats turned towards the sound of the crash; although both of them had been distracted for only a moment, it had been long enough for the two cubs in the room to create quite a bit of havoc. In this case, Honeymane and Sugarback stood staring at the remains of a broken vase now lying on the floor.
Browneyes groaned before leaping to hir feet and reprimanding the children. A short while later, after sending both of the cubs to the bedroom, both shi and Mak were sitting on the carpet, carefully picking up the shards of porcelain from it. While newer vases were made of materials more capable of wear-and-tear, this particular vase was something of a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation, since it was first given to Brown’s great-great-great-great-grandmother by the Turners themselves.
"Mom is going to be pissed when shi finds out this vase got smashed," Brown commented. "I knew I should have been watching them more closely."
Makrana shook hir head. "Nah, it’s my fault; I shouldn’t have distracted you with stories of sexy skunktaurs." Shi paused for a moment. "I’ll take the blame, and I think I have an idea on how to fix it."
"That’s kind of you, but how do you plan to fix it?" Brown was mildly curious. "Not glue, I hope?"
"Perish the thought," said Makrana with a chuckle. "Nah, I have something else in mind. Just save these shards, please."
Browneyes nodded. A short while later shi was in the bedroom having a rather stern discussion with hir daughter over what happened. "Honeymane, I’ve told you a hundred times to not try using your talent without some sort of supervision – you could really hurt yourself, or someone you love, like Sugarback." Being empathic, Brown knew hir cub was quite sorry, and once the talk was over, Brown would probably find hirself cheering hir up, but it was still necessary to try and explain to hir why what shi did was wrong.
"I know, Mommy, but I like movin’ things around," said the red cub, "and Shir Starhands keeps telling me to practice."
Browneyes rubbed hir cub on the back and bent over to give hir a hug. "I know, sweetie, but not without someone watching you, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy. I’m sorry," Honeymane said, leaning against hir mother.
"I know, dear," Browneyes said, giving hir daughter a lick-kiss. "Speaking of which, Mommy’s going out tonight, so your aunt Makrana will be looking after you."
"Why? Where are you going?" Honeymane asked, curiously.
Browneyes grimaced. Shi hadn’t really been expecting to explain the concept of a blind date to hir daughter. "Well, your Aunt Makrana wants me to meet one of hir friends from hir job, another skunktaur like Shir Starhands."
"Oh," Honeymane said. "Can I go play now, Mommy?"
The calico chakat smiled and patted hir daughter on the head. "Sure, hon. Just remember what I said."
"Yes, mommy!" said the red and white chakat as shi dashed out the bedroom door.
Browneyes shook hir head in amusement as shi followed, although not with the same youthful, wild abandon hir daughter moved with. Shi’d never know where hir daughter got the energy!
"Here dear, let me fix that," Dancer said, reaching out to adjust Brown’s tank top slightly.
It was, as Brown assured hirself, checking the hallway wall clock again, 16:52, well after sunset and nearly time for hir ‘date’ to pick hir up. And, despite hir feelings that nothing would come of this, Browneyes was quite nervous, and had tried to dress as smartly as possible, while still trying to remain casual enough not to seem too forward. "It’s fine, mother. Hy probably wouldn’t care if I showed up nude." Shi was dressed in a violet tank top with a belt pouch and tail ring to complete the get up.
Hir mother smiled. "That may be, but I’d like you to look your best, you know."
Brown smiled back. "Yes, Mom."
Hir mother, and the rest of the older chakats, had returned home for a quick supper before heading out for a night on the town. Predictably Dancer had been quite dismayed that the lamp had been destroyed, but much of hir anger had vanished when shi heard that Brown had a ‘date’. Brown had known for sometime that hir parents (and, by extension, their other mates) had been growing fairly concerned about hir apparent apathy towards finding someone not, perhaps, to settle down with, but to be with someone outside hir narrow scope of friends.
Just then the communicator mounted on the hallway’s wall beeped, signaling that someone was trying to get a hold of them. Like most condominium complexes on Chakona, the condominiums in which Brown and hir parents lived in had iris scanners for security, and could be programmed with family members and friends – but guests had to ring in.
"That must hym now," said Makrana, emerging from the living room carrying Sugarback and followed by Honeymane. "Shall I answer, or...?"
"I’ll get it," said Brown, as shi jabbed the button to answer the pending ‘call’. "Hello?"
"Hi, I’m here to pick up Browneyes," stated the rather gentle voice. "Should I come up, or will Browneyes be coming down?"
"At least hy sounds nice," Brown muttered to hirself, before speaking more directly into the speaker. "I’ll be down in a moment, Ariston."
Browneyes released the button, before turning and bending down to pick up hir daughter for a goodbye hug. Breaking the hug, shi said hir goodbyes to the rest of the gathered family members, and headed down to the lobby.
The trip to the lobby took only a few minutes, and Brown soon found hirself face to face with hir blind date. Shi had to give it to hir sister; shi sure knew how to pick them. Ariston was a rather attractive hooded skunktaur, dressed in a smart dark green vest, and, like Makrana, had a small earring too.
"You must be Browneyes?" the skunktaur said. "Allow me to formally introduce myself. I’m Ariston of House Redpaw, child of Runstoofast and Dripdrops."
"Pleased to meet you, Ariston," Browneyes replied, offering a formal hug. "I’m Chakat Browneyes, daughter of Dancer by the Sea and Sky."
The skunktaur accepted the hug, before gesturing towards the doors. "Our chariot awaits."
The PTV drive to the restaurant was fairly low key, filled with small talk; the date that Makrana had planned out was rather simple in design, being just a simple dinner at a fancy restaurant, but clearly shi was hoping to have the two of them hit it off and spend a great deal of time getting to know one another. Arriving at the restaurant, they were quickly seated, and, both being quite hungry, attacked their appetizers before striking up a more ‘serious’ conversation.
"So, Ariston," began Browneyes, "what exactly do you do?"
"Well, I work for Star Fleet as an interpreter, telepath and so forth," the skunktaur replied, "but surely your sister Lieutenant Greybuns... err, pardon me, Makrana, would have told you this?"
Browneyes snorted into hir drink. "Greybuns? Where did that come from?"
Ariston chuckled. "I’m sorry. It’s just a nickname your sister acquired while aboard the FSS Tigerstone."
The skunktaur looked somewhat embarrassed. "You see, we were returning from a day of discussions with the Dalians, and we were showering..."
The calico chakat gave hir companion a surprised look. "Together?"
"Communally, yes. The ship’s quite small – you should have your sister show you a map of it – and the engineers designing it had to choose between giving everyone their own bedrooms, or their own showers, and they choose the former. In any case, Makrana somehow managed to slip on a bar of soap, and ended up in a rather... compromising position. Someone noticed how grey hir... rump was, and well, long story short, that’s how shi got the name," Ariston finished. "What about you? I must admit, I’m rather ignorant on such matters."
Browneyes smiled, sensing the ice was broken. "Mak was probably trying to make sure we’d have something to talk about. As for me, I’m studying psychology at Dewclaw University, although we’re on break at the moment."
"Oh? It must be pretty interesting, and difficult."
"It can be, I’ll admit," Brown commented, pausing momentarily to accept hir meal from the waitress. "I also have the ‘blessing’ of the full time job of raising a kid."
Ariston dug into hys meal, before talking. "I didn’t know you had a child."
Browneyes gave hir date a slightly sad smile; shi hoped shi hadn’t blown it with this skunktaur; shi certainly didn’t feel quite the same way as shi had with Darktoes, but shi still liked hym, and not all love, as hir sister (and mom, and dad, and their mates) had reminded hir, was something that always happened at first sight, but something that had to be worked for. "I imagine Mak didn’t want to scare you away."
"Nonsense, Browneyes. I love children. Whatever gave you such a thought?" said Ariston gently. "How old is Honeymane?"
"Shi’s just over two – hey, wait a minute! How do you know hir name?" exclaimed Browneyes, with a touch of anger in hir voice. Shi already suspected the answer, and it certainly didn’t sit well with hir.
Ariston looked somewhat like a cub who had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. "I, um... I apologize, Browneyes. I’ve been kind of reading your surface thoughts."
Browneyes frowned and looked down at hir plate. "Well, cut it out. You know how much of an invasion of privacy that is?"
"A fairly big one," said Ariston despondently. "Sorry."
The rest of the meal passed in relative silence, Browneyes being extremely put off by the mental invasion of hir dining companion, and Ariston having enough brains to know when not to talk, but by the time dessert had arrived, they were back to speaking.
"So," Browneyes began, "have you been assigned to the Gateway as well?"
Ariston looked relieved and shook hys head. "Only for a week or so, then I’m going to be assigned to a short-ranged diplomatic ship used to maintain relations between Chakona and other Federation worlds. The higher ups don’t have many interpreters of my caliber."
"What exactly is your caliber?" asked Browneyes, finishing off hir strawberry shortcake.
The skunktaur smiled. "Well, I’m only a T5 in terms of the strength of my talent, but, and forgive me for not explaining beforehand, the job of an interpreter outside of first contact situations is to just assimilate the language, and help program the Universal translator, and I’m just particularly skilled at it."
"I thought telepathy could only translate languages with the help of a strong empath?"
"Quite so," said Ariston, "but we still can read the... noise, if you will. To a computer, however, all languages are noise, and... well, let me give you an example: in Japanese, sentences are constructed in the form Subject-Object-Verb, whereas English Terranglo is Subject-Verb-Object. An Empath and I working together can give the basic meanings of words or a sentence, but that’s no good for a computer that has to understand how every part fits together with every other part."
"I... see." In reality, languages had never been Brown’s strong suit, and shi hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. "Thank you for the meal, should we split the bill?" shi added to change the subject.
"No," Ariston said, signaling the waitress over to get the bill. "I’ll get it all... to make up for my earlier... transgression."
"Are you sure? I imagine the bill will be quite big; these strawberries couldn’t have been cheap."
Hir date smiled, before gesturing to hys earring. "Star Fleet has a very generous damages package. I’m not rich but I can certainly splurge a bit on such a beautiful chakat. Now, what do you say we go back to my place for a bit for a cup of coffee?"
Brown smiled back at hym, but internally shi was quite conflicted; while Ariston was extremely attractive, and did seem to be generally very nice, shi still was quite put off by hys invasion of hir privacy. Empathically shi knew he hadn’t meant any harm, but shi also knew shi really wasn’t being invited up for just coffee. Shi decided to stall for a moment. "Where is your place exactly?"
Ariston finished pressing hys finger to the data pad the waitress had brought to pay the bill before replying. "Well, technically I have a home in the Skunktaur Archipelago, but I haven’t been there in several months, and, knowing my roommates, it’s probably quite messy. No, right now I’m living aboard the Tigerstone. ItIt’s docked at the Gateway until the internal investigation is over."
"Are you allowed to have guests?"
"Oh my, yes," hy replied with a nod. "You must understand, Brown, that most Star Fleet members don’t bother to maintain planet-side dwellings because a number of them could spend years in space. Other than a few people such as your sister, the ship is still mostly occupied."
Brown sighed. Shi hoped shi wouldn’t regret this later. "Oh, all right. This had better be some good coffee, though."
Ariston grinned and gave hir a wink and offered hir hys arm. "The very best, my dear lady."
"How do we get up there?" Brown asked, as they exited the restaurant. Despite having lived on Chakona hir whole life, shi had never actually been to the Gateway as shi had had very little reason to do so. "Do we take a shuttle from the spaceport?"
Ariston shook hys head. "We could if you want to, but I was just going to have us beamed up... if that’s okay?"
"Well...." Brown hesitated, having never used a transporter before, and shi relayed hir fears to hir date.
"Nothing to it. Just stand beside me and I’ll call us in."
Browneyes nodded and released the skunktaur’s arm. As shi watched, hy withdrew a combadge from one of the pockets on his vest, and tapped on it. "Commander Ariston to FSS Tigerstone: two to beam up."
"Ah, I guess the date is going well, eh, Commander? Standby."
"We’ll see, won’t we, Ensign?"
Brown watched as hy clipped the badge to hys vest, then closed hir eyes and waited for the transporters to activate.
Luckily, shi didn’t have to wait long.
Having never been through a transporter, the sensation, or lack thereof, was fairly unsettling; for one brief moment, shi felt completely disconnected empathically to the world around hir, but it likely lasted only a few seconds and then it was back to normal.
"You can open your eyes," whispered Ariston.
Brown did so, and found that shi was standing in a basic transporter room, like the sort shown in Star Fleet recruiting material. Across the room, hidden behind a console, was a bored looking male fox morph. Catching sight of the chakat staring at him, he smiled. "You must be Ariston’s latest catch, hmm?"
"Easy, Ensign," Ariston said, taking Brown by the arm once more and guiding hir to the transporter room’s door, "or else I’ll have to put you on report."
"Sure thing, sir," said the fox morph with a smile. "Have fun now!"
The transporter room gave onto a long, curving hallway, which on the right side was studded with numerous doors; the left, on the other hand, was mostly unmarked, except for one or two doors marked with ‘Sickbay’ or such.
"We’re on the personnel level," Ariston said as they strolled down the hallway. "Upstairs is where the conference halls and holodeck, and guest sickbay are located, and downstairs is where the engineering and bridge are located."
"I thought bridges are located on the tops of vessels."
The skunktaur shook hys head. "Nah, that’s just a fabrication by entertainers. My quarters are just down the hallway, about five doors."
It didn’t take them long to reach Ariston’s quarters, much to Brown’s relief; although Brown was normally a fairly social person, shi didn’t much fancy walking through such a strange ship. Once inside, Ariston gave hir a little tour, before fetching them both some coffee to drink while they sat in the ‘den’ area of the quarters. Drinking the coffee only took a few minutes, and before they knew it they were in one another’s arms, struggling to make it to the bedroom.
Browneyes sighed contentedly. It had been a long while, too long shi suspected, since shi had last had such raw, passionate sex, likely not since shi and Darktoes had last made love two years ago before shi was shipped off. Shi rested hir head on Ariston’s chest, just enjoying the afterglow.
"How was it?" Ariston nuzzled hir forehead. "Good? Excellent? The best you’ve ever had?"
Browneyes murred, and kissed hym on the nose. "It was... all right." Shi rubbed hir hand across hys chest; although shi hated to admit it, most of hir sexual partners through the years had been either hermaphrodites or females, so shi found the flatness of Ariston’s chest to be quite sexy, if only because it was ‘new’ to hir. Then shi frowned. "Is there a tap or something I could get a glass of water from?"
Ariston nodded. "There’s a tap in the bathroom, but if you go out into the den, on the left wall there’s a replicator."
"I don’t know how to use a replicator." Browneyes was starting to get quite embarrassed; given this modern day and age, shi really should know these things.
The hooded skunktaur smiled. "It’s very simple, just stand in front of it and ask for what you want, just make sure to tell it what temperature you want it to be, or it’ll come out lukewarm."
"That’s fine." Brown rose from the low-lying bed they were both on, and exited the room. Glancing around shi quickly located the replicator and did as Ariston had instructed. Within moments a plain glass full of water sparkled into life on the receiving tray. It was, as Ariston had predicted, lukewarm, but Brown didn’t mind, it would serve hir purposes fine. Shi took a sip and glanced out the windows that lined the den area. The Tigerstone was evidentially at drydockdry-dock, given the fact that rather than stars, there was a great mess of catwalks, pipes, other ships (some with rather large holes in them Brown noted uncomfortably) and peoples of all sorts crawling all over like ants.
Shi wondered if shi was giving anyone an unintentional eyeful.
Browneyes took another sip and reentered the bedroom, smiled at Ariston and used hir forepaw to search through their discarded articles of clothing until shi found hir belt. Shi bent over and picked out a small bottle filled with pills.
"Looking for something?" Ariston asked.
"Just some pills I need to take." Brown flipped open the bottle and selected a single pill. "Nothing to worry about." And with that shi popped the pill into hir mouth and took a big gulp of water to wash it down.
"You’re in heat?" Ariston asked incredulously. "I didn’t smell it on you, or any perfume, or..." Hy stopped as the pill bottle ricocheted off hys forehead, spilling pills everywhere.
"DAMN IT, ARISTON!" To say that Brown was pissed off would be something of an understatement; this had been the second time that hir mind had been violated in as many hours. "Why the fuck can’t you just mind your own business?"
"I…" Ariston began, unsure of what to do or say.
Literally shaking with emotion. Browneyes stomped out of the room and tried to compose hirself. Shi had always valued hir mental privacy very highly, for various reasons, and while shi had been willing to forgive Ariston once, shi wasn’t sure shi could do it again. Taking several calming breaths, shi located a clock and checked the time.
It was, as shi suspected, quite late, far too late to return home; shi certainly didn’t want to wake everyone by coming in at this hour, and shi didn’t doubt that questions would abound, none of which Brown really felt like answering at the moment. Shi took another couple of deep breaths, made up hir mind, and reentered the bedroom. Ariston, for some reason, was picking up the spilled pills and putting them back into their container, when hy caught sight of hir. "Oh, Brown... I thought maybe you’d left."
"And go where, Ariston? It’s not like I live down the hall or something." Shi frowned and lay down on the bed. "I’m going to spend the rest of the night here, but in the morning I’m leaving, and I really don’t think I want to see you again, Ariston." And with that, shi turn hir back to hym and rested hir head on hir pillow.
Ariston sighed and lay down as well, and tried to snuggle up to the chakat, only to be pushed away by a hiss and a leg. Not wanting to contest the arrangement, hy too turned, leaving the couple back to back, and neither very happy.
Brown woke early, much earlier then than shi normally would, and it took hir a moment to remember why.
Shi glanced at Ariston’s sleeping form, then gathered hir clothing and left his quarters, and tried for the life of hir to figure out in which direction the showers would be. Shi didn’t want to get lost on the ship. Despite Ariston’s claim that the ship was fairly small, ‘small’ by Starship standards, could be the size of a small town.
Shi was still trying to make up hir mind when a female foxtaur came jogging up the hallway dressed in a sweatsuitsweatshirt-style top, making Brown somewhat aware of the fact that shi wasn’t wearing anything at all. Under normal circumstances, Browneyes wouldn’t have been bothered by that fact, but shi was technically on a military ship, and shi realized that shi had no idea if there was any sort of dress code or not.
"Hello there!" said the vixentaur with a slight Russian accent, skidding to a stop. "I haven’t seen you around before. Are you new to the ship?"
Brown shook hir head. This newcomer seemed friendly enough. "Not really, no, but, um, could you show me where the showers are?"
"Certainly," the black vixentaur said, gesturing in the direction shi had been running. "I’m headed there myself. Nothing like a good morning run to get the blood pumping, eh? What’s your name, Shir?"
As they began to walk together, Brown suddenly realized the vixentaur didn’t smell like a vixentaur at all, but more like a herm. "I’m Chakat Browneyes. I don’t mean to pry, but are you a stellar foxtaur?"
The foxtaur laughed. "Well spotted, Browneyes. Not many people figure that one out. For some reason most of them seem to think I’m just an odd herm foxtaur. No, I’m just a humble Starwalker going by the name Fallingstar, but most people just call me Star. Now tell me, Browneyes, how did you come to be on this ship?"
"Why, are you going to have me thrown off the ship?" asked Brown nervously. By this time they had reached the showers; as Brown had been hoping, the communal showers had a changing room, in which shi deposited hir clothing, while Fallingstar removed hir top and prepared for hir shower.
The Starwalker laughed. "Hardly, my dear. I’m just the ship’s counselor, not its head of security. I just try to keep up a personal relationship with the various crewmembers, that’s all. It helps with the counseling process, you see."
Browneyes followed the Starwalker into the shower room, and proceeded to clean hirself, before launching into the whole story about to how shi came to be in that room. When shi was done, Fallingstar sighed. "That certainly sounds like Ariston."
"What do you mean?" Brown asked while holding out the fur shampoo. "And could you do my back, please?"
"Sure, hon." Star squirted some shampoo onto hir palm and proceeded to thoroughly lather up the calico chakat’s back. "Ariston’s a bit of a complicated case; hy has a very arrogant attitude towards others, and has a great deal of pride in what hy does, to the point where hys social graces are a bit lacking, but hy also has a great deal of charm as well, at least until he starts slipping up. You’re not the first person to be misled by hys mannerisms. Can you do my back now?"
Fallingstar let the chakat start to work over hir back with the shampoo, before shi continued. "Don’t get me wrong; Ariston is a very sweet person on the inside. It’s just that it can be difficult to get past hys flaws."
Browneyes frowned. "Do you think I should give hym another chance, then?"
The stellar shook hir head. "Not unless you want to. Hy’s not going to change overnight, you know, however sorry hy really is. Now, my dear Browneyes, let’s get rinsed off and you back planet-side, hmm? I bet you’re eager to see your cub again."
Brown stopped. "How do you know I have a cub? You’re not telepathic too, are you?"
Star laughed and hugged, the chakat. "No, I have something better – the pleasure of talking to a very excited older sister. Mak sure did talk my ears off about wanting to meet the young ones."
Brown grinned. "Let’s hope last night hasn’t ruined that feeling."
It was barely dawn, but Honeymane could feel hir mother approaching. Carefully shi picked hir way out from the mess of limbs that comprised the other sleeping chakats of hir family, and sneaked out into the hallway. Sure enough, the door opened within moments.
"Mommy!" Shi threw hirself into the biggest hug shi could muster.
"Hello, sweetheart. You’re up early," Brown said, stroking hir daughter’s hair. "I hope you didn’t give your aunt Makrana too much trouble."
"No mommy," the cub said. "Did you like Auntie’s friend?"
"Not really, sweetie, but it’s okay; I think I made another friend anyway."
"That’s good mommy," Honeymane said, snuggling into hir mother’s neckfurneck fur.
"Yes it is," hir mother confirmed. "Now, how about you and I go make everyone else a super special breakfast?"
"Yay!" Honeymane grinned in delight. "Let’s make pancakes! NO! Waffles!"
Browneyes grinned back at hir daughter. "Why not both?"
This, naturally, excited hir child to no end. And made hir mother very happy.
To be continued in The Next Day.
Chakats, Stellar Foxtaurs and other concepts © 2009 Bernard Doove
Skunktaurs (Chakat-kin) are © Robert Reijns
Browneyes, Darktoes and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com
And a special note of thanks for Sandwalker for his help putting these stories together.
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