The sirens were on nigh constant blaring as the rumble of hyperspace pounded upon the slowly moving Purgatorio. The station engine was working its ship slowly towards its destination, another outpost station a few thousand light years away from the now obliterated Frontier Station, BTTA. The captain would make good on her word, and Susan would be raised to the position of Managing Engineer of the 4th shift. This would be, of course, after the ship docked, as the woods were still encircling the wandering crew.
Laying on the medical bed, Gildedtongue was sobbing. Shi wasn't sure if it was the pain of hir injuries, or the residual fear of the space station, or the current fear of the ship barrelling through space,or a combination of all three. Thallon and Saldura stood at hir side, joining in the cathartic sobbing. It was a long day for anybody, though Gildy's empathic leaking of hir despair didn't help alleviate matters, things kept locked in the med bay. The chakat's limbs were wrapped in beige bandages, containing pain killers, disinfectants, and a number of Voxxan tissue boosters made to help bolster a body's natural healing. The chakat's natural immunity made the pain killers worthless (much to the discomfort of the chakat), but any added help to hir healing would be fortunate to hir health.
The captain stepped into the room, hir neutral expression grew dim with the exposure of the empathy, but as a good captain, shi held hir composure. "Corporal Holbock, we will be arriving at Space Station Ivan XIV in three days. According to Thirtysilver, our remaining cargo should cover the cost of repairs, and hopefully we should be able to pick up some freight to ship out. We also should be able to sell BATTA's warp drive and pick up a civilian model."
The chakat listened in to the captain talking with hir spouse as shi lifted hir head, "Sell the warp drive? But, isn't that why we were ditching anything from the station? I don't think any one would want to pick up a stolen piece of Government hardware."
A small smile curled Matilda's lips as she shook her head, "Of course they wouldn't, at least, not of their own government. Ivan XIV is not a member of the Stellar Federation. It belongs to one of the planets of the League." She gave a soft sigh, "Typically this sort of thing would be classified as treason, but the League of Non-Aligned Worlds does have warp technology, and compared to modern ships, this thing is a relic, so it's on par on selling someone a spear when your people have assault rifles." Turning back to Saldura, Matilda nodded, "But, I want you and the security detail on your toes. Ivan XIV is a slaving culture, and as such, I want all morphs and non-Terrans to remain inside the Purgatorio for the time we have on the station. All repairs are to be done in-house, and myself and the other humans will act as outside envoys. After all we went through, the last thing I want is to lose a couple of us to slavers."
The three morphs nodded in agreement as the captain excused herself, her stoicism at an end, but did not want to lose composure before her crew and passenger. Thallon ran his fingers through Gildy's mane, letting the chakat purr instinctively, despite the aching in hir limbs. "What if they come in and take us by force?" The chakat asked, leaning into the scritching.
The foxtaur chuckled, patting Gildy's shoulder, which made hir wince in pain, "Sorry." he muttered before answering, "They certainly could, but it is highly unlikely. The Purgy has been smuggling for some time, and is known for being one avenue to get things to and from Federation space. If they kidnapped any of our crew, that sort of news and gossip would spread around, and the station, and even the planet its associated to would quickly be blacklisted. And on things like space stations, imports and exports are very important. That being said, if one morph went out and was 'arrested' then we'd have no real legal recourse to get them back. Thus our house arrest." Thallon explained, seeming used to this sort of set up.
Saldura smiled softly, trying to comfort the chakat, "We've done this before and we haven't had any invasions yet. Sure, some have tried, but we give them a good thumping and show them the door. And while we're still morphs, we'd be technically 'owned' by Matilda, and most League places are really protective of their Castle Laws." Saldura said, rubbing Gildy's pregnant lower belly. "So, as long as we're here, we are protecting our home."
Gildedtongue nodded and sighed in hir exhaustion, the aches were getting to hir as shi closed hir eyes. Shi felt the lips of hir husband and spouse on hir face before falling back asleep.
The ensuing days were filled with more and more boredom, especially for the morphs as they were effectively imprisoned aboard the ship. Complaints were left at a minimum, however, as there was enough work to do to keep them occupied repairing the effects of the unstable warp effect. The last bits of stock was unloaded from the belly of the Purgatorio, covering what the station's warp engine couldn't in trade, as well as modify the civilian core to push past efficiency regulations and let them move a little faster, but not too much as to threaten to fry the occupants.
Gildy hirself was doing well in repairs. The patches helped the chakat's lacerations and minor bone fractures knit up cleanly, and after a week, the still healing tissue could be hidden with hir fur. Hir movement still had a limp as hir foreleg paws still felt rather tender, but Gildedtongue felt strong enough to move within the ship, getting out of the med bay and visiting various sectors of the ship. Saldura and Thallon kept hir company off their shifts, and while the station stay was getting increasingly dull, despite the fact that they were in non-Federation territory, a feeling of safety seemed to fill the air of the Purgatorio.
The chakat was taking a walk along the spine when shi easily picked out the tall giraffe walking the other way. Zajac smiled, bowing hir head to Gildy, "Hey, looking good there, Wanderer," the comptech complimented, the chakat returning the pleasantries before asking what shi was up to.
"Well, right now doing a lot of things that we're definitely not supposed to." Zajac chuckled softly. "Currently scrubbing the ship's log of anything related to the... incident." shi said, not wanting to mention the station by name. "And pretty much nuking anything made after the pirate attack. The official alibi is that the devices to record the ship's astronavigation charts were taken out in the attack." Zajac smirked, "Which is convenient since that's pretty much what happened. We're just leaving out that we patched it back up later, then destroyed the evidence." Zajac frowned, "The more I think about it, the worse it does sound, though." shi admitted.
"Well, we did murder a Federation officer, and did billions of credits worth of damages to the Federation Frontier," Gildy admitted, crossing hir arms. "Though, really, we were in the right in doing so."
"I shot the sheriff, but I swear it was in self-defence." Zajac retorted in a slightly sing-song manner. "Yet, I don't see that really flying all that well in the court of law, do you?" Gildy agreed that all that they went through, Kim was right, no one, not even a telepath, would really swallow such a story as factual. The giraffe leaned against the wall, crossing hir own arms, "Granted, now I'm going through and getting rid of all the Federation bugs that've been placed on this ship."
Zajac nodded, "Yeah, you know, listening devices and the like? You don't think they hadn't put an ear to us, what with what we were carrying out." the comptech said, gesturing to Gildedtongue.
Ear's splayed back, Gildy couldn't help but growl quietly, "Wait, you knew what was happening to me too?" Creekstripe's laughter ran up Gildy's spine as hir paranoia was piqued. The chakat's face moved right up to the giraffe, despite the height difference, the lion was looking intimidating to the prey species.
Hands lifted in surrender, Zajac's small horns knocked against the thick metal wall, "Hey, hey, calm down! Look, I was only told about things recently. After we left the Frontier Station, even." Gildedtongue backed up, giving Zajac some more room as the giraffe ran a hand through hir mullet-like mane. "Hell, even the captain told me to keep it on the hush-hush. I thought there was something odd going on when the ship first was land-locked, then some Feds talked to the upper crew, some scans of the ship, and rewrites of the ship's computer were made." Zajac shrugged, "Hell, they weren't even subtle, but, nothing we could do, they were in their right, I guess. Heh, not like we didn't already have a smuggling rap sheet. But, yeah, so Jefferson told me to go around looking for any sort of Federation recording devices."
Gildedtongue nodded, sitting back down on hir haunches, "So, how are you finding them? Not like they'll have big blinking red lights on them or anything." Shi said, looking around the corridor.
Laughing, the comptech nodded, holding up hir datapad, "True, but they do give off a signal. Federation agents need to be able to find them too and all. All you gotta do is send out the right call, and you'll get a ping back from them. Sure, we didn't have that data before but..." Shi chuckled, pointing outside, "They did, and I've been working on it the last couple of days."
The chakat nodded, thinking to hirself, "So, you just use your PADD to send out a signal, and the recording device responds?" shi blushes, "Think I can have that program too? I'm feeling completely bored not doing anything helpful."
"Sure thing." Zajac said, giving Gildedtongue hir own datapad, "Take this one. I've got more back in my room. It's pretty simple. Just tap the scan button, and if you're within a couple metres or so, you'll get a ping number back. The bugs can't transmit too far otherwise our normal sensors would pick them up, so you've got to be close. Anyway, the smaller the ping number, the closer you are, you know, how long it takes for data to go to and from a machine and all."
"So, what do they look like?"
Zajac shrugged, "Just about anything, really. Well, they've got to be at least as big as..." shi looked at Gildedtongue's hand, "About as big as the tip of your index finger. Since these have to record, well, months of data, they can't be microscopic, but, still, it's pretty small." Zajac smiled at Gildy.
The chakat looked over the PADD some more, "And when I find one?"
"Ah, good question! We can't really reprogram them without the Feds knowing what we're up to, and if we get rid of all of them, then it's really hard to explain to the agents why all their toys are missing. So, what I want you to do is get yourself a marker, and dot around the bug. We'll use a battery and some wire to overload the thing, like if we were hit by an EMP blast in the pirate attack. Not destroyed, but not readable either." Zajac smiled, "Think you're up to this?" The chakat nodded mutely back. The giraffe chuckled and patted Gildy's cheek, "Well, good luck!" Zajac whistled as shi went back towards Engineering.
Gildedtongue made hir way back to hir own room. Shi hadn't spent much time in here, especially after the wedding, or even before then. The clothes in hir dresser were still clean and folded, but musty from lack of use. Flopping on hir bed, Gildedtongue looked over the datapad from Zajac, hitting the bright red button on the touchscreen display. A little animation of what looked like a submarine sonar display ran through, and the chakat blinked, seeing a display of "Ping: 1 – 34 milliseconds" The chakat's curiousity grew as shi walked around hir room, hitting the button again, keeping still and watching the numbers increase and decrease, like an electronic game of hot-and-cold.
It wasn't in hir dresser. The chakat lifted hir mattress, grunting at the pain in hir shoulder and forelegs, but it wasn't under hir bed. The door and the door panel were clean too, the highest ping numbers shi could get, and in the lavatory, shi got no signal.
Gildedtongue went to the window, tapping the button again, 5 milliseconds. The chakat slowly looked around, seeing a riveted seam on the metal walls. Using the datapad again, shi hovered it over the bumps. 3 milliseconds, 1 millisecond, it had to be around here. The PADD wasn't any more precise, so shi had to go at it hirself. Hir fingers ran along the rivets, feeling the small bumps from the metal. One felt a little bigger than the others as Gildy's claw went along the edge, popping free a tiny disc.
The front was the same drab grey as the rest of the wall, but behind shi could see a mess of tiny wires, hooked up to this or that, and no visible power supply. Shi gently returned the faux rivet back to where shi found it, getting a marking pen to dot around the bug. Shi felt accomplished, but knew that there'd have to be another scan of the room after they disable that bug, checking for other listening devices. Flopping down on the bed, Gildy took in a deep breath and closed hir eyes, only wanting to relax and rest for a moment.
A firm hand was pushing the chakat's shoulder as hir eyes opened up slowly, seeing a worried foxtaur looking over hir. "Hey there. You missed lunch and dinner and we were a bit worried about you." Thallon said, taking a step back to let the chakat have enough room to get up. Gildy rubbed hir head, bleary eyes looking over the nearest clock. The momentary rest seemed to have eaten up seven hours, so shi wasn't going to look forward to sleeping that 'night.'
"Sorry, love. I guess I was out for a bit longer than I expected," shi covered a yawn, stretching out over hir bed, hir fur messed up all over the place before shi put hir feet on the floor. A small wince came from the chakat as shi first stood up, hir paws still a little tender in their recovery first thing in the day. Shi was afraid that there might still be some shrapnel in hir handpaws but wasn't about to go reopening old wounds to find them. The foxtaur ran his fingers through hir messy mane of hair as shi sighed happily, "How are the repairs coming along?"
"We should be more or less ship-shape in the next couple of days, barring anything unexpected." He chuckles quietly, "Thirtysilver is currently desperate in finding funds to pay for the crew, but hopefully we won't be seeing any mutinies or the like." The big hybrid gave his spouse a firm hug after seeing Gildy's eyes go wide, "I'm just joking with you."
"Heh, right, right," the chakat went to the dresser, pulling out one of the ship's casual uniforms, putting it on. The two walked down the Spine in their quiet. Engineers and technicians scurrying about while the two large 'taurs dance the dodging dance of the corridor, accompanied with the usual song of 'sorry's and 'excuse me's.
After retrieving a couple of containers for supper, the two 'taurs sat at their corner table. With the replicator off-line in the repairs, the ship's crew had opened up into the emergency food supply. Thallon looking over what the rations was claiming to be beef in a mushroom sauce, though it came out to look more like a shoe sole in slime with some chunks. Gildedtongue's Caitian Pepper Stew didn't fare much better as the two forced it down in silence. Thallon gave a wide grin, "When we arrive at Chakona, the first place I'm going to head for is this little place in Amistad City, near the water. They do a Fish 'n' Chip with the local catch that is absolutely to die for." He grins, "I've made up my mind, you, Sal and I are going. The greasy fried fish and potatoes will clean this shit off our palates for sure!"
"Hehe, right, right. Is this before or after we go to the Caitian Grill there you talked about two days ago?" Gildedtongue smiled, though it wasn't really hard to guess why food was on their minds as shi stomached another mouthful. The chakat's ears drooped with hir whiskers as shi felt tears coming to hir eyes, "And then, you'll be off in the stars, flying around in here, and I'll be down there, in what everyone told me at home would be my personal Heaven. God, am I so stupid." Dropping hir spoon, shi cradled hir head.
Putting a hand on Gildy's shoulder, Thallon rubbed the chakat reassuringly, "We'll make it work. Once we get communications running again, we'll always be a phone call away." The pink-furred centauroid hugged the leonine one, slowly easing hir up onto hir feet as they made their way back to Saldura's room. The chakat's feet and injuries were aching once again in hir agitation as shi was put back into bed, curled around hir husband, the one shi'll have to say good-bye to.
"...Williamson? Wolf? Xing? Zajac?" Saldura was standing before the assembled crew in the holo room, reading names off of hir roster, replied with acknowledgements of their presence. "Thank you, you can go back to your stations. We'll be taking off at eighteen hundred, next stop shall be Chakona where we'll finish our repairs." Sal put hir PADD in a hip pouch as the engineering department made their way back to the rear of the ship. Gildedtongue was sitting up by the front, near the badger during the rolle call, making hir way over and placed hir hand on the morph's shoulder. "Three days and still no sign of Peters, K'Sherra, or Boomburg, which is exactly why we told them not to leave the ship. Guess their unauthorized sightseeing tour is going to be a lot longer."
"Any chance we might rescue them?" Gildy asked, hir tail curled around hir legs.
"Not really." Saldura said, looking back at hir spouse, "Taking on a broken Federation space station was crazy enough. Trying to do the same on a fully loaded Russian station in the middle of Non-Aligned Territory is an assured suicide." Shi sighed, "I know it sounds cruel, but if we don't leave soon, they'll start thinking about coming in and we'll be seeing a lot more people turn up missing, or dead in the firefights." Gildy's lips met Saldura's, kissing hir to quiet the badger's sadness.
They left the room in silence, hands interlaced as they went down the Spine. Saldura's usually brisk pace dragged as they walked and Gildy gave hir spouse's hand a squeeze. "I love you." the chakat whispered. Saldura responded with a smile, returning the squeeze.
"I love you too. I won't lie, though, this won't be easy for me either." They stopped just before the ship's bridge. "But, first we need to make sure you'll get better." The badger grinned, stroking Gildy's chin, "You deserve the best, love."
Closing hir eyes, Gildy cuddled up with the badger, sighing in sad contentment. "So do you. So do you." The badger's warmth filled the chakat's flesh, but Sal eventually pulled out of the hug., giving the chakat a kiss on the cheek.
"Work calls, love. Soon we'll get you to your new home, though, just you wait." Saldura smiled, giving another kiss before heading into the bridge, the look of sadness in hir face not missed by the chakat.
Only a few more days until shi got to Chakona.
"Civilian H345-V Star Transport CT 45J-42I, designated Purgatorio. This is Captain Gordon Erikson the F.S.S. Cat's Claw. Please state your business in the Chakastra system." The battleship displayed on the monitors in the Purgatorio bridge. Captain Matilda Jefferson stood up, addressing the monitor as the main screen blipped, transferring from an image of the nearby ship, to the communication feed from the nearby military ship. The fair skinned, bald, elderly human was a stark contrast to the young, dark, Spacer who responded to the bored hailing with a smile.
"We're here to drop off some personnel, mail, and some goods, before making some much needed repairs and transport other goods." Matilda responded, hands casually at her side. The woman's confidence amazed the chakat sitting on hir haunches on the bridge. Behind her, Saldura held hir hands behind hir in attention, the security chief standing imposingly.
Running his hand over his smooth head, the war ship captain looked over something off screen, "Purgatorio, we have records that you were scheduled to have been here weeks ago. Can you explain your tardiness?" Gildy peered back at Saldura before looking back at the monitor.
"Pirate trouble, Cat's Claw. We were attacked en route to a mining colony on the border of Federation Space. We were hit hard by a Grav mine, and the resulting shock to the warp drive had an electromagnetic effect on the ship, damaging our astronavigation systems as well as communications. The damaged warp core wasn't particularly speedy by then either."
The captain nodded in agreement, glancing off screen for a moment. The pilot in the Purgatorio bridge turned his head, "Captain, we're being scanned." Lifting her hand for quiet, Matilda kept her casual stare at the old Federation officer. With hir limited empathy, Gildy couldn't tell if she was bluffing, or was this confident that she'd be found as harmless.
It was common practice for Pirates to steal or duplicate Ship ID beacons, using them to masquerade into otherwise unfriendly places of port. This was most commonly done to ships destroyed in raids, Gildy recalled Sal mentioning it was called 'face carving' in the less polite sections of the Galactic Arm, when pirates would literally skin the faces off people to wear in the older, less defined visual communication transmissions.
"Purgatorio." Erikson finally responded, looking back at the camera, "Please dock on the number 36 port on the Warp Gate, and Welcome to Chakona."
The wide, leonine handpaws stamped on the ground like a nervous kitten as their owner bit hir lower lip. Making a final scan of the room, hir meager possessions had been stuffed in a duffel bag hoisted on hir shoulder. Hir books, jewelry, a PADD, and a number of uniform shirts donated to hir by the ship were all shi had to hir name. Touching the cross on hir bosom absentmindedly, shi reassured hir consciousness of its presence, hir momento of Home and what it stood for, the friends shi had left behind. Gildy thumbed the ring on hir finger in hir silence, the awkward stillness breaking away for a smile across the chakat's face, having gained so much in such a short amount of time.
"So, once again, the slut runs away from the people shi claims to 'love.'" Creekstripe chuckled behind hir corporeal daughter. "Now that you've had your fill with them, time to go off to the next conquest, is that right? Just another leech on the backside of the universe, sucking everything dry before moving off to the next spot?" the ring-tailed chakat gave Gildy an evil grin. Gildedtongue's breathing became heavier as shi hied out of the room and down the Spine.
The ship's innards was saturated with Federation customs officials. The official rationale was that the ship was randomly selected for a thorough investigation, but the crew knew that they were there to pick up the planted bugs and debrief the remaining executive officers of the ship. Chakats and skunk'taurs dressed in the golden tunics were engineers and technicians of the Federation, the people most likely to be found on these details. Those in the green tunics, Biologists and Medical, those people were the square pegs in this round hole.
The scientists, mostly humans with some bipedal morphs, kept a noted berth from the chakat. Their gazes darted momentarily to the leonine centauroid, and even Gildedtongue could feel flashes of of curiosity. Shi couldn't tell what sort of fascination by empathy alone, however shi figured it wasn't that of getting to know a stranger. No, shi was their little experiment, and they were wondering if they had made a bomb.
At the door to the bridge, Saldura, Thirtysilver, and Matilda were speaking to a blonde maned lion man in the silver grey tunic of a Federation security officer. Gildy couldn't tell in the distance if he was a lion morph or a caitian, but seeing his almost flirty gestures to the quartermistress, and her general disinterest, the chakat figured shi could put hir money on the latter.
The badger was the first to notice the approaching chakat, offering hir a warm smile, "Speak of the devil, here shi is." Gildy offered a quiet wave, which the caitian returned with a bow.
"Chakat Gildedtongue. You've certainly come a long way in getting here. Your friends here were just telling me about your voyage here. I'm sorry to hear about the pirate attack. We'll be sending patrols to that sector when we can." The caitian saw hir gravid lower belly, grinning like a kitten. "I see you're bringing in extra cargo here."
He reached over to give hir distended flanks a friendly pet, but in that uniform, all Gildy could see was the perverted grin of Commander Johnson and how shi would fondle hir pregnant belly. Hir hearts both started to race as shi found hirself short of breath, claws unsheathing from hir feet in preparation to maul and flee from the psychotic skunk. Forcing a deep breath, shi found enough clarity of mind to take a step away from the alien, shaking hir head, "Please, no sir. It's, well, been ages since I've had a proper shower." The caitian opened his mouth to refute the denial, but Gildy preempted it with a dark "Please."
Sighing, the security guard gave up, adjusting his uniform so his hand movements weren't put to waste, "Ah, right. If you would accompany me off the landing dock and into the Gate proper, I think that there is someone waiting for you." The caitian offered a warm smile, trying to ignore his, or perhaps hir, faux pas. Adjusting the strap on hir shoulder once again, Gildy walked with the security guard through the medical bay airlock and through a short umbilical to the terminal. More uniformed men were there, sporting red tunics this time, commanding personnel, if Gildy's recollection was correct. A knot twisted in hir lower stomach as all of hir tightened up. Were these the folk who were in charge of hir experiment? A human, another caitian, and a fox person, possibly a voxxan stood to greet hir with neutral faces. The lion's steps were slow and careful as shi made hir way forward.
The blockade was suddenly burst through with a streak of striped white. Arms outstretched, a white tiger centauroid made hir way past the Federation. "Giiiiiildedtongue! So you finally made it here! We were worried sick that you were lost!" Jadestripe's grin was as wide as hir arms as shi wrapped them around hir long lost younger sister. Despite the five decades shi had on the lion, the tiger's spring was far bouncier than hir younger sister.
In the arms of hir sister, things flung all through Gildy's brain. Shi had finally made it across the stars to this homeworld, wrapped in the arms of family that poured their love into hir, physically and psychically. At first it felt like Platinum's invasion, but something softer, more familiar. Tears welled up in Gildedtongue's eyes as shi buried hir head into Jade's shoulder. Hir older sister's white furred hand ran through hir messy mane of red, combined with a gentle cooing helped relax the chakat enough to recompose hirself. "Ave, Jadestripe." Gildedtongue mustered a weak smile.
Wrinkling crossed the light dusting of green fur along Jadestripe's brow, blinking in confusion. Gildy loosed a nervous chuckle, but Jade dismissed it for the moment. "I'm just so glad you're here, sister. And look at you, with a cub! Tell me, who was the chakat that stole your heart? Or was it a rugged skunk'taur?" Jade grinned kittenishly.
Gildy could see that they weren't going to move very quickly as shi put hir bag on the floor, "Ah, neither, he's a foxtaur. Oh, you must meet my husband and my spouse!" Gildy grinned, for once shi could introduce hir partners to people, and not everyone around hir knew everyone else.
"Husband? Spouse? You don't need to use such archaic terms to dumb things down to me, Gildy. You could just say your lifemates." Jade smiled reassuringly, "I mean, I can understand where you're from, people wouldn't understand such things outside of something like a marriage."
The leonine chakat's ears burned with a blush, lifting up hir left hand, "But, um, I am married."
Jadestripe inspected the band around Gildy's finger, as if it was some alien artefact growing out of hir fur. Finally shi offered a wide smile, "A wedding band. How quaint. Well, come on, let's get out of these people's way!" Taking Gildy's hand, the tigress whisked Gildy into the Chakonan Warp Gate proper.
Major Federation planets all housed one or more Warp Gates around their planet, acting as liaisons between the surface and Space farers, a sort of orbital airport, but on a larger scale. Many Warp Gates house massive market places for traders to drop and deal with their goods without costly expenses in shipping material to the planet surface, and blasting off what isn't sold. While smaller transports like the Purgatorio could mitigate such expenses by touching down planetside, the much more massive freighters, unable to enter planetary atmosphere, are forced to spend on costly shuttles or the infant technology of teleportation.
Jadestripe made hir way through the crowd like a shark, darting through the ocean of flesh, clutching the hand of the remora-like Gildedtongue. "You gotta move with a purpose here!" Jade shouted back amid the din, "Hundreds, even thousands of people all make their way through here every day." Gildy could only nod mutely in response. Bright signs all around advertised just about everything, from governmental customs checks, to private shipping contract buyers and sellers, to restaurants and other facilities. Terralingo was the predominant language written, but Gildy understood barely enough Caitian Ratarsk to recognize those signs, but many, shi assumed, were in the Voxxan tongue, Yatta. A massive, transparent dome sat over the merchant plaza, to the left, Chakona slowly rose, with one of its moons peering from behind, alien star consolations peppering the eternal night in its backdrop. "Ya hungry?" Jadestripe didn't even wait for an answer as shi pulled hir younger sister into a boutique.
"Ah, welcome, Jadestripe," a young, ginger furred chakat greeted the two oncoming customers. Shi was wearing a lacy halter top with hir dark mane curled up top in a bun, which made Gildy ponder what sort of place shi was dragged into. "I see you brought in a new date, a bit earlier than usual," that didn't help the lion chakat's imagination either.
As if shi felt Gildy's uncomfortableness (probably because shi could) Jade gave hir sister's hand a reassuring squeeze, smiling happily to the other chakat, "This is not a date this time. Frecklepaw, allow me to introduce to you my younger sister, Gildedtongue." Gildy started to stick out hir hand, but soon it found itself full of haltered belly as the hostess wrapped hir arms around the immigrant chakat in a hug. Gildy felt hir body seize up again, reminding hirself upon meeting Dreamweaver's parents. Recomposing hirself, Gildy put hir arms around the strange chakat, giving a gentle pat to the small of hir upper back.
"Well, any friend or family of Jadestripe is more than welcome to the Chakastra Dawn!" Frecklepaw grinned, disengaging from Gildedtongue, "So, what can I get you two? The usual, Jade?" the white tigress responded with a nod. "And I'll get a menu for you then?"
Gildy shook hir head, "Um, that's okay, I'm not..." hir dismissal was interrupted by hir growling belly, "I'll just have what Jade is having, then." Freckle smiled and nodded, leading the two chakats to a niche. The area was booth-like, save for the benches being replaced with cushions on the floor. Freckle thanked them and went to the kitchen, leaving the chakats alone.
Looking around, Gildy saw that the restaurant was being productive, but not overwhelmed. Shi wasn't even sure what sort of food was served at the parlour, but figured if hir sister could stomach it, shi certainly could. Hir eyes went over to Jadestripe, getting a good look at hir for the first time. Hir curly white mane about shoulder length, with two black tipped ears peeking out. Hir forehead having the namesake lightly green furred stripe across hir forehead, and the black stripes on hir cheeks pointing to hir pink nose. Shi was wearing a low cut top that showed Gildy far more of the larger bosom than shi would ever want to show off.
"I'm just glad you're here, Gildedtongue. I'm sorry that it took so long." Jade smiled, reaching to put hir hand over Gildy's, squeezing gently. The younger 'kat smiled back, trying to embrace the good vibes being sent to hir. "You'll see, things are going to be much better here." Gildy nodded quietly, hoping to agree with hir sister as a waitress came by, setting down two large mugs of what smelled like spiced coffee. Jadestripe grinned, quickly picking up hir mug, "Most people call it Voxxee, though the proper name is Jalva e'Welsten. Go on, I'm sure you'll love it!" shi purred, taking in a mouthful. Gildy took it to hir lips, the mixtures of tastes like coffee, cinnamon and hot sauce. It made hir tongue curl in hir mouth and hir whiskers to spring at attention. It must be an acquired taste.
"So, do you live here on the station?" Gildy asked, after downing the alien fluid in hir mouth, trying to keep it from returning near hir taste buds.
Jade laughed, smiling wide, "Oh, some times it feels like I do, but my family and I have our own place down planetside, where you'll be living." Shi grinned, sipping more of hir drink, "I'm just here for work."
"You work up here? Wow, must be a hell of a commute to do every day." Gildy chuckled, looking downward where shi assumed the planet would be despite seeing it above hir earlier. Jadestripe let out a loud 'HA!' in response.
"That it would be, that it would be! No no, I'm only here for about two days every other week. I'll show you my office up here before we go home, but most of my work is down on Chakona. I come up here for new clients and the like." Jade smiled, leaning back as their meal was served, hot sandwiches filled with thin sliced meat. Gildy could smell the horseradish a mile off as shi folded hir hands under the table for a quiet prayer.
"I see, I see. I guess I never really heard what you did, Jade." shi smiled, glad that their conversation started to get in motion. Shi didn't want to live with a stranger, much less a stranger that was family.
Jade finished hir first bite of hir sandwich, "I help new immigrants get accustomed to our planet. I suppose they list me as a social worker, but I'd consider myself as the smiling face and open arms of Chakona." The older chakat took in another bite as Gildedtongue consumed hir own sandwich with gusto, it wasn't beef or anything shi could recognize from Earth, but it was complimented by the spicy condiment well.
"Most people don't really need much in the way of help in that sense," Jadestripe continued, "Just to be polite and courteous of the morphic population." A silence billowed from the table as the tigress's lips lowered in a frown, "Though, some morphs and 'taurs have a lot of re-education to go through. Some things on a genetic level, things I can't help with."
Gildy nodded quietly, seeing the darker turn of the conversation, not wanting to be a killjoy. Shi mustered up a smile, "Well, I'm sure that you do a great job, Jade. A lot of people must give you their gratitude."
The tigress's mood quickly picked up as shi feigned modesty, "Well, I do my best, of course. Those that get themselves here are the real heroes." Shi purred quietly, "What are you going to be doing here?"
"Oh, I hope to continue teaching," Gildy started, running hir fingers through hir mane, "Honestly, I'm looking forward for my biggest worries and excitements to be curriculum plannings, disruptive students, and seeing the look in kids' eyes when things finally click for them." Shi smiled wide, leaning back and unconsciously taking another sip of the coffee before hir. It tasted better cold, but not by much.
"A fine enough profession to continue." Jade's smiles were short lived as shi went back to a serious tone, "You're not going to teach them your beliefs, are you?"
That came out from left field and caught Gildy in surprise, "Beg pardon?" Shi shook hir head, "Not unless I'm teaching a theology or philosophy class, I can't imagine where it would come up." The new chakat's confused look remained, hoping hir stumbling answer was satisfactory.
Jade nodded solemnly, taking in the information, "All right. As you might know, while not strictly illegal, there's little tolerance of missionaries trying to shove their beliefs around." Hir smile returned as shi changed subjects, "So, when is shi due? Must be close, seeing how big you are."
Taken aback at the thought shi'd be out recruiting people to hir faith, Gildedtongue took hir time to recover from Jade's emotional whiplash, biding hir time with a final bite of hir sandwich, "well, they are due in just a few weeks. I'm hoping that it'll be soon enough that Thallon and Saldura can be there to witness." Gildedtongue said, reaching to pat hir flank, smiling in hir maternal pride. It certainly wasn't the best of circumstances to create such life, however shi didn't find hirself regretting it, and hoped shi'll be a good enough mother to them.
"Twins? Well, well, that is certainly a lovely surprise," Jade grinned, purring up a storm, "Mmmmm, and born here on their homeworld, a most pleasant turn of events!" Frecklepaw came by, setting the bill on the table, and before Gildedtongue could reach, Jadestripe had pounced upon the sheet of paper, looking over it before nodding, "Well, if you're ready, Gildy, I'll just be a moment in the lavatory and we'll pay and be on our way."
The black striped streak had left the table in a flash. The twin cubs squirmed in the chakat's womb, reminding their 'ride' of their presence, by giving several swift kicks to hir bladder. The chakat opened up hir own pocket book, figuring if Jadestripe was going to pay for the meal, the least shi could do is leave a tip. Without knowing how much the meal came to, shi left a small stack of Fedcred coins before hunting for the restrooms. Signage was apparently lacking in this brave new world as Gildedtongue couldn't find hide nor hair of a simple worded arrow, or basic Terran pictographs.
Finally, shi gave up looking as the internal percussion became more and more pronounced, and went to the nearest waitress, seeing a snow leopard patterned chakat working on a stack of receipts, hir back towards Gildedtongue. The leonine chakat cleared hir throat before asking, "Ah, excuse me, shir, could you point me to the litter room?"
A directed jab of psychic, empathic frustration and annoyance speared Gildy right in the forehead as the waitress slammed hir hands down on the table, turning hir head. The young chakat momentarily confused, but shook hir head, "I'm sorry, ah, behind those booths back there, take a left, you can't miss it."
Thanking hir, Gildy made hir way back where the waitress directed. Just behind the door, a row of sinks stood under a window, with several doors on the opposite wall, their contents easily guessable. Jadestripe was at one sink, washing hirself up and gave hir sister a smile, "Probably a good idea. It's going to be a lengthy flight back down."
Nodding in agreement, Gildedtongue laughed curtly, "Heh, not a few hours here and I've already angered the locals." Jade cocked hir head, listening as the leonine chakat explained hir recent events.
This just brought a laugh out of Jadestripe who patted hir sister's shoulder, "The number of wei- erm, interesting people we have coming in and out of the Warp Gate is massive. Shi probably thought you were some guy wanting to go back here for something. We get a lot of people who think that this planet is akin to some sort of space bordello, especially up here. The best way to go around here is simply to be upfront. They can't confuse your innuendo if you're blunt." Gildy nodded as hir sister left the lavatories.
Meeting back up with Jade, Gildy gathered hir duffel bag from under the table at the booth, starting to head out. Frecklepaw intercepted the two, smiling at Gildedtongue, "Oh, shir? You forgot this at the table." In hir hand was the stack of coins shi left for the service crew.
"Ah, no no. I mean, it's a tip, it was a wonderful meal! Thank you!" shi bowed hir head to Frecklepaw, who had a confused, and somewhat hurt look as shi pocketed the coins, wishing the two chakats a good day as they left. Gildy was considerably lost, looking at Jadestripe, "What did I do now?"
"Ha, oh, I guess there's a lot to teach you. Tips really aren't given around here, you'll see most of what would be the 'gratuity' fee on Earth are already incorporated in the bill. Waitstaff around here aren't paid too shabby." Jade smiled, "So, giving them extra money is sometimes considered a little rude, like you're telling someone to better maintain themselves." Gildedtongue frowned as hir limbs drooped. "Now, now. You're new here, you're expected to learn by doing, no?"
Gildy nodded, still not thrilled in insulting two people in less than an hour, but agreed to Jade's point. They walked toward a section of the plaza opposite of the restaurants. The front adorned in a large mural, looking about three quarters of the way finished. Images of the first explorers to the planet, the cultivation and civilization of Chakona, up to the ratifying of the planetary Constitution and the declaration of Chakonian independence adorned the wall. The image faded into elaborate pencil sketches and then nothingness, which Gildy took as an indication of the unwritten future of the planet. Jade made hir way to an almost invisible door, biding hir sister welcome inside as shi followed in.
Dozens of morphs, mostly chakats, but some bipedal morphs and a couple of skunk'taurs, were busying themselves within their work, carrying their PADDs and handfuls of files. Even more morphs were seated along the edges of the walls, small bags of their belongings before them, with more bags being taken around to them. The immigration offices were certainly buzzing with activity. "We try to do as much naturalization up here, that way when they arrive planetside they can start on their new lives as smoothly as possible." Jade's positive but boisterous demeanour cooled to a friendly professionalism as shi started to address the huddled masses. Some of them looked not well-to-do, but were in control of their lives, but many looked sick and scared, clutching onto their families as they awaited judgment from the Chakonian government about their clearance to come live there. A reminder to Gildedtongue that Chakona wasn't just the new Chakat homeworld, but a home to every morph out there, sacrificing a lot more than shi had to break into a new life, a clean slate and a fresh start.
Jade went to speak to a receptionist for a moment, leaving Gildy alone in hir thoughts. Any daydreams were cut short before they started as the older chakat came back with a smile, "We've worked you in to meet with Yattle. Hy should have all of your paperwork ready. Good luck!" Jade gave Gildy a hug before taking hir bag, letting the chakat into the offices.
Not sure where to go, Gildedtongue wandered momentarily though the halls, looking at the door plaques.Thankfully it wasn't more than a few doors when shi happened upon one reading "Col. Yattle Redpaw, SFMC, (RET.)" Gildy lifted up hir hand to knock, but a voice from within called out, "Come in."
The first thing that hit Gildy were the stacks of filing cabinets along the left wall. Papers and files stuffed to the brim as the barely closed drawers had scraps of white and manilla peeking out. To the left, pictures of all kinds adorned the wall. Photographs of landscapes, many with a skunk'taur family front and centre. Crude crayon drawings made with the utmost care by young hands were taped nearest to the floor, "FOR DADY" sprawled in red above a rocketship and a black blob the chakat figured was the father in question. It made Gildedtongue smile unconsciously, wondering how many of these sorts of 'masterpieces' shi'll have to find room for.
"Wovven is certainly an enthusiastic artist," the voice came from the mephit seated behind the desk. Once midnight black fur had greyed into a dull pewter. The skunk'taur was an imposing, but warm figure. Grandfatherly spectacles rested on hys muzzle, in contrast to the red, furless scarring along hys cheek, possibly from a stray phaser blast. The red command uniform of a Starfleet officer immaculately cared for, though the ranking pips were all missing, worn like a professional top more than anything. "And I apologize for gleeming your intents outside." hy smiled, offering a soft chuckle, "Some people think a lot louder than they realize."
"Ah, I apologize, I, um, guess," Gildy blushed embarrassed, sitting down on hir haunches before the desk. The skunk'taur picked up one of the many PADDs on hys desk, thumbing over it, looking over it quietly, letting the chakat stew in the silence for a moment. "Quite a long line out there. Sorry about bumping the line."
Yattle waved hys paw absentmindedly, "Seems like the Stellar Federation had pulled some strings to get you here, though I'm not sure why. No special skills, no direly needed job. I mean, you're a chakat, which means that you didn't have that high of a hurdle to come here anyway, but," hy sighs, shrugging his upper shoulders, "I swear, 25 years in the service and despite what people around here think, even I never seem to know what ever went on there." hy shrugged, putting hys thumb on the corner of the device, making it give a tinny, triumphant 'ding!' with papers printing out next to hym. Dividing up the stack, the skunk'taur stood up and made hys way around the desk, offering Gildy half of them with a smile, "Welcome to Chakona, chakat Gildedtongue."
The newly greencarded chakat sat in hir sister's office while Jade worked on hir computer. More pictures and filing cabinets adorned the walls as Gildy quietly studied them. Dozens of pictures of Jadestripe with cubs, with adult chakats, and other people stood looking back at Gildy with their smiling faces. This was hir family, a whole section of hir existence shi was, until recently, almost completely oblivious to. Shi turned back to hir sister, "So, Jadestripe, why did you never call or write until now? I mean, it did come in out of the blue, and all."
Jade's fingers never left the keyboard as shi continued to input more and more data into, well, something Gildy couldn't look at. "Well, after last we left each other, I'd had figured you weren't in much of a mood to talk to me. Guess after the years I just started to forget." The tap-tap-tapping stopped momentarily as Jadestripe offered a smile, turning to Gildy, "But, I guess now we've got more than enough time to catch up!" shi purred before getting back to work.
It was a reasonable enough excuse, and Gildy had to agree, shi didn't want to talk to Jade after the last time. Shi went back to studying the room, looking over the filing cabinets, "Heh, I remember seeing a lot of these back at the Monastery. I'm surprised you people here haven't gone totally paperless."
The typing didn't stop, but it was joined by a soft chuckle, "Mmmmm, we keep trying to, and push it harder and harder. Though, the archivists prefer having something physical to maintain the data upon. Not like it isn't capable of being completely backed up several dozen times, but, well, some people like old things." The last part sounded a bit like a jab at Gildedtongue, who simply rolled hir eyes and smirked back at hir sister. Shi couldn't help but chuckle quietly as they seemed to be bickering like proper siblings. With a final triumphant keystroke, Jadestripe gave the keyboard a gentle shove, shutting down hir computer. "Done for the day. Sorry about the wait." Shi purred, standing up and took Gildedtongue's hand as they left the Ministry of Immigration branch.
"Hopefully this won't take too long." Jade said on the line to the chartered shuttlecraft for Amistad. People stood, looking over their tickets and adjusting their luggage. Jadestripe told hir sister to keep close, since hir ID would allow hirself and a guest a free trip, as a government employee. A Bluepaw skunk'taur handled each bag coming through. Without opening the containers, the telekenetic centauroid could inspect the items using hir material awareness, a byproduct of hir abilities. The security officer gave Gildy a warm smile and wished hir well on hir trip, letting the group start to board.
Things were cramped aboard the shuttle, families piled on, huddled together for the short voyage down to the planet. A free trip didn't, obviously, include luxury, but Gildedtongue was happy to set hir feet down on solid ground for the first time in a year. A stray thought ran through hir mind, touching the wall screen. A number of menu options popped up, and after a moment of scanning, shi tapped hir finger on "Time" "Calendar" and finally "Terra (Earth)." "Seventeeth of October, Twenty-three twenty-one," shi mused aloud, looking at hir sister, "Sorry it took so long."
Jade smiled, putting hir arm around Gildy's shoulder, since it was the only place it could go after a family of Raccoon'taurs came to sit next to them, "It was more than worth the wait, sister. I'm just glad you're here."
The fires of re-entry licked across the shuttle's hull as it eased into the atmosphere. The inertial dampners couldn't ignore the low rumbling of the shaking chassis as the air swallowed the ship, bringing it inside Chakona. A tropical sun shone down upon the planet as they came down above the great oceans. As the shuttle went from Space to Atmospheric flight, the draw of natural gravity started to grip upon the occupants. It was hard for Gildy to describe, but shi felt more at ease in the world, like hir organs were settling more properly in the more analogue planetary effects than the digital artificial ones.
The shuttle made a slow, almost casual loop, giving the passengers ample time to ogle down below, seeing the lush green islands dotting in the cerulean ocean. Patches of white cities poked out of the overgrowth, and the largest was Amistad, their destination. A final loop around the space port slowly brought the shuttle down to the ground, the pilot saying something unintelligible over the PA system, but Gildy figured it was a thanks for their patronage. Having only a single carry on, shi and Jadestripe left with the masses of morphs out of the warm shuttle and into the umbilical tunnel to the port proper.
Gildy hadn't felt even remotely this heavy since that first space station shi visited on the beginning of hir trip, the fact that shi was walking for three, however, only exasperated the sensation. "Good Lord, on one hand I'm thankful for being on solid ground once again, on the other hand, I think it's going to be a long, long while for me to get my land legs again."
Rolling hir eyes, Jadestripe patted hir little sister's side, "Well, for the next week or two, I don't imagine you doing much in the way of walking." Shi smirked, looking over Gildy's gravid waddle.
"I guess so. Speaking of which, I'd better call the Purgatorio and tell them I arrived safely, and, well, I obviously want my mates at the birthing." Gildy said, walking with Jadestripe, who stopped and smiled.
"Of course, and, of course, any friends nd such you've met. A good, proper chakat birthing party! Now, that's how you start your life here, bringing in new life, your own, and your children!" Gildy couldn't help but smile at Jade's enthusiasm, but shi was right, in a way. Jadestripe lead hir sister to a public Comm console, helping hir locate the channels to the docked space ship. Soon Hernandez, one of the bridge crew, answered the incoming call.
"Hey, Wanderer!" the bobcat morph on the other end of the line called out in a sing-song fashion, "I'm gonna guess you'll wanna talk to Saldura or Thallon. Thallon's a bit busy helping with some of the repairs, but I might be able to patch you into Saldura."
"That'll do just fine, thank you," Gildy smiled, watching the screen. The image went to static, buzzing silently for a moment before a block of text appeared over it, reading 'NO IMAGE AVAILABLE.'
Still, through the speakers, the familiar, low alto voice of Saldura came through loud and clear, "Gildy, love. How are things going over there? Still have a few snoops peeking around up here, but otherwise we're looking to start some of the major overhauls and repairs. Helps a lot being in a state of the art ship dock."
"That's good to hear. Things are going well enough here. My citizen tests and interviews were," shi gave an unseen shrug to hir lover, "rather short to non existent. I guess I shouldn't complain, though. I've had enough trouble getting here, I'm going to enjoy some smoother times." Shi shrugged again, dancing around the conversation looming in hir mind, "I should be birthing in about a week, and, well, obviously I'd like to see you and Thallon there with me. Um, well, maybe Susan, Matilda..." Dominic's name passed through hir head, but Creekstripe's chuckle and mutterance of 'creep,' held hir tongue, "I mean, if they want to and all."
"I'm sure they would love to join in. Matilda might be bringing Thirtysilver as well. It should fit in our schedule easily enough. Hanging in there, love?" Saldura asked, a hint of concern in hir voice.
"Just fine, thanks," Gildedtongue lied, curling hir tail around hir haunches. There was a moment of quiet before Saldura spoke again.
"Anyway, I'd better get back to work, but, I'll talk to you soon, maybe tonight!" The badger's cheerier voice came through, "Though, I'm sure you'll want to have some unwinding. But, if you've got anyone on Earth you want to say hello to, I'd recommend doing so at the star port, probably would be the cheapest." Gildedtongue's eyes went wide and shi nodded, unseen by Saldura. "I love you, Gildy, and I'll see you soon." The chakat returned the sentiment, touching the screen quietly.
Interstellar calls weren't as inexpensive as contacting the orbiting Space Station. Gildy found a place to insert hir credstick before typing in the details of hir call; Earth, The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America, the City of St. Altretic. Shi typed in the name of the communal home Frank lived in near the school. Shi patched hirself to hir friend's room, waiting as the comm rang. It was idle for a few minutes before, shi figured, being transferred to the main desk. A portly, balding monk wearing a Franciscan robe answered the Comm, "Altretic teaching dormitories, how may I conn..." he was silent for a moment, peering at the screen in disbelief before smiling wide, "Gildedtongue? My God, you're alive! It is you, isn't it?"
The chakat smiled, purring quietly, "Ave, brother Markus. It does seem that the rumours of my demise might be a little preemptive. It's good to see you." Jadestripe watched on behind Gildedtongue, crossing hir arms "Is Frank there? I've missed him, and wanted to say hello."
Markus frowned quietly, shaking his head, "We haven't seen hide nor hair from him for six months. One day while leading mass, he announced that he was leaving, and afterward, he climbed into a cab and then..." he shrugged as he trailed off. "As far as we knew, he went to the nearest star port. I'm not sure where he'd get the money."
"My God. Th-thank you, Markus. I hope you're doing well, but, I think I'd better make some more calls."
"I hope you're able to find him again. Go with God, Gildedtongue." Markus offered a sad smile.
"As to you as well, Markus," Gildy said before signing off. Shi could barely believe it, hir best friend turning his back on everything after so long. Shi bit hir lower lip, hoping he was okay as shi called up two people who might know more on the situation. After a moment of ringing, a slightly bleary-eyed Starpelt answered the Comm, blinking momentarily as shi was waking up. Gildedtongue bit hir lower lip, if Markus answered the phone earlier, it must have been the night shift. Finally shi smiled to the groggy Starpelt, "Ave, Starry. Remember me?"
Shi found hirself awake quickly, seeing the familiar chakat through the viewscreen, "Gildedtongue? I thought you had simply left. It's so good to see you!" The dark furred chakat smiled wide, approaching the monitor, shaking hir head. "Oye, either it was good you left when you did, or things fell apart after you left," hir smile went down as shi sighed, "The whole school had gone completely nuts. Fights breaking out all over the place, some of the teachers seemed to have been encouraging things. We pulled out Dreamweaver shortly after shi tried to escape a ruckus in the sports fields and caught a rock to the side of hir head." Starpelt sighed, shaking hir head as Gildedtongue winced, drooping at the story. "We've been home schooling her for the last few months, and Firefoot's gone north to Ontario, looking for a new place for us to live." Starpelt shook hir head, looking back to Gildedtongue, "And what have you done all this time?"
Nodding, Gildy sighed quietly, "To be honest, I've just set foot on Chakona a couple hours ago." Shi related hir story to Starpelt, omitting some of the more incriminating parts. "So, that's how I'm here on Chakona and pregnant. I know it must be late over there, but, is Dreamweaver awake? I'd like to say hello to hir." Starpelt nodded and trotted off for a moment. Gildy blushed, hoping the dead air won't be too expensive, but then waved off thoughts of that nature. Soon an almost familiar face came into view. Hir straight hair hung down to hir shoulders, framing a sleepy, but bright face. A once bean-pole thin frame had developed into the form of a beautiful young chakat. Dreamweaver smiled happily, gasping in surprise.
The two old friends caught up with one another. Dreamweaver's bright smile and attitude having not dulled over the time apart or the traumas. Shi and Tookiee still were a close item, and Gildy could tell by the twinkle in hir eye and the tone in hir voice that this won't be a weak bonding broken by the upcoming move. "I've missed you, Gildedtongue." Shi finally said.
"I've missed you too, Dreamweaver," Shi saw the teen yawning as shi chuckled, "Why don't you go to bed. We'll talk at a better time." Dreamweaver nodded, waving as the two exchanged their farewells, and with a reluctant press, Gildy terminated the call. Hir hand brushed over hir cheeks, finding them wet with unknowingly shed tears.
Jadestripe reached to touch hir sister's shoulder supportingly as Gildy looked back at hir older sibling. They exchanged a tight hug as Gildedtongue clung onto hir new home.
"Babelcat, Stripetail! We're home!" Jadestripe called out, opening the front door of hir home. The home was a handsome, stucco structure, two stories tall, in its eggshell white mudded walls, out the front door was a sweeping view of the great ocean stretching out below the mountain's side. Within, cool, thick tiles greeted Gildy's sore paw pads, and behind hir, the PTV was picked up by its next needed user, the porcine next door neighbour.
It took a moment, but two young adult chakats, somewhere in their early twenties. One stood tall and lanky, hir burnette hair cut short into a bob, adorning a skunk patterned face and body, a blue pawprint gripping just over hir right breast. Shi was as nude as hir sibling, a shorter, broader Southwestern Bobcat patterned chakat. Both smiled and doubleteamed the new chakat in a tight hug. Gildy blushed, returning the hug as best as hir weary arms could muster before looking back at Jadestripe, "I really apologize, Jade, Babelcat, Stripetail, but, could I just find somewhere to sleep for awhile? It's been a very long day and I'd be much more sociable after some rest." The bobcat patterned chakat nodded, taking Gildy's duffel.
"Sure thing, Great Aunt Gildy. I'll take you to my room, so you hopefully won't be disturbed in the communal room," shi, who Gildy assumed was Babelcat due to the lack of stripes on hir tail, led hir down the hall, pointing out the bathroom as they passed it before arriving at a door at the end of the hall. Babel's room looked clean enough, aside from some toys on the ground, doubtlessly left by some careless cub, but it didn't much matter to Gildedtongue as shi crawled onto the sleeping pad and was out like a light.
Shi didn't know how long shi was out, but shi knew that it wasn't long enough. Gildedtongue's sleep was interrupted by the feeling of sharp fangs digging into hir tail, making it flick hard, having Gildy's head bolt upright to see what was the matter. A small chakat kitten, no more than a babe, but old enough that hir first set of teeth were in, jumped up after being knocked aside. Shi puffed up as menacingly as a small ball of tiger-patterned fluff could get as shi hissed at Gildedtongue's tail. The still groggy chakat yelped as the kitten went for a second attack, biting again on the same spot, but didn't expect the sleepy lion to be fast enough to pin hir under hir prehensile tail in a counterattack. The kitten mewled in defeat as Gildy gently picked hir up. The squirming thing seemed to be all right, just feisty and a little embarrassed that hir 'prey' seemed to have caught hir.
Making hir way back into the house, shi followed the sound of conversation, making sure the wiggling hunter didn't pull hirself out of hir gentle, yet firm grasp. Stepping into the kitchen, shi saw the three adult residents shi knew of drinking a large pot of, what Gildy assumed by the smell, voxxee. "One of yours?" Shi asked, looking down at the cub who finally pried hirself out of hir hands and lept towards Stripetail, hiding between hir legs. "I woke up to find hir making breakfast of my tail." Shi looked back at the appendage, seeing a little blood welling up from the sharp teeth's damage.
The skunk patterned chakat laughed quietly. "Oh, that'd be our little Bravehunter," shi said as Hunter responded with a soft growl, "Nothing bad happened, I hope?"
Gildedtongue shook hir head, "Not that I think so, I mean, aside from hir taking a chunk out of my tail, and in my sleep, my tail batting hir aside. Shi still looks fresh from the fight, though." Shi sighed and poured hirself a mug of the vile, but available and caffeinated drink, "Looks like I won't be getting the sleep I was hoping for. Thank you, Babelcat, still."
Gildedtongue's whiskers continued to twitch as shi swallowed down the spicy drink. If anything, it certainly worked as a method of waking up. "No problem, Gildedtongue, and we're sorry. Seems Stripe's little kitten either has hir mother's latent telekenesis, or likes taking running jumps at the door handles." Jadestripe laughed, putting down hir mug.
"Oh, it's the latter, B-Cat," Jade grinned, leaning back and smiling at hir sister, before looking at the two younger chakats, "Speaking of, aren't you going to introduce yourselves?" Babelcat and Stripetail blushed and nodded, coughing quietly. Stripetail began, smiling at Gildedtongue.
"I'm Stripetail, daughter of Jadestripe and Roothie, and I'm your niece. And this here is Bravehunter, daughter of me and Lovefur," Shi waved Bravehunter's unamused paw at Gildedtongue, who returned as friendly a smile and wave as shi could, wanting to hopefully make amends with the cub.
Babelcat put down hir mug, hugging Gildedtongue tightly, "I'm chakat Babelcat, daughter of Kelly Bobtail and Ambereyes. Amber is one of Jade's daughters, so, that would make you my great aunt Gildy. GAG, right?" Babelcat laughed, then got a second thought, "Actually, that's a really bad acronym. I'll get back to you on that." Shi sheepishly said.
Gildedtongue nodded and smiled, "I'm Chakat Gildedtongue, child of Gladelong and Creekstripe. I'm so happy to meet so much of the family I had lost." Shi purred, ruffling Babelcat's headfur. "So, Jadestripe, I guess I know of Ambereyes and Stripetail. How many daughters do you have?" Shi smiled taking a drink.
Jadestripe laughed and leaned back, mulling things over. "Oh, there's Crystalmane, Ambereyes, Dawncry, Yellowmane, Goldheart, Rain Kwitha and Stripetail. Well, those just the ones I've birthed or sired," Jadestripe said proudly flicking hir tail behind hir. The list made Gildedtongue almost spit out hir drink. Hir sister certainly had more than made up for hir procreational lacking.
"And the Lord sayeth unto Abraham, go forth and multiply," the leonine chakat couldn't help but chuckle. Both Stripetail and Babelcat joined in on the smiling, but Jadestripe's sour expression silenced it relatively quickly.
Shi sighed, "I really don't want that kind of talk in my home, Gildedtongue, do we understand?" Gildedtongue nodded, figuring such teasing was uncalled for, and felt genuinely sorry for crossing any lines. Jadestripe nodded, smiling, "Good."
Both Stripe and Babel had plenty of questions for Gildedtongue, asking about hir years and life growing up on Terra and in the Kingdom. Shi was the foreigner, and shi happily wove hir audience the stories of hir youth, growing up in the vineyard farms, to hir years of education at the monastery, and hir teaching career. Of course shi only gave an abridged summary, there was no need to empty all of hir material for future storytelling.
"So, you actually had human friends out there?" Stripetail said in honest amazement, getting a biscuit from a plate in the middle of the table. "All I've read about the Kingdom said that humans and morphs didn't mix."
"And all I've read about Chakona is the endless orgies and massive families," Gildy said with a smirk. "There are a lot of people out there who do firmly believe in segregation of people, and some who are outright hostile," Gildy trailed off in thought for a moment, considering the riots and the apartment fire after shi was released from prison. Shi shook hir head free from the memories, "Thankfully, there are people who believe in living in peace with morphs and aliens. We all have to share this universe together."
Babelcat nodded quietly, considering hir sister's question and Gildy's answer. Gildy smiled at the pointed-eared feline, "Babelcat, eh? A towering presence, eh?" Gildy's joke landed with blank stares before shi coughed, "How did you get that name?"
"Well, I was born Pinetail, but, well, with all the other 'tails running about, thought I ought to change things up," shi chuckled, shrugging with hir forelegs, "But, really, I wanted to learn languages and become an interpreter. So, I was looking up names of translators, and I found a name from an old Terran book..."
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Gildy finished with a bemused smile. "I've got a copy in my bag, if you're interested, but, yes, so you're named after the Babelfish, very nice," shi purred, eating another biscuit. "So, Jade, you live here with your daughters? I'm a bit surprised at how small it is, considering the size of your family..." Gildy trailed off as the three other chakats laughed.
"Oh, I'm only here visiting on the way home, sis," Jadestripe smiled, nodding to hir daughter and granddaughter, "No no, my home is down at the Skunktaur Archipelago. I just figured that, considering your condition," Jade's long tail ran over Gildy's gravid belly, "that it might be a smart move to wait here in Amistad until you give birth." Gildedtongue nodded, figuring that sounded right. "Now, who wants another mug?"
Gildedtongue was the only one hesitant on answering that.
The lion waddled in hir cage. In the last few days Gildedtongue found hirself expanding just enough millimeters to find hir sides trapped in most of the doors in the house. The midwife, a chakat Whiskertwitcher, explained to Gildy that the cubs had been moving to get into a more proper birthing position, which might be more comfortable and easier for them, but it would make hir life just a tad more interesting. Sleeping in the communal sleeping quarters wasn't too difficult to get used to, but shi cursed each time shi had to visit the loo and wedging hirself through. Gravid, twin-carrying old farts like hir were not in the general architectural plans. Still, shi could make it to the hall and the kitchen, but almost always needing to take a breather halfway. Gildedtongue couldn't wait until after the birth that day, but the dozens of people in the house were waiting for the main event.
The few members of the Purgatorio that Gildedtongue invited were mingling with a glut of strange natives. Babelcat and hir companion, a handsome young male raccoon morph, were talking with Susan, and many of the cubs in the family sat in rapture as Thallon wove great and wondrous stories for them all. Gildy couldn't help but smile as so many of the plots and characters were lovingly ripped out of many of the movies they watched together. Matilda Jefferson and Dominic Wu smiled as Gildedtongue walked by. The two seemed to have been relegated to the corner of the room.
"Hi. I hope you are enjoying yourselves," Gildy smiled, walking over to hir friends. Matilda smiled and patted Gildy's shoulder, giving hir a reassurance that they were doing well.
"I dunno. People seem to be giving us a wide berth," Dominic said, sipping on a cup of fruit juice local to the planet. The fair-skinned teen enjoying the initial taste, but after each gulp the backwash left a sour expression on his face. "It's weird," he shrugged, staring at the drink, making Gildy question if he meant the people or the drink. Still, the humans smiled as a Bengal Tiger chakat cub pulled hirself away from Thallon's storytelling to show them hir new doll.
"...know shi spent a lot of time with them, and got to be friends with them, but, I dunno, just how they've been."
Gildedtongue was walking in through the crowd of family shi didn't know shi had, hearing the feline drawl of Jadestripe. "That boy, I mean, the first thing he looked at when he got here was my tits!" The endowed white tigress shook hir head, a mug of voxxee in hir hand.
Shi was in the middle of a conversation with Saldura, whom was looking more and more agitated by the hostess's conversation. "I guess I shouldn't be too surprised."
Saldura's green eyes lit up seeing Gildedtongue nearby as shi got to hir feet, "Ah, Gildy! There's something I need to talk with you about." The badger put hir arm around the shorter chakat's shoulder as they slipped into the kitchen, as stealthfully as the wide loaded chakat, and the head-taller badger could be. "How are you doing?" Saldura asked, sequestering Gildy into the back of the house. Whiskertwitcher was also there, the tabby patterned chakat, clad in hir medical apron was going through hir supplies, as well as brewing a pot of hot water.
"I guess okay. Just, I mean, a whole lot of people going around, it's a bit overwhelming," Gildedtongue shrugged, turning back to the midwife, "So, you really need boiling water for birthing?" Gildy asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Whiskertwitcher laughed, hir namesake thick, black whiskers twitching about. "Yes, absolutely necessary! A midwife without hir tea is a very growly doctor indeed!" shi smiled coyly, and the promise of tea had perked up the leonine chakat, having not had a cup of anything hot that wasn't that alien brew in over a week. Having only one teabag to go around, it was weak, but Gildy savored the old world taste. "So, these will be your first, Gildy? I don't think I've ever had a mum as old as you on hir first, but..." shi rolled hir hand, "Not about the age, it's about the tyke, no? Well, tykes in this case." Shi smiled as shi gave Gildy's flanks a pat.
Gildy winced, feeling a tremor rolling around in hir womb. Whisker nodded, "Contraction?" shi asked quietly, not wanting to raise the excitement in the already crowded building. Gildy nodded as the midwife pulled hir blonde hair back into a ponytail and smiled, "Okay, let's just go quietly to the common room, I've got everything set up in there, so, I'll meet you there, preferably before your water breaks." Whiskertwitcher smiled, going off ahead as Saldura and Gildedtongue made their way through the crowd.
Gildedtongue tried to keep calm, but halfway through the hall, surrounded by other chakats, Gildy felt another contraction. The momentary discomfort enough for the empathically attuned residents to all stop their conversations at once, turning towards the silver streaked lion with large, almost predatory grins, "It's time!" called one. The empathic uproar gave Gildedtongue a headache, but shi offered a sheepish smile as shi was whisked towards the prepared birthing area.
The chakat didn't know when shi had lost hir top, but with one hand shi clutched the crucifix in hir palm tightly, making sure not to lose that. Gildedtongue knew that nudity was a core trait of a chakat birthing party as Saldura and Thallon came to hir sides, as unclad as shi was, but perhaps shi was not paying enough attention to the debriefing when shi saw the rest of the group standing naked around hir. The only one wearing anything was Whiskertwitcher, and that was just hir apron with all of hir tools.
Every set of eyes was glued onto the older chakat. The feelings of joy, curiosity, and anticipation filled the room like a thick fog. Gildedtongue tried to hear the midwife's instructions over the pounding of hir hearts. Shi looked around, seeing the strange faces of hir family all looking at hir. Aside from Jadestripe, Babelcat and Stripetail, and, of course, hir spouses, Gildy couldn't see any of hir friends in the crowd. They were probably in the back, shi wasn't sure.
"You'll have to calm down," Whiskertwitcher's voice came through finally as shi looked down at the midwife between hir hindlegs, covered in the amniotic fluid; hir water must have broken when shi wasn't paying attention. Gildedtongue realized shi had been holding hir breath as shi finally exhaled. Another contraction ran through hir body. Whiskertwitcher sighed, hir hands poking and prodding against Gildy's hind end. "Gildy, you're going to have to relax. Your hymenal sphincter is shut tight, and I can't imagine your cervix is any better!"
Nodding, Gildy tried hir best to relax, but being commanded to relax was not exactly easy. Whimpering, Gildedtongue tried to focus on hir breathing, attempting to ignore the stares. Shi squirmed, pain growing in hir lower belly as shi tried to open the passage for hir cubs. Everyone around hir expecting hir to do this, waiting anxiously for the new cubs to appear. The leonine chakat swallowed dryly, trying to open up the required sphincters, but shook hir head. "I-I can't," shi whispered to Thallon, the foxtaur nodding before relaying the message down to the midwife.
Whiskertwitcher nodded, clapping hir gloved hands before standing up, addressing the onlookers, "Folks, I'm going to have to ask you all to step out."
There was some grumbling by the gathered chakats and morphs, but it was quickly quieted by a stern look by the tabby midwife, "Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to fawn over the kits soon. Now shoo, shoo!"
The group shambled out, tails dragging on the floor. Turning back around, the midwife smiled warmly at the chakat and hir mates, "Now, is this more comfortable?"
Gildedtongue nodded, feeling relaxed already as shi breathed slowly, "S-sorry about that. Heh, bit of a party pooper." Gildedtongue shrugged, trying to get back to the task at hand.
"Don't worry about it," Whiskertwitcher smiled. "A lot of first mothers get clamped up, especially when performance anxiety comes into effect."
Saldura and Thallon laid next to Gildedtongue, holding hir hands as the midwife continued, "Honestly, that many people made even me nervous. Guessing your sister wanted the whole family involved, eh? Extended and all?" Whiskertwitcher's gloved hand managed to slide past Gildedtongue's relaxed hymenal sphincter, nodding in approval, "Okay, you're fully dilated, and I can feel a nose, so, I want you to push like we talked about all week."
Gildedtongue grunted, doing as shi was asked, thankful that hir birth canal was more accommodating for the larger centauroids. The eager child, blood red furred under the amniotic fluid, came into the galaxy, and hir sister, a light grey colour, came soon after. Whiskertwitcher expertly cleaned and readied the cubs, clearing their noses and mouths, and doing away with the umbilical cord, doing away with the afterbirth in a sanitary method.
When Whiskertwitcher gave the okay, Thallon went to address the assembled party.
Gildedtongue smiled, watching the two suckle eagerly from hir milk-filled bosom. Hir family had come to Chakona.
Chakats and the Chakat universe are copyright © Bernard Doove, and are used with permission.
All other characters are copyright © 2012 Robert Adrian firstname.lastname@example.org
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