hares-recovery

Sumptuous Repast

“Seems like you and gravity are becoming fast friends again.” Pakar smiled, walking the uppermost floor of the Laitu with Tarioshi. The level was merely an observation deck; no shops or vendors were allowed to set up on the floor. As a result it wasn’t as crowded as the lower decks and provided a good view of the floors filled with people below.

“Spent a few hours practicing walking… I still feel a bit off-balance, but at least I don’t need to catch myself every step.”

“You’ll get the hang of it. What’s with the tail around the waist?”

“Jadyn suggested trying this to keep it out from underfoot.”

“Personally, I just let mine trip people. Of course, mine’s armored… Your milage may vary.”

Tari glanced down at the poofy ‘belt’ around her waistline. “How do you think something like this evolved? What’s the point?”

“Who knows? Nature seems fickle and mercurial at times. There’s a lot of examples of a divine sense of humor. Take… Well, you wouldn’t be familiar with a lot of the stranger species out here just yet.”

Tari nodded. “I want to learn, though. I’ll still be alive when you guys actually open up contact with Earth, be it in fifty or five hundred years, or longer.”

“Earth?” Pakar asked, confused. “You’re not from… Oh, right. Translation error on this thing. There’s a lot of worlds that call their planet ‘soil’ or ‘ground’ in various native tongues. Forgot Terra was one of them.”

“And Jadyn suggested I not use that name for it in public.”

“He’s just paranoid. No one will care. You’re planning on going back, though? Or are you going to immigrate?”

“I’m going back in a year. Maybe later I can think about immigration.”

“Mmm… If you’re going back, knowing about us… Might I be able to convince you to become an informal embedded researcher?”

“How do you mean?”

“You know how J.T. spent a year there, gathering information? If you’d be willing to do the same, and send back occasional reports about things going on, it’d be much appreciated. Doesn’t have to be formal or anything special - just a sort of diary of thoughts on current events - or really, anything at all.”

“A blog?”

“I’ve no idea what that is.”

“It’s… Never mind, I think I know what you mean. I’ll have to think about it.”

“Please do. We’d compensate you, of course. I’m certain J.T. has a sizable fortune stashed away in Terran funds if you’d prefer it in that. Probably not anything near what he’s got in his Alliance accounts, but I’m sure there’s something.” Pakar grinned widely, leaning on the railing and looking out over the sea of bodies below. “Well, where first? Want to obtain some local attire, get something to eat, just browse the shops?”

“Had breakfast not long ago. I wouldn’t mind getting some clothes to help me blend in.”

“And there’s all sorts of options to help you do just that. J.T.’s credit line needs a good workout… Let’s go have a look around.”


“Oh, that’ll work out nicely.” T’bia nodded to herself, scratching out notes on a datapad. “Work her profile as a Val’Traxan with actual Val’Traxan DNA to be found… Simply brilliant! That’s an even better idea than spoofing a record from scratch!”

“I sense vitriol.”

“Perish the thought. How’s she taking to the form?”

“Pretty well. She spent a while last night learning how to walk again.”

“Understandable… You tell her in advance about anything else?”

“Just the fact that she’d have some cosmetic differences. Didn’t give her a full biology lesson.”

T’bia raised an eyebrow. “… No?”

“Voyeur. No, nothing. We went to sleep.”

“Mmm… You realize I’m going to have to run a blood test.”

“Already ahead of you.” Jadyn dug a small vial out of his pocket and lobbed it to T’bia. “I’ll bring her by later in case you need to drain her of a full pint.”

“Great. Should take her some clothing options, let her decide whether to dress in either our-local or local-local.”

“Pakar was taking her shopping this morning… She’ll probably have a fair selection of local-local when they get back. Wouldn’t hurt to offer her some other choices, I suppose.”

“If Pakar took her out, we’ll have to have half the stuff shipped to us.” T’bia smirked. “Maybe only a quarter. I can probably squeeze some of it into a hall.”

“Optimist.”

“I prefer ‘realist.’” She set the pad on the table, leaning back against the air and looking at him with a wry grin. “I really think Tari has been the best thing to happen to you in a while. It almost seems like there’s a flame of life in your eyes again. Maybe it’s just me, but you seem… Calm? At peace with yourself? Relaxed, maybe? Or even as far as…” She mock-gasped, aiming for dramatics and missing by a wide margin. “Sane?”

“That might be pushing it.” Jadyn laughed, pulling a chair from the table and sitting down. “You were right. I did need to open up to someone. I mean, Pakar and I, we’ve never wanted anything past friendship. She’s happily single and plans to stay that way.”

“Maternal instincts will kick in eventually. I’d put money on it.”

“Maybe so… But… Actually letting someone get close again… I don’t know why, but I think it’s helping my overall state of mind.” He grinned. “In the long run, having my sanity back and mostly intact will probably help yours.”

“You tell her everything?”

“… Not yet, no.” The smile left his face as he studied the wall. “I keep thinking I should, but… Then we get to talking about other things, or doing this or that or the next thing… She had a dream about the stabbing from way back when. Saw it from my perspective from the point I got off the ship up to the knifing. Woke up after looking down at it.”

T’bia raised an eyebrow. “Interesting… I wonder how she got ahold of that memory. I didn’t know they could do that.”

“I’m not certain she knew, either. I was having that particular nightmare the first night she was on the ship, at the same time she had it.” He patted his palms together as he thought aloud. “Maybe she picked up on it from that. Don’t know. It’s either that, or something really, really wants her to know.”

“I vote for the non-conspiracy theory.” T’bia scratched her muzzle, picking the pad up again. “Probably should let her know about your resilience before something forces her to find out.”

“Mm. Would have to agree with that. Would prefer to not have to prove it, too…”


After finishing up the basic paperwork and making sure it was legitimate enough to pass customs - or at least to not raise a flag - Jadyn took the ID card and other information that would be required and left the Serin. T’bia had replicated some Val’Traxan garb as well, just to give Tari some choices in attire.

It was still early in the afternoon; he figured Tari and Pakar would be a while yet before returning to the room. Stopping by briefly confirmed no one had returned. He tossed the bag of clothes on the couch and left for one of the other shopping districts, the Malazitu Promenod. Where the Laitu consisted of several floors of generally open-air shops, the Malazitu was more of a large shopping mall. The main plus to wandering it instead of the Laitu would be that he wouldn’t accidentally stumble across the girls in their day enjoying… Well, the day.

The Malazitu buzzed with activity as he stepped off the lift. Specialty shops were the norm. The first dozen or so shops only sold one type of clothing or accessory. Shoes, socks, jewelry, pants, jackets, hats, gloves… He shook his head, stopping by an information kiosk long enough to download a map of the complex to his bracelet, and wandered on.

One thing he became acutely aware of as he wandered the place was the overall lack of attention he was drawing. With all the varied fur colors and the like, his normal dark blue still pulled eyes his way. Some curious, others wary, a few just nosy. But black fur? No one gave him a second glance.

I need to do this more often, he thought, smirking to himself.

The bookstores were huge let-downs. Far too much pomp and circumstance trying to draw people in with markdowns and savings on an incredibly inflated price… His store never did such things. There was no need. Everything was already priced far lower than any sane owner or manager would price things. True, there was a frequent shopper’s program he had grudgingly accepted at customers’ request, and the program had gone well. But he wasn’t in the business for the money. It was for the dissemination and preservation of knowledge, for the spreading of works that people had put their hearts and souls into writing.

The bookstores on the Malazitu seemed blasphemous by comparison. He wondered what licensing he’d need to acquire to open a branch on each of the spaceliners.

Jadyn aimlessly wandered the levels of the mall for several hours, using the walk more as an excuse to not be sitting in the room. Nothing really caught his eye in the various shops. And while the soft, welcoming scents floating from the cafes and restaurants were enticing, he really wasn’t all that hungry. Finishing the loop of the fourth floor, he boarded a lift and made his way back to the room.

The lights were burning dimly as he stepped inside; the faint smell of the woods after a spring rain wafted through the air, hinting at Tari’s presence. He glanced in the bedroom briefly, finding it empty. Padding up to the bathroom he paused before tapping on the door.

“Tari? You in there?”

“Come on in.” The door opened; Tari smiled, standing before him in one of the steelsilk suits he’d left in the bag on the couch. “Was wondering where you had wandered off to. Get lost?”

“Not with a beacon like you to guide me back.” He smiled, looking over what she had donned. It was a translucent silk halter and matching slacks, both pieces black with random streaks of green, that obscured just enough to tease the imagination yet give it ample supply to start with. “I see you found what I left for you. What do you think?”

“Love it. Can hardly tell I’m actually wearing anything.” She padded into the bathroom’s center, using the mirrored walls to see the outfit from different angles. “I’m almost worried I’m going to ruin it, it’s so thin…”

Jadyn smirked, pulling the shirt from the pack that went with the rest of her outfit. Taking the garment he made visible effort to try and rip it. It didn’t so much as stretch. “Steelsilk. This stuff doesn’t rip, tear, run, or otherwise.”

“Very nice,” Tari commented, taking the shirt from him and pulling it on. “Doesn’t rust, does it?”

“Can say from experience that it doesn’t.” He grinned. “There’s not much you can do to hurt it.”

“Mm… Now, as to going out in public like this… Your people really dressed like this?”

“Mostly.” Jadyn sat down on the counter as she stripped and drew another outfit from the bag. It was a slightly different style; the pants were more billowy and the halter top was long sleeved to leave her midriff bare. Both were a light teal, closely matching her eyes. She held them up, appraising them briefly, and proceeded to put them on. “There were exceptions here and there. The most modest wear on the planet had to be the Guild attire, but that was specifically for durability. Nothing else was too obscuring.”

“Would love to see how you’d get a down jacket not to be obscuring.”

“We’ve fur for a reason. But, yes, winter wear was somewhat heavier as well.”

Tari smirked, pulling from the bag several strips of colored cloth. “These are for what, exactly?”

“That… I’m not sure - oh, tail ribbons. You’ve seen people put more than one hairtie on a ponytail, every couple inches or so?”

She nodded, pulling her still-limp tail around. “How many?”

“Most put four or five in, spaced them accordingly. Here…” Jadyn hopped off the counter, taking a few of the teal strips from her. Smoothing out the fur of her tail he tied six of them at nine inch intervals. “How’s that? Too tight?”

“No, not at all… I’m almost worried they’d fall off.”

“These are kind of elastic in comparison with the other steelsilk. Just like a hairtie, really. They’ll stay right there.”

Tari tugged her tail around to get a better look at the decorations. “That doesn’t look half bad. With all this show I almost feel like one of those arabian dancers, just not enough gold and silver hanging off my ears and arms…”

“Not sure I recognize the reference on that.”

“Wow, I stumbled across a bit of Earth trivia you hadn’t picked up?” she teased.

Jadyn laughed. “There’s a lot of ‘trivia,’ m’dear, a lot of it trivial.”

“Certain leaders in the middle east keep harems of women who entertain guests by dancing. They tend to wear his money - in terms of jewelry, silks, all that.”

“Aha, okay… There’s a couple of cultures I’ve encountered that remind me of that… Shame we don’t have any music playing.”

“I really can’t dance anyway. Probably for the best. I’ve all the rhythm of a two year old beating on a frying pan.”

“Some of those kids are pretty good.” Jadyn stood up, catching her eyes and grinning mischievously. “And you’ve been pretty good at percussion so far…”

Tari laughed, giving him a hug. “Thanks. Every time I catch myself tapping my toes I’m going to think about that.”

“Glad to help.”

Glancing in the bag, Tari reached in and pulled out a much more conventional pair of denim jeans and a black tee-shirt, as well as a one-piece-jumpsuit uniform like his own Fleet attire. “These for backup or something?”

“Yeah. T’bia tossed those in, just in case you found the thinner things too drafty for the public.”

“I wouldn’t mind wearing the silk stuff… I’d just feel a little odd if I was the only one.”

“I’ve been wearing it too.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s still just us.”

“Dare to be different. You pick up anything else on your day out?”

“Nah. Wandered around, window-shopped, sampled some varied cuisine. Pakar is really quite the outgoing person.”

“She’s very social. Loves to talk.”

“Noticed that. Just about anyone who she stood by for more than a few seconds she’d strike up a conversation with, as if she’d known them forever.” Tari padded up and grabbed his shoulders. Hopping up onto him she wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled him lovingly. “I’m sure I’ve already said this… but thanks.”

“For?” he whispered, licking her cheek. “Can’t just be the empress’ new clothes prompting this.”

“For everything, Jay… For actually giving us a chance, for letting me see all this, for saving my life… These two weeks rank among the best of my entire century and a half.” She leaned back, meeting his eyes. “I just… I don’t know. This just feels right, somehow. If I had been told I’d be doing this a month ago I’d have laughed.”

“Glad I’ve been at least some entertainment value.”

Tari smirked. “C’mon, I’m trying to be serious here.”

“Sorry,” he apologized. “Bad habits die hard. I do know where you’re coming from, though.”

“Doubt it… I’ve been a lone roamer most of my life.”

“Never could really get attached with anyone because of being on the move.”

“And the very few times I’ve found someone I felt close to…”

“It was time to move along, leave them behind.”

Tari closed her eyes, relaxing against his chest. “Okay, maybe I was wrong.”

“I think we’ve more similarities than we care to admit.” Jadyn rubbed her back lightly, holding her close. “I don’t know what play of Fate’s hand brought you into my life, Tari, but I’m grateful for your company.”

“So am I.” She sighed pleasantly, nuzzling his neck. “A year isn’t going to be long enough, but it’s all we’ve got.”

“I know.” In the back of his mind, he felt the faint warning surface briefly. “Trust me, I know…”


“I wouldn’t believe these results if I hadn’t run the tests myself.” T’bia stared at the medical bay’s wall, shaking her head as pages of information blinked past. “You really need to teach this fuzzball your shapedancing trick.”

Tari smiled triumphantly. “So I pass?”

“If I didn’t know better I’d have no reason to think you weren’t a Val’Traxan fem. The genetic changes are perfect down to your base pairs… Void, there’s even rare trace elements in your bloodstream that only were found in dirtside-born Val’Traxans. I’m wholly impressed.” She paged to a picture of a pair of DNA strands, setting them in parallel. Several lines appeared, pointing out before-and-after differences. Then a few more… and more… The further out the view zoomed, the more lines that appeared. It quickly became easier to count where lines weren’t…

“How many differences -” Jadyn began.

“Between then and now? Too many to even start counting… Basically, what sets you apart from being kitsune sets her apart from being kitsune right now. Her only differences from the ‘average’ Val’Traxan fem are the normal deviations for height, pelt, et cetera et cetera. She’ll pass through Customs with flying colors, I’m sure.”

“Lack of language skills notwithstanding.” Tari glanced at T’bia. “So, we done?”

“Not… quite. If you’re planning on keeping this form for the duration of your stay, there’s a few tidbits of basic biology you’ll need to be aware of.” She glanced at the pad in her hand, passing it to the vixen. “Be fastest if you read it.”

Tari frowned, taking the device and reading through the contents. “This is minor?

“Hmm?” Jadyn glanced over her shoulder, then burst out laughing. “Oh, Light, that’s written horribly.”

“Well, excuse me all to Void for quoting anything from our old medical journals,” T’bia grumbled.

“Quoting isn’t a problem… Just don’t let Aerin do a translation without checking it.” Jadyn snickered. “Okay… Now that Bee’s spooked you sufficiently. It’s not as bad as that sounds.”

“Like how far off?”

“Well… As it was explained to me by my first girlfriend, how about? Say you and I’ve been playing some -“

T’bia plugged her ears. “La-la-la-la-la…”

Tari smirked as Jadyn continued, ignoring the skunk. “- and though you were kind of close to a welcome moment, but not quite, I suddenly vanished and left you hanging…”

“Mm-hmm?”

“You’re stuck there at that point for a few days. Could be one, could be eight.”

“Ah… Okay. That’s not nearly as bad as this sounded.”

“Wait until you’re there and remember you said that.”

“You forgot something,” T’bia noted, unplugging her ears.

“Which is?” Tari asked.

“Pheromones between us during that time will preclude getting anything else accomplished if we happen to be in olfactory range of one another. Just seeing me might be enough from your side, too. Val’Traxans are extremely sensitive to each other’s scents but other foxen races are relatively unaffected by them… We’re also relatively unaffected by those of other races, but we tend to be aware of them on some level.” Jadyn sighed. “I mean, given, everyone puts them out all the time. They’re just part of an overall body language. When a val’traxan fem enters her heat, though, her sensitivity to male scents gets turned way up. At the same time, her pheromones change sharply to summon forth nearby males. As one of those males, allow me to say that the summons can be very difficult to ignore. Evolution saw it as a win-win, but like our extra chest ornaments it never completely dropped off as we evolved past ‘woof bark yap.’”

“Well… If I’m going to experience this form… I have to take the good, bad, ugly, and otherwise. It’s only fair. I can’t imagine that made life easy in your co-ed social structure.”

“There were suppressants developed,” T’bia answered. “A female could get an injection a few weeks before her heat was expected, to prevent it from occurring. There were also implants that wouldn’t stop the cycle from occurring, but would prevent conception. There were similar male birth control injections available so that a couple could enjoy the time and not worry about kits coming into their lives.”

“And that’s the only time I could potentially become pregnant as one of you?”

Jadyn nodded. “Twice a year. And, before you continue on that… I should have mentioned this our first night. There is zero chance whatsoever that you and I will ever wind up with a version 2.0 running about as a result of our aerobics. I’m sterile.”

Tari blinked. “Wow… I’m sorry, Jay…”

“Why? It’s me, not you.” He shrugged. “Two sided coin… One side, I’ll never have kids of my own. That’s cool, I can adopt when I’m ready for that. Other side of the coin - anywhere, anytime you want.”

“Mm… Bet you were a hit back home.” A sly grin spread over her muzzle. “At least now I know why you’re so practiced… Naughty, naughty.”

“What can I say? Gossip got out and some people saw it as a strong advantage. I got some weird calls some nights. Couple fems I was good friends with I wound up helping out. If it gets them through their time sanely, how can I say no? Better than finding some random guy and being so desperate they make a bad decision.”

“I say you were in it for yourself.” Tari hopped off the biobed, padding up to him and poking him in the chest. He knew better than to take her seriously - there was the glint of playful teasing in her eyes. “I’ve heard how males think.”

“I’ve met plenty of females with their thinking in the same anatomical region.”

The vixen grinned, about to open her mouth, when T’bia cleared her throat.

“Before you two do any ‘headbutting’ then -“

“Damn you!” Tari laughed.

“At least she didn’t mention mind-blowing ideas,” Jadyn mock-whispered.

“Hey, I had that one lined up next -“

“Excuse me! - I’m going to pop out. If it’s okay with you, I want to shut down for a day or two to let some database housecleaning get done. Will be back online in… Oh, say, four days. Can get a complete core optimization done too. Goddess knows I’ve accrued the time off.”

“That’s fine… We’ll head out so you can set up Aerin’s security without us setting it off.”

“Thanks.” Her hologram vanished. “You need anything else from the ship, or can I kick you out?”

“Should be done, as soon as Tari puts her shirt back on.”

“Not like it does a lot as a shirt,” she laughed, pulling on the teal steelsilk blouse. “Okay.”

The medical room dissolved, the shuttlebay once again appearing around them. Jadyn glanced around the bay before his focus fell on Tari. “Well, that only took an hour or so… Still have a lot of day left.”

“I need some exercise. Our aerobics are quite lovely, but sometimes something a tad more is desired.” She leaned against him as they walked toward the door. “I can just hear you twisting that around in your head.”

“Means you’re twisting it just as fast as I am.” Jadyn nodded to the guards as they left and walked down the hall. “Hm… Our suite might just be large enough…”

“For?”

“As I recall, you challenged me to a fight not long ago.”


“Come on, you can do better than that!” Jadyn dodged the kitsune’s strike, his eyes locked on hers as they sparred in the center of their suite. They had shoved all the furniture to the sides of the room, giving them plenty of workout space. She had donned the jumpsuit T’bia sent along in the previous bag of garments; he’d replicated one to use. “I saw you and Bee going rounds - you’re not even trying!”

“I am so!” Tari yelled, growling as her attacks met open air. “I’m just not used to this body yet!”

“Excuses, excuses…” Making one more quick dodge he turned to offensive, pushing just slightly harder than he thought she could handle. She grunted as she struggled with herself to keep up, slowly losing out against her own stamina. It was clear in her eyes that she was tiring quickly.

It was just as clear that she wouldn’t stop until she couldn’t stand up. And even then it’d be iffy.

Jadyn eased back to defensive, letting her run the dance of the fight at her own pace for a time. Finally he caught her fists instead of blocking them and held them steady. With their eyes locked upon each other, Tari panted heavily and swallowed to work some moisture into her throat.

“Well?” Jadyn asked. She closed her eyes and nodded slowly; he let go of her hands.

“Just… Can’t keep up yet…” Locking her fingers she pressed her hands upward into a stretch. “If I was in my usual form, now… You’d be hurting.”

“We’ll have to test that someday.”

“Mm. Won’t be soon. I need to stay with this at least until I get used to it.”

“Really that much different? I mean, I can see going from human to this would be a leap, but from one vulpine to another can’t be too far off.”

“Well, yes and no… It’s more a matter of adapting to the limitations and strengths one has over the other.” Rolling her shoulders briefly, she sat down on the floor and began stretching out her legs. “I know this body is stronger than my normal form by a wide margin… I’m not used to that, so I don’t know how far I can push it without hurting myself.”

“Ah, know where you’re coming from on that. We’re designed for a higher gravity. Any other differences?”

“I’d guess I’m a tad more dexterous? Felt like reaction times were faster, but that’s really hard to judge. I know for a fact my ears are more sensitive, there’s a lot more background noise… Kind of gnaws at your mind a little at a time.”

“We have an anti-noise sound processor to take care of little things like that on the Serin - otherwise I’d have gone more nuts than I already have. Any eyesight difference?”

“That I’m not sure about yet… I want to say things seem more in focus. Haven’t had a chance to test how well I can see at night.” She laid on her back, gesturing for him to help with a stretch of her legs. Taking hold of her calves he gently pressed them toward her chest, slowly folding her in half. “It’ll take a little while for me to adapt to the purely physical differences… Maybe a week or two if we kept up with sparring like that, or maybe some weights or something… Hrr, hold it there…”

“Noticed some movement here and there in your tentacle,” Jadyn noted, curling his tail around the end of hers and tugging on it as he held her into the stretch. “Getting used to not having only the base muscles to deal with?”

“Kind of. Moving from two tails to a long prehensile one is confusing… Keep feeling things further out than I’m used to. It’s getting there, though. Kind of have to let it think on its own, then trick it.”

“That’s the spirit. Fight against your own body.” Jadyn eased back on her legs as she signaled, sitting down beside the vixen as she went through other stretching on her own. “How much of the lore is true?”

“About what?”

“Your people.”

She smirked. “Depends. What’d you read?”

“A lot of stuff that contradicted itself at every other turn.”

“The best cover is misinformation.” Tari sighed, shaking out her hair as she sat upright. “You must have something specific on your mind if you’re bringing this up so out of the blue.”

He lifted an eyebrow.

“Bad choice of words?” she questioned sweetly.

“Silly girl. I’ve been curious about your heritage ever since I met you, but in the same light it’s hidden for a good reason. Terra wouldn’t be able to handle you any more they would us.”

“I’ll tell you what I can. I expect the same respect when I ask about your culture?”

“Of course.” The door chimed; Jadyn grimaced. “Never fails… Arr! Who goes there?”

Who do you think?” Pakar replied.

“Come in, ye lava-lubber.” He glanced over his shoulder as the door opened, giving the drekiran a smile. “Long time no see.”

“Har, har. Do you two have dinner plans?”

“Not really, no. Why?”

“I’m going to soak at least one marvelous meal on my spending account. If the two of you would care to join me, I’ll buy.”

Jadyn shrugged. “Could be an interesting evening… What do you think, Tari?”

“Sure, why not. How classy are we talking?”

Pakar shook her head as they both looked at her. “If that was meant for me, J.T.’s gonna have to relay it. Left T’bia’s toy back in my room.”

“She’s curious to know how snotty the place is.”

Tari glared at him. “That is NOT what I said!”

“Same thing… Hey!” He laughed as she grabbed the nearest couch pillow and began beating him with it. “Thought we tired you out already!”

“I’m resilient.”

Jadyn shook his head, chuckling. “Anyway, it would be good to know how much we’d need to dress up.”

“Well, if I’m getting a free meal, anywhere I want…” Pakar started, grinning at him. “If you’re gonna go, go all out.”

“Good point. More stars than I have fingers, no doubt. You think it’d be too much if she and I were in steelsilk?”

“The stuff that you can’t destroy yet can see right through? How can you have too much of something that’s hardly there?” Pakar questioned. “Actually, for the look of ‘I’ve got money and can dress however I want to’ it gives you, I’d say go for it. Lights are pretty low in there anyway so I doubt anyone will be able to see - if there’s a shred of modesty left between the two of you, that is. You’ve already been wearing it all week.”

“I know I’m comfortable with it… It’s cultural wear, after all.”

“Fine. Get changed, I’m hungry.”

Tari laughed, getting to her feet. “I should probably get a bath first.”

“Wouldn’t hurt me either. Pakar, we need get cleaned up after our sparring… Go grab the translator and come back? Should be all the time we need for a quick wash-and-wear.”

“This is why I’m glad to have scales. Rinse and go. Maybe wax for a shine.” She grinned, stepping out the door. “Back in a few.”


“Wow… This place is slick…” Tari looked around the entryway of the dining establishment as they stepped inside from the hall. Even in the low light it reminded her of the few high-class restaurants she happened to dine in during her wanderings. It absolutely reeked of money. Candles in silver and gold braziers… Oil paintings… Marble floor, waxed and polished to almost a glowing shine, warm under her bare toes. The faint buzz of conversation and classical music came from just inside a curtain, the scents of food and wine wafting along.

“Mm…” Jadyn inhaled deeply, a smile creeping over his face as he studied the architecture. “Oh, the fun I could have…”

“Behave, or you buy your own meal.”

“Yes, mom.”

Pakar nodded, stepping up to the headwaiter. “Good evening… we’ve a reservation under ‘Tubor.’”

“Ah, yes, Councilor Tubor.” he spoke, glancing over a datapad quickly. “This way, please. We’ve a table waiting.” The canine stepped through the curtained archway into the dining room, leading them to a table near the wall. The middle of the room was depressed down, giving their edge seating something of a view over the other patrons. Or, perhaps, forcing everyone else to look up.

“Oh, thank you,” Tari spoke with a soft smile as Jadyn helped her into her chair.

“My pleasure.” He glanced at Pakar as she whispered something to the headwaiter. He nodded quickly, scurrying off.

“I could have sworn I saw credit signs flash in his eyes,” Jadyn joked, easing the drekiran into her seat before taking his own.

“Just had to let him know the method of payment… Also asked him to bring out a bottle of wine, and a decanter of water for you, J.T.”

“Thanks… I’ll try a glass of the wine, won’t kill me to have a little.”

Tari peered at him. “Don’t handle alcohol well?”

“Doesn’t act how you’d think it would… Well, for you it’ll be normal. It’s just an oddity in my personal metabolism that has boggled every doctor between here and Val’Trax. Body processes it into a stimulant.”

“That’s a bonus, I’d think… Unless you still get hangovers?”

“Headache, nausea, et cetera? Nope. Just jittery, nervous, high-strung, wide awake… A concentrated caffeine extract, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I could use that some days,” Pakar mused.

“Miladies, milord, your drinks…” A waiter stopped at the table, setting down three wine glasses and filling them before setting the bottle and water decanter on the table. “Have you dined with us before?”

Pakar smiled. “I’ve had the pleasure a few times, but I don’t think my friends have been here before.”

“First time for the two of us,” Jadyn confirmed.

“Ah, lovely. I do hope our first impression will be a pleasant one.” He drew a pair of pads from a pocket, handing one to each of the vulpines. “Councilor, would you care for a menu?”

“No, thank you. Do you have any recommendations for this evening?”

“Indeed. Our master chef has prepared a wonderful teh’zrah’nee roast, which comes with garlic buttered potatoes and fresh bread… We have a variety of soups this evening to choose from as well.”

“Mm… Give us a few minutes?” Jadyn asked.

“Certainly, milord.” The waiter bowed slightly, moving off into the sea of tables.

Tari smirked, setting the pad on the table. “Greek to me.”

“Hence why I didn’t request my own.” Pakar chuckled, lifting up the menu and glancing over it.

“I need to remember to have Bee bring you into the modern age.” Jadyn touched the menu datapad against his bracelet, then slid the hoop from his wrist and offered it to the kitsune. “For now, put this on.”

“Okay…”

“Turn it a little… Good. Now, hold your hand open as though you were holding this pad, and touch the orange spot.”

Tari followed the instructions, nodding as an image of the datapad appeared in her hand. It felt as real as the other menu - another hologram. However, several odd symbols floated in the air around the projection. “Nice toy. Now what?”

“Bracelet: Language entry… What was it again… three-seven-seven-four?” Jadyn whispered. Every character on the image snapped into English. The odd symbols that’d been floating around the pad turned out to be a variety of other data - clock, calendar, power indicator.

“I’m impressed,” Tari complimented, reading over the menu. “What else can it do?”

“It does a little of everything you’d expect of a good organizer, and a lot more. T’bia could run her avatar through it if she needed to, though she’d only be about a foot tall.” Jadyn grinned, setting his menu down. “The teh’zrah’nee is essentially a prime rib cut of a beast similar to beef. It’s the same as the one you had replicated the other night, just fresh.”

“Does sound tempting,” Pakar mused. “Wonder if they up-size.”

“A place like this better have portions sized for drekirans.”

“On Earth…” Tari began, hesitating. “Well, usually in a place like this, they’d overprice the food by about a hundred percent and give you a tiny little portion that looks more like art than food.”

Pakar nodded. “There’s places like that out here too, making you pay out the nose for art you wind up eating. This establishment does well in making sure its patrons actually get what they pay for. It’s still on the spendy side, but it’s well worth the expense.”

“Miladies? Milord?” The waiter reappeared at their table, looking between them. “Have you decided?”

Pakar passed her menu to him. “Jadyn? Tari?”

“The roast sounds divine,” Jadyn confirmed.

“Sure, what the heck.” Tari glanced at Jadyn. “How do you shut this off?”

“Orange spot again.”

“Oh… Makes sense.” The pad evaporated; she slipped the bracelet off, offering it back.

“Three of your recommended teh’zrah’nee cuts, then,” Pakar told the waiter. “We look forward to your chef’s fine creation.”

“I have no doubts that you will be pleased. Your dinners shall be with you shortly.” He bowed, excusing himself.

“So, uh… How many days are we on this ship for?” Tari queried.

“We’re scheduled to arrive a few hours before the Council is called into session,” Pakar explained. “About a week more.”

“What does the Council actually do? Is it a governing body or something?”

“Ehm… Sort of. J.T., you’re the Terran expert… What’s it compare to from there?”

“The United Nations. I guess the main body could be a mix of the General Assembly and the Security Council. The Aligned Council tries to facilitate cooperation in interstellar law and security, economic development, maintaining the peace and security between member worlds, so on… The Aligned Fleet is generally considered the enforcement arm of the Council, although their primary mission is furthering the exploration of the galaxy.”

“I see. How does it work?”

“Each member world is allowed up to three delegates,” Pakar explained. “Most worlds only send one or two. I’m one of two Councilors currently representing Drekira. The other is an in-law of mine, Nesoli Rodregez. The assembly voted him into the Speaker’s position several years ago.”

“Think of the Secretary-General,” Jadyn clarified. “Ten-year term of office. His position is a little different, though. He presides over the Council sessions, enforces procedure. Beyond that, Ness actually has some authority beyond simply mediating - among other things, he’s considered the commander-in-chief of the Fleet.”

“Oh - so, maybe more like a president or chancellor?”

“Sounds rightish.”

“How does a world decide who to send?”

“That’s entirely up to the world’s own government structure. Each member world still has internal autonomy and authority within their territory, although the Council does require certain freedoms and civil liberties to be in place before a world is offered the opportunity to sign the charter in the first place.” Pakar sipped lightly at her wine. “On Drekira, the elders alone reserve the right to decide who to send as delegates. Veloria’s ruling council accepts applications from naturalized and natural-born citizens as well as recommendations from the general public, and the provincial representatives vote to select their three. Et cetera.”

Tari nodded, looking to Jadyn. “And where exactly do you fit into this structure?”

“When I first arrived in this area, I decided to earn citizenship by joining the Fleet. The drill sergeant saw some faint hope of potential in me and recommended me for special forces training after basic training. Ness and Toy - whom you haven’t met - were in the SF group I trained with.” Jadyn smiled wistfully. “The three of us were assigned together as a team, worked together for years doing odd missions… Eventually we even managed to get Bee an honorary Fleet commission since she wound up as our only reliable starside support… Er, starside as… well, versus dirtside or planetside.”

“On the ground versus on a ship?”

“Right. Anyway. After we retired from SF, Ness was selected for Council work by the Drekiran elders and Toy started a repair shop on Veloria. Ness eventually had both my SF commission and T’bia’s reinstated and we were placed under direct command of the Council. He basically put us back to work doing whatever sensitive things needed to be done. Generally, it’s been stuff that either required some of our skills or resources, or missions that couldn’t go through the official chain of command for whatever reason.”

Pakar nodded. “His official Fleet record currently lists him as a retired captain. With honors, I think?”

“And T’bia is noted as a retired commander.” Jadyn took a swallow of his wine, making a face. “Wowsa. What the Void is this?”

Danise de Margaut,” Pakar replied. “Eighty or so years old.”

“Well, don’t sneeze, okay? You’ll blow a plume of flame halfway across the room.” He picked up his water, washing the taste out of his mouth. “Yick.”

“I thought it was really quite good,” Tari submitted.

“He’s just not a fan of alcohol.” Pakar glanced up, seeing a pair of waiters approaching. “Ah, dinner is served.”

“Miladies, milord, your meals.”

“Oh, this smells wonderful,” Tari praised, bowing her head in thanks to the server.

“Wait until you try it.” Pakar grinned as her plate was placed before her; the slab of meat would have been far more than enough for Jadyn and Tari to share across two meals. “Lovely. Thank you.”

“Of course. Enjoy your dinners.”


“Lights to a quarter.”

The illumination within the suite raised to a dim glow, just enough for the pair of foxes to see but not so much as to ruin their mood. Jadyn quietly nuzzled Tarioshi as the door shut behind them, feeling her melt into the embrace before sweeping her off her feet.

Without a word he carried her back to the bedroom, gently depositing her on the bedspread, his eyes never leaving her own. Gazing at each other for a time, nothing needed to be said as their quiet passions expanded.

Within the main room of the suite, a shadow shifted. A figure within a hooded robe stood, stepping slowly from the shelter of a dark corner. Pausing only briefly as a quiet giggle came from the bedroom, it slipped through the shadows of the room. After a last slow survey of the cabin, it waited until the vulpines were no longer focused on anything but each other. Opening the door, it vanished into the corridors of the ship.


 

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