Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #16: Savannah's Journey
Part Two: A Fair Trade
By Bernard Doove © 2008


Half an hour after the starship had departed, Swiftriverís ship pulled into port and tied up at pier 23. With the usual burst of frantic energy, the Mariners soon had Savannahís cart unloaded and had made a start on the rest of the cargo. Savannah made hir farewells to the crew Ė it hadnít been their fault that shi had been late, and in fact they had made very good time. It just galled hir that shi had sacrificed some of hir best trade goods for a futile ride.

Savannah approached Swiftriver last. Shi said, "Iím going to visit Portmaster Tempest immediately to see if there is anything that I can salvage from this mess. If you wish, I could pass on that gift from Bayshore on your behalf."

"That would save me some time that Iíd rather spend on getting a return load organised," admitted Swiftriver.

"How well I understand that!" Savannah agreed fervently.

"Thanks," Swiftriver said as shi handed over the parcel. "If you ever need a ride again, Iíll give it to you at a discount to help make up for not getting here in time."

"How about returning some of the sugarstalks instead?" suggested Savannah.

"Not a chance!" Swiftriver replied with a laugh. "My crew would lynch me!"

"I believe you," Savannah said with a grin to show that there were no hard feelings. "Until we meet again, Captain Swiftriver!"

"Farewell, Trader Savannah!"

Savannah hitched hirself up to the cartís harness and then left the dock, carefully manoeuvring past the many objects that crowded the pier. Shi then made hir way down past the other piers and the brightly painted warehouses, so different from the dingy and worn buildings that shi had seen back on Earth. The road led through an arboretum, hardly a feature of Terran facilities, but typical of foxtaur design. Foot and pedal-powered traffic picked up a lot here, carefully separated from vehicular traffic. This was the main thoroughfare between the seaport and the spaceport, heavily used by all breeds of Stellar Foxtaur plus a few non-foxtaurs that worked in the port town, and it led inevitably to the main administration buildings where the Portmasterís office was located. From there, all goods into and out of Arisia were controlled, and there shi hoped that shi would be able to cut a deal for some of the newly arrived goods. Of course shi hoped that the Portmaster would see hir Ė shi was a very busy person after all.

Savannah pulled up in front of the main building in the first available place where shi could park hir cart. Modest by the standards of the developed worlds, the admin building was one of the biggest and busiest on the planet, and the recent shipment from Earth made it a less than perfect time to arrive. Nevertheless shi had to try.

As Savannah entered the main doors, Tweet took off from hir shoulder and flew ahead, twittering excitedly. It disappeared around a corner with Savannah in hot pursuit, but shi came to an abrupt halt when shi almost ran into the Portmaster hirself with Tweet perched on hir arm.

"Hello, Savannah," Tempest said. "I knew that you couldnít be far away when Tweet found me."

Tweet chirped happily as the Marine Foxtaur clasped arms with the Veldt Foxtaur in greeting.

"Tweet likes you a lot," Savannah remarked.

"And I like Tweet, donít I, dear?" Tempest said as shi stroked the avianís head. Tweet chirped in agreement. "So, Savannah, arenít you a tad late?" You must have noticed the freighter departing."

"I did. I had a good view of it too from the bay."

"The bay? What were you doing out there?"

Savannah explained the circumstances of hir trip, and Tempest nodded in sympathy. "That really was a bad bit of timing. Captain Franks was really put out by you not being there to pay for the goods that you had insisted that he bring this trip."

Savannah groaned. "It took me ages to get that deal together. Now my name will be mud with the freighter people."

Tempest grinned knowingly. "I think not. After all, your agent was there to close the deal instead."

"My agent?" Savannah repeated in puzzlement. "But I donít have one."

"Sure you do. Hir name is Tempest Marine."

"You? You bought the shipment?" Tempest nodded smugly. Savannah threw hir arms around the startled Portmaster and gave hir a huge hug. "Youíre a life-saver! Thank you!" Then shi calmed down a bit as shi thought of something. "I hope that you didnít pay too much. Franks drives a hard bargain."

Tempest scoffed, "Ha! You donít think that I worked up from selling fish to being Portmaster without being able to make a good deal, do you?"

"Sorry for doubting you, but what is it going to cost me?"

"I wonít be as tough on you. After all, I wouldnít want to annoy this worldís major chocolate importer."

Savannahís grin matched Tempestís. Like many foxtaurs, for some unknown reason, Tempest was a Ďchocoholicí, as was Savannah. The two got down to dickering the price on that and the other goods, and both were left satisfied with the final deal. Savannah was so glad to actually have goods to take back with hir that shi didnít mind having to pay a little more than shi had originally planned. It was only a minor setback.

"OK, Iíll come back and collect the goods as soon as Iím done selling some of my merchandise in town," Savannah concluded.

"Fine. Come back here and Iíll take you to the warehouse and check it over with you. Then after that, why donít you come over to my place for dinner? The denmates and I would love to have your company tonight. Itíll give us a chance to show off our latest kit too."

"Letís seeÖ if I recall correctly, it was Tidepool who was pregnant and you were the sire this time around."

"Thatís right," affirmed Tempest. "Tidepool is rather proud of hir. After siring three, it was about time shi bore one, but thatís hir male-dominant personality for you. You should see hir now though! Shi rarely lets anyone else breastfeed the kit, and little Starfish is being thoroughly spoiled."

"With you Mariners and your huge families, itís no wonder that shi gets too much attention," Savannah said.

"Still just one mate then? You donít know what youíre missing," Tempest said with a hint of pity.

"Seems to work for us!" Savannah objected.

Tempest just grinned knowingly. "Plenty of time yet to see how you fare in the future. Circumstances may change in the most unexpected of ways."

"I donít see them changing that drastically though." Savannah changed the subject by digging into hir backpack. "Speaking of family, hereís something that I almost forgot." Shi handed Tempest the box passed on to hir by Swiftriver. "A present from your sister, Bayshore. Shi sends hir apologies for not being able to be here to present it to you hirself."

Tempest accepted the box from Savannah and said, "That was very thoughtful of hir, and kind of you to bring it. Iíll have to thank Swiftriver too when I see hir next."

"Bayshore said shi would be here tomorrow after they deal with the catch."

"I thought as much. Now you had better get along. I need to get back to my other work. Iíll see you later this afternoon. Bye, Tweet!"

Savannah left the offices with a much lighter heart than when shi had entered them. Shi hitched up hir cart and headed off towards the township. There shi met up with hir usual customers and traders to haggle the price of the goods that shi had for sale. These included leathergoods and furs from various plains animals, the sugarstalks and other foods, jewellery and trinkets, and even some art. Shi delivered some personal parcels to the local branch of the interstellar postal service, and in return accepted a number of parcels to take with hir to deliver to the various clans that shi would visit along hir regular route. Shi enjoyed a light meal at one of the local restaurants, took orders to be filled from hir recent acquisitions and for future ones, dropped off a large number of biological specimens at the Star Corps field office, and picked up a couple of new pieces of equipment. After all that was completed, shi found that shi had a bit of time to spare before shi had to meet up with Tempest, so shi went to the beach and lazed on the warm sand for a while, watching various other foxtaurs at play.

Hir watch alarm woke hir with a start. It had been a little too restful, and shi had drifted off into sleep. However, experience had taught hir to set the alarm just in case, so shi was able to set off again without undue haste. This time when shi got to the Portmasterís office, Tweet didnít take off, and shi encountered Tempestís receptionist first. Shi waved Savannah straight into Tempestís office though; telling hir that shi was expected.

Tempest was on the videocom when Savannah entered. Shi raised a hand to acknowledge Savannah and carried on with hir conversation. Shi was done in only a minute though and then turned hir full attention to the trader.

"Good timing. Iíve cleared the last of the jobs for today, and I have all the paperwork for your goods here. Letís get you loaded."

Tempest said goodnight to hir receptionist and a few others in passing. They left the administration block and headed towards a group of warehouses. Inside Warehouse 23, they were met by the foreman, a Veldt breed like Savannah, who took them to the pick-up bay where Savannahís goods were stacked up and waiting for hir. The two of them loaded Savannahís cart quickly and efficiently, and they were done well before sunset. Savannah and Tempest then walked to the north exit where the Marine Foxtaur started heading for the nearest jetty.

"Park your cart in a secure bay and swim home with me," Tempest urged.

Savannah shook hir head. "You ask me that every time, and I keep telling you that Iím a runner, not a swimmer. Iíll trot around and meet you at your den as usual."

Tempest grinned. "One of these days Iíll get you in the water," shi said as shi stripped off hir uniform top. Opening a watertight seal on hir backpack, shi stuffed the top in and re-sealed it. The now-nude Mariner then took a running dive off the jetty and sped off across the bay towards hir home.

Savannah admired how graceful Tempest was in the water. The Portmaster had often told Savannah that the thing that shi regretted most about hir career was the limited amount of time that shi had left to pursue hir aquatic lifestyle. So every day shi swam to work, and then swam home again. It would be quite a feat for most people, but for a Marine Foxtaur, it was like an easy jog around the block.

Savannah set hirself a fast pace along the road that followed the curve of the bay. Shi had a longer route than Tempest, but shi could make better speed, although hir cart was nearly at full capacity. However, as shi had told Tempest, shi was a runner, and that was what Veldts did best.

As it turned out, they made their journeys in about the same time. Savannah started unharnessing hirself as Tempest strode out of the shallows and onto the beach that hir den backed onto. Far from being exhausted by the swim, shi was exhilarated. Shi shook hirself vigorously to rid hirself of excess water, then joined Savannah to walk into the den together. Tidepool, hir other co-mates, and all their kits gave Savannah a hearty welcome, and shi entertained them with news and anecdotes until dinner was served.

Tempest never brought hir work home with hir, and Savannah observed the same practice. These visits were always purely social Ė friends visiting friends. There never seemed to be a lack of excitement and joy in the household, but it did seem a bit chaotic to the more orderly Savannah. Shi ignored that though in favour of enjoying the precious time spent with good friends. When it came time for sleep, there was no question as to whether shiíd be staying for the night. Shi joined everyone in the communal sleeping den that evening. Savannah was glad that they all ended up going straight to sleep that night, although some previous visits had been anything but boring.

Savannah awoke at the crack of dawn, but shi was still beaten to the kitchen by a couple of others who also had early starts. Shi was served a hearty breakfast before some of them had to leave. There were hugs and farewells then, and more later as Savannah prepared to depart. Before shi did, shi handed Tempest a small box.

"From one chocoholic to another," Savannah said. "Just donít eat them all at once. You might sink out there in the bay!"

Tempest laughed as shi accepted the chocolates. "Iíll keep that in mind."

With that done, Savannah hitched hirself up to the cart and recommenced hir journey, waving goodbye to everyone gathered outside to see hir off. It was another beautifully clear day, and the crisp, cool morning air was ideal for setting a fast pace. Savannah continued along the main road following the bay. It wove in and out and around stands of trees and other vegetation that had been preserved by the foxtaurs. The low-density constructions were inconspicuously set back into the natural coastal scrub, sometimes only noticeable by a tasteful sign. The road at this point was used about equally by powered and non-powered traffic. No foxtaur used a PTV unless there was a genuine need, and Veldts especially loved to run, maybe even more than Mariners loved to swim. That had made the days stuck in hir hut especially frustrating to Savannah. Shi waved cheery greetings to those shi passed, receiving the same in return. Eventually the traffic thinned as shi left the Freeport area and the road veered off towards the foothills of the nearby mountains.

The site of Freeport had been chosen not merely because of the excellent sea access, but also because the area was practically unique among the favoured locations for the first colony. All the factors of geography, weather and ocean currents had created a small region in which nearly every type of environment could be found. The coastal regions could get almost tropical in summer, but the high ranges north of the port township towards which shi was now headed were always capped with snow. The mountains blocked most of the rain-bearing clouds coming in from the ocean, so the other side of the ranges was very arid, with only very hardy desert-type vegetation. Those same mountains pushed the rain southwards over dense forests before the smaller range of mountains robbed the clouds of much of their burden before reaching the plains beyond them. Savannahís regular route took hir through all those environments, and in doing so, shi would meet all the Stellar Foxtaur breeds in their ideal habitats.

Savannah reached the foothills where they abruptly ascended from the gently sloping coastlands. Shi turned on the anti-grav unit to low setting Ė just enough to cope with the hills and still conserve power Ė and hir pace continued unabated. Then shi came to the first truly steep gradient that started to drag hir back, and shi boosted the power until shi was comfortable with the load once again. The route that shi was following was well-paved, so shi had no difficulty other than the gradient. It was rapidly getting cooler though and, in spite of hir exertion, Savannah started to feel a bit chilly. Shi paused briefly on a flat area to pull out a warm jacket. Shi donned it but didnít button it up as yet. Shi knew from experience that it would get a lot colder yet, and shi would be glad to button it up later to keep hirself warm. Hir fur wasnít really thick enough to cope with those conditions. Shi soon came upon the first patches of snow, partly melted due to the Spring thaw. Those patches soon got thicker though, and then became a blanket. Only the road was clear, having been ploughed only just recently, and the weather forecast that shi had checked this morning indicated that no more snowfalls were expected for several days at least. Tweet had retreated long ago to its warm birdcage, occasionally scolding the foxtaur for taking it to this horrible, cold place. Savannah rarely heard though because shi was playing hir favourite travel music to help pass the time.

The road eventually crested the pass, revealing a high valley between two ranges. Tall evergreens dominated the area, contrasting with the snow. To the west shi could see a plume of smoke that marked hir destination, but it was still a long distance away. It would take hir a few hours to get there, and shi decided to stop for a rest and a meal. Shi securely parked the cart, then took out a package from one of the cartís hatches. In it was a pre-packed meal that had been thoughtfully provided by Tidepool. Energy-rich food and a flask of hot tea were just what Savannah needed at that point, and shi greatly enjoyed it. Shi didnít dawdle over the meal though because shi not only didnít want hir muscles to stiffen up, but shi would also cool down too much. Shi quickly resumed hir journey with the anti-grav turned off, and the regenerative brakes set to automatic to maintain hir downward speed at a constant rate. Hir Superstor battery started recharging, but shi would still need to top it up when shi arrived because shi was not descending even half the distance that shi had ascended.

Savannah pulled off the main road onto the track that led into the village that was todayís destination. Shi returned the greetings of the various foxtaurs as shi passed and soon pulled up into the centre of their settlement. Every foxtaur there had thick white fur with the occasional black markings on ears, paws, tail and back. Between the fur and an insulating layer of fat, the Polar Breed Stellar Foxtaurs had full-figured bodies. The adultsí breasts looked bigger than they actually were because of the thick fur, with the nipples completely hidden, something that Savannah was sure they appreciated in these cold climates. Also, every single one of them from adult to the youngest kit wore the distinctive fur cape of their kind. While Savannah had kept warm through a combination of hir thick jacket and exertion, these foxtaurs were perfectly comfortable in these frosty conditions even without their capes, but with them they could endure the coldest conditions that this world could produce. They did not really need them in these relatively mild conditions though, but it had become so traditional that they rarely left their dens without their cape. Although they had been named the Polar Breed, in fact they were intended to live in, and exploit, any cold territory without hardship.

Savannah had hir own impression of the Polari. Although totally at odds with their more tropical inspiration, shi always thought of them as Amazons. Not only did their full figures add a pleasant curvaceousness to their forms, but they also were mostly feminine biased psychologically. Although it had never been deliberately designed into their genetic make-up, some unknown quirk made them think, act, and be attracted to the feminine. One of the consequences of this was that they had little regard for the role of the sire in procreation. When a Polari was ready to have a child, shi generally asked one of hir Ďgirlfriendsí to do the deed. After that, shi took complete responsibility for the kit. However, with a village full of foxtaurs with the same viewpoint, in practice the kit had a few dozen mothers, because every adult looked after the welfare of every kit. Whenever Savannah came here, shi tried to emphasise hir feminine side in order for the Polari to feel more at ease with hir, thus improving the possibility of making good deals.

As usual, Savannah set hirself up in the midst of the settlement, and also as usual, the kits were there immediately. Shi always tried to remember their names, and handed them their free treats as shi named them. Needless to say that the kits loved their favourite Ďauntieí whenever shi came to visit. The adults soon followed though after tolerantly indulging their children. Savannah was kept very busy selling luxuries that werenít part of their normal resources, plus sweets and trinkets. The Polari were also mad about chocolate, which is why Savannah was so relieved that shi hadnít lost hir shipment. Shi also delivered the parcels that had been entrusted to hir as a sub-contractor for the postal service. Shi was pleased that all the parcels destined for the Polari were picked up within the hour and shi wouldnít need to track anyone down.

Tundra and various Polari

Then the voice that shi had been expecting spoke from behind hir.

"I offer you food, shelter, and sex."

Savannah had been startled to be given that blunt offer the very first time that shi had visited this Polari settlement. Now though shi just smiled and turned to face hir long-time acquaintance, Tundra. This Polari was distinctive in that shi had all-white fur without a trace of the black markings that others sported. Shi was accompanied by hir constant companion, a husky dog named Mishka, who sat beside hir, tongue lolling happily.

"I accept your offer, Tundra. How have you been?"

"Iíve been doing very well, Leggy," replied Tundra, using hir nickname for Savannah. "Iím very happy to see you again."

"Iím glad that I was able to make it. I had a bit of trouble earlier that I will tell you about later tonight."

"Iíll be looking forward to it. Donít forget my usual order."

"Itís already put aside. You didnít think that Iíd forget, did you?"

"Not really, but thanks anyway. See you later then," Tundra said and trotted away.

Savannah had met Tundra long before shi had formalised hir mating with Willow, so accepting Tundraís offer had not been a problem at all, especially since foxtaurs often indulged in recreational sex as a form of socialising. Although Savannah only accepted some of the offers of sex, shi had never knocked back Tundra even after getting mated. Shi rather liked the buxom and cuddly Polari, and found hir feminine personality a nice counterpoint to hir own more masculine bias. Shi had gotten to know the Polari very well that first night that they had spent together. Tundra had told hir that shi had been attracted to Savannahís sexy long legs, and had given hir the nickname ĎLeggy" that evening. Savannah had found hir to be a charming and pleasant host. Tundra always served hir an excellent meal, and hir bedding was delightfully warm and soft. All Tundra ever asked for in return was a night of love-making, and Savannah had to admit that it was an awfully good bargain.

When the last of the trading was done, Savannah packed up. Shi coaxed Tweet out from its warm bird cage and then headed to Tundraís den with the avian wrapped in hir hands to keep it warm. Shi stepped inside Tundraís den knowing that shi need not announce hirself, and released Tweet who flew to the top of a nearby cupboard, up where it was warmest, fluffed up its feathers, then seemed to settle down to sleep. Mishka looked up at the avian from under the table in a manner that suggested that the dog was amused at the bird before settling down to napping again.

"It looks like Tweet isnít interested in my cooking," Tundra said with a smile, indicating the pots and pans on the stove with the wooden spoon that shi was holding.

"From the aroma, Iíd say that itís Tweetís loss. Is that Marzuk steak cooking?"

"Yep. Just brought it in yesterday. I caught it early, so I was able to spend extra time doing my Corps chores."

Tundraís professional job was as a climatologist, much like Savannahís mate. Shi pursued the long-term trends though, frequently taking ice cores from ancient glaciers and other ice fields to study the secrets locked within. This took hir over a wide territory, but that suited hir as shi was also one of the clanís best hunter-rangers. The need to travel great distances for the Corps meant that shi had the use of a snow-mobile, but that was also extremely handy when it came to hauling back the large game. By spreading out the hunting over a much larger area, the foxtaurs were able to lessen their impact on the environment, and get a good supply of meat at the same time, which meant a win all around. There was one other thing that the Polari found time to do though.

"So, did you bring back any interesting specimens for me this time?" Savannah asked.

"Donít I always?" Tundra replied as shi hauled out a box. In it were hundreds of samples of leaves and twigs, plus some insects that fed upon them, and a few other assorted creatures. Although Savannahís field was primarily plant life, shi always made sure that shi had a good knowledge of the animal species that interacted with them to get a more complete picture of the plantís needs and defences. Pennanttails for example were the Fire Berry bushís chief means of propagation; the indigestible seed within being deposited far and wide by the avians who loved the juicy fruit. All the samples had meticulous notes on when and where they had been gathered. Tundra had been gathering these samples for Savannah ever since their first meeting, never asking for recompense, which was another reason why Savannah could never say no to Tundra. After a cursory inspection, Savannah put them aside to be stowed on hir cart in the morning. Shi barely had time to clean up before the Polari served dinner. Tundra had a special sauce that shi had created to bring out the full flavour of the marzuk steak, and it was absolutely delicious.

After the meal, Savannah helped Tundra clean up, and then they both settled down with a hot drink to have some conversation. When they were both done with updating each other on news and other mutual interests, Tundra led Savannah to the bedding where they made love for about an hour.

While they were resting after one energetic bout, Savannah asked, "Have you thought about starting a family yet? All your peers seem to have one or two kits already."

Tundra replied, "Not yet, but perhaps soon. Iíve been enjoying my current lifestyle too much to want to change, especially when you keep visiting on a regular basis."

"Well I did mean mating with a Polari; I wasnít offering myself," Savannah said with a grin.

Tundra returned the grin. "Why not? The kitís breed is always gene-locked to the mother, so if we had a child, shi would be a Polari also. No Veldt kit shivering in the snow!"

Suddenly Savannah realised that Tundra was quite serious about that possibility. "But Iím already mated, and I donít have the time to spare to be with the child."

"You know quite well that we Polari donít mate like you do. You could be my choice of sire, but after that the kit would get all the love and support that shi needs from the clan. Your job as sire would be done."

"Thatís not how I feel about it though. I want to be involved in the raising of any kits that I sire."

"Who says you would ever know? One of these visits I might be on heat and simply let you do the deed without ever telling you."

Savannah knew that it wasnít an empty threat. Normally one foxtaur could scent when another was on heat, but the Polari always smelled strongly feminine to hir and shi couldnít accurately judge their state of fertility. They could tell between themselves though. "Oh, come on! Surely you would tell me something that important?"

Tundra just gave Savannah a sly smile, then turned to present hir fem sex to the Veldt Foxtaur. "Maybe Iím on heat right now, or maybe Iím just horny. Either way, I want you in me right now, Leggy."

Savannah rolled hir eyes. Shi was sure that Tundra was just teasing hir now, but in future shi could never be certain. Shi took the pragmatic view though and went with the flow. That was the way the Polari did things, and nothing that shi did was likely to change anything.

In the morning, shi breakfasted with Tundra and made hir farewells. After dealing with a couple of last-moment customers, shi then continued on hir journey. Shi had to bundle up against the frosty morning air, with the addition of legwarmers to help hir get started. Soon though they came off and shi unbuttoned hir jacket as the exertion of towing the cart warmed hir up. Once back on the main road, shi continued in a westerly direction. This led to another mountain pass, a slightly higher one this time, and requiring a very winding route to get to it. In fact it was midday before shi started descending again into a very different landscape. The second range of mountains robbed the remainder of moisture in the air that the first had not claimed, so it was very dry on this side of the mountain. Also, as shi got lower, the temperature climbed rapidly. Long before the road started levelling out onto the steppe, Savannah had stripped off all hir clothing and put on hir hat, and shi panted rapidly to help cool hirself. Shi paused for a while under the shade of hir cartís awning to rest and rehydrate, then continued on to hir goal Ė a green patch that shi had glimpsed from a high vantage point on hir downward trek.

These steppe lands started off as treeless grasslands near the mountains where some snow-melt and a small fraction of rain still managed to provide enough moisture for plant-life, but soon segued into sandy desert, devoid of all but the most hardy life. Cactus-like plants dotted the otherwise unobstructed scenery as Savannah traversed the almost totally flat road. Fortunately the road was kept clear of sand drifts, so Savannah did not have to exert hirself needlessly to deal with them. Nevertheless shi was glad when, a couple of hours later, shi finally reached the oasis that was created by natural springs fed by water from the mountains. Around the large body of pure water were stands of palm-like trees, with the huts of hir next customers built in their shade. This was an encampment of a band of Desert Breed Stellar Foxtaurs. They were nomadic like the Veldts, but Savannah had checked to ensure that they would be there when shi had made hir itinerary. Most were sheltering from the afternoon heat, but one of them wearing their trademark Ďcoolieí hat came over to meet Savannah. The Desert Breed Stellars were based on the fennec fox, and their exceptionally large ears poked through holes in the hats, helping to cool the foxtaur. Shi had a plain sandy-coloured coat with only a couple of dark smudges that distinguished hir from others. In fact it was usually easier to tell the Deebees apart by scent rather than sight, but Savannah recognised this one before shi could smell hir.

Zephyr and the Deebees

"Ho! Well met, Zephyr!" Savannah called.

"Welcome, Savannah," Zephyr replied. "I hope that your journey was pleasant." Shi stepped up to the trader to exchange arm clasps, hir head craning up to meet Savannahís eyes. The Desert Breed were the smallest of the Stellars, and the Veldt Breed the tallest, so the two made a bizarre contrast.

"Once it finally got started, it was," Savannah told hir. "Iíll explain later. Right now I would like to park my cart and myself in a bit of shade."

"Of course, take your time. Not much will be happening until the worst of the heat has passed. We can talk while you rest."

Savannah found a suitable spot under the palm trees. Shi positioned the cart so that the solar panels got as much light as possible while shading the rest of the cart to keep the temperature down. Shi needed plenty of power to operate the cooler that was keeping the perishables from perishing, especially things like the chocolates. If the cooler failed, all shi would have left in this weather would be chocolate soup!

Savannah found Zephyr lounging in the shade of the awning in front of hir tent with hir two mates, Sirocco and Mirage. Like the other Stellar Breeds, the Deebees had their foibles, and with them it was their penchant for almost always forming triads. They felt that it was the ideal mating arrangement for herms, but while Savannah didnít disagree with them, shi was satisfied with a single mate. They offered hir chilled fruit juice and chatted for a while before they decided to get back to work. After all, it was only Spring and not that hot as yet. Of course a breed adapted to desert conditions would be a lot more comfortable in the heat than Savannah!

Zephyrís clan consisted mostly of geologists, mining engineers and related professions. These desert sands were particularly rich in minerals, and the foothills also had several mines in operation. Their group mostly did surveys and assessments though, and so kept on the move, hence their nomadic lifestyle. They might not be back here for another year. However, other Deebee tribes had more permanent settlements close to the mines. Zephyr always maintained that their lifestyle than that of those living in the settlements though, and Hotwind and Chillnight were ardent supporters of this viewpoint.

Savannah was just grateful they were here at this time. If they had been encamped elsewhere, shi would have had to camp here alone overnight. The next settlement was further away than shi could travel before sunset, and shi liked the hospitality of the Deebees, especially after the arduous trip over the mountains. The afternoon sun was also strength-sapping for foot-travel in the afternoon, but it wasnít a hindrance to doing some brisk trading. Shi had also brought along an order of art supplies. One of the Deebees was quite an accomplished artist, and shi often used local materials for pigments, but still required canvas and brushes besides other media. Savannah took a couple of hir paintings on consignment to sell for more art supplies on the next trip.


With hir business done, Savannah took the opportunity to take a siesta in the shade until the clan finished work for the day, and then shi joined them in a communal feast. As the evening brought the temperature down, the clan really burst into life, and there was much singing and dancing. Savannah was dragged into a dance too, and although shi felt a bit silly as a giant amongst pygmies, shi nevertheless had a lot of fun. Eventually Savannah had to beg off from sheer fatigue, and Zephyr and hir denmates invited the trader to join them, reassuring hir that they were only interested in sleep also. Savannah reckoned that they got a kick out of snuggling up to a foxtaur nearly twice their size, but shi had to admit to hirself that shi found them irresistibly cute too.

Another reason for getting to bed as soon as possible was so that Savannah could get an early start in the morning to beat the heat, a common practice amongst the Deebees also. Hotwind had beaten Savannah to rising and offered hir some breakfast which Savannah gladly accepted. The whole clan was up and about before shi was ready to leave, so shi made a lot of goodbyes before hitching up hir cart and departing in the dim false dawn light, with the excitable Deebees forming an impromptu farewell parade out of it.

The desert road remained flat, and Savannah set hirself a fast pace. The scenery was pretty dull though, so shi had hir music going full blast to keep hirself entertained. The road was also used by mining vehicles though, so shi was occasionally startled by them roaring past from behind, unheard until then due to being drowned out by the music. The ones coming towards hir were spotted long before they got to hir though, and shi exchanged cheery waves with the drivers. One even pulled over, wanting to buy some sugarstalks from the trader. Savannah was happy to oblige but worried about how low hir stocks were getting.

As cool as the night had been, it didnít take long for the desert to warm up, and before long Savannah was forced to slow down to cope with the heat. About an hour later, shi pulled into another oasis, this time presently uninhabited. However there was a large pool of cool water, and the run-off formed a long strip of healthy green vegetation until the last of it soaked into the ground some distance away. Because the water was constantly being replenished at a much more rapid rate than the other oasis, Savannah was able to do something here that shi had been unable to do back there. Liberating hirself from the cartís harness, shi took a running leap into the water. The shock of the cold water made hir gasp, but shi quickly adjusted and luxuriated in its refreshing embrace. When shi had cooled off enough, shi climbed out of the pool, water streaming from hir fur. Shi joined Tweet under the shade of a tree to dry off and take a nap.

Hir watch told hir that shi had been asleep for about half an hour, which meant that shi still had plenty of time left to use for travel. Shi considered hir options. Despite the good time that shi had made so far, shi had no chance of making hir next goal, but shi could make a detour to one of the nearer mining settlements. On the other hand, those large settlements were usually well serviced with their own general stores, and shi was unlikely to do much in the way of sales, but at least shi would have some company. Then there were the biological samples that shi had been accumulating. Shi made hir decision and spent the rest of the day examining, classifying and making records. Then, as the sun set, shi rigged hir cart with the curtains that made it into a makeshift tent and then cooked a meal. With only Tweet for company, shi dined in silence and watched the stars come out. The pristine skies were unaffected by any light pollution, and the heavens blazed in glory. Shi sought out the constellation that held a minor yellow dwarf star named Sol around which orbited a rocky and wet planet named Earth.

"Thatís where I come from, Tweet," shi said as shi pointed it out. The bird had fallen asleep though and didnít respond. It didnít matter to Savannah though because it was just a trivial fact to hir. Arisia was home now, and shi had no desire whatsoever to return to Earth. Shi cleared up hir dinner stuff and settled down to sleep. Tomorrow would be another early start and shi needed hir rest, but hir bedding felt just that little bit empty.


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To be continued in Part Three.

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