38 Desca, 2799; August 28, 2047.

“You requested my presence, Madam Speaker?”

“I have one item from the session to finish reviewing before we can talk. Do make yourself comfortable.”

Jadyn strode across the large octagonal office of the Speaker of the Commonwealth Council, taking a seat in the middle of three wooden chairs. On the opposite side of the large black marble desk sat the youngest to ever hold the office of Speaker. Casiandra Jubah had done incredible wonders in her four years of leading the Commonwealth. Among other things, she’d supported and helped achieve the passing of a motion to alter the name and function of the haphazard grouping of cultures. The rather dated ‘Aligned Worlds’ charter had been completely redrafted, replaced by the ‘Commonwealth of United Worlds.’ Her crowning achievement, single-handedly convincing over two dozen estranged colonies to resume their seats on the Council and have their grievances addressed, had finally dissolved the movements spreading rumors that she was too ineffectual and too vapid to guide the Commonwealth.

The stereotype against her was not because she was female; her ann’kattan heritage was most at fault. The winged felinoids’ early exposure to ‘progress’ before getting past the hunter-gatherer stage had cemented their desire to not become like those who had ‘fallen from the skies.’ Their culture had barely changed in the few hundred years they’d known that there was more beyond the stars. They allowed only a minimum of technology on their world, and then only at designated landing areas and outposts. Few ann’kattans willingly traveled off their homeworld. Seeing them on a ship or another planet was almost unheard of. Of the three seats on the Council they were alloted, only one was kept filled - hers. It wasn’t really a case of xenophobia, though there were ann’kattans who disliked outsiders to varying degrees; they simply had no interest in goings-on outside their own biosphere.

Casi nodded to herself and shut off her terminal. Turning in her chair she came to face Jadyn across the desk. “I appreciate your appearance on such short notice.”

“It’s my pleasure. Your summons was rather nondescript. I wasn’t certain what to wear,” he hinted. Jadyn had donned his new Fleet uniform, a garment of black shoulders and arms, the remainder steel gray from the torso down. He’d also taken one minor liberty, exchanging the normal trousers with a plain gray knee-length kilt.

“You chose wisely.” Casi lifted a datapad, reading over the text as she stifled a grin. It was for the best that she’d ignored his true meaning; her office, along with all other Councilors’ offices, were monitored. “Are you aware of the closed session the Council held today?”

“Aware of it, yes.”

“Are you aware of what was discussed within?” she questioned suspiciously, watching his eyes across the top edge of the datapad.

“No.” Jadyn grinned. “I stopped eavesdropping years ago, Madam Speaker. I have far better ways to waste my time.”

Casi laughed. “You would feign innocence anyway.”

“Perhaps. I was otherwise occupied, however. We had a fire this afternoon at the store in Rocilorn.”

Her attitude immediately shifted to apologetic. “I’m sorry - was anyone injured?”

“No. Fire suppression caught it early enough. The marshall was still looking over the scene when I left, but he was ready to declare it arson.”

“Much damage?”

“One paperback and a section of carpet. Nothing devastating. I suspect the arsonist wasn’t happy with the ending.”

“Well, it is the thought that counts.”

Jadyn smirked. “You didn’t drag me all the way here just to ask if I was listening to a private session of the Council, Casi. What’s up?”

“Today,” she replied slowly, a knowing gleam in her eye, “a motion was once again debated to begin First Contact with the inhabitants of the Terran system.”

“I thought the Council decided last year to wait another half-century after receiving Commander Nezboti’s rather scalding survey.”

“The Terran First Contact movement gained enough support in the interim to attempt passing of a contact policy override, again.”

“There’s some resource in that star system that they want so badly they’re willing to go around the Lightspeed provision…” Jadyn translated quietly. There’s nothing material of worth on Terra that can’t be had elsewhere… Their technology isn’t anything special… What the Void are they after? What’s the TFC movement seeing that I’m not?

“Mm,” Casi agreed wordlessly. “Regardless of the reasoning, the motion passed today. We will be initiating contact with Terra within five years. A committee of myself, several Councilors, and others involved will be formed to oversee the process. Since you are still considered the resident expert on things Terran, it was also decided by the majority that you should be in charge of - or, at the very least, a consultant to - the TFC mission.” She lowered her voice. “You are trusted far more than you realize. The Council as a whole respects and values both your opinions and your skills. Your official report on Terra is the single best on record for any region of that world. None of the other survey missions were nearly as successful.”

“Nezboti’s was really quite good -“

“Because of his court-martial for fabrication of evidence, the contents of all his reports are… under examination.”

Jadyn nodded simply. “Were any other decisions on contact made?”

“Not as of yet. Before the first TFCC session is called, I would like to take some time to discuss matters with you and get an idea for how you would suggest approaching the world.”

“Certainly. When would you be available?”

“Perhaps a first meeting… this evening, over dinner.”

“I’ll make the appropriate arrangements.”

Jadyn stood on the deck of his cabin, looking up at the clear night sky. Stars twinkled in the sea of black overhead, peacefully shining as though they had been placed in the night just for his appreciation. Several of the world’s well-known constellations were in perfect view. They, however, were not his focus. As he considered the indefinite future ahead, one solitary point of dim light held his eyes in the middle of what Velorians called the Great Belt.

Sol, the star of Terra.

It had been a long time since he’d looked at the stars without feeling weight on his heart. Tonight was no different. Whether the weight was from thoughts of home, thoughts of traveling from world to world searching for family, thoughts of love lost to time or entropy or other reasons… They simply weren’t as inviting a sight as they’d been in his childhood. The weight had certainly eased over time, but it was always there, always reminding him that his innocence had been stolen long ago by a force calling from those same stars.

And yet, at the same time… The very same stars that held sorrow also held hope. So much existed that was uncharted… Much was simply unknown… For the world circling that one faint point of light, the boundaries of what was known would soon crumble. Terrans would still need to reach space of their own power. The technology could not be handed to them. But simply knowing that the light barrier could be breached, that faster-than-light travel had indeed been achieved despite the apparent physical laws preventing such speeds… That knowledge itself might be the incentive they needed to shape up.

Casi sat nearby on the deck’s swinging bench, black and orange tortoiseshell fur and wings blending into the shadows of the evening. Her blue silken halter and loincloth, the cultural wear she had chosen for her appearances in official capacities as Speaker, had been folded carefully and placed in the cabin. Ann’kattan rarely wore much of anything; clothing interfered with flight and their ability to take to the air was paramount. With the melting pot of cultures comprising the Commonwealth, the very few that ventured off-world donned basic covering when in public out of respect for other races’ modesty. Hers was a familiar set of values…

“What’s on your mind?” she asked softly in her native language. “You’ve been quiet since we finished supper.”

“I don’t like this, Casi. Terra isn’t ready. They’re just starting to really explore their own star system. The established Selene base on Luna, the new Ares base on Mars… They need a chance to look past their star on their own before we go traipsing in.” Jadyn tapped the deck’s railing lightly with his palm. “Guess I’m in the minority opinion.”

“We both are. The Lightspeed Provision is there for a reason. We really don’t need a second Katta on the history datastore.” The swing creaked under her relatively light weight as she stood, walking to his side. “Politicians always screw things up. Haven’t you learned that by now?”

“There are a few sane ones, here and there.”

“I can’t say I’ve met many.”

“‘Know thyself.’” Jadyn turned around and leaned against the railing, his gaze falling upon the beautiful fem standing before his eyes. “You’re one of the few.”

“I’m just doing what I was elected to do. I never wanted this job.”

“If someone wants the seat of Speaker, by no means should they be allowed to sit there. Ness quietly hated it but did a damn good job. Pakar resigned thirteen times on her first day before she settled into it. You’re just as good as they were. Better, maybe.”

“I was happy in the robes of a Councilor. I was happy just doing my small part, voicing my opinion where I felt it prudent on behalf of Katta…” Casi met his eyes, hers as crystalline blue as a pristine ocean, sparkling pools of water that he’d missed every night they’d been apart. “I was happy when we actually could spend time together and not face the Inquisition.”

“The very second they finally let me retire I plan to sweep you off your feet again. Presuming, of course, that you don’t beat me there.”

“That could be a while.” Her eyes drifted skyward. “They really admire what you do, even if they don’t always give you the credit you deserve.”

“I’d appreciate it if they’d fall back to the excellent resources they already have at their disposal. I’ve trained a half-dozen kids into solid replacements. Sure, they’re still inexperienced… They’ll get better if they’re sent out on missions.” He fell quiet, following her gaze to the stars. Silence descended upon them again for a time as they watched the sparkling sea above them.

“I miss nights like this… Just you and I and the stars overhead…” Casi inhaled deeply, her blue eyes absently scanning the treeline. “It’s like that first night we met, on the edge of the village… And the smells out here…! Even with the city just a few dozen kilometers away I still feel like we’re out in the middle of nowhere. The only two sapient creatures on this rock…”

“I never said you couldn’t come and visit more often.”

“You never did give me an actual invitation. It wouldn’t be proper for the Speaker of the Commonwealth Council to prance into a private domicile, uninvited.”

“Perhaps I’ll invite you to spend the night? It’s getting late, after all. Can’t have you flying to town in the dark. You might swallow a bug.”

Her eyes glittered in the darkness, a smile pulling on her muzzle. “Perhaps I’ll have to take you up on that.”

They fell asleep together on the swing, watching the moon rise over the horizon.

Morning arrived; actual business needed to be addressed before the afternoon session drew Casi back to Terac Lun. They retreated to the Serin to review the data from other surveys and outline a basic plan of action. T’bia had joined them to help sift through the massive store of logs and reports.

There had been several missions to Terra since his initial survey, though the majority of them had been no more than a couple of months long. Some of the teams had done fairly well for what they’d gone to accomplish. A few had failed miserably and required emergency evacuations. The times he’d been around the starside team as a consultant, he’d done the evacuations himself. The crews weren’t incompetent. Sometimes they just did a good job of seeming that way.

“Let’s just go in with a fleet and yell ‘We come in peace, shoot to kill,’” T’bia suggested, tossing a datapad over her shoulder in frustration. It bounced off the wall - upon which appeared a dartboard - with a loud THUNK before falling to the floor. “Damn, only a four…”

“They’re still pretty paranoid when it comes down to it. I’m sure fifty years hasn’t changed their basic fear of the unknown.” Jadyn set down a report, picking up one of the logs he’d written. “Their evolution instilled an instinct to be afraid of things they don’t understand. Even with rational thinking on their side, I think we fall in that classification.”

“I’d have to agree,” Casi admitted. “Your own logs are just from one part of the planet?”

“A portion of the landmass they call ‘North America.’ I think Commander Seannary’s team did some extended observations of European nations… Yeah, here it is.” Jadyn pushed a datapad across the table. “Some of the other crews did other regions with a grain of success. I’m sure they’re in this mess somewhere.”

“Third stack to your left; eight, nine, and ten from the top,” T’bia offered, flipping another datapad over her shoulder. “Eighteen… Totally off my game today.”

“Try facing the board.”

“Brilliant! But no.”

He dug out the datapads in question, confirming their content. “It’s the same general sentiment, really. I think we’ve got three options. First, sneak in quietly, make contact with a small group of scientists, and then arrange conveniently for ‘leaks.’ That’ll be terribly slow but I think it’ll be the smoothest transition.”

“Why scientists?” Casi queried.

“Politicians screw things up,” he reminded her with a grin.

“I knew that. Second option?”

“Take in a couple of ships. Start broadcasting a message as soon as we pass… Oh, let’s say one of their outer planets. Neptune or thereabouts. Should take about four hours for a lightspeed transmission to make it to them at that distance, and we can make our approach at five percent lightspeed - gives them about three days to figure out what to do for a response before we’re on their doorstep. The message will be a request to set down and meet with the Secretary General of the United Nations - a Terran analogue of your position, very roughly. We’ll want to send it in multiple languages… Velorian Standard on our end, and… Maybe twelve of theirs?”

“Which twelve?” T’bia queried, then grinned. “Wait, I’ve got a perfect set. French, English, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Quechua, Quenya, Klingon, and Lojban.”

Jadyn burst out laughing. “What’s so funny?” Casi asked, glancing between them.

“Klingon is the language of a race of aliens on an old science fiction work from Terra,” the fox managed, wiping his eyes. “That’s perfect.”

“And Quenya was an artistic language created for elves in a famous literary work. Lojban is an artificial language as well.” T’bia looked thoughtful. “I wonder if their linguists will figure out on the first try that those are their languages?”

“Think you can handle translating a message in all those, Bee?”

“I’m hurt that you’d even have to ask that.”

“Good enough. We can work out a message to transmit later.”

“I’ll pick a famous speech of theirs, something about different races getting along. We can ad-lib from there.”

“Works for me. Anyway, Casi… The third option is more just for our own amusement and depends on what their space programs are doing.” She looked at him curiously before he continued. “Since they’ve got a Mars base now, what if we walked up and knocked on the door? Might be fun to go say hello and ask the neighbors for a cup of flour.”

“You have a strange idea of ‘fun.’”

“It’d be more enjoyable to have them find us having a picnic, but the atmosphere doesn’t really let you survive outside an e-suit. Unless we cheat, of course. Toss up a portable atmospheric shell…” He glanced at T’bia. “You know, we really should pull out our comm relay on Luna before they find it.”

“They won’t find that one… But yes, we’ll quietly yank it when we go past.”

“Hum.” Casi tapped her thumb on the side of a datapad. “I’d personally lean toward the second option. Alerts the entire world at once, gives their world governments a chance to prepare and respond, and makes sure they’re aware we aren’t trying to sneak in and invade. They might think so anyway, but that can’t be helped.”

“We’ll need to spend a couple of years preparing. I’m going to want another trip to Terra to get caught up on current events and the like, preferably sooner than later.”

“I’ll get you a clearance pass for the sector this afternoon. It likely won’t be effective until the closing Council session, just before the six month break.”

“That’ll do. It’s only what, eight weeks away?”

“Give or take.”

“Mm… Also, everyone on the official contact team will need to speak a few of their languages. English at an absolute minimum since that’s the de facto ‘Standard’ language of Terra. Either Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French, or Latin would make a good second choice for the overachievers.”

“No universal translators?”

“UTs should only be relied on by those who can’t physically speak Terran languages. They should still be able to comprehend without assistance as much as possible. It’ll be more for show than anything else. We need to give the Terrans a general sense that we care enough to learn their languages, et cetera.”

“Good point.” Casi made a note to herself then tossed the datapad on the table. “I need a quick break. Be right back.”

“We’ll be here.” Jadyn watched her wings sway as she stepped out of the common room and sighed quietly to himself. “Light, I miss that…”



T’bia shoved a datapad in front of his face, breaking his reverie. “What are you going to do?”

“About?” he questioned, looking at the contents: a cross section of his personal journals from the time after his original trip to Terra. “What are… Oh.”

“It’s nearly been fifty years on Terra.”

“Fifty years is a long time, Bee.”

“You think she’s forgotten you?”

“I doubt it. I still think about her. I’m sure she’s found someone else by now, though.”

T’bia looked at him, a sense of trepidation deep within her violet eyes. “What if she hasn’t, Jay? How’s that going to mesh with you and Casi?”

“Casi’s culture and our own share the value that just because two people are intimate, you don’t have to shut others out. There’s still a lot of ‘ifs’ to consider, too. If we manage to find Tari -“

“Trivial. Comm bracelet will let me track her down.”

“Right, if it’s still functioning. And then, if she still wants to leave her world behind… And if she hasn’t found that ‘other’ I kept getting subliminal warnings about, so on… She may not want to leave Terra.”

“That’s right,” Casi offered, stepping back into the room. “But she may. What will you do then?”

Jadyn glanced at Casi quizzically. “How…?”

“You opened up all your journals to me, remember? I read all about her.” Casi sat back down, adjusting her wings around the back of the chair and grimacing. “Damn high-backed chairs…”

“I’ll get you something different,” T’bia offered.

“Don’t worry about it - I’ll survive for now. Anyway, Jadyn… So long as there’s room for me when I can have at you again I’m fine with whatever happens between you and Miss… Kitanaka, wasn’t it? You and I are both amenable to polyamorous relationships. From what you wrote about her I doubt she’d cut you off.”

“Damn,” the skunk mumbled. “I was hoping you’d rip his throat out for suggesting you’d have to share him.”

“Tarioshi still might,” Casi replied, going back to reading reports.

“Hey, yeah. She might at that.”

“I don’t think I like you sounding happy about the prospect of my blood being shed,” Jadyn grumbled.

“Like it or not, I am. I can still hope Casi mauls you a little in the interim, too.”

“Never know what might happen behind closed doors.” Casi grinned, flexing her fingers and making her claws slide slightly from their sheathes.

“I’m acutely aware of what happens behind the doors around here. Just remember, a single feather is sensual. Using the whole chicken is kinky.”

“Where does a feathered cat fit into that?”

“Anywhere she likes. On that note, I think I’m gonna tune out for a while.” T’bia’s avatar evaporated, along with the dartboard and the datapads scattered on the floor below it. “You know where to find me.”

“I’ll try not to look,” Jadyn mock-whispered; a disdainful snort echoed from above. “Anyway, Casi. If you’ve read through all of those entries you know Tari’s not human. Her people are hidden for their own reasons and I don’t intend to be at fault for that changing.”

“Wouldn’t think otherwise. When I’m reading your personal thoughts I never open them across a logged connection. There’s no data about the kitsune subculture on the network past what was in the mythology and the like that you brought back. As far as I’m concerned - officially - they don’t exist outside of legend. I’m interested to meet her, though.”

“I forget how much I wrote about her people in there, to be honest.”

“A lot,” Casi admitted. “Comparing to things that got little more than passing mention, you poured a lot of thought into recording her for posterity.”

“Didn’t want to chance forgetting something.” Jadyn sighed quietly, rubbing his thumb against his index finger. “I honestly do miss her, Casi. It was strange how fast she and I decided to explore our feelings… Three weeks into her stay and we were together.”

“I can’t blame her. You do have something of an aura about you. More fems look at you than you may ever know. Quite a few mels that I know go both ways, too.” She tossed her datapad back on the table again, shifting her wings uncomfortably. “T’bia, I changed my mind. Can you fix this? Lower the back or just get rid of it…”

“Just don’t forget and lean backward,” the AI warned. The back of the chair melted away, effectively transforming the seat into a stool.

“Thanks. It’s… I don’t really know how to describe it. There’s just a way you carry yourself, how you take in the world around you. Others can’t not look at you.”

“Here I thought it was just the abnormal color palette.” He looked at his hands. “Second most common question in my life is, ‘is it real?’”

“What’s the first?”

“‘Is anything else strangely colored?’ They always stress the ‘else.’ No, sir and or ma’am, that is completely normal. Plaid with polka dots.”

Casi laughed. “Well, at least they don’t ask you to prove it.” She stood up and grabbed his arm. “Come on.”

“Where?” he asked, letting her drag him out of the room and off the ship.

“As your commanding officer or whatever you care to call me, I’m ordering you to take a break. We’re going to get some air before I have to go back up and oversee that adult day-care.”

“I’d make a crack about how I like a fem in uniform but you’re not wearing anything.”

“Neither are you,” she pointed out. “Besides, you know better than anyone else how much I hate flying with clothes fluttering and generally being in the way.”

Spreading her wings, Casi gave a couple of strong flaps and leapt into the sky. After admiring the view with a reserved smile, Jadyn let the ancient forces of the Art envelop his body and followed her into the morning breeze.

41 Baern, 2799; October 28, 2047.

“All right. We ready to waste another half a year in Terran space?” Jadyn slid himself into the Serin’s pilot seat, bringing up status displays. “Power’s good, system checks are green, water tanks are full… Luggage stowed properly in overhead compartments or under the seats… Looks like we’re set.”

“I wouldn’t mind sneaking a quick pass through Lo’s corona on the way out. After sitting in a glorified shuttlebay for two weeks of their damned safety inspections, we could use a quick sundive for a boost.”

“You’re flying that leg. You know I hate going in that close to the sun. Or any star, for that matter.”

“Then get out of my spot.” T’bia grinned as he slid to the copilot’s seat. “Thanks for warming the chair for me.”

“Yeah, yeah. Velorian Orbital Control, VTC Serin. Request permission to depart spacedock enroute for Terran restricted zone, research permit 9B3AX.”

VTC Serin, permit confirmed. You are clear - check that, hold short.” There was talking in the background on the channel before the voice returned. “VTC Serin, you have a passenger waiting in the airlock.

“What?” Jadyn glanced at T’bia; she shrugged and vanished, heading off to check what was up. A minute later she was back, a huge grin on her face.

“This is going to be an interesting trip. Orbital, airlock is clear.”

Confirmed. Have a safe flight. You are cleared for departure.

“Passenger?” Jadyn questioned, watching the AI work her magic over the controls. The docking ring of Terac Lun shifted from the forward viewport as the engines engaged, pushing them rapidly toward Veloria’s sun.

“Commanding officer,” came a light voice in Kattan from behind his chair, followed by a pair of hands covering his eyes. “You didn’t think you could go off unsupervised, did you, Captain?”

“Casi?” Jadyn took hold of the feline’s wrists and turned his chair around. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re off to brush up on Terran current events, first-hand. I’m traveling to Terra to learn as much as I can manage, first-hand, with my staff’s finest bodyguard to protect me from the savages.”

The indigo fox laughed, giving her a kiss on the nose. “What about your Council duties?”

She waved her hands dismissingly as she sat down. “My staff can handle the day to day crap with the main body in recess. Anything major, they can contact me remotely. This will be a perfect vacation.”


“Working vacation,” she added. “I suppose I need the practice speaking their language. Even after these several decades speaking Standard I’m still more fluent in Kattan… I’m not entirely looking forward to English.”

“You’ll do fine. Heck, I even managed to learn Kattan contractions.”

“And I avoid them altogether in Standard, yes. I think it gives me a more formal air in the Speaker’s chair, anyway.”

“Not to interrupt,” T’bia interrupted, “but you’ll both want to at least put on a lap belt for a couple of minutes.”

Jadyn peeked forward, noting the windows had taken on a tint reminiscent of welding helmets. Lo was looming straight ahead and coming up fast. “Damnit, you’re cutting this one real close, aren’t you?”

“We’re fine, you big baby. Solar energy collection online at one thousand percent of normal. Here we go!” A distinct vibration crept up through Jadyn’s chair as the ship caught the gravity well of the star; he took the AI’s advice and buckled the lap belt, making sure Casi had put hers on. A display appeared between the two forward seats, several gauges and graphs all moving further into the green as the ship’s hull absorbed various forms of radiation from the star.

“Wow,” Casi whispered, spellbound. As menacing as the photosphere looked, the fiery surface of Lo was an amazing sight. “Never been this close to a star before. Doesn’t compare with looking at holovideos…”

“Wish I could find a probable flare site to fly by… Pretty quiet solar day. Not even much for sunspots…” T’bia glanced to the graphs and nodded to herself. “Okay, we’re good. It’ll take a little while to process all that. Laying in our course to Terran space. Five minutes from FTL Displacement.”

Jadyn snorted. “After that jaunt you don’t even want to pop a flashpoint?”

“I’ve already got the sequence charging, dork. Fourteen hours out from singularity generation. We’ll have enough power to sustain the wormhole all the way to Terra’s heliopause. Of course, we’ll need a pass through Sol’s corona once we get there… But sacrifices must be made.”

“How much time in the conduit?”

“Two days.” She grinned, tapping in coordinates. “Nothing like the two weeks it takes in normal space.”

“In normal space, in your ship,” Casi pointed out. “The fleet’s ships will be six to eight weeks in transit to get from Veloria to Terra.”

“Not the new Juggernauts we helped design,” Jadyn countered. “Those should make it in only two and a half. They should be able to spare two for the mission by the time they’ll be needed.”

“Suppose so.” Casi unbuckled her seatbelt, moving over and sitting in Jadyn’s lap. “So, what are we doing first?”

“When we get to Terra, or in the next ten minutes?”

“Oh, I know what we’re going to be doing in ten minutes,” she cooed, scratching his chest. “I meant on Terra.”

“Well, I believe when we enter orbit, I’m going to be attending some college classes.” Jadyn poked at the copilot console, changing the view to show the itinerary he’d worked out. “Nothing too insane, just some basic courses. I’m more after the social scene, to talk with students as a peer and get caught up on life in the middle of the twenty-first century. They’ll think I’ve been living in a cave all my life, I’m sure. Maybe I’ll pretend to be in my mid-thirties so they just think I’m an old weirdo and attribute my lack of knowing what’s going on to senility.”

“Interesting… And how do you plan on blending in?”

“I adapted Tari’s innate shapedancing talent into a manifestation of the Art. Quicker and a lot less painful than the one I used on my first trip. Three seconds, tops, if I’m feeling lazy.” He looked at her curiously. “You, however… Bee, can you adapt your mobile emitter to cloak her body and let her appear human?”

“Probably. It’d just be visual effect. Anyone gets too close and they’d run into her wings. It’d be easier to set her up remotely controlling a human avatar on the emitter from here. Oh, Jay, before I forget. I managed to get connected long-range to Terra’s internet through our relay and checked your bank balance.”

“Do tell. Enough to put myself through some classes?”

“Enough to put a third world country through a few. Tari’s made a few withdrawls here and there. The accounting firm has been diligently paying taxes on the interest, too.”

“When was her last withdrawl?”

“Not long ago. Coincidentally, she made it within the same general area we’re heading for.”

Casi shook her head. “I don’t even want to know how you two manage to get so much capital wherever you go.”

“You’d probably need to have us both locked away if we told you.”

She looked at Jadyn sidelong. “Okay, how illegal is your method?”

“I briefly alter the laws of probability against the house’s favor at dishonorable gaming establishments.”

“Laws of… You cheat the cheaters?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“On what, card games?”

“Cards, roulette, anything not computer-controlled.”

“Unless you have an accomplice,” she pointed out, looking at T’bia. The skunk immediately shook her head, not looking away from the navigation controls.

“Nope. There’s too much logging going on for that. Casino computer networks have better security than government networks, in my experience. Besides, he enjoys doing things himself.”

Jadyn shrugged. “I take pride in my work. If the house really is cheating, I make sure other people profit from my indiscretions as well.”

“Taking from the rich to give to the poor.” T’bia smirked. “I think there’s a story there. FTL in ten seconds.” The energy field’s blue-green haze appeared outside the windows, strobing once as the ship leapt beyond the light barrier. “Holding steady at one-quarter Displacement. Flashpoint generation… eventually.”

“And that’s that. After all that strenuous work of getting underway, we need a nap.” Jadyn glanced at Casi, scratching through the soft fur on her belly. She purred quietly at his attentions, tail twitching contentedly. “Don’t you think?”

“Clearly,” she agreed. “Though there might not be much napping at first. You’re not tired, are you?”

“I’m sure you can wake me up.”

T’bia cleared her throat politely, gently reminding them where they were.

“We should take this elsewhere.” Casi observed.

“An excellent idea.”

2 Responses

  1. Derek says:

    Casi’s character spawned from an image I stumbled upon many years back. The artist’s signature was ‘fernando 99’ and it was an angel cat sitting on top of a mountain with a halo in hand. Little fluffy clouds on a blue sky behind her, blue silk garments.

  2. Tsunari says:

    Poor T’Bia now she has to suffer the Serin getting two weeks of going over before it’s allowed to fly. Sounds a lot different than 50 years before.

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