A FOREST TALE 23: More Terrible Than Chains (a.k.a. Leannaís Story)
Part 4: Getting To Know You
By Bernard Doove © 2004

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!

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 © 2004 Bernard Doove.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
To be continued in Forest Tales #24.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Link: Return to the Forest Tales main page.


Link: Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.