Life on a colony world was extremely difficult and fraught with danger, and occasions worthy of celebration were few and far between. This occasion was different. It had been five years since their arrival on the planet, and over the past few weeks the excitement had had been building within Darktoes’ nomadic group. They were at their original camp site, which they had marked with a pile of stones; when they had first been dropped off in the area five years ago, they had discovered the topsoil was quite thin, and the ground extremely rocky.
Driving the poles for their tents into the ground was quite the chore. They had to dig the rocks out of the ground first, before driving the anchoring structures in. Before they left the site, someone had the bright idea to pile the rocks together as a ‘monument to the monumental time we wasted pitching our damn tents’.
Technically speaking, the official date of their arrival wouldn’t be for another day or so, but most of the Stellars had already gotten into the festive mood. Many of them had taken the time to get ready, including Darktoes.
"What do you think?" Quinoa said, emerging from behind the quilt they had hung for privacy. Quinoa’s get up was quite flamboyant, with a bright blue open-cup bustier and several silver pieces of jewelry, including three arm bands and a silver chain connecting each of hir nipples. To top it all off, shi wore a number of flowers native to the grasslands in which they lived.
"I think…" Darktoes walked closer to hir denmate and gave hir a lick-kiss on the cheek. "…you look very sexy. How are you keeping that chain on?"
The near yellow veldt pushed out hir chest. "Why not take a closer look and find out?"
Looking closer, and brushing away some of the stray fur, Dark could see the chain was attached to wire wrapped firmly, but carefully, around the nipple. Giggling, Darktoes complimented hir friend and mate on hir ‘craftsmanship’.
"Thanks hun," Quinoa smiled, "how about you show me yours now?"
Darktoes frowned, but agreed anyway, and walked behind the quilt to their tent’s private area. Like most Stellar Foxtaurs, Veldts went nude most of the time, unless weather or work required them to wear protective clothing, and most of them weren’t exactly body shy. However, it wasn’t abnormal for them to divide their tent so that they could have some privacy when sleeping or indulging in other intimate activities they wouldn’t want the others walking in on.
Once inside, shi pulled over hir basket and pulled out hir costume. Like most of hir fellow Veldts, shi enjoyed a bit of flamboyance in hir life, but at the same time shi absolutely abhorred clothing of any sort. Shi didn’t mind it on hir friends or lovers, but shi found clothing to be extremely constricting, and had a great deal of difficulty locating something to wear. Eventually shi had happened upon a silk-like fabric shi had enjoyed in one of the deserters' camps during a package delivery, and had commissioned the merchant to make something for hir. After a few weeks of waiting, it had finally arrived. Although shi had tried in on when shi first got it, months ago, shi hadn’t had a reason to try it on again…until now.
Dressing quickly, shi readied hirself, then stepped out from behind the screen.
"Oh my!" Quinoa exclaimed, walking over to hir mate and stroking the fabric, "is this that fabric you were gushing about a while back? You look stunning!"
Darktoes smiled, both to hirself, and at the compliment shi had been paid. The outfit shi wore was fairly simple in nature, but still very pretty. The basic design was something like a poncho, but rather than being made up of a single piece of fabric, it was constructed of several scarf-like strips of the silk-like fabric, each edged with golden bangles. The fabric itself was a deep green, which went nicely with the bangles, and was one of Dark’s personal favor colors. Under the fabric shi wore nothing, and because of the properties of the silk-like material, it felt as if shi was barely wearing anything at all.
"Damn girl!" Quinoa looked hir up and down again. "All you need is something for your head and we’re good to go!"
Dark groaned. "What did you have in mind?" Shi had never really been a fan of hats either.
"Just a second." The yellow veldt passed hir mate and entered another screened area of the tent, their storage ‘closet’. Shi emerged with a package wrapped in some brightly colored ribbon, and handed it to Darktoes. "Here love. I was saving this for a while, for just this occasion."
Carefully Dark undid the ribbon binding the box closed. Decorative items such as ribbons were in short supply, and it was extremely important to save every scrap they could. Opening it, shi discovered a most unusual headband. "I’m not sure what to say."
Quinoa kissed hir mate. "Say nothing and try it on, hun."
The headband was composed of woven purple iridescent feathers from one of the large predatory birds that hunted in the forests of Arisia. Darktoes had only ever seen one of the birds once, and shi had thought at the time they had wonderfully beautiful feathers. Carefully, shi picked it out of the box and placed it on hir head. "Where did you get this?"
"Well, I had a bit of help from Treetop," Quinoa explained. "A while back one of those birds showed up in the Forester’s camp, and they had to kill it. Shi knew how much you liked the feathers, so shi gathered a handful up and sent it to me. I wove it, though."
Darktoes grabbed hir into a fierce and passionate embrace, thanking hir multiple times for the gift.
"Oh damn it!" came a voice from the entrance of the tent. "Some jerk must of squealed! I assume that’s why you’re both all dressed up."
Both Veldts turned their heads to look at the newcomer: a marine foxtaur. "Swimmer!" both of them exclaimed. They gave their friend a big hug and a few kisses each.
"What are you doing here, Swimmer?" Darktoes asked, as hir friend returned the affection.
"Probably the same reason you’re dressed up so much," shi replied. "For the festival of course!"
"Well, we’re more than happy to have you, hun," Quinoa said, "But where are the kits? I was hoping to see them. Vid feeds simply do not do justice you know."
Swimmer shook hir head, "I’m sorry, hun; I didn’t bring them with me. They’re spending the next few days with Escarcha and their sister."
"Oh…" Quinoa said sadly. Ever since Swimmer and Darktoes had ran into one another, they had been trying to stay in touch as much as possible. Contact for the Veldt was often sporadic due to their nomadic nature. During that time, however, Dark had introduced Swimmer to Quinoa and the two had became firm friends as well—even though Quinoa hadn’t really had any chances to meet hir in person until now.
"Any reason why?" Darktoes asked hir friend.
"Nothing really." Swimmer shook hir head again. "Shi still won’t formalize our mating…"
Darktoes gave Swimmer another hug. "You know that’s just the way Polari are."
"I know. It still hurts though," Swimmer replied, returning the hug.
"So…what?" Quinoa asked. "Are you punishing hir by dumping the kits on hir?"
Swimmer giggled. "No, not quite. I’m hoping seeing the three of them playing together will…you know, melt hir heart or something. Besides, I think Lapis and Arcticwater should get to know their sister. They may not see one another for a while."
"How do you mean?" Quinoa asked, as Darktoes excused hirself to go change out of hir fancy clothing. Shi had paid a pretty penny for the garment, and shi wasn’t going to let it get messed up before the celebration. However, shi could still hear every word.
"Well, the Ops Director was bitching that we’re slightly behind in our itinerary for the colonization, and shi’s a bit worried we’re not finding all the resources we should have by now," Swimmer told Quinoa. "Shi wanted someone to head up an investigation into whether or not there are any resources to be had in the oceans."
Finished undressing, Darktoes stepped back into the main area. "And let me guess, you volunteered?"
Swimmer grinned. "I did, yes. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. You see, shi’s giving me my own ship and everything."
Quinoa jumped up and down excitedly, and gave hir friend a hug. "Congrats! I know you’ve wanted a ship of your own for a while."
"What sort of ship is it?" Dark asked. Mariners made excellent sailors due to their affinity with the marine environment, but the colony didn’t really have the infrastructure to build anything other than wooden ships, and nothing that would be really meant surveying anything other than the coastline areas.
"It’s a SAS-102 Barracuda, being built on Chakona and flown in." Shi said.
"Oh? That means you’ll be out of communications for your dives." During hir youth, Darktoes had been a naval buff, and had seriously thought about joining one of the local navies on Earth.
"I thought so too," Swimmer explained. "But it’s been modified to be a mostly surface ship, with a bunch of robotic ROV. We’ll only dive if we really have to go down there. Apparently the psychologists who helped develop our species advised against long term dives. Mariners do like our open spaces and the ability to swim outside whenever we want to, you know, and that simply wouldn’t be possible on a submerged ship—not at those depths."
"I see," Darktoes said. "I’m glad."
After a brief pause, Quinoa spoke up. "Well, I guess we'd best get you settled in there, Swimmer. You mind sleeping with us? It may get a bit cramped."
Swimmer gave Quinoa a cheeky grin. "Then I guess we’ll just need to snuggle close, won’t we? Come on, let’s get my stuff packed away and we’ll go see what they’re doing in the center of the camp. I saw some activity there when I passed on my way in."
As Swimmer had predicted, by the time they had reached the encampment’s ‘town square’, there was quite a crowd of people gathering, and Darktoes could see why. At the center of the square was their stone pile, and beside it, standing on an upturned crate, was a veldt with longer than normal fur; their ‘leader’ Windswept. As per Star Fleet and Corp regulations, each village or group of Stellar Foxtaurs was required to have some sort of representative to help organize their colonization efforts. However, Stellar Foxtaurs were many times more informal than even Star Corps, so it was generally agreed when they first landed that they’d elect their representatives, rather than have them be appointed. The position was an informal one though, and Windswept did double duty as their midwife and general physician.
Glancing around, Windswept was clearly waiting until everyone in the camp was gathered, without calling them officially and disrupting their day, and waking some of the younger generation in the camp.
"I can’t see!" Swimmer moaned. Of all the Stellar Foxtaur breeds, Veldts were by far the tallest, averaging around a full head taller than Mariners, more so when compared to some of the other breeds. Unfortunately, as they were standing at the back of the crowd, Swimmer had a forest of Veldt heads to try and see through.
"Well," Windswept said loudly, drowning out the sounds of the chit-chat between the waiting Veldts and drawing their attention. "It looks like we’re all here, so I suppose I should enlighten all of you.
"As you all know, tomorrow it’ll have been Five Standard years since we first landed on Arisia to begin our colonization efforts, and we’ve decided to throw a celebration of that fact—"
"Woo!" one of the Veldts shouted from within the crowd, interrupting hir. "Part-ay!"
"Indeed." Windswept grinned. "Now, as some of you may have noticed, we have a guest in our camp for the celebrations—a Mariner named Swimmer, a friend of Darktoes." The whole crowd turned to look back at the three of them, before returning to the speaker. "And shi arrived by air shuttle a few hours ago, and it also happened to be carrying these." Windswept hopped down off of hir crate and lifted it, pulling out a forearm-long black cylinder, beveled at one end. Once shi had it free, shi jumped back up and held it high, "Holoworks! I ordered them myself last month for this event. I’m glad they finally arrived."
Holoworks were the modern-day equivalent of fireworks—but rather than exploding as a firework would, a Holowork projected the images as it returned to the surface, and could be reused multiple times. They were many times safer and more reliable than fireworks, but also many times more expensive.
Windswept paused for a moment as a wave of applause rippled through the crowd. "Which brings me to my next item. As you know there have been many rumors running somewhat unchecked over the past few weeks about what the Federation is doing in regards to this milestone. To clarify, the only thing major the Federation has planned for tomorrow is the deployment of our Gateway core."
Darktoes nodded. Of all the stellar breeds, the Starwalker had to live in one of the toughest environments- space. Their assignment for the colonization was to develop and exploit the resources in the solar system, as well as build the Arisia Gateway station. The building of the Chakona Gateway only took six years, but the Starwalkers were planning on something a bit more elaborate and complex than what originally had gone into Chakona gateway, so it was projected to take quite a bit longer—especially given that they didn’t have several starships at their beck and call. Dark suspected they’d be quite pleased to have the core and get to work though. Shi remembered seeing a picture of the "home" they had been living in for the last few years—it was basically a large inflated icosahedron, with only basic support structures.
"Now, as a treat for everyone," the long-furred Veldt continued, "the ship that delivered it is staying in orbit a while longer, and they’re offering something special for everyone here: a 30-minute real-time video call to anywhere in the Federation they can reach, for everyone."
A wave of cheers and gasps went up throughout the crowd. Real time communications required a great deal of energy, far, far more than they’d have on hand for good while—at least until the Gateways became fully operational some sixteen or so years from now. This really was a treat indeed. Darktoes was quite shocked.
"I’ll be coming around later today to hand out your times. That’s basically it folks, I hope to see you all tomorrow!"
Quinoa had never seen hir mate so agitated. Ever since they had returned from the meeting in the ‘squire’, shi had been pacing back and forth in the tent.
"What am I going to say?" Dark asked rhetorically, "I haven’t seen hir in five years!"
Swimmer and Quinoa glanced at one another. They were both sitting on pillows on either side of the tent, and neither tried to answer the question. Shi had been asking some variation of the same question for nearly four hours, and after a while both had came to the conclusion that nothing they said was going to calm hir down, save for hir getting it all out of hir system, but clearly that wasn’t helping either. Finally Quinoa got up and grabbed hir mate by hir shoulders. "Enough! Look at you hun, you’re shaking like a leaf! You need to calm down."
"I-I can’t!’ Darktoes shook, "I’m just so nervous!"
"Just sit down and take some deep breathes." Quinoa ordered hir; for a moment shi thought it had worked.
"I…" Darktoes suddenly clutched hir stomach, "I think I’m going to be sick." And with that shi dashed out of tent and ran behind it to empty the contents of hir stomachs.
"Knock knock!" said a cheerful voice, "mind if I come in?"
Recognizing the voice of that of Windswept, Quinoa quickly invited hir into the tent.
"Here’s your times," Windswept said, handing out pieces of Arisia-made parchment. "You’ll find a new icon on the network later, so just… Where’s Darktoes?" shi asked looking around for the wayward taur.
Swimmer sighed and pointed towards the rear of the tent- the sun was getting fairly low in the sky by now, and the outline of the heaving taur could clearly be seen.
"Oh?" Windswept said, "shi’s ill? That’s not good, if it’s an infectious bug we could get it all."
Quinoa shook hir head. "More like nerves."
Windswept sighed. "I should have known I suppose. Here, give hir one of these." Windswept reached into hir belt pouch and pulled out a pill container, popped the cap and selected two of the violet colored pills. "I’ve had to give out a bunch of these already."
"What are they?" Swimmer asked, standing up to get a better look.
"Tranquilizers specialized for veldts," Windswept told the Mariner, handing the pills to Quinoa. "I’d go give them to hir now."
Nodding, Quinoa grabbed a cloth and dabbed some water on it from a canteen, than exited the tent and followed the same route hir mate had taken. Darktoes looked worn out, but still extremely agitated.
"Poor thing," Quinoa muttered, rubbing hir mate on hir back, and using the wet cloth to wipe away the traces of vomit from hir thin lips. "feeling any better?"
"Not really no." Darktoes sat down on hir hunches. "I see Windswept is here."
Quinoa nodded, then nuzzled hir mate’s cheek. "Yeah, shi told me to give you these, they’ll calm you down."
Darktoes took one glance at the pills and downed them. "Thanks."
After a few minutes rest, the two returned to the tent to find Windswept still waiting for them. Shi handed Darktoes a slip with hir time on it. "Here Darktoes, you’re one of the luckily ones. Your time will be a half hour before we start setting off the holoworks, so you won’t miss anything."
Darktoes smiled. "I guess so…"
"Are you ready, hun?" Quinoa said, sitting down beside hir friend. "Just twenty minutes to go."
Darktoes looked down at hir hands—they were beginning to shake a bit. It was the next day, and nearly time for Darktoes to make hir half-hour call. The tranquilizers shi had taken had, for the most part, done the trick well, but they were quickly beginning to wear off. Quinoa hirself had just returned from hir personal call, and Darktoes tried to use that to hir advantage. "I guess so… how was your call?"
The yellowish veldt smiled. "They were surprised, of course—this was a last minute thing and the officials had no chance of getting the word out. By the looks of things, my parents were right in the middle of getting it on when I called. Good thing too, else they would have been out working."
Darktoes nodded slowly. One of the original mandates of the Stellar Foxtaur project had been that the new species was to be raised by caring, loving parents, of whom one was to be a chakat and the other a foxtaur, so that the child could be taught values from both sides—an appreciation for nature from hir foxtaur parent and hermaphroditic social values from hir chakat parent.
However, it quickly became apparent that this ideal couple was somewhat rare. It wasn’t that Chakat/Foxtaur mates were rare—at most, they were uncommon—but rather the problem was that many of the other members of both species raised objections to the project at a personal level. On the chakat side, they had difficulty accepting that they might never see their child again, and were especially sensitive to the issue of species exploitation. No matter how many papers were written to the contrary, it was difficult to convince them otherwise. On the other hand, the foxtaurs found the artificial insemination approach to be extremely unsettling. Eventually a compromise was reached: rather than limit it to only these ‘ideal’ couples, the program was opened to candidates who more loosely fitted the profile. In Darktoes case, hir parents were both chakats, but had an affinity for nature as farmers; in Quinoa’s case, hir parents were two foxtaurs who had served in Star Corps for several years and had multiple chakat friends and lovers, hence providing hir with the ‘herm values’ the INGG wanted to foster.
"You’ll have to tell me more about this later," Darktoes told hir mate, while rising from hir seat inside their tent, "I don’t want to be late."
Darktoes exited the tent and headed towards the tented enclosure where a terminal had been set up for the occasion—originally they were just going to use their PADDs, but because of their poor transmission quality, the Federation starship had been kind enough to fabricate hundreds of the terminals and distribute them throughout their camps and villages. Whoever the Capitan was, Darktoes thanked them graciously.
Unsurprisingly, the tent wasn’t crowded—their itinerary and common sense prevented them from needlessly wasting their time waiting their turn. Nervously, shi glanced at the watch shi had worn just for this occasion, and realized the other veldt would be done any moment and it’d be showtime for hir. And sure enough, just a few moments later the previous occupant of the enclosure exited and waved hir in.
The terminal was simple enough to use, and within seconds shi had the ‘ring tone’ dinging away as it tried to connect.
Three rings. Darktoes was getting quite nervous by now. What if shi wasn’t home? What is none of them were home?
Then, suddenly, the image of Browneyes’ mother appeared on screen. "Hello, Chakat Dancer by the…" Clearly the dappled chakat recognized Darktoes as hir voice trailed off.
"Hello Dancer, is Browneyes in? I want to speak with hir," Darktoes said as calming as shi could.
"Um, sure," Dancer said, seemingly still a little bit stunned. "I’ll go…go get hir."
"Not to be rude Dancer, but I’m on an extremely short time limit," Dark said quickly. Shi didn’t want to be rude, but shi really didn’t have the time to dally. "And I really want to see Brown as much as possible before I go."
Dancer nodded, suddenly snapping out of hir daze. "Yes, of course, I’ll be right back!" She dashed off the screen to Darktoes’ left.
Nervously, Darktoes noted the ticker in the corner, counting down the time until hir call expired.
"Hold still, Honeymane!" Browneyes told hir child.
It was morning, and Browneyes was attempting to remove some of the breakfast that had inexplicably gotten on the outside of hir daughter’s mouth and not in it, before sending hir daughter to school for the day. The daughter in question wasn’t making it very easy.
Giggling, the blonde-haired cub jumped over hir mother and ran around the den, just out of the older chakat's grasp. "This isn’t a damn game! You can’t go to school looking like that!" Browneyes reprimanded hir. At hir age, hir daughter was much more maneuverable than hir mother, and shi knew it!
Suddenly there was an extremely loud thump on the door, followed by a loud swear.
Pausing, Browneyes took one glance at the mischievous cub and decided hir time was better used seeing what was going on. Cautiously, shi opened the door to reveal hir mother sitting on hir hunches, rubbing hir head and muttering curses aimed at the door. Seeing Browneyes, however, hir whole demeanor changed, and shi sprang upright. "Browneyes! You need to go answer the comm at my place right now!"
"What? Why?" the calico chakat said, startled. "Tell them to call back, I’m kind of busy."
Dancer grabbed hir daughter by hir shoulders and shook hir slightly. "There’s no time! I’ll take care of Honeymane, you need to go!"
"GO!" Dancer had a frenzied gleam in hir eyes. Clearly, whatever this call was, it was indeed important. Without further prompting, shi dashed off to hir mother’s condo down the hall.
Luckily, that condo’s door was slightly askew, and not locked as hir door had been. Upon reaching the wall-mounted video comm, shi discovered that the privacy screen-saver had been activated. Taking a deep breath, as shi had no idea who would be on the other side, shi stood in front of the device and released the screen-saver, revealing the face of hir lover, Darktoes.
"Hello Browneyes," shi said softly, "I see your mom managed to get you."
"Darktoes!" it was a good thing shi wasn’t holding anything, or else shi would have likely have dropped it. Even so, shi definitely sat down very hard. "I…I didn’t know you had RTC yet."
The veldt shook hir head. "We don’t. We’re celebrating our five years on Arisia, this—" shi waved hir hand around indicating the comm shi was using, "is just a treat from a very, very kind Starfleet captain."
"Oh," Browneyes said. Realistically, shi knew hir mate’s colony world wouldn’t have the technology needed to communicate over interstellar distances for quite some time—but even for the briefest moments, shi had hope… only to have it dashed just a quickly. "I love you."
Darktoes’ eyes were clearly moistening. "Me too, me too." Then shi tried to smile, "Tell me about what’s going on, but I should warn you I’m on a tight time limit."
Brown felt hir hearts sink. It was easy to tell Darktoes the half-truths necessary to keep Honeymane’s existence secret in a letter, but shi wasn’t sure shi could do it face to face. It wasn’t something shi liked doing of course… but it seemed necessary. "Um… Well, I’m nearly ready to do up my final exams and get my degree in psychology."
"That’s wonderful," Darktoes said. "Are you planning on opening a practice?"
Browneyes shook hir head, "I’m not really sure…I had thought about maybe…teaching. But what about you? How’s your colonization efforts going?"
Darktoes shrugged, "We’re getting to it, you know." Then shi paused, and glanced down at hir hands. And fell into silence.
"Are you at some sort of party or something?" Browneyes asked, breaking the awkward moment between them; hir lover was dressed in a rather eye catching outfit.
"What?" Shi seemed startled by the question. "Oh… Oh yeah, like I said we’re having a party for the five year anniversary."
"You look good."
"Um," Dark said, sounding uneasy. "Don’t take this the wrong way, but…"
"Would you mind if me and Quinoa tried for kits?" shi blurted out, then closed hir eyes in obvious horror at what shi had just asked.
"No, of course not… not really sure why you’re asking me though." Browneyes paused, and thought furiously. Maybe shi should try and come clean about the child shi already had. Maybe it would be easier if shi knew.
Darktoes looked down and sighed. "I don’t know, I miss you Brown, I think about you every day. Quinoa's been bringing up the topic for a while now, and I’m just not sure how to respond. If we were still together… I’m sure we’d have conceived by now—" Browneye’s hearts skipped a beat, and shi mustered all hir courage. "—I guess I’m just feeling guilty because we’re not and…" Darktoes trailed off.
Brown gulped, Time to dance, shi thought. "Listen, Darktoes, I… need to tell you something, something important."
"Yes?" the veldt raised hir head to look Brown in the eyes.
"I… I was—" Brown began. Shi was trembling now.
"Oh damn it!" Darktoes exclaimed, cutting hir off, "We’ve run out of time! We only have a few seconds left."
"I’m sorry! We only had half an hour!" Darktoes said quickly, "I love you very much Browneyes."
"I know," shi said, placing hir hand on the screen as shi felt the beginnings of tears in hir eyes. "Be safe, please! I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you."
Darktoes was opening crying now. They had only talked to one another for a few minutes, but it felt like their last day together all over again. "I will! I promis—"
Suddenly the screen blanked out and hir lover’s face was replaced with a ‘lost signal’ message. It was too much, emotionally, for Browneyes. Shi collapsed onto the floor, howling in grief. Shi felt like shi had just lost Darktoes again.
On the other end of the line, Darktoes wasn’t in any better shape, but shi was able to hold hirself together long enough to get back to hir tent before shi broke down and had a good cry.
Thankfully hir mate and hir friend were both still in the tent at the time, and shi was quickly surrounded by comforting arms and gentle words. Eventually shi calmed down enough to talk, and explained the details of the call.
"I guess I didn’t think it would be this hard," Dark sighed finally, drying the last of hir tears. "And what’s even worse is that I think we’re drifting apart. We didn’t really talk about anything important."
Quinoa shook hir head, "What were you expecting? It’s hard to talk to someone you haven’t seen in such a long time, especially in such a short period of time."
"Maybe," Darktoes half-heartily agreed, then sighed gloomly.
Swimmer lick-kissed hir friend. "The Holoworks should be starting in a few minutes, maybe they’ll cheer you up?"
Dark shrugged, and made no comment. Shi did allow hirself to be led out of the tent and to the crowd of onlookers outside the encampment. In all honesty, shi really didn’t feel like celebrating anything at all, but shi knew hir two friends had been looking forward to it, and tried to look at least somewhat happy.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for the Holoworks to start shooting off into the night sky, illumating the ground and lighting the sky up with various shades of colors and interesting designs. Because Holoworks weren’t based on explosions and burning fragments of metal, they were many times safer. However, most programmers of the designs tried to keep with the ‘expanding image’ form that would have been created had the rocket exploded, though they sometimes created more complex patterns than would have been possible with fireworks.
Still, it didn’t really interest hir much.
"Come on Mopingpaw," said a voice, "cheer up!"
Darktoes glanced at the figure. It was difficult to make out who it was in the technicolor flashing lights of the holoworks.
"Don’t look so surprised to see me!" giggled whoever it was. Shi looked familiar, and was carrying two cups.
The other veldt shook hir head in disbelief. "It’s me, Crimsoncoat!"
"Oh!" Darktoes said. "I haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?"
"’round, you know, here and there." Crimsoncoat shrugged, then thrust one of the cups into Dark’s hands. "You look like you could use a pick me up, Dark! Try this, you may enjoy it."
Cautiously, Darktoes sniffed the contents of the cup. It smelled sweet and harmless enough, but Dark wasn’t so sure. Of all the friends shi had known, Crimson was something of a wild child, and had boasted quite readily about the various psychoactive substances shi had tried over the years, legal and illegal. And shi had just as readily bemoaned that shi didn’t have access to such substances on Arisia. Darktoes couldn’t discount the idea that shi might have discovered something similar in the five years shi had been on-planet.
"Come on now!" Crimson said. "It won’t bite."
Darktoes glanced at Swimmer and Quinoa; the two of them were apparently so engrossed in the flashing lights that they hadn’t noticed the conversation. Sighing, shi shrugged and took a big swig of the drink. What did shi have to lose? The liquid tasted as sweet as it smelled, and had a pleasant warming sensation. Suddenly shi felt like smiling.
"Thata girl!" Crimson smiled back at hir friend, before clapping hir on the back. "I’ll see ya around, hon." Shi turned and disappeared into the crowd.
By this time the holoworks show concluded with a large burst of light that spelled out "Happy Fifth!" and some of the local musicians started to play their instruments; within a few moments, the crowd of veldts was positively writhing with dancing couples and triads. Grinning widely, Darktoes dropped the empty cup, and pulled hir friend and mate into the mass of bodies, and started dancing wildly.
Quinoa and Swimmer glanced at one another, neither of them could understand what had caused such an extreme change in attitude, and both of them were slightly alarmed. Nevertheless, however, they decided to try and enjoy the change and joined in with Darktoes, although not nearly as wild as shi was.
And Darktoes just kept grinning and dancing.
The first thing Darktoes noticed was just how suddenly bright it was out; judging by the way the light was coming through the tent, it was likely a late afternoon. Which was odd, because the last thing shi could coherently remember, it had been very dark.
The second thing shi noticed was the extremely painful throbbing coming from hir head. It felt like shi had gotten hit in the head with a club or something.
"Well, look who’s back among the living!" Swimmer said cheerfully, slipping into the sectioned-off sleeping area of the tent, and laying down beside hir friend. "Quinoa just went to harass Windswept for the hundredth time."
"Why?" Darktoes tried to rise of the bedspread, before groaning from the sudden increase in painful throbbing from hir head, and collapsing back down again into hir former position. "What happened?"
Swimmer grinned evilly. "You don’t remember at all, do you?"
Darktoes closed hir eyes and shook hir head. Clearly shi had done something rather stupid, or embarrassing, and shi was about to hear all about it.
"Well," Swimmer’s voice said gently, "first you just had a stupid grin on your face and were dancing rather wildly… then things got interesting."
"I’m afraid to ask," All hir memories after the start of the holoworks show were blurry or missing altogether.
Swimmer chuckled. "Well, first you started making sexual advances towards me and Quinoa, in public."
"Doesn’t sound too bad…"
"Let’s just say they were rather immodest in nature." Darktoes felt hir friend lie down, then felt hir warm whuffling breath as Swimmer brought hir muzzle to Darktoes' ear. "I did enjoy seeing your cock last night though."
Darktoes swore and moaned, "What else?"
Swimmer laughed. "You did a great number of silly things last night, Dark hon, I’m not sure I have the time to describe them all."
The veldt opened hir eyes again and tried to raise hir body from the pillows that made up the bed. Thankfully, this time shi was able to do so. "Well, is there anything I should be aware of in particular?"
Hir mariner friend snorted. "Well, uh… after we turned you down, you started asking other people until you found someone."
"Oh makers! Who was it?"
"It was that really crimson-colored veldt… Crimsoncoat I believe?" Swimmer asked rhetorically, "Shi seemed to be in the same boat as you were actually."
"At least it was a friend." Darktoes rubbed hir forehead. "So where is shi? Did shi already wake up and leave or something?"
"Err… I’m not sure you’re quite understanding what I’m saying hon." Swimmer wrapped hir arm around hir friend. "When Crimsoncoat said ‘yes’ you two sort of dropped anchor and fucked right there."
Darktoes’ jaw dropped in an expression that was a mix between shock and utter horror. "In the middle of the crowd? Please tell me you’re joking."
Swimmer shook hir head. "Not in the least. It was a nice show though. Well, until the end."
The truth be told, Darktoes wasn’t really sure if shi really wanted to know, but shi’d find out sooner or later anyway. "Why?"
"Well, when you were finished, you kind of pulled out of hir and… well I think you may have mistaken hir for a log, or a rock or something, the lighting was very poor at the time." Now even Swimmer looked embarrassed. "Err, there’s no easy way of saying this, but you tried to urinate on hir."
Darktoes swore loudly and buried hir face into hir hands in embarrassment. Chakats and foxtaurs were both very open people, especially when it came to things of sexual manner. Even though shi was mortified that shi and Crimson had engaged in such activities, it wasn’t really all that unusual, especially for Swimmer. Different Stellars had adapted customs and social understandings based on their living conditions, including those related to how private or public things like sexual intercourse should be. But one thing the vast majority of chakats, foxtaurs, and Stellar foxtaurs could all agree on was keeping certain bodily functions private.
"Darktoes?" Quinoa’s voice called out. "Are you awake?"
Shi was too mortified to say anything, but Swimmer answered the call for hir, and then quickly left the sleeping area to make way for the other two taurs. Quinoa quickly laid down beside hir mate and hugged hir tightly, telling hir how worried shi had been during Darktoes’ multiple-hour absence from the waking world. The second veldt, Windswept, quickly started running a tricorder scan of Darktoes, while somehow berating both Quinoa and Darktoes at the same time. Shi told Quinoa off for bugging hir so much when there was no real danger, and shi admonished Darktoes for taking unknown substances.
After a few minutes, Darktoes interrupted the long-haired veldt. "How’d you know?"
Windswept closed hir device and shook hir head. "Your friend Crimsoncoat awoke about an hour ago, and explained everything." Then shi paused and placed hir arm around the ill veldt as well. "You’re damn lucky, hon, your headache should clear up in fifteen or so minutes, and you haven’t any lasting damage; it could have been a lot worse."
"What do you mean by ‘no lasting damage’?" Quinoa asked, as shi nuzzled hir mate’s neck gently. Darktoes could hear the fear in hir mate’s voice.
The doctor sighed. "Well, as it stands, hir inner ear is a bit messed up, and hir sinuses are all clogged to hell, that’s what’s causing the headache; but other than that, hir stomachs and reproductive organs all took a hit."
"What?!" Darktoes exclaimed. It would be painfully ironic if shi couldn’t have any children, given that shi had wasted valuable time with Browneyes posing hir that very question.
"Like I said, no permanent damage," Windswept stressed, "But right now you’re going to have a little bit of difficulty digesting anything like grains, so you’ll need a supplement for the next week or so."
"As it stands, your testicles have pretty much shut down, and you’re not making any sperm at the moment," the doctor explained. "You don’t even have any stored like you normally would; no doubt due to that escapade last night. Your ovaries are in fine working order, though."
"Okay…" Darktoes didn’t really like the sound of this; even though shi was completely bisexual, shi did prefer hir male side, and wasn’t sure how it’d affect hir sex life.
"Now, if you’ll excuse me," Windswept said, standing up. "I have to go check on my other patient and do a great deal of paperwork. Goodbye."
After shi had left, Swimmer rejoined the couple for a group cuddle, and sure enough Darktoes’ headache slowly retreated. Soon all three of them were chatting merrily together; although it was mostly Darktoes trying to find out how the rest of the community was reacting to last night’s events.
"Do you think you’ll ever get bored of watching these stars?" Quinoa asked, prodding hir mate in the ribs gently.
After enjoying hir time with hir friend, Swimmer'd had to leave, and the life in the encampment had slowly returned to normal. As shi'd expected, Darktoes had faced some good natured jibs and jabs, but thankful hir personal exploit had been quickly lost in the deluge of stories from people’s homes. Not everyone’s parents had the cash to send regular letters, so the real-time call was something like one hundred letters all condensed into one, and, for the moment at least, it seemed to be holding their attention.
Although it wasn’t Darktoes’ fault, Darktoes had decided to try and make it up to hir mate for ruining the festival for hir, by making hir a romantic dinner picnic for two out in the fields surrounding the encampment. They were far enough away that they could have some privacy, but close enough to still be within a reasonable distance from their home. After they had finished eating the two of them had snuggled up and started to watch the stars go by overhead.
"Maybe one day, but not today." Darktoes lick-kissed the top of hir mate’s head, which was using hir chest as a pillow. "Could I ask you something Quinoa?"
"Of course," the yellowish veldt said, rolling hir head into a position that allowed hir to look hir mate in the eyes.
"Do you want to have a child? With me?"
Quinoa snorted and rolled hir eyes. "So I guess the half a dozen times I’ve asked you in the last month weren’t a big enough hint? Of course I want to start a family with you! I’d like nothing better." Then shi hesitated, and gave hir mate a lick-kiss on the nose. "But I am curious as you what changed your mind."
Darktoes shook hir head. "Nothing changed my mind, so to speak… I guess… I don’t know, the time seems right."
"Anything to do with Browneyes giving you ‘permission’?" Quinoa smiled slightly.
"Well, maybe a bit. But I always have wanted to have children you know, and I’d certainly want to have a few with you." Darktoes admitted.
"Ha!" Quinoa barked a laugh. "Only a ‘few’? Hon, if I had it my way, we’d both be knocked up with eight kids, and another four on the way!"
It was Dark’s turn to laugh. "Well, I think one would be enough work for now sweetheart, and I don’t think they make tents big enough for twelve kids."
The yellowy veldt giggled. "Perhaps! So… when are you next in heat? I won’t be in estrus for another couple of weeks."
"Tomorrow actually," Dark said. "So I suppose my change in heart may be my biological clock, so to speak."
In fact, shi really did want to have children, but Windswept had advised hir that, due to hir testicles been temporarily inactive, hir next heat would likely be extremely intense—on par with hir first female peak during puberty. Darktoes was hoping shi’d be able to enjoy it, rather than whimpering in hir tent grinding against pillows while it passed. Their birth control opinions, after all, were limited to a degree being on a colony world. Dark preferred to conserve the opinions shi had, rather than use them and pay the premium for more.
"Well then," Quinoa said, groping hir mate and kissing hir passionately. "Let’s not waste any time, shall we?"
"Right here?" Darktoes balked, "In the field?"
"Sure! How else am I going to show everyone you’re mine, and no one else’s?" hir mate joked. "Besides, it’s so dark I don’t think anyone will notice… so long as we’re quiet."
Darktoes rolled hir eyes, but returned hir mate’s affections anyway, with interest. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in a passionate embrace.
And both of them were very loud.
To be continued in Nightmares.
Chakats, Stellar Foxtaurs and other concepts © 2010 Bernard Doove
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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