A FOREST TALE 27: More Terrible Than Chains (a.k.a. Leannaís Story)
Part 8: A New Home
By Bernard Doove © 2006

The journey from Pelago III to their next destination was pleasant routine for Leanna. The testing phase completed, Leanna no longer needed to make regular trips to the sickbay, so shi was able to spend more time with hir adoptive family, and wake up in a leisurely manner in the mornings. Shi did miss hir evenings spent in the coffee lounge though, and managed to persuade various members of the family to share a cappuccino with hir most nights. This evening, Rosepetal had accepted Leannaís invitation. They had been chatting idly, mostly about the cubs. A short quiet moment was broken by Leanna.

"Do you mind if I ask a more personal question, Rose?"

Rosepetal smiled back. "You donít get to be a top officer by being thin-skinned, as the humans say. Ask away! The worst that can happen is that I will decline to answer."

"Thanks. I was wondering how you can deal with having so many co-mates, and how you donít get to sleep with the captain more than a couple of times a week."

Rosepetal laughed. "Is that all? First of all, as a Terran morph, you tend to behave and think like most of the other Terran species. Caitian females do not want nor need sexual intimacy very often. Even a mated pair with no other females will rarely have sex more than once or twice a week, so the current situation is actually quite comfortable for me. Unlike MíLai, of course, who is the exception to the rule due to her condition. She is, for all intents and purposes, permanently stuck in heat, the only time when weíre interested in sex every day."

"Okay, so the lack of sex isnít a problem," Leanna conceded. "How about not being with him as much as youíd like? Midnight and Forest take their turns, and MíLai seems to be getting many more nights than any of you."

"I spend every day in his company. It was the closeness and comfortableness of our working relationship that led us to become mates in the first place. We still share that relationship while on duty. Off-duty time isÖ whatís the expression? Ö itís gravy. As for MíLai, I knew that she would need more attention. In fact, I anticipated this situation completely. You must realise that she could never be happy in a normal Caitian relationship. No male could keep up with her needs even if she was his only mate, and no male would deliberately keep his status so low with only one mate. By becoming Boyceís mate, she not only gained a suitable life partner, but also two other co-mates who are able and willing to take care of her needs. I know that you have also made love with her, so thatís a bonus if you choose to continue that. Anyway, MíLai is happy, my lifemate and co-mates are happy, and Iím happy that my ship isnít likely to suffer an incident such as her previous ships did because my chief assistant medical officer is getting enough therapeutic sex."

Leanna grinned. "So, you had other motives when considering MíLai as a suitable fifthwife?"

Rosepetal returned the smile. "A good firstwife is always looking at all the possibilities, and a good first officer looks for ways to improve the performance of the crew. I got to kill two thakit with one stone, and everyone comes out on top."

"So now youíll be on the lookout for a sixthwife?"

"Yes, but not yet. Itís a bit too soon to foist another potential mate on Boyce, and a bit unfair to his newest mate. But Iím always alert to possibilities."

A thought occurred to Leanna. "YouÖ havenít been grooming me for the role, have you?"

Rosepetal looked at Leanna with a touch of surprise, then shook her head. "No. Although Boyce really likes you, youíre not really his type, and I also believe that you would never be comfortable with a human mate."

"True, although Iím getting used to having him as a friend."

"Yet you still call him Captain or Sir," Rosepetal pointed out.

"Itís the conditioning. The slavers perfected that long ago, and I couldnít address the captain familiarly even if I fervently wished to do so. I can become totally indistinguishable from any other morph member of the crew in all ways, yet if the captain ordered me to strip naked and have sex with the entire bridge crew, I would do so without a momentís hesitation because he is the ultimate human authority on this ship, and according to my conditioning, that makes him my current master. Heís not the only problem though. If any human was to give me a firm deliberate order, I would be forced to obey that too, provided it didnít conflict with my masterís wishes. My intelligence and strong will enable me to reject frivolous and casual orders though."

"Hmmm. Iím not sure how much progress has been made in breaking that conditioning. I really donít want you causing an incident due to an unfortunate order from a human. I think that there is one way of heading that off though, but it will have to wait until tomorrow." Rosepetal gave an amused purr. "Solve one problem, and another pops up to take its place straight away. Thatís typical of the job. Still, there are some similarities between you two. Youíre both enslaved to your bodies in some ways."

"Thatís something that Iíve been meaning to ask. Iíve learned a lot about the amazing things that they can do with medical technology, yet they havenít found a solution to MíLaiís problem. Why not?"

"Who said they hadnít?" replied Rosepetal.

That startled Leanna. "Are you saying that MíLai rejected a cure?"

Rosepetal replied, "Let me ask you this Ė do you enjoy having sexual intercourse?"

Leanna nodded, wondering where this was going. "Very much so. We sex slaves are made so that any sex is extremely pleasurable to us. That makes us want to please our partners more, so that they pleasure us more in return. Itís a positive feedback thing. Even with my hated former master, sex itself was very enjoyable."

The cookie

"I thought so. Now imagine this." Rosepetal leaned over and took a cookie from a bowl on the table. She held it up in front of her. "Imagine that this is a cure for you. Take this, and you will never have an uncontrollable rut or animalistic heat again. Would you take it?"

Leanna looked sceptical. "On the face of it, that would be exactly what I am looking for. However, I sense a catch."

"Correct. Take this and you would be cured, but your enjoyment of sex would be immediately and permanently reduced by more than half. Now would you take it?"

"I would look for another solution because the interim treatments hold the rut and heat at bay without the unwanted side-effects."

"Exactly." Rosepetal put down the rejected cookie. "Thatís the situation with MíLai. Thereís no way to permanently fix her problem without that side-effect, and while some might find that an acceptable trade-off, MíLai definitely doesnít. At the moment though, the conditions for stability are optimal, so itís a win for her and everyone in the family. Hopefully the same will be said about you once we get to Earth and we get your data to the experts." Rosepetal rose from her seat. "Right now though, itís time to go to bed. Itíll be a big day tomorrow."

As Rosepetal had hinted, the routine was broken the next morning at breakfast.

"Leanna," Boyce said, "weíre going to arrive at Melkot III today. I want you to have Yeoman d'Armand on standby to look after the children. I want you to see what the planet Arisia is like, and the people pioneering that world."

"Yes, sir," Leanna replied. "It sounds interesting already. If I may ask, what is so special about this world?"

"Arisia is the site of the first Stellar Foxtaur combined exploration and colonisation project. After Star Fleet completed its survey and classified the planet as suitable for colonisation, it was handed over to the Star Corps for appropriate development. By that time, the first generation of the new Stellar Foxtaur species were ready. 99% of the personnel on Arisia are Stellars, and they are combining scientific investigation of the world with pioneering new territories, establishing frontiers for future colonists. Itís a new approach to the task of developing new worlds, and so far it seems to be working very well."

Leanna thought for a moment, then asked, "Arenít the Stellars being exploited then? What happens when colonists start flooding in? Are they going to be told Ė Ďthank you, now go awayí?"

Boyce had actually anticipated Leannaís scepticism this time. He smiled reassuringly. "For starters, each one has a contract that guarantees them several things, first of which is a handsome wage. They will also have free title to a certain amount of land and resources as theirs forever after the initial colonisation phase is completed. By putting in the hard work in the early years, they will reap the most benefit, and yet the Star Corps is still on schedule to open up the world for full colonisation and exploitation years sooner than normal, and with an enormously greater understanding of the planet than is usual for new worlds. Itís definitely a win/win situation for all."

Mollified now, Leanna was definitely getting intrigued. "Will I get to meet some of these Stellars?"

"You certainly will. I will be beaming down to the spaceport where I will be meeting the port administrator and the project director. I want both you and Forest to accompany me. Itíll be both educational and fun. After that, I want all the cubs to get off the ship for a while and get some fresh air and sunshine. Iím sure that theyíll like meeting the Stellars also."

"Iíll have them ready, sir."

"Thanks, Leanna. And please call me Boyce," he reminded hir for the hundredth time.

"Happy to oblige, captain," Leanna replied, cheerfully ignoring the latter statement.

"Bloody conditioning," Boyce muttered in frustration.

Rosepetal sensed an ideal moment to bring up the subject that she and Leanna had been discussing the previous evening. "That conditioning could potentially cause us some other problems." She told Boyce about the slave response that Leanna had informed her about. "However, until the experts on Earth can do something about it, I propose that we use it. A few well-chosen commands from you could avert virtually all the problems," she concluded.

Boyce nodded and asked Leanna, "Do you have any problems with this idea? An honest answer, please."

Leanna replied, "I think that it makes sense, sir. While I am glad to have my freedom, it could result in something that I would greatly regret, and that bothers me a lot more than being commanded."

"Very well. Leanna, do you acknowledge that I am the ultimate authority on this ship, and therefore technically your master?"

"I do, Captain," Leanna responded.

"I hereby order that you will accept no orders from anyone, especially humans, that are not directly within their areas of responsibility, or any that would override my orders. You will do nothing to jeopardise this ship or the personnel aboard it. You will behave as a responsible member of the crew until we reach Earth, but otherwise are free to act on your own recognizance. Do you understand?"

"I understand and will comply, captain," Leanna acknowledged. "Do you have any specific orders for me, sir?"

"Only to carry on with your current work looking after the children, and continuing your studies whenever I donít have anything else specifically for you to do. I will call you and Forest to the bridge later this morning when we approach Arisia. Have the children ready for an excursion a couple of hours later. Weíll be touching base with the colony director."

"Understood, captain," Leanna replied, then smiled. "Iím looking forward to seeing this colony world."

"Make that two of us!" Forestwalker added.

The call came about ninety minutes into the shift. Leanna left d'Armand in charge of the children and joined Forestwalker en route to the bridge. The computer recognised that they had permission to go to the bridge, and whisked them there rapidly on the trans-lift.

"Reporting as ordered, captain," Leanna said as they stepped out onto the bridge.

"Good. You and Forestwalker will observe until we leave to go planet-side," Boyce commanded.

"Yes, sir!" Leanna and Forestwalker said in chorus.

"Final approach to Arisia Gateway, captain," announced the helmsman.

"Put it on the main screen," ordered Boyce.

A space station filled about a third of the screen, but it grew rapidly. Although it was quite large, even the inexperienced Leanna could tell that it was still under construction. Incomplete sections were surrounded by handling equipment, and as the station grew closer, Leanna could spot some moving figures in the same area. By the time that the station was twice as big as the screen, their movement relative to it halted.

"Parking orbit achieved, sir," announced the helmsman.

"Thank you, Mr Zisk. All stations stand down. Mr Mazantod, please connect me to Gateway control."

"Thereís an incoming call already, sir."

"On speaker."

"Aye, sir."

"Ahoy Pegasus!" came the voice over the speaker, "Permission to come aboard?"

"This is Pegasus, Admiral Kline commanding. Is that you, Nimbus?"

"You got it, Admiral. Caught me out on site."

"Itís grown quite a lot since my last visit," Boyce commented.

"Yes it has, and itís three weeks ahead of schedule, so I can afford to take a break. Iím approaching you now."

Nimbus Starwalker

Leanna just then spotted a growing object that had been previously lost amongst the background of girders and gleaming sheets of metal. Quickly it grew large enough to be recognisable as a space-suited form, then shi realised that it was a taur.

"We see you, Nimbus. Permission to come aboard granted. Use airlock two."

"Iíll be there in a jiffy. Nimbus out."

ĎObviously not Star Fleet, judging by that exchange,í Leanna thought. ĎProbably part of the Star Corps then.í

Boyce got up out of the captainís chair. "You have the bridge, Mr Silpurr. Mr Fennec, Forestwalker, Commander Midnight, letís go greet our guest."

The last look at the view screen that Leanna got showed Nimbus nearly filling the screen. ĎA foxtaur,í shi thought. ĎPresumably one of those Stellars that I was told about; the Starwalker breed. I wonder what shi looks like?í

They didnít have to go far to get to airlock two as it was located close to the bridge. It was already cycling though, indicating that their visitor had beaten them there. After a few seconds, the door opened with a hiss, and the occupant stepped out, removing the spacesuitís helmet at the same time. Revealed was a totally black-furred fox face, with bright golden yellow eyes alive with good humour. Shi reached out to clasp Boyceís forearm in greeting.

"Good to see you again, Admiral," shi said.

"Same here, Nimbus," Boyce replied. "Looks like youíve got some sections completed now."

"Well, theyíre not officially open for business, but yes, theyíre ready to be used. Iíll give you a tour later." Nimbus turned to Midnight and gave hir a brief hug. "Great to see you too, Midnight. Have you reconsidered my offer to join us? You know youíd blend right in."

Midnight grinned. "The answer is still no, and the best reason is standing right next to you. Nimbus, this is my lifemate, Forestwalker."

Nimbus stepped up to Forestwalker and gave hir a greeting hug also. "Pleased to meet you. Donít tell me, let me guessÖ youíre the Admiralís mate also?"

Nimbusí grin was infectious, and Forestwalker found hirself grinning back. "Guilty as charged," shi admitted.

"Heís got a real thing for chakats. Good taste too." Nimbus turned to Leanna. "But I donít know you. Iím Nimbus Starwalker, maintenance chief on the Arisia Gateway construction project."

Extending hir arm to greet Nimbus in the manner that Boyce had, Leanna said, "Iím Leanna Fennec, personal assistant to the Admiral, newcomer to his family, and not a mate of his."

Nimbusí grin broadened on hearing the emphasis on the word Ďnotí. "Glad you cleared that up," shi said. "Anyway, youíre invited to take a tour of the finished portions of the Gateway along with the others." Turning back to Boyce, shi continued, "Aside from a couple of urgent items that we were expecting, is there anything special about this visit?"

"Not really. Weíre dropping off a couple of personnel and taking back a couple of others, but otherwise this is just a regularly scheduled patrol of the system. Star Fleet doesnít want you people out on the frontier to think that weíre ignoring you."

"Especially with all the time, money and people already invested in this system," Nimbus agreed. "But that means that you wonít be around for long. Will you have time for a game of poker with the gang tonight?"

"After the way you lot fleeced me last time, I donít know if I dare!"

"Canít help it if weíre better players. Even Midnight did better than you, and shiís proof that it was an honest game."

"Okay, I surrender," Boyce said, holding up both hands. "Iíll suck in my pride and be the sacrificial lamb."

"Can anyone join in?" Forestwalker asked.

"The more suckersÖ er, players, the better," Nimbus said with a broad wink.

An insistent beeping started coming from hir suit comm. Shi looked at the wrist display and sighed. "No more time for socialising right now. How about we meet up at Gateway around 1500 Arisia standard time? Yes? Good." Shi started putting hir helmet back on, and Midnight double-checked it for hir. Shi waved goodbye as shi stepped into the airlock. It quickly cycled, evacuating the air and turning off the artificial gravity field. With a quick accurate push, shi left the airlock with unconscious grace.

Leanna commented to Boyce, "Theyíre not in Star Fleet, obviously. I take it that they work for the Star Corps?"

"Thatís correct, although the Star Services cooperate in matters that overlap. I was here the day that the Star Corps freighter arrived with the core module, along with the Starwalker engineers who would be building the Gateway station. Thatís also the first time that they relieved me of my excess cash! Theyíre great fun to socialise with though. You have to learn to tell them apart by their voices however, or by scent if your nose is good enough, because they all look the same. Theyíre not adverse to playing practical jokes on those who canít tell whoís who, but Iíd trust them with my life where it counts. Theyíre a hard-working and hard-playing breed."

The landing party consisted of Boyce, Leanna, Midnight, Forestwalker, and two Star Corps personnel whom they had brought from Starbase 3. The Pegasus had been the first starship scheduled to visit Arisia, so they had taken advantage of that; otherwise they would have had to wait another few weeks before taking up posts on the frontier world.

They all beamed into the Star Corps headquarters and were greeted by an unusual-looking foxtaur. Leanna noted the dense smooth fur, short ears and streamlined body that resembled the characteristics more like an otterís. Hir fur was mostly medium brown, with beige markings on throat, chest and tail-tip. Shi was dressed in a smart vest adorned with a comm badge over the left breast, and a badge that proclaimed that shi was Portmaster over the other.

Midnight murmured in Leannaís ear, "That is one of the marine breed of Stellar Foxtaurs." Leanna nodded, comprehending immediately. This breed was obviously optimised for swimming and insulation from cold, wet environments.

"Welcome to Arisia Freeport, Admiral Kline. Itís a pleasure to meet you," the foxtaur said, holding hir hand out in greeting. "My name is Tempest."

"Thank you, Tempest," Boyce replied, clasping forearms with hir in the same manner as he had with Nimbus. Let me introduce Midnight, my Chief of Security and lifemate; Forestwalker, biology expert and also a lifemate; and Leanna Fennec, my personal assistant and part of the family too. Also with me are Candace and Frank Montgomery, the Star Corps personnel who will be relieving their counterparts here."

Tempest greeted them all before Boyce continued, "So, you took over from the previous Portmaster not long after my last visit? Shi told me shi was retiring from the post soon."

"Thatís correct. I worked my way up from a small fishing village further south where I was born."

"A whole generation on this planet Ė no surer sign that this world is ripe for a colonisation wave."

Tempest grinned. "Yes indeed. The port facilities are virtually ready for the influx, and weíll be ready to cope when Gateway opens for business."

Boyce nodded. "From what Iíve heard, theyíve got colonists champing at the bit to start up here."

"They wonít be disappointed, Admiral. My fellow Stellars have done the requisite job and more. Arisia is going to make its mark on the Federation very quickly."

"Good to hear. Well, Iíd best pay my respects to the colony coordinator and get these people to where they belong."

"Just one more matter, Admiral," Tempest said. "I have a passenger for you to take back to Earth."

Boyce raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh? I wasnít informed of anyone."

"A recent development. A mining engineer named Strata has bought out hir contract and is returning to Earth for personal reasons."

"Alright, if everything has been approved, have hir meet us here in approximately two hours. I assume that shi is ready to leave at short notice?"

"Shi is, and shi was aware that your ship was due today. Iíll inform hir immediately. Have a good day Admiral and gentlefolk." With that, shi left the landing party to themselves.

"This way," Boyce said, recalling the route to the colony offices. This took them out of the Portmasterís office block and out into the walkways between harbour docks on their right, and spaceport facilities on the left. This central facility obviously was the hub for colony supply and commercial traffic. When the colony started producing enough goods to export, the spaceport would grow to meet the needs. Although the buildings on this young world were still very basic and functional rather than very aesthetic, a lot of effort had been put into the surrounding gardens which softened or hid those failings, and it was quite a pleasant walk. Aside from a few people using a type of scooter to travel more quickly, and perhaps greater distances, it seemed all the locals walked and the walkways were well utilised. Seeing as they were all Stellar Foxtaurs, they were well adapted to walking as a means of getting about.

Leanna took little notice of the scenery as hir attention was on the plethora of different Stellars. Shi saw that many were marine breeds like Tempest, and seemed to be the most common in this area. Shi surmised that a lot of them worked on the docks, if not the actual ships tied up there. There were also several forest breeds like Twilight, differing mostly in their hair colour and arrangement of their breedís coat pattern. The others were new to hir however. Midnight pointed out each new one to hir.

"See the one that looks like a red fox on stilts? Shiís a veldt breed. They specialise in the plains, grasslands and other open areas. Theyíre fast runners with great endurance. Over there, the one with the off-white base coat with brown back, face markings and socks Ė shiís a mountain breed. Theyíre very strong and hardy, able to deal with damp, cold alpine conditions. The ones that look like fennec-taurs are the desert breed, specialists in hot and dry climates. I havenít seen any of the polar breed yet. Itís probably too warm for their comfort here. Youíll know them easily enough though as they resemble Arctic foxes Ė white with black markings in winter, but a lot more brown and black fur during the warmer months. They can live and work in areas that are constantly snowbound."

Leanna absorbed this all with great interest. Shi also noted that there almost nothing but Stellars here. Shi did spot what could have either been a Voxxan or foxmorph couple, plus one Caitian, but otherwise nothing but taurs. They were dressed to wildly different degrees also. Some wore nothing but a hip pouch and went otherwise nude except for ornaments such as bracelets, necklaces, earrings and such. Some wore halters, but many wore vests that seemed mostly decorative. There was scarcely a uniform to be seen. As a biped in uniform, Leanna felt very out of place, and indeed was the subject of a number of curious stares.

"Why arenít there more non-Stellars here?" shi asked.

Boyce answered, "This world is partly an experiment to see how well the Stellar Foxtaurs work out, so virtually everything is done by them. All the field teams are 100% Stellars. In fact, the only place that you will find employees who arenít Stellars is right here in the port township. Only visitors like us might be seen in other places. Star Corps personnel like Frank and Candace here fill in liaison and clerical positions that have no direct effect on the development of this world. Only mated pairs like them serve here due to the lack of social contact with others of their kind, and their term of service is limited for the same reason. Anyway, you could say that Arisia is the final exam for the Stellars, and so far they look like passing with honours.

"And do they get to keep this world after they open it up for colonisation?" Leanna asked.

"Many villages have already been established, and those lands are permanently theirs. The Stellars and the Star Corps negotiated before and during exploration to determine what land and resources would be theirs, and yet leave a fair amount for the settlers who would follow. On the one hand, all the Stellars are technically employees of the Star Corps, but on the other, they have spent the majority of their lives here, working hard to find and exploit resources. Theyíve earned a good share of the spoils."

Leanna looked thoughtful. "I see. I might have a deeper look into this place if I can find the time."

"Not a bad idea," Boyce agreed. "You can make comparisons to Federation methods versus N.A.W. slave labour. Iíll be interested in the results."

They reached their destination just then. The receptionist directed the two Star Corps personnel to the appropriate department after telling Boyce that "the Director of Operations will see you in a moment, sir". A couple of minutes later, Leanna and Forestwalker were surprised when a chakat came out to meet them.

"The director is a chakat?" Leanna asked Midnight quietly, but the other chakatís sensitive ears heard hir nonetheless. Shi smiled at them all, but particularly at Leanna.

"Good morning. I am Bluemist, personal assistant to Director Sanddune. May I offer you refreshments while you wait? I anticipate that hir current business will take at least another ten minutes."

The foursome took up Bluemistís offer. It was closer to fifteen minutes later when the chakat returned and ushered them into the Directorís office. Waiting for them was the smallest desert breed Stellar Foxtaur that Leanna had seen so far. Leanna was taller than hir by several centimetres. Shi wore a flattering formal top with the inevitable comm badge on one side and an Arisian logo badge on the other. A modest amount of jewellery completed hir ensemble. However, while shi was small in stature, hir personality dominated the room, making hir seem bigger than shi actually was. Shi smiled in recognition at Boyce.

Reaching up to exchange arm-clasps, shi said, "Admiral Kline, such a pleasure to see you again, and Commander Midnight also."

"The pleasure is mutual, Director. May I introduce Specialist Forestwalker, biologist and lifemate."

Sanddune smiled and gave the chakat a greeting hug. "Another chakat mate? You must have interesting evenings!"

An unpretentious leader Ė Forestwalker liked hir already.

Boyce continued. "And this is Leanna Fennec, my personal assistant, but not a mate this time."

Sanddune laughed. "I really didnít think that you were that busy!" Shi exchanged a friendly arm-clasp with Leanna.

"Donít bet on it," Boyce replied with a grin. "Rosepetal found me a fifthwife Ė another Caitian this time."

"Good heavens! That might teach me not to jump to conclusions with anything in regards to you. At this rate, youíll have a sixthwife before you return to Arisia again."

"Maybe, but Iím hoping to leave it at five for a long while. Iím only human!"

"Half true. You seem to have more going for you than most. Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

"Mostly just a courtesy call this time. Star Fleet will be maintaining a presence in the region after Gateway opens, and you will be able to call on us in an emergency. Pelago III looks as interesting as Arisia, so the next generation of Stellars who might be looking for adventure could possibly set their sights there. As for the rest Ė basically Iím just showing Forest and Leanna what you have achieved here."

"Look around as much as you want, Admiral. Arisia is virtually ready, and Gateway isnít far from completion. I envisage things getting very busy in a few months."

"Thatís an understatement if ever I heard one. Still, this has been in the planning for a long time, and with you at the helm, I believe that it will all go smoothly. By the way, speaking of Gateway, the Starwalkers have invited me to a game of poker this evening."

"They have?" Sanddune tapped hir comm badge. "Bluemist? Can you come in here for a moment, please." When the chakat entered, Sanddune continued, "Have we anything scheduled for tonight?"

"No. Not as yet, anyway," Bluemist replied.

"We do now. The Starwalkers are having a poker night."

"Hot damn! Finally a chance to win my money back!"

Sanddune laughed. "Thatís what you said last time, and the time before that."

"They canít win forever," Bluemist replied confidently.

"There you go, Admiral. My lifemate and I will see you on Gateway. When is it starting?"

"Weíll be joining them for a tour of the place first at 1500, then dinner, so I expect that we wonít start the actually game until the usual time around 1650," Boyce replied.

Forestwalker said, "Bluemist is your lifemate?" as shi eyed the difference between the chakat and the diminutive foxtaur.

Bluemist and Sanddune

Sanddune put hir arm around Bluemistís waist. "What can I say? I like Ďem big!"

From what Forestwalker could sense between them, mere size had little to do with the strength of their attraction, but a mental image of Sanddune telling people, "Iíd like you to meet the little missus!" amused hir.

"Iíll let them know that youíll be there," Boyce promised.

"Thank you, Admiral. Now Iíd better get back to work if I am to get there on time. Have a good day, all of you."

As they left Sandduneís office, Leanna said to Midnight, "Courtesy call, my foot! This was mostly about the poker game, wasnít it?"

Midnight grinned. "Not just any poker game, but the hottest game in the sector. Theyíve been doing this since before I joined the Pegasus as the new Security Chief."

"High stakes game, I take it?"

"Nope. Penny ante. The real prize is the prestige of winning it. Besides, the Star Services frown on heavy gambling, especially Fleet."

"Oh. Then can anyone play?"

"Usually itís invitation only. Why? Did you want to join in?"

"Sure! Although I have never played, my former master often did, and I know all the rules and how to bid, etcetera."

"You poor lamb," Midnight said as shi gave Leanna a pitying look. "Okay, if you want to be fleeced, Iíll see about getting you in."

After Midnightís immediate disparagement of Leannaís chances, suddenly shi wasnít quite so confident anymore. However, if shi was destined to lose, shi was determined to have fun doing so.

The foursome stopped at a café with outdoor seating under some trees that gave dappled shade. They enjoyed the refreshments as they watched the hustle and bustle going on around them. They kept garnering curious looks, and Leanna was well aware that they were the odd ones out here, especially the Admiral and hirself. On the other hand, in one way shi fitted in better than ever Ė on a world inhabited almost exclusively by herms, shi was utterly unremarkable. Shi found that thought quite appealing.

When everyone was ready and time was almost up, they ambled back to the port offices. Waiting for them in the reception area was a mountain breed Stellar who approached the group as soon as they entered. Leanna noted hir off white base fur with brown fur starting at hir shoulders and spreading down the backs. The brown blended into light red which then blended into the off-white. Shi had the typical gloves and socks of the same brown, and hir ears and half hir bushy tail to its tip was also brown. Shi had a mask of brown too, but hir head was topped with off-white headfur. Hir lower torso had a shorter barrel than other breeds, and shi seemed quite strongly muscled. Shi had conspicuously large breasts, barely restrained by hir halter-top. The only other thing that the Stellar wore was a pouch belted around hir waist.

"Good afternoon, Admiral. My name is Strata, and I will be travelling with you back to Earth," shi announced.

"You have everything packed and ready to board?" Boyce asked.

Strata indicated a small pile of luggage on a cart. "Everything that I currently own is in that lot."

"Good, you can beam up to the ship with us. Commander Midnight will take you to see the First Officer who will deal with you appropriately."

"Yes sir," Strata acknowledged.

The group went to the Transporter station and were beamed back to the Pegasus. Strataís luggage was put aside, and shi left with Midnight. Boyce hung back for a moment to talk with Leanna and Forestwalker.

"You two have until 1450 Arisia time to take the cubs and do some exploring. Enjoy your day out, but remember that weíll be going over to Gateway to have that tour and enjoy the Starwalkersí hospitality. Despite the seeming casualness of the occasion, itís still an honour to be invited, so donít forget to allow time to get ready if necessary."

"Yes sir," Leanna responded.

"No problem, captain," Forestwalker acknowledged.

They collected the cubs from Yeoman d'Armand and beamed back down. Kayla was pleased to be visiting a new world, but kept her hand in Leannaís as they walked about, a touch uncertain about this strange place. The chakat cubs seemed fascinated by the Stellar Foxtaurs though, and could barely be restrained from chasing after each new one. The cubs were treated with amused tolerance though, so they didnít cause any problems.

The port township was an interesting mixture of weathered temporary buildings interspersed with a smattering of new structures that were being built with the influx of new colonists in mind. Old or new though, each building was surrounded by trees and gardens. The foxtaur affinity with nature shone through in their landscaping. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were walking through a park instead of an industrial area. The children certainly played around in it as if it was one. Indeed, many of the foxtaurs could be seen enjoying the pleasant weather and lounging on the grass (or whatever the short vegetation was on this world), or having a picnic lunch with friends. Leanna noted that while the foxtaurs would often form groups of their own particular breed, just as often there were mixed breed groups, and there didnít seem to be any obvious tensions between them. After the park-like area, they entered a broad tree-lined avenue with shops and stalls. This seemed to be the centre of commerce for the young township, and Forestwalker went shopping for souvenirs. Shi came away with very little though because the town wasnít geared towards tourism as yet. However, it did cater very well to the foxtaurs who came in from the outlying communities for supplies, and frequently made a social occasion of it. The population seemed predominantly cheerful and happy to talk to a couple of strangers passing through. Leanna was startled to be the subject of a pass made by a very friendly desert breed foxtaur, despite not being a taur. Leanna presumed that shi appealed to the foxtaur for hir similar fennec-like looks. The only non-taurs that they saw were almost all crew also on shore leave from the Pegasus.

The group had a very enjoyable and relaxing day, but the time came when they had to return. Back at the office before they beamed up, Leanna picked up some more detailed information about the settlement, especially the parts inside the port, for later reading.

The children were returned to the care of d'Armand, also just back from shore leave. They rendezvoused with Boyce, Rosepetal and, surprisingly, MíLai, and they beamed over to the Gateway station. They were met by what seemed to be the entire Starwalker crew, all eager to show off their accomplishments. The first thing that struck Leanna was that they all looked the same Ė black fur all over without a pattern. Only because they had chosen to wear tops with a name on a patch did it make it possible to tell them apart by sight. Telling them apart by scent was possible but difficult when they were all crowded together. However, the second thing that Leanna noted was how differently they all talked. Each had a distinctive accent and speech pattern, making it very easy to tell them apart by voice. They were so different that Leanna suspected that they deliberately cultivated a unique style of speech for the sake of individuality. Later, when shi got an opportune moment, shi asked them why their species was created with everyone having all-black fur instead of having patterns. Shi was informed that the fur contained a special pigment that helped protect them in the harsh environment of space, and interrupting it with a pattern would diminish that protection.

The Starwalkers showed off the completed portions of the Gateway station. This section was designed to cope with large shiploads of people, such as the colonists who were due in a couple of months. It had offices for administration, arrival and departure lounges, engineering and resupply departments, and a warehouse. The décor was a clean bright modern look, although they were told that there were going to be a lot of potted plants added shortly before the place opened for business.

They were shown the sealed airlock that would eventually lead to the second stage of the construction of Gateway. When the colony world finally grew big enough to get regular visitors and then tourists, this stage would be added to provide shopping facilities and a hotel. Not quite as grand a scale as the starbase had been, but definitely the same principle.

One thing that particularly delighted Leanna was meeting the Starwalker kits. There were four of them Ė two just over a year old, and two a year older. When they visited the zero-G recreation room, the kits bounced and spun around in all directions and rotations with utter confidence. It was a graphic demonstration of the Starwalkersí complete adaptation to microgravity environments. Leanna saw that they were also grasping holds with their paws. Although they werenít quite like chakat handpaws, they seemed to be able to perform a similar function and were more than adequate for the task.

"This is the one that I sired," Nimbus told Leanna as shi deftly plucked one from mid air. "Eclipse was the mother. A number of us are now planning families now that weíre near completion of stage one."

"What happens when itís finished? Will you be dragging the children off to a new frontier?" Leanna asked.

"Oh no. Many of us will still be needed to run the station, provide services and perform maintenance, then make a start on stage two. The children will grow up here. Some of the adults will exchange with others from different families so that we can stir up the gene pool, but otherwise this place is also our home."

"Donít you ever go down to the surface?" Leanna wondered.

Nimbus laughed. "Weíre not isolationists. We like to visit the planet occasionally. Weíre just most happy out here where we can really move when we want to. Gravity sucks!"

Leanna couldnít argue with that in light of what shi had seen.

The tour completed, the Starwalkers treated them to dinner. The black foxtaurs hardly let that stop them from talking though.

"You donít get visitors often, do you?" Forest asked. Upon confirmation, shi continued, "I thought so. Youíre just like chakats who havenít seen family in a long time Ė you donít seem to be able to catch up with the news quick enough!"

The Starwalkers were amused by that and readily agreed.

Everyone was relaxing with drinks after dinner when Sanddune and Bluemist arrived, along with a handful of other stellar foxtaurs. It quickly became apparent that these were poker night regulars as they all quickly organised themselves into groups, arranging the people from the Pegasus so that they wouldnít have to play each other in the first round. They had twelve groups, four of them with four players and the rest with three.

Leanna was pitted against a Starwalker and a Veldt breed. It didnít take long to disillusion the fennec as to hir true level of skill at the game, but shi did surprise hir opponents at how quickly shi learned. Shi managed to reverse hir fortunes from nearly going bust to winning hir groupís pot. Shi knew though that shiíd had some luck with the draw, so shi wasnít going to rely on that.

Midnight made it an all-black group, pitted against two Starwalkers, and shi too won hir pot. Forestwalker was amused to be pitted against a Forest Breed named Autumnleaf, but wasnít so amused when the foxtaur thrashed hir and another Starwalker. Leanna asked Forestwalker later why hir empathic talent didnít help the chakat more and was told, "Youíve heard of a poker face? Well, these Stellars seem to have a poker mind. I couldnít get any hints from them unless I probed them actively instead of passively reading them. That would be cheating though."

The winning hand

To his chagrin, Boyce bombed out early, losing to Frostbite, the first Polar Breed theyíd met. "The cards werenít with me tonight," he said philosophically. They werenít with Bluemist or Eclipse either, and Frostbite took the pot.

MíLai found herself pitted against two Starwalkers and a Mountain Breed, and surprised them all by beating them easily. Later she confided, "We played poker every week at medical school. The suckers never learned then either!"

Rosepetal put up a strong fight, only to be eliminated by Sanddune. Nimbus made it through also, along with three other Starwalkers, plus a Mountain and a Marine breed.

The winners of the first round drew lots to see who played whom in the second round of four groups of three. MíLai ended up playing against Sanddune and a Starwalker. This time her family werenít so surprised when she won the round. Leanna played Frostbite and the Marine Breed, but despite hir best efforts, lost to the Polar Breed foxtaur. Midnight wasted little time in defeating Autumnleaf and another Starwalker. Nimbus quietly won again against another Starwalker and the Mountain Breed.

And so it was down to the final four. First they had some refreshments, both players and spectators needing a break from the action. Then the last round began Ė a chakat, a Caitian, a Starwalker, and a Polar foxtaur Ė all determined to outplay the others. Midnight sat opposite to Nimbus, with MíLai on the chakatís left and Frostbite on hir right. Nimbus dealt first, and the atmosphere became very intense as the players concentrated and the spectators watched in keen anticipation. The first three deals brought no big bets, and little changed, but a betting flurry in the fourth changed the balance. Frostbite was soon struggling, and was the first to be eliminated. Shi bowed out gracefully and the remaining three continued. Midnight had a decent win on the next hand, only to lose it all and more on the next on a betting plunge that only failed through sheer bad luck. The next few hands whittled away at Midnightís chips until shi too was eliminated. MíLai had been playing a bit more conservatively, and was left to challenge Nimbus for the championship.

Nimbus shuffled the cards and said, "You might make history tonight, MíLai. While several non-Stellars have played before, none have yet won. Only Midnight has ever gotten down to the final two."

"Oh? And to whom did shi lose," MíLai enquired.

"Me," Nimbus answered with a grin.

"Let me guess Ė youíre still the reigning poker champion?"

"You got it!" Nimbusí grin grew even wider.

"Well, I was champion of Marnnassta Medical School for three years running. Shall we see who is better?"

That riveted the audience, and the excitement was tangible. Hand after hand was played with neither making a significant breakthrough. This continued until one hand where each kept upping the bet until each committed everything they had. Both seemed calm and unperturbed while the spectators were nearly going crazy with anticipation.

MíLai showed her hand first. "Straight, king high," shi announced, laying down her cards.

Nimbus eyed the cards, then laid hirs down. "Straight, ace high!"

The room erupted. The Starwalkers all went over to congratulate their champion, while the rest commiserated with the chagrined Caitian.

"I thought that I had hir," she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Almost the same thing happened to me," said Midnight sympathetically.

"I admit that you almost did have me," said Nimbus. "I hope that youíll join us again the next time that your ship passes through. That was an exciting game."

"You bet! Iíll be trying to win all that back!" MíLai agreed with a grin.

The rest of the evening was spent in good-natured conversation until the visitors, in ones and two, bade their farewells and departed. The Pegasus party also followed suit after the chakats and Leanna had given hugs to every one of the Starwalkers.

"Thatís one talent that you never had in your file," Rosepetal commented to MíLai as they walked to their cabin.

"Never give away any advantage when it comes to poker," MíLai replied with a wink.

When everybody who was on shore leave had returned, the Pegasus departed, heading at cruising speed for Earth. Leanna played racquet ball with Kayla again, but also accepted a game with one of the other crew because shi wanted to stretch hir ability at the game without hurting Kaylaís feelings.

That evening, Leanna brought Forestwalker to the coffee lounge for the nightly cappuccino and conversation. There they discovered Strata sitting by hirself, sipping a hot drink, watching the starscape. Taking their freshly-filled coffee mugs, they stepped up to the Mountain Breed foxtaur.

Strata Mountain Stellar Foxtaur

"Excuse us, but would you mind some company?" Forestwalker asked.

Strata looked at them and recognition flashed in hir eyes. "By all means, join me," Strata said with a smile.

Leanna and Forestwalker introduced themselves. Strata replied, "My name is Strata, and Iím a mining engineer for the Star Corps, although perhaps not for much longer."

"Why is that?" Forestwalker asked. "Didnít you like the work?"

"No, I loved the work. I got to explore a lot of new territory, and made a lot of geological findings of great interest. I even discovered a new kind of precious gem. I called them starstones.

"Whatís so special about these starstones?" Leanna asked.

Strata dug into hir hip pouch and dug out a small cloth bag. Opening the drawstring, shi tipped out half a dozen large gems into hir hand, then passed one each over to Leanna and Forestwalker. Both noticed one thing immediately about them Ė these gems did not merely reflect light like a brilliantly cut diamond. In the low light of the lounge, it was apparent that there was an actual glow coming from within.

"Oh wow!" Forestwalker exclaimed. "These are beautiful. I can see these becoming popular once they start replicating them."

Strata grinned. "They wonít replicate. Thereís some unstable component that is the likely cause of the glow, and the replicators either donít work with it, or they produce a dead stone. Thatís good news for me though."

"Iíll bet!" Forestwalker said fervently. "That would make these very rare and valuable."

"Correct, and they are what I used to buy out my contract with the Star Corps."

As Leanna handed back the gem, shi said, "So, if you loved your work and you were making good money from the starstones, why did you quit, if I may ask?"

Strata replaced the gems in the bag and put it back in hir pouch before replying. "Personal issues."

"Then itís none of our business," Forestwalker declared.

"Itís okay, I donít mind talking about it. Itís not as if I am ashamed of the situation, and it wonít improve if I donít discuss it with people who might be able to suggest something." Strata paused to consider how shi wanted to state the problem, then continued, "On a world that is populated almost exclusively by bisexual herms, I was straight."

Forestwalker was puzzled. "Straight? How can a herm be straight?"

Strata replied, "Because I am almost totally male by nature. I am only interested in sexual relationships with me in the male mode. Can you imagine any normal bisexual person tolerating that in a long-term relationship?"

Leanna, who up until recently had regarded hirself as basically female until Forestwalker and Moyshu had freed hir misconceptions and inhibitions, wondered if it was a psychological problem, or just the way things were like for homosexuals. A thought occurred to hir. "What about when you go into heat?"

Strata nodded. "Yes, that is the sole exception. For a couple of days during my heat, hormones override my normal feelings and I get into the mood for female sex. And I really do enjoy it, but once itís over I lose interest entirely again. Thatís not enough for a life partner."

"I see," Leanna nodded. "So, are you going to try to find a mate back on Earth?"

"Thatís my hope," admitted Strata. "With the large and diverse population there, I reckon that there should be someone suited to me. The trick is to find that someone."

Forestwalker said, "That wonít be easy. While most people are tolerant of herms, there arenít a great number who find them sexually attractive. Then youíd have to find one who would be happy to have you as a male mostÖ of theÖÖ time." Forestwalkerís voiced trailed to a halt as an idea occurred to hir. As shi turned it over in hir mind, the others looked at hir quizzically until hir attention snapped back and shi returned hir attention to them. "Youíre not going to believe this, Strata, but I think I already know of somebody who might be perfect for you. If youíre interested, I can look into it and see if that person is still looking and interested in return."

The stellar foxtaur was surprised. "I expected to spend many months looking, and youíre telling me that you already have someone in mind? Of course Iím interested! Who is this person?"

"Are you sure that you want to know before I check whether itís possible still?" Forest queried. "I donít want to get your hopes up too much without cause."

"Just give me the gist of it. I promise not to get my hopes up too high."

"Alright. I know a foxtaur vixen who expressed interest in a chakat mate. If she finds a chakat attractive, might she find a herm foxtaur even more so? And being female, she would mostly be interested in your male side. Perhaps there would be some compromises when sheís interested in your female side, but that would be up to you two if this works out."

"It sounds almost too good to be true, so I wonít get overexcited yet."

"Iíll get you an answer as soon as possible. In fact, Iíll send off a message as soon as we get back to our cabin." Forestwalker drained the last of hir coffee. "And if you really feel the need, there are three chakats aboard who would be sympathetic to your needs. You might want to check with our chief engineer, Sparks, especially."

Strata looked at Leanna. "Is shi always doing this kind of thing?" shi asked.

Leanna grinned. "For as long as I have known hir anyway. Shi canít seem to help hirself!"

Forestwalker took the ribbing with good grace. "I didnít hear you complaining," shi pointed out. "Now if youíve finished with that cappuccino, I want to get back to the cabin. I need my beauty sleep!"

Putting the cubs to bed

Leanna swallowed the dregs of hir drink and put the mug on the table. "Done. Itís been a pleasure talking with you, Strata. Maybe we can chat some more tomorrow evening?"

"Iíd like that. Goodnight, both of you."

Leanna and Forestwalker strolled back to their cabin. While the fennec settled down with the cubs, Forestwalker settled down in front of the comm to compose a message.

Dear Malena,

We are currently on the final leg home to Earth, and should arrive on the scheduled date. Weíre bringing home an unexpected passenger, which leads me to ask you something. I recall you telling me about your friend, Fellana Blacktail....

"Iíve been thinking about your rut problem, Leanna," Forestwalker said the next day as they readied themselves before breakfast. "In particular, how you cannot relieve your needs by yourself."

Leannaís interest was piqued. "Did you have some idea about how to fix that?"

"I believe so. If I have my facts straight, your problem is twofold. First, you have the slave conditioning to obey your masterís commands. Your former master firmly ordered you not to touch your penis in order to masturbate. Then second, he reinforced that order with painful punishment whenever your extreme need overcame the standard conditioning, so that even attempting to masturbate now brings flashbacks of the pain."

"That sums it up in a nutshell," agreed Leanna.

"Well, the first problem should be straightforward. We deal with it in the same manner as how you are protected from the inadvertent orders of humans Ė we get your Ďmasterí, Boyce, to countermand the orders of your former master."

Leanna nodded. "In principle, I agree that would work. The captain would have to be very forceful in his commands though to counteract the degree to which I was indoctrinated. That would still leave the pain conditioning which is much worse."

Forestwalker smiled reassuringly. "Thatís my specialty. Remember how I fed my own sensations into you when we made love? I believe that I can use that same talent to neutralise the pain. It will not be easy or pleasant, but I think that you would agree that the results will be well worth it."

Leanna had never willingly backed away from a challenge, and this was the most promising course of action that shi had come across. Despite the daunting prospect of feeling the pain again, shi felt a surge of excitement at the prospect of being free from that particular aspect of hir curse. "Are you sure that you can do this, Forest?"

"Well, I donít know if itís ever been done before, but I seem to have been getting a lot of practice with my empathic talent lately, and Iím reasonably certain of success. The bigger question is whether you can deal with the pain until we eliminate it?"

"Iíve fought it at every rut, so Iím no stranger to it. Iím willing to try."

"Good for you! Iíll arrange with Boyce to do his thing, then we can go to your cabin and work on breaking the pain conditioning. Iíll arrange to have some psionic dampers put around the room to block any radiated pain and distress. Hmm, speaking of distress, my belly is growling. Time we got our breakfast! Smells like Boyce has got the coffee ready."

Leanna followed Forestwalker out into the main cabin, bemused as always at how the most powerful person on the ship (and hir erstwhile master) was reduced to coffee-maker for his family, and didnít seem to mind a bit.

Boyce was happy to cooperate. Mindful of their insistence on his being forceful with the countermanding, he went the whole hog. He straightened his uniform, put on his most serious commanding officerís face, and then spoke in his most stentorian voice: "Leanna Fennec, front and centre!" Leanna practically jumped to comply. "Leanna, I hereby rescind your former masterís command that you not touch your penis for any purpose whatsoever, including sexual. From this time forth, you are instructed to relieve yourself by masturbation if you desire at any appropriate time and place, or if thereís no other means available. Your body is exclusively your own. Do you understand and comply?"

Despite having asked him to do so, Leanna was still a bit surprised at how forcefully Boyce had spoken his orders, and actually recoiled a miniscule amount. "Yes sir!" shi barked hir response. Then shi searched hir thoughts and realised that, along with hir willingness to obey, that had done the trick. Shi had no qualms about touching hir cock anymore. However, as soon as shi let hirself think about touching it for sexual purposes, the memory of the pain assaulted hir, and the hand that had drifted to hir sheath jerked back as if burnt.

"Are you okay, Leanna?" Boyce asked in his normal voice.

"Itís alright, sir. Your order seems to have broken my former masterís command successfully, but we still have to deal with the pain conditioning."

"Then itís Forestís turn. Good luck to both of you. From what you have described, that isnít going to be a picnic."

"As soon as d'Armand gets here, weíll get to work on that," Forestwalker said.

"Fine, but take it carefully, dear. This isn't exactly something that you've trained for, and I don't want either of you hurt. Anyway, itís time that I got to the bridge and carried out some normal activities." He turned and headed out the door. Both Forestwalker and Leanna heard him mutter though, "Damnedest orders that Iíve ever had to give...."

The fennec and chakat grinned at each other for a moment before being interrupted by the door chime as Yeoman d'Armand arrived to take care of the cubs while Forestwalker and Leanna were busy. The pair then headed for Leannaís cabin.

Once inside, Forestwalker instructed the computer to turn on the psionic shields. An unpleasant feeling of disconnection from the background hum of emotions indicated to the chakat that the shields were operational. Meanwhile, Leanna had disrobed. Forestwalker told hir to sit on the edge of the bed, then got up onto the bed behind hir and laid down. Shi had Leanna lean back against hir and shi put hir arms around the fennec.

"Okay, letís get this started," Forestwalker said. "First, you need to be aroused." That was easily done by the chakat who fondled Leannaís sheath while projecting erotic thoughts at Leanna. The fennecís penis rapidly unsheathed and grew to full erection.

"So much for the easy part. Alright, Leanna, are you ready?"

"As much as I will ever be, Forest."

"Right. When I say so, I want you to just touch your penis. Take it as easy as you want. The purpose of this initial stage is to try to identify the source of the memory of the pain. I can block it, but that wonít achieve much in the long term due to your perfect memory. I will need to trace every memory, every ghost of the pain that still haunts you. Only then can I deal with it. However, Iím learning my way here, so take your time and donít overwhelm either of us."

"OK. Here goes." Leanna gritted hir teeth and moved hir hand towards hir cock with arousal in hir thoughts.

Forestwalker yelped and drew back, the pain echoing through hir mind. Leanna immediately stopped what shi was doing and looked over hir shoulder in concern.

"Are you okay, Forest?"

"Am I okay?" Forestwalker asked incredulously. "Are you okay? What on Earth was all that pain? I asked you to go easy at first."

"That was easy, Forest. It gets a lot worse."

"A lot? How much worse? How could that much pain be inflicted just to condition you?"

"Itís called a pain-rod," explained Leanna. "Itís a device that stimulates the neural system, the pain receptors in particular. In essence, it inflicts pure pain without incurring any physical damage. It can be varied from low to excruciating. It took such a severe conditioning method to overcome my extreme rut compulsions."

"Oh, you poor dear," Forestwalker said as shi hugged Leanna. "I had no idea that it was that bad."

"Does that mean that weíll have to give up?" Leanna asked in disappointment.

"Not at all! I was just caught by surprise by the intensity. Iíll be better prepared for the next try. Come on, letís get back to it."

Resuming their positions, Forestwalker instructed Leanna to repeat hir previous actions. This time the chakat was ready with a mental block. Mentally shi felt for the source of that memory, pushing back the sensation, dissipating then obliterating it. In some ways shi felt that this was achieved more easily than trying to suppress real pain because this was only an echo, but on the other hand, it was a very strong echo, and if shi understood Leanna correctly, the echoes would continue to gain strength as they progressed.

"A bit more now, Leanna," shi instructed, then grunted as the pain returned. Again shi blocked it and erased it. Slowly they worked closer and closer to the problem, until Leanna actually touched hir penis. Then the pain flared incredibly. Forestwalker blinked away tears of shared pain as hir empathic talent tried to cope with it. Leanna pulled hir hand away, but Forestwalker continued determinedly to trace the offending memory to stop it wreaking its havoc.

Forestwalker drew back with a sigh as shi finally dealt with it, then said to Leanna, "I donít know about you, but Iím having a break for a rest and a drink. How about you?"

Leanna was quite happy to agree. Forest ordered tea for both of them. As they sipped the hot soothing beverage, shi glanced at the clock.

"Good grief! No wonder Iím thirsty. Weíve been working at this for nearly three hours already."

"I can believe it", Leanna replied. "My cock is beginning to ache from being aroused continuously for so long. Itís beginning to be like being in rut without relief."

"We can quit and continue another day if you wish?"

"No way!" Leanna emphatically denied. "As bad as it is, I can feel progress being made. Whatever you have done to me, merely thinking about touching myself no longer triggers the pain. As long as you feel up to it, I want to continue."

Forestwalker nodded. "Fine with me. This has got to be one of the most unpleasant jobs that I have ever done, but I wonít back out now. Iím really beginning to regret not getting that special training for my talent though. That might have made this easier for both of us."

Leanna shrugged. "You could have hardly anticipated this need."

"True," Forestwalker agreed with a crooked grin, "and this sort of work wasnít what I wanted for a career. So, I suppose that I will just have to cope. Iím going to have a snack to help keep up my energy. Do you want one?"

"Good idea," said Leanna as shi realised that shi was beginning to feel a bit peckish.

Forestwalker had the replicator provide energy snacks for both of them. Then after they had been completely refreshed, they resumed their positions and began where they had left off.

It was both harder and easier this session. Harder because the closer that Leanna came to actually masturbating, the worse the pain became. Easier because practice was making Forestwalker more adept at blocking and eliminating the pain. Shi ruthlessly traced every one of those appalling memories assaulting them and bent them to hir will until they were reduced to a mere memory of the event, but without the actual pain echoes. The chakat lost count of the number of times that shi had to do that, and in the brief moments between efforts, shi decided that death had been a far too kind fate for Leannaís former master.

Abruptly the pain started tapering off, the incidents getting more scattered until shi felt the sensation of a barrier suddenly collapsing. Hardly daring to believe it, Forestwalker saw Leanna firmly grasping hir penis and watched hir tentatively slide hir hand along its length. No pain! The conditioning had been broken!

"You did it," Leanna whispered in awe. "You really did it!" Shi spun around and hugged Forestwalker ferociously, tears of relief and happiness spilling onto the chakatís fur. Forestwalker hugged hir back, a huge grin on hir face partly due to the fennecís antics, and partly because shi had succeeded in hir ambitious goal.

Leanna leaned back to look at Forestwalker and started to say something, but burst into a giggle instead.

"Whatís so funny?" Forestwalker asked.

"Take a look at yourself in a mirror," Leanna replied.

Forestwalker got up and looked at hir reflection. Although furred morphs like hirself didnít perspire much, one area that they did was on their scalps, helping to cool the brain. Sweat had soaked hir hair into limp hanks, while tears from the pain had soaked into hir cheeks, making a mess of the fur. It could have been a pathetic sight, but in their elation at the success of the exercise, they both found it extremely amusing instead.

Forestwalker chuckled and said, "I think we should both freshen up a bit. Time to hit the shower!"

ĎFreshening upí was hardly what they did though. They made it a long leisurely affair, shampooing each other and playfully rinsing each other off. After they dried themselves, they realised just how ravenously hungry they both were and ordered a meal that they ate at a casual pace.

Forestwalker leaned back from the table with a satisfied sigh, then shi asked Leanna, "Now that you can, are you going to give yourself a test run?"

Leanna snorted. "Hardly! Do you know how worn out my cock feels? Even a sex slave has limits!" Then shi grinned. "But tomorrowÖ."

Forestwalker grinned. "Let me know how well it goes."

Leanna volunteered to sleep with the children that night, leaving the rest of the adults to have an evening where all the mates were together. The next night shi excused hirself to hir cabin. Shi was actually so excited about the idea of being freely able to masturbate without fear of repercussions for the first time that shi had a massive hard-on as shi walked to hir cabin. Fortunately shi had chosen to wear the skirt style of uniform this day and was able to be discreet about hir condition. Shi practically threw hir clothes off and jumped onto the bed and made hirself comfortable. Then shi pulled up an image in hir mind of hir absent lover, Moyshu, and started stroking hir cock. There was barely a memory of the punishments that shi had received for doing that, and no pain whatsoever. Shi increased hir efforts, sighing and groaning in pleasure, and before long shi shuddered and jerked in orgasm, hir semen spilling onto hir belly fur. As the climax passed, shi leaned back into the pillows and basked in the afterglow, ecstatic at hir new freedom.

After a while, another lover came to mind, and the erection returned. Shi began to stimulate hirself again, taking the time to enjoy a lengthy session this round, fantasising about hir loverís ministrations. When orgasm came, it was even stronger than the first time, with a second dose of semen scarcely less than the original load. This time Leanna decided to call it quits. Shi had satisfied both hir need and hir curiosity by now. Shi had a quick shower, then returned to the captainís cabin. There shi found Forestwalker bedded with the cubs, and shi snuggled up to the chakat without waking hir. Shi gave Forest a fond kiss, then went to sleep, content with knowing that yet another link in hir chains of bondage had been broken.

"Thatís another game to me," Leanna said. "I thought you said that you knew how to play racquetball?" shi asked cheekily.

Forestwalker replied, "I never said that I was particularly good at it!"

Leanna had in fact been thrashing the chakat at the game for about an hour. Despite hir greater speed, Forest's bulk was a hindrance within the confines of the court. Nor had shi played the game very often, but shi didnít want to turn down Leannaís invitation to a game. Besides, shi needed the exercise. Shipboard life was not conducive to fitness.

"Iíll let you off the hook for today then. Besides, I think our allotted time is up. Somebody has booked this holosuite for whatever."

The tired pair headed off to their cabin for refreshments. However, they were mobbed by the cubs the moment that they stepped through the door.

"WhenarewegoingtotheforestAuntieLeanna?Iívegotmybackpackallready. Donítforgetyoupromised!Iwanttocatchabigbutterfly.CanIgoswimming?" The childrenís voices, all rushed and tripping over each other, assaulted them from all sides.

"Whoa! Calm down everybody! Itís not our time yet, and Leanna and I need a break first," Forestwalker said. "Besides, the big holosuite will be set up with the Australian Rainforest program all day. Kayla, dear, could you fetch us some tea? As for you two terrorsÖ" shi grabbed Snowcloud and Patchwork, tucked them under hir arms and carried them squealing and giggling to the lounging mat, "ÖIím going to tickle you until youíre too tired to go bushwalking with us."

"No, mummy!" they chorused and tried to squirm out of hir grasp. "Help us, Auntie Leanna" Snowcloud pled. Patchwork might have asked also, but shi was laughing too much from the tickling that Forestwalker was giving to hir.

Leanna came over and said, "Help tickle you? Sure, I can do that." Shi then put action to words and started tickling the cub.

"No, no! Hee hee hee hee!" giggled Snowcloud.

The twins were saved by Kayla arriving with mugs of tea, and the cubs made their escape as Forestwalker and Leanna gratefully accepted the steaming beverage from her. The two slaked their thirst whilst resting for a few minutes before taking off again on a family excursion. The main holodeck was reserved for major events that the majority of the crew could enjoy, but it also meant that the number of scenes were fewer as they were used for a full day, and particular favourites had to be requested a long time in advance. Forestwalker had promised the cubs an adventure in an Australian forest, so when it finally came around, the children had gotten very excited. Forestwalker had been missing the sights and smells of home, so shi was no less excited, but a lot more restrained. It was to be no less of an adventure for Leanna as shi would be getting a taste for hir new home world.

With the cubs trying to hasten them all the way, Forestwalker and Leanna headed for Holodeck One. Unlike the private closed sessions in the smaller holosuites, they needed no authorisation to enter. In fact, people would be going in and out all day, taking advantage of the change of scenery to relieve the claustrophobic feelings of being confined to the starship for days or weeks.

The group stepped through the doors and into a lush forest. Leanna looked behind hir to see the doorway set into the side of a steep hill, with no other indication that there were walls there, or even a roof above. Looking up, all shi could see was sunlight struggling to reach them through the gently waving treetops. Shi heard the birds before shi spotted any of them, but there were also insects in plenty buzzing around them. And the smells! Leanna drew in deep breaths of the wonderfully scented air and marvelled that such a rich illusion could be made.

"Butterfly!" cried Snowcloud, chasing after hir quarry.

Leanna started to chase after the errant cub, only to be restrained by Forestwalker.

"Let hir be. Shi wonít come to any harm here, and the cubs need a chance to be unrestrained for a while." Forestwalker turned in Snowcloudís direction and raised hir voice, sending an empathic nudge to get the cubís attention as shi told hir, "Just follow the path and meet us by the pool when youíre ready, hon."

"Yes mummy!" Snowcloud said, and then disappeared into the bushes after a tantalising yellow and green butterfly.

Patchwork tugged on hir motherís fur. "Can I go too?" shi asked.

"Certainly, dear. Keep your sister out of trouble, okay?" Forestwalker requested with a smile.

"OK!" Patchwork said, and then took off in Snowcloudís direction.

"So serious for such a young cub," Forestwalker commented with a grin.

"How do you know that they will be safe?" Leanna asked curiously.

"This facility has more safety protocols than you can count. No animals will bite, no insect will sting, they cannot fall and seriously hurt themselves, nor harm others accidentally. They might get minor scrapes or such, but they shouldnít be completely swaddled in cotton wool. Itís the perfect opportunity for them to just run free and be kids without fearing for them."

Leanna looked at Kayla. "What about you?" shi asked.

"Iím looking forward to swimming in the river pool," she answered. "I love swimming. Come on, letís get moving!" she urged the others.

ĎAnother good source of exercise for the young girl,í Leanna thought.

The group walked down the forest path, and Forestwalker pointed out the various plants and the occasional animal that they spotted, and attempted to identify some birds just by their calls. Then the forest canopy opened up as they reached a stream that formed a series of swimming holes carved in rock. Several other crewmembers and children had had the same idea as Kayla, and she hastened to join them. Forestwalker settled down on a ledge where shi could watch and laze in the sunshine. Leanna sat next to hir and drank in the view. It was still amazing.

"I know how big this ship is, and I know the physical limitations of this holodeck, yet all this defies belief. We walked much further than we should have been able to, thereís far more in here than seems possible even allowing for illusion, and I can hardly believe that tomorrow there could be something different but equally incredible in here."

"More tricks up the computerís sleeve than just illusions," Forest explained. "Manipulation of the gravity plates can make even a slight mound seem like a hill, for example. A combination of gravity and illusion can make you feel like you have climbed twenty metres up a tree, but in fact be only a couple above the floor. The winding path seems a lot longer than it actually is. Sounds are deadened or amplified to give aural illusion. You can seem to be alone in the forest, yet be only a few metres from someone else who also thinks that theyíre alone. Itís all been perfected from decades of refinement."

"The realism just makes me worry more about the children. I donít like not knowing where they are," Leanna fretted.

"Iím the one that should be doing the worrying," Forestwalker countered, "but Iím not concerned. Besides, theyíre both about twenty metres in that direction," shi said as shi pointed to the left and slightly behind hirself.

Leanna strained to hear the cubs, but even hir ears failed to pick up any hint. "How do you know that? Is it your empathic talent?"

"Yes, I have an empathic bond with my cubs. Being a strong talent, I can usually place them with fair accuracy. The computer canít fool that sense."

"It must be nice to be able to sense their presence all the time."

"Yes, itís very reassuring, but it isnít all roses. If theyíre hungry, upset or frightened, I feel that also."

"I think itís still worth it."

"Me too," Forest affirmed with a happy smile.

For a while, they lazed in silence. Forestwalker luxuriated in the familiar sights, sounds and smells of hir home country. Leanna admired those also, but spent more time watching Kayla play in the water with the other children. So carefree; so filled with the joy of life. Then the memory of hir own Ďyouthí intruded. As an engineered being, shi had been Ďborní the equivalent of a young teenager, already indoctrinated and partially educated before ever leaving the tank. Shi had had no childhood, no chance to play or socialise. Instead, from the first day that shi awoke, shi had been assaulted with demands for hir obedience, further harsh training, and coping with the sexual demands of a body that shi did not understand. The unpleasant times that Leanna could never forget made Leanna whimper in distress.

Forest turned towards Leanna, concern written over hir face. "Whatís wrong, Leanna? Youíre radiating unhappiness like a beacon."

Leanna struggled to regain the happy mood that shiíd had only moments earlier. "Bad memories," was all shi could get out.

Forestwalker leaned over and hugged the fennec, projecting a soothing calm. With the chakatís help, Leanna was able to push aside those memories, burying them once again where they could be ignored, if not forgotten.

Leanna said, "Iím sorry to have bothered you, Forest. Having a perfect memory is a curse that sometime afflicts me at the most unexpected moments. This time it was my wish for a childhood like our familyís children that triggered it. IÖ need some good memories to obscure the bad ones that still plague me."

"Sounds to me that you need some children of your own to substitute your bad experiences for good ones. With that contraceptive gone, you can plan on doing that now. In fact, if you will permit me to meddle a little bit more, I think there might be someone who could help you along that path."

Leanna nuzzled Forestwalker. "Youíve done so much for me already. I trust whatever you are planning to do."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence. I know this person genuinely likes herms, so that isnít an issue. Iíll talk to him tonight and let you know what I can do."

"Thanks, Forest. I feel better now. Iím curious to see what you come up with." Giving Forestwalker a quick lick-kiss, shi got up and stripped off hir top, leaving just hir shorts on. Shi would have taken off the shorts also, but aside from dress regulations, shi was still maintaining the perception that shi was just a female crewmember. "Iím going to join the kids in the pool!"

Forestwalker watched Leanna jump into the pool, and the cubs let hir join in their games. The chakat smiled a little sadly, knowing that while the fennec would enjoy hirself, shi was also trying to compensate for the lack of a childhood at the same time. Forestwalker pondered on how to give Leanna some of that innocent joy while still living up to hir adult responsibilities. As dedicated as Leanna was to hir goals, shi would have to be persuaded to just enjoy life a bit more without other responsibilities repressing hir. Freeing hir from needing sex so that it became a matter of choice instead, had been one important step. Perhaps it was time to enlist the cubsí help. They at least knew how to have fun. Speaking of whichÖ.

Forest surged to hir feet, ducking to one side as two mischievous cubs erupted from the bushes behind hir to try to surprise pounce hir. Forestwalker laughed and took off into the trees, hir twins in gleeful pursuit. Even adult chakats knew when to have fun!

Forestwalker approached Boyce about hir idea that evening. "Iíd like to request several sessions with a real-time subspace comm link."

Boyceís eyebrows raised in surprise. "Those put a high demand on the shipís resources, you know. Thatís why crew are allocated very few slots for personal use."

"I know, but this is in regards to Leanna. You know that shi has dreamed of finding a mate and having a family, but there arenít any fennecs known on Earth. However, we know that shiís compatible with other fox morphs, and I know at least two who might be interested, and definitely like herms."

"Youíre going to hook hir up with Kris and Trina?" Boyce asked.

"Thatís the idea, yes. First Iíll need to speak with them to make sure that theyíre okay with the idea, but knowing them like I do, Iíd be surprised if theyíre not. Theyíve been trying and trying to have another child, but it seems Markus may be the only time that theyíll be successful. If Leanna is more compatible with one or both, then everyone can come out ahead with this."

"So you want to be sure that theyíll be compatible on a social level before committing on the physical? That makes sense. Disappointments are more likely to be avoided, and itíll save time if they do get along well together. HmmÖ Well, I did promise you whatever resources needed to get Leanna as well integrated as possible, but I hope that shi realises that there will need to be some quid pro quo for all that weíve been doing for hir. Iíll speak to the head of communications to arrange the comm time."

Forestwalker hugged Boyce. "Thanks, love."

Boyce hugged hir back. "Youíre welcome, but Iím doing this as much for the Federation as for you. Leanna is going to create quite a stir when shi meets with the Ďexpertsí."

"Thatís probably true, but I really donít care much. Iím far more concerned for Leannaís happiness."

"We each do what we must. Good luck, Forest."

"Thanks, Boyce," shi replied with a nuzzle.

Shipís time was comparable to the time zone on Earth where shi lived, so Forestwalker was able to place a call soon after dinner. Hir lifemates were delighted with the rare opportunity to talk with hir live, and the trio spent a few minutes catching up on a few important matters. Reluctantly though, Forestwalker had to cut that short because shi didnít want to abuse the privilege that shi had been granted. Shi explained what shi had in mind for them and Leanna.

Kris said, "I can tell you that weíve been keen to meet Leanna after all you have told us about hir in your letters to us. As shiís one of the family now, weíd been wondering how shi would wish to relate to us, but if shiís that keen to have children, then that certainly sits well with me."

"Me too!" Trina interjected. "When do we get to talk with hir?"

"As soon as I talk to hir and fill in some details so that shi can decide for hirself. Iím only setting this up, not pushing it through. However, Iím almost certain that shi will like this idea once shi gets to know you two. So be prepared for another call soon."

"Weíll be waiting. Give our love to everybody," Trina said.

"Iíll do that. Tail high!" With that, Forestwalker closed the connection and sought out Leanna. Shi explained what shi had in mind, and told hir that all shi had to do was to talk with them for a while and see if there was any chemistry between them.

"But these are your own lifemates! When you said that you had someone in mind, I thought it was with a friend. Wonít there be anyÖ problems?" Leanna asked apprehensively.

"Not a bit. Kris and Trina have been intimate with many others before you, and occasionally both together. Theyíre actually quite excited at the prospect of you being there. They reckon itíll be nice to have another biped fox in the family!" Forestwalker added with a grin.

Leanna blinked and wondered if Forest truly had a blind spot. "No, I meant you. How will you feel about me being intimate with your lifemates?"

"What? Oh, thatís not a problem. I know they love me, and nothing that you could do could take that away from me."

"You truly donít feel jealousy at all, do you? Thatís amazing. Iíve seen some terrible things done by jealous lovers."

"I sometimes pity the majority of people. Theyíre stuck with that ugly emotion, and all the havoc it causes."

"So you donít think that sharing your lifemates detracts from your relationship with them?"

"No. In fact I think that it enhances it. It brings change and vitality. Variety is the spice of life. While I wouldnít stop loving them, it could get a bit dull after a while, and thatís not fair on any of us."

Leanna felt reassured. "Well, in that case, Iíd like to give it a try."

"Great! We can do it immediately," Forestwalker said enthusiastically.

Leanna was hardly the shy type, but shi did feel a touch of shyness as Forestwalker formally introduced hir to Kris. This was totally new and different, and just a tiny bit scary. This could be another turning point in hir life.

Kris was handsome and athletic; Trina was beautiful and vivacious. Leanna liked them on sight, and their unforced friendly demeanour was even more attractive.

"Forest has told us so much about you," Kris said. "Letís get to know each other better. Trina and I will answer any question that you want to ask, and you can fill in some details that have us curious."

With a satisfied smile, Forestwalker left the threesome chatting animatedly. Shi didnít need a special talent to know that Leanna was more than a little interested.

The remainder of the journey to Earth was unremarkable. Leanna still slept with the family each night, a couple of times even enjoying a bit of sex-play with MíLai when the rotating sleeping arrangements left the Caitian with no partner for therapeutic intercourse. Hir cabin was still used each evening however, partly in order to concentrate on hir studies, but now also to spend time on the subspace comm to chat with Kris and Trina. As the arrival date approached, Leannaís excitement became palpable, rubbing off on the empathic chakat cubs and making them a bit more hyper than normal. Leanna had to draw on hir self-discipline to calm hirself, and thus the children.

Shi brought all the cubs to the observation lounge when told that they were approaching Earth. Shi felt the odd sensation of the ship dropping out of warp, and the nearby stars ceased moving visibly. Within minutes, shi spotted a brightening point of light that rapidly grew into a recognisable planet with a single moon orbiting it. The children watched in fascination as the blue and white spheroid grew large enough to fill the whole view. Then an orbiting structure became visible as the ship altered course to circle the planet. A satellite the size of the Rakshan starbase approached at a rapid but diminishing speed until it too filled the forward view. Leanna was startled to see an enormous hatch start to open to reveal an even bigger docking bay. Apparently they werenít going to beam over but actually moor inside! The fennec was no less fascinated than hir charges as the huge ship slipped precisely through the hatch and into the allocated dock. Pegasus came to a halt and tractor beams secured the starship in place.

"Welcome to Starbase One," came a voice from behind hir. Shi turned around to see Midnight and Forestwalker standing behind them. They had apparently been watching the approach also.

Midnight continued, "I wanted to watch with Forest. Itís an impressive sight, even for someone who has seen it several times."

"I donít expect that Iíll see it again," Leanna said. "So Iím glad to have gotten the chance to see it this time. What happens now?"

"Well, as chief of security, I have to stay here for a while longer, as will the Captain and Commander Rosepetal. MíLai will meet with you in the cabin soon, as sheís only the assistant head M.O., and Doctor Kelly will be responsible for her section. Then once you are completely packed and ready, you can accompany Forest and disembark through airlock five where a boarding tube will be connected. Sign off with security there, and your tour of duty on the Pegasus will be officially over. Head to the Personnel Transporter and beam down to Melbourne Spaceport. Kris and Trina will meet you all there with the bus."

"Iím virtually ready now. As soon as the cubs are ready also, then we can go," Leanna replied.

"Thatís my cue," Forestwalker said. "Iíll catch you later back home, love," shi added, giving Midnight a quick hug.

Forestwalker, Leanna and the children went straight back to the cabin where they organised the last of the packing and loaded it onto a couple of hover trolleys. Snowcloud and Patchwork insisted on riding on one each which MíLai and Forestwalker pushed while Leanna took care of little Ember while Windrunner was in hir usual place in the carisak strapped around Forestwalkerís taur torso. They met Strata who had been waiting for them near Airlock Five. Forestwalker had been insistent that the foxtaur stay as their guest until shi could take hir to meet hir potential mate at Garrekís village. It hadnít taken much arm-twisting to make Strata agree. Shi rather enjoyed their company and had no other place to go anyway. They all dutifully signed off and walked through the boarding tube into the starbase.

Forestwalker had arrived through this base, but that didnít make hir familiar with the place. MíLai had passed through several times, however, and knew the way quite well. Leanna was only slightly tempted to sightsee. Shi was too excited at the prospect of finally setting foot on Earth and meeting Kris and Trina in the flesh. There was a short queue at the Transporter station from the crewpersons who had left the Pegasus before them, but before long they were stepping off the Transporter pad at Melbourne Spaceport.

As they stepped out of the room, Leanna asked Forestwalker, "Can I stop pretending to be a normal crew now?"

Forestwalker replied, "I donít see why not."

"Good!" Right there, Leanna promptly pulled off hir uniform top. Then shi dropped the skirt portion. Forestwalker was relieved to see that Leanna was wearing a blue mini-skirt underneath the uniform. Shi really didnít want to try to explain to anyone why a naked fennec was walking through the spaceport. Leanna took off hir special bra and sighed with relief. "You donít know how sick and tired I was of wearing all those clothes. It may be a part of my slave upbringing, but I feel so much more comfortable without all that stuff on!"

Forestwalker laughed and agreed. "I think Iíll lighten up too," shi said, stripping off hir uniform top and leaving just a comfy singlet.

MíLai chuckled at the two, but didnít join them.

This time it was Forestwalker who led the way, having been here a few times before. Shi led them out of the restricted area and into the foyer where several people were apparently waiting, probably for other crewpersons from the Pegasus. Forestwalkerís face lit up with delight when shi recognised a medium tall red fox morph clad only in blue denim shorts. ĎWell, itís summer now and itíd be too hot for comfort with any more clothes,í shi thought, Ďand it sure shows off his rugged buff figure!í

Forestwalker brought the party to a halt and turned to Leanna and said, "I know that youíre eager to meet Kris in person, but let me have a moment with my lifemate before you monopolise him."

"Of course, Forest. Thatís only fair."

Forestwalker turned back to Kris and bounded over to him to give the fox a huge hug that was just as warmly returned. Then they kissed with the enthusiasm of lovers parted for too long. Finally they broke, grinning happily at each other.

Forestwalker glanced around, then asked, "Whereís Trina?"

"We were running a tad late, so when we got here, all the convenient parking spaces were already occupied, and those that were left were too small for the bus. So Trina drove off in search of a good place to park, while I walked inside to make sure that there would be someone here to meet you if she didnít get back in time."

"Good idea. So, are you ready for a very excited fennec?"

Kris glanced over hir shoulder at Leanna. "Are you sure this is what you want, Forest?"

"Of course! Otherwise I wouldnít have suggested it. The better question is whether you are okay with this? As much as I want to help Leanna, I donít want it to be at your or Trinaís expense."

Kris smiled reassuringly. "Itís okay. As we told you over the comm, shiís a very interesting person, and quite attractive. Knows how to dress appropriately too, I see," he added with a grin.

Forest giggled. "I canít argue with that. Go get hir, foxy!" Shi walked back over to the others and said, "Heís all yours, hon."

Happy first meeting

Leanna flung hir arms around Forestwalker and hugged and lick-kissed hir. "Thanks for everything, Forest!" Then the excited fennec ran over to Kris with open arms, leaving behind a dishevelled but pleased chakat. Kris wrapped Leanna in his arms and they held each other for a few moments before he said, "Itís nice to be able to hold you at last, Leanna. Welcome to Earth, Australia, and hopefully your new home."

"Thank you, Kris. Between you, Forest and Trina, Iím sure that Iím going to love it here."

"Aaw! I missed the meeting," came a female voice. Everyone turned to face the owner of the voice to see an Arctic Fox fem dressed in tight small shorts and matching halter walking over to the group. She noticed Leanna in Krisís arms and headed for them. She gave Leanna a hug and a lick-kiss and said, "Great to have you here, Leanna. Now donít let me interrupt you two anymore."

"Thanks, Trina," Leanna replied. "Weíll talk more later, Iím sure. Right now, I think Forest needs at least one of hir lifemates."

"No less than I need to have hir in my arms again, I assure you," Trina agreed with a grin. She gave Leanna a wink, then bounced over to Forestwalker. Flinging herself on the chakat, she gave hir a cheeky grope and said, "Ravish me, my long-lost lover!"

"Donít think that I mightnít!" Forestwalker said with a laugh. "Iím in a male mood, and Iíve been horny at the thought of seeing you all morning."

"Take it from the one who has had the unfortunate experience of doing it in the wrong places," began MíLai as she walked over to the couple, "you donít want to do it here." She began herding the giggling duo in the direction of the exit. Kris and Leanna laughed and followed, with the children in tow and Strata bringing up the rear.

The Ďbusí was a PTV designed for several taurs, but it did have seating for several bipeds also, which enabled Trina to drive it both there and back. As soon as she got onto the highway though, she put it into full automatic and let the A.I. drive them home. That way she got to cuddle with Forestwalker and chat with the others without distraction. The locals pointed out the scenery and landmarks to the newcomers until eventually the PTV pulled into the driveway and smoothly came to a halt in front of the doorway.

Snowcloud and Patchwork piled out of the door as fast as they could, but they were still met halfway by other cubs pouring out of the house, followed at a more leisurely pace by Goldfur and Garrek. The cubs all quickly disappeared as they went romping around to the back of the house. Goldfur and Forestwalker engaged in a long embrace with much stroking, nuzzling and purring, ecstatic to be together again after such a long separation. When they were finally done, MíLai, Leanna and Strata were formally introduced to the family before they went inside for afternoon tea.

Over hot drinks and special treats that Goldfur had specially prepared for hir sisterís return, Leanna and MíLai were made to feel welcome in the den, and told to treat it as their home. They and their guest spent a long time in relaxed and enjoyable conversation. Twice Garrek was embarrassed to be caught ogling MíLaiís prodigious bust, but he soon figured out that the Caitian had been forewarned about his breast fetish and was deliberately teasing him. After that he unabashedly admired them and the statuesque Caitian who proudly showed them off.

Leanna was introduced to Tailstalker as the little cub slept through an afternoon nap, and the rest of the cubs when they tired and came inside to raid the goodies that the adults had left behind. Shi liked the central sleeping area and its satellite rooms, and commented that it was a much more practical arrangement than the starship cabins. Shi was given a guest room with the warning that shi would have to share it at times because the family had practically outgrown the house. Leanna didnít care. Shi could hardly believe that shi had only been there a couple of hours but shi was being treated as if shi had been part of the family for years. Shi kept wondering when things were going to go sour, but it was hard to be pessimistic in the face of all the friendliness of the chakats.

Goldfur announced that they were going out for dinner, and they had a table reserved at the Cootamundra Gardens, their favourite restaurant.

"Whoís going to look after the cubs though?" Leanna asked.

"Most of them will be coming too," Goldfur informed hir. "Itís a family-friendly place, and the owners know us well. Tailstalker and Windrunner will have cub-sitters though, and if my ears donít deceive me, thatís them arriving now."

Goldfur led Leanna to the front door and opened it to reveal two chakats emerging from a two-seater taur model PTV. One had reddish fur all over, and the other was white tiger-striped. Goldfur greeted them both with hugs. Then shi said to Leanna, "This is Desertsand, my sire, and Longstripe, my mother. Dad and mum, Iíd like you to meet Leanna, the newest addition to the madhouse."

Goldfurís parents gave Leanna the usual greeting hugs and then had to greet their other child, Forestwalker, when shi turned up at the door also.

"Thanks for coming early to cubsit for us at short notice," Goldfur said.

"Well, we were coming over anyway for Christmas eve, so this way we get to meet Leanna also," explained Longstripe. "And of course we can chat with Forest when you get back from dinner. We have a lot of catching up to do!"

And that was all that they got to say before the children discovered that their Ďgransí were there, and started clamouring for attention. It took the efforts of most of the adults to get the excited cubs ready for the outing. Leanna had decided not to wear hir Egyptian outfit as shi was told that it was a bit too fancy for the restaurant. Shi looked through the other clothing that shi had brought from the ship. Forestwalker had advised hir to take advantage of the clothes replicator while shi had the chance, and Leanna now possessed a fair wardrobe. Shi chose a simple skirt that was split down the sides that looked very nice and didnít inhibit hir at all.

"How do I look?" shi asked Forestwalker as shi modelled it for hir.

"Very nice! What top are you going to wear with it?"

"Top? I thought that it was okay to go bare-breasted in this society?" Leanna asked with a frown of puzzlement.

"It is," Forestwalker reassured hir, "but for formal situations, itís considered good taste to wear a top to suit the occasion. Heaven knows that I go topless often enough, but I like to dress up for special times like these."

"Oh. Okay, I can live with that. I think that I have something that will go well with this skirt." Leanna actually had a couple of nice tops that suited. Shi chose a blouse which shi put on over hir special bra. Shi received several compliments on hir outfit, and shi in turn was impressed by those that the others wore. Trina, who had spent the entire day clad in nothing but her tight shorts, now had an attractive dress on, and Kris was in trousers and a sports jacket. Forestwalker had changed into an elegant halter, while hir sister had gone for a vest over a silk shirt. MíLai impressed them all with a Terran style jacket and trousers which she told them she only ever seemed to have a chance to wear rarely. Garrek wore a foxtaur style vest and matching armbands. Kayla had a Caitian day robe, Markus had on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, while all the chakat cubs wore pretty tops. The latter were the hardest to dress because chakat cubs were notoriously hard to convince to wear anything at all.

By now they were regular customers at the Cootamundra Gardens restaurant, and the proprietors greeted them with pleasure. After introductions of the newest members of their company, they were shown to their table where they celebrated the homecoming with a very fine meal and lively conversation. Leanna was seated next to Kris who devoted a lot of attention to hir, and later walked home with the fennec arm in arm. Leanna was flattered by all the attention, and still felt a bit guilty about taking him away from his lifemate. However, Trina was also paying a lot of attention to Forestwalker, and they both firmly ignored hir the one time that shi tried to suggest that Kris should be with them and not hir. After that token effort, shi let hirself fully enjoy being with the tod.

As pleasant as all the socialising was, shi felt even more excited when it came time to retire for the night. This was as close to a dream come true as could possibly be Ė a handsome and willing male who wanted to make love to hir for hirself, and not because shi was a sex slave, or in physical need. Trina and Forestwalker of course were committed to making up for lost time, but that left MíLai single.

"Donít worry about me," MíLai assured them. "Itís not as if I canít go one night without sex. Iím not that bad."

"Nonsense!" Goldfur stated emphatically. "No family memberís needs are ignored in a chakat household. If nightly sex is whatís best for you, then thatís what you get."

"Oh? Are you volunteering for that, Goldfur?"

"Actually I was thinking of volunteering Garrek," shi replied.

"Huh? What?" Garrek was startled, then realised sheepishly that heíd been caught staring again.

Goldfur grinned at hir mateís embarrassment, then said, "I think youíll appreciate a skilful male lover like him, and it might just help get his mind off your boobs if he gets a chance to work it out of his system."

MíLai grinned back at Goldfur. "Sounds good to me, and I must admit to being curious about bedding a foxtaur tod. How about you, stud?" she asked Garrek.

The foxtaur shrugged and replied, "Works for me, although I donít think I have much say in the matter."

"That leaves you alone, Goldfur. What will you do?" MíLai asked.

"Iíll be sleeping with mum, dad and the cubs, of course. I donít have a long-parted mate to catch up with."

And so Leanna soon found hirself in one of the private alcoves of the sleeping area with Kris. Shi started to remove hir clothes when he stopped hir.

"Allow me," he said, and he unbuttoned the blouse and set it aside. Then he skilfully undid hir bra and paused to admire hir modest-sized but pert breasts whose stiffened nipples poked through the fur. He bent over to give each of them a slow lick-kiss, and a thrill went through Leanna. He then unfastened the skirt, and it fell to the floor. Leanna stepped out of it clad only in blue panties that were cut for a herm like hir. Again Kris paused to admire hir, and this time Leanna posed for him. Finally Kris crouched down in front of hir, then pulled down the panties. He leaned into hir crotch and breathed in hir scent, something that not even Forestwalker had done. Shi wondered if it was a fox thing, or hir scent that made him do so.

Kris then stood up and stepped back a couple of paces to look at hir better. By now, Leanna was getting very aroused, and that meant that hir penis was also rapidly unsheathing itself. Again shi posed for him, and he admired hir as shi came to full erection. His eyes wandered all over hir body as he drank in hir beauty, and Leanna soon realised that shi was getting more aroused by his gaze than shi had been by some othersí intimate touches. It became too much to resist, and shi stepped over to the tod and embraced him for a long moment while shi regained a measure of self-control. Then shi started undressing him as he had done for hir. Eventually he too was nude and proudly erect, and after Leanna had a chance to admire his well-toned and tautly muscled body, they embraced again.

Gently, Kris lowered Leanna to the bed and he began to caress hir, starting from hir cheeks, then hir shoulders. He brushed over hir breasts, cupping them and teasing the nipples with his thumbs before moving down to the belly. When he came to hir rigid shaft, he gave that equal attention before moving down further, stroking hir sheath then down to the pubic mound. Shi thought that he was going to dwell there, but he only teased for a moment before moving down to the thighs, then hir calves, and finally tenderly massaging hir feet. Leanna had never been treated like this in all hir career, and shi found it to be profoundly erotic. Shi closed hir eyes and shuddered in pleasure. When shi opened them again, his face was above hirs, gazing at hir in desire. He leaned in to kiss hir, and shi eagerly joined in. For a couple of minutes, the pair embraced, fondling each other as their tongues met and played. Then they parted, both panting a little before Kris resumed his exploration of the fennecís body.

Kris makes love to Leanna

This time he sat on the edge of the bed and had hir sit in his lap. Shi loved the feeling of his erect cock against hir back while he stimulated the rest of hir with his hands. This time they lingered on hir breasts, and the hypersensitive nipples rapidly built hir pleasure to the point of orgasm. Shi gasped and shook in ecstasy as it hit. Kris held hir and nuzzled hir cheek as it passed, then repeated the effort. This time the orgasm was even stronger, and shi nearly jerked out of his grasp before it abated. Shi was more than ready to accept him now. Shi got up off his lap and turned around. Pushing him back onto the bed, shi climbed over him and grinned predatorily. Shi took his hand and placed it on hir groin, letting him feel how wet hir fur was from the flowing love juices. He slipped a finger between hir labia and teased hir clitoris until shi was nearly mad with desire. Shi took his rigid penis in one hand, and with hir other, moved his hand away. Shi lowered hirself onto his cock until the head pushed hir labia apart, then with one smooth movement, took him entirely within hirself. Shi moaned in delight, and Kris let out a growl of pleasure. They enjoyed their joining for a long moment before they began the thrust and retreat of the ultimate act of love-making. Trained as shi was in control of making love, shi still found it almost impossible to withhold the impending orgasm, wishing to make this last as long as possible for both their sakes, but especially for Kris. He sensed hir hesitation though and played his final card. He stroked hir penis, and the extra pleasure combined with the distraction to send hir over the edge. Shi threw back hir head and groaned loudly in sheer ecstasy as a massive climax exploded through hir body. It took a long time to come down from those heights, but when shi did, shi grinned at Kris.

"You didnít have to do that. You havenít come yet," shi accused.

He smiled back slyly. "Oh, but I did have to, and I will." He then commenced to stroke hir breasts again, playing with the rock-hard nipples, taking advantage of hir extreme sensitivity. Well before the pleasant glow from hir previous orgasm had abated, shi was already building up towards another. Kris was relentless, but shi could use it too. Shi massaged his penis with hir inner muscles, slipping up and down on his shaft, and doing hir utmost to push him to climax also. It worked, and he started thrusting wildly as orgasm overcame him, just before shi too lost control and climaxed a moment later. They growled and writhed in shared pleasure until they finally lay panting in intimate embrace.

Neither spoke or did anything for several minutes as they enjoyed the warm glow of their sexual satisfaction. Eventually though, Kris propped himself up on one arm and started caressing hir body again.

"MmmmÖ havenít you had enough yet?" Leanna asked with a smile.

"I wouldnít mind another round, but not quite yet. You need this more than I do."

Leanna arched an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"

Kris ran his fingernail teasingly along the length of hir erection, making hir squirm a little. "This tells me that youíre not satiated yet

Leanna knew that was true, but had not intended to make it an issue with Kris. "I thought that you would be most interested in my female side."

Kris shook his head. "Iím making love to a beautiful herm vixen. Why would I stop at pleasing just hir female side?" With that, he leaned forward and licked hir penis once, then again more slowly.

Leanna clutched at the sheets as the sensation sent a huge thrill through hir. Shi tried to protest, but could not find the will nor reason to do so. Instead, shi watched as Kris took hir rigid cock into his muzzle and started pleasuring hir even more. Helpless to do anything else, shi let hirself enjoy the attention, and quickly came to release. Shi squirted hir cum into his muzzle with each quick thrust of hir hips until shi collapsed in repletion. Hir penis finally started to relax as Kris sat back up again, licking his lips with a smile of satisfaction.

"Youíre really good at that," Leanna commented.

"I should hope so. Iíve been practicing on chakats for long enough!"

"Come here, lover," shi demanded, holding up hir hand.

Kris took it, and shi pulled him down upon hirself. Shi then put hir other hand behind his head to pull him into a long passionate kiss. Shi tasted hir own seed in his mouth and was turned on again. This time it was shi who caressed his body until shi felt his erection come to fullness. Then shi guided his penis to hir waiting sex, and he gently entered hir again.

Shi smiled at him and said, "Once more for the both of us."

Kris smiled and nodded. They took their time to wring out every last bit of enjoyment from their joining. When Leanna judged that the optimum moment had come, shi brought them both to simultaneous orgasms. They then laid together as one until Krisís fading erection slipped free. They cuddled for a very long time without talking. Leanna was sure that Kris would be capable of one more orgasm, but judged that he was already satisfied with what they had achieved. As a sex slave, shi had also been taught to know when enough was enough, and there was such a thing as too much. Being what shi was, shi could go on for as long as was necessary, but with Kris replete, shi felt an unusual degree of satisfaction. Wrapped around each other, they drifted off into peaceful slumber.

The next morning as Forestwalker ate hir breakfast, Leanna ran up to hir and gave hir a huge hug. Surprised, shi said, "Not that Iím not enjoying this, but whatís it for?"

Leanna looked up at Forestwalker with a big grin. "For giving me such a wonderful lover, of course."

"Ah! Youíre very welcome. I trust that you had at least as good a time with Kris as Trina and I did last night?"

"Better!" Leanna said mischievously.

"Is that so? Well, Iím going to have to get a report from Kris then. I think Iíll take it from him tonight while Trina double-checks your claim."

"I get Trina too?" Leanna asked in surprise.

"If Trina likes you, then itís nearly unavoidable. In this case though, she has been particularly eager to snuggle with a herm fox as you were to do so with a male one."

Leanna pondered that. Shi was still learning how to be a proper companion to a female. Moyshu had been very good for hir, but the foxtaur was still basically lesbian and Leanna was still not quite comfortable with the male side of hir nature. However, shi wanted to be. At the least, shi was as proficient at sexually pleasuring females as males, but this could be so much more. There were so many uncertainties, but also so much to gain. Shi had enjoyed talking with Trina over the comm almost as much as with Kris, so there should be plenty of common ground. Also, Forest was eager to have hir spend the night with Trina, and the chakat had been right so far. Shi looked at hir and said, "Iím up for the challenge."

Forestwalker gave a knowing smile. "Everybody thinks that at first. Weíll see."

MíLai joined them at the tail end of their conversation. Turning to her, Forestwalker asked, "What about you, MíLai? Were you up to the challenge?"

"You didnít tell me how well endowed he is," she accused both Forestwalker and Goldfur, who grinned back.

"That would have spoiled the surprise," Goldfur explained. "Was he too much for you?"

"Oh, it was tight thing, but we had a lot of fun getting there. We also found out how well his long cock and my big breasts work together. I think weíre going to be the new tit-fucking champions of this family."

The chakats laughed and applauded, realising that they had been one-upped on their little joke. Leanna couldnít help but grin along with them. Shi found the chakatsí good humour and honest feelings addictive. They werenít above harmless pranks, yet when it came down to what was truly important, shi trusted them implicitly. So if Forest thought Trina would make a good partner too, shi needed no more recommendation to give it a try.

Leanna didnít have much of a chance to think about the matter for the rest of the day. The family was busy with two things. First was making arrangements to visit Garrekís village soon. Second, they still had a lot of preparations to make for Christmas, and besides doing some pre-cooking for the Christmas feast, there was still the last-minute shopping to be done, especially for presents for the cubs. Forestwalker insisted that Leanna accompany hir and Trina. MíLai asked to come along, and Strata surprised them by requesting to go too.

The foxtaur explained: "Actually I want to drop off a starstone at a jeweller or two to get them appraised. Besides, Iíd like to get out of the house for a while."

Messy Cook

"Fair enough," Forestwalker said. "Kris, could you keep an eye out for Goldie. Donít let hir try to help with the cooking."

Kris laughed. "Will do. Iíve learned that lesson."

Forestwalker explained to the curious fennec, "Goldfur is an excellent technician, but put hir in a kitchen and shi has two left hands and can burn water!"

"Youíve got to be exaggerating!" Leanna said in disbelief.

"Oh? Donít say we didnít warn you."

Leanna still wondered if they were pulling hir leg, and how much.

The day was very hot, and Forestwalker chose a simple purple halter to wear. Trina went in her usual shorts and matching bikini top. Leanna also chose shorts, not concerned anymore whether people noticed the bulge of hir sheathed penis, but shi left out a top. If shi didnít have to wear something to suit an occasion, shi was going to choose comfort every time. MíLai decided to match the fashion and selected shorts and a halter also. Fortunately Garrek wasnít around at that moment to be stunned by her sexy outfit. Strata disdained clothing of any kind. "I never wore anything except protective overalls for my entire time on Arisia, except for the days that I arrived and departed," shi explained. Forestwalker shrugged. Taurs could get away with nudity; shi had done it often enough when the mood struck hir.

Despite the heat, Forestwalker and Trina preferred to walk to the township. Both were incurable hikers, but they offered to let the others use the PTV.

"Iím sticking with you!" declared Leanna.

"Iím in no hurry," MíLai said, "and my home climate is as hot as this, so it doesnít bother me."

"Then Iíll stick with the rest of you for now while Iím unfamiliar with the territory," Strata decided. "Besides, Iím no stranger to walking in all sorts of conditions. There were very few vehicles out on the frontier."

So they trooped off to the shops together. They passed a jewellerís shop first, and after letting Strata know where to find them, left the foxtaur to hir business.

Leanna was beginning to pant with the heat and exertion. "Darn fur is too thick for this season," shi grumbled.


"Iíve an idea," Forestwalker began. "Iíll buy you an ice cream. Thatíll help a little. Meanwhile you need to rest a bit." Shi startled Leanna by picking hir up with ease, twisting around and seating the fennec on hir taur haunches. "You can ride for a while. Now, what flavour ice cream would you prefer?"

Although shi was surprised, Leanna quickly gathered hir wits and asked for spearmint choc-chip. Shi found it very easy to keep hir seat on the chakat and guessed that Forestwalker was walking in a careful manner that was most stable for a rider. Forestwalker gave hir a huge cone with more ice cream than shi really wanted, so shi offered to share it. Trina happily accepted the offer. They alternated licks of the rapidly melting ice cream, Trina occasionally licking it off Leannaís hand instead with slightly sensuous laps of her tongue. They enjoyed the cold treat as they ambled down the shady tree-lined avenue. The cone was finished off just as they reached their first destination, and Leanna slid off Forestwalkerís back and gave hir a thank-you hug. Then they went ahead with their task and Leanna began hir initiation into the art of Christmas shopping.

The shopping party returned tired but successful. They discovered that Boyce, Rosepetal and Midnight had arrived in their absence. Forestwalker was delighted to see that they'd made a detour first, and picked up their sister, Quickpaw. Much hugging and nuzzling ensued. Leanna was introduced to the calico chakat, and they soon discovered their mutual interest in children. Forestwalker left them animatedly discussing the care and raising of kittens and cubs.

There were also four other unexpected guests.

"Fancy seeing you here, Roger," Forestwalker said to the bunny boy. The rabbit brothers had started wearing their hair in different styles to enable others to easily tell them apart. Roger had chosen to cut his fairly short and neat, while Peter had had gone for shoulder-length hair, Oswald tied his uncut hair into a ponytail, and Harvey went for a rather wild cut and style.

"The ship is down to a skeleton crew right now, so cooks arenít needed," Roger explained. "When we heard that the captain was going to his Earth family home for Christmas, we asked who was doing the cooking. So here we are!"

Forestwalker blinked in surprise, the said, "That isnít necessary, Roger. Aside from a little help in preparation, weíll be okay. Why donít you guys take a well-earned vacation?"

Roger shook his head. "Weíre not interested in a vacation. We want to try out recipes for traditional Christmas foods. That hunky tod, Kris, has already taken Peter and Harvey shopping for fresh ingredients."

Forestwalker didnít know what to say. Boyce came up beside hir and gave hir a hug. "Give up, honey. You donít stand a chance of winning this argument, that much Iíve learned. Heck, short of at gunpoint, I couldnít even get them to set foot off the Pegasus until I gave them signed guarantees that they could stay on permanently as the official shipís cooks. Fortunately Star Fleet HQ was sympathetic and agreed that they were well placed there and officially signed them up."

Roger grinned unrepentantly. A direct firm order from the human could have made them leave, but they had already realised that the captain was sympathetic to their cause, and had done their best to guide the course of events to this conclusion.

Forestwalker sighed in defeat, then smirked at the rabbit. "Donít think youíre going to get anywhere with Kris though. He likes herms, but isnít into outright homosexuality. So feast your eyes, boys, because thatís all youíll get!"

Rogerís grin faded a little. "Oh well, canít win them all I suppose."

Forest left Roger and Oswald familiarising themselves with the kitchen facilities, and occasionally making a comm call to their brothers to get them to purchase something extra. Seeing Trina walking into her office with a fresh cup of coffee, shi idly wondered if shi could challenge her to seduce one of the bunny brothers. It would be the classic irresistible force meeting the unmoveable object! Trina loved a challenge, but Forestwalker knew that the rabbits literally had zero sexual interest in females. Shi grinned at the image that presented in hir mind, but decided not to tease hir lifemate or the brothers.

Not content with planning tomorrowís feast, the brothers whipped up dinner with hardly any effort. Forestwalker decided that shi could get used to this!

The house was filled to capacity with family and friends Ė just the way chakats liked it. Perhaps it was the excitement of Christmas coming the next day that made it extra special. The cubs wore themselves out after dinner, playing outside for hours in the extended daylight of the Australian summer. As darkness finally fell, they were put to bed and the adults settled down for a few hours of pleasant conversation. The bunny brothers served up coffee and cake before finally being convinced to stop fooling around in the kitchen and relax with the rest. Surprisingly, they were good conversationalists, with several amusing or intriguing stories from before the time when they were sold and shipped off-world. Eventually though, they headed off to bed also, claiming to need to get up early to start their preparations for the feast. They were soon followed by the chakats, all of whom needed more sleep than the average biped, but not before they got out all the presents for the children and put them under the Christmas tree. Finally the last of the adults called it a night and either joined the communal bed, or sought more privacy in one of the satellite bedrooms.

Leanna checked on the cubs before retiring, but they were all peacefully asleep, along with several adults. Shi looked up to see Trina leaning on the doorframe of one of the private rooms. She had a smile on her muzzle, both pleased and amused by Leannaís concern for the children.

"You know youíre not on child-watch 24 hours a day?" Trina said softly.

"I know that," Leanna replied as quietly, "but I like to be aware of their status."

"How about my status?" Trina asked with a grin.

"Horny?" Leanna hazarded a guess.

"As hell," Trina confirmed. "Not backing out on me, are you?"

"Of course not," Leanna said as shi walked over to the vixen.

"Good," Trina said as she moved inside and let Leanna pass. She closed the door behind them, then walked over to the thick padded rug that served as a mattress in that room, and settled down on it. "You seem hesitant."

"Trina, Iíve had sex with dozens of females while I was a slave, and Iíve had sex with Forest and MíLai out of need, then I had a relationship with Moyshu, but sheís a vulpamour who prefers my female side. How do I stand with you?"

"Iíve told you that Iím completely bisexual, so I presume thatís not what you need to know. Perhaps you think that Iím obsessed with the idea of having sex with a herm fennec? I can assure you that despite all the times that I have had sex with others, each was an act of love. I love my friends, I love my family, and I love you. Oh, I know itís not yet the deep love of soul-mates, but itís the base on which such is built. We learned about each other on those long comm chats, Iíve seen how my mate likes you, and Iíve seen you be almost a mother to every child put into your care. Thatís the kind of thing that turns me on, Leanna. Not your looks; not your gender; itís your spirit, and that is so beautiful that it makes me desire you enormously, and I intend to express it in my favourite way."

Trina seduces Leanna

Trina pulled on Leannaís arm to bring hir close, and kissed hir full on the muzzle. Leanna was so distracted that shi didnít notice Trina deftly undoing hir special top until the arctic fox held it up.

Leanna gazed at Trina with growing arousal, but shi still had one question. "They reckon that you hope to get pregnant by me. Is that what tonight is all about?"

"No, dear. I hope to have another child, and I do think youíre the strongest contender for the sire, but I would never have sex with someone just to have a baby. Tonight is about finding out about each other, and whether you would make a good mate for me and Kris."

"You both want me as a mate?" asked Leanna.

"Leanna, Kris and I are lifemates. We would never take on another mate if we both didnít benefit from the relationship. You are the first person since we mated with Forest that we felt could be ideal for both of us. Kris gave you high marks after last night, and now itís my turn."

"Are you saying that youíre judging me by how well I please you?" Leanna asked with some concern.

"Again, no. Itís how well we can please each other. Your happiness is equally as important as our own, and we intend to determine if this is the right thing for you as well. Sex is just one of the more pleasant ways to get to know each other better."

"Do you prefer my male or female side?" Leanna asked curiously.

"As I said, I like both," Trina replied as she fondled one of Leannaís breasts, "but perhaps tonight would be a good time to concentrate on your male side."

"Iím still discovering that side of me," Leanna confessed.

"Letís discover it together, hon," Trina said as she pulled down Leannaís shorts to free hir turgid penis, then giving it a teasing stroke.

That evening, the master of sexual pleasure met the mistress of making love, and finally met hir match. Hours later as the two lay in each otherís arms, still joined by Leannaís slowly fading erection, Leanna whispered, "I can hardly believe that so much good stuff has been happening to me lately."

"Sometimes, love, good things do happen to good people."

"Trina, Iíd be honoured if you choose me to try to sire a kit for you."

"Thanks, Leanna. I think that I will take you up on that. Now better get some sleep. Weíll have a busy day tomorrow. Merry Christmas, dear."

"Merry Christmas, Trina."

The advantage of sleeping in one of the private rooms on Christmas morning was that the cubs didnít wake you too early as they got up to find what the jolly fat human had left for them. Consequently, Trina and Leanna, Forestwalker and Kris, Midnight and MíLai, and Strata all got to sleep in. That didnít last too long though because some of the children couldnít wait to show their parents what Santa had brought them.

The bunny brothers were all wearing red and white-trimmed Christmas caps as they served up breakfast to excited cubs and bleary-eyed adults alike. When everyone was up and fed, they gathered in the living room so that the adults could exchange gifts. Forestwalker had bought several on the stops during hir voyage, as had Boyce. After that, they cleared up the typical explosion of gift-wrapping paper and moved outside to lounge in the pleasantly warm morning sun to converse or play backyard cricket with the cubs. During a break for drinks, Leanna said that shi had an announcement to make.

"By now, you all know about my background and my wish to start a family of my own. In light of the fact that there doesnít seem to be any fennec morphs on Earth, Forestwalker very kindly put me in touch with Kris and Trina. A couple of weeks of conversation by FTL comm led us to believe that I could fit in well with them, and the past couple of nights I got to Ďtest driveí them."

There was a smattering of laughter for that last comment. Leanna grinned and went on. "This morning, Kris joined Trina and I for a serious talk. Kris has agreed to try to father a child in me, and I will try to impregnate Trina, thus giving all of us the children that we have been hoping for. Wish us luck, everyone."

There was a chorus of well-wishing and congratulations. When it died down, Forestwalker spoke up. "So does that mean that youíre also declaring yourselves as denmates?"

To Forestwalkerís great surprise, Leanna shook hir head and said, "No. Kris and Trina discussed that with me also, and we all agree that thereís something else that I should do." Leanna stepped over to Forestwalker and took hir hands. "Forestwalker, I truly love you. Will you do me the honour of being my mate?"

Forestwalkerís jaw dropped in surprise. For a moment shi was dumbstruck, but when shi finally found hir tongue, shi asked, "You want me as your mate? I thought that having someone like Kris was your lifelong dream?"

Leanna had anticipated Forestwalkerís surprise and patiently explained. "It was, and you were the one to enable me to have both him and Trina. You are also the one who realised that I was more than just another slave. You encouraged me, cajoled me, consoled me, and helped me even when I was sure that I didnít need help, and was wrong. You gave me a family, children to nurture, and a sympathetic ear. You helped me through the very worst of my sexual excesses, cared for me during my helpless periods, broke my pain conditioning, and gave me a life that is gathering more joy every day. You helped me understand my true nature and resolved the conflict that I had within. Above all, you gave and continue to give me love. Today I am declaring that I intend to love you as much and for as long as I live, and I wish to do so as your mate. So I ask you once more, Forestwalker my love, please do me the honour of accepting me as your denmate."

There was a hush of anticipation as the onlookers waited for Forestwalkerís response. Shi gazed into Leannaís love-filled eyes and searched hir own feelings. Only then did shi realise how deeply involved in hir life that the little fennec had gotten, and just how much shi enjoyed it. Shi already knew that shi loved Leanna, but had not considered how deeply. Shi chuckled as shi recalled a moment a few yearís back involving hir sister and Malena, the foxtaur vixen who would become hir second denmate. Forest turned to look at Goldfur and said, "It looks like you arenít the only one who canít see whatís right under hir nose." Turning back to Leanna and shaking hir head in amazement, shi said, "I donít know how you crept so far into my heart without me noticing. I wasnít looking for another mate, but it seems one has found me anyway. I accept your proposal, Leanna, and I am honoured to be your denmate."

The spectators burst into applause as Leanna threw hir arms around Forestwalker and started crying for joy. Kris and Trina joined the hug as Leannaís new co-mates, pleased to have gained a delightful new companion and lover, and to have made their lifemate even happier.

Then Trina spoke up: "What do you have to do now that youíve officially declared yourselves as denmates?" she asked the crowd as much as the newly mated pair.

There was a chorus of answers from those who remembered Forestwalker being formally mated to Boyce Ė "You consummate the mating!"

Forestwalker grinned at them, then took Leannaís hand. "Please excuse us for a while. Iím going to open my special Christmas present in private!"

There were more laughs and well-wishings as the chakat led a very willing fennec to a private bedroom where they made love to the utmost of their skill and devotion. Hours later as the satiated pair lay curled up together, enjoying just being with the other for a while longer before being summoned to the Christmas feast, Leanna thought, ĎI have a gorgeous mate, a loving home, and a fantastic life ahead of me. Love has broken the chains that bound me, and for the first time in my life, I know that I am truly free!í

Consummating the mating


A few weeks later...

Doctor Wurrumgidgee, a kangaroo-morph Star Fleet senior medical officer, stood in the doorway of her office and spoke to the occupants of the waiting room. "Leanna, would you and your mates please join me?"

Leanna got up and followed the doctor inside her office, accompanied by Forestwalker, Kris and Trina. They all made themselves comfortable in their various fashions around the desk.

The doctor smiled at them. "Itís good to see you all again, although I think that by now youíll all be glad to put all these tests, interviews and other inconveniences aside to get on with your lives. Iíve been asked by the Star Fleet bigwigs to express their gratitude for your cooperation in their various investigations. However, thatís not what you came here today to hear."

She tapped the PADD in front of her, looking briefly at its display. "First, the bad news. As expected, the treatments for the slave conditioning that we tried on you were minimally effective. We continue to lag behind the L.N.A.W. in that field, and they are truly masters of the art. We will continue to work on that problem, not just for your sake, but for all the emancipated slaves. Donít hold your breath waiting though. It seems that the conditioning is virtually hard-wired into your genetics, and undoing that is an extremely delicate process."

Leanna nodded and replied, "I understand. In fact Iím not terribly surprised. If it was easy to break, I suspect that there would have been a lot of slaves rebelling and causing problems by now." ĎIncluding intelligent fennecs killing their masters,í shi added privately in hir thoughts.

"You said that you had deliberately submitted to Admiral Kline as your surrogate master in order to avoid potential problems. Are you satisfied with that choice still? Do your mates think that you could do better?"

"The admiral has never abused that trust that I put in him, and I continue to believe that he is my best option."

Forestwalker added, "As he is also my lifemate, I trust him implicitly, and I cannot see a better alternative either." Kris and Trina nodded in agreement.

Doctor Wurrumgidgee nodded and tapped the PADD again. "Alright, weíll consider that subject closed until further notice. Now for some good news. As I mentioned before, due to Doctor MíLai Saarathís excellent data, we were able to formulate a solution to your physical problems very quickly. Fixing the idiot phase of your heat was the easier task as it was triggered by one key hormone. Eliminating that completely negated the effects. Because your extreme heat wasnít also accompanied by extreme pleasure, we were also able to tone down that without affecting your enjoyment of sex during that period. The rut was trickier because it had an element of conditioning added to it that forced you to have sex, whether you wanted to or not, before it would abate. However, we figured out the key to that, and we can announce that the latest tests indicate that the treatments have been 100% successful, and you need never fear your rut or heat cycles again."

"And what about my milk?" Leanna asked.

"We tested it most thoroughly, and there seems to be only one extra component - the aphrodisiac. Otherwise it is entirely normal for a foxmorph, and perfectly suitable for cubs of any kind, although seeing as you have a chakat denmate, I hasten to add that it lacks the CKF that chakat cubs require, and is therefore unsuitable on a long-term basis if you wish to nurse them. The aphrodisiac itself seems to be able to affect sexually mature people only, so cubs are totally unaffected by it."

Leanna gave a huge sigh of relief, then smiled at the doctor. "Thanks, doctor. You and your team have done a fantastic job."

The kangaroo smiled back. "It was genuinely our pleasure, Leanna. We have one other thing to report though. Because you told us that it seems that you were intended to be bred, we took a good look at your ova and sperm. Most slave breeding is done in tanks, artificially maturing and educating them in a very quick time. Natural breeding is a lot slower and more expensive, so there had to be an ulterior motive. We discovered that your sexual proclivities were also encoded in the genes, and any child you either sired or bore would have your problems all over again. However, worse yet were a couple of other things that we were shocked to discover. Your former master was a true genius with genetic engineering, and possibly one of the worst monsters that the human race has ever produced. I am not going to tell you what we found, but suffice to say that we not only fixed the known problems, but eradicated those sick additions also. You may be assured that however many children that you have, they will all be normal herm foxes."

"Thatís a greatly reassuring, Doctor. I think that I might be able to figure out what my former master could do, but I donít think that I really want to know. I just want normal happy children. And on that note, did you do those tests that I asked for?"

Doctor Wurrumgidgee nodded. "Yes I did, and you will be delighted to know that both Trina and Kris seem to be quite compatible with you. We canít see any reason why you wonít be able to have as many children as you like with them. In fact, it looks like you were optimised to be able to breed with any fox species, taur excepted. I believe that you were a prototype baby-making machine in some respects. I think that you might need to seriously consider contraception in the future."

"Iíll keep that in mind, Doctor. So, is that all now?"

The doctor stood up and said, "Yes, thatís everything. Aside from that slave conditioning, you are now more normal than several species of Terran morph that I can name, so enjoy your new life, Leanna."

Leanna and the others all stood and gave their thanks to the doctor and her staff, then jubilantly left to make plans for the cubs that they could now safely conceive.

Leannaís heat cycle was the first to arrive, and shi and Kris spared no effort to ensure that shi was well and truly fertilised. Trinaís came eight days later, and Leanna enthusiastically did hir best to sire a kit in the vixen. Then there was the nervous wait for the results of the pregnancy tests. Leanna had put hirs off until Trina had had her chance, so they could learn together if they had been successful. The call eventually came from Chakat Redears, their med-tech of choice. Both had conceived! Leanna and Trina squealed for joy, hugging and dancing around each other. Nobody got much sleep that night as the entire family celebrated their great fortune.

Kris impregnates Leanna Leanna impregnates Trina


Admiral Kline and Rosepetal Silpurr are the creations of Boyce Garald Kline Jr and are used with permission.
All other characters and this story are © 2006 Bernard Doove.

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More stories to come in Forest Tales #28.

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