Pakar grunted impatiently, waiting for someone to come to the door of Jadyn’s suite. She’d rung the chime twice so far; there had been a little noise inside on the second ring, but nothing else had come about of her page.

“Come on, J.T., it’s well into the afternoon…” she muttered, tapping her fingers together and ringing again. A minute later the door finally opened, presenting a rather sodden black fox dressed in only what he’d been born with.

“Hnn?” he greeted her, rubbing his eyes. “Pakar… Sorry. What time is it?”

“1430 or so. Just get out of a bath?”

“Well…” Jadyn scratched his neck, glancing over his shoulder. “We didn’t feel like moving after… er, a few hours of birthday celebrations…”

“A birthday? How droll! Whose?”

“Mine, apparently.”

Pakar frowned. “Thought yours was months ago.”

“T’bia evidently thinks that if you ignore the laws of temporal physics, every day is your birthday, and shared that idea with Tari.”

Pakar smirked. “So you fell asleep with her in the tub?”

“Next to it. When you rang I rolled over and fell in.” He shivered. “Cold draft in the hall. Come in?”

“No, I’ll stop by later. Or maybe you care to meet me down in the section’s lounge after while? Could use a drink or two after putting up with those rugrats all last night,” she muttered.

“Can do. Say around nineteen-hundred hours?”

“Works for me. Bring your friend along with if you like. I’d love a chance to talk with her.”

“Might have to let you use one of my translators.”

“Ooh, she’s so exotic that she isn’t speaking something on ours? Now if only she had scales, she’d be perfect for you.” Pakar winked, giving him a lick on the cheek before heading off down the corridor. “See you at nineteen-hundred.”

Jadyn shook his head in amusement, shutting the door and padding back into the bath. Tari glanced up briefly as he came in, still lying beside the tub on the heated tiles.

“Who was it?”

“Pakar. Having a drink or two with her later. You’re welcome to come with.”

“Not sure if I can walk.” She laughed, sitting up and shaking out her hair. “Gods, that was an incredible night… It’s been years since I’ve had a good roll in the hay. Or even a bad one.”

“There’s no hay here.”

“It’s just a… You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

“Maaaaybe. I’ve picked up a lot of English colloquialisms, but you once in a while still fly one past me I have to grasp by context.”

Tari smirked. “I suppose if we go out in public we should at least look half civilized…”

“Be a few hours yet.”

“You know something about grooming that I don’t? Takes me an hour or two to do a good job.”

“Fifteen seconds, if I’m not in a hurry. I really need to dry out anyway… Might as well show you the cheater’s method.” He sighed, looking over his pelt. “Probably was better that I did fall in. Easier to work with.”

“How so?”

Taking hold of the elements of Air and Fire the fox deftly twined them about himself. A warm, arid wind swirled around him, quickly drying out and grooming his pelt. Tari applauded with a grin as the powers faded.

“Nice trick,” she complemented. “You’re going to need to do it again shortly.”

“How come?”

She smiled, licking her lips. “It’s still your birthday for a few hours…”

Evening rolled around. Jadyn made his way down to the lounge local to the section of the ship for his room, glancing over the assembled patronage. There were several dozen drekirans in the place, though other large species from the quadrant had a representation as well. Padding through the dimly-lit establishment he made efforts to locate Pakar in the crowd. After wandering for half an hour he finally made his way to the bar.

“Wonder where she is,” he muttered, checking the time on his bracelet. “Half past…”

“Ye be lookin’ like yer lost.” The barkeep, a short but stout canid, polished a glass briefly before setting it before him. “Lookin for someone are ye, lad?”

“Yes… Though her general description matches a fair share of your patrons. Usually this many drekirans here?”

“Aye, that there is. This section o’ the ship be larger quarters for larger folks. But a customer be a customer, and they do like their near-flammable beverages.”

“I prefer something not quite so explosive. Just water please.”

The bartender raised an eyebrow but filled the glass none the less. Jadyn slid a five-hundred-credit chip discreetly across the bar, lifting his glass as the canine picked up the tip.

“Er… Are ye looking for change?”

“No.” He smiled, taking a small sip and scanning the crowd again. “It’s my thanks for not questioning my choice of drink.”

“A customer be a customer. If’n ye be needing anything more, let me know, lad. I go by Kip.”

“Thank you.”

The top of the hour finally came and went. Jadyn began to wonder if the drekiran had forgotten their date, or if she had meant a different establishment. The computer systems on the liners didn’t normally track where their passengers went, only logging their entry and exit to their quarters and a few other secured places, so having it search for her wasn’t likely to turn up anything useful. He’d just about decided to head back to the room when she came through the door.

“You’re an hour late,” he noted, as she walked up to him.

“I am not! It’s only 1910.”

“I’ve got 2010,” he replied, checking his bracelet to be sure.

“You ever set that thing?” she questioned, peering at the display. “And what the heck is it displaying in?”

“Kametian numerals, and no, it’s usually pretty accurate… Well, we’ll settle this the easy way. Excuse me, Kip…” He motioned the canine over, glancing around the room briefly. “Do you have a clock in here?”

“Nae, just me own timepiece. It be… 1911, if ye wondering.”

“Woohoo!” Pakar cheered. “I’ll let you buy me a drink as an apology for your false accusation.”

Jadyn laughed. “Okay. Whatever she wants is on me.”

Kip nodded, but refused to take more of his money when he offered it. “Ye should be paid through this night and the next few, longer if she be makin her choice like yers. I be lettin you know when ye run shy on credit, lad.”


“Aye. But I do thank ye offer.”

“Eh? What’d I miss?”

“Your drink, if you don’t order it soon.” Jadyn smirked, glancing about and spying an empty booth off in the corner. “Going to grab us a seat.”

“Be over in a minute.”

Padding over and sliding into the booth, he set his glass down and gazed at the liquid within. Turning the tumbler idly, he looked back toward the bar and waited. Pakar seemed to be detailing the steps of creating some sort of beverage, Kip listening intently as she described it. He couldn’t quite figure out what she was having him make by lip-reading, as people kept walking through his line of sight.

“She’s going to take all night,” he mumbled, looking at his glass of water. Focusing on the liquid he lifted it from the glass with a strand of Water energy, forming it into a nice sphere. It hovered about a foot off the table, flowing about itself slightly as though there were no gravity. Bending the thread in his mind’s eye, he started to shape the orb, flattening it out and rolling it into a tube.

“What are you doing?”

Jadyn glanced up as Pakar sat down, then looked back at what was floating before him. “Well, I was going to shoot you in the side of the head with an ice cube. Seems you got here, though.”

“Did your mom ever tell you not to play with your food or drink?”

“No, dad did though.” The water feature drained back into his glass. He picked it up, taking a swallow. “Caught him doing it a few times.”

“‘Do As I Say, Not As I Do.’ Remember that one myself.” Pakar smirked, swirling something green around in her glass and inhaling its scent. “Mm, good vintage for a change.”

“You always say it is.”

“It always is when you pay for it, for some reason.”

“I have my ways.”

“Something to do with the fact he won’t take your money?”

“Something like that.”

“Come on, what did you do?”

“I came in here at what I thought was 1900, looked for your scaly butt for half the hour, then ordered a glass of water and tipped him nicely for it. Then I waited some more. Was about it.”

Pakar sighed, shaking her head. “There must be more to it than that.”

“Not really. Bartenders really appreciate their tips. Just tip them well for doing simple things, and they’ll appreciate your patronage even more in the future.”

“Suppose so. So, where’s your guest?”

“She decided it better for now not to come down.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I was really hoping we could talk about you behind your back some as we make you go get our drinks. Why’d she not want to come along?”

Jadyn smirked. “Firstly, acute exhaustion.”

“Ah, so you’re much more energetic than she is?”

“No, I just have had years of practice hiding how tired I am.”

“Pfft. I know how vigorous you can be. Secondly?”

“She’s really not that comfortable in public here yet. As she put it when I was getting dressed, she’s very foreign. She doesn’t want to make a fool of herself in public quite yet.” Jadyn looked at his glass, draining the last of the contents. “Wants to get a better footing for local social etiquette before a field run, I think.”

“You, on the other hand, winged it?”

“Pretty much. Keep expectations low so I don’t have to work as hard. Doesn’t seem to work anymore, what with you damn politicians hunting me down for more work after I retired.”

“Ness knew you’d be right for the job which is why he had me find you. You could have said no, you know, to every one that has been dropped on you since then. That first one he wouldn’t have accepted a no. The rest were negotiable.”

“Say ‘no’ and miss out on watching the inner workings of the political sphere in the area? It may be dull but it’s handy knowing how to work around the system.”

“At least you can up and leave when they realize you’re working them as much as they are you. Some of us have nowhere to go.”

If I left I don’t know where I’d go. Probably would head… Eh, thataway.” He generally indicated his left. “Going ‘thataway’ got me where I am now, must be a good heading.”

“Remind me not to let you navigate anything I’m a passenger aboard.”

“Wuss. So, what have I missed over the year? Anything of note?”

“Not especially. It’s been quiet.”

“More than usual?”

“Not really. Guess you could say it was ‘par.’ A little peak of pirate activity as of late, but nothing overly unexpected. Though, knowing you were out of touch for a year…” She sighed. “I don’t know. I thought about you more than I normally do. Kind of like knowing that I couldn’t just drop by and say hi always kept you on my mind.”

“Never miss something till it’s gone.”

“Or someone.” Pakar took a slow drink of her concoction, savoring the flavor. “Suppose it’s a psychological thing. Just being aware of the fact that you can’t touch base with someone makes you acutely aware of the fact they aren’t around. It would have been nice if you’d at least stopped to say goodbye before you left.”

“It’s never goodbye, more of a ‘be back in a bit.’ I try to leave ‘a bit’ undefined.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if we ever have to put up a fake epitaph for you.” Finishing her drink, Pakar slid out of the booth and stood. She wobbled slightly, leaning on the table. “Woo. He made that thing good.”

“Never hits till you stand. Need a hand?”

“Be okay in a bit. ‘A bit’ undefined, of course. I should get another one of those…”

Jadyn padded back into his suite quietly, not turning up the lights as he shut the door. Pakar had needed an escort to her cabin after her third drink. Even with her drekiran metabolism and body mass, she’d never been able to take much in terms of alcohol. They had snuggled for a bit on the couch in her room until she dozed off and started snoring. After extracting himself and putting a blanket over her, he’d left.

They’d been good friends for years, long before she’d ever considered requesting a Council seat from the drekiran Elders. They both knew their bond would only ever be a close friendship, nothing more, but they also knew they didn’t need more out of their relationship than that. Occasionally they had shared some intimacy, but it had always been kept in the context of their friendship. Pakar had always been one of the few people that Jadyn felt he could truly trust. And yet… He’d never told her everything about his past. Pieces, here and there… but never the whole.

Tari was still awake in the bedroom, lying on top of the sheets and watching a video feed. The sound had been muted. She smiled at him, patting the place beside her. Shedding his garments he crawled in with her and shared a loving nuzzle.

“Enjoy yourself?” she asked.

“Yes… But it would have been more enjoyable had you come with.”

“Suck-up,” she teased.

“It was good to do some catching up. Thanks for giving us the time.”

“I’ve got you for a whole year, I’m sure I can spare some of it. Really wasn’t ready for a public appearance yet.” Tari cuddled up with him, her fingers tracing through the fur on his chest.

“What’s this on the screen?” he asked, indicating the feed.

“Not sure. Tried to guess how to work the thing and get some music, but managed to get just a picture instead. Would be nice if the language even was half guessable. French and spanish I can sort of take a stab at guessing and be close to right. This…”

“Trust me, I know. Learning English was worse than learning Drekiran. You’ve been staring at soundless sitcoms for the last couple of hours?”

“Yeah. Started putting my own dialog to them for a while. Got old fast. This one… Not sure what’s going on, but it seemed like the cat there lost a bet of some sort and had to cross-dress.”

“Hm. I’m sure we can find better entertainment between ourselves than this, though.”

“No doubt,” she agreed, then paused and traced her fingers back over a part of his chest. “Um… I thought your medical technology could heal things without scars this bad. What the heck happened?”

“I was stabbed a long time ago. I recovered… mostly… When the tissue is regenerated, it eventually scars back up like this. I think of it as a reminder of some of my roots now more than anything.”

Tari’s fingers traced the scarline slowly. “Would you tell me about it? About what happened?”

“Well, I can… You sure you want to go into it now?”


Jadyn sighed. Any other mood had drained out of the room as soon as her fingers had found the scar. He kept the fur around it trimmed long enough so it wasn’t visible, but she hadn’t been using her eyes. “I had been doing some exploring, recovering things from my world some time after its ruin… Bee and I finished for the day and parked the Serin on the local station. After powerdown and disembarking I was jumped by some people who wanted the ship for themselves.”

“How many?”

“Four of them. Managed to fend off three pretty handily, but the fourth managed to catch me with my guard down and buried a knife in my chest.” Jadyn put his fingers under Tari’s muzzle, bringing her gaze to his own. “Something is bothering you about this… If it’s all right for me to ask… Why?”

Tari closed her eyes and shook her head. “Had a nightmare a while back, the first night I spent on the ship… I’m sure it was that incident, played back from your perspective, but not… Almost like it was me living through it.” She squinted, looking inward. “The detail was… picture perfect… Still is… The ship, the bay it was in, the boxes around… I can remember them all as if it had been me there… I thought at first it was a warning, that something would happen at some point when I was walking off the ship. But… It seemed out of place, somehow.”

“I assume my sword materialized in your hand just as the first attacker moved in.”

She nodded. “I couldn’t demonstrate those martial art moves if I tried, but three were disarmed and disabled… Then the knifing…”

“Where did it end?” he asked quietly.

“Right after I looked down at the knife. There was this warm feeling in my chest… I laughed… Then I woke up in a panic.”

Jadyn nodded grimly. “I slammed the one who did it into the roof of the bay with a blast of Air. He fell to the floor when I lost consciousness. Forty foot drop. Apparently didn’t do much more than knock the wind out of him.”

“Did any of them… not make it?”

“No, they all survived, though one got away for a while before his buddies confessed who he was. Everything I did was seen as self defense since the medical work to get them back and walking was trivial.”

The vixen shifted beside him. “I’m still trying to figure out why my dream picked a memory like that to stick with me, or even how I got ahold of it. There were others, but I can’t remember any of them… Just vague feelings.”

“Dreams do strange things.”

“They almost always are a sign of some sort, though.”

“Mm,” he agreed. “Or they just want to tell you things you aren’t aware of.”

“If that was supposed to be saying something, I can’t imagine what. I’m just glad you made it through okay… It’d be much more dull in my life right now if you hadn’t been alive for me to meet.” Tari smiled, leaning forward and nuzzling his neck. He put his arms around her and hugged her gently.

“Thanks. Thinking some sleep may be in order, at least a nap for a few hours… I’d like to show you around the ship a little more, maybe get you used to the customs and whatnot. Pakar still wants to meet you more than just in passing. She’s got a little bit of OCD in that respect.”

“Suppose that’ll be a good idea. What should we tell her about… where I came from?”

“I’ve sort of danced around the question so far… I can probably keep doing it, but she’s bound to catch on sooner or later and demand some answers. She’s usually as good with word and mind games as I am. If we do wind up telling her you’re Terran, she’ll keep it under her nose, but I’d rather not if we don’t have to.”

“Okay.” She glanced at the ceiling, then back to him. “Shutting off the lights?”

Mekrdc uid,” he spoke quietly. The room faded to darkness; Tari snuggled up to him, her fingers finding the scar once more.

“The dream bother you that much?” he whispered.

“At the time… Now that I know what it’s from, it’s not so bad. Still kind of disturbing to remember the very feel of the blade…” She shivered. “It didn’t really even hurt, did it?”

“Not really.” Jadyn licked her cheek in the dark. “Let’s get some sleep.”

“From the time I spent on Earth, it seemed like the major social mannerisms and the like were fairly similar to those of people here.” Jadyn glanced over the list of destinations for the lift, considering what would be best. “There are a few differences, being as how there are several very different species intermingling. For one, don’t go around picking fleas off people and eating them.”

“Eating the people, or the fleas?”


“Shouldn’t be quite so bad to adapt, then.” Tari sighed, feeling her left ear. “Thought you said I wouldn’t notice this thing.”

“Give it a little while. Think of wearing headphones or something… If you stop paying attention to it, it’ll blend in.”

“You wear one?”

“Yes… Though mine’s semi-permanent.” He looked over his shoulder, changing to the de facto standard language of the region. “Ed’c vihldeuhym?” Is it working?

“Yeah, just fine. Kind of like a voice-over.”

“The alternative is glasses with scrolling subtitles. Never made sense to me how language ‘x’ on those shows had mouth motions identical to English when it’s been ‘translated.’”

“Artistic license.”

“Mm. Needs a suspension then for breaking the laws of physics.”

She smirked. “So, where are we headed?”

“Not really sure what’d be good people-watching other than the Laitu. Wanted to take you someplace new, though.”

“What are the choices?”

Laitu, for general strolling and some shopping… There’s another shopping district that’s far more like an enclosed mall than an open-air market… A few ‘parks…’ Trees and whatnot are all holographic. Like I said, it’s a big city. Can find just about anything you can think of.”

“One of the parks, maybe.”

“Okay. Mmm… This one will do. Think they’re all pretty much alike anyway.” He poked one of the lights. “Bipmel Kyntah ceq.”

“Community park six?” Tari asked as the lift slid into motion.

“Yeah. There’s a simulated beach as one of the options for another park. Can look into that another day.”



“Bathing suits?”

“Bathing… Oh, modesty wear. Depends on the culture and values and whatnot. Out here with the cross section of cultures, I’d guess they’d probably recommend them just to avoid the potential clash but I doubt they’re required. The few I visit on Veloria have them optional.”

“Should probably swing through a few shops later, then… Maybe get some local garb so I don’t stand out so much.”

“Can do that.”

The lift slowed to a halt. Bright sunlight - simulated sunlight - poured in through the doors as they parted. Tari shielded her eyes, squinting. “Yow.”

“Tad too realistic.”

“Well, it’d help if the rest of the lighting wasn’t so dark. Kind of a harsh transition.”

“No kidding. Need some sunglasses or something?”

“I’ll be okay in a couple minutes. Not bothering you?”

“No… I cheat, though. Can bend a few threads of Light energy and effectively create sunglass-contacts.”

“Change in our deal… I’ll try to educate you on kitsune shapeshifting methods so you don’t kill yourself next time you need to go as something not you, and you teach me at least that one and your grooming trick.”

“I’ll readily accept your terms.”

She blinked a few more times, padding out of the lift and glancing about. “It’s in a tree?”

“Hmm?” Jadyn followed her out, looking back at what they had arrived through. Sure enough, the lift entrance was disguised as a huge old evergreen. The tree was stationed in the center of the park, a ring of grass spreading out from the roots. About ten feet out, paved walkways started. Lots of people were about. Children playing in the grass and fountains, couples enjoying the day on park benches or strolling about… Some people watching the events, pleased just to spectate.

Tari, however, seemed uneasy as she looked about. Jadyn curled his tail around her leg and gave her a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “Something the matter?”

“It’s quiet…” She looked at the grass under her feet, glanced at the trees around them, and shook her head. “Never mind. Just wasn’t ready for things to really be so… Artificial. I mean, they look real enough, but… They’re empty inside.”

“I know the feeling. Growing up with this kind of simulated reality, as soon as I started learning the Art I could only really accept simulations that didn’t have any sort of simulated life. Those meditation programs and the like. Creeped me out once I could sense there wasn’t really anything. The only holoforms that don’t do it are T’bia and her kin. Never did figure out why, but they don’t have that sort of hollowness when I look at them.”

“Noticed that myself… Guess that’s what I was expecting of this.” She ran her toes through the blades of grass, forcing a smile. “Make the best of it, I suppose?”

“Try to, at least. We don’t have to stay long. Just a walk, let you listen to some conversation, see how people act in public around here, so on. I don’t think you’ll find things all that different, really. Just picture walking into another country, just no…” He shut his eyes, smirking. “Things not to say in public. One. The name of your world in any way but ‘Earth.’ Don’t call it what I keep calling it.”

“The ‘T’ word?”

“That’s the one. Two. The ‘main’ sapient race of said world. If someone would happen to overhear you and pick those out, they might wonder a bit if they’re aware of what’s been going on.” He offered his arm. “Shall we stroll?”

“We shall,” she replied, hooking her arm through his.

They left the park after a couple hours of people-watching, Tari feeling somewhat more secure in the fact that things really weren’t so much different… Lack of hairless skin and an understandable language notwithstanding. Pakar met up with them as they reached the door to their quarters, a smile spreading over her face.

“The vixen emerges from the den!” she teased. “Have a good time out?”

“Not too bad. Figured we should come back here and wait for you. A repeat of the prior intro’s, Tari, Pakar, Pakar, Tari. Anyway. Now that you’ve shown up, what would you care to do for the eve?”

“Hmm…” Pakar tapped her chin. “Well, haven’t eaten supper yet.”

“We should call ahead and have someone toss a whole hind quarter on the grill?”

Pakar glared at the black-furred fox, laughter in her eyes. “I do not eat that much. Half of one will do, thank you.”

“I suppose… Oh. Need something out of here for you.” He poked the lock code into the panel, opening the door and stepping inside. Pakar glanced in as the fox dug through a bag on the couch.

“What are you doing?”

“Gotta fracture the language barrier. Here it is. Heads up!” He lobbed a translator over his shoulder. Pakar caught it, glancing over the unit.

“One of these toys, eh? Bee make this especially for me?”

“Yeah. Put it on and let’s go… I’m hungry.” Jadyn stepped back into the hall, relocking the door.

Pakar clipped the translator over her ear, adjusting it slightly to get it comfortable. “What’s it put everything to?”

“Standard, I’ll assume.”

“Well, like, ick.”

“Take complaints to R and D, thanks.” Jadyn smirked, changing to English. “Does it work?”

“Yep. What language is that?”

“The only one we had in common.”

Tari grinned. “So I can be understood now?”

Pakar nodded. “Coming in fine. Now we can really start talking about him behind his back. Turn around, J.T.”

“At least have the decency to wait until I get out of earshot -“

Attention, all passengers and crew. Please clear all hallways and corridors in this section at once, by order of the Captain. Thank you.

“Well, crap.” Jadyn sighed, opening the door again. “Suppose we eat here then.”

“What’s going on?” Tari asked.

“Probably a security drill or something. Wouldn’t be too concerned. Happens a lot.” Pakar padded into the room on Jadyn’s gesture, commandeering the couch and stretching out. “This is much more relaxing than a restaurant, anyway.”

“Was kind of looking forward to something not replicated, though…” Jadyn scratched his nose in thought. “Hrm.”

“I’m not as picky as you are.”

“Just means real food will be that much better tomorrow, then?” Tari sat down on the floor in the middle of the room, doing some light stretching.

“Suppose so. How’s gravity treating you after all the walking?”

“Getting used to it, I think. How much different is Veloria?”

Pakar squinted at the ceiling in thought. “The ship is a tad less than Veloria, as I recall… some minor decimal off. Shouldn’t be too bad of a change.”

“You’ll hardly notice it.” Jadyn peered at the replicator, poking buttons on the surface panel. “I see they updated their menus. Anything sound good?”

“Meat of some sort.” Tari leaned back from her stretching, looking over her shoulder at him. “A steak, maybe… No, wait… Prime rib, rare. Haven’t had that in years. Any sides you feel like throwing in.”

“All-righty… Scaly?”

“Mm… Have it do a search for ‘Nessy Combo number seven’ and order that for me.”

“So you got into that too, eh?”

“It’s a nice mix of stuff. Plus, it’s a decent size portion.”

Jadyn nodded, poking at the menu. “And… hm. Too many things look good. Hey, there’s a thought… Custom… eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, salsa… Built like this… There.”

Tari smirked. “Breakfast for dinner?”

“I’m not discriminatory of what foods can be eaten when.” He grinned, taking out the first tray of food as it finished replication and delivering it to Tari. “Prime rib, rare, baked potato with side of sour cream and butter. Anything else?”

“This is great, thanks.”

The replicator beeped as Pakar’s order came through. A plate stacked with slices of various meats and sausage was at the center, some chunks of different cheeses decorating smaller plates. It looked like an appetizer tray for a small gathering. Pakar pulled the glass coffee table closer with her tail, gesturing for him to set the food on it.

“Thanks,” she spoke, popping a sausage into her mouth.

“Not a problem.”

The replicator buzzed unhappily.

“I take that back.”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s a cook or a machine, something always screws with your order,” Pakar mused, layering a slice of cheese between two different meats and eating it as a bite-sized sandwich.

“Usually why I do the cooking myself.” He peered at the console, poking at it with a frown. “Seems custom is broke, as usual. Guess I’ll just go for something simple… That prime rib does smell good.”

“Mmf,” Tari noted. “As good as it ever has been.”



“Put up those soundproof walls of yours.”

“Hm?” Jadyn looked over his shoulder as his food popped into the replicator.

Pakar sat up slowly, glancing at Tari. “Privacy wardings, around the three of us.”

“Okay… Any particular reason?” he asked, picking up his food and moving to the room’s center.

“Not until you have them up.”

“Fine, fine.” The fox set down his tray of food, peering around briefly and channeling threads of Air into soundproof barriers. “Okay, they’re set up. What’s on your mind that they’re necessary?”

Pakar popped another piece of meat into her mouth, peering at Tari. “You’re speaking Terran… English, isn’t it?”

Tari stopped mid-chew, looking at Jadyn.

“That explains the wardings,” Jadyn muttered, reinforcing them to make doubly sure of their security.

“Figured it’d be best, seeing as how you’ve been pretty dodging of the topic. Was wondering what was up… Curiosity finally got the better of me.” Pakar looked between the two vulpines. “Either of you care to field an explanation?”

“What I’ve said to date is all I can say, wardings or not.” Jadyn sat down in the chair facing the two, looking over his meal and picking up the knife and fork on the tray. “Doesn’t smell half bad.”

“I’m… not entirely sure what I should say.” Tari stabbed at her potato distractedly with her fork. “Don’t want to get anyone in any trouble, seeing as how I shouldn’t even be here.”

“Up to you, Tari. Like I told you before - Pakar is one of the few people around here that I trust implicitly. I doubt it would get me in trouble… If anything it might help matters somewhat. She’s got more clout than me when it comes right down to it.”

Tari nodded acceptingly. “Well… What’s the worst that can happen? I get deported?”

“I’d get sent with. Strike that, you getting deported alone would be worse.” Jadyn smirked. “Really doubt either of us getting labeled ‘return to sender.’ I think the Council values my cooperation a tad too much to step on my tail just yet.”

“All right…” She took a breath, looking up at the drekiran. “I speak a Terran language… because I am Terran.”

Pakar raised an eyebrow. “Say what? Everything Terran we’ve seen showing sapience has been human. That a disguise or something?”

“No… My people are Terran, though not human… We coexist with humanity. They aren’t aware of our existence. Some of my people would consider it a symbiotic relationship. We’re hidden mainly because they really can’t handle the truth.”

“Mm. Lots of you?”

“Compared to the human population, no… If I had to guess, maybe in the range of ten thousand.”

“Not a heck of a lot, in comparison with.. six billion, wasn’t it?”

“Give or take,” Jadyn agreed. “So, what’s your stand, scaly?”

“I’ll just blackmail you with it.”

“Promises, promises.”

“Indifferent. Though I do find it simply amazing that you found decent company on that backwoods rock - no offense, Tari…”

“Oh, none taken.”

“…I better understand the why of your evasiveness. Doesn’t mean you’re forgiven.”

“Perish the thought. I don’t plan on telling Khris, by the way. He’s a good friend and all, but the fewer people that know, the better.”

“Agreed on that. T’bia putting papers together?”

“Yeah. Don’t know exactly what she’s going to claim as of yet.”

“Only questionable point is the second tail, I’m assuming it’s real and not a graft or clip-on?”

“One hundred percent natural.” Tari frowned. “Is it that much of a problem, really? I can mask it for brief periods of time while like this, but - Hmm…”

Jadyn found her eyes on his, sparkling with curiosity. “Hmm?”

“I thought of a workaround… Can T’bia make papers indicating I’m one of your people?”

“Falsifying an ID?” Pakar mock-gasped, covering her ears and closing her eyes. “I didn’t hear that, la la la… I don’t see this, la la la…”

“Quiet, you. Shouldn’t be a problem for paperwork but if they do a comparison to my medical record, as the only other representative of the species around, the computer will have a hissy fit at the differences.”

“I can work around that, I’m sure… Should probably ask first, how much difference is there between myself and a vixen of your race?”

Pakar raised an eyebrow. “Metamorph?”

“Very roughly speaking.”

“More along the lines of J.T.’s abilities?” she asked, thumbing at the blue fox.


“Though I prefer her method of swapping forms. Seems less stressful… The only functional points that come to mind are your lack of digitigrade feet and prehensile tail… And you have extra fingers and toes. Some minor nonfunctional differences, but they shouldn’t affect you in the long run.”

“Such as?”

Jadyn smirked. “Two more pairs of nipples down your chest.”

“Nothing incredibly hard to adapt to, then. Suppose I can give it a try.” Tari set down her tray and stood up. “Going to need you as a template being as how I’ve never taken on the form before and nothing similar exists on Earth.”

“All right.” Jadyn set his food aside and got to his feet. “What do you need me to do?”

“Give me your hands.” She took hold of his hands in hers, closing her eyes. Speaking something rapidly in what he took to be Japanese he watched as a halo of sparkling light traced her body from head to toe, changing it in the wake of the glow. Very little outwardly changed in her appearance. She gained an inch or two of height as her skeletal structure shifted from plantigrade to digitigrade, her ears were very slightly larger… Her pair of tails vanished, leaving a single longer one in their place.

“I envy that,” Pakar commented, finishing her plates of food. “None of my people have ever been able to tap into anything like that.”

Jadyn shrugged. “Some people can play musical instruments, some are tone deaf. I’m sure the drekirans could learn, if the elders hadn’t wholly banned ‘dark arts’ on the planet after my first visit.”

“Yeah, they sort of took offense when you flew better than they could.”

Tari let go of Jadyn’s hands, taking a few tentative steps while holding onto the back of the chair. “Going to take some getting used to, learning to walk again.”

“What was that whole speech about it not being any trouble to swap back and forth?”

I’ve never gone like this… It’s a new thing. You were just reverting back.”

“Point taken. If it becomes too much trouble, Bee can hack something else together. It’s a good idea, none the less.” Jadyn smirked, taking her rather limp and fluffy tail into his hands. “Need an instruction manual for this thing?”

“It’s… weird. I’ll figure it out though. I like a good challenge.”

Jadyn smiled, sitting back down. He reached for his food tray, noticing a distinct lack of food left on it. “Really?”

“Didn’t want it to get cold.” Pakar grinned. “Computer: has the corridor lockdown been lifted?”

Silence met them. Jadyn glanced over his shoulder. “Wardings are still up.”

“Well, poo to you. Should be okay to drop them now.”

He concentrated briefly on the threads of Air, unraveling the soundproof walls. The normal background noises of the ship resumed as the wardings fell. “Done.”

“Computer? Is the lockdown still in place?”


“Must have missed the all-clear with the soundproofing.” Jadyn took the empty food trays, depositing them back in the replicator’s alcove. “Was thinking it was kind of long for a drill.”

Pakar hopped to her feet. “Well, suppose I’ll be off. Vesana wanted the night out and asked me to babysit. Again.”

“The kids shouldn’t give you a problem.”

The dragon smirked, making her way to the door. “They shouldn’t, but they always do.”

“Just threaten to throw them out an airlock.” Jadyn grinned. “Hope you don’t have to follow through, and dream of the moment you do.”

“Right. Night you two. Oh, Tari, you like to browse shops and the like?”


“We should hit the Laitu tomorrow, girls day out. Give it some thought. I’ll swing by in the morning before I head down there. We can spend J.T.’s fortune.” She grinned, shutting the door behind herself.

“Could be interesting to see how close you two come to bankrupting me.” Jadyn smiled, sitting back down as he watched the vixen learn her new legs. “You’re doing better already.”

“If I could work this eel of a tail for balance - yeep!” Tari stumbled, barely catching herself on the back of the couch.

“Maybe normal is better?”

“That’d be the easy way out. It may take me a while, but I’ll get the hang of this yet.” She reached behind herself, grabbing her limp tail. “Seriously - How do you keep from tripping over this thing? It’s nearly as long as I am tall.”

“Looking at you… That’s normal length for your height, right there.”

“You’re kidding…”

“A val’traxan’s tail from tip to base is usually within an inch of their height. You could just wear it as a belt,” he suggested, demonstrating by curling his own around his waist. “Nicely out of the way until you figure out how to keep it out from under others’ feet. And doors. Don’t get it caught in a door. They’re supposed to have sensors to keep that from happening, but they don’t always work.”

“I’ll keep that in mind… How did a tail, as voluminous and bushy as any fox’s tail I’ve ever seen, evolve to be prehensile? I mean, I can see where everything else would come from an evolutionary ancestor. The ears, the eight fingers and toes, the three pairs of nipples… Er, do they all… work?”

“Assuming you mean for lactation, just the ones on the breasts. The lower two pairs are evolutionary leftovers.”

“Y’know, I can’t recall feeling any of the lower ones on your chest.”

“You probably didn’t go looking. They’re here.” Jadyn dug through his fur and pointed. “See?”

“Ah, okay. So you are like us in that respect? All embryos start out developing female?”

“Yeah. I think you’ll notice a lot of similarities in anatomy and biology. I’m really not sure where the prehensile tail came into play for us, though. There weren’t any native foxes on Val’Trax with this trait.”

“Maybe someone crossed a fox with a chimpanzee?” Tari joked.

Jadyn frowned. “Well, unless my memory is failing me, chimps don’t have tails…”

“Er, I knew that. What the heck was I thinking… Dozens of monkeys and lemurs to choose from… And I spout out an ape. Go me!”

“I’ll just blame caffeine.”

“I haven’t had any since… Wow, since at least a few weeks before you picked me up.” Tari grunted, turning and taking another shaky lap around the furniture. “Could use some right about now… Gonna be up all night learning to walk…”


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