Flight of the Phoenix
Chapter 7 Changes
By Bernard Doove © 2012
The six-day journey to New Hong Kong colony was not pleasant. Phoenix was uncomfortably full of refugees who kept interfering with normal ship’s business, and keeping them out of mischief was a fulltime job for several of the crew. M'Resk and Penny did their best, but Anastasiya and Shintaro were still constantly having to chase bored people out of areas where they did not belong. Keeping them all fed was a task beyond Hotfoot alone, and shi had to beg help from whichever of the crew were free to lend a helping hand. Even Martin helped out a few times, and once had the indignity of being called a waiter by some clueless tourist.
The crowding and Spartan conditions inevitably led to a couple of fights breaking out, and Phoenix’s brig was put to use more than once to let those involved cool off for a while. It was with great relief that they reached the Chinese colony world, and were able to unload most of their unplanned passengers. A few of them whose destination was Cait – Phoenix’s next port of call – paid to stay aboard, but that brought their number down to within the maximum number that Martin had planned for. The New Hong Kong authorities were less than happy to have the refugees dumped upon them, but Federation law required them to accept them.
Under the circumstances, stopping for shore leave was not thought to be a good idea, and as soon as they had collected their loads, Phoenix departed for Cait. Soon after, M'Rarrtikar met Martin in his office.
"So, how do we stand after this little episode?" Martin asked her.
"That depends on whether you look at it in the long term or the short term," she replied.
"The difference being?"
"We can expect compensation and reward for our actions at Hesperia. However, bureaucracy being what it is, we cannot count on seeing any of that for many months, if not years, so that is not going to help us in the short term when we most need it. The cost of carrying those refugees was considerable, partly because of the increased strain on our systems which weren't intended to cope with so many, but mostly having to feed them. Without food stocks, most of their meals came from the food replicators, the energy requirements for which were a constant drain on our anti-matter supply. This is balanced against the refill that we got before we left Hesperia, but considering that we were only on the first leg of our voyage, our gains were not greatly significant compared to the losses we incurred. There is also the as yet unknown amount that will be needed to effect heavy maintenance on the ship due to the heavy stresses that we put upon it…."
"Please," interrupted Martin, "just give me the short version. You can give me the details later."
"The short version?" she asked with an exasperated sigh. "We lost a significant amount of money. We should recoup all of that when we get recompensed, but that won't pay the bills now."
"I was afraid of that," Martin said glumly. "I'm going to have to have a word with our creditors."
"Before you do, you might want to take one other thing into account."
"Why didn't you include that into your figures?"
"Because it's the money that Heywood and Menalippe saved. It's a considerable amount. What are we going to do with it?"
"How much are we talking about?"
M'Rarrtikar named a very large sum, and Martin blinked in astonishment. "Didn't they spend any of their wages?"
M'Rarrtikar shook her head. "They were very frugal. Their outing at Hesperia was their biggest indulgence they've had since they joined the crew, and that was because they were celebrating their anniversary. The rest they asked me to put into a long-term investment account."
"I wonder why? Did they tell you?" Martin’s curiosity was piqued.
"They did. They wanted to have children, but of course they were genetically incompatible. They researched the cost of gene surgery to enable him to fertilize her, and it is very expensive. They've been saving their wages ever since."
"He would have sired ferret morphs? And to think that I almost didn't interview him for the job because I thought he would see morphs as slaves."
"It's because of his past that I bring this up. Normally the money would default to his relatives, but he left all that behind him when he eloped with Menalippe, and she has no relatives anyway. As I see it, the crew of the Phoenix was their family, and I think that they would be happy to see their savings go towards helping that family in its time of need."
Martin nodded thoughtfully. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were right. Obviously though, they didn't leave a will, or you wouldn't be running this by me."
"No, but one thing that might bend this in our favour is that the money never went into their personal accounts. I immediately deducted the amount from their wages and put it into the investment account for them."
Martin pondered for a moment, then said, "We could really use that money, so go check out the legalities and get back to me."
In the end, the Federation taxation department wanted a bite out of the pie, but the remainder went into the Phoenix Inc. business account, and it made a huge difference to their financial situation. After a thankfully uneventful remainder of the voyage and they got back to Earth, they were able to make their creditors happy for a while longer. Martin prayed that this would be their last hurdle though on his way to his goal. The way things were going, he would be cutting things mighty fine.
As it was, Phoenix was laid up for an extra week while tests and repairs were made to the structure. Although it was an added unbudgeted expense, it was one that he hoped to be able to pay in full when the anticipated compensation and/or reward came through… eventually. He was more concerned about lost time. As when they had been quarantined, the business was losing money every hour that they had to put back their departure date. Martin tried to make good use of the downtime though by chasing down more possible clients. As news of their feat had spread to Earth by this time, it did lend them a bit of welcome publicity, and that was advertising worth its weight in gold, offsetting the harm that the Windsor incident continued to cause.
One other thing that needed to be done as a matter of priority was hiring a new pilot, and of course a replacement for Menalippe. The former was not so easy. It was not a coincidence that Baxter had been the only one to answer Martin’s original call for pilots. Qualified pilots were always in high demand, and one’s willing to work for what he could afford to pay were few and far between. Six nerve-wracking days passed before he finally got an enquiry.
The person who turned up for the interview turned out to be a kangaroo morph, a couple of years younger than Martin. His first impression was of a fashionably dressed and cocksure character.
"Mr Bruce Hopper, is it? Please take a seat."
The kangaroo sat on the indicated seat, his large tail barely fitting through the tail slot. "I prefer to be called Bruce Roo, actually. I've always thought Hopper's a pretty silly name for a kangaroo," he replied with a grin.
Martin found himself smiling back. "You could be right. Anyway, I see from your résumé that you've just graduated as a master pilot. Why are you interested in joining my ship when you might be able to get employment with some major company with your qualifications?"
"Pretty simple really. I became a starship pilot fer just one reason – I want to travel and see lots of places. Any job that I could get with a big mob would have me stuck in a rut, and I wouldn't see much of anythin'. I don't care much if I'm on a fancy ship, or earn the big bucks, just so long as I get to see new worlds on a regular basis. Guarantee that, and I'm yer man!"
"And you think Phoenix will take you to those worlds?"
"I know she will. I did me homework. Yer ship is famous, and I found out that you've been to many worlds and colonies. I want in on that."
"I'm impressed, Mr Hop… er, Roo, but you do realise that as a commercial trader, we don't stop long at most worlds?"
"Yeah, I'm not silly. I know that I'd be doin' a job first, and playin' tourist only when there's shore leave."
"Good. The flip side to going to so many places is that you don't get to come back home here much. Is that going to be a problem?"
"No worries! Me folks are alright, but in small doses, you know what I mean? Droppin' in on the rellies every few months is fine by me. Nothin' much to hold me back."
Martin glanced to the side of the room where Burningbright was sitting in on the interview. The chakat had a big grin on hir face, so he didn't really need to ask hir opinion. Bruce seemed a bit brash, but was otherwise of good character.
"Well then, Mr Roo, I would like to offer you the job of assistant pilot of the Phoenix." He pushed his PADD over the desk, the contract and pay rate displayed upon it. "If you're happy with the pay and conditions, just sign where indicated."
"Suits me, Captain, And call me Bruce," he added as he signed.
"When can you be ready to start work, Bruce?" Martin asked as he took back his PADD.
"Right now if you want. Me bags are packed, and I'm eager to go."
"Well, we won't be doing any cargo loading until tomorrow when we get the ship back from being serviced, so come to this address at midday and I'll introduce you to some of the team and put you to work." Martin transmitted the details to Bruce’s PADD along with a copy of the signed contract.
"Great! I'll see you then." Bruce got up and shook Martin’s hand, turned and winked at Burningbright. "Catch ya later, luv!"
When the kangaroo had left, Martin looked at the chakat and asked, "So why are you grinning your fool head off?"
Burningbright shrugged. "I can't help it. Bruce just radiates irrepressible joy of life. He'd be a good match for Penny if she wasn't gay."
"Judging from the way he dresses, he could be gay too."
"Ha! You obviously didn't see him checking out my boobs. Of course he might be bi, but I think he's just a snappy dresser. Either way, I like him."
"As long as he's a good pilot and gets along with the rest of the crew, he can be whatever he wants to be," Martin concluded as they left the office.
Replacing Menalippe was not as vital, but she had made herself useful in such a variety of ways that Martin could see the value of replacing her. As Zelkie had requested, he gave hir brother, Darkwave, the first opportunity to take the job if hy was interested. Hy came to meet hir before shi went on leave while Phoenix was being repaired, and Martin took the opportunity to interview hym then. Zelkie brought hym back up with hir after the last load had been taken down to the spaceport, and hy got a brief look around the ship before being shown into Martin’s office.
As chakat-kin skunktaurs usually preferred, Darkwave was in male mode, and he was dressed solely in a smart vest with a hip pouch belted around hys waist. He was patterned like a normal skunktaur, but where they would normally have white stripes, hys were a tan colour instead, as was the short ruff of fur on hys head, probably resulting from having a chakat as hys sire. Hys most distinctive feature though were hys bright violet eyes. Other than that though, hy looked like any other twenty-one year old skunktaur.
Martin shook hands with Darkwave. "Welcome aboard. Is this your first time in a spaceship?"
"Yes it is. You'd think that with a sister working on a star cruiser for years, shi'd get you a freebie or something," Darkwave replied with a teasing look at Zelkie, who rolled hir eyes but said nothing.
"Well, shi's recommended you for a job on this one, so I'd say that shi's finally come through for you. The question is – are you interested?"
"Zelkie's told you that I'm just a jack of all trades?"
"Yes. Shi says you never settled into one career path."
Darkwave nodded. "It's true. I just get bored when focusing on just one type of job. I like to be doing all sorts of different things, especially stuff that I've never done before. As I've never worked on a starship before, of course I've never encountered the jobs that are unique to them. I find the idea challenging."
"There certainly are going to be some challenges, but there are also going to be plenty of relatively boring tasks. If you take the job, am I going to be able to rely on you?" Martin asked pointedly.
"Captain, I've always left my jobs voluntarily, not because I was fired or found lacking. I know that no job is going to be interesting all the time – I'm not that naïve. If I take the job, I will always give you 100%, and I'll be committed to the complete round-trip voyage. If I still find it sufficiently interesting, then I'll sign up for another voyage."
"Sounds good enough for me. The job is yours if you want it."
"What are the pay and benefits?"
Martin outlined the details for him.
Darkwave nodded. "That looks fine, and I've been curious about this job since my sister told me about it, so… where do I sign?"
Martin completed the formalities and then said, "Welcome to the crew of the Phoenix. You start the same day that Zelkie comes back to work when repairs are completed on the ship, and we start loading her up for our next voyage. Enjoy these last few days on Earth. I recommend getting your sister’s advice on what and how to pack for the voyage."
"Thanks, Captain. I'm really looking forward to this."
After the last load was taken down and the Phoenix left in the hands of the shipyard, the entire crew went on leave, mostly taking the opportunity to visit family for a while. Anastasiya insisted that Shintaro visit with them, and they both could show off their pregnancies. Because Penny could not feel safe down on Earth though, she elected to stay on the gateway station where Star Fleet’s heavy presence could ensure her security. Commander Karnak had given Martin his personal assurance that Penny would be discreetly guarded. Madeline’s life-support unit was transferred there also, and she was installed in one of the holosuites for the week, the expense being willingly covered by her father. The two enjoyed a carefree vacation together, exploring all the possibilities of the holosuite.
Martin had decided that it would be good to visit his parents, but was not looking forward to hearing what his father would say about his latest financial setback. Still, he would not have to face him without some moral support. He had invited Bethany to join him there after the vixen had confessed that her sister was unavailable, and she had no other particular place to go.
"You might as well come stay with my family if you have nothing else that you'd prefer to do. You've seen the family mansion before, so you know that there are plenty of guest rooms."
"What about Risha? Is she coming too? It would look improper if you brought two females with you."
Martin gave her an odd look before replying, "Risha intends to spend the time with her family. She's been missing them a bit."
"Well… if it's alright with your parents…"
"Standing practice that my siblings and I can invite anyone, so long as we let our parents know in advance. Our folks may be rich, but they've never let that go to their heads, and they welcome guests."
"Yes, I got that impression when we visited last time."
Bethany was delighted with the warm welcome back that she received, and greatly impressed with the bedroom she was given. It was huge, although she supposed that it might be a pretty normal size for a mansion. It was tastefully decorated, and had its own en suite bathroom. It also had doors opening out into the garden, and she was enchanted by its beauty. It certainly made her cabin look dull in comparison.
It did not take her long to unpack and change out of her ship uniform. The butler, Alain, showed her to where Martin was sitting out on the sun deck with his mother, enjoying some afternoon tea. They chatted pleasantly for a while, and she found herself relaxing more than she could remember doing so in a long time. There was one moment though that startled the vixen. Martin had excused himself for a few minutes, while his mother continued talking with Bethany.
"So how long have you and Martin been in a relationship, my dear?"
Bethany nearly choked on her café latte. "I'm afraid that you're mistaken, Mrs Yote. Martin and I are just crew-mates, friends at most. Besides, I'm fourteen years older than him."
"Ah – my mistake. My other children have only ever invited to stay at our home people with whom they are in a relationship. I assumed the same thing for Martin. Forgive me."
"Of course. It's not important."
Mrs Yote smiled. "Such things are never unimportant, dear. However, I will not mention it again."
But although the subject was never brought up again, Bethany went to bed that evening wondering how Martin’s mother could make that silly assumption.
Martin had been correct in his guess that his father would not be so harshly critical in front of a guest, and he had a very pleasant evening. He went to sleep in his old familiar bedroom reasonably contented with the world.
Although she had planned to do some shopping, Bethany found herself relaxing in the mansion’s gardens instead. The beauty and tranquillity of the grounds had a very calming effect, and she found that the accumulated stresses of her work simply melted away while she lay on a deck chair in the warmth of the April sun. Spring leant a growth spurt to all the plants, many of which were flowering and spreading their delightful scent her way. And when she tired of that, she took advantage of the heated swimming pool for a while. She was very glad that she had taken Martin’s invitation.
On her second afternoon, she had encountered Martin’s mother in the garden with an easel and oils, painting a landscape. She was very impressed with what she saw.
"Am I disturbing you, Mrs Yote?"
"Not at all, dear, and please call me Lydia."
"I don't know much about art, but that seems very good to my eyes. How long have you been painting?"
"Since the birth of my first child. I used to work for a living, and when I married Arthur, I worked with him to help his business get going. But when we could afford it, we decided to have children, and I would stay at home to raise them. However, I felt the need to do something with the time not spent with the children, so I decided to take up a hobby. That's when I started painting, and I haven't stopped since."
"Well the years of practice really show. You seem to have captured the essence of the landscape without going into every detail."
"I paint what I see, Bethany. I look for that essence, as you call it. Once you get that essential part, the rest comes readily enough."
"You make it sound easy, Lydia."
The coyote woman laughed. "I suppose that it would seem so after something like three decades of practice, but I'm still finding new things to learn."
Bethany and Lydia spent another two hours together discussing painting. The vixen was encouraged to try her hand, but while she was unimpressed with the result, Lydia was supportive in her criticism.
"I was no better at first. You have gotten off to a reasonable start, and if you choose to pursue painting as a hobby, you will soon find yourself getting much better. Don't believe anyone who tells you that it's just a matter of having talent; it's mostly hard work that yields the results. Put the time and effort into it that it needs, and you will reap the rewards."
"Running a starship keeps me fairly busy, but I'll think about it. Unfortunately I won't have this magnificent garden for inspiration, but perhaps a scene from a holosuite program will do."
"Not quite as good as the real thing, but if you look, you will find the beauty in it as well."
The week went by faster than Bethany thought possible, and she and Martin reluctantly made their farewells and went to the spaceport to rendezvous with the rest of the crew. Half of them were there already, including the two Amur Tigers.
"Hi, Anastasiya," Martin greeted hir as he entered their warehouse base. "That baby of yours looks like shi's put on two weeks worth of weight in just one week."
Anastasiya rubbed hir swelling belly a bit self-consciously. Hir masculine bias had made hir a little embarrassed to be pregnant, but Valentina was very happy, and that made it worthwhile. "Mother thinks Hotfoot does not feed us enough. I think both of us have put on weight."
"I'm sure you're both doing fine," Martin reassured hir, and then went to chat with the others before starting work.
Bruce was put to the test immediately, and was found to be every bit as good as his résumé had suggested despite his lack of experience. He also set about ingratiating himself with the rest of the crew, but he especially had his eyes set on one person in particular.
"Hey, luv, can I get you a coffee," he asked Risha with a roguish grin.
"Why? Don't you think I'm capable of getting my own?" she retorted.
"No, I just want you to try my special blend."
"You have your own blend?" Risha asked, her curiosity piqued.
"Me dad is a barista. Taught me what good coffee tastes like. Packed me own mini coffee maker so that I'm not forced to drink this mediocre swill."
"I like this swill," Risha said defiantly.
"You won't be so keen after you try mine," Bruce replied confidently.
Risha stared at him for a moment, then laughed. "Okay, that's one of the better pick-up lines that I've heard. I'll give your coffee a try."
"Great! Yer gonna love it!"
Bruce was a good as his word, and Risha was impressed. So were the rest of the coffee-drinking crew who tried his brew. Hotfoot offered to program it into the food replicator, but Bruce was scandalised.
"Good coffee isn't replicated – it is created by an artist!" he proclaimed.
So the crew humoured Bruce, and his special blend was never replicated. It did get him that foot in the doorway with Risha however. Being of similar age and unmated, not to mention exotic, she was easily the most attractive to his mind, and he set about learning more about her.
Risha found herself liking the cocky kangaroo more and more. He was always upbeat, never lost for words, and shared a lot of her interests. It was not long before she realised why she liked him so much – he was so much like Carson!
Six days into their voyage, Risha stopped coming to Martin’s room at night. It was not for another four days before he realised that this was not going to be one of those lulls in her visits. That was when Bethany let him know the reason why.
"Looks like you've lost your lover, Captain," she remarked with some satisfaction when she saw him as she walked down the corridor past his room.
"And why do you say that, Commander?"
"I just saw her go into Bruce’s room."
"Hmm. Can't say I'm surprised." He opened the door to his quarters.
"You don't seem terribly cut-up about it," Bethany remarked suspiciously.
"Oh, I'll miss having her in bed with me, and it was good while it lasted, but I didn't expect it to go on forever."
"Why not? You were pretty adamant about having a relationship with her."
"And as I told you then, she was mostly looking for company to allay her feelings of insecurity and loneliness. I was the only person available really."
"So are you going to try to tell me that you didn't have sex with her night after night," Bethany said scornfully.
"Actually only two or three nights a week at most," Martin admitted. "Risha has a strong libido, and as the only unmated male on board this ship, of course she came to me for sex. And as an unmated heterosexual male, of course I took what she offered. But that's all it was – a mutually pleasurable bed sex partnership. There was never any real chance of anything more."
"Why not? It lasted this long."
"Because we have very little in common. We both knew long ago that one day, one of us would find someone that they really liked, and then we would be finished. It seems that Risha may have found that someone, and I'm happy for her. That's all." Martin entered his room and was about to close the door when Bethany asked a final question.
"If Risha didn't really interest you, what kind of person would?"
Martin paused thoughtfully, then replied, "Someone like you, Bethany."
She was too stunned to correct his informality, and by the time that she had recovered her poise, he had closed the door. She wanted to ask what the hell he meant by that, but she was not going to beat down the door and demand an answer. Her smug sense of satisfaction had been turned into intense frustration though, and with a growl of anger, she turned from Martin’s door and marched off to her own room.
"Damn idiot males!" she cursed as she stripped off her uniform. "Always screwing around and making my life a complete mess!" She practically hurled herself into the shower and turned it on full blast. She let the water pummel her face, washing away the tears that she would deny crying.
Bruce’s relationship with Risha hadn't been the only impact that he had made on the crew. Burningbright had been correct when shi had reckoned that he and Penny would get along well. In fact they became instant best friends, and frequently tried to top each other with jokes. However, friends was all they were, with Bruce’s romantic interests lying firmly with Risha, while Penny retained her relationship with Madeline. Not that Madeline had not given the handsome kangaroo a look or two. By now, the rest of the crew knew what Penny had learned long ago – the rabbit swung both ways. If that bothered any of them, they kept it to themselves. However, in the interests of crew harmony, Martin felt that he could not ignore it.
"Madeline," he addressed the empty air in his office, "I'd like a word with you if you're not doing anything important."
"Nothing that I can't have the computer do by itself," she replied, her face appearing on his desk comm unit. While she could not project her holo-body there, she could reproduce her image on the comm with but a fraction of the computing power required for the hologram. "What's up, Captain?"
"I'd like to ask you a question that is of a personal nature. I'll understand if you don't want to discuss it, but I need to ask."
"Ask away, Captain. I promise to not get upset."
"What is your relationship with Penny really like? Are you just steady girlfriends, or is it more serious?"
"We're pretty serious. Why do you ask?"
"Yeah, I thought you two had a very nice relationship going, but how does she feel about you looking at Bruce or the male passengers the same way? I don't want her hurt in any way."
Madeline’s face grew serious. "You're very protective of her, aren't you?"
Martin nodded. "She didn't have the good fortune of having a father like yours."
"Yeah, I know. She's told me all about her controlling father and her attempts to get out from under his thumb before she managed to stow-away on Phoenix. It's a wonder that she came out as well-adjusted as she did. Her indomitable will is one of the things that I find attractive about her. However I was upfront with her about my own nature. I made sure that she understood that I like boys as much as I like girls, and whatever I feel for her would not change that."
"That may be so, but unlike chakats or Caitians, most people commit to a relationship with just one person. If I can see you being interested in a guy while still being in a relationship with Penny, how will she react? I'm not pretending that I know what will happen, Madeline, but I am concerned."
"Captain – I don't think that you understand me well enough to be critical of what I do, but I promise you that I will do my best to not hurt Penny in any way."
Martin could sense the subtle rebuke in that answer, and knew that it was time to end that conversation. "Thank you, Madeline. That will be all."
Madeline’s image blinked out, and Martin was left wondering if he'd overstepped the boundaries of his authority. Nevertheless he could not regret asking. Penny was family, and he would protect her any way that it took.
On the morning of day twelve of their voyage, Martin was surprised to discover Zelkie waiting outside of his quarters as he emerged. Not ever having done this before it set him wondering why.
"Good morning, Captain," Zelkie said. Shi seemed on the verge of saying more, then nothing happened.
"Good morning, Zelkie. Anything wrong?"
"Um... no. Not exactly." Zelkie’s expression was awkward and undecided.
‘Well, that was unconvincing,’ Martin thought. "Tell me what's bothering you on the way to the mess hall."
The chakat sighed. "It's a bit of touchy subject, but I thought I'd better tell you something about my brother before you confronted it for yourself."
"Oh? And what is that? Not something that will affect the ship, I hope?"
"Oh no! Nothing like that! Umm... how familiar are you with the nature of chakat-kin skunktaurs?"
"Like your brother? Well I know that they're cyclic herms, and can change from male to female and back again pretty much at will, although when they go into heat, they change to female whether they want to or not. Most of them seem to prefer the male form for some reason, so it's more common to see them that way in public."
"It's probably because they are all born in the male form," Zelkie explained. "In fact they don't change sex until they reach puberty and go into heat for the first time. The male form feels more normal to them, so when heat is over, they frequently change back. Not all though. Just as the chakats have their gender bias, some skunktaurs actually like the female form and stay that way until a rut phase forces the opposite change."
"I didn't know that they were male until puberty. That explains a lot. So what has this got to do with you wanting to talk to me? Has Darkwave changed?"
"Yes, hy has," shi confirmed as they stepped out of the trans-lift and headed for the mess hall.
"Thanks for the warning, but I wouldn't have been shocked by that."
"I know, but you haven't seen my brother. Hy isn't exactly normal by skunktaur standards, and it embarrasses hym a lot."
"You'll see. I'm just asking you to be tactful," Zelkie said as they entered the mess hall.
Martin noticed the skunktaur immediately, but hy had hys back to them while seated at a table. All he could see was that hys ruff of tan fur on hys head had lengthened several centimetres. Then he noticed that the other occupants of the room that had a better view of hym kept glancing at hym. They obviously could see something he couldn't. It couldn't be something like hys genitals as hy was sitting on those. Then suddenly it became clear as Darkwave got up with hys empty plate and took it to add to the pile of plates and cutlery to be washed.
Martin’s eyes nearly bugged out. He knew that skunktaurs grew fairly large breasts in their female phase, but Darkwave’s put those utterly to shame. Martin had seen breasts that large before, but that wasn't all there was to it. Usually gravity dragged at breasts, stretching them, and creating a perfectly normal amount of sag. However, Darkwave’s had grown overnight, and gravity had not had a chance to affect them, so they stood up and stuck out proudly, almost preposterously so. Hy was a living cliché of bad porn artists.
Darkwave headed out of the mess hall, avoiding talking to most people, but in passing Martin who was still riveted next to the doorway, hy said, "Good morning, Captain. Zelkie," before hurrying on hys way. Hys voice had also changed to a more sultry feminine timbre, compounding the visual effect.
When the skunktaur was out of earshot, Martin turned to Zelkie and just looked at hir with an incredulous look on his face.
"Told you so," shi said.
"Was one of hys parents that much endowed?"
"Nope. Nor hys grandparents. None of hys siblings either. Hy's just a freak of nature, and I don't mean that unkindly." Shi moved off to the breakfast buffet and Martin followed. "Hy's even inherited the chakat internal breast support from hys sire, compounding the problem."
"I can see why hy would be embarrassed by all the stares hy would get."
"Hy might have gotten used to them except for the unfortunate timing of hys first change."
"Can you tell me?" Martin asked as he served himself some scrambled eggs and bacon.
"As I said, skunktaurs change for the first time during puberty. Hys first heat didn't hit until hy was fourteen, much later than average. There's some debate that the lateness might have caused the problem, but that's pure speculation. It was during the school week when hy switched sex for the first time. Unfortunately it was also on the day of a big soccer match, and hy was one of the star players. Hy not only had to deal with the reactions from hys classmates, but the whole of both teams. Hy had to borrow some big guy’s uniform top just to cover them, but it ended up looking even more ridiculous because of the bad fit. Worse still, those huge boobs of hys threw off hys centre of balance and kept getting in hys way. Hy was playing so badly that the coach pulled hym out of the game halfway through the first half of the game. Hy never lived down that humiliation, and for a while hy started skipping classes whenever hy went to female phase, until our parents found out and cracked down on hym. Hy still won't stay female for one minute longer than hy is forced to even now."
"So what do you think I should do, if anything?"
Zelkie shrugged. "While hy does have quite an effect on everyone who looks at hym, they'll get used to it. I wouldn't let hym avoid public contact any more than our parents would. Hy needs to learn to live with them also, and hy won't ever do that hiding in hys room. Other than that, it's up to you."
Martin decided that he would just watch to see what would happen and deal with it if necessary. For now, if it was not affecting the ship, it wasn't his business.
However, Darkwave did cause a greater reaction when hy was eating dinner later. While everyone was avoiding mentioning hys endowments, they kept stealing peeks. Then Ceres and Danson arrived. Neither had been present earlier at breakfast when Darkwave was there, so it was a surprise to them.
"Great Makers!" exclaimed Ceres. "How'd you get that gorgeous rack?"
After everyone tiptoeing around the subject, hir blunt question came as a bit of a shock to everyone, especially Darkwave. "Huh?"
Danson weighed in also. "Shi's right, you look hot!"
Martin had to remind himself that foxtaurs had a very down-to-earth attitude about everything, and were pretty blunt about such things.
"Umm… I changed sex last night," Darkwave replied uncertainly. "This is how big they always get."
"Well, you're sure looking sexy, hon," Ceres said with a wink as shi sat down next to hym. Danson sat down on hys other side with a grin on his face.
Darkwave was flustered. Hy simply was not used to getting such open admiration. Sure, hy got a lot of leering looks from strangers, and hy was used to the teasing that hy got from hys siblings and friends, but hy just did not usually get these honest frank flattering opinions on hys looks. "Thanks… I think."
"Hey Danson," Ceres said. "Do you reckon Dark’s boobs are as big as Kaleesha’s?"
"Nobody’s boobs are bigger than Kaleesha’s," he replied. "But Dark’s are a lot more shapely."
"Mmm. You got that right, hon!"
By now, Darkwave’s ears were burning with embarrassment. However, unlike the humiliation he normally felt, their candid admiration made him ask, "You… really like them? You don't think they look ridiculous?"
That genuinely surprised the foxtaurs. Ceres replied, "Why on Earth would you think they're ridiculous? Hon, I know a couple of vixens who'd kill for a rack like yours. Hell, I'd like a bigger rack, although I'm not quite so ambitious as that. Do you know what some vixens go through to try to attract a tod? You'd have half our home village jealous of you!"
"I'm more than a set of tits, y'know."
"Good thing too. A good rack is just advertising. Nobody keeps a tod with just tits to offer. At least, not the ones worth going after anyway."
"I wouldn't know," Darkwave said self-pityingly.
Ceres suddenly understood that Darkwave’s endowments were not necessarily the advantage they would be in the typical foxtaur village. "Aw hon, I'm sorry to hear that. Dan – how about we show Dark a little of what it would be like back home?"
"How far should we go?" he replied.
"As far as you like, or until hy says otherwise."
"What are you two planning?" Darkwave asked suspiciously.
"Show you what it's like when someone like you gets the interest of some people like us," Danson answered with a grin on his muzzle.
"Should I be worried now?"
"Only if you have no ability to enjoy yourself," Ceres replied, and gave the skunktaur a kiss on the cheek.
"Eep! Help?" hy asked Zelkie who had been watching in fascination.
Hys sister just shook hir head with a smile. "You're on your own, brother. My advice is go with the flow."
The foxtaurs stood up, and they each took an elbow of the nervous skunktaur and insistently pulled hym away from the table. Not knowing what else to do, Darkwave complied, but protested, "But you haven't had your meal yet!"
"We're hungry for something else right now," Ceres replied, and they led hym out of the mess hall.
Martin turned to Zelkie and asked, "What do you think those two are going to do?"
Shi looked thoughtful. "Probably treat hym like they would a vixen in their foxtaur village. If hy is lucky, they might end up screwing hys brains out. As far as I know, hy's still a virgin… or at least hy is in female mode."
"Ceres must be in male phase," Martin opined.
"Yeah, but that wouldn't necessarily change things. You're not a herm, Captain. You don't truly understand that some things are irrelevant to whatever phase we're in. I know Ceres already found Darkwave attractive when hy was in male mode. Shi just gets a bit more in-your-face about such things when shi's in male phase."
"I suppose so. I wonder how Danson feels when shi gets like that though."
"Ever been to a foxtaur village? They're even more open about sex than chakats, and that's saying a lot! Tods are used to getting attention from several vixens, Vixens are used to having to share. They had a couple of dozen herm Starwalkers thrown into the mix, and adapted to that too. My guess is that it doesn't bother Danson at all. When you eliminate sex as something to be jealous about, then only the things that really matter are left. Danson and Ceres really love each other, truly and deeply, so nothing is going to affect their relationship. It doesn't mean though that they can't feel something for someone else also. Frankly, only two foxtaurs in a relationship after a few years is very rare. Three or four is the norm. Hmm… and maybe that's exactly what my brother needs the most."
"As it happens, I do know a lot about foxtaurs, but our friends are hardly typical ones. Yet you reckon you can tell all that from just this one incident?" Martin asked sceptically.
"I know my brother, and I'm pretty familiar with foxtaurs. I’m betting I’m right."
Martin couldn’t argue with that, but he sure was going to be watching with interest to see what happened.
Later that evening, Martin was ready to go to bed, but was not feeling sleepy, so he decided to head off to the rec room and get a mug of hot chocolate. To his surprise, he found Darkwave there already, sitting by hymself by the observation port, watching the light streaks of hyperspace, a steaming mug of some brew in hys hand. The skunktaur was apparently lost in thought and did not notice the coyote until Martin sat in a chair beside hym. Martin sipped his very hot chocolate carefully while watching the light show for a while before finally commenting, "So, what happened, if I may ask?"
Darkwave shrugged. "Not much. They took me to their quarters, and kept complimenting me on my looks. They asked me to take off my top so they could have a better look at my breasts. That didn't bother me – after all I come from a family of chakats who are nudists in private, even if my sibs like to tease me about them. More compliments on how they looked, then they started asking about more personal stuff – whether I had lots of boyfriends, or other gender friends, what I liked to do… lots of little details. And they told me about themselves and their own likes and such. They would occasionally stroke my back fur or tail-caress… but nothing else! Then eventually they said it was about time we all had dinner, and we came back to the mess hall to eat. Then after the meal, Ceres gave me a kiss on the cheek and they went back to their quarters. I came here to try to think about what had happened, and all I feel is that there was something left uncompleted." Darkwave looked at Martin earnestly. "Can you please tell what I'm missing?"
Martin sympathised with the skunktaur. Hy had been thrust into an unfamiliar situation, and hys responses were so naďve. "How much do you know about foxtaurs?" he asked.
"Not much," Darkwave admitted. "Before I came on board Phoenix, I'd met two or three, but I can't say that I talked to them much."
"Okay, then let me tell you about Joocinda, a foxtaur vixen whom I met at pilot training school. She had a lot of aptitude, and I actually approached her to ask whether she would be interested in my plans for Phoenix. She was tempted, but she was already committed to following in her sire’s footsteps as flight crew for a cruise-line. However, we struck up a friendship, and I learned much about foxtaur customs from Joocinda. The thing that you most need to realise is that many of them are based around the fact that females outnumber males three or four to one, so there's always a great deal of competition amongst the vixens for the available tods. They also developed gender roles that are pretty consistent across all the sub-species of foxtaur, such as Vixen’s Choice. Basically it means that the females have the dominant roles in foxtaur society, and it's the vixens who are the sexual aggressors. However, if a male is interested in a female who has not approached him, he can show his interest in her by compliments, conversation, gifts, and so forth – everything except asking about sex. That’s her role."
A light dawned in Darkwave’s eyes. "You're saying that I'm the vixen in this case. They were waiting for me to ask them for sexual relations."
"Pretty much. That's the thing about foxtaurs – if they are interested in you, they are very bluntly obvious about it, but they still do it within their defined gender roles."
"But Ceres is a herm. Shi surely could have said something!"
"Ceres was raised in a normal foxtaur village, and shi seems to have developed hir own way of relating to the gender roles depending on who shi's relating to, and perhaps what phase shi's in. You are in female phase, and shi's in male phase. You are still the one in control."
"So you're saying that I should have asked them for sex?"
"Good grief, no. I'm saying that if you wanted sex, it was your place to ask for it. The choice is still completely up to you, no matter how much they're interested in you." Martin finished the remainder of his hot chocolate and stood up. He looked at the skunktaur and said, "But if you want my opinion, then I’d say you'd be an idiot not to. They're good people, and I think you could do worse than to take their offer. Goodnight, Dark."
Martin left Darkwave to think about his parting words, hoping the repressed skunktaur would make the best choice for hymself.
Darkwave sat for a while longer, staring at hys half-finished drink, trying to sort out hys feelings. Eventually hy got up and put the mug on the returns tray, then headed off to the crew quarters. Hy tapped the call button on door of Ceres and Danson’s quarters.
Half a minute passed before a nude and slightly dishevelled Ceres answered the door. Hir eyes widened in surprise. "Dark! I thought you'd gone to bed?"
Hy shook hys head. "No, I needed to do some thinking. Thankfully the Captain was able to clear some things up for me, and I realised that I left something undone. May I join you for the night?"
Ceres smiled happily. "Certainly! Come in!" shi said as shi ushered the skunktaur inside. "Danson! We have company!"
Martin was slightly disappointed that both Darkwave and the foxtaurs were close-lipped about the previous evening. While foxtaurs might not be shy about their relationships, it did not mean that they went around blabbing about the details. However he did notice that Darkwave seemed to be a lot more upbeat than hy had been yesterday, so he guessed that hy may have taken his advice.
Darkwave spent the next evening with the foxtaurs, but was back in hys usual male mode after two days as female. However, Ceres and Danson apparently had not lost interest in hym. More and more they were found socialising with the skunktaur, and Darkwave certainly didn't seem to be embarrassed about it anymore. Zelkie finally realised that shi and hir family may have made a mistake in not discussing the matter, trying not to cause hym further embarrassment. What hy apparently had needed was a reason to like how hy looked.
Weeks later when hy reverted to female form at hys next heat, hy stayed that way for an extra day. Zelkie was amazed as shi had never seen hym stay female one moment longer than hy had to. However, shi was happy that hir brother seemed to have finally started to like hys whole self.
And so were the foxtaurs!
Continued in Chapter 8.
Characters and story copyright © 2012 Bernard Doove.
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.
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