A FOREST TALE 33: And The Children Shall Lead
By Bernard Doove © 2009
Leanna gave the two Star Fleet officers on hir front porch a good looking over. The jaguar morph had Commander (Second Class) rank insignia, and the white uniform colour code stripe appropriate to Protocol and Diplomats. Although the officer had a shapely female figure and was dressed in the common skirt-style Star Fleet uniform, Leannaís senses informed hir that this was a herm standing confidently in front of hir.
Shi shifted hir inspection to the human. He seemed a little younger than the jaguar, with Hispanic looks, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. He wore the same colour coded uniform as the other however. Leanna briefly wondered if Fleet thought the human might have some influence over the former slave, but dismissed it. They didnít seem to be that stupid.
"You had better come inside," Leanna told them. "It sounds serious, especially if you need someone like me."
"Thank you, Shir Leanna," the jaguar morph said, and the pair followed Leanna inside.
Leanna showed them to the family room. "Make yourselves comfortable. Would you like tea or coffee while you are waiting?"
"Actually Iíd like to get straight to the point of our visit here today," started the jaguar.
"Sorry, but no," Leanna interrupted. "We wonít be discussing anything until my denmate, Forestwalker, is here with us. Fortunately shi should be home soon, so we can talk then. Now, would you like that drink?"
"I see," said the jaguar. "I would prefer tea Ė orange pekoe if you have it."
"Yes, we do. And you, sir?" shi asked the man.
"Coffee, black, two sugars please."
"Done. I wonít be long." Leanna left to put on the kettle and start the coffee maker. While they were doing their work, Leanna went back to Trinaís office where the Arctic fox was still engrossed in her work as usual.
"Hey, Trina, can you do the daily back-ups today, then get dressed? Weíve got visitors from Star Fleet."
Trinaís ears perked up. "Fleet? It canít be Boyce because heís not due for a while yet." Trina was intrigued enough to finish up immediately.
Leanna went to grab a comfortable top to wear. While shi preferred not to wear tops while shi was at home, considering the circumstances, shi felt it appropriate. Shi then returned to make the drinks and to take them out to the waiting Star Fleet officers. Shi offered them some cookies also, and then hir ears picked up a familiar sound.
"Youíre in luck. It sounds like Forest is a tad early today. Iíll be back soon."
Leanna went to meet hir chakat mate as shi alighted from hir PTV. Shi gave Forest hir usual Ďwelcome homeí hug and kiss, not rushing things at all. Only when they were both thoroughly satisfied did Leanna tell Forest about the visitors.
"How interesting," Forest commented. "Give me a moment to freshen up and Iíll join you."
Leanna went back to the Fleet Officers, and it wasnít long before both Forest and Trina joined them.
Leanna said, "This is my denmate, Forestwalker, and my co-mate, Katrina Snowfox. Anything that you need to say to me, you can say in front of them too."
The jaguar said, "Allow me to formally introduce ourselves. My name is Commander Aileen Ramirez of the Star Fleet Diplomatic Corps. This is Commander Miguel Ramirez, my right-hand man and also my husband. I am head of the mission to Namath, home-world to the Faleshkarti."
"Sounds impressive, but who are the Faleshkarti?" Leanna asked.
"About twenty months ago, a Star Fleet scouting vessel encountered a colony ship of a previously unknown race. Although they werenít overtly hostile, neither were they particularly interested in talking with us. Eventually through sheer persistence, they agreed to contact their home-world and arrange a diplomatic meeting."
"I suspect that they only did so to stop you bugging them," commented Trina.
Aileen gave them a lopsided smile. "I suspect that youíre right. It took the Fleet translator a week to get enough data to give accurate translations. When the Faleshkarti officer was sure that we could understand them properly, they gave us the coordinates of Namath and told us who to contact. Then they warned us away from the world that they had claimed for colonisation and told us to stop bothering them."
"So thatís where you came in, I suppose," Leanna said. Upon Aileenís nod, shi added, "Where do I fit in?"
Miguel activated a holo-projector that he had placed on the coffee table in front of him. "Here is a full-sized image of an adult Faleshkarti."
There were gasps of surprise from all three.
Forest said, "Theyíre fennec foxes!"
"They look almost exactly like me," Leanna added.
"Precisely," Aileen agreed. "In fact, the only really obvious difference between you and them is that no Faleshkarti has human-like hair. You need more sophisticated instruments to tell them apart from a Terran morph. You could easily pass as one of them, Leanna."
"What about my gender? Or are they herms also?"
"They are indeed, and that is why I was appointed as head of mission. When the Faleshkarti found out that the First Contact team members werenít herms, they pretty much lost interest in us. They said that they found them to be Ďlackingí and started calling them Ďhalf-peopleí. Fortunately there are a couple of herms in the diplomatic corps, and I was chosen for the post. While the Faleshkarti remain stand-offish, at least they will talk to me and the beta-team leader."
"Iím presuming that you think that they may open up to me because I look like them. Or were you wanting me to spy on them?" Leanna asked suspiciously.
"No, not spy. We urgently wish to start negotiations with their world leaders."
Forest said, "Pardon me for asking, but if they want to be left alone, why donít you do just that?"
"A fair question, but believe me, Shir Forestwalker, weíd be happy to do so except that the Faleshkarti are going to cause us major problems in the near future. Problems that, if not resolved, may escalate into something far worse."
"Okay, that sounds serious," Forest conceded. "What are these problems?"
"The Faleshkarti are extremely territorial and they are major colonisers. Once they declare their intention to colonise a star system, they consider it theirs, even if thereís a previous claim. We found that out when they declared Abraxis III theirs, despite our Star Corps planetary surveyors already on the planet, assessing it for our own purposes."
"Maybe they didnít know?" Trina suggested.
"We thought of that, but an investigation proved otherwise. Unless a planet is actively inhabited, the Faleshkarti consider it fair game."
"What happened then?" Trina asked.
"Star Fleet had to make a show of force to dissuade them. It certainly didnít help my task at all. I think that the only reason that they started talking to us again was that they were forced to do so."
Leanna said, "Something must be causing that aggressive colonisation. Do they have a population problem?"
"Youíve hit the nail on the head, Leanna. As best as we can estimate, their population is approximately 67 billion, and thatís just on their home-world."
"Oh my god!" Forest gasped. "They must be bursting at the seams!"
"Indeed they are," Aileen confirmed. "We have confirmed several more colony ships on their way to various destinations, with more ships being built as fast as possible to alleviate population pressure. The fact is that they are taking over territory at a prodigious rate, and that territory is encroaching on Federation space. Worse yet, each of those worlds that they colonise has the potential to become just like Namath."
"Havenít they heard of birth control?" Trina asked incredulously.
Leanna answered hir mate. "There has to be another factor involved that either prevents that from being an option, or thereís something overriding any efforts to do so." Shi looked at Aileen. "Do you know what it is?"
"You already suspect that we donít know, and want you to try to find out," Aileen stated bluntly. "Your records show that you are keenly intelligent."
"Thanks for the flattery. Iíll take that as a confirmation. So, what else havenít you told us about them yet?" Leanna asked.
"Obviously the main problem is their unrestricted breeding. In their case though, itís like saying the ocean is wet. They are utterly relentless breeders, and their obsession with sex is barely eclipsed by a sex slave who has been bred and conditioned for nothing else." Aileen pointed at the Faleshkarti in the hologram. "Tell me what you think of hir manner of dress."
Trina immediately said, "High-priced hooker!"
Aileen smirked. "Would you believe this is their idea of a conservative uniform? Absolutely everything about their culture seems to be fixated upon sex. What little they have in the way of arts that I have been able to find has all been sexually oriented. We found out that the rest breaks that they take during the day are more like sex breaks. If the rest of the population conforms to the sample weíve had, and I have little reason to doubt that, then the average Faleshkarti has sex between five and eight times a day."
"How do they manage to get anything done?" Forest wondered.
"Iíve got a better question," Leanna interjected. "How could a species like that ever acquire intelligence, let alone build a culture capable of star travel?"
"Excellent!" Aileen exclaimed. "You have already discovered one of the mysteries that have been confounding us. And just to add icing to the cake, every Faleshkarti whom weíve interviewed has been of modest intelligence at best. Dull-minded is an apt description of the average specimen. Weíve seen no sign of the movers and shakers Ė the clever ones behind the scenes."
"So you want to send in the former sex slave who happens to look like a Faleshkarti to try to find answers for you?" Forestwalker asked.
"In a nutshell, yes," Aileen agreed.
"Iím pregnant," Leanna pointed out, indicating the gentle swell of hir belly. "I wouldnít want to put my child at risk by accepting this job."
"Actually, Leanna," said Miguel, "They seem to have a great respect for pregnant people. In fact the heads of department 111, the authority responsible for dealing with off-world affairs, have both been pregnant. They were also two of the smarter Faleshkarti."
"So being pregnant might actually give me an edge?"
"We believe so," Miguel replied.
Leanna pondered for a moment, then asked, "Why should I do this job? Iím quite happy right here. Iíve nothing to prove, and youíve already got your moneyís worth out of me in terms of information and publicity."
Aileen said, "Good point. Think of it as returning a favour. We took you in without any expectations, even if we did end up profiting from that."
Leanna snorted in amusement, then turned to Forest and asked, "Would you accompany me? I really donít want to do this by myself."
Forest said, "If you really want me, of course I will, but I donít know what my bosses will think about me taking another leave of absence so soon after my last one."
"If necessary, Star Fleet will intercede on your behalf," Aileen assured hir.
Emboldened by their willingness to facilitate securing hir cooperation and taking the job, Leanna demanded, "I want to travel there aboard the Pegasus with Admiral Kline."
Aileen replied, "Technically Namath is just within the borders of Sector Two, but itís close enough to Sector One to bend the rules a little, so agreed."
Leannaís eyebrows raised a little in surprise, then shi smirked. "Youíve anticipated what I might demand, havenít you? No way would you be able to change ships on a whim if you hadnít already pre-arranged it."
Aileen smiled. "You caught us out. Yes, we are willing to make large concessions to gain your services."
"How long will this take?"
"As long as it takes to get the answers we need. However, we are hoping that this gambit will produce swift results."
Leanna shook hir head. "Not good enough. I intend to be here for the birth of my children, both the one that I am carrying and Trinaís. No matter how the operation goes, I will be brought back with time to spare."
Aileen sighed. "We agree, even though that could be extremely inconvenient. Anything else?"
"Sure! Whatís the pay rate?" Leanna asked.
Miguel tapped on his PADD as he replied, "You will be paid at the standard civilian specialist rate." He held up the PADD for Leanna to read the details.
Casting an expert eye over the terms and benefits, shi nodded. "You will have to provide me with a final contract for me to look over in detail, but I agree in principle. Now what?"
"We will begin your preparations immediately. You will need to get as familiar with the Faleshkarti as we are able to do for you."
"What about actually talking directly with them? Do you have a translator or what?"
Miguel said, "Your records indicate that you have a perfect memory, correct?" At Leannaís nod, he continued, "It took a long time, but we have finally compiled a fairly comprehensive vocabulary and Faleshkarti grammar. You will learn it before we reach Namath."
Leanna frowned. "Thereís a difference between remembering words and speaking a language fluently."
"Indeed, and thatís why you will be practicing it with us during the weeks that it takes to get there."
"Fair enough. Well, gentlebeings, letís see your schedule. Weíve got a mission to organise."
Leanna was oddly pleased at being back in a Star Fleet uniform. Although it was no more comfortable than when shi had first worn one back when shi had just been rescued from the slave ship, this time shi was wearing it 100% legitimately. Shi fingered the silver bars on the collar. Shi even had mission specialist ranking Ė a step up from the common Starman crewmembers, giving hir some limited authority. It felt good.
Forest had gotten hir leave of absence and was delighted to be travelling with Leanna again. Shi was also able to spend more time with hir other mates who were equally pleased with the arrangement. Of course Forest also brought along hir cubs, so Leanna had the benefit of having a full family group accompanying hir. It was like a home away from home.
This voyage would be a lot different from hir first however. Gone was the need to conceal hir nature and pretend to be a crewmember. This time around shi would be more than just a glorified cub-sitter, and shi had some serious duties. First among them was getting as familiar as possible with everything that the Federation had learned about the Faleshkarti so far, and learning the language. Never having to do so before, Leanna quickly found out how much difference there was between remembering words and having a proper conversation in a new language. Nevertheless, like all things that shi put hir keen intellect to work on, shi quickly mastered it.
Leannaís ability to learn and understand extremely fast was amazing to Aileen and Miguel, but trivial to someone who had been bred and trained to be a covert spy. When shi completed the courses well before their destination, Aileen started training hir in general protocol and First Contact techniques. Leanna was enjoying stretching hir mental muscles.
Right now though, shi was headed off to the coffee lounge where shi had spent many pleasant hours on hir previous voyage. Unfortunately, Moyshu, the foxtaur who had been hir part-time lover, was not there to share the moment with hir this time. However, there were plenty of others.
Forest was already there, dressed in hir green-coded uniform of the life-sciences. Leanna wore a white-coded uniform this time because shi was attached to the protocol division. Squatting next to Forest was hir lifemate, Midnight, who was also the Chief of Security for the Pegasus, and another chakat named Sparks who was the Chief Engineer. Seated in proper chairs were two female Caitians Ė MíLai and Rosepetal Ė who were also co-mates with the chakats. Finally, there were three of the people from Midnightís Security division Ė a skunktaur Telepath named Querl, a ferret morph named Hiro, and a Rakshani named Baneth. Leanna found the latter more intense than Zhane, a Rakshani shi had previously met, but likeable enough when shi got to know her. It had taken a while though because she was the leader of the Bravo team which went on duty when Midnightís Alpha team came off.
All these people had gathered specifically for Leanna this time, but there was still someone missing from the group. "Donít tell me that I beat Admiral Kline here?" Leanna asked. "I was sure Aileen had held me up too long."
Rosepetal answered, "He was side-tracked again. A shipís captainís work is never done, especially when heís also the admiral of the First Fleet. Anyway, how have your studies with Commander Ramirez been coming along?"
Leanna put hir coffee order into the replicator and took out hir cappuccino. Shi took a vacant chair and replied as shi sat down, "Very well. Aileen asked me if I might be interested in making a career of it."
"And what did you tell hir?" Rosepetal asked curiously.
"I think you already know where my long-term interests lie. I regard this as an important and interesting diversion only, not a career move."
Rosepetal made the odd purring sound that was the Caitian equivalent of a chuckle. "Star Fleetís loss then. So, do you think youíll be ready when we reach Namath tomorrow?"
"As ready as Iíll ever be, I reckon. But do you know what Iím finding really exciting?" Leanna asked.
"Iím going to be among fennec foxes like myself for the first time. Oh, I know theyíre aliens and not really fennecs, but itíll be close enough to make no difference."
Midnight spoke up. "Donít set yourself up for disappointment, Leanna. They may look the same, and yet be utterly alien in outlook."
"Please donít shatter my illusions just yet, Midnight. Iíll be indulging my little fantasy until Iím forced to face reality."
Just then Boyce turned up. He greeted everyone as he fetched a mug of his favourite brew. Instead of sitting down though, he paused in the middle of the group. "Tonight is more than just one of our coffee club gatherings. This will be the last one before Leanna begins hir mission to the Faleshkarti. We have no idea how they are going to react to hir, but weíre hoping for big things." He held up his mug as for a toast. "So letís all wish Leanna the very best of fortune in hir endeavours."
"Hear, hear!" various people said. Others wished hir good luck.
"Thank you, Captain," Leanna responded. "Iíll do my very best to make you proud."
The arrival of the Pegasus had been timed to occur shortly after the morning shift had begun. Leanna met up with Aileen to get hir field equipment. Shi was given a wrist-PADD that shi was instructed to never take off for any reason. Besides a more powerful comm and beacon than the standard combadge, it also had a Merraki universal translator built in that was linked with an implant that Leanna had allowed MíLai to insert into hir skull. If the Faleshkarti used any words that werenít in its lexicon, the device would tell hir the translation inaudibly to anyone else. A Merraki translator was almost supernatural in its ability to correctly translate unknown words once it had a sufficient database.
Shi changed into a special variation of hir uniform which had been designed with Faleshkarti tastes in mind, while still retaining a modicum of dignity. Miguel suggested that shi cut off hir hair in order to look even more like them. Leanna suggested that he do something anatomically difficult and painful. Aileen just glared at hir husband who wisely shut up.
When they were ready, Leanna and Aileen boarded a shuttle. They were under instructions not to use Transporters under any circumstances except for dire emergencies. Star Fleet very much wanted that bit of technology to remain secret from the Faleshkarti. That suited Leanna fine though Ė shi really didnít desire being disassembled while pregnant, no matter how safe the process was supposed to be. Later shi found out that it was standard protocol anyway to ban pregnant people from using a Transporter except for emergencies due to the difficulty of dealing with the second Mind Matrix of the developing child.
Leanna seated hirself besides a viewport. Despite hir background and hir training for this mission, shi felt a little nervous. Shi wished that Forest was coming along, and shi had suggested that to Aileen, but that idea had been immediately rejected.
Aileen explained, "We had the idea of taking along a pair of chakats trained in the use of their empathic ability to facilitate relations with the Faleshkarti. Bluestreak and Whiplash hadnít even gotten out of the shuttle yet when they decided to test the waters, so to speak. That was a big mistake. It was nearly three hours before they recovered from the sexual frenzy that they were plunged into. We had to take them straight back to the ship without ever leaving the shuttle. Bluestreak ended up getting pregnant. Shiís a career officer and shi hadnít planned on having cubs for a few years yet. Fortunately shi and Whiplash are denmates at least."
Leanna had been a bit puzzled by that reaction. "If they were trained, how is it that they were so easily overwhelmed?"
Aileen grimaced. "That had us wondering also, but we believe that weíve figured it out. Even though you might not have any psionic abilities, you nevertheless possess the potential. And where there is an ability to send and receive, there also develops a natural shield. It isnít much in most cases, but it stops Ďleakageí, shall we say? The Faleshkarti have no such ability, and their minds are wide open without the slightest shielding. The chakats were subjected to millions of minds in that densely populated metroplex, all pouring their feelings out without being aware of it, and most of them had the usual Faleshkarti obsession with sex uppermost on their minds. It was like the pair had stepped into a room crammed full of televids all turned up to full volume Ė they were utterly overwhelmed."
Leanna had shuddered then added, "And being an empathic connection, of course they ended up feeling the same desire, only multiplied by an incredible amount."
"Exactly. So no visits to Namath by your denmate," Aileen had concluded.
Leanna had fervently agreed.
As they left the shuttle bay, Leanna had a good view of Namathís two moons. From this distance, details couldnít be made out, but the night side of both was sprinkled with lights from the many colonies established there, already having reached their capacity of excess population. The shuttle pilot took them on a gentle descent to their destination. On the way, Leanna saw nothing but grey and green where clouds did not conceal the view.
Aileen said, "What you are seeing are the gigantic arcologies that cover virtually all of the land masses. The oceans have been turned into sea-farms to feed the enormous population, but itís no surprise that they have reached the limits of that technology. Yet they wonít stop breeding. In addition to the problems that the Faleshkarti expansion creates for the Federation, they have set themselves up for an ecological disaster of monumental proportions. It may in fact be too late, but we are going to try to help them anyway Ė if they let us."
Leanna found hirself wondering if one fennec could make a difference to 67 billion Faleshkarti.
The shuttle landed on a rooftop pad that looked much like all the others that Leanna could see. Shi disembarked, carrying a bag full of clothing and equipment that shi might need. They were met by a couple of Faleshkarti who seemed more like porters than officials greeting alien diplomats. They both looked surprised and curious when they saw Leanna, and one of them asked. "Why do you have long head fur like the aliens, Zora?"
Zora was a Faleshkarti word that didnít quite translate. It meant something like Ďmember of the motherhoodí.
Leanna was relieved that shi had no trouble understanding the fennec-like being. "It is because I am one of those aliens. My kind just resembles yours a lot." Shi didnít bother explaining that there were very few of hir kind.
"I thought that you were all bizarre creatures. At least you know how to dress well."
ĎIt seems that Iím off to a good start,í thought Leanna with a touch of humour. ĎThey donít think Iím bizarre and they like my clothes!í
Like Leanna, Aileen had dressed to emphasise hir herm nature, but had worn a more conservative outfit. "Itís too late to change their opinion of me," shi had told Leanna. "I just strive to maintain the status quo."
One of the porters took Leannaís bag and followed the group inside, the other porter leading the way. The first thing that Leanna noticed was how drab the interior was. Although it was clean, it was also functional to the point of starkness. The elevator they were taken into was the same Ė a bare metal box with robust buttons, and no attempts to pretty it up. They stepped out into the headquarters of Department 111 which Aileen had assured hir was the Faleshkarti Administrationís major office for extra-Namathian affairs. It looked like a small office had been set aside as an afterthought. Like everything else shi had seen so far, it was clean and functional. The one source of colour in the place was the clothing that the Faleshkarti wore. Both the porters were Ďtastefullyí dressed in pink knee-length shorts and a yellow short-sleeved shirt that was pulled tightly over their breasts to clearly show their nipples. The one other person in the office wore a skirt of the same pink shade, and a halter-top that left hir swollen belly conspicuously free.
The gravid Faleshkarti got up from hir desk and approached them. Leanna could see that like the porters, shi was a few centimetres shorter than hirself. Hir eyes betrayed hir surprise at seeing Leanna, but shi spoke to Aileen first.
"Welcome back, Envoy Aileen. Who have you brought along with you?"
ĎShort and to the point,í Leanna thought.
Aileen said, "Functionary Harzath, this is Representative Leanna. Shi is the Federationís new appointment to the diplomatic team, and we hope that shi will be more acceptable to you than our previous representatives."
Harzath looked over Leanna keenly. "Excepting for that strange long head fur that you all have, shi could easily be mistaken for a Zora. Very interesting. Why did you not bring hir here originally? I can see that shi is pregnant Ė was shi preoccupied with another task before now?"
Leanna noted that the Faleshkarti seemed to equate pregnant people with leadership roles. Shi wondered why that was so.
Aileen replied, "Yes, shi was busy with other important affairs, but we have been able to secure hir services now."
"Good. Shi will be very satisfactory." Harzath turned to Leanna. "Welcome Representative Leanna. What do you intend to do, may I ask?"
The Faleshkarti attitude seemed to be a mixture of polite and blunt, so Leanna decided to adopt a similar tone. "Thank you, Functionary Harzath. It is my intention to learn what I can about your people so that the Federation and the Faleshkarti can help each other."
"The Federation can help by not impeding the colonisation efforts of the Faleshkarti. You do not need to know us better to do that."
"There are ways to help that I am sure that the Faleshkarti will appreciate. I was chosen as Representative because I am most like your people, and have the best chance of understanding your needs, if I am allowed to learn about them."
Harzath regarded Leanna closely Ė this was a critical moment. Up until now, Federation envoys were treated with polite tolerance but little cooperation. It was Aileenís opinion that everything that they had managed to learn so far from the Faleshkarti had been achieved simply because the Functionary was bored and had nothing better to do. This seemed contradictory of a high official, but nevertheless remained the most likely reason. They were banking heavily on Leanna breaking through their indifference to outsiders.
A slow smile spread on Harzathís face. "Very well, Zora from the stars, you have intrigued me. How would you go about doing this?"
"Show me your society. Answer my questions if you can. I am a seeker of knowledge of all kinds, for only through knowledge can solutions be found."
For some reason, this seemed to particularly impress the functionary. "I will show you around myself." Shi turned to Aileen. "Thank you, Envoy Aileen. You may leave your representative in our care."
It was an abrupt dismissal, but Aileen wasnít upset. Instead shi was elated Ė Leanna had gotten hir foot in the doorway! "A pleasure to have seen you, Functionary Harzath. I leave you now." As shi turned to leave, shi gave Leanna a wink, and then shi was gone, leaving Leanna alone on an alien world.
Harzath said, "Come, Representative Leanna. I shall show you some of the Faleshkarti society and you may ask your questions. Then afterwards, I may take you to my home block and find out just how similar your kind and mine are."
Aileen had made it clear to Leanna that if shi succeeded in making a Faleshkarti identify with hir, it was a virtual certainty that shi would be propositioned for sex. Aileen had also emphasised that the Federation would under no circumstances expect hir to agree to those propositions, but would appreciate it if shi did. Their scans indicated that there didnít appear to be any biological hazard or physiological difficulty involved. Leanna had replied that it was a non-issue. As a slave, shi had used sex frequently to deceitfully acquire information. To be able to do so for a good cause was actually a big step up and quite acceptable to hir. Away from hir mates, sex was merely a useful tool, one that shi would not hesitate to utilise if necessary.
Harzath spoke to one of the porters. "Lamden, come here please."
The Zora came over and Harzath gave hir a caress that would have been grounds for a sexual harassment case on Earth. Lamden seemed to appreciate it however. Harzath said, "You and Baylon may close the office and leave."
"Yes, Functionary," Lamden replied.
Leanna realised that the two were not just porters, but they were staff as well, and that appeared to be all that the department consisted of, leaving Leanna to wonder how little the Faleshkarti thought of it if they treated it so cavalierly. ĎPerhaps theyíre really the Department of Keeping Nosy Aliens Occupied,í mused Leanna.
Leanna grabbed hir bag and Harzath took the fennec to the elevator. They descended several floors, although this time not without stopping for several more passengers. The newcomers gave Leanna startled looks, but otherwise they said nothing. By hir body language though, Leanna could tell that at least one of them thought that shi was sexually attractive. Perhaps shi considered Leannaís hair to be exotic.
They emerged into bedlam. Gone was the relative quiet of the upper floors. Here there were hundreds of Faleshkarti going about their business. While the building remained relentlessly drab, the people were the exact opposite, dressed in every imaginable colour and pattern, with styles varying from their idea of conservative through high-class floozy to basic slut. Despite the fact that everybody wore clothes, Leanna quickly realised that there wasnít a nudity taboo because what one style of clothing hid, another would conspicuously display. If shi were to walk naked through this crowd, the most that they would probably think would be Ďso plain and boringí!
However, even more overwhelming than the clothing was the smell. The scent of uncountable numbers of Faleshkarti jammed into gigantic enclosed cities hit Leanna like a punch in the snout. Worse than the smell of the sweat of so many bodies was the cloying scent of sex pheromones. Every single one of these oversexed creatures was adding to the miasma of sexual imperative. Despite hir strong self-control, Leanna was close to being overwhelmed by it all.
Harzath surged through the crowd, and Leanna had to pull hirself together quickly in order not to be left behind. The Faleshkartiís gravid state did not seem to be slowing hir down at all, and shi kept up an impressively fast pace in the dense crowds. Shi came to a stop at the end of a long queue for some sort of mass-transit system. Apparently Harzathís status didnít entitle hir to any special concessions such as personal transport. Leanna speculated that perhaps the overburdened system simply couldnít afford such luxuries. However, there did not seem to be a need to buy a ticket Ė the Faleshkarti just turned up and joined the long queue. Fortunately trains turned up frequently and the lines moved quickly. Leanna used the waiting time to observe the others around them.
While a fair number had exhibited curiosity at Leanna, all of them soon went back to doing what everyone else was doing while waiting, which mostly consisted of exchanging comments about their clothing, or fondling and petting their neighbours. Leanna was shocked to see two of them actually begin to have sexual intercourse right there. It wasnít the sexual act that shocked Leanna Ė that was a near impossibility. It was the way it was not treated as something abnormal by the others. Apparently two strangers could meet and fuck at whim.
"Is that kind of thing normal here?" Leanna asked Harzath, pointing in the direction of the couple.
"What thing?" Harzath asked.
ĎShi doesnít even notice anything out of the ordinary,í Leanna thought. "Casual sex out in public," shi clarified.
Harzath looked at Leanna in puzzlement. "Yes. Why not? If the need happens, donít you alleviate it immediately?"
Leanna was beginning to think Ďoversexedí was a gross underestimation of the situation. Shi was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing. Shi decided to change subjects. "What do all these people do? Are they running Ö" Leanna suddenly realised that shi knew no words for Ďbusinessí or Ďcommercial enterpriseí. Shi tried again. "Do they organise people and materials, or are they simply workers?"
"Only Central Administration organises things. The people all carry out Centralís orders. They are only common workers."
"Could I meet someone from Central Administration?" Leanna asked, not having been informed of them in hir briefings.
"You do not go see them Ė they bring you to Central if they feel the need."
"Youíre head of extra-Namathian affairs Ė canít you request an interview for me?"
"I am in charge so that they donít have to concern themselves with such things," was Harzathís reply.
"What if something comes up that they need to know?" Leanna persisted.
"I would submit an urgent report. If they believe it worthy of further consideration, they will then contact me."
Leanna realised that there seemed to be two distinct layers of organisation Ė the thinkers and the doers, and shi was probably talking to the wrong one. Shi needed to figure out how to change that.
A train arrived and the line of Faleshkarti surged forward once again, leaving behind the two preoccupied copulaters. Leanna and Harzath managed to get on the crowded vehicle, and surprisingly they got seats. Then Leanna realised that all the other occupants of the seats were in various stages of pregnancy also, and despite the overcrowding, some of the seats were left vacant. It was yet another example of the deference paid to those bearing children. Perhaps they had a religious reverence for child-bearing that stopped them from exercising any form of birth control? However, Leanna couldnít think of any Faleshkarti words that referred to religion or a god. So, if in doubt, ask! "Why are only pregnant Zora allowed to be seated?"
Harzath looked at hir as shi was daft. "Because we are more important, of course. Is it not the same with your people?"
"Maybe for different reasons," Leanna replied evasively. "I wish to compare our peopleís practices."
"I see. We are more important because we are supervisors," Harzath amplified.
"And why are you supervisors?"" Leanna prodded.
"Because we are pregnant, of course," shi said as if it was perfectly obvious.
Circular logic Ė Leanna knew that shi was missing something important here, but didnít know what it was as yet. "But why do you have to be pregnant to be a supervisor?"
"Because only we are capable of doing that task. Really, Representative Leanna, even the youngest person knows that."
Leanna was none the wiser, but shi was distracted by a sudden realisation. "Why have I not seen any children at all?"
Harzath looked shocked. "Hona mixing with the common Zora? That would never happen!"
"Oh, so they have separate facilities then?"
"Of course. I have only been there once before when I gave birth to my first child. I will soon need to go there again to give birth to my second. I hope that I get lucky and get pregnant again very soon after."
"What about the population problem? Having so many children so quickly is just making the problem worse."
"But if I donít get pregnant, I cannot remain a supervisor."
"Because only pregnant Zora are capable of directing the work of the common Zora. If I was not pregnant, I would lose that ability. I would no longer be intelligent enough."
Pregnancy increases intelligence? That seemed to be a very strange concept to Leanna. It would explain why they had positions of authority however. Leanna could tell Harzath was getting irritated at this line of questioning though, so shi resolved to find out about the missing factor at a later opportunity.
They apparently reached their destination, although the stops were only listed by a series of letters and numbers, so it had no significance to Leanna. Harzath got up and Leanna followed suit. They headed towards a large sign that read Ė "Manufacturing facility 730789". Passing through the doors to the facility, they were immediately among heavy duty industrial fabrication equipment. There was no hint of any frontage or fancy reception area. Leanna noted only one area set aside for the Faleshkarti to don overalls (in a hideous combination of colours) and clean up, and a couple of very functional offices. There did not seem to be any attempt to control who went in or out, but everybody seemed to know their place. Nobody was paying the slightest bit of attention to them.
Harzath handed Leanna ear and eye protection as shi said, "I thought that this would be an appropriate place to show you. This is one of the factories that produces structural members for the colony ships. Feel free to look around, but do not do anything that might slow down production."
Leanna nodded, donned the safety gear, and started slowly walking through the huge facility. Shi immediately noted the almost complete lack of automated equipment. Even the most menial and repetitive tasks were done by Faleshkarti. Shi speculated that it might be to put as much of the population to work as possible and not waste scarce resources on unnecessary equipment. Shi tried questioning a few about their jobs at opportune moments. The answers were consistent Ė they had been assigned that job and they did it well. That was all that they were concerned about. Leanna did notice a curious fact though Ė the simpler and more boring the task, the older the person doing it. Conversely, the more skilled jobs were handled by the youngest people. There didnít seem to be such a thing as an old experienced expert. Only the pregnant supervisors bucked the trend a bit, but even then Leanna didnít see any who were older than early middle-age at most. Shi wondered if this was true of all factories.
"Harzath, is this a typical arrangement with the younger people doing all the skilled work?"
The Faleshkarti looked puzzled once more. "Of course. Theyíre the best Zora for the work."
"What happens to the older experienced people?"
"They cannot do the work to the necessary standards any longer. Surely you must know this?"
"No, it does not work quite the same way with us," Leanna admitted.
"How strange. It would be good to be able to retain the skills longer though."
The sound of a tone echoed through the factory, and all work ceased. The Faleshkarti headed to various sections and Leanna followed them. In one section, shi found them getting food and drink Ė a normal lunch break obviously. Following others to another section though, shi found a large number of couples having sex. Aileen had obviously been right about the Ďsex breaksí.
Leanna had seen enough here, and the actual products of the factory were of no interest to hir, so shi asked Harzath to take hir somewhere else. Shi took them back to the transit station and they rode to another destination. This time it seemed to be a shopping precinct. It was strangely different from any that Leanna had experienced before though. There were hundreds of clothing stores, all selling a huge variety of fashions. It seemed to be just about the only source of imagination and artistry that they had, and they indulged it to the hilt. There were other shops for various goods, but they seemed like general supply depots more than commercial enterprises. There seemed to be just one variety of any product and, like everything else, it was plain and functional. No prices were displayed Ė the Faleshkarti just came in, picked up what they needed, handed their identity card to the manager who entered the ID into the computer, and handed it back. There also didnít seem to be any food stores or restaurants. By now Leanna was feeling hungry, so shi asked Harzath where they could get something to eat.
Harzath took them to a huge communal dining hall. A limited variety of food was doled out onto plates to anyone who wanted it, and they did not pay for it. Leanna saw that the portions were small too Ė not too surprising if there was a food shortage. It was enough to allay hir hunger, but it was very boring fare. Leanna asked if shi could see behind the scenes, and once again they were able to simply walk in without being challenged. The kitchens were essentially like the factory though, only the product was food. The same oddities that shi had seen in the fabrication facility were present here also.
As they left the kitchen, Leanna asked Harzath what they did for entertainment, and shi took hir to what was essentially a continuous strip show. While Leanna had to admit that it showed more imagination than anything but their clothing, it still wasnít of much interest to hir.
Harzath announced, "That will be all for today. As you have not been assigned a home block, you will share mine tonight. You can show me if an alien Zora can satisfy my sexual needs."
Leanna nodded. Blunt and totally lacking in emotional commitment. So far that summed up everything about these people Ė they had sex several times a day, but there was not even the hint of love anywhere. It was all very selfish Ė assuaging their physical desires without particularly caring about the needs of others. Leanna was glad that the supervisors didnít seem to need sex as often as the common Zora. Although shi could easily service the Faleshkarti as often as shi wished, Leanna would have felt like shi was back to the old days of slavery where hir feelings were utterly inconsequential. Still, shi had given tacit agreement to having sex with Harzath in exchange for the tour, so shi didnít object at all.
Harzath took them back on the transit system to hir home block. It was just one of thousands of high-density living rooms which were little more than a place with a bed and a wardrobe. There was a tap for water, but no kitchen, and Leanna surmised that there had to be a big dining hall here also. The bathing facilities were also communal, with just one for all the rooms on each level. Laundry facilities were big productions like the kitchens. That left Harzathís room as just a place to sleep, have sex, and store hir clothes. It did have one thing that was different from the bland functional look of everywhere else though Ė art. Of course like everything else, it was of a sexual nature, but Leanna was glad to see something other than bare walls for a change.
Harzath wasted no time after showing the facilities to Leanna. As soon as shi had closed the door, shi started undressing. Shi was nude and unadorned before Leanna even started to do the same. By the time Leanna got out of hir uniform, Harzath had an erection and made hir move on Leanna who simply went with the flow. Sexual intercourse was enthusiastic but unimaginative, so Leanna decided to see how the Faleshkarti would react to someone with a bit more skill in various forms of love-making. Shi could tell that Harzath was surprised by some of the things that shi did, but seemed to enjoy them nevertheless. It took a long time to satisfy the nearly insatiable Zora, but Leanna was glad that shi had made the effort.
In the intimacy of the activity, Leanna had a good look at all parts of Harzathís anatomy. There were a few differences between hirs and Leannaís, but nothing outside of the variety seen in Earthís morph population. The Faleshkarti could pass as a Terran morph without a problem. Only a DNA analysis would show any significant differences, and Leanna greatly doubted that they could interbreed. Nevertheless shi was glad that they were both pregnant and would not be testing out that hypothesis.
After they had rested from their exertions, Harzath said, "Your ways are unusual, Representative Leanna, but some of them are very enjoyable. I am pleased that you were assigned to be the Federationís representative."
"Thank you, Functionary Harzath. It was my pleasure to serve. However, you have reminded me that I have a job to complete, and I need to submit a daily report."
"Of course, and so must I. I will be using the bathing facilities for the next half farnig, so I suggest that you take advantage of that time."
A farnig was the local equivalent of an hour, and was roughly fifty minutes long, giving Leanna twenty five to do hir report. That was more than enough as shi only had to add hir verbal comments to the recording that hir wrist-PADD had been making non-stop since hir arrival. The Faleshkarti left and Leanna activated hir communicator. "Leanna to Aileen," shi said.
The communications computer instantly routed hir call to the waiting envoy. "Aileen here, Leanna. How goes things?"
"Mixed," admitted Leanna. "Iím learning a lot, but much of it is confusing and contradictory. Iím activating upload of my PADDÖ now."
"Receiving data," the jaguar acknowledged. "I know itís only been one day, but do you think you are any closer to figuring them out?"
"I feel that there is one very large missing factor, and if I can find out what it is, we might have the key to figuring these people out."
Aileen replied, "Well thatís better than weíve managed up until now. Whatís happening next?"
"Itís just about time to sleep here. Iíll see if I can try another tack in the morning. Right now though, Iím really tired."
"Rest well, Leanna. Weíll be spending a lot of time going over this recording, and if we have anything to suggest, weíll let you know in the morning."
"Suits me fine. Iíll call you once Iím up. Leanna out." Leanna paused, then reactivated the communicator. "Leanna to Forestwalker."
"Forest here," the chakat replied without delay. "Is everything okay, Leanna?"
"I miss you, Love," was all Leanna said.
"I know. I miss you too. Is there anything that I can do for you?" Forest asked.
"After dealing with the Faleshkarti all day, I just need to know that thereís someone there who is concerned for my feelings and not just my body."
"Never doubt that I am thinking of you every moment that weíre apart, Leanna. Be careful, hon. Nothing is worth risking your well-being. I love you."
Leanna felt the warm glow of hir love for hir mate. "I love you too. Give the cubs a hug for me."
"Iíll do that," promised Forest.
"Iíll call again tomorrow. Leanna out."
The starship might still be in orbit, but Forest felt closer to hir now, and shi felt a lot better. Harzath came back and Leanna went to clean up also. When shi returned, Harzath was waiting in bed. Leanna joined the Faleshkarti who snuggled up to hir but didnít try anything else. Leanna was able to sleep fairly well.
As Leanna had expected, Harzath wanted sex again in the morning. Leanna reckoned that shi had gotten off easy the previous day in light of what shi knew about how often the Faleshkarti had sex. Shi asked Harzath, "Does being pregnant affect your need for sex?"
"Yes, it does. I only want it three or four times a day. Supervisors are freer from distractions because of that. Is it different with you?"
"With my kind, we do not need it at all, although we may still have some desire for it," Leanna answered.
"How strange. It must be convenient to not have to interrupt oneís work to deal with the need."
"While we are on the subject of differences, do you mind if I ask you some personal questions?"
"Go ahead," Harzath replied. "You told us that you needed to know more about us, so Iíll do my best to help you."
Leanna was a bit hesitant Ė not because shi was unsure but because shi lacked a few key words in their language. "Why do you all have a room just for yourself? Why donít you have a larger place for the one who impregnated you, or your children, or your parents." Leanna lacked the words for Ďmateí, Ďfatherí and Ďfamilyí.
"I do not even know who my parents are, and why would I live with them anyway? Like me, my children will be raised by the Hona, and I do not even know who impregnated me. Why do you consider these things significant? Each Zora has a minimum-block where they can rest, store their possessions, and have sex with someone at their leisure and comfort. We do not need anything else."
"Donít you have any emotional connection to any of those people?" Leanna wanted to ask if shi loved them, but that was another word that seemed to be missing from the vocabulary.
Harzath shrugged. "How can I have any feelings for people I do not know? I do not have anything to do with my children once I hand them over to the Hona."
"Who are these Hona?"
"Our children, of course," Harzath said as if it ought to be perfectly obvious.
Children left in the care of children? That seemed contradictory, but Leanna felt the germ of an idea begin. "The Hona are kept separate from the Zora, you told me. The Hona become Zora, donít they?"
"Yes. How else?"
"May I see these Hona?" Leanna asked.
"Only if Administration allows," Harzath said firmly.
"Did you submit my request to see someone there?"
"I did. I will look to see if they have left a reply." Harzath went to hir communication unit and checked for messages. "There has been no reply as yet to your request."
"What if I said that my being able to talk to the Hona may be the key to helping the Faleshkarti?" Leanna pressed.
"Then Administration will realise this and let me know," Harzath said confidently.
ĎBureaucracy! No matter what the species, itís always the same,í Leanna fumed, then sighed. "While I have to wait for an answer, perhaps you can show me around some more, Functionary Harzath?"
"We can do so immediately after breakfast, Representative Leanna. Then you can ask me more of your very strange questions."
Harzath started dressing, and Leanna followed suit. Shi wondered if it was even possible for hir to ask any questions that Harzath would answer comprehensively. Shi had a strong doubt now that the Zora was capable of doing so. Shi lacked the spark that denoted true intelligence, as had all the supervisors Leanna had talked to the previous day. They were smart enough to direct the efforts of others and dealing with minor problems, but anything that required leaps of logic in novel situations seemed to confuse them.
They made their way to the communal dining hall for breakfast, and then Harzath showed Leanna more of the megaplex. There were more factories and service industries, but no sign of sports, clubs (other than the striptease type), nor any form of significant social interaction except sex. Although shi would never have dreamed that it would be possible, Leanna was getting tired of being confronted by it everywhere.
Another day ended for Leanna without any significant gain. In fact shi was wondering why Harzath seemed to be tolerating hir so readily in view of the past attitudes of the Faleshkarti. Shi hoped that hir theory that shi was being observed also was correct because it seemed to be hir only hope of getting in contact with the mysterious Administration.
That evening spent with Harzath went almost exactly the same as the previous, as did the next morning until the functionary retrieved hir messages.
In a surprised tone, Harzath said, "Representative Leanna, I have been directed to bring you to Central Administration."
Leanna brightened. "Thatís excellent news. Maybe now I will be able to make some real progress."
"We will go there immediately after breakfast."
Leanna dressed in one of hir less outlandish uniforms designed to appeal to the Faleshkarti. If hir suspicions were correct, a more sober outfit would be more appropriate for the upcoming meeting.
Harzath took them on the longest ride that they had done so far, involving two changes of trains. Surprisingly few of the passengers got off at their destination, but if this was the place where the Hona were to be found, then the Zora didnít generally mix with them, going by what Harzath had told Leanna. They entered a wide and very long hallway lined with doors with department numbers on them. Display panels next to each displayed messages to the people waiting in chairs facing each. Leanna realised that every one of them was a pregnant supervisor Ė no common Zora at all.
Harzath stopped in front of the door marked Department 111-70934. Shi put hir ident-card into the reader there and the display panel acknowledged it, directing hir to wait until called. Surprisingly there were no others waiting at this door, and it was only four minutes before the display panel beeped and directed them to enter.
The first thing that hit Leanna when shi entered the office was that it wasnít stark and functional like everywhere else. While not exactly lavish, it was painted a pleasant colour, had shelves of various media and a couple of items that could only be described as knick-knacks. The second thing that Leanna noticed was the owner of those knick-knacks seated behind the desk. Shi was the youngest Faleshkarti that Leanna had yet seen. As shi got up to greet hir visitors, Leanna could clearly see that shi appeared to be in hir late teens at best, with breasts that had not yet fully grown, and shi was a bit shorter than Harzath had been. Shi wore neat and practical shorts and a short-sleeved shirt that made no attempt at sexual allure. However, the thing that most struck Leanna was the expression of youthful delight on hir face at seeing Leanna.
Harzath said, "Administrator Sylith, this is Representative Leanna whom you requested to see."
Sylith said, "Thank you, Functionary Harzath. You may leave the Representative with me and return to your normal duties now."
"Yes Administrator," Harzath acknowledged. "Until we meet again, Representative Leanna." Harzath nodded in Leannaís direction and promptly departed.
Sylith said, "Please sit down, Representative. May I call you just Leanna? You may call me just Sylith."
"Thank you, Sylith," Leanna said as shi took the proffered seat. "I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be able to meet you or any of the Hona."
Sylith smiled as shi sat down behind hir desk. "To be honest, if you had been like we had originally assumed your people to be, you would never have had this opportunity. However, Harzathís report on your activities and your questions finally led me to the astounding conclusion that your people are not Faleshkarti."
Leanna realised that Sylith was not referring to hir species, but to hir culture. "Yes, Sylith, we are so very different that I have been struggling to understand your kind, although I have had my suspicions."
"Despite looking almost exactly like us, your ways have been completely at odds with those looks. It brought you to my attention in a way that none of your previous envoys could have. You have captured my interest and curiosity, so today we are going to learn about each other in ways that our races have failed to do up until now."
Leanna sighed with relief. "Thank you. Trying to get answers from Harzath was getting very frustrating." Leanna had a great deal of admiration for the contact team members that must have had the patience of a saint to make as much progress as they had.
Sylith laughed Ė the first that Leanna had heard on this world. "Further proof that you are not like us. Supervisors are competent and valuable, but not very imaginative." Sylithís expression grew sober. "Of course it isnít their fault, and it wonít be long before I will be no better."
Leanna said, "The Hona become the Zora and you becomeÖ lessÖ"
Sylith said, "You are trying to be polite, but you are right Ė we lose much intelligence when we make the Change." Shi looked at the bulge at Leannaís midriff. "However, while it is obvious that you are going to be a mother, you nevertheless seem to be as intelligent as any Hona. Is this true of all your kind?"
Leanna nodded. "It is."
"And what of the half-people?" Sylith asked.
"Those whom you call the half-people are actually far more common than us, but otherwise they arenít significantly different."
"We never imagined that there could be anything like you. We have never met another intelligent species before, and so we imagined that you were just like us, therefore we wanted nothing to do with you. Your Federation was nothing but competition with us for habitable worlds. When the Zora supervisor found out that the beings that they were talking to were half-people, they were disgusted. They wanted to stop talking to your people completely, but we would not let them. We wanted to watch you and what you did. Fortunately your leaders found people like ourselves to be envoys, so our Zora would not be repulsed."
"I am glad that you did not turn away from our envoys because we really need to discuss problems that affect both your people and mine," Leanna said.
"You mean the excess population and colonisation issues, donít you?" Sylith asked.
Leanna nodded. "Yes, those are the two biggest problems."
"Not surprising, but I think you need to understand my kind better first because it is obvious that there are huge differences between us."
"That is my mission, Sylith."
"Good. Let me show you the half of the Faleshkarti that you have not seen yet." Sylith touched a button on the comm on hir desk and said, "Daisha, would you please come into my office."
Very quickly, a side door opened and a Faleshkarti entered. Shi was dressed much like Sylith, but shi was much younger Ė about fifteen, Leanna guessed, although shi had no visible breasts and was about fifteen centimetres shorter than Sylith. This was what Leanna had suspected shi would see Ė the childlike Hona.
"Daisha, this is Leanna, the Representative from the Federation. Leanna, this is Daisha whom Iím training as my replacement when I make the Change."
"A pleasure to meet you, Daisha," Leanna said.
Daisha grinned. "Iím very happy to meet you at last, Leanna. You have been causing quite a stir amongst us."
"Not too disruptive, I hope?"
"Only in a good way. Some of us have started to believe that you may have the key to the answers we seek."
Sylith said, "Leanna has already confirmed some of our suspicions. I am going to take hir to see more of our people and work out where we differ so that we can take steps to working out those answers. I need you to mind the office."
Daisha looked a bit disappointed.
Sylith added, "Iíll take a relay so that you can see what happens also."
Daisha brightened. "Thanks, Sylith."
"Leanna, please follow me." Sylith led Leanna through the side door that Daisha had just used, and they emerged into an open-plan office. It was as vibrant and alive as the Zoraís had been dull and functional. There was colour and the buzz of conversations, and everywhere there were children Ė some at computers, some discussing their problems with others, and some just hurrying about their business. Leanna placed their ages at anything from ten to eighteen, and none of them had any sexual allure.
Sylith said, "This is the part of Administration that coordinates the colonisation effort, or at least our portion of it. There are others scattered around the planet."
"And all of these are Hona, I presume?" Leanna indicated the people at work.
"Correct. This is the way we are before the Change. Come with me and I will show you more."
Sylith took Leanna to a mass-transit station. This one seemed to be reserved for the Hona though, and the lines werenít as long. Leanna commented on those facts.
"We Hona do not need to travel as much, and our destinations are mostly within other Hona areas, so these transits cater to our needs exclusively and are optimised so."
One thing that was also different Ė aside from the total absence of anything sexual Ė was the laughter. The waiting Hona were usually in groups having conversations, and occasionally one would burst out into laughter. Whereas the Zora seemed to be as emotionally stunted as they were intellectually, the Hona were bright and vivacious. It was so refreshing to Leanna after the past two days.
They were also curious.
"You look like a Zora except for your long head fur," one said to hir. "Why is this so? And why are you in a Hona area?"
Other Hona around hir expressed interest in the answers also.
"My name is Leanna, and I am alien to your world. I only resemble a Zora. Administrator Sylith is going to show me what your part of this world is like. Iíve already spent two days seeing how the Zora live."
"I have heard of you. You come from the Federation, donít you?"
Leanna acknowledged that shi was correct.
The Hona looked to Sylith. "This is highly unusual. Why have you brought hir here?"
Sylith replied, "We have come to the conclusion that their civilisation is greatly different from our own Ė so different that we need to familiarise each other with how each of us do things so that we can understand how to help each other. It is hoped that they may be of great value in our efforts to cope with the population problem."
"That is an enormous proposition, and yet I can see how a new viewpoint may be of benefit." The questioner turned back to Leanna. "I hope that you have great success with this endeavour."
"Thank you," Leanna replied, impressed with how quickly the Hona had grasped the idea. Hopefully the same would be true of the rest of hir tour.
As they boarded the transit, Leanna asked, "Where are we going?"
"I thought that it would be best to start at the beginning. We are going to see where the Hona are born."
They alighted at a station that also had a Zora transit stop. Leanna noticed one thing immediately Ė every Zora getting off was not only pregnant, but also obviously very close to giving birth. And there were an awful lot of them.
Sylith said, "At the first sign of labour, the Zora go to the nearest maternity facility. This is where they will spend the next thirty days."
"Why so long?" Leanna asked. "For us, as long as there are no complications with the birth, the mother and child can go home usually the next day."
"The first of our differences. There is a good reason, as I will explain shortly."
Sylith led Leanna past a reception area to one of the wards. Like everywhere else, the rooms were small and filled with Faleshkarti. Considering how many had to come here every day though, Leanna wasnít surprised. In each bed was a Zora with an infant. Some were breastfeeding while most others were playing with their child or sleeping.
Sylith said, "These are mothers with newborn children."
Leanna would have guessed them to be a few weeks old, judging by how alert and active that they were. "Our children can barely do anything so soon. They havenít learned yet what they are seeing, nor spatial relationships, yet yours seem to be far in advance of that stage."
"Interesting. We are born with racial memories and instincts that enable us to function effectively very soon after birth. At this stage, they are learning how to associate those memories with the present reality." Shi led Leanna out of the ward and they descended a couple of levels. "We are now going to look at some mothers and children who are nearly thirty days old."
As they walked, Leanna asked, "Are what we call the sires (using the Terranglo word), the ones who impregnate the mothers, allowed to be here?"
Sylith was surprised. "Why would they? Almost no Zora knows or cares which of their sexual partners impregnated them."
"Our kind cares very much. What we call the family consists of mother, sire, children, and in some cases co-mates." Leanna then had to explain what a mate was, and even then shi wasnít sure that Sylith fully understood.
"Very strange," Sylith said, "and yet not without an odd allure. It has some semblance to relationships within the Hona."
They reached their goal. The ward was of similar size to the one that they had just left, but instead of beds, there were couches which took up less space, leaving an area free for a playpen. Leanna could see just two Zora feeding their children and looking very uninterested in the task. Most of the children were playing with each other in the pen, watched over by a Hona nurse, doing activities that Leanna would have said best suited children a year old. As for the mothers, those that werenít sleeping or breast-feeding were engaged in sexual activities that varied from petting to copulation.
Sylith explained, "By the end of the thirty day period, the bond that the mother has with hir child has almost completely broken down, and the usual emotional apathy has taken back over. This is why there can be no family Ė they simply donít care any more. Also their breast milk is failing as quickly as their sexual urges are rebounding. These Zora are due to be sent back to their blocks very soon."
"What about the children though?" Leanna asked. "Surely theyíre not ready to be weaned?"
"No, theyíre not. Thatís the next stage."
Sylith headed out of the room, and Leanna followed. Again they descended some levels, but this time the room that they entered was a lot different. It was much larger and resembled a kindergarten, with Hona child-minders. It only had a few Zora in it, but very unusual ones though. Every one of them had an extra pair of breasts, which on a human would be considered quite large, but on the petite Faleshkarti, were more like udders. Each of these Zora had two infants suckling on those udders, and they looked as contented as the Zora in the previous room had looked disinterested. Occasionally a Hona nurse would swap one of the replete babies for a hungry one.
Leanna asked, "Why do these Zora have extra breasts, and why do they look happier than the ones in the other room?"
Sylith said, "These are the Zora-hath, the milk mothers. All Faleshkarti have four breasts, but the second pair only develop in a very small percentage of Zora. They are considered to be lucky, although the second pair are really cumbersome. However, their nature makes nursing very pleasurable to them. While they may not have the same emotional connection as a new mother has at birth, they have a much longer and happier association with the children. This is what they do all their lives. I am guessing that you do not have something similar?"
Leanna replied, "While we do have some species that have four, or even six breasts, they are usually the same size or smaller than the top pair, and there is no significance to them other than that they produce a greater total quantity of milk. All our mothers remain bonded with their children for the rest of their lives, and itís one of the strongest of emotional attachments. Only those with psychological problems donítÖ" Shi was going to say Ďloveí, but shi realised that shi lacked the Faleshkarti word. That was typical of the emotionally stunted Zora. "They do not have the strong emotional need to care, protect and share their lives."
Sylith said, "I believe Ďloveí is the word that you are trying for. Only the Hona know love. Except for lust, the Zoraís emotions are weak at best. The older Hona love and nurture the younger."
"At least they do know love, even if not from their parents," Leanna replied, astonished that a whole race seemed nearly devoid of mother-love. "The children certainly look happy enough, and they look to be quite clever also."
"The name of our race comes from an old obsolete language, and it means ĎThe Clever Childrení. We begin our studies at the age of two years. We finish primary studies at age nine. From there we either go into a career, or do secondary studies for the more complex professions. Many choose not to because we only have about ten years of productive life before the Change comes upon us."
"That means that you also only have a few years to solve problems that take many years," Leanna observed.
"That is exactly our problem. The medical profession is the most complex and difficult, and it takes a long time to become an expert, but the research takes even longer. We may be able to save the data, but we lose the expertise, so progress is painfully slow."
Leanna said, "We donít lose our intelligence when we mature. Only old age affects us all eventually. The Federation can certainly help you there because we can work on long-term projects without your problem."
"We had begun to suspect as much, which is why we are now talking and learning about each other. This may be the most important thing that I ever do before my Change."
Leanna asked hesitantly, "May I ask how long before you make this Change?"
Sylith smiled reassuringly. "I donít mind you asking. I am only days away, at most."
"Do you have any warning that it is going to happen?"
"For all of us, there are three stages. First there is the growth spurt. This happens 50 Ė 60 days before the Change."
"I noticed that you were a lot taller than most of the older Hona in the office."
"Yes, exactly. The second stage is when our breasts quickly start to grow. Only then do we know if we will become a common Zora or a Zora-hath. We are all born with the potential, but we have no way of knowing if the second pair will develop. This starts about 15 Ė 20 days before the Change."
Leanna realised that shi had not noticed any other Hona with developed breasts so far, but with a twenty day margin at most, that was hardly surprising. "And the third stage?"
Sylith answered, "Spontaneous lactation."
"How many days before the Change?"
"Not days Ė hours. Once it happens, the Hona says hir farewells to hir colleagues, goes home and gets ready to accept the Change."
"What happens then?"
"Hormones flood hir body, shi gets overwhelmed by the need for sex, shi goes find a partner and has hir first sexual encounter. By the time shi is finished and satiated, hir intelligence is severely and permanently diminished, as is hir capacity to feel emotions. Shi is now a Zora."
Leanna shuddered. The loss of intelligence keenly reminded hir of how shi used to become a moron during hir heats. The Zora didnít get that stupid, but it was permanent. There was one element that still needed explaining however. "What exactly is the relationship between pregnancies and the smarter supervisors?"
Sylith answered, "First you must know something. The deterioration of the intellect continues for the rest of hir life. The older that they get, the stupider they become. Only the younger Zora are capable of the more complex tasks."
ĎHence why the experts in the factories were all young,í Leanna realised.
Sylith continued, "However, pregnancy stops the production of the hormone that causes the deterioration, thus temporarily halting the Zoraís descent into stupidity. It is the goal of every new Zora to get pregnant as soon as possible in order to conserve hir remaining intelligence. The process quickly resumes soon after giving birth, so they go out and get pregnant again. Depending on their luck and timing, a Zora can stay intelligent enough to be a supervisor for ten to twenty pregnancies."
Leanna groaned. Not only was there little incentive to stop breeding, there was a powerful reason for doing so as often as possible. Leanna could empathise with the Zora all too well. And after they got too stupid, they were no longer capable of caring about the consequences. "I confess that I had no idea that the problems would be so complex. We have not encountered a race with such a complicated life-cycle before. We may in fact be too late to help you as your population is growing at an exponential rate. Your colonising efforts barely slow down this growth."
"We are aware of that," Sylith admitted. "The colony ships are just buying us a little more time. Itís why we could not afford to let the Federation slow down our colonisation efforts in the slightest."
"I do have some good news though," Leanna continued. "Terran scientists have an unsurpassed knowledge of genetics and very advanced medical technology. If anyone can figure out an answer for you, they can. First though, letís narrow down the problems to focus the research. Is it possible to talk to a doctor who is involved in your own research program?"
"I will contact that department and ask," Sylith replied. Shi pulled out a personal comm and made some enquiries. A few minutes later shi put away the comm and said, "I have arranged to meet one of the research team leaders. Shi is located at another facility however."
Sylith and Leanna took the Hona transit to another station about twenty minutes away. They then found their way to an office where they met another Hona whom Leanna judged to be about seventeen. Shi was completely flat-chested and much shorter than Sylith, but shi wore an air of world-weariness that went well beyond hir years. Nevertheless shi smiled enthusiastically when shi was introduced to Leanna.
"So this is the alien Representative that Iíve been hearing about. You look like a Zora. I wish that I had the time and opportunity to thoroughly examine you in detail."
"Iím here to try to get you that opportunity, Doctor Randeskar. While I canít make any promises in regards to results, I can say that you can get the benefit of the most capable minds in the Federation, and unlike your race, we arenít constrained by a limited number of years of experience."
"That sounds very exciting, although very strange at the same time. Itís a little hard thinking of a biology that does not work the same way as it does for the Faleshkarti, but knowing that it does gives me some hope for the future. So what can I do to get this started?"
"Iím only here to identify the problems and get the appropriate events in motion. The real experts will come in and do the hard work. However, I will narrow down the focus, and to do that I need to confirm or dismiss some things. Please forgive me for starting at the simplest and most obvious facts first."
"I understand," Randeskar said. "It is better to ask a question than to labour under a misconception."
"Good," Leanna said. "First Ė when the Change begins, does your intelligence start fading immediately, or does this happen during the act of sex as Sylith implied?"
"There is no discernible loss of intelligence until after sex," the doctor answered.
"Could you stave off the need for sex?" Leanna asked.
"It can be delayed a little, but the urge grows rapidly to the point where it is impossible to ignore."
"I thought that would be the case," Leanna admitted. "Have you tried tranquilising them until the urge passes?"
"Yes. Unfortunately it achieves nothing. No length of time spent unconscious affects the onset, and too long spent tranquilised creates new problems."
"Drat. Canít buy time then. Next Ė presumably itís a hormone that causes the change. Have you considered removing the source of the hormone?"
"Again yes. Long ago, early in our research, a Hona volunteered to have hir entire reproductive system removed. Shi still went through the Change and shi was unable to have hir sexual needs met. Sadly we had to euthanize hir. That showed us though that the source of the hormone wasnít located there, and we tracked it down to a certain gland. When we removed that, the Hona did not go through the Change. Unfortunately that same hormone regulates other body functions also, especially when shi is reaching maturity. The lack of the hormone started causing hir body to break down as in old age. Shi died of progeria just a little after hir 21st year."
"How unfortunate," Leanna said sadly. "That makes this next suggestion difficult Ė remove the source of the hormone, but inject small doses that are just enough to prevent progeria, but not enough to trigger the Change."
"We have had many brave volunteers over the years, and that was tried even though they knew their chances were poor. Too many Hona sacrificed themselves discovering that the effects of the hormone are cumulative. No matter how small the dose that we gave them, eventually the Change would be triggered. We stretched out their lives as Hona an extra year or so at best, and those people were unhealthy for the rest of their relatively short lives."
"Damn! You people really have it bad. Okay, how about a hormone replacement? You would have to tailor it to do the good things and not the bad. Alternatively, you could find a drug that counteracts the bad effects only."
"Now you have reached where we are at the moment. Itís an exceedingly complex task though, and just as the researchers are getting a grasp of the problem, they undergo the Change and the task gets set back. Knowledge we can save, but the ability to use that knowledge is always in short supply."
"Time is really your biggest enemy, isnít it?" Leanna said sympathetically. "However, there I know we can help. Iíve been authorised to offer the Federationís resources to expedite finding a solution for you."
Randeskar said, "While we would prefer finding a solution for ourselves, the Faleshkarti race cannot afford false pride. My staff and I would gladly accept your offer."
"While that problem is being researched though, perhaps we can do something about the population explosion," Leanna suggested.
"That would be an excellent idea Ė if it was possible."
"I know it sounds difficult Ė Iím not even going to try to suggest that it will be simple to convince people not to get pregnant to save their intellect. I understand that desire all too well," Leanna said fervently.
"How could you if you do not go through the Change as we do?" Randeskar asked sceptically.
"I had someÖ serious physical problems. I was not born within the Federation, but when I migrated there, they were able to treat me, and now Iím fairly normal." ĎNot counting my sex-slave enhancements,í Leanna added mentally.
"Then do you have any suggestions?"
"Something about being pregnant stops the mental decay. We need to find out what it is and find a replacement that can reproduce the effect without an actual pregnancy. Once you have that, you can make contraceptives compulsory, or perhaps limit each person to one child if they really want one."
Randeskar nodded. "Yes, and we have thought of that option, but have had as little success as in preventing the Change. The trials that we have made so far have been disastrous. Can I assume that your Federation scientists will also help us with that?"
"Of course. In fact that was our original goal before I learned about your other problem. What I have trouble understanding though is how your race came to be like this."
"All medical researchers need to understand our origins," Randeskar replied as if shi was settling in for a lecture. "As best as we can determine, we evolved from a small and nearly defenceless creature that survived by being exceptionally clever. It would use its intelligence to find food while avoiding enemies, and building a secure den which it stocked like a larder. It would fatten up until it went into oestrus and mated. Then it would hole up in its den until the kits were born. It is estimated that it had four to six kits at one time. The mother would feed the kits from hir own reserves until they were old enough to leave the den, at which time the mother would die. The kits were clever enough to fend for themselves after maybe sixty days with the aid of their racial memory. All the mother had to do was feed them until then, so we believe that their bodies made the Change to focus on doing just that, to the detriment of the intellect. Unfortunately, evolution does not care about what is best for the creature, only that it works."
"So as you evolved further, the disparity grew greater?" Leanna asked.
"Yes. Originally life was very short Ė a few years at most Ė so it didnít matter for the proto-Faleshkarti. Most of the kits would not survive to breed, so the population remained stable. At some period though, a mutation occurred and the mothers stopped dying, and some survived long enough to breed again. They were growing larger also, but we believe that the number of kits born were fewer, so again the population balanced out. Then came the next step in our evolution."
"Actual sapience?" Leanna guessed.
"Correct. Once they started exploiting the environment, the balance was tipped, and the population started growing. Unfortunately the change to the breeder stage not only stayed, it got worse, and each generation was a little bit worse again. When the technological revolution occurred, the population exploded. For a while technology kept pace with the growth, but now itís losing ground fast. If a solution isnít found soon, there will be a mass extinction as the system breaks under the load. The same pattern will be repeated in our colonies also as they reach their crisis points."
"Hopefully it wonít come to that. I want to thank you for your valuable time, doctor. Once we are given official approval, my people will start on your problems immediately."
Randeskar got up from hir chair and went over to Leanna. Shi took hir hands and said, "You have given me renewed hope, Representative Leanna. On behalf of my people, I thank you."
"Thank me when we achieve something. The rest was my pleasure," Leanna replied.
Sylith said, "We had best return to my office now."
"Must we?" Leanna asked. "Iíd like to see more of the Hona if possible."
Sylith thought about it and then answered, "Alright. There are a couple of places on the route back that I could show you."
Sylith showed Leanna a school, then a cultural centre. Leanna was glad to find that not only did the Hona appreciate art and music, they also had some excitingly new styles. Then they went to a Hona dining hall for a meal. Leanna was reminded of a school cafeteria. While the Hona might have the intellect of adults, they still exhibited a childlike attitude to many things. Leanna felt a pang of empathy Ė shi was physically far younger than shi appeared, and shi still felt the urge to play sometimes. Shi loved the lively atmosphere of the place.
Sylith insisted on going back to hir office after that. "Thereís much to set in motion. I need to get official approval for the Federation researchers to visit Namath. That wonít be a problem because this is fully within the boundaries of my department, but the council needs to be appraised of such radical plans, and other department heads brought up to speed. Iím sure that you will need an opportunity to talk with your own people as well."
Leanna nodded. "Youíre right. As much as the Federation cultural experts might want to learn more, Iíve got to remember priorities."
Back at Sylithís office, the administrator commed someone. Shortly, a very young Hona entered. Leanna judged hir to be about ten years old.
Sylith said, "Leanna, this is Arduth, an intern in my department. Arduth, I am assigning you to be Representative Leannaís assistant until further notice. Find hir a vacant residence block for hir to use until further notice, and provide hir with whatever shi needs where possible."
"Yes, Administrator," Arduth said. Shi turned to Leanna with a bright smile. "Come with me please, Representative."
"Just call me Leanna, please, Arduth."
Arduth consulted hir personal comp-link to find an available residence block as shi led Leanna to the transit station. Ten minutes later, they were walking through a high-density residence area similar to the Zoraís, only with paint and little touches to brighten the place up to Hona tastes. The room that Leanna was given also painted but otherwise bare. Leanna figured that the Hona probably added their personal touches later. Arduth gave Leanna hir personal comm code and asked if Leanna would remember that.
Leanna replied, "Believe me, I wonít forget."
Arduth said curiously, "You make it sound like bad thing."
"A perfect memory can be as much of aÖ disadvantage (shi wanted to say Ďcurseí but there did not seem to be an equivalent word in Faleshkarti) as an advantage."
"Not having one, I will have to take your word for it. Is there anything else that you need?"
"Not now, thanks. I will be reporting to my superiors first and discussing your problems. We have to work fast."
Arduth smiled again. "I will leave you to your work then. I hope to see you later though."
Arduth then left and Leanna sat down at the small desk there. Shi activated hir comm and said, "Leanna to Aileen."
Aileen replied instantly. "Leanna! I got your text alerts. You actually got in to see the people in charge?"
"More than that, I have almost secured their total cooperation. Once they realised that I was so different from their preconceptions, they were hungry to know more." Shi activated hir data-link. "Feast your eyes on what Iím sending you now."
"Receiving data. What do you mean by Ďalmost securedí?"
"Sylith, the department head with whom I had the discussions, says shi has to run things by their council, but it will be a foregone conclusion. They wonít waste any time. They know how desperate the situation is, and theyíll be expediting anything that will help."
"This is amazing, Leanna. Youíve achieved more in three days than we did in all the previous months!"
Leanna demurred, "I could not have done so without you and your people laying the groundwork. I admit that this worked best because I look like a Faleshkarti, but Iím sure that you would have eventually cracked them yourselves."
"Perhaps, but would we have done so soon enough?" Aileen asked pointedly.
Leanna had to admit that shi didnít know. Shi couldnít even promise the Faleshkarti that a solution could be found anyway even now. Shi suddenly felt really tired. "Aileen, youíre going to have to go over that data thoroughly, so I will leave you to it. My baby and I need a nap right now."
"Youíve more than earned it, Leanna. Give a call later when you wake up. We may have some preliminary plans ready then."
"Will do. Leanna out." Shi got up and went to the pristine bed and laid down on it. Rubbing the gentle swell of hir belly, shi murmured. "I think youíd like the Hona, hon, but I think weíll both be better off this planet. Itís a little too cramped for me." Even though shi had no extra senses, nevertheless shi could feel the press of the millions of Faleshkarti all around hir, and the burden of finding a cure for their problems weighed heavily upon hir. Leanna had to force hirself to clear hir mind in order to relax enough to fall asleep.
On the Pegasus, it seemed like all hell had broken loose amongst the all the specialists on the Faleshkarti taskforce. As the relevant data reached appropriate hands, scientists began assembling everything that they felt they needed to begin their analysis of the Faleshkarti biology. It might take months or even years for an answer to be ultimately found, but they would not waste one second once they were given the go-ahead.
Admiral Boyce Kline watched the activity with some bemusement. Even his Thirdwife, Forestwalker, was assigned a task appropriate to hir biology skills. His Firstwife and First Officer, Rosepetal, stood beside him. She said, "This is the second time that Leanna has caused a huge commotion on this ship. Shi seems to be making a habit of it."
Boyce grinned. "Yeah, it does seem that way. I wouldnít change anything anyway."
Rosepetal nodded. "With results like these, I can live with a bit of commotion."
"You wonít have to for long. Once Leannaís task is fulfilled, the science ship, Pasteur, will take over these personnel and we can head back to Earth."
Rosepetal looked at Boyce. "Are you really that eager to get back to the boring patrols?"
Boyce sighed. "If only that was the only thing that I had to worry about." He turned and left, leaving Rosepetal wondering once again what had bothering her mate so much lately that he refused to talk about.
Leanna didnít wake until a few hours later when hir stomach was telling hir it was dinner time. Shi called Arduth to ask hir how to find the nearest dining facility.
Arduth replied, "Administrator Sylith has requested that you join hir and Daisha for dinner. If you can remember the route back to the office, I will let hir know that you will be here soon."
Leanna said, "I remember. Iím on my way now."
Leanna had no difficulty recalling the way, of course, but without hir escort serving as a buffer, shi had to deal with lots of curious Hona. While a few thought shi didnít belong in their territory, the majority were quite happy to find out more about hir. Leanna actually had to beg off due to hir appointment with Sylith before they would let hir go.
Although the Hona could not waste any more space on eating facilities than the Zora could, they nevertheless liked to eat with friends. So although the venue was as about as far from intimate as possible, it was nevertheless a discrete group. Sylith, Daisha and Randeskar awaited Leanna in Sylithís office, and from there they all went together to the communal eating hall. Leanna thought that it might be the equivalent of a business dinner, but they all said that they were off-duty and they were curious to learn more about Leannaís culture.
In a society where the people are crowded together for most of their lives, respecting a personís privacy was difficult. Leanna was aware that as shi told the others about hir world, the Hona in their immediate vicinity were unusually quiet. Long ears swivelled in hir direction betrayed the interest that they had in hir words, although none were impolite enough to butt into the groupís private conversation. Leanna spoke a little louder than shi normally would to let the eavesdroppers hear hir clearly. It was all part of hir job to make a good impression on the Faleshkarti.
Hir dinner companions would occasionally ask hir questions and marvel at the oddities of Federation culture. The conversation was only interrupted once as Leanna went back for more food. The portions given to the Hona were small but apparently adequate for their needs. Leanna was not only bigger than everyone else, but shi also had a baby growing inside of hir and shi pled the need for extra nourishment.
Leanna suspected that shi was disrupting the routine in the dining hall. With a huge population to feed, turnover had to be high, but the diners nearby never left while shi was talking.
Eventually the group had to leave, and they returned to Sylithís office to continue the conversation in a bit more privacy. The Hona lapped it up and wanted more, but Leanna had to beg off in order to get some sleep. Leanna was glad to be able to curl up in the privacy of hir assigned residence block and go to sleep without first having to assuage the needs of a horny Zora.
Leanna was seated once more in Sylithís office when the councilís official approval arrived. In anticipation of this, Sylith and Daisha had been coordinating preparations for both their people and Leannaís. They swung into action, and teams from the Pegasus were on their way within minutes. Test subjects from the Zora, the Zora-hath, and the Hona were brought to the designated facilities. Because most of the Federation staff were not herms, those facilities had to be within Hona territory to minimise the instinctive revulsion that the Zora felt for them. Where a herm staff member was not available, Hona medical staff would operate the Federation equipment whenever possible. Faleshkarti of all ages and stages were to be given the most comprehensive testing regime that the Federation team could devise, and that would be combined with all the data that the Faleshkarti doctors provided.
Once they got the process started though, Leanna had nothing left to do except to play the role of ambassador. Sylith made arrangements for hir to meet council members and other heads of departments, and shi did hir best to give them all a good impression of the Federation, and to tantalise their curiosity. Star Fleet wanted to be sure that relationships between the Faleshkarti and the Federation would remain amicable for a long time.
Sylith accompanied Leanna to almost all the meetings, and Leanna wondered how the head of a department could be away from hir office so much.
Sylith said, "Most of my duties are being handled by Daisha already. I will soon hand over the job completely to hir, but in the meantime I need handle only a few major decisions each day."
Leanna was reminded that Sylith was due to become a Zora soon, and shi was saddened by that prospect. Shi was really enjoying the company of the Faleshkarti and would regret seeing the bright and intelligent Hona become yet another bland sex-obsessed Zora. Shi wished that shi had met Sylith sooner, but shi knew that there wouldnít be enough time to find answers to the problems in the remaining time anyway. Shi was determined to make the most of the time that shi had left.
Nevertheless it was still a shock to Leanna when, a few days later, shi noticed two damp spots spreading on Sylithís shirt. Shi stopped what shi was saying mid-sentence as Sylith looked down at hir chest. The Honaís shoulders slumped a little and shi sighed.
"Well, Leanna, it seems my time is up, much to my regret. Itís time to pass on." Sylith called Daisha on the comm, and moments later shi entered the office.
"Yes, Sylith, whatÖ oh no!"
Leanna saw Daishaís expression get very distressed and tears filled the Honaís eyes as shi hastened over to Sylith who rose to meet hir. They came together in a fierce hug, and Sylith caressed the younger Honaís head. Leanna recalled what Sylith had told hir mere days ago Ė "Only the Hona know love". It was very clear that Daisha was not merely hir assistant and successor, but also hir lover in the purest meaning of the word. Unfortunately, all such relationships were doomed to be short-lived in this species, and tears welled in Leannaís eyes also. More than ever shi hoped that the Federation scientists would find an answer to the Faleshkartiís curse quickly.
After a long, silent period while the two shared one last intimate time together, Sylith reluctantly parted from Daisha and said, "We must make the official handover."
Daisha nodded, and they both turned to the desk computer. Sylith entered some data, followed by Daisha, and then Sylith said, "I hereby relinquish control to you, Administrator Daisha."
Daisha replied, "I accept control from you, Honoured Sylith."
Sylith gave Daisha a final brief hug. "I know that you will be an excellent administrator, Daisha. Remember that I will always need your love, even if I will no longer consciously appreciate it."
"I will, Sylith, until my Change comes."
Sylith turned to Leanna and said, "Leanna, will you please accompany me? I feel the need for a friend in my last hours as a Hona."
"It would be my pleasure, Sylith." Leanna got up and followed Sylith to the exit. The Hona turned for one last look at hir beloved, then left hir office for the last time.
As they walked to the transit station, Leanna said, "I would have thought that you would prefer to spend your last hours with Daisha."
Sylith replied, "Could you watch the one that you love become someone entirely different? It is better for Daisha to remember me as I am, and not as I will become."
"I understand, although some people I know would still insist on sharing every last moment with the ones that they love, even though the circumstances are somewhat different."
"You are not Faleshkarti though. We choose to make a quick and final farewell."
No more was said until they reached Sylithís residence. It was the first time that Leanna had been there, and shi was impressed by the subtle and attractive decoration. One thing that immediately drew hir attention was a portrait that hung on the wall. Leanna recognised that it was Daisha.
As shi admired the artistry, Leanna said, "It looks to me that Daisha will be with you in your last hours after all."
Sylith smiled. "You are right. I find it to be of some comfort." Sylith pulled out a large carry-all and started putting assorted items into the almost full bag. "After the change, I will be moving into my new residence in the Zora sector. These are things that I will need or want. The rest will go back into the general pool. "I wonder if I will still want the portrait?"
"Does nothing of your feelings pass over into your Zora stage?" Leanna asked.
Sylith shrugged. "If it does, it is soon gone. Zora live in the moment, and emotions donít linger."
"Do you feel anything yet, or does the Change happen suddenly?"
"Iím already feeling mild sensations that I have never felt before. They might increase a little before the final moment. When the Change happens, it is very abrupt. I must now spend every moment as if it my last."
"Is there anything that you wish me to do until then?"
"No, just talk with me, Leanna. Youíve become a very close friend in the few days that we have been together, and I am glad that I was a Hona still to see the hope that you have brought the Faleshkarti."
"I wish that I had been here sooner," Leanna said fervently.
"Donít regret that. Millions of others will be making their Change today also, and they all deserve better, but we must look ahead to all the future generations who may never have to endure the Change. I find that satisfaction enough."
"I still wish that I could do something just for you," Leanna persisted.
Sylith looked thoughtful. "Perhaps there is something. One of the saddest things about the Change is the loss of our personal connections with those we knew, and we go out and find a complete stranger to have sex. However, you stand with a foot in both territories Ė you can have sex and yet still know love. I would like to do what Faleshkarti rarely get the chance to do, and choose a partner for my first sex from amongst my friends. Leanna, would you make my Change the best that it can be for me?"
"I would be honoured, Sylith."
"Thank you, Leanna. Now tell me more about your family. Maybe I can take some happy memories with me."
And so Leanna talked at length about hir mate, co-mates, their aunts, the cubs, and everyone else whom shi could think of. Shi told Sylith of the happy times and the not-so-happy times. Shi extolled the virtues of their intertwined relationships, and the love and support that they gave each other, while Sylith listened raptly.
Leanna had been talking for nearly four and a half hours when Sylith suddenly gasped and put hir hand to hir crotch. A swiftly growing erection was tenting hir shorts, and shi shuddered with the abrupt onset of intense sexual cravings.
"So thatís what it feels like," Sylith said. "Itís going to get very familiar quickly."
Leanna said, "Sex with the Zora was unimaginative and dull. Let me show you how we make the act more enjoyable while you can still appreciate it."
"Thank you for your consideration, Leanna."
"Let me undress you," Leanna said, and so shi began to give hir friend the best experience that shi could under the circumstances. Leanna wasnít sure how quickly the loss of intelligence would happen, so shi aimed for maximum sensuality immediately, bringing forth all hir training as hir gift to Sylith.
There were many cries of ecstasy from both the Faleshkarti and the fennec as Leanna swapped between being mounted and doing the mounting. Eventually Leanna let them both rest, certain that hir friend was no longer the person shi used to be.
However, shi got a big surprise.
"Leanna Ė my mind is still whole." Sylithís voice was puzzled, but not confused like a Zoraís would be.
Leanna looked closely at Sylith and saw the intelligence in hir eyes. "You never told me this could happen."
"I didnít tell you because it doesnít happen. The Change always causes loss of intellect."
"Maybe itís just slow to hit you?" Leanna suggested.
"It canít be. It always happens immediately. Also, my sexual cravings are returning, and not satiated as they would be for a Zora."
"Could be something that I did differently?" Leanna asked.
"Leanna, I may not have had any practical experience with the matter up until now, but I assure you that I am thoroughly familiar with how everything works. Nothing that you did, no matter how enjoyable, could cause this."
"Then what? Although I am an alien, aside from some insignificant structural variations, thereís no real difference between us."
Sylith shook hir head. "So hard to think with this lust distracting me." Hir hand played with hir penis which had resumed full erection. Shi nevertheless continued to think on the puzzle. "Maybe thereís something about your physiology that has caused this?"
"But what?" Leanna asked. "My saliva? My vaginal fluids? My semen? Iím not a biologist like my mate, but theyíre unexceptional and I canít see them causing a halt to the Change."
Sylithís eyes widened in realisation. "No, itís not something you have Ė itís something you have not! There must be something that the Zora passes on to the Hona that causes it."
"Does that mean that we can save your intellect?" Leanna asked hopefully.
"How? Remember that unless the Change is completed, the sexual urges continue to grow stronger until the person is completely unable to think of anything else, and I can feel those urges building."
"Iím not sure how," Leanna admitted, "but if thereís any chance at all, Iím going to try. We need to get you to the Federation research team. They might be able to do something with this valuable bit of information. Get your clothes on and letís go!"
Sylith groaned. "Iím too deep into the lust. I donít know if I can make the trip."
Leanna asked, "The lust abates every time you orgasm, right?" When Sylith nodded, shi continued, "Iím going to give you a quickie. Then weíre going to leave as fast as we can. Donít give up on me now!"
Sylith smiled. "You are so determined. Okay, letís try this."
Leanna not only had the skills to give someone a long and luxurious session of love-making, shi also knew techniques to make people orgasm almost instantly. Shi used those techniques to give Sylith a double orgasm Ė male and female both simultaneously Ė in the hopes of having a stronger effect.
"Wow! That was amazing, Leanna," Sylith said dreamily.
"No time for praise, Sylith. If youíre up to it, get dressed now. Hurry!"
Sylith shook off the effects of the double whammy and begun dressing. "It seems to have worked moderately well."
Leanna practically pushed Sylith out of the door the moment that shi was sufficiently dressed. They ran to the transit station and Leanna pled an emergency in order to jump the usual queue. Timing was on their side, and a train pulled in immediately. They were on their way within moments.
"How are you holding up, Sylith?"
"I donít think the running helped, Leanna. Iím rebounding quickly."
"Just hang in there, Sylith," Leanna urged hir.
"Believe me, Iím trying."
A Hona standing next to them asked, "What is wrong with you? Do you need a medic?"
Sylith shook hir head. "The Change has begun, and I am resisting it."
The Hona frowned. "If itís your time, you should be heading for Zora territory. This train goes deeper into the Hona sector."
Leanna said, "Iím taking hir to the Federation research team who are trying to find a way of preventing intellect loss due to the Change. We have uncovered what might be a vital clue, and Sylith needs to be examined."
"You are meddling with natural events. You should just accept the Change and move on," the Hona said with some asperity.
ĎOh, great!í Leanna thought. ĎI managed to run into a fanatic.í "That is not your choice to make," shi told the Hona sharply.
The Hona just glared at hir but said no more.
They reached their station, and they hastened to the facilities set aside for use by the Federation teams for examining the Faleshkarti. Leanna was glad to find MíLai at work in one of the rooms, and shi pulled the Caitian away from what she was doing.
"Whatís wrong, Leanna?" MíLai asked.
"Sylith is going through hir Change," Leanna answered.
MíLai looked at Sylith. "I see. It has been a pleasure working with you, Administrator."
Leanna interrupted, "No, weíre not here for farewells. Something has happened that you need to know." Leanna described what had happened at Sylithís quarters.
"Youíre right, that could be a good clue to the puzzle." MíLai called out to one of the staff. "Windflower! Come here please."
A red fox herm stopped what shi was doing and came over. "Yes, Doctor?"
"I want you to get one of the samples of Zora semen and scan it for anomalies, especially hormones. I donít need details yet Ė just a very fast answer."
Windflower nodded. "Got it," shi said, and hastened off.
MíLai turned her attention back to Sylith, looking concerned. "How are you coping? Do you think that we can get a scan done of you? It could help us."
Sylith didnít trust hirself, but nodded anyway. "As long as itís quick. Leanna, Iím going to need something really soon!"
"Iím here for you, Sylith," Leanna reassured the distressed Hona.
MíLai didnít dawdle. Shi took Sylith to one of the deep-scanning tables and had hir get on and lie flat. "Please keep as still as you can while the scan is in progress." She started off a pre-set scanning routine.
While the scanner did its job, Leanna said, "Can we do something about buying time for Sylith? Perhaps a drug to stop the urge for sex?"
"Leanna, you of all people should know that itís not that simple. Even with a far greater knowledge of Caitian physiology, it took a long while to work out and synthesise an appropriate drug for my own needs. Doing it for a Faleshkarti is not only difficult, itís dangerous until we know more about them."
"Doctor Randeskar told me how they tried tranquilising Hona to beat the Change. Maybe you could use whatever they did to give hir a chance?"
MíLai thought for a moment. "Yes, thatís a good idea. Nothing new or untried to worry about."
The scanner beeped to indicate the completion of its task. MíLai said, "Thank you, Sylith, you can get down now. Iíll take some samples from you in a moment."
Sylith sat up and moaned in distress. Sexual fluids stained hir clothing as shi jammed hir hands into hir crotch in a futile attempt to control the unbearable sensations there.
Just then, Windflower returned. "Doctor Ė you called it. Thereís definitely a hormone present. Iíve left a sample in the analyser to work out its structure."
"Anything else show up?" MíLai asked.
"Nothing obvious from the quick scan."
"Okay. Thank you, Windflower. Give me a thorough report when the analyser is finished, and Iíll pass it on to the experts."
"So Sylith was right," Leanna said. "Itís the lack of that hormone in my semen that stopped hir from losing hir intellect."
"Without conclusive proof, I cannot confirm that," MíLai said, "But personally I feel youíre right. Unfortunately, while Sylith may still have hir mind, it looks like shi is stuck with the lust also. That same hormone probably tells the body ĎMission accomplishedí and the craving abates."
Leanna got more excited. "So if you can find a substitute for that hormone that will switch off the sex urge but leave the brain alone, we could stop Sylith turning into a Zora?"
"Well, theoretically yes, but Leanna Ė even if that is the correct answer, itís going to take us weeks, if not months, to analyse the Faleshkarti physiology sufficiently to trial a potential solution that we can be sure wonít cause more harm than good."
"Then we can tranquilise hir until then. Shiís just one person Ė surely you can manage that?"
"It wouldnít be a good idea to tranquilise someone for that long. Fortunately I can think of a better solution Ė a stasis field. We use them to stabilise trauma victims until we are ready to work on them effectively."
"Then youíll do it?" Leanna asked hopefully.
"MíLai smiled and said, "Yes."
Leanna was thrilled. Shi turned around to tell Sylith the good newsÖ but the Hona was not there.
"Whereís Sylith?" Leanna asked.
MíLai looked around, then asked loudly, "Has anyone seen the Hona, Sylith?"
A man working at a desk near the door said, " I saw hir walk out the door a short time ago."
Leanna felt the beginnings of panic. "Oh no! Shiís in the grip of lust, and I didnít even notice hir leave."
Shi ran out into the hallway but didnít see hir there Shi turned left and started checking all the doorways, asking anyone there if theyíd seen Sylith. Shi worked hir way down to the end of the hall, then doubled back to start working down the opposite direction from hir starting point. Halfway down, shi found a room which contained several Zora who were there for testing purposes. Two were on the floor, copulating. As Leanna looked, the one on top who was mounted on the lowerís penis, rolled off with a sigh of satisfaction. With a pang in hir heart, Leanna realised that it was Sylith, and shi hurried over to hir.
"Oh, Sylith Ė what have you done?"
Sylith looked up at Leanna with a smile on hir face, and Leanna could already see that hir eyes were losing their bright look of intelligence, being replaced by the dullness of the Zora. Sylithís smile faltered for a moment, and shi said, "IÖ Iím sorry, Leanna." Then hir sex partner distracted hir by groping hir breast, and Sylith turned back with renewed interest.
"No, Iím the one whoís sorry, Sylith," Leanna murmured. "I failed you." Shi turned and left behind the Zora who used to be hir friend.
Leanna went back to the room where MíLai was working. The Caitian saw hir coming and asked, "Did you find hir?"
Leanna nodded. "Shi found a room with Zora test subjects. Shi is now one of them."
MíLai drew Leanna into a hug. "Donít beat yourself up about it, Leanna. You did your very best. Iím sure that you made hir last hours the best that they could have been."
Leanna replied, "I tried. I just wasnít good enough. I should have been watching hir more carefully. Shi wasnít in any condition to look after hirself."
"Nobodyís perfect, Leanna," MíLai admonished hir. "Not even super-smart former exotic slaves."
It still didnít console Leanna much however. "Iím going back to the Pegasus. They donít need me down here any more, and I need to be with Forest right now."
"Iíll see you later then, Leanna."
Leanna made hir way up to the top level and the shuttle pad that had been so busy the past few days. Shi was in luck as there was a shuttle there presently, disgorging its load of equipment. Leanna approached the grey fox vixen pilot.
"Have you got room for a passenger back up to the Pegasus?" shi asked.
"Sure. Iíve just got a couple of others to wait for, then we can go."
"Thanks." Leanna kept out of the way of the Zora unloading the shuttle. Two research personnel turned up shortly, and the shuttle was able to leave promptly when the unloading was completed.
Back on the Pegasus, Leanna found Forestwalker who took a break when shi saw how upset hir mate was. Leanna told hir what had happened with a voice cracking with emotion. The chakat did hir best to empathically soothe hir, but shi knew that it would take time for the fennec to get over the loss of hir friend.
Later, Leanna went to Boyceís office where shi found him engrossed with paperwork. The door was open though, so shi tapped on the wall for attention.
Boyce looked up and saw the fennec waiting. "Leanna! Come in. I heard about Sylith, and Iím sorry about hir loss to the Change."
"Thank you, Captain," Leanna replied. "Now that shi has made the Change, and Iíve achieved everything that I was contracted to do and more, Iíd like to go home at the earliest opportunity."
Boyce said, "We wonít be leaving until the Pasteur arrives and we hand over control of the research team to them. That will be three more days."
"I figured as much. I will need something to do in the meantime. I have no desire to go back down planet-side."
Boyce looked concerned. "Star Fleet Command has informed me that due to your excellent performance on this job, they wish you to remain as the head liaison between us and the Faleshkarti."
Leanna looked at the human sharply. "I was promised that I would be returned to Earth as soon as my job was finished, within reason. Extending my job is not reasonable; especially as itís an open-ended time frame and could easily go well beyond the time Iím due to give birth. I donít wish to be liaison. I donít even want to go back to Namath at all. It hurts too much right now. Why donít you give the job to Aileen? Shi did an excellent job of laying the groundwork for me."
"Command reckons that itís within its rights to extend your contract, at least up until the time of the stipulated latest date of departure."
Leanna stood there growing coldly angry. Shi growled, "Is that a direct order, Master?"
Boyce flinched and said, "That was uncalled for, Leanna. I am on your side. I was just under obligation to try. Iíll tell Star Fleet Command that after hours of intense negotiations, we failed to reach an agreement. We will depart for Earth not long after the Pasteur arrives as originally planned."
"Thank you, Captain," Leanna replied, only slightly mollified. Shi was still angry over the fast one that Star Fleet had tried to pull on hir.
Boyce continued, "For now, youíre off-duty. Iíll inform you of your new duties later."
"Yes, sir," Leanna acknowledged and left.
A few days later, Leanna was morosely contemplating the moving starscape while nursing hir cappuccino. Shi was happy that they were on their way home, but shi couldnít shake off the sadness that still lingered. Shi never expected to be so profoundly affected by the experience. Finding a race that was so like hirself in many ways had been exciting, but it also had the effect of making hir empathise with their plight very strongly. Shi valued hir friends enormously, and to lose one in such a manner had been a terrible blow. Not even Forest had been able to bring hir out of hir funk.
"Hello, stranger," came a familiar voice.
"Hi MíLai," Leanna replied without looking around.
MíLai put her mug on a table and pulled up a vacant chair. "You seem to be avoiding people lately," shi commented.
"I didnít want to bring them down with my bad mood," Leanna replied.
MíLai sighed. "Sylith didnít deserve what happened to hir, but then again neither did the millions of other Hona who went through the Change that day. However, none of them achieved what you two did. Your discovery brought forward our research in a big leap. It was the one piece of data that the Hona could not give us. Weíve confirmed that itís definitely the hormone in the semen that causes the loss of intelligence."
"Whoopee," Leanna said unenthusiastically.
"Donít be like that, Leanna. Did you know that several Hona on the brink of the Change voluntarily sacrificed their few remaining hours in order to provide us with that proof? As much as I liked Sylith, I admire the strength of character of those Hona even more."
Leanna could hardly conceive the idea of sacrificing hir mind even a few minutes earlier than necessary. MíLai was right Ė they were brave Hona. "So, is it the cause of the Zoraís continued degradation?"
"Yes. Every time they are inseminated, they get a fresh injection of the hormone. They are literally fucking themselves stupid. Only during pregnancy does another hormone cancel out that effect. We havenít determined it for sure, but it looks like itís just a side-effect of the hormoneís main purpose in promoting the growth of the foetus. By the way, itís probably a good thing that youíre not having sex with the Faleshkarti any more. That hormone could have been affecting you also."
Leanna looked alarmed. "You mean that itís going to reduce my intelligence also? I hadnít noticed any difference, but then again I suppose it would be hard to judge oneself."
"No, I donít think that will happen. For one thing, hormones are designed to cause a specific effect in a specific organism. You are completely alien to that biochemistry. However that doesnít mean that it couldnít have an unintended effect. For example Ė have you been feeling that tiredness that you mentioned a few days back?"
"Come to think of it, no," Leanna replied after thinking a moment. "So you think it was the hormoneís fault?"
"Itís only a theory. You know I cannot confirm that without testing, but nevertheless itís not a good idea to have alien hormones being put into your body. Just be glad that youíre not designed to absorb those hormones quickly like the Faleshkarti do."
"Thatís a relief. So have you any better idea about how long it will take to find a solution?"
MíLai shook hir head. "This sort of thing is insanely complex. We could take months, or we could get lucky. The one thing that I know for sure is that the experts will be working very hard to see that no one needs to lose a friend or lover again to the Change."
Leanna nodded. "Then that will have to do." Shi put down hir mug and stood up. "I hope youíll pardon me, MíLai, but I feel the need to be with someone whom I love right now."
MíLai smiled. "Go right ahead. I think Iíll watch the stars for a while."
Leanna left to find Forest. The chakat was in for some serious love-making!
(FOUR YEARS LATER)
"Leanna! Thereís a comm call for you from someone named Aileen Ramirez."
"Aileen? Now thereís a name that I havenít heard in years. I wonder what shi wants?"
Leanna took the comm call and saw the familiar face of the herm jaguar. "Hello, Aileen. To what do I owe this call?"
Aileen smiled and said, "I needed to confirm that you were home. I have the Faleshkarti envoy with me, and shi wishes to pay you a visit."
Leanna was surprised. "Really? Well I suppose that I canít say no to that. When will you be here?"
"Iím currently in a shuttle. A small diversion can bring us to your place in fifteen minutes. Can you make sure that your landing area is free of cubs?"
"Iíll get right on it," Leanna promised.
"See you soon," Aileen said, then disconnected.
Leanna went to hir wardrobe and selected something suitable to wear. While shi was sure that the Faleshkarti would be oblivious to hir nudity, there were times when clothing was more appropriate. Shi dressed, brushed hir hair, and then went outside with plenty of time to spare to shoo Opal and Mica away from the landing pad that was used as a handball court most of the time. The youngsters werenít very good yet, but they were enthusiastic. Two other cubs waiting their turn were told to step back also, and soon the hum of a shuttle could be heard. Various other cubs and kits gathered curiously and watched as the shuttle made a textbook landing. Moments later, the shuttleís door opened and Aileen emerged.
"Itís nice to see you in person again, Leanna," Aileen said.
"Same here, Aileen. So, are you still the envoy to Namath?"
"Yes, and thatís why Iím presently escorting their envoy. And here shi is," shi said with a smile that warned Leanna that shi was in for a surprise.
Leanna looked to the doorway and stared. The Faleshkarti who was emerging was as tall as a Zora, with the same lush adult curves. However, shi was dressed in a beautiful gown that wasnít the least bit sexual, but was wonderfully flattering nevertheless. But it was the eyes that were the most wondrous. They were bright and keen eyes in that adultís body, as intelligent as any Honaís. Then Leanna recognised the Faleshkartiís fur pattern.
"Daisha?" shi asked in an awed voice.
The Faleshkarti grinned. "Yes, Leanna, Iím Daisha. Will you give me a hug of welcome?" shi asked in accented but clear Terranglo.
Leanna bounded over to Daisha and hugged hir enthusiastically, and hir friend not much less so.
Daisha said, "You left Namath without saying goodbye."
Leanna replied, "I am sorry about that. I was hurting from the loss of Sylith, and I felt sure that you wouldnít want me there rubbing in the fact too."
"I mourned the loss of my lover, but we are nevertheless prepared to face that inevitable time, and I moved on."
"And how!" Leanna exclaimed. "Youíre old enough to have become a Zora also by now, and yet youíre definitely not, and not a Hona either. They found the solution, obviously."
"We had to invent a new name for ourselves. There was a lot of excited debate on that. Someone suggest that we should be called Leannas."
Leanna looked aghast. "Youíre kidding me!"
Daisha laughed. "Yes I am. We settled on the name Kana-ra. It means ĎFortunate mother". We can now have what you would consider a normal life, even though it does mean that we need to take a special drug for the rest of our lives. Our descendants wonít though. We are assured that genetic therapy will eliminate the intelligence killing aspect of our adult physiology permanently."
"Thatís wonderful, Daisha. What about the Faleshkarti sex drive though?"
"We still desire sex frequently, but twice a day is quite adequate, and pleasant too, I might add. Weíre refraining from having any children as yet though. Our world is still teetering on the brink of disaster, and the population is still increasing. It will continue to do so until the existing breeders are taken out of the equation. The growth curve is flattening out already though, so with some due care, and the support of the Federation, our world will make it through this crisis."
"Iíd like to see that happen, Daisha," Leanna said fervently.
"I know, and I hope that you will come back one day to see some of the changes that are already happening. Weíd also like to hold a celebration in your honour. Weíve made the date of your arrival on Namath as our first official national holiday."
"Another of your jokes, Daisha?" Leanna said with a raised eyebrow.
Daishaís grin was even wider this time. "No. Like it or not, youíre a national hero, Leanna."
Leanna groaned. "My mates are going to tease the hell out of me for this!"
Next we see what has been happening with Swiftwalk in Whatever The Cost.
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