The next day 8/42/91
Breakfast was in full swing the next morning when Tess sent a tone through the houses intercom. Three vehicles turning into the drive, she reported. Im picking up weapons and encrypted communications. Vehicles are owned by Found Inc..
Freefall swallowed hir mouthful of omelet before replying. Our sister Trapper works for them. HEY TRAP! Youre late again!
Im off this week, Chakat Trappers voice grumbled back from another room. Ill go see what they want, shi added as shi headed for the upper-most level and the front door.
That doesnt explain the encrypted chatter or them checking and charging their weapons, Tess replied.
No, it doesnt, Zhanch commented as more of the group got up from the tables to follow Trapper, the adults and teens heading for the lockers and their own weapons.
Everyone stand down, Wildflower suggested. Lets at least find out whats going on before you guys start any rounds of stunner tag.
Better yet, Zhanch said with a grin, Tess? Pull the charges from their weapons after theyve checked them. No sense making this any harder than it has to be.
Opening the door before the new arrivals could ring the announcer, Trapper gave them a scowl as shi growled, And just what do you want?
The two at the door, a chakat and a human male, both backed up a half step in surprise. The human found his voice first. Trap? What are you doing here? he sputtered.
I live here, John, whats your excuse? Trapper fired back.
Chakat Trapper! Thats no way to speak to a superior! the chakat next to him protested.
It is when you idiots are charging your weapons coming up my drive, Longstride, Trapper replied. You can call back the ones you sent around the sides, unless you want them used as targets. Turning back into the house, Trapper called out, Any non-family is fair game! Nothing over heavy stun, kids! Facing hir team leader and their boss, Trapper held out both of hir hands. If you want in, itll be minus your hardware, shi told them.
Longstride had opened hir mouth to protest, but John raised a hand to stop hir. Pulling his phaser holster loose, he placed it in Trappers hand, Longstride doing the same a moment later.
Giving them a half nod, Trapper turned and led them into the house. Now, why dont you tell us what brings you out to a councilors home, armed and acting dangerous, shi suggested as they followed hir into the main room on the top level.
We received a contract to rescue a kidnap victim, Longstride told hir. Intel led us here.
Let me make a wild-assed guess, Whitetail growled from the doorway leading deeper into the house. One Charles Grayson trying to rescue his daughter Cindy from a Captain Neal Foster?
Is she here? John calmly asked the much larger Rakshani.
She is, Wildflower admitted as shi came up from behind Whitetail, but perhaps you should have your office check on something before you ruin your companys good reputation
And that would be? he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Have them pull up yesterdays last session of the Chakat High Council, shi suggested. I think youll find that youve being duped.
Control? Longstride said into hir communicator before relaying hir request.
Having heard what was being discussed, Cindy came out to join them. What you will find is that my excuse for a father has disowned me in exchange for the control of a couple of bank accounts. I guess hes discovered they dont have quite as much in them as hed hoped.
Neal had followed her out. Cant really blame him for trying yet again. After all, we left him with just enough for a one-way ticket home, but not enough for all his gambling debts. Though that makes me wonder what he intended to pay Found Inc. with when they fail to deliver you.
He used a set of credit chits tied to his bank, Longstride said just before hir PADD beeped. Looking at the readout shi mouthed an oath before turning to hir supervisor. Control confirms it; he has no say over her. To Cindy shi said, Were sorry to have bothered you.
Cindy was still scowling slightly when she finally snapped, Im getting tired of this. How do we keep him from simply trying this again with another group? One that doesnt listen to reason
Neals look wasnt pleasant when he said, Hit him where it hurts, in whats left of his pocket book. He should be made to forfeit the pre-fees he paid Found for what was basically a kidnapping. Ill bet some, if not all, of his chits will fail to pay off, so Found could then have a contract out on him for attempted kidnapping as well as nonpayment. That in itself should keep a lot of people from taking his business. Looking at John and Longstride he asked, Just how sorry are you?
At Johns nod, Longstride keyed hir communicator again. Control. Cash those earnest chits from Grayson. Add a warning to the other headhunters that hes not only a bad credit risk but hes the one trying to kidnap Cindy. Add bios for both.
Still looking at Neal, John carefully asked, Has Cindy simply exchanged one controller for another?
Neal smirked back at John as he said, Cindy, please tell this gentleman just how much I can squeeze you for.
The lawyers set it up so I can only pull a small allowance from my other accounts each month. So even if Charles were to get me back, he cant get at it. Cindy snickered before adding, Between pay and gifts, Captain Foster has given me more than those accounts were worth.
So Im not the boogieman, or at least not for Cindy, though Charlie might think so if I have the misfortune to ever see him again, Neal told them.
The representatives of Found apologized again to Cindy before departing. Trapper then pulled Cindy into a quiet corner to talk about what else might be done to keep her father from hounding her. Neal watched them from where he sat for a few minutes before deciding he needed some fresh air
A quick look around showed the third level deck was deserted as Neal tapped his comm badge. Tess, find that asshole for me, please, he muttered.
One asshole coming up, she replied. The communicator he had with him in the council chambers just entered a suite of the Furbanks hotel.
Is he alone?
Bring him to me, please.
Sure thing, Boss, Tess replied as Charles suddenly found himself out on the open deck with Neal glaring at him.
Ill have you arrested for kidnapping me! Charles blustered as he pulled out his communicator.
You can try, Neal growled back, but were not in front of council this time, so I dont have to pretend to play nice. As Charles tried to get his communicator to work, Neal said, Found Inc. was just here. They were very displeased to discover you tried to have them kidnap Cindy.
Shes my daughter, damn you! Charles growled, giving up on his communicator.
Whom you all but sold, Neal fired back. By law you dont have a leg to stand on, and you know it not that youd ever let mere laws stop you. Neal stepped towards the fox, who gave ground at the cold glare from the human. Neal smiled. You like to think youre above the law, dont you, Charlie? You always have another way to game the system. Sometimes I also think Im above the law please allow me to demonstrate just how far above. Tess? Kerplunk this sorry sack of shit for me, please.
Aye, Boss, one kerplunked sorry sack of shit, she replied as Charles was beamed away. What retrieval level, or was that a goodbye?
Two hundred meters.
Two hundred meter retrieval, aye, Boss.
It was less than a minute later that Tess reported, Retrieving. A very windblown looking Charles appeared, only to collapse on the deck, shivering.
That was just a warning shot, Charlie, Neal told the sniveling pile of fur before him. The next time you try to do anything to Cindy or anyone else for that matter, not only will I drop you again, I wont waste the effort to catch you. Oh, and you can tell whoever you like whatever you please; just remember this your only proof will require a mind reader in your head, learning everything youve been up to. You now know that I can and will protect my own. The next move is up to you. After waiting a minute to see if Charles had a reply in him, Neal made a throwaway gesture. Get him out of my sight, he told Tess.
Told ya he was mad, a voice didnt whisper quite quietly enough as the fox morph disappeared.
Neal turned and stared at the level overlooking the one he was on. One of the bushes suddenly shook, and some of the tall grasses moved in ways not caused by the breeze. Still looking stern, he snapped his fingers and then pointed at the deck in front of him. One by one, a double handful of cubs and teens made their way down the ramps to sit in front of him. What have I told you brats about eavesdropping? he demanded of one of the teens.
You mean besides dont get caught? Silverflash shot back. You didnt ask for alone time, and some of us thought, correctly I might add, that someone should keep an eye on you.
Before Neal could form a reply, Night demanded, We wanna kerplunk too! We know you let the others do it!
Please? Day pleaded.
Whats a kerplunk? Darkstreak wanted to know.
Tess drops you from way up! Night told hir. Then she either catches you, or you use a parachute! Silverflash and Opal took us up a couple of times, but we had to use a lift platform and parachutes.
Neal let them beg for a minute before raising his hands. Ok, ok, one jump each. Ill have to take Gwen back up sooner or later anyway. You can each fall out of her and parachute down. Tina and Tess can then yank anyone who fails to open their chute in time, or appears to be in trouble. Deal?
At the roar of approval, Neal tapped his comm badge. Tina? Remind me to file your flight plan for heading this way and deploying a drop next time we go up.
From where he and Digs lay in a grassy spot above Neal and the other chakats, Doug quietly said, Do you see now why things dont always add up when you throw Dad and Tess into the mix? While he had waved when Neal had called down those spying he hadnt felt the need for them to move.
Would he have really killed that fox? Digs wondered.
The risk of hurting Cindy probably saved her fathers life, Doug allowed. Though Dad normally gives you at least one chance to redeem yourself.
Am I at risk for having dug through his logs?
Doug barked out a laugh before saying, Youre safe enough. You never saw more than Tess let you see, he said just before jerking his tail to one side to save it from a tiny taur attack.
Accepting hir miss semi-gracefully, Firestorm next jumped up on Digs upper belly, eliciting an ooph! out of the surprised chakat.
Brat, Digs muttered as the little chakat tugged hir top out of the way of hir snack.
Give it up, Digs. Shi knows youre not upset in the least with hir helping you with your excess milk.
Digs turned hir head to give him a dirty look before turning back and giving the kitten a few strokes. Im a little surprised someone hasnt dragged me downstairs for more of their therapeutic sex.
Maybe youre no longer feeling in need to them How are you feeling?
Digs frowned as shi let out a quiet sigh. Honestly? I feel more relaxed than I have been in a long time.
So, would you recommend therapeutic sex for other uptight sexually repressed professors? Doug asked with a grin.
Digs glared at him for a moment, before a gentle nip brought hir attention back to the nursing kitten.
A bit before lunch had their mysterious chakat youth complaining yet again, I dont understand. Hir name had been addressed, at least temporarily, as they had all taken to calling hir Blackrose, or Blackie for short.
Ill confess to not understanding all of this myself, Passion admitted. You know as much as we do about you.
But why is he going to take me? Blackrose fumed, looking over at Neal.
He wont take you anywhere you dont want to go, Neal replied. Someone suggested I take you with me, but that is still up to you.
Why? Blackrose asked.
Why wont I take you against your wishes? Because, thats not my style, kiddo. Why did someone suggest I take you? I honestly dont know, but her suggestions have usually proven beneficial to all those concerned in the past.
Thats better than some of your past explanations, but still not very helpful, Neal, admonished Passion.
Neal grinned at hir as he said, Sorry Passion, Ill try to be a little less obtuse. Turning to the cub, he continued, What little we know is that you were found in a PTV outside this residence. Other than your furry little hide, you had two things with you: that comm badge you refuse to part with, and the ticket you keep trying to hide from the other cubs. That comm badge is one of mine, but I didnt give it to you. Not only are they hard to forge, its even harder for someone other than me to add one to my ships database and yet yours was already in that database before we even knew you were out there. He gave hir a grin before adding, That ticket is even stranger, as I normally dont take on passengers, and Ive never bothered issuing tickets when I have.
So how did I get them? Blackrose wondered.
What have you heard about Rakshan mythology? Neal countered.
Like what? shi asked, confused by the non sequitur.
Ever heard of their deities? Ghosts and spirits that are known to sometimes interfere with us mere corporeal beings? he asked with a half grin.
I think so, Blackrose cautiously admitted.
Well, while no one really knows how many hundreds or thousands of them there may be, a few of them are well enough known to have been given names by the Rakshani. One of them is called The Traveler, because its said she likes to catch rides on starships so she can see new and strange things Right now we think shes haunting my Folly and that she had more than a little something to do with you being brought to us.
Wildflower said shi heard someone telling Neal that you have no parents and that he needed to take care of you. Why Neal and not someone else they didnt say, Passion added. Well, we still have over a week before Neal has to leave; plenty of time for you to decide if you do or dont want to go with him.
If I say no, do I have to leave? Blackrose asked, sounding worried.
Neal chuckled. If you know of someone or someplace youd prefer to be, well be happy to get you there.
Until you remember who or where that might be, you can stay with us, Passion promised hir.
I I need to think, Blackrose told them, before darting off.
Passion and Neal exchanged looks and shrugs as the cub dashed out of the room.
Blackrose grabbed the cub-sized belt pouch Passion had given hir to hold hir ticket and headed outside, finding hirself involuntarily memorizing hir path so shi could find hir way back if shi wanted to go back, shi still wasnt sure. Neal seemed ok, but there was something that caused hir to distrust humans in general. A tall tree quite a ways from the house showed the multiple claw-marks of chakats of all sizes. Looking up, Blackrose could see that there were several platforms tied into the higher branches and a rope from up in the tree ended in a basket. Hir sharp claws made the climb an easy one. Shi stopped only when shi ran out of up, the local birds scattering at the invasion of a possibly hungry predator.
Looking back the way shid come, Blackrose confirmed that no one had followed hir though somehow shi knew the other chakats would have little trouble tracking hir by hir scent or sense, just as shi could sense them when in hir range. Shi opened the pouch and examined the ticket again. Shi was sure the first time shid seen it there had been nothing in the issued to column, but it now read Blackrose. Shi pulled the comm badge off hir chest to look at it, and it chirped at hir.
This is Tess how can I help you, Shir Blackrose? a human female-sounding voice inquired.
But I didnt ask for help! shi protested.
I take it you havent been told what happens when you just yank your comm badge off without letting it release?
No, Blackrose admitted.
Well, time for some OJT, Tess told hir. You do know what OJT stands for, right?
On the Job Training, Blackrose snapped back.
For a cub you sure seem to know a lot of adult words and phrases, Tess commented. Ok, on to your comm badge. Tapping it tells me you want to talk, either to me or someone else. Just start talking if its to me, or say the name first if you want someone else.
So why did you answer when I removed it?
The proper way to remove it is to just hold it with three digits for five seconds and the badge will release on its own. Pulling or yanking it off is the same as hitting a panic button I start looking for threats and getting aid to you.
Theyre coming? Blackrose demanded, checking over the edge of the platform to see if the others were heading for hir tree.
No, I saw no threat, and youve just confirmed you didnt know about the panic button.
Sneaky, Blackrose commented as shi examined the badge. Someone taking the badge to prevent a call for help would trigger the very thing they were trying to prevent.
Thinking like that proves youre more than just a cub, Blackrose.
So what are you? shi asked.
Me? Just a humble AI, Tess replied.
And who is T. Traveler?
As Neal told you, shes a Rakshani deity that likes to roam.
Can I talk to her?
A different voice, one with more of a purr in it replied, I anticipated this request, she said.
Who am I? Why cant I remember? Blackrose demanded.
It is for your own protection, young one, the voice calmly told hir. Your memories will return when you are ready for them, she assured hir.
For all I know youre still that Tess, just using a different voice, shi grumbled.
Tess is quite clever, the voice admitted, but she cant do this.
Moments later the birds were back. While most went about their business, several landed right in front of the cub.
Blackrose made a halfhearted swing at them and was only a little surprised when they merely ducked, but didnt try to fly off.
So, unless you think all of these birds are remote controlled? the voice purred.
You want me to go with him, Blackrose said, still looking down at the birds in front of hir.
I believe thats best for you, she agreed.
Ok, shi finally muttered. But dont expect me to like it.
There are some things that even I cant control, the voice admitted. But I dont think that will be an issue, my young friend.
The little chakat didnt know how long shi stayed in the tree, only coming down when Tess warned hir that it was almost mealtime.
What is your pleasure? the pleasant-looking chakat asked as a large group of furs crowded up in front of hir desk in the front foyer of a large but nondescript building.
One of your denizens requires harassment, shi heard a human voice say from the back of the group.
That would be up to them, the chakat responded, with a little less friendly of a tone.
Nudging a couple of the furs out of his way, said human then placed a card in hir reader. The chakat blanched slightly under hir dark fur as hir reader told hir the bearer of the card had free access to a few places even shi had to ask permission to enter. Shi was opening hir muzzle to apologize when hir desk intercom came to life.
Bout time you got here, Neal. Shes been waiting all morning, hir boss voice said.
You know her, Shir Tagerwood too early and shed be sure she was in trouble, too late and shed think Id forgotten about her, Neal replied as he retrieved his card. Laying a credit chit on the desk, he added, This will cover my crowd, he told the receptionist as the others started filing through the doors to the main room.
The receptionist was about to drop the chit into hir reader when hir boss said, Just drop it in the desk, Frisky. Its not for the register.
But, Tagerwood, he said it was for his group, Frisky said even as shi followed orders and secured it in hir desk.
Frisky, you just met one of those silent partners that helped start this place. While dues and tips may help keep this place running, donations like his pay for the upgrades and expansion projects.
So I treat him with kid gloves?
Hell no! Hed run right over you! Tagerwood laughed. Youll know when hes putting his foot down, as normal until that point.
And then roll over.
Trust me kiddo, if he really tells you to roll over, therell be a damn good reason.
Let me go first. Tagerwoods message said that she was upset, Neal quietly suggested as they made their way into the brothels main room.
The main room they entered was huge, but the furnishings broke it up into many small group areas and a few larger ones, the lighting staged for bright areas and some in near shadow. Neal waved them at one of the vacant circles of seats and pads as he continued towards the far side of the room. A small grouping of well-lit seats held a lone occupant.
Hearing his approach, the female collie morph jumped to her feet before awkwardly dropping to her knees, as she was heavily pregnant.
Master! Molly bad! she blurted out as Neal reached her.
I find that hard to believe, Neal softly replied. Molly has always been a good girl.
No! Molly bad, Molly stupid, the collie insisted, as Neal gently pulled her to her feet and gave her a hug.
Still holding her, Neal gently said, What bad thing does Molly think shes done?
A little human told Molly to jump and Molly jump, she said, almost in tears.
Why do you think that was bad? Neal asked.
Master told Molly that Molly not to obey other humans, she said as she tried to hide her face in his shirt, the tears now flowing freely.
Thats not quite what I told you, Neal softly corrected her as he lifted her chin so she had to look at him. I told you that you didnt have to obey humans if what they said wasnt something you wanted to do So, when the child asked you to jump, did you think it sounded like fun? At her hesitant nod, he tightened his hug on her a little and said, Then Molly did nothing bad, so Molly is still my good girl.
Molly placed her paws on her distended belly. But Molly has pup. Molly not jump.
Neal chuckled as he gently rocked her back and forth. Molly didnt harm her pup, so once again I say Molly is a good girl. She continued to look worried, so Neal loosened his hug on her just enough to let him bend down low to kiss her nose pad. As she relaxed a little, Neal guided her back to her seat and sat down with her.
They sat there in a companionable hug for a minute before Molly said, Molly also bad because Molly is to call Master Captain, not Master.
I had noticed, Neal admitted, but I think that was because you were upset and not because you were trying to be a bad girl, right?
Yes Mas Captain, she quickly corrected.
Then we will not worry about it, Neal assured her before she could go back to worrying about any other possible lapses. I see youre almost due, he said as he gave her swollen belly a gentle rub.
Not mad? she asked.
No, not mad, he assured her again. In fact, I too have a little surprise for you, Neal said as he gave his hand a little wave behind her head.
Not everyone had waited where Neal had asked them to, this becoming evident when Firestorm hit the back of the couch they were sitting on before Neal could lower his hand. Molly turned in surprise at the thud, only to find herself literally muzzle to muzzle with the grinning chakat cub. Her smile kept getting bigger as more thumps heralded the arrivals of even more chakat cubs, as well as a foxtaur kit.
As Molly tried to hug all of the little ones to her at once, the rest of Neals group joined them. Neal handled the introductions, keeping it as simple as he could for Molly; after which he suggested Molly show them where the ice-cream parlor was.
Molly turned to cling to Neal again as she whispered, Molly only can have one scoop.
Neal gave her a hug in return and whispered loudly enough for them all to hear, If they feed you more than one scoop it will be my fault, and not Mollys.
Neal waited while the others followed the now very excited Molly out the way theyd come and towards the little ice-cream parlor just down the street. Once they were well out of earshot, Neal said, Oh eye in the sky, how goes it with you?
A snicker came out of a concealed speaker. Just fine, and you?
Same old, same old. Whats Hardleaf doing?
Same old my tired tail! I saw that mob you came in with. I want all the juicy details, Captain!
Later perhaps. Hardleaf?
Puttering around in his workshop, he knew you were coming and he seems a bit anxious.
Understood, Neal said. Warn him Im here and heading his way.
Thats what Im here for, the voice reminded him before going silent. Neal remained sitting for another minute before heading to the rear of the bordello. While it hadnt been needed in years, the eye in the sky had been added after a couple of rape attempts by smooth talkers that had made it past the front desk. While it still served that function, it had evolved to helping with the general running of the place, including finding who might have wandered where. Neals card got him past one of the doors in the rear, into a wide hallway with doors spaced down each side. These were rooms where a person, couple, or small group could have a little privacy, though the eye was there if someone needed help or got into trouble. A door at the end of the hall also yielded to Neals card. It led to where the more private rooms and suites were located. Here the eye was at the discretion of those in the rooms. Neal walked past Molly and Hardleafs suite and to the back of the building where several of the residents had set up their workshops. The workshop he entered was set up for an artist; various paints, clays, and canvases were grouped around the room. One nearly finished canvas seemed to have been set on display. A painting of Molly, pregnant as when hed just seen her, smiled back at him. Neal sighed lightly, for the painter had her staring her watchers in the eye, not looking timid and fearful as she really would. That, and the intelligence in her gaze the painter had painted left Neal sadly shaking his head at the fox morph standing beside his mates portrait.
Beautifully done as usual, Hardleaf, I only wish she could look at me that way, Neal said as his eyes went back to the painting.
Shes getting better at some things, Hardleaf grumbled. Its just when theres a human present or a chance a human might show up, then she loses it no offense.
I know and none taken, Neal agreed. The kids and I spent years trying to just get her to treat me like one of them, but her training has always been proof against any shrink or doctor wed throw at her
And then I came along Hardleaf said. He had come in one night just looking for something warm and female to dally with while he waited for his ship. He never did board that ship, but instead hed found himself falling hard for this delicate collie. He had been with her a week before a human female accidentally triggered part of her conditioning in the main lounge. Several of the chakats that helped run the brothel had quickly separated Molly from the group and rushed her to her room. Hardleaf had almost been thrown out for trying to get to her before a red-pawed skunktaur had suggested that Hardleaf might be able to help calm Molly down. Once Molly was asleep, Hardleaf had been told that she wasnt simple minded, but a fully trained and brainwashed slave. Hardleafs next shock had come when Neal had next checked in on Molly, for shed become the perfect slave right before his eyes. He had hated Neal that first day, as Molly didnt even notice him once Neal was there she only had eyes for her master, a master she would do anything for. This included clinging to the human as she told him of her every crime and sin, real or imagined. Neal had sat still for it for maybe five minutes before asking her to recite the instructions he had given her before leaving. Hardleaf had been surprised by the list shed repeated, for Neal seemed to have given her as much freedom as he could within the limits of her slave conditioning. Neal had then gently reminded her of each of the things shed admitted too and then shown her that she hadnt broken any of his rules after all. He next turned her to face Hardleaf and asked, Who is this? Hardleaf had been more than a little embarrassed at how much shed told her master about him, details he hadnt even realized hed shown her. Neal had let her go on until shed run out of words to say before asking, Do you like him? The question had puzzled both of them, so Neal had tried again, If you cant be with me, would you like to be with him? Molly had simply clung to Neal and said, Whatever my master wishes. Your master wishes that you be happy when he doesnt have any tasks for you, Neal had replied. Neal had then asked the eye for an assistant. Chakat Tagerwood had arrived so fast, Hardleaf had wondered if shi hadnt been waiting just out of sight for Neals request. Chakat and collie had left for an ice-cream treat, leaving the two males facing off against each other. After a few moments of a stare down contest between them, Neal had asked what Hardleafs intentions were in regard to Molly.
Hardleaf softly snorted as he recalled telling Neal that it was none of his damn business. It was the eye that next responded. Hardleaf never did find out who had pointed out that a mere suggestion from Neal could have Molly only prefer females, herms, or anyone other than Hardleaf. The watcher behind the eye then informed Neal of what theyd seen of the interaction between Molly and Hardleaf, with closing comments that he would be hard pressed to find someone better than Hardleaf for Molly. Neal had watched Hardleaf for another minute before rising. Walk with me, hed requested. Theyd left the building, and as they walked Neal explained that he would trust Hardleaf for now, but if Hardleaf betrayed that trust, Neal would hunt him down. They had then joined Tagerwood and Molly for some ice cream before all four returned to the brothel. In a private room, Tagerwood (and the eye) bore witness to Neal giving Hardleaf as close to master rights of Molly as he could to a non-human. Hardleaf had been shocked at just how much power that was, and how hard it could be trying not to give Molly anything that might sound like an order. It had taken time, but hed gotten her to actually tell him if she wanted something rather than him having to guess or play twenty questions to find out what was bothering her. This had included pups, a beautiful daughter they had named Silverdrop, who was just now finishing her schooling, and now their male pup on the way.
Hardleaf cocked his head a little at Neal. She caught me looking at far away places again, he started off.
Neal snorted softly and shook his head before saying, Weve had this discussion enough times that Ill have to ask Tess how many were up to. You cant get anything done while keeping your eye on Molly; theres just too many ways for her to get herself in trouble without constant supervision.
Silverdrops done with school, shes going to help me take care of Molly, Hardleaf insisted.
Neal sighed. That will still be a heavy load for the pair of you, especially with a pup on the way. That was my reason for bringing her here in the first place many eyes and many hands to both help and protect her from her programming.
I know, Hardleaf admitted, but we think we can handle her.
What does she think?
When we ask in ways that dont suggest our thoughts, she seems excited at seeing new places.
Neal seemed deep in thought for a moment before nodding. Im still concerned that you might be biting off more than you can chew, but I wont stand in your way on this. You may want to voice your decision to her in the next week or so, as Ill still be around if she needs me to tell her its okay.
Thank you, Neal.
No, thank you for making her happy all these years, Neal replied. If I dont run into Silverdrop, give her my hello and love.
She should be with us for Passions birthing party, Hardleaf said.
Sounds like a plan, Neal agreed. Shall we go rescue your mate? I left her leading my crew to the ice-cream shop.
Will she be all right with them? asked Hardleaf, concerned for Mollys safety with Neals new and unknown crew.
Neal smirked at him. After all this time, you still doubt my intentions? Shes safe enough.
Old habits, Hardleaf admitted. Worrying about her is second nature after all this time.
Good of time as any to check on them then, Neal agreed as they left the workroom. Had they been looking, they may have noticed the paintings occupant momentarily smiling a little wider than she had before.
Hardleaf was relieved to find Molly happily trapped in a ring of furs. A small group of cubs was taking turns asking Molly to try their ice cream, while adult furs kept a watchful eye while maintaining a light banter. Hardleaf came up to Molly from behind and gave her a hug. How much ice cream have they fed you? he gently asked.
Not enough! Darkstreak informed him. She still feels hungry.
Hardleaf gave the dark gray chakat cub a half frown. She needs to eat more than just ice-cream for her pup to grow properly.
One day wont hurt the pup! Darkstreak fired back. And she was happy until you came in.
Hardleaf had noticed that Mollys shoulders and ears had drooped when he had caught her overindulging in the ice cream. He gave Darkstreak a wink from behind her as he murmured, True, one meal of ice cream wont hurt anything. Whispering in her ear, he asked, Is there a flavor you still want to try? She whispered something back, and he went up to the counter to place her order. He returned with a cone with two scoops of a sickly green ice cream.
Darkstreak and the other cubs backed off with wrinkled noses at the smell of the green ice cream. What is that? Darkstreak asked as Molly dug into it with gusto.
Dill pickle, Hardleaf told hir. At hir look of disgust, he added, I understand its a pregnant lady thing.
It does smell interesting, Whitetail admitted as she went over to try one for herself.
The groups soon broke up, and while Neal and company planned a little sightseeing and local shopping; Hardleaf led Molly back to their suite, where she would soon take a nap after that large meal of ice cream.
The brothel turned out to be at a quiet corner of a fairly busy shopping district, which kept them occupied until the ice cream wore off and it was time for a real meal. Even Neals nose couldnt miss the aroma of smokehouse meats coming from behind the local Hoot! Peanut shells littered the floor and the games/play room in the front warned that this was not what one might consider a gourmet-eating establishment.
While Neal ordered a simple BLT, most of the others had to try the hot wings to see if they were as warm as some of the things Suzan had served them.
Any other strays you need to look in on? Weaver asked as they ate.
No, Neal replied. All the others know were here and at Passions for the moment, and most will probably wait until hir birthing day as that was a known event while we are just a surprise.
You mean you are a surprise, she countered. I dont think they know what to make of the rest of us.
Neal snorted. Have any of them given you less than an open arms welcome? he asked.
No, she admitted, but I did think I picked up a little resentment from a couple of them when we first got there
Heh, more than what Stormy gave them when I got mobbed? he countered.
They were just a little surprised that theyd have to share me this time around.
I guess I can see that but while were talking about those not here, have we heard anything from Tauna? She left in such a hurry yesterday.
Tess? Neal asked.
Tauna was still wearing her comm badge when she left, Tess told them. As she didnt evoke the privacy mode, I can tell you that our timing was just about perfect, Boss. She got to the Oceanwalker Institute just as they were completing their process on Vanessa who by the way is now a Forest Breed Stellar Foxtaur, and shi has taken on the name Rain. Rains mother, Camilla Te Ara, is also in the area, but not staying with them.
What else can you tell us about Rain? Nightsky asked.
I could tell you quite a bit, but Im not going to, Tess informed them all. If you want more info, I suggest you butt in on them getting reacquainted and ask them.
Neal grinned at the blushes several of the kids were wearing before saying, Keep an eye on them if you would please, and let me know if they run into any problems.
You mean any problems I cant or shouldnt handle, aye, Boss, Tess agreed.
So theyre family? Weaver wondered.
Friends with benefits, Neal admitted with a wink and a grin.
Neal? Wildflower asked once they were back and shid gotten him alone for a moment, I was asked to ask you if you did or had anything done to Dunes. Seems shi was last seen heading for the tram station but shi hasnt been seen since.
Neal frowned before he replied, No With hir removed from the council shi no longer had the power to bother me, so I didnt have any reason to do anything to hir. On the flip side, I didnt have any reason to keep a close eye on hir either. Tess? Did you directly or indirectly do anything to or with Dunes?
No, Boss. Nor do I have any records of anyone onboard doing anything related to Dunes after Shadowcrest gave hir that new top.
That top did fit hir to a T, didnt it? Neal said with a grin. Thank you, Tess. Keep your ears open, shi doesnt strike me as being someone good at keeping a low profile.
Im hungry, Night complained.
Too close to dinner, Day reminded hir. House rules.
What are house rules? Darkstreak wondered.
Any cub that complains that theyre hungry before dinner gets one tablespoon of whatever the adult feels like feeding them, Day explained.
Mom gave me beet juice last time, Night muttered, sticking out hir tongue.
So we dont ask Mom, Day replied. Lets ask Grump-pa!
The cubs rushed over to where Neal had been almost asleep on a taur pad. Were hungry! Night proclaimed.
And your mother said, house rules, right? Neal muttered without opening his eyes.
Well, yeah ... Day admitted. But you can break the rules, shi added hopefully.
Perhaps, Neal admitted. But there are breaking rules and just bending them a bit ... back in a minute, he said as he got up and headed for the kitchens pantry.
Neal came back a minute later with a jar. Popping the seal, he said, I seem to have forgotten a spoon, so I hope you don't mind my dirty thumb ... well, gather round if you're too hungry to wait for dinner.
Night was first in line. Neal smiled and said, Open wide. Shi opened hir mouth wide and Neal spread some of the jar's contents across the roof of hir mouth. Just lick, Neal advised hir before saying, Next!
One by one the other cubs each got a mouthful, their parents not getting wind of it until a cub went by one, grinning as shi clicked hir tongue.
What are you eating? Chakat Heartline demanded as hir daughter went by.
The cub fled the room giggling, Heartline in hot pursuit until shi got to the doorway and caught a whiff of something different in the air. Peanut butter? shi wondered. Howd shi get into that?
I heard you kerplunked Charles, Cindy told Neal later that night. Not that I mind after what he tried, but next time I want to be there.
There had better not be a next time for Charlie if he knows whats good for him, Neal said with a slight frown. But if there is, Ill make sure you have a front row seat, he promised.
There is something else, she admitted. I dont want him to be able to use my name against me. With your permission, I would like to change my last name to Foster.
Neal raised an eyebrow as he watched her. Theres no extra power or abilities in it; its just a name, he warned her.
But there is a power for me in not being a Grayson, Cindy countered. I know you try to treat all your kids equally; Im not asking for more than that.
Neal nodded. Tess? Line up the paperwork and well push it through the legal system in the morning.
Sure thing, Boss. Once that goes through, Ill take care of her other account settings as well.
Thank you, Tess, Neal said before looking over at Cindy again. Will there be anything else, Ms Foster?
Cindy smiled. That was it. Thanks, Dad. Then she snickered. I wonder when its my turn to have another night with you, she half asked.
Dont ask me, Neal replied with a laugh, I go where Im told and discover who Ill be sleeping with that night not that who I go to bed with will necessarily be who Ill wake up to.
Poor fellow, what a hard life you must lead, Wildflower chuckled from where shi sat with Passion.
Youd almost think he didnt like surprises, Passion agreed. But hes in our house, so house rules take precedence over whatever rules he may like to dictate on his Folly.
And what are house rules? Weaver asked with a grin.
Weve just had a naming, Wildflower pointed out, so tonight its vixens rule.
Hes all yours, Weaver told Cindy. Try not to break him.
Well, Cindy said with a grin, If its anyone I want, I might want to try out Derikk if I dont have to fight our Rakshani ladies for him!
Derikk opened and closed his muzzle twice with nothing coming out of it before turning to Whitetail, who was grinning just as widely as the rest of them. Knowing when the deck is stacked against him, he merely nodded at Cindy. At your convenience, he murmured.
Shes young, Zhanch commented. Perhaps we should put on a pot of Kharlass tea, just in case he needs help keeping up with her. Derikks glare at her suggested what he thought of her suggestion that hed need help keeping up with the teen.
Continued in Chapter 17.
Copyright © 2005-2013 Allen Fesler Redbear1158 (at) either gmail or hotmail dot com
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
Admiral Boyce Garald Kline Jr and some of his family are copyright Boyce Garald Kline Jr.
Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns.
The Quange were created by Roy D. Pounds II.
Windsong, Fireglow and Mythril/Myth are copyright Gregg Anderson, and used with his permission.
Tauna Shadowback and Vanessa/Rain are copyright Chakat Scirocco and used with her permission.
Chakat Digs-in-Dirt is copyright Daniel Davis and is used with his permission.
Chakat Blackrose is copyright Chuck (Nicolai) Percy
Chakat Blackstar, hir ships and crews copyright Alex Wiegerling.
Captain Suzanna Cortez, Panzer, and the rest of the Rendezvous crew copyright SoulBlade.
The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America, and the Amazonia war are copyright John Plunkett
(If Ive managed to step on anyone elses toes (paws, claws or tails), let me know and Ill either give you credit or change my tale)
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