Flight of the Phoenix
Chapter 11 – Encounters
By Bernard Doove © 2012

Hesperia City certainly was a shadow of its former self. The gaudy and brazen displays that made it a beacon to tourists in the blackness of space were still absent after many months, the energy needed to power them more urgently needed elsewhere. The number of ships docked at its ports were far fewer also, and Phoenix had no difficulty with traffic as it manoeuvred to its designated dock.

Out of both curiosity and business, Martin had kept an eye on the progress of Hesperia since the disaster. While power had been restored for lighting and basic emergency needs at the time they had left, that had only been achieved through the usage of emergency spares that they'd had in storage. However, no one had anticipated the need to replace everything, and it took time to acquire and install a whole electrical station’s worth of transformers, switching equipment, and other vital machinery. Meanwhile, no businesses could be run, no tourists catered for, and of course no money coming in. The management was rebuilding as fast as they could before they were bled white, and shipping companies were doing good business because of it.

That was why Phoenix had returned. They had been at the right place at the right time to pick up another replacement piece of equipment, and with the added incentive of waived docking fees, Martin had not been able to pass it up, although returning stirred up bitter memories.

The crew were unusually subdued as the automatic docking system brought them to a smooth stop and the mooring mechanism engaged. They too were remembering their loss. However, they had a job to do.

Martin hit the comm button. “Valentina – prepare the shuttle bay for transferring the shipment. The repair crew is eagerly awaiting it.”

“Understood, Captain,” came the reply.

They had some other supplies to offload via the dock, but the priority shipment would be shuttled directly to the power station still perched on the outside of the asteroid, although hopefully better shielded now.

“Commander,” he said to Bethany, “I’ve been assured that Hesperia can cater for the crew’s of the ships here, so if anyone wants to take a few hours shore leave after we’ve finished unloading, they may do so. We depart at 2300 ship’s time though.”

“Aye, Captain,” she replied.

“I'll be in my office checking for any more business. I don't think it's likely under the circumstances, but you never know. You have the bridge.”

“Aye, Captain,” she repeated.

When he got to his office, Martin said, “Madeline – see if you can get a hold of the city administrator for me.”

“Yes, Captain,” came her voice from mid air.

Martin busied himself on the hypernet until an incoming call beeped on the comm. It lit up with Madeline image. She was ‘dressed’ in ship uniform as she played Martin’s assistant for the comm call.

“I have her on the line now, Captain.”

“Thanks, Madeline.”

The image shifted to that of a familiar lion morph. “Captain Yote – good to see you again. I hear that you've brought us some more equipment for the repairs.”

“That's correct, Ms Keller. How are they coming along?”

“Quite well, thanks. We expect to re-open for business within a few weeks, although not everything will be back online immediately. However, I expect that you didn't call me just to find that out.”

“I’m afraid not. After submitting a request for compensation and not hearing anything back for a while, I feel that I deserve some kind of update. Considering how grateful everyone was for us saving them back then, I would have thought we'd deserve some priority on our case.”

Keller grimaced. “I may be the City Administrator, but I am still beholden to the higher-ups in the company, and they're the ones dragging their feet. Believe me, I did put in a good word on your behalf. Several good words actually. However that's as much as is within my power. I suggest that your lawyers have a word with them.”

“I'm already doing that. Are you sure that you can't do more for me?”

Keller looked uncomfortable. “Captain Yote… my hands are tied.”

“I see. Then we don't have anything more to discuss. Have a good day, Administrator.”

Martin cut the comm before she could respond.

“For someone with so much authority, she seemed to me unusually helpless,” Madeline commented.

Martin nodded. “There's something that she's not telling us, although I have the impression that she wishes she could. Ah well, if a personal appeal doesn't work, it's back to legal recourse. I just hate having to pay the lawyers so much without getting any results.”

“May I suggest that you stop stressing over this, and go take a break with the others?”

Martin grinned. “You don't have to mother me, Maddy.”

“Just being a good executive assistant is all,” she replied.

Martin nevertheless thought her suggestion was a good one, so when the unloading was complete, he joined the group of people who wanted to take a bit of shore leave.

Much as Martin loved his ship, it was good to be able to get out and see something else besides the same corridors again. Emerging from the personnel lock, he looked around the docking area. While there were a few other ships in port, dock activity was a far cry from the frenzy that had greeted him the first time that he had set foot here, or even the chaos after the loss of power. The artificial gravity was on though because the unloading mechanisms were not designed to work in freefall. However, he had been advised that many sections of Hesperia still had no gravity in order to conserve the available power, and he should watch and listen for the warnings.

“The air smells pretty good,” Ceres remarked. Shi and Danson had heard that the botanic gardens were fully operational, and had elected to spend some time there. They particularly wanted to show them to Darkwave. The skunktaur happened to have hit hys female peak just before arrival, and hy was dressed in a flattering bodice, so much less self-conscious than when hy first changed aboard Phoenix. Hy was arm in arm with Danson who had been persistent in his attentions, resulting in Darkwave’s shift in attitude.

Martin nodded. “The gardens are an essential part of their air freshening system, so that would have been one of the first places that would have restored to normal.”

“Well, me an' Risha ain't interested in gardens,” Bruce commented. “Seems to us there oughta be a pub or two open with all these workers though.”

“I think I might join you,” Martin said. “How about you, Commander? I'll buy the first round.”

“I suppose,” Bethany said a bit uncertainly. “Not much else to do with the majority of the attractions closed.”

“What's the bet that at least one casino is open still to relieve these workers of their earnings?” Risha commented.

Anastasiya snorted in amusement. “Is sucker bet. Flashy lights and amusements are for tourists. All casino needs is dice and cards for workers.”

“Try not to blow all your money,” Martin said dryly.

The big tiger grinned back at him, putting a hand on one breast. “Well I can't drink alcohol while breastfeeding, so I must find something to do here.” Then shi noticed the glare shi was getting from hir wife. “Of course we have to think about baby’s needs too,” shi added hastily. “Must get back to Petrushka soon and not leave hir with Shintaro all day.”

The group had to through one large cavern to reach the section open for business. They were able to use the transit system however. They rode up to the station in an elevator not dissimilar to the one that had trapped Heywood and Menalippe. Martin did not consider himself paranoid for carrying a multi-tool that would enable him to escape one of those in the unlikely event of a repeat occurrence.

Ceres, Darkwave and Danson parted ways with them there. Penny, the chakats and the Caitians herded the youngsters off in another direction to go exploring under their watchful eyes, accompanied by the two Faleshkarti. Moments after Martin and his companions boarded, the transit carriage moved off, and the public address came alive.

“Warning – zero gravity section ahead. Prepare for freefall.”

Everyone took a secure grip before their stomachs lurched as they left behind the active artificial gravity field. The Phoenix crew were acclimated to freefall, and Martin noticed that the other occupants of the carriage did not even pause in whatever they were doing – blasé from familiarity, he presumed.

They had a good view from the transparent transit tube. While power was not being wasted on the artificial gravity in this mostly unused section, it did have a decent amount of illumination. It was a far cry from when they had floated through the near-darkness relieved only by the occasional emergency lamp. It was impressive in its size, but a little sad in its emptiness. Martin could see rows of shops and cafés which were all closed and dark within. He wondered what the proprietors were doing in the interim, and how long it would be before this section came back to life.

They pulled up to a station as the P.A. announced, “Shopping district three. Freefall conditions still apply.”

Two workers exited from their carriage with a crate, and Martin wondered if they still used the elevators, only to see the answer immediately. A section of the station wall had been opened, and the duo simply manoeuvred themselves and their load through it, pushing themselves off to their destination at a casual pace.

The carriage took off again. As they approached the far side of the cavern, the P.A. announced, “Gravity resumes in ten seconds. Please brace yourselves.”

They passed through the solid rock wall that separated the shopping district from the next, and abruptly they were pulled firmly back into their seats as they emerged into the casino district. Soon they were pulling into another station.

“Jade Palace Casino and Entertainment district.”

They all emerged from the carriage. Rather than having to go down an elevator, the station exited straight into the casino. Anastasiya was proved right when they passed by a number of games in operation.

While the gaudy and power-hungry machines were all turned off, there were still roulette tables, craps and poker games all doing reasonable business under the circumstances.

Anastasiya and Valentina parted company with them there, while the rest of them went in search of somewhere to find a drink and socialise. Inevitably the casino had its own bar and grill that was being well patronised by visiting starship crew members, and since there was unlikely to be much alternative, the group elected to try it out.

A large number of Caitians were there – crew from another freighter. M'Rarrtikar led the charge amongst the Phoenix’s Caitian members to chat with their own kind, and get some news from their home world. Unfortunately for R'Murran, he had drawn the short straw amongst the senior crew, and he had been left behind on the ship with just Madeline and Shintaro to keep him company. Of course the kitsune’s attention was primarily focused on hir cub to whom shi had given birth only a few weeks ago, as well as babysitting for Anastasiya's cub.

Burningbright and Zelkie were surprised and delighted to spot some former colleagues in the crowd, and they were greeted enthusiastically and invited to join them.

That left just Bruce, Risha, Bethany and Martin. They found themselves a free table, and Martin took orders for drinks, keeping his promise to buy the first round. “Only one drink for me though,” he said. “One of us has to be sober when we leave tonight.”

“Good of you, Captain,” Bruce replied. “I've worked meself up quite a thirst.”

After a short while, a few people started dropping by the table and introducing themselves. Some joined them for a conversation and they exchanged stories. Risha and Bruce eventually left to see if they could find something more exciting to do together. Martin was happy to see that Bethany seemed to be enjoying the convivial atmosphere.

Martin ordered meals – steaks for both of them. While they could get replicated steaks (when Hotfoot let them), there was a sameness about them that palled. Martin liked to try out how different restaurants prepared their steaks, and he was rarely disappointed. He also indulged in a bottle of fine wine to go with the meal.

They were just finishing dessert when Bethany got up from the table, excusing herself to visit the restroom. Martin continued finishing his deep-dish apple pie, but after only a short time, he noticed someone sit in the vacant chair in his peripheral vision. Knowing that it was too soon for Bethany to have returned, he looked up, and was stunned.

“Hi, handsome. Why haven't I seen you here before?”

A drop-dead gorgeous female coyote morph gazed sultrily back at him. Unlike himself, she had human-type hair to shoulder length, framing a mischievous face. She was lean like a typical coyote, but padded and curved in all the right places. A low-cut dress emphasised decent-sized breasts for her kind, and she oozed sex appeal.

Martin was momentarily lost for words. When he regained his tongue, he replied, “We just got in a few hours ago. I'm Captain Martin Yote of the starship Phoenix.”

“A starship captain? Even better! Call me Hecate.”

“Isn't that a name that they normally give to black cats?”

She grinned. “Perhaps, but it suits me too.”

“So what are you doing here, Ms Hecate?” Martin asked, his conversation with the others forgotten.

“Oh please, drop the Ms. I work at the casino – customer relations. It’s been a bit quiet for the last few months though.” She put a familiar hand over Martin’s and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Martin thought that he knew what kind of customer relations she was talking about, but he did not press the point. He tried to pull back his hand gently, but she resisted. “I suppose that you're lucky that the casino is still open to cater for us and the people doing the repairs,” he said, trying to keep the conversation innocuous.

“Yes, and I really hit the jackpot today,” she replied, leaning in closer and letting Martin get an eyeful of her cleavage, and a noseful of her scent. Whatever she was using exaggerated her femaleness, stimulating him almost as much as if she was on heat, and it was arousing him quite thoroughly.

“You're in my chair,” a deadly cold voice behind them said.

Martin looked up to see Bethany glaring at both of them, and he realised that she must have caught him unintentionally drooling over Hecate. He cringed inside, knowing how it must look.

“Bethany... umm... this is Hecate. She's casino customer relations,” he said lamely.

“So I can see. Well, I'll let her do her job and leave you two alone.” Bethany turned away stiffly.

“Wait, Bethany!” Martin called out, too late realising his mistake.

The vixen ignored him, however, and quickly disappeared from view.

“Ooh, burn!” one of the spacers said with a grin.

Martin sighed. Things had been going so well up until then.

Hecate put her arm around Martin and said, “Don’t worry about her. She’s a big girl and can take care of herself. Besides, wouldn't you rather spend some time with me? We're not only the same species, but we're a lot closer in age, if I am judging correctly.”

By now, Martin’s arousal was completely gone. He shrugged off her arm and said seriously, “Her age and species is irrelevant, as is yours. I don't require your companionship, Hecate.”

“No? I think you're fooling yourself, handsome. Someone like you needs someone like me.”

“Wants? Maybe. Needs? No, I don't think so. I suggest that you find someone else who needs ‘customer service’.”

Hecate sensed that it was a lost cause for now. She stood up, making even that simple thing a production. “Okay, cutie, but you know who to look for if you need... help.”

Martin steadfastly averted his eyes and tried not to breathe her scent. She was very good, and under other circumstances, a delight to be with, but she wasn't what he needed right now.

“You're an idiot for passing her up,” the wolf morph opposite commented.

Martin looked at him. “Am I? Maybe I'm after something more than what she has to offer.”

“You're too picky. Life doesn't usually throw the ideal woman at you. You've got to take what you can get while it's available.”

“Normally I might agree with you, but maybe fate has been kinder to me. I just need to be patient.”

The guy shrugged. “Your funeral,” he opined.

Martin hoped that he was wrong.


Keera was chafing at having to tag along with her siblings and the chakat cubs, but even though she was seventeen, she was still not allowed to go off by herself. It didn't help that her parents had a good excuse to keep their children close by – the current condition of Hesperia being unsuitable for unsupervised exploration. She considered herself almost an adult, soon to take her Coming-of-Age ceremony. She was now officially apprenticed with Commander Oakwood as her teacher. She was a responsible person, so why did she have to be watched like a cub?

She had almost decided not to go with the others at all, but like everyone else on board, she wanted to get away from the ship for a while, and she was curious as to how the asteroid city looked after all those months. It did not mean that she had to be happy about tagging along with the others, and she moped along with the group, responding sulkily whenever anyone talked to her.

They were herded into a transit carriage going the opposite direction to Captain Yote’s group, and they all watched through the windows as they passed through cavern after cavern on a sightseeing tour which was a bit like a rollercoaster ride because of the occasional shifts from gravity to freefall and back again. Keera observed that the shut-down portions of the city far outnumbered the active parts. However, one area that seemed relatively normal was evidently a residential area. Not too surprising considering that many of the inhabitants of Hesperia were permanent residents, and life went on in spite of the problems.

They eventually alighted on the return trip at the entrance to the botanical gardens. Here at least, everything was completely normal. There was plenty of light for the plant life, and the air circulation and watering systems were fully functional. Plenty of gardeners were at work planting, trimming, fertilising, and every other horticultural activity. The trees, shrubs and flowers were all the picture of health, and the air was suffused with a mixture of pleasant scents, bees, butterflies, and even some birds that flitted about from tree to tree. In spite of herself, Keera’s mood lightened. It was not like Cait, but it did resemble other worlds she was familiar with, and it was beautiful and peaceful anyway.

It was impossible keeping the children together. They all wanted to explore in different directions. Some wanted to stop and look at something more closely, while others wanted to hasten ahead to something that had caught their eye. A plethora of side paths soon meant that the group was split into many smaller ones – an adult tagging along with one or two cubs each. Abruptly Keera found herself alone. She was surprised at this turn of events, but relieved that apparently no one thought that she needed a minder. She took the opportunity to explore in another direction.

Ten minutes later, she turned the corner of one of the meandering paths and almost ran into someone coming the other way.

“Oops! Sorry! I... um... hello.” Her apology trailed off into a surprised greeting when she realised with whom she had nearly collided. A youthful male Caitian grinned back at her – he could not have been more than a year older than her.

“Hello yourself,” the male replied. “I didn't know that there was another Caitian ship in port here.”

“I'm from Phoenix, a mixed ship based on Earth.”

“Phoenix? I think I know that name from somewhere.”

“Our ship saved Hesperia from The Olympian crashing into it.”

“That's right – I remember now. Wow! I never thought that I'd get to meet someone from that ship. You're famous!”

Keera’s ears warmed with a blush. “Well, it's not as if I did anything. I'm just an apprentice,” she replied modestly.

“Yeah, but it's not likely that I’ll meet anyone else, and you were a part of the rescue.”

Keera decided not to tell him that she had not actually been on the ship while that had happened. It would not sound quite so exciting if she told him that she had been trapped on a rollercoaster at the time. To change the subject, she said, “My name is Keera.”

He smiled back, his tail twitching excitedly. “I'm R'Kassaran. Still haven't had your Coming-of-Age?”

She shook her head. “No, but I'll be having it in a couple of weeks,” she replied earnestly.

“Hey, it's okay. I just had mine eighteen days ago.”

“So you're unmated?”

His smile grew wider. “Nope. First chance that I've had to meet girls since the ceremony, and not much opportunity to date before that.”

“I thought that you came from a Caitian-run ship? Or at least that seems to me what you implied.”

“I am, but there aren't any available females on board. They're either mated or too young. What about you?”

“Only my brother.”

“You said you're from a mixed species ship, and I hear that some Caitians take mates from other species – any prospect there?”

“What? No! I mean – I like them, but I'm not interested in them as mates.”

“Didn't think so, but I wanted to be sure. Want to join me in exploring these gardens?”

Keera replied a little shyly, “I think I'd like that.”


A couple of hours later, Keera was startled by someone yelling at the top of their lungs, “FOUND HER!” She turned to see Candycane and Pixiepaws standing there, grinning.

“Goddess! You nearly made me jump out of my fur!”

“Your mum wanted us to find you, so we did,” Candycane explained.

“That doesn't mean you had to yell. You have comms, y'know?”

“So do you. Except that it doesn't seem to be responding. Any reason why that might be?” shi asked ingenuously.

Keera had muted it in order to be undisturbed for a while, and had forgotten to turn it back on. She hastened to do so, while the cubs merely grinned knowingly.

“Didn't want to let the grown-ups know that you had wandered off with a boy,” Pixiepaws explained with a knowing grin.

“Who are these?” R'Kassaran asked.

Two of the cubs from my ship – Candycane and Pixiepaws,” Keera explained.

“Colourful, aren't they?” Then he noticed some adults approaching. “And those would be your parents and theirs?” He indicated with his eyes.

Keera sighed. “Yeah. I guess this means that we have to go now.”

M'Rarrtikar padded up to them and looked over R'Kassaran. “I was going to ask where you've been, youngling, but I think I see the answer.”

Keera was so relieved to hear no rebuke in her mother’s voice that she didn't object to being called a youngling. “This is R'Kassaran. We met on one of the paths. He and I have been exploring the gardens together.”

“Just the gardens?” M'Rarrtikar asked with an arch of an eye.

“Yes, mother, just the gardens,” Keera replied with a touch of exasperation.

“Then I hope that you two enjoyed them as much as we did. However, it's time for us to head back to the ship.”

“Oh, already? It seems like we've only been here for a short time.”

“Yes – time does seem fleeting when you're enjoying yourself.”

Keera turned to R'Kassaran and said, “I'll contact you on your ship. I hope to talk with you again soon.”

“I’ll look forward to that, Keera.”

With some regret, Keera left with the group. As they walked, Keera asked her mother, “We're due to go to Cait soon, aren't we?”

“Yes, via one colony first though.”

“We're due for a few days shore leave to visit family then?”

“Again yes, although I suspect that it's not family that you're keen to see.”

Keera’s ears lowered with a touch of embarrassment at being so obvious. “R'Kassaran’s ship is headed for Cait also. I said that I'd try to meet up with him there.”

M'Rarrtikar nodded. “You will soon have your Coming-of-Age ceremony, and will want to start looking for a potential husband. R'Kassaran looks like a fine young mel – is he mated as yet?”


“Better yet. To be a Firstwife will give you much more status.”

“I'm not so worried about status as finding a boyfriend at all!”

“I understand, daughter. We asked for a few days shore leave not merely to visit family, but to also give you your first chance to look for potential mates. It's fortuitous that you may have already found one. However, since he is your first, please remember the First Virtue – Intelligence. Choose with your head, and not just with your heart.”

“He comes from a trader ship much like ours, so we have much in common.”

“That is good to hear. Tell me more about this young man.”

Keera happily espoused R'Kassaran’s virtues as they walked to the transit tube. She did not even mind her siblings giggling and making comments. Her mood was too good to be spoiled so easily.


Martin’s mood had improved considerably after he had lost interest in the bar and headed back to his ship. Upon his arrival, Madeline had informed him that he had gotten a call from Hesperia’s procurement office, and could he contact them when he returned? He had done so, and had come away with a contract to pick up another load of equipment that was ready to be shipped from Cait. The loads had been a bit light of late, so this was very good news. The only bad point was that he was going to have to shorten their stay at Cait. M'Rarrtikar was going to give him hell over that, but he would have to make it up to the Caitians another time. Besides, as Phoenix’s accountant, she should be mollified a bit by the extra income.

He was braced for M'Rarrtikar’s reaction, but he was not expecting the drama that would come from her daughter. There were some drawbacks to running a family ship rather than a pure business, he reflected. He was pondering what to do still as he took his place in the Captain’s Chair on the bridge in preparation for departure.

“Priority call coming in for you, Captain,” Madeline announced.

“Put it on screen, please,” Martin ordered without bothering to ask from whom the call was coming. A moment later, he wished he had not skipped that step.

“Hi, handsome,” Hecate said, batting her eyes at him. She had changed into an even more breathtaking top than before. She leaned into the video pick-up. “I was afraid that I would miss you before you left. I want you to know I'll miss you, and I hope you'll come back and see me again soon.”

Martin could swear that he felt the temperature drop several degrees to his left where Bethany stood. He massaged his forehead with his left hand, trying to forestall a headache. “Hecate, I told you that I’m not interested in seeing you again.”

“Oh, come on, Captain,” she cooed, “you know that we're good together.”

“In your dreams!”

“Why, of course, and yours too, I bet. I’ll be waiting!”

The woman was a nutcase! He hit the button to disconnect the call, and the screen switched to a status display. He spent the next few days wishing that he could thaw out his First Officer’s frosty attitude as easily.


M'Rarrtikar and R'Murran invited everyone to their daughter’s Coming-of-Age ceremony. Although it was generally held with just family members, they felt that the crewmates were as good as family to them all anyway. They gathered in the recreation room which was the only place besides the holosuite that was large enough and suitable for the ceremony. Ceres had volunteered to man the bridge for the short time that the ceremony would take, and with Madeline monitoring the ship’s systems, everyone else was able to attend. Keera was dressed in a new green day-robe for the event – a gift from her parents. She stood within a large circle formed by her family and friends, along with her parents.

R'Murran held up his hands to call for attention. “Quiet please!” When conversation had stopped, he continued. “Keera, daughter of M'Rarrtikar, step forth.”

Keera stepped up to within two paces of her parents. “I am Keera, M'Rarrtikar’s daughter,” she stated.

“Why are you here today, daughter?” R'Murran asked formally.

“I have trod the path of childhood for eighteen years, father, and it has come to an end. I now demand the right to travel the path of adulthood.”

“The path of adulthood is not an easy one to walk, my child. Are you prepared for the journey?”

“I am. I face the path with confidence and anticipation of its challenges.”

“Then take the final step from childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood. Cross the stream of life and begin your journey.”

M'Rarrtikar was holding a pitcher of water. She poured some of it carefully on the floor in front of Keera, a symbolic stream of life. Keera stepped forward through it and stopped in front of her father, who placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Farewell child. I welcome M'Keera, daughter of Cait and the Goddess. So everyone witness!”

That was the cue for the people witnessing the ceremony who cheered their approval.

M'Keera turned around, smiling, acknowledging their acceptance of her into adulthood.

When the cheers died down, Hotfoot said, “If that's the end of the ceremony, I have an old-fashioned Terran birthday cake made for the occasion. It's Black Forest cake.

R'Murran stepped up quickly. “All ceremonies must end with Black Forest cake!” he declared with a grin. “It's an ancient Caitian tradition, don't you know?”

There were lots of laughs, but R’Murran got his slice only second to M'Keera. There was no getting between the mel and his favourite dessert.


“He’s here!” M'Keera announced excitedly.

No one had any doubt that he would not turn up. R'Kassaran and M'Keera had exchanged messages whenever they were not under warp. Martin was glad to have the benefit of the Foster network, considering the charges that they would have run up otherwise. And that was only for the trip from Hesperia to Cait via Huxton Mining Station!

R'Kassaran’s ship had arrived long before Phoenix, and the pair had arranged for him to meet her as soon as she came down in the shuttle. Wisely, no one got between M'Keera and the hatch as it opened. She rushed out to greet him, and he enfolded her in a hug before leading her away. She never even thought to wave goodbye to her family.

Martin said to M'Rarrtikar, “I'm glad that she's your daughter. I'm not so sure I'd let mine go with someone whom she’s known for so little time.”

“Yes, but is it really so different from Terran dating customs? A male and a female need to get to know each other.”

“Of course, but we don't usually let them stay overnight with their boyfriend on the first date.”

“She will be staying with his family, not just him. It’s rushing things a bit, but still acceptable.”

Martin shrugged. This had been the best compromise that they had been able to work out. M'Keera would get to spend her entire stay on Cait with R'Kassaran’s family. It had been surprisingly easy to arrange it with his parents until M'Rarrtikar pointed out that they too were interested in their son’s prospects for a Firstwife.

That stay would only be until tomorrow though when Phoenix departed for her return trip to Hesperia. The rest of the Caitians were off to visit family as originally planned. Aside from them though, no others from the crew were getting shore leave. There was too much to do, with some of them filling the Caitians’ places for a day, so they had to settle for a brief visit to the spaceport’s facilities, or nothing at all.

The next day, Martin was ready at the appointed time with his shuttle.. Most of the Caitian crew were there, but they were still waiting for M'Keera. They were beginning to worry that they were going to miss their assigned departure window, when a small ground vehicle raced out to the landing pad. M'Keera and R'Kassaran climbed out, and they embraced and kissed before she very reluctantly parted.

“M'Keera – move it!” shouted R'Murran from the hatch.

The young lady snapped out of her daydream and hastened into the shuttle. R'Murran secured the hatch and let Martin know that everything was ready.

“Prepare for take-off,” Martin announced over the P.A.

R'Murran dived into his seat and fastened the safety harness. Moments later, the hum of the contra-grav units rose to a peak, and the thrusters lifted them into the air. From there it was a regulation flight to meet Phoenix in orbit. It was not a quiet one though.

“What was the idea of arriving so late?” M'Rarrtikar started scolding her daughter. “You of all our children should know the importance of keeping to a schedule. You're an adult now, and you're expected to be more responsible.”

“I'm sorry, Satri. (*Mother, formal address) R'Kassaran and I were trying to make some future arrangements, but his captain and first officer were away, and we had to clear things with them first.

“I don't think that there are any arrangements that can excuse holding up our ship.”

“Nearly holding it up,” M'Keera corrected. “I was on time.”

“Don't get smart with me. You used up every minute of leeway that we had to make it on time. That is unacceptable for my daughter, and even worse for a junior member of the crew. What kind of example do you think you are setting for your sibs, or the other children?”

“Look, Mother, I'm really sorry, but it really couldn't be helped. Can we talk about this later when we're back on the ship?”

“Why not now?”

“Because I need to discuss this with the captain also.”

That surprised M'Rarrtikar. “Alright, we will talk once we're under way to Hesperia.” That decision made, she shifted topic. “So how was your stay with R'Kassaran’s family?”

M'Keera’s expression shifted to fond reminiscence. “It was wonderful. They were very welcoming, and I had a wonderful time.”

“I'm very happy to hear that. I regret that we could not stay longer. I realise that our lifestyle makes it hard for you now that you've grown up.”

“Yes, but at least I got lucky and found R'Kassaran.”

“Tara (*Daughter, formal address), it's good that you and he get along so well, but he is your first boyfriend. Don’t read too much into this yet.”

“Are you saying that I can't find a potential husband first try?”

“No. In fact by necessity, many females often do, but that doesn't mean that you should. He has had as little experience as you, so he might just be infatuated. Have you considered whether it's in his best interests? Or you might simply have had insufficient time together to realise the ways that you are not compatible.”

“We have thought about those things, “M'Keera insisted. “But that's part of what we have to discuss later.”

“It seems that our conversation keeps coming around to that. Very well, I can be patient. So, what can you tell us now?”

M'Keera was happy to expound on how R'Kassaran had proudly given her a tour around his ship, shown her what he did, and introduced her to the entire crew who were in effect one big family. Then they spent what time was available on shore leave activities of the kind that young adults enjoyed the most. They'd had very little sleep, which was hardly surprising – none of the others had much either due to trying to cram as much as they could into the little time they had available.

While it was hardly a quick trip to go into orbit and rendezvous with Phoenix, M'Keera and her family still did not have enough time to recount everything that they had done. However, M'Rarrtikar was impressed with how well things were working out for her daughter. There only remained the postponed discussion, and that had to wait until Phoenix left orbit and was under warp back to Hesperia. With everything down to mere monitoring, the Caitians were at last able to gather in Martin’s office.

“So, M'Keera, what is it that you wanted to discuss?” Martin asked.

“As you can probably guess, it involves R'Kassaran and me finding more opportunity to be together. As my mother pointed out, it's too soon for us to be sure that we are right for each other. However, I think we will be, but we need to arrange ways to learn more about each other, and under circumstances that we are likely to experience for years. In other words – daily ship life rather than shore leave occasions. We discussed this with his family, and now I’m doing the same with you. We propose that R'Kassaran join Phoenix as a junior crew member for a while so that we will have the time and opportunity to be together and get to know each other better.” M'Keera paused there, waiting for some reaction from the others.

Martin looked to M'Rarrtikar and asked, “What are your thoughts on this?”

M'Rarrtikar replied, “Mixed. I'm a bit surprised that R'Kassaran’s family is so willing to let him come over to our ship. On the other hand, M'Keera is right in that this would give them time and opportunity to interact more and find out if they are really suited to each other. It would seem like a good idea.”

“Persuading R'Kassaran’s family wasn't that easy,” M'Keera admitted. “It's what delayed us more than we had intended, but in the end they did agree.”

M'Rarrtikar looked back to Martin. “I suppose it comes down to whether you are willing to take him on.”

Martin leaned back in his chair and pondered for a moment, then said, “I agree that it sounds like a good idea, and to be fair to M'Keera, she definitely needs more social opportunities. However, taking on even a junior member of the crew will put more strain on our finances. It’s not something I'd do lightly.” Martin noticed M'Keera’s distressed expression, and before she could argue, he continued. “On the other hand, it's not as if I hadn't anticipated this possibility, although I had hoped that it would be later than this. What are R'Kassaran’s skills?”

M'Keera could sense the real possibility of persuading the captain. “He's training in structural engineering, both theoretical and applied. He'd fit in between Father’s and Mama M'Anissa'tk’s disciplines.”

“That could come in handy,” Martin admitted. “Okay, I'm willing to give it a shot – as long as your parents approve.”

R'Murran nodded to M'Rarrtikar who turned to Martin and said, “We approve a trial of this idea.”

Martin nodded. “Okay, it's decided. So when and where shall we be acquiring our new member?”

M’Keera replied, “Are we still scheduled to be going to New Hong Kong?”

Martin nodded. “Second stop after Hesperia.”

“R'Kassaran’s ship is going there after their next port of call. We only need to let them know, and they will leave him there for us to pick him up a few days later.”

“You seem to have this all worked out,” Martin remarked with a grin.

“We put a lot of thought into the possibilities, including me going to his ship instead.”

“Then it's settled. Next time that we drop out of warp, you can send a message to his ship and let them know when to expect us to arrive at New Hong Kong.” Martin tapped a few keys on his desk PADD and confirmed Phoenix’s E.T.A. there.

The Caitians started leaving his office, but not before M'Keera gave M'Rarrtikar a hug. “Thank you, Satri. This means a lot to me.”

“I still remember what it was like when I met your father, dear, so I do hope that this works out well for you,” she replied fondly.


Martin would never have anticipated their reception at Hesperia. While they were happy enough to accept the priority shipment from Cait, they seemed to be very evasive when he tried to sound out the possibility of more work. After a series of frustrations, he resorted to calling the general manager, knowing full well that she did not normally deal with such things directly, but hoping to play on her sense of indebtedness. He was shocked at the response.

“I'm truly sorry, Captain Yote, but we do not, and will not have any work for you in the future.” Someone of her seniority would normally impart such news with equanimity, but she looked distinctly unhappy telling Martin this.

“What do you mean by not having anything in the future?” Martin asked suspiciously.

“I mean that my hands are tied by orders from above.”

“What! Why? You can't do that! It's restriction of fair trade.”

“Nevertheless, you will not win any more contracts here. I regret that I cannot help you.”

Martin would have been inclined to argue more, but he could not only recognise the futility of doing so, but he also sensed that she was truly upset at the decision. And if she could not defy the orders, then no one here could. “Very well, Ms Keller, I won't bother you any more. Adieu.”

Martin disconnected the call and slumped back in his chair.

Bethany was seated on the other side of the desk, and had been listening in. “Do you want me to take a wild guess as to why we have been black banned?”

“If it involves a certain mouse whose surname begins with W, then I'm with you.”

“I wonder how though? It does not seem to be his usual line of business.”

“I suppose we'll find out sooner or later. Meanwhile we've lost a lucrative destination. Hesperia will be back in business soon, but we're not going to get any benefit....”

Martin was interrupted by the comm beeping.

“Pardon me, Captain,” came Loander’s voice from the bridge. “There’s a lady on the comm who insists on talking to you. She won't say her name – just that you'll know her.”

“Hmm... maybe it's a customer after all. Okay, put her through, please.”

Martin’s desk comm lit up with a familiar face. “Hi, handsome. Heard that you'd returned, and I wanted to see if you'd join me for dinner.”

“Hecate! How did you know that I was in port?” Martin noticed Bethany stiffen, then get up from her seat. “Wait, Commander...”

“I'll leave you two in private, Captain,” Bethany said tersely, then marched out of Martin’s office.

“Don't leave...” Martin started trying to say.

“You haven't answered my question, Captain,” Hecate interrupted.

Martin frowned at her. “I thought that I had made it clear that I am not interested, Hecate. And you didn't answer my question.”

“I hear a lot in my line of work, and people owe me favours, so I knew pretty quickly that you had returned. I knew you couldn't stay away, and you would want to see me,” she said coyly.

“I'm not here to see you. Can't you get that through your head?”

“Your words say no, but I bet something else is saying yes,” she said smugly.

“Argh! Good! Bye!” Martin cut the connection, annoyed that he seemed to have picked up a stalker, but infuriated that she was at least partially right. She oozed such sex appeal that his body betrayed him.


“Yes, Captain?” came her voice from mid air.

“Filter all communications from that woman. I don't want to see or hear from Hecate ever again.”

“Aye, Captain!” the bunny replied, wishing that she had been on comm duty when that call had come in, so that she could have warned Martin.

Soon after, Phoenix departed without taking on any cargo. Martin decided that there would be no shore leave there this time, but instead would add a day onto their next scheduled stopover. There were too many bad memories associated with Hesperia to want to stick around any longer.


To say M'Keera was excited was somewhat of an understatement. No sooner had they gotten into orbit around New Hong Kong than she was on the comm, contacting R'Kassaran. As arranged, he was waiting at the spaceport after enjoying a few days shore leave by himself. Martin allowed M'Keera to come down in the first shuttle so that she could spend some time with him on the planet, but he warned her to return promptly as this was only a brief stop to load and unload.

The pair did return well before the last scheduled lift up to their ship. They looked very happy together, and Martin was pleased for her. A life aboard a ship was never going to be easy on the youth of Phoenix, so if this worked out for her, it was one hurdle successfully passed.

Hotfoot made a special meal to welcome R'Kassaran aboard. He got a chance to meet almost everyone then, and it was clear that he was a little nervous.

“I've lived my entire life aboard Añarra’tssik Kaasrr, and that ship is crewed entirely by Caitians,” explained R'Kassaran in strongly accented Terranglo. “While I've met most of the sentient species over the years, I've never lived and worked with them before, so I hope you'll be understanding if I make any mistakes because of that.”

Martin replied, “Don't worry too much, R'Kassaran. We've all lived together for a few years now, so I think we'll know what's happening if you put a foot wrong. As long as you put in the effort, we'll all get along fine.”

As it turned out, they had more problems with M'Keera than with him. She kept getting distracted from her training whenever R'Kassaran was off-shift when she was supposed to be on-shift. R'Murran had to reschedule all of his training sessions with R'Kassaran so that they coincided with M'Keera’s, and M'Rarrtikar gave her daughter a stern lecture about appropriate times for socialising.

Once the settling-in period was over, R'Kassaran found himself enjoying the change from his home ship. He had not anticipated the difference that interacting with several other species would make, but he was young enough to adapt readily. It would be several months before Phoenix and Añarra’tssik Kaasrr crossed paths again, so it was a relief to everyone that this was working out. In fact the time flew by too quickly for both him and M'Keera.

Phoenix arrived at Cait on the eve of the Spring Goddess Festival, bringing a load of exotic foodstuffs to be consumed during the celebrations. Añarra’tssik Kaasrr arrived barely an hour after Phoenix, and the two crews arranged to meet at a local restaurant that evening. In fact they booked out the entire premises in order to cope with the entire number. Añarra’tssik Kaasrr’s crew was considerably larger than the Phoenix’s, but they had been in the shipping business for a few generations.

Although Martin had communicated regularly with M'Kennisin'tr, the captain of Añarra’tssik Kaasrr, it had been little more than keeping her updated about the status of her cousin, R'Kassaran. This was the first real opportunity for the two crews to socialise.

The Phoenix Caitians relished the opportunity to talk with a Caitian starship crew, although some of those were unenthusiastic about the intermingling with non-Caitians. The majority were more than happy to learn more about the people with whom one of their own had spent so much time. R'Kassaran of course was kept quite busy telling everyone about his experiences, while M'Keera was occupied by the curiosity of his family and friends.

Only the serving of the food slowed down conversation. Despite the best efforts of the cooks from both ships, the crews did look forward to eating something different that had not been prepared in their galleys. This particular restaurant had a reputation for serving exotic fare, so it was a good change of pace for both Caitians and Terrans alike.

As the meal drew to a close, as expected, R'Kassaran and M'Keera stood up and asked for everyone’s attention. When everybody had quieted, R'Kassaran spoke for the both of them.

“My time aboard Phoenix was both instructive and pleasant. I have very much enjoyed spending time with such a varied crew, and they have made me feel very welcome.” He cast a look at some of the females from Añarra’tssik Kaasrr. “I've also enjoyed being away from my sisters for a change,” he added with a grin.

“Hey!” one of them said. “You're going to pay for that crack!”

R'Kassaran just grinned wider. “However, that’s not what you've been waiting to hear.” He turned to M'Keera and took her hand. “M'Keera and I have agreed that we would be suitable mates, and I am now formally asking her to be my Firstwife.”

M'Keera gazed adoringly back at him. “I accept your proposal.”

There were cheers all around, some more enthusiastic than others. M'Rarrtikar in particular felt that they should have taken more time to get engaged, but she had nothing against R'Kassaran.

When the congratulations had died down, M'Keera said, “We intend to have the traditional pre-mating night together to confirm our compatibility on board Añarra’tssik Kaasrr this evening. If all goes well as we feel it will, we will want to have the mating ceremony immediately while both our families are together here on Cait.” She sat down, smiling happily.

“I suppose we had better check the local temples to see if a Mentarkan priestess is available to perform the ceremony,” M'Kennisin'tr said to M'Rarrtikar.

“With the festival tomorrow, that might be difficult,” M'Rarrtikar replied.

“I agree, but we are not scheduled to leave until the evening of the day after, so we have time to spare if we are not successful.”

“Good. Are you Orthodox or Progressive sect?”

“We're Progressives, but we'll accept either.”

“That works for us also.”

“Very well, it's settled. I will start making arrangements for your daughter to join our crew. She will be your first, won't she?”

M'Rarrtikar nodded. “It had to happen sooner or later, but I admit that it's a little earlier than I thought. However, I can't deny that it was good fortune for her to meet your cousin. I believe that she has chosen well.”

“I will make sure that she fits in well with us, and is happy. Perhaps in time, one of ours will seek your son for a mate.”

M'Rarrtikar rolled her eyes. “If we can ever get him to focus on his studies and make himself a worthwhile catch.”

M'Kennisin'tr grinned. “You're supposed to talk up his prospects, you know?”

“Hmmph! Speak to me again in a year, and I might be more enthusiastic.”

The two continued to chat about the merits of their children or grandchildren, and M'Kennisin'tr passed on some of the wisdom gained on a multi-generation starship.


Unlike humans, morphs, or other alien species, Caitians are not sexually receptive all the time. While they may have some physical attraction to a male, the actual desire for sex rarely came outside of oestrus for the females, and the males usually had to be stimulated by the pheromones of the female on heat. Otherwise neither was sexually oriented in physical manner. However, it is possible for a couple to stimulate each other to bring about a sexual response, and that was the basis of the pre-mating night test. It was believed that if a couple could successfully bring themselves to sexual orgasm outside of her oestrus, then they were indeed compatible, and the ceremony of union could go ahead.

This tradition dated back thousands of years to when the Caitian people consisted of nomadic tribes that followed the herds of prey species. Occasionally tribes would meet and the opportunity for the youth of each to find mates would happen. However, two tribes could not stay together too long, hunting the same resources, so the youths had to decide very quickly if they were a good match. The final test was the pre-mating night, and if they were successful, the priestess who witnessed the event would marry them the next day, and then the tribes would go their separate ways.

That practiced continued even after their species started building a civilisation with permanent villages and farms, then industries and cities. Nowadays though, females tended to leave their home town to seek a mate in another. It was always the females who hunted a male because they so outnumbered them, and competition for one grew more intense. The concept of status grew with that competition. A Firstwife always had the greatest status as it was shown that she had the ability, appeal, and talent to be the male’s first choice. For the male, the more females that he could attract, the greater his status became, and with it, his family’s.

M'Keera and R'Kassaran were determined that their pre-mating night would be a success. Although pre-marital sex was originally banned in the old days, today the Orthodox sect turned a blind eye to it, and the Progressive sect outright condoned it because it gave the couples a better chance to get to know each other before the pre-mating night. On the last two occasions that M'Keera had been on heat, she and R'Kassaran had made love, although with the appropriate contraceptives of course. Both sects still frowned upon pregnancy before marriage. Consequently they had a much better idea of what each other liked, and they were able to use that knowledge to bring success to their efforts while she was not on heat. Unlike the old days, a priestess did not have to be there to bear witness. Instead, it was usually the male’s mother who filled that role for a potential Firstwife, although others might. In their case, M'Kennisin'tr took that role and witnessed their success. Later on in life, if R'Kassaran took on more wives, it would be M'Keera’s task to fill that role to ensure that a potential co-wife was worthy.

The young couple were pleased to succeed quite easily. In fact they had a far harder time trying to find a priestess available to formally unite them because the Spring Goddess Festival was a popular time for such ceremonies. However, they were eventually able to find one who could do it early that evening. Both crews attended that ceremony, and the parents of each extolled the virtues of their children, witnessed by the priestess. She gave the couple a speech on the duties and responsibilities of each in their marriage, then the two exchanged vows. The priestess then pronounced M'Keera to be Firstwife to R'Kassaran, and formally assigning her the Virtue of Intelligence as all Firstwives were due.

After the ceremony, all the Phoenix crew were invited back to Añarra’tssik Kaasrr where a big celebration was held. Everything went perfectly, a good omen for their future. It was not until the next day that M'Keera dropped the bomb.


I don't want to want to move to Añarra’tssik Kaasrr. I want to stay on Phoenix,” she told her parents.

“What?” M'Rarrtikar exclaimed. “Don't be ridiculous. The wife always joins the husband’s family, or his ship in this case.”

“Why? Don't I have any say in this? Don't we have any say in it? R'Kassaran is quite happy to join me here, otherwise I would not have asked.”

M'Rarrtikar frowned at her contrary daughter. “You are not only going up against centuries of tradition, but you’re also trying to set up an impractical precedent. Males can't change homes every time they get a new mate, so it's the females who must join him. That's the way it is. That's the way it always will be.”

“But I'm his first mate – he doesn't have any other wives to drag along, so that means he's free to make a choice. I've told him why I want to stay here, and he agrees with me. He also has motivation to leave Añarra’tssik Kaasrr. We're both adults capable of making our own decisions, and we've decided to do it this way.” M'Keera folded her arms and glared at her mother defiantly.

“You would be taking a male away from Añarra’tssik Kaasrr – you know that you cannot do that lightly. Every family – every ship – needs its males.”

“They have enough even so. Besides, there's nothing stopping them from doing what we want to do – have first-time mated males move to their ship. They could do with some males from outside the family. We, on the other hand, have no males available – only my brother and father. We need males more than their ship.”

“What? As competition for Kannekin when he grows up?”

“No, to start building a Caitian community. We can't do it alone.”

“And what of others affected by your decision? Captain M'Kennisin'tr has made arrangements to fit you into her ship....”

“Squeeze me in to her ship, you mean! It's a multi-generational family ship, and there are really too many of them aboard for comfort already. They need fewer people, not more. One of the first things that R'Kassaran mentioned to me after he came to stay with us was how much more room everyone had here. It’s one of the reasons that he wants to stay here. Then there's the fact that there's only so many jobs to go around. On Phoenix, he has the potential to be so much more than he's ever likely to be back on Añarra’tssik Kaasrr. Surely you can see that as his Firstwife, I'm looking after his interests as much as mine.”

That point hit home to M'Rarrtikar, but she was nowhere near ready to concede as yet. “But you would be going up against centuries of family tradition that has stood the test of time and served us well. The family is what has made our kind strong. Cait would not be the world it is today if we had ignored such things at our whim.”

“Whim?” Keera responded angrily. “Why is a carefully reasoned course of action that benefits all of us considered a whim? On Phoenix, I'm an apprentice with a future as bridge crew. On Añarra’tssik Kaasrr, I'd be one of many competing for the rare opening. What has tradition got to do with that?”

“If you have the talent, you will get that bridge position on R'Kassaran’s ship. By staying on Phoenix, you ignore our culture and heritage...”

M'Keera interrupted her mother. “Culture and heritage? Mother - I've spent my entire life on starships! Cait is an exotic holiday destination for me. I’m not a Caitian - I'm a child of the stars! What is the relevance of any culture that does not directly affect me? I know Terranglo better than Ratarsk. A ship’s cabin is more home to me than a Caitian house. My family consists of many species. I will not leave them behind to pander to your outdated concepts of tradition. I will live my life as I see fit, and I will do it with or without your blessing.”

For once, M'Rarrtikar was lost for words. In desperation, she turned to R'Murran who had made no comment so far. “Husband, tell her why she is wrong.”

For a long moment, R'Murran continued his silence, then he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Wife, I cannot back you on this. Our daughter argues well, and I will support her in this.” Of course, he did not have the ultimate say in the family – that was the Firstwife’s prerogative, but as the guiding and uniting voice for all his wives, his opinion carried much weight. He knew that he was going to cop hell from her later though, but he could do no less. M'Rarrtikar glared balefully at R'Murran. Without even looking, he could feel her eyes boring into him, but he remained steadfast.

Eventually she turned back to M'Keera. She had one more card to play. “What about Captain Yote? Have you considered how this will affect his business – our livelihood? He was prepared to take on R'Kassaran for a few months, but you're asking him to commit to having him on board indefinitely, not to mention any children you may choose to have. You know quite well that our finances are tight, and this is asking no small thing of him.”

“I know, mother, and I always knew that that would be the one real problem. R'Kassaran and I have agreed that we don't want any children for a few years, so that is not a major factor. I approached the Captain this morning about the possibility of staying on. He told me that he could cope, but he said that he would prefer it if I got your approval.”

For a moment, M'Rarrtikar could see herself winning the argument on that technicality, but M'Keera continued. “He also said that I was an adult capable of making my own choices, and he would not force us off the ship if we decided to stay in spite of what you say.”

M'Rarrtikar fumed. “So you're saying that the decision is made, and all you want me to do is rubber stamp the approval?”

M'Keera stepped up to M'Rarrtikar, took her hands, and looked deeply into her eyes. “No, Satri, I want you to see that this is the right course for us, and to be happy for us. How could I continue to live on Phoenix knowing that every day that you would be bitter about this? You are my mother. You are family. I want your approval. I need it to be totally happy. But I will not change my mind about this.”

For a long while, M'Keera did not know if her final appeal would work. Then tears welled in M'Rarrtikar’s eyes and she leaned in to hug her daughter.

“When did you get so strong, Tara? You are right – it is your life to lead. You have my blessing.”

“Thank you. Thank you from both of us, mother,” M'Keera replied, hugging her back.

For a while, the two just stood there, embracing each other. Eventually though, M'Rarrtikar pulled back and asked, “What is R'Kassaran doing?”

“He's waiting to hear from me. As soon as I confirm that we have come to an agreement, he's going to see Captain M'Kennisin'tr and let her know that he intends to leave and join Phoenix.”

“She will be very reluctant to let him go, of course.”

M'Keera nodded in agreement. “However, she will have no choice really. As an adult, he can't be forced to stay on their ship. He has the right to do what he wants with his life, so she can either be graceful about it or nasty, but it won't change anything. She would be best off wishing him well and keeping close ties with us, and we think that's what she'll think too.”

“You're thinking about Kannekin, aren't you?”

“Yes. It's like the ancient tribes of our past – we would occasionally meet and exchange members. Captain M’Kenissin’tr will want to keep her options open.”

“Wise thinking. Anyway, I had better get back to work. I will need to refigure our finances with both of you to take into account now. People may come and go, but the bills just keep coming.”


M'Kennisin'tr gave her blessing as predicted. R'Kassaran was formally added to the crew roster by Martin, and Hotfoot laid on one of her famous feasts to celebrate the occasion. Phoenix departed Cait with full holds and full hearts.


Madeline dumped yet another message from Hecate to Martin into a special trash archive, then turned to the mouse seated next to her in the holosuite environment. “I just trashed message number twenty three.”

“Told you she wouldn't give up,” Penny said smugly.

“No one can go without getting any response whatsoever indefinitely,” the rabbit replied.

“Oh? Stalkers don't give up that easily. I bet you fifty creds that he gets at least fifty messages.”

“You're on!”

“Who's on?” came a voice from behind them. Martin approached the pair down the track through the holographic environment.

“Oh, just a private bet I have with Penny.” Madeline naturally had been aware of his approach since he had entered the holosuite. She patted the mouldering log that they were sitting on, indicating that he should sit down next to her on the opposite side to Penny. Since their trip to Sylvania, the bunny had enjoyed the company of both of them in the one environment where she could touch and be touched.

Martin took the proffered spot and gave Madeline a hug.

Madeline gave him a kiss on the cheek in return. “Still couldn’t persuade the commander to take a walk with you?”

Martin sighed. “No. She just doesn't seem to want to let go of that Hecate bitch’s unwanted attention.”

Penny said, “Don't worry too much, Captain. It might take time, but eventually she will put it aside. Meanwhile, keep doing what you're doing.”

“I agree,” Madeline added. “You’re too good a man to be ignored for long. I know that you make me feel happy when you're with me.”

“Thanks, Maddy. I like being with you too.”

The three of them sat in companionable silence to watch the scenery from the mountain lookout. Martin reflected that not everyone’s relationships came together as quickly and easily as M'Keera and R'Kassaran’s had. The girls were right – he just had to be patient and persistent. The goal might be distant, but it was worth it.

Continued in Chapter 12.


Characters and story copyright © 2012 Bernard Doove
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.

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