Goldstripe and Frederike both thought that Starnight had outdone hirself. The barbequed suckling pig shi had bought (and of course covered in hir special barbeque sauce) tasted like a bite of Heaven. They sat inside, as it was now winter in Australia, and it was a little chilly, at least for Frederike. But that hadn’t kept Starnight from using the grills outside and cooking them this wonderful meal.
Beetail and Summerwind had taken care of the kitchen, and had made coleslaw, potato salad and homemade garlic bread.
They had moved to the coffee table now, and Frederike was leaning against her mate, almost covered in cubs. Steelfur and Desertstorm napped on each one of her legs, and Snowpelt was wrapped in her arms and enjoying hirself and the nuzzle shi was getting from hir older sister.
"You know, if you ever decide to quit the police force, you really should consider being a cub-minder," Sunfur said as shi put a new supply of Summerwind’s homemade chocolate chip cookies on the table and laid down next to Starnight.
"Heh, yeah, but I don’t think that’ll ever happen; not that the idea isn’t a bit tempting," Frederike said.
"Darn, and here I was hoping…" Summerwind said and let hir voice trail off. Hirs and Beetail’s cubs were play-fighting between hir forelegs. Pouncer lived up to hir name – shi was truly a little warrior, and shi had pinned hir sister Suncatcher. Suncatcher squealed when Pouncer tickled hir, but then shi got hir forelegs free and started tickling back. For a moment the living room was quiet as everybody watched the two little ones playing.
When they discovered that they were the center of everybody’s attention they stopped and looked up with the expression of false innocence that children of all races could always magically put on. The grownups laughed at them, and when they learned they weren’t in trouble, they settled down and snuggled together instead.
"They’re so cute honey," Beetail said and put an arm around hir mate and looked at their cubs.
"Yes they are," Summerwind agreed.
They all enjoyed quiet conversation for the rest of the evening, until they decided it was time for bed.
Goldstripe gave Frederike a look, and she nodded. "Oh, Lightpaws?" Frederike said as they got up to head for the bedrooms. Shi turned to face them. "How would you like to spend the night with us in a three-person snuggle?" she continued. "That is, if your mates don’t mind?"
"We don’t," said Bearstalker with a smile, and Grayspot nodded.
"I’d be delighted," shi said and hugged them both.
Though nothing ‘naughty’ happened, Lightpaws was in heaven that night. Shi hadn’t realized shi’d missed hir sister and sister-in-law that much.
The next morning found Frederike buried in fur. She was sandwiched between Goldstripe and Lightpaws. She wondered if it would be possible to get up without disturbing the two chakats, but decided that would require a Houdini and not a Weismann to accomplish. Her head was between their breasts, and their heads were close together. The other way was also blocked, as her feet and ankles were wrapped in their chakat tails so she didn’t get cold feet during the night. She lay for a while, listening to the double thump-thump of both their twin hearts. It was very relaxing to lie like that, and Frederike wondered if this was how it felt to be an unborn chakat cub. If so, she definitely would be one in her next life!
Much as she would prefer to just lie there until the sisters awoke, nature reminded her that she had urgent business of the kind that you can’t ask others to do for you.
She sighed, but decided to lie a little longer. As she knew she would have to wake her bed companions soon, she decided she would do it as gently as possible. So, she started rubbing their belly fur, something she knew at least Goldstripe always enjoyed. Her ministrations were soon answered by stereo-purr, as both chakats started enjoying themselves. She was rewarded with lick-kisses from both of them as they finally woke up.
She giggled, and Lightpaws said "Good morning you two. Ah! What a delightful way to wake up. Mmmmm, I need to tell my mates to wake me this way every morning."
"Mmmm, yeahhrrrrr," Goldstripe purred. "This is great, isn’t it?"
"I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves," Frederike said from within her cocoon of fur. "Much as I like this too, I’m afraid I’ll have to stop."
"Awwwnoooo. Whyyyy?" Lightpaws and Goldstripe chorused.
"Because if I don’t, your fur is gonna get wet," Frederike said.
The chakats quickly ‘unwrapped’ her, and she gave each of them a kiss and then headed for the door.
"You know, if you ever tire of her, sis, you know where to send her, right?" Lightpaws said and pointed at hirself.
"You wish! Hey, you got two mates already! How many do you need? Besides, remember you have to keep them all satisfied!" Goldstripe said in mock annoyance, and both sisters laughed.
They lay for a while and chatted until Frederike returned. "Up, you two lazy kitties. Sunfur told me to tell you that if you don’t, shi’ll send Snowpelt in here with hir new water pistol."
"Nooo Come back to bed with us and snuggleeeeee," Lightpaws said.
"Yeah, c’mere sweetie," Goldstripe added.
Frederike laughed and entered the room. Instead of joining them, she walked around the big taur bed and grabbed a tail in each hand. "Up or I’ll pull," she said with a mischievous smile and gave a gentle pull for emphasis.
"Oh noooo! You got me," Lightpaws said.
"Yeah, we’ll get up," Goldstripe said with the same fake meekness as Lightpaws, and both them did.
Frederike jumped on the bed. "Yeah, I’m queen of the bed whoooo-hooo!!!" she yelled and lifted her arms in victory. Her cheering was changed to a yelp of surprise as Goldstripe surprised her by actually pouncing on her.
"Ha-haaa! Got you, sneaky tail-pulling human. And now: the revenge!" Goldstripe said. And with that, both chakats started tickling the now defenseless woman.
"Heeeeeeehehehe. Stoooop PLEASE!" she shrieked. "I’ll do ANYTHING!!!!"
That apparently worked, because both sisters stopped their ‘torture’ at once.
"Anything?" they repeated.
"Uh well…" Frederike began. "Erh I mean YES! Anything!" she repeated as the threatening chakat paws with their wiggling fingers started coming near her again.
"Okay, we want belly rubs. Lots of them!" Lightpaws said.
When Sunfur finally lost patience with hir daughters and daughter in law, shi found all three of them on the bed. Frederike gave an apologetic look as shi entered. The two sisters lay on each side of her on their backs, both purring from the belly rubbing they were receiving. Shi laughed and shook hir head. "Snowpelt, dear, they’re all yours," shi said, and a little white blur entered the room. Shi growled and laughed at the same time (which sounded quite funny in itself), and then shi started emptying hir water pistol on hir sputtering older sisters.
The whole family enjoyed a delightful if somewhat delayed breakfast together. Frederike was entertaining Bearstalker with her and Goldstripe’s latest adventures from their last trip to the village of Dailada and her hunter vixens.
"I mean, I just love that place. If I ever get rich, I wish I could buy one of those Foxtaur dens. Then I would go on hiking trips at least five times a year if not more," she said.
"Amen to that," Bearstalker said. "Maybe Dailada and the others want to sell? Then we could all move there. Ah… might have to add a bit of room, but anyway…"
"Yeah, I think we’re thinking alike. Or maybe just have it as a summerhouse."
"Now that would be nice. If only the foxtaurs were selling, but they don’t."
"Perhaps that’s a good thing. I mean everyone who loves nature would want a place like that. The poor foxtaurs wouldn’t be able to live on their own land!" Frederike said with a laugh.
"Yeah. Um, but since you like hiking so much, I seem to recall that I promised you and Goldstripe a hiking trip in ‘my’ national park?" Bearstalker said.
"Oh yes, you did. Does that still stand?" Frederike asked and lifted an eyebrow.
"Of course. I’ve actually taken the liberty of preparing a little. Grayspot has to head back to Star Fleet soon, but Lightpaws and I have tents and other camping gear ready at our place. Beetail and Summerwind are coming too," he said.
"Oh, that’s nice. A family trip," Frederike said.
"Not quite. We leave the seniors home," he said with a laugh.
Starnight added with mock annoyance: "Sunfur, dear, why did we let this ill-mannered wolf become lifemate with our daughter?"
"I don’t know. But perhaps we should see if he can match the stamina of said ‘seniors’ this evening. That’ll teach him!" Sunfur said with a big predator smile and looked at Bearstalker.
"Yikes! Me and my big muzzle!" he said meekly, and everybody laughed.
A few days later, after a trip to the house of Lightpaws and hir mates, the hikers drove to the national park, where Bearstalker parked the PTV.
The sky was beautiful, and the sun shone down upon them as they left the PTV and the parking lot behind.
"How big is this place?" Frederike asked as they walked.
"Oh it’s quite big. Originally, it was small enough to be crossed in a day or so, but after the Gene Wars, the authorities decided to expand it as part of the project of bringing the country back to a more ecologically sustainable development. Today it’s about four hundred square kilometers, and has become one with what was once Walyunga National Park and Avon Valley National Park. Though Avon Valley was the biggest, they kept the name John Forrest. I’m going to show you some nice nature views, but I’ll also show you what is left of a few tunnels from an ancient railroad. Most of the tunnels have collapsed, mostly because they were used by military units during the Gene Wars. One of them is a monument, as that area became vital in what the locals today call the Battle of Perth." Bearstalker paused for a second, and continued. "There is a small museum hut and of course the tunnel itself."
They all found Bearstalker to be an excellent tourist guide, and it was obvious that he loved his job. Cubs and adults alike enjoyed the hike to the fullest, as he led them into a forest of jarrah trees. Every now and then he stopped to tell more about the flora and fauna they encountered on the way. Though Lightpaws had heard much of it before, shi too learned something new, and shi was proud of hir mate and of his accomplishments.
When evening came, they gathered around the bonfire. The cubs were fed first and sent to bed. While they would probably have complained about it normally (as most children usually do, regardless of race), they welcomed it this time, as they’d walked all day, seeing, hearing and smelling numerous new things constantly, which left them all exhausted.
The grownups stayed up a little longer, chatting and exchanging a few "ghost stories". Later they fell silent, content just to be together, each looking into the flames, lost in his, hir or her own thoughts, while they gently nuzzled their respective mate. Nuzzling turned to fondling, and finally they all retreated to their tents for privacy.
Frederike and Goldstripe were still enjoying the afterglow after their lovemaking. Frederike lay on top of Goldstripe, and they were gently stroking and nuzzling each other.
"Mmmm…you know, there’s really nothing that beats making love outside. To just be able to lie together afterwards, listening to the sounds of the night, looking at the stars above," Frederike whispered.
"Yeah, on a night like this, everything is all right with the world. Wars, misfortune, worries… they’re all gone, if nothing more than at least for that one night," Goldstripe whispered back. Shi looked up at the stars and then back at hir mate. "You know, we simply don’t do this often enough. When we get back home, I think we oughtta make it a habit to go camping more. Perhaps near Dailada’s village. Find a spot by the river and let the sounds of the water lull us to sleep."
"I’d like that. Oh, I think it would be romantic. Or to just sit on the riverbank together in the dark night, perhaps with a glass of wine, or perhaps just listening to the sounds of nature."
They looked at each other again, and started kissing.
The next few days were as good as the first one. Each day they would hike through the park while Bearstalker pointed out sights for them to enjoy every now and then. And each night they would gather around the fire, eating and enjoying quiet conversation; and when conversation died down, they would retreat to the tents. While Goldstripe’s sisters and mates sometimes swapped partners, Frederike and Goldstripe stayed together, being content just to be with each other.
When the hiking trip ended, they all had a feeling of being content and full – not from food, but from all the wonders Bearstalker had shown them. They were all a bit tired, and they had hardly left the parking lot when the cubs fell asleep.
Frederike grunted as she sleepily reached for her comm. ‘Verdamt…who calls this early?’ she thought, but as she accepted the call, she noticed that the small clock on the nightstand actually said ten o’clock.
The black and golden-yellow chakat beside her sighed in relief as the comm finally fell silent as Frederike pressed the Accept Call button.
"Frederike Weismann," she said.
"Good morning…or G’day mate to use the local slang. And besides, it hasn’t been morning for a while," a cheerful voice said at the other end.
Frederike ran her hand over her eyes to clear her thoughts and identify the caller.
"Ah…Leonard, is that you?" she said.
"In the flesh. I didn’t catch you at a bad time?" the foxtaur asked.
"No, I think that Goldstripe and I…" she paused to listen for a second, and then continued. "No, the whole house decided to sleep in."
"Oh. Sorry to disturb then, I…"
"No, it’s all right. What can I do for you?" Frederike said.
Goldstripe looked sleepily up at her, hir eyes half closed as shi snuggled close to her, and gave the look of utter contentment that only a feline could radiate. Shi playfully gave Frederike a lick-kiss on her cheek.
"Oh, we’re just leaving Melbourne, and we thought to swing by Perth to say hello," he said.
Frederike lit up with a smile. "That would be great! I’m sure that Goldstripe and hir family would love to meet you, and I’d look forward to see you again and meet your family!"
"Good. Now, not that I think it would be a problem in a Chakat family, but how about you check with that wonderful mate of yours and hir family and give me a call in a few hours. I have a meeting I need to attend to. Would that be okay?"
"Right, I’ll do that. Say hello to your wife for me," Frederike said and then they signed off.
"That sounds nice," Goldstripe said, and gestured towards the comm.
"Yeah. I take it that your keen ears got both parts of the conversation?"
"That they did. Let’s go wake the others and tell…" Goldstripe said with a smile, but was interrupted by the door opening and a little white form running through.
Snowpelt jumped up on hir older sister’s lower torso. "Gooooood mooooorniiiiing," shi said cheerfully and let hirself slide off Goldstripe to lie between hir and Frederike. "Are you two awake?" shi asked somewhat unnecessarily.
"No. We’re sleeping," Goldstripe said. "But now that you woke us up…" shi continued, and started tickling Snowpelt.
"Heee heee heee…stooop….hehehe…MUUUUUUM!" Snowpelt shrieked.
Frederike laughed. "I guess we don’t need to worry about waking up the others now."
"Of course we’d be delighted to have Leonard and his family over," Starnight said as shi passed the toast to a very eager Desertstorm.
"I’m glad to hear that," Frederike said. "Not that I would have expected otherwise," she added.
"Heh, you know us too well now," Sunfur said and pointed at Frederike with hir fork. "Besides, if they’re anything like Dailada and her hunter vixens, I think they’ll fit right in here in this madhouse."
"In that case, I’ll comm them as soon as we finish breakfast," Frederike said.
When Leonard, Ariana and their cubs exited the public PTV, they were first greeted by a horde of chakat cubs. Then the adults came out, welcoming them all.
"It’s good to see you again, Leonard," Frederike said as she shook the foxtaur’s hand.
"Good to see you too. And it’s nice to see you’ve done so well for yourself," he said and gave her hand an extra squeeze.
Frederike released his hand and gestured to the chakat beside her. "This is Goldstripe, my mate. Goldstripe, meet Leonard Quickfox, my favorite foxtaur doc."
Goldstripe gave him a big hug. "Welcome, Leonard. And thanks for giving me the light of my life," shi said and Frederike blushed lightly.
"My pleasure," he said. He wasn’t surprised about the chakat greeting. He had some chakat friends, and Sandrunner had been just as friendly and forthcoming when they stayed at hir place on Chakona.
"This is my lifemate Ariana, our cubs Roran, Tarina and Rekkar," he said. They greeted the other foxtaurs as they had Leonard, and then it was Goldstripe’s family’s turn.
"Well don’t just stand there; come on inside," Sunfur said after the introductions were complete. "I’ve got coffee and muffins ready. Oh, and some soda for the cubs too. Beetail, be a dear and get some from the fridge, will you?"
Beetail did as requested, and they all moved inside. The cubs quickly tired of sitting at the coffee table, and went to play in the garden while the adults continued their afternoon chat.
"I do hope that you’ll stay for dinner, by the way," Sunfur said to Ariana.
"Thank you, Sunfur. We would love to," she answered.
"Good. And you’re welcome to stay overnight too if you wish," Starnight added.
"Why, yes, we’d like that too," she answered with a smile. "Isn’t that right, honey?"
"Absolutely. And of course, if any of you ever come near Scotland, you will be quite welcome to let us return the favor," Leonard said.
"You never told us what brought you all the way down under?" Goldstripe said.
"A rather special occasion in fact," Leonard said and paused. "Rekkar’s just been accepted into Star Fleet Academy," he continued and beamed like only a proud father could.
"But isn’t he a bit young?" Sunfur blurted out.
"Yeah, you usually have to be at least 16 to enlist," Lightpaws added.
"You’re not pulling our legs?" Frederike asked, being the only one (apart from Bearstalker) not able to sense his honesty.
"Whoa! One at a time," Leonard said with a smile. "Yes, he’s a bit young, and yes you have to be 16 normally to enlist. And no, I’m not pulling anyone’s legs, tails or other appendages. Star Fleet have started up a special sort of ‘Star Fleet’s school for the gifted’, and apparently they found Rekkar fit to join."
"But will he then have to be live in Melbourne at the academy?" Starnight asked, thinking that he might be a bit too young for that at age seven.
"No, we were only here for some testing and counseling. The school is at the academy branch in Blackpool. So he’ll still be sharing the continent with his folks," Ariana added.
Rekkar’s enrollment in Star Fleet became the major topic for that evening, and Rekkar found himself ending up the center of most people’s attention, which he had to admit to himself he quite liked.
Part Two: New job
Goldstripe recognized the wolftauress behind the counter in the police station. Her nametag read Tiponi. It was a quiet but hot morning that day, and she was reading a magazine while sipping on some cold beverage.
Frederike and Goldstripe moved up to her, and Goldstripe cleared hir throat to get her attention. Sgt. Tiponi looked up from her magazine. "Oh, sorry. Yes, what can I do for you?" she said.
"This is Frederike Weismann, and I am Chakat Goldstripe, daughter of Sunfur and Starnight. We’re th…" Goldstripe said, but was interrupted by a now smiling Tiponi.
"Right, the new recruits!" she said. "Welcome aboard!" She moved out from behind the counter, and greeted them both. "Come right this way. I’ll show you your lockers so you can get changed, and then I’ll give you a quick tour of the house. And then…" she said and paused. "Then it will be time for you two to go on your first patrol. Goldstripe, you’ll be riding with me, and Frederike, you’ll ride with Lt. Donald Backfish. Any questions so far?" There were none.
They changed into their uniforms, and Tiponi showed them around. They were introduced to Backfish, who turned out to be a nice man in his late fifties. Though he was graying and looked weathered, he had a winning smile, and Frederike was sure he had been very handsome in his youth.
When they had finished the tour half an hour later and had been introduced to the rest of the people (those who were currently not off duty or on patrol), Tiponi said that it was time for them to leave.
"Here, catch!" Backfish said to Frederike as he threw her the keys to their patrol PTV. "We’re taking PTV number one-niner. It’s currently configured for biped use. And you’re driving. That way you’ll get to know the area quicker." He continued with a smile. Tiponi did likewise with Goldstripe, and then they drove off.
Frederike and Backfish quickly hit it off, and pretty soon they were talking almost like old friends. Frederike told him a little about her previous and new life, and in turn learned that he had a wife and two children. One of them was a biologist, the other a commander in Star Fleet.
"Whoa!" Backfish said as Frederike hit the brakes hard, thus only just avoiding a collision with a PTV crossing a red light. She then immediately put on the siren and went in pursuit, while Backfish reported their situation in while simultaneously running the PTV’s plates. "This is patrol PTV one-niner, we’re in pursuit of PTV running down fifth street…" Backfish said over the comm., while Frederike increased their speed to follow the offending PTV.
The chase was short, as the driver quickly pulled over. "Now, it hasn’t been reported stolen, but we should still be careful," Backfish said as they got out. "And now," he continued and gave her a little smile, "I’ll let you do what women have always done best – the talking. I’ll be right behind you, though."
Frederike couldn’t help but smile at that, and approached the driver’s side of the PTV.
The foxmorph driving the PTV rolled down the window, and tried to put on a convincing smile. "Look, I’m sorry officers, but I’m afraid I was in a bit of a hurry back there. You see, I have an important business meeting," he said.
"I’m afraid that doesn’t allow you to skip traffic rules and endanger others, sir," Frederike said. "License and registration, please."
"Look, ma’am, as I said, I’m in a bit of a hurry here, so can’t we forget this if I promise to…"
"I’m afraid not, sir. You almost collided with us, and you almost ran over some crossing pedestrians. So, once again: license and registration, please," she said.
The fox looked from her to her partner. "Look, I really don’t have time for…" he said angrily.
"Then I suggest you comply, and this will go a lot easier, son," Backfish butted in. He was getting a bit annoyed now at the foxmorph.
"Oh, I see. It’s because I am a morph, right. Just because I have a decent, well-paid job, while you’re stuck with this crummy…"
Frederike sighed. "I’ve had enough. Please step out of the vehicle, sir. Not only do you endanger other people around you, you also simply don’t grasp the seriousness of your crime."
The fox got out of his PTV, slamming the door. "Fine! Give me the damn ticket, then! I hope you’re happy now! Maybe you should exchange those badges of yours for H1 signs!"
"Alright, that’s enough, sir!" Frederike said angrily, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Would you please calm down, sir!"
"The hell I will! Why is it that every time a morph stands up to a human…" he said and hit her arm to remove her hand from his shoulder. Backfish was about to step in, but Frederike grabbed him by the collar and pushed him down on the hood of his PTV, pinning his arm. "Look here, buddy! Not all humans are Humans First’ers! And not all racists are furless as you so clearly demonstrate. I happen to be mated to a chakat, and I’ve been at the wrong end of a Humans First mob!" she hissed. As she came close to him, she could smell his breath. She didn’t have the keen senses of a Chakat, but that wasn’t necessary to smell his breath. She turned to look at Backfish. "Jeez, this guy is so full of alcohol, we oughtta pin a ‘highly flammable’ sign to his back!"
"Is that so? In that case, sir I’m afraid we have to place you under arrest," Backfish said.
They reported their arrest in, and then drove back to put the Foxmorph in a holding cell. Fortunately, the rest of the patrol was uneventful. They met up with Tiponi and Goldstripe for lunch, and they all went to a small diner.
"Soda and coffee’s free for cops in here," Tiponi told as they entered. They found themselves a table, and a waitress moved up to take their orders. She looked at Backfish with a smile, and said in an accent that screamed London Dockside "What’ll it be, honshine?"
"The usual, Tiffany," he said. She turned to look at the others.
"A taur size cheeseburger, with lots of fries, and a ditto size coke. And for God’s sake, lots of mayo for the fries," Tiponi said.
"Hmf, someone obviously doesn’t need to watch their diet," Backfish said in mock anger.
"An’ for da two of ya?" Tiffany said and looked at Frederike and Goldstripe.
"A… number five. The filly. And instead of fries, could I have a salad?" Frederike said. At the waitress’ nod, she continued, "Oh and some coffee, please."
"I’ll go with the same as Tiponi here," Goldstripe said.
"Damn chakat metabolism," Frederike grumbled, and Goldstripe stuck hir tongue out at her. "Keep that up, and you’ll be sleeping on the couch," Frederike said with a smile as she tried to grab for the tongue stuck out at her, but Goldstripe gracefully avoided the attack. "Hah! We don’t have a couch yet," Goldstripe said.
After lunch they continued their patrol.
"…and then I said to her ‘why don’t you just dump his ass’ and… oh, turn right here. That’s Redfang Street, by the way," Tiponi said as she and Goldstripe drove along. She had been doing most of the talking that day, but Goldstripe didn’t mind. Shi had started to like her, and shi could sense that the feeling was mutual. They stopped outside Redfang Street Station, which was a subway and bus station. Two subway lines and eight bus lines met here, and there was also a small market.
"We usually take a walk around the station a few times a day. It makes us more visible," Tiponi explained as they left the patrol PTV. They bought a cup of coffee each to sip while they walked. The station was always busy, and on the small plaza near the escalators and elevators to the subway lines, small booths were selling flowers, candy and other small ‘grab-on-the-way’ items.
Goldstripe frowned. "I think I sense something," shi said and turned. Tiponi turned too, and her ears twisted to search the area for unusual sounds. Both of them could hear the sound of crying. They went to investigate, and found a young foxmorph vixen sitting on a bench. Tears soaked her fur, and she was looking at the ground.
"Hey, there! What’s wrong little one?" Goldstripe said.
"I…I lost my muuummy!" the kit sobbed.
Goldstripe hugged her. "Easy, now. We’ll help you find her, okay?"
Tiponi gave her a tissue and she blew her nose. "Can you tell us your mummy’s name?" she asked her. She nodded and stammered "Leonora… Redtail." After that, she started sobbing again. Goldstripe picked her up and tried to comfort her while Tiponi led the way to the small ticket booth on the station. A sign said, "Closed for today, please use the vending machines."
"Great, no using the announcement speakers," Tiponi grumbled. They tried to ask around the small booths after getting the little kit (whom they learned was called Patricia) to tell them how her mother looked. Of course, it didn’t help that much. There were quite a lot of red foxmorph vixens on the planet. Finally, they had to look her up via the patrol PTV’s computer. Goldstripe had had a hard time calming the little vixen down, but Tiponi found the solution. She bought a muffin for her, and that did the trick.
They reported their ‘find’ to the comm operator at the station, and drove off to find the little vixen’s house. Goldstripe held Patricia’s hand, and Tiponi rang the doorbell. A tod opened the door, and his eyes opened wide at the sight of the two officers. "Mr. William Redtail?" Tiponi asked.
"Yes. Yes, that’s me," the tod managed.
"We found your daughter at the Redfang Street Station. She got separated from her mother, I’m afraid," Tiponi continued.
"Oh my goodness," William said and dropped to his knees. Patricia ran over to her father, who then lifted her up in a hug. "Thank you, officers," he said.
"You’re welcome," Goldstripe said. "Could we please have a word with you?"
"Yes…um, of course. Erh…come right in," he said.
They made their report, and William tried to call his mate, but with no luck.
"Do you want to report her missing, Sir?" Tiponi asked.
He looked at her in horror. "What? You think something happened to my wife?"
"We hope not, sir, but I take it she wouldn’t normally leave Patricia like that?" Tiponi said. Goldstripe tried to project calm at the alarmed tod, but they were interrupted by the door being opened. A vixen came in. "Honey I’m home…oh?" she said as she entered and noticed the two officers. He turned to her with anger in his voice. "How could you just leave our daughter like that!? And why didn’t you answer your comm? I was about to report you missing!"
"Oh? Um…I’m sorry," she said. Tiponi and Goldstripe looked at each other. The vixen sounded a little distracted.
"Is that all you have to say?" William fumed.
"What? Uh…no…I…" she tried.
"Are you all right, ma’am?" Tiponi said.
"Uh…sure. I… I think I’m just a little…tired, yeah, that’s it…I think I’m going to lie down a bit," she said.
They all stood baffled for a second as she left the room. "Sir, I’m afraid we have to ask you – does your mate have a problem with alcohol or drugs?" Goldstripe said.
The tod shook himself and looked back at her. "No, never!" he said. "I don’t understand. She’s usually very devoted to our daughter. I don’t understand this."
"Sir, I think we need to talk a little more to your wife," Tiponi said and gently took one of his hands in both of hers.
"Right…" he said, his voice trailing off.
When they entered the bedroom, Leonora had already taken off her shoes. "Ms Redtail, I’m afraid we need to ask you some questions," Tiponi began. She turned towards them. "Oh? Um…sure…"
"Ma’am, have you been taking any drugs?"
"Could you tell me what happened at the station?"
"I… let’s see…we arrived at the station, and went to buy some flowers and uh…" she paused and shook her head. "I don’t remember much more. I remember coming home and…" she paused again, and her eyes suddenly opened in alarm. "My daughter! Where is she?"
"In the living room with your mate," Goldstripe said.
"Maybe you should see a doctor?" Tiponi suggested.
"I…yes. That may be a good idea… I don’t remember anything," the confused vixen said.
A skunktaur doctor arrived shortly after, but couldn’t find anything wrong with her. No bruises, no kinds of drugs in her blood, nothing.
"I’m afraid I’ll have to sign this off as a temporary memory loss. It is rare, but it happens sometimes," the doctor said.
"But I mean, I’d never just leave my daughter," Leonora said.
"Of course you wouldn’t. Hm…have there been any similar incidents?" the doctor asked.
"No, never. Doctor, is something wrong with me?" she asked anxiously.
"I don’t think so. You should contact me if this happens again, though. And I suggest you do not drive a PTV for the next month. Also, I’d like to see you next week for another scan," hy finished.
Tiponi and Goldstripe had stayed and left with the doctor.
"So, what’s wrong with her?" Tiponi asked as they left.
"As I said: nothing," the doctor replied.
"Was she lying?" Goldstripe tried, though shi believed shi already knew the answer.
"No, I’m a telepath. Though not a very powerful one, I’d have known if she did. And she didn’t," hy said. "I’m afraid I’ll have to say: case closed," hy continued. "As I told her: these things are rare, but they do happen."
They said their goodbyes to the doctor, and drove back to the police station in silence, each pondering the strange experience with the vixen.
When they returned, Frederike was waiting for them. "Hey, what kept you? Donald and I have finished our report by now."
"We were driving a lost kit home," Tiponi said.
"I know, the comm operators told us…so was something wrong?"
"It was very strange," Goldstripe began. "Her mother just…forgot about her."
"Indeed. But there’s no indication that she has been the victim of a crime," Goldstripe continued.
They continued talking about the strange incident. Backfish joined them, and they all discussed the event while Goldstripe and Tiponi filed their report for the day.
Backfish told them that he’d head home, and that his wife was waiting with dinner.
When they left the police station, Tiponi asked, "So, Goldstripe, you told me that you two had rented a small room at the outskirts of the city. I take it you don’t have that much room, then?"
"That’s true. We only have room for our bed, a terminal and a small wall kitchen. But we manage…"
"Hm…my uncle rents out apartments, I might be able to find you something," Tiponi said.
"We would be most grateful. Thank you, Tiponi," Goldstripe said.
"No problem. Tell me, how’d the two of you like to have dinner with me and my mate?" she continued.
"Erh, we’d love to, but we don’t want to impose on your hospitality," Frederike began.
"Nonsense! We like guests!" Tiponi said merrily.
That being decided, they followed Tiponi to her PTV, and then left for her home. On the way she told them (mostly Frederike, as Goldstripe had already heard about most of her life) about her mate Kaneonuskatew (Kane for short). He was a zookeeper in San Francisco, and he worked mostly with the dolphins, which he was quite attached to.
He and their son Tocho greeted them as they arrived, and Tiponi gave her mate a lick-kiss. "Ah, more guests," he said as he shook their hands. "More?" Tiponi said and cocked an eyebrow. "Yes," he replied as he released Goldstripe after shi gave him one of the traditional chakat hugs. "Giraldo and Chakat Frostbite – you know, the elephant keepers – are here too."
"Excellent. Well, why don’t you all make yourselves comfy, and I’ll start preparing the food. I hope you like Japanese."
They had a wonderful evening. Kane’s colleagues were nice people, and they chatted until eleven o’clock, when Goldstripe – much to hir regret – informed that shi had to get home to get some sleep, or shi might fall asleep on the job the next day.
Sabrina Longstride handed the bag of potatoes to the wolfmorph in front of her. "Here you go, sir," the mare said, and sighed. Twenty more minutes, and she could close her shop and head home to her mate. "Thank you," the wolf said with a friendly but tired smile. She was happy that her son Ronald had agreed to help her in the shop. Though he was only seven, he was already quite strong, even by Quange standards.
The wolfmorph managed to fit the potatoes in with all the other shopping bags he was carrying and walked towards the door to the small but quite crowded "Sabrina’s Veggies". On the way out he bumped into an elderly man, and dropped all his packages. He cursed inside, but apologized. "Sorry, I hope you’re okay," he said as he started to pick up his groceries.
"No problem, my son," the man said. "Here, I think this was yours too," he continued and handed the already overburdened wolf a small plastic bag. He looked at the bag for a moment, a little puzzled. "Go with God," the old man said as he left.
Sabrina turned to look at the wolf, who still stood in the shop. He looked first a little puzzled, then blank or dazed. He dropped his groceries except for the bag that the old man handed him and staggered back into the shop. Sabrina looked puzzled at him. "Are you all right?" she asked. The wolfmorph didn’t answer her, but instead said in a hollow, monotonous voice: "Dextera Domini exaltavit me; dextera Domini fecit virtutem! Non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini*."
"Excuse me, sir?" Sabrina said. Then she saw the wolf pull something out of the bag. She was no weapons expert, but she recognized the bundle of wires and explosives for what it was.
Ronald heard his mother scream through the door separating the shop from the stock room. He would never forget that scream. He dropped the sack of carrots he was carrying and turned to run to her aid. And then he was thrown to the ground as the wolf activated the detonator to the bomb he held in his hand. It wasn’t very big, but with the C10 explosive, that didn’t matter, especially not in the relatively small shop. The nails and shrapnel wrapped around the explosives flew with speeds that rivaled a bullet and tore themselves through vegetables or flesh and bone with equal ease. What once had been a nice little vegetable shop now looked like an insane butcher’s shop as mangled bodies and body parts were strewn around the shop.
Ronald shook his head and staggered back to the shop. His hooves were about to slide in something slippery. He looked down, and found that both hooves on his forelegs were covered in his mother’s blood. He rushed to her side. "Mom!!!" he screamed.
Sabrina had been relatively lucky, as the desk had given her lower body part cover from the explosion. But her upper body hadn’t been thus protected and she was bleeding heavily from her upper torso.
While other children Ronald’s age might have frozen up in such a situation, Ronald acted. He picked up his mother’s comm unit and pressed the red emergency button and then he clamped both his hands down on the horrible wound in her neck, attempting to stop her from bleeding do death.
* The Lord’s right hand is raised; the Lord’s right hand strikes with power. I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the Lord.
"All units, all units! This is Central. We got a major explosion on Burke Avenue one-zero-niner. Several injuries reported. Ambulances are on their way. Please report in and proceed to assist," the patrol PTV comm unit announced. Frederike and Goldstripe didn’t even look at each other as Frederike responded to the call and Goldstripe put on the siren and hit the accelerator.
The sight that met them made Goldstripe think of something out of a Gene Wars movie. The windows to the Sabrina’s Veggies were all blown out, and the smell blood and death tore at hir nostrils. Inside they found a room littered with debris and dead bodies. They discovered two Quange behind the counter. An unconscious mare and a foal who desperately tried to press his hands to her bleeding neck.
"Let me help," Goldstripe said, and took over with hir strong handpaws. Frederike checked the other people in the shop, but quickly found that they were beyond help.
She helped a woman and her child outside who had been hit by the shattering glass and then finally the ambulances came, as did two other police PTVs.
It was a quite groggy Sabrina Longstride who finally opened her eyes to look up at her husband and son. She found that moving her head was both painful and nearly impossible due to the huge bandage covering her neck. She shivered as she noticed the other bandages and the tubes pumping fluids into her body, but she was happy to be alive.
The door opened, and a man stepped in. He was a balding man in his late sixties, and clad in a white lab coat. "Ah, I see my patient is awake already. Good, good!" he said enthusiastically and smiled. He moved up to Sabrina after nodding his hello to Ronald and his father, and pulled out a medical tricorder. He introduced himself as Dr. Jonathan Trekotjev. "So, how are we feeling Ms Longstride?" he said as he started his scan.
"Like I was hit by a starship at warp," she managed. "What happened?"
"Some insane nut decided to throw a bomb in your shop. Good thing you were behind the counter. I was told the place looked like the inside of a meat grinder. But I’d say that you can really thank your son for his quick reaction," the doctor answered as he moved the scanning device over her.
Sabrina looked at Ronald, while the doctor continued. "You did very well, son. How old are you anyway?"
"Uh…seven," Ronald said.
"Really? Well, anyway, I have ordered for a psychologist to see you. I imagine you might like that. You two have been through quite a lot."
"Thank you," Ronald’s father said.
"Um, also, and only if you’re up to it, there’s some police officers outside who’d like to have a word with you."
The three quange exchanged glances. "It’s okay," Sabrina said for all of them.
The doctor nodded and said: "Well, Ms Longstride, I think you’re healing very well. I’ll tell the officers that you’re ready to see them."
"Thank you doctor," Sabrina said.
He left the room, and two police officers stepped in. One was a human woman, the other a black chakat with yellow stripes.
"Hello, I am officer Weismann and this is officer Goldstripe. Ronald, I take it you might remember us?" the woman said.
"Yes, you were the ones to arrive first at my mum’s shop," Ronald said, scraping the hoof of his right hind leg a little nervously on the floor.
"That’s right," the Chakat continued. "We thought that familiar faces might make things a little easier. Well, sort of familiar faces anyway. Um, we’d like to ask you some questions if you’re up for it?"
"Sure," Ronald said.
"So, how are you doing Ms Longstride?" Frederike started out.
"I’ve been better. But the doctor seems like a nice person, and he said that I was healing well," Sabrina said
"And how about you?" Frederike continued and gestured towards Ronald.
"Better, now," Ronald said. He shook his tail and scraped his hooves on the floor. His father put an arm around his waist and gave him a squeeze, and Goldstripe put a hand on his shoulder. "If this is making you uncomfortable, we can continue later Ronald," shi said.
Ronald took a deep breath. "No, I want you to catch those bastards who did this!" he said angrily.
‘Such strong words for one so young,’ Goldstripe and Frederike both thought.
"And we will," Goldstripe said and gently let hir hand stroke the side of his muzzle.
"Ms Longstride, do you remember what happened before the bomb went off?" Frederike asked.
"I…yes. I’d given the wolf who set off the bomb some potatoes. He went towards the door, and then he went back. He stood in the middle of the shop, and he looked quite strange…" her voice trailed off as she tried to remember.
"How ‘strange’?" Goldstripe asked.
"I don’t know. Like he was on some sort of drug or something. He said these strange words in a language I didn’t understand. I think it was Latin. And then he pulled out the bomb and activated it. I tried to throw myself behind the counter, but…" she sighed. "Oh, wait. Before that he bumped into an old man. I noticed him mostly because he wore a black suit with a white collar, y’know like a priest. My customers are usually clad more, well, casual than that. He helped the wolfmorph pick up his groceries."
Frederike and Goldstripe continued to question them until the doctor came back, and told them that his patient had to rest now.
As they left, Frederike noticed two people – a human male and a skunktaur in hys male mode – who sat outside. Both were clad in black leather jackets and had mirror sunglasses, and when the two officers passed, they got up and headed for the door to Sabrina’s room.
"Excuse me, but I think the visiting hours are over," Frederike said. They turned, and smiled. The man opened the right side of his jacket. "Star Fleet Security. We’re actually here to see Ronald Longstride."
"Why?" Goldstripe said.
"Ah, I’m afraid that’s none of your business, officers. No offense," the man said. He had a smile that reminded Frederike a bit of a used car salesman, and she decided she didn’t much like neither him nor his silent skunktaur companion.
"Can we please see your IDs one more time?" Goldstripe said.
"Certainly," the man said, and both of them produced their badges.
‘Good thing that we have access to the right equipment. Theese fake badges can be quite genuine looking,’ the man thought. He felt an amused laugh in his head. ‘You just LOVE this special agent thing, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for it. Now how do we get those two to leave? Can’t you give them a nice little suggestion?’ ‘That wouldn’t be polite, Captain. Besides, I scanned them. They can watch, because they already know.’ ‘They do? Very well, I trust your judgment, Commander.’ Out loud, he said, "Tell you what, officers, why don’t you join us instead. I take it you’ll have security clearance enough to hear this. But whatever is said in that room is confidential, okay?"
"Fine," Frederike said.
The Longstrides all looked baffled at the two newcomers.
"Who’re you?" John Longstride said.
"I am Captain Mathews and this is Commander Nezma," the human said. "We represent a special branch of Star Fleet." He paused to look at the officers, and then exchanged glances with his colleague. He took off his sunglasses. "I suppose I’ll skip right to the point. We’ve been watching your son for a while, and after today he’s become even more of interest to us."
"What do you mean by that?" John said skeptically.
"We are constantly looking for new skilled people to do the challenging job of a Star Fleet officer. And we think your son just might have what it takes," Mathews said with his best salesman’s smile.
"But he’s only seven," Sabrina protested.
"We know, but that won’t be a problem. If you’ll just go through this material," Nezma added and brought out a folder from hys saddlebag.
"Tell me, have you sometimes felt, that some of the kids in school were…a little to slow for you Ronald?" Mathews said and smiled at the young equitaur.
"I suppose. I’m sometimes bored in school," Ronald said uneasily.
"We have a friend whose son has been offered something similar," Goldstripe said.
"Yeah, they sounded pleased with it," Frederike added. "But I think you ought to read through that stuff."
"We will," John said.
"Thank you, that is all we ask," Nezma said with a smile.
Frederike and Goldstripe left with the two Star Fleet officers.
"So, how many children are you recruiting?" Frederike asked.
Mathews looked around, and then said. "More than just a few," Mathews said. "I can’t tell you the exact number, of course."
"I see. But why the sudden change from the ‘we were never here’ attitude to welcoming us inside?" Frederike asked.
Before he could answer, Goldstripe turned to the skunktaur and spoke up. "You. You scanned us, didn’t you?" shi said to Nezma.
"Yes I did. Sorry, but it was necessary. But I also know, that you will not speak of this again to anyone, am I right?" Nezma said.
"I suppose. But what are your plans with those kids?" Goldstripe asked.
"Now that I’m afraid is confidential," Nezma said. "But when you visit the Quickfoxes, you can see how well they’re doing. I’ll say hello from you to Rekkar. Sweet young lad, by the way," hy added.
"All right, you seem sincere," Goldstripe admitted.
"Are you sure, Goldstripe?" Frederike said.
"Yes. They ‘feel’ honest," shi said.
Frederike nodded. It was nice to be mated to a living lie detector sometimes.
They parted ways and each headed for their PTV.
"I don’t know how those two managed to be so scary and at the same time so damn nice," Frederike said as they left the hospital.
"A rare gift, I guess," Goldstripe said with a wry smile.
"Do you really think they were honest enough?" Frederike asked.
"Yes. I’m quite low on the E scale, but I usually know when people lie. Besides, you’ve been in contact with Leonard recently. You said that his son was quite happy at the academy," Goldstripe said.
"I guess so. Leonard is very proud of him, and Rekkar tells them all kinds of stories about all the interesting classes he has."
"There, you see? I think Ronald will thrive there too. He’s a smart kid, or at least so they said."
Frederike nodded, and they drove back to the police station to finish their report.
They agreed to check up on both the Longstrides and on Leonard and his son.
They later found out, that Ronald and his parents chose to let him participate, and Leonard told them to their relief that he’d fitted right in, and that Ronald and Rekkar had already become friends.
Part Three: Celebration of new life
Goldstripe’s right ear twitched again as Frederike gently blew in it. "Wake uuuuup, Honey," she said and kissed hir nose pad.
"Mmmf," was all Goldstripe replied as shi cuddled up to Frederike.
"I think I’ll go make coffee," Frederike whispered in hir ear.
Goldstripe opened hir eyes and looked at hir mate. "Coffee?" shi said with a sleepy smile. "That sounds good!"
"I’m glad you like it. And while I make breakfast, cuddly-kitty better get hirself a shower. We have a plane to catch today, remember?" Frederike said and scratched Goldstripe’s ears. Shi started purring and mumbled "but do I really have to bathe…alone???"
"Yes, you do. I’ll have breakfast ready when you’re done. If you’ll do the dishes while I shower after breakfast, I think we might manage to be ready for when Tiponi picks us up."
Goldstripe sighed. "Right; I’ll go shower then. I’m not sure, but I think I can be without my denmate for that long," shi said in mock seriousness.
Frederike laughed. "All right, get out of bed, you lazy kitty, or there’ll be tail-pulling!" she said and kissed hir on the cheek one last time before she heaved herself out of bed.
"…and you must promise me to take some photos of the new little darlings for their auntie Tiponi, right?" the wolftauress said as she hugged her friends goodbye.
"We will," Goldstripe promised for both of them. "But much as we’d like to hug you all day, we better head for the gate now, I think."
"Of course. Oh, and don’t forget to bring back something Australian for me!" she said as she released them.
"Sure, we’ll stuff a kangaroo in the suitcase. One of the red ones, I think. It’ll be fun for you to have in the house I’m sure," Frederike said with laugh as they headed up the escalators towards the security check.
They waved one last time at Tiponi before they passed through the security check, and then headed for their gate.
A chime sounded followed by a voice. "Passengers for flight NX-42514 bound for Perth, Western Australia, please proceed to gate A-47. Boarding will begin in a few moments. We kindly ask you not to bring any luggage not belonging to yourself and not to leave any luggage unattended. Doing so could jeopardize flight security."
Frederike stretched her legs. "Ah, nothing like traveling with a taur. That leaves LOTS of leg space for a mere biped like me!" Frederike said.
"Are you saying that I take up a lot of room…that I’m FAT?" Goldstripe said with a smile in mock annoyance.
"No – I just remember flying with my parents as a teenager. A small aircraft with way too many seats and your knees folded up under your chin. You almost had to use lubrication to get in and out of those seats. Now this," she pointed at her seat, "is more like it!"
The plane took off soon after, and both of them dozed off a short time after the plane had passed the sound barrier.
Starnight hugged hir daughter tightly. "It’s good to see you again, kitten," shi said.
"It’s good to be back, Dad," Goldstripe said and hugged hir sire back.
"How come Sunfur isn’t here?" Frederike said after she’d caught her breath after the bear hug Lightpaws gave her.
"Hir worried mate thought shi had to ‘take it easy’," Lightpaws said with a laugh. "Always fussing, are we?" Goldstripe asked hir sire.
"I guess so. I just want my little kitten to relax and not push hirself too hard," Starnight admitted.
They left the airport, and chatted all the way to Sunfur and Starnight’s house.
"Crikey, that sure is one heavy suitcase. D’you have to pay overweight?" Lightpaws said as shi carried one of Frederike’s suitcases inside.
"No, but it was close. You see, someone told me, that I had to make an Oktoberfest for you. And I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint any of the cubs. Especially not Snowpelt and that big one you call your lifemate. I used quite some time to find the right beers and other stuff that I think would be hard to get here. I found that some of the breweries I knew had survived the Gene Wars. I think you’ll like the Paulaner."
At that moment Bearstalker showed up. He lifted Frederike up in a hug. "I heard all you said. KISS me now and be my lifemate forever!" he yelled and kissed her on the cheek.
Everybody laughed. "Okay big boy, I missed you too. I think Beetail and Summerwind have already made us dinner for tonight, but tomorrow the Oktoberfest will start, okay?" Frederike managed between laughs.
"Right. It’s good to see you two again. I hope you had a nice flight," he said as he gently set her down on the floor again.
"We did. We slept most of the trip. Or at least shi did. Did you know that shi snores when shi’s not lying down?" Frederike said.
"I don’t snore. I’ve never heard it, anyway," Goldstripe interjected.
"Of course you don’t, Shir Sawmill," Lightpaws said and hugged hir.
Goldstripe stuck out hir tongue at hir sister and they all laughed again.
"If I may have everybody’s attention?" Summerwind said, and continued when shi was granted hir request. "Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes. If someone would round up the cubs and send them out to wash their hands before that time, we’d be grateful."
Frederike and Goldstripe looked at each other. "We’ll volunteer for that task!" they chorused. And no sooner had Summerwind said "thanks", then the two of them started running for the garden with a horde of happily shrieking cubs in front of them.
They all had a pleasant evening, and that night Frederike and Goldstripe fell asleep next to Sunfur and Starnight. As before when they’d slept like that, Snowpelt purred hirself to sleep between Frederike and hir sister.
The next day found Frederike in the kitchen, cooking up different kinds of German food. She thanked the powers that be, that Chakat kitchens were so large, as cooking for so many hungry ‘taurs was no small feat. A twenty liter pot was used to cook sauerkraut, the double size oven held both bread and various forms of meat. She had put on Sunfur’s apron that sported the text "kiss the cook PLEASE", which everybody happily did.
"Now, before we start, I’d like to say a little about the Oktoberfest. It is usually held for two weeks starting in September, and ending on the first Sunday of October. As Goldstripe and I are only here for a limited amount of time, and as we are expecting two new cubs in the family, we have moved it to the end of October," Frederike said and paused to smile at Sunfur and Reddash, who both beamed at the mentioning of their oncoming cubs. "The stein in front of you is called a Maßkrug, with Maß meaning measure and krug meaning tankard. It contains one liter. The food here is sauerkraut, knackwurst, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, schnitzels, meat balls…"
Frederike finally finished mentioning all the different kinds of food, and finally ended with lifting her Maßkrug and saying "Prost!"
Everybody enjoyed their beer (the cubs were served soda, though), and finally Frederike told them all to "dig in". The cubs had been looking at the food, tails twisting in anticipation, so when they finally got their "go", they dug in with gusto.
When evening came, the cubs were put to bed, and the adults moved to the coffee table for comfort. Frederike leant against Goldstripe as usual, and she started to feel drowsy after a long day of hard work in the kitchen. She hadn’t been alone, as the chakats took turns helping her in the kitchen (and of course giving her a lick kiss, now that she wore Sunfur’s apron). Even Bearstalker had offered his "help" which consisted mostly of tasting the various foodstuffs and ensuring that the beer was indeed "good enough for his mates", as he’d put it. She noted that people started disappearing in twos or more.
"I see your parents and Grayspot’s left together," Frederike remarked.
"Yes, they’ll probably have themselves a foursome," Goldstripe said in a tone that wasn’t too different from when they were discussing the weather.
"I suppose I’ll never get quite used to the way things work in a chakat family. Not that I have anything against it, but it’s still…I dunno…alien somehow," Frederike said.
"Ah, but perhaps it is you humans who are too prudish, hmm?" Goldstripe countered.
"I suppose. My mom was a Catholic, I guess that doesn’t help either," Frederike said with a laugh.
"Really? It must have been quite the shock when your sister said she was a lesbian, huh?"
"It was. She didn’t take it nicely. I had to tell her that she’d better accept it if she still wanted to see either of us."
"Ouch," Goldstripe said. "I didn’t know that."
"Wonder how she would have liked you? Oh-well, no matter, but I think you would have liked my dad though. He was quite the adventurer. Crazy old man too!" Frederike said with a laugh. "He took my sis and me up in a small Cessna – a small single propeller aircraft – when I was eight. He told me to take the controls while he took a nap."
"He let you steer?"
"Yes. He told us not to tell mom, though," Frederike said and closed her eyes with a smile. "I guess that’s why I’m so crazy sometimes."
"In that case I’m grateful to him. I like your craziness and your sense of adventure," Goldstripe said and hugged her.
"Mmm…I think I’m in the mood for another adventure right now, but I think we’d better find some other place than here for it. Preferably somewhere… soundproof," Frederike said and turned to fondle Goldstripe’s right breast.
"Oh, well in that case…" Goldstripe said and picked her up as shi got to hir paws.
"If you will excuse us?" shi said to Beetail.
"Sure," shi answered and tried to wake Summerwind, who snored as shi leant against hir. "How about we hit the sack too? Unless you want to sleep here?"
"Mmmrrr, okay," Summerwind said as shi woke up.
Frederike giggled sleepily as she felt a tongue against her nipple.
"Mmm, Goldstripe you big tease," she mumbled as she started to wake up. Then she noticed that she could still feel Goldstripe’s head against her own, hir breath in her hair.
Frederike opened her eyes and looked down at a smiling Lightpaws. She felt Goldstripe stir, and noticed that Swiftclaw was giving Goldstripe a similar treatment.
"Good morning, sleepy heads," Lightpaws said.
"Aren’t you chakats supposed to need more sleep than most other races?" Frederike asked and playfully "honked" Lightpaws’ nose.
"Mmm, yes, but I spent the night with Swift – a night of good sex always wakes me up early. Very fresh and very hungry. How about the four of us make breakfast for the whole house? Mum and dad will have their paws full, and so will most everybody else the next few days. Almost the whole clan will be here for the births, and so will that of Reddash and Ivory. We will end up being around 56 adults and oh, what is it? 41 cubs of all ages, unless someone has had some cubs or mates that we didn’t know about, which is not entirely unlikely."
"Jeez! I knew you had large families, but that’s a lot of people," Frederike said.
"And those are just the closest family; that is, siblings, parents, cubs and mates. We haven’t even started inviting cousins," Lightpaws said.
"What can I say? To use the local slang: ‘Crikey!’," Frederike said with a laugh.
Though Frederike had lived in the 24th century for some time now, she had never seen so many chakats before. She tried to remember their names, but it was no easy task. To make things slightly easier, not all of Goldstripe’s extended family were chakats. There were two wolftaurs (other than Bearstalker), two foxtaur vixens and one foxtaur tod. She also saw a pair of foxmorphs – one vixen and one tod – mated to one of the chakats.
Cubs of all colors and sizes zoomed between the many adults playing tag, and Frederike couldn’t help to wonder why there had been no collisions yet with the speed with which the cubs ran.
"Confused, are we?" Summerwind said as shi moved up to Frederike and put a hand on her shoulder.
"A little. But I still like it. Even though I’m not an empath, I can still feel the joy of the family," she answered.
"Ah, but remember that we can – and do – also project," Summerwind said and gave her a squeeze.
"By the way: the person over there, the one with the pretty gray back. I think she’s a shi, but she looks foxtaurish. How can that be?" Frederike asked and pointed discreetly at one of the newcomers.
"That’s Ivory’s sister Graytuft’s mate Treespirit. Shi is a Stellar Foxtaur of the Forest Breed," Summerwind explained. At Frederike’s puzzled look shi continued. "The Stellars were made from the combined knowledge of chakat and foxtaur genetics, and were made as pioneers to help – or rather lead – the initial settlement of new worlds. Some few of them – like Treespirit – chose to stay behind, but most chose to enroll in one of Star Corps’ colonization programs and settle on a new world."
"I think I heard my name mentioned," Treespirit said and padded over to Frederike and Summerwind.
"Yes, my mate’s sister-in-law here has never seen any of your kind before, so I gave her an explanation," Summerwind said.
Frederike blushed, as she felt like small girl who had just pointed at a stranger and said "Mommy, look at that strange man!"
"Ah, but not many have," Treespirit said. "Most of us do as intended and leave Earth to settle one of the frontier worlds."
"So what kept you, if I may ask?" Frederike said.
"Graytuft. Shi’s a nanotech developer – not much use for someone like hir on a newly settled planet. And I could easily find myself a job on Chakona – that’s where we live – because they always need people who are familiar with the flora and fauna of the world," Treespirit explained.
"So, what do you do for a living on Chakona?" Frederike asked.
"Tourist guide. I take people hiking, show them the sights of the Chakonan nature, keep those who are either too much city folk or dumb rednecks out of trouble. I love my job. Do you like hiking?"
"Absolutely. Goldstripe and I do it as often as we can. Either a long hike or just a weekend camping trip. We have some foxtaur friends in America, and we sometimes join them on a hunting trip. They do the hunting of course, we just tag along."
"Excellent! Now, if you ever come to Chakona, let me know and I’ll take a few days off and give you a special tour."
"Thank you, we’d like th…" Frederike paused as Reddash suddenly said "Oh! Ivory, Whitemuzzle – it’s time. I think shi’s coming now."
"All right, let’s go, then," Whitemuzzle, the midwife, said.
The three of them started to move inside the house towards the nursery. Summerwind grabbed Frederike by the wrist. "C’mon, let’s hurry so we’ll get a good places!" shi said.
"Places? But…" Frederike began, but saw that many of the others also started to move towards the house. Goldstripe moved up on her other side. "In a chakat family, a birthing is something the whole family shares. We will all – at least the closest family – be there to welcome the new cub into the world. Oh, and we do so naked – but you don’t have to be naked if you don’t want to," Goldstripe said.
"Okay, if it’s not too inappropriate, then I’ll keep my clothes on," Frederike said and blushed.
"It’s okay," Goldstripe said and gave her a kiss before they joined the others in the nursery.
Frederike was surprised how easy the chakat birth was. In just three pushes the cub slid free, and it was obvious that the birth wasn’t the horrible pain it was for humans. Everybody cheered as Ivory – who had been supporting Reddash’s upper torso from behind – proudly held up the newborn. "Welcome to the world, Firefur!" shi said and everybody cheered. The cub had yellow and red stripes, and hir headfur was deep red with streaks of yellow.
Whitemuzzle made sure that both the cub and mother was thoroughly cleaned, and then Firefur was brought to hir mother for hir first feed. Frederike, Goldstripe and Summerwind left the room to allow others to enter and congratulate the parents.
"Shi is absolutely adorable," Frederike said.
"Yes, and that fur color – shi’ll be very popular when shi grows up," Summerwind said.
"By the way – why did Reddash and Ivory drink from each other?" Frederike asked. "Is it some sort of milk sharing ceremony?"
"No; Ivory drank of Reddash to start hir own production of mother’s milk. A hormone in the milk will start hir production. In that way they can share the feeding of their cub. And Reddash drank from Ivory mostly to replenish hir own fluids but also to make room for the mother’s milk," Goldstripe explained.
"You guys were really well designed," Frederike said.
"Yes, the Turners were real geniuses. That’s also why Chakona’s moons are named Ka’turna and Cha’turna. It was done in their honor. We are very grateful to them for making us the way we are!" Summerwind said with a big smile.
"I can understand why. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I want to be a chakat cub in my next life," Frederike said and gave both of them a squeeze as they went back outside and headed for the buffet and the grills that Starnight manned as usual. They stayed and chatted with hir for a while, and were joined by Sunfur. "Mmmm, this looks delicious, honey," shi said and put hir arms around hir mate.
"What the food or my cleavage?" Starnight said as Sunfur started lick-kissing hir neck.
"Both of course. And I expect to be enjoying both today," Sunfur said and started fondling Starnight’s breasts.
"Oh, you naughty kitten. Can I at least feed our hungry guests?" Starnight said.
"No. Frederike, you have demonstrated that you’re an excellent cook. Take the spatula from my mate and look after the grills, will you? Starnight will be busy for some time," Sunfur said and let hir tail caress hir mate’s lower torso’s belly fur.
Starnight gave Frederike and the others a sheepish smile that said ‘sorry, what can I do?’ and Frederike accepted the spatula from Starnight.
"Silly kittens, my parents, aren’t they?" Goldstripe said as hir mother dragged hir sire away, and Starnight giggled, "Not in there honey," as shi was dragged into the tool shed by hir mate.
Frederike enjoyed her time at the grills as it gave her a good opportunity to talk to all family members, as everybody came by every so often for a refill.
Treespirit joined her too, and shi helped her with the grills, as it soon became "rush-hour" as everybody had been holding back earlier to wait for the cub and then to pay their respects to the parents. The two enjoyed each other’s company thoroughly, and found that they made good gastronomical partners. Treespirit was very interested in Frederike’s story, and she got to tell hir everything about her former life as well as her new one.
Sunfur and Starnight came back a bit later. "So, how’s it going here? Sorry to thrust the cooking upon you, dear, but I’m afraid I have a very demanding mate," Starnight said.
"It’s okay, I’ve been enjoying myself. And Treespirit has been a great help," Frederike said.
"Yeah, we make a great team," Treespirit agreed.
Sunfur hugged them both. "Thank you. Now, perhaps after all this good exercise it would do me good with some refueling. Those steaks look delicious, and perhaps with some of Beetail’s potato sal…" Sunfur said and stopped. "Oh…I think the little one has decided to make an early appearance."
"Are you sure?" Starnight asked, and then raised hir voice. "Whitemuzzle! I think your presence is required!"
"Is that so?" shi said, more than a bit surprised. Chakat births were usually precise to the day, with only rare exceptions, and those were usually only by a day or two. A whole week was quite unusual.
Sunfur was brought inside like it happened with Reddash earlier. Whitemuzzle made a quick scan with a medical tricorder, and then took hir position for the delivery.
"All right, Sunfur; everything seems to be fine with your cub, all we have to do is get hir out. You know the drill, so I’ll just tell you when to push, okay?" Whitemuzzle said.
"Okay, I’m ready to do my part," Sunfur answered.
"As am I," Starnight said and took hir position behind hir mate. Shi put hir arms around Sunfur and murmured "Everything is going to be fine. Relax, honey. Whitemuzzle said shi was fine, so let’s get to know our new darling cub, shall we?"
"Yes…let’s…oh! Here shi comes," Sunfur said.
"Push, Sunfur," Whitemuzzle said.
Sunfur did as requested, and just like with Reddash, the whole thing was over in a few minutes. Everybody held their breath, but when the cub cried out for the first time and filled hir lungs with air, they all let out a relieved breath. Whitemuzzle scanned the cub again with hir tricorder and then cleaned up cub and mother.
"There, shi might have come a bit before time, but shi’s in perfect health," shi said as shi gave the cub to hir proud (and very relieved!) parents.
"Thank you," Sunfur said and started feeding the cub. "Hmm…maybe we should find a more fitting name for hir…?"
"I have just the one: Kadira. It comes from Khadija which means ‘early child’ in Arabic," Starnight said.
"I like it," Sunfur said and kissed Starnight.
Starnight kissed hir back and then turned to face the family. "Welcome to the world, Kadira!" shi said, and everybody cheered.
Whitemuzzle packed up hir equipment and mumbled to hirself "Oh well, I guess there’s a first time for everything, but damn shi was early!"
"What do you mean first time?" Lightpaws asked, a bit worried about hir newest sister.
"I have seen a few cubs born a bit early, but never a whole week. But don’t worry, dear. I’ve checked hir thoroughly, and I can assure you that shi’s a healthy little cub," Whitemuzzle said and gave Lightpaws a squeeze.
Frederike and Goldstripe looked at Kadira. Shi had white headfur and white bellies, but the rest of hir had the same golden-yellow color as hir mother except for black leopard spots on hir lower torso.
"Shi’s very cute," Frederike said.
"Thank you, dear. Do you want to hold hir?" Sunfur said as shi noticed the cub had stopped drinking.
"I’d love to!" she said.
Fredrike and Goldstripe nuzzled the little cub while Sunfur and Starnight exchanged milk like Reddash and Ivory had done.
"Shi kind of makes me wish we could have one of our own, huh?" Frederike said with a laugh as she played with Kadira.
"Yeah, shi kinda does," Goldstripe said. Frederike let hir hold hir newest sister, and Goldstripe looked at hir with loving eyes. Kadira started mewing again and moving hir little hands over Goldstripe’s fur in quest for a teat.
"I think shi needs hir mother," Starnight said.
For a fraction of a second Goldstripe looked as if shi didn’t want to let go, but then handed hir to Sunfur. Only Lightpaws noticed hir expression, but when shi didn’t sense any distress from hir sister, shi let it pass.
The rest of the party was uneventful. Everybody talked about the new additions to the family, and about Kadira in particular. Frederike ended up looking after the grills with Treespirit again.
Two days later, Frederike and Goldstripe headed home to their apartment in San Francisco.
Part Two: The Longest Longtail Day
"All right, Gentlefolk. Next Saturday, we’ll have a Chakonan delegation in town. Since it’s Longtail Day, they have decided to celebrate with us. This means a parade through the city, and a huge fair at Turner Square. We’ll be there both to make sure the parade goes smoothly as well as provide security. Most of the known ‘Firsters in the city have been monitored for a while, and there should be no real danger there, as most of them are doing time for the moment, thank God. But even so, you are to keep an eye out for potential troublemakers," the police chief said.
Reverend Hughes was a happy man as he looked upon his little flock. They were all ready to do God’s work today, and hopefully bring Earth one step further back towards the way He created it: a place where Man would be king over the animals, and not their peers. This so-called Longtail Day was perfect, and would serve His purpose well.
Each of the men who stood before him held a small package under their arm. It was brilliant: every one of those packages contained a bomb, and when given to the right victim and when the correct words were spoken, these abominations, these creatures of Satan would be used to bring the wrath of God upon these damned souls and the humans who embraced them by celebrating this unholy day.
He lit the lights on the makeshift altar and started his sermon with a smile. "I welcome you my Sons, in the house of God. In ancient times, young noblemen went to the Holy Land to fight for the Lord against Satan and the infidels. These young men fought with sword and shield against a horde of damned souls to save Jerusalem from the filth of the unclean," Hughes said and paused to look at each and every one of them. "Today not only the Holy Land is threatened, but all land, as we have been infested with the creations of Satan that people call morphs. These horrible creatures and tortured souls are the result of heretic people who try to play God. So like the priests of ancient times, I now call upon brave young men to fight a holy war against these abominations. For you see, you are not so different from these idealistic young noblemen of the past; no, you too are brave knights and crusaders in the eyes of God! You too want a place where Satan and his minions have no home, you too want things restored to the natural order decreed by God the Almighty, where mankind will rule the Earth and animals will be his servants and NOT his equals!" Hughes continued, his last words more shouted than said. He saw the light in their eyes and smiled. His eyes too were alit; alit with the fire of insanity as he continued his preaching that would send his "crusaders" to do what mankind had done so many times through history: commit murder in the name of God.
Tiponi took a donut out of the bag she’d bought and passed the bag to Goldstripe, who also took one and handed the bag to Frederike and Backfish. They watched the parade slowly pass by, and at the same time they scanned the crowd of onlookers for any potential troublemakers. "Ah, it’s a nice day for a Longtail Day, isn’t it?" said Backfish as he took a bite of his donut. "It sure is," Frederike said. "I hope that Goldstripe and I will be able to go to Chakona one time to see the ‘real’ Longtail Day some day. If it’s anything as nice as this, it would be fantastic."
"Actually, it’s better," Goldstripe said with a smile and a mouth full of donut. "I was there once as a cub with my mother and sire visiting my aunt Sandrunner. Shi took us to Amistad that day. I don’t recall ever having seen so many happy people, or ever having eaten that much candy. I slept for fourteen hours after that."
"The sleeping part I believe, but the ever having eaten that much candy part? Yeah riiight," Frederike said with a laugh. "I mean, look who’s already eaten hir donut."
"Very funny," Goldstripe said in mock annoyance. "Just because I have a healthy appetite. Besides, you’re just envious of the chakat metabolism."
"I hate to interrupt your little domestic dispute, but have you seen that man over there?" Backfish said and pointed discreetly at a man in the crowd.
The unshaven man stood behind the other spectators, and even though they couldn’t see his eyes because of his sunglasses, it was obvious that he had little interest in anything but the small package he was carrying, and none whatsoever in the passing parade.
"Tiponi, let’s go check it out. You two, stay and guard the fort, right," he said. They all nodded, and Frederike reported Backfish’s find in.
Billy Abrahams stood as discreetly as he could in the back of the crowd. He looked for the creature which he was supposed to give his little ‘present’ to, but it hadn’t shown up yet. He cursed inside. It was supposed to show up here. He decided to move on to see if it was further down the animal parade. As he did, he also noticed two police officers. ‘Or rather: a police officer and his wolf bitch in tow’ he thought as he tried to hide himself from the approaching officers.
"Blast! I lost him. Tiponi, can you see or otherwise sense him?" Backfish said.
"Nope. Not in this crowd." She tried to stand for a moment on her hind legs to get a better view, but with no luck.
"I see him. Your two o’clock Tiponi," she heard Goldstripe say in her earpiece.
"There! Got’im!" she said.
Abrahams moved through the crowd and cursed again. Not only hadn’t he found his little ‘friend’, the cops had also taken an unhealthy interest in him. He saw the wolftaur bitch in the crowd and hurried on.
Goldstripe and Frederike saw that the man was headed in their direction, and decided to try to cut him off.
Abrahams noticed that was getting boxed in, and looked for a trash can to drop his bomb in. But then he saw it: right in front of him was the wolf male he was supposed to meet. It disgusted Abrahams to see this gene-joke stand there in nice clothes like a human. It even had its offspring sitting on its neck like a human would. He put his hate aside and moved forward and "accidentally" bumped into him, and at the same time put the package in his pocket.
"I’m so sorry, sir," Abrahams made himself say as the shocked wolf looked at him. It had almost dropped its kid, and Abrahams was sorry it didn’t happen. ‘But then again: never mind…they’re all going to die soon,’ he thought with satisfaction. He felt a hand on his arm. "Excuse me, sir. Could we please have a word with you," a voice said. He stopped and turned to look at the speaker. Two officers, a human woman and one of those dual-sexed freaks stood beside him. He was tempted to snatch his arm back from the grip of the gene-freak, but didn’t. ‘Do as Father Hughes instructed,’ he thought. He forced himself to smile politely and say, "Is there a problem, officers?"
The two other officers arrived too, and the man walked up to him. "Sir, you had a package with you. Could we please see it?"
The unshaven man looked at Backfish, and gave him a polite smile that at the same time radiated defiance. "What package? I had bought myself a box of Chinese takeaway and I threw the empty box in the trash can."
Backfish gave him a sour look, and asked him to empty his pockets. He was very annoyed when that also didn’t reveal anything.
"Sir, you’re hiding something. I can feel it," Goldstripe said.
"So?" the man said as he handed his wallet and a bundle of keys to Backfish for inspection. "Is it an offense to give a chakat a bad hunch these days?" he continued.
When they didn’t find anything on him, they let him go.
The parade continued towards the plaza, where a scene had been erected.
Lokkan looked lovingly at his mate. They’d gotten a good spot close to the stage, and they both looked forward to the show.
"I think it was a good idea to bring our parents and your sister and her mate too, even if your mother suffers from Territorial Attachment Syndrome," he said.
"Yeah, and the cubs seem to enjoy themselves too. Look at Tokalina, she’s so cute," Kanda, Lokkan’s mate said.
"So will our twins be soon," Lokkan said and carressed Kanda’s swollen belly.
Kanda turned to kiss him, and Lokkan suddenly got an urge to sit down and cross his forelegs.
"Mmmm..." he said as he kissed her back. "I think it’s good that my sister and her hunter vixens will be looking after the cubs tonight, huh?"
"Oh-yes. But I guess that’s their way of repaying you for giving Sanka a son on your last Obligation, my big superstud," Kanda said. She looked at the three vixens, who held Sanka’s son and their own two daughters by the hand.
A live performance of the Fiery Foxtaurs was about to start, but first one of the Chakonan delegates went on stage to make the introductions.
"Hello, Gentlefolk, and thank you for joining us for this celebration of Longtail Day," shi said. "My name is Chakat Quickbrook, president of the Chakona-Terran Society. We work to further relations between Chakonans and Terrans through mutual exchange of culture and friendship. In a few moments, the Fiery Foxtaurs will go on stage, and I hope that everybody’s ready for some fun and dancing. Are you ready?" Quickbrook said, the last sentence raised to almost a shout.
"Yeeeeaahhh!" the crowd said.
"I can’t hear you, are you…" shi interrupted hirself. "Who are you?" shi said as a newcomer appeared on the stage.
"Hey, I’ve seen him before," Tiponi said. "He was in our station the day after you guys were mugged!"
Four other police officers were moving through the crowd to get to the man in the black suit.
Frederike, Goldstripe, Tiponi and Backfish tried to calm the crowd while they too moved in the direction of the stage.
Hughes walked towards the baffled gene-freak, and pulled out his gun. "Gimme the mike, freak!" he snarled and pointed it at hir head. Two of the police officers had gotten close and pulled their own weapons. Hughes just cocked the hammer and said "Don’t or the kittycat gets it through its head!"
He snagged the microphone from the terrified chakat, and started speaking. "God never intended for Man to do His work and create beings by himself. For too long now have we lived in a world where sodomy has become the norm, where mankind has degraded himself from being king of nature, to becoming the peer of the animals God set him on this Earth to rule. But this must come to an end! All you warped souls, receive the forgiveness and blessing of the Lord, and be though Fire reborn! In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti, amen!," Hughes said.
A thought flashed through Frederike’s mind from the day they debriefed the Longstrides at the hospital. "…He said these strange words in a language I didn’t understand. I think it was Latin. And then he pulled out the bomb and activated it…."
"Oh my GOD! He’s ordering suicide bombers to kill!" Frederike yelled and said in her comm. "Take him out! Take him out!" as they moved forward. Goldstripe heard someone beside hir speak. "Dominus dextra…" a foxmorph vixen started in a monotonous voice.
Goldstripe suddenly recognized her. She recognized her mate too, and their little daughter Patricia who asked, "Mummy, what are you saying?"
Shi didn’t hesitate, but acted purely on reflexes, and that saved hir life and the life of several people around hir. Goldstripe pulled out hir stunner and shot the vixen just as she lifted a small package over her head consisting of C10, nails and circuits.
"Stun anyone with a package ranting in Latin!" Frederike said in her comm. as they moved on. Some officers were close to one of the suicide bombers and reacted as Goldstripe had. But that saved only a few.
"What is this? Lokkan, stop, you’re scaring me!" Kanda shrieked as she tried to shake her husband, who paid her absolutely no heed as he lifted up a small package while he chanted.
"…vivam, et narrabo opera Domini!" Lokkan finished and pulled out the split pin, and he and his baffled mate, their cubs and the hunter vixens and several others were torn to pieces by the following explosion.
Hughes used the chakat as a living shield as he backed away. When he reached the edge of the stage, he used the officer’s momentary shock of the first explosions to his advantadge. He fired a round through hir head and let hir fall over the stage and on the officers below. Before they could recover, he jumped down into the mass of screaming and dying people. Another group of officers tried to cut him off, so he made a quick decision while he joined up with a Japanese woman.
"Excellent job, Yuki!" Hughes said while his gaze settled on a fallen foxtaur vixen further ahead.
"Thanks, Father. You weren’t too shabby either. Now let’s get to the car!" she said with a smile. Yuki Kabayama was the group’s technician, and the one who’d made the bombs.
Backfish cursed as he tried to get to the Humans First terrorists. They tried to calm the panicked crowd while moving towards the fleeing ’Firsters. Only Tiponi had been lucky, as she’d managed to get a little ahead.
Hughes noticed the wolftaur bitch getting closer, but ignored her. He walked up to the wounded vixen, who desperately tried to protect the screaming kit even while she had to know she was dying. Hughes kicked her in the face, and grabbed the kit by its tail.
Tiponi got through the crowd, and shouted at the priest. "Hold it right there!"
Hughes didn’t even answer, he just swung his gun at her and fired. People screamed as the bullet went through her head and made the back of her skull explode in a spray of bone, blood and brain tissue.
‘These guns may be ancient Gene War slug throwers, but they work like a charm’ he thought as he turned once again in the direction of the waiting PTV, thinking no more of the incident than a normal person would the swatting of a fly.
Backfish, Goldstripe and Frederike were stunned for a moment when they saw the priest execute Tiponi in cold blood. They all knew, that those images would be burned into their memories forever. Backfish was the first to recover. "Go after them, I’ll take care of things here!" he snapped, and Frederike and Goldstripe snapped out of their shock.
Goldstripe and Frederike started towards a police PTV that luckily was parked close by.
Backfish bent down to take a look at the mangled vixen.
"G-get my daughter b..." she said and looked up at him with pleading eyes and choked on the blood filling her muzzle and airways. She started to cough up blood, but Backfish knew he could do nothing besides holding her for the last few seconds of her life. Other police officers were approaching too, and luckily a wolfmorph in the crowd identified himself as a doctor and started rendering the first aid he could.
Yuki Kabayama floored the accelerator, and the stolen PTV accelerated down the road with a roar. She cursed as she saw the police PTV following them shortly after.
"Faster, Yuki, faster!" Hughes snarled. "You two, give them a little something to make them keep their distance," he continued. When they looked dumbstruck at him, he sighed and snapped "SHOOT THEM, YOU IMBECILES!"
That helped. They both leaned out their respective windows and started shooting. Hughes knew this might look like something out of a 20th century gangster movie, as his men would hardly be able to hit anything. But he hoped it would help them lose the cops who were in hot pursuit of them. He slapped the little vixen he held in his left hand, as she squirmed in his iron grip. He paid her discomfort no heed as he took out his Unicom, and activated it.
"This is Hughes," he said as the recipient picked up. "Have the shuttle prepped, we’ll be there soon. Oh…and fire up ‘the Gizmo’ too. We have two uninvited ‘guests’ I’d like to give a little surprise," he continued with a nasty smile.
"Right, I’ll do as requested. There seems to be something funny with the shuttle, though," the man at the other end said.
"Understood," Hughes said. He hung up, and used his Unicom to knock the little foxtaur kit out. "That’ll teach you not to bite your master, animal," he snarled at the limp form.
"Warning, speed is too high for upcoming turn. Decelerate. Decelerate," the PTV A.I. said gently.
Goldstripe ignored it as shi too accelerated. Though chakats usually don’t sweat much, shi could feel the sweat soaking hir headfur as shi drove on.
Frederike both looked at the city map as well as informed the police central of their whereabouts and progress. She had tried to ask for assistance, but Central had informed her that none could be spared due to the havoc on Turner Square
"Goldstripe! Fall back! Fall back!" she yelled as she saw two men leaning out of the ‘Firsters’ PTV. Goldstripe braked, and they saw the area around them being sprayed by bullets. Shop windows broke, and pedestrians threw themselves on the ground in terror.
"We have to keep out of their range, or more people could get hit," she continued.
"Agreed," the stressed chakat replied and drove on, this time ensuring some distance between them and the ‘Firsters.
Frederike tried once again to order the other PTV to a halt, but again without success. She decided, that they might have disabled the A.I., and thus the police override that was put into all PTVs for situations like these.
They were now headed for an industrial area of the city, and Goldstripe tried to get a little closer to the other PTV again. A rain of bullets flew in their direction, and Goldstripe gave the ‘Firsters a little more room again.
The PTV turned a sharp bend in the road, and when shi and Frederike reached it, the other PTV was gone.
"That way!" Frederike said and pointed to a small road going in between the industry buildings on their left side. Goldstripe nodded, and turned their PTV down the indicated road.
"I don’t like this place," shi said, as they slowly drove on, both looking for the fleeing ‘Firsters.
"Neither do I – it’s a perfect place for an ambush," Frederike agreed. She readied her weapon, and Goldstripe loosened the flap over hirs.
They spotted the PTV the ‘Firsters had used, and Frederike tried once again to request backup.
"Backup is on it’s way. Hold your position," the comm operator told her.
"All right, let’s make sure they can’t leave," Goldstripe said.
"Agreed, but we should stay outside until backup arrives," Frederike said.
"Right. Now let’s move," shi said.
They both had their weapon ready as they moved closer to the old abandoned factory building.
"How’s the shuttle coming, Yuki?" Hughes asked in his comm.
"I’m working on preflight, but you need to keep them off for a while longer. I had to recalibrate the power control computers. This old bucket should have been scrapped the previous century," Kabayama answered grumpily.
"Understood. If the cops do choose to enter, we have the Gizmo ready for them," Hughes said. In a way, he hoped that they would choose to come. It might actually be fun,
His thoughts were interrupted by Danny. "Ouch! That fuckin’ critter bit me!" he yelled. "But now you die you little…" he snarled and pointed his gun at the little vixen on the table in front of him.
Hughes quickly pushed his arm up, and the gunshot hit the ceiling instead. "NO! Not near the equipment you dimwit!" he snarled. "Besides, we might need the little critter as a hostage still! You don’t shoot anything unless I say so. Now, is that CLEAR?" Hughes barked.
"Doc, be ready to receive ‘guests’, I think they heard this," he continued. The man called ‘doc’ nodded and pressed a few keys on his control board.
Hughes was a little annoyed that they would have to leave the Gizmo behind, but there wasn’t room for it in the small shuttle, nor was there time to load it. He knocked the vixen unconscious again, and picked her up. ‘Should’ve gaffered its muzzle too,’ he thought.
"Shots fired! Shots fired!" Frederike said in her comm "Request permission to go in."
There was a short pause. "Granted, but do not approach suspects if you’re outgunned," the voice said. It was the chief. "We want both of you back in one piece, you hear!"
They sneaked up to the house, weapons at the ready. They stood on each side of the door, and Goldstripe put hir tail on the handle. "One…two…THREE!" shi whispered, and opened the door. They peeked inside, and found an empty corridor.
The inside of the building showed even heavier signs of decay than the outside. Water dripped from old pipes and what had once been the porter’s office, was now a mess of old office furniture and shattered glass. Goldstripe was glad that shi wore boots on the job, or shi would have had to find another way in.
A rusty metal staircase led to an old, corroded catwalk servicing the first floor at the end of the corridor, and the steps creaked as they slowly walked up the stairs. They came to a door on their left, and Goldstripe whispered: "I can hear voices on the other side. Two people."
"Right – same procedure as before?"
"Yes. On three," shi said and placed hir tail on the door handle. "One….two…THREEEEAAAAAAAHHH!" shi screamed as the floor suddenly gave way under hir. Frederike could hear hir curse from below the metal floor of the catwalk and heard hir start running. Frederike could see the ‘Firsters inside the unfortunately now open door, and quickly pointed her gun at them. "Freeze!!!!" she snapped. ‘Shit, Goldstripe heard only two…but they’re FOUR!’ she thought. The priest held the little vixentaur they tried to save, and he just smiled at her. To the left of the priest were two men with guns, and a strange pale man who sat in front of some sort of computer, wearing a strange helmet.
Frederike was about to order him to hand over the kit when she noticed what was behind him. She gasped in horror as she recognized what it was…or at least what part of it was. A tied up skunktaur hung behind him. Tubes and cables led to and from hys body, pumping strange fluids into hym. Hy was still breathing, but apparently hy was unconscious. She was snapped out of her state of shock by the priest’s voice.
"I take it, that you want this?" he said with a smile and pointed to the limp furry form with his gun.
"Yes…put down your weapons and hand her over!" Frederike said.
"Gladly," Hughes said to Frederike’s surprise, and threw her in Frederike’s direction.
Frederike didn’t have time to collect her thoughts when she heard a voice in her head. "Shoot it…kill the vixen…kill it!" the voice said.
"NO!" Frederike thought, but could feel her arm start to move the muzzle of her gun towards the vixentaur on the floor.
Goldstripe had landed on hir feet on the floor below the catwalk, and was lucky to avoid most of the fallen debris. Shi quickly started running back towards the stairs, as shi knew Frederike was now alone and in big trouble!
Shi ran as fast as shi dared up the staircase and towards the open door. Shi could see Frederike stand in the open door now, and ran to her aid. The sight that met hir made hir hearts skip a beat. Frederike was pointing her gun at the little vixen. "W-what…?" was all shi got out.
"Shoot it!!!" Hughes snapped and the two men fired at the chakat. Goldstripe tried to jump to the side, to dive for cover, but it was too late. Shi cried out in horror and pain as the bullets of the old Gene War rifles tore through hir fur, flesh and bone. Shi returned fire, but knew shi was done for. The sound of the gunfire mixed with Hughes’ high-pitched laugh in a diabolic cacophony.
Frederike was fighting against another will who tried to control her. She was petrified by the mental war inside her head, and watched in horror as Goldstripe entered the room and the ‘Firsters started hosing hir with their machine guns.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" she both screamed and thought. She managed to move her arm up and fired at the strange man and his machine, hoping she wouldn’t kill the skunktaur behind him. One shot hit his arm; the next severed a control cable attached to his helmet.
"KILL! KIIIIIILLLL!" his frantic voice sounded in her head, but his power over her was broken. She fired back at the ‘Firsters with deadly precision.
Frederike’s first shot hit one of the gunmen between the eyes. The second hit the scientist in the chest, and both fell to the ground. The last gunman turned his machinegun fire at her, and she felt the sharp pain as the bullets tore through her right arm and leg, sending her gun flying.
Goldstripe could feel hir blood flowing out of hir, but saw the gunman fire at Frederike. Shi mustered all of hir remaining strength and fired one last time. Shi hit the man right between the eyes, and he went down without a sound.
Hughes started running towards the door that would lead him to the fire escape. He was still laughing madly as he ran up the stairs towards the waiting shuttle. "OH LORD ALMIGHTY, THY WORK IS DONE!" he shrieked as he ran.
Frederike hit her communicator. "Require medical assistance…OFFICER DOWN! OFFICER DOWN!!!" she half yelled, half cried.
She then dragged herself towards Goldstripe. She came by the vixen on the way, and quickly checked that she was still breathing.
She didn’t even notice the answer on the comm as she reached Goldstripe. She could feel the fatigue from her gunshots, but she ignored that too.
"Oh, God…I’m messed up bad," Goldstripe cried as Frederike reached hir.
"Y…you’re going to be fine…" Frederike said to hir, even though they both knew it to be a lie; tears were running down her cheeks as she desperately tried to stop the blood from the way too many wounds. It was like trying to stop the Niagara Falls with a handful of pebbles.
Goldstripe tried to smile in reassurance. "I…I’m so sorry. Now I don’t even get to ask you if you would be my lifem…" hir words were cut off by a sharp pain in hir chest that made hir cry out in pain.
"No! Oh, God, no. Goldstripe, don’t die! Please don’t die!" Frederike cried as she saw hir eyes becoming blank.
Goldstripe sighed, and turned hir head to look at Frederike. "Mummy…is that you?" shi said. "Isn’t the sky…beautiful tonight…?" And then shi said no more.
"NNOOOOOOOO!" Frederike cried. She could feel the world around her disappear Not even the pain from her own wounds existed.
Frederike didn’t notice the newcomers until she was picked up.
"It’s going to be all right. It’s me. It’s Bhaskar. We’re getting you outta here now!" she heard him say, and part of her mind recognized his voice. She almost couldn’t hear him – it was as if she was under water. She saw some medics rushing in, and started swarming over Goldstripe, the foxtaur vixen and herself.
She heard the medics near Goldstripe talking.
"No, if we use the cardiac stimulator hir other heart might stop too, and….oh crap, there it went! Stimulator NOW! And get the goddamn stasis generator up here!"
Frederike could feel the world turning dark around her as her own fatigue and blood loss finally caught up with her. The last thing she heard before she lost consciousness was the medic near Goldstripe yelling "CLEAR!!!" And then everything turned to darkness.
Sunfur turned over in bed for the umpteenth time. Shi hadn’t been able to sleep, even though shi was wasted after a hard day of work. Something was nagging hir, but shi couldn’t put a finger on it. Shi looked at the crono that said 05:34, sighed and heaved hirself out of bed. Starnight mumbled something in hir sleep, and Sunfur silently left their sleeping den, and walked to the living room. Shi sighed again and turned on the TV.
"…-mans First terror attack. What should have been a day of celebration of Longtail Day has now been turned into a blood bath. Several people have been killed, and even more have been injured. Some of the Humans First terrorists have escaped, but with the police hot on their heels. The…wait I’m getting an update…I’ve just got word that the police have found the ‘Firsters, and gunshots are believed to have been exchanged. There are wounded on both sides and…"
Starnight awoke with a jolt and scrambled out of bed. Hir mate was missing, but shi could feel hir distress and ran towards hir. Shi found hir in the living room in front of the TV. A helicopter view of what looked like a war scene was on the screen, and the reporter talked about terror attacks and Humans First. Shi ran over to Sunfur, who at the same time dropped the remote control from hir limp hand. Tears soaked hir fur as shi realized what it was that had kept hir from sleeping. Shi felt Starnight’s hand touch hir own, and turned hir head.
"Starnight…airplane…America…NOW!" was all shi got out, but it was enough. Starnight gave hir a hug and went for the comm on the wall.
Shi called hir boss.
He grunted as he picked up. "William Wurrumgidee," he managed.
"It’s Starnight. I need a favor," Starnight said.
He was about to ask hir if shi knew what time it was, but the desperate tone of hir voice – something that was very rare for the mentally balanced chakats – told him this was serious.
Less than two hours later, a privately owned shuttle from Wurrumgidee Skydomes Inc left Perth International Airport at top speed.
To be continued in Part 4: Recovery.
Chakats and the Chakat universe are Copyright © Bernard Doove. These are used with permission. The rest of the characters belong to me. I’ll try to add references to owners of other characters in the following parts. Should I forget some, please tell me, and I’ll correct it.
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