The Purgatorio is a decommissioned H345-V Star Transport, a relic from the Gene Wars. During the end of the war, the H345 series was the fastest, and largest carrier available, coming in two varieties, T, or troop transport, or V, vehicle transport. Due to the large cargo capacity, the H345-V became immensely popular for private shipping companies once they were decommissioned after the war. Its ability to go groundside on planets or asteroids was a major selling factor for ore traders to load up on or near site, and able to offload easily as well. T transports were initially popular for moving large groups of people after the war, however as more posh and luxurious cruisers came into vogue, the military barracks and utterly honeycomb nature of the H345-Ts were largely abandoned.

Measuring at 550 metres in length and 80 metres in diameter, the cylindrical transports were often nicknamed "Space Vibrators" by the soldiers that travelled in them, and awaited their arrival. The V-class could be manned by a skeleton crew of 240 hands, and optimum service was at a full thousand. With a full crew load, the H345-Vs could carry and support comfortably up to 1550 personnel comfortably for three years, while transporting a full battalion of Battlemechs, tanks, hover craft, or mobile buildings and enough fuel to run them.

The Purgatorio herself was decommissioned when the Colonial Militia on Valkkon VI received a modern transport carrier, and was sold to retiring Major Matilda Jefferson for a reduced fee. It took her seven years to pay out the debt, but now Captain Jefferson runs her own transportation company, with 850 employees underneath her. Due to the modifications to make the ship suited for civilian space travel, the phaser banks and hard points were removed, and the military grade warp drive and communications array were replaced with civilian marketed parts.

Other modifications were installed. The ship contains over 300 "Smuggler's Holds" which can carry over three tonnes of goods combined. While the concealed compartments themselves are not illegal (in fact, even the Stellar Federation recommends highly sensitive and important items concealed in case of attack) the Stellar Federation demands that any and all such compartments be documented and presented at any time when requested by an official.

The Holo Room, originally used for briefings and debriefings having been made for both training and entertainment purposes. While not as powerful as a modern Holodeck with its replicative properties, the Holo Room can project fully 3D, moving images through floor emitters, however remaining intangible. The Holo Room is adjacent to both the ship's Armoury as well as the ship's Security offices. Due to strict regulations both per planet and in space on Phaser technology, the Purgatorio outfits their personnel with electromagnetic coilgun weapons, the Fabrique Nationale's EMAL carbine. The ship has licenses to arm itself with 600 chemical-less physical projectile weapons, and no license for ship mounted weapons. Most pirates forgo ship-mounted weapons due to their illegality and their prominent display on their ships make it difficult for them to get to planets to offload their ill-gotten goods. There's also the issue of firing a weapon going the speed of light against targets going faster than the speed of light, outrunning the projectile easily.

Two replicators are available for use on the ship, the main replicator, used primarily for issuing food, clothing, tools, materials, and other such for the crew, and a back up replicator housed in the medical bay, producing minor medicines and other healing measures. Due to the ship not being registered as a mobile medical station, patterns of many modern drugs and treatments have not been uploaded to the replicator database.

The ship's hold currently houses several hundred tonnes of coal, magnesium ore, iron ore, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sodium chloride, potassium bromide, and iodine. Half of its cargo had been sold off at the last station, and the rest will be dropped at the next one before heading to a planet or asteroid to restock. With the technology of replication it has allowed for deep space stations to subsist for great lengths of time, but with refuelling and with population changes and visitors the amount people intake versus the amount people leave requires more and more material to be issued around.

Such banal factoids were the only thing keeping Gildedtongue's mind running. The ship had been moving slowly for the past six months. Ideally, they should have reached their destination within a week, and by now, Gildedtongue would have only a month remaining on hir journey to Chakona.

The air in the ship was dead. It was filtered and reprocessed so everyone could breathe easy, but it tasted and smelled sterile, reminding the chakat of the hospital. Ionized, cleaned, the carbon ripped from the CO2 and used for the replicator, re-oxygenating the air. Perfect to keep people healthy, but extracting the essence of the people from the air just made it feel off.

It certainly wasn't just affecting the chakat. The students sat listlessly through the lesson. At the start of the trip there was a lot more interactivity, now eyes stared at hir almost blankly. The number of eyes there had also shrank, many children recalling their time on the derelict, and Gildedtongue had to ask a number of parents to get and comfort their screaming and cowering children.

"You know, a real chakat would be able to help those children," a growingly familiar voice said to Gildedtongue from the corner of the room. Shi tried to ignore the spirit walking around the room. No one else seemed to notice Creekstripe, so Gildy did hir best not to as well. "A real work of art here. A chakat unable to simply offer emotional comfort to distressed children. I'm sure the Stellar Federation would be so proud of you." But it had been getting harder every day.

"This is stupid!" Dominic outburst, the sandy haired boy standing bolt upright from his desk. "We should be learning things that actually matter, like how to fix the engine, or learn how to fight! Talking about relationships and politics of fictional worlds doesn't matter!" He pounded on the desk.

Gildedtongue growled lightly, "Dominic, go sit in the corner, now. And count to fifty in Ratarsk, base ten." Shi sighed, down to making old-fashioned punishments to keep order. The room felt more like hir classroom back on Terra by the day.

"Gun, Rralt, Felta, Domo, Excol, Kolv, Venta, Venta ut Gun, Venta ut Rralt, Holdon..." Dominic muttered in the tongue of the Caitians as he walked towards the corner, dragging his feet behind him.

"Oh, wonderful method, I'm really sure you've answered his question and got him to pay more attention to the material, Gildy," Creekstripe clapped slowly, looking at hir daughter, "Really, job well done."

Gildedtongue's hearts both started to pound faster as shi looked back down at hir PADD, hir palm pad starting to soak the electronic with hir sweat. Eyes trying to focus on the text in front of hir, Gildy attempted to read more of hir notes, "Now, we can draw parallels between the post war Terra and the Caitian Tale of the Eight Tribes. The fall of Mookdor..."

"Fucking reaching for it now, eh, Gildy? Really? I mean, I know history repeats, but a seventeen century old story connected to the recent Gene War?" Creekstripe scoffed, crossing hir arms before hir breasts.

"The fall of Mookdor," Gildedtongue faltered, repeating hirself. Hir teeth starting to clench as hir upper chest was burning, "created a power vacuum that caused the Eight Tribes to vie for power. Much like the strong seats of power were destroyed after the Gene..."

"Except that the end of that story is that all the tribes destroyed each other in civil war. Do you even read the shit you teach, kitten?" The spectre walked over to the window, looking into the passing space, "Not that you even care, really. I mean, you were supposed to teach these kids for nine months and never see them again, right? Well, guess you'll get tenure after the next four and a half years, eh? Heh."

"Shir Wanderer?" a young vixen morph called, looking at Gildedtongue staring at the window, pausing in hir speech, "Are you okay?"

Chuckling, Creekstripe turned around, hir blank eyes grinning at the leonine chakat, "Heh, are you okay? I mean, you and I know that you really aren't. But, doesn't matter really, does it? Hell, you're just waiting for your teaching responsibilities to be over so you can fuck them. Fuck them hard like Dreamweaver, right?"

"Shut up!" Gildedtongue snarled, feeling hir claws dig into the plastic casing of the PADD, hir tail starting to lash behind hir.

"That Dominic kid is the one you want, don't you? You want to run your fingers through his hair as he sucks on your cock, right? Repayment for your teaching, right?"

Gildy was hyperventallating, hir dull blue eyes glared at hir sire. The blood pumping through hir ears deafened any mutters of discomfort coming from hir class, "Shut the FUCK up, Goddamn it!"

"Uttering the Lord's name in vain. You're as terrible a Christian as you are a Chakat. You really are a useless waste of fle-"

Creekstripe's words were cut short as shi disappeared. Gildedtongue had hurled hir datapad at the window, the electronic exploding in thousands of pieces as the transparent material dented and cracked from the impact. The children were screaming, sprinting out of the classroom as fast as their legs could carry them, leaving Gildedtongue fuming at the front of the classroom, hir nostrils flaring like a bull ready for a charge.

All the chakat could see was a red wash before hir. Several dark figured bursting in from the door, looking around before running to hir. Gildedtongue ran hir fist at the first one, knocking it aside easily, but quickly one of the devil's companions jammed its spear into hir side. A surge of electricity went through hir body as shi batted the other one aside easily, snarling ferally. More of these daemons descended upon hir, wielding their weapons and attacked hir over and over.

Shi didn't know if this was a dream or real, but fought back anyway. Hir claws broken against their stone flesh, feeling the warm blood running through hir fingers. Three managed to jump hir, jabbing hir again and again with their weapons as shi felt hir breath being taken from hir. Hir eyes darkening as the room became momentarily clearer, seeing the Purgatorio security team surrounding hir. Saldura on the floor, slumped against the wall where the first devil shi attacked clattered to. Gildedtongue's confusion quieted as everything went dark.

"I'd say that's the end of this experiment," one voice muttered. Gildedtongue's head throbbing as hir eyes refused to open. Shi tried to move to get in a comfortable position, finding hirself well secured to whatever shi was laying on.

"That's for the Federation to determine and you know it. Besides, it's not like we can really do anything out here," said another voice, a commanding tone in its femininity.

The first voice snarled, "Fuck the Federation! It's proven that it cares about Utilitarianism, even at the expense of one of its own! I mean, what do you think hir sister will say when we deliver a psychotic on hir doorstep?"

"The risks in the experiment were written out in the contract..."

The first voice cut off the second, "As if anyone can actually read one of those fucking things. I didn't like this one bit!"

"You were quick to sign in on this when they told you they'd give your license to practice medicine back," muttered a pained third voice. Gildedtongue recognizing it easily as Saldura's.

"Yeah, well... guess we've all got our thirty pieces of silver. That right, Thirtysilver?" said the first voice again, now with a chuckle.

"Getting the ship and crew cleared of its previous misgivings was a fiscally responsible choice," chimed in a fourth voice, most likely the Caitian accountant, Thirtysilver. "But had I known this would have happened I certainly wouldn't have agreed to this."

"Agree or not, this is what we're currently dealing with," the second voice said again as Gildedtongue slowly opened up hir eyes, seeing Dr. Wu, Captain Jefferson, Saldura, and Thirtysilver talking to each other above a table nearby. Saldura nursing a bag of ice against hir cheek where Gildedtongue had punched hir off guard. The chakat wheezed hoarsely, hir mouth dry as shi wiggled in hir restraints.

Saldura was the first to hear the waking chakat, walking over to hir immediately, taking hir hand. "Talk to me, Gildy. Are you all right? How are you feeling?" Despite the swollen cheek and eye on the left side of hir face, hir expression was worried and sympathetic, stroking hir hand.

The leonine chakat tried to talk, coughing and hacking before Wu came with a glass of water, pouring gently into hir mouth. The chakat was strapped on hir backs on a specially made structure, a high bump in the off-set middle keeping hir backs both aligned, meaning shi was looking around slightly upside down. After some splashes, shi managed to swirl enough water in hir mouth to get hir to speak easily, "Feel like shit." Shi admitted, looking warily for Creekstripe. The dead sire was in the corner, keeping quiet for now.

Checking over hir vitals again, Dr. Wu nodded to Gildedtongue, "Taking sixteen stunrod blows will do that to you, even a chakat." She gently touched near some of the places they had struck hir, causing the chakat to wince in pain. Captain Matilda Jefferson walked to the chakat, bending over to look at hir more properly.

"What happened in there, Wanderer? We thought that there was another boarding gone unnoticed with the screams and the bang. The fact that you dented the transparent steel hull, well, that'd take quite a bit of effort," the female C.O. said coolly, not angrily, but not very sympathetically.

A few tears rolled up to Gildedtongue's forehead, as shi blinked them out of the way, feeling confused and scared, "I-I... I don't know, I..." a few words sank in to hir head as shi lifted hir head. "What experiment?"

Matilda seemed unphased by the question, replying flatly "Huh? What do you mean?" Gildedtongue grunted slightly, maybe it was another hallucination, but, even if it was, shi needed to get to the bottom of it.

"When I was waking up, you four were talking about an experiment and the Federation and... getting medical licenses back and clearing criminal records or something?" As shi said it, it seemed stupid as the Caitian approached hir table.

"It was probably just a dream, Wanderer. Nothing you need to worry about. More than likely just cabin fever is getting to you." The feline alien purred, delicately putting her hand on Gildedtongue's lower chest, hesitant like shi was worried the chakat was covered in acid.

Saldura got strangely quiet, clutching onto Gildedtongue's hand, kissing the back of it lightly. Doctor Wu let out a snort, shaking her head, "I really can't keep doing this. I'm really surprised that the rest of you can, especially you, Corporal Holbock." Doctor Wu gave a look back at the glaring Captain Jefferson as she knelt by Gildedtongue's side, opposite of Saldura. Her hand gently rubbing over Gildedtongue's upper belly. "Don't you find things a little... odd, Gildedtongue? You're arrested and put in a case where it's clear the whole deck is stacked against you, only to have the Stellar Federation come by and, all of a sudden, bam! You have the evidence and the means to win the case. Then, the Federation comes by and offers you free transport to wherever in the entire galaxy you want to go, but... they don't use their own, faster, more controlled ships to get you there, rather, giving you to a bunch of independent private ore runners?"

Gildedtongue grunted, the blood in hir head starting to give hir a headache as shi lifted hir head slightly, "I've got to admit... the circumstances were a bit... odd, to say the least." Shi looked at Saldura who was looking away, seeming very ashamed, and at Matilda who seemed very quiet and neutral. Thirtysilver was in the corner busying herself, trying to avoid being seen. "So, what was the experiment you talked about?"

"You know that Chakats need other chakats in order to function, right?" Gildedtongue nodded softly. "And do you know what happens when they don't get that empathic feedback from other chakats?"

Gildedtongue was about to nod, then stopped hirself, thinking that question over before sheepishly shrugging with arms and forelegs.

Wu gave a small chuckle, "It's okay that you don't know. Neither do we. It's a poorly researched field because, well arguably, it's torture." Wu sighed, looking rather serious. "Previous attempts to look over the condition for extended periods of time resulted in family members terminating the program seeing the early signs of, well, various things you're showing. Heightened aggression, violent outbursts, physical manifestations of increased stress levels." She said, passing her hand through the silver and grey streaks in Gildedtongue's mane.

"Schizophrenic hallucinations?" shi asked, looking into Wu's eyes.

The doctor paused a bit, thinking. "Not that we know of. Have you been?" Gildedtongue nodded slightly. "Well, I'll be sure to take notes on that. But, the experiment was meant to be blind, that you didn't know that there was any sort of experiment. People act different when they know they're being watched."

"Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle when applied to anthropology. The mere act of being an observer changes the setting of the experiment." Gildedtongue nodded slightly.

Wu laughed, "See, shi's smart. Though most physicists absolutely loathe people invoking that in anything but Quantum Physics. But, yes. You were being watched and reported on, mostly by me."

Gildedtongue nodded again, trying to process all of this information. "So, why me? I mean, there's two billion chakats out there right now. Why this one?" Wu smiled, shaking hir head.

"So humble, Gildedtongue. You don't know how unique and special you are. A middle-aged chakat in good health, with no extraordinary Talents, who happens to have no close family ties? Gildy, you're pretty much one in two billion. Your various factors are so down-played, you're, in a word, perfect."

The chakat nodded slightly, not exactly feeling like shi won the Solar Lotto as shi looked back at the ceiling, swallowing once again. "So, all of you knew about this? You all knew about this experiment, and were all going along with the Federation for your own gain, even though you knew this, as Wu pointed out, was torture?" Hir confusion focused into anger as shi snarled. "That why you and Thallon started to sleep with me and fuck me?" shi glared at Saldura, the usually proud and strong badger shying away, trying to melt into the shadows.

Shi was silent for several moments before finally speaking, "Thallon didn't know. The only ones that knew about anything are in this room – Captain Jefferson, Thirtysilver, Doctor Wu, and myself. All the rest of the crew knew that we had a VIP coming aboard and that would clear our blemishes with Federation space."

Shi was still mad, but the fact that Thallon genuinely had feelings for hir without any orders made hir feel better. "Criminal record? What are you? Drug runners? Slave traders? Illegal mercenaries?"

Saldura spoke quicker, but kept hir face looking at the floor, "Mostly merchandise that's been embargoed between planets. Two planets declare war upon each other, they fight, but the populous won't get the resources they want or need from the planet they're fighting with. We make sure the merchant class still has something to sell, pretty much." Shi sighed slightly, "Otherwise, petty food runners. The beef you ate earlier was skimmed off of the shipment to the last Epsilon station. Most space stations have strict rules against natural meat. The products are irradiated and checked for maladies, before you ask."

Gildedtongue nodded, surrounded by people who run toys and burgers. Shi looked back at Saldura, who was going out the door, leaving the group. It didn't take an empath to know the badger was shamed as shi grunted a bit, "This is getting really uncomfortable. Do I need to remain strapped down like this?" shi asked the doctor.

"You think you'll punch out a half dozen more of our security detail?" Gildedtongue shook hir head. "Well, I don't see a problem with it. All right with you, Captain?" she asked, addressing Matilda, who just nodded her head. The doctor quickly took off the straps holding down the chakat, and soon shi rolled over, stretching long, feeling hir backs pop slightly.

"That certainly feels better," shi sighed, looking around, turning hir head back to Wu, "So, is there anything you can do to end this experiment?" Shi cocked hir head.

Doctor Wu gave a soft chuckle. "All I've got here is aspirin and bandages, really. Besides, the amount of anti-anxiety meds you'd need would choke a quange." She thought to herself, then said, "The best cure would be being with another chakat. Heh, I guess your experience at the Epsilon station gave you a bit of a boost, but the stress must have drained it."

"Yes, but, I'm the only chakat on board here," Gildedtongue said, cocking hir head to one side, "Unless there's crew I don't know about?"

Doctor Wu smirked again, "Well, no other chakats here right now, but... I'm sure one could... pop up in about a year."

Gildedtongue processed that, before blushing hotly, giving a quiet 'oh.' Shi often thought about having a cub to relieve hir of hir loneliness, but felt that action would be just unfair to the kitten, pushing it off to the future. Now it seems it might be necessary for hir mental health.

Shi stepped out of the medical bay, running right into the huge tower of foxtaur, Thallon. He gave a soft 'ooph' then quickly wrapped his arms around the chakat, giving hir forehead a nuzzle as his bushy tail wrapped around his haunches. "Been waiting out here for you to wake up, love. How are you feeling?" His usual cavalier voice having a tinge of concern in it as his black furred hands gripped the chakat's shoulders tighter.

Shi sighed, pressing into his strong chest as shi closed hir eyes. "Mmmmph, well, still a little groggy and sore. And, well, apparently more than a little crazy. Very crazy most would say. Completely nutter." Gildy drooped slightly, clutching onto Thallon. His hands continue to caress and run over hir body, chuckling quietly.

"I'm not surprised, Gildy. Most people tend to flip out on long voyages. To be honest, I think you've made it longer than most people, so, don't worry about it, you're made of stronger stuff!" his tongue lolled out in a grin, showing off the dark purple muscle. Gildedtongue couldn't help but chuckle as well, feeling his support.

"Well," shi started, taking a deep breath, "It's a bit more complicated than that. I'd like to talk to you, but, well, privately would be best."

Nodding, Thallon gave another kiss to Gildedtongue's forehead, rubbing along hir shoulders some more. "No problem; our room's just down a bit." Gildedtongue grunted slightly, feeling the fur on hir tail go on end as hir hearts pounded faster.

Shi shook hir head against his chest, "N-no. Could we just... go to my room? No offence, but... this is something I don't want to talk about in Sal's place." Thallon was a bit confused, but took Gildy's arm as they made their way to hir room. Thallon shedding his clothes whilst the chakat played lightly with hir own blouse, keeping it on.

Retelling what had just gone on, Gildedtongue watched the fox'taur lay down on hir bed, listening attentively. Shi leaned against the padded platform, continuing the short tale, looking at his grey eyes getting darker. "That's all really hard to swallow, Gildy. I mean, I'm not calling you a liar, but, these people are all the family I've got, and, well, for them to do something like that." He sighed, grunting, "And Sal as well? That itself is hard to believe."

The chakat nodded, reaching to hold one of the foxtaur's foreleg paws, looking up at his face, "Well, shi admitted shi was one of the conspirators, but... I dunno," shi muttered, hir tailtip flicking about next to hir.

The door buzzed lightly as someone pushed the doorbell on the other side. The chakat got up to hit the short comm, asking who it was. "It's me, Saldura. I just want to talk." The voice sounded a little distraught. Gildedtongue wanted to open up the door, but a deep fear and bitterness held hir hand from the button, shaking hir head.

"Not tonight, Sal. I'm sorry, but, I'm not sure I can trust you right now. I'm sorry." The chakat put hir hand to the door, even hir weak skills could feel the dark despair from the other side, imaging the badger. Sal could easily override the lock and come inside, but all the chakat heard was a muffled 'bye' before things went silent.

Gildedtongue was sobbing as shi crawled back into bed with Thallon, feeling the strong centauroid wrapping his limbs around hir, telling hir things would be okay. The two fell asleep in each other's arms, forgetting dinner for the depressed 'kat.

It was cold in the chakat's bed when shi woke up next, seeing it empty beyond hirself. Thallon nowhere in sight, probably off working or something. Gildedtongue ran hir tongue around hir mouth, trying to get some spit built up to wet hir maw. Creekstripe stood in the corner of the room, smiling wickedly, like a cat torturing a mouse. "So, you sent your mate away when shi was feeling pained and in need of comfort. You're really a wonderful chakat, aren't you?"

Gildedtongue sighed, it was far too early in the morning for hir insanity, but shi decided to play along with it. "Shut up, I'm a person first. My species isn't high on my list. Besides, there was an obvious reason I wouldn't have been someone shi should be around," shi grumbled, turning on the bed again.

But Creekstripe didn't let up, walking over to where Gildedtongue lay. "I'd say turning your back on someone you claim to love would also make you a failure of a person, no matter the situation, wouldn't you?"

The chakat whimpered loudly, grabbing hir forearms tightly, digging hir claws into hir own flesh. "Please stop... Please, father." shi begged as Creekstripe laughed tauntingly. The chakat's hands scratching hir own arms hard, leaving bloody gashes through hir flesh as shi continued to cry, hir face buried in hir pillow. Shi felt a hand touching hir shoulder, causing hir to bolt upright, thinking that hir dead parent was made flesh, seeing Thallon hovering over hir. Gildedtongue quickly covered hir arms, looking down at the bed, though the huge foxtaur already saw the damage.

"We should get that looked at." he muttered, not really sure what to say.

Gildedtongue sighed, "I'll be fine. We recover pretty quickly, any sort of scarring should be covered up by the fur anyway," shi muttered, lowering hir head to lick over hir wounds.

Thallon wasn't completely convinced, but dared not to prod his lover any more. His strong hands didn't leave the older fur's shoulder, gently stroking through hir wrinkled and slept-in blouse. "Sorry, I was in the bathroom when you woke up, I guess," he muttered, stroking through hir mane. "What was that about your father?"

Another sigh came from the leonine chakat, nodding to the spectral Ringtailed Cat patterned chakat in the corner. "Lately my sire, Creekstripe has decided to haunt me, it seems." Shi saw the fur along Thallon's back rise, giving a small chuckle. "I'm pretty sure it's all in my head, love. Don't worry about it. Just that I'm absolutely crazy."

Thallon hugged Gildedtongue again, nuzzling. "You're not crazy. Crazy people don't acknowledge that they are." Gildy chuckled at that, shrugging in the strong arms. Thallon loosened his grip, looking at hir again, "So, I guess your father didn't like you or something?"

"No, no... just the opposite," Gildy muttered, closing hir eyes slightly, "Shi was the most supportive, kind, loving parent anyone could really ask for. A wonderful example of everything that a chakat should be." Shi slumped against Thallon's stronger body, "An example of everything I'm not. It hurts when you're born into a species of Mary Poppins and you're, well..."

Holding Gildedtongue close, Thallon kissed hir lips, stroking hir cheeks dry of the running tears, "Shhhh, don't talk like that. Gildedtongue, my dear, I love you. No one's perfect." he chuckled softly, "Besides, everyone worries that they live up to their parents, even chakats I bet."

Gildedtongue grumbled but accepted the peptalk, nuzzling Thallon's cheek again as shi looked at the larger creature, "Thanks. Ugh, sure you're ready to love someone like me? I mean, this is the package you're going to get." Thallon only responded with a kiss, clutching the older chakat tightly to his form. The door buzzed once again as Gildedtongue straightened hir face slightly, "That's probably Saldura. I guess I really shouldn't put any of this off," shi said, going to the door and opening it.

To hir surprise, Captain Matilda was at the door, looking over the two occupants, holding several sheets of paper. The chocolate skinned human coughed in her hand before offering greetings to the two. Gildedtongue stepped aside, letting the captain in the room as Thallon offered a salute. "At ease, Rosefur, not like you're in uniform." She turned to Gildedtongue, a melancholy look in her eyes, "I owe you a large apology and explanation." The chakat's eyes narrowed slightly, giving a slight nod. "However, I'm not sure anything I can say can really compensate for the things you've gone through, or will go through." She offered the papers to the chakat, who looked over them slightly, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.

"Those are the contracts that were given to Thirtysilver, Doctor Janice Wu, Corporal Saldura Holbock, and myself. Pledging our secrecy and promises of compensation for our cooperation with the Stellar Federation." Gildedtongue thumbed through the pages, finding signatures from three of the people, raising an eyebrow.

"I don't see Saldura's handwriting in any of these. Actually, one of these contracts are blank." Shi asked, a little confused. Matilda sighed, nodding in agreement.

"You won't find it. Shi didn't sign one in protest." Matilda walked to the window, looking into the star field, "Shi didn't agree with the thing from the beginning."

Gildedtongue nodded slightly, looking over the blank contract, "Well, that's great, but, shi did it anyway, didn't shi?"

"Saldura was always a good soldier; shi took orders even when shi disagreed with them," Matilda said, still keeping out of eye contact. "We didn't think things would have become as bad as they are now..." she trailed off, looking over her shoulder to look at Gildedtongue's bloodied arms. "I don't think anyone was really aware about what would happen."

"So, they didn't know, the Federation just signed me off on some experiment, and just hoped for the best? Jesus Christ help me. Why?"

Matilda turned around, addressing the two others in the room, "They saw an opportunity and took it. I doubt even most of the Federation knows about it, most likely just some small department in the science and research branch going through the cracks and green lighting the experiment before the higher ups know what's going on." Matilda shrugged slightly, "The Federation is a multi-trillion person organisation, of Terrans, Caitians, and many, many more. Keeping track of all things that go on is out of the realm of possibility."

Gildedtongue frowned, tossing the papers on hir dresser, "So, you're saying they don't care about us unless we're useful, eh?"

Matilda chuckled, shaking her head, "Gildedtongue, it isn't that black and white and you know it. The Federation is no evil empire as much as it isn't an infallible union. No, it probably doesn't care too much about the quadrillion individuals under its care, but it does want the best for its people." She shrugged once again, her epaulettes moving over her shoulder, "If they just didn't care, they would have just stuffed you in an observation room and that's it. They wanted to compensate you something, even if no one knew the price."

Gildedtongue snorted, looking at the captain before sighing once more, "Okay, I'll... I don't know, I don't want to let it slide, but, I think they owe me more than this." Shi rubbed over hir own shoulder, "I'll accept your apology, Captain Jefferson. It seems we're both pieces on a chess board."

Matilda smiled, approaching Gildedtongue and gave hir an uncharacteristic hug, making the chakat's tail poof out slightly. Matilda let go, nodding to Gildedtongue, "I certainly thank you, Chakat Gildedtongue, child of Gladelong and Creekstripe. But, I do hope that you forgive Saldura as well."

The chakat nodded, "I'll admit, hir betrayal cut me deeper, but..." Shi looked up. "Is shi in hir room?"

Shaking her head, Matilda nodded at the door, "More than likely in Shir Labs room. Shi came to my room last night looking for comfort, but I had none to offer." Gildedtongue frowned, seemed that there was no room in many inns for Sal's psyche.

"I think I'd better go talk to hir. Thank you, Captain Jefferson, for this information, and everything. Thallon, ah, I'll see you, soon." Shi hugged and kissed the unusually quiet tod before slipping out into the hallway.

Where shi immediately got lost remembering that shi had no clue where this person resided, having only seen hir once six months ago. Bashfully shi peeked hir head back in hir room. "Room 78, to your right." Matilda gave Gildy a small smile and nod before shi went back to the hallway, tracking down the room.

It didn't take too long as the chakat looked over the door, gulping slightly, hoping shi wasn't too early in the morning before hitting the bell. It took some time before the door opened up, a topless badger looking at Gildedtongue, hir breath reeking of heavy drinking as Saldura's eyes were heavily bloodshot.

"Here to twist the knife a bit? Not that I blame you. Just, keep it quiet, my head is killing me."

Gildedtongue frowned, moving to take the badger into hir arms and hugging hir taller body tightly to hir own. "Matilda showed me the papers. You didn't sign them. Why? I mean, you didn't know me."

Scoffing, Saldura blinked hir eyes, still feeling the hangover affecting hir detoxing body. "You hear orders from some big wigs to ‘just watch somebody’. you know something's suspicious." Shi looked inside. "Come in. Sorry about the mess. Guess we got crazy last night." Beer bottles littered the quarters as the rat occupant, Susan, lay on the bed. Gildedtongue quickly saw the naked white rat was a hermaphrodite as she was giving hir best impression of a sundial. Saldura cleared off some of the floor with a few kicks so the chakat could sit down as the badger solved hir problem with the hair of the dog.

Gildedtongue frowned, not enjoying seeing someone shi cared for like this. "I wanted to come here to tell you I forgive you, Sal. I forgive you and that I still love you, that is, if you still love me." shi blushed slightly, rubbing hir clotted arms.

Turning back towards the chakat, Saldura couldn't help but laugh, "I do. I do love you. Those eyes, your fur, the way that you blush almost all the time." The badger's demeanour got more serious, "How curious and timid you are. The way you handle those kids all day. The fact that your brain is brimming with information."

Gildedtongue's ears were as red as hir mane as shi coughed slightly, "Well, useless trivia best suited for pub questionnaires than anything else."

"Look, I fucked up. I fucked up really bad, and... I really wish that I could have done something different." Saldura frowned, sitting on the edge of the bed. Gildedtongue moved over the mess, stepping over some game controllers to stroke the badger's side.

"It's okay. Look, I'll accept the Nuremburg defence. Like everyone said, we didn't know." Shi lifted Saldura's chin to look hir in the face, "We do now, and now we've just got to fix it, right?" Saldura nodded, going to hug Gildy tightly, closing hir eyes as shi cried, the most emotional the chakat ever saw the badger.

"Mmmph, but, how are we going to do that?" shi asked finally, wiping hir eyes, mindful of hir augment port on the side of hir head. The chakat sighed, ruffling the badger's long hair.

Gildedtongue was quiet for a few moments, shrugging a bit. "Well, as they say, the only way to really fix this is to get me near other chakats for empathic feedback. There aren't any others on board, so..." shi sighed once again, "Best course of action is to... well, make one."

Blinking at the prospect, Saldura nodded a little, cocking hir head to one side, "So, are you going to self-impregnate?" shi asked, a little curious. Gildedtongue thought about the question, shaking hir head.

"That's something I've mulled over for decades, and, to be honest, it's repulsed me. No, I'd rather attempt to try and have a child out of love, even in these desperate times." Gildedtongue muttered slightly, seeming lost in thought. Shi shook hir head clear, looking back at Saldura, "I'd like Thallon to sire my child, if he'd have me."

Saldura nodded, smiling, "Well, I'm certainly fine with it, if that's what you're wondering."

Gildedtongue frowned a little. "Although," the chakat continued, "I guess maybe it's my upbringing, but, I'd rather not have a child out of wedlock, if you catch my drift." Gildedtongue played with hir forepaws on the ground, looking down sheepishly.

The badger ohed softly, looking away. "Well, you have my blessing, of course, and, I guess when we reach Chakona you'll want him to be with you. I wish for you both a long, happy life together." shi looked back up into Gildedtongue's eyes.

The chakat just shook hir head, "This time you're the one jumping to conclusions, love." Shi knelt down, looking at the taller badger. "I couldn't imagine separating you two, and I wouldn't want to have one without the other. Saldura Holbock, would you marry me?"

Saldura's white face went deep, deep red, stammering incoherently.

"You two can do whatever the feck you want. Just let me sleep!" Susan groaned in the bed, making the two conscious herms laugh and hug tightly.

"Yes! Yes, Gildedtongue, child of Gladelong and Creekstripe. I'll be your spouse!" An annoyed finger pointing towards the door shooed both of the giggling lovers out of the room. Saldura, half naked, wearing a large smile, joined the chakat up at hir quarters. Thallon still inside, now wearing his uniform, smiled at the herms, seeing that they've made up. The two lean to kiss his cheek, hugging him close. "Gildy, should you ask again?"

The chakat nodded, smiling at Thallon, "Thallon Rosefur, will you be our husband and sire my cub?"

The fox/wolf'taur looking between the two, laughing softly.

"I don't think I have much of a choice here!" he snickered, holding both of them tightly to himself, giving each a lick, "Erm, guess that means I'm going to have to be a good fox from now on then?"

Gildedtongue sighed, shaking hir head slightly, "I don't think so. Consider this a formal agreement of being lifemates than anything else." Shi chuckled, looking at Saldura, "I won't mind if you see or be with Susan Labs or anyone else, but..." shi blushed a bit, "While I'm biologically incapable of being jealous, I'm still a curious queen and would at least like to meet people that you're being with."

Both furs agreed as they exchanged kisses and remained holding one another. Talks quickly went into plans for the event.

Gildedtongue gulped to hirself, pacing in the small dressing room. Hir hands going to hir mane, checking the condition of the paper flowers braided in it and looked over hir white blouse. Shi had to give technology credit, in the hands of a master programmer, they could get replicators to do amazing things. Saldura opened the door, clad in hir dress uniform, smiling handsomely at the other herm. "My God, this is going so fast. I mean, I'm still not believing this is happening. I dreamed about this since I was a kitten and..."

Shi was silenced by a kiss, Saldura holding hir hands, breaking the smooch after shi was sure Gildedtongue finished hir bit of craziness. Wordlessly, Saldura tugged on Gildedtongue's hands as they went into the spine of the ship. The whole crew was gathered as speakers softly played, unoriginally, the Wedding March. Thallon was at the end of the path, standing next to the captain, and Dominic stood next to him, holding a pillow where the rings rested upon. Even Creekstripe couldn't help but smile as some part of Gildedtongue's subconscious couldn't ruin this for hir.

Holding Saldura's elbow, the two hermaphrodites strolled down the aisle. Both of Gildedtongue's hearts were pounding like mad as shi did hir best to not trip and fall over hir own feet. Shi could see Thallon looking uncomfortable in his tuxedo, but still wore that goofy grin. Reaching the end, Thallon stood next to Gildedtongue as he and Saldura bookended the chakat.

The captain smiled, nodding to her crew to take their seats. "In the Age of Sail on Terra, a captain, while at sea, had the power to join members of his crew in matrimony. In this age of the stars, I shall invoke the same right, to bring these three members of my crew, my family, into a union of love and life." She smiled, the human enjoying the dramatics. "For like the ship sailing into the black ocean, we all explore the unknown of life, and what better way to do so, than in a fleet to watch and help one another.

"Chakat Gildedtongue, child of Gladelong and Creekstripe," Matilda addressed the chakat, using hir legal name, "Do you take Thallon Rosefur, and Saldura Holbock as your husband and spouse, lifemates to stand with and support in times of plenty and famine, fortunes grand and poor, in joys and sorrows, so long as you live?"

The chakat's eyes were watering heavily, tears rolling down hir cheek as shi stammered out, "I-I do."

"Do you, Thallon Rosefur, take Saldura and Gildedtongue as your spouses, to walk with them through their paths, caring for them and guiding them through love and loss, joy and sorrow, courage and fear?"

"I do." Thallon responded with a smile, though even with hir weak empathy, Gildedtongue could see he was nervous. Happy, but nervous. Shi gave his hand a gentle squeeze in support.

"Finally, do you, Corporal Saldura Holbock, take Gildedtongue and Thallon as your spouse and husband, to defend their bodies and souls in peace and war, order and chaos, pleasure and pain?"

Saldura looked at the two, giving a small smile before turning back to Matilda, "I do."

Nodding, Matilda turned to Thallon, "Do you have the rings?" The large taur ohed quietly, turning to Dominic who presented him with the pillow. Three rings with interwound gold, silver, and copper bands given to the foxtaur. They weren't very large as the highly conductive metals were still useful to the ship, especially in their current crisis, but some was scrounged up for the event. Thallon placed a ring on Gildedtongue's finger, who placed one on Saldura's, who finally put one on Thallon's.

Matilda grinned, nodding as the ritual was coming to a quick end, "Then by the powers invested in me by the Stellar Federation, I now pronounce you spouses. You may kiss whomever you please!"

The ship's crew was in an uproar of cheers as the three newly official mates exchanged kisses and hugs, bringing a bit of joy in the current darkness.



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