Gildedtongue's hands trembled. Their grip over the carbine caused the weapon to shake with hir own convulsions. Hir eyes were glued on the man on the other side of the room. Empathic echoes assaulted hir meagre senses, a sharp pain in hir forehead spread across hir skull and face, shooting to the back of hir head. Hir hearts both slamming inside of hir chests as air seemed to escape hir muzzle, leaving hir to hyperventilate futilely.

He used to have a face, but a ferrous slug magnetically catapulted into his skull caved it in to a pocket of gore. He fell to his knees, then collapsed on the floor of the classroom. The coil-gun carbine clattered on the floor. Blood pounded in Gildedtongue's head as shi felt the bile rise up in hir throat, bending forward to vomit up the evil in hir body.

Yet the searing evil remained within hir.

-One day earlier.-

A week in open space and Gildedtongue felt hir space legs coming back to hir. Hir students thankful for their short vacation, but their noses were back in their studies, thanks to the new material Gildedtongue picked up from their shore leave. "... and everyone enjoy your two days off. I expect your papers when we reconvene. Class is dismissed."

Gildedtongue smiled at hir students, lifting hir head up to see hir mate, Saldura, standing in the back of the class. The badger waited patiently in the back of the classroom, smiling to the leaving children as Gildedtongue addressed some questions from a few of hir students privately. Finally the teacher was free, and Saldura approached hir, starting hir greeting with an unprofessional kiss. "How are you doing, love?"

"Honestly, better than I've ever been," the leonine chakat smiled, "I've got kids that seem to want to learn and enjoy doing it, I've been spending my nights with two wonderful people, and been getting to fill my belly with more and tastier foods than ever." A loud purr came from the teacher as shi stroked over the biped's shoulder. Saldura leaned into the affection, giving a concerned smile. "Something's troubling you?"

"Not particularly," the badger shrugged, wrapping an arm around Gildedtongue's shoulder, "But, we're heading out of prime Stellar Federation space and closer into the frontier. Shouldn't be too bad, considering we're empty of most cargo at the moment but, be it as it may, we're in more dangerous places." Saldura lead Gildedtongue to a locked wall panel cabinet. "Put your hand on the bio lock. I've added your data to this storage box, as well as the ones in your room and mine."

Gildedtongue did as asked and the panel slid up, showing a rack holding three small rifles, and several magazines. Saldura pulled the top one off of the rack, "This is a coil-gun carbine. We don't have the funds to get enough phaser licences to outfit the whole ship, but these babies are inexpensive enough, and do the job right."

Gildedtongue's heart sank, understanding what was going on as hir mate showed hir how to operate the weapon, handing it to hir to do the same.

"On the bright side, most pirates won't immediately shoot to kill. The frontier slave ring is pretty strong even today, so they won't simply blast the ship into slag. Rather, they'll be focusing on boarding parties to storm the ship, take out the resistance, and commandeer the vessel to bring it back to whoever'll give them the most coin," Saldura explained. "You're the last defence for these kids, and I am expecting you to do your job in protecting them. Any pirate or slaver goes through that door, I don't want you to second guess. They'll kill you, and those kids will meet a fate worse than they had on that derelict ship."

The weapon grunted slightly as Gildedtongue's grip on the barrel and grip tightened, "And how do I know if the person stepping inside is someone friendly?" Shi relaxed hir grip, feeling the texture of the weapon leave an imprint on hir paw pads. Saldura's strong arm embraced the chakat's shoulders, giving a supportive smile.

"Well, we'll knock five times and give a password, 'Beatrice Brings Joy.'" Gildedtongue gave a small smirk at Saldura, who rolled hir eyes, "Matilda really liked The Divine Comedy."

Gildedtongue laughed and nodded. "I think I can tell. It certainly wasn't too interesting to me. Barely any character development." Shi looked at the weapon a bit more, feeling sombre once again. "I guess I'd better train on my off time at the shooting range."

"With any luck, you won't need to worry about actually using it, but yes, best to err on the side of caution." Saldura gave hir lover a kiss on the cheek as the chakat let out a soft purr, hir tail flicking more behind hir. "I'm off shift in two hours and I know Thallon's slacking off; coming to our quarters tonight?"

"Well, all right," the chakat smiled, kissing the badger's cheek lightly. "But, I'll be in my room grading homework. Last time you guys kept me up and aroused, I couldn't get any work done!"

Saldura responded with an impish cackle before returning the kiss, walking out of the class room.

"A fine mess you made for yourself, Josh," Gildedtongue muttered under hir own breath as shi tidied the room, adjusting the tables and chairs for next session. "Horny foxes and badgers, space pirates, guns, a stranger under a false name. Sounds like a movie that Sal would like to watch." Shi laughed, hir mate's taste in cinema sure was different; it seemed the more God-awful it was, the more shi was entertained.

Shi returned the weapon to the charging rack when shi was finished, making sure to unload the weapon, opening the breech like shi was shown earlier, extracting the projectile. The metal cylinder was thinner than hir small finger, and about as long. A hole bored through the middle with indentations around the inside. Shi knew enough physics (Or, rather, played enough games) to figure out these were meant to let the projectile expand and flatten like a pancake. The notion made hir tremble as shi placed it in the cabinet and locked it, saying a short prayer that shi'd never have to open it, but agreeing with Saldura, tomorrow shi'd go and train. Shi left the classroom, locking it behind hir.

Getting halfway done with hir grading, Gildedtongue started taking notes on next session's talking points and assignments. Shi longed for the days where shi could set up a curriculum and a syllabus and schedule before the year started, but the impromptu teaching style had a certain appeal to it, despite the difficulty. Passages from hir books were highlighted into hir PADD and key vocabulary and definitions were set up. Kidnapped proved to be a much easier text to connect to various modern subjects than Le Mort but shi knew the subject material was something shi'd have to tread carefully on. Stories about pirates were more relevant today than shi'd care for.

The door chimed behind the chakat, alerting hir to hide hir notes and the papers, lest a crafty student discover more than they were intended. Rather than one of hir students, Thallon stood at the door when Gildedtongue opened it.

"Teacher, can I have some help on my sex ed homework?" the foxtaur grinned wide, his bushy tail wagging rapidly behind him. Gildy rolled hir eyes and pulled him inside.

"You know I'm trying to work here," shi said, not sounding too angry, however. Shi turned hir back to him and went back to hir documents, resuming trying to work, or at least look like shi was. Thallon stepped up behind hir, wrapping his forelegs and arms around hir back, resting his chin on hir head, easy for the other 'taur with a foot advantage above hir. He cackled playfully, loosing a few yaps as he massaged hir shoulders. Gildy started to purr, chuckling slightly, "I'm not going to be getting any work done here any time soon, am I?"

"Probably not." Hir lover grinned naughtily, nibbling slowly along hir shoulder and neck, making hir fur ruffle and rise underneath hir clothing. His hands worked on that joining of hir torsos, learning what that did to hir, driving hir wild. One of Thallon's hands had found its way underneath hir blouse, cupping hir larger breast when there was another knock on the door. "Figures..."

Gildy shot hir mate a raspberry, adjusting hir clothing and doing a quick sheath check on hirself and Thallon, making sure neither of them were doing any peeking. Dominic stood on the other side of the door, looking at the chakat when shi finally opened up hir door. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" he asked, looking at the two inside of the quarters.

"No, no, of course not. Please, come in, Dominic. What seems to be the problem?" the chakat asked the sandy-haired boy. He glanced between the two centauroids, and eventually Thallon gave a small blush, excusing himself and leaving the teacher and student alone.

Dominic sat down on one of the chairs in Gildedtongue's quarters, silent for a moment as he collected his thoughts. Gildedtongue's empathic strength wasn't enough to get a sense of what was troubling the human, so shi simply waited for him to start talking. After what felt like an eternity, Dominic took a deep breath, "Well, it's not about school, really, just something that's been bugging me lately, for a while, really."

Gildedtongue nodded, crossing hir arms over hir anthro belly, hir dark blue eyes taking in the boy's sheepish look.

"I guess, I don't know, you don't seem to be stupid, but, ah, how do you buy it? The whole God thing? The magic and miracles, dying and coming back to life? Just seems weird to me anyone who'd be educated would believe in any of that, sorry."

The question did catch Gildedtongue off guard as shi closed hir eyes to process everything. "Well, for starters, you do know my background, my growing up and being educated in the Holy Kingdom, certainly would have an impact on my beliefs and faiths. And, I admit, my current situation and recent events really have made me question my faith heavily." Shi shrugged slightly with hir fore-hips.

"Well, that is part of the point. I mean, I've read some of the things going on there, and all of that are in the name of what most call a peaceful religion. How can you be with such hypocrites?" Dominic asked a bit more pointedly.

A smile started to form on Gildedtongue's muzzle, accepting the irony the child had pointed out. "I really can't speak for all the people of the Holy Kingdom, or Christians, or everyone of faith. I'm going to make a guess and say you're atheistic?" Dominic nodded. The chakat thought for a moment, "Well, myself, I view it like this; take away God, take away the magic and all that, and what do you have remaining? The Old Testament is a set of rules about how to organize a society in Middle Eastern civilized humanity, and the New Testament is about how people ought to treat each other, with a clause stating that much of the Old Testament need not apply any more. Though, eating Kosher is relatively healthy, tried it for about a year until it got too expensive..." shi saw the glazed look over Dominic's face, and coughed, getting back on track.

"But, right, why? I guess the easy thing to say is 'why not?' but, I think you deserve a better answer than that." Hir student nodded, hoping that the chakat would get to the point. Gildedtongue looked out into the stars quietly, "I guess in the end I'd like to think that there's something more out there. I mean yes, we're learning all sorts of new things every day, discovering the way the universe is put together but, I dunno, I guess some romantic part in me says that there's still something out there inexplicable. I guess that inexplicable nature of the universe is what I consider "God" if that makes any sense."

By this time, though, Gildedtongue found that shi was talking to hirself. Dominic had long mentally left the ongoing prattling and lecturing and was offering a look of bored disinterest. "Um, I guess that's it. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?" Dominic shook his head, getting up.

"Ah, no, that's okay. I'm not really sure why I asked. Just, curious and all. Um, I guess I'll see you the day after tomorrow. I've got some homework to do... as you know, you assigned it." He waved out and Gildedtongue bade him farewell. Checking the clock a whole hour went by and shi had barely anything done.

"Right, to the books..." shi muttered, cracking hir knuckles before getting back to work.

Having met hir personal quota for the day, the leonine chakat stepped out of hir quarters and office back into the spine of the ship. Hir clock reading 2130 and hir stomachs rumbled an agreement to the time. Making hir way back to the galley, Gildy felt far more at ease, finding a rhythm and beat again to hir life, enjoying the bit of order after the amount of chaos shi endured earlier. A momentary concern of falling into a rut passed through the chakat's head, but shi then remembered that shi wasn't going to be here too much longer. Shi would move on from the Purgatorio, and hir class here, and Thallon and Saldura. Hir hearts sank as shi made hir way into the room, getting that time slot's offered meal. Shi didn't really look over it, the melancholy taking over.

"That's a long face that would challenge a quange. What's wrong, love?" Thallon had made his way behind Gildedtongue, tracing his fingers over hir lower spine, making it curl upwards instinctively.

The middle-aged herm blushed hotly, turning to hir lover. "Oh, it's nothing. Just a bit of the whole temporary nature of this situation is getting to me is all."

"Yeah, gets to me a little too..." Thallon muttered, helping Gildedtongue to a table as he stole a bit of fruit from hir tray. The hybrid foxtaur was quiet with the chakat for many moments, letting the murmur of the crowd behind and around them fill in the blanks. Thallon finally spoke after coughing into his fist, "You know, you, ah, don't have to, you know..." he fumbled with his words, not sure if he should say what was on his mind, though the thought seemed to also be rattling in hir head as well.

"I know. Believe me, I've thought about staying here. I guess I'm a little scared, to be honest. I mean, it's been ages since I last set foot on some real ground, and God knows some days I get absolutely claustrophobic and full of cabin fever, getting stuffed in here. Not to mention that rather gnawing fact of absolutely ensured death awaiting just scant centimetres on the other side of these walls. Kinda chilling, really."

"It's not absolutely ensured, there's a two to the power of two hundred and sixty thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine to one chance you'll be saved before complete asphyxiation." Gildedtongue gave a bit of an astonished look to the huge centauroid. Thallon laughed and blushed hotly, "Fine, fine, I read over that book of yours when you weren't going through it."

Gildedtongue's mood soared as shi giggled, pulling Thallon down to kiss him deeply on the lips, much to a few cheers in the galley, "Anyone wanting to quote Mr. Adams to me has got to be quite the smart, sexy, wonderful guy I know he is." Thallon blushed hotly once again, giving a coy smile and returned the kiss. They resumed eating, Saldura joining them shortly after as the three lovers made their way back to the badger's quarters. Thallon kissing Gildy in full force while Sal was getting out of hir uniform.

Gildy made love with Thallon, climbing on his backs this time as Saldura watched with deep interest, working on hirself. None of them made it to the bed, Thallon and Gildy passing out on the floor and Saldura climbing between the both, enjoying the warm bed of lovers.

It was 0800 when Gildy blinked hir eyes open. Hir head pounding from oversleeping as shi looked around the empty room. Neither Thallon nor Saldura were there, probably already starting their days as the chakat grabbed a spare top shi had hidden away in the badger's room, stepping out into the spine.

Looking around, the change of shifts was apparent. People milling around the long hall, as well as walking towards their quarters and towards their jobs, the galley, anywhere else they might want to go. Shi spied Saldura, wearing a simple tank top and shorts, forgoing the usual Purgatorio uniform, telling Gildedtongue it was hir day off. Shi was talking with a tall white rat morph. The rat wore a bright orange jumpsuit, face and clothing having black and brown splotches of grease all over, a not so subtle hint about the rat's profession in engineering. The red eyed rat leaned over, kissing Saldura straight on the lips, and the badger returned the kiss with earnest. Jealousy was alien and unavailable to Gildedtongue, but curiosity, well, that was something the chakat had in spades.

Making hir way to the two, the rat was heading towards the rear of the ship, towards engineering, and Saldura turned to walk the other way, finding Gildedtongue. "Oh, good morning sleepyhead. My word, when you really want to sleep in, there's nothing to wake you up, is there?" Saldura laughed, giving the chakat a tight hug, bending down to kiss hir lips.

"Mmmmmph, I guess not. Though, who was that? I don't recall you mentioning anyone else but Thallon before as your lover." Gildedtongue asked, getting straight to the point.

Saldura blushed, wrapping hir arm around Gildy's shoulders as they started to walk, going with a flow of the river of flesh than trying to stand firm. "Well, I guess it's because I can't really say I'm in love with hir, per se," Sally started, Gildedtongue picking up the pronoun, adding another new bit of information about the rat. "That was Susan, and I guess the closest you could call our relationship is, I guess, friends with benefits, though, shi'd just call us 'fuckbuddies.'" Sal laughed and thought to hirself. "I dunno, shi's nice and all, and once in awhile it's very nice to have sex with someone about your size, but..." Saldura trailed off, "I guess we're just friends, just, rather close friends."

Gildedtongue nodded a bit, "So, in chakat terminology, Companions?" Saldura nodded, giving a bit of a shrug. After a quick breakfast, Saldura ushered Gildedtongue into the holoroom once again. There wasn't anyone else there that day, save for the quartermaster.

"Has the room been set up for today's bit of training?" Saldura asked Gordon. The old man nodded his head, and Saldura looked back at the chakat, "Okay, in there is a simulation of your class room. We're going to go through a drill to see how you handle a boarding crisis. Remember what I taught you yesterday?" Gildedtongue nodded softly. "All right, Wanderer. I want you to go in there and make me proud." Shi nodded and gave hir lover a salute before stepping in.

The room looked just like hir own, and several images of hir students all were seated in their chairs, and if shi wasn't looking at them too closely, shi wouldn't see the flickering refreshing of the holograms as shi moved in. They all stared at hir with lifeless eyes as the chakat felt a bit awkward, moving from foot to foot waiting for the drill to start. Soon in the room the intercom blared, "Alert! Alert! Hostile ship encountered. All available hands to their stations. Alert! Alert!" The holographic children immediately got up and went to the back of the room, behind Gildedtongue as the chakat reached for a panel. The cabinet wasn't holographic, and quickly the door opened, revealing, like Gildedtongue saw earlier, a weapons rack. Shi grabbed the top carbine and the magazine, inserting it like shi was shown and brought it to hir shoulder, waiting.

"Alert! Alert! Enemy ship has started to board! All hands prepare to drive them off! Alert! Alert!" The loudspeaker was hurting hir sensitive ears as shi waited. Even though this was just a test, hir heart was forcing itself up into hir throat, wanting to make a good impression for Saldura, but also to tell hirself that shi was able to protect people, not just always run away. There was a knock on the door, then a pounding before it opened. The pirate was huge, wearing heavy armour, though his face was exposed behind a plate of transparisteel. The chakat loosed some volleys as the holographic hollow points smacked ineffectually on the armour. The pirate turned, lifting up his pistol and then the whole room turned red save for hirself and the cabinet to hir right.

"Sorry, Wanderer, you've died," Saldura said over the intercom, "Try aiming for the face and any weak points you can see. Sadly, our ordinance isn't exactly the greatest, so we gotta work extra hard with what we have." Gildedtongue nodded as the drill started all over once shi replaced the cabinet's contents. Over and over they ran it, and each time ending the same. Hir accuracy was just not quite there.

It was the tenth run-through as the pirate came in again. Gildedtongue fired one shot to the pirate's cheek, blasting open his armoured helmet. Shi took the opportunity to fire again, hitting him square in the face. The hologram gave a gurgle as he slumped. Gildedtongue doing the same, dropping hir weapon as shi felt hir small breakfast and mostly stomach acid push out of hir mouth. Hir whole body feeling wretched and unclean as shi spasmed. The feeling of death and pain dancing along hir backs as shi held hirself. The door opened again and the feeling was gone, Saldura walking inside.

Tears were rolling down the chakat's cheek as shi slowly lifted hir head, trembling even more. "W-what... what was that? That wasn't real, but..."

Saldura wiped the chakat's mouth, slowly lifting hir up. The strong biped getting hir up with ease as shi lead hir into the back room of the ship's stock.

"Considering we're a freelance transport, we often go between Stellar Federation space, and League of Non-Aligned Worlds space. Anyway, in the LNAW areas, there are some technologies that are... well, not quite banned, but not exactly smiled upon in Stellar Federation territory." Saldura patted what looked like a large oil drum with some electronic outputs on the side. "This is a C-Class Empath Emitter, the most powerful artificial psionic device available to civilians, A and B classes are restricted, obviously."

Gildedtongue nodded, looking over the device as shi reached to touch it with a trembling hand, scared that it might bite or affect hir once again. Saldura continued, "Originally designed for scientific purposes for non-Talented people to experience and communicate and regulate better with people of Talent, in the LNAW, many of these are used for purely... entertainment purposes. Think of it like the old Smell-O-Vision for your sixth sense. Anyway, only an Empathic device was ever designed since telepathy requires more of a living brain to operate. Heh! There is a brain in here though, just a hypothalamus, and with the right electrical pulses, can create the emotions needed, then they're amplified through... well, I don't know, tech stuff."

"Why didn't you warn me about this?" the chakat asked the obvious question, knowing the how, but the why still burning in hir head.

Saldura sighed, kissing the chakat's cheek. "Because I'm not sure you'd have agreed to do this if you knew? Empathy is one major deterrent for chakats in active military positions. There is a necessary distance one should have if you have to take someone's life, as you can see. Trust me, I'm certainly not going to tell you that we have to continue. We can stop now if you'd like."

Gildedtongue closed hir eyes, inhaling deeply as shi thought for a moment, finally saying to Saldura, "Run it again."

Days went by on their journey, and Gildedtongue continued to train hirself in that horrible drill, learning to ignore hir empathic responses as well as getting better with hir own skills with the longarm. Class went by smoothly and hir relationship with hir lovers grew more and more, as did hir feeling of fleeing. Perhaps they could be persuaded in staying with hir on Chakona, or maybe shi'd be able to wait for them on their trips near the planet. Shi spent ages alone, surely a few years between visits wouldn't be terrible?

Gildedtongue's daydreaming was brought to an abrupt end when Growl, the nickname of a young wolftaur, came up to ask hir a question mid class. Shi opened up hir mouth to respond when the speakers started sounding an alarm. "Alarm! Alarm! Hostile ship encountered! All available hands to their stations! Alarm! Alarm!" Gildedtongue immediately told hir students to overturn their desks and come back to hir side, getting a weapon for hirself.

Dominic's hand came to pick one up as well and the chakat shot him a glare, "Just keep your head down. I'd rather you live." The human gave a defiant look, but begrudgingly took hir advice, huddling in the corner out of sight of the door. Gildedtongue armed hir weapon; no hologram, this was a real event. Hir hearts pounding as sweat formed along the band of glands along hir forehead. Hir dull blue eyes focused forward. Shi focused and waited.

Nothing happened for moments, dragging on like their own little eternities before the whole ship shook. The lights went dim before the red emergency lights turned on. No other alarms came through; more than likely Engineering was hit. Gildedtongue thought a silent prayer to Susan, a person shi had never met and arguably a competitor to Saldura's heart, but still, hoped for hir safety.

Gildedtongue started to whisper to hirself in a chant, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His Name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, You anoint my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord My whole life long." Shi repeated the 23rd Psalm over and over again, feeling the meditation relax hir. Whether through Divine providence or simple distraction, the chakat felt hirself focused as shi chanted. Several other students joining in, a few with their own prayers. Dominic kept quiet, comforting a crying feline, Matthew. Apparently there are still plenty of atheists in foxholes.

Gildedtongue listened for the door, hearing blasts and exchanges of weapons fire on the other side of it, hoping that hir side was winning. The heavy door finally ringing out in a knock, nearly making all the occupants jump out of their skin in frightened surprise. Once, twice, three times. The chakat's hearts beat in alternating motions, pushing as much oxygen into hir muscles as they could, ringing in hir ears as hir large lungs held their breath. The door started to open and a head peeked inside. Gildedtongue's weapon slammed against hir shoulder as shi opened fire. The helmetless head suddenly slammed against the opposite wall, causing the children to gasp in fright. Gildedtongue felt the fear, pain and death coursing through hir veins, but what shi didn't feel was regret. Shi pulled the corpse into the room, closing the door, not wanting anyone else outside to see the carnage and investigate.

They stood frozen in the room for well over an hour. Gildedtongue swallowed countless dry mouths as shi stood guard, sitting on a knife's edge. Another knock was heard at the door. Once, twice, thrice, four times, and five. The familiar sound of Saldura's voice came through the door, "Beatrice brings joy", before it opened up. Gildedtongue finally let the weapon down from hir shoulder, exhaling a long breath. Shi giggled in response to all the adrenaline leaving hir body, sobbing at the same time. Saldura was dressed in full armour, heavy, rounded plates of specialized metals and ceramics covering and concealing hir form, but shi went over to hug the chakat, trying to offer hir some comfort. Shi turned to see the fallen pirate, giving a small nod. "I'm sorry."

Gildedtongue shook hir head, averting hir gaze from the body. "It's okay. It was either him... or these." Shi gestured to the children. "What happened?"

The badger sighed, explaining that they were caught in a grav mine field. An explosive hit their engineering decks, and knocked out most of the power. They boarded from the top of the spine, and invaded. Twenty security officers were injured in the firefight; three lost their lives. The pirate ship gave up and flew off, apparently as unarmed as the Purgatorio.

"And Engineering? How many casualties there?" Gildedtongue asked, concerned, hoping that Saldura's friend made it.

"I don't know, I'm sorry. I'm still getting reports." Saldura said, tapping hir monocle computer output. "I know Thallon's okay, though. Damned cowboy took down four in the cargo hold with a wrench."

Gildedtongue let out a sigh of relief, momentarily forgetting Thallon, but happy he was safe. Saldura was looking off into space, scanning hir computer for a moment before giving a nod, "Chief engineer William Bennett died in the exposition, but that's all. I guess that means Technician Susan Labs is safe." Saldura smiled, "You were worried about hir for me?"

Gildedtongue nodded a bit, feeling a little shy, "I'm sorry about everyone else though."

Saldura hugged Gildedtongue again, "Four deaths is a tragic thing, but it could be worse. A lot worse. I'm just happy there weren't more. You look like shit, though, Wanderer. I think you need to get some rest."

"Please – language before such impressionable youths?" Gildedtongue loosed a joke in the morbid situation, everything getting too much for hir. Shi turned to the students, "But, yes, just forget about class today."

They weren't in the mood to celebrate as they nodded to Gildedtongue. Shi made hir way to them, moving around the overturned tables and desks to hug the ones needing it. Sal made a silent exit, going to address the rest of the ship.

Time seemed to have no meaning the rest of that day, the force field on the spine quickly being replaced by repairing panels to the layers of hull. Gildedtongue finally making it back to Saldura's room while Thallon was there, shadowboxing and moving around. The chakat offered him a small smile and the two embraced, turning to kiss each other.

"Hey, babe. I'm glad to see you," he whispered, stroking his fingers through hir silver-streaked red mane.

"As I you," shi responded, stroking his chest, letting out a long sigh, "Does this happen a lot?"

"Not really. This is actually the first time I've been in a boarding." Thallon tried to comfort hir, stroking along hir sides and back.

"Guess I was born under a bad sign, then, eh?" Gildedtongue asked, cocking hir head to one side.

Thallon let out a small yapping laugh, licking over hir cheek with his purple tongue.

"Maybe, though you're one tough enough bitch to get through it, obviously." The wolf/foxtaur cuddled with his lover and mate as they closed their eyes, enjoying one another's presence. The main lights finally came back on, causing both to cover their eyes at the sudden brightness. "Well, guess they've got most of the power back on line, we'll be smooth sailing in no time flat!" The big centauroid grinned.

Saldura came in through the door looking exhausted, stripping out of hir uniform and collapsing on the bed in hir undergarments. The chakat reached to touch the badger, seeing some bruises and light cuts from the mêlée, but nothing needing medical attention. The badger stared at the ceiling, letting out a low sigh. "Well, good news is that we've got the engine operating as best as it can go right now. We're now moving at five million metres per second at this moment towards the nearest space station to get repaired."

Gildedtongue frowned slightly, cocking hir head, "And the bad news?"

The badger inhaled deeply, ‘How the enemy ship landed knocked out our long-range communication rigging, and at our current rate of speed, it's going to take five years to get from here to Omega 56-74. Hope you packed a lunch – it's going to be one long, long trip."

Gildedtongue felt a little nauseous. Shi got hir wish, like in most stories about wishes. Shi now had more time to stay with hir new mates. Thallon rested his hand on hir shoulder as Gildedtongue spoke again, "What about Jadestripe and everyone expecting me?"

Saldura sighed, "Well, when we don't arrive at our scheduled areas, we'll be marked absent, and after the first year or so, all marked dead-at-sea, so to speak. Heh, lucky you, Gildy, you've died twice now. Your Federation Record is going to be interesting for a civilian."

"What about passing ships, Sal? Isn't this a pretty common spacing route?" Thallon asked, cocking his head.

Saldura chuckled, "Very common, and undoubtedly there are ships passing around us right now, but they're also going hundreds of light-years a day, in other words... too fast to even notice us. We'd probably pop up on their scanners as some bit of debris to avoid and the automated systems will adjust their course around us. The short range communications wouldn't get picked up as they whizzed past."

Dead again. The notion ran a new trembling terror down hir spine as shi excused hirself. Shi needed some room, some air, and the only place shi could find it right now was in the cargo room, leaving hir lovers for the moment. Looking down there were fifty black bags organised on the floor. The chakat making hir way down to them, nodding to hirself. They were body bags of the fallen, both members of the ship and members of the pirates.

Trying to take hir mind off of the situation, shi took out Frank's cross and started to bless each body, giving them Last Rites. Shi wasn't ordained, but out here it was as close as their souls would get. A familiar voice spoke behind Gildedtongue. "You know, being dead isn't all that bad, really." Creekstripe smiled, crossing hir arms before hirself. Gildedtongue turned to look at hir sire.

"You're not real! You're a dream!" shi shouted at hir, snarling openly. Creekstripe nodded to hir outburst.

"Maybe. Though, you're awake now, aren't you?" The chakat whimpered, looking around, knowing shi was right. Creekstripe walked around the bodies carefully, looking over them, stopping at one about three fourths of the way down. "Ah, this one is yours, right?"

Gildedtongue snarled at the phantom, "He's not mine... I don't own anyone!"

"True, but you did take his life, didn't you? Sure, he was a pirate, but he was also a man. As a bit of inside knowledge from beyond... he had a beautiful wife, a jaguar morph and they were compatible enough to make three lovely, gorgeous children together. Oh, they didn't know about Daddy's job, but now, well, guess they won't ever see him again. Well, was his life or yours, right?"

"Shut up!" Gildy roared, focusing hir eyes at hir dead father, finding hir gone. Shi was alone again, surrounded by the dead, and shi wept.



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