Scent of a Rose
by Terry Knight

"Personal log: Stardate... oh, I've got no idea of how these Terrans manage time, I expect this computer will figure it out anyway. Call it five or six months after departure from Dreamstar Station. I've been told by Captain Wollenstoncraft that the Clarke is roughly three weeks out from Chakona, so it won't be long before I return to that alien world. Yet, after the events concerning my departure from Dreamstar, I can't say that I feel any trepidation or concern about making this world my new home. Just another in a long string of new starts that I've had to contend with in my life.

Maybe this one will be the time that is finally mine. The gods know that I've had enough chances."

Mayfurr paused his dictation to the computer, turning his gaze to the viewing port of his cabin. The familiar swirls of multi-coloured light generated outside by the Arthur C. Clarke's warp field illuminated his darkened room with flickering ethereal beams as the starship continued its long journey. Mayfurr stretched his arms out, his vulpine muzzle yawning as he caught his breath, returning to contemplate the screen before him.

"It's taken this amount of time to properly come to terms with what happened," he resumed. "The funny thing is, most of my life I've wanted to learn about my origins, but now... is that something I really want to find out? The Terrans on this ship - still can't quite get used to them, the fact that they barely have any kind of fur makes it quite hard for me to deal with their appearance - have a saying: Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. I think I'm starting to understand that now."

"The day it all started. It seemed just another day on patrol for Dreamstar Station. We had been dispatched to Sector 34 on routine security patrol in the Fury, and we were halfway through our assigned schedule..."

Mayfurr reclined back in his seat, his feet resting on part of the flight console. His eyes aimlessly took in the unchanging view outside the cockpit windows. Inside the small cockpit of the patrol craft all was quiet and calm: various lights and displays flickered on and off in soothing regular patterns, the ships sensors never ceasing in their vigilance for any hint of change as the ship passed silently through the depths of interstellar space. With the autopilot taking care of the ship's course, and the sensors not requiring much in the way of maintenance, there wasn't a lot for him or his co-pilot to do.

A soft tap-tap-tapping to Mayfurr's left caught his attention and he turned to face the source of the sound. An ruddy orange furred humanoid with a fox's head, ears and tail sat in the copilot's seat shuffling a deck of cards. "Do you have to do that, Ranthe?" Mayfurr asked. "You know that gets on my nerves after a while."

"Sorry May."  Reluctantly Ranthe returned the pack of cards she was fiddling with to a pocket of her orange one-piece flightsuit. "I've got to have something to take my mind off the tedium, and as you don't want to have a game of cards with me...?" She looked hopefully back at Mayfurr, preening her long mane in an inviting manner.

"Not today thanks." Mayfurr propped himself up a little from his reclined position in his chair. Similar in appearance to Ranthe, with a darker red tint to his fur and white patches on his throat, chest, and lower muzzle, he wore khaki trousers and a black leather jacket in preference to a more standard flightsuit. His black-furred hands idly drummed the instrument panel as he leaned towards his companion. "It took me six weeks to win back my jacket the last time you 'Just wanted a simple game of cards' -"

"You can always try for 'double or nothing' -" Ranthe suggested, her eyes sparkling with mischief.

"- Yeah, and nothing is what I normally get when playing against you! How was I to know that you picked up this 'poker' game off the Terrans on the Asimov so well, or that I would be so terrible at it?"

"Ah well, was worth a try, you have to admit!" Ranthe laughed. "Hey - have you heard anything from Sundown lately?"

"Got a mail packet from hir the other day," Mayfurr replied. "Shi's doing well by the sound of things. The job of being in the ambassador team seems to agree with hir."

"I'll bet," Ranthe chuckled.

Mayfurr's ears flicked back. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Establishing relations with others and all that - well, you know..." Ranthe grinned. "Shi did a good job with you."

Mayfurr's muzzle wrinkled, showing traces of teeth. "Leave it Ranthe. I'm not in the mood." He turned away from Ranthe and stared out the cockpit window into the depths of space.

He must be really missing hir, Ranthe thought, realizing too late that she had struck a nerve. Ever since Sundown left to travel with the rest of the Chakonan contact team, he's been really on edge and moody. Mayfurr and the Chakat had formed a close - and somewhat intimate, Ranthe suspected - relationship during the long journey back to FurrySpace from Chakona, and from where she was sitting Mayfurr didn't seem to be taking their separation after such a long time together very well.

Suddenly, a soft insistent beeping shattered the uncomfortable silence. Quickly Mayfurr disengaged the autopilot and brought the ship to full manual control. Ranthe aligned the instruments to zero in on the source of the interruption. "What have we got?" Mayfurr asked, his ears pricked up in anticipation, his gloomy funk vanishing instantly.

Ranthe held up a hand. "Hold on... coming in now." She hastily adjusted the sensor settings, concentrating on the scanner scopes. "Small object... unpowered, seems like it's drifting. Bearing three-one-five mark four, range two-fifty thousand."

"I'll bring us in a bit closer... could be just some space junk, but then again it could be a mine of some kind," Mayfurr decided. "Best check it out." Swiftly, he brought the ship onto the new heading, tap-tapping at the flight panel in anticipation as the powerful engines of the Fiora's Fury took the ship to within visual range of the unknown object. Whatever it was, from what they could see through the windows it seemed to be slowly drifting through space, slowly tumbling end for end in a graceful pirouette. The object was roughly cylindrical, with no windows, under ten metres in length, with a cluster of what looked like small impulse thrusters on one end.

"Looks almost like a probe of some sort," Ranthe murmured thoughtfully. "Though there doesn't seem to be any sort of instrumentation on the outside."

"What about energy emissions?" Mayfurr asked. As a precaution, he brought the ship to a position a few kilometres from the intruder, raising the shields and placing the Fury's laser turret on standby. "Any sources of power you can detect?"

"Scanning... stand by, May," Ranthe replied. She adjusted some settings on the instrument panel, brushing the side of her muzzle with her hand. "Power levels minimal... seems to be running off batteries or something, no reactor detected." Suddenly, Ranthe sat bolt upright in her chair.

Mayfurr jumped with surprise at Ranthe's reaction. "What is it?"

"There's life-signs aboard that thing!" Ranthe exclaimed. "Somebody's alive over there!"

Inside the capsule nothing stirred. Only a few winking indicator lights lit the gloom, softly illuminating the precious cargo it contained - a still, motionless form shrouded in a plastic cocoon. Alien symbols slowly changed on various indicator panels as long-dormant computer programs continued their lengthy vigil, the lights twinkling off ice crystals on the walls and surfaces.

"Get that team over here! Use the tractor drones if you have to, we've got to get this to Medbay!" The cavernous hangar of Dreamstar Station echoed to the excited calls and shouts of the docking and maintenance crews as two ships slowly approached  the docking bay's entry portal. Force-fields protecting the ships and work-crews from the vacuum of space flickered with flashes of energy as the Fiora's Fury and its companion passed through the barrier and drew towards the main landing areas. Flashing navigation lights reflected off the gleaming metallic walls of the vast entry bay from both the ships and watching worker drones, and under the steadily moving ships transport and cargo vehicles scurried to and fro on the floor of the hangar deck below. As if from a predetermined signal, the Fury and the other ship - a medium-sized bulbous grey-hulled vessel with Zemyorka stencilled under the nose area - separated and glided through the air towards separate smaller landing bays at the end of the main hangar. Once safely in the confines of the landing bay, Zemyorka hovered suspended in mid-air as cargo trailers positioned themselves underneath, ready to receive the alien pod held suspended beneath the shuttle's landing gear. After a signal from the ground crew the shuttle carefully started to lower its cargo towards the receiving cargo drones.

From an adjacent landing bay to the Zemyorka Mayfurr and Ranthe clambered out of the Fury, barely allowing time for the main engines to wind down before running over to watch the ground crews direct the Zemyorka's operator to guide the alien pod towards a waiting transport cradle. Already station security assigned to the landing areas had formed a protective cordon around the object, and it wasn't long before more reinforcements arrived - including Sascha, the station command officer for that shift.

"So, just what is this meant to be?" Sasha asked, watching as the pod was deep-scanned then run though decontamination. A humanoid black panther with fine jet-black fur, a feline muzzle and a close-cropped mane, she confidently stood aside from the scurrying work crews, her hands clasped behind her back. Sasha's keen eyes carefully followed the pod until with a final clang it rested in the waiting arms of the support cradle. "What's the story?"

"We found it in Sector 34," Mayfurr replied. He covering his ears with his hands as the Zemyorka's manoeuvring thrusters fired, the ear-splitting noise drowning any conversation as the shuttle began to lift up and reverse out of the landing bay. After a few moments the noise had died down enough for Mayfurr to resume. "It was drifting on a course roughly towards Furry Prime, and after a sensor sweep we picked up life-signs... weak, but steady. We had to get assistance to tow it back to the station as the Fury doesn't have tractor capacity."

Sascha nodded, glancing over to where the pod lay as station techs swarmed over it. "We'll get it up to examination as soon as we've safed the thing and opened it up." She paused. "Any idea what's inside? I'm still waiting on our scan reports."

Mayfurr shook his head. "Whatever it is, there's not much to make out through whatever the pod's made of."

Sascha nodded, then started talking, Dreamstar's communication system picking up her words. "Myra, get Medlab ready to receive a special patient - " She paused for a moment. "Full containment, and keep a close eye on it." She watched as the pod floated into one of the lifts past in the clutches of a drone's tractor beams. "I suspect they're going to have their hands full for the next few hours."

Medical staff mingled with drones and security personnel as the now-revealed contents of the alien pod was moved to Dreamstar's Emergency Medical Confinement Facility. The contents of the pod were being scanned, the opaque plastic-like capsule floating a meter off the deck in a cradle of warped gravity as sensors floated around it like electrons around an atom.

Sascha, Mayfurr and Ranthe came in to the confused muddle, to be immediately greeted by the chief medical officer of the current shift. A large grey-furred rat 'morph standing around five feet tall, wearing a white medical uniform and a pair of black-rimmed spectacles, Doctor Balbus was plainly excited at all the activity around him. His long thin whip-like tail flicked from side to side behind him as he enthusiastically made his report to the waiting Sascha.

"It's definitely a hibernation cocoon, that much I can tell you," Balbus pronounced, his whiskers twitching with their usual eagerness. "Technology seems to be similar level to our own, but whatever's in there is very well protected. Even with the capsule out of what was undoubtedly a lifepod, our instruments can't penetrate it with enough detail to be worthwhile. Even the grav-scan can't see through the covering."

"Anything dangerous?" Sascha frowned. "You can tell it's not Borg though, can't you?"

"Correct. We can tell that much - with the information we have from our encounters Borg characteristics are very distinctive, and this does not match. And there are no signs of a explosive charge inside ... anything that does happen should be contained by the room's shields. But what it actually is... " Balbus coughed. "To find out any more... I'll have to open it."

"Can you?" Mayfurr wanted to know.

"I believe that I can, yes. I have done a similar thing before - " Balbus looked up to Sascha.

"You have my clearance," Sascha agreed. "Proceed."

The rat nodded, and walked briskly over toward the waiting cocoon, accompanied by two of his assistants and the inevitable security guards. Donning breathing masks, protective clothes and gloves, Balbus and his team closed the doors to the secure room. Hours came and went as Mayfurr, Ranthe and Sascha waited, until a loud slow groaning and creaking from inside the room announced the opening of the alien hibernation pod. A further thirty minutes passed before the heavy security doors opened, releasing small clouds of steam that quickly dispersed in the warm station air. Sascha and the others hurriedly entered, meeting Doctor Balbus by the examination table as he removed his face-mask.

Before them, the pod lay open on the table. Varicolored indicators and displays glowed though a dusting of frost coating the underside of the lid. Nestled inside, still as a statue, was a beautiful vixen 'morph. Her finely formed hands were crossed over her full, round breasts as if to cover them. Her waist was slender, her belly flat and firm, her hips pleasantly flared. A dark auburn mane spilled down from her head to below her shoulders.

"My god... she's beautiful..." Mayfurr breathed, his eyes fixed upon the frozen form. "Is... is she...."

"Alive? Yes," replied Doctor Balbus. "And in perfect hibernation." He turned to Sascha, now noticeably relaxed now the contents of the cocoon were revealed, and Ranthe. "Judging by the look of her, I would say she has been out there for quite some time." He waved towards a drone, which moved in along with the floating sensors. "We'll know when we ask her."

"You're waking her up now?" Sascha inquired.

Balbus looked up. "You have a problem with this?"

"You believe it is safe, I assume."

Balbus frowned. "Short of getting a psi in to scan her, there is no other way to get that information. And you know as well as I do that is against station regulations." The doctor's eyes levelled with Sascha. "What else do you suggest I do with her, yes? Keep her in suspended animation indefinitely?"

"Well no -"

"Then let me do my job," Balbus interrupted. "As for it being safe... if anything does happen, I can have a full security team here inside of ten seconds. And as you told me in the briefing, we need to know where this thi- I mean, this young lady came from, and why." The doctor turned to his assistants without waiting for an answer, and nodded.

"A simple yes would have been enough," Sascha replied stiffly. "Keep me updated." She turned, and headed out of the room, her tail lashing in annoyance. As she left, the medical team and their attendant drones quickly began their work in removing the young vixen from her prison, moving her to a standard bed and hooking her up to medical equipment as Ranthe and Mayfurr watched expectantly...

Corridors - a battle? But the stars were out... flashes of light blinding her eyes -
Running -
Escape, pursuit, fear - the sharp tang of ozone...
Hands reaching for her, crashing, terror -
Help! Run? But where?
"Get in quickly, I'll follow -" , a ring-tailed silhouette vanishing in a wall of flame...
A rose in the mist, wanting, searching -

Images and thoughts flashed through the vixen's mind, a random jumble seemingly unconnected, but somehow she could sense they had some meaning...

Feeling of something started to flow back into her mind, a void vanishing, and weight and time slowly started to return to her. She could feel her body again - how long had it been? It felt like only a few moments ago - and her mind slowly, carefully, experimented with movement. A silent sigh of relief flowed through the mind of the young female as she felt herself move, even though the effort caused a fresh sensation of multiple pains shooting though her body.

Her consciousness struggled to make sense of her surroundings as one by one each of her senses started to function. She could sense light and warmth now, and her ears tickled with sound...

"Doctor, she's coming around now..." Mayfurr called out. For nearly four hours he had sat alone in a vigil by the unconscious vixen's bed, his eyes never leaving her beautiful face. Now it seemed that the end was in sight as she started to stir, her breathing quickening and her eyelids starting to flutter. Within moments, Doctor Balbus had returned to the security ward, pausing only to mutter into a comlink as he joined Mayfurr.

Warmth... light...
I'm safe!
I think... Where am I?
But... who am I?

"Indeed," Doctor Balbus observed, standing by the head of the bed with datapadd in hand, making notes and glancing up at the floating hologram readout of his patient's lifesigns. "Pulse, respiration, all seem to be coming in line with normal vulpine norms. A few differences, to be sure, but nothing important." He glanced towards Mayfurr, giving him a curious look. "You seem to have become attached to her, yes?"

Mayfurr looked up, turning to face the doctor. "I just want to make sure she's going to be all right, that's all."

I remember a name -
... Tamara?

A soft groan from the bed returned the attention of both 'morphs to their patient. At almost at the same time, Ranthe hurried in, taking up a position beside Doctor Balbus. Everyone watched intently as the stranger's ears twitched, her head moving slowly from one side to another. She slowly lifted up her head, peering confusedly at her surroundings with lovely purple eyes.

The doctor moved quietly to the head of the bed and knelt beside it, his head level with that of the vixen. "Don't worry, you're safe now..." Balbus said soothingly. "You're recovering from hibernation... lie back for now. Your strength will come back soon, don't try to get up yet."

The vixen attempted to sit up, but wobbled and fell back into the bed. Managing to lift her head again, she slowly looked around the room, her gaze lingering momentarily first on the doctor, then Ranthe before coming to rest on Mayfurr.

"It's going to be okay," Mayfurr softly reassured her. "You're in good hands with the doctor here... we'll look after you."

The stranger's eyes widened and suddenly she screamed at the top of her voice. Everyone in the ward clapped their hands over their ears, the ward ringing with the sound of a howl that sounded like it had come from the depths of Hell itself...

Balbus's reaction was a second too slow, his finger triggering the medbed's neural immobiliser just as the madly struggling vixen threw herself clear of it. "Sedative! Get me a goddam sedative!" he roared. "She's going into some sort of shock - we have to calm her down!" He reached out to try and restrain the thrashing vixen, her arms and hands slapping against the doctor as he and his medical assistants tried to hold her down.

"NOO! NOOOOO!!" the stranger shrieked, trying to get away as Mayfurr and Ranthe fearfully backed away to the wall, an expression of shock and surprise on both their faces. Above them, the security drones hovered overhead, unable to get a clear shot at the wayward patient as Doctor Balbus and the vixen struggled with each other for what seemed an eternity. Eventually Balbus managed to empty a hypospray into the struggling vixen's arm, causing her to quickly relax and cease her struggling. Even though she was now unconscious, her muzzle moved still, mouthing words that no-one could understand.

"And just what the hell brought that on?"

Doctor Balbus, Mayfurr, and Ranthe were in the doctor's office, the white-coated rodent looking dishevelled and frustrated. He angrily turned towards Mayfurr. "What the hell are you doing upsetting my patients! What did you do to her?"

"It wasn't me!" Mayfurr protested. "I didn't do anything - you saw for yourself!" He was just as confused as everyone else as to what had provoked the outburst in the med-centre, yet they were all blaming him for some reason? It didn't make sense, he thought.

"Is that right then? You have no other explanation?" the doctor persisted, obviously unconvinced. "You have not seen her before?"

"No dammit! Of course I haven't seen her before!" Mayfurr replied angrily, starting to pace. "Ask Ranthe if you don't believe me -" He turned to Ranthe, who nodded.

"May's right, Doctor," Ranthe replied, her calm voice a contrast to Mayfurr's emotional outburst. "We hauled her frozen solid out of drifting in deep space only a few hours ago, and it looks like from the initial analysis she was out there for some time. I can't see how this could have happened."

Doctor Balbus nodded slowly, rubbing his eyes with his hands, his thin whip-like tail moving from side to side behind him. "What about further back in your life, May?" he asked, trying to keep his voice level. "She obviously knows you from somewhere..."

"No, I don't!" Mayfurr denied. "I can't see how - " He halted, then continued in a quieter tone of voice. "At least, anyplace I can remember..." He lowered his head for a few moments, and when he looked up again he saw both Ranthe and the doctor looking at him with quizzical expressions.

Ranthe moved closer to the uncomfortable looking fox. "What is it, May?" she asked, gently taking him by a hand. "What do you mean?"

Mayfurr glanced towards Doctor Balbus, then Ranthe. Sighing slightly, he sat down on one of the doctor's chairs. "I don't really know how to say this," he began, "But... well... " He paused for a few moments. "You remember how we met up, Ranthe? I told you how I'd been drifting around on Furry Prime for a year or so, looking for work, looking for a place?"

Ranthe nodded slightly in agreement.

"You see, the thing is... " Mayfurr sighed again, struggling with his emotions. "Doc, Ranthe... I can't remember anything about my life before waking up under a bandstand on Furry Prime about three years ago. No cubhood, no school... nothing!"

Doctor Balbus started slightly. "You must remember something," the rat insisted. "What of your parents, the tod and vixen that raised you... you can't have just arrived out of thin air fully formed as an adult vulpine."

"I know." Mayfurr looked uncomfortable. "But what happened to me before? I don't know. All I have of memories prior to being on Furry Prime, on the Nighthawk, or on the way back from Chakona... are fragments, unconnected and terrifying." He shook his head, as if to try and dispel the sense of nervousness of probing into his past that he was feeling. "I don't like to think about it much."

Ranthe gently squeezed Mayfurr's hand. She was about to say something when Doctor Balbus interrupted. "Okay... We will have to accept that for now, Mayfurr," the rat sighed, stuffing his hands into his overcoat pocket. "But until we know more I have to insist that you keep away from our young guest for now."

"Now wait a - " Mayfurr began, then subsided upon seeing the expressions etched on Balbus' and Ranthe's faces. The doctor looked Mayfurr straight in the eye. "Nothing personal, you understand. But I cannot allow the risk of further upsetting my patients." His voice hardened. "And if necessary, I will instruct my staff to enforce my orders on that subject. I'm sure we do not want that."

Mayfurr slowly nodded. "Okay... I guess," he reluctantly said. "Doc, at least will you tell me... how she is doing? And when I can see her again?" Balbus considered for a moment, then slowly nodded. After rising from his seat, Mayfurr left the room without further comment. Both Ranthe and Balbus watched him leave.

"Is May normally like this?" Balbus asked, leaning up against his desk.

Ranthe shook her head. "No, leastwise as long as I've known him," she admitted, her muzzle twitching slightly. "Not even with when we were on the way back from Chakona on the Asimov. May's normally pretty careful when it comes to emotional attachments. But now..."

"As long as you've known him." Doctor Balbus considered. "That is the important thing really, yes?" But what other secrets does he have?

I should have listened to Balbus. I should never have shoved my nose into the whole mess,I could have just let the good doctor take care of things, gone back to routine patrols like a good little fox and let someone else carry the can for a change.Hell, I had enough of a reputation as a trouble magnet when I was on the Nighthawk, not to mention the whole business on Chakona and with Sundown.

"Sundown..." Mayfurr breathed, staring into space, his eyes unfocussed as pleasant memories of the journey from Chakona drifted through his mind. One of the best things that happened to me from Chakona. But even then it didn't work out for a while - she became part of the ambassadorial team from the Stellar Federation to Furry Prime, which took her away from me. It's the story of my life, really - get settled someplace, only to be uprooted again. And frankly, I'm getting sick of it.

"But of course, I didn't listen..."

The medcentre was in the dimly lit 'night' cycle of Dreamstar Station when Doctor Balbus returned to the bedside of his newest - and most enigmatic - patient. He smiled to the duty nurse as he inspected the overnight notes on the display next to the vixen's bed. His hand scratched under his chin with a clawtip.

What to do, what to do... he thought. There had already been fallout over this as a result of a member of the staff being injured, even if it was only a bruise, and he'd been ordered to take a bit more care. Balbus looked at the display again. The vixen's vital signs looked strong, she seemed to be reasonably comfortable and this time of night things were nice and quiet... Coming to a decision, he gestured towards the duty station. "Deena... I need you over here for a moment, please."

As the nurse joined him, Balbus shut down the low-powered sedation field keeping the vixen asleep. Slowly she woke up, her eyelids fluttering over her purple eyes. "Where... where am I?" she slurred, struggling to raise her head. "Must... must..."

"It's okay, just lie back now..." Doctor Balbus said soothingly. "You've had a rough ride, but you're okay now. Can I get you anything?"

"So thirsty... can't move, have to..." she mumbled, her voice deep and rasping. "So thirsty..."

"You're dehydrated from the hypersleep." The doctor sent a drone hunting after water, while Deena surreptitiously activated a recording device on the bedside monitor. "Some water will be coming in a moment, young lady," Balbus said. His voice took on an encouraging tone. "Now... can you tell me who you are?"

"Who... I are?" the vixen repeated, struggling a bit to sit up, her purple eyes focusing on the white-coated rat beside her bed. "Who...?"

"Your name, dear lady. Do you have a name?"

"My name... my name is... is... Tamara."

"... So you were crew on that starship, yes? Not a passenger?" Doctor Balbus asked in his best bed-side manner. Since waking up, Tamara had been able to converse reasonably well given her condition. After drinking some water her voice has lost its raspy quality, becoming a deeper timbre that almost sounded seductive... if it wasn't for her speaking in a sort of broken Standard.

"I crew, yeah. Ship attacked, owners want it back, crew no' wanna go."

"Sounds like a nasty trip. Where were you headed?"

Silence. The doctor had noticed that Tamara simply refused to make any response to certain questions, but he simply ignored those and carried on. "Were there any other survivors?"

Tamara seemed to think for a moment. "No, me think..." she replied softly. She shuddered. "Al' gone, ship hit, firrre... order to abandon. Tamara looking for... for... but dead. Got to lifepod without... saw ship blow, no see otherr pods escape." Tears welled up in her eyes.

Balbus carefully wiped the tears away with a tissue. "It's okay Tamara, you're safe now," he reassured her. "You're safe... and you're going to recover. You're just weak from your hibernation, but in a few days you'll be fine."

Tamara nodded slowly, her eyes drooping slightly. "I'll let you rest for now, Tamara," Doctor Balbus said, smiling. "If you want something, just call the nurse, and she'll take care of you." He patted her reassuringly on the shoulder and returned to the duty station, closing Tamara's door behind him.

"What do you think, sir?" the duty nurse asked, the female's muzzle showing a motherly concern.

"Oh, I think she'll come around Deena," Balbus replied. "Her bioreadings do seem to be running unusually high in some areas than what I've noticed with other vulpine races that we've had come though here - "

"But she will be okay, right? I've noticed that too, but those readings are inside normal tolerances."

"You're right, Deena." Balbus smiled. "As long as they don't exceed that, we won't have any problems with Miss Tamara." He sniffed the air a bit. "By the way... are we having some problems with the environmental systems? The air seems a bit stuffy."

Ranthe sat in one of the licensed drinking establishments on one of the many commercial decks of Dreamstar, a glass of colourful liquid sitting before her on the table as she leaned back in her seat. The bar was almost deserted at this late hour, but Ranthe was glad of the lack of attention, hoping the relative quietness of the hour would help in soothing her headache.

She sipped at her drink, her muzzle wrinkling in thought as she replaced her glass on the table. The train of recent events, starting with the arrival of the strange young woman they had picked up, had taken more out of Ranthe than she had previously realised. Not to mention her partner's behaviour had also been rather odd of late. What the heck was it with Mayfurr?

A movement behind caught her attention, and Ranthe turned to see Mayfurr approaching. He didn't appear to have bothered changing his usual black jacket from their last work-session. Upon seeing Ranthe May nodded, and after a quick diversion to the bar he returned to her, carefully lowering himself down into a chair opposite.

Ranthe noticed her companion appeared more tense and unsettled than usual. "You're up late tonight May," she observed. "What's up?"

Mayfurr grunted. "Can't sleep. Thought a walk around the station might do me some good." He looked around. "What about you?"

"I'm normally up around this time," Ranthe answered. "Helps to clear my mind." And indeed she was feeling better, she had to admit. Which was more than what could be said for May by the looks of things. "You going to drink that or just play with it?"


"Your drink May - you don't want it to get warm, do you? Unless you're drinking Anglobier again..."

"Oh, that." Mayfurr looked down at his glass as if he had only just realised it was there. "Sorry Ranthe, got a bit on my mind at the moment."

"Like our young visitor, hmmmm?"

He nodded. "Something like that," he admitted, shuffling in his seat awkwardly.

"You really seem to have taken a shine to her."



"Uh, oh sorry Ranthe."

Ranthe sighed. "What is it with you at the moment?" she asked, exasperated. "You're not listening to anything I say! And it's only since we rescued that young fox from the freezer that you've been acting like this! What's going on?"

May said nothing, still fiddling with his drink. Ranthe harumphed. "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you had a crush on that young lady." She leaned forward, drink in hand. "I thought you and Sundown had something going with each other since you two got together on the Asimov - or is that all over now since shi left for Furry Prime?"

"No, it's not that. It's..." Mayfurr's voice trailed off. He placed his drink down on the table again. "I'd better go and get some rest for tomorrow Ranthe, I'll see you tomorrow." Before Ranthe could reply, Mayfurr was already out of the bar and heading for the nearest turbolift. She watched him leave, and after a few moments shrugged to herself and took another sip of her drink. That dammed headache had returned.

Mayfurr took the turbolift up to the accommodation level, and moodily entered his quarters, leaning back against the main door as he closed it behind him. He felt unsettled, out of sorts for some reason, but as to the cause he had no idea, instead putting it down to the stress of the day. He wearily walked into the apartment's sleeping area, and after hanging up his usual leather jacket up on its accustomed hook and removing his trousers and boots for the night he climbed into bed, figuring that a good night's rest was all he needed.

Something still nagged at Mayfurr as he eventually drifted off to sleep, but he dismissed it, believing that it could wait until the morning.

A white room, with black curtains... looked like some sort of medical facility. He'd never seen it before, but somehow, it looked familiar -

"And how is our subject today, hmmm?" an unrecognisable form in a white coat asked him. Mayfurr found himself lying on a table of some kind, so he tried to get up. But somehow, his legs refused to move.

"Wha-what's happening?" he fearfully asked. Something wasn't right he knew, and for some reason fear started to mount inside him. "This isn't Dreamstar..."

"How perceptive of you to notice!" the figure laughed. "Don't worry your head over it, we haven't finished with you yet. Some more tests I think. I don't expect you to like them, but that's hardly my concern - the project needs must be served, of course..."

Mayfurr started to reply, but suddenly the scene changed. Now, he was strapped upright in a room lined with stainless steel, filled with many different kinds of instruments and machines, some benign, some full of potent menace. More figures in white coats gathered around him.

"What have you done to me?" Mayfurr demanded, trying to shout but instead finding his voice a croaking whisper. "Why am I here? Who are you?" Now he recognised some of the apparatus on the tables near to him as cybernetic arms, and a feeling of dread hit him. "What are - "

As if in reply, one of the figures extended a clawed hand towards him. Mayfurr's eyes fearfully followed it down towards his strapped left arm, where the claws touched a ridge of fur. Aghast, Mayfurr watched as the hand started to lift the skin away from the fox's arm, an instant of white-hot pain as his flesh was torn away - next thing he saw was instead of flesh and blood, an arm and hand made of steel and circuitry! "Now he knows!" a laugh rang out. "Let's show him the rest of our handiwork!"

Something forced Mayfurr's muzzle upwards, and a mirror was thrust before his eyes. Now he could see his face - but it wasn't all his. Instead, part of his right ear and the lower part of his cheek consisted of cybernetic parts, and as the fox watched in horror, more and more of his face changed from fur and flesh to plastic, glass and shiny metal, as if a disfiguring disease remorselessly swept over him -

"Nooooo... NOOOO!! HELP ME!!!!!!"

Mayfurr woke with a start, his eyes wild with terror as he pulled himself bolt-upright in his bed, panting furiously. His hand slammed out to one side, activating the room lighting as the echo of his waking scream reverberated around his bedroom. Frantically he looked around -

- to see everything exactly as it should be. Everything was normal. Even down to the photograph of Sundown hanging slightly crooked by the nightstand...

In Dreamstar's medcentre, Tamara woke suddenly from a restless slumber, her body rigid with terror as her eyes snapped open - images from a terrifying vision of cybernetic horrors in her sleep still vividly fresh in her mind -

Mayfurr groaned, and slumped back into bed, still gasping for breath, forcing himself to calm down. Gingerly, he touched his arm and hands, then his face, relaxing somewhat when he felt the reassuring texture of fur and flesh to his touch.

"Gods... what a nightmare..." he breathed to himself. "It was so... so real..." Haven't had anything like that for quite a while, he thought to himself, trying to get his mind back in order. Cybernetic implants, experimentation? He shuddered. Where did that come from?

Tamara recovered well under Doctor Balbus' treatment, Mayfurr dictated to his diary, pausing for several long moments as he recalled the events of months long past. The chronometer on the computer terminal showed it was now 11:34pm by ship's time, but now that he had started his recollections he was filled with a sense of urgency to commit them to data files. Sascha was placed in charge of the overall investigation of Tamara's origins, but the instrumentation on Tamara's lifepod was extremely basic to say the least, having little extra capacity other than keeping the occupant alive. Tamara herself was either unable or unwilling to supply any further information, which didn't help either. The only reliable information was the pod's original trajectory when Ranthe and I intercepted it, but even that was inconclusive as the only known planetary system on the pod's flight path, Voltes Five, was not known to be habitable. However, as Tamara had not appeared to come from any regions then hostile to Dreamstar or Furry Prime, it wasn't long before she was released from MedCentre and assigned station accommodation. "May, I've told you before -"

"But I've got to see her Doc! I have to see she's all right!"

Doctor Balbus groaned silently to himself. "Mayfurr, I've already given you updates on how our young guest is, you can see for yourself she is coming along well. And we all know what happened when she saw you last time. I cannot allow that to happen again, and you know it!"

"I know Doc, I know..." Mayfurr sighed. "But... it's just not the same thing. Reading notes is one thing, but - "

"But nothing." The rat cut him off. "Out of the question, I'm afraid. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Balbus walked out of his office, leaving Mayfurr behind. What has got into some people lately? he wondered. Mayfurr keeps pestering me for him to see Tamara, and if that isn't enough some of my staff have been acting more and more irritable. His muzzle wrinkled. Looks like some people need a bit of straightening out, can't have my clinic turning into some arena for petty squabbles. At least Deena isn't acting like that.

Mayfurr waited until he could no longer hear the doctor's footsteps, then casually walked out of Balbus's office, innocently wandering in the general area of Tamara's ward - to find that the nurses that were usually on duty were mysteriously absent.

Mayfurr couldn't believe his luck. How could that happen? His ears twitched, listening for approaching footsteps, but all he could hear was some muffled discussion coming from the adjoining ward - quite heated as it seemed. Apparently someone got caught into an argument of some kind, and Mayfurr intended to make the most of it.

Cautiously, he peeked around the corner. There was Tamara, all right - sitting up in bed, her head resting on thick pillows, apparently dozing with her luxuriant head-fur fanned around her. Reassured by the sight, Mayfurr quietly walked closer to the bedside, carefully sitting down in the visitor's chair, his eyes never leaving the beautiful vixen before him. She looked so innocent and vulnerable, and not for the first time Mayfurr wondered what had brought her here. He had a funny feeling every time he thought about her ever since her awakening, as if somehow they had indeed met before...

Tamara stirred, and her eyelids began to flutter open. Mayfurr caught his breath, starting to get up for a hasty exit. As he turned, Tamara's eyes instantly locked on his -

Doctor Balbus had completed his rounds, and was passing the main medcentre station where Deena was on duty. "All okay?" he asked.

"Yes, everything normal - at least for this place," Deena nodded, leaning back in her chair. "No warnings, only routine enquiries, no new patients." Deena smiled. "Oh, and I heard Crystal and Estella in another one of their slanging matches in an empty ward a while ago. I'd love to know what's got them riled up, normally they're pretty good pals but lately they've been real bitches. Pardon the pun."

Balbus nodded thoughtfully in agreement. "And it's not just them - half of the canid staff have been acting the same, for no apparent reason. Most of the rest of the staff have been a bit more touchy, but not to the same extent."

"If it's only canids you're worried about, it shouldn't affect me," Deena chuckled. "I know I look like one, but as I'm a marsupial I won't have any problems!" She tapped her flat chest for emphasis, grinning widely.

"True, very true. But still," Balbus continued, "I'd like to know what's causing it - even if it is just a general falling out with each other." His eyes turned to the security monitors, one screen now showing the ward where Tamara lay. "Deena," he said at length, "I thought you said Estella was arguing with Crystal down the ward."

"That's right."

"So... no-one's in Miss Tamara's ward at the moment."

Deena nodded, causing Balbus's ears to flick back. "Then... who is that with her now?"

"I don't know - " Hurriedly, Deena zoomed the camera onto the form in the room. It wasn't either of the medstaff, but the form was familiar -

Mon dieu!

"Mayfurr!" Doctor Balbus cried. "What the hell!"

Mayfurr found he couldn't break his gaze away from Tamara. His whole body seemed to be locked solid, his head buzzing, he felt he was losing himself in those beautiful hypnotic purple eyes...

Who are you? Why are you here?
I rescued you. You were drifting alone, we found you -
Recognition. Yes, I know now. A pause. I knew you would come back. Are there others left now?
I... I don't understand!

Doctor Balbus raced back towards Tamara's ward, fearing the worst. As he burst through the entrance to Tamara's cubicle, his heart caught in his mouth as he saw the young vixen, now fully awake, looking straight at Mayfurr in a strange way -

Calm. Later.

"Mayfurr!" Balbus shouted, grabbing his arm. "Get away from her, get out of here right now!" He was about to wrench Mayfurr bodily out of the ward when Tamara spoke.

"Good evening Doctorrrr," she said calmy. "Is something wrong?"

The doctor skidded to a halt in surprise. "Wh-what?" He had been expecting Tamara to be screaming again, but now here she was looking pleasantly up at him as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. "Miss Tamara... what about..." he asked, gesturing towards the equally bemused Mayfurr.

"It... was a surprise, yes, to see visiturrr today," Tamara replied slowly, turning to face the doctor. "But is okay. He was one who rescued me?"

"Ummm, yes." Balbus scratched his forehead with a clawtip, his tail swishing from side to side in puzzlement. "But what about before - the first time you saw him?"

"I..." Tamara looked confused. "I don't remember. Did we meet before, surrr?" she asked, returning her attention to Mayfurr.

The doctor decided not to press things. "It doesn't matter Tamara," he reassured her, "as long as he doesn't worry you." He turned to Mayfurr. "It rather looks like that my concerns have become obsolete rather quickly," he sighed. "I suppose you can see her during normal visiting hours. But... please Mayfurr, don't do that again."

"No problem Doc," Mayfurr replied, a grin breaking out across his muzzle. "Thanks."

"I don't know what the hell has got into you May," Ranthe snarled. "That's the third time you've messed up the sensor calibration on the tracking pods!" She angrily fell back into the copilot's chair of the Fury, slamming her fist on the main instrument panel.

"Look, I'm sorry Ranthe!" Mayfurr protested. "I said I was sorry! These things happen! I'm only vulpine! I'll go back out and swap out some of the modules - "

"You've been getting worse and worse since Tamara was released from Medbay a few weeks ago, I've noticed," Ranthe frostily observed, laying down her tools and folding her arms, turning in her cockpit seat to look at him. "You're spending a hell of a lot of time with her - and you can't keep your mind on the job."

"Oh come on Ranthe, I'm only trying to help Tamara to adjust to life in the Furrderation," Mayfurr testily replied. "What's wrong with helping someone, I'd like to know?"

"Bollocks. Don't pull that one about you helping her adjust - I can guess what you've been up to."

Mayfurr looked up to Ranthe from where he was carrying out adjustments, a sullen look on his muzzle. "It's none of your damned business what I do in my spare time, Ranthe."

"It is when it affects the running of the Fury, and the duties we perform for Dreamstar!" Ranthe retorted. "We're a team May, or at least we were - till this damn mystery lady-fox turns up and you go all gooey-eyed over her!"

"Is that it Ranthe? You're jealous!"

"It's not that and you know it - "

"Oh yeah, and it was all right for you on the way back from Chakona, all right for you to go out with half of the damned crew of the Asimov, but when it comes to what I want all of a sudden it's affecting the team! What am I supposed to do?" Mayfurr coldly observed.

"And that's another thing - where does Sundown fit into this? You remember hir, right?"

"What about her?"

"My point exactly!" Ranthe shouted. "You were all noble and loyal about seeing her again on Furry Prime - until now!"

"Shi'll be seeing others, we both knew that - "

"How do you think shi will feel if shi knew you were carrying on like this behind hir back?"

"That's not how chakats view relationships Ranthe! I should know!"

"I don't think you do, May. I think that's how you view relationships - "

Mayfurr leapt up and stormed over to Ranthe, angrily grabbing the surprised vixen by her overalls. "Dammit Ranthe, that's going too far!" he snarled, teeth exposed, his face and features twisted with rage. "GET OUT OF MY FACE AND MIND YOUR OWN GODDAMED BUSINESS!"


Mayfurr blinked, stunned, his face smarting from where Ranthe's hand had struck him. As if only becoming aware of what he was doing, he looked down to see Ranthe before him trembling, yet defiant. Slowly, he released Ranthe from his grip, ashamedly looking away from her as he turned and slowly left through the Fury's access hatch into the hangar. Ranthe watched him go, panting from the stress of the confrontation, nervously collecting her thoughts.

Now I know something is really going wrong, she thought. No matter what else we've been through together, even during the time we were hiding on Chakona, has he ever lifted a hand against me. Something's changed... and I have to do something.
After securing the Fury, Ranthe returned to her quarters, to see Mayfurr waiting outside carrying two bouquets of roses. Looking decidedly contrite, Mayfurr wordlessly handed one to her before turning and walking towards the nearest turbolift. Ranthe watched him disappear before reading the card attached to the roses.

I'm sorry. Mayfurr.

Ranthe sighed, opening the door and entering her quarters, placing the flowers on the table and leaning back against a wall. While she appreciated Mayfurr's apology, nothing had really been solved - and she had a good idea as to who the other bouquet was going to. Action was needed.

"Computer," she said. "Record message..."

Tamara was alone, relaxing on a couch in her room, having just finished her evening meal. As was typical on Dreamstar with temporary accomodation, the room Tamara was now temporarily housed in was small and utilitarian, with very little personality whatsoever. To Tamara however it made a welcome change from the med-centre, and certainly was comfortable enough for her needs as she was coming to grips with the new environment that she now found herself in.

This is certainly a very different place to what I remember, she reflected, idly flicking through the notes she had made at that day's orientation session. In some ways quite ordered, but at the same time anarchistic at the same time - everyone's pitted against each other! It reminds me a bit of the... oh, what was it called... the Damian Empire? No, that's not quite right...

Tamara leaned back into the soft padding of the couch, her long auburn mane falling over her muzzle and around her soft pointed ears, dropping the notes she was holding as she brushed the offending hair out of her face. At least I seem to be welcome here for now, Tamara mused. But how long will that last? And what will I do then? Everything I know of, as far as I can tell, is gone...

The door chime sounded, jolting her out of her introspection. Tamara got up out of her seat, adjusted her standard Dreamstar-issue blue pants and top, and padded softly to open the door. As she had anticipated, Mayfurr stood there, one arm behind his back, his black leather jacket hanging open revealing his red and white chest and bellyfur. His eyes lit up as the door opened.

"Hello Mayfurrr!" Tamara beamed happily to her new friend. "Is good to see you again! Please, come in!"

"It's good to see you too, Tamara!" Mayfurr replied, entering Tamara's quarters, still keeping something concealed behind him. Tamara tried to sneak a look at what he was hiding, but Mayfurr grinned and dodged, keeping his back away from her.

"What have you there you are hiding from me, hmmm?" Tamara coyly asked. "Is present for Tamarrra, yes? Want to see!"

"Oh, you'll see in a minute Tamara, don't worry," Mayfurr laughed. "But it's a surprise... do you like surprises?"

"Oh yes! Like surprises. Like presents too!"

"Well, hold your hands out and close your eyes, and don't open them until I say so," Mayfurr grinned. Tamara obediently closed her eyes, and when Mayfurr was satisfied she wasn't peeking he withdrew his hand from behind his back and placed a bouquet of red roses into Tamara's waiting hand, pulling off a cover from the bouquet in a grandiose flourish and allowing the scent of the roses to fill the air. "There. You can open your eyes now," he said gently.

The perfume of the flowers entered Tamara's sensitive nostrils almost at the same time that she opened her eyes, and her face was filled with amazement at what was before her. "Mayfurrr!" she exclaimed. "This is so... so..."

He smiled. "Do you like my surprise?"

Tamara couldn't speak. Something was happening to her, triggered by the sight and scent of Mayfurr's gift, and now she felt new feelings and compulsions surface from the back of her mind, asserting new dominance... She stood there in front of Mayfurr, eyes and mouth wide open, struggling to breathe, fighting to control her mind -

"Are you okay, Tamara?" Mayfurr hastily asked. "If this is going a bit far, I'm sorry, but I thought you would like them, something to brighten your room up, I didn't think you'd..." His voice trailed off. The expression of shock on Tamara's face started to soften, and Mayfurr slowly became aware of another scent in the room as well as the rose's perfume. He took a small step back, puzzled.

Tamara slowly held the bouquet of roses to her muzzle, and took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she inhaled more of the sweet perfume. As she opened her eyes again, the look in her eyes changed from simple curiosity to smouldering passion.

"Oooohh... I am perfectly fine now, dear Mayfurrrr..." Tamara sultrily replied, her voice dripping with lust. Her soft bushy tail began to sway seductively behind her as she carefully dropped the flowers onto the nearest table and began to advance towards the confused Mayfurr. "It was such a wonderful present, so very thoughtful of you..."

"Um, well, ah I'm glad you liked them," Mayfurr stammered, his mind completely thrown by Tamara's sudden change. While they had been friendly together, Tamara hadn't shown any special romantic interest in him before, and for her to change her attitude to him this quickly was something he couldn't understand. And the air in the room wasn't helping his concentration - the mixture of aromas in the room was overpowering!

Suddenly Mayfurr realised what the second scent was, and his mind reeled. Surely Tamara wasn't...? He took another step back, but by now Tamara was right next to him, and with a sudden move she threw her arms around his neck, pulling him close and pressing her body hard against him. She licked her lips lavisciously, running her tongue around inside her open mouth, giving Mayfurr the most sultry look of lust and desire he had ever seen.

"You've been so kind to me while I've been here, dear Mayfurrr," Tamara breathed seductively, sliding his jacket off his shoulders and running her hands over his thickly-furred chest. "I want to show you my appreciation for that, and your lovely gift to me... and I know just how I can!" She reached around Mayfurr's body, sliding one hand inside the back of his trousers to fondle and tease the base of his tail, while standing on the tips of her toes and hungrily kissing him full on the mouth.

"T-T-Tamara!" gasped Mayfurr, managing to break off from Tamara's passionate kiss for a brief moment. He started to protest, but Tamara's grinding against him had caused some familiar reactions in his crotch , and the vixen mating scent that was filling the room was now starting to drive him on quite different courses of action. Suddenly, his mind finally relented to Tamara's stimulations, and he hungrily returned her passionate kiss, thrusting his tongue between her lips into her mouth as Tamara greedily tore at his trousers...

Ranthe finished dictating her message to the comm computer, directing it to be priority sent. Sighing to herself as transmission was confirmed, she flopped back into a couch, resting her head on one hand propped up on the armrest and staring moodily at the bouquet of flowers carelessly lying on the coffee table.

I hope to hell this works, she thought to herself. Allowing three days for transit, I should get a reply by next week, and we can take things from there. Ranthe had serious personal misgivings about her course of action - being an independently minded vixen, she preferred to take care of matters herself - but her latest dealings with Mayfurr had reluctantly persuaded her that additional help was needed. Not to mention that there was the possibility that what she was planning could backfire on her quite severely.

Ranthe picked up the bunch of roses from the table, and absent-mindedly fiddled with the stems and flowers, breathing in the fragrant scent. A small smile crossed her muzzle, and she inhaled more deeply - flowers of any kind on Dreamstar tended to be expensive, and roses especially were a real treat. He must have paid out a small fortune for two bouquets, Ranthe considered, her muzzle wrinkling in disapproval as she realised the implications. Getting Mayfurr back to normal is going to be quite a tough job.

In Tamara's quarters, the air was heavy with the overpowering aroma of vulpine musk, the smell cloying and penetrating as the ventilation system quietly carried out its job of circulating the air supply through the station. A trail of both male and female clothing led from the living area to the sleeping quarters, which contained two drowsy foxes collapsed on the bed in each other's arms. Around them were the signs of frenzied activity: sheets and blankets pulled away from the bed, items of underclothing ripped and torn on the floor, virtually everything surrounding the vicinity of the bed was in a messy and disturbed state.

Mayfurr sleepily looked over at the sleeping Tamara, the vixen beside him breathing quietly in peaceful slumber. Her long tresses of head-fur, now tangled and dishevelled, fell as a river of auburn brown over the pillows and her shoulders as she lay on her side. Carefully, as if touching a precious vase, Mayfurr stroked Tamara's cheek-ruff, his eyes adoringly surveying her body as his mind soared and delighted in his memories of the previous hours.

It just came together tonight, Mayfurr thought to himself, I don't know how or why, but something incredible happened. It was as if all of his dreams had come true, the hopes and dreams of a lifetime had culminated in a single moment of perfect joy and beauty. He hadn't experienced such a thing of late - in fact, to his recollection, before in his life - and now he was filled with a sense of wonder, togetherness and completeness. It was as if he felt one with the woman that he now shared the bed with.

Is this what people mean by true love? Mayfurr wondered. At the moment - at the climax of our lovemaking, when I was so far up inside her and we held each other so tightly - it seemed like our bodies, even our minds, suddenly merged into one being. I felt it, I felt it, right inside my head... I knew every thought, every breath, every whisper in Tamara's mind, and she knew everything about me for a split second - then I exploded inside her and the rush, the sense of absolute release of everything I was and everything I am into her sweet wondrous body, was so overwhelming -

He lowered his head to Tamara's, and gently kissed her on the side of her muzzle, before protectively placing his arm over her and settling back down to lie beside her again. I want this, Mayfurr reflected as he relaxed back into the bed again, the soft whirrring of the ventilation system soothing and relaxing. More than anything else in the world... I want this.

Mayfurr returned to the hangar deck with a smile on his face and a spring in his step next morning, humming contentedly to himself.  His face radiated happiness and contentment as he passed other 'morphs working in the hangar, causing some of them to look up in surprise and scratch their heads. After seeing the way Mayfurr had been looking over the previous few weeks, especially after catching the results of some shouting matches between him and his erstwhile partner seeing Mayfurr looking so happy and confident was a remarkable sight indeed.

"Good morning Ranthe!" Mayfurr happily called out, waving cheerily as the startled vixen poked her head out of the Fury's main hatchway. "It's just a wonderful day today, don't you think? I'll think we'll be able to get those tests sorted out from yesterday, then we'll take the Fury out on a shakedown cruise!" He spun around, arms outstretched, an expression of joy on his face. "Hellooooo Dreamstar!"

Ranthe clambered out of the Fury, a look of puzzled consternation on her face. Was this the same Mayfurr who had so roughly grabbed her the night before? She waited impatiently for her partner to arrive, smoothing down her orange overalls as Mayfurr picked his way across the maze and tangle of umbilical hoses and cables connected to the ship.

"You're certainly in a better mood than last night," Ranthe replied rather stiffly, still not quite comprehending Mayfurr's sudden turnaround in attitude. Mayfurr just grinned, leaning on the side of the ship facing her, obviously pleased with himself. "What cau -"

Ranthe's voice suddenly broke off in mid-stream. Her eyes narrowed and her muzzle wrinkled as a rather pungent scent filled her nostrils... one, as a vixen, she instantly recognised. Ranthe's expression swiftly changed from puzzlement to an icy coldness, and she fixed her eyes on Mayfurr's face with a gaze that could freeze hydrogen solid.

"Well, well, well, well, well," Ranthe frostily observed. "Your scent - or should I say, her scent, betrays you. No wonder you're feeling on top of the world today!"

"Isn't it great?" Mayfurr replied happily, oblivious to Ranthe's sudden change in attitude. "It's amazing what -"

"You fucked her, didn't you?" Ranthe angrily interrupted. "You fucked Tamara... that's what you did after you left me, wasn't it?" The vixen's hands clenched into fists as fury ran through her body, her tail swishing violently from side to side behind her. "Didn't you?"

The edge in Ranthe's voice caught Mayfurr by surprise. "Well, I wouldn't put it quite that way, but -"

"You reek of her! She's all over you! I can smell it!" Ranthe was almost snarling at her partner now, age-old reactions from a past where mating scents dissuaded females from approaching a mated male were overriding the vixen's normally rational mind. "You expect me to work next to you stinking of her?"

"I didn't say anything, Ranthe!" Mayfurr protested, unexpectedly finding himself on the defensive side. "Besides, why..."

Ranthe snapped. "Get out."

"What's the -"

"Go and wash that fucking vixen stench out of your fur. And don't come back smelling of her around me again."

Mayfurr's mouth hung open, speechless. He couldn't believe what was happening, Ranthe had never acted with such a vicious jealousy before. Eventually deciding discretion was the better part of valour, Mayfurr slowly stepped back from the angry vixen, turned around, and silently walked away out of the hangar. Ranthe watched him go, rage and fury on her face in equal measure - at that moment she bore a striking resemblance to the blazing sorceress logo on the side of the Fury.

One of the workers from the next hangar bay passed by. "Hey, I reckon May must have got lucky last night or something, he sure seems happy today! Hey, you reckon you and me could get together and make it a twosome this evening, huh?"

Ranthe whirled around, seizing the hapless male by the neck with one hand, while grabbing at his crotch with the other, both sets of claws extended.

"What kind of slut do you take me for?!?" she screamed.

Mayfurr returned to his quarters, his mind in a turmoil. He didn't understand Ranthe's violent reaction to his spending the night with Tamara, having thought that after the last few days she'd be glad for him to be out of his depressed funk. Why was she acting this way now? Even when he'd spent time with Sundown on the return trip to Furryspace aboard the Asimov, Ranthe's attitude had been of apparent amusement rather than jealousy. And it wasn't as though Ranthe hadn't had her own share of partners on that same journey. Or here, for that matter - Lindgold in particular. She went out with Lindy on a pretty regular basis and he never complained.

But this, it was almost as if -

No, it couldn't be. Could it?

She'd said it herself - "You know the golden rule? Don't screw the crew."

She couldn't be in love... not with him.

Mayfurr groaned, scratching his head, his ears flicking from side to side. "Not that it matters now, I guess," he said to himself, staring at the opposite wall. "She's made her mind up, and once she does that you can't shift it. Better to get on with life."

He didn't particularly want to wash himself off as Ranthe had demanded. In fact, he rather liked having Tamara's scent on him, it made him feel warm and happy - not to mention all the cheery "thumbs up" he'd been getting from some of the other males on the station on the way to the hangar bay. And so what if some females had given him a dirty look? It didn't matter, it was none of their business anyway.

He was damned if he was going to try and return to work on the ship today though, Mayfurr thought.

"Computer," Mayfurr spoke aloud to the empty air. "Internal communication, voice and video, to accomodation deck three, room two-one-five-seven-C. Initiate."

"Working," the impersonal voice of the main Dreamstar computer replied. "Communication initiated." The viewscreen on the opposite wall lit up, showing Tamara brushing her long auburn tresses in front of the camera. "Hiiieee Mayfurrrr!" she cheerily answered, her face breaking into a wide smile.

"Hello gorgeous!" Mayfurr replied. "You doing anything at the moment?"

"Not especiallyyy, dear Mayfurrr," Tamara answered. "You finished working on your ship alreadyyy?"

Mayfurr sighed. "You could say that, Tamara."


"Not really. Nothing I can't deal with."


"Yes, I'm sure." Mayfurr's face brightened. "Why don't we go to the Promenade deck and have a look around some of the clothing shops up there? You must be getting sick of that standard-issue outfit of yours - and we can get something to eat later as well."

"I have no moneyyyy, Mayfurrr," Tamara answered, looking disappointed. "Can't buy anything."

"Don't worry, my shout."


"I mean, I'll pay for it. My treat." It's not like I spend much on stuff anyway, Mayfurr murmured to himself.

Tamara's face lit up into a wide smile. "Thank you Mayfurrr!" she beamed. "You are so good to me!"

Mayfurr found himself blinking back tears. "Oh Tamara," he said, trying to control himself, "You're worth every penny, I just want to see you happy." He paused for a moment. "I... I love you, Tamara. With all my heart and soul."

Love you... want you... together we are one...

"I love you too, dear Mayfurrr," Tamara whispered in return. "I'm so glad I've met you."

Ranthe sat slumped in the cockpit of the Fiora's Fury, her head cradled in her folded arms as she rested against the instrument panel. She felt utterly, completely miserable.

"I've done it this time... oh gods, I've really done it this time..." she groaned softly to herself. It had taken Ranthe a while to come down off the adredalin-fuelled rage that has struck her, and once she had looked at her actions and feelings in the cold light of reason she felt sick to her stomach at what she had done.

"He'll never listen to me now. Not after what I did." And the worst thing was that at the time Ranthe had totally and completely lost control of herself, her mind overrun with urges and reactions that had swept her along for the ride down a river of emotion. Now looking back on it, Ranthe shuddered with fear. Fear that it could happen again.

What I don't understand was how powerful those feelings of resentment and avoidance were, she thought. I know as well as any other vixen of my species that female mating scent on a male tends to make other vixens feel uncomfortable, but I've never felt so angry before with it. I actually hated Mayfurr with every cell in my body for what he did with Tamara, loathed the fact that he had mated with her, and it was almost as if -

As if -

As if Tamara was a rival for him to be my mate.

Ranthe shook her head, burying her muzzle deeper into her folded arms.

Mayfurr as a potential mate? Something more than a friend and business partner?


But this, it was almost as if -

No, she'd said it herself - "You know the golden rule? Don't screw the crew."

She couldn't be in love... not with him.

Things just got worse and worse between us as I kept on seeing Tamara, Mayfurr continued. Normally about this time on board the Clarke he would be joining Ranthe and Sundown for breakfast, but his writings now consumed him and he wanted to get it finished before he saw the others again. Especially Ranthe.

Mayfurr shivered as he remembered. Looking back, he had treated Ranthe appallingly, especially considering the times they had spent together in adversity.

It got to the point where we couldn't even work together, he resumed, Ranthe couldn't stand Tamara's scent on me, and I had no intention of washing it off for her. Artania had to take the Fury off the Dreamstar defence roster temporarily until we had put aside our differences to hire a third person to assist in flying the ship.

Even as relations between myself and Ranthe deteriorated, I felt closer than ever to Tamara, and she to me, the epiphany of emotion that we had shared on their first night together had been reached and surpassed many times since. We spent every spare moment we had together as much as we could, including evenings (usually at Tamara's quarters). And like a man possessed, I continued to buy presents and gifts, including bunches of roses, for the new love of my life.

I didn't even have the old nightmares any more. And I felt so close to Tamara that it's almost like she was with me in my mind. Sensing her presence and occasionally stray thoughts from her when we were sleeping, and even sometimes when we were awake. It seems so effortless, so easy... I remember wondering: is this what true love is? It was so wonderful...

"Come on, surely you've had enough of those for one night, ma'am," the bartender at "Batten's Bar" told her, as Ranthe once again rather drunkenly nursed a half-empty glass of Ragnarok Cider alone at the bar counter for the eighth night in a row. "Hadn't you better be going home?"

Ranthe's life was turning into more and more of a nightmare. Feeling decidedly spurned by Mayfurr, at first she had thrown herself into her work on the ship, but there came a point where she had done all that she reasonably could. After all, there was only so much cleaning and stuff one could do. The income from flying the Fury on defence patrol, while not quite split three ways with Tanya now being involved, was significantly lessened for her and she found herself resenting Mayfurr even more for causing (in her view) the situation to develop.

"Home? Whazzat... got no home no more..." Ranthe slurred, propping her head up to blearily stare at the voice behind the bar. "'S taken... all gone... him and him... his..." She half-heartedly tried to clear some of the half-dozen glasses from around her, but instead managed to knock a couple of them over, one narrowly avoiding rolling off the edge onto the floor as the bartender hastily caught it. "St-stupid tod... who needs 'em... Gizzus 'nother one, same again."

"I think you've had enough ma'am -"

"Ranthe. Y'know my name, Vince... Ranthe. That's... Raa... Raaa... Raanthay t' you.."

"Whatever." The bartender sighed. "Look, you've really had enough - I'll get someone to take you back to your place if you want."

Ranthe sullenly gestured to him in a way that left him in no doubt as to what she thought of his suggestion. "Not had enough to think, can still drink, can I?" she growled. "Lisssen... list'n to me... 'm not just any 'rdinary vix... Bet y' never served a corpse b'fore, ha' yah?"

Vince looked up from tidying up the collection of empty glasses and bottles around Ranthe. "You what?"

"Hah! Gotcha 'ttention now, ha? Yeah, thassright... ya didn' know 'm really dead, didja? T'ey thought we were dead, y'know, after the battle w' the... the... wossname... anyhow, doessn' matter... When we get back, I go home, tell 'em like, the good news eh?"

"Where's home?"

"S... Sel... Seliene Five. No' anymore though." Ranthe picked up her glass and raised it to the roof. "Here's to Seliene... lovely place... al' vulp's like me... and ramrods up their arses, every one!" She took another swig from the glass, half of it sloshing unnoticed down her front, dribbling over her fur and down her cleavage as she angrily brushed fallen headfur from across her eyes. "As far they concerned... 'm still dead! Stand 'n fronta them, I did - told me I was considered departed, shuffl'd off mortal whatzit... piece of bloody paper said I no longer exist!" Ranthe glared drunkenly across the bar, her head tilted to one side. "Stands t' reason, dunnit? 'S hard to be dead when you're alive!"

The bartender nodded sympathetically.

"Mayfurr was good t'en, was there for me..." she continued, calming down a bit, dropping her glass onto the bar with a muffled chunk. "He's good... mosta t' time... was there for me then... 'n' Chakona too... looked after me he did, can' help loving a guy like that..." Loving? she realised suddenly. Did she mean that, loving him? Or was it the alcohol talking? No matter.

"But now... he's carryin' on with that bloody tramp we fish'd outta space... won't leave 'er alone... nothing for me any more." Ranthe sniffed drunkenly, her eyes filling with tears. "So what's for me now... eh?" Somehow, everything was okay between them when she and May talked over the comm system, but in person... It even felt like sometimes she didn't have to be near him in order for her resentment and anger towards him to arise, there were occasions recently where Ranthe would have to struggle to control herself just wandering around the Promenade and accomodation decks.

She shook her head, almost overbalancing herself. "Piss on them, I say... who needs 'em," she slurred, her expression wavering between sorrow and defiance. "I should piss on them all right now, eh? Been drinking enough... plenty for all, full bladder 'n' all that, whaddaya reckon?"

"Look ma- Ranthe, you'd better go home. I know it's hard, but -"

"Nonono, not finished!" Ranthe snapped, drunkenly trying to stand up, eventually managing to balance herself by leaning up against the barstool. She fumbled for the zipper on her jumpsuit, and jerkingly started pulling it down as if to undress herself. "Come on then, y' bastards!" she angrily called out. "Got plenty here for y'all, piss all over the lot of you!"

With widened eyes, Vince quickly vaulted over the countertop of the bar and leapt towards her, grabbing the shouting and now half-undressed vixen with both hands. "That's enough Ranthe, game over!"

"Geroff me! I've got enough to flood all of bloody Dreamstar from the observation lounge to the reactors if I have to -" Ranthe struggled wildly

"You want me to call Security, Ranthe?"

At that, Ranthe's struggles ceased, and she looked up into Vince's face with a look of utter hopelessness before slowly collapsing in a intoxicated heap on the floor, curling up into a crying semi-dressed ball, her tail wrapped around her. "Oh gods... wha's happenin' t' me?" Ranthe sobbed muffledly. "I want.. want this sorted... but, but... every time I go near him I scent... her... on him, and I jus' get so angry..." Her mind whirled in a drunken confused haze, every time she resolved to try and reason with Mayfurr, to compromise, to at least get to talk civily to each other face to face, everything just went wrong. "I feel like I'm losin' it... going out of my mind over this!"

Vince knelt down on the floor and put a comforting arm around the now drowsy Ranthe on the floor, pulling her clothing back up to a more respectable covering. "You can stay there the night if you want," he said not unkindly. "Best you sleep it off for now... but you're going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning..."

"So let me get this straight - this isn't the only incident of this type you've seen over the last few weeks, and you reckon it's been getting worse?"

It was turning into another bad day for Sascha as the security shift leader interviewed another of her team heads. While things were never what people could call 'routine and peaceful' on board Dreamstar Station, the over one thousand residents and staff were on the whole pretty well behaved. That was until the last few weeks -

"Yes, ma'am. The fellow I caught on apartment deck level two was all riled up over something, and was taking it out pretty hard on the other fellow - but I know both of them, and normally they are on pretty good terms," the uniformed feline replied. "Oh yes, and there was a female involved as well - Rosie, a collie. If I didn't know better, I would have thought they were both fighting over her."

"Wouldn't that have been the case though?"

"Ma'am, Rosie's barely in her teens, and Mac's taste doesn't run to females. I hardly think so, beggin' your pardon."

"Interesting," Sascha considered, though the expression on her muzzle was anything but pleased. "And this sort of thing is happening more than usual?"

"Definitely so. Mostly around the accomodation levels and the Promenade."

Sascha leaned back in her chair. "What you've said ties in with what I'm hearing from the others," she observed tiredly. "Nineteen assaults, six cases of attempted rape in the last two weeks - it's turning into a madhouse out there. And I don't know why. Is there anything else that remotely ties these incidents together, Kanda? Age groups, political affiliations, occupations, worlds of origin - anything?"

Kanda shook his head. "Nothing that comes to mind, ma'am..." He started counting off on his fingers. "Mac the foxtaur, three vulpine long-term residents, two wolves on furlough from the freighter Eastwind, a couple of 'coons just arrived, a husky from Main Engineering, and a raptor." He paused to study the ceiling for a moment. "Nope, can't see anything common there, ma'am. All different species, different origins."

Something nagged at Sascha's mind, but right now she was too tired to focus onto it. "Thanks Kanda, that will be all. Dismissed." She waved him away, and called up the common security report area on the station database, reading through the recent weekly reports of her colleagues. All of them had the same pattern - an increase in low-level disturbances and conflicts among apparently random members of Dreamstar's population, numbers of incidents slowly increasing, and no discernable pattern to it all. Whatever it was even seemed to affect some of her own people - Mac the foxtaur was in one of her squads, and several others had been placed on report for brawling or sexual harassment. And it wasn't just the rank-and-file either: the summary of the station report from Artania that Sascha was cleared to read indicated that similar things were occuring in the defence force as well, with almost a third of the fighter ships pulled off combat status due to various disputes and offences within their crews.

Sascha raked her headfur with her outstretched claws, grumbling to herself. After a few moments, she got up out of her chair and marched through the door of her office, into the security ready-room area where a good proportion of her shift team were preparing for their working day.

"All right you horrible lot, listen up!" Sascha announced, figuring that the least she could do was to share her frustrations. "This wave of trouble we've been getting lately, it's up to us to find out what or who's causing it, and to put a stop to it!" Sascha paced the floor, her eyes meeting every one in the faces before her, a look of fierce determination on her face. "The only way we're going to do that, is if we take notice of anything, anything at all that links these cases together. I don't care how small or insignificant you think it is, write it up and report it to your section leaders - if it breathes, I want to know about it. Now MOVE IT!"

The room practically exploded as dozens of security officers leapt into action, though an independent observer might deduce it was more to get out from under the stern eye of their commanding officer than from extreme devotion to duty. Sascha strode through the milling crowd, untroubled by the commotion of bodies around her, heading towards the officer's briefing room.

"And will someone please do something about the airconditioning?" Sascha yelled. "It smells like a fox's footlocker in here!"

Tanya had just finished another patrol flight with Mayfurr on the Fiora's Fury, and she was on her way back to her quarters. The white-furred wolf 'morph lady had just about reached the access lift to the accomodation deck when a whistle from behind caught her attention. Turning around, Tanya spotted a couple of overconfident male vulpinoids behind her, and before she could do anything one of them had blocked the way to the lift.

"Hello sweetie," one of the foxes leered. "What's a nice lady like you doing in a place like this?"

"I am going home to my mate, if you must know," Tanya stiffly replied, her outward demeanour confident, but inside she was worried. What was going on?

"Can't wait to get home to him, eh?" the other smirked. "Bet you're putting out for him too... can scent you from down the corridor. I bet you could do with a hand, eh what?"

"Excuse me," Tanya growled. "I don't know what you are talking about, but it has nothing to do with you anyway. Now, if you will be so kind -"

A scarlet-furred arm blocked her way. "Not so fast, pretty one," the first fox replied, his face filled with lust. "You can't fool us you know..."

"You got any fox in you?" his companion joined in.

"What? What's that got -"

"Want some?" the second fox leered, moving closer, his hand moving down to his crotch. "I got it right here for ya baby... nice and hot, you know you want it!"

"Do I have to tell you twice?" Tanya snarled, her claws extending. "Get away from me!" She tried to move forward, but one of the males grabbed her roughly, spinning her around towards him. The wolf lashed out, striking both of them with her claws, tearing chunks of fur off from her attackers as she fought to free herself.

"You really oughtn't have done that, y'know," the first fox sneered. "We only wanted some fun, but now you gotta make it up to us..." He savagly grabbed Tanya by the front of her dress, ripping at her clothing, while his companion managed to wrench both her arms behind her, dodging her snapping jaws.

"Get off dammit! SECURITY!" Tanya screamed out, kicking and biting. She tried to kick one of her assailants in the crotch, but they dodged, laughing at her, the first male yanking her dress down before unbuckling and dropping his trousers. "Here doggie, got a nice treat for you!" he laughed arrogantly, an expression of pure lust on his muzzle. "Two for the price of one, eh Mitch?"

"You got that right - she's just aching for us to take her, she scents so good!" the second fox cackled. Tanya's blood ran cold as she heard the fox behind her unzip his pants, then felt him force her tail upwards. My god, they're going to rape me - no no no nonononooo!

Desperately she struggled, trying to free herself, managing to kick the first male in the crotch and rake him with her toeclaws, but suddenly she was forced to bend over and she felt something hard savagly thrusting against her backside -

"HELP! Help me! Somebody please HELP ME!!"

Kanda watched wearily as his security team brought the wounded from the latest incident into the Medcentre: one male fox with severe lacerations, and a female wolf bruised and battered in a state of shock. "What the hell's wrong with the world lately?" he muttered to himself, nursing a wrenched shoulder that he'd suffered trying to pull the brawlers apart. None of his team had been able to get a clear shot with their stunners at the instigators of the attack - it was pretty obvious from the call and the scene before them when they arrived what was happening - so, once again, they had to go hand-to-hand to separate everyone and take control of the situation.

"Another attempted rape, yes?" a voice asked. Kanda turned around to see a very tired looking Doctor Balbus approaching. The lab-coated rat placed his notes clipboard on a nearby desk station, leaning against a nearby seat and rubbing his eyes.

Kanda nodded. "Yep - this one on accomodation level three. Been getting a lot of incidents around there, as well as deck two and four for some reason. The whole bloody station is going nuts!"

"You're telling me," Balbus agreed. "I used to see just routine injuries and sickness around here, but lately... reminds me of the time I was on a hospital ship during the Pesh'wa civil war. Lots of this sort of thing happening."

"I hope it doesn't get as bad as that here," Kanda replied. He scratched his red and brown banded tail absentmindedly, his red and white masked face screwing up in consternation. "For Artania to put the station on high alert would really stuff a lot of things up - but if it keeps getting worse, I can't see how they can not do that."

"Any pattern to what's going on?" Balbus asked.

"You tell me, I can't figure it out." Kanda sighed, watching the rest of his team return. "It's almost as if half the station is on heat or something with the way they're behaving. But -"

"Wait a moment," the doctor interrupted. "What did you say?"

"Umm. Half of the station is in season? But that can't be right."

Something clicked in Doctor Balbus's mind. "Let's take a look at the cases I've got here." He turned to the desk console, and pulled up a screen on recent patient admissions. "Hmmm... two vulpines, one husky - those are the latest - and let's see... wolf, foxtaur, shapeshifter, wolf, malamute, fox, more foxes, dragon, feline, fox, collie, raccoon..." His eyes narrowed, his nose twitching as he stared at the readout for a few moments. Kanda craned over to see what Balbus was looking at.

"Do you see it too?" the doctor asked.

"See what?"

"The pattern."

"You've lost me."

Balbus jabbed at the screen display. "This. Look at the species list."

"Hmmm." Kanda squinted at the display. "Lot of foxes, quite a few wolves and others... so what? They're from all over the place, some visitors, some crew, some residents. No common linkage to any organisations that we've looked at."

"No. No organisations - look at the species of those affected." Balbus turned to face Kanda squarely in the eyes. "Don't you see it? The ones most affected are canines!"

Sascha looked warily across her desk at Kanda and Doctor Balbus, both standing in front of her. "You think you know the cause of what's been happening here lately?" It had all seemed too good to be true when Kanda had called her directly from Medcentre, claiming he had a lead on the sudden outbreak of disturbances on the station, but at this stage Sascha was at her wits end for ideas. "What have you got for me?"

"This." Balbus handed the female panther a data pad, activating the display. "Look at the species list of those admitted to medical treatment, yes?"

"Yeah, I see them. What's so - oh I see. Right."

"Yes, that's it," Balbus finished for her. "Over three quarters of the people admitted with these incidents are of canine-based species. In fact, if what is causing the disturbances is related to species, it is affecting the vulpines on the station rather more. Look here, here and here - not so many lupine species admitted, less of other canine species groups, but here we see far less of non-canine mammalians, and only the occasional case of reptilians or avians involved."

Sascha breathed heavily, propping her head and muzzle up on one hand while jabbing at the doctor's display unit with the other. All three were in her office, the door to the rest of the security post closed behind them. "Kanda - what do we have on this? Do our records show a similar pattern?"

"Yes ma'am, they do," he replied. "Once we knew what to look for, I found the same as the Doctor here."

A cold feeling ran through Sascha's guts as the full implication of what was being said hit her. "Doctor Balbus," she said slowly, "In your opinion... are we looking at a biological threat to the station?"

Balbus nodded. "It is a distinct possibility, yes."

"Wouldn't we have picked that up first though?" Kanda wanted to know. "I mean, with the current state of relations out here on the Frontier, we do have atmosphere checks for any alien substances in the environmental systems."

"True enough," Sascha agreed. "However, this might be something unknown to us."

"Again, that is possible," Balbus agreed. "The sensors should have least have identified it as unknown, unless..." He twiddled his whiskers, deep in thought. Both Sascha and Kanda watched him carefully. "Unless... it might be something we do know of but is identified as harmless."

"What do you mean? You can't make a toxin out of a harmess substance," Sascha irritatedly observed. Her eyes narrowed. "Or can you?"

"It would depend upon what quantities it was available in. After all, water is harmless unless it is in sufficient volumes that you can't avoid breathing it." Balbus began to pace the floor in front of Sascha's desk, momentarily forgetting protocol.

"What do we know about this so far?" he asked rhetorically. "It causes either enhanced sexual drive or extreme irritability, and it's linked to the canid-based members of the station population." The doctor stopped his pacing. "A number of canid species we know produce various scents that have an effect on behaviour, including the mating urges, so this could be a variant on this. It does seem to fit -"

"- Except for the fact that you can't create that sort of thing artificially," Sascha interrupted. "Heaven knows enough cosmetic companies on Furry Prime have been trying to replicate mating scents for decades with no success. And for the volumes to affect an entire space station - well, we'd have noticed a few hundred yiffing foxes or whatever at the ventilation units by now!" She leaned back in her office chair, her tail swishing irritably behind her.

"Point taken."

"Ever come across anything like this before, Doctor?" Kanda asked.

"Not until recently, no," Balbus admitted. "There was a time a few weeks ago I had something similar here in this Medcentre where a number of my canid staff were having some disciplinary problems, but that seemed to go away after -"

Balbus stopped, horrified as suddenly all the pieces came together in his mind. "Kanda - what accomodation deck is experiencing the most troubles?" he asked urgently.

"Deck three. Why?"

Mon dieu! It can't be... but there's no other explanation!

"You can't be serious."

"What other explanation do you have?" Doctor Balbus was weary, wishing he could sleep, but after explaining his theory to Sascha she had called an emergency meeting of Dreamstar officers, and now he was having to repeat himself for about the fifth time. As incredible as it seemed, there was simply nothing else that fitted what was going on.

"One person can't generate that much love-musk, can they?" one incredulous staffer asked. "Affecting over a thousand people? It's impossible!"

"We've picked up large amounts of exactly that kind of scent throughout the station, and it appears to be coming from the same part of the station that this person is currently residing," Sascha replied. "The doctor has confirmed our analysis - and if anything, it appears to be a supercharged variation of it." She sighed, leaning heavily on the meeting table. "Believe me, I have as hard a job of accepting this as you do - but these are the facts as we know them. We have to do something, the situation will get out of control if we sit on our hands over this. And THAT is something I'm not willing to accept!"

"So why have we been getting this throughout the station, Wally? All the atmosphere control units are filtered, right?" Fairon asked.

"The problem is that they're getting overloaded, and so they're unable to scrub it out of the air. Once the filters become saturated, nothing more can be removed from the airflow."

"So change the filters more often then," Artania coldly observed. "Surely that's obvious."

"Artania... we're changing the filters three times more often now - and we still can't keep up." Wally frowned, his ferret muzzle wrinkling. "Not to mention half of my maintenance crews are affected, they're either goofing off, flirting, or scrapping with each other - it's a bloody nightmare trying to keep going with what we've got!"

"We are rapidly approaching a crisis situation and technical means cannot be used to resolve it," Sascha interrupted before Artiania could reply. "If we don't act now, or at least in the next few hours, the situation on Dreamstar will dissolve into anarchy." She stood, leaning on the table, the panther's eyes scanning the room and meeting everyone's eyes in turn. "At that point, Station Security cannot guarentee protection of the civilian population, not to mention there being dire consequences regarding external defence as well. We must act now!"

Artania sighed heavily. She turned to Fairon, her eyes boring deep into his. The dragon shuddered; the look in Artania's eyes spoke of witnessing horrifying scenes of madness and destruction. "Very well, Sascha," Artania replied, her voice as devoid of emotion as she shifted her gaze to Sascha. "You have authority to use whatever means necessary to contain the cause of the problem - but lethal force is your last resort and a last resort only. Do I make myself clear?"

Sascha stood to attention, steadily meeting Artania's gaze. Her eyes were full of determination and pride, but also shared some of the terrible sadness that Fairon had seen mere moments before. "Understood." she replied flatly, pausing a few moments before turning about and briskly leaving the room, Kanda immediately falling in behind and following her out.

"I just hope we are in time," Artania muttered to no one in particular, staring at the table. She shifted slightly in her seat, raising her head and focussing upon Fairon. "Fairon, I recommend preparing for full station lockdown - just in case."

Ranthe wearily wiped away steam condenstation from the mirror, not for the first time wishing she hadn't drunk quite so much on the previous evening as she propped herself up against the washbasin in her quarters. Splashing the flow of bracingly hot water onto her face had helped refreshen her somewhat, but the face that greeted Ranthe in the mirror of her bathroom was still looking much the worse for wear;  lanky and uncombed mane, bloodshot eyes and dark rivulets of some unknown substance staining her normally creamy-white facial fur. Ranthe yawned, cursing silently as fresh spasms of pain flashed through her head. This has got to stop, she thought, groggily pulling herself upright with the shower rail, I can't keep going on like this. She winced as she caught another glimpse of the  hangover-ridded face that stared back from the mirror, mocking her. But that's what you said after last night as well... her reflection seemed to say. And the night before that, and the night before that...

A chiming sounded from the living room, startling Ranthe out of her reverie and triggering yet another round of pain in her aching head. "All right, all right, I'm coming!" she snarled angrily as she hurriedly stumbled in the general direction of her living room. The inside of of the room was in as much of an atypical mess as Ranthe herself was, with clothing and empty bottles strewn all over the floor and various signs of half-eaten meals on the tables and shelves. Hastily grabbing a towel off the floor and wrapping it around her naked body, her bare feet occasionally colliding with a stray boot or other item of clothing on the way, Ranthe flung open the door to her quarters as the doorbell continued to chime. "I hope you've got a bloody good reason for disturbing me this time May - "

"My god Ranthe, what's happened to you?" an unexpected voice replied. "It looks like I got here just in time!"

Ranthe painfully rubbed her eyes with one hand, blinking furiously several times before she managed to focus on the visitor in front of her. Mostly feline in appearance, with a large cougar-like body attached to an upright female humaniod torso and covered in sandy-brown fur, Ranthe's visitor had taken a step back in shock, dropping a large carry bag to the floor. A long tail, covered in the same sandy-brown fur as the body except for a black tip, lashed in consternation. "I think perhaps I should -"

"Sundown?" Ranthe asked nervously, comprehension beginning to dawn on her. "Is... is that you?"

"Yes Ranthe, it's me," Sundown replied. "I got your message and came here as soon as I could..." Hir voice trailed off, the sight of Ranthe in such a state rendering hir temporarily speechless. She nervously fingered the metallic badge attached to the pale-blue top shi was wearing on hir upper body, a black-striped hindleg unconsciously scratching at the floor. "Umm... perhaps we should go in?"

Ranthe stared at hir uncomprehendingly for a few moments before coming to her senses. "Oh... yes, yes, of course," she mumbled apologetically, clumsily stepping back inside her quarters. "Please."

As soon as the door had closed behind Sundown Ranthe collapsed wearily into a heap on a nearby couch.

To Be Continued