Her nickname is "Tanj", and she's certainly living up to it. For her, it seems, "There Ain’t No Justice." As a young engineer on a tramp space freighter, this Cheetah-morph found herself the victim of a scam, sold into slavery, and trained as a sex-slave. Sold to pirates, she finds herself as a pawn in a much larger struggle. This story contains bondage, non-consensual sex, and hopefully some humor, adventure and intrigue. Adults only, PLEASE!


This is a work-in-progress, and more will be added to it Later; please stay tuned and have patience!



Tanj's Tales: Consultants

Stardate 2403.5 By Kittiara


Jenka looked at the package and sighed. Looking up at the courier ship Captain she grimaced; that would be the only way to describe the half-smile, half-snarl; "Thanks, Bertram. I’ll, ah, see that she gets it as soon as we’ve checked it out, to make sure its not a bomb or anything." The Husky nodded, flipped the Jaguar a jaunty salute, and departed.

Jenka tossed the package on her desk, and turned back to her computer, but a moment later she picked it up again, and shook it, listening. Not a sound. "If I ditch this, or even delay it, it might wind up being something important" she mused to herself. Most of the Cheetah’s info came in electronically, but there was the chance that one of her agents had decided on a more "physical" route…. On the other hand; "But if I give it to her, it might be something related to that wild quest she’s on, and she’ll leave." With a sigh, the Jaguar tossed it back onto her desk. What WOULD happen if Tanj succeeded in bringing back the Brethren? For certain, she’d loose her to the Lion…

Three hours later, when she’d finished all the current "paperwork", it was still there, and she had no clearer idea what to do with it, than she did when it came in. With a sigh, she scooped it up, rose, and headed for the door; "Might as well get it over with."

The Med lab wasn’t really equipped to check for bombs, or booby traps. All the technician could do was shrug; "looks like solid, homogenous plastic to me."

Clancy frowned and shrugged; "Dunno, Jenka. I can’t figure out WHAT it is. Just looks like a block of plastic. Maybe it’ll mean something to Tanj." The chief mechanic had run every scanner he had over it and come up empty. Jenka sighed and nodded; "Guess there’s only one way to find out."

Tanj fumbled for the socket; as her fingertips hit it, it rolled just a little, just enough to be out of reach. "Hinoki, can you….?" Hinoki shifted, his head turning; his voice was strained; "Um… not unless you want me to drop the plenum chamber. As I’m under it at the moment, that might not be such a great idea." Tanj nodded absently to herself and tried to squirm to her left a little. This time she was careful NOT to try and grab the errant socket until she was sure it wouldn’t escape her. Snaking her arm down, and then across her chest, she snapped it onto the nut driver, placed a nut in the socket and moved the tool over the first of the sixteen studs that held the plenum chamber in place. It was then that she felt someone draw a finger over the pad of her left foot.

Trying hard not to laugh, Tanj drove the first nut home, as whoever it was continued to tickle her in one of her most sensitive places. Another finger stroked softly up the inside of her left leg, until it met her crotch. Trying hard not to squirm, she drove the second nut home.

Jenka’s throaty laugh announced her presence as her fingers continued to tease. To tease both her footpad, and her sex. Tanj bit back a complaint; it wouldn’t do any good. This is what she got for trying to save on the laundry bill, by doing the PM on her ship in the raw. Next time she’d wear the boots from her vacuum suit, and a chastity belt! Groaning, in frustration, both from the dropped nut and from the increasing heat between her thighs, she tried hard to secure the opposite corner, before Hinoki’s strength failed.

That was when Hinoki groaned. It was the kind of groan a male makes when someone licks over his balls. Suddenly the finger disappeared from her left foot, and Tanj could just guess, from the noises Hinoki was making, where it’d wound up. Panting, the Cheetah fumbled again, the nut clattering across the deck plates. She’d retrieve it later. Reaching into the cup, she grabbed another one, fitted it into the nut driver, and pressed it against the corner stud. The device whirred, and then suddenly stopped. Tanj flicked the switch a couple of times, and then realization hit her; she tugged on the cord, only to find it loose. Jenka had pulled the plug! Oh, well, she had a box end wrench around here somewhere. With increasing distraction she fumbled around for it.

Jenka chuckled as she teased the Cheetah pair. Imagine, crawling into a cramped, dusty place like that, naked! In fact the only parts visible were from the crotch down. Why, she bet they’d both need a bath when they got done. IF they ever GOT done. Of course Tanj’s increasing clumsiness was probably due to the two fingers she was working in and out of her dripping snatch. And Hinoki, poor Hinoki; he MUST be having trouble holding that large housing up, given the distraction of someone’s nasty tongue running up and down the length of his shaft. Teach them to leave themselves so vulnerable!

Tanj muttered curses and imprecations to herself; she’d threaded at least six more bolts onto the studs by hand. All she could reach without her and Hinoki changing places, and that was going to be quite difficult given their current situation. Grunting, panting, moaning, she brought the wrench up and started tightening them. She just hoped the plenum would stay in place with just those few bolts….

Hinoki strained, trying to hold it all in place, over his head, as someone deep-throated his shaft. It was nice, real nice, but he wished it wasn’t quite right now, wasn’t quite right here….. If he dropped the plenum, well, he’d slid it under the air handler resting on his chest, and it wasn’t going to fall more than a foot; he’d probably survive, but he was sure it’d leave a mark….

Tanj howled as the climax claimed her; for a moment her vision was filled with bright sparks, and her arms grew weak; somehow, though, she managed to keep from loosing the wrench. As it receded, she fumbled in the cup for one more nut; that was all she got, as she knocked it too, out of reach, its contents chattering as they rattled across the floor into the most unlikely places. Why was it things like that never rolled TOWARDS you? Groaning she twisted as much as possible, reaching across Hinoki’s heaving chest, to try and thread the last nut in her possession into place.

Jenka grinned as she felt the Cheetah shift; she purred, worked a third finger into her dripping snatch, and then, doing her best to spread her fingers within that tight confine, she started twisting her paw from side to side, fingertips stroking deep within Tanj’s sex.

Zassa paused at the door to Environmental. Behind her, Sabina almost bumped into her new Mistress. Muttering, the Kitten tried to keep the tray from tilting, tried to keep her mutterings low enough so her mistress wouldn’t hear. Zassa shot her new slave a dirty look, and then turned to take the tray; "Sabina, you see Mistress Jenka over there teasing Tanj and Hinoki?" The Kitten nodded. Zassa grinned; "Well, I want you to go do to Jenka what she’s doing to them. Use your tongue; show me how good you are."

Jenka smiled as she felt the zipper to her catsuit move, exposing her sex. A moment later she groaned as she felt Sabina’s tongue. "Ah" she muttered to herself; "As the philosopher said; no good deed goes unpunished!"

Hinoki grunted; Tanj kept hitting him with the end of the wrench as she fought to tighten the nut; it didn’t hurt much, but it was a distraction, and he was Soooooo close to cumming!

Tanj sighed, and flopped back; there, the last nut, or at least the last nut still in her possession, was tight. With luck the thing would hold. Now she could concentrate on the oh-so-nice sensations coming from between her big toes….

Hinoki shuddered, and howled as his orgasm erupted; he felt his back arch, his cock spurt, felt his own warm cum land on his tummy; at the last instant the lovely mouth had been replaced by a rapidly moving paw wrapped around his shaft. Oh, well, he was filthy anyways, and would need a bath in any case…

Tanj frowned, as the fingers suddenly vanished from her quim. From somewhere, she heard a female, a female that sounded remarkably like Jenka, moaning in pleasure…. With a sigh, shaking her head, she scrunched further under the air mover, searching for the missing nuts. They still had to finish the job, and there’d be time to finish the "unexpected pleasure" part later.

By the time Tanj had found the scattered nuts, finished bolting the plenum into place, and extracted herself, there was a small orgy in progress in Environmental. Sabina was licking furiously at Jenka’s pussy, as the Jaguar crouched on hands and knees. Zassa was watching her slave’s activities with a critical eye, as she rode Hinoki’s resurgent shaft. The Cheetah male only had eyes for Zassa’s bouncing breasts, however as his paws gently kneaded them, leaving oily dark marks on her white fur. Tanj watched for a moment, wondering how she could fit in, but then a really wicked thought came to her. Grinning she skipped lightly towards the door; "Guess this means that I get first shot at the shower!" she quipped.

The sound of four "HEY!’s" came to her as the door closed behind her. Oh, well, they could wait. Its not like they were going to run out of hot water, not with a fusion reactor to power the hot water tank!

Tanj Settled into her chair in the Wardroom, her hair and fur still damp, still without a stitch on. Such was shipboard routine. Things had been a little slow for the Black Fleet, and she’d taken the break in routine to catch up on some things that needed doing on her ship. There was always something that needed doing around a starship…. Tired, and just a little frustrated, she sipped her cup of coffee, mentally reviewing the things that remained to be done.

Jenka paused at the door; somewhere along the way, she’d lost her catsuit. On the other hand, she’d picked up a slave, her left index finger hooked through Sabina’s right nipple ring, using it to lead her along. With her right hand, she tossed the package at Tanj, with a grin; "Think fast!" Tanj deftly caught it with her left paw, not spilling a drop of the coffee in her right; she grinned back; "Fast? Fast I can do. Cheetah, remember?" Jenka just laughed, and tugged on the Kitten’s nipple ring, making her squeal; "I’m going to go get cleaned up; got just the bath-toy here to help, too! Let me know what’s in the package!" And with that, the pair moved off towards the ship’s head.

Tanj put down her coffee and examined the package. It was a standard "Tamper proof" interstellar mailing envelope. And whoever had opened it hadn’t even tried to conceal the fact. They’d just taped it closed. The return address was patently false. That system wasn’t even in the sector mentioned. Using a clawtip, Tanj slit the re-taped flap, wondering if it was going to explode, or emit a toxic puff of gas. Nothing like that happened. With a sigh of relief, she up-ended the envelope, to dump a smooth ovoid of plastic into her hand. It was a little larger than the palm of her hand, but smaller than a dinner plate. Maybe about the size of a salad plate. It was smoothly rounded, and about a finger-width’s thick. On each side was a smooth depression, but other than that, it was just featureless, shiny black plastic. Frowning, Tanj looked it over carefully. No seams. No rattles. No nothing.

It was as she was holding it, frowning at it, that she found her thumbs close to the depressions on the edges. Turning it slightly, she held it from beneath with her fingers, holding her thumbs just over the depressions. Holding her breath, she let her thumbs descend.

When they touched the plastic, something akin to heat waves rippled over the surface of the disk. These shortly coalesced into the image of Professor Corey. The Lynx was looking as disheveled, as rumpled as ever. But his eyes were alight.

"Hello, Tanj. I think I’ve finally found a "secure" method with which to communicate with you. If you examine the device you now hold, you’ll see that to any but the most sophisticated scans, it will show as a solid block of thermoplastic. And I bet there aren’t but a half a dozen furrs in the known universe that could deduce it’s a holoprojector! Anyways, I thought I ought to bring you up to date on my progress on the project."

At this point, the holographic image of the Lynx clasped his paws behind his back and started to pace. To Tanj’s amazement, he paced right off the disk, his stride carrying him a good two feet to one side, before he turned and paced back.

"I’ve pursued the problem from Fenymann’s point of view, working through his non-exclusion theorem. The first thing I tried was an N-space tensor analysis of space-time, working backwards from the Xenon traces and the Cherenkov type Lambda residual radiation in the, ah, former Elysium system. That suggested an investigation of the interaction between charmed quarks and leptons, but unfortunately that didn’t pan out…." The Lynx waved a paw as if to dismiss the whole issue. "I then turned to Harmon’s multiple phase-law concept…."

Tanj frowned as the Lynx paced, and lectured. Occasionally he would pause to write in the air, seemingly using only his finger. Color-coded text and symbols floated in space, gradually drifting further and further from the point of origin, as the Lynx wrote. Tanj had no idea how he was managing that…. While it was terribly obvious that Corey had been quite busy, it was also so much gibberish. At least to her. As the Lynx talked, Hinoki wandered in, stared for a moment, and then went to rummage around in the ‘fridge for something to eat.

"Are you understanding any of that?" Tanj looked up, to see Jenka, still nude, padding into the wardroom. Sitting at the opposite end of the table, she rested her chin on the palm of her paw, elbow on the table, just staring. Tanj sighed and shook her head; "I’m afraid not." For a moment they both watched the pacing Lynx, and then Jenka chuckled; "I pity his poor students!" Tanj chuckled and nodded; "I wonder when he’s found time to teach!"

Finally the Lynx came to a stop, and turned to face Tanj; "So as you can see, I’ve run down all of the more reasonable, and even some of the more arcane approaches to the problem…. And I’m afraid I’ve hit a series of roadblocks on each one." His paws came up in a placating gesture; "now I KNOW what happened; I don’t doubt it for a moment. But…. I’m afraid I need some help." Straightening, the Lynx seemed to look right at her; "In order to take this project to the next level, I’m afraid I’m going to need a… well, call it a "consultant." I need someone with high energy physics facilities that I just don’t have, and cannot economically build, plus the help of some experts with a more focused field of expertise. I’d like… well, there are scientists on Gate’s World that might be able to help. They’re not cheap, but they’re the best in their field. I’ve got a semester break coming up in three weeks, and I’d like for us to go there, and consult with them. Please let me know soonest if we can manage this. To signal "yes" push the right thumbpad five times in rapid sequence. To signal "no", please do the same with the left thumbpad."

Hinoki pulled his head out of the ‘fridge, and turned to look at Tanj; "I’ve heard of this "Gate’s World". They’re way out on the fringes of the Empire. In fact they’re probably not even in the Empire, proper. They are to the scientific community, what we are to the shipping industry. Scientific Mercenaries. The pirates of the technological world. Patents mean nothing to them; they’ll reverse-engineer anything for you, for a price. And they’ll sell you anything, for a price." He grinned, showing fangs; "No morals at all!"

Sashi padded into the Wardroom, wearing only her latex panties; after kissing her Master, she took the dishes from his paws and turned to the microwave, to finish preparing his snack. As she moved, Jenka watched her carefully; "Make anything for you, eh? No qualms, no morality? Hmmmm. I wonder…." Tanj looked from the Jaguar, to Sashi and back; "Um… Mistress? What are you thinking?" Jenka’s head snapped back; "Oh….. nothing. Ah, what are you going to do? Those folks aren’t cheap, you know."

Tanj sighed; "If Corey seems to think they’ll be able to help, I guess we’ll have to follow through. He is, after all, our greatest hope of finding Elysium, the rest of the Brethren, and the Lion. I’ll just have to find the money somewhere….." Jenka just sighed and nodded. "OK, Pet, that’s your problem… I’m sure a solution will present itself. But while you’re there, you’re going to have to run some errands for me…."

Tanj nodded, looked at the plastic in her paws, and with a slight frown, squeezed the right-hand side five times in as many seconds. The image of Professor Corey smiled beatifically, and winked out. A moment later, the plastic disk crumbled to dust.

Hinoki fed Sashi a spoonful of Lo Mein, and then grinned at Jenka; "That was a dirty trick you pulled on us, back in Environmental. I could have hurt myself, if I’d dropped that plenum! Jenka laughed and waved a paw dismissively; "you forget your training, Hinoki. I know you and Tanj were both trained at the Academy, to conduct complex tasks despite the distractions such as those! I had every confidence you’d come through fine, and you did, didn’t you?" At Sabina’s curious look, Tanj leaned over and stage-whispered; "I remember one class at the academy, where I had to assemble what they SAID were hand grenades, while a rather well hung instructor took me enthusiastically from behind. Talk about learning to concentrate!" At the look on the kitten’s face, Zassa and Hinoki couldn’t help but chuckle.


Tanj tried to concentrate. There were just too many things that had to be done, and time was running out. Jenka had dragged her back to her quarters, that evening, and had bound her in a "ball tie." Taking her time with the straps, the Jaguar had encased Tanj’s legs in a leather sleeve, methodically lacing it up the back. Her legs had been folded so that her ankles could be strapped tightly to the top of the sheath. In a kneeling position, Tanj had been pushed forward until her torso was flat against the tops of her thighs, and there she was tightly strapped in that position. Another sheath bound her arms tightly behind her back. The leather bondage helmet covered her head, deadening any sound in the room, the built-in prod gag pressing against the back of her throat, filling her mouth. Only two small holes over her nostrils were provided to breathe through. And then Jenka had added the vibrators; a big one in her ass, a bigger one in her pussy. The only thing not restrained was her tail, which lashed about from the droning stimulus of the two dongs. Tanj had been tied near Jenka’s desk, a convenient footrest, as the pirate queen worked at her desk, reading reports. And it would have been a moderately enjoyable way to spend the evening…. If she just didn’t have so danged much to DO!

They were supposed to leave in two days. The ship had yet to be fueled, the route had yet to be finalized, and she still hadn’t heard from Corey where she was supposed to meet him. Property wanted her to drop off a load of booty to their "agents" on New Tortugas, Engineering wanted her to pick up some parts at Sahrayn, and one of her "sources" was demanding a face to face meeting on Grippen, with what she said was "Critical Information". And then there was….. Tanj’s train of thought shattered as the vibrators hit a harmonic, suddenly acting together, driving her higher and higher until her world seemed to explode in another powerful climax.

Jenka smiled and looked from the message flimsy to the bound pet under her heels; the Cheetah was shuddering almost imperceptibly, but probably that was as much as she could do, considering how she was bound. Reaching out for the remote, she ratcheted its settings back a notch. Let her simmer for a while before her next climax.

Tanj groaned into her gag, as the waves of pleasure passed…. Now… where was she? Oh, yeah, Greta wanted that rather illegal software upgrade for her Timbalet nerve disruptor, and Hankins wanted a case of Saurian brandy, Dimmings wanted a hypnocube training program for his new slave, Dave was after a dozen andorian roses to impress his latest girlfriend, Subotai wanted some EM-514 wave guide modules for his ship… and then there was Jenka’s list of things to get on Gate’s world…..


The Badger’s shout brought Tanj up short. Turning, trying not to drop her PADD, and the bundled printouts, she watched as Roland jogged through the corridor towards her. As he jogged, he tried not to stare. It seemed the Cheetah was wearing only a few stick-on-pieces of cloth. How they stuck to her fur, he couldn’t imagine. And of course, they were black and circular, so it was difficult to tell she was wearing anything at all…..

"Hey, Tanj, I hear you’re headed out on a mission." Tanj nodded, smiling wryly; "And you want me to pick up something for you." Roland shook his head no; "Actually, I was hoping to bum a ride." Tanj crooked one eyebrow upwards; "Sure, if we’re headed anywhere near where you’re going. What’s up?" The Badger grinned and waved a paw evasively; "oh, its just a… a bit of a convention. Powered armor enthusiasts. Its out in the Disparta Nebula, in the Shirow system. Port Tippman." The Cheetah frowned; "Hmmm. Have to look at the star charts, but I think that isn’t too far off of our route. Let me check and I’ll get back to you." Roland nodded, and started to turn away; pausing he looked back; "Oh, and Tanj? I’ll be bringing the Lightning. Gotta run! Catch you later!"

Tanj watched him trot off the way he’d come, shaking her head. Sure she could fit a five meter tall 60 ton suit of powered armor in her ship. Plenty of room. At least on the way out; with all the things folks had asked her to pick up, it just might be a little tight on the way back. With a sigh she turned and headed off to her next meeting.


"Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re coming. You know it’s the closest place that we might find help for Bruno." Tanj looked at Wanda and sighed; "I’m concerned about the safety of this place. Gates’ world has a certain… reputation." Wanda grinned; "After all this time, I would have thought I’d proven that I could take care of myself. And Kath’ll be along too; you KNOW her level of training!" The Mink just grinned shyly. Tanj rolled her eyes and sighed; "Yeah, I know you two can handle yourselves. Problem is, most other folks don’t. That leads to the temptation to jump the poor defenseless females. Among other things, I don’t really want to draw attention to ourselves on this mission. The lower the profile the better." The Wolverine lass nodded; "And what better cover than taking poor Bruno here to get medical treatment?" The Bear, sitting on the floor, looked up from his examination of the toes of his left foot, and grinned at the mention of his name. He’d taken to Wanda, "adopting" her as a surrogate mother. At least she’d managed to potty-train him…. Tanj sighed and shrugged; there was no point in arguing, but maybe she could modify things a little…. "All right, on one condition, though." Wanda frowned slightly; "And what’s that?" Tanj crossed her arms and did her best to glare (upwards) at the Wolverine lass; "You take Ralph, as, ah, "security"." Wanda smiled; "Ralph? He’s a pushover. You know that. A great analyst and not a bad manager, but he’s no Ninja." Tanj nodded; "Yeah, but he’s BIG. Very few folks will mess with a full grown Siberian Tiger. And they don’t KNOW that he’s not a Ninja."

Kath nudged her mistress; "She’s right; Ralph IS big. Especially where it counts. It’d be, ah, good to have him along." Wanda glared down at her pet for a moment, and then grinned. The Tiger was well hung; and it might be a long, and otherwise dull trip… Looking back at Tanj, Wanda nodded; "OK."

Ralph looked at the Cheetah and shrugged; "Of course, Mistress, I am yours to command….." Tanj rolled her eyes at the sarcasm; "Yeah… but?" Ralph shrugged again; "Makes me think of the first law of Veterans." Tanj raised an eyebrow; "And that is?" Ralph grinned; "Fuck Exciting Adventures." Tanj sighed; "I thought it was "Never Volunteer". Ralph shrugged a third time; "Same thing, isn’t it?" Tanj growled and shook her head; "Too bad, Stripes, you’re going! Set up your department to make do without you for about three weeks, and make sure you’re on the ship. Civilian clothes AND full combat load-out. Just in case." Ralph just sighed and nodded.

As the door whooshed closed behind the Cheetah, the Tiger sighed; "well, the good side is I get to look forward to probably more sex than I can stand, on the way out. The bad side is, things are never dull around her. Oh well….."


Tanj stood on the ramp and checked off items on her PADD. Intelligence shop running smoothly, with a full set of orders, and contingency plans for almost any event. Check. Fuel, and other consumables. Check. Flight clearances. Check. Booty to be delivered. Check. Data cube with "items to be obtained" list. Check. Crew. Hinoki, and Sashi were already on board, as was Zassa and her new slave, Sabina. Roland had loaded his Lightning, and was aboard. Wanda, Kath and Bruno were on their way. And so far, Ralph hadn’t been seen. With a sigh, she stalked over to the nearest intercom, and jabbed a button. No, he wasn’t in his quarters. No, he wasn’t in Intelligence. No, he wasn’t in the cafeteria. She was just about ready to call security, when the docking bay airlock whooshed open, and the Tiger emerged.

He was wearing sunglasses, and a black suit, with a white shirt, and a black tie. He had a simple black carryall in one paw. Striding towards her with a casual gait, he slid the sunglasses down his muzzle a fraction of an inch and regarded her. Tanj looked him up and down; "I didn’t think there was a suit on the entire station! Where in the heck did you get THAT? And where have you BEEN?"

The tiger shrugged easily; "I’ve been getting fitted for the suit. You said I was to be "security" for Wanda, Kath and Bruno; I figured, given where we’re going, I should at least look the part." At the Cheetah’s gaping look the Tiger grinned; and this is a VERY special suit. In the first place its infra-red emissions can be adjusted to essentially zero. Yeah, it’ll get hot in a hurry, but if we have to sneak past any detectors, it should be invaluable. Second, its made of "reflex" cloth. The harder you try and move it, the harder it resists. Yes, that will make running a little difficult, but it should be proof against most projectile weapons. Oh, and its got a built-in network of superconducting wires that should prevent damage from nerve disruptors. Yes, its got a hood that unfolds from the collar. Commo gear is built in, as well." The Tiger, looking immensely pleased with himself, concluded; "it’s the same Suit that the Imperial bodyguards wear." Tanj just shook her head and waved the Tiger past her, onto the ship.

Tanj had barely time to look down at her PADD, when the docking bay airlock door whooshed open again, and Wanda, Kath, and Bruno appeared. Wanda was wearing a loose, flowing dress, Kath just her collar, and Bruno was wearing a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. As Kath and Bruno moved up the ramp and into the ship, Wanda paused; "I think we’ve got a problem." Tanj raised an eyebrow; "Another one?" Wanda nodded; "On the way here, we passed what must have been some of Bruno’s old associates. They were trying to tease him, to bait him. Fortunately, I think most of it went right over his head, and his lack of response caused them to abandon their teasing and move on. However, it might be difficult, or possibly even dangerous to bring him back here, if he regains his memory." Tanj nodded; "That’s… true. I’ve thought about that a little, and, well, I just haven’t come up with anything really satisfactory in that regard. Lets just wait and see what happens."

Following Wanda into the ship, Tanj paused for one last look around, before hitting the button to raise and seal the ramp. She’d said her goodbyes to Jenka the night before, and the memory of that brought a grin to her face. As the dogs slammed shut, and the panel showed green, Tanj turned and made her way towards the flight deck.



Roland eased into the chair in the wardroom, took a sip from his coffee, and sighed. As he opened the brochure in front of him on the table, Kart peeked over his shoulder; "Is that a..... convention brochure?" Roland took another sip of his coffee, and nodded; "yeah, something like that." After a moment, Kath wondered; "something on powered armor?" The badger nodded abssently, "uh-huh" as he tuned a page. Kath shot Wanda a look and then muttered; "So you're not coming with us on the mission?" The Badger just shook his head no as he closely examined a paragraph of tiny print. Kath flashed Wanda a mischevious grin, and then crooned into Roland's left ear; "its a pity; not often we get to Flosten's Paradise, let alone with a sure-fire way to break the bank at the casino!" TheBadger just muttered a polite noise, and started patting his pockets, looking for something. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have a pen on you, would you? Oh' and its got to be black ink....." Kath looked down at herself; aside from her collar, and a few pieces of jewelry, she wasn't earing a stitch; "Um no, 'fraid not." The Badger's scowl inverted to a smile as Wanda slid a stylus across the table to him.

Wanda rose, and gesture to the Mink; "come on, pet, we've things to do." Karh nodded abscently, eyes still on the Badger as he concentrated on filling out some form in the middle of his brochue.

Once they were in the corridor, Kath sidled up to the Wolverine lass; "Mistress, don't you find that a little odd?" Wanda just shrugged "I don't know what he's up to, pet, but I can guarantee you one thing; if you poke your pretty nose into his business, he's going to give you the spanking of your life!" Kath winced, and started to cringe in mock horror, but then a calculating look passed across her face, and she paused to look back at the wardroom door....

Wanda, watching her pet, smiled and shook her head; "you have been spending WAY too much time with Zassa!"


Tanj looked over her shoulder as the door to the flight deck opened. Ralph padded in, carrying a serving tray; the tray contained a carafe, and a single coffee cup. "Master Hinoki said that you might like some coffee." Tanj grinned and nodded; "That would go good right about now." Turning back, she scanned the pilot’s console. Nav, Com, Engineering, everything was in the green. It wouldn’t be more than an hour, before they’d be far enough out of the system that they could go to warp. Turning back, she watched as the Tiger clumsily balanced the tray on one paw, while pouring the coffee from the carafe into the cup. He managed, and without spilling anything, but it was a near thing. Accepting the coffee cup, she took a sip and smiled; "Ralph, you’re a good analyst, and a decent department head; you work wonders with the spy drones, but you have a LOT to learn with respect to being a serving slave." The Tiger chuckled; "Yes, Mistress." He tried to bow his head humbly, but the grin was just too big. "I think, perhaps this trip will provide us with some time to address that situation." The Tiger looked up, still grinning; "Um, Master Hinoki mentioned something about you possibly needing help flying the ship…." Tanj forced what she hoped was a fierce scowl onto her face; "Don’t change the subject…. And why should I need help flying the ship?" The Tiger shrugged; "I dunno; he just said that on the last trip he helped out… something about sharing the pilot’s couch with you."

Tanj stared at the Tiger for a second and then laughed; "Oh… THAT. Hmmmm. Yeah….." Looking back at the Nav display she did a quick calculation. Yeah, at least fifty seven minutes to the Schwartzchild radius. Plenty of time. Looking back up she grinned; "OK, but to do this right, you’ve got to loose the suit. In fact, lets make that a rule; when we’re alone on board, just normal crew, I want you in just the fur. Nothing but your collar." Ralph grinned, and rose to a standing position, unbuttoning his suitcoat. He did the best imitation of a male stripper he could; unfortunately the image was spoiled as an amazing amount of ordinance clattered to the floor. Tanj leaned across the armrest; "is that a Malwathian Disrupt… AND a Ne Tai disintigrator? Wait, is that… a DERRINGER? Where did you GET all this stuff?" Looking up, Tanj took in the Tiger’s now-nude form; "Um. Save that. Right now, we’ve got, ah, "piloting" to do."

Kath watched the Badger. He had the left leg access panel open, and was crouched, half in/half out of the enclosure, a maintenance manual balanced on one knee, as he looked from the manual, to the interior of the leg, to a multimeter and back. He’d been working on the suit almost non-stop since they left. Any attempt to talk to him was met with a noncommittal grunt, as if he’d not really heard the question. As if it just hadn’t registered. Even calls to meals were answered in the same way.

As the Mink was watching, Sashi led Sabina in on the end of a leash. The Kitten was bound, and gagged, her arms held behind her by a rather tight monoglove, her ankles hobbled with a short piece of rope. For a while all three of them watched the muttering Badger Finally, Sashi turned to the gagged Kitten and muttered; "Its not healthy. It just ain’t right. Here we are, three attractive, highly trained, highly AVAILABLE sex slaves, and he hasn’t even looked at us." Kath chuckled; "Aw, Sashi, you just want to get laid." Sashi looked down at her latex panties, and then grinned and shrugged; "Yeah…. But not so badly that I’d risk Master Hinoki’s displeasure at tricking him into doing so…." Kath nodded sagely; "no… that wouldn’t be prudent. So, what are you and short-stuff down here for?" Sashi grinned; "Exercise. Mistress Zassa thinks the Kitten’s getting a little pudgy. Too much time tied up, not enough time struggling mightily against her cruel restraints. So I’ve been instructed to see that she does a full workout on "the machine". Kath oooohed and grinned; "Can I watch?"

Sabina listened to the two talk. She was NOT fat, and didn’t care WHAT that Vixen said. She was lean and…. Scowling, she turned to look at the two girls. Machine? WHAT machine?

Kath grinned as Sashi stripped the tarp from the device. She’d heard Wanda talk about Hinoki’s latest gadget, but she’d gotten the impression it wasn’t quite perfected yet…. Or maybe it just didn’t quite work. For whatever reason, none of the others on board seemed to have tried it yet….. As Sashi folded the tarp neatly, the Mink examined the device. It looked like a typical multi-function home gym… with a few attachments. The most prominent of these was a rather thick dong in the middle of the seat.

Sabina frowned at the size of the dong; that might be all right for, say, that Wolverine lady, or some other larger-than-average fur, but it was going to be a, well, a bit of a stretch for her. No sooner had that thought entered her head than the chocolate Pantheress started liberally coating the dong with lubricant.

Sabina moaned into her gag as Sabina gently but firmly pushed her down, until she was seated on the bench. It didn’t take but a moment to secure her ankles to the framework so her feet rested on the pedals, or to secure her wrists to the framework so her paws could grip the handlebars. The Pantheress puttered about for a moment, adjusting a few things, selecting, rejecting and reselecting the weight load-out. Finally she stepped back; "Its pretty simple, ‘bina; you just pull on the handles, either down, or back or down and back, to work different muscle groups; you work the foot pedals, either in concert with your arms, or by themselves, pushing against the resistance. And as you do, well, I think I’ll let you find out what each does……"

Sabina glared at the Chocolate Pantheress. She did NOT like exercise. Still…. She was a feline and felines WERE curious. With a grunt, she pulled back on the handles. As she did so, something nuzzled her bottom, and then a thin probe slid smoothly into her ass. Surprised, she let the handles slip back to their starting position and the probe vanished in response. "That was interesting" the Kitten thought to herself…. Her curiosity inflamed, she tried pulling the handles down; the thicker, longer dong in her pussy slid smoothly downwards, until only its head was nestled between her labia. Grinning, the Kitten let the handles snap back to their starting position, the dong driving sharply into her pussy, eliciting a sharp gasp. Panting, she pushed at the foot pedals, and felt the dong in her pussy change angle, its tip bending, to press against her G-spot. What was required, was obvious, and despite her resolution against exercise, she found herself pulling on the handles as she pushed on the foot pedals. The combination was MOST stimulating!

Kath watched the Kitten; her initial motions had been tentative, hesitant, but now she was moving faster and faster, her eyes wide with surprise and delight.

Sabina purrred into her gag; she found that when she exceeded a certain speed, the two dongs started to vibrate in a most delightful fashion. Talk about an incentive! Moaning into her gag, she strained to maintain the pace, hoping that her climax arrived before her strength gave out.

Kath nudged the Pantheress; "So how come everyone on the ship isn’t lined up to try this thing?" Sashi grinned; "If you hit everything in just the right combination, it pinches. Hinoki’s working on an interlock to keep that from happening, but he hasn’t got it ready yet. In the meantime, Zassa’s decided to let ‘bina play with it anyways. Don’t know what she did to make her mad, but…."

Sabina was just letting the handlebar move back up, but holding it close to her, as she pushed on the pedals. The combination was just right for the tip of the probe in her ass, and the squirming tip of the dong in her pussy, to "pinch" together, deep within her. As her feet and paws continued to move, it felt as if the machine was trying to pull her insides down and back. With a squall, she released the handlebar, letting it snap back to its start position. For a moment she just sat there and panted, wondering just exactly what had just happened. Then, realizing that her climax was slowly slipping away, she started moving again, being very VERY careful to try and not repeat that combination….. As she worked, she grumbled at her Mistress. Zassa would be just the fur to find the sudden pinch a desirable feature…

Roland looked up from his work, at the strange noise from the white Kitten. For a moment he studied the workings of the machine, and then shaking his head, turned back to his work. What some people would do for exercise…..

Sabina’s climax, when it finally arrived, was everything she’d hoped it would be, everything she’d "worked for". Squalling loudly she shuddered as the vibrating dongs took her to ecstacy. Shuddering, she lost her coordination, and was brought up short as the dongs once again pinched her, deep within. Her moans of ecstasy turned to something else. Frustration mingled with pain……

"Dammit, its Jammed!" "I can see that, "bina, now be quiet while I try and figure out how to un-jam it!" The Kitten held VERY still, panting from her exertions and her sharply suspended climax, as Kath and Sashi examined the workings of the machine. "Here it is" Sashi muttered; "See, this cable jumped the track and got wedged between the pulley and the frame." Kath frowned; "Going to take tools to get that out, I think." Sashi just smiled and hooked a clawtip under the offending wire; "Naw, I can get it." With a grunt the Chocolate pantheress tugged the wire up, and back over the pully. Sabina let out a grunt as things moved, and then with obvious relief pushed the handlebar away from her. Kath rose and started undoing the restraints that held the Kitten in place; "Come on, lets get you out of that. I think you’ve had enough exercise for the day. Besides, I want to try it….."

Sabina stood, and watched the Badger. Kath was working the handlebars and foot pedals furiously, with a sinuous ease and grace that she envied. The Mink hadn’t once "pinched" herself. Not yet anyways. Watching her had become boring. Watching the Badger wasn’t much better. What WAS it with him anyways? Sex was in the air, the scent of her juices matting her thighs strong enough to tickle her own nostrils, surely the Badger fellow could smell it. So what was he doing up there, fiddling with wires and stuff, when he could be down here, SHOULD be down here, fucking her silly. That first climax had barely wet her appetite…..

Kath watched Sashi take her place on the exercise machine’s seat; "Are you sure this is going to work?" Sashi just grinned and shrugged; "The panties that Master Hinoki has provided are marvelously elastic; they stretch terrifically. I should be able to take both dongs, without fear of ah…." She smiled mischeviously; "Containment breach". Sabina giggled; "Oh, I wouldn’t mind. I’ve HEARD about your pheromones, but have yet to experience them….." Kath chuckled; "Maybe if you’re very good, or possibly VERY bad, Mistress Zassa will lock you in a sealed room with our Pantheress."

Sabina watched as Sashi slowly worked the handles and foot pedals, making the effort look rediculously easy. So easy in fact she had to look again at the weight setting. It was easily three times what the Kitten had used. The look on the Pantheress’ face was controlled, and serene, her motions smooth, the only sounds that of the exercise machine and the noises latex makes as it stretches. After a while, though she got bored again and turned to watch the Badger. He was half in, half out of an access port on his suit, his fatigues stretched tight across his rump. Smiling, she couldn’t help but wonder what he had between his legs….

Sashi shuddered slightly, as her third climax washed through her. The machine really was quite nice. Not very challenging, but quite nice…. Figuring she’d had her daily quota of climaxes, she let the machine return to its rest position and reluctantly rose off of the vaginal dong. Grinning at Kath and nudging ‘Bina she gestured to the cargo bay door; "Shall we head for the shower?" Sabina giggled; "Only if we get to scrub each others’ backs!"

Roland looked up, and then looked around. It seemed as if suddenly the cargo bay had gone quiet. They were gone. Grunting to himself, he looked back at the diagnostic display. Just as well, he had a lot of work to do, and didn’t need the distraction. He’d only gotten a scant six percent of the circuits tuned correctly. A LOT of work to do if he was going to be at his best when he hit dirtside….


Tanj yawned, and scanned the flight instruments again. Space travel, for the most part, was a rather boring endeavor, as long as the ship functioned correctly and they weren’t overhauled by pirates. Or in their case, the authorities. Right now there wasn’t another ship on the sensors, and everything was working just fine. She’d gotten caught up with her logs, and her e-mail, and had even gotten Ralph started cross-training on the ship’s sensors, with which he was pretty much up to speed on, and on Engineering, which he was at least interested enough in. With Hinoki shifting over to weapons, Zassa on cargo, and Wanda on Medical and Environmental, her crew was rounding out nicely. Staring at the starscape, the Cheetah pondered Kath, Sashi and now Sabina. Should she start a training program for them, with respect to the ship? It might not hurt….. at least with respect to the basics.

Ralph yawned and tried to focus on the circuit diagram. Between sex with Tanj, his "slave training", and the normal "household" duties, preparing food, keeping the living quarters clean, and keeping after the laundry, he was pretty well tired. And now his Mistress had given him all this studying on top of all that. No pleasure cruise this trip. Scowling he tried to reconcile the freighter’s power plant with that of the drones he was much more familiar with. Somehow it just seemed SO much cruder, and less sophisticated….


Sabina kept her eyes downcast as she knelt before the Vixen; her tone of voice however conveyed anything but the proper tone for a slave; "And then it PINCHED me. Hard! Mistress, I really don’t think exercise of that sort is a good idea until Master Hinoki gets the machine fixed!" Zassa chuckled; "On your back, Slave. Pull your knees up and spread your legs. I want to see this "terrible damage" for myself!" Sabina complied, holding one ankle in each paw, pulling her legs up, spreading herself wide. Zassa knelt, and examined the Kitten’s pudendum carefully, slowly working a finger into her still-wet snatch. Then two, then a third. In short order, Sabina was mewling and gasping, as Zassa proceeded to slowly work her whole fist into her sex. And just when she thought she had been stretched to the utmost, filled beyond capacity, the Vixen worked a finger into her bottom too! "Does it hurt here? How about here? Or Here?" Sabina could feel the Vixen’s finger pressing against her paw through the thin membranes within her, but all she could do was howl in delight as the Vixen fisted her. After a while, Zassa smiled and shook her head; "Well… judging from the look on your face, it couldn’t have been TOO bad….."

Wanda looked at the ad-hoc samples from the Kitten; "No, don’t see any blood on either of the tissues. I don’t think anything was torn. But she’s right, it might be prudent to find other exercises for her until Hinoki makes some adjustments." Zassa finished washing her paws, and grabbed a disposable towel to dry them; "Yeah, but I don’t want the little slacker thinking she can quit exercising just because there’s a problem there." At the look on the Wolverine’s face, Zassa grinned; "No, I know she’s in good shape; it’s a… discipline, and a dominance issue. Making her exercise reminds her who’s boss." Wanda laughed and nodded and the Vixen smiled; "Besides, I think I’m going to have to examine this machine myself, just to see how grim it is…" The Vixen grinned wickedly; "And maybe I can make a few recommendations to Hinoki myself."



Roland scowled. Feedback in the left leg circuit still wasn’t right. The right leg was working fine, better than it ever had, but the left leg seemed to be lagging. Pulling up the schematic again, he ran through the circuit diagram. There, that amplifier module. Maybe its response wasn’t what it should be. Grabbing his diagnostic tool he started tracing wires, looking for the offending module….

Tanj sipped her coffee, and watched the timer count down. She didn’t want to cut it too close, but then again, they were on a schedule. A few seconds shy of the mark she cut the warp drive. A quick look at the Nav display showed them roughly eight light minutes above the ecliptic of the Parveo system. Pointing the ship at the second planet, she engaged the sublight drive, and ran it up to the optimum cruise speed. Then, turning to the comm display she selected the frequency supplied by the nav beacon and hit the transmit button; "This is the Free Trader Beowulf, to Parveo control. Request approach vector for the Hansa trading station….."

Roland felt the vibrations change, and frowned. No, it wasn’t his suit... after a moment it hit him; they’d dropped out of warp. Already? Looking at his chronograph he realized it’d been three days! They were making their first stop. "Dang, I’m behind schedule" he grumbled to himself. And then he grinned; "But….. they might have replacement amplifier modules…" Shoving all his tools aside, he rose, and stretched. He had to talk to Tanj. And then maybe he should get something to eat….

Tanj felt the ship shudder as the mooring clamps engaged. As the telltales all turned green, she shut down the drive, and the thrusters and cycled the power plant down to standby. This just wasn’t the kind of place where you shut it down… Confirming that the connection to the station’s comm system had been made, she dialed the number for the Black Fleet’s "agent". Not unexpectedly, she got a recording. Leaving a message, bland in its content, but containing a few key words, she broke the connection.

Roland pushed through the door to the flight deck as it was still opening. "Hey, Tanj… ah, good, we’re docked. I’d like to go over to the… say, where are we anyways? No matter, I need to find some parts for my suit. Is there any way I could skip out for a few hours?"

Tanj turned in her pilot’s couch to look at the Badger. "I don’t know how long we’re going to be here, and we DO have a schedule to keep. But I suppose you’ve got a few hours. Why don’t you use the comm to see if you could find someone who’s got what you’re looking for, first, though. This place is a little rough and there’s no need to go out if you don’t need to. Oh, and if you do, I certainly wouldn’t go alone."

Roland nodded; "Yeah. The Comm. Good idea. Turning, he headed for the comm station, only to pause; "rough, you say? Where ARE we?"

Tanj shrugged; "only Parveo. Not too far from home." Roland grinned; "Oh, yeah. No problem."


The camera showed a middle-aged beaver that was almost as round as he was tall. Chubby little fellow. The two Dobermans behind him, though, lent him a sinister air. Tanj nodded to Hinoki, who hit the airlock door release, and then stepped back, one paw on the remote. Neither Cheetah appeared armed. They didn’t have to be. The airlock and the adjoining corridor had plenty of built-in defenses. The Beaver stepped through the airlock, and smiled when he saw Tanj; "Ah, Captain Ky, how delightful to meet you at last! I’ve received your message, and I do so hope Jenka has sent us some decent, ah, "goods" this time!" Tanj smiled cooly; "Lets go down to the Docking Bay, and I can show you what we’ve got."

Roland scowled and broke the connection. The AM4J modules weren’t that uncommon, and normally weren’t that expensive either, but the pirates here wanted what had to be ten times the normal price. If he bought them, then he wouldn’t have enough to live on during the convention! The modules were more reasonable down on the planet, but delivery was three days! Growling, he paced the flight deck…. He really wanted to replace them, but he’d be danged if he’d pay these prices. Piracy! Finally he forced himself to calm down. He hadn’t finished his system recalibration yet. There might be more modules that needed replacing. There might even be more pressing things that needed replacing. And there were supposed to be other stops as well, before he got to the Shirow system. Patience. He should be patient. Growling he turned and stalked back towards the Cargo bay.

The Beaver sighed and shook his head; "Oh, My. I just don’t think they’re worth that much." Tanj shrugged; "I’m not here to negotiate. The Black fleet has valued these items at this price. If you can’t, or won’t handle them, I’ll just have to take them to another of our agents. Failing that, I’ll take them all the way back to the Black Fleet." The Beaver waved a paw; "Oh, all right, I’ll take them, but only as a favor to Jenka. I’ll probably take another loss, though!" Nodding to the Dobermans, the Beaver turned and held out his paw for the paperwork.

Hinoki watched the float pallets disappear through the cargo airlock. Suuuure the Beaver was going to take a loss. "I’m obviously in the wrong business" he thought to himself. "I could fence that stuff, pay them twice what they’ll get from him, and make one hell of a profit." Shaking his head, he waited for the Dobermans to bring the empty float pallets back. He’d be danged if they got those as part of the bargain as well.

The Beaver Turned to Tanj and smiled again; "Always a pleasure doing business with the Black Fleet. Say, is that a Lightning you have back there? You know, I might be able to get you a VERY good price for that…."

Roland had entered the cargo bay just in time to catch the latter part of the Beaver’s statement. Wordlessly he growled, glaring at the Beaver. Tanj looked over her shoulder at the Badger and then turned back; "I’m afraid its not for sale." The Beaver swallowed and nodded; "Yes. Quite. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be going." As the Beaver turned to head for the airlock he almost collided with the Dobermans returning with the now-empty float pallets. After they’d sorted themselves out, they cycled through the airlock. Hinoki locked the system down, and then relaxed visibly. Tanj chuckled; "And just think; he’s one of the nicer ones. Ah, well, on to Bahrain…"

As she passed by, Roland growled; "you will NOT sell my Lightning…." Tanj just chuckled; "No, I won’t. But don’t forget, you still owe us for that suit of Imperial combat armor."

Roland watched the personnel lock close behind the Cheetah pair. The threat hadn’t really been a threat, but…. she was right. He did owe them. Ah, well, if everything went according to plan, he’d be able to pay them off. But for that he’d need those amplifier modules… With a sigh, he went back to work.

Tanj smiled as the ship slid smoothly into Warp. She could have used a number of jump points to reach their next destination, but the cost of fuel wasn’t a major consideration for her. The pirates generally captured more antimatter than they used. And besides they were getting out of the Black Fleet’s normal operating area. It would be embarrassing to be picked up by one of their competitors. Probably expensive too. More than that, it would throw off her timetable. They’d be difficult to catch in Warp. Taking one last look at the instruments, she rose, stretched, and headed towards the Wardroom. Time for something to eat.


"I tell you, its NOT normal. Maybe he’s Gay, or something."

Zassa scowled down at the Kitten kneeling by her feet and thwapped her soundly on her head; "you keep a civil tongue in your head, Slave. Or ELSE!" Zassa then examined the ice cream bar she’d struck her insubordinate slave with, and sighed. It had hair all over it. Holding it down at the level of Sabina’s muzzle, the Vixen sighed; "Here, lick it clean for me. Just don’t cough up a hairball." Sabina chuckled and started licking avidly.

Kath, kneeling by Wanda, shrugged; "Well, I know Master Roland isn’t disinterested in females, despite his occasional dalliance with Master Hinoki…."

At this most eyes in the room turned towards the Cheetah male, who just smiled broadly.

"But you have to admit, his current…. Preoccupation IS somewhat unusual."

Tanj nodded; "True. Don’t think we’ve seen him at a meal here yet. When a guy starts skipping both food AND sex, there’s definitely something up."

Wanda nodded; "Must have something to do with that brochure he was looking at so avidly when we launched."

Hinoki nodded; "Something about a powered armor convention, wasn’t it?"

Tanj nodded, and then held out her fork to Ralph. When he’d taken the morsel from it, she paused to make a show of counting her fingers. Apparently the Tiger was hungry. "He sent the completed form off by e-mail. Ralph, after dinner, why don’t you see if you can’t retrieve that from the ship’s computer; we ought to take a closer look at just what he’s getting into…."

Zassa chuckled; "But don’t think that lets you off your turn at doing the dishes!"


Tanj yawned and took another sip of her coffee. The e-mail seemed to go on forever. Mostly work, intelligence reports, political briefs, requests for funding, and that sort of thing. Occasionally there was an advertisement for something she didn’t want, and not infrequently a crude joke of some sort. She was just reaching for her cup of coffee when she froze, paw hanging in mid-air over the mug. There was a ring distorting the surface of the coffee. She watched as it dissipated. A moment later there was another. And then a third. Turning, her paws flew over the console, closing the comm window and opening up the Engineering displays, her eyes scanning quickly over the read-outs.

In space, what you don’t understand can kill you, and quickly, too. Something was causing vibrations that the instruments in her ship were not reporting. That meant that something unusual, or unexpected was happening. The Antimatter power plant was functioning smoothly, with no alarms, and nothing showing in the red. The fusion plant was also all in the green. There were some interesting harmonics in the warp drive, but it wasn’t clear if the pulsations in the plasma flow were the cause of the vibrations, or the result. Sensors, and weapons also showed green. Environmental showed similar pulsations in air flow, with a smaller response in fluid flows, but again, it wasn’t clear if they were the cause or the result. Frowning, Tanj slapped the key that would drop the ship out of warp.

Roland felt the vibration change, and paused. They’d dropped out of warp. That meant something was wrong. Worried, the Badger climbed out of the cockpit of his Mech, and headed for the flight deck. Surely it couldn’t be pirates, could it? If it was, though, he might be needed.

Tanj shook her head; the mysterious vibrations had stopped as soon as she’d dropped out of warp. Her fingers flying over the keyboard, she ordered a level one diagnostic of the entire warp and power systems.

Hinoki slipped through the door to the flight deck before it was fully open; "What’s wrong?" Tanj shrugged from the pilot’s couch; "Dunno. We seem to have picked up some weird vibration. Its stopped now that we dropped out of warp. Its not showing up on any of the instruments, though. No alarms, no error messages, no nothing!" Hinoki slipped into the chair at the ops station; "Have you checked out the plasma modulation valve on the A4 header? You know that actuator was starting to cycle a bit." Tanj sighed; "Yeah, it was. But I changed the positioner before we left. It was working fine when I ran a test on it, but I suppose something could be sticking…. But how would that cause a periodic, high intensity vibration? Its almost like ….."

Ralph pushed hard against the door as it opened, shoving his way onto the flight deck; metal screeched and the servo whined. "We’ve dropped out of warp; what’s wrong?" Both Hinoki and Tanj turned; "Periodic, high modulation vibration." "Stopped as soon as we dropped out of warp." The Tiger nodded; "I wonder… I had a drone once that got itself into a standing wave pattern in the plasma flow between the reactor and the nacelle. Tore itself apart." Tanj sighed and gestured at the display; "The vibration is periodic, and almost random. Look at the pressure waves in the plasma flow; If we had a standing wave, we’d either see a high pressure or a low pressure, but not a variation, depending on where the sensor was. No, I don’t think its that…" Hinoki grunted; "Hope its not that; you say the probe disintigrated?" Tanj sighed and shook her head; "no, Its almost like something was…."

Zassa slid through the door as it opened; "What’s up? We can’t be to New Dacoita yet…" Three heads turned to look at her; "Periodic vibration." "High Amplitude; no perceivable pattern." "Ended as soon as we dropped out of warp." Zassa frowned; "couldn’t be cargo shifting; that’s all locked down tight, and we haven’t been… have you looked at the inertial damping fields? Could we be picking up a fluctuation there? Intermittent short or something?" Four heads turned to look at the displays as Tanj’s fingers flew over the keys; "Um… no, that looks rather…. Normal. If there’s anything there, its not being picked up by the instruments….. I don’t think that’s it, it doesn’t feel right. Its almost as if something was jumping…."

Kath shoved through the door, flowing around its edge as only a Mink in a hurry could do; "What’s the problem?" Four voices started to talk at once, and Kath waved a paw; "not all at once, please!" Tanj sighed and explained. When she was done, Kath frowned; "how about outside influences. Were we passing through any strange magnetic fields? Could unknown forces have been trying to lock on a tractor beam? Some strange alien weapon? Spatial distortion?" Again, everyone turned to look at the displays as Tanj played back the sensor logs. "We’re not a survey ship, and therefor we’re not as fully instrumented as they would be, but we’re probably in better shape than your average freighter. Still, I don’t SEE anything. That doesn’t rule out weird spatial effects though. As for alien weapons, if someone was after us, why haven’t they shown up? We’re sitting ducks at the moment. No, I don’t buy that. It was really more like something very large and heavy jumping up and down."

Roland came through the door at a run, and skidded to a stop. Everyone on the flight deck was staring at him, and he didn’t like the looks on their faces. For a moment the temptation to turn and flee was overpowering, but he fought it back. Looking from face to face, he turned his palms upwards, shrugged, and muttered; "What?"

"Dammit, Tanj there’s no way to check the calibration on those circuits without moving! I need the feedback to complete the tuning!"


The Badger shrugged; "No one ever complained on the Station."

Tanj’s reply was an inarticulate growl.

Hinoki laughed; "Oh, come on, Tanj, we’ve got a structural integrity field pirated from a Light Cruiser. He couldn’t have hurt anything."

Ralph shook his head; "I dunno about that. But even so, he shouldn’t have done something like that without ASKING first."

Kath nodded sagely in agreement; "Roland, I think you owe the Captain an apology."

Roland sighed and nodded; "You’re right. I should have asked first. I guess I just got wrapped up in my work, and forgot where I was." He smiled and gave the Cheetah a half-bow; "I apologize". Tanj opened her mouth, but whatever reply she was going to make was cut short; "Oh, and by the way, as long as we’re not in warp, could I go outside and test the calibration on some of the weapons circuits?"

Roland leaned against the far wall of the corridor. The door had closed quickly; no problem with the calibration of any of ITS circuits. He hadn’t known that a Cheetah could move that fast, either Tanj launching herself at him, or Hinoki intercepting her. And those claws looked sharp too. Shaking his head and sighing, he turned to head back down towards the Cargo Bay; "Guess the live fire exercise will have to wait."

"All right. ALL RIGHT, I’ll let him live, but ONLY if he doesn’t pull another stunt like that again. Now will you Please get OFF of me?"

Hinoki looked at Ralph, and then at Zassa, and Kath; "Um…. No. I don’t think that you’re sufficiently calmed down yet. But I think I know how to make you forget our errant Badger." Purring softly, Hinoki bent to give Tanj a gentle lick across her left nipple. Zassa laughed and nodded, bending to attend to Tanj’s other breast. Ralph watched for a moment and then grinned widely, moving to kneel between the Cheetah’s legs, bending to drag his broad rough tongue over her sex. Kath watched for a moment, wondering where she might insert herself, but then after a moment, just grinned, and settled down to watch; she was sure there’d be an opportunity in a minute or three….

Sashi heard the intercom bleep. Tapping the button she purred; "Laundry Master Control Room. Senior Laundry Technician Sashi here." The giggle that came over the intercom sounded for all the world like someone being tickled. Then Kath’s voice came on the line; "Sashi, why don’t you find Sabina and bring her up to the flight deck. Oh, you might want to bring some lube, and a few toys. Seems we’re having an impromptu Badger-defense Orgy." The connection broke with a click. Sashi stared at the speaker and frowned. "That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…." Then she grinned; "But it doesn’t have to. Now, where did Zassa leave ‘bina tied up? And what to bring…..?"

Sabina laid her head on her Mistress’ tummy and watched the Cheetah squirm. Tanj was wearing a bondage helmet with a thick plug gag. Her arms were encased in a sleeve behind her back, and a spreader bar held her ankles far apart. Another bar ran from the Cheetah’s collar to the center of her spreader bar, holding her bent almost double. As she was on her back at the moment, this delightfully exposed her sex. A rather large vibrator was buried in her quim, and one of Hinoki’s articulated butt plugs was moving within her back passage. Little vibrating balls were clamped to both nipples and her clitty. Periodically the Cheetah would shiver all over, as yet another climax washed over her. It looked like a thoroughly delightful situation to the Kitten, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Tanj was being punished for something. Or possibly rewarded for something. It was hard to tell.

Hinoki drew a finger across Wanda’s stomach and chuckled; "Well, if she’s still unreasonable when we let her loose, I thought I’d raid Zassa’s stash of the living dress creatures and just turn them loose on her. Eventually, she’ll be too worn out to have it out with the Badger."

Wanda nodded and then oooooohed as the Cheetah’s finger traversed her sex; "Um… you know they’ll have to have it out eventually."

Hinoki shrugged; "Yeah, but you know Tanj. The longer we delay it, the milder it’ll be. She can’t stay mad forever, and Roland has saved our collective asses from time to time. Besides, its SO much fun to do things like this to her."

Wanda stole a look at the quivering Cheetah fem, and nodded, chuckling; "So it is. But how much longer can you keep her like that? We DO have a schedule."

Hinoki sighed; "The level one diagnostics she ordered should be done soon; I suppose I’ll have to let her loose then."

Sabina looked at Sashi and shook her head; "It just proves my point. That Badger is wound WAY too tight. He NEEDS some distraction, some R&R."

Sashi just shrugged; "And you’re just the Kitten to do it?"

Sabina grinned wickedly; "if not me, then who?"

Sashi shook her head; "I dunno, I think you’re gonna get yourself in TROUBLE!"

Sabina just grinned.


Establishing a cover

Tanj looked at the image of Vehnice on the viewscreen. It seemed such a peaceful world, from orbit. And yet her agents told her otherwise. One faction was angling against another faction, and the Black Fleet was selling weapons, and information to both sides. It wasn’t quite a civil war; not yet. And while it wasn’t the same level as two major corporations in heated competition, nor was it quite the same as two local gangs vying for turf. It was a chaotic, fluid, and rather dangerous situation. And it was their next stop.

"Roger that, approach control, Landing Bay 23. Thanks for the expedite!" Tanj looked at the smiling face on her screen and wondered which faction the traffic controller was in the pay of. Didn’t matter, really. Tanj had never made any secret that what they had for sale would go to the highest bidder. That they weren’t playing favorites. And that was just fine, with the Capulats. The Montegnus seemed to be able to live with it as well. The trick was not getting burned, if they thought your usefulness was at an end, and they decided to make you part of one of their intrigues. As the ship descended, Tanj noted the two different fire control radars that tracked her down, the two different flights of fighters patrolling in the vicinity of the city. Each faction didn’t seem to have any integral territory; they seemed to be interspersed across the planet. How they kept track of who was who was beyond her….

The jumpsuit was one of Jenka’s synthetic blends; it looked like something between latex and leather, but was as tough as nails. And it hugged every curve she had. With the zipper pulled down to her navel, Tanj, clipboard in hand, strode down the ramp to meet the port official. To her surprise, the Chipmunk wore a bright white top-hat. He took the proffered clipboard, and studied it wordlessly. After a while he initialed it, took the bottom copy and handed it back; "Have a nice stay on Vehnice. I’ve copied your ship’s computer with the local laws, along with a tourism guide…. And some friendly suggestions on getting along with the natives. If you’ll just transfer the import credits to the Port Authority computer, we’ll let you get on about your business."

Tanj blinked and nodded. In all the planetfalls she’d ever made, she’d never had it so easy. Something must be wrong. VERY wrong.

As the Chipmonk left, a Mouse in a red beret slipped through the personnel door, and into the Landing Bay. Smiling, she waved as if they were old friends; "Hi, I’m Rommie Capulat. My father, the Duc, sent me to see if you’ve got the stuff we requested?"

Tanj looked around for the security that usually accompanied the daughter of a powerful leader, and finding none, smiled; "Yes, I have two gross pulse rifles, Hammerbein manufacture, still in the original vacuum packing, with seals attached. And to go with that, I’ve got 800 crates of the caseless ammunition, half armor piercing, a quarter incendiary and a quarter explosive rounds. I also have six dozen of their automatic grenade launchers, if you’re interested." The Mouse absolutely beamed; "Oh, YES, Dad’s going to be….. Gawd, Who is THAT?"

Tanj turned, following the Mouse’s line of vision; smiling she turned back and shrugged; "Just my loadmaster. Rommie, meet Zassa."

Zassa grinned at the young Mouse. She was used to both males and females drooling over her, but there was something strange in the Mouse’s look. It was more than just lust…

Rommie pulled her beret off, and held it in both hands in front of her; "Most pleased to make your acquaintance, Zassa. My, but you’re a vision!" Turning back to Tanj she smiled; "You and your crew have ABSOLUTELY got to join me at the club tonight! As my guests, of course!


Zassa watched as the Mouse searched her pockets, almost juggling the beret, until she came up with a pawful of glossy tickets. "The Expectations Club is the trendiest place on the planet! Everyone who’s anyone can be found there! Oh, and I suppose I should mention that its neutral ground; as such, one of the safest places on the planet, at the moment! Oh, I DO hope you’ll be my guests tonight!"

Tanj took the tickets and smiled; "Thanks, I do believe we could use a night out. Now, let me go pay the port fees, so we can complete our transaction. Zassa, why don’t you take Rommie to inspect the cargo?"

Zassa bent way over, knowing that her tight shorts would all but disappear into the crack of her ass as she did so. As she opened the crate, she wondered if the Mouse would even notice what she was doing……

Rommie admired the shapely ass, and smiled from ear to ear. Oh, yes, she was just perfect. Perfect. With her as bait, Julian would have to make an appearance. And the hardest part in any assassination was knowing the location of your target…… But, she’d have to be careful. It had to be done just right. Arranged just so. Just so that this lovely Vixen, and her associates took the blame for the death. Slipping a paw into one pocket, she extracted a pencil-camera; "Um…. Would you mind if I took a few pictures as we examine the merchandise. Procedure I’m afraid, to prove that they’ve made it through shipment undamaged….

Zassa looked at the Mouse; there was something akin to anticipation on her face…. After a moment she shrugged; "Yeah, I guess that’d be OK…."

Rommie positively beamed, and stepping back, began photographing the crates and their contents, doing everything in her power to make sure Zassa was caught in each frame.

Tanj logged the credit transfer, and then opened a window to her database. Quickly she read what was known about Rommie Capulat. There was quite a bit, most of it relating how absolutely ruthless she was. It didn’t seem to jive with the charismatic exterior, but that wasn’t all that unusual. Frowning, the Cheetah dashed off a couple of quick e-mails to her agents on the planet, asking for any current data. On Rommie. And on the Expectations club.

When she entered the cargo bay, Zassa was sitting on a crate, talking to the Mouse. As she approached they both looked up. "OK, paperwork’s out of the way. Have you decided if you want the grenade launchers?" Rommie smiled; "Yes, I’d like to take them, if they’re not too expensive. I believe we can offer you two hundred credits apiece." Tanj laughed; "Oh, please, they cost MUCH more than that! Why, even with all the correct end-user licenses, they’d be at least eight hundred apiece!" The Mouse smiled; "Ah, but I happen to know you didn’t come by them legally, NOR did you pay that much…. But I might see my way clear to go as high as 250 apiece…."

Zassa watched the two argue, and dicker. Some how the Mouse seemed more… "genuine" as she negotiated the best possible price. There was just something about her…..

"Okay, 527 credits apiece for the grenade launchers, and we throw in the basic load of ammunition." Rommie beamed; "Done! I’ll have the credits transferred immediately!" Tanj nodded and held out her padd; "Just give me your thumbprint and you can start moving them." Rommie pressed her thumb to the padd with a flourish; "We’ve got some very automated robotic cargo handling systems here; the ‘bots should be along in just a second!" Fitting her beret carefully back onto her head, she smiled; "Hope to see you all at the club tonight!" And then, waving jauntily, she turned and headed for the landing bay personnel door.

She’d almost made it to the door when it slid open, three furrs wearing blue bowlers entering. For a moment they all froze, staring at each other, and then the leader of the newcomers hissed; "Well, if it isn’t the Duc’s daughter… and by herself! Oh, what a marvelous opportunity!"

Zassa leaned against the edge of the cargo lock. It was a casual pose, but her right hand, behind the wall, was tapping on the comm panel….

Tanj sat up on the bridge, at the tapping. Listening for a moment, her brain deciphering the code, Three quick taps, three slow taps, followed by three quick taps. The sequence then repeated itself… She turned and activated one of the screens, setting it to the No.4 cargo bay camera. She could just see out the open hatch…. See the Mouse with the red beret being circled by a Wolf, Elk, and Muskrat, all wearing blue bowlers. And for reasons she couldn’t immediately explain, her paws were suddenly dancing over the ship’s weapons console….

Zassa heard the whine above her, and smiled. The antipersonnel weapons designed to defend the cargo bay had just come on line….. At least SOMEONE else was watching…..

Rommie smiled; the smile was without humor, and for a moment she resembled a Rat more than a Mouse. "Ah, well, if it isn’t Julian’s favorite trio of stooges. I can only imagine what you’re here for!" The Wolf smiled; "How do you know, Milady, that we’re not here for YOU?" The Mouse smiled again, this time showing teeth; "Because it would take more than the three of YOU to worry me. But if you think you can, then come on….."

Zassa watched as the Wolf snatched something from his belt; it looked as if it were a metal tube, but as his paw wrapped around it, its tip flared to incandescence, a bright spear too intense to look at extending half a body’s length. The Mouse however, produced a more slender cylinder from her pocket, not much larger than a pen; stepping back, she leveled it at the Wolf, a glowing red speck shooting out from its tip, to hold position off the end of the tube at about a body-length. To the Vixen’s surprise, the Elk and Muskrat backed off, to let the Mouse and Wolf fight.

The Wolf waved his wand back and forth, as he circled the Mouse, the projected forcefield making a hissing noise as it moved. The Mouse for his part held remarkably still, the "pen" held over her head, the bright red spark dancing in front of her. Her head was down a little, eyes almost closed, but her ears were tracking the wolf, and his hissing sword. Suddenly the Wolf sprang into action, coming at the Mouse from her left rear quarter. Bright as the sun, his weapon blazed in an arc, slashing back and forth. The Mouse leapt, twirled, and slashed once with her own weapon; the bright red spark passed behind the Wolf, and then the Mouse was dancing back, almost colliding with the elk as he backpedaled, her weapon still held out in front of her.

The Wolf looked down as if he were suddenly afraid to move. Across his middle, from just under his left arm, to his right waist, a crimson line had appeared. As Zassa watched, the line seemed to grow, blood seeping into the wolf’s clothes. Then, with a gurgling, slurping sound, the wolf fell apart, his upper torso falling one way, legs and lower torso the other.

Tanj gaped at the monitor. And then her paw came down hard on the battlestations alarm.

Zassa couldn’t tear her eyes from the form of the Wolf. His mouth was moving as if he were trying to say something. Several feet away, his legs were moving, heels drumming on the deck as if that portion of him were trying to flee. His weapon hissed evilly as it lay on the landing bay floor, just beyond the Wolf’s outstretched paw.

The Elk and Muskrat ignored the Mouse, and ran to their fallen comrade. Sliced in two there seemed to be no hope, but the Muskrat scooped up the Wolf’s weapon and holding it carefully, he bent to take a swipe at his friend. For a moment Zassa thought the Muskrat was trying to mutilate him, or possibly to kill him quickly, but then she realized that the Muskrat had taken another slice, millimeters away from the initial cut, and in the process had cauterized the "wound"…..

Roland pushed onto the flight deck, took one look at the monitor, and dashed out again, almost colliding with Ralph. Ralph took one look at the monitor, looked around the flight deck, and with one paw over his mouth, eyes bulging, turned and fled. Moments later, Tanj heard the sound of retching from down the corridor. Coupled with the image on the monitor, it almost made her follow suit.

Rommie looked at the Wolf, sighed, shrugged, and flipped her thumb; the bright red spark shot towards her "pen", and vanished into the end. Tucking it back into her pocket, she turned and departed, as if nothing untoward had happened.

The Ambulance crew all wore white top hats. As did the lone constable that came. The latter sighed, shook his head, took pictures, and departed without questioning anyone. It’d probably all been caught on the security cameras anyways….

Wanda sipped her coffee and then shrugged; "I don’t know; after trauma like that, I’d be surprised if he survived, but I suppose its possible. Smart move on his friend’s part though." Zassa shuddered, and shook her head; "I…." Her voice just trailed off; the Vixen looked shaken, and withdrawn. After a moment, she muttered; "After seeing that, I’m not really in the mood to go out on the town. Not here."

Tanj nodded, and then sighed; "Neither am I, but unfortunately, I have an agent or three that I need to talk to. And this furr has said that the club is the best place to meet. Apparently she thinks its something rather urgent. But I’ll understand if you want to bow out."

Kath winced and then shot Wanda a look; "Um… Tanj, I don’t think we should let you go alone. Not here. Not after that." Wanda nodded slowly in agreement. Hinoki chuckled; "I’ll be happy to escort her…"

Zassa shook her head; "No, I think it would be better if we all went. It’d look funny if just one or two went. They might come to the conclusion that her trip out wasn’t just for a night of relaxation." Straightening, the Vixen smiled weakly; "Besides, we’re representatives of the Black Fleet. Surely a little gore doesn’t bother US….. right?" Ralph just groaned.

Tanj looked over the files again. The Wolf had apparently had a weapon called a "lightsabre", a focused projected forcefield that could cut through almost anything. The Mouse had used something similar, a variant on the same theme; the weapon was called a "variable sword"; a spool in the handle unreeled a single-molecule wide strand, stiffened with a force field, and it too would cut through almost anything. The red spark at the end had been merely a visual cue to show the wielder where the end of the strand was. And it seemed that duels like that were quite common here. More than that, duels between the officers of the two factions were almost a daily affair, although apparently seldom fatal. And for the rank and file, assassinations were carried out almost as routinely, and much more deadly. Her researches had shown that there were indeed "safe zones", and the club was one of them. But just outside, anything would go. Sitting back in her station chair, Tanj stared at the display, trying to think. It looked as if it would be prudent, very prudent, to make sure they could arrive and depart without getting caught in the crossfire…..

Hinoki blinked; "You want WHAT?" Tanj smiled; "Oh, come on, I know you held back on the catalyst. I bet I could even lay my hands on it, within about fifteen minutes, if you make me. Listen, I need the money. WE need the money. I’ve got a bad feeling about this "club" thing tonight; there are just too many factors drawing us that way. Its starting to feel like a set-up. Now, the club itself is neutral ground. I’m not worried about something happening there. However, getting in, and out, that’s what’s bothering me. I think we need to invest in our own ground transportation. Something…." Hinoki grinned; "Something hot? Fast? REAL fast?" Tanj chuckled; "I’d prefer something that could meet us in orbit, but I’m not sure the catalyst is worth THAT much. I’ll settle for something that could outrun the average police cruiser, and has at least a minimum of armor. I’m not sure that weapons would be a good idea; if found, they MIGHT just get us into trouble." Hinoki nodded, deep in thought; "Well, if we had to go looking for a "special", this planet is probably one of the best places, considering the local "tensions" and all…" Tanj smiled; "We can put it in your name, if you like….."

Zassa looked up as the Cheetah stuck her head through the door; "Feel like doing a little shopping before we go to the club?" Zassa chuckled; "I’m always up for shopping, but I had a dress I was planning on wearing…." The Vixen blinked and took another look at the Cheetah; "You’re up to something, aren’t you?" Tanj just laughed.

Ralph paused and looked at the vendor’s cart. "Hey Tanj… wait up a minute." Turning to the Squirrel sitting next to the cart, he growled; "Hey, lady, what’s with the white hats?" The Squirrel smiled; "you must be new to Vehnice. But that’s why I’m here. The white hat identifies you as a neutral in the current disputes. Red is for the Capulat faction, blue is for the Montegnus… and I’m afraid that if you wear no hat at all, they’ll each decide you’re with the other side." Ralph grimaced; "Yeah, I guess we need ‘em. But why did it have to be White? It makes me look so… washed out."

Zassa sighed looking upwards at the brim of the white floppy hat; "I guess I’m going to need a new dress after all; I don’t have ANYTHING that goes with white!"

Tanj listened to the salesman recount the features of the vehicle. The limousine was luxurious and armored, but underpowered. Worse, it was just plain "stock". Anyone who saw it would know its capabilities. With a sigh, Tanj rose; "I’ve got to use the ladies room; Hinoki, carry on, I’ll be back in a minute."

The mechanics looked at her curiously. She let her gaze wander over them as she talked, dangling the credit stick from her left paw. Half of them had their eyes locked on her bosom, the other half on the credit stick. "So that’s what I’m after, gentlefurrs; any ideas where I might find it? Today?" Three quarters of them shook their heads no, while the rest looked at a young Otter. Tanj gave him her best lopsided grin as she looked at him. He was young; couldn’t have been more than two years out of tech school, but his grease-stained paws suggested he knew vehicles. And the collection of patches on his overalls suggested he was into racing, probably street racing. After a moment, he grinned and shrugged; "Well…. My cousin Vinnie’s got a garage. He does… custom jobs. Usually they’re to order, but… he does take trade-ins. He MIGHT have something on his lot."

Tanj felt someone come up behind her, and looked over her shoulder; Ralph, his face as impassive as if it were chiseled from granite, murmured; "Mistress, Master Hinoki has failed to come to terms with the establishment; he suggests we look elsewhere." Tanj grinned and looked back at the otter; "So where do I find your cousin Vinnie?"

The garage was in a seedy part of town. Fortunately the cab was a robocab, without a living driver to object to the neighborhood. The cab’s AI however was smart enough to demand a hazard bonus. Ralph got out first, scanning the street; however before he could move towards the door, a large sliding door to his left started to squeek and scrape open.

The Otter it revealed was a little older than the mechanic, and a little more scarred. His eyes held a cold, calculating look, as if he were evaluating the trouble these newcomers might bring. But after a moment, greed won out and he waved them inside.

Hinoki grinned, padding over towards one of the aircars; "is that a Renegade? Ooooo, and its got the Comanco powerpack! Surely that’s not one of the fifty or so "stock" models the factory turned out, is it?" The Otter stared at Hinoki for a moment and then shrugged; "Dunno. It was a wreck when I got it; serial numbers had been burned off. It might be, might not be. No way to tell. At least not for sure."

Hinoki chuckled, stripped off his jacket, opened the door, and laid down on the floorboards, peering up under the dash. After a moment he grunted, and squirmed back out again. Grinning at the Otter, he raised an eyebrow; "how much you want for it?"

The Otter’s face showed his puzzlement, and Tanj could almost read the "What does he know that I don’t" running through his mind. Clearing her throat, she chided; "Hinoki, you know that’s not what we’re here for. Maybe if we have some money left over, but right now we need something else." Turning to the Otter, Tanj smiled; "We’re looking for a Limousine that can carry eight people, including the driver. It has to be fast, and it has to be armored, but it shouldn’t look like either. It wouldn’t hurt if it was lightly armed." The Cheetah paused and then grinned; "And I don’t care if anyone else knows if we have it. It can be completely legal, registered, and taxed. By the time the paperwork goes through, with luck, we’ll be off-planet. Oh, yes, I need it by tonight."

The Otter boggled; "Legal? You don’t CARE if its LEGAL?" He looked at her as if she’d just grown a second head. Then he laughed; "Sorry, I just don’t get too many customers like that. Um, lets go out back; I’ve got a few things that might fit the bill, if your requirements aren’t TOO tight.

The one they finally settled for was a stretched, customized utility vehicle. Someone had obviously wanted it for its rugged look, and then found out that it wasn’t all that maneuverable. Vinnie had modified that, a little. It still handled like the truck it was, but it was a FAST truck. And it had all sorts of extras. The sensor suite for instance, could tell you the location of the nearest police cruiser. It could also tell you if the vehicle following you was armed. The body could be charged, to repel folks trying to force their way inside, and possibly to deflect a particle beam weapon. Depending on the charge of the particles. Its armor was worse than some, but better than most, and its communications suite could probably reach the next star system. When Ralph and Hinoki had finished the test drive, and their examination of the systems, Tanj got down to haggling with the Otter. As Tanj feigned horror at the initial price quoted, Zassa’s voice floated out of the back; "Oh, Tanj, we have GOT to buy this one! The Seats VIBRATE!

"We got took!" "Oh, be quiet, Ralph, it wasn’t YOUR money!" "Yeah, but Hinoki’s happy. Who’s idea was it to try and work a package deal for the limo and the sportscar too?" "This thing handles like a Truck!" "Yeah, but it’s the fastest truck on the planet!" "Man, there ain’t gonna be NO room left in the cargo bay, THIS trip." "Oh, who cares? My problem anyways; I’m the loadmaster… Man, I can’t wait to get back to the ship and find my ben-wa balls! Oh, think of how delightful a long trip would be with these vibrating seats and THOSE little darlings?"

Tanj grinned at the Tiger’s confused look as they pulled into the courier service’s parking lot. Rommie had been most generous with the tickets and as near as she’d been able to tell, they were generic, and untraceable. She had agents to meet, and this was as good an opportunity as any. The courier service would get the tickets to the drop points, no questions asked. And for the modest price of only two of the tickets too. Why, she’d even have a few left over, when all their needs were met. And at the going rate, they might just be able to recoup some of their traveling expenses….

Tanj sighed; the white dress with the sequins was TIGHT across her ass. Too tight. Not sexy-tight, but "this dress is too small" tight. Pulling it off, and tossing it at her bed she examined herself in the cabin’s mirror. If she turned, pirouetted, she might get a glimpse of her whole self. Was she getting fat? Did she need to work out more? Count calories a little better? Or was it the inevitable middle-aged spread. With a sigh she went fishing in her closet for something suitable. What went with a white hat?

Zassa frowned at the display; THAT was what went for evening clothes here? NO WAY. With a sigh she closed the display and leaned back in the chair, tilting it back until it was in danger of spilling her onto the deck. There had to be something…. Slowly a smile came over her face… yeah, that might work; it just might work…. The only question was, would Wanda have a large enough supply? And where was the tube of superglue? Who’d borrowed her scissors?

Tanj smiled and shook her head. It was much too risque for this planet, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to annoy the locals, and yet…. It DID go with a white hat…

Hinoki looked at himself in the mirror and tried hard not to giggle. Talk about a retro look. Smiling, he adjusted his lapels and stepped out into the corridor. It was almost time to leave.

Ralph looked like a cartoon; a huge Tiger, in a black suit, with a white top-hat, leaning against the wall in a nonchalant pose. All he needed was a white walking stick, and spats. As Hinoki approached, the Tiger reached up and slid his sunglasses down just a bit, to stare. Hinoki twirled, and then did a few soft-shoe steps, winding up grinning at the Tiger, paws widespread. "Man, I thought Disco was DEAD. Dead, like, two centuries ago. Wherever did you FIND those duds?" Hinoki chuckled and straightened the maroon lapels of his shirt over the white tuxedo jacket. The shirt was open to his waist, his chest fur fluffed out in a ruff. The pants were bell-bottoms, and the belt buckle was large and garish. "Got ‘em for a costume party, years ago, believe it or not. I thought it fit….." Ralph sighed and shook his head; "The things folks will do for fashion."

"What won’t they do for fashion?" Ralph and Hinoki both turned to look at Tanj, Ralph letting out a long whistle. "You’re not actually….. I mean, is that…. Legal?" Tanj laughed and shrugged; "I know its not street-legal, but I’ve got a cape. Once we’re in the club, well, I’d be surprised if they threw me out." Ralph looked the translucent-white latex hobble dress up and down and then shook his head; "But… I can see all your spots. ALL your spots… and other things besides!" Tanj smiled; "So? You’ve seen ‘em before." Hinoki frowned; "How… If things drop in the pot, how are you going to be able to run in that dress?" Tanj extended the claws of her right paw and made a swiping gesture down her front. Hinoki just went "oh….."

"Ooooh, LIKE your dress! Why didn’t I think of that!" Ralph, Hinoki, and Tanj turned to look at the Vixen. She was dressed in…. what appeared to be a dozen white gauze straps. They surrounded her, wrapped her, like a designer mummy. Nothing was showing.. not QUITE, and yet it looked as if one deep breath would break all the straps, leaving her nude. Or a good exhale would allow them to fall from her body. Zassa laughed, and reached over to place a finger under the Tiger’s jaw, pushing it back up into place. "Think I’ll make an impression?"

"Are we ready to go?" Everyone turned to look at Wanda; the Wolverine lass was wearing what had to be a modified nurses’ uniform… it might not have been haute couture, but it DID match the required headgear. And somehow she looked remarkably sexy in the tight white outfit. "Um.. where’s Kath?" Wanda smiled; "She volunteered to stay with Bruno." Shifting her gaze to Hinoki, Wanda smiled; "you’re leaving Sashi behind?" Hinoki looked a little uneasy; "Um, Sashi and Sabina seem to have something planned; they, ah, begged off. Besides, I thought it might be better to leave a few folks on the ship, just in case." Tanj frowned; "I thought Roland was staying; he didn’t seem interested in going to a nightclub." Hinoki nodded; "Yeah, well, he’s still looking for those parts for his suit. Said he might run into town. Even asked for the keys to the Renegade." Tanj sighed and shrugged; "Well, I’m not wild about him going into town alone, but I suppose he can handle himself….

Tanj tried to get into the front passenger seat as Hinoki slipped behind the wheel, only to be blocked by Ralph; "Sorry, Mistress. I’m riding shotgun." Tanj almost asked where the shotgun was, but thought better of it; with a sigh she climbed into the back with Zassa and Wanda. The Vixen was bent WAY over, her head almost stuck into the on-board refridgerator; "Hey, look at this; Vinnie even stocked it for us. Cheap brands, though…" Tanj chuckled and sprawled on a side seat, where she could look forward and back just by turning her head. Wanda took a seat next to the Vixen and wordlessly accepted the proffered drink. Settling back, pushing the "massage" button on the armrest, Zassa grinned; "Wanda you have got to try this…."

The Wolverine lass’ squeal of delight was drowned out by the roar of the engine as the car accelerated from the landing bay.

Sashi watched the car depart on the monitor, and smiled. Turning she pushed the switch that would close the cargo bay door. Turning to the Kitten she grinned; "you ready?"

Hinoki brought the car to a smooth stop in front of the building. The on-board navcomp said this was the right address. The building was featureless, with only a single door in the middle of its otherwise unbroken wall. Ralph looked at the Cheetah, and then opened his door, standing, to scan the street in both directions. Finding nothing moving, he checked the address on the ticket, and took two steps across the sidewalk, his paw reaching out for the doorknob….

Sabina chuckled; "If this doesn’t get his attention, nothing will." The Chocolate Pantheress was tied down to the cargo bay floor, not quite in front of the Badger’s powered armor. A spreader bar held her paws widespread, her ankles just as widely separated by their own bar. Each was loosely chained to tie-downs, giving her just enough room to squirm. And a pillow was stuffed under her rump, elevating her hips. Sashi twisted left, making sure her left ankle was securely shackled to the Pantheress’ right wrist, and then straightened. Taking the thin chain, she threaded its end through the Pantheress’ clitty ring; one end attached to her own left nipple ring, the other to her right nipple ring, forcing her to bend low. Forcing her to bend so that her muzzle was inches from the Pantheress’ sweet sex. Fastening the handcuffs behind her back was childsplay. There, she was locked tight, unable to do anything but lick at the Chocolate Pantheress’ sex. And likewise be licked in turn. And of course as she licked, Sashi’s pheromones would flood the compartment…. When the Badger entered, it’d hit him full force!

Ralph stared into the dark recess. It was as if someone had opened the door for him, but no one seemed to be there. Touching the temple of the sunglasses, he switched them to infra-red, and stared down the corridor. Yes, there seemed to be sensors mounted in the roof… possibly it had sensed the ticket and opened the door for him? Or was someone watching a monitor somewhere? If there was a bouncer, he wasn’t within sight. Peering down the corridor, the Tiger frowned; there seemed to be a curtain at the end…. Cautiously he took a step forward…

Roland scowled at the terminal. How could a port city have so few parts suppliers? He’d have to make a half dozen stops at widely separated locations, to purchase as many modules. With a sigh, he grabbed the map print-outs and stalked towards the cargo bay.

Sabina heard the cargo bay door open, dimly, as the Pantheress lapped at her sex. Good, just what she needed; a breath of fresh air. The Pantheress’ scent was MUCH more intoxicating than she’d ever imagined…..

Roland slid through the personnel airlock as the door retracted, and took the two steps to the Renegade. The gullwing door opened easily, and he slid behind the controls. A moment later he had the converter fired up, and the door closed automatically. Checking the map one last time, he gunned the engine, slipping the aircar from the cargo bay, and across the docking bay. As he thumbed the remote to close the cargo bay door, he frowned. Wasn’t that… what were Sashi and Sabina doing THERE? and what was that funny smell… cinnamon and… sex? Maybe Hinoki and Zassa were punishing them for something. Shrugging he made a left onto the starport boulevard, and accelerated towards his first stop.

The sound hit the Tiger like a mailed fist. Staggering backwards, he let the curtain drop, silence returning as if someone had thrown a switch. Yeah, this was the club all right. Turning, he retraced his steps to the door, to wave at the others.

Sashi groaned; something had gone wrong; the Badger had come… and gone. Had he even seen them? They hadn’t counted on the car, or the cargo bay door opening, wafting the pheromones out of the ship with its motion… Oh, well, this was a pleasant enough passtime. Purring softly she nibbled at the Kitten’s clitty, feeling her body stiffen in response….

Roland stared at the clerk; "What do you mean the shipment never came in?" The chipmonk shrugged; "It never arrived. I heard from the distributor that the transport was captured by pirates. I’m SORRY; usually we’ve got dozens of these things in stock, but right now we're out. Sold the last one not twenty minutes ago." Roland threw up his arms in exasperation, turned and stormed out. What was the world coming to? Pirates hijacking the amplifier modules that he so desperately needed! PIRATES! Why in the heck didn’t the Empire DO something about them?

It wasn’t until he was back at the controls of the Renegade, and slipping into traffic, heading for the next supplier, when it hit him. He wound up laughing so hard that he almost descended into oncoming traffic! Pirates, indeed. He could just imagine the Black fleet with a shipload of amplifier modules, wondering how to wholesale them out….

Zassa pulled her cloak off, and looked around the club. It was everything she’d hoped it would be! There didn’t seem to be anyone to take her cloak, so she just tossed it in the general direction of Ralph, and descended into the mass of writhing bodies on the dance floor, her tail already shaking to the beat.

Tanj looked around and grinned. Lights were flashing, the music was so loud that it almost transcended sound, moving on to pure waves of pressure battering her body. The place was almost unbelievably crowded. It was perfect. No one would ever see her meeting her informants here…. But…. Rising to tiptoes she looked around wildly; how would she ever FIND her informants in this crowd?

Hinoki grinned and elbowed his way through the crowd towards the bar. The Bartenders were putting on some sort of exhibition, bottles of expensive liquor twirling in the air as the bartenders showed off. Half the crowd in the club were watching them…. And no one seemed to be taking drink orders. With a rueful sigh, he settled down to just watch the show.

The Bat nudged the larger Ibex, and gestured; "Over there, Boss. You see her?" The Ibex turned, and then grinned; "Ah, yes, it seems the spotlight has found her… and she’s even more magnificent than her pictures! Hector, be sure and slip your informant a few extra credits; he outdid himself on this one!" "So how you gonna meet her, Boss? Its crazy down there on the dance floor!" The Ibex waved a paw; "oh, I’m not going to meet her, not here. Much too noisy, much too crowded, and besides, you know I don’t take rejection well. Not only that, but there’s a better than even chance that this is some sort of a trap. It’d be just like that bitch Rommie to import a creature like that, just as bait. No, it’d be much, much safer to merely kidnap her as she leaves." The Ibex turned and grinned at the Bat; "That way, she won’t be able to say no, now will she? Be a good boy, Hector, and go and set it up. Make sure to cover all the exits.

Zassa smiled; someone running a spotlight had found her, and now she danced in a small circle of light, brilliant in an otherwise sporadically lit room. She could feel all the eyes looking at her. Grinning, she gave them her best performance, gyrating wildly to the beat.

The Rhino frowned; "Hector, is he CRAZY? I did some checking; she’s off that ship from the Black Fleet. You know, the Pirate clan a half dozen parsecs to galactic East? The BIG Pirate clan? Can the Boss actually imagine that no one’s going to notice, or care that she’s been kidnapped? And what about her friends? Anyone like that’s GOT to belong to someone. Someone important. I don’t like this. Don’t like it at ALL." The Bat shrugged; "you want I should go over Julian’s head and call his father?" The Rhino winced; "no… lets not do that yet. Maybe it’ll work out…." The Bat winced; "Yeah, and if it doesn’t, you know who’s heads are gonna roll…"

Tanj smiled, and moved her hands in a fluttering motion. The sign language had been a bitch to learn, and the code just as grim, but it worked and worked well in a place like this. Her contact was at a different table, and anyone watching might or might not know who she was exchanging signals with. But there was a vanishingly small chance that anyone would know WHAT signals they were exchanging. The Mongoose was middle aged, and a little dumpy, and looked slightly out of place in a club like this, not that anyone would be likely to notice that either…. Everyone seemed much too intent on the dancing, or the liquor, and right now, a certain red Vixen was putting on a helluva floorshow. Even the furrs she’d tagged as security were watching Zassa. The Mongoose’s information, however, was more than enough to keep her attention off of Zassa; it seemed that the Capulats had a mole in the Montegnu’s organization, and possibly, quite possibly this mole had just become a double agent. From what the Mongoose had heard, something big was in the works from both sides, but it seemed one side might be more surprised than the other when things started happening. Tanj asked a few questions, and then requested a more detailed report through the usual channels. Turning her attention back to the crowd, Tanj spent a moment watching for anyone who might be watching her, while the Mongoose finished her drink and quietly drifted off.

Zassa panted, and straightened, one paw moving to adjust a few of the gauze straps that had "slipped" while she’d been dancing. Despite several most generous offers, and a few that were even legal, she’d declined, disengaging from her admirers, and making her way back to the table the group had staked out. It was time for a break.

Tanj smiled as she brushed up against the Red Panda; it was child’s play to slip the Panda the note, and the credit chip, in the crowded nightclub. Even if the Empire’s top agents had been trying to watch her, the press of bodies, and the wild gyrations would have made spotting the move essentially impossible.

Hinoki smiled at the Lioness, and moved his pelvis suggestively as he danced. To his delight, she looked right at him, and slowly licked her lips, a wicked grin on her face as she mimicked his motions back at him. Turning, he swung his hips again, brushing his rump against hers… Her purrr of delight was inaudible in the noise, but he knew it was there none the less.

Wanda grinned at the Water Buffalo; he was huge, and buff, and wearing only skintight shorts and a bow-tie. Swaying rhythmically, she wondered if she could catch his eye…..

"Bad news, Tiny."

The Rhino looked down at the Bat and raised one eyebrow; "What is it now, Hector? And don’t call me that…."

"The crew from that Freighter; the Black Fleet crowd; they’ve got their own surface transportation! I’d thought it would be a cinch to snatch ‘em all, just to get the Vixen, if we just had our guy stand in for the driver of their limo. Problem is, they bought their own, just this afternoon!"

The Rhino grinned; "So break into it, and hack into the autopilot!"

The Bat sighed and shrugged; "Won’t work. Its one of Vinnie’s specials."

The Rhino frowned. "One of… how in the Hell did you find THAT out? Vinnie never lets on who his other customers are!"

The Bat shook his head in amazement; "They registered it. A legitimate sale. Can you beat that?"

The Rhino frowned and shot a glance across the smoky club to where the Vixen sat, holding court among her admirers. "Who ARE these folks that they don’t care who knows what they drive? Don’t they CARE? Don’t they know the risks?"

The Bat shrugged again, following the Rhino’s stare; "I dunno, Tiny. Just how powerful IS this Black Fleet anyways?"

Hinoki smiled as the Lioness led him into a corridor off of the dance floor. It wasn’t exactly private, but… it was private enough….. And she didn’t seem to mind in the least.

Wanda ignored the music, and slow-danced, rubbing herself softly against the Water Buffalo. Talk about a HUNK…. Then, as the tempo changed, she started to giggle; vents in the floor were disgorging a mass of bubbles; slowly, the world was changing into a white void, and in a moment, she could barely see her own dance partner. Laughing, she slid her paws down his flanks until she could slide his shorts off his hips. As she moved, he also moved his hands, sliding them up her flanks, raising the hem of her short dress…..

Zassa watched the foam rise, and grinned wickedly; "OHYEAH! Um… you, you, and, ah, you. Come on! I’m NOT going to let this opportunity go to waste!

Julian watched the Vixen tow a Wolf, an Otter and a Cerval into the foam and sighed; "Patience" he muttered to himself; "Patience. Soon she’ll be yours." Turning, he scanned the crowd for his associates…. It was time to find out how their plans were progressing.

Tanj smiled, and shrugged off the groping paws. She had one more data crystal to collect, one more credit chip to deliver.. And then, then she could indulge herself…. Slipping through the foam, she headed towards where she’d last seen the Zebra….

Ralph smiled; the infra-red abilities of his "sunglasses" worked rather well through the foam. And it was amazing how some of the otherwise staid and proper patrons carried on when they thought no one was looking. Still, he did his best to keep an eye on Tanj, as best possible. Mostly folks were dancing, drinking, fondling, or talking in sign language, but occasionally he spotted someone just watching. Occasionally he caught glimpses of furrs putting their heads together, talking, and staring… Like those three over there. It was at times like that, that he wondered if he was getting paranoid, or if he was paranoid enough… Only time would tell……

Tiny frowned; "I don’t like it, Boss. The only real opportunity we’re going to have is between the club and their car. Its too open. Its too predictable. I’d rather try and bring their vehicle down between here and the starport." Hector nodded energetically. But the Ibex shook his head; "No, their vehicle is armored, and given the force it might take to bring it down, she might be injured. I won’t risk such beauty! If taking her as they leave is the only way, so be it. Just make sure you have every exit covered." Raising his head, the Ibex stared at the Rhino; "And I’ll take the front door; that’s the most likely exit for her. Just make sure you’re ready!" The Rhino just sighed and nodded; "Yes boss."

Paws emerged from the foam, catching her around the middle, sliding up to cup her breasts. Tanj purred, and started to disentangle herself, but then realized it was the Zebra; turning she gave the Mare a deep kiss; "Hello, Tawnya; got anything for me?" The Zebra smiled; "Ohyeah…. But lets handle business first. Listen, there’s something afoot. I think the Capulats are planning an assassination attempt at the eldest son of the Montegnus. Both Rommie Capulat and Julian Montegnu are here tonight, although Rommie’s doing his best to stay out of sight. If Julian knew he was here, he’d most likely bolt. It might have something to do with that red fox lady that came with your group. Its well known that Julian Montegnu has a weakness for them. Tanj nodded; "Yeah… Rommie seemed VERY interested in getting us here tonight." Tawnya frowned; "I’d be VERY careful; I’d hate to see you get caught in the crossfire!" Tanj turned, as if to peer through the bubbles; "I wonder… I wonder if he’s trying to use Zassa as the bait for something?" The Zebra Mare nodded; "If he is, I wouldn’t put it past him to try and put the blame on you folks either. Cold blooded, that one is!" Tanj nodded; "Thanks, Tawnya; I owe you one; now, what else you got for me?" The Zebra grinned; "Oh, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve found out about the Montegnu family’s shipping line! It seems that they’re planning on……"

Hinoki grunted, panting hard; the Lioness, it seemed, was rather acrobatic, and liked unusual positions. With one foot on the floor, and the other leg thrown over his shoulder, heel against the wall, she held him trapped between her and the wall; and such a sweet trap it was! Panting hard he drove his shaft into her pussy as hard, as fast as he could, his muzzle buried in the soft valley between her breasts.

It must have been pre-arranged. The sea of foam vanished even more quickly than it had appeared. As it disappeared, several couples were caught in embarrassing, possibly even compromising positions, but none were so "shocking" as the flame-hued Vixen who had been entertaining three gentlefurrs at the same time. While the males, blushing, scurried for cover, the Vixen had merely stood, and looked around, grinning; "Has anyone seen my thong? Oh, nevermind, I guess I don’t really need them anymore…."

It took Tanj a moment to realize that there was someone between the big Water Buffalo and the wall. There wasn’t much showing, only a paw, and a foot, and the tip of a tail…. Wondering, she stepped closer. Yup, just as she thought; "Heya, Wanda; um, when you’re done with him, best come back to the table; I think we’ve got a situation…."

The music was blaring again; it made conversation difficult. And to Tanj’s chagrin, the others didn’t know the encoded sign language. That was a problem she’d have to correct, and soon…

Zassa shook her head, and all but screamed; "But he hasn’t made a move on me! I’m not even sure I’ve SEEN an Ibex here tonight! Haven’t seen the Mouse either!" Ralph roared "That probably means that he’s waiting for something. Maybe for the club to clear out a little." Tanj shook her head; "No…. if this guy is as ruthless as I’ve been told, he’s probably just here to eyeball the goods; he’ll pick them up later." Zassa frowned; "Pick… you mean KIDNAP me?" The Vixen actually grinned; "Awwww, that’s sweet…. But I doubt he knows how pissed Chris would be." Wanda shuddered visibly; "Yeah. I think the Black Fleet would get a whole new area of operations if a local were to do that…" Hinoki shrugged; "So what do we do? Bolt now, and hope their preparations aren’t in place, or wait until the place is empty, to give us a better chance to fight, without hurting any innocents?" Tanj shook her head; "Dunno… let me think…."

Rommie watched from a "quiet" corner. she’d dyed her fur, and with a specially padded outfit, looked more like a Gerbil than a Mouse…. Rather clever, she thought to herself. She’d been quite concerned that the Ibex hadn’t approached the Vixen. It would have been much better had Julian wooed her, their parties merged, and left together. It would have been so much easier to blame everything on them then. Ah, well, the best laid plans, and all that. But the Ibex was still in the club, and all the exits were covered. As she watched he noted the sudden tension among the crew of the freighter; it seemed as if the game were afoot, so to speak. They seemed to have gotten the wind up, acting like a bunch of nervous herd animals at the first scent of a predator. She sighed softly to herself; someone must have talked. It would be the only way they might learn that they were the bait in her trap. But which way would they jump? And would Julian follow?

"No, I tell you, the car’s the better route. Its got armor and speed, and even some weaponry. All we have to do is GET to it. And I can bring it right to the front door. Besides, you don’t even know if this building HAS sewers to sneak out through!"

Tanj sighed and looked from Ralph to Hinoki; it almost looked as if those two were about to trade blows. "I still think we should just set the building on fire and escape in the confusion!"

Wanda looked at the Vixen, frowning; "but think of all the innocent folks that would be hurt! I think we should just stay here, in neutral territory, until the place empties out, and the authorities can be called!"

Tanj chewed on her lower lip, looking around. It was tempting to break the place’s "neutrality", find, and hold hostage both Rommie AND this Julian, and use them to get off-planet. But that might set both sides against them. Finally she signaled the others for quiet; "Listen, there doesn’t seem to be a GOOD idea, but I’m getting increasingly nervous just SITTING here. Hinoki, bring the car around to the front door; we’ll make a dash for it. Hinoki, you take point, then Wanda, then Zassa; Ralph and I will bring up the rear."

Hinoki extracted a small flat device from his pocket, studied it for a moment and then punched a button. "Its on its way."

Rommie watched the group start to move, and smiled; slipping through the crowd, she made it through the door a good ninety seconds before they did. It was a sure bet that Julian would follow…. And she wanted to be there, to see the look on her rival’s face, when the hammer fell.

Hinoki paused by the door; "Hang on a second; got a traffic delay… Ok, its clear. Ready?"

Rommie smiled in amusement as the limousine pulled to the curb. A light rain was falling, and there were a number of folks standing against the wall of the building, as if awaiting rides…. She couldn’t identify more than one of them as Julian’s henchmen, but that wasn’t important.

Hinoki paused, half way across the sidewalk, to the Limousine. When he’d left, the windows hadn’t been darkened. Yes, a flick of a switch could change them to "privacy" mode, but he hadn’t remembered pushing that particular button. He had just started to yell a warning, when Wanda bumped into him from behind, knocking him off balance, sending him staggering forward.

Ralph saw the Cheetah pause, and knew something was wrong; there were furrs sheltering along the building’s wall to either side, and assassins could be in either direction. With a mental shrug he turned to his right, his claws coming out as he searched for enemies.

Hector sprang as the limousine’s door opened… Being a bat, the plan was for him to be launched by Carlos to tackle the Vixen before she might flee. But as he was catapulted from the Limo, he found himself on a collision course with a wild-eyed cheetah charging in the other direction. With a squawk they both went down on the pavement.

Wanda stared as the Bull Moose pushed his way out of the Limousine… THEIR limousine… and tripped over the bat wrestling with Hinoki. For a moment she saw red and then with a growl, stepped in.

Rommie winced as the Wolverine lady grabbed the Moose by the horns, twisted, throwing him off-balance, and drove his head into the pavement with a sickening thud…..

Ralph literally bounced off of an absolutely HUGE Rhino who had materialized out of nowhere, and staggered backwards…

Julian emerged from the club, expecting to see his associates in complete control of the situation. The plan was to pull the Vixen into the limo, scatter the others, and use THEIR vehicle for the getaway. Instead, he’d barely cleared the doorway when something VERY large and dark slammed into him.

April saw the Ibex move into her sights, and squeezed the trigger. The shot wasn’t particularly difficult, the range only moderate, although the rain would have a negative effect on the Nerve Scrambler’s effectiveness. And just as her weapon whined with the discharge of the electromagnetic bolt, something very large moved in front of her target….

Tanj heard the whine, and felt her fur try to stand on end; there was only one weapon that did that; "EVERYONE DOWN! TAKE COVER!" Reaching over to grab Zassa, she literally threw the Vixen into the Limo.

Wanda looked around, wondering what Tanj was yelling about. It was then that she spotted the Gerbil. Or not a gerbil; the musculature was wrong. And then it hit her. Rommie! With a howl she leapt to her feet and pounced.

Hinoki kicked the bat hard, sending him sailing back into the crowd standing by the wall of the building. Looking around he spotted Ralph rolling around on the ground, twitching. Growling he grabbed the Tiger and PULLED, dragging him slowly towards the Limo.

Ralph twitched and spasmed; something had happened; he didn’t seem to have control of his body anymore. As something grabbed him from behind, he realized his claws were caught in the clothing of the Ibex he’d collided with…..

April saw the light come on in her sight, but she no longer had a clear shot at the Ibex. They’d all wound up behind the Limo. What a clusterfuck! Well, that car couldn’t be THAT well armored, could it? Sighting at where the driver would sit, she triggered another bolt.

Tiny watched in horror as the Cheetah tried to drag the Tiger, and his boss towards the limo! No, THEY were supposed to kidnap the Vixen, not the other way around! Howling he lowered his head and charged.

Zassa got a paw on the collar of Hinoki’s tux, and PULLED. Fabric ripped but the Cheetah toppled into the Limo, the Tiger on top of him, someone else partially on top of the Tiger. It was then that she saw the Rhino. Growling she pulled the blaster from under the seat cushion and squeezed the trigger.

Tiny bellowed as the bolt from the blaster missed him by a whisker. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, he dodged to the side.

Wanda threw the "Gerbil" into the car and gave the Ibex a hard shove, pushing him, Ralph, and Hinoki further into the vehicle; with the door still partways open she howled; "LETS GET OUT OF HERE!"

Under a pile of bodies, Hinoki finally got a paw into his pocket; the remote for the limo had been rigged with a panic button, and there was no better time to find out what it did….

April saw the "ready" light come on again, and prepared to take another blind shot; but suddenly the car wasn’t there……

Zassa howled as the acceleration threw her into the back of the limo; fortunately the "Gerbil" broke her fall.

Tanj hung on for dear life as the car accelerated forwards and upwards. There were small popping noises, and peering out the rear window, she realized the car was dispersing flares, chaff, and other decoys. The motor was howling, and now it was rolling to the left, starting a TIGHT turn. Preprogrammed evasive maneuvers, no doubt. Digging her claws into the expensive upholstery, she struggled to drag herself towards the driver’s seat, swearing this thing was going to get a set of inertial dampers at the earliest opportunity!

Roland pulled the Renegade into the docking bay, and shut it down. "Shouldn’t have stopped for that last latte" he growled to himself. Leaving the parts on the seat, he hopped out and headed for the Head as quickly as he could…..

"I’m OK, Honest I am!" The Tiger’s speech was slurred, and his movements were spastic, but at least he was breathing. "The suit’s got a weave of superconducting filaments; its not completely proof against a nerve disrupter, but it helps…." Tanj nodded; "Yeah… that and the rain… and I bet it was a tight focus too. Never the less, I want Wanda to check you out as soon as we get back…"

Zassa finished using the last of her outfit to tie up the Gerbil, the gauze being put to yet another use. "you know, this is a very big mistake" Rommie muttered. Zassa just laughed; "You think WE’RE making a big mistake? Wrong. You’re the one that’s made the mistake."

Hinoki looked at the Ibex; "Who the hell are YOU?"

Tanj heard the warning tones as they approached the starport, and ignored them. Three different fire control radars had tried to lock onto them, only to be jammed by systems she didn’t even suspect the limo had. There was the landing bay… punching a code into the comm, she hoped the cargo bay door would open in time. She didn’t KNOW that pursuit was hot on their heels; but she had to assume they were.

The Ibex’s mouth opened and closed a few times as he stared at the Tiger; his gaze traveled to the Cheetah and back… "Nerve… Did I hear the other Cheetah say something about a NERVE DISRUPTOR?" Twisting, his gaze fell on the "Gerbil" and his eyes widened; "YOU! YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!" With a growl he launched himself at the bound rodent.

Wanda sighed and grabbed the Ibex’s tail, bringing his leap up short; "That’s enough out of YOU! BEHAVE, or Momma Spank!"

Tanj sighed as the cargo bay door started to open. A voice on the comm was sounding quite irate, and the Limo was telling her that at least three atmospheric fighters were headed their way. Time to get home. If she could get to the flight deck, she could handle the fighters and probably anything else they could throw at her. As she swung the limo to line up with the cargo bay, she saw, there on the floor, two figures… Gasping, she jerked the controls to the left.

The Limo came to a halt in a shower of sparks and crunching metal. Tanj was out the driver’s door before it had even settled to the deck. On her way out of the cargo bay she slapped the button to close the cargo bay door, and then she was headed for the flight deck at a dead run.

"No, NO, you’ve got to stop that ship! Don’t you understand, they’ve kidnapped my son! Yes, yes, Julian Montegnu is on board that freighter! They kidnapped him from neutral territory! I don’t care HOW you do it, STOP THEM!"

"What? Do you mean to tell me that in addition to kidnapping the scion of the house Capulat, they’ve ALSO snatched the worthless get of that bastard Montegnu? Well, I could care less about THAT; I just want you to insure the safety of my Daughter! Do you hear! Rommie’s the one that’s important!

Constable Oldshoe smiled and broke the connection. For years, as the "troubles" had commenced, and escalated, as the planet had spiraled down towards civil war, the government, or what was left of it, had lost more and more power, to the two fractions, until they were little more than a referee for some of the more minor disputes. And now the two houses found themselves both helpless. Neither could act for fear of starting the all-out civil war they both knew would render the planet valueless. Neither could think of a way to rescue their heir apparent from the situation safely, and so they turned to the "government" or what was left of it. And at the moment, that meant the problem was dumped in his lap. As if he cared! As far as he was concerned, the crew of the freighter could space both of them, or wholesale them off on distant Herbezgedies for transplant parts. They’d probably all be better off without ‘em. After pondering the delightfulness of the situation for a few moments, he reached out and touched the button on the comm panel. The Freighter captain had been on hold much too long. It would be amusing to find out what SHE wanted…..

Tanj trembled. The adrenaline was still surging through her system, and sitting still was most difficult…. And she did NOT like the idea of sitting in orbit…. It hadn’t taken long to bring the powerplant up from standby; they’d lifted from the landing bay within minutes. The atmospheric fighters were fast and nimble, but they just didn’t carry significant firepower; they’d only taken the Freighter’s shields down to about 73% by the time she’d been able to leave them behind. There’d been a destroyer and two corvettes angling in to intercept, but they’d rapidly lost the trail when she’d cloaked. The whole system was now in an uproar, the jump points heavily defended, warships roaming the system searching, commercial traffic scattering. They’d be mortified to know the Lost Cause hadn’t even left orbit. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the comm chimed….

"So, as near as we can figure out, we were just pawns in a fight between those two. To tell the truth, we didn’t intend to do anything more than extract ourselves from the mess at the time, but I suppose having them on board kept us from being vaporized."

The constable nodded sagely at the image of the Cheetah lady; "Yes, I suppose so. You understand of course that each side is blaming the other, and you. Mostly You."

Tanj shrugged; "not much I can do about that. I doubt they’d ever really face the truth."

The Constable chewed on the end of a stylus and nodded; "True. And if they’re going to vilify you, you know, you might as well make the most of it."

Tanj’s eyes narrowed; "howso?"


Zassa laughed; "We’re going to WHAT? Oh, that’s delightful; that’s Soooooooo RIGHT!"

Wanda shook her head, but then paused and smiled; "I suppose we’d never be able to come back here anyways…."

Hinoki nodded eagerly; ‘So how much to you think we could get out of them? Whatever it is, I think we need to add the price of a fully restored Renegade; I don’t think I can fix ours, not after you used it as a cushion on our rather spectacular return."

Tanj winced; "I didn’t MEAN to hit it; I was just trying to avoid Sashi and Sabina!"

Kath frowned "Yeah, that brings us back to; "Just what were those two doing there anyways?"

Tanj waved a paw; "We’ll get into that later. Right now, we need to come up with a fee. Wanda, how much did you say Bruno’s "consultation" might cost?…"

Oldshoe shook his head; "Not nearly high enough. They’d be insulted if you only asked for that much. Remember, these are the two heirs-apparent of the ruling factions on the planet. And a fairly wealthy planet too. Important in the Empire. Or at least THEY think so.. And if nothing else, you need to make them think twice about EVER attempting a bonehead stunt like this again, both for your sakes and for ours. I think you need to raise it by at least a factor of ten. Maybe twelve."

The old Ibex screamed; he threw things, making subordinates duck in terror. He paced back and forth, stomping, leaving hoofmarks in the polished wood floor. "Insanity! ROBBERY! Its too much! I won’t pay it! I WON’T!

As the leader of the Montegnus railed, Hector, his wing in a cast, leaned over to whisper to the Rhino; "I wonder if he realizes that with Julian gone, he’ll have to depend on his younger son to take over the family…." A bellowed "I HEARD THAT" made them both wince.

The Mouse Roared. Retainers cowered and servants fled. And then they realized he was roaring with laughter. Waving at his chief lieutenant as he collapsed into an overstuffed chair, the Duc Capulat shook his head; finally, catching his breath, he smiled; "Ah, my dear, dear Rommie; it would seem you’ve been set up by experts. For only the very elite could conceive a crime so stupendous as to play on your most deeply held desires. And to succeed! To succeed not only in kidnapping you, but to kidnap that Montegnu brat as well, foiling the assassination attempt they KNEW you would make! Oh, its rich. Its priceless! And such a lesson my Rommie will learn from this! I DO hope she’s studying at the feet of the Masters, for Masters they MUST be, to have pulled this off so flawlessly?" Turning to look at the Boar, the Mouse grinned widely; "What do we know of this… this Captain Ky? For surely someone of that ability would be famous throughout the Empire! Go, find out! Tell me of her exploits!"

"Herman, how did he take the news?" "You won’t believe it, Alfred; he’s delighted; he seems to feel that the ransom is a small price to pay for the education of his daughter in matters of this sort. HE seems to think this is the work of a master criminal!" Alfred shrugged slowly; "That is all the Duc can do, and keep his pride, No?" The Boar’s mouth opened and then closed. With a determined nod he turned; "Now I must go and find out about this Master Criminal… or at least invent something believable!"

Julian sighed. He wasn’t really uncomfortable, just bored. And the company he was forced to keep was execrable! There, just across the Cargo Bay, was his arch nemesis, the rodent Capulat! He wouldn’t mind having been stripped of his finery, and shackled like a common slave so much if they had just put him somewhere else, ANYWHERE else than with that, that RAT! And having to look at her in just the fur! UGH!

Rommie closed her eyes, his fingers moving over the cuffs around her wrists. They didn’t seem to be like any handcuffs she’d ever trained on. In fact, the only place she’d ever seen anything like them was in a fetish catalog she’d run across on the web once, by accident. They were large, and padded, each secured with an individual lock. A third lock connected the cuffs to the chain that was in turn locked to a tie-down in the deck. And the locks seemed to be magnetically keyed. Even if she’d had a piece of wire, there was no keyhole for her to work on. Frowning to herself, she tried to think. SURELY there was a way to escape! Surely there was a way to redeem herself… wasn’t there?

Sashi tried hard to keep her eyes locked on the spot between her widespread knees as she knelt in front of her Master. She and Sabina had been "called on the carpet" for their attempt to lure the Badger into some "recreation". To her amazement, Hinoki didn’t seem to be at all upset about that; instead he was furious that because of the way they’d shackled themselves, they’d caused Tanj to swerve on their high-speed re-entry to the cargo bay, and thus destroy his new acquisition. Zassa on the other hand seemed thoroughly outraged that Sabina attempted to have any fun of that sort without permission. Or maybe it was just that they hadn’t asked first. Or just possibly it was because Zassa hadn’t been included. It was hard to tell.

"So what do we DO with these miscreants?" Wanda laughed and stroked a paw over Kath’s head; "Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to put Kath in some VERY strict bondage tonight, for not having kept a better eye on those two!" Kath shivered in response, although the sly grin on her face lent it more an air of anticipation than of dread…

Hinoki opened his mouth, and then closed it; slowly a smile spread across his face; "Yeah….." Looking at Zassa he winked and then he turned to Sashi; "for attempting to tease Master Roland into dallying with you, you’ve shown that you think you can "top from the bottom." This is a very serious offense for a slave. Your punishment is to confess to Roland, beg his forgiveness, and accept any punishment he might deign to give you."

Zassa frowned. "But he’ll….." Hinoki grinned; "Yeah, he will, won’t he? And they deserve it. And they’re right, he does need a break…" The Vixen laughed, and nodded; "All right; it still seems like throwing them in the briar patch, but I guess the punishment will fit the crime. Now, what should we do with those two down in the hold. It seems to me that they too deserve a punishment…." Hinoki chuckled; "Oh, I think I know what to do there. They’re obviously such bitter enemies… maybe if they got to know each other better….


Roland wrenched the seat from the twisted frame. It’d been a damned good thing he hadn’t just arrived in the Renegade when Tanj crashed that monstrous limo into it. There wasn’t much left. Out of all his amplifier modules, the prizes that he had searched for so diligently, that he had paid for with his dwindling supply of cash, only two had survived. He was disconsolate. He was furious! Worse, there was no one to lash out at. No one he could vent his frustrations on…..


Tanj frowned and sat up straight in the station chair. The e-mail had an innocuous name, and address, and had gotten through all the filters. There was no body to the message, only an attachment. Something in her hindbrain screamed warnings at her, and yet it had passed the antivirus check… Executing the attachment, her eyes widened in surprise as the image of the Wolf from Imperial intelligence formed on the screen.

"I’m delighted to see that you’ve finally decided to follow instructions. Your handling of the situation on Vehnice was…. Adroit. You have managed to preserve the status quo, and if anything, deplete their resources to the point where the odds of either faction gaining power over the other has diminished considerably. My Congratulations. Message ends."

As the image blinked out, Tanj shook her head. What instructions? What was Imperial Intelligence’s stake in that mess? WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?


Sashi sighed and looked at ‘bina; "So, which do you want to do first?" The Kitten shrugged; "I’ve been spanked by Roland before; I can’t say as I look forward to a repeat, but I also have to admit I don’t dread it either…. But the other sounds like it could be fun." Sashi chuckled and nodded; "Yeah, I find myself in no hurry to confess to the Badger. Lets see what trouble we can get into in the cargo bay…."

Julian watched the two slaves enter the cargo bay. At least they were better to look at than that Mouse over there. Better than the four walls, and all the identical crates. But it was too early for dinner.

Sabina smiled and winked at Sashi; "you go handle the Mouse; I’ll take the stud." The Kitten smirked and sashayed towards Rommie.

Rommie frowned; she wasn’t particularly afraid of felines, or at least that’s what she kept telling herself…. But there was something in the way this one looked at her, that made her feel like… prey. What were they up to? And what was in the bag the Pantheress was carrying?

Sashi moved around behind the Ibex and examined his restraints. "I don’t think you’ve got enough chain; poor dear, I bet you can hardly move about! Here, let me see if I can do something about that…."

Julian heard the click of a lock, and the rattle of chain. He would like to have seen how she opened the lock, as she didn’t seem to be carrying a key, or if she was, well, just WHERE could she have had it hidden? Twisting, it took him a moment to realize that his hands were still locked behind him. That meant she’d released the lock where the other end of the chain was secured to the floor. By the time he’d found his feet, she was re-securing the lock. The snap of metal on metal sounded like a death sentence….. And before he could turn around, yet again, the Chocolate Pantheress was skipping off… towards that rodent!

Rommie tensed, wondering if this was the time to strike. If the Kitten had a key to the lock, where the chain was secured to the floor, she MIGHT have a key to her wrist cuffs! But before she could make up her mind, the Pantheress was headed her way. There was no way she could take two of them, not quickly, and not with her paws bound behind her back….

Sabina clicked the lock back into place, and straightened; "There that should give you some more leg room." Looking up, she grinned at Sashi; "And now, perhaps we might, just might, be able to ease your boredom a little…..

Julian watched, wide-eyed, as the two slaves moved to the middle of the cargo bay, and kissed. Not just a sisterly kiss, either, but a full-fledged passionate kiss. With plenty of tongue. LOTS of tongue. Slowly, they began to caress each other as they kissed. Tentatively at first, and then with increasing urgency, the Kitten began tugging at the latex panties the Pantheress wore, pulling them downwards.

Rommie sniffed the air; what was that scent? Cinnamon and… something else. It had an indescribable component that made her squirm… Or maybe it was the hot actions of the two slaves that was getting to her. No stranger to sex, she’d always taken a dominant role, always selected her partner, always scheduled the event…. She just wasn’t used to seeing something like this "just happen"…. And that thought made her wonder, if it WAS just happening. Why here? Why now? What WERE they up to?

Sashi broke the kiss and smiled; gently pushing the Kitten away, she kicked off her panties, and then turned, bending over, to search through the bag she’d brought.

Julian watched the Kitten kneel and nuzzle the Pantheress’ sex from behind. From the giggles and squirming it was obvious that the Pantheress didn’t mind in the least. Neither did he, for that matter. As he watched, he found himself rock hard. Unabashed, he sat there, watching, unconcerned that his arch-rival should see him so exposed. Screw her…. As that thought flitted through his mind, he turned to look at the Mouse. He had more chain; maybe, just maybe, that was possible. Wouldn’t that add to her humiliation? First she’d botched the assassination attempt, and then she’d gotten them both captured. Fucking her should add insult to injury. At least if he managed that, he could hold his head up, just a little bit, when he was ransomed….

Rommie’s jaw dropped as the Chocolate Pantheress fished a leather harness out of the bag; a harness sporting what had to have been one of the largest dildoes she’d ever seen. Then, to her surprise, she handed it to the Kitten!

Sabina made a moue of disappointment, but Sashi just laughed; "Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get your share of it, that I promise! Now quit complaining and put it on. I’ve got an itch you need to scratch!"

Julian watched the Pantheress tighten the straps around the Kitten, cinching in her white fur. The leather straps looked so exotic on her, and the big black phallus jutting from the loins of someone so obviously female… well, anywhere else, any other time he would have thought it disgusting, but now, for some reason, it was horribly exciting. Maybe it was that strange odor tickling at his hindbrain…. Shifting to his knees, he wondered how he might pleasure himself. After all, there was no reason for THEM to have all the fun.


Zassa breezed into the flight deck and handed Tanj a steaming mug of something covered in whipped cream. Tanj grinned and carefully took a sip, knowing how the whipped cream could insulate whatever was underneath, keeping it scalding hot. As the whiskey burned down her throat she almost choked; turning to Zassa she managed to cough out; "Irish Coffee? NOW?"

Zassa grinned; "I thought we should celebrate our good fortune! Shortly, we’re gonna be rich!" Then the Vixen’s face clouded over; "Um, you’re not going to report this to the Black Fleet, are you? They’d want a cut; a BIG cut…" Tanj chuckled and shook her head; "No, actually I’m not, and I’ve even got some "legal justification". Chuckling she passed the message flimsy from Imperial Intelligence to the surprised Vixen. After reading it Zassa just shook her head; "I just hope they don’t want a cut…"


Sashi purrred and dropped to paws and knees; she grinned back over her shoulder at the Kitten, wiggling her ass at her. Sashi bent, and fished something out of the toy bag. A small squeeze bottle. She squirted some of the contents onto the huge latex dong and stroked its length, spreading the liquid. For a moment her motions were very reminiscent of what Julian would like to have been doing….


Zassa looked at the monitor and grinned; "I see those two worthless slaves chickened out and decided to take on that task rather than face the Badger."

Tanj sipped her Irish Coffee and smiled; "Wouldn’t you? No, never mind, dumb question. I KNOW how much you like his spankings…."

Zassa nodded absently, as she watched the monitor.


Sashi grinned and wiggled her bottom as Sabina drove the dong home. After a moment she moaned; "oooooo, Clove Oil, you little MINX, I’ll GET you for that!"

Sabina chuckled; "Burns so nice, doesn’t it?" She stroked the dong in and out of Sashi’s pussy a few times and then purred; "Want some more?"

Sashi just moaned softly and nodded her head enthusiastically.

Julian panted as he watched the Kitten mount the Pantheress. It was obviously a game they’d played many times before, considering how they approached each other. The scene was hot, hotter than most of the things he’d seen at some of the seedier clubs on Vehnice… He felt as if he were about to explode himself. Smiling, he moved to a crouch. With his hooves together on the floor, he found that he could get his hard shaft between his ankles, an ancient masturbation technique strangely enough known as the Lion. Bouncing a little, he awkwardly stroked his cock between his legs.


Zassa shook her head; "No, can’t have that. Not yet. Now… what was the phrase Wanda used? Oh, yeah!" Pushing the intercom button, the Vixen growled; "Hey, YOU! HORNY! STOP THAT! You cum, and MOMMA SPANK!"

Tanj just barely made it until after Zassa released the button before breaking into laughter; "Where did you come up with THAT one?"


Hinoki put down the magazine and looked down at himself; "How…. But they couldn’t…. If they’ve bugged my quarters, there’s gonna be Trouble!" Pulling his shorts back on he strode from his quarters, bent on finding out what was going on this time. A few feet down the corridor he had to adjust his shorts. Maybe he should have done without them… or better yet finished what he’d started before setting out.


Rommie laughed at the look on Julians face, her voice replacing the echoes from the intercom. Shifting to her knees she grinned at him and slowly rocked her pelvis back and forth, thrusting her sex at him, teasing him further. He looked as if he were about to explode.


Zassa watched the monitor and then grinned; "I think I’m going to go down there and join the fun. You coming?" Tanj sighed and shook her head; "Wear a respirator or you’ll never manage to extract yourself. No, I’d love to go, but I’m supposed to be awaiting instructions for the transfer of funds and prisoners….." Zassa gave the Cheetah a Sorrowful face, but then smiled; "Ah, the rigors of command. See ya later!"

The Cheetah caught up with Zassa in the corridor; "Hey, Zassa; what was THAT all about?

Zassa caught a look at the bulge in Hinoki’s pants and just laughed; "Oh, that wasn’t for YOU; that was for that horny little Ibex down in the Cargo Bay. He’s feeling his oats." She smiled, that wicked little smile she sometimes had, when she was planning mischief; "Care to go down there with me, and tease him some more?"

Tanj tried not to watch the monitor. She’d MUCH rather be down there, but had to be here. If for no other reason than there were still a number of warships searching the system. With a sigh she shifted in her seat, trying not to watch. She’d have to do something special to make up for this, when it was all over….

Zassa shed what little she wore as she stalked into the Cargo Bay. Striding over to the Ibex she grinned down; "I understand you have a thing for Vixens. To the point of wanting to kidnap me." The Ibex just stared back up at her with wide eyes. Zassa took the throbbing, rock-hard cock as assent. "Well, I’m going to do the meanest, nastiest thing I possibly could to you. I’m going to show you what you’ll be missing for the rest of your life!" With that, the Vixen knelt, and bending forward, took the Ibex’s shaft into her mouth.

Rommie stared. Hard. You could read it on her face; she was thinking; "Hey, how come HE gets to have all the fun. She never heard Hinoki come up behind her. Paws on her shoulders made her jump, but firm pressure forced her back down, bent her forward. Someone was behind her, someone male. VERY male. Part of her wanted to flee, part of her wanted to fight, and the rest of her wanted him VERY badly…..

Zassa chuckled; it had taken the Ibex less than a minute to loose his load under her gentle ministrations. Straightening, licking her lips she gave him her best disappointed look; "Oh, that’s not going to do. Not at all. Didn’t your Mother ever tell you that the lady is supposed to cum first?" Then, with a sigh; "I guess we’ll have to start all over again." Bending back down, Zassa used lips, tongue and mouth to try and get him hard again.

Rommie had gotten a good enough look to recognize the Cheetah male. She smiled; there was one good thing about Cheetahs; they moved FAST. And that was just what she wanted right now, a good, HARD pounding!

Tanj heard the flight deck door open, and turned to look. She’d been expecting Wanda, or maybe Kath, but instead Ralph stood there. Wearing just the bow-tie from his tuxedo. "I heard what the others were up to. Thought you might want some company."

Julian grunted; it was both Heaven and Hell. The Vixen had him at the end of his chain, his arms pulled hard behind him. He knelt on the floor, back arched, while she rode his shaft. Instead of leaning close, perhaps to kiss him, she leaned away from him, as if all she wanted of him was his hard cock. And she was insatiable. He’d cum three times so far, and she was still going strong…..

Hinoki purrred softly as he took the Mouse from behind. He’d used the slack in her chain to improvise further restraints, using only a handful of double-ended harness hooks. Her feet were held to her thighs, a loop around her neck kept her crouched, breasts mashed against the deck, ass high in the air, as he took his pleasure from her. But, being the gentlefurr he was, he made sure she climaxed at least twice as often as he obtained his own release….

Rommie groaned and was glad for the chains; it felt as if they were the only things holding her together. Without their tight embrace, she might fly apart, her constituent atoms all whizzing away at lightspeed, powered by the never-ending string of climaxes ripping through her. She’d never dreamed that NOT being in control could be so good!

Sabina ignored the rest of the world, delighting in the Chocolate Pantheress’ body, riding her portion of the double-ended dildo they shared. It was heaven, and she hoped it would never end.

Tanj smiled at the image of Constable Oldshoe on the monitor. The video pickup was focused tight on her face, which was a good thing as Ralph was flat on his back on the reclined Pilot’s couch, Tanj was astride his hips, and neither of them were wearing a stitch. Somehow, the Constable didn’t seem to notice. "Captain Ky, you’ll be pleased to know that the funds you have demanded have been transferred to the accounts you specified. You may release your prisoners as soon as the deposits have been confirmed." Tanj smiled; the shiver of delight that had just rippled through her body had nothing to do with the sudden wealth; "Thank you, Constable. We’ll, ah be releasing them shortly. Right now, some of my crew are, ah, "entertaining" themselves with the prisoners…" The Constable’s face broke into a smile; "Oh, I DO hope its something that will leave a lasting impression on them!"

The Constable frowned at the monitor; it sounded as if, somewhere close off-camera, a large male, probably a feline by the tone, had started laughing uproariously just as the connection had been broken. Oh, well, some times communicators did funny things. Cross-talk and all that.

Tanj sighed and pressed a key on the Comm panel; "OK, Children, time to wrap it up; we have a delivery to make."

Hinoki sighed, reached down under the bound mouse and stroked her clitty until she climaxed one more time. Then, moving around in front of her, he tipped her back to a kneeling position, and presented his dripping cock to her mouth. She sucked him clean enthusiastically, like a pro.

Zassa sighed; she’d been riding the Ibex’s tongue for the last half hour as the other interesting portion of his anatomy had ceased to respond to her ministrations. Ah, well….. Grinning, she "dismounted", and standing, looked down at the Ibex; "Hope you enjoyed it, Stud." Laughing she padded over to Sashi’s toybag. The squeezebottle was right where it should be. Extracting it, she gave Sabina a spray square in the face, and then did the same to Sashi. "Come on you two; fun’s over. Clean up the area and then get off to the shower. And no messing around there, either!

Hinoki bent to kiss the Mouse goodbye. As she kissed back hotly, Rommie’s eyes crossed; did he… what were those things in his nostrils? They almost looked like filters…..

Zassa sighed and stopped just outside the cargo bay airlock. It only took a minute to pry the filters from her nostrils. They were better than getting lost in Sashi’s pheromones, but somehow they just detracted from the overall experience. Oh, well, Tanj was the Captain, and if she insisted….

Sashi found the Ibex too exhausted to do anything but lay there limply as she unchained him. Sabina found the Mouse a little more active, but also in no mood to cause a problem. She just sat there with this silly grin on her face. That was just as well, as Sashi was having trouble with the escape bubble, the stiff plastic not wanting to unfold. Between the two of them they got it sorted out. And then it was time to stuff their prisoners through the opening. "OK, Mouse, in you go!" Rommie looked askance at the plastic, but then the Kitten came up behind her; "Move it, furball, or you’ll feel my claws. Its perfectly safe. Standard issue escape bubble." Rommie shrugged and pushed her way through the opening, as if she was entering a collapsed tent. Sabina pushed the closed-cell foam balls down over the Ibex’s antler tips. The escape bubble was made of tough plastic, but it wasn’t impervious and it wouldn’t hurt to take the precaution. The Ibex seemed too exhausted to notice. Between the two of them they got him through the opening. Just before they sealed the bubble, Sabina tossed one of Hinoki’s special "Water balloons" through the opening.

Rommie watched the water balloon go splat against the life support unit, wondering what THAT was all about. As the escape balloon inflated, she once again smelled that cinnamon and sex smell, and suddenly all her fatigue was gone, replaced with an incredible lust…

Julian groaned; for some reason he was getting hard again. VERY hard. But the Vixen was gone. Didn’t matter; he was going to have to fuck someone, even if it wasn’t a goddess… Looking around his eyes landed on the Mouse…..

Sashi cycled the cargo airlock, watching the escape bubble disappear into the darkness. Pushing the intercom button she purrred; "They’re Away, Captain!"

Tanj smiled, and goosed the thrusters, moving carefully away from the escape bubble. A quick peek with the sensors showed life support functioning correctly, the transponder bleeping as it should. Shoving the throttle forward, she curved away from their position, making doubly sure the cloaking device was functioning at optimum performance. VERY shortly that was going to be a very busy part of space….

Constable Oldshoe looked at the video feed. It wasn’t supposed to be something anyone could tap into, but he did have some resources. Imagine that; they’d never left orbit. Or if they had, they’d ventured all the way back into the inner system to drop off their prisoners. And using a completely transparent escape bubble, that was fantastic. It was definitely worth a paycheck, at least, to see those two fucking like crazed minks as the pickup ship moved in….. Sitting back, he wondered how Captain Ky had managed that?

Julian stood contritely before his father, the head of his family. The old Ibex had ranted on his son’s most foolish obsession with Vixens for the better part of an hour. All his assurances that he’d gotten it out of his system fell on deaf ears, however. As his father raged on, Julian’s mind drifted; he’d discovered something VERY important. His arch-nemesis, that RODENT, Rommie, had a secret passion for bondage. He’d seen her with that Cheetah. If she’d been able to play him off against his passion for Vixens, well, he now had something to use, to try and return the favor!

Rommie sipped the rare brandy slowly. She’d found it better to stand in the presence of her Father, not because of protocol, or respect, but because her pudendum was rather sore. But it was a delicious sort of soreness. "Yes, Father, I HAVE learned a lot. A GREAT deal, in fact. And I may have learned of a weapon that we can use, to bring the Montegnus to their knees." Leaning closer, she looked at her father; "You DID keep the remnants of that escape bubble, didn’t you? There are trace organics in there that we MUST analyze, and if possible, synthesize!" Leaning back, she smiled; "and if they can’t be synthesized, I do know of someone who just might sell us some…. Imagine, expending a weapon like that for such a casual purpose as to try and humiliate me and that Montegnu piece of crap! HA!"

The Trip Continues; Interlude

Roland looked "up" from the manual. A small flat black box sat balanced on one knee of the mech, projecting the relevant text and diagrams in the air in front of where the Badger worked. Tanj smiled, and handed the message flimsy to the obviously annoyed badger. Roland reached through the hologram, distorting the image, to take it. He frowned as he read it, and then obviously re-read it, his eyebrows climbing; "What’s this?" Tanj smiled; "Your part of the take from the last operation." Roland looked confused; "WHAT operation?" Tanj chuckled; "The one that saw us wreck the Renegade, and dent up the Limo. The one that’s put us four days behind schedule." Roland’s look became thoughtful; "Four days… no matter, we were going to be early anyways…" Tanj shook her head; "For your event perhaps, but we had other appointments to keep." The Badger didn’t have to say it; his face reflected the "Oh… ah, yeah". Clearing his throat he waved the flimsy; "But I didn’t DO anything!" Tanj shrugged again; "The regulations stipulate that all on board get a share as per their rating. You’re current rating may only be Supercargo, but it was a big take."

Roland nodded, looking again at the flimsy; "I guess I’ll be able to afford a hotel after all. And food. But it still doesn’t solve my biggest problem." He looked up from the flimsy; "I’d gone to great trouble, and no small expense to scrounge half of Vehnice for those amplifier modules. The ones that were destroyed in the Renegade. Well, all but two. And I doubt I’ll be able to find more before we hit dirt. Then there won’t be time to buy ‘em and get them properly installed into the system and optimally tuned."

Tanj frowned; "Amplifier modules. What kind?"

Roland stuffed the flimsy in a pocket absently; "Quad channel neural net amplifiers."

"What polarity?" the Cheetah growled.

"Positive. Why?"

"What kind of connectors?"

"Standard DIN454’s. I’m not worried about color coding, but some folks get hung up on it; it seems to be different for each manufacturer and planet."

Tanj nodded; "Quarter frame cases? Air cooled?"

Roland nodded; "I prefer the ones with solid state cooling; you know how heat rejection can be a problem with Mechs, but I can handle air cooled. WHY?"

Tanj just shook her head; "Most starships use similar neural nets. Engine controls, environmental, sensors, even weaponry. THIS ship uses just such a neural net. We probably have several hundred amplifiers like that on board. We MIGHT even have a few spares."

At the Badger’s look she couldn’t help but smile; "I’ll take a look through Engineering and see what we might have on hand."

Roland watched the door slide closed behind the Cheetah. After a moment he shook his head; "who’d have thought….!" After a moment he put his wrench down, and then bent to turn off the holographic manual. If there were fresh amplifier modules, modules with the right specs, the right tolerances, then he was wasting his time trying to tune up the old, battered ones. He might as well take a break, get a shower, and have something to eat. Sleep might be good, too….

Punishments Earned / Punishments Received

Roland looked down from the ‘Mech. The two slaves, Sashi and Sabina, had been kneeling there, in the middle of the cargo bay, facing him, for at least the last two hours. He didn’t know what they wanted, but it was obvious they wanted something. Scowling, he did his best to ignore them, turning back to his work.

It was difficult being in two places at the same time. Someone had to work the controls of the ‘mech, and that meant someone had to be in the cockpit, strapped into the harness, moving their limbs to get the proper inputs into the control system. And someone had to be near the actuators, to measure the response, and input the correct tuning constants to the amplifier modules. More than once, he’d wished he could afford a state of the art machine, that would do its own tuning. On the other hand, he’d heard some real horror stories about units that got kicked into "tuning" mode during combat by a near miss….. He could use the services of a good engineer, but right now he wasn’t about to bug Tanj for help. Hinoki might be useful. He was especially good with computers, but the Badger wasn’t sure how good he’d be with a system like this. Glancing down at the two slaves, he wondered…..

Sashi watched the Badger climb down from the machine, while trying to pretend she was staring at the spot about midway between her spread knees. Of course the closer he got the easier it was. As long as she focused on his feet. He stood there for a moment, looking down at them (she guessed) and then brusquely growled "Speak." Sashi opened her mouth, but before she could launch into her carefully prepared confession, Sabina blurted out; "Masterwe’reheretoconfessourmisbehaviourtoyou. (gasp) We’vebeenverybad,andseekyourjustpunishmentforourtransgressions. (gasp) Masterweheartilybegyourforgivenessandyourmercy…

Before the slave could launch into another high-speed sentence, Roland held up his paw and growled "Silence!" Sabina, to her credit, instantly fell silent.

Roland shook his head; what had these two done to HIM? He couldn’t remember a thing; hadn’t even remembered seeing them around. At first he was tempted to dismiss them, but then thought better of it. "You, Sabina. Explain. Slowly."

Sabina listened as Sashi launched into her tale of how they’d decided he was working too hard, and decided a suitable distraction was in order. Mistake No.1; the slaves had decided they knew what was best for Master. Just wasn’t their place to make decisions like that. Then, in trying to seduce him, they’d partaken in "unauthorized pleasures. Mistake No.2. And worst of all, they’d tied themselves up in such a manner and such a place as to put themselves at risk, and inadvertently, cause the destruction of property. As Sashi talked, quietly and calmly, ‘bina tried to watch the Badger’s face. Not one you’d want to play poker with; his face gave away nothing. Fearing the worst, ‘bina decided to concentrate on her posture, and not give any more offense.

Roland did his best not to let his jaw hit the floor. It was nice that they thought so much of him that they were willing to risk censure to give him some relief from his work, but he’d wished they’d just SAID something. And he’d completely missed their little "trap." Maybe he was working too hard…. When the Chocolate Pantheress finally wound down, he stared at them for a few minutes, and then grunted. "Yes, its obvious that you should be punished. Punished for your audacity, and for your thoughtlessness. But we’ll get to that later. Right now, I need you for other things…."

Sabina’s heart leapt; for a moment she thought he was going to give them both a good fucking…. And then he ordered Sashi into the cockpit of his ‘Mech, and told her to go fix them all lunch. LUNCH! Dammit, she was a sex slave and a damned good one; not some…. Cook! But she knew better than to argue, or disobey. Grumbling to herself she rose with as much grace as she could, and hurried off.

Sashi looked around the cockpit of the ‘mech. The Badger was almost as tall as she was but was built much more powerfully. She felt just a little lost in the "seat". The Badger strapped her in roughly and gave her a five minute briefing as to what he wanted her to do, and not do. Mostly it was "don’t touch this, and don’t touch that, and NEVER EVER touch that…." She was sure the flight deck had more switches and displays... but not a heck of a lot more.

Roland watched with no small trepidation as Sashi moved his Lightning from one end of the cargo bay to the other. Yes, he’d remembered to call the flight deck and warn Tanj, and Tanj had gotten on the ship-wide intercom, to inform everyone else, like he was doing something life-threatening…. And as Sashi stumbled, and recovered, he wondered if it was possible that she might crash his ‘Mech straight through the side of the ship? Explosive decompression could be ugly. Frowning, he waved her back to the center of the cargo bay.

Sashi lifted the foot and put it down. Lifted the foot and put it down. Lifted the foot and put it down. The Badger crouched on the foot, a portable diagnostic tool in one hand, making minute adjustments. For the life of her, she couldn’t detect any differences in the way the thing moved from adjustment to adjustment. Maybe the difference was readily apparent to an expert…..

Roland grinned; finally he was getting somewhere. The response time of the new amplifier modules was better than the old ones by an even 0.4%, and the feedback signals had significantly less noise. Idly he wondered where Tanj had found them. Definitely "gold band" stuff…. Looking up he waved for the Pantheress to stop. "OK, now I want you to lift the foot and move it front to back." Leaping off the foot, he stood on one leg and swung the other back and forth; "Like this, but wait for me to give you the signal!"

Sabina grumbled. To herself, of course. Lunch was getting cold. The iced tea was getting warm, all the ice melting. And she was getting tired of kneeling in the same position, while the Badger ordered Sashi to do the most unusual things. Surely there was a better way to do this. Surely there was something, ANYTHING else she could be doing. This was boring!

Roland listened to the strange noise. It was an intermittent gurgling. For a moment he wondered if there was a problem with the hydraulics, but then he realized the slave’s stomach was rumbling. Sticking his head into the cockpit he glanced at the chronometer; it was almost ten o’clock at night! With a sigh he shook his head; "OK, I guess that’s enough for one day. Your, ah, punishment continues tomorrow. Be here at eight AM sharp!"

Sabina awoke with a start. Suddenly she realized that everything was quiet. Looking around, she spotted the Badger climbing down from the machine, Sashi following. The Chocolate Pantheress looked worn out. Roland caught sight of the now-stone-cold lunch and nodded; "Just leave me the food, I’ve still got some things to do. Dismissed." Stiffly Sabina rose, and followed the dragging Sashi from the cargo bay.

Tanj sipped her cocoa and shook her head; "and he’s STILL down there?" Wanda shook her head in turn; "I don’t know what we’re going to have to do with that boy…" Tanj took another sip and mused; "I wonder if I shouldn’t see if I could help; might make things go faster…" Sashi looked at Sabina and then at the Cheetah; "Mistress, I doubt it would help. He’s fiddling with the smallest of details. I suspect no matter what you did, he’d just keep after that thing until he’d done everything possible, two or three times over." Tanj nodded; "Well, I think each of you should wake up your master or mistress and talk to them about this. I don’t think they’d intended you to be sentenced to an indefinite term as… a mechanic." Sabina grinned and nodded eagerly, while Sashi just kept spooning the leftover linguini into her mouth. Apparently she’d worked up an appetite….

After they’d left, Tanj turned back to the navigational display. They were behind schedule, but if they skipped Quartermain, and maybe Lofat, they should be able to make up the time. With a sigh, she input the new vectors into the system, and hit the "engage" key. Some folks back at the Black Fleet were going to be pissed…. Well, maybe they could stop there on the way back….


Tanj smiled at the face on the monitor. The Rabbit looked back suspiciously. After all, why would a freighter such as hers want to dock at a hayseed place like this? They weren’t with one of the huge corporate agribusiness conglomerates, and they weren’t sales reps for farm equipment, or any other sort of related vendor. And they weren’t here to see anyone in particular. It obviously didn’t smell right to him.

"We’re simply here to pick up a charter, Sir. That’s all. Why he wanted to be picked up here, well, that’s got to be his business, doesn’t it?"

The Rabbit shook his head; "Tain’t no one by that name here. I’ve checked. The place just ain’t that big that someone wouldn’t notice. But I guess they might just not have arrived yet. Come around to docking clamp six, but don’t open your hatches; we got strict agricultural inspection protocols here!"

Tanj nodded; "Six it is. Be there in a moment."

Zassa met the Inspector at the airlock. At Tanj’s "Suggestion" she was actually wearing something. The fact that it wasn’t quite decent seemed lost on the old raccoon. He sniffed the air, and then hefted an ancient portable analyzer, and took an air sample. Then, he pulled out a swatch of what looked like flannel, ran it along the wall, and popped it into a compartment in the analyzer. After a noncommital "uh-huh" he turned and stalked off down a corridor, heading towards the port sensor array. Zassa started to tell him that there wasn’t anything in that direction but electronics, but decided to just follow him. After all, he just didn’t look like anyone that’d take advice from someone her age.

The Racoon had opened the access panel and was calmly looking over the equipment. After a moment he growled; "Got some mighty fancy equipment on this tub, don’t you, Girlie?" Zassa shrugged; "Hey, we get some, ah, "high end" clients. They’d get real upset if we let them get kidnapped by pirates. We’ve got some, ah, gear that generally keeps us out of trouble." The Raccoon just closed the panel, turned and trudged back up the corridor, muttering an "uh-huh"….

Zassa was starting to get the feeling that the Raccoon either didn’t know what he was doing, or was actually something other than what he pretended to be. He spent quite a bit of time in the galley, looking at their food stores, and then a few minutes in each of the cabins. He gave the cargo bay a cursory look, but spent quite a bit of time in environmental, collecting samples from the air system, and the liquid waste recycling system. His analyzer whirred, and bleeped mournfully, as if it were on its last legs. Finally, he made his way back to the airlock. Just before passing through the door, he turned to Zassa; "Yup. As I feared. Y’all are contaminated. Spirocheta Microflora, of the Calubrius variety. It’d play hob with the honeyflower crop if it ever got loose dirtside. You’re going to have to undock from the station, and, oh, there’ll be a fee for cleaning and sterilizing the docking clamp. Pausing he looked up at the Vixen, not at her breasts as she was so used to, but straight at her eyes; "And someone on board has a yeast infection too. Might want to attend to that, before it gets any worse." With that he stepped into the personnel lock, and turned to face her again; "And by the way, just for the record, I don’t believe you’re waitin’ for any "high end customer". Y’ain’t got near the fancy foodstuffs, or the luxury suites y’d expect for someone who catered to passengers like that. Don’t know what you’re doin’ here, but I suppose it don’t much matter, as y’ain’t stayin’." The lock cycled, and he was gone.

Tanj blinked "HE WHAT?"

Zassa nodded; "Said we’ve got to go. Said we’ve got some sort of infection, and they’re afraid we’ll infect the… something crop. Check the security camera tapes if you don’t believe me."

Tanj shook her head, and turned to the comm console, but before she could lay a paw on it, the ship shuddered. Apparently the station had manually released the docking clamp. Grumbling, Tanj turned back to the controls, managing to turn the ship just before the bow took down a rather rickety looking antenna. Backing clear, she programmed the thrusters for station-keeping and turned back to the Vixen; "This complicates matters. We don’t even know if Corey made it here. And if he did, how in the world are we going to pick him up without attracting attention?"

Zassa just shrugged. After a moment, Tanj sighed; "OK, get the name of the bug the Inspector cited, and get it down to Wanda; maybe there’s an easy way we can eradicate it from the ship. If not, we’ll just have to hang out here, and wait, and hope he shows up."

Zassa nodded and turned to the Security console, muttering "Don’t think its going to help; he was awfully suspicious of us."

Tanj watched the sensors for a moment, and then shook her head. There WAS no traffic in this system. What in the world was Corey thinking of? Anyone here would remember a stranger passing through. How could he be anonymous and discrete when any new face would stick out like a sore thumb? Heaving herself from the pilot’s couch, she turned and headed for the galley. Maybe a cup of coffee would help her think….

Wanda looked at the Vixen and blinked; "Spirocheta Microflora, of the WHAT variety? Calubrius? I’ve never heard of it! Let me check the database…."

Tanj took the first sip of coffee, and sighed.

"I know; it’s a depressingly pastoral place. Still, it has the highest free lepton concentrations in the known universe. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a correlation."

Tanj froze, the cup halfway to her lips. Turning slowly, she blinked. There in a chair by the wardroom table, sat the Lynx, his paws calmly folded in his lap.

"Um…… Professor Corey, how did you get on board?" The Lynx smiled slyly; "I have discovered, when dealing with Pirates, its best to keep some secrets. Suffice it to say that I’m here, and ready to continue our journey."

Tanj swallowed, put the coffee mug on the counter and nodded. Turning she headed for the flight deck. The sudden shock of seeing the Lynx on her ship had provided her with sufficent adrenaline as to make the caffeine seem redundant…..

Training the Trainer

Hinoki grinned at the Wolverine lass; "Voluntary restraint is really rather simple. The whole point is that if you move, and you’re completely free to move, things only get worse. Therefor you hold your position rigidly. And voluntarily. Now take this little device here. It doesn’t look very nasty, does it?"

Wanda chuckled; "It looks as if it was made for aquatic bondage….."

Hinoki chuckled; "yes, it does, doesn’t it, but that’s not actually where you’re supposed to put it. You see, it works like this……

Sabina paused to regard the bound figure. Kath, the Mink, was tied in the intersection of the corridor, as if on public display. She rested on her knees, her calves vertical and tied to a pole that had been fixed between ceiling and floor, one of the damage control expandable braces. Her arms were tied behind her back, wrists to the pole, her body leaning forward at about a forty-five degree angle. The mink’s face was suffused with strain, the muscles in her neck quivering as she tried to hold her head up high. There was a device in her mouth, and on the end of the device was a large propeller. Sabina had seen things like that before; the propeller was a light foam, almost weightless and quite flexible. However, as she watched, the peril of the Mink’s situation became obvious. The device she held in her mouth was heavy. But if she let her head fall forward, the spinning propeller would graze her hanging breasts. Probably not painfully, at least not at first, but the cumulative effect might be a little rough. All she had to do to escape that torment was to hold up her head….. But how long had she been straining to hold it up like that? With a shudder, the kitten turned and hurried along, following her Mistress’ instructions. Hoping that if she did her assigned tasks quickly and competently, she wouldn’t wind up like the Mink….

Wanda smiled and stroked the Mink’s head as she leaned against her in the wardroom. The poor dear was exhausted, but she’d come through quite well. Two hours holding her head up, never letting the device fall from her mouth. That would have brought a serious punishment. Instead she was due a reward….. And she had just the perfect thing…..

Zassa paused, and then growled as Sabina bumped into her from behind. The kitten had been getting a little "uppity" and as a result, was wearing a punishment hood. No sound, or sight, her mouth filled with a thick plug gag. And of course her arms were bound behind her tightly. The leash had been attached to her collar, but the kitten had been pulling against that a little more than Zassa’d thought reasonable, so she’d reattached it to Sabina’s left nipple ring. She’d behaved much better, but in an effort to keep that sensitive portion of her anatomy from being tugged too hard, she tended to follow her mistress too closely. Zassa tugged the leash, signalling her pet to kneel, as she took in the sight before her.

In a side corridor, off from the main residential corridor, Kath stood. She was gagged, and blindfolded, and her knees and ankles were tightly bound together. A chain ran from her collar to the ceiling above her, holding her in place. Her arms were stretched straight out to the sides. From each wrist, ropes ran up and down to pulleys, magnetically attached to the ceiling and floor, and from there to a small electronic box. A wire from the box, snaked across the floor, and Zassa followed its path until it disappeared into the Mink’s rather wet sex. A light glowed on the electronic box, and the Mink moaned into her gag. As she watched, the Mink wavered a little, one paw moving from its perfectly horizontal position. The rope tugged on the box, and for a moment the light went out. Groaning again, the Mink struggled to return her paw to the correct position. After a moment the light came back on, and the Mink all but purrrred through her gag.

"Like that?"

Zassa turned to behold a smiling Wanda; "Yes, its great. All she has to do to earn her reward is to stay still."

Wanda chuckled; "Yes, but she’s been there for almost twenty minutes now. Her arms HAVE to be getting heavy. And this is where it gets interesting." Padding over to the Mink, Wanda removed an earplug; "Okay, pet, I think that’s enough reward. Now here’s how we’ll end the evening. The chain from your collar is held by an electromagnet. I’m resetting the box so that when you go five minutes without moving your arms, it’ll release. When that happens, you should be able to pull your paws free, release yourself, and come home. If you can’t manage, well, I’ll come collect you in the morning, but if I have to do that, there’ll be a punishment. Oh, and I’ll leave the vibrator going just to keep you company." Grinning wickedly, the Wolverine replaced the earplug and stepped back to watch.

Zassa watched for a moment and then shook her head; "Not sure she’s going to make that…."

Wanda smiled and shrugged; "Needless to say, I’m not going to leave her there all night, but I will give her a chance to escape without punishment."

Zassa nodded; "Teaching her self control in the face of severe stimulation. Very good. But when you’re done with that rig, can I borrow it?"

Wanda glanced at Sabina and then nodded; "Sure; think your pet’s up to the challenge?"

Zassa just laughed; "No, its not for her. I want to give it a try, and see if I’M up to the challenge. I think it’d be fun!"


Roland frowned at the holographic display of the maintenance "manual"…. Shifting his point of focus, he found himself looking at a rather rumpled looking Lynx, who appeared to be reading the holographic display… from the wrong side.

"Who the hell are YOU?"

The Lynx looked up; "Corey. Professor Corey. Interesting situation you have here. Am I to understand that you actually use this device for combat?"

The Badger’s jaw dropped; "my ‘Mech? Damn straight!"

The Lynx shook his head, his eyes still on the mirror-image holographic display; "but it has so many vulnerabilities! Why, these myopolymeric actuators you use for its "muscles" are horribly inefficient. Why I would imagine the waste heat issue is crippling just on its own!" Looking up, the Lynx made eye contact; "how do you handle that?"

Roland shrugged; "by being careful not to overexert. You monitor system heat and slow down when things get too hot. Or the system will shut down on you, and leave you Immobile in front of an enemy."

The Lynx nodded; "Obviously, until we can find you a better polymer, you’ll have to deal with waste heat rejection. What methods are currently used?"

Roland shrugged; "Solid-state electrothermal cooling, but that’s rather power intensive in its own way. Still, it’s the most resistant to battle damage. Ordinary cooling fluids tend to leak in the stresses of combat. Convection, and radiation are the backup systems."

The Lynx just nodded; "Uh-huh. Inefficient."

The Badger frowned; "Hey, its always good if you can find a lake or stream. That’ll cool you off in a hurry."

The Lynx just stared; "you ARE kidding, aren’t you? Sometimes I have trouble telling when folks are making jokes…."

The Badger just frowned and shook his head no. Who was this jerk anyways? What rock had HE crawled out from under?

"Still, I would imagine things like that could be used against an opponent similarly armed. What weapons do you have to exploit these weakensses?"

Roland’s jaw dropped. It was something he’d never thought of, but now that the Lynx mentioned it, it seemed obvious. Must be a reason somewhere why no one had developed a weapon along those lines. "Um… nothing specifically. Ion guns, and lasers tend to cause them to overheat, but usually that’s only a precursor to system destruction anyways."

The Lynx waved a paw; "no, no, there are simpler ways. Have you no directed microwave emitters? Most metals have an excellent response to such radiation. Or how about a weapon that insulates your enemy to compound the problem?"

Roland just shook his head; "Never heard of anything like that. Listen, Mac, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got a competition coming up. Now if you’ll excuse me…."

Corey watched the Badger turn his back and resume work on the machine. Curious fellow. You’d think he’d be delighted to find a better way to defeat his opponents. Turning, deep in thought, the Lynx made his way towards the cargo bay’s personnel lock. There were several interesting concepts that might work well. Now, where to set up a laboratory? Surely there was some unused space on this ship. Oh, and he’d need a suitable power supply. Thye amines he could recover from the ship’s environmental system, likewise with the aldehydes. However, he’d need some sulfonates. And glycerides. And perhaps a surfactant of suitably high molecular weight…..

Tanj blinked at the Lynx as he rambled on; "and its really quite a simple synthesis; the initial forms used a critical point drying of a gel composed of tetramethoxysilane, leaving a silica structure trapping large quantities of air. However, the same thing can be done using a melamine-formaldehyde base, using an inverse emulsion polymerization, leaving microspheres with much better thermal conductivity characteristics. All we need to do is to enable such a reaction from gaseous components, forming the microspheres in-situ, and finding a way to cause them to adhere to the target. Shouldn’t be too hard."

"And this would…. Help Roland in his competition?"

The Lynx beamed; "Aerogels are one of the very best insulators known to science; even a thin coating on an opponent’s machine would cause it to overheat, and shut down. Rapidly. VERY rapidly."

Hinoki grinned; "and could you cause something like that to happen in a vacuum?" Corey thought for a minute; "I doubt it; the idea is to encapsulate air as an insulating medium. You might get the polymerization reaction to work, but it wouldn’t have any air to encapsulate. Why?"

Hinoki just shrugged; "Sounds like an interesting defensive mechanism for deep-space combat. How would something like that hold up against, say, plasma weapons, or particle beams?" Corey frowned; "It would work well against plasma weapons… and there would be a certain absorption of particles, if the aerogel were thick enough…. Yes, you have a point. I’ll have to think about that…." The lynx turned away, almost walking into the wall next to the wardroom door, as he made his exit, obviously lost in thought.

"So are you going to let him conduct his experiments?"

Tanj chuckled; "I think I’m going to have to; if nothing else it’ll keep him localized, and confine the mayhem to one part of the ship…."


Wanda peeked into the store-room. The Lynx was wearing a white disposable coverall, which was probably just as well; it kept his experiments from sticking to his fur. Looking like a cubist drawing of a Lynx, he had odd, bluish-transparent shapes stuck all over him. Wanda couldn’t help but giggle.

The Lynx turned to give her a wry grin; "Science can sometimes be messy. If there was a correlation between mess and progress, I’d be the greatest scientist the universe had ever known!"

Wanda came closer and poked at one of the shapes; it was as resilient as a natural sponge, but seemed to be essentially weightless. "What kinds of things can you make from these?"

The Lynx grinned; "I don’t know. I’d never thought about trying to mold it. Why?"

Wanda grinned wickedly; "I have a slave that I would like to immobilize…."

The Lynx shook his head; "you understand, it’s a closed-cell foam; you can’t breathe through it. And even if you could, it’s a phenomenal insulator; you’d roast from your own body heat."

Wanda nodded; "I suppose we could use a breathing tube, if we had to, but you’re right; the insulation value would be hard to get around. Oh, well, it was just a thought. Thanks anyways."

As he watched the Wolverine leave, Corey scratched his head, or tried to; he seemed to have some of the aerogel stuck to his paw. Again. "Interesting problem. An open-celled, non-insulating aerogel. I wonder……"


Roland looked at the Cheetah and sighed; "tomorrow? I must have lost track of time. Again. Yes, thank you for letting me know. There are a few things that I absolutely MUST get done before then…. If you’ll excuse me?"

Tanj laughed and nodded. Giving Sashi and Sabina a wave she grinned; "Just think, tomorrow you two go back to your rightful owners!" Turning back to the Badger, she smiled; "And will that be the end of their period of pennance?"

The Badger thought for a moment and then smiled; "No, but the spankings that they so richly deserve will have to be postponed to the trip back. I’m sure they can wait…."

Sabina just groaned while Sashi rolled her eyes.


Roland frowned; "Yes, I have a few reloads with me, but I’m NOT wild about going into the competition with untested weapons."

The Lynx just shrugged; "I think you’ll find these of great advantage. The aerogel should rapidly cause any opponent to overheat, and will have the added advantage of plugging the jump jet intakes. Its also incredibly sticky until it fully hardens, and should essentially glue them to the ground."

Roland caught the look on Tanj’s face and sighed; "OK, since you’ve gone to so much trouble, I suppose I could let you have a couple of missiles to modify…."


The Lynx looked at the two beakers and sighed; "Well, I suppose there’s only one way to find out." Picking one of the beakers up, he poured it into the other. There was an instant color change, from clear to a pale blue, and then the contents started to expand. And expand. And expand some more….

Corey almost made it to the door, before it caught him. It was quite sticky until it cured… As it rose over his head, he had a moment of panic, but then he realized that it was indeed porous. Almost as porous as the air itself. However the modified carbon-based skeletal structure was quite strong, and he found himself struggling against an apparently invisible sponge. He could almost bring his paws together, but moving forward or back, left or right, was essentially impossible. Sighing, he wondered how long it would take them to find him. Good thing the door had opened when he’d approached it…..

Zassa held the dinner tray in front of her; the Lynx had missed dinner, and she’d be darned if ANYONE was going to escape her famous Irish Stew. Even the Badger had gotten a bowl. As she turned the corridor, she paused; the air had a funny look to it; kinda bluish. Shrugging she stepped forward.

It was like walking into a featherbed matress. The tray tilted up, spilling the still-too-hot-to-be-comfortable stew down her front. Yelping, the vixen danced back. Dripping, she stuck out a paw, and poked. Yeah, there was something there, all right. Tenuous, flexible, but still quite solid…..

Wanda chuckled as she ran headlong towards the corridor, jumping at the last moment, only to come to a dead stop, seemingly in mid-air, bouncing back with almost as much energy as she’d put into her headlong charge. "Hey, this is GREAT. Tanj, you’ve GOT to try this!"

The Cheetah shook her head; "No, Wanda I don’t want to try it. I want to…. Get rid of it. Corey’s in there somewhere and we need to make sure he’s OK!"

Hinoki nodded as he leaned against the corridor wall; "I agree. So…. Got any ideas?"

Tanj shut off the vibroknife and wrestled the block of nothing towards the airlock. Apparently, whatever it was, could be cut; it was just a laborious process. They’d made enough progress down the corridor to ascertain that Corey was indeed still alive. He was obviously trying to say something, but it was muffled by the aerogel. Maybe when they got closer they could hear what he had to say…..


"Ozone! Ozone will break the bonds and disintegrate the aerogel! It’ll only take a small amount, something that can easily be tolerated. Well, if you use a breathing mask. I think."

Tanj looked at the Lynx and shook her head. It’d taken them hours to carve a tunnel into him, and even then, freeing just his head hadn’t been easy. "OK, I’ll go isolate this part of the ship, and see if I can’t get the life support system to kick out a few ozone molecules, but I think you’re going to have to find a better way of decomposing this stuff!" The Lynx just nodded, as best he was able.

More Training

Wanda smiled; "You know what to do?"

Kath smiled; "Of course, Mistress. I’m to escape my bondage, and return to you as soon as possible. Piece of cake."

Wanda smiled; "you think so, eh? Tanj herself told me that she had a lot of trouble with this one. It should take incredible concentration and reaction times. And you know the reaction times of Cheetahs!"

Kath just smiled. She really didn’t see what the problem was. Yes, the vibrator in her bottom was a distraction, the one in her pussy a larger distraction, and yet she should still be able to do what she had to. After all, it was only a four digit combination. And she knew the combination; she’d seen it on the lock before Wanda had snapped it shut and spun the little wheels. Admittedly the lock was at her left paw, and she was right-pawed, but even so, it shouldn’t take but seconds.

Wanda looked down at the Mink tied spread-eagled to the deck. One wrist and both ankles were literally tied in place with bows. Simple to undo, once she got her left paw free. And that’s where the trouble should come in…. "This lesson is to teach you not to be too overconfident, and to focus your concentration. Ready?"

The Mink nodded. Wanda chuckled, flipped the switch that activated the vibrators, and then flicked another switch. A moment later she was gone.

Kath worked on the first wheel; it wasn’t too difficult to manipulate, but she had to turn her head at an awkward angle to spin it. And then the lights went out! As the Vibrators droned, the Mink groaned; "There’s no way I can do this in the dark! Its not fair!" And then the lights came back on. She was just turning her head to focus on the lock when they went out again!

Kath groaned; the vibrators were driving her mad! She had to focus all her concentration on the lock, or at least where she thought the lock was; the lights would come on for only a second, and at completely random intervals. Several times she’d caught herself with her finger on the wrong wheel, turned it too far, or not far enough, or just plain slipped. Or been caught napping, enjoying the pleasures between her thighs when the lights flashed on…… Wanda had been right; this wasn’t as easy as it had looked!

Wanda watched her pet struggle through the night vision goggles. The false colors of the infrared display gave the Mink a surreal look. It was obvious that she was having more trouble than she’d expected, but she was persevering….

The second flash of light, so close behind the first, gave Kath an opportunity to check the number on the combination lock. 4708. She needed it to read 4719. Closing her eyes, biting her lip against the building climax, trying to ignore the vibrators droning between her thighs, she did her best to advance the last two wheels one click each. Tugging on the lock, she wasn’t really surprised to find that it wouldn’t open. Craning her neck back she waited patiently for the next flash of light, to see what she’d actually achieved.

The climax seemed more violent than the last one, more powerful, longer lasting. It took her a moment to realize that the fireworks she was seeing were not all just behind her eyes; the lights had come on again; she’d just barely begun to turn her head when the lights went out again. Grrrrrrrrr.

She’d turned the wheels back a click, and tried the lock. Still wouldn’t open. What had she done wrong? When the lights flashed, she was ready; 4808. Damn, she must have hit the second wheel while moving the last two. Concentrating as best she could, she moved the no.2 wheel back a click, the other two forward a click. Tugging on the lock, she was delighted when it popped open! For a moment she just lay there panting, and then her left paw was shaking the cuff out of the lock’s shackle. It was simple to reach across and pull the string on the bow holding her right paw. And then, in order to release her feet, she sat up. This, however, only served to drive the vibrators in pussy and ass deeper into her, and for a moment she just sat there and howled as another climax claimed her.

Wanda looked up from the magazine as the Mink dragged into her quarters. "About time. See, it wasn’t as easy as you thought it’d be, was it?"

Kath grinned; "No, Mistress it wasn’t."

Wanda’s grin grew; "And did you enjoy it?"

Kath laughed; "Yes, Mistress, it was great. I just wonder…."

Wanda raised an eyebrow; "Wonder what?"

Kath grinned; "Wonder where we can find a lock with a six digit combination?"

The Warrior Departs

"Shirow approach control, this is the Free Trader Lost Cause. Request vector for Port Tippman."

"Lost Cause, Shirow approach control. Do you want the commercial starport or the field for the competition?"

Tanj blinked. Did this mean that whatever competition Roland had signed up for was so big that it could justify its own starport? "Um, Shirow approach control, Lost Cause. Yes, we’re carrying a contestant for the competition."

"Very good, Lost Cause. I’ll put you in the landing que. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. As you can imagine, it’s a rather basic facility. Are you staying for the games, or are you just dropping off your contestant?"

"Just dropping him off."

"Right, that might bump you up in the que some. Can you make a landing on an unimproved strip?"

"Roger that, Shirow; we can land this tub about anywheres."

"Great. I’ll let you know when I get a spot free. In the meantime your contestant ought to download the latest rules and schedules from the website. Shirow Control, Out.

Corey smiled; "I’ve marked the four "special" missiles with alternating red and white bands. I wish I could have prepared more for you, but… resources were limited. Each has the original seeker, but with a proximity fuse. Oh, and I’ve prepared some alternate cartridges for your flamer. I’m NOT sure how well the flamer will work with regular fuels, after using these, so I’d hold them in reserve for emergencies. And, ah, if you have to use them, don’t let the foam touch your machine. And do let me know how they work out, won’t you?"

Roland just scowled and nodded, only half listening. This was no time, no place to try out untried weapons. Still, if he was going to keep peace in the "family" he had to be polite. The Lynx, well-meaning, HAD put a lot of effort into it. "Yeah, right, I’ll let you know. And thanks."

Tanj’s voice came over the intercom; "Two minutes to dirtside; they say we’ve only got five minutes on the ground, before we have to make way for the next ship, so you’ll have to move fast!" Roland checked his chrono, and nodded, and without a word, turned and started climbing into his machine.

The ship lurched slightly, and then the main cargo bay hatch started to whine open. Roland checked his displays and reached down with both paws to pick up his gear. He’d rigged the crates of reloads, and spare parts into two satchels, complete with handles suitable for his ‘Mech. As soon as the ramp was far enough down, he hefted them, and like a commuter dashing through the rain for the last train, headed out.

Sashi watched him go; "hope he does OK."

Sabina shook her head; "I hope he wears himself out so bad he sleeps the whole trip back. Remember, he’s only postponed our "punishment".

Sashi nodded; "Exactly. That’s one of the reasons I hope he does well. If he looses bad, can you imagine what kind of a mood he’ll be in?"

Sabina just winced.

Tanj saw the armored figure dash out on the monitor, and flipped the switch to reverse the cargo bay hatch. The ship was off its landing legs even before the hatch had sealed, circling around to the Northwest, making room for another ship descending. "Good luck, Roland. Hope you have fun…."

Zassa watched the nav display; "Geez, there’s a lot of traffic in this system!"

Tanj nodded; "Yeah, I guess this competition Roland’s gotten himself into is a bigger deal than I’d thought."

The Vixen nodded; "Yeah…. But have you thought of the commercial opportunities here?"

Tanj blinked; "Commercial op… Oh, for the Black Fleet? No, I don’t think so."

Zassa raised an eyebrow; "Why’s that?"

Tanj grinned; "Remember, this is a competition for powered armor. I’m not sure how they fight, or compete, or whatever, but I’ll tell you this much. If each ship carries just one rig like Roland’s, there’s a LOT of firepower down there. No, I don’t think I’d want to kick over this particular hornet’s nest."

Zassa nodded and laughed; "Yeah, you might be right." As the planet dimished on the stern screens, Zassa shook her head; "But I bet there are some real hunks down there…."


"And so, the multiphasic subatomic flux of leptons causes problems with location discrimination. And therein lies the key. Its not difficult to get somewhere else, but it IS difficult, very difficult, to get to where you want to go to. Even if it’s a place you know the temporal location of."

Tanj blinked; "Um…. I’m not sure I follow that. I’m not sure how the leptons influence the charmed quarks, let alone what the other subatomic particles you mentioned were…."

The Lynx waved a paw dismissively; "Oh, most of those haven’t been officially discovered, let alone named properly. Those are just my designations. Most scientists can’t even agree on whether dark matter even exists, let alone what comprises it. But that’s not important. It’s the forces that tie them all together that are the key. I’m afraid we’re not going to come up with any grandiose unified field theory from THIS work….."

Tanj sighed. When you listened to the Lynx you felt as if you could almost grasp what he was saying, until you took a step back. Was he brilliant beyond understanding, or merely a crackpot, or maybe a little of both? Sighing and wishing she had some Irish Whiskey for her coffee, Tanj tried to imagine the confluence of subatomic particles, as-of-yet unnamed forces, quantum mechanics, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and the combined effects on the space-time continuum.…. It was starting to make her head ache. Maybe if she tried to program the science computer for a translation……

More Training

Zassa sat on the floor and watched the Mink. Kath stood in the cargo bay, on one of the thick mats. Her ankles were tightly tied together, as were her legs above and below the knee. Her arms were bound behind her in a black leather sheath that held her arms tightly, but left her paws free. Little weights swung from her nipple rings, and tucked into a strap around her waist were the battery packs and controls for vibrators buried in ass and pussy. She swayed on tiptoes head tilted back, mouth open, watching, waiting….

The keys swung back towards her, and as they came in range, she leapt as best possible, and snapped at them. However, once again she missed, and the keys, hung from the ceiling on a long string, merely swayed away, batted aside by the motion of her nose.

Zassa chuckled. She knew the best way to escape was to just stand there and wait for the keys to come to rest. It would then be possible to position yourself directly beneath them and "leap" the few inches required. But Kath had not yet developed that degree of patience. Figuring the vibrators probably weren’t providing enough distraction, the Vixen smiled; "you know, Wanda’s being way too soft on you. Some of the exercises we had in the Academy were much rougher. For instance, I remember being tied one time, like you are, except that my gag was equipped with a hose. Above me, there was a tank, full of rather delicious pudding. The tank of course was connected to the hose. We hadn't had much to eat; they liked to restrict our diet to keep us trim. The temptation was to guzzle the pudding, and indeed, considering the pressure from the tank high above, it wasn’t easy NOT to swallow it. Never the less we’d been told that we weren’t to swallow. That bad things would happen if we did. And of course they left us there so long that in the end you couldn’t help but swallow, even if only occasionally. And when the level in the tank fell to some point, it tripped a sensor that started giving you shocks. Mild at first, but again, the temptation was to yell when the shock hit, and with a mouth full of pudding, well, many times it was either swallow or choke. And that only dropped the level further, which brought more severe shocks…. You can see how it could rapidly become a vicious cycle. Still, it did focus your concentration and reinforce the "obey orders" concept….."

Kath snapped at the key again. And again she missed. How could this be so hard? All she had to do was capture the key, break the string, spit out the key, drop to the floor and get it into her paws, get back to her feet, and then… hop? to the door, and unlock it. Then Wanda would release her. It shouldn’t be this hard! Growling with frustration, the Mink tried to ignore the pleasures droning through her, tried to ignore the Vixen’s running commentary…

Zassa smiled as she watched a small climax ripple through the Mink. It was amazing how they seemed to start at her hips and cause her to shudder, up and down, from that point, until the motions dampened out at the tips of her ears and the end of her tail. "Of course that particular exercise was at the end of a long string of similar things. I think they’d started with you standing on one foot, the other raised. There was a string attached to your toe, and if you put that foot down, it tripped a switch and nasty things happened. I think there was a winch on the string, and it gradually lifted your foot, higher and higher, making it more and more difficult to hold it in that position, making it more and more likely that you’d trip the switch, until you wound up hanging from that toe…..."

Kath mumbled with triumph as she finally caught the swaying key in her mouth. Teeth clenched, grinning fiercely, she jerked her head to the side. The snap of the string was quite satisfying; however, as she’d pretty much expected, she lost her balance, and thudded down on the mat.

Zassa smiled, and hoped Kath hadn’t just swallowed the key when she hit the mat. She’d seen that happen too. "Of course not all the exercises of that sort were objectionable. I remember there was one where they’d attached nipple clips, and you had to lean back to keep a weight, at the other end of the chains, off a pressure pad. If you leaned forward to ease the strain on your tender bits, you’d get shocked. Yeah, that was fun. I think I set an endurance record on that one…"

Kath spit out the key and began squirming around, trying to get it with her paws. "You ARE kidding me about that, aren’t you?"

Zassa chuckled; "A little to the left…. No, actually I’m not. You know I like a little pain with my pleasure, and they’d equipped us similarly to the way you’re equipped now. Between the vibrators and the lovely pinching of my nipples, well, I don’t know how many times I climaxed. They finally had to stop the exercise, for fear that I was going to damage myself."

The Mink grinned as her questing fingers found the key. As she rolled towards the wall, she thought about Zassa in a situation like that and could just imagine the Vixen leaning back harder, increasing the tension as the next climax approached... Yeah, that sounded like her allright.…..

Zassa watched the Mink roll onto her stomach, inchworm to her knees, rock back onto her heels and with her back against the wall by the door, straighten. It put her hands right by the doorlock. And then she dropped the keys.

Zassa just chuckled. "Takes practice. Maybe we should run you through this a few more times? In fact, if you like, I’ve got some very nice cayenne pepper sauce that we could coat the vibrators with, to REALLY make it interesting!"

Kath slid down the wall with a grunt; "No thank you." Finding the keys, she straightened again, this time moving more slowly, more carefully. The key was upside-down on the first try, but the second try found it sliding into the lock. It turned with a very satisfying "click". Grinning at the Vixen, she turned and hopped from the cargo bay.

Corey stopped, turned and looked back. A naked and bound female mink was inchworming her way down the corridor. Very strange. For a moment he wondered if he should offer assistance, but then the Wolverine lady appeared, and bent over the Mink making sounds of approval. Shrugging he turned and headed back towards his "laboratory". He had to compile his notes before they arrived, before the thoughts evaporated from his memory.


Tanj held at the outer marker, as requested. There was absolutely NO other traffic in the system that she could detect, although from some of the neutrino emissions, she felt that there must be cloaked ships nearby…. Corey sat quietly in the engineering station chair on the flight deck, gazing absently at the main viewscreen. She’d expected him to be running a dozen different scans of the system. It was a VERY unusual place.

Someone had moved the asteroid belt in towards the only inhabited planet in the system. The myriad rocks now danced a crazy pattern around the globe, each in a different, and apparently high speed orbit. And there were, if not thousands, then at least hundreds of them, that she could see. Some of them were rather sizeable. It was going to make landing very interesting indeed. It was a passive defensive system the likes of which she’d never seen before.

Something belowdecks set up a banshee wail, the very hullplates resonating beneath her feet. Sending a startled glance over the engineering display mirrored on her console she could find nothing amiss…. Except a power draw in the residential section.

"Yes, I thought that was going to happen."

Tanj turned to look at the Lynx, who just smiled back at her; "They just tried to scan us. A scan on a level that would have revealed the entire contents of your ship’s computer, not to mention what was in the refridgerator, and, *ahem* the contents of Hinoki’s toybox….." The Lynx actually blushed as he said that.

Tanj immediately wondered what those two had been up to, and when the Lynx might have had time….

"Not to worry though, as its been reflected back at them."

Surely enough a moment later the comm bleeped. "We find we can’t scan your vessel. A scan is required before you can proceed!" a voice growled. Tanj noticed there’d been no video component to the signal.

Before she could reply, Corey hit a button on his console; "The anti-scan screen is to protect our trade secrets. We will permit a scan, but there will be a cost associated with it, to cover any potential loss in revenue from said secrets. That cost is currently estimated at twelve billion, three hundred thousand, two hundred and twelve credits. Do you wish to accept the charge?"

There was a long silence. Finally the voice came back. "The scan is… customary, to, ah, allow us to serve you better, but is not required. We decline the charge. Landing instructions follow.

Tanj watched the data flow across her screen. She wondered if they’d decided to try and wreck her ship and then search the wreckage for the gizmo that reflected their scans. Keying the data into the flight computer, she was once again glad that her ship was not what it appeared. The flight path would be challenging for a highly maneuverable fighter. Taking a deep breath, she engaged the drive, and started down.

Ralph frowned. He’d just poured a cup of coffee, and had been about to take a sip, when it sloshed. Then it sloshed again, but in a different direction. Putting the cup down hurriedly, he dashed for the flight deck; something was wrong, and while he was sure Tanj knew all about it, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure.

The Tiger almost bumped into Hinoki’s back as he came through the door to the flight deck. Following the Cheetah’s gaze, his eyes grew wide as he got a good look at the main viewscreen. Softly he muttered; "Well, that’d explain it…."

It looked like an ancient video game; irregularly shaped rocks whizzed by, seemingly in all directions. Most asteroid fields have large distances between the rocks, but here they scarcely seemed to be past one when another loomed into view. Tanj sat with her paws calmly folded in her lap, but her eyes were locked on the Nav display. The ship flew the preprogrammed route exactly, never straying outside the parameters approach control had sent them. It seemed like ages, but eventually, they were through, and into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. From there, the trip was positively anticlimactic.

Corey swiveled in his station chair, and looked at the assembled furrs. For some reason his pointed ears caught Tanj's attention, as he purrred; "Fascinating. They’ve used a twelfth order equation for their defense system. My analysis shows that there should be at least three other routes to the planet’s surface, at any given time, although it is unlikely that any of them would be less…. Severe. I have, of course, logged both the equation, and the program I’ve generated to plot exit routes, should we need to leave in a hurry."

Tanj chuckled; "I’m impressed. Thank you. However, I don’t think we’ll leave unexpectedly. I don’t know if you noticed, but some of those rocks carried active defenses. Missile batteries on rare occasions, but mostly directed energy weapons."

The Lynx frowned; "Maintenance must be… extremely difficult. I would imagine the rocks, or at least the armed ones, have propulsion systems. Better to bring them out of the… defense system for maintenance than to risk a ship trying to match orbits with them in there. Still, such weaponry would complicate a rapid departure. I suggest, therefor, that we try and behave ourselves."

Ralph looked from face to face and then snorted "Yeah, THIS group? Riiiiiiight!"

The docking bay was clean, and as modern as any Tanj had ever seen. Their ship just fit, and before she could even start to shut down, robot arms had connected dockside power and utilities. Force of habit made her leave one APU running on standby, but it obviously wasn’t needed.

A uniformed furr met them at the foot of the ramp; Tanj at first thought he must be with customs, but he announced that he was with the Starport, and inquired as to whether their ship needed any repairs or modifications while they were here? Were there any services they could offer? Tanj finally settled for a basic "security" package, but she’d already sealed the ship and their security systems were fairly good. And Corey had brought the anti-scanning device with him, saying they might need it in their hotel room…

The Limousine looked very much the worse for wear. There were several blaster marks on the back quarter that Tanj hadn’t noticed. Between those, and the crash damage to the front, it LOOKED a proper vehicle for a bunch of visiting pirates. Thanks to Hinoki’s ministrations, it ran correctly, and even boasted a few small improvements, such as inertial dampers.

Ralph climbed into the front passenger seat, the "Shotgun" position, and unwrapped a small rectangular panel. Hinoki, in the driver’s seat, leaned over; "Whatcha got there?"

The Tiger grinned; "It’s the remote for a pair of small recon drones. I figured after the last fiasco, it might not hurt if we had our own "escort."

Hinoki nodded slowly; "Aside from scouting for a parking place, and checking for traffic jams, what else can they do?"

The Tiger’s grin widened; "Well, Tanj wouldn’t let me put any offensive weaponry in them, but each carries a jammer that mimics this vehicle’s signature. There are some other goodies as well, but I’d rather not talk about ‘em."

Hinoki lowered his sunglasses, to peer over them at the Tiger; "Uh HUH."

The trip to the hotel was rather routine. The city was modern, and clean, and heavily automated. In fact, local traffic control kept requesting Hinoki put the limo on autopilot, and Hinoki had to keep telling the computer that the limo didn’t have remote control capabilities. As a result, they were kept in the slow lane. Not that it mattered; there was no reason for them to be moving at more than 600 KPH; the hotel just wasn’t that far….

The Hotel had a higher rating than Tanj had originally intended to use; the "windfall" at Vehnice had caused her to change their reservations. As a result, she felt rather "out of place" in the lobby. Her jumpsuit was the best she had, tailored to her body, and yet, she felt… frumpy.

The Hotel was obviously well connected with the starport, as they were expected; the desk clerk, a platinum Mink that could have been a supermodel welcomed them warmly, and by name, and handed each of them a passcard. Apparently the Hotel had identified their source of credit on the planet, as no request for method of payment, or deposit was requested. The bellhop escorted them to the suite and pointed out the various features. Zassa wowed over the bath, while Tanj stared out the window at the cityscape, and Ralph grilled the bellhop on the suite’s security features. Finally the pour soul managed to escape. Tanj wondered if gratuities were automatically deducted from her bank account…

Corey came up behind the Cheetah; "Our appointment isn’t until the morning after tomorrow. Its already been confirmed. What are your plans for the intervening time?" Before Tanj could open her mouth, Zassa cried; "SHOPPING!"

Wanda chuckled and shrugged; "Bruno’s appointment isn’t for another three days yet. I suppose we could suffer through a bit of shopping…." Corey nodded; "If you don’t mind, I’d like to spend tomorrow in the University’s research library; they have some… hard to find titles." Tanj chuckled; "Of course; that’s quite all right Professor, but I do trust you’ll join us for dinner tonight? I’ve heard there are some marvelous restaurants here. Zassa laughed; "Dinner! Yes! Oooooo, Sabina! Where’s our luggage! We’ve got to get DRESSED!"

Tanj looked at herself in the mirror; the dress was a golden shimmer over her fur, all but transparent in some places, her spots showing through clearly, and nearly opaque in others, concealing, well, not much. From the research she’d done, this planet didn’t much care how much, or how little you wore, as long as it was stylishly done, and the more high-tech, the better. This was the closest thing she had to fitting that fashion.

Zassa on the other hand, seemed to be wreathed in ever-shifting tendrils of colored smoke; it was an interesting and most erotic effect. Sabina however, looked like something out of a censored cartoon; black bars seemed to float in the air, covering her crotch and breasts, and behind her, a vertical bar floated, concealing the crack of her ass. The interesting thing was, that however she moved, from whatever angle you looked at her, the bars seemed to interpose themselves just right. Tanj had to laugh; the kitten looked most disgruntled with the "outfit" her mistress had chosen for her.

Wanda looked like something out of a spy thriller, an all-enveloping catsuit, that appeared more than skintight; she looked alluring and yet somehow threatening. Kath’s outfit resembled a ladie’s business suit, except for the fact that it was almost completely sheer.

Hinoki was modestly dressed in a dinner jacket that was probably stylish on some world a hundred lightyears away, with multiple,overlapping chromed lapels. While not quite in tune with the local fashion, he still looked good; and on the end of his leash, Sashi was a latex dream. Everything was covered, and yet, it was so tight, everything was revealed. Ralph was in his usual black suit, and Bruno…. Bruno looked lost in the obviously strange-to-him outfit, a simple gray jumpsuit.

As the elevator carried them down to the lobby, Tanj took a moment to examine it. The car was oval in shape, and except for a carpeted floor, completely transparent. It moved in a matching tube, in the outer wall of the Hotel, and the view of the city was magnificent. It was also interesting to watch the floors flash past. Each one seemed to be different in layout and décor.

Watching Tanj, the Vixen chuckled; "I know just what you’re thinking; what a marvelous opportunity to flash some one as the elevator goes past a floor. If we had more time, I’d borrow your Tiger here, and see just how shocked the staff and other guests could be!" Tanj just shook her head and laughed.

The Limo was waiting for them at the hotel’s front door, and Tanj wondered about the level of "surveillance". Still, it was quite convenient. Hinoki had the route planned, and with Ralph’s drones flanking them, they sped off into the city night.

The restaurant was unlike anything Tanj had ever seen before. The car park was underground, which wasn’t unusual, but the elevator lifted them up into a kiosk, in the middle of what seemed to be a park. The Matre’D met them as they exited the elevator, and led them across the grass to a table, seemingly set in the middle of nowhere. They had a nice view of a stream, and in the distance, the city skyline. But they seemed worlds removed from the concrete and steel. Fairy lights glowed in the trees, and candles flickered on the table in the light breeze. Drinks arrived, without having been ordered, and Tanj found that whatever hers was, it was exactly what she wanted. It was cool and smooth, and sweet….

Zassa was talking to Hinoki, about a restaurant she knew, where she came from, but Tanj was only half listening. Occasionally furrs could be seen ambling across the pastoral landscape, often with drinks in hand, occasionally one with a plate of some exotic desert. The costumes were as unusual as the setting; every one seemed to be different. She chuckled softly to herself as one of the patrons, a male Otter, moved with a female Caracal. The outfit he was wearing left his crotch completely bare, and seemed to be specifically designed to accentuate his maleness. Not that his lady friend seemed to notice in the least. She was swathed in a fabric that seemed to fade in and out of sight, like the grin of the Cheshire Cat; one moment it was there, covering her from neck to feet in dark fabric, and then portions of it had faded out, and then it seemed to be gone altogether, only to fade back in, in sections, and then in whole. She couldn’t imagine what they were talking about, so seriously…..

Tanj frowned at her glass; she hadn’t remembered anyone refilling it, and yet, it was still almost full. Her head was spinning in a most delightful fashion; the drink was obviously more alcoholic than she’d thought…. "Got to be careful" she chided herself; "This could be dangerous….."

The main course arrived, again, without an order being placed, and Tanj was delighted to find Tiger Prawns on her plate, in what seemed to be a delicious garlic sauce. How did they KNOW that was her favorite? Either the Restaurant had a file on her that was incredible, or they’d hired a telepath to screen their guests….. Either one was rather frightening!

When desert came, in little fluted dishes, Tanj just had to take hers, and rise; "Lets go for a stroll; it seems to be the custom here". Hinoki chuckled and nodded; "Sounds good to me; I could stand to stretch my legs!" Ralph led the way, heading for the stream. There was a small wooden dock along one edge, and leaning on the railing, peering downward, Tanj marveled at the softly glowing fish that swam just below the surface of the water. The place really did seem magical.

Somehow they wound up back in the Limo, without ever having paid a bill. Tanj wondered just how much was going to be deducted from her bank accounts for this night’s pleasure. With a sigh, she figured she’d better check; they might have to eat ship’s emergency rations for the rest of their stay, if it was as expensive as she feared. Thoughts along those lines were still occupying her mind as they arrived at the Hotel.

The clear elevator door opened as they approached; this place certainly had all the conveniences. Tanj moved to the back of the car and leaned against the wall; she felt very full, and slightly drunk, and very content……

Tanj watched the cityscape as they ascended. Feeling the elevator decelerate, she turned sleepily. When the door opened, everything changed. There was a furr there, dressed in casual clothes. He stood tensely, as if he couldn’t wait for the elevator, desperate to go somewhere, or do something. And he had something in his hand, something like a remote control. With the other hand, he tossed something at them. And then the doors started to close.

Everything seemed to happen at once. Sashi’s arm was a brown blur as she shifted in front of Hinoki, turning, caught the object that had been tossed, and turning full circle, tossed it back just as the doors closed. A fraction of a second later, there was a muffled boom, and the whole car shook. And then the doors, no longer transparent, but now tinged red, were opening again….

Ralph understood what was happening even as it occurred; and yet, he just couldn’t seem to will his muscles to move fast enough to DO anything. He recognized the item in the strange furr’s paw as an electrical-discharge grenade, of Thuvian design. The moment he saw it, he knew what was happening; someone was trying to kill them. Some security HE’d turned out to be! And then Sashi was pushing in front of him with blinding speed, literally catching and then throwing the grenade back, as the doors closed. He’d expected the elevator car to drop, either in freefall, as its power supply was cut, or just to return to the lobby under its normal programming, so when the doors started to open again, he just KNEW the assassins were going for a second try….

The Tiger started to step from the elevator, as the doors parted, only to collide with Sashi again; the Chocolate pantheress literally pushed him back into the car as she dove between the doors. Ralph watched as she did a neat tuck, and roll. As his eyes followed her, he saw a second fur, splashed with the remains of the first, pointing a rather large plasma rifle right at him; however the furr was distracted by the brown blur, and for a moment he hesitated, uncertain of his target. It was all the time Sashi needed to bound right into him, knocking him flat. It was then that Ralph saw the third furr, with the nerve disruptor. With a howl, he dove through the open doors for the plasma rifle.

The second furr’s neck snapped audibly, as Sashi expertly applied a hold Tanj had never seen before. His arms spasmed and seemed to throw the plasma rifle right into Ralph’s outstretched paws. The Tiger fell to one knee, raised the weapon, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Down the corridor, the third furr flinched, as if fully expecting the weapon to fire. She recovered quickly, bringing the nerve disruptor up, and pulling the trigger. A fraction of a second later, Ralph’s weapon fired, blue light scouring the corridor.

Tanj pushed past Sabina and into the corridor. Somewhere a fire alarm was ringing, and she could hear powered doors closing. Stalking forward, she looked down at the mess that had been the first furr; the grenade must have gone off at his feet. The second furr was also dead, head at an obviously wrong angle, and the third furr…. There wasn’t much left. Ralph was shaking, spasming hard, but he managed a weak grin; once again, the superconductive fabric woven into his suit had saved him. "Safety….." the Tiger muttered; "Fool had the Safety on…." Tanj nodded, and then looked up as three uniformed furrs, their faces hidden by the mirrored faceplates of their combat helmets, emerged from what apparently was a service stairwell.

The Management was quite solicitous. They’d recorded the whole event on the security cameras, and were quite embarrassed that unauthorized furrs were on that floor, let alone in their Hotel! And they were also most apologetic that, although the corridor was monitored, that they’d been unable to dispatch their security force in time to intervene. The local police were equally sympathetic, and announced that for the remainder of their stay, the crew of the Lost Cause would have a security detachment, at City expense, of course. They flatly refused Ralph’s request to allow them to arm themselves. Sorry, simply NOT done. Tanj just fumed. She paced. She growled. At the bottom of it all, she was mad at herself; she was supposed to be the intelligence specialist and she’d had no hint that anyone was after them! Who were they? Why were they there? Hell, most folks at the Black Fleet didn’t even know where they were! What was going on, and how could she find out???

The local police were no help. DNA tests had failed to identify the first or third attackers, and the second assassin, the one in the best physical shape, had been identified as a furr simply on planet for business, and showed no record of any criminal behavior. None. That meant, that as assassins, they were either very VERY good, or rank amateurs. The local police didn’t have a clue.


Ralph yawned, and shook his head; lurching across the suite’s living room, he came up behind the Cheetah. Tanj had a laptop on the coffee table, a dish-shaped antenna pointed out the window in the general direction of the starport, and a host of black boxes and wires strung inbetween. "Couldn’t sleep" she muttered, her fingers flying over the keys. "Thought I’d look into what might be going on." Ralph nodded, crouching to look over her shoulder. The windows open all dealt with the one identified furr from the assassination attempt. "It says here, that he’s a middle level corporate exec from the Imperial homeworld. Completely unremarkable. And the company he works for is in commodities; no reason I can find for him to be here. None. According to his company, he’s on vacation with his family at Flosten’s Paradise."

Ralph nodded, his speech slightly slurred; "What connections have you checked out?"

Tanj sighed; "The usual. Associates at work. Church connections. Professional associations. Clubs, and special interest groups. So far, nothing."

The Tiger nodded; "What about family relationships?"

Tanj blinked, her fingers pausing for a moment. "No… hadn’t gotten to that yet."

Closing a few windows and opening another, she did a lineage search. Both of them stared at the furr’s family tree for a moment and then at the same time, they both pointed; "There!"

Wanda blinked, and then carefully picked her way from her bedroom to the kitchenette. Cables seemed to be strung everywhere. There were at least four laptops networked together, along with several large boxes whose purpose she could only guess at. In the corner an APU quietly hummed. And on the kitchen counter, next to the coffeemaker, a device in silver and glass whined annoyingly. It looked half-melted, and made her fur stand on end when she reached for the coffee pot. Frowning, she turned and made her way back to where Tanj and Hinoki were looking over a printout. "What’s that….. thing next to the coffee maker?"

Tanj looked up; "That? Oh, that’s Corey’s null field. We thought it might be prudent to get a little privacy."

Wanda nodded, and regarded the spiderweb of cables and power cords; "and the reason for the privacy?"

Tanj handed the printout to Hinoki and turned to face the Wolverine lass; "We did some checking on our would-be assassins last night. One of them, the one that Sashi killed, was married to a second cousin of the Emperor himself. It looks as if he may have been allied with the Crown Prince’s faction."

Wanda sipped her coffee and nodded; "I always hated politics. So…. Why would the Emperor, or the Crown Prince, want to kill us? I mean, if the Emperor wanted us dead, he has all the resources he needs!"

Tanj nodded; "And that’s why we think this is something related to the Crown Prince. Everyone knows he wants his daddy’s job, and we think these may have been some of his schemers that saw a target of opportunity." Tanj held up a paw, forestalling Wanda’s retort; "I know, I know; what the scheme is, and why we’re targets of opportunity, I DON’T know. But I intend to find out."

Wanda just shook her head and sighed; "Meddling in Imperial politics is neither safe, nor wise."

Tanj just grinned; "For better or worse, I think its too late to worry about that."


Zassa yawned. Ralph, Hinoki, and Tanj were wrapped up in their research. And it was boring. She didn’t have anything to do. Finally, after paging through all three hundred holovision channels for the third time, she rose and declared; "That’s it. I’m goin’ shopping with or without you!"

Tanj’s head came up and she looked at the Vixen for a moment, and then nodded; "Right. Good idea. I’ll write you a list."

Ralph looked at Hinoki; "Would you mind if they took Sashi? I’m a little tied up here, and after all, Intelligence IS my specialty."

Hinoki looked blankly back at the Tiger; "Mind? No, I guess not; but why her?"

Ralph shook his head; "Did you see the way she moved last night? Her reaction times were incredible. I’m not exactly slow, but she was a blur compared to me. She broke that guy’s neck with an ease and grace that screams of professional training. I’d say that if anyone here could provide security for Zassa’s foray, it would be her."

Hinoki nodded slowly, and then rose; "Sashi, come here a moment, please."

The Chocolate Pantheress came and knelt before him; "Yes, Master?"

"I’m curious. You did very well last night. VERY well. How did you learn to do that?"

The Pantheress just shrugged; "Master, I don’t know. It all happened so fast, I never really thought about what I was doing. It just happened."

Hinoki sighed and nodded; "Too many holes in your past, Sashi. We DO need to do something about that. All right, I want you to get dressed, conservatively, and to go with Zassa. Follow her orders as you would mine. Keep her and the others safe."

Sabina smiled; "Yes, Master".

Tanj’s head came up and she growled; "not to complain about your saving us all last night, Sashi, but next time, please keep one alive for me to interrogate."

Sashi smiled and nodded; "Yes, Mistress, if I can do that while following my Master’s orders, I certainly shall."


Zassa came to a stop just outside the suite’s door. There were four uniformed police officers waiting. The Vixen looked at them, and then just shook her head; "All rigth. First stop is a place called Harroldson’s. We’re taking the Limo, and will fly on manual control; I don’t want local traffic control passing our route to anyone who might be setting up an ambush. You can either ride with us, or follow; your choice. Now lets get going!"

Sabina squirmed on the Limo’s seat. She was wearing dark leather, from neck to toe. It was strange, so very strange, to be so completely covered after being nude for so long. But Mistress had insisted that the synthetic lining to the catsuit was the closest thing they had to body armor. She knew that Wanda’s similar outfit was designed for protection against ballistic weapons, with a thin reflective layer on top of that, to provide at least some protection against lasers, and a superconducting fabric layer under that to defend against nerve scramblers. The Mink’s outfit was even more frightening, although it probably didn’t offer near as much protection. At Kath’s own suggestion, Wanda had let her don her Imperial Intelligence uniform. The Kitten smiled, eyes flitting to the uniformed policefurr that rode with them in the Limo. The young Buck was trying hard NOT to look at Kath, but it was obvious that being so near to someone from that powerful and mysterious organization unnerved him.

Harroldson’s was obviously an outfitter for….. well, something between spys and special operations types. Sashi paused to admire the laser sniper rifle on display. Its placard boasted of accuracies and lethalities at almost astronomic ranges. Turning, she moved to follow Zassa, her eyes roving around the store. The Manager had already come up to Kath, assuming that she was in charge; when the Mink directed him to Zassa, he was obviously confused, but no less solicitous. The Vixen quietly outlined the items on Tanj’s list, explaining that they’d been through an assassination attempt the previous night, and that they wanted every possible, every conceivable defense that local law would permit. "A matter of… time and logistics, you understand. No time for our own equipment to be shipped in…" The manager’s eyes flicked from the local police, to the Mink in the Imperial Intelligence uniform, and back to the Vixen; he swallowed and nodded; "Of course, Madam; if you’ll follow me…..

Sabina smiled and twirled in front of the mirror. The outfit she now wore resembled a conservative ladies business suit. However, it provided all the protection that Wanda’s custom outfit provided. She now carried a purse, with a barely-legal stunner, and several gas grenades of questionable worth. Also in the purse was a jammer that was reputed to interfere with the operations of some energy weapons, and most eavesdropping devices. Most of the others were similarly outfitted, although Kath’s garment resembled a leotard that her uniform would fit over. Always glad to get new clothes, the Kitten purrrred softly to herself.

Sashi watched one of Ralph’s droids float overhead. It had followed them into the store, to the obvious amazement of the store’s employees. Apparently they hadn’t thought things like that could get in there. Every once in a while one of them would lift a device from behind the counter, push a button, and then get a bewildered or confused look on his or her face. Once, the device being tested had actually emitted sparks and a cloud of smoke. Sashi grinned and shook her head. Ralph WAS good at what he did. She just hoped that some of the devices they were purchasing were more effective than tose being "demonstrated" against Ralph’s drone.

Corey looked at the Cheetah and shook his head; "you understand, this is not the kind of research I’m used to conducting. Not my field… not at all!" Tanj smiled and nodded; "But you know your way around libraries and information retrieval systems much better than the rest of us. We need background information on those who might be our enemies; we need to get a feel for who they are, and how they think. I think you can obtain that information from the public services much faster, and more efficiently than any of the rest of us." The Lynx sighed and took the list; "Yes, that may be true." Looking up, he stared into the Cheetah’s eyes; "However, it will have to run in parallel with my own researches. Remember, please that I was originally going to the library for a completely different reason!" Tanj smiled and nodded; "just do what you can, Professor."

Zassa looked up as the policeman wandered over; "You know, Miss, that device has applications almost entirely related to burglary…" The Vixen gave him her sweetest smile; "Yes, I know; we want to test our own security, and what better way than to try and break into our own suite using tools locally available? Besides, its not illegal, is it?" The Policeman frowned; "Not per se, but penaties for mis-use are quite stiff." The Vixen nodded, still smiling; "Good. Then I’ll take it…."

Tanj looked up as the Vixen came through the door. "Hi, Tanj; got all the stuff on your list. And we even found time to hit a few boutiques on the way back. Oh, and I stopped and got Chinese. Didn’t figure you’d want to go out again, after last night. You know, those cops know some pretty good restaurants!"

Tanj nodded; "That’s good; glad you got all the gear. Hope we won’t need most of it, but…. and we just ordered pizza."

Ralph looked up from his computer; "Oh, great! I love egg rolls and pepperoni pizza! Did you get any Moo Goo Gai Pan?"

Hinoki read through the stuff Corey had brought back, his feet up on the coffee table, a plate of half-eaten food on his lap. Finally, with a sigh, he put the sheaf of papers down; "OK, so I’m now an expert on the court intrigues surrounding the Imperial Family. Good LORD, how did this bunch ever wind up in charge? The best of the lot are only interested in their own welfare, or their own social status. The worst are so power hungry I think they’d sacrifice half the Empire just to gain control of the other half. Ruthless. Tanj, I really think we need to steer as clear of this group as possible!"

The Cheetah just laughed; "Oh, I agree completely! And yet, there are a few things that bother me."

Hinoki nodded; "Such as?"

Tanj shrugged; "Well, for instance, despite constant political intrigues, the Empire DOES seem to run. Some of the folks at the top are plainly incompetent. Others are just sycophants. So who’s running the show? COULDN’T be some of the furrs that are supposed to be in charge! And then there are the missing heirs."

Hinoki chuckled; "Yeah…. Morals this group doesn’t seem to have. Even by the standards of the Black Fleet. The number of bastards is incredible. Half-brothers, half-sisters, heck, I think the only one with clear title to the throne is the Crown Prince, and even he was by the… what was it, the Emperor’s third wife?"

"Second, I think. No matter. There are some that have claim to the throne that just aren’t there. No record of death, just… gone."

Hinoki nodded; "So they never found the body. That shouldn’t be that hard; space is pretty vast."

Tanj nodded slowly; "True….. still….."

Hinoki rose, and stretched. Tossing the remnants of his meal in the trash (no recycler HERE!) he padded towards his room; "Well, I’m going to get some sleep. Tomorrow should be an interesting day."

Tanj just nodded, and turned back to her display.


Tanj was very tempted to ignore the alarm. She’d stayed up much too late trying to piece together something from nothing, and hadn’t really achieved a damned thing. All speculation, and no hard facts. Yawning she pulled the covers over her head and tried for a moment to ignore the sounds of Corey bustling around in the living room. Finally she threw back the covers and padded towards the bathroom. Her bathroom. The hotel was luxurious enough that each bedroom in the suite had its own bath. Now THAT was luxury!

Zassa grinned at the Cheetah as she emerged from her room. Tanj was wearing one of her standard shipsuits, carefully tailored to her figure; however under it, she had one of the defensive "leotards". It made her look, in her opinion, just a little overweight. "You guys have fun with the tech types. Good luck in your negotiations!"

Tanj nodded distractedly; "So what are you guys going to do while we’re gone?"

Zassa grinned; "Not much; Ralph has convinced us to stay put, while you’re out, for security purposes. I thought I’d have ‘bina do my nails, and maybe work on my hair. After all, when you get back, we ARE going out!"

Tanj just chuckled and nodded; "OK, I suppose its not fair to keep you cooped up here; but wait for us before you turn the city upside down!"


The trip to the research institute was uneventful. Ralph’s drones flew escort, and the police desperately tried to keep up with Hinoki’s driving. Not that he was going fast, but he was making unpredictable turns, following what appeared to be a completely random path…

They were met at the door, and immediately escorted into a conference room. Ralph and Sashi stood by the door, trying to look like alert security types. Tanj, Corey, and Hinoki took their seats at the table. A moment later, a half dozen furrs, some in lab coats, some in business suits, filed in and took their places across the table. The negotiations were launched by the Research Institute giving a presentation on their extensive capabilities. It certainly sounded impressive.

Then Corey started HIS presentation. Holograms appeared in the air as he talked, describing the disappearance of the Elysium system, and the spatial anomolies he’d cataloged. During this portion of his talk, Tanj watched the furrs across the table. Some of the scientific types seemed deeply interested. Others seemed bored. The business types seemed more mystified as to how the Lynx created the images in his presentation; he hadn’t asked to borrow any of their equipment, nor had he seemed to have brought any of his own.

As Corey moved into his theories on the phenomenon, and the research he wanted to conduct, it was plain that he’d either lost some of the scientific types, or that he thought he was just full of crap. Still, they kept silent. When the Lynx finally wound down, one of the business types leaned across the table, and looking right at Tanj, quoted a price for the work.

Tanj’s eyes widened; after a moment she managed to squeak out; "Gentlefurrs, surely you know that’s way beyond our meager resources!" One of the scientific types growled out something about the standard rates for their high energy physics lab, and the cost of power. And then Corey exploded, about how they were completely out of line, and trying to rob them. By the time Tanj got him calmed down, the Scientific types had their heads together, talking about ways to trim the program.

Corey spluttered and fumed, and fussed, and in the end he screamed bloody murder, but when it was all said and done, they’d arranged for a scant three days of testing. Even with all the funds from the incident at Vehnice, it was all they could afford. With the papers signed, they agreed on the experiments to start in the morning.

Corey was still complaining bitterly about "Scientific piracy" as they exited the building. Finally Tanj had had enough, and turned to the Lynx; "Listen, no one wants this work to succeed more than I do, but we are doing all that we can. I’m draining my resources to the very limit to do this. You’ll just have to get the most information you can, for the money available! OH, and do NOT change the scope of the work. No matter what you find. We simply do NOT have the money!"

The Lynx sighed, and nodded; "I know, I know. You’ve been most generous. Its not you that I’m mad at. Honestly. We will do as much as we can, and move on from there. Promise."


Hinoki only half listened to Tanj and Corey. As they’d stood in the courtyard in front of the Research institute, a Rat in a lab coat had walked up, and was examining Sashi as if she were a museum exhibit…. Or a lab animal. After walking around her twice, and even poking her a few times, he turned to Hinoki, and pushed his antique glasses up on his nose; "I assume the project went acceptably, and that you’re satisfied with the product? Its meeting all its expectations?"

Hinoki stared at the Rat, thinking fast; "Yes, mostly. There were some rough spots, but I do believe we’re nominally satisfied."

The Rat looked from Sashi back to Hinoki, and Hmmmmed, looking a little distressed. "Our lab prides itself on its work. If the product does not meet all of its performance criteria, we would very much like to know about it. If you have any issues, any issues at all, I suggest you talk to Dr. Pangborne." Producing a business card, the Rat handed it to Hinoki, and then turned, and walked off.

"What was that all about?" Hinoki turned to look at Tanj; "I think a major piece of the puzzle just fell into our lap. If I’m interpreting things correctly, Sashi was a product of one of the labs here in this group of high-tech pirates. I still don’t know the whys and the wherefors, but I DO have a name now."

Tanj grinned her most predatory grin; "Excellent. Although I think before we pay these people a visit, we need to find out more; MUCH more….


Zassa sat at the table, and scowled; "Must you two talk shop ALL the time?

Hinoki and Tanj looked up. Tanj blinked, and Hinoki grinned; "ah, but the game’s afoot! We have a mystery, and not just any mystery, but a mystery regarding one of our very own! How can you NOT be curious as to Sashi’s origins?"

Tanj nodded; "And how can you not be concerned that if she was genetically engineered for a specific purpose, that said purpose was not a decapitation strike against Jenka?"

Zassa sighed and waved a paw; "yes, yes, YES, I’m interested. I’m intrigued. I’m CONCERNED. But you’ve been over and over and OVER the few facts you’ve got ad-nauseum. Take a break. Give it a rest. Now, who’s going to dance with me?"

Zassa stood, and glared down the table. Hinoki, with his best poker face in place, started to rise, but Ralph beat him to it; "I’d be delighted, Mistress!"

As the Vixen moved towards the dance floor, on the Tiger’s arm, she turned and stuck out her tongue at those still at the table.

Wanda fed Bruno another spoonful and chuckled; "She’s right you know. Mustn’t get obsessed."

Tanj sighed and nodded; "True. There’s a good chance Sashi wasn’t directed at us at all. It might just all be a coincidence." Rising, Tanj grinned at Hinoki; "shall we dance?"

As they returned to the suite, Ralph waved them to a halt; "just let me check the telltales."

Wanda just muttered "huh?" as the Tiger crouched by the door, an old-fashioned magnifying glass in his paw.

Kath smiled; "its an old trick, Mistress; you use saliva to stick a hair across the door; if anyone passes through, the hair will be missing. Or, if they’re VERY good, merely out of place."

Ralph sat back on his heels and let out a "Huh!" Turning his head, he fixed Kath with an eye; "these people ARE very good. There are hairs in place, approximately where I left them…. But they’re not mine."

Tanj blinked; "say what? How can you tell?" Ralph grinned and ruffled the fur on the back of one paw; "I only use the orange hairs. These are black."

Suddenly time slowed down for Tanj again. She could hear her heat beating, feel everything become sharper as adrenaline entered her system. Forcing herself to be calm she cast a glance up and down the corridor, found the nearest surveillance camera and growled; "Get your security people up here NOW!"

It took the Hotel staff about three minutes to deliver on Tanj’s demand. The elevator doors opened, and the Concierge, two hotel security types, and one local policeman emerged. "What seems to be the problem, Madam?"

Tanj looked the Coyote up and down; "you tell me; someone’s been in our suite since we left. Housekeeping had come earlier in the day. Have any of your folks been in our suite? And if not, who has?"

The Concierge remained unruffled; "Madam, no one has been in your suite. I’ve reviewed the surveillance tapes myself, before coming, and this corridor has been completely empty since you left."

Tanj frowned; "Are there any other guests on this floor?"

The Concierge nodded; "Yes, Ma’am; suites 3 and 7 are occupied."

"And none of them have left their suites since we left, early this evening."

The Concierge frowned; "Not that the surveillance cameras have shown."

Tanj nodded; "Its late, so I won’t knock on their doors, but I’d be surprised if both parties hadn’t gone out for dinner as well. Or ordered room service, which also should have shown on your cameras. Tell you what. Since you’re so convinced that no one has broken into our suite, I’ll let you open the door." With a grim face, the Cheetah proffered her card key.

The Coyote stared at it, and rather reluctantly took it. Turning he looked at one of the hotel security guards. The Panda looked back, his face just as grim and nodded; "I’ve watched that camera all evening. There hasn’t been a trace of tampering. I’LL open the door." Snatching the card from the Coyote, the Panda marched up to the door, swiped it through the reader, and turned the handle.

Ralph stepped in front of Tanj as the Panda moved past. A moment later, he was thrown against the Cheetah, and both of them into Wanda.

Tanj shook her head, and squirmed out from under the Tiger. The corridor was filled with smoke, and again, a fire alarm was ringing in the distance. Or maybe that was just her ears. The Panda had left a body-sized hole in the wall opposite the door to their suite. Most of the doorframe was gone, along with a portion of the floor and ceiling. Tanj took a look into their suite, and wondered if she could jump the gap, and then paused. The room might also be boobytrapped. Turning back to the Concierge, she growled; "I think its time to check out. I’m afraid your security is inadequate." Looking over at the cop, she growled; "Get the bomb squad in here. I want to know if any of our possessions have been booby-trapped. And I suppose you ought to get Forensics as well." Turning to Hinoki, she growled; "We’re going back to the ship. In fact, I think we’ll sleep in Orbit. I’m not sure I trust leaving the ship at the starport here."

Corey cleared his throat; "You understand, Captain, that I’m due at the Research Institute first thing in the morning."

Tanj nodded; "So we rack up landing and port fees instead of a hotel bill. Its better than missing something and winding up dead."

The Lynx swallowed and nodded solemnly.


It was obvious that traffic control had heard about the explosion at the hotel; they got liftoff priority. Flying through the asteroid field was only a little less unnerving on the way up….. As soon as they were clear, Tanj cloaked the ship, shifted to a higher orbit, and programmed the sensors to scream bloody murder if anything larger than a grain of dust headed their way.

"Its obvious that we’ve ruffled someone’s feathers."

Tanj nodded in agreement with Hinoki.

"And following that train of logic, I think it may have been a mistake to check out of the hotel."

Tanj blinked and looked at the Cheetah; "howzat?"

Hinoki shrugged; "I think we should have set a trap for whoever’s trying to kill us. It’s the only way to find out who’s behind it."

Tanj shook her head; "No. That would have worked with the first group, which seemed to be amatuers. The second attempt was much more professional, and suggests a different group."

Wanda laughed; "Yeah, especially since the first group was all dead!"

"Besides" Tanj sighed; "We’d have to survive any subsequent attempts and that is rather iffy." Shifting her gaze down the table she grinned at Ralph: "By the way, have I thanked you yet for saving our lives yet again?"

The Tiger just grinned and shrugged; "you’re Welcome. But for me, I’m just as glad to be up here where we’re just a little safer. Um….. there aren’t many ships that can find a cloaked vessel, are there?"

Corey coughed; "Normally, no, but you have to remember where we are. If anyone could find a cloaked vessel easily, the Tech Pirates of Gates’ world could. Or at least they could, until I made a few modifications…"

At that, Tanj sat up straight in her chair; the coffee mug hit the table with an audible thump; "All right, professor, tell me what you did!"


The policeman obviously wasn’t happy. Tanj had just read him the riot act. She’d told him that she was leaving crew onboard the ship, while it was dirtside, with orders to shoot first and ask questions later. With the plasma cannon. Boarders would NOT be tolerated. Period. And if anyone in her party ran into trouble, a response team from her ship, in Imperial Powered Armor would come to investigate. On the Bounce!" The Cop assured her there wouldn’t be problems, that her security force had been quadrupled… It still didn’t placate the hard-eyed Cheetah fem.

Dropping off Corey at the Institute was the first step. And that was when things got a little stranger. Hinoki had suggested that Sashi say with the Professor, as security. However, the furrs at the Institute had FLATLY refused. Without admitting that they knew anything at all about Sashi’s background, they adamantly refused to let her inside the building. Finally, Tanj assigned Ralph to watch over the Professor.

From there, Tanj, Hinoki, and Sashi returned to the port, but not to the docking bays. Against her better judgement, Tanj had decided that a shuttle, or a lighter of some sort would be advisable. The Limo couldn’t make orbit, and taking the ship back and forth every day would shortly become prohibitively expensive. Landing fees on Gates’ world were outrageous. Of course, the prices on shuttles and lighters were too, but at least here, you could find ones that had "all the options".

"No, I don’t mind if you sell the Limo" Hinoki growled; "But remember, you still owe me a fully restored Renegade. In fact, it’d be nice if we could buy a shuttle that could carry a ground car." Tanj chuckled; "I was hoping to find a shuttle that could double as a Limo, but I’m not sure that’s reasonable. I HATE to loose the cargo capacity, but….

Salesfurrs seem to be salesfurrs no matter what planet you’re on. And it rapidly became obvious that they’d never be able to afford something new. And that threw them into the arms of the used ship salesfurrs, an even lower breed. After listening to hype from salesfurr after salesfurr on vessels that just wouldn’t fit their needs, they broke for lunch. As they ate, Tanj shook her head and growled; "Maybe we need to try and buy through an individual." Hinoki chuckled; "The odds of being taken are higher that way, but the price might come down a little. Gee, wonder if they’ve got anything like the "used ship trader" here. I used to love browsing through those things."

As it turned out, there wasn’t a publication, but a system of brokerages, accessed through the local web. After an hour of paging through ads, and another hour of arguing, they finally narrowed it down to three prospects, each more or less local.

The first shuttle smelled like something had died in it. Not unlikely as it had been left in a vacant field, with the hatches open. As Tanj worked her way through its systems, she discovered that some sort of vermin had been chewing on the wiring. She doubted it could even make orbit, without some major work. The second one was being sold, apparently as part of a divorce settlement. It was in much better shape, but a little too small for Tanj’s tastes. She didn’t want to make two trips, to bring the crew down. Or worse, back up to the ship, if something "objectionable" had happened. The third one seemed to be just what they needed. A slender dart shape, with vestigal wings that suggested high speed through the atmosphere, it had a decent cargo hatch aft, seats for twelve, and was just barely small enough to fit the length of the cargo bay. Zassa was going to have a fit trying to balance the load with this thing there. Best of all, it had two hard points where weaponry could be mounted. The furr selling it, an elderly Racoon, kept silent as they worked their way through its systems. Finally, Tanj closed the last access panel and turned to face the owner. "All right, what’s wrong with it? The price you’re asking is much too low."

The Racoon shrugged; "Well, I’ll tell you, but you probably won’t believe me."

Tanj crossed her arms, and growled; "Tell me."

The Racoon shrugged; "Simple. The ship’s haunted."

Hinoki chuckled; "you’ve got to be kidding."

The Raccoon chuckled; "See, told ya you wouldn’t believe me."

Tanj sighed; "OK, HOW is it haunted. Green blood pooling on the deck? Strange noises? Cold, clammy paws touching you from behind?"

The Racoon shook his head; "No, nothing like that. Its just… well, most ships have their own personalities. Some are hangar queens; nothing ever seems to stay fixed. Others never seem to quit, and always come through for you. This one’s…. variable. If you treat her right, pamper her a bit, she’ll do just fine. Everything you want her to. But if you slight her, insult her, or hurt her feelings, she’ll get back at you. No, no one’s ever died from one of her little fits, but its enough to scare ya to death!" Looking a little troubled, the Raccoon looked askance at the pilot station and hastily added; "She really IS a good little ship, as long as you treat her right. Treat her right and she’ll treat YOU right….."

Tanj looked at Hinoki and shrugged; "I’ve seen periodic open, or short circuits that make it look as if the ship’s haunted, but there’s always been a reasonable explanation. I think I’m a good enough engineer that I can find problems like that and resolve them." Hinoki nodded; "I agree; I don’t believe in Haunted ships." Sashi looked from Cheetah to Cheetah and just shook her head, doubtfully.

The transaction was rapidly completed. More rapidly completed than Tanj would have thought possible. The Raccoon’s insistence that "all sales were final" was barely noted. He even took the Limo in trade. With all the papers signed, Tanj checked her chrono; "and just in time to pick up the Professor."

The Shuttle flew just as she expected it to. No larger than a large hovertruck, and probably a bit more maneuverable, Tanj had no trouble setting them down in the courtyard in front of the Institute. Ralph was waiting patiently, but the Lynx was pacing. It took them a moment to realize that the shuttle was their ride….

Ralph listened to the story about the shuttle with a poker face; when they were done, he shook his head; "I hope you haven’t made a mistake, Mistress. I had a drone one time, that I could swear was out to kill me. It only malfunctioned when it had a shot at doing me in, and then it generally went really wild. The first time I managed to power it down; but after checking it out thoroughly, I couldn’t find a thing wrong with it. The second time, after I got out of the hospital, I again ran diagnostics. Heck, I even sent it back to the manufacturer. THEY couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The third time, well, IT didn’t survive the encounter. Although Mistress Jenka did make me pay for it.

As they flew back to the ship, Corey was silent, leafing through several dozen pages of handwritten notes, adding cryptic scribbles. Tanj wasn’t even sure he was aware that they had a new vehicle.

After stowing the shuttle in the cargo bay, Tanj powered everything down, while the others filed out. Finally, she released her safety belt and climbed out of the pilot’s couch. She was just about to leave, when the outer airlock door closed in her face, with a "whoosh". Tanj frowned, and pushed the button to open the outer door. It failed to open. Sighing, wondering if the pressure sensors that told the ship there was atmosphere outside its hull were malfunctioning, she hit the button to close the inner door. It closed as it should, but the outer door still refused to open. Muttering half to herself, the Cheetah growled; "oh, come on, behave. You’re in a friendly place, and I’ll be back in the morning. And we’ll see about malfunctioning sensors!" Stabbing the button again, she was somewhat surprised when the door opened, exactly as it should. Frowning, she exited the shuttle before it could change its mind.

She was eating some of the Vixen’s leftover stew when the thought hit her. Maybe the shuttle was trying to "establish dominance" with that little trick. No sooner had it entered her head than she thrust it from her mind.

After dinner, she returned to the shuttle. The shuttle’s computer, and her hand-held analyzer both agreed that there was nothing wrong with the pressure sensors, or the door actuators, or anything else related to the functioning of the airlock doors. Scratching her head, she lubricated the system, and cleaned the contacts, and finally put away her tools and headed off to bed.

It was a mistake to check the flight deck before crawling into bed, she decided. There were quite a number of incoming messages. Several from the Research Institute, and several from the local police. There had been an explosion at the Research institute. An explosion just across the hall from where Corey had been working. In the High Energy Plasma lab. Tanj frowned; Corey had been in the High Energy Physics Lab. She couldn’t help but wonder if the inept assassins were back. The Research Institute assured her that their experiments were undamaged, but that they’d need a day to clear the wreckage, before they could resume.

And that was fine, because the final message was from Imperial Intelligence, calling her and Kath to a meeting. The meeting was to be held in a local pub, and she was very VERY specifically instructed ONLY to bring Kath.

Ralph sat in the jumpseat between the pilot and copilot’s stations, in the front of the new shuttle. It was clean, and well kept, but there was something about it that made him nervous. Tanj was playing with the ship’s computers, re-arranging displays to better suit her, and adding a few programs of her own. One of them was Corey’s analysis of the asteroid field, and the navigational program that would plot alternative paths through the whirling rocks. Kath sat in the copilot’s seat, in a simple if somewhat abbreviated dress. Despite Wanda’s comments to the contrary she was making a point of wearing her collar. The Tiger thought that would probably really piss off the folks at Imperial Intelligence, but perhas that was the whole point……

As they waited for clearance to start down, their conversation gradually turned to the new shuttle. Ralph listened as Tanj outlined the good points to Kath; the Mink seemed distracted, and on edge. The Tiger just chalked it up to her having to face former associates. Perhaps she wasn’t as secure in her new life as she pretended. Receiving clearance, Tanj kicked the drives and they started down. The Nav system showed the route in a heads-up display, as well as on the Nav display, and the autopilot functioned smoothly. Never the less, the Cheetah’s paws hovered near the manual controls….

Kath shook her head, and sighed; ‘Yes, Mistress Wanda told me what Master Hinoki said about it being "haunted". I have to admit, I don’t buy it either."

Ralph’s eyes went wide and he made shushing motions with his paws, but the Mink failed to see, or at least acknowledge his efforts.

Kath continued; "Personally, I think its just an inanimate hunk of metal and ceramics. I’m glad you’re pleased with your purchase, but personally, I don’t think its all that, ah, "esthetically pleasing."

It was then that the main drive cut out.

Ralph gasped, watching one of the rocks spinning closer and closer; "Kath! Take it back! TAKE IT BACK, QUICK!" Tanj was poking buttons on the engineering panel, her frown deepening.

Ralph found he couldn’t even scream as the rock missed the shuttle by centimeters. Turning his head to look out the port window, he watched that rock receed… and another one approach, on a different vector. This one wasn’t moving across the window either, just growing larger and larger…..

Tanj shook her head; all the first level diagnostics showed fine; the drive just wouldn’t come on. Growling to herself "Come on, baby, come back to life, and I’ll do something special for you…."

No sooner had those muttered words come out of her mouth than the drive came back on, and the ship lurched forwards. Ralph could have sworn he heard scraping noises from aft.

Tanj pulled the ship around in a tight turn, staring aghast at the Nav display. They were off the preplanned flight path. And as the safe route down was constantly changing, what she’d programmed into the autopilot was no longer valid! She could evade the rocks for a bit, but…. Frantically her fingers flew over the Nav console as she accessed Corey’s program. Sure enough it took the data from the sensors and after almost three seconds of computations, came up with a route. But there was no time to program it into the autopilot… Pushing the throttle to the stop, the Cheetah swerved the ship to try and manually follow the flight path.

Ralph found that the inertial dampers weren’t keeping up with the Cheetah’s control inputs, and he was glad they weren’t carrying a cargo; if it shifted they’d be squashed! Aside from that, he was also glad he’d had a light breakfast. The flight path they were following resembled a drunken snake, or possibly the route through someone’s intestinal tract. Up, down, left, right, spirals, loops, it was enough to make him turn green!

Tanj ignored the chatter from the comm panel. Whatever they were saying couldn’t possibly matter. At least not until she cleared the asteroid field! Concentrating on her flying, she pulled a high-G turn around one of the spinning rocks, and dove between two others. And as she did, she suddenly had a flash of the "simulator" game she’d played with Jenka; the thought of trying to fly a path like this, using THOSE controls made her laugh out loud. "Yeah, maybe I’ll have to set up a set of controls like that; you’d like that, baby, wouldn’t you?"

Kath turned and stared at the Cheetah; what WAS she talking about?

Finally, they were through. As they descended, Tanj was finally able to turn her attention to the comm. Traffic control wanted to know what had happened, and why they weren’t dead. Tanj chuckled and told them the drives had cut out, and that they’d just been VERY lucky….. Somehow, though, she didn’t think they believed her.

Tanj looked at the Tiger; "you know what to do?" Ralph chuckled; "Ohyeah. Don’t let anyone mess with the shuttle. Monitor your comm channel, and if there’s a problem, I’m to fly the shuttle there, and do whatever I can to effect a rescue. Of course I’d be happier if the shuttle was armed, but… I’ll do what I can." Tanj chuckled and nodded and hugged the Tiger; "I don’t really expect trouble; at least not THAT kind of trouble, but you never know. Be back soon." Ralph watched them climb into the robocab, and hoped it would all be that simple. Closing the airlock, he padded forward to the pilot’s couch, and wondered if the ship’s computer could play chess…..

The robocab dropped them off at the address Tanj had been given. The place was a nondescript local watering hole in what appeared to be a working class neighborhood. Pushing through the door, Tanj looked around, letting her eyes grow accustomed to the gloom. After a moment Kath pointed; "There." Sure enough, seated with his back to the wall, at a table in the far corner, was the Wolf.

As she sat down, Tanj studied the Wolf. He looked…. Nervous. Kath sat down primly and glanced around. Her gaze lingered on several furrs, and Tanj wondered if she was merely pegging them as Imperial Intelligence operatives, or as furrs she might actually know. For a long moment, they just sat there, quietly. And then, as you might expect, all three started talking at the same time.

Tanj’s comment was a rather snide; "you called?"; Kath’s comment was lost, but the Wolf muttered something about "if anyone in the Empire could wind up with the ultimate <something> it would have to be her."

Tanj blinked, and then muttered; "I beg your pardon? Somehow it just seemed natural to talk in whispers, and low murmurs; there was a highly conspiratorial air about the place.

The Wolf composed himself and started again. "I see you have…. Acquired a certain genetic experiment. I can’t help but wonder if it was something you had designed, considering your… proclivities and inclinations, or something that you just naturally gravitated to."

Tanj frowned; "What in the HELL are you talking about?"

The Wolf nodded, as if her question had answered a number of his. "As we thought. A random, or at least unintended event." At the Cheetah’s stern look, he continued; "I’m talking about the Pantheress, of course."

Tanj shot a quick look at Kath and then back to the Wolf; "Sashi?" The wolf Blinked; "if that’s the name of the… genetically engineered weapon you have with you, on your ship…. Ah, she IS on your ship, isn’t she? Yes? Good. Yes, that’s what I’m referring to." Again, at the look on the Cheetah’s face, he continued; "We’re MOST interested in exactly how she came to be, and what, ah, "countermeasures" might be taken. We understand the plot malfunctioned and that she never reached her intended target, but we’re MOST concerned that there might be other weapons of her type, and that others in the Empire might be targeted."

Tanj leaned forward, and looked at the Wolf; "you know more than you’re telling us. I’ll trade you information; you tell me what you know and I’ll tell you what I know." The Wolf shook his head; "Sorry. I’ve specifically been instructed, by those at the highest levels, that you are NOT cleared for any other information on this particular case." Now it was his turn to lean forward; "But, You WILL provide us with additional information. The biological facility that created this… Sabi.." "That’s SASHI." The Wolf nodded; "Sashi, is located in the same compound as the place where you’re doing… whatever it is you’re doing. You will use your activities there as an excuse to infiltrate that lab, and obtain the information we need. We will, of course, supply, ah, "resources" to assist in this venture."

Tanj shook her head. Gates’ world was outside the Empire. If they got caught, the Empire would disavow all knowledge and they’d spend the rest of their lives in jail. Or worse. "And what happens if we don’t?"

The Wolf sighed; "There will be fleet exercises between here and anywhere else, A small freighter, even a small cloaked freighter, might just find itself in a live fire zone. BELIEVE me, there are plenty of folks that would like to see just that happen, to eliminate the, ah, risk associated with your, um, Sashi. But if you pull off the mission, I’ll make sure that you are able to return home, without problem.

Tanj looked at Kath, who just looked back, her best poker face in place. Tanj thought of Corey, and how he arrived so impossibly on the ship. And how he would probably love to raid the institute’s files as well. And she wondered what else might be in their files that they might use. Or need. Maybe she’d spent too much time with Pirates, but suddenly, the thought of raiding this place seemed almost… irresistible. However, she tried not to let that show on her face. With a sigh she nodded; "All right, what "Resources" do you have?"

Ralph was sitting outside the shuttle when they returned. The Tiger looked…. Upset. Perhaps even frightened. Kath marched straight across the field and boarded the shuttle, but Tanj paused. "What’s wrong?"

The Tiger looked up and shook his head. "I did some checking while you were gone. Couldn’t find any reason the drives should cut out. But I did find something. Something that should have killed us." Tanj raised an eyebrow; "Oh? What’s that?"

The Tiger shuddered; "The flight path we were given didn’t match what Corey’s program came up with. According to the flight path we were issued we should have been smeared over some rather large rock about two thirds of the way down. I checked with traffic control, actually walked over there and got them to download the flight path onto a data crystal. It didn’t match what we received. It would have worked…."

Ralph looked at Tanj, right in the eye; "if we hadn’t had that malfunction, we’d be dead."

Tanj swallowed hard; "You’ve retained all the data?"

The Tiger nodded; "and backed it up." He handed her a data crystal.

Tanj nodded and tucked the data crystal into an inside pocket; "if this is true….."

The Tiger just nodded; "Yeah. Haunted. Or something." Together they turned and boarded the shuttle, almost reverently. As the lock cycled, the Tiger muttered; "Oh, by the way, don’t bother with the chess program. I lost twelve straight games….."


Hinoki shook his head; "Its gonna be difficult. VERY difficult. That place must have every security device known, and probably a few that aren’t known. Besides, what makes you think they’ll keep their word?"

Tanj sighed; "I don’t know. I honestly don’t, but I can’t see any other option. I don’t want Sashi killed, because of what someone else made her. And I don’t want her marooned on some distant planet either. She deserves a decent life as much as any of us."

Kath nodded; "I agree. Besides, I get the distinct feeling, the Wolf thinks he might be able to use her in the future. You don’t throw away a perfectly good weapon, just because you aren’t comfortable with it."

Wanda sighed; "I take it you don’t think they were behind her, then?"

Kath shook her head; "No, they seem much too frightened of her, much too… unnerved. I think its an approach they’d never thought of before. And that oversight has frightened them. Its made them insecure; they wonder what else they’ve missed."

Ralph nodded; "The way she moved, that first night…. Yeah, I could see her as some sort of super-assassin…. But we still don’t know WHO she was designed to kill. Or why."

Tanj nodded; "Or even how."

Hinoki chuckled; "Oh, I still think she was meant to fuck ‘em to death. But I know where we can find out. And so do you."

Tanj nodded; "So we’re going to have to do it. Now, the question becomes "how?"

Hinoki scratched his head; "Well I don’t think we can make use of Sashi’s, ah, "special talent". At least not directly. After all, they know about her, and I would suspect have countermeasures available."

Tanj turned and looked at Corey; "how about the way you got on the ship, Professor?"

Corey shrugged; "That will have limited applications, I suspect. It works fine as long as you don’t have to touch anything. And I only have a breadboard rig for one person. Worse, I doubt I could build another in the time we have remaining on the planet."

Tanj nodded and turned to look at Kath. The Mink just shrugged; "I have the "resources" that the Wolf promised. They include three passcards, each rather elderly. And descriptions of the security systems. When the place was built, forty-three years ago. There are also the names of seven individuals that might or might not be compromised."

Tanj shook her head; "First off, I wouldn’t trust them to have that information right; secondly, I don’t think we’ve got time to "turn" employees. No, I’m afraid we’re going to have to do something else…..


Sabina checked her chrono and fidgeted. She was supposed to fidget. She sat in the lobby of the Research Institute, in a rather conservative business outfit, a briefcase by her feet. Phase one of the operation should begin, any minute…..

Tanj moved very carefully. The distortion field that Corey had "loaned" her was very finicky. No sudden movements, arms held close to your sides, small steps… She followed the Lynx as he ambled across the lobby. His work day was about to start, and her goal was to sneak into the building on his heels. After what seemed like an interminable wait, the Lynx’s escort arrived, handed him the badge for the day, and accompanied him to the elevator. Tanj followed close on his heels. Corey, exhibiting his usual curiosity, had examined his badge from the previous day’s work probably more closely than the Institute would have preferred, and had prepared forgeries for the other raiders, that he swore would pass all electronic scrutiny. The forgeries of the visible portions were probably less sophisticated, but he assured them that the guards seldom actually LOOKED at the badges, as long as their sensors passed on them.

The elevator ride became more and more difficult, as the car stopped at different floors, with additional furrs boarding. It might have been prudent for Corey to have been a little late, and thus past the morning rush, but that might also have been out of character, and in its own right suspect. As she moved further and further back in the car, Tanj began to worry about the finicky distortion field. Finally, in one particular crush, she felt the breaker trip, the field collapse. The furr next to her suddenly turned his head, to look at her, as if to say "Where did YOU come from?" but the Cheetah just smiled back at him. Her hair pulled back into a bun, her plain blue skirt and pressed white lab coat, with the prominent badge seemed to allay his fears, and he wound up staring at her chest. Tanj just couldn’t help but smile.

She got off two floors below the one Corey was to work on, the floor with the connecting bridge to the adjacent building. In a quiet nook she reset the breaker for the distortion field, and moving slowly, carefully avoiding anyone else she met, she made her way across the bridge and into the adjacent building. There were security guards there, but they were looking at either their instruments, or the furrs they could see. What little there was visible of her, they easily missed. With that test behind her, she had only to descend two levels and make her way across another bridge to yet another building. And then she could start her real work.

Kath looked at the Wolf, and smiled her most ferocious smile; "Yes, you WILL help us with this. If you want the mission to succeed, you will do your part, Sir. And here’s what you’re to do…..

Zassa checked her chrono and nodded to Sashi; "OK, we’re on." Tugging on her leash, she led her from the robocab, and headed for the front door of the Institute.

Sashi grinned; this was going to be fun.

Hinoki checked his chrono, and took another sip of his latte. He had to time this JUST right…..

The receptionist looked up, at the stunning Vixen lady. Zassa removed her black sunglasses and looked down at her with her best poker face. "I would like to see Dr. Pangborne. No, I don’t have an appointment, but its about one of his projects." With this, she looked pointedly at Sashi. "It seems we have a problem."

Sashi smiled to herself. The Receptionist, a well-built Raccoon male, was cute. She smiled openly at him, and let her bound paws slide down over her tummy, to rather blatantly rub at her crotch. She could see his eyes flicker from Zassa, to her, back, and then almost instantly back to her, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing….. Without her latex panties, Kath knew just what would happen, if she let herself go, and those were exactly her orders.

Sabina sniffed daintily. Yes, the odor of aroused Pantheress was definitely in the air, Cinnamon and something else... it tickled her hindbrain, and made her pant. Zassa was doing a good job of pretending to ignore what was happening as she argued with the receptionist, but her body language, and accelerated breathing betrayed her. Likewise the Raccoon was starting to squirm in his seat, his eyes more on Sashi’s motions than what the Vixen was saying. And next to her, the middle aged pharmaceuticals salesfurr was starting to react as well…

Zassa shook her head; "Listen, my good furr, I don’t think you realize the seriousness of the situation. If Dr. Pangborne cannot provide IMMEDIATE assistance, I refuse to be responsible for what happens!" The Raccoon ran a finger under his collar and muttered; "And what could possibly happen, Madam? Surely you don’t expect her to explode? Um… I mean, she doesn’t look violent, and she is, after all, restrained. Are we in physical danger?" Zassa sighed; "Not per se; you seem to be in good health and would probably survive the experience, but I can reasonably assure you it will disrupt your business." The Raccoon, his eyes solidly on Sashi, nodded distractedly; "let me page him again…."

"Hey Fred, you gotta come look at this!" "Whatcha got, Harry…. Wow, will you look at that! Oooooh, that’s a hot one." "Yeah, but look at Sammy. What in the heck is that crazy ‘coon doing?" "Dunno, Harry, looks to me as if he just vaulted over his desk and knocked her to the floor. Hey, is he… Good Lord, he’s fucking her right there in the lobby! Cripes, he’s gonna get fired! We gotta get down there and stop this!" "Hold your horses, Fred. Something’s seriously wrong there. Look at that cat lady. Isn’t she…." "Yeah…. And that squirrel over there, and what in the WORLD are that Rhino, gazelle and wombat doing?" "Yeah, this isn’t right. Best sound the alarm. Oh, and rewind the tapes, lets see what led up to this impromptu Orgy…"

Hinoki dashed in the door, across the lobby and through the security station, doing his best to look like just another drone late for work. No one even noticed him. He was in the elevator before the scent really hit him. Grinning, delighted that the sensors had not alarmed at his forged badge, he pushed the button for the third floor.

"Dr. Pangborne, I think you’d better get down here NOW. Yes, an orgy. Um…. Pantheress. Chocolate brown… No, I can’t see any tattoos from here, Sir. You mean she MIGHT be one of ours? REALLY. Oh. OK, I’ll secure the area until you can prepare the antidote…."

Tanj heard the alarm, heard the running feet. Stepping out of the closet as the noise of footfalls receded, she used one of Kath’s tools to open the lab door. Looking around, she raised an eyebrow; this was the place Sashi was from?

Hinoki paused, and pushed the paper bag into the trash can. Fortunately there was a trash receptacle near the computer room. And the bag held a powerful EMP device. He HOPED at least that it would scramble their records, and thus further cover any signs of intruders. Sipping from his latte, he made his way through the busy corridors, heading for his next destination. The other devices were mostly just noisemakers, but they would probably be instrumental in helping the others get away.

Corey looked up at the sound of the rather strident alarm; turning to one of the physicists he was working with, he innocently inquired; "What’s that?" The Physicist frowned; "I’m not sure…. I think its some sort of biological alarm." With an exasperated sigh he waved one paw; "We have so many different alarms for so many different problems its difficult to remember which one is which." Corey nodded; "Will it interfere with our work?" The Physicist shook his head; "It shouldn’t, but I admit I’m having trouble concentrating with that racket in the background. Tell you what. Let me go see if I can’t find out what the problem is."

Ralph watched with his usual poker expression. When the Physicist had left, he turned and pulled the plastic strip from the relays. The doors to the lab immediately closed. They SHOULD have closed when the alarm sounded, but hadn’t, due to the Tiger’s interference. As soon as they were closed, the Tiger wedged the plastic strip in another location, insuring that they would STAY closed. Turning, he flashed a thumbs-up to the Professor, who was already pulling bits and pieces of yet another breadboard rig from the pockets of his jumpsuit.

The Research Institute had the very best in computer security, probably several years ahead of what was commonly available on the open market, possibly several years ahead of what was available to the Military. Still, Imperial Intelligence had been able to provide some clues, and Corey had been most attentive when the furrs he’d been working with had logged onto the system. That and the purpose-built AI he’d smuggled in, in bits and pieces, made short work of the system. While Ralph watched, the Lynx began searching the Institute’s database. It was his job to keep the Lynx focused. Sashi first, interdimensional portals next…..

Hinoki winked at the cute Red Panda girl, watching her until she’d turned the corner. Then he dropped the noisemaker into the trash can by the water cooler. It was right under an HVAC inlet, and that should help spread smoke through that part of the building. Between the noise, the smoke, and the infra-red gizmo guaranteed to set off the fire alarms, he felt sure pandemonium would insure.

Tanj smiled; Corey had said he’d set up a user ID and password for her, and sure enough, it worked on the first try. She probably didn’t want to know how he’d done it, but the Lynx had been as good as his word. Plugging a fresh data crystal into the writer, she started her search.

Dr. Pangborne, looking ridiculous in the positive pressure hood, stood at the doorway to the lobby, and just stared in wonder. There she was, in all her glory. The Raccoon had that indescribable look of both pain and pleasure as the Chocolate Pantheress sat astride his hips, pinning him to the floor, as she rode his cock. He wondered just how long they’d been at it, and how many orgasms she’d wrenched from the poor soul. Shifting his gaze he noted that every other furr in the lobby was involved sexually. He hoped they’d gotten the ventilation system shut off in time, or his business unit was going to be charged for a rather lot of unproductive man-hours. Turning to his aide, he growled; "Storage Locker K-19, top shelf. There’s twenty liters of parazylohexatitrinase. Get it, and a hand sprayer and come back here immediately. Oh, there’s also a bottle of Vitamin E in my desk; bring that as well. Now HURRY.

Tanj smiled; it hadn’t taken long to find the file on Sashi; the problem was, it was huge. Good thing she’d brought a pocketful of data crystals. Sitting back, she let them fill up, copying everything. She’d sort it out later.

Corey blinked and paged back up. "Good Lord, surely they’re not…. But…. I Wonder if it works?"

Hinoki dropped off his last noisemaker, and headed for the lobby. He felt he had plenty of time to join in the fun.…

Ralph watched as the Lynx started opening windows with amazing speed, scanning them and then opening another. The computer was dumping all the spatial anomaly information to yet another stack of data crystals, and the Lynx had a few moments to himself. Still, they were running out of time, and rather rapidly too.

Zassa felt the cool mist wash across her face, and suddenly the heat of passion left her. Looking down at the confused look on the Rhino’s face, she sighed; "Later, Stud." Rising, pulling her skirt down, she turned and looked around. There, the Reindeer with the huge clear plastic bag pulled over antlers and head; that had to be Pangborne. Marching over, she growled "There, SEE what I mean? I TOLD him we were going to have a problem!

Sashi did as she was told, swallowing the pills. They were even kind enough to give her a cup of water with them. Four furrs in environmental suits stood guard over her with sprayers, as they waited for it to take effect. As she waited, she noticed Zassa leave with the plastic-wrapped Reindeer. She hoped Zassa was up to the part she had to play.

Tanj pocketed the crystals, and standing, moved to the far side of the room, reengaging the distortion field. As it turned out, she didn’t have long to wait.

Hinoki sighed and turned back; they’d put guards on the inside doors to the lobby. He’d have to find another way out….

Corey growled; "Not yet, NOT YET, I have to change this. You have no idea how important this is!" Ralph shook his head; "Professor, they should be unlocking everything in a matter of seconds! You’ve GOT to be out of the system, and have it sanitized before that happens, or we're going to wind up as one of their experiments!" The Lynx just nodded.

Zassa crossed her arms (under her breasts, making them stand out only that much more proudly) and growled; "I don’t know about that, Doctor. My employers merely charged me with returning here, to gain relief from, ah, the "problem". No, I do NOT want to return her, we simply aren’t done yet. But we DO need to find a way to control her!" Pangborne shook his head; "But that’s SIMPLE. The agents that picked her up were fully briefed on the procedure, and the requirements! Surely they told you how important an overabundance of vitamin E was in controlling the production of that pheromone!

Zassa shook her head; "No, the initial team was… compromised. It took us quite a while to regain our… property. Obviously the information was lost with the personnel." The Vixen looked up at the Reindeer; "And that’s ALL it takes? Just…. Vitamin E?" The Reindeer nodded; "make sure she takes at least 2000 milligrams a day. That’s all. NOW, lets discuss the costs involved with the little disaster we had here today. You realize of course the liability you’ve incurred by allowing this to happen, don’t you?"

Corey pushed the key and sat back from the computer. The worm was running that should eliminate all traces of their presence. Turning and nodding to Ralph, the Tiger turned and pulled the plastic strip from the relay contacts. It took just a minute for him to replace the access panel by the door, and wipe it clean. Corey rose and padded to the multifunction displays and started reviewing the data from the experiment that had been running unattended, and Ralph found a place to lounge against the wall, where he could watch the door, and look bored.

The tech in the blue suit looked up from the hand-held analyzer and nodded; "OK, she’s safe. We can start decontamination now."

Tanj almost jumped as the door slid open, and a number of techs re-entered the room. She waited for the flood to ease a little and then slid out before the doors had a chance to close again. It didn’t take her long to work her way back down the staircase, to the ground floor. There, standing, invisible, just inside that building’s security apparatus, she reached into her pocket, flipped up the safety cover on the remote, and pushed the button.

Corey’s head came up as he heard the dull boom, followed by another, and then yet a third. Turning to the Physicist who’d just re-entered the lab, he growled "NOW WHAT?"

Zassa watched Pangborne’s head snap around as the explosion echoed down the corridor. Drolly, she commented; "My, it does seem you’re having an exciting day here today, doesn’t it?"

"FRED! We’ve had an explosion in Building D, third flo…. There’s another one! Building K, on the eighth…. Wait, there’s another! Building B, fifth floor! I’ve got fire alarms all over the place! Dammit what is going ON here?" "I don’t know, Harry, but I think its time we called the police!"

The Wolf smiled as the message flashed across his screen. The Research Institute had just called the police. Of course the message had never made it through. The Research Institute had some of the best security equipment in the known universe, but the public phone system on Gates World was merely state of the art. And therefor no big deal to hack into. At least not for Imperial Security. Nodding to his team he smiled; "Time to go Impersonate Officers of the Law."

Tanj watched as the Wolf, wearing a local police uniform, marched into the ground floor of the building she was in, issuing orders as if he were in complete and unquestioned charge. For a moment the Institute’s security forces acted as if they were going to follow those orders, and then a rather large Reindeer showed up and started questioning just what was going on. Tanj took the opportunity to use the shouting match as a diversion, to slip through the security apparatus, and escape.

Zassa chuckled; the Reindeer had thought he’d locked her in the conference room, after things had started exploding, but it was just a simple door lock, and Kath had taught her very well how to defeat those. She exited the conference room, collected Sashi as if nothing was wrong at all, and together they departed the building.

Sabina adjusted her outfit, and picking up her briefcase she headed for the door. As she passed the Receptionist, she chuckled; "Thanks for the most interesting sales call I ever made, but I think I’ll come back when things are a little quieter. Explosions make me nervous.

Hinoki smiled, and slipped out through shipping. Hopping down from the loading dock, he headed for the street. Once again, the bogus ID badge had let him waltz right through the electronic security. All the furrs from that area seemed to be watching bootleg security videos from the lobby, and never even noticed him go by….

Corey watched as the experiment unfolded, largely unattended. That was all right; they’d set it up well, and he wouldn’t have done more than minor tweaking, if he could have. The Physicist was in and out, reporting on the strange events, and then dashing out as someone down the corridor yelled something. It seemed the Police who had initially shown up had vanished when the Fire Department had shown up. Most Bizarre.

Tanj smiled as Sashi and Zassa boarded the shuttle. She and Hinoki had been doing some after-hours modifications, and coupled with Corey’s distortion field, she felt confident that they could be hidden against any possibility of detection. And she was sure that when they went to pick up Corey and Ralph, that they WOULD be searched….

Corey shook his head; "I disagree. I think today’s work was very slipshod. The experiment should have been supervised!" The Physicist sighed and shrugged; "you can take it up with management if you like, but I really doubt they’ll either refund your money or rerun the experiment. It DID run within parameters." Corey growled "Well I don’t like it. You do nothing, sir, to advance your Institute’s reputation!" Gathering up his papers, he turned; "I’ll see you, Sir, in the morning, and I can only HOPE that the explosions are through for the week, and that tomorrow we can get some REAL work done!

Tanj watched as the Institute’s security team went through the shuttle. It was, of course, supposedly for THEIR security. She got the distinct impression that the furrs at the Institute still didn’t know exactly what had happened, or why. Of course their vehicle was just one of dozens lining up at the end of the work day; she didn’t THINK they were being singled out. Still, the furrs were meticulous. Corey fumed. Hinoki played a video game. Ralph remained as impassive as ever. Finally they were done, and gone, and Tanj was able to enter the traffic pattern, and head back for the starport.

They didn’t open the smuggler’s compartment until they were safely docked on the ship. Of course, Zassa and Sashi had found something to do, and had been in no hurry to get out of their hiding place. Tanj just had to laugh.

Wanda sipped her cocoa and shook her head in amazement. The level of genetic engineering that had gone into Sashi was truly amazing. When the adrenaline kicked in, she was probably stronger than any three furrs, with a reaction time that was probably four times better than anyone else. Maybe more. And while those things were a concern to her, the details of her programming were more frightening. She had been designed as a weapon, a single-shot assassination device. At considerable expense, and with considerable trouble, she’d been designed to assassinate Jenka. There was no doubt about it. And while the customer was "named", a cursory check showed that it was a blind. No such person appeared to exist. Pulling the data crystal, she rose, to find Tanj.

Hinoki looked over the Lynx’s shoulder as he tried to explain. The Research Institute had been working on an economic model. A very sophisticated, all-encompasing model of the Empire’s economy, with a sociopolitical subroutine. In theory, with such a model, current events could be fed into the computer and market fluctuations could be predicted. It could make someone rich. Or powerful. Very powerful.

"You understand, I made a few changes. There were places where constants were manually input from one part of the research, to the actual model. I changed a few of those values, just enough to lower the reliability of the model." The Lynx shrugged; "Of course, I’m NOT an economist, but I THINK I’ve at least thrown a monkey wrench into their work."

Hinoki nodded; "Perhaps. Or perhaps after the EMP bomb, they just re-loaded the last saved copy. Still, it was a decent try." After a moment’s musing, the Cheetah sighed; "Any idea who was behind it?"

Corey grinned; "Oh, yes. It was carefully hidden, but the Institute itself was curious as to who their customer was, and they did some checking. It would appear to be the Crown Prince himself."

Hinoki just "ooooooh"ed…..


Tanj shook her head; "There is NO WAY we’re going to give this to Imperial Intelligence. We can tell them that we found out the Institute is working on it, and that we suspect the Crown Prince, but we are NOT giving this up."

Hinoki shook his head; "I wouldn’t do that; I’d advise you give them Corey’s corrupted model. They may well be expecting something."

Tanj sighed and nodded; "I guess you’re right. I’m just not happy with them having that much. They may figure out how to fix it."

Hinoki shrugged; "Maybe they can, or maybe they can just recreate it. Are we going to pass the correct version on to Jenka, then?"

Tanj shook her head no; "I don’t want any "hiccups" in the economy that might point back to us. If they do fix it, or recreate it, well, this program, if its as sophisticated as you say, would spot "insider trading" in an instant, and then they’d be after us. No, I think we’re going to set up a blind, to play the market, and make modest amounts of money. Corey DOES require continued funding after all. But we’re going to purposefully make mistakes, perhaps even some large ones, just to make sure we’re not spotted. We’ll make no more than we need. At least for the moment."

Hinoki looked at Wanda, and then at Ralph, and then nodded; "And if the Crown Prince manages to leverage this into becoming the Emperor?"

Tanj just shrugged; "Don’t you think it’ll happen eventually anyways? And can you tell me for sure the Son is worse than the Father? I would really REALLY rather stay OUT of Imperial politics, if at all possible. Now, what we have to do is to doctor this file on Sashi, so that Imperial Intelligence doesn’t order her, and possibly our destruction, and concoct something to tell them about the economic model."

Ralph sighed and sat down at a keyboard; "Its going to be a long night, I think."

Hinoki nodded; "What are we going to tell them about Corey’s work?"

Tanj chuckled; "That one’s easy. Nothing worked. That I do NOT want them badgering us about. Officially we’re at a dead end."


Corey rubbed his eyes; the symbols on the monitor were starting to get awful blurry. Looking at the chronometer he realized why he was so hungry. It was almost five in the morning, local time. Still, the evening had been well-spent. The Institute knew much more than they were letting on. MUCH more. If he’d known this before they started, he would have suggested several different experiments. Still, what they were doing was useful in its own right. Just no longer worth the considerable expense. As he rose, and headed towards the galley, he wondered how he would ever insure that they never found out that he now knew what they knew. He’d have to keep a very tight watch on his words. And his emotions.


Tanj was yawning, despite all the coffee, when she boarded the shuttle. Blinking, she was surprised to find the little ship full of strangers… and then it hit her. Zassa, Wanda, Kath, and Sabina were all in disguise. Rather good ones, too. Wand looked as if she’d gained thirty pounds and aged twenty years. Kath was back to the platinum mink look. Sabina’s fur was dyed a shocking pink, and somehow she looked three inches taller. And Zassa was no longer a red vixen, but instead resembled a fennec fox. The Vixen grinned back at Tanj’s shocked expression; "Second to the last day on planet, and the last really free one; if you think we’re going to miss out on the last real opportunity to go shopping, you’re sadly mistaken!"

Tanj frowned; "And if anyone questions why a bunch of undeclared furrs suddenly exited from the shuttle….?"

Kath waved a paw; "simple. There HAVE been attempts on our lives, after all…. Nothing at all to do with the events at the Institute."

Ralph slid into the shuttle behind Tanj and chuckled; "Besides, the news services are blaming it on EcoTerrorists from Durantia. Something about genetically modified tofu or something…."

Tanj nodded slowly; "Well, I want you to stay together and watch your backs! Don’t forget our shopping list…. AND call me if anything happens!"

On the flight down, Kath kept her mouth shut, and Tanj muttered little endearments to the shuttle. The flight was perfect. After dropping Corey and Ralph off at the institute, Tanj dropped everyone else off at the retail district, and biting her lower lip, headed for the rendezvous with Imperial Intelligence.

The Wolf sat on the bench, in front of the piece of modern art, with his head cocked to one side, as if critically considering it. On his lap was a sketchpad, with random doodles. Otherwise, the gallery was empty. Tanj slipped into the seat next to him, and after a moment, smiled; "We’ve learned some interesting things." The Wolf chuckled in return; "I just bet you have. Give." Tanj handed him a small envelope full of data crystals." The Wolf simply held the envelope up, as if he were a mystic trying to divine its contents. A furr in a nondescript outfit strolled in from the east door, glanced casually at the modern art, picked the envelope out of the Wolf’s paw, and departed by the far door.

"You might be interested to know that despite what the news says, the Institute is blaming yesterday’s events on the Crown Prince’s faction. It seems they were doing some work for him, and someone tried to steal it, and then alter the work. They think they were trying to get the product of all their labor, without paying for it."

Tanj smiled; "The economic model?"

The Wolf nodded; "Indeed. The good news is that their system backed itself up moments before your EMP device went off. Whatever changes were made corrupted the back-up copy. Or at least the primary backup copy. The bad news is that all the computers have keystroke monitoring programs. But the good news is that the EMP wave corrupted the keystroke-logging file, despite the protective systems, so that while they know something was tried, they have no idea if it worked, or even which computer the attempt was made from. Yes, you’re safe."

Tanj shrugged; "I don’t believe their model worked well enough anyways. I don’t see it as a threat. Of course what we got is on the data crystals you were given."

The Wolf nodded; "at least we know what direction they were headed in, in their research." He turned to grin at the Cheetah; "You did rather leave them in a bit of a mess. Where did you find an EMP device that could penetrate their defenses?"

Tanj shrugged; "Garage sale on Nonolithia. Sorry, I’d give you one as an example, but that was the last one."

The Wolf just nodded; "Uh-huh. So, tell me about your Pantheress."

Tanj chuckled; "its simple. See that she overdoses on Vitamin E every day, and she doesn’t produce the pheromones."

The Wolf nodded; "We’ll insist on some sort of implant, to make sure she doesn’t forget to take her vitamins. But what about her conditioning?"

Tanj sighed; "I… don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to make sure she’s never left unguarded in the same room with Jenka, or, I guess, any other melanistic phase Jaguar female. And yet, she’s been with Jenka before, and nothing’s happened. Well, nothing life-threatening. Maybe their conditioning isn’t as good as they thought."

The Wolf raised an eyebrow; "you’re willing to take that risk?"

Tanj sighed; "Well, before the solution to her problem was uncovered, we’d discussed sending her to a facility that Hinoki is a silent partner in….."

The Wolf’s eyes widened; "The Club on Gibraltar station? You HAVE to be kidding! Do you realize the damage she could do to the high level fleet command personnel there? Why she could wi….. Hmmmm. You know, some of the furrs there have been QUITE intransigent….. Why Admiral Ha… Nevermind. Let me think on that one."

Tanj stared at the Wolf for a moment; it seemed he’d gone back to considering the …. Sculpture? Or was otherwise lost in thought. Clearing her throat, she muttered; "We still don’t know who sent her after Jenka."

The Wolf turned to look at her, an amused smile on her face; "That? Oh, that’s simple!"

Tanj cocked an eyebrow upwards; "Oh? Who then?"

The Wolf looked at her for a moment, his smile fading; "No, I don’t think you have a need to know. The last thing I need right now is a vendetta. By you, or the Pirate Queen." Tanj just growled.

"I suppose you want to know about the progress on Corey’s research."

The Wolf shook his head; "Waste of money. The Imperial Science Academy has said that such a thing simply isn’t possible. The planet was destroyed, not transported. We’re no longer interested."

Tanj just frowned; "Uh-huh. Okaaaaay…. Anything Else, then?"

The Wolf shook his head; "No, you’re dismissed."

Tanj smiled; "Before I go, perhaps you’d be so kind to answer a few questions for me."

The Wolf just turned to stare at her.

"Did you know that there was going to be an attempt on Jenka’s life?"

The Wolf just growled; "She’s made a lot of enemies in her day; it would be unreasonable not to expect attempts on her life. But no, we didn’t know about this plot until…. Well, until it was too late to warn anyone. NOT that I’m sure we would have."

Tanj nodded, and thought about vendettas, but shook her head as if to banish that thought; at least for the moment. "Perhaps you could tell me what you’re doing here, outside the Empire."

The Wolf smiled; "We’re on Imperial business. The Imperial Homeworld is a place of vast intrigues, and we’re just keeping our eyes on one, to make sure it doesn’t pose a threat."

Tanj nodded; "Possibly a treasonous intrigue?"

The Wolf just shrugged.

Tanj smiled; "Possibly an intrigue that might not threaten the empire per se, but instead merely threaten the Emperor?"

The Wolf frowned; "Any threat to the Emperor is de facto a threat to the Empire!"

Tanj just nodded; "uh-huh" in her best knowing way. The Wolf’s frown deepened; "Enough. I’m the one who asks the Questions. DISMISSED!."

With a growl, Tanj rose, and stalked from the Museum. If anyone noted her passing, in her dark mood, she didn’t notice. Or care.


Kath unscrewed the top of the bottle of shampoo and took a sniff; the stuff smelled like turpentine, and looked like India Ink... no wonder it was called "Love Potion No.9"… But that wasn’t why she’d picked it up. The flat, mirror-bright hip-flask-shaped bottle had a slightly convex surface on one side, just perfect for seeing behind her. Yes, there was the furr. The Cape Buffalo looked as out of place in the Boutique as, well, a Bull in a China shop. Maybe more so. She was convinced that he wasn’t shopping for wife or girlfriend, but instead was up to something more sinister…..

Sashi frowned, as she read the list of ingredients again. She knew what Master Hinoki liked in his shampoo, and this was obviously a little harsher than what he preferred, even if it did have a pleasant scent. And speaking of scents again; there was that scent. It wasn’t her, or Zassa, or Kath, or even Sabina. But she’d been smelling it off and on almost since they’d started shopping. Resisting the urge to turn and look, she replaced the bottle of shampoo, on the shelf, and turned to look at their selection of brushes, her eyes darting from side to side, as she tried to take in the occupants of the boutique, without looking too obvious….

Zassa slid beside the Wolverine lass, as the latter examined truly outrageous swimwear. "Yes, I see them. I’ve been watching them for some time now." The Vixen nodded, and in a slightly louder voice growled; "Can you BELIEVE this year’s fashions? Why I’ve NEVER worn so much to go swimming in my life! Maybe when I’m a grandmother, but right now I want to show off what I’ve got, not conceal it!" Wanda chuckled and put the suit she’d been examining back on the rack; "I agree. Scandalous. Must be in bed with the textile industry, trying to force an increase in fabric sales. No reason why they should get inflated profits, at least not at my expense." Grinning she looked at the Vixen; "Why, I’d rather swim nude than wear something like that!" Zassa grinned back and nodded; turning she growled; "Sashi, Sabina, Kath, come along; we’re leaving!"

They’d passed two or three shops, merely peering in the windows at the displays, before Sashi squealed; "oooooh! Mistresses! LOOK! There’s something Master would REALLY get a kick out of!"

Zassa paused and looked into the window; the store was an outdoor sports shop and adventure "outfitters". For a moment the Vixen stared, and then she turned to shrug at the Chocolate Pantheress; "What in the WORLD are you talking about?"

Sashi chuckled; "Well, its my opinion Master Hinoki needs to exercise a little more. True, he’s nice and trim, but…. well, you know how I admire a "hard" body… Anyways, look at that gadget in the window. Now, just imagine if you coupled it with that device we saw about a half dozen stores back."

Wanda blinked; "The male masturbation device?"

Sashi grinned and nodded enthusiastically; "Yeah, the one designed for use in the shower; the water pressure powered one. Now, if we put the two together, just imagine how much fun jogging might be!"

Wanda chuckled; "I see your point, but you know how fast Cheetahs run. He’d either wear himself out, or burst a hose! Or both."

Zassa grinned at the mental image; "Yeah… but remember his little entrepreneurial venture back home; he might, just might be able to sell those things….. IF they work as you think they might."

Sabina nodded; "Yeah. Product development. Mistress, can we work on a female version too? I could stand to, ah, tone up a few muscles…"

Zassa chuckled and pushed open the door; "Yes, lets go talk to the clerk about it….."

The Buffalo watched the ladies move into the store. The Weapon was with them, and that drastically complicated his task. Still, the stun gas grenade had a large enough radius that it should still all get them all….. Shoving a hand into a pocket, he felt the reassuring bulk of the grenade. This was as good a place as any, a shop that seemed less crowded than most….. And his associates could probably pick them all up at the loading dock at the back of the shop…. Best to act now, before they split up or something. Idly he wondered which of the disguised furrs was the one he was after, the one nicknamed "Tanj"…

Wanda smiled; "Oh, look; SCUBA gear! I used to love to go diving!"

Sashi shuddered; "I cannot understand Mistress’ desire to get wet."

Sabina just nodded in silent agreement, but Zassa laughed and picked up a mask; her voice muffled she laughed; "How do I look?"

The Buffalo pulled the pin, let the spoon fly off, and counted to three. He then opened the door and tossed in the grenade. He then pulled the door tightly closed and braced himself.

Kath frowned as something sailed through the door; she’d barely gotten "GREN…" out when something flashed past her.

Wanda yelped as Sashi shoved the mask at her face, and pulled the pin on the emergency reserve. The tank, not unexpectedly, was empty, but the reserve was a coil of extremely high pressure tubing, holding breathing air at 10,000 PSI. It was factory sealed, and not meant to be refilled, but replaced. As air hissed into her mask, the Wolverine lass watched in amazement as the Pantheress pirouetted and pulled the similar pin on the Vixen’s SCUBA gear. Then, turning towards the door, Sashi took one step and collapsed.

The clerk, a rather hansom young Puma, the kind of furr that looked like he used all the gear the store sold, smiled and stepped forward; "May I help you La…." And then he slumped to the floor.

Kath muttered "…ADE!" and quietly collapsed across Sabina.

Zassa’s eyes flashed from Kath to Sabina to Sashi and back. Instinctively she crouched, but as she did, she grabbed another item from the display.

Wanda followed Zassa’s lead, pulling the mask’s straps over her head, just knowing it was going to mess up her hair. Once below the level of the displays, she turned and crawled as fast as she could towards the back counter, where the hunting rifles were kept.

The Buffalo counted to twenty, and then counted to twenty again. The gas was supposed to decompose and dissipate, but like all the fuses being five seconds, he never quite believed it. Taking a deep breath, he relaxed his hold on the door, and stepped inside, hoping that no one had remarked on his curious behavior. Or if they had, that they’d chalked it up to just someone less than astute pulling when the sign said push….

Zassa grinned ferrally, moving around behind the Buffalo as he came through the door, the spear gun at the ready. No, it probably wouldn’t kill him, not someone as large as he was, but it’d sure hurt like hell!

Wanda slipped the over and under shotgun down from the rack. Crouching down behind the counter she looked about for matching shells. Dangit, didn’t they have anything other than birdshot? Oh, yeah, Double-ought Bu…. No, wait a minute. Ooooooooo, explosive rounds! Did they have dinosaurs to hunt on this planet? No matter, it’d do. Breaking open a box, spilling the contents on the floor, she loaded the gun and prepared to stand up.

The Buffalo spotted the Weapon laying across a female feline with shocking pink fur. Nodding in satisfaction, he spotted the platinum blonde Mink. The others had to be there somewhere. That was when he heard the harsh sound of mechanical breathing, and felt something very sharp poke him in the back.

Zassa grinned wickedly "OK, You, Hands up! Don’t Move!"

The Buffalo paused, and frowned. It sounded as if someone was yelling with their head in a bucket. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but between the sharp thing in his back and the tone of voice, it was pretty obvious what they wanted. He’d just started to raise his hands when the overweight Wolverine popped up from behind the far counter, and pointed a HUGE weapon at him. At least he thought it was a weapon… She was certainly holding it as if it was a weapon…..


Tanj yawned, and sat down at the shuttle’s flight controls. The most comfortable seat on the ship, she thought. But then that was true of almost any pilot’s seat. The "interview" with the Wolf had left her drained. Exhausted. And she’d used all her best fieldcraft to make sure she’d gotten back to where she’d parked the shuttle, unobserved. She was getting a bad feeling about this place. For a moment she contemplated a nap, but then decided against it. Things on this trip had just been too weird.

That thought was barely formed in her mind when the comm bleeped. Reaching over and slapping a key, she yawned; "Um. Lost Cause Shuttle. Tanj speaking." The voice was unmistakeably Zassa’s, but it was distorted a little. Almost as if she were speaking from within a latex bondage hood, or something. "Yeah, its me. Listen, we’re, ah, done shopping a little early. Got a rather large package and I was hoping you could come pick us up. There’s a loading dock behind the store where we made our acquisition; coordinates are….. huh. Archaic. 2284 Sandstone Alley. That show on your display?"

Tanj nodded; "Yeah, um… it’ll be a little tight, and we might break some minor local traffic ordinances, but I think I can get in there. They can’t deliver your package?"

Zassa chuckled; "I don’t think that’d be prudent. No, not prudent at all. Best get here soon. Zassa Out."

Tanj lifted the shuttle on its repulsors, and moved out of the revetment. It didn’t take long to get into the traffic stream, and in a few minutes she was approaching the shopping district. The signs specifically said the alley was for commercial deliveries only, but she ignored them, and turned into the channel between the buildings. Luckily it was a straight run; she didn’t think her small ship could make much of a turn in there. Slowly, she watched the numbers creep by.

The sight of Zassa, as a fennec Fox, standing on a loading dock wearing a SCUBA mask, and holding a harpoon gun brought her up short. NOW what?

It took them both to move the still slumbering Kath, Sabina and Sashi into the shuttle. Zassa and Wanda had secured the Buffalo in a triple extra large mummy bag, with plenty of cargo straps around the outside to hold him. Even so, the bundle wriggled every once in a while. He obviously wasn’t happy. Tanj watched the bundle squirm for a bit, wondering if his horns were going to rip through. After discussing how to get him onto the shuttle, Wanda finally just grabbed the foot of the bag and with a grunt started dragging. Tanj and Zassa joined in. Tanj was certain the Buffalo liked going down the stairs even less than he liked being in the bag, but that was the only way they seemed to be able to get him down. That or roll him off the cargo dock….

Finally they got him into the shuttle, and Tanj turned to the interesting task of not only backing down the alley, but also backing out into traffic. Fortunately, Ralph’s drones proved to be just what they needed, and as traffic slacked, Tanj backed out, turned and moved off. It would have been a lot simpler to just ascend vertically, but that was sure to bring the attention of the traffic control furrs, and at the moment, with a squirming, complaining bundle tied in the back that was the last thing she wanted.


"What do you think? Turn him over to Imperial Intelligence? I bet they could figure out who he is!"

Tanj shook her head; "I don’t really want that Wolf finding out more than he has to. I think we need to do this ourselves."

Wanda nodded "I agree, but we’re only here for one more day. That doesn’t give us much time to work, unless you want to haul him all the way back to the Black Fleet."

Tanj nodded and turned to grin at Sashi; "If he’s with who I think he’s with, we have just the thing we need to get him to talk."

The Buffalo blinked as conciousness slowly returned. He hadn’t remembered passing out. Maybe they’d gassed him with something, or maybe the sleeping bag, from the sports store, had some residual gas in it. Blinking he found himself staring up at a plain grey ceiling. Well, maybe not so plain. As his vision cleared, he found that the ceiling was a lot further up than he’d thought. A big room. Looking around, he realized he was in some sort of storage area. Crates of various types were stacked about, and in one corner was what seemed to be a wrecked aircar. To the other side, stretching across the entire room, was a surface to orbit shuttle. Turning his head back, he took another look at the crates. They seemed to be locked down to the floor, and to each other. They only did that on starships, didn’t they? It was about then, that it hit him that he was in really BIG trouble!

Lifting his head, he looked down his body. Naked. Dammit, if they’d cut his Ha’rmani suit getting it off him he’d…. what? He seemed to be rather securely tied. Tensing his muscles, he pulled. He was in good shape, and took pride in his body, but whatever they’d secured him with didn’t give an inch. With a sigh he relaxed. Of course, they were after information. If they weren’t after information, he’d already be dead. And he wasn’t a field operative; he was an accountant, for cryin’ out loud! What in the world did they expect of him? With a sigh he realized that he was probably going to miss his flight home. His wife was going to be PISSED!

Sashi shook her head; "But Mistress, I’m so full of vitamin E, well, I just CAN’T have my usual effect! On him, or on anyone!"

Tanj smiled; "That’s all right; Wanda has something that’ll make him THINK you still do. Remember, its mostly all in the head anyways!"

Wanda chuckled and nodded; "We’re going to spray him with a derivative of Amoxycarbosilesine. You know, the active ingredient in Vy-Agra. It’ll be absorbed through the skin. Relax blood vessels, and promote blood flow. And you know how he’ll respond."

The Wolverine lass smiled; "And of course you KNOW he’ll attribute it to you."

The Chocolate Pantheress nodded; "Yes, Mistress; if you say so. I’ll give it my best shot."

Tanj looked at the Vixen and grinned; Zassa had rinsed the dye from her fur, and was once again a briliant scarlet. And she’d donned her "Pirate Queen" outfit. Tanj had found her own "rough duty" oufit, the ripped cammo pants and the too-small combat vest. Her dagger was prominently on her belt. "Ready?" The Vixen grinned back and nodded, and together they entered the cargo bay.

The Buffalo’s head came up at the sound of the personnel lock opening. Frowning, he looked at the two females that had entered. Now who were these two? Dammit, they really should have given him a better breifing! He looked over their outfits, or perhaps "costumes" would have been a better word, and wondered if they were serious. He felt as if he’d suddenly descended into some sort of comic opera……

Tanj knelt by the Buffalo’s side, and ran a paw down over his chest, thinking he must work out. The Buffalo quivered at her touch but didn’t say anything. "You know what we’re here for, don’t you?" the Vixen queried. The Buffalo did his best to adopt a neutral expression, and let his head fall back to the floor. Zassa chuckled; "Information. We want…. Information!"

Tanj chuckled at the line from the ancient holovid, and let her paw slide down, over his belly, to his crotch. His expression changed suddenly when her paws found his balls, hefting them, rolling them, squeezing lightly…. But still he didn’t speak. Looking up at Zassa, Tanj sighed; "you know, this technique works much better with girls. But as we left all the hot irons at home, I guess we’ll just have to try and make it work with him."

The Vixen laughed; "Oh, I think we can make it work with boys too….." With that, she let her paw stroke over his sheath, lightly.

The Buffalo was starting to sweat. His eyes were closed tightly, and he was starting to pant. Tanj chuckled; "One more chance, Stud. You know what we want to know; you can talk now, or talk later. If you don’t have an aneurysm." The Bull just shook his head no.

He never noticed the light mist Tanj sprayed over him, inconsiderable in the face of Zassa's ministrations. Absorption through the skin wasn’t the preferred way to administer the drug, but never the less, this too would work, in a dozen minutes. Plenty of time.

Zassa shrugged and rose, with Tanj following. As the airlock door closed behind them, the Buffalo raised his head to look. Again the room was quiet, empty. Letting his head fall back, he found himself a little dizzy. Lord, those two had been sexy, but then, he was sure that was all part of the… interrogation? Seemed a funny way to get secrets out of folks. As he lay there, he thought about that…

Then the door opened again. Lifting his head, his eyes widened in horror. It was her. The Weapon. That damend Chocolate Pantheress! NUDE! Unfettered! He’d heard just enough about her, from his friends in the Cabal, to be terrified. He’d heard that in product testing, she’d literally fucked a half dozen furrs to death! Wild stories, almost beyond belief! And then, seemingly of its own accord, his cock started to get hard. Good Lord, could the stories actually be TRUE?

Sashi purred, and knelt by the Buffalo; bending she let her hair pool on his stomach as she licked at his hard-on. The first touch of her tongue brought a whimper that sounded almost more like panic than pleasure…. Perhaps what Mistress had said was true… Poor thing, she didn’t want to terrify him, but Master Hinoki had told her she could have all the climaxes she wanted. It was an opportunity way too good to pass up…..

The Buffalo’s eyes went wide as the Pantheress bent over him; her mouth enveloped the head of his cock, and then he watched in amazement as more and more of his shaft disapeared down her throat. He might not have been hung as well as some of his brethren, but he had nothing to be ashamed of, and this bitch was taking every centimeter! And it felt SO good….. It didn’t take hardly any time at all before he was arching his back, lost in the throes of an orgasm.

Sashi grinned and swallowed, and swallowed and swallowed. It must have been a while since he’d been with anyone! Purrring, she continued to work on him with lips and tongue, waiting for him to calm down, knowing he wasn’t really going to go soft on her….

The Buffalo groaned; usually it didn’t take him any time at all to loose his erection after he’d cum; not this time. It must be that demon bitch! He didn’t know how she did it, but he was still Rock Hard. Watching in amazement as she threw a leg across his waist, he felt her take his meat with both hands and guide him towards her dripping snatch.

Zassa watched the monitor and sighed; "How come she gets to have all the fun?"

His blood pounded in his ears. He panted rapidly not seeming to be able to catch his breath. She just kept going and going and going…. His balls were sore, and it felt as if his cock had been skinned. She’d wrung more orgasms out of him than he’d ever thought he had. And he was still hard. No matter what he did, he couldn’t loose his erection. Groaning as she moved once again, to stuff his still hard meat into her back passage, he wondered how long he could last before he DID have that Aneurysm!

Tanj chuckled; "OK, Zassa, I think its about time….." The Vixen picked up the respirator and slid it over her muzzle, a muffled "Oh Goodie" barely being heard.


Ralph blinked; "you want me to WHAT?"

Tanj chuckled; "Oh, relax; if it works right, he’ll cave in and you won’t actually have to do anything but stand there and look sexy."

The Tiger sighed and shrugged; "hope you’re right, Mistress. You know I’ll do as you say, but….."

The images gradually swam into focus. He was no longer alone with that Pantheress. Others had come back. As his vision cleared, following yet another mind-shattering orgasm, the Buffalo realized that the Cheetah, and the Vixen… and the…. Male Tiger? Were all nude. And the Tiger had an erection too. Now what? Trying to concentrate, he tried to listen to what they were saying….

Zassa shook her head; "But if you roll him over, I can’t get any! Yes, I know, Ralph wants to take him in the ass, but he’s not the only one with needs!" Ralph just did his best to leer as he looked down at the Buffalo…

The thoughts were muzzy at best… he was so tired. So sore. Did they say "take him in the … in the ASS?"

Tanj smiled as the Buffalo started howling, yelling that he’d talk, that he’d do anything they wanted, just as long as they’d leave him ALONE, let him rest, let him sleep, just as long as they’d MAKE IT STOP!" Crouching down by his head, her ass high in the air, tail curled lazily over her back, the Cheetah purred; "tell us who you work for…."

Ralph looked at the way his Mistress was crouching. Cocking his head to one side, he shot an inquisitive glance at Zassa; the Vixen winked at him and nodded, and then turned to give Sashi a kiss; "come on, sexy; you and I can amuse ourselves until we’re needed." Sashi just giggled and enveloped the Vixen in a somewhat sticky hug; "sounds good to me, Mistress; he was a good warm-up, but I’m nowhere near done yet." Ralph chuckled and kneeled behind Tanj. He’d known she’d be wet, but all that talk about taking the Buffalo in the ass had given him ideas. As she questioned the Buffalo, Ralph slid his shaft into her pussy, pumped her three or four times to get himself well lubricated, and then taking ahold of the base of her tail, worked the head of his cock into her asshole. She never missed a beat as she questioned him, following every lead, pouncing on any inconsistency. But her body betrayed her, as she pushed back against him, driving him deeper into her ass.

Tanj found him a gold mine of information. Yes, he did work for the Prince’s faction. Apparently he was associated with some accounting firm, owned in part by the Prince, and closely allied with the Prince’s efforts to further his ascention to the throne. As a Junior partner, the Buffalo had been sent to oversee the completion of the economic model. And having been one of the few furrs on site when Tanj and company had shown up, he was thrown into the efforts to stop her. Stop her from doing what? Why, from completing the trans-dimensional portal gizmo, of course. The Prince did NOT want that done; it would undermine his position, and cause numerous complications. No, he didn’t know if it was really possible or not, but someone must think it could at least be possible, or they wouldn’t have reacted so strongly. Or at least that seemed reasonable. Oh, and he was to eliminate the bioengineered weapon too, to eliminate the possibility of anyone ever tracing it back to the Crown Prince. Why did he want to eliminate Jenka? No idea. Why had the plot failed? Don’t know; did Sashi ever wind up in the arms of Jenka, unfettered? Yes? Don’t know why it didn’t work, then. Maybe not quite the right set of circumstances. That’s probably why. No, don’t know what was supposed to happen….

Tanj asked him question after question, until the Buffalo had either passed out, or fallen asleep. Looking over at him, the Cheetah smiled; he was still as hard as ever. It would have been tempting to make use of him…. But Ralph was still going strong, and a promise was a promise.

Sashi sighed; it had been a fun afternoon, but it still hadn’t been everything she’d been craving. Reluctantly, she let Zassa pull away from her. They had to get the Buffalo cleaned up, and back dirtside before he was missed. And it wouldn’t be long before they had to go pick up Corey, from his last day of research. Maybe, just maybe, her Master would reward her for a day’s work well done, this evening…. Now there was something to think about….

The Buffalo was still as heavy as ever, as they dragged him to the park bench. The police officer came trotting over, as expected; "Is something wrong, Ladies?" Tanj nodded; "Yes officer, we found him just down the walk, there; He’d collapsed! He seems to be breathing, and he has a pulse, but aside from that, I have no idea what might be wrong with him." The police officer was almost immediately talking into his collar microphone, summoning help. It didn’t take but a minute for an ambulance to settle down into the park; in the whoosh of its lift fans, Tanj and Wanda slipped off into the crowd. Wanda’s skill at disguises was increasing, and it was likely no one would ever recognize them….

As they flew to the Research Institute, Wanda assured them the drug she’d given the Buffalo would leave him with a very foggy memory of the last six hours or so. He’d probably chalk the events up to a halucination, or something.

Zassa shook her head; "No, I doubt that, Wanda; he’s going to be MUCH too sore, to believe it was all just a halucination. No, I think he’ll tell them what happened to him; exactly what happened to him, and they’ll be after us. I think we should have found a more permanent solution."

Tanj chuckled; "No, actually, I don’t think he’s going to tell anyone. Can you imagine confessing to the Crown Prince that you talked because they fucked you into submission? No, I think he’ll keep it quiet. REAL quiet."

Wanda just sighed; "Hope you’re right."


Corey was waiting, pacing once again. The Lynx spent the trip back to the ship making notes using the ship’s computer. Tanj got the impression that while the experiments were running, that he was just standing there, watching, with a bored expression on his face, but as soon as he was away from the Institute, he was ready to explode with thoughts that he wanted to record, before they evaporated!


Tanj yawned and shook her head. Time for bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day. Shutting down the e-mail program, and then closing the comm channel, she padded off towards her cabin. In the wardroom, Zassa, Sashi, Sabina and Kath had their heads together over a PADD. The look they gave her didn’t invite interruption or questions, so she headed on. She was too tired, anyways. Whatever they were plotting, could wait.


The Cape Buffalo thanked the nurses, and the Doctor, and once again, muttering reassurances that he was just fine, headed for the exit. The Hospital staff had been most solicitous, but the bill they’d presented had almost sent him back to the coronary unit. According to them, he’d had a heart attack, just severe enough to make a hash of the last six or eight hours, not severe enough that they couldn’t fix all the problems. With a pocket full of prescriptions, and a handful of literature about eating right, and getting more exercise (yeah, Riiiiight), they’d finally released him. On the positive side, he had an ironclad alibi as to what happened to him. On the negative side, he was SURE that wasn’t what had happened to him. Wasn’t he? He hadn’t dared ask the doctor about halucinations, or dementia, and wasn’t about to mention how sore his genitals were. Perhaps those were things that he should never mention to anyone, or even think about…

It took a while, but his team leader had finally been satisfied. In some respects it was a good thing the economist wasn’t a spook either; otherwise he would have better known how to debrief someone. Having fulfilled that requirement, the Buffalo turned and headed for his hotel room, wanting nothing more to crawl into bed and forget this day had ever happened. Carefully removing his suit, and hanging it up for the valet to press, he stripped and headed for the shower. It was just as he’d moved through the bathroom door and flicked on the light that he got the shock of his life. There, in the end of his cock, was a bright gold ring! With a groan that must have been heard three floors away, he wondered how in the world he was ever going to explain a Prince Albert to his wife!


The shuttle, the next morning, was almost crowded. Tanj was going to drop off Wanda, Bruno, Ralph, Kath and Sashi at the Medical Complex, for their appointment with the Specialist, and then she and Hinoki were to escort Corey to the Institute for the wrap-up meeting. Zassa and Sabina would stay on the ship and start the departure checklists.

Parking at the Medical complex wasn’t easy. The shuttle was too big to fit into the high rise parking garage, and traffic control wouldn’t let them stop at any of the cargo unloading docks. And of course the VTOL pads were for ambulances only. Tanj, after having circled the complex three times, finally blew a fuse and just stopped in front of the Admissions building. Ignoring the vocal protests from Traffic Control, she waited calmly while they all exited.

Wanda winced as the Cheetah gunned the shuttle, rising three levels into a cross-town traffic stream. She hoped any law enforcement types that might go after Tanj were well armored. It seemed as if the Cheetah’d had just about enough of this place. Turning, taking Bruno by the paw, she headed for the large powered doors.

Kath shivered; why did they always keep it so COLD in the hospitals? She watched as Wanda filled out yet another form, and wondered what had happened to all the forms the Wolverine lass had filled out when they’d made their appointment. Pacing, she watched Bruno play with a sliding-bead toy set out for children, and wondered what any casual observer might think. In a place like this, that specialized in psychiatric trauma, probably not much.

Ralph tried to look in all directions at once. He still didn’t think the fringe effects from the nerve disruptors was bad enough for something like this, but, someone needed to provide security, considering the way things had been going. Of course, Sashi seemed to be more than capable of handling that herself, and he shook off the approaching feelings of inadequacy. Heck, she was DESIGNED for that, or something like that. No need to feel inadequate… or dare he even think it, Jealous?

Wanda smiled in satisfaction. She’d dreaded the traditional hours-long wait, but apparently this place was unique; a guide had appeared, as soon as the paperwork had been reviewed. Taking Bruno again by the paw, she lead him after the guide, down a seemingly nondescript corridor.

Ralph turned to follow, only to find a paw on his arm; "You Ralph? Nerve Disruptor damage? Right. You come with me." Ralph blinked down at the rather petite Mouse lady, and blinked; "Uh.. I’m not supposed to go with them?" The Mouse shook her head; "Nope. Nerve disruptors are all too common in the Empire. We’ve got a wing set aside just for problems related to them. No need for you to see a Specialist. Come on, you’re wasting time!"


The guide stopped and beckoned to a doorway; "If you’ll just wait in there, Kyrin will be with you momentarily." Wanda pushed at the door, and stepping through, found herself in a small courtyard, or at least the illusion of one. The sun was warm overhead, and flowers blossomed. In the center was a gazebo, with bench seats around the periphery. Bees buzzed, and butterflies flitted, and for a moment she thought she spotted a hummingbird. Amazed, she led Bruno to the Gazebo…


Ralph blinked; "Uh…."

"you heard me. Strip. Down to the fur. NOW!"

Shrugging, the Tiger carefully removed his suit jacket, folded it, and put it down. With increasing impatience, the Mouse watched, her foot actually tapping against the floor. When he was done, she gestured to a circle on the floor. Ralph moved over to stand on it; when he did so, a breathing mask dropped from the ceiling. Glancing at the mouse, he slid it over his muzzle, and tighened the straps. As soon as he’d done this, cool air started to flow. He took one breath, and then hidden motors whirred, and a clear cylinder rose up around him. He felt as if he were being dropped into a giant test-tube. When the cylinder seated against a similar circle in the ceiling, a greenish fluid started to bubble up around his feet.

Ralph shot a look at the Mouse; she was looking at a PADD, and paying no attention to him. Figuring it must all be part of the process, he repressed a moment of panic as the fluid rose above his muzzle. The world turned greenish. Floating in the thick fluid, he wondered what was next. And what it might take to get this crap out of his fur.


Kath strolled around the garden. They’d only been there a few minutes, but she was finding it hard to sit still. She just didn’t like Hospitals, and the fact that this one looked like a garden didn’t make it any easier to take. Hearing a noise, she turned, and watched an unusual middle aged furr enter the garden.

The creature was most unusual, and alluring in an exotic sort of way; quite female, she had the body and head of a deer, but a single horn, curved backwards, sprouted from her forehead. Her ears were smaller than a deer’s ears, and more closely resembled something equine. She was wearing a heavily embroidered midriff top, and a long, flowing, semi-translucent skirt, that almost reminded one of a harem outfit. Her bare tummy revealed that while her arms, legs, head and stomach were covered in soft reddish-brown fur, her back, and portions of her hips and shoulders were covered in fine pearlescent scales. Her tail was long, with a tuft of hair at the end, and she walked on coven hooves. Kath caught her breath, when, for a moment their eyes met; she had the brightest emerald green eyes she’d ever seen….

"Hello, I’m Kyrin; I’m the Specialist you’ve contracted for."

Wanda smiled; "Hello, Kyrin. My, I have to admit, you’re the first oriental Unicorn I’ve ever met! I hope you’re up for a challenge."

Kyrin turned to look at Bruno; "Yes, I’ve heard of devices like the one you described. Nasty things. I admit I’ve never actually encountered someone who’s been the victim of one, but I’ll still do what I can."

Wanda nodded; "Bruno is the number one priority, but if we have time, I’d like you to look at Sashi. But lets touch on that only if time permits. Is there anything we can to do be of assistance with Bruno?"

Kyrin looked thoughtful; "I’d appreciate it if you’d remain in the area; his presence should be reassuring. Other than that, no, I don’t think so."


Ralph jerked as something touched his leg; bending, looking down through the green fluid, he watched a multijointed silver tentacle wrap around his left ankle; another was emerging from the floor and heading for his right ankle. Then, he jerked again as something touched his right wrist. A moment later, he was restrained, held in the middle of the tube, not quite spread-eagled. Tilting his head back, he watched as another series of tentacles, each one dividing, and then dividing again into hundreds of hair-thin ends, moved towards him. With something resembling a caress, he felt the numerous hair-thin tentacles caress his head, each one seemingly searching for a certain point on his skull. As his head became immobilized as well, he felt other tentacles caress his body, other electrodes searching out the optimal point in his nervous system.


Kyrin knelt by Bruno and smiled at him; "Hello Bruno. I’m here to help you. Would you kneel down, facing me? That’s a good boy. Now, I’m going to touch your head, and when I do so, I want you to look into my eyes….."

Wanda watched as Kyrin brought both hands up, to touch Bruno’s head. Her fingers moved a bit, seemingly centering themselves in locations that apparently were meaningful only to Kyrin. Then her eyes rolled back into her head, as if she were entering a trance.


"Mistress, what’s she doing?"

Wanda shrugged; "Don’t really know. Well, I do, but I don’t. She’s one of the rare psychics in the Empire, and a licenced physician to boot. She’s inside his head right now, poking around among the neurons, but I don’t have a clue as to "how" she does it….. I just hope she can find the damage, and either fix it or bypass it, so that Bruno gets something of his mind back."

Kath nodded; "I’m not entirely sure how wise that is. Remember, he wasn’t the nicest of persons before the, ah, "attack".

Wanda sighed and nodded; "True, but still, we just can’t leave him like this."

The Mink sighed and nodded reluctantly in agreement.


Ralph jerked again. Strange sensations were flooding through his body. A pinprick on the pad of his left foot. A small shock on the back of his right leg. The sensation of heat under his right arm. Something very cold on the tip of his right ear. He knew the sensations weren’t really there, just something generated as the medical whatever-it-was tested the damage. Chuckling to himself, he wished that they could come up with stimuli that were more pleasurable….. After all, if the Hospital was going to put him into bondage, especially such wet, sticky bondage, the least they could do was to make it worth his while.


"Hey, Friedrich, you won’t believe the thought that Tiger just had. Come take a look at this."

"Hmmmmm. Sigmund, you know, he’s right. We could overlay the test pattern with something a little more powerful, but still something the analytical instruments could filter out. It should significantly reduce the boredom factor. You know how much of a problem that’s been."

"Sounds good; but somehow providing holo-goggles in the conductive gel sounds a bit difficult. Besides there are muscle related motions that would occur if we were, say, to send them on a holographic skiing trip, or something like that."

"True. What could we do that would minimize the body’s movement?" Both heads turned in unison to look at the Tiger, and then down at the read-outs; they then turned to regard each other. Slowly grins formed; "You know, Sigmund, you are SO sexually repressed! Still, it might work. It might just work!"


Sashi knelt in the sun, near a small fountain, and just relaxed. It was so peaceful here. So pleasant. She knew Kath was bored to tears, and that Wanda was also nearing the limits of her patience. Kyrin appeared to be asleep, as did Bruno; neither had moved in hours. Or at least it seemed like hours. Looking back at the fountains, a butterfly’s erratic flight caught her eye, and for a moment she followed it….. As it flew out of sight behind a shrub, Sashi wondered if perhaps she could take a nap. That would be pleasant.

Kath slowly dismembered the flower, pulling the petals off one by one. Several denuded stems lay around her, while the slight breeze created a blizzard of flower petals. Her stomach was rumbling. She wanted lunch. And yet, they’d been asked to remain here. Looking over at the Wolverine lass, she couldn’t imagine how she could sit there so calmly, just WATCHING. Grrrrr.

Wanda smiled; "Kath, if you must do something, why don’t you make a garland of flowers. They seem to have enough. Or at least enough remaining."

"Mistress, I’m afraid I don’t know how…."

"Then come here, and I’ll show you.."

Sashi yawned and opened her eye. Just one. It was so nice to catch up on her sleep in this quiet, fragrant place. Turning her head slightly she observed that the sun was past the zenith. Wanda and Kath seemed to be making something in the Gazebo. And Kyrin and Bruno hadn’t moved a muscle. Smiling, she closed her eye and went back to sleep.


Ralph groaned. He didn’t know if it was a boredom induced fantasy, or stimulus from the electrodes, but it FELT as if someone were stroking his shaft with a feather touch. It felt SO good. Smiling to himself, he thrust his hips back and forth, just a little, making the gel around him surge.


"Sigmund, you’re a genius. Look at the tension levels. No more boredom, and no more traces of claustrophobia. Data quality has improved by a whopping seventeen percent!"

"True, Friedrich, but I’m afraid we’re going to have a… um… "contamination" problem in the conductive gel shortly…."


Kyrin blinked and opened her eyes. Lowering her arms she sat back a little and just watched the Bear’s face.

Wanda missed the motion, but saw Kath react and turned to look, just in time to see Bruno blink. The Bear’s head suddenly whipped back, and forth, as he took in his surroundings. With his voice sounding like he had a frog in his throat, the Bear muttered "Oh, SHIT, what HAPPENED?"

Kyrin sighed; "There is still significant damage. Most of the, ah, now "accessible" areas of memory were all related to learned things. How to talk, how to use the bathroom, how to read, how to paint a wall, and things like that. However, it wasn’t uniformily successful; some abilities might be a little spotty." She grinned; "I’d be real careful letting him, oh, say, fly an aircar, unsupervised, at least for a while. He might THINK he knows how, but suddenly find he’s forgotten something really important, such as how to land, until he tries it."

After a moment Kyrin sighed and shrugged; "Unfortunately, the portions of the brain used to access memories related to "experiences" was more severely damaged, and there was little I could do. There is a chance, and its only a chance, that he’ll have flashbacks, or visions of experience related items, but I’m afraid that taken out of context they’ll be more confusing than anything. But I’m afraid that’s all that I can do. Its all, I suspect, that anyone can do, today, or ever. I would advise against spending money on any future sessions, as I think you’d be disappointed."

Wanda nodded, and then inclined her head towards Sashi; "We have a few hours of your time left, I believe, and I would be grateful for your assistance with a recently uncovered problem with Sashi. She came to us, under, well, unusual circumstances; it would appear that she’s been modified genetically, and rather extensively as well, specifically to kill a certain individual. If possible, I’d like to request your help in, ah, removing the instructions that might cause her to harm another being."

Kyrin frowned; "This is not my usual line of work……" Turning she looked at the Chocolate Panteress. For a moment Wanda thought she might turn them down, but then Kyrin rose, and padded over, to lightly lay a paw on top of Sashi’s head. The look on her face was similar to that one might see, when someone stepped in something particularly revolting, but Kyrin crouched down, touching Sashi’s head with her other paw. The grimace deepened, but she settled down by Sashi, obviously unable, or unwilling to quit what she was doing.

"What’s she doing, Mom?"

Wanda turned to look at Bruno; "She’s trying to help Sashi with a problem. Not a problem like you had, but not that dissimilar either. She too was the victim of bad people." After a moment, Wanda smiled; "And you know, Bruno, I’m not really your Mother…."

The Bear nodded; "I know. Wrong species. But somehow, it just seems to fit." He grinned lopsidedly; "You might have to get used to it."

After a while, the Bear scratched his head; "Bruno, huh? That’s my name? Really?"


Ralph moaned and shuddered as his cock erupted again. He knew things were going on inside his head, and with his body, but the overlay of the marvelous sensations kept it all in the background. Small shocks and twitches became unimportant, given the feel of a warm mouth gliding over his shaft, or gentle fingers stroking his balls…. Now this was "treatment" he could live with!

"Oh, quit griping, Friedrich! So we charge him for four hundred gallons of conductive gel. His ejaculations aren’t contaminating it that much; the gel’s too thick for it to diffuse far anyways. What’s that? We charge them for it anyways? And sterilization of the equipment? Well there you go, no problem at all. Messy? Huh! And you call ME sexually repressed!"


Kath watched the sun slide behind the roofline. The courtyard wasn’t that big, but it must still be late afternoon. She was so hungry she just wasn’t hungry anymore. Turning she watched a butterfly flit by. How late did butterflies stay up, anyways. Would there be lightning bugs later? Turning her head, she listened for a moment as Wanda and Bruno talked quietly. The Bear seemed so much more disturbed, now that part of his memory was back. Almost as if, in regaining part, he realized how much he’d lost. At least he wasn’t freaking out, or anything.


Ralph groaned. The green goop around him was receeding, the tendrils and tentacles vanishing back into floor and ceiling. After a few minutes, he stood, dripping, again in the open. The Mouse was back, fists on hips, glaring at him; "Well, it looks as if YOU had a good time! The shower’s that way!"

It was good to stand under the hot water. The shower room had shower heads for six, but he was the only one in there, and he didn’t feel bad about taking his time. He felt all tingly, and yet, as keyed up as he seemed to be, he was also immensely tired. Hearing feet, he turned around. The Mouse was back, but she had a funny look in her eye. "I’ve been reading your chart, Stud. Seems you’re a slave. Normally, that would’t make a bit of difference to me, but I’ve been watching you in that tube all day, and, well, for once, I think I’m going to take advantage of it." As she spoke, she had been unbuttoning her tunic. "Get yourself hard. I want some of that cock of yours before you’re discharged. Chalk it up to "quality control". Just want to make sure they got all the nerves round there tuned up properly." Grinning, Ralph pushed his paw down over his soapy stomach, to stroke himself back to full hardness. All things considered, he might have one good orgasm left…..


Kyrin released Sashi, and quietly slumped to the ground. Sashi opened her eyes and turned to look at Kyrin, moving to straighten her out, bending to kiss her on the forehead. After a minute, Kyrin opened her eyes, and blinked. By then, all the others had gathered around to look down at her.

"you were right to bring this to my attention. On this planet, in this place, what they’ve done to her isn’t exactly illegal, but… there are those that I DO need to talk to about this. Such monstrous activities cannot be permitted to continue!"

Wanda nodded; "I agree… but what have you found out?"

Kyrin smiled enigmatically. "I’ve found out MANY things. It would be prudent for me NOT to tell you some of them, for your own safety, but I will tell you this. Sashi had a strong compulsion not to harm anyone, at least overtly, before those bastards installed their programming. Instead she was set up to simply deliver a message, in place of the violence. I’ll let HER deliver the message, when the time is right. I’ve done some reinforcing, to make sure the compulsion to kill is, well, not removed; that’s beyond my power, but at least modified. Yes, I think "modified" is a good term. She still has a compulsion, and a powerful one, but your Jenka should survive it. And when all the proper cues are in effect, she should be able to deliver her message as well."

Rising unsteadily, Kyrin looked at a pocket Chronograph; "Oh Dear! I’m late for my next appointment!" Turning, she hugged Sashi tight and then hugged Bruno; "Take care, you two. Call me if you need me; gotta dash!"

And then she was gone. Wanda turned to look at Sashi; "What of that do you remember?"

Sashi just shrugged; "Mistress, I think she went places in my mind that I’m unable to go to. I remember her doing a lot of cursing at the things she found, and even forming threats agaisnt furrs I don’t know. Beyond that, well, it was like being in a room without windows, listening to a construction crew in the next room building something. I know she was doing things, but I’m not Really sure just what…."

Wanda sighed; "Well, Dear, I think we’re still going to be careful for a while, but with luck, we’ve solved, or cured most of your problems, or at least the overt ones, on this trip."

Sashi grinned; "Thank you, Mistress. Now, is anyone else hungry? I’m about ready to try and eat one of the butterflies!"

Kath muttered, as they headed for the door; "Don’t bother; they don’t taste very good."


Ralph was waiting in the lobby when they emerged. He looked pretty much as he always had, standing there impassively in his black suit and sunglasses. But the tic was gone from the corner of his left eye, and he had this chesshire cat smile…..

As they approached the street in front of the building, Kath reached for her communicator. However, with her paw halfway to her purse she froze. There, in one of the Visitor spaces, sat the shuttle. Looking like something from an ancient 2D science fiction movie, it hovered on its tail. An honest-to-God rope ladder hung from the door. Laughing, Kath shook her head and wondered at the exchange that MUST have occurred between the Cheetah and local traffic control.

Ralph looked at the rope ladder and sighed; "Well, at least we’re AT the hospital. Who’s going first?"

Sashi watched Bruno move carefully up the ladder, just behind Wanda. Kath followed him, and she followed her. Reluctantly, Ralph brought up the rear. As she climbed, she wondered idly if anyone was getting a thrill looking up her skirt. She hoped so….

Hinoki was in the copilot’s seat, and Corey was sitting crosslegged on the aft (now down) bulkhead, muttering to himself. Lowering himself into a seat, Ralph looked forward (now up) at Tanj and as he clicked the seatbelt together, waved a paw. Almost instantly, he was pressed back into the seat, the horizon swung wildly, and his stomach lurched. Probably a good thing it was empty. Then the inertial dampers caught up, and everything returned to a nominal "normal".

Somehow through it all, Corey not only made the transition from sitting on the aft bulkhead to sitting on the floor, but also managed to keep control of all his papers at the same time. Although Kath could have sworn for a moment both the Lynx and his papers were on the ceiling….

Hinoki chuckled; "No, I would definitely advise against arming this ship. If you had weapons, I’m afraid we’d HAVE to leave this planet, and in a hurry too." Tanj just growled.

As they approached the asteroid field, Hinoki turned and looked back; "Wanda, I guess the fact you’re talking to Bruno means things worked out OK…"

Wanda nodded; "Prettymuch; he’s missing most of his life, but remembers how to function fairly well. How’d things go with you?"

The Cheetah just shrugged; "Most of it was completely over my head. Corey and Tanj got into a nice argument with the business types there, accusing them of angling for a contract extention, at rediculous prices, saying that certain experiments had been stopped short of a conclusion, but they of course denied everything. On the surface it looks as if it was a complete bust, but the Professor says it may not be a total loss."

Corey muttered from the back; "Bunch of blind idiots. They’ve missed the importance of the Meson resonance. I don’t know how furrs in the positions they hold can be so BLIND!"

Hinoki just chuckled; "Well, the Professor may not be happy, but I don’t think he’s at the end of his rope."

Corey looked up; "Howzat? The end? Oh, good Lord no. Oh, I argued and whined and pitched a fit, but that was mostly for show. I WANTED them to think that I thought it was all crap, and that nothing had worked. In fact, it uncovered a few things that my instruments hadn’t been able to pick up. In fact, I have several positive leads to pursue. But if you’ll excuse me, I do need to consolidate my notes…."

As the cargo bay repressurized, Tanj found herself itching to get out of the system. She’d had enough. Enough assassination attempts, enough unreasonable furrs, enough Enigmatic Controlling Imperial Intelligence types. Enough Intrigue. She’d never appreciated how SIMPLE life was with the pirates…… As soon as she could, they’d clear this system, cloak the ship and go back to being what they were. And if anyone got in the way, they’d regret it.

Zassa watched the hatch open on the shuttle, scanning the faces of her friends as they exited; "Well, how’d it go". Bruno shrugged; "Dunno; Some good, some bad. Mostly the usual Crap. How’d your day go?"

Wanda took in the look on the Vixen’s face and laughed.

The outer marker was behind them. The warp drive was purring like a kitten. The course was laid in, and the ship was functioning smoothly. Tanj sipped her coffee and wondered at all that had happened in so short a time. Were they advancing their cause? Moving forward? Was it all worth it? Glancing out at the stars she decided only time would tell.

Heading Home 1

Kath watched the Lynx stumble into the wardroom; he was holding up a PADD with one paw, making notes with a stylus with the other, and not watching where he was going. He made his way to the coffee pot, got a cup, filled it, and turned, still not taking his eyes from the PADD. Not sloshing more than a quarter cup on the deck, he made his way out. Shaking her head in amazement, at his concentration, and his ability to do what he’d done without looking, she turned her attention back to the dishes. Sabina’s lasagna had stuck to the pan bad, and of course it had to be her turn to do the dishes. Worse, since they’d gotten back, Wanda had shifted back into pure Mistress mode. She stood at the sink nude, except for her collar, and to make things more interesting, her paws were handcuffed in front of her. The handcuffs were chained to a waist belt, and of course the lock was behind her back, the chain passing between her legs. When she reached for the scrubbie, things could get quite interesting…. In fact it was almost too tempting to just stand there and tug on the chain, working its smooth links through her crotch… But she knew if she didn’t get the dishes done, Mistress would be mad…. And who knew where that might lead?

Corey paused and looked back at the wardroom door. There had been something funny about the Mink. Something about the way she was dressed…. Shrugging he turned and headed back for his quarters. SO much work to do!

Sashi dropped the armload of parts onto the workbench; "OK, Mistress, I think I’ve got pretty much everything you asked for. The toy is Hinoki’s own personal one. Don’t ask me how I managed to swipe it without him noticing. The two actuators should do for the hydraulic pumps; we just spring load them, and run ‘em in reverse. They’re from the cargo handling system, by the way, so they’re your responsibility."

Zassa nodded; "I can cover that in inventory, I think. At least until I get a chance to replace them. Now, what about the tubing?"

"Sabina is "salvaging" about four meters from the irrigation system in Hydroponics. The roses are pretty but they’re not really necessary, and Tanj hasn’t had time to prune them anyways."

Zassa grinned and half-joked; "Yeah, but I’ll miss the thorns. Lots of things you can do with a nice rose stem…"

Sashi winced and continued; "I scarfed the hydraulic reservoir from the antimatter containment access hatch locking mechanism; it’ll just have to make do with the manual backup…"

The Vixen nodded; "That’s OK, no one ever goes down there except for an annual Preventive Maintenance expedition. What about the pressure regulator?"

Sashi grinned; "Environmental; actually had a spare in stock that should do."

Zassa nodded; "OK, now all we have to do is assemble it….


Hinoki grinned at the Cheetah; "Still at work, eh? Somehow I figured I’d find you here."

Tanj looked up from her comm console, and its seemingly endles supply of "urgent" messages; "Well….."

Hinoki held out a paw; "Love, I think you need a break. In fact, I think you need to "get back to your roots" a little, and rediscover some of the things you used to know."

Tanj smiled crookedly; "Why is it that I feel I’ll need to fetch my collar for this?"

Wanda sat in the folding chair, with Kath kneeling by her feet, both of them watching. Hinoki really was a master with the ropes. He’d led Tanj, blindfolded, to an upright in the cargo bay. There, he’d used cotton clothesline to tie her chest against the pole, paying particular attention to her breasts. The tight bondage now made them envelop the slender pole, thrust beyond it proudly. On the far side of the pole from the Cheetah a small electric motor was clamped. Its shaft mounted a small wheel, with long, thin rubber straps secured around its periphery. It was obvious that should the motor be turned on, the disk would turn, and the rubber straps would lightly whip the undersides of the Cheetah’s bound breasts. Depending on the speed of the motor, the strokes could vary from light, to something worse. But, of course, given the blindfold, Tanj knew nothing of this. Finishing his knotwork, Hinoki fished a couple of small golded balls from a pocket; holding them up for Wanda’s inspection he purred; "Remote control vibrators; they attach to her nipple rings like so….. Shortly, the Cheetah fem was adorned, each ball tugging downward on her nipples. A third was added to her clitty piercing. Hinoki then used a pair of standard handcuffs to secure Tanj’s paws behind her back.

"Now here’s the deal, and you might remember this from the academy. You have to stand there, until a block of ice melts. When that happens, the keys to the handcuffs will swing down and into your paws. You can then unlock the cuffs and release yourself. To make things more interesting, there’ll be a vibrator in your quim, and if you let it slip out, well, nasty things will happen. Can you hold it in place until the ice melts?"

Tanj laughed; "Yes, I remember that one. I used to be able to hold out, but I guess we’ll find out if I’ve still got what it takes!"

Hinoki grinned and nodded, and bending, pressed the bullet-shaped end of the vibrator to Tanj’s pussy; it slid home easily. With only about an inch visible, he flicked the switch, turning it on. Tanj moaned and leaned her head against the pole….

Kath watched, with interest. It was obvious that as a climax approached, Tanj would let thevibrator slip a little; however, when the waves of ecstacy had passed, she was able to somehow manipulate her internal muscles and litterally pull the vibrator back into herself. It was phenomenal to watch.

Wanda watched the ice cube. It hung from the ceiling, holding the ends of two pieces of string. Occasionally a drip would fall to the deck. Very occasionally. Then she realized, Hinoki had put it right in front of the ventillation duct. Cool air was coming out, reducing the rate of melting. Devilish.


Zassa danced. As she danced, every time a foot hit the floor, the two-inch thick "bladder" tied to her foot compressed. Hydraulic fluid flowed through the tubes tied along her legs, to an accumulator on her waist.

Sashi watched a remote, frowning; "Mistress, we’re going to have to modify it; you’re just not heavy enough to develop enough pressure."

Zassa, panting lightly, pirouetted, her dance continuing; "I think we’re going to go with a master cylinder, to concentrate the pressure. Either that or we’ll just have to use larger pistons in the business end, and that’s bulky enough as it is."

Sashi nodded; "I guess we can do that. Let me see what I can scrounge…."


Tanj bit her lower lip, and shuddered. She’d almost lost the vibrator on that last one. She’d no idea how long she’d been standing there, or how long it would take the ice cube to melt, but it had seemed like forever. Reflecting back on her days in the Academy, she realized that she DID miss things like this. A test of her and her skills and abilities on the most basic level. No need to worry about Maintenance Schedules, Agents doublecrossing you, or gyping you, no worries at all beyond whether you could perform as instructed. Were the gains and benefits of her current position worth it? Sometimes she wondered. The benefits of what she was doing now certainly were! Holding her breath, trying hard not to loose control, she fought down a moan as yet another climax started to build….

Kath smiled as the ice cube separated, the string with the key starting to swing, only to become entangled half-way down, with an electrical conduit. Had Hinoki forseen that? Or had he just done a poor job of planning? Shifting her eyes back to Tanj, she wondered what would happen now?

Hinoki lounged against the wall, watching. He’d thought that would happen. Of course, the Cargo Bay was covered with conduits, piping, cargo handling gear, and all sorts of stuff. Difficult to find a place where a long string could swing free. Turning to look at Wanda, he grinned; "Bet you she can’t last another ten minutes."

Wanda looked at the Cheetah fem; she was trembling, leaning hard against the pole, obviously exhausted; "No, I won’t take that bet…."

Tanj mewled as she lost it, the vibrator sliding free at the tail end of her climax. Panting she heard it hit the deck, and then things started to happen. The vibrators on nipples and clitty she’d expected, but the sudden impact of the straps on her bound breasts, that she hadn’t expected. Panting, moaning, struggling against her bonds she found herself sliding down that slippery slope, headed for yet another climax!

Hinoki let the motor run for a minute after her oh-so-very vocal climax had receeded, and then jumped up, to unsnag the string. The keys smacked her square in the palm of one hand, but it still took her a moment to realize what the impact meant.

Kath watched with interest as the Cheetah deftly unlocked the handcuffs; it took her longer with the knots, but only because Hinoki had been most clever with them. Finally she was able to pull herself away from the whirling straps. Sitting down on the floor, hard, Tanj panted; "Guess maybe I DO need some more practice….."

Hinoki grinned, and winked at Wanda.

Wanda just chuckled; she’d keep the secret. Rising, she tugged on Kath’s leash; "All right, Love, now lets see how well YOU can do!"


Sabina looked at the rig doubtfully; "Mistress, I really don’t think I need this; I’m NOT fat!"

Zassa growled; "Don’t argue with me, Slave. Put it on! It needs a good test, and you said you needed the exercise anyways!"

Sashi smiled to herself; the Vixen had already tested it. Extensively. But Sabina didn’t know that. Zassa stood watching, a riding crop in one paw, and a scowl on her face as the Kitten strapped the pads to her feet. Standing on the pads forced hyraulic fluid into the "master cylinder", a particularly appropriate term in this situation, which in turn extended the dildo to its full length. Sabina, still grousing inarticulately, lubbed up the dong and squatting, slid it into her pussy. She then strapped it into place, a sort of perverted chastity belt… When she’d finished, Zassa produced a small combination lock, which she used to secure the harness around the Kitten’s hips. Then the Vixen took a pair of cuffs, locked them around Sabina’s wrists, and then locked each cuff to the side of the belt around her waist.

"OK, you’re ready" the Vixen growled; "Try walking. Slowly at first." Sabina swallowed and took a step forward. As she lifted one foot, the hydraulic pressure was reduced, and the dong withdrew half-way from her pussy; with an "OH!" she put the foot back down, hard, and then gasped as the dong was driven hard back into her snatch. Turning she shot Zassa a grin, and then took a confident step forward.

Sashi watched the Kitten falter, and made a move to catch her, if she had to, but Sabina waved her away, and took another step, and then another… After a minute she was walking around the shop, pausing only when the intensity of a climax threatened to make her fall.

Tanj turned to Sashi and grinned; "I do believe it works. Now, we need someone male to try it out on before we give it to Hinoki….."


Sabina panted as she jogged; "Mistress I am NOT fat. How could you POSSIBLY think so? OW! If you think I’m fat, you’ve obviously got a screw loose! OW! This just isn’t FAIR! OWWW!"

Corey stopped and watched as the white Kitten with the black hair jogged by, pursued by a naked Vixen wielding a riding crop. Shrugging he turned and looked back at the PADD he’d been studying, as he made his way down the corridor towards his quarters. This place was strange. Then he grinned; "But perhaps no more strange than the University I teach at….."


Tanj sighed; it had been a nice break, but they’d be coming up on Kemira shortly and she had things to do. But first, a shower. A nice hot shower. Well, maybe not too hot, her breasts were still a little sensitive….. Smiling, she flicked one of her own nipple rings, teasing herself just a little. Yes, maybe she DID need to practice some of her craft a little more…..


Ralph looked at the panting Sabina and then at the Vixen; "you want me to WHAT?"


Tanj wrapped herself in the kimono, and sat down in the pilot’s seat. A couple of hours working on her correspondence, and then she’d have to drop out of warp. Corey would leave the ship, on his way back to the University, and they’d do a day’s shopping, trying to find the remaining things folks back home had requested. They did have a cover to maintain, after all….


Bruno looked at the Tiger, and LAUGHED. "How in the HELL did they ever talk you into something like THAT?"

Ralph just grinned back and shrugged; "Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it." The Tiger wore a harness. The straps over his shoulder were purely for looks; the thick belt around his waist, and the strap between his legs sufficed to hold the device over his cock. Brightly colored tubes ran from the device to a something-or-other on the belt, in the small of his back. From there, the tubing ran down the backs of his legs to the bladders under his feet. He had to balance himself carefully; it was something akin to walking on platform soles. Every step he took moved something delightful back and forth over his very hard cock, inside the device. In other words, as he walked, he fucked himself. "Yeah, I can see how this’d have some strong points."

Zassa laughed; "Feel more like going on those long walks? Or jogging?"

The Tiger winced; "Jogging might kill me!"

Zassa chuckled; "Lets find out!" At Ralph’s "huh?" Zassa brought the end of her riding crop down on his left asscheek; "Run, Slave!"

Bruno watched the Tiger run off, chased by the Vixen. Scratching his head, he turned to go find "mother". He had some questions for her…..


Tanj pushed the button and dropped the ship out of warp. Opening a channel, she contacted Kimera control, and asked for a vector. For some reason it struck her all as horribly common, and routine…..

Wanda smiled and took the Bear’s paw in both of hers; "Your status? Ah, yes, that is a bit difficult. Strictly speaking, yes, like Ralph, you’re a slave. But given your, ah, "injury" I’m… I’m a little uncertain just what your future will be. I just don’t know what Tanj’s intentions are with respect to you."

The Bear swallowed hard and nodded; "Momma, I’m afraid….."


Ralph threw his head back and ROARED; unfortunately, in the throes of his orgasm, he stumbled a bit. Zassa watched as he recovered, only to run straight into a bulkhead. He couldn’t have been too badly hurt, however, because as he collapsed to the floor, he was laughing.

Zassa trotted up to the orange and black pile of furr on the floor and grinned down at him; "Guess it still needs a little work…."

Ralph chuckled; "OHYEAH. But that’s OK, I’ll be glad to help. Hey, seriously, anything for Science!"


Tanj watched Corey pack; "you have your tickets for the trip back?"

"Yes. They’re right… no… they’re… Ah, here they are."

Tanj nodded; "And your data is suitably encoded?"

Corey straightend and stared at her; "Madam, I guarantee you, no one will break that code. Anyone searching my luggage will find nothing useful!"

Tanj was sure of that, but…. well, maybe some good had come of the whole trip.

"And what are your plans for….. exfiltration?"

Corey smiled; "Permit me a few secrets, Madam. I will send you an e-mail through the usual channels to confirm my safe, ah, "egress", and another when I’m back at my post at the University. God only knows what that lame-brained graduate student you sent me has been doing with my students and my research since I left!"

Tanj nodded; "I have to go start the final approach. You take care now, you hear?"

Corey stepped forward to give her a hug; "I will, and you as well. As soon as I’m ready to start building a prototype, I’ll be in touch."

Tanj nodded, kissed him on the nose, and turned to head back to the flight deck.


The descent was almost boring, without rocks whizzing by from all directions. The starport was little more than a wide-open field. Tanj landed the ship with little more than a bump, and started shutting things down. A customs inspector would be along shortly, and in the meantime they were to stay put.

"Tanj, do you have a minute?"

Tanj turned and looked up at Wanda; "Um, yeah, until the customs agent gets here, I suppose I do. Whats up?"

Wanda smiled and settled into the comm station chair; "Bruno has a few questions about, well, his place in the order of things."

Bruno stood by Wanda’s side, looking nervous. Looking almost as if he didn’t quite know what to do with himself.

Tanj nodded and sighed. "Bruno, I know you don’t remember how you came to be with us, but when we get home, the story will probably be readily available, and probably told in the most teasing fashion possible." Tanj turned to look at the main viewscreen, and the stars beyond the planet; "There is nothing that bunch of pirates and ne’er-do-wells like better than to tease a helpless person, and if you’re going to survive there, you’re going to have to be strong. Not just strong physically, but emotionally as well."

Behind her, Bruno nodded slowly.

"Lets just say that in the course of politics among the Black Fleet, a certain faction maneuvered you into challenging me to a duel, a duel that you lost. I’ve no doubt folks will take great delight in showing you the recordings. In a way, you were set up, and in a way your own self-confidence led you to defeat. No matter. Those that had maneuvered you into the duel weren’t content with that, but in vengeance for loosing, used a weapon on you that cost you your mind. Some of those villains may still be out there, and believe me, I’ll be looking for them."

Bruno nodded solemnly; "Its difficult to miss something that you can’t remember having, but I would imagine, like having a tooth knocked out, the… hole where it was is a constant source of annoyance. I’d like to find the furrs that did this to me as well."

Tanj nodded and sighed; "And what would you do with them when you found them?"

Bruno opened his mouth… and then looked at Wanda. He closed his mouth, looked at Tanj and then at the floor. "I’m not sure. I wanted to say that I’d rip them to shreds, but…. I don’t think that’s quite what Mom would want me to do…."

Tanj raised an eyebrow and smiled at Wanda, who just shrugged. Looking back at the Bear, Tanj nodded; "Indeed. There are rules to follow, but I find that when dealing with Imperial Politics, a realm in which all of this just might fall, there aren’t really any rules. I would prefer to make sure these furrs were in a position where they could never do something like that to anyone else, ever, but I too am not sure how to accomplish that. Lets leave it at "we’ll try and stop them wherever we can" and worry about the rest later."

Bruno nodded; and then shrugged, spreading his paws wide; "You say I lost a duel to you. Pardon me, but that’s a little hard to believe." Hastily he added; "Not that I doubt you, though…. But if true, then from what I remember, you’d take not only everything I own, but…. me as well, as the victor."

Tanj nodded; "Bruno, you didn’t have very much and what you had we spent, and more, in trying to recover your mind. And for the moment, its much safer for you, to have me responsible for you. As for the rest, well, we’ll deal with that as time passes. I’m not really sure just where its going to lead, but for the moment at least, you’re one of us, no less than Ralph, Zassa, or Sabina, Hinoki, or Sashi, Wanda, or Kath."

Bruno nodded slowly; "so what am I to do? I’m…. not comfortable just sitting around. I feel like I should be DOING something…."

Tanj nodded, and turned to Wanda; "Do you remember what he did with the Black Fleet?"

Wanda shook her head; "No, not particularly, but it shouldn’t be hard to find out. Are you thinking of sending him back to his old job?"

Tanj winced, knowing how someone like him would be teased; "No….. but it might give us a clue as to what skill sets he might have. Let me do some digging. We’ve still got a while until we’re back to think about it." Looking up at the Bear, Tanj forced a smile; "There’s always work to be done on a starship though. If you feel up to it, report to Zassa, and she’ll find things for you to do…."


Zassa opened the port and looked at the inspector. The Raccoon wore a black jumpsuit with silver piping, and was flanked by two armed Raccoons in grey uniforms. Stepping into the ship, the Raccoon in Black handed Zassa a PADD; "Here are the forms we need filled out. You will do this now, and quickly, while we inspect your ship." Zassa looked the Coon up and down and nodded; "Riiiiight."


Tanj looked at the forms on the PADD; they wanted her complete financial history, including bank account numbers? Rising, she looked at the Vixen; "They have GOT to be kidding! Haven’t they ever heard of "Identity Theft?" If we fill out these forms we’re just inviting trouble!"

Zassa nodded; "That’s what I thought. I get the feeling we’re not the only pirates in the universe."

Tanj growled; "Where are they now?"

"Down on the Engineering Deck. I think."

As the Cheetah stalked from the flight deck, Zassa grinned and followed. She was getting the feeling they weren’t going to be doing any shopping here, but the show might well be worth it….

The Raccoon in black looked up; "This access panel is locked. Open it. Now." Hinoki opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Tanj’s growl stopped him. "The pure bloody HELL I will. In the first place, there is no reason for me to open engineering spaces to this sort of inspection; in the second place, that’s an access port to the plasma conduit system. Anyone opening it without flushing it would receive a fatal dose of radiation!"

"So YOU say! How do we know you’re not hiding something in there? How do we KNOW its dangerous to open? If you don’t open it we’ll have to assume you’re smugglers, and impound your ship!"

Tanj’s mouth opened and closed, and then her face hardened. "Off my ship. NOW!"

The Raccoon straightened; "You can’t talk to me like tha…. Say, is that a Blythe gun?"

Zassa took great pleasure in kicking the Raccoon out of the airlock. Before the hatch had even started to close, the ship was rising, the horizon tilting. When the telltales showed inner and outer doors closed and locked, the Vixen turned and headed for the Bridge. If Damage control was going to be needed, she’d need to know what and where…..

Tanj ignored the voices from the Comm panel. Slapping keys she deployed flares and chaff, and threw the EW suite into full auto. Jinking hard, the ship rose like a homesick angel. If there was any pursuit, it didn’t show on the screens, and as soon as they were clear, the cloaking device was engaged.


"Man, I can’t BELIEVE those clowns! Who did they think they were, anyways?"

Wanda chuckled at the Vixen; "Did you read the Michelyn guide on Kimera?"

The Vixen stopped and blinked; "The what?"

"The tour guide. Commonly available on line. They basically give the whole planet a half a star, out of five. Totalitarian government, outrageous taxes, centralized, planned economy, and pitiful shopping. They’re also listed as a bunch of bumbling fools; I suspect that’s why the half a star; if they were efficient, and that objectionable, I think they wouldn’t have gotten any stars. Personally, I’m not surprised at all, at our reception. They were probably expecting a bribe, not a kick in the seat of the pants."

Zassa just blinked and let out a small "oh".

Kath chuckled; "So why did we come here in the first place, Mistress?"

Tanj almost choked on her coffee; "Corey! He wanted to be dropped off here! Say… where IS he? Surely he couldn’t have gotten off the ship…. Did he?"

Hinoki shrugged; "Dunno. Haven’t seen him."

Tanj nodded; "I’m going to go check my e-mail for messages, but until I have confirmation that he’s OK, I want this ship searched. Stem to stern." Rising, refilling her coffee cup, the Cheetah headed back to the flight deck.

Hinoki smiled and put his feet up on the table. Wanda took her magazine and swatted him on the soles of his feet; "Hey, we eat there!"

Hinoki laughed and put his feet down, still making no move to leave.

Bruno blinked at him; "Aren’t we going to…..?"

Hinoki chuckled and shook his head; "Don’t worry about it, Kid; she’ll undoubtedly find the message she’s waiting for in her e-mail. I have complete confidence in that crazy Lynx….

Tanj frowned. The message had been sent within minutes of their hurried departure. Corey assured her he was all right, his "cover" was working flawlessly, and that it was only a short time until his connection arrived and he left that benighted planet. He thanked her again for the support, assured her that after this particular episode, he felt that the pressure would be off, and that no one would be looking over his shoulder, and that he’d contact her again when he got back to the university. Tanj just shook her head in amazement.

Heading Home 2:

The Shirow system seemed quiet. As Tanj dropped out of warp, and scanned the space around the ship, she found… nothing. A deeper scan revealed one robotic grain freighter headed for the jump point, one in-system ship that seemed to be coming back from the gas giant, and nothing else. Radio waves from the planet were distorted by the solar wind, but it was mostly just music. Country music. It seemed WAY too peaceful to her and she wondered what was up….

It took traffic control three tries before they answered. The Furr she talked to, a middle aged Rabbit, just chuckled; "Hell, honey, the events are over, and just about everyone’s left. Ain’t no traffic; pick your own route in. but if you see anyone else, give ‘em a holler and make sure they know you’re inbound. Other than that, have at it! Oh, and call me if ya need me." Tanj chuckled and wished they were all this easy.

Port Tippman seemed deserted. The place where they’d dropped Roland off showed nothing more than an occasional bird on the scans; no other life forms. Certainly no power sources. Letting the ship swing wide over the city, she got the feeling of a fairgrounds the day after the circus pulled out of town.

Litter blew across the landing field as the ship settled down. She was beginning to wonder if she should break out the shuttle for ground transportation, or just walk to the terminal building, when something moved in the distance. Using the ship’s sensors, she spotted a suit of powered armor heade her way… and then another. The first didn’t resembled Roland’s Lightning. It was smaller, had a different paint job, and a whole bunch of decals…. The second one was of the same manufacture. Instinct had her paws flying over the weapons console… she didn’t quite point the ship’s weapons at them, but if they turned out to be as hostile as the folks on Kimera, well, THIS time she was going to be ready.

"Hey Tanj, its us; calm down!"

The Cheetah turned towards the comm console, as if by looking at it she could make sense of the words; "Us? Us WHO? Roland, is that you?"

"Yeah, its me, and…. Ah, a friend. Open up, we’re ready to head home!"


Zassa watched as the big cargo bay door lowered itself to the dirt. Overhead she heard the point defense system move, tracking the big fighting machines. The first one didn’t really look like Roland’s rig… but the way it marched right aboard certainly resembled the Badger’s style, and sure enough he walked it to where it had been parked on the way out, turned around, and then she heard its power supply wind down. The other mech paused, as if the operator were unsure where to park it. Stepping forward, Zassa yelled and pointed to the other side of the ship. She WAS the loadmaster, and if it got parked next to the other mech, they’d be really unbalanced….

The robot float pallet carrying the big cargo container entered a moment later. Zassa growled, and just pointed to the floor in the middle of the deck; it was obvious she was going to have to do some rearranging, to get everything balanced properly.

Roland pulled the helmet off his head, and set it on the HUD display. Opening the canopy, he swung down, and grinned at the Vixen. Zassa looked back, eyebrows rising. The Badger wore what appeared to be a tailored green jumpsuit, bearing some company logo. It looked good on him. "I take it you did fairly well in your games…"

From behind her, Zassa heard another voice. Female, but gruff, like the badger’s. "Yeah, you could say that." Turning, Zassa took in the lady Badger at a glance. Identical jumpsuit, and logo. Like Roland, she was a little on the stocky side, but with all the curves in the right places. Smiling, the Vixen thought to herself; "now THIS could be interesting…."


Tanj saw the telltale for the cargo bay door change from red to green. Pulling up the landing gear, she fed power to the drives, and lifted the ship. Departure for orbit was a whole lot more liesurely. As soon as she could, she threw the ship over onto autopilot, and headed for the cargo bay. THIS time she wanted to make sure that ALL cargo was secured…. No more stomping around. Uh-Uh!

Zassa had the remote for the cargo bay’s bridge crane in her paws; the crane was in the process of moving a large freight container from one side of the bay to the other. Tanj nodded in approval; "Good idea. Wall the danged things in so he can’t go jumping around again!"

Zassa just laughed; "Not exactly what I had in mind, but yeah, I can do something like that…"


Roland slid open the door to his "stateroom" and tossed the pack on the bed. "Unfortunately this is a fairly small ship. There aren’t any free staterooms, so you’ll be bunking with me. Don’t worry, Cindy, I won’t make you sleep on the floor, although you may choose to, if you find the bed too crowded."

The Lady Badger shot Roland an inscrutable look and placed her bag on the tiny desk without comment. The room was miniscule, but from what she’d seen, it was no different than anyone else’s along the short "residence corridor". "I didn’t think this ship looked all that small from the outside; how come its so cramped on the inside?"

Roland sat on the bed and smiled. He’d felt the change in vibration through the soles of his feet; they’d engaged the insystem drive. She’d have trouble running away now; it was time to tell her the truth. "I guess its because of who they work for. You see, the ship looks like an ordinary free trader, and in many respects it is; but because of who they’re allied with, its also got many of the capabilities of a Light Cruiser."

Cindy turned, and forgetting her newfound status, stared at him; "And who would that be?"

Roland grinned; "Well, once upon a time, they were with an organization known as the Brethren, but right now, they’re with the Black Fleet."

Cindy’s jaw dropped; "Pirates? PIRATES?" Roland just laughed; "Yes, Pirates. The Captain of this small ship is the infamous Sou An Ky, otherwise known as Tanj, head of field intelligence for the Pirate Queen Jenka. And that Vixen you met in the cargo bay is the…. Um… well, I guess "playmate" would be a good term, of one of Jenka’s chief Lieutenants."

Cindy shook her head in disbelief, and then looked around as if expecting the Imperial fleet to come crashing through the wall to arrest them all. Roland could just about read her train of thought from the looks passing over her face. "But surely the Empire…."

Roland laughed; "is well aware, WELL aware of whats going on. In fact, you’ll meet a Major in Imperial Intelligence in a little bit. Our own personal liason with the Empire. I’m sure you’ll find her a VERY interesting furr.

Cindy didn’t think her jaw could drop any further; "Imp… they’re HERE?" Roland smiled and nodded; "Congradulations; you’ve made the big time. Now, why don’t you freshen up and then I’ll go make introductions.


Zassa leaned over the pot and sniffed delicately; "Needs more oregano."

Wanda frowned; "are you telling ME how to make Chicken Paprikash?"

The Vixen backed off, waving a paw nonchalantly; "Oh, ‘course not. I just think it needs more Oregano, that’s all."

Kath smiled as she set the table. As usual, she’d thought that Wanda hadn’t made enough of the egg dumplings, which were her favorite, but that was just her. Too many carnivores in the crew. Turning towards the refridgerator, she saw Roland enter, followed by what almost looked like his twin sister.

Cindy paused in the doorway. The wardroom was as tiny as the cabins were. They were going to be almost in each other’s laps….. In fact, there didn’t seem to be enough chairs for those already present…. Her eyes roved over the Wolverine lady at the stove, and then locked on the Mink poking through the refridgerator; she was naked! Swallowing her exclamation, she sat in the chair Roland politely held out for her, and tried not to stare. Roland settled into the seat next to her, and just watched her watch them.

Hinoki slipped through the door, and waved hello. Wanda yelped and then growled at the playful swat on her rump, and Hinoki adroitly ducked the wooden spoon swung at his head. The Mink chuckled. Hinoki grabbed a salad bowl and started serving himself.

Cindy’s head swiveled to take in the next pair that entered; a large brown Pantheress led in a tightly bound white female cat, of some domestic variety. Both were naked and both were collared. Sashi fastened Sabina’s leash by Zassa’s chair and then turned to help Kath slice up the Italian bread, and butter it while it was still hot.

Tanj entered, with a stack of printouts, poured herself a cup of coffee, and took her seat at the head of the table, without saying a word. Roland watched as Cindy’s eyes narrowed a bit. As was her custom, when out of orbit, the Cheetah fem had shed her clothing. Whatever she was reading, she was obvlivios to the others in the room. Ralph entered a moment later with Bruno. Ralph kneeled by Tanj’s right side, and Bruno sat cross-legged in the corner by Tanj’s other side.

Cindy wondered, at this point, why the Bear was wearing shorts. Everyone else seemed to be running around in just the fur. Had she fallen in with a spaceborne nudist camp?

Wanda lifted the pot and set it in the middle of the table. Wiping her hands on a dishrag, she then took her seat. After a moment, Hinoki thwapped the corner of the printout Tanj was reading; the Cheetah Fem looked up, startled, but then smiled; "Sorry. Big doings near Panmunjohn. Some opportunities there, I think. If we’re bold." Hinoki nodded and gestured to the pot.

What happened next surprised and pleased Cindy. Everyone bowed their head as the Cheetah Fem actually said grace! As soon as she was done, pandemonium broke out with everyone reaching for the food.

Tanj handed Bruno a plate; the Bear sniffed at it, and then wondered out loud what it was. Zassa laughed and assured him that next to her own Irish Stew, it was cullinary Heaven. Doubtfully, Bruno speared a dumpling and stuffed it into his mouth. After a moment his eyes widened, and he nodded.

Zassa removed the Kitten’s gag, but not the discipline helmet. Spearing a piece of chicken, she turned and pushed it into Sabina’s mouth. Making appreciative sounds, the Kitten chewed and swallowed, and then opened her mouth for more.

Cindy waited her turn, and then took a chicken breast, and a ladle full of dumplings. There were also french cut stringbeans. Watching the others carefully, she finally concluded that there were no table manners to speak of, and tentatively started to eat, trying to watch everyone at once.

Hinoki grinned and set a plate down on the floor for Sashi; "Have you been good?" Sashi grinned and nodded; "Yes Master." Hinoki smiled and nodded; "Then you may use your paws." Bending over the plate, Sashi picked up a piece of chicken and popped it into her mouth with a smile.

Wanda swallowed and looked over at Tanj; "So, are we heading home, or are we going to stop somewhere else to try and finish the shopping list?"

Tanj sighed; "No, gotta get on back. Jenka sent a message that revenues are down thirteen pecent and the stockholders are grumbling. She wants my advice on several potential new operations. Two of those look suicidal and the others look to have marginal profitability. Hopefully in the next three days, I’ll be able to turn something better up."

Kath chuckled from the floor next to Wanda; "just can’t make do without you, Mistress!"

Tanj just smiled and sipped her coffee.

Hinoki watched the Badgers. Despite the similarities, they weren’t quite the same breed. Roland was an Eurasian badger, but unless he missed his guess, the lady was of North American extraction. Roland was concentrating on his meal, but frequently he’d cast a sideways glance towards his companion. But not just a companion. No ring on her finger, but that didn’t mean much; not all cultures followed that tradition. There was a very slender hoop of silvery metal around her neck, partially hidden by her collar; it might be jewelry, or it might be something more. As he sopped the last of the gravy with the heel of his bread, he caught Roland’s eye and lightly enquired; "So, are you going to introduce her, or not?"

Roland took a sip of his wine, and put the glass back on the table exactly where it had rested before. "Everyone, this is Cindy. Cindy came in second in our Division in the competition, a not incosiderable accomplishment."

Tanj put down her printout; "And? Come on. There’s a story here, and you know we want to hear it, and you know you’re going to tell us. Spill."

Roland sighed and smiled; "Are we permitted no mysteries?"

Kath chuckled and shook her head no; "Not from us, Master. You should know better!"

Roland tilted his head towards Cindy and stage-whispered; "Imperial Intelligence; what did I tell you?"

Cindy looked at the naked, collared Mink kneeling by the Wolverine lass and boggled; SHE was the Major in Imperial Intelligence?

Sitting back in his chair, Roland again lifted his glass of wine; "Well, I’m not sure what there is to tell…."

Zassa sighed; "He’s being difficult. Again." Turning to look at the Badger, she purred; "Tell you what. You talk, and I’ll get the apple pie out of the oven. Its hot, and we’ve got vanilla ice cream to go with it. Talk and you get some. Stay mysterious and you can watch the rest of us eat it."

Roland winced, and again tilted his head towards Cindy; "Pirates. A rough crowd. Very Rough. Mean. Malicious. Demanding….. I guess I’d best tell them, or who knows what might happen?

Roland’s Vacation

Roland walked his Lightning down the ramp, and looked around. Behind him, he heard the ramp whine up, and the ship lift; aside from some minor buffetting, it went unnoticed. It wasn’t until someone yelled at him over his suit’s comm circuit that he remembered to move; there were other ships that wanted to land, and even a Lightning could be crushed by a starship. Trotting towards the big banner marked "Reception" in so many different languages it was hard to pick out the ones you COULD read, he couldn’t help but grin to himself. He’d finally made it!

As he ran, he marveled at the ships he passed. The yacht with the TriCorp logo was impressive, as was the freighter with the Haversham Industries logo. Occasionally he’d see something obviously rented, but mostly the ships that were staying dirtside were either those of industry suppliers… or those of major players. Maybe someday he’d be able to talk Tanj into staying for the Tournament…. And letting him do some repainting on her ship’s hull. Well, maybe not.

The "reception" station was merely a place to log your arrival. All the paperwork required for the competition, and the inspections would be carried out at the arena area. After logging in, and receiving clearance to leave the starport, he turned his ‘mech towards town, and started jogging.

It was a little difficult to run holding the crates that Lynx had foisted off on him, but it was still do-able. Somehow he felt as if he were piloting a cargo handler, instead of a premier fighting machine, and wondered who might be watching. Vowing to get rid of the crates at the earliest opportunity, he turned left at a cross street, and started searching for his hotel.

The "Town" seemed to be purpose-built for the annual events here. The streets were wide enough that several ‘mechs could walk down them side by side, and most of the establishments had "parking" for just such devices. Traffic control devices were simple and located at "eye-level" for most ‘mechs. There were as many maintenance shops, and outfitters as there were hotels and restaurants. Bars outnumbered everything else combined. Consulting his heads-up display, he watched the street addresses roll by. Yes, there was the place he’d booked a room at. It looked prefabricated, and perhaps just a little past its useful life, but it was something he could afford. Finding a suitable spot to park his Lightning, he powered down, and climbed out of the cockpit, dragging his pack behind him.

Roland paused by the left foot to set the anti-theft system. Normally this was something one didn’t have to worry about, but this place had all the atmosphere of a fictional "wild west" town, and he knew better. He didn’t want to come back out and find his ‘mech stripped. Hoping the system he’d cobbled together would be adequate, he shouldered his pack by one of the straps and headed towards the check-in counter.

His room was little more than a closet with a bed and a toilet. That was fine; he didn’t plan on spending much time there. Dropping his pack, he closed and locked the door behind him, intending to find something to eat.

The town definitely had a party atmosphere. As long as you stayed off the street, and out of the way of any ‘mechs, it was interesting to just stroll through the throngs, see the sights and smell the smells. Eschewing the more formal restaurants and their grossly inflated prices, Roland bought an occasional item from street vendors, munching as he walked. The town was fairly small, only a dozen blocks by a dozen or so, and it didn’t take him long until he worked his way through it, to the arena area. There things took on an even greater carnival air. Most of the major vendors had set up pavilions. The FNC corporation had one of their giant Vindicator models in front of their pavillion. Its torso turned slowly, spotlights glinting off of its armor as it moved. The Babcock consortium had an Assassin and a Firestarter in front of their pavilion, with holographic movies of them in action, in the background. Some of the smaller firms, such as the DNT group, had models of their Javelin and Wasp light ‘mechs, and the rather shaky Delorien Corporation actually had an inflatable model of their Phoenix ‘mech. Moving through the displays, Roland found himself pausing at some of the suppliers. Weisman and Knutson had a fine display of autocannon, and Tylik Inc. had some very interesting electronics. With a sigh, the Badger forced himself away from those displays. There was no way he could afford any of that; not until he’d won a few competitions. Maybe later. Further on towards the competition areas, he found the team laagers. Here, professional teams with high powered sponsors had their workshops, and living quarters. For a moment he wondered what it must be like to be on a team like that, pampered, with all the resources you could ever want. Well, maybe someday. He had a lot of "moving up" in the ranks to do before he could ever dream of trying out for a team like that.

And then there were the recruiting booths. Most of the mercenary outfits were there. Backdrops touted their victories, brochures bragged of their pay schedules. Roland just smiled and moved on. He knew the truth about most of those outfits. The good ones didn’t need to recruit; folks sought them out….

Finally, he came to the arenas themselves. Vast areas, some with artificial terrain, others with features that would mimic natural places. One arena modeled the battlefield at Verrun. Another the lunar landscape of Harg 339. But most just held artificial shapes used for cover; things easily fabricated, and repaired. Leaning against one wall, he watched as someone took a Victor through its paces, dodging from obstacle to obstacle. Grinning, he turned and headed back towards town. He wanted to be first in line at the registration center the next day. And that meant getting to bed early.

The cantina was inviting, and thinking a drink might settle his nerves, Roland stepped inside. The press of furry bodies was incredible, the noise level extreme, and the flashing lights annoying. He was just about to turn around and leave, when a scantily clad waitress jiggled up to him. He gave her an order for a beer, and looked around for a place to sit. There wasn’t one. And then she was back. The cold bottle felt good in his paw, and taking a sip, he decided that it must have been imported; nothing that good could possibly have come from this shantytown. Leaning against a structural support, he listened in on some of the folks around him.

Most of them were just enthusiasts, there for the show. A very few had entries, although most were looking at it more as a recreational activity than a serious competition. Weekend warriors out for just enough experience to say "Yeah, I was there…." Others were in it for the attention that it brought them, and he watched one lady Red Squirrel, in a skintight jumpsuit, surrounded by admirers, both male and female.

Finally, though, he got bored with folks who didn’t know much about anything discussing the professional teams, finished his beer and left. It was only a short walk to his hotel. Checking over the Lightning and deciding that it had been untouched, he made his way to his room.


He should have gotten a better hotel. The walls were paper thin and he could swear he could hear the revelry from three blocks away. When the alarm went off at four in the morning, he was more relieved than anything else.

The town was still alive, and swinging. Climbing into his Lightning, he fired it up and headed out into traffic, for the Registration center. He'd thought to get there well before anyone else, but that hadn’t worked out all that well. There was a line of ‘mechs almost as far as he could see, and with his ‘mech’s enchanced optics, that was a pretty good distance. Putting on some relaxing music, he settled down to wait.


As le leafed through the papers, the Badger sighed; the number of "we’re not responsible for anything" crap seemed to go on forever. He felt as if he was signing his life away with each form, and with a grin, he reflected on how that might just be so. The first competition was in three hours, but his first match wasn’t until the following day. And that had its advantages. Finding the billet for his Lightning, he put the crate down against the wall, and backed his machine agaisnt it, making it a little more difficult for anyone to swipe it. Then, clambering down, he again set his alarms. He had awhile before the first competition in his class, and he wanted to check out some of the competition, and see about signing up for a practice area.

Pausing by the Crusader, Roland grinned. The chipmunk was in for glitz. The machine even had chrome on it! And a real snazzy paint job. The blaster was a name brand, but bottom of the line, and the multiple ECM antennaes bespoke a cobbled together system. He didn’t think he’d be any trouble. Moving on he studied the BattleMaster in the next revetment. This one looked more serious. No frills. Several scars in the armor. The owner, a middle aged coyote, was sitting out in front in a lawn chair, sipping what appeared to be a mint julep. Talking casually with him only confirmed his oppinion. The guy was an engineer for Luckup Corp., a defense contractor, and had been in the business for almost two decades. He was going to be hard to beat. The only edge he might have was that this guy spent most of his time behind a desk, while Roland did it for a living. Kinda.

The next revetment held a Centurion. Like the Crusader, it looked…. Efficient. As he watched he noticed a familiar tail flicking from behind the port thermal exhaust. Not wanting to intrude into another’s space, he just stood and waited. After a few minutes, a head poked up over the left shoulder. Ah, he’d been right! A lady badger! He grinned sheepishly and waved. She stared at him for a moment and then went back to work. Oh, well…..


The first competition was over almost as soon as it started. The Wolf in the Blackjack had tried to engage his jump-jets only to have the right one malfunction; the ‘mech looped around, going almost headfirst into the ground. His opponent lost no time in scoring a technical kill. Elapsed time; fifty-seven seconds.

Roland watched the crowd. The amateurs laughed; those that knew better understood that something like that could happen to almost anyone at almost any time. ‘Mechs were complex machines, and not everything always worked. With a sigh, he turned and headed back to his Lighting. The lesson was that he needed to check everything over again. Oh, sure he’d checked and checked and checked, but it was clear from what had just happened that the unexpected DID happen. And his time in the practice area was coming up anyways.


Standing at the starting gate, Roland was aware of how battered his Lighting must look. Even some of the "poorer" rigs he’d seen looked better than his. Well, at least it all worked. At the moment. Maybe. Watching the light turn green, he headed out into the practice area at a run.

They’d put interlocks on most of his weapons. Plasma cannon and lasers were all de-rated to what was hoped were "non-lethal" levels. Autocannon carried "training" rounds. Missiles carried "dummy" warheads. Aside from that, everything worked. When the first target popped up from behind a bunker, Roland’s HUD screamed at him, and he got off a snap shot with the plasma cannon, while seeking his own cover. As he moved through the obstacles, he was aware of several things. The first was that he just wasn’t moving fast enough. The HUD showed the scoring computer’s evaluation of his performance, and it wasn’t all he’d hoped for. Second, behind the forcefield there were a lot of folks watching. Objectively he’d known they’d be there. Bookmakers, and odds-makers, scouts, competitors and fans. For a second he thought he saw someone he recognized, but then his HUD started flashing a new threat at him, and he turned his attention back to where it belonged.

Ace watched the Lightning move, and thought back to Nikkeldepain, and his humiliation. The guy who’d beaten him had moved like that. But then, that was Imperial combat armor, not a ‘Mech like that….. Still….. There was something awfully familiar about his technique.

The Lady Badger watched the beat-up old Lightning move, and looked down at her program. The owner hadn't given too much information on himself. Nothing about his background or profession. Still, there was something about the way he moved, something about the look of his ‘mech that screamed "experience" to her. The style wasn’t quite classical Imperial Marine, and wasn’t quite, well, like anything she’d ever seen. Curious, she wondered if she might arrange to talk with him. Preferably before they met in competition. On the other hand, his suit WAS a wreck, and she shouldn’t have any problem with him; her gear was just better.

Roland counted his remaining cash and sighed. Tomorrow was definitely make-or-break. Straightening his back, putting a confident look on his face, he stepped into the saloon. He didn’t really feel like a drink, didn’t want to waste the time, and yet, in a sense, it wasn’t time wasted. It was….. "intelligence gathering". Again he wished Tanj was here; he could use her professional services!

The bookmakers had posted the odds on a big chalk board at the back of the bar. The professional teams of course held prominence, but towards the bottom, on the right hand side, he found his own match listed. Hmph. Even odds. Finishing his beer, he circulated, listening. Again, most of the talk was about the professional teams, and the new hardware they sported. Not the kind of thing he needed.

The next bar also had an odds board, and some of the numbers were subtly different, but he was still listed as even odds. By the time he’d made it to the third bar, he’d discovered that if he refilled his beer bottle with tapwater, the waitresses wouldn’t bug him to buy something. He just nursed the bottle, and circulated, listening.

By the seventh bar, he’d given up on finding better odds, and had placed his wager. As it was single elimination competition, he’d of course bet on himself. Not that he’d bet any other way….. The talk was all about the pros, and about the new gear, and he finally realized he’d had enough. He just wasn’t picking up any new information. Wandering, he found himself back at the revetments, standing before his Lightning. Flickering light caught his attention. Three bays away, someone was working on their mech, and if they were welding, it meant that they had a serious problem. Wandering that way, he wondered if perhaps the folks here would be a better source of "intelligence" than the fans in the bars.

The Wolf tossed his head, the welding mask flipping back. He had a black eye, and a shaved spot with three stitches on his cheek, but other than that, he looked OK. "Saw your crash. Tough break."

The Wolf shrugged; "Yeah, well, those things happen. I’d checked that relay a dozen times, tested the jumpjets the day before. Would you believe a moth, a local insect got stuck in there?"

Roland chuckled; "A bug in the system. Yeah, I’d believe it. I’ve seen stranger things. Saw a Havrati silksnake in a computer module one time. How it got in there I’ll never know."

The Wolf frowned; "aren’t those things poisonous?"

Roland took another sip of water from his beer bottle and nodded; "Yeah. The tech that found the glitch in the computer died. His buddy shot the crap out of the snake, and the computer module with a hand blaster. The suit owner was pissed, but he didn’t own the suit so it didn’t matter much."

The Wolf stiffened a little; "Merc?"

Roland smiled; "naw…. It’s a little difficult to explain." The Wolf, frowning a little, just nodded. After a moment he growled; "So when’s your first competition?"

Roland took another sip and smiled; "Tomorrow at thirteen hundred." The Wolf nodded; "Against the Gerbil?"

Roland shrugged; "Dunno who the owner is, it’s a Lumberjack, mark II, early production."

The Wolf nodded; "Yeah, that’s him. He’s got everything money can buy in that thing. Good luck!"

Roland nodded and leaned closer; "Yeah, but how’s his training? What’s his background?" The Wolf put down the welding rod and smiled; leaning closer he growled; "Well, lemme tell ya……"


Roland tossed and turned. The bed was, if anything, too soft. And the Noise. Someone about three doors down was entertaining a female that was extremely vocal. Embarrassingly so. Anoyingly so. Grumbling, he pulled the pillow over his head and tried hard to ignore the sounds of feline passion.

In the morning he checked out of the hotel. He had just enough cash left for a bagel with some cream cheese. The match was truly make or break. At least, if he had to sell something off of his ‘mech, he was in the right place to do so. And he could probably find work helping folks fix their rigs, until Tanj came back to pick him up…..

The first match of the day was a little more even; it was between two light ‘mechs, and they moved like greased lightning around the field, each trying to out-manuever the other. Time finally ran out, and the judges delivered their scores. The furr in the Jehner won by a scant thirty points. The second match was with mediums, and it turned into a slugfest. One of the mechs had heavier weaponry, but the other had put his resources into heavier armor. In the end, it was again decided on points, although Roland didn’t agree with the judges. He’d thought the guy with the better armor had done a better job of heat management, and probably would have won in the end. The other guy, knowing there was a time limit, had just blazed away, overheating and going into shutdown seconds after the match was over.

The third match was between a pair of recon mechs, and Roland watched it in the contestant’s lounge; the field was just too big to watch unaided, and they wouldn’t let him take his ‘mech down there. The Fox made great use of cover, but the Hare pulled the age-old trick of hiding in the lake, popping up with perfect timing to catch the Fox without cover.

And then it was lunchtime. And he was out of cash. Munching an emergency ration bar, Roland tried not to get nervous as he waited for his match.


The Gerbil was in a starched, desert camouflage jumpsuit, and looked way too neat and clean for the Badger’s tastes. The referee had them shake paws and then retreat to their ‘mechs at the starting gates.

The field was just a large oval, with artificial obstacles scattered seemingly at random. When the gate opened, Roland dashed through, deploying a remote sensor to watch his back, and a couple of noisemakers. Looking at his HUD he saw no less than six images scatter from the opposite gate. The Gerbil had some excellent gear to spoof his rig like that. Crouching behind a twelve meter tall cube, Roland watched the blips on his HUD. Two of them moved inside obstacles; they were obviously dummies. The others…. Now, if HE was a Gerbil, what would HE do? Thinking back to what the Wolf had said, he smiled, and just waited.

Sure enough, two of the blips were moving around to his right, with one of them moving around to the left. Odds said go right, but instead, Roland triggered his ECM, and dashed to the left. As his HUD turned to snow, he hoped the Gerbil’s electronics couldn’t see through the noise. Reaching his destination, in the lee of a large bright red three-sided pyramid, Roland threw himself flat, and killed the ECM. If he left it on too long, he knew the other guy would be able to home in on the transmissions. The blips on his HUD reappeared, moving around the field. This would take timing, but he thought he could handle it. At the right moment he jumped up and dashed for a large cylinder, that zigzagged across the field like a drunken snake. Lasers crackled overhead, but before they could track in on him, he was again lying flat in the cover of the cylinder, between two of the bends.

The Gerbil was now on the other side of the "snake". He could go left or right, or over the "snake". And having fired shots, the Gerbil was now ahead on points; he COULD just wait for Roland to come to him. Which was exactly what Roland was going to do. Programming his ‘mech to fire a volley of short range missiles straight up, he prepared to make his move.

But the Gerbil beat him to it. He literally felt the ground shake as the other ‘mech ran. Jumping up, he goosed the jump-jets, and leapt over the snake… and came down right behind the Gerbil. Selecting the plasma cannon and both lasers, he fired point-blank.

The Gerbil did the worst thing possible, and hit his jump jets, rising into the air. He was sure the Gerbil had intended merely to hop over the "snake" as he’d done, but he let himself rise too high. Bathed in the energies from Roland’s admittedly de-rated weapons, his suit rapidly overheated. It locked up on him while still a half-dozen meters from the ground. Leaping to the top of the "snake", Roland fired one missile straight down into the "thin" armor on top. Lights around the periphery of the arena started flashing, and his HUD lit up, informing him the match was over, and that he had scored a kill.


"I have GOT to learn NOT to panic like that!"

Roland laughed and nodded; "For that, there’s nothing like experience."

The Gerbil grinned at him; "And where, might I ask, have you learned to remain so cool under fire?"

Roland smiled wistfully and sighed; "You really don’t want to know." Changing the subject, the Badger inquired; "So what’s for you now? Heading home, or hanging around?"

The Gerbil waved a paw; "no, I’ll be sticking around. Two week’s vacation. Been saving up for this for years. My first shot at the "big time". Guess I should have spent more time at the local level, but back where I come from, well, I at least THOUGHT I was pretty good….."

Roland nodded; "So what do you do?" The Gerbil grinned; "Insurance Adjuster, for the Permanent Assurance Company."

Roland blinked; "THAT bunch of PIRATES?"

The Gerbil just laughed.


The Bookie gave him a long hard look as he paid off the bet. But he paid it off. Roland studdied the odds board and noted that he was still even odds in his next match. Turning back to the bookie he grinned; "Care to try and get your money back?"

Roland smiled and moved back out to the street. He still had enough for dinner, and a light breakfast. But now he wanted to get back to the practice areas. There was more intelligence to gather on potential opponents. And there was some work he wanted to do on his Lightning.


Roland yawned and pulled on his gloves. He was one of the first matches, of the third day’s events. And, should he win, he had another later this afternoon. What THAT meant was that he couldn’t let his ‘mech get too damaged in the first bout. Not much time to repair things. Oh, well, he’d gone into combat in damaged ‘mechs’ before. His next opponent was a brash young Rhino, in a rather elderly Phantom. But the Phantom was in good shape. From those he’d talked to, the Rhino’s father had been in the "sport", and had passed his old ‘mech down to his son, as a "starter". The kid probably knew it inside and out. But the Phantom had some weaknesses, weaknesses the Badger planned to exploit.

Ace watched the two contestants dash into the arena, each getting off a few snap-shots at the other, each seeking cover. This field was mostly just large cubes scattered randomly. It almost formed a maze. It was going to be some interesting hunting in there, and require not a little luck, too.

Roland watched his sensors. The Cubes did a real good job of interfering with them. There was a sensor ghost to the left, and another ahead of him, but somehow he distrusted both of them. And the signals from the remote sensors he’d dropped to watch his back weren’t very reliable either. For a moment he was tempted to jump to the top of the cube he was sheltering behind, to take it into a three-dimensional game. Used to boarding starships in deep space, he was used to thinking in three dimensions; few ‘mech pilots had the experience he did, though. Deciding to save that one for later, he moved towards the center sensor ghost. He knew that left his flanks vulnerable, but he just had a funny feeling about this. Rhino’s tended to put their head down and charge….

Ace grinned. There was a drone aloft, looking straight down on the arena. Each of the competitors was visible. The Phantom had just gone around the south side of a cube, while the Lightning had gone around the North side. They’d passed each other.

Roland shifted to infra-red; he’d thought so. There in the sand was not just a footprint, but a recent one too; one of the three-splayed-toed footprints typical of a Phantom. Grinning, he started after it, hoping that the Rhino was too young and immature to leave a false trail, or lead him into a trap.

Sure enough, there he was. Roland raised the plasma cannon and let him have three quick shots before stepping back around the corner. At least two of them had hit, and he thought one of them had hit on the dorsal thermal vents….

Ace nodded in approval. The Lightning was crouched, just around the corner, waiting for the Phantom to chase after. Except the Phantom wasn’t chasing after, but was swinging wide, encircling.

Roland frowned; it was taking too long. OK, if the kid wasn’t going to charge after him, what was he doing? What would HE do? Moving onto his belly, he crawled away from his hiding place….

They came around the corners unexpectedly; suddenly they were face to face! Roland let fly with both lasers, backpedalling quickly. The Rhino fired his railgun and pursued, ignoring the ruby beams of light. Things were starting to get rather sticky, when the mine Roland had dropped went off. Then Roland was back around a corner. He THOUGHT the Rhino might have damage to one foot, but he didn’t hang around to find out. Seriously over-temperature, Roland dodged left left right left, to put some distance between him and his opponent, until his systems could cool down.

The remote sensor looked like a rock. But there was no place for a rock here; everything was sand or smooth metal. Roland stomped on it, taking slight comfort from the act. The Rhino knew where he was now….. Dropping a pair of mines, with proximity fuses, he headed away from the spot.

Ruby laser light taught him he’d chosen the wrong direction, and only using the jump jets to jump a cube saved him. Again, he had to dodge, to cool down. Frowning, the Badger desperately tried to think of a solution.

In the end, it was training. He’d trained, in simulators, in maneuvers, and in combat, and when it happened, he reacted instictively. The Rhino found him again, and as he backed away, trading shots, he stepped over a mine he’d previously placed as a matter of routine. The mine, of course, recognized him, and didn’t detonate; the Rhino wasn’t so fortunate. The damaged foot gave out completely. With his mobility severely degraded, Roland was able to dodge around cubes, fire from unexpected angles, and fade back, to come in again from a different angle. At the end of the match, he won on points.


The Bookie frowned, but again, paid off. This time, however, Roland’s odds were 5:4 in favor of him winning the next match. Still, the Bookie accepted his bet.

The Badger munched his sandwich, as he sat on the foot of his Lightning. He’d done some welding, replaced a few over-stressed modules, and reloaded what he could. Soon, he’d have to start using some of his winnings to buy reloads. And probably repair parts. Still, so far, he was ahead. He had enough cash now to last until Tanj came back to pick him up. Another win and he’d be in moderately good shape.


The next match was against a Sturdevint. It was an odd design, something significantly out of the main stream. They were manufactured on a planet on the far side of the Empire, and they were just… different. Heavily armored in some places, almost unarmored in others, they were by comparison, tiny. They were armed with a rather heavy railgun, but they only had five shots. Then, amazingly, the pilot would have to exit his ‘mech to reload. Normally, their pace was slow, but they could engage special systems that let them have amazing bursts of speed. But only for a short time. Almost no one in the Empire, except the folks from the planet it was made on, used them, but those folks swore by them. It was going to be an interesting match.

Roland stood at the gate, wondering how to counter the sudden bursts of speed. The trick was to stay in "broken" ground, where his opponent, a middle aged Ocelot female, couldn’t use her advantage. And to make her fire as much as possible, until she had to reload. Accordingly, when the gate opened, Roland headed straight for the center of the field, where the obstacles and bunkers were the greatest.


He’d lost track of her. She was in here somewhere. And her ECM was supurb. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any targets; he had too many targets. They were everywhere, including above and below him. Absurd, as Sturdevints didn’t fly, and couldn’t dig. Or at least he didn’t think they could dig…. With a sigh, he deployed another remote sensor and moved on…

Something slammed hard into his back. So hard it threw his whole machine a couple of dozen meters. Scrambling to cover, he thought to himself; "That’s one. And now I know where she is…..

There were a number of red lights on his damage control panel. And more yellow ones. The Lightning had some self-repair capability, but Roland feared he was getting hit faster than he could repair the damage. Still, he’d gotten in a couple of good licks himself. He knew she was leaking hydraulic fluid, and coolant. He could see the trail. Unfortunately, she’d already used that to set one trap for him, one he’d barely survived. Leaning back against the cube, he decided it was worth the risk. Selecting one of his short range fiber optic guided missiles, he fired it straight up; at the top of its trajectory, it turned over, and he was able to get a bird’s eye view. Yes, there she was, waiting for him; it WAS another trap. And now she was looking up, as the missile descended, her weapon raising for an intercept.

Roland dodged around the corner; the long barrel of the rail gun was still glowing, her last shot had vaporized the descending missile. Before she could lower the weapon he stepped in close, too close for her to bring the weapon to bear, and slammed his left fist squarely into her port sensor cluster.

He hadn’t expected that; the long barrel of the railgun had made an excellent club to knock his feet out from under him; and now she stood over him, the weapon pointed straight at his chest. Her voice came through clearly over his comm link; "I know what you’re thinking, Punk. Has she fired four, or five? Well, to tell you, in the heat of the moement, I’ve kind of forgotten myself. Well, do you feel lucky, PUNK? Roland laughed at the ancient line, and fired his plasma cannon at what was essentially point blank range. HE hadn’t lost count; he knew she was out of ammo….


"Oh, of course I knew it too, but at a moment like that, what CAN you do, but go out with style?"

Roland laughed and hugged her again; "It was supurb, Mabel, absolutely classic! And your hand-to-hand tactics! That was great! Generally, Sturdevints aren’t known for that particular capability. So whatcha gonna do now? Hang around and root for me?"

The Ocelot shook her head and sighed; "no, I’ve got to get back. Any time I take off now, I won’t get paid for. School teachers HAVE to be there when school is in session, or it gets VERY expensive for them. Contracts, you know."

Roland nodded; "Well, be sure and show your classes the tapes. Call it a physics lesson or something. You really were quite good!"


Roland stood before his Lightning and sighed. There was a lot of damage to repair. A LOT of damage. He’d collected his winnings, and been forced to place a smaller bet on the next match. The rest he needed for repairs and reloads. And the prices they charged here were extortionate! It seemed the longer the competition went on, the higher the prices got. Sighing he padded towards his ‘mech. He was tired, but he could sleep later; there was work to do!

"Y’all need a hand with that?" Roland looked down at the Possum in the overalls. "Saw you in the match against that Sturdy-whatever. Preeeeety good. But you got pounded pretty bad. So I thought I’d come over and see if I could help you put your rig back together."

Roland nodded, sliding down from the left shoulder; "Yeah, I could use a hand, but… aren’t you my opponent in the next match?"

The Possum grinned; "Yup! But as I see it, won’t be much of a match if you’re not at your best!"

Roland chuckled; "OK, yeah, I see your point. If you could watch the analyzer as I fake a signal, maybe we can figure out where the open circuit is…."


It was three in the morning. Other furrs had wandered in, until Roland had a half dozen talented amatuers helping. And when they’d done all they could, they’d just sat around and talked. And talked. And talked. Finally, the Badger had realized, these were his kind of furrs. His… comrades. They shared not just a common interest, but damn near a common vocation. This WAS what they were. He almost felt as if he were "home"…..

The Lady Badger watched, from her revetment, and smiled. Let them talk into the wee hours. She was going to go get some sleep. Her matches had been challenging, but she’d still managed to win every one. She actually had a shot at the top slot! She had to win; everything depended on it. But she was talented, well trained, and well equipped; why shouldn’t she win?


Roland yawned, and watched the Mouse put the Havoc through its paces. There was something awfully familiar about how that machine moved. How it stalked through the obstacles, how occasionally the pilot would pop it up for a quick look. Lifting the PADD with the contestant information, he scrolled down until he found the Mouse’s name. "Ace, huh? Well we’ll see about….." The Badger’s thoughts froze as he noted where the Mouse was from. Nikkeldepain. No wonder he looked familiar. No wonder the ‘mech was a little elderly but in tip-top condition. Looking back up at the Havoc, as it dashed from cover to cover, the Badger grinned, showing teeth. "So we meet again…."

Ace let his ‘mech cool down, as he watched the next furr use the practice field. The Lightning was battered, scarred, and poorly repainted, but it still looked awfully familiar. He wondered if he could find a way to get the serial number, and run it through the database…. The pilot was good, and his style inconsistent. Sometimes he looked like an Imperial Marine… and other times he looked like something feral. His bout with this furr, should he make it through the next round, would be interesting indeed.


Roland chuckled as he collected his winnings. It was an old trick, to feign a power-down due to an overheat, but a goodie. The kind of thing experience taught you. Catch them when they thought they could finish you, and all thoughts of traps fled their minds. Still, it had been a close thing. And now, he only had two hours to repair the damage, before his bout with the Mouse. They’d at least get a few things fixed. And the Mouse might not be in any better shape; the odds were 3:2 against him, but Roland had still bet some on him. He WANTED to go up against that critter again!


"That should do it, Mr. Roland. It ought to hold for another match and then we can do something a little better overnight." "Thanks, Jeb, I appreciate all the help!" The Possum was turning into a real friend; he hadn’t taken his defeat with anything but good humor, and now he seemed to be the unofficial leader of the "groupies" that were starting to flock to the remaining contestants. It was an illuminating experience; with the Black Fleet he’d had to drum the important things he’d learned into the thick heads of his maniple. Here, they seemed to hang on every word. Swinging himself up into the Cockpit, he powered the ‘mech up, and sighed at all the lights still yellow on the damage board. Ah, well, everyone was running a wreck at this point, as the constant series of battles degraded the performance of furrs and machines.


Ace charged out of the gate, and to his left. Somehow, the battle on Nikkeldepain was stuck in his mind, and he kept assigning moves and motives to his opponent that had no logical basis in fact. Just a hunch. Should he play the hunch, or go with logic?

Roland remembered how aggressive the Mouse had been, and hung back. Let the Havoc come to him. "Lets see, he likes recon drones; what can I do to screw them up?"

Ace studied the windows in his HUD, each one reflecting what a drone could see. The problem was, they’d seen nothing. Where in the HELL was that Lightning?

Roland watched the drone go by, via one of his remote sensors, and then crawled out from under the tube. The sand under the ten meter diameter tube snaking across part of the arena had been eroded, and a little digging had enlarged it enough to hide him. The Mouse should know, Badgers were good at digging, Roland thought to himself. Moving off to where his AI told him the drones had originated from, he readied his weapons.

Ace heard the alarms go off, but just couldn’t turn fast enough. Suddenly his ‘mech was bathed in plasma as he took three hits in rapid succession, on his left rear quarter. And then he’d brought his weapons to bear, firing the particle cannon in return. But the Lightning was already moving back into cover. Growling, the Mouse fired a couple of short-range missiles after him.

Roland saw the missiles turn the corner and let his point defense system take them out. Still he felt his suit shudder with the nearness of the explosion, and shrapnel spanged off the armor. "OK, I’m ahead on points, but I don’t think I hurt him that badly. Now what?"

Ace recalled his drones, and sent them after the Badger. He knew he was close when the link to one of them suddenly vanished. Turning, he stalked in that direction. In a head-to-head fight, he should be able to take that battered old Lightning….

Roland looked at the wreckage and grinned; he’d literally swatted that one from the air, like a mosquito, as it came around the corner. And that gave him an idea. Finding a place where the pipe was low to the ground, he goosed his jump-jets just enough to scramble to the top. From there, the pipe angled upwards a bit, following the terrain. He crawled along the top. So far, all of the Mouse’s drones had remained low, probably to keep them from being shot out of the sky. If he could get above them…..

Ace shook his head; the damned Lightning had vanished from his recon drones’ sensors again. Now what had that crazy Badger done? "Think the unexpected" he told himself. The first temptation was to look at the sky; no, if he’d been using his jump jets, there’d be a thermal bloom the IR sensors would pick up in an instant. Then he looked down at the sand. "No, he couldn’t….. could he?"

Roland saw the Havoc and grinned… but what in the world was the Mouse doing. He seemed to be studying the ground! No matter; drawing a bead on the Havoc, the Badger riple-fired his remaining short-range missiles.

Ace heard the warning, and yelped. Realizing there was nowhere to run to cover, he fired his jump jets, hoping to hop over the nearest obstacle.

Roland watched the Havoc rise and grinned; this was simply too good to be true! As the Mouse rose to his level, he let go with everything his suit had.

Ace limped around the Pyramid. To his amazement, he’d survived the ambush. How stupid could he have been? His first guess; "up", had been right. And now, the stupid Badger was way ahead on points. All he had to do was evade him, and he’d win. The wise thing to do would be to just bow out; his ‘mech had taken enough damage, and pursuing the matter would probably only cost him more, and gain him little. But for some reason he just couldn’t explain, he just couldn’t do that. Logic be damned, he was STILL going to try and take a piece out of that Badger’s hide.

Roland did his best to pull the sand in around him. He was back under the pipe, doing his best to set up an ambush. There was seventeen minutes left in the match, and all he had to do to win was to keep from getting killed. Simple. Powering down everything he could, he watched the remote sensors he’d placed, and waited.

Ace fumed. His single remaining drone had covered the arena twice, and found nothing. In desperation, he’d told it to rise to an altitude where he could see the whole place and STILL nothing. Where in the HELL was he? Did the Badger have such sophisticated ECM that he could hide from the drone? Fuzzy areas, or sensor ghosts he’d believe, but NOTHING? Wondering if the Badger had found a way to cloak something as small as a ‘mech, and in the atmosphere too, the Mouse stalked the battlefield, searching.

Roland felt the ground tremble, and readied his lasers. He’d run them off the accumulators, and then fire up the powerplant. As luck would have it, a foot came down RIGHT by the left arm; he fired precisely into the ankle joint…. And then scooted out of his hiding place to the other side of the pipe.

Ace howled in frustration; his left ankle was now locked solid. He could move, but he’d be dragging that leg. Looking down he fired both particle cannon into the hole where the Badger had been, knowing he was gone. Dammit! How could he let this HAPPEN?

Roland watched the drone and smiled. Four minutes left. All he had to do was to keep away from the Havoc, and he’d win. And he knew the Havoc wasn’t moving very fast right now. Childsplay.

Ace sighed as his HUD lit up. The match was over; the Badger had won. Instead of damaging his ‘mech any further, he just shut it down. He’d let the wrecker remove it from the arena. At least the Badger had been kind enough not to shoot down his last drone. Those things were expensive. But it had been VERY frustrating to watch him pace, just out of range, until the match ended.


Roland smiled and accepted the money with thanks. The Bookies were no longer pleased to see him, but they were at least starting to treat him with a small modicum of respect. His winnings on this match gave him enough, not only to see him through until Tanj came to fetch him, and to fix up his Lightning, but to actually buy some of the toys he’d seen in the exhibition hall. There was the new shielding against EMP that Hothco had out, and the filter against a "hostile takeover" of his control system that TandieCorp was showing. And he’d have to replace all his short range missiles too…. Smiling, he turned back towards the revetments, wondering which he should tackle first.


Jeb shook his head; "I tried, Mr. Roland; but they’re just out. I s’ppose we might try and adapt the sensor heads from a Thunderbolt; they’re similar…" Roland nodded; "Yeah, lets try that." Money wasn’t really a problem anymore, although he had to be careful. The problem was that as the matches went on, some things were selling out. He’d taken a lot of damage to the sensor net on his Lighting, and now replacement parts were getting scarce. Or non-existant. The Thunderbolt sensor heads would work, but not optimally.


The Lions stood at the edge of the revetment and just watched. Looking at them from atop his Lightning, Roland thought they could have been brothers. They probably were. Their tan jumpsuits all bore the same logo; they were probably in the team competitions being held on the other side of the field. And the way they just STOOD there, he knew they wanted something….. Closing the access panel, and bolting the armor back in place, he climbed down to see what it was.

The Lion on the left nodded in greeting; "Pardon us, but…. were you ever on ANC 1159?"

Roland frowned; "Hellhole? Yeah, I was there once…."

The Lions looked at each other, and then the one on the right growled; "Did you ever know a Lion by the name of Louis Nigh?"

Roland grinned "Tailless Lou? Yeah, I knew him. Knew him well!"

All three Lions grinned, and the one in the middle said; "He was our Uncle. He always said to keep an eye out for you."

Roland smiled; "And how is he?"

The Lion on the left shrugged; "Dead. After he got out, he fell in with a group of smugglers over towards Albion. They were making a run in to Polygoth, carrying a load of silkweed, and got caught by the Patrol; they weren’t taking prisoners that day."

Roland sighed; "Sorry to hear that. But knowing him, it was pretty much inevitable. He never knew when to back down."

All three Lions nodded sagely in agreement. "Listen, we thought we ought to talk to you about your opponent in your next match…."

"Yeah. He’s a second cousin, twice removed…"

"And a real rotter, too. He likes to pull every dirty trick in the book."

"No honor. None at all."

"If I were you, I’d sleep here tonight, just to make sure your ‘mech is, ah, untouched in the morning."

"And watch yourself; some of his weapons aren’t as "de-rated" as they should be."

"Oh, and he likes to use his jump-jets. He’s got this maneuver where he goes into something like a hover, with a thruster pushing him forward; he skims along just above ground level at high speed."

"Yeah, difficult to track."

Roland nodded; "Thanks, I appreciate it!"

The Lions nodded, and turned, moving off into the crowd.


Roland listened to the Referee. He already knew what he was saying. He’d survived the preliminary rounds. Now, as the field narrowed, things got more serious. At the next level of competition, it was customary for opponents to wager with each other. Usually, this was for the ‘mech they were fighting with. Winner got both machines. At the higher levels, bets were more commonly everything. Everything the looser owned, went to the winner. But that wasn’t manditory, merely customary. Laughing to himself, the Badger wondered what victor would be happy to find out he’d just won basically what the Badger had in his backpack, and nothing more….. Yawning, he wondered if his preparations for this match would prove out. He’d made some pretty bizzare modifications to his ‘mech, following the information from the Lions. Now, he was wondering if it might not have been "disinformation"…. But there wern’t many folks left who knew about Hellhole, and Tailless Lou….

As he jogged out into the arena, Roland watched the HUD; his opponent was moving like greased lightning, easily six times faster than he was. Desperately, he jogged towards the obstacles at the center of the field….

The Lion popped into view, and Roland grinned; it was unexpected, but who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth? An instant later, his fingers pressed the keys to launch to short range missiles at his opponent…. And nothing happened. Growling, stepping sideways into cover, he looked at his display. Malfunction. Missile malfunction. And then it hit him. He’d kept any furr he didn’t know away from his machine, thinking to forestall sabotage, but he’d never thought about the reloads he’d bought! What if all his missiles were duds? Growling he kicked in his jump jets, to hop over an obstacle, but all he heard was a sickening whine. They weren’t igniting…. Was the fuel bad as well? He’d bought that too, just last night. Furious, at himself and at the cheating Lion, he jogged towards his first waypoint. Seriously handicapped he might be, but he wasn’t out yet.

The cable was standard spacecraft grade. The welder had been a recent addition to his suit. Grinning the Badger retreated fifty meters and did it again….

The Lion saw the thermal bloom on his sensors and wondered what in the hell that crazy Badger was doing? Didn’t matter. He had his location! Kicking in his jump jets until he was hovering a meter over the sand, he hit the thruster, and like a speed skater, headed for his quarry.

He never saw the cable stretched between the two obstacles. It caught his left foot, fliping him face down into the sand. However, his jump jets were still firing, the thruster in the small of his back holding him down; sliding he slid straight into the next wire….

Roland jumped down onto the Lion’s ‘mech, and brought his right fist down on the back of the "neck". There were a lot of control cables passing through that spot, and he slammed it again and again. The thruster sputtered out, and the Lion’s ‘mech thrashed, only entangling itself further in the tough cables. Roland took out all of his frustration on the Lion’s ‘mech, pounding it until he saw sparks.

It took a moment to realize that his HUD was flashing at him. The match was over; they’d awarded him a kill. Reluctantly, he stopped, and rose.


The Referee shrugged; "Yeah, I admit, there’s a cloud of suspicion around this guy, but right now we can’t PROVE that he had anything to do with either the dud missiles OR the contaminated fuel. Hey, quit griping; you WON. You got HIS suit… or, at least, what’s left of it. And we’ll check into your allegations… although I’m not sure what you might get out of it, aside from satisfaction…."

Roland growled; "What I WANT is the bastard banned from competition! Yeah, check into it!" Turning, the Badger stalked off….


Jeb shrugged; "Yeah, there are still plenty of useable parts in it, Mr. Roland, but I don’t think too many of them are compatible with your Lightning." Roland sighed and nodded; "Yeah, I was afraid of that. And my Lightning’s still in better shape than his suit. Ah, well, what’s top on the "to be fixed" list?


Roland sat on the foot of his ‘mech, or at least what was left of it, and just stared into space. The pace at the competition had been brutal, worse than at least some combat operations he’d been on. At least in combat, most of the time they got support for the repair and rearming of the ‘mechs.

He felt brain-dead.

And yet, he’d come much further than he’d ever thought he would. Only three rounds separated him from winning his division. But completing that distance was going to be VERY difficult. His next competition was in the morning, and he knew he should get some sleep, but somehow, he just couldn’t.

Repairs to the Lightning had taken only an hour. Not because there weren’t plenty of things to fix, but because there just weren’t any parts available, at any price. He’d traded one of the wrecks he’d won to a Ferret for some parts. A handful of parts. And he’d spent the last of his money on reloads. Prices were past "through the roof" and into the "extortionate" range. It was getting grim.

Thinking a walk might settle him some, he rose, and blindly started down the aisle. There weren’t many ‘mechs left in the revetments. Some folks had gone home; some had been so thoroughly trashed there wasn’t any point in fixing them. The compeititon grounds was developing a rather extensive junkyard….

As he turned the corner, he saw her. The Lady Badger. North American Badger, to be exact. She was sitting on a toolbox, just staring at the floor. With a wry smile on his face, he wandered over; "you look as bad as I feel." She looked up, her face blank. "worse. I’ve got a match in the morning, and my ‘mech doesn’t work. And I don’t have any way to fix it."

Roland looked at the Crusader and nodded; "Yeah, you must have gotten pounded pretty bad in the last match. Know the feeling."

The lady badger smirked; "You should have seen the other guy."

Roland nodded; "nothing salvageable?" She shook her head no; "it’s a Rortex Gremlin. And you know their stuff."

Roland winced; "Yeah, every part’s proprietary. You have to buy parts from them and only them as nothing else will fit."

She nodded; "Yeah, and therefor nothing from that rig will fit anyone else’s. And there are no other Rortex ‘mechs left in the competition, so there’s not much chance of trading it for parts."

Roland sighed; "Well, I’ve got a few wrecks out in the junkyard with my tags on ‘em. Might be something there we could find. And I’ve got a few friends that’d help. What is it you’re needing?"


Jeb tugged on the end of the torque wrench and shook his head; "Man, I don’t know why you’re helping her. Or how you talked ME into helping her. You’re probably only going to have to face her in some future competition. No, I take that back; I know why you’re helping her. I just don’t think its gonna help."

Roland shrugged; "And why’s that?"

"Ice Queen" the Gerbil piped up; "She keeps to herself, doesn’t mix, isn’t friendly. Don’t think you’ll even get to first base!"

Roland laughed; "Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. And you never know……"


Roland stood his ‘Mech on one foot, the other foot bending at the knee. He had a glitch in an actuator there that had given his rig a "trick knee" and it had him worried. Almost 70% of his sensor suite was offline. He was down to three short-range missiles, and one of the lasers was on the fritz. It was getting grim. When the gate opened he moved carefully out into the arena, looking about, trying to eyeball his opponent. He knew the Rabbit’s ‘Mech wasn’t in much better shape. The Timberwolf was newer, and bigger, just barely in the "Medium" class, but like everyone else, it’d taken a pounding. Rounding a corner, he saw it, and ducked back into cover. Then, frowning, he carefully took another look. It hadn’t moved. In fact, there was a small wisp of smoke coming from the powerpack…. Breaking cover, Roland moved up behind it. It never moved. Picking his shot with all the skill of a surgeon, he reduced the power of his remaining laser even further, and fired a shot. The ‘mech shuddered, but didn’t move. Roland fired again. Using all the precision he could, he proceeded to "kill" the ‘Mech, making sure that every useful component was salvageable….

The rabbit shrugged and took another sip of his beer. "Nothing I could do. The motivator in the hips burned out about twenty seconds into the match. That caused a cascading failure through the whole control system. Everything locked up. Everything. I couldn’t even eject!"

Roland sighed; "Tough luck; I’m sorry for you."

The Rabbit grinned; "Yeah, but not too sorry, right?"

Roland smiled back; "Well…. It does let me get into the semi-finals. Pity you only had two missiles, though. I’m really shy on reloads….. But that idea of the tube covers was a great idea; I THOUGHT you had a full load out. Going to have to borrow that trick."


She accepted the money and sighed. She’d moved out of her hotel, and had bet everything on her match. About thirty credits worth. And she’d won. With the odds against her, she now had ninety credits to her name. Not even enough to replenish the jump jet fuel she’d used. And her opponent’s ‘mech, a Thunderbolt, was pretty well trashed. Maybe she could find a buyer for the remains. If she could, she needed to buy some reloads, bad….

Roland flipped a jaunty salute to the Lady Badger. "Saw your match; you did a great job of outmaneuvering him."

She smiled and nodded; "And I saw yours as well. You were incredibly lucky."

Roland just shrugged; "So what are the plans for your ‘Mech? What are you going to tackle first?"

She just smiled; "Oh, I’m in pretty good shape, actually. I think I’m going to have a nice dinner, and get some rest."

Roland nodded; "Well, good luck tomorrow."

She watched him saunter off. Turning, she looked back at her ‘mech. There was so much to do, but she didn’t want him to know just how badly her rig was damaged. Didn’t want anyone to know. She’d do what she could herself; it would have to be enough.


There just wasn’t any choice. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was to go into combat with an untried weapon, especially one from as crazy a furr as that Lynx. And yet, despite selling off all the wrecks, despite the winnings from his bets, he just could NOT afford to fill his missile racks; not at the prices they were charging. He’d gotten the second laser working, kinda. It was rather intermittent, at best. And the Plasma cannon was showing an annoying tendency to overheat. Selecting one of the missiles from the crate, Roland fitted it into the last tube. He’d use it only if he had to.


The sun was barely above the horizon. First match of the day, and the semi-finals. His opponent was a Bat from Oth’more, and apparently some sort of nobility. He was as obnoxious as he was rich, and his rig was first rate. And he’d apparently come in with enough spare parts to outfit a division. Someone had even taken the time to polish the thing. It gleamed. Roland sighed. He’d hoped that his training and experience would bring him victory, but one of the officials had mentioned that the Bat was some sort of militia commander on his homeworld, and taught ‘Mech warfare at their academy. Oh well……

The trick knee was getting worse. The Bat kept appearing out of nowhere, pounding the Lightning, and then disappearing before Roland could adequately respond. He was being pounded to death by inches. In fact, he got the distinct impression the Bat was toying with him. Sensor net was down to 4% capability, and that meant he was essentially relying on the Mark 1 eyeball. And he was just about out of missiles.

The shadow betrayed him. Roland caught it from the corner of his eye, and turned just in time. They both fired at the same time, but as he’d feared, the plasma cannon overheated and went off-line. Cursing, the Badger sidestepped as he flipped the weapons control over to missiles. As his damage control panel went further and further into the red, he ripple fired his remaining short-range missiles.

He remembered the Lynx’s missile only when it struck. There was dull boom, not at all like the crack of the shaped charge warhead it was supposed to have, and for a moment the Bat’s ‘mech was obscured by a blue-grey cloud.

The cloud didn’t dissipate. In fact, it seemed to solidify. He could see the Bat’s ‘mech moving within the cloud, and then the strangest thing happened…..

One of the feet of the Bat’s ‘mech went out from under it, and it fell over onto its back. Entranced, Roland watched. Despite the fact that the floor of the arena was sand, the ‘mech couldn’t seem to stand up, but instead, kept sliding about. Coming out of his reverie, the Badger hit the reset button for the plasma cannon, and taking careful aim, fired at his opponent. And then, after a moment to let things cool down, he fired again.


The Referee shook his head; "Look, Mister, I don’t care WHO you are back home. The Weapon was not in excess of the maximum lethality. Hell, if anything it was less "lethal" than even a de-rated laser! And it was NOT specifically prohibited, and therefor its allowed. PERIOD. Check the rulebook if you don’t believe me." The Referee actually turned his back and stomped away. The Bat looked as if he were about to explode. "Be hearing the last of this you won’t be! Your head I shall have!" Realizing his threats were having no effect whatsoever, he turned and glared at the Badger and then stalked off.

"you know, that was a very inventive weapon you used there. Mind if I ask where you got it?"

Roland turned and looked at the sharply dressed Wolf. "Um… a friend built it for me. I’m afraid it was a one-of-a-kind, though. Just something he wanted me to try."

The Wolf nodded and then handed him a business card; "Please give that to your friend. We at UNM munitions would be VERY interested in talking to him. VERY interested. I’m sure we could get you a finder’s fee."

Roland looked at the card and then at the Wolf; "Um… yeah, I’ll make a point of it."


The Gerbil shook his head; "And that was the only one? Damn. Never saw anything that’d make sand that slippery."

Jeb chuckled; "I understand they’ve closed that arena; they can’t seem to find a way to clean up the mess you made. Everything that comes in contact with that goop gets too slippery to hold."

Roland sighed; "Yeah, and that includes the Bat’s ‘mech. They haven’t been able to recover it yet, and therefor I can’t strip it for parts."

The Gerbil nodded; "Bummer. But hey, Look at the bright side! You made it to the Final Round! HELLUVA accomplishment!"

Jeb chuckled; "And your lady friend made it too. Its just you and her, now.


Jeb sighed and put the wrench back in the toolbox; "Well, that’s all we can do. ‘taint no more."

Roland sighed and nodded; "I do appreciate all the help, Jeb. Listen, if you ever need a job working on ‘mechs, I know some folks that’d hire you in a heartbeat."

The Possum laughed; "I ‘preciate that, I do, but Ah’ve got a fairly thriving practice back home. This is jus’ a hobby."

Roland frowned; "Practice? Don’t tell me you’re a lawyer!"

The Possum laughed; "Lawyer? No way. Psychiatrist. In fact, Ah’m the head of psychiatry at St. Vidicon’s on Eudora. Teachin’ Hospital."

Roland blinked; "Well I’ll be damned."


The crate still had two missiles in it. The Lynx had said something about overheating. Shrugging, the Badger hefted the first one to his shoulder. He was completely out, and right now, reloads in Port Tippman cost more than a brand new ‘mech. They’d have to do.

She stared at her ‘Mech. Her pride and Joy. Her sole remaining possession. She’d made it to the finals. Now it was all or nothing. Either it would be the first step in regaining her family’s lost fortune, or…. No, the alternative didn’t bear thinking about. There was no alternative. She had to win. Turning to look at the Badger’s Lightning, she wondered if one good blow wouldn’t cause it to disintigrate. It had to be in at least as bad a shape as her own. And she’d seen. She’d seen him load his last two missiles. The other tubes had all been empty as he fitted the weather covers over them, making it look as if he had a full loadout. Even with all her problems, she should still out-gun him. And then she frowned. She’d seen what his last missile had done. He’d SAID it was a one of a kind weapon. But what if he’d lied? What to do, if she found herself in a predicament like that?

Roland munched on the emergency ration bar, and watched the sun rise. He’d been up all night, unable to sleep. He was at the pinnacle. No, that wasn’t true. The professional competitions were still running. They’d run another three days. And there were at least two more days of team competition running. Perhaps an intermediate peak, with other mountains to climb. Hearing the warning bell, he slid down. One final meeting with the referees, one final fight, and then he could sleep.

"You know the rules. Winner takes all. Do you wish to place any personal bets?"

Roland looked from the Referee to the lady Badger; "Sorry, I’ve got almost nothing left."

The Lady shook her head; "Not good enough. Not by half. Everything. EVERYTHING. If you loose, I get your ‘mech, your possessions and YOU."

Roland smiled; "Why, I didn’t think you cared!" As storm clouds gathered on her face, he chuckled; "but if I agree to that, it works both ways. Loose, and you’re Mine." She nodded, and turning, strode off towards her ‘mech.

As she climbed into the cockpit, a voice in the back of her head told her in no uncertain terms that had been a stupid thing to do. Growling at herself, she told the voice that if she lost, nothing else mattered. And she wasn’t going to loose.

As the gate opened, Roland moved carefully into the arena, still limping. The knee joint was getting worse. "Good thing this is the last battle" he chuckled to himself. From his studies, he’d learned that his opponent generally circled left around the arena, keeping the heavier particle cannon in her right arm towards the field. That was why he was sure, today, she’d go right. He usually went straight into the obstacles, but this time he decided on something different. Knowing her sensor net was probably as degraded as his own, he hit the jump jets, and ascended to get a better view.

She saw him rise above the obstacles and turned to fire, even while trying to sidestep into the shadow of a vertical cylinder. Her first shot missed, and then he was below the "horizon". Damn. Well, at least she knew where he was. More or less.

Roland was delighted to find out he’d been right. Running back to the arena wall, he circled in her direction.

She shook her head. No, going directly towards him wouldn’t work. But which flank to try. Dammit, if her sensors had been working properly she’d know…..

Roland yelped as laser fire crackled overhead; he threw himself flat and low-crawled into the shelter of a horizontal cylinder. Where in the hell had THAT come from. Obviously she hadn’t moved as he’d expected. Crawling along the pipe, he tried to plot his strategy, to refine his plan, figure out what to do next.

They came face to face as they rounded the corner of the cube. He’d been planning a confrontation like that; get in "close and personal", and had been laying the groundwork to bring something like that to fruition. However, he hadn’t expected it to actually happen for another minute or two. Roland’s first impulse was to jab with his right arm; he hit her on the upper chest, rocking her back, twisting her a little; her laser sliced the air barely missing the cockpit. Stepping back, Roland fired the plasma cannon, only to hear it trip out on thermal overload again. He was going to have to start factoring that into his plans… Desperately he stepped back around the corner. No, she wasn’t going to follow…. Wheeling he dashed back the way he came, trying to buy time until the plasma cannon reset.

She blinked; where in the HELL had he come from? She’d felt sure he was off to her right somewhere. Dammit…. After waiting for her heart rate to slow a little, she followed, carefully checking for ambushes.

He saw her at a distance, through the obstacles. Without thinking about it, acting on an instinct honed in a hundred battles, he flipped the weapons control over to "missiles" and fired a round. Not waiting to see the result, he circled to the right.

She saw the launch flare from the corner of her eye, and managed to step behind a cone, just in time. The missile flashed past, to impact against a cube thirty meters distant. But the impact wasn’t what she’d expected. Turning, she stared as a fountain of something sprayed around the cube. Something blue-grey. "I KNEW it" she growled to herself. "I KNEW he lied!" growling she stalked around to the left, more determined than ever to "kill" the bastard.

Roland never saw her; suddenly her ‘mech was about fifteen meters in front of him, the particle cannon flaring. He tried to lift the plasma cannon, but that arm wasn’t responding. The impacts were driving him back, staggering him, and he couldn’t seem to turn, couldn’t seem to run. In desperation he fired his last missile…..

With a feral grin on her face, she fired again and again; the Badger’s ‘mech had toppled; all she had to do was step in and finish him. Smoke surrounded her ‘mech, but it was too insubstantial to stop her. Then suddenly her particle cannon stopped firing. With a confused look on her face, she scanned the weapons panel. Overheat? Wha..? And then she gasped as her entire ‘Mech shut down on thermal overload.

Roland groaned. He shook his head, and decided that had been a bad idea. A REALLY bad idea. Rolling his ‘mech over, he got to his knees. That was when he saw her. Her ‘mech looked as if it had been surrounded by frozen smoke. A quick check in IR showed it to be hot. VERY hot. Chuckling, he lit off one of the lasers and added to the heat imbalance. Dammit, if the Lynx’s device hadn’t worked!

Panting hard, she watched the temperatures climb. Her ‘mech just wasn’t loosing heat; in fact it was getting hotter! And until it cooled down, she wouldn’t be able to bring the systems back on line. If she didn’t do something fast, she’d not only loose, but cook!

Roland watched his HUD flash the "end of match" symbol and smiled. Shutting down the laser, he limped over to the Lady’s mech. A swipe of his ‘mech’s paw caved away a huge hunk of… nothing. It felt as if he’d just swung the arm through the air. Carefully, he cleared the space around the cockpit. She wasn’t moving. Bridging the space between the two ‘mechs, he popped his own canopy and crawling along the arm, hit the emergency release. She’d passed out from the heat. But before he could extract her from her harness, the crowds were upon them. He’d won.


The Gerbil slammed the Ibex on the back and howled; "YEAH! That’s the guy who beat ME! Now I don’t feel so bad!"

One of the bookmakers collected his winnings and nodded; "Finally found out who that guy was. Don’t feel bad about being beaten by him. In fact, you might want to tell your grandkids about being bested by him one day…"

The Wolf poked at the stuff and shook his head in amazement; "Aerogel. Yeah, I’ve seen the stuff before, but never outside a laboratory. I thought you needed special equipment to form this stuff."

Roland shrugged; "Hey, he’s a genius. Eccentric as hell, but a Genius. That’s all I can say."

The Wolf nodded slowly; "well, you’ve got my card. BELIEVE me, we would very much like to talk to your friend."

"So would we." Roland turned to look at the Beaver in the three-piece suit; "I think you’ll find AmCor… competitive."

The Beaver shot a very predatory grin at the Wolf, who just snarled back.


Roland pulled away from the crowd and crouched by the Lady Badger; she was starting to show signs of coming around. "Wha…..?"

Roland smiled softly; "You passed out; guess it got a little hot in there."

She nodded and then winced; "Yeah… cockpit wouldn’t open. Something jammed…. What happened? Did I win?"

"I’m afraid not, Ma’am" one of the Referees said; "your ‘mech shut down due to overheating, and your opponent kept the pressure on, until the match ended. I’m afraid that because your rig wasn’t functional at the end of the match, he wins."

Roland watched her face fall. "I don’t believe it. I had you. I HAD YOU! You were DOWN! Dammit, what HAPPENED?"

The Wolf chuckled; "Apparently he had an ace up his sleeve. A rather innovative new weapon. I’m sorry, but he appears to have won fair and square."

A rather dour looking chipmunk in the uniform of one of the professioal teams chuckled; "Lady, I wouldn’t have doubted it for a minute."

She turned her head to glare at him; "and why’s that?"

Roland looked on in mild amusement; he probably wouldn’t be able to shut up the Chipmunk if he tried. And it was bound to come out eventually.

The Chipmunk chuckled again, and shook his head; "Because he’s Roland." At the lady badger’s blank look the Chipmunk shook his head in wonder; "you mean you don’t KNOW?"

Roland smiled softly as most of the crowd looked at each other blankly, some folks shrugging at others.

After a moment the Chipmunk grinned, not at her, but at Roland; "He’s Roland." Then, looking down at her, he continued; "Roland Charlemagne." At her continued blank look he sighed; "Battle of Avoudropolis, on Hastings? The detachment of Imperial Marines held the capital city against the might of the Zexion uprising. Held until relieved. Hell, I think he was the only one standing when the relief fleet arrived."

Around them, heads nodded in acknowledgement, and not a few whispered "HIM!" And all she could say was "oh…" in a small voice.

The Chipmunk looked back at Roland; "you know, if things had turned out a little different, I’d probably invite you to try out for our team. But….well, there’s a certain level of controversy surrounding you, and I’m afraid we just can’t risk the… notoriety, no matter how good you are. Hope you understand."

As the Chipmunk walked off, Cindy rubbed her eyes, trying to clear them. What was that he’d been saying? Notoriety? Huh?


Roland looked around the suite and smiled. To the Victor went the spoils, and winning his division had brought some very nice perks. He had the use of the suite for the rest of the competition. He had passes to the owner’s viewing box for the finals in both the professional and the team events. He had a not inconsiderable cash prize. He had vendors offering him equipment, and supplies, if he’d wear their logo. He had some VERY nice endorsement contracts. He had been showered with all sorts of equipment from all sorts of suppliers and vendors; more than he could use and possibly more than he could give away. And best of all, he had a new slave. Unfortunately, she really didn’t see herself as a slave. Not yet. She was, if anything, highly reluctant. Well, she hadn’t been that reluctant when he offered her first crack at the suite’s luxurious bath…. There was a celebratory dinner to be held that evening, and he had a brand new jumpsuit to wear to the event, with several labels prominently displayed. For a moment he wondered if he should include the logo of his employer… wouldn’t THAT rock them back on their heels?

She let out a startled yelp when he opened the bathroom door. He just grinned at her; "you know, you never did tell me your name…." Covered in little more than soapsuds she glared at him, with just a hint of fear in her eyes; "Cindy…" He nodded; "OK, Cindy. Dinner’s in forty minutes; don’t be late!" Then, to her surprise, he closed the door…


Cindy sat to the Bader’s… to Roland’s left. He was polite; there was no doubt about that, but he was also leaving little room for interpretation in their relationship. How would she have treated him if SHE’D won? Dammit, she SHOULD have won! Even if he was some great war hero. She’d HAD HIM. Ah, well, pride goeth before a fall, and she should know THAT all too well. Still, it would have been nice if he’d let her order her own food. Fortunately she liked Chef’s Salads….

Roland watched as the reporter talked with Cindy. As the second place finalist in their Division she was still a highly ranked player. And therefor someone worthy of attention. She was restrained, and just a little depressed, but that was to be expected. Her reaction to his new weapon? A choked out "Wish I’d thought of it first" was her only reply.


"No, I hate to say it, but I think they’re both trash."

Cindy’s head snapped around; what was that scruffy Badger talking about? Was he talking to another reporter, or yet another of the Vendor’s Representatives?

Roland nodded; "I think I’ll see if I can’t take some of the prize money and swap what’s left of them for something in a little better shape. As the competitions end and everything closes down, there should be some very good deals to be had. Besides, the Lighting, while very capable, is just a little large for where I work…"

Cindy frowned; for where he worked? Was the great war hero some sort of Mercenary? Well, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad… surely there were worse professions for someone into ‘mechs….


Roland closed the door and yawned. Near as he could tell, he’d been up about 36 hours straight. Turning, he looked at Cindy; "I’m going to bed. To be frank, I’m too tired to do much but sleep tonight. If you choose, you can join me in the bed, or you can sleep on the couch. I’ll trust you not to run off, though." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and shucking his jumpsuit as he went, headed for the bedroom.

Cindy watched him go. Part of her was relieved, and part of her was outraged. What was wrong with him? Dammit, the furr had a new slave; wasn’t he going to avail himself of her charms? Then the thought struck her; what if he was gay? What would be her fate then? On the other hand, she too was exhausted. Looking at the couch, she frowned. She’d seen the bed; it was huge. Half a dozen furrs could sleep there. She could probably sleep there, toss and turn as she liked, and never come into contact with him. With a sigh she pulled down the zipper of her jumpsuit; "Oh what the hell…."

Roland listened to Cindy snore lightly, and smiled. He was curious as to why she hadn’t just headed out the door. She could be half way to Aldebaran by the time he got up. Instead she’d crawled into bed, admittedly the far side, and had quietly gone to sleep. Pity she hadn’t stayed quiet, though…..


"I just don’t understand why you want to sell them!"

Roland sighed; "because they’re scrap. They’ve been beaten to death. Even if we spent the small fortune required to refit them, they’ve suffered serious metal fatigue. Its not worth our lives to have them fail in a critical moment! Now quit arguing, Slave! Besides, Havercorp has let it be known that they’d rather sell off their display models than ship them home. I think I can get a good deal."

Fuming, Cindy shut up. She’d learned that when he called her that, he’d made up his mind and there wouldn’t be any changing it. It was just that, to get the two Thunderbolts, Roland would have to spend almost all their prize money, and trade in the wrecks that he’d won, that she’d won and their two still marginally working ‘mechs. And what did he need that refurbished suit of Imperial Combat Armor for anyways? Ah, well, he was the Master……


"And we spent the rest of the competition watching the other events, in relative splendor. Admittedly we had to downgrade to a cheaper hotel when the competitons were over, but that was only for a few days. And here we are."

Tanj took a sip of her coffee and nodded; "I’ll see if I can pull the videos from the web. I’d like to watch what happened."

Hinoki chuckled; "Can I get a look at those business cards? I’ve got a few ideas for marketing those missiles Corey came up with."

Tanj laughed; "I just hope he remembered what he did when he made them; you know how abscent minded he can be."

Roland and Hinoki both winced.

Cindy smiled to herself when Wanda asked; "So what are your plans now?" She’d been trying to get that out of the Badger almost since that first night.

"Oh, Go back to work with the Black Fleet, I guess. Train for next year’s competition." Turning, he grinned at Cindy; "Maybe we could work on the team events….."

Hinoki nodded sagely; "I might come with you, next year. If reloads and parts are as expensive as you say, towards the end of the competition, there may be some interesting business opportunities there.

Tanj cocked her head to one side, a distant look on her face. Standing, she collected her print-outs; "I need to get back to the flight deck. We’re coming up on the Rothchild radius. Got to get the ship ready for Warp." Everyone scrambled to make room, to let her pass. When she got to the door, she paused, and turned, to fix the Badger with a cold stare. "No unauthorized work on the new ‘mechs."

Roland gave her his best smile; "We’ve had plenty of time to work on ‘em, after the competition. I don’t think they need anything at the moment."

Tanj nodded curtly; "I know you. You can’t keep your paws off. Just remember what I told you." Shifting her gaze to the lady Badger, she growled; "I’ll depend on YOU not to let him forget."

When the door closed behind her, Ralph chuckled; "Only she could "hear" the ship approaching the outer limits of a star system."

Hinoki chuckled and nodded, and then grinned at Cindy "So… How’s life as Roland’s slave?"

The lady Badger blushed beneath her fur, and then shrugged; "Its… not what I expected." Her gaze swept Sabina, Sashi, Kath, and Ralph; "To be perfectly frank, I’d been expecting to be treated more like, ah…. Them. And while he’s a bit demanding in certain areas, in others, well, he doesn’t seem to care."

Zassa nodded; "I suspect he just has a different set of priorities. Although, maybe not." Grinning, the Vixen leaned closer; "tell us, though; has he spanked you yet?"

As Roland laughed, Cindy blinked; "Has he WHAT?"

Roland chuckled and let his gaze slide from Sashi to Sabina, and back; "And that reminds me…. I think we’ve deferred the punishment you two so richly deserve, long enough.

Punishments, and Exercise

The cargo bay was considerably more crowded than it had been on the way out. Despite certain problems, they’d picked up quite a few of the items on the Black Fleet’s wish list, a net gain over selling off the booty they’d been charged with. And while the Thunderbolt was smaller than the Lightning, there were two of them now. And then there was the Shuttle. And the wrecked Renegade. Still, there was room for what the Badger was preparing.

Sashi and Sabina knelt, facing the single chair they’d carried down from the wardroom. To one side, Kath knelt by Wanda’s feet. To the other side, Cindy knelt, watching in mixed fascination and horror. Hinoki lounged against one wall, watching, and Zassa sat crosslegged by the door. After a wait that seemed to go on forever, the Badger finally strode into the cargo bay, and took his seat facing the slaves to be punished.

Tanj adjusted the plasma flow minutely, and ran her eyes over the engineering displays. The port injector was getting a little ragged. It was still within tolerances, but when they got back, she’d probably have to tear it down and rebuild it. Turning, she glanced at the multi-function display set to the scene in the cargo bay. Smiling, she leaned back in her chair to watch.

Roland smiled and gestured to Sashi; "you were the instigator of this, so you get to go first. You know the position." Sashi rose and bowed to the Badger; "Yes, Master." A moment later she was sprawled across his lap, ass high and head down. Turning her head just a little she gave a surprised Cindy a sly wink.

The Badger’s paw crashed down on the Pantheress’ left asscheek; "One, Master." Three more times in rapid succession, too fast for Sashi to keep up the count, the Badger’s paw came down on her ass, alternating sides, and never quite hitting the same spot. And then he gave her a moment to catch her breath. Or, perhaps not, as his paw found a teasing position between her legs…

Cindy heard the Pantheress moan, but somehow didn’t think it had much to do with the punishment she’d received. She tried to imagine herself in a position like that, especially in public, and couldn’t. And then her Master was again bringing his paw down in a thunderous creshendo on the poor girl’s ass. He stopped at a count of eight, and again gave her a moment to recover, his fingers blatantly toying with her sex. Not that she seemed to mind in the least. In fact, she seemed to relish his touch, moaning and squirming more on his lap than when she was being abused.

Sashi lost count somewhere around twenty-two, her eyes closed tight, her chest heaving as she fought for air. Somewhere in there the gentle caresses and the violent swats all seemed to roll together until it was more than she could stand….

As the Badger brought his paw down for the twenty-fifth time, Sashi dissolved in a violent climax. Wanda beamed her approval, and Hinoki applauded. Lifting Sashi, and setting her on her feet, Roland took her left paw in his right, and together they bowed to their audience.

Sashi kneeled carefully back in her place. Her bottom was on fire, but a warm glow filled her entire being. Sabina leaned over and giggled; "VERY arousing, but I bet I make less noise than you do!" And then it was the kitten’s turn to lay across Roland’s lap.

If Sashi had thought her punishment might be less pain and more pleasure, due to the Badger being tired, she was mistaken; he seemed as…. "enthusiastic" as ever, and it wasn’t long until the Kitten was howling in that netherland between pain and ecstacy. To Sashi’s amusement, the Kitten climaxed violently on the twentythird swat, and had to endure the latter two as she came down from her climax. Roland just shrugged and grinned.

Zassa laughed and rose; "Roland, you’re slipping. I think you need more practice!" The Badger laughed; "Oh, you want some too?" The Vixen nodded, and dropping her shorts, she threw herself across his lap; "Yeah, but I don’t want you to wimp out on me. Make it Fifty; I’ve been a BAAAAAD girl!

Roland wasn’t surprised to find the Vixen already wet. Sopping wet. Adding an occasional pinch to his routine, he found her extremely responsive. It was difficult to rein her in, to make her wait for it. Exercising all of his skill he forced her to wait until that fiftieth swat, before permitting her the release she was so obviously seeking.


Tanj chuckled as the Vixen climaxed loudly. Without turning her head she murmured; "What do you think, Ralph? Think that’s the kind of thing you might like to try?"

Ralph shook his head; and here he thought he’d been SO quiet.. From the door to the flight deck he chuckled; "Perhaps, Mistress. I’m not wild about Males, although I admit the possibilities, with just the right one. And I’m not wild about pain, but again, I admit there might be things in heaven and earth that are not drempt of in my philosophy. Pehaps under the right circumstances…."

Tanj laughed; "Well, be good, or I might just lend you out to Zassa. Its possible she might just teach you a thing or two."

The Tiger repressed a delicious shudder of terror; "Yes, Mistress, I’ll be good!"


Cindy watched the Vixen pick herself up off of Roland’s lap, moving carefully; "Guess I’ll be sleeping on my stomach tonight. Well, Come on, Sabina, time for bed."

Roland rose and stretched, yawning. Picking up the chair, he gestured to Cindy; "I think the Vixen’s right; time for bed. Come on, Slave."


Cindy sat on the mat, and tugged her leg into the full lotus position. The Badger’s bunk was just too tiny for the two of them, and yet she refused to sleep on the floor by his bed, like a good slave. Intellectually, she knew that’s what she was, but she just wasn’t there, emotionally, yet. When she’d gotten stiff enough, when she could no longer sleep, she’d slipped out, and come down to the cargo bay to get a little exercise. Work the kinks out. Chuckling, she laughed at herself; considering the crew of this ship, she might never work the kinks out. She’d run through three katas, done some Tai Chi, and now wanted nothing more than to get in a half hour’s meditation to center her mind.

That was when the Tiger walked in. Nude, except for his collar, he was carrying only a towel. He shot her an inquiring glance, but she ignored him. Shrugging, he turned to start setting up what appeared to be collapsable exercise equipment. When he’d gotten the device ready, he then did something very strange.

Ralph took the padded cuff, and squatting, proceeded to buckle it around his balls. Looking up, he caught the lady Badger staring at him. Grinning back, he chuckled; "Kinda necessary, given the exercise equipment Mistress has me using." Swinging one leg over the bench seat, he shifted his position, until his bound balls descended through the gap in the middle….

Cindy watched him lean forward and move a lever; the seat seemed to shift, and she realized the reason for the padded cuff; the seat had closed around his testicles, like a stock closing around someone’s neck! The Tiger was now locked into the exercise apparatus!

Ralph chuckled; "Mistress thinks I’m lazy. Well, actually I am, when you get right down to it. But she believes that I need to keep in shape, and intellectually, I have to agree with her. So she had Hinoki and Zassa work up this exercise equipment for me. Well, for all of us, actually; its pretty flexible. Anyways, Once I start, the only way out, is to finish the required number of reps, in the required amount of time."

Cindy blinked; "And what happens if you don’t do it in the required amount of time?"

Ralph laughed; "Oh, then the machine changes a little bit, and things happen. Somewhat nasty things." At her blank look, the Tiger waved a paw; "well, you see, Mistress Tanj reports to Mistress Jenka, and Mistress Jenka has this, well, um… I don’t think he’s her slave, at least not any more, but he’s definitely her…. Companion? Associate? Toy? Lover? All of those, I guess, and more. When Mistress Jenka is displeased with you, she’s likely to hand you over to John. And John, being a Stallion, is, well, "hung like a horse". Mistress Tanj keeps threatening me with letting John have his way with me. And the "nasty things" that this machine does, is a, well, a precursor of that….. Training, in a manner of speaking."

Cindy shook her head; "I still don’t understand…."

The Tiger sighed; "well…. What the heck, I guess I’ll just have to show you." Reaching up he grabbed the handlebars, and with muscles bulging, pulled down. Behind him, a stack of weights rose. The Tiger pulled down on the handlebars in rapid succession, until he’d reached a count of twenty-four. And then he stopped. Panting, he watched the lady Badger’s face; "you see, there’s a timer running. In a moment, it’ll decide I haven’t done twenty-five in the required time and it’ll…. *CLACK* "There, see, the solinoid has engaged. Now, when I pull down on the handle, the counter’s been reset to zero, but in addition to lifting the weights, it drives this dong up through the seat, and into my ass. I still have to do twenty-five reps, but as I do that, I also fuck myself in the ass." At Cindy’s look of horror he grinned; "Awww, its not that bad; at least the dong isn’t built on the same scale as John’s…" Taking a good grip on the handlebars, the Tiger proceeded to work the handlebars up and down, grunting with each exertion.

Bending, Cindy could see the mechanism. Sure enough, there was a cylindrical shape moving up and down at a slight angle. As she was watching, he hit the required twenty-five, and the "stocks" around his balls opened, releasing him. He lost no time in rising from the seat. She was embarrassed to note that in the process, he’d gotten quite an erection! Turning and grinning at her, the Tiger ran the towel over his face; "Great incentive to do your exercises promptly, eh?"

"Of course, that’s just one exercise, of many I’ve got to do. Not all of them have, ah, "accessories" like that, but…." Talking as he worked, he reconfigured the device as a rowing machine. Cindy watched as he attached a cylinder in front of the seat. Ralph flashed her a wicked grin, and sat down. As he grabbed the handles that simulated the oars, and pulled, the seat rolled back… and as it rolled forwards she watched with amazement as his hard shaft drove into the cylinder. It was obvously some sort of masturbation device, and the faster the Tiger rowed, the more he stroked himself.

"Gotta.. <pant> Love this… <pant> one. I think <pant> Master Hinoki <pant> came up with <pant> this one…."

Cindy turned as she heard the door open. The Captain, Tanj, stalked in, also butt-bareass naked, and carrying a towel. She grinned, and yelled out to the Tiger; "Don’t you DARE cum in that thing!"

Ralph’s pace never slackened; "And what’s <pant> Mistress going to do <pant> for me if I don’t? <pant>

Tanj chuckled; "I’ll think of something." Turning to grin at the lady Badger, the Cheetah smiled; "An erection is a terrible thing to waste, don’t you think?

Cindy tried hard to meditate. Unfortunately the smells of sex filled the cargo bay. As did the sounds. Tanj had made a few modifications to the exercise machine, and had then taken up a position astride the Tiger’s lap, his shaft, freed of the masturbation device, was firmly in her pussy. And where the cylinder had been attached, a thick dong had taken its place. As the Tiger rowed, as the seat slid back and forth, it drove the dong into Tanj’s ass, pushing her against him. Both of them seemed to find this, well, most stimulating. The sounds of feline ecstacy were almost more than she could stand. Finally, she rose and headed for the door.

Padding up the corridor, she passed the Vixen, also nude, headed for the cargo bay. As she stalked past, Cindy growled; "Doesn’t anyone on this ship think of anything but sex?"

Stopping, turning to stare after the Badger, Zassa blinked; "Um, No. Why?" As Cindy turned the corner and vanished, Zassa yelled out "And what’s wrong with that?"

Roland laughed; "No, I haven’t. Not yet. I’ve been taking it slowly, letting her get used to the idea. I don’t want to blow this. Gotta be real careful!"

Hinoki nodded; "Yeah, I know; breaking in a new slave is a ticklish job, especially when they’re, ah, not very young."

Roland straightened; "She’s not that old…..!"

Hinoki waved a paw; "she’s past her teens; you know what I mean. Anyways, she doesn’t seem to be reacting well to the, ah, ambiance on the ship." Straightening, the Cheetah turned to look at the Badger; "Hey… you don’t think she’s a VIRGIN, do you?"

Roland started to laugh, but then caught himself; "You know, I’m not sure." Shaking his head, the Badger rose; "Maybe I should have Wanda give her a medical examination. Procedure, or something like that. But I’ll think about that later. I want you to come on down to the cargo bay and see all the stuff I got, when I won the competition. You wouldn’t BELIEVE how the vendors shower you with stuff when you win!


Sabina shook her head and handed Sashi the dried plate; Sashi turned and put it back in the cupboard, under the clamps that would keep it safe and secure in zero G; "Well I think she’s stuck-up. Doesn’t matter who she was before, or what she did. She’s just a slave now, and doesn’t need to act as if she’s better than the rest of us!’

Sashi just chuckled; "Aw, come on. Its just taking her a little bit of time to get used to the idea."

Sabina shook her head; "well, I think someone ought to teach her the ropes, or she’s going to get in trouble later!"


Cindy paused; there was a strange sound coming towards her, from down the corridor. In amazement she watched as Hinoki jogged past, dressed only in an assortment of tubes and straps… and he seemed to have his penis buried in another one of those masturbation devices. The Cheetah just waved merrily to her as he thumped off down the corridor… Shaking her head, she decided that this was a VERY strange group; very strange indeed!


Roland grinned; "The Chin Zhi Group buys surplus military equipment and refurbishes it. This model of Imperial combat armor is only one mark earlier than the suit I, ah, ‘borrowed’, but its received several enhancements during its retrofit, so in many respects its about two marks newer." Hinoki chuckled and nodded; "Yeah… I can see some of the advantages. Love the Nav Display; that’s great."

Roland smiled; "Now, let me show you some of the things I picked up for the Thunderbolts. This is a close combat weapon, an LS-99 Moonlight, that fits on the right arm. For "close up and personal" work, it shoud be fantastic….

Hinoki looked at the oblong box; "Doesn’t look very dangerous…"

The Badger laughed; "It’s a variant of a lightsabre. The trick is, that it doesn’t come on, until you start your stroke, and as soon as you finish your stroke, it turns off. Its incredibly quick, and the blade length is about twice the height of the Thunderbolt." The Badger grinned at the Cheetah; "it has its own independent cooling system, so it doesn’t overtax the ‘Mech, and because it’s only on when you’re using it, it keeps the heat and power consumption to a minimum." Reverently, the Badger placed the box back in its container. "The manufacturer gave me one, for a product endorsement. It was a helluva deal. ‘Course I’ve got to have their logo on my ‘Mech, but that’s no problem; no problem at all."

Hinoki chuckled; "So what else did you get?"

Like a child at Christmas, Roland turned to show all the things he’d gotten.


Wanda chuckled and held up the shirt; "And you say Master Roland gave you this?"

Kath nodded; "Seems when he won, suppliers dumped an incredible amount of stuff on him. He gave me shirts in your size, Bruno’s size and in mine, about four different colors, and three different styles. Oh, and there were hats, and drink coolers, and mousepads, and…. Just all SORTS of stuff. Several armloads."

Wanda nodded and turned to look at the Mink; "Well, I hope you thanked him properly. But don’t let me catch you wearing ANY clothes without my permission!

Kath just chuckled and curtsied; "Of course not, mistress!"


Tanj looked from the assembled parts to the disassembled Pilot’s couch, to the hand-drawn schematic, and back. As she worked, she muttered, not quite to herself; "Now… If I can get this to work, we’ll have several advantages…. The first is, you’ll find being flown more fun than ever. Or at least I THINK you will. Lord knows, I should have more fun flying you. Secondly, I don’t think anyone is going to steal you; they’d never figure out the controls. They’re certainly going to be non-standard…. But Jenka should love it. You’re going to like Jenka; trust me….." Picking up the instrumented dildo used for pelvic floor and Kegel muscle training, the Cheetah grinned; "I bet, with this flight control system, Zassa is going to want to have flying lessons…." Leaning over the dismembered pilot’s couch, the Cheetah fished for the wiring harness with one hand….


Cindy came at him low, bringing the knife up from below in an upward sweep, but the Badger spun, kicking her arm out of the way. Stepping close he brought his own knife to her throat. Thankfully it was only a rubber knife.

"No, that’s simply not going to do. You’re telegraphing your motions; anyone with any knowledge could read you like a book."

Cindy growled; "Dammit, I’ve got a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do! I know a LITTLE bit about FIGHTING!"

Roland tsk tsk’ed at her and wagged a finger; "You’re forgetting the proper form of address! Keep that up and you’re going to earn yourself a spanking!"

Her first impulse was to tell him he wouldn’t dare, but then she calmed down. Doing that would be counterproductive, and she knew full well that he WOULD dare. Lowering her eyes, she nodded; "Sorry, master…. Roland nodded; "I wouldn’t be hammering on this so hard, if I didn’t think it necessary. Now… lets try it again.


Tanj ran the simulation again, and smiled; she was getting the tuning constants set a little better, but flying the shuttle was going to be a helluva workout for her vaginal muscles. Setting up the "Descent to Gates’ World" simulation once again she squeezed, the viewscreen showing the shuttle leaping forward….


Cindy’s concentration was broken by the moan coming from the shuttle’s open hatchway. The next thing she knew she was flat on her back with Roland’s knife at her throat.

"Dammit, master, what IS she doing in there? Don’t they ever NOT do anything related to sex on this ship?"

Roland laughed; "This crew? Yeah. Yeah, they do, and believe me, when they DO you’d wish they’d stuck to sex. Remind me to tell you about the raid on Nikkeldepain some time. Or the destruction of Elysium. But as far as that goes, Ask Hinoki about it. He has an interesting story to tell about Tanj and that shuttle… Now, lets try it again. The Pirates of the Black Fleet won’t be near as… "accomodating" as I am, and I want to make sure you can defend yourself, at least until I can get there."

Cindy just "Hmph’ed" and climbed back to her feet.


Hinoki chuckled; "So, whether it was just a random malfunction or not, I’m afraid Tanj is convinced the shuttle’s haunted or something. She’s, ah, kinda catering to it, in her own way."

The Lady Badger nodded, thanked the Cheetah, and left the Wardroom. This place just kept getting stranger and stranger. At this rate the Pirates were going to be a relief!


Zassa looked at the pilot’s couch, and then at the copilot’s couch. Each sprouted a slightly different phallic shape, in slightly different locations.

"I get it; girls in the pilot’s seat, guys in the copilot’s seat!"

Tanj laughed; "Yeah, I thought it prudent for Hinoki to be able to fly the ship if he had to."

The Vixen laughed; "And what does he think of it?"

Tanj chuckled; "What do you think? He loves the idea. Ralph isn’t so happy about it, but he’ll come around."

The Vixen sidled a little closer and in a conspiratorial voice, whispered; "They got vibrators?" Tanj nodded; "Yeah, part of the ship’s feedback circuits. Powerful ones too!"


They picked up the Raider on their sensors about half a parsec out. By the time they got to the station, they had an escort of a half a dozen ships, each asking if they’d gotten what they’d asked for. Tanj had to disappoint quite a few Pirates, but her somewhat edited tales of the events on the trip out and back held not a few of them spellbound. When the ship docked, the usual reception committee was waiting.


Clancy handed Tanj a PADD; "This authorizes me to distribute the supplies and, ah, other goodies you’ve picked up for everyone. Jenka’s orders.

Tanj just nodded; "Good; got other things to do. Everything’s labeled in the cargo bay. See Zassa for the manifest.


Zassa didn’t even jump with surprise when the paw covered her eyes from behind. She just knelt and let Chris collar her. They formed an interesting train, Chris leading a collared Zassa, who was, in turn, leading a hooded and rather tightly bound Sabina.


Hinoki and Sashi both jogged from the docking bay, putting on quite a show with their "exercise" outfits.


John watched the Cheetah run by, and raised an eyebrow; the other eyebrow went up when Sashi jogged past, following her master. Shaking his head, thinking that Jenka was probably going to want one of those, if not for herself then at least for him, he headed for the freighter.


Wanda waved bye to Tanj, and followed by Kath, who was carrying their bags, and Bruno, who was looking in every direction, she headed back to their quarters. She had been itching to get back to Medical, to see what those clowns had done to HER emergency room in her absence. Holding up a paw to halt the Stallion she smiled; "John, we’ve had some success with Bruno. He’s regained a portion of his mind, but remembers almost nothing of who, or what he was. We need to find him a function within the organization that will let him be useful while he rebuilds his life."

John looked from the Wolverine lass to the Bear and back; "He doesn’t remember…?"

"Anything of the incident that cost him his mind? No. As you can imagine, there are probaby a number of furrs on the station that would want to… "investigate" that, and I feel we need to be cautious."

John nodded; "I’ll talk to Chris about it. I suspect we can find him something." Looking up at the Bear, who was staring back curiously, John said; "Come to Personnel in the morning; we’ll give you the standard battery of skills tests, to see what you remember how to do."

Bruno just nodded, and looked at Wanda. Wanda smiled; "I’ll show you the way. Don’t worry." Turning she led Kath and the Bear into the station.


Ralph waved hello to the Stallion. He was again dressed in his black suit, with sunglasses in place. The Stallion raised an eyebrow; "Trip go OK?"

Ralph thought for a moment and then made a sour face and shook his head no.

John sighed and nodded, and let the Tiger squeeze past. Whatever had happened, it was probably going to be an interesting story…


Tanj smiled as the big Stallion squeezed onto the flight deck; "Hello, John. I hope Jenka is available; I’ve some critical information to discuss with her."

The Stallion nodded; "She sent me to fetch you…." Smiling, the Stallion held up the paper sack he’d been carrying, and with great show, upended it, letting the contents fall to the floor.

Tanj looked at the various items of bondage gear and sighed; "This really is important, John. Furrs are trying to kill her."

The Stallion bent and picked up the arm binder; "They have before; it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t try again."

Tanj shook her head; "This is SERIOUS, dammit; it runs into Imperial Politics!"

The Stallion just nodded; "I know. But I have my orders. If you don’t come along as Mistress instructs, I’m to force you, and I am at liberty to punish you as I see fit." Grinning, the Stallion held up the armbinder.

Tanj sighed and pulled her dress off over her head; "Incorrigible. The Lot of you! No sense of priorities at ALL!"

John just sighed, dropped the armbinder, and, picking up the rather thick plug gag, reached out to grab the Cheetah’s hair.


Tanj shivered as the feather grazed over her clitty. She was bound, suspended upside-down, in one of the commons areas. Her ankles were spread wide apart, the ropes tied to them secured to the tops of columns, seemingly on the far sides of the commons area. The tip of her tail was tied to the back of her collar. The plug gag filled her mouth, pressing against the back of her throat, keeping her on the verge of gagging. And her arms were tightly encased in leather, behind her back. Her hair had been braided, and the braid tied to the floor. And now, Jenka was putting on a show, to the crowd’s roaring approval, using only a feather. It seems this was her punishment for not having satisfied everyone’s wish-list for items not available on the station. And Tanj knew it was just the start.

Cindy watched. She watched everything she could, and tried to watch in all directions at once. The pirates had been rougher than she’d thought. So far at least a dozen had tried to grope her, and two had actually tried to undress her. A couple of them Roland had delt with, but the others he’d let her handle. Now she knelt by his side, and for once she was glad of his presence. She didn’t feel safe, but she felt "safer" there…. Across the open area, a black Jaguar was doing obscene things to the Cheetah that had been the Captain of the ship they’d come in on. The crowd cheered, and jeered, and screamed out offered advice. Finally, as the Cheetah came to yet another public and uninhibited climax, the Jaguar flourished her feather and stepped back. The big black Stallion stepped forward, and knelt. At first, Cindy thought he was going to start untying the Cheetah, but instead he merely removed her gag, and replaced it with a ring padded in leather. It wedged her mouth open in what looked like a most uncomfortable fashion. And then the Stallion removed his kilt and presented his semi-hard shaft to the Cheetah’s mouth!

Tanj sighed, and licked softly at the head of John’s cock. Sure, there were things she’d rather be doing. Things that NEEDED doing. But…. it was obvious she wasn’t going to get to them for a while. Still, it was nice to be back with her friends, doing what she was good at. Purrring softly, she teased the Stallion, knowing the ring-gag was too small for him. Maybe he’d get his relief later…..

Hinoki chuckled and walked over to stand behind the Stallion. For a moment Cindy wondered what he was doing, and then another furr, a scruffy looking Ferret, walked over to stand behind the Cheetah. "My God, they’re…. Are all of them going to….?"

Roland chuckled; "Yup. Oh, don’t worry, its not the first time. In fact, I bet our Tanj could run ‘em all into the ground."

Cindy looked back, thinking back to the events on the ship; then she laughed; "Maybe, master, she could; maybe she could at that.


Tanj’s jaws ached. Her mouth tasted like an army had walked through it in their sweatsocks. She was sore and covered in cum; it didn’t matter; she hugged Jenka tight; "We found out some important things, Mistress!"

Jenka kissed the top of the Cheetah’s head; "I’m sure, but whatever it is, it can wait until morning. Allright, it is morning; it can wait until later. You’ve had a rough night; why don’t you get a shower and some sleep?"

Tanj yawned; "Sounds good, but this IS important! We found out that Sashi WAS a weapon; a weapon directed at YOU!"

Jenka nodded; "Not surprised."

Tanj growled; "We traced the plot back to the Crown Prince!" Jenka sighed; "Yeah. Ruprecht. I thought he’d gotten tired of trying to kill me."

Tanj blinked and pushed herself away from Jenka; "What? He’s tried to kill you before?"

Jenka smiled; "Several times. Fortunately he’s not very good at it."

Tanj waved her arms; "but… But… What if he tries again?"

Jenka shrugged; "He’ll most likely fail. But if he doesn’t, well, he doesn’t."

Tanj’s face hardened; "Maybe it would be prudent to take action to forestall any such future attacks…"

Jenka laughed; "What? Assassinate the Crown Prince? Oh, I doubt the Empire would like THAT. It could bring about…um… "undesirable repercussions." No, don’t want to do that." At the look on Tanj’s face, Jenka smiled; "Oh, don’t worry so much! I’m in complete control here. We’re perfectly safe! Now go and get your shower, and then get some sleep. We’ve got a planning session for the Morjoccan operation at 1600, and I want you fresh! GO!


Things on Elysium:

Trish and Dana:

Trish shook her head and sighed; "I can’t. I just CAN’T."

Dana frowned; "Can’t what?"

The Tigress groaned; "Can’t let go. Can’t just let it go; say I’ve done my part, and sit back to just WATCH."

The Otteress chuckled; "You’ve become adicted to the adrenaline, haven’t you? You LIKE the excitement, the thrill of covert operations!"

The Tigress groaned, louder this time, until heads in the café turned to look at them; "No…. I wish it was that SIMPLE." In a lower voice she sighed; "Problem is, I believed in the cause. I STILL believe in the cause. And this current crop of clowns that call themselves "The Party" are just NOT following through on the ideals they so blatantly espouse!"

Dana sighed and nodded; "Yeah…. Yeah, I know. Its frustrating. But… well, no one’s contacted us. Its been weeks and no one’s said BOO! to us. And I’m NOT sure its prudent to charge off on our own like vigilantes. You know what’ll happen to us if they catch us!"

The Tigress just sighed and stirred her tea. Rather weak tea. She had the suspicion that the café was using tea bags much longer than they should. But then, shortages of everything seemed to be popping up everywhere. They blamed it on the war, on the Blues, on Saboteurs and on Counter-Revolutionaries, but Trish knew better. The Party was just screwing up. She bet the party bosses didn’t have to re-use tea bags!

The bread for the sandwiches had been sliced thinner than ever, and didn’t quite taste right. Dana wondered if they were stretching the flour with sawdust or something. The filling was mostly lettuce and that wasn’t all that fresh either. Hardly any fish fillet between the sawdust bread slices. Looking up at Trish, she sighed; "So what do you have in mind?"

The Tigress shrugged; "well, we redressed one problem by bringing corruption to light. Maybe we can do it again."

Dana chewed, and then swallowed; "Okay; who do you have in mind for a target?"

The Tigress grinned; "Xyloff."

Dana choked on a mouthfull; when she could talk again, she glared at the Tigress; "Goin’ straight for the top, aren’t you?"

Trish shrugged; "Why not?" Leaning closer she whispered conspiratorily; "I hear he was once some big Industrialist by the name of Xylex."

Dana nodded; "Yeah, something about always supporting the cause, working against the establishment from within… I think I read something about that."

Trish nodded; "Yeah, I did some digging. Seems his wife died a rather questionable death, but because he was rich, it was never pursued…. And he had a daughter. A daughter now conspiculously absent. What do you think ever happened to HER?" Dana sighed; "Yeah, there might be something there. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to do a little quiet digging, see if we turn up any leads. But I’m warning you; we’re going to have to have something Rock Solid before we try and expose HIM!"

The Tigress grinned and nodded; "you’re on!"


Xyloff looked at his Agriculture Minister and shook his head; "I thought I gave priority to relieving the famine! What do you mean, things are getting worse? Are you Incompetent?" The Agriculture Minister just sighed and shrugged; "Surely the Chairman of the Party remembers how the discussion turned to how the Blues might be trafficking with aliens, and how all resources, including fuel were diverted to an attempt to raid their antimatter production facilities?" Around the conference table, heads nodded. Xyloff’s gaze swept them, but for a change he didn’t see the cowering, frightened faces he was used to. That wasn’t good. It meant he was loosing control. Looking back at the Agriculture Minister he growled; "Never mind that! Tell me what you ARE doing to resolve the shortages!"

The Agriculture Minister shrugged again; "We have an aggressive breeding program for draft animals. With the loss of the Abu Babbas refinery, well, our fuel situation isn’t likely to get any better. We’re re-instituting the use of draft animals for agriculture… and possibly for distribution. But, Comrade Chairman, gestation periods will not improve at a fiat from the Party. There is only so much we can do, short term.

Xyloff sat back in his chair, and just growled. The attempt to launch what few spacefaring assets the Reds had left, to raid the antimatter production facilities the Blues had been building had met with utter failure. It was almost as if the enemy knew each step they’d been planning. First, a truck carrying critical parts for one of the destroyers had for unknown reasons, stopped at a railroad crossing, just minutes before a train arrived. The driver swore the engine just died. Unfortunately there hadn’t been enough wreckage left to determine if he’d been telling the truth, or if it had been sabotage. Oh, the truth serum hadn’t changed his story, before he died, but the Wolverine was still half-convinced he’d been a deep-cover Blues agent. Then, a meteorite had come screaming down from space, to damage the other destroyer. It hadn’t been a very big meteorite, probably not as big as his fist, but at orbital velocity it had been more than enough to destroy the aft third of the Destroyer. Most furrs felt it was just bad luck, a random act of chaos in the universe. Others saw the hand of God in it. And all of his technical experts swore that there was no way the Blues could have launched a meteor on such a trajectory, with the accuracy needed to hit EXACTLY where they were aiming. Now if a much larger meteorite had wiped out the spaceport, THAT they agreed might be a sign of enemy activity, but something so small? Surely minor imperfections in its surface, eddies and gusts of wind in the atmosphere, would have pushed something so small off track. Why, the Destroyer was only 40 meters wide! Impossible to hit with something like that! And without the Destroyers, their forces wouldn’t have stood even a ghost of a chance, and the Defense Minister had called off the attack. The Coward. And then there’d been the mysterious explosion in the refinery, almost as if the enemy were punishing them for even considering such an attack.

Looking back at the papers in front of him, the Wolverine’s scowl depened. In some areas food was rotting in warehouses, while furrs starved in other districts. The Party seemed to have fostered an incredible inefficiency, and he seemed helpless to work through the beaurocracy to correct it.

Shoving the papers away, Xyloff growled; "And what other good news do you have for me?" The Chief of the First Intelligence Directorate rose; "Comrade Chairman; we have determined that the wreckage of the canine robot could not have been produced with our current level of technology. We feel almost certain that it incorporates technologies from off-planet, quite possibly technologies beyond anything the Empire itself could ever produce."

The Defense Minister growled; "Nonsense, Alexi; sheer Nonsense! Some of the previous Government’s best research labs wound up in Blues Territory. They’ve done work in directions we hadn’t anticipated, that’s all." Leaning across the table, the Bear growled; "Give me the resources and We’ll reverse-engineer their currs! I guarantee it!"

The Agriculture Minister sighed and shook his head. The incident had seemed so minor. A truck driver had seen the wind blow the skirt of a pretty lady, and had lost control of his vehicle. The vehicle had struck a non-morphic dog. Except it wasn’t a non-morphic dog; it had been some sort of robot. The presumption was that it was some sort of reconnasaince drone, or spy. And now, every animal in the Reds territories was under suspicion. All the party elite had either destroyed or sent away the pets in their houses. Guard dogs had been X-rayed. It had even caused problems for his draft animal breeding program, with security forces demanding to inspect the animals. Some of the party central committee had even proposed hunting down every stray, every animal not tightly controlled and exterminating it. Well, if they did, at least they might have a source of protien to allieviate the growing famine…..

The argument between the Chief of the First Intelligence Directorate and the Defense Minister was derailed by Zaitichan, the party "theorist," as he took the opportunity to once again rail against incompetency in the Party. Xyloff watched as occasional eyes flicked his way; were they thinking that HE was the most imcompetent? Or were they merely looking to him to muzzle the party theorist? After a minute, when it became clear Zaitichan wasn’t going to simply run down, Xyloff growled; "Enough! We all have work to do. The Meeting is dismissed!"

The Agriculture Minister gathered his portfolios and headed for the door. From the corner of his eye, he gauged the progress of the Chief of the First Intelligence Directorate. The Muskrat was moving slowly, this committee member stopping to ask a question and that to beg a favor. No one seemed to notice him waiting. Finally, when Alexi had made it through the doors, the Agriculture Minister was able to move in beside him; "you know, if you really want to determine whether the Blues are dealing with aliens or not, I have a clue you might want to pursue." The Muskrat looked at him for a moment and then smiled; "Yes, the Coffee plantations." The Agriculture Minister just nodded and smiled. "But" the Muskrat went on; "Comrade Xyloff has forbidden me to waste resources on investigating that lead. However, I don’t believe he’s forbidden YOUR department from looking into it."

The Agriculture Minister just stood there and stared at the Muskrat’s retreating back. HIS DEPARTMENT? They were Farmers, not Spies! And then he grinned; "Who’d suspect farmers? Maybe this could work….."

The Lion:

The Freighter

Montgomery smiled as the freighter came out of warp. His baby was still performing exactly as she should. A proven design. Even the aliens were coming to appreciate that, as three other ships of essentially the same class were now operating. They'd tried a few improvements; some had worked, some hadn’t. The e-mail traffic between himself, the design team, and his opposite numbers on the other ships was still hot and heavy, but they were all working together well, and that had to count for something. Antimatter, however, was becoming a real bottleneck.

And their supply had almost been destroyed. Their Alien buddies’ competitors were having widely differing reactions to the new threat. The Orr cartel had "entered into negotiations" with their new business partners. THEY called it "negotiations" but to Montgomery, it looked more like negotiating for surrender terms. Unfortunately, the Nuffins had taken a different path. They’d formed alliances with other competitors, in opposition to the new partnership. And had taken more direct action.

The attack on the antimatter facilities had been devilish. A virus had been deftly introduced to the computers that ran the robot factories in solar orbit. Or at least it had been introduced to the alien-supplied computers that SEEMED to be running everything. It had been a ruse. The alien computers, familiar to the Nuffins and their new allies, had been completely corrupted. Had they really been running the show, the factories would be so much drifting sub-atomic particles now. Fortunately, the Blues had their own computers running the actual operations, with an operating system so alien to the locals that they hadn’t even picked up on their presence. It was what was considered to be only the opening gambit. There were sure to be more, but forewarned is forearmed, or something like that….

Still, the Bear was looking forward to topping off the tanks while they were here. And to picking up some more coffee. If he could. The stuff was getting awfully dear….

The Brou Machine

The Lion staggered a little as he moved slowly onto the bridge. Ben rose from the command chair, a look of concern on his face. The Lion grinned sheepishly and waved a paw; " ‘s OK. Just… got a headache." The Wolf nodded; "You’ve been messing with that Brou machine again, haven’t you?" The Lion sighed and nodded; "I’m… getting better at it. Its just so damned alien. But I’m making progress. Should be in good shape by next week when those alien physicists show up to see if they can figure out how it works."

Ben exchanged a look with Parks, and then turned back to the Lion; "Um… boss, its not next week."

The Lion blinked; "its not? Geez, how long have I been down there?"

The Wolf winced; "A lot, lately. To the point we’ve all been starting to worry about you." Parks nodded solemnly in agreement.

The Lion slumped into a vacant station chair by the communications console; "So when ARE they due?"

Ben fixed the Lion with a stare; "they entered the system about twenty minutes ago."



There were five aliens in the shuttle that came over from the freighter. As usual, it was difficult to tell them apart. However, one of the aliens tilted its head to one side and hissed; "looking healthy you are not. Ill, you are? Contagious?"

The Lion laughed; "no. Not ill. Although, I appreciate your concern. I’ve been dealing with the device I wish you to examine; it’s a neural interface, and I’m just not of the correct species to interface correctly."

The Alien nodded slowly; "Experience we have with Neural Interfaces. Precautions we will take against… disorientation."

The Lion nodded; "Well, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the device."

The four experts each had a different hand-held analyzer, and were studying the Brou device from four different angles. And at a respectful distance, as if it might bite. As they worked, the Lion watched, along with Parks, the Overlord’s Chief Engineer, and the fifth alien.

"I have uncovered some interesting things about the device. It appears to be a fully functioning AI, or "artificial intelligence". It has quite a concept of "self" and has strict imperatives on self preservation."

The Alien nodded, as if this was of no surprise.

"And, I’ve found out its original purpose."

The Alien didn’t respond, but Parks turned, to look at the Lion; "And?"

The Lion chuckled, although his humor seemed more than a little strained; "It’s a garbage disposal."

Park’s jaw dropped; "It’s a WHAT?"

The Lion shrugged; "a garbage disposal. For extremely hazardous wastes. The Brou were using it to send things that they didn’t want somewhere far away. VERY far away." Turning, the Lion grinned at Parks; "Can it open a portal to another point far removed in space? Sure. Could that point be a parallel universe? Even the Brou Machine doesn’t know. It doesn’t CARE. As long as its sufficiently far away, that’s all that matters."

Parks swallowed; "Um… have you talked to it about our problem?"

The Lion nodded; "Yes, and strangely enough it understands. It, ah, doesn’t like it here very much, and I really don’t think it cares for us. Something about our thought waves polluting the area, or something. It’d very much like to get back to the Brou. And it admits that given a suitable power source, it could do just that, no matter where we are. But… while it could open a portal to damn near anywhere, it has to know WHERE to open the portal to. And right now, it doesn’t have a clue where we are. As it says, repeatedly, and more than a little… "grumpily", and I quote "Navigation is the only serious problem".

Parks sighed; "now wait a minute. It GOT us here; how could it need more power to get us back? Are we going "uphill" or something?"

The Lion chuckled; "Not a bad analogy, but apparently there was an outside interference. More than the doomsday weapon the Elysium Government tried to use. Something from one of our new friends’ competitors. But I don’t really see the power supply problem as significant. We’ll just have to gut the Overlord and put in something better…."

The Lion watched the emotions flash across Parks’ face. The initial reaction was akin to "the HELL you will…" and then it hit him. The Lynx knew exactly what the Lion was talking about.

Slowly a grin spread across his face; "it’ll take more than just the power supply. Power distribution will also have to be completely gutted and reworked. And there’s some development work that’s going to have to be done, to, ah run other ship’s systems off that power supply, if I’m reading you correctly."

The Lion shrugged; "Yeah. Well, if we can bring in the next coffee crop as we anticipate, we should have all the funding we need…. And that development work was going to have to be done anyways. But, Navigation will STILL be the main problem."

Parks sighed and nodded; "I suspect we’ll have to start a program of exploration. Opening a door to somewhere, looking around, mapping, and then opening another door…" The Lion nodded; "True. Although with the current antimatter shortage, that probably won’t happen until the new power supply is on line. Although, the Brou device may be able to help us with that as well. It, ah, thinks it can find us natural antimatter… something about looking near black holes, and pulsars (rapidly spinning black holes). Although we’re still arguing over whether it would be cheaper, not to mention safer, to send an exploratory ship, or use IT to open a portal directly there."

One of the aliens had put its instrument back in its case and returned to its superior. For a moment they just stared at each other, communicating on some non-verbal level. Finally the "boss" alien turned to the Lion; "unable to obtain readings they are. They request you communicate with it, so they can try and monitor the process."

The Lion sighed, and nodded reluctantly. Padding over to the machine, he sank down, sitting cross-legged by its base. Closing his eyes, he tried to calm his mind.

<<<More compatible. These minds are more compatible than yours, but they resist contact.>>>

"Maybe they’re afraid of you."

<<<Irrelevant. Communication needs are paramount. Convince them to open their minds, or no progress will we make.>>>

The Lion opened his eyes and looked at the Aliens; "I’m going to need a volunteer…."


Parks stuck his head through the hatch. It never ceased to amaze him. The Lion leaned back against the case of the Brou device, eyes closed. Four aliens sat in a row, in a passable immitation of the full lotus position, also with their eyes closed. They looked so peaceful… They looked like the Master and his diciples, although Parks wasn’t sure if the Lion, or the Brou device was really the Master.

The crew, and the rest of the Brethren, were all starting to wonder about the Lion. He just hadn’t been himself lately. It wasn’t to the point of calling for a vote on his leadership; not yet. They still saw him as their best, if somewhat tenuous chance to get home. They were willing to wait, and to watch, for the time being. But the levels of concern were still rising.

He just hoped the Lion could pull something out of his ass on this one, or he might just find himself deposed.



The Skunkette heard a noise, and with a tinkle of slave bells, crawled to the far end of her kennel; she couldn’t see anything, but she could hear. Furrs were moving, a door was opening and closing, and then footsteps were receeding…..

"Pssst! Are you there? Was it bad?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I’m here. He was pretty pissed. You know how he gets when things don’t go his way. He was really hacked at the unreliability of the economic model. He had a lot riding on that. But don’t worry, I can handle it."

"So what do we do next?"

"I’m not sure; it doesn’t look as if the message got through. Don’t know what happened."

"But she wasn’t killed."

"No, I suspect overlaying conditioning over conditioning might have screwed up both imperitives."

"Well, at least she’s alive. And with them. She should be as safe as it gets."


"So he doesn’t think the portal will work?"

"No, I don’t think he’s convinced, but I think he thinks they’re further away from a working model than they are."

"Are they? I mean are they even close to a working model?"

"I’m not sure. Their expert has the right mindset, but that doesn’t mean he’ll find what he needs."

"Perhaps we ought to take more direct action. So much hinges on that."


"What do you propose?"

"I need to talk to some others about it, but I think I might have to take a personal hand in it."

"Oh, foo! You just want to go make whoopee with that crowd!"

"Its true, they do have more fun than they deserve, but still… There are things that need to be done. And I still see them as the best tool at our disposal. IF we’re going to preserve not just this empire, but the other as well, we NEED to resolve this. And to make sure, I think I’m going to have to go there and oversee a few things."

"True. How soon do you think we can call a meeting? And how do you plan on getting out of HERE and getting THERE?"

You could hear the smile in her voice; "Oh, just leave that to me".


This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any characters, living, dead or imaginary is purely a coincidence. Tanj is copyright Kittiara's player. Kittiara can be found on Furrymuck; telnet 8888. Jenka, Hinoki, Chris Fox, Roland, Sashi, Sabina, Dynotaku and Zassa are copyright their players (Jenka, Chris Foxx, Dynotaku, Sabina and Zassa can be found on FurryMuck, and Hinoki on Tapestries or on FurryMuck. Sashi is copyright her player. Chris Foxx is copyright Bondofox. Roland is copyright IronBadger. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone…. Copyright 2003. Comments, suggestions, or flames can be directed to ha_seng@hotmail.com.