I woke up after an unsatisfactory sleep, bleary eyed; the coffee just got me awake enough to make it to work. After a morning where I couldn't make a decision, I gave up and went back to the apartment. I drew a bath. While the tub filled, I frowned at my very vulpine visage in the mirror. It looked wonderful: sexually alluring, a classically beautiful, young vixen. As it should: nothing wrong with my health besides a fox's natural internal preparations for impending fertility.
Yes, It was the heat of my second season as a fox. Twice a year instead of once a month is worse than six PMS episodes rolled into one. I grabbed two pill bottles from the cabinet and set them on the edge of the tub before I crawled into the already-too-hot bath. Exhaling as the water soaked into my fur, I lifted one in either paw, contemplating the prescription labels. I hefted them, literally weighing my choices. I remembered my first heat, six months before.
I walked across campus, wondering if I was coming down with a cold. Slumping into a chair in the very front of the room. Mumbling to the girls when they filed into class, still not one hundred percent. The professor, an older, almost mangy silver fox, started in on his list of irregular verbs. It seemed that I was paying intense attention to him, yet none to the lesson. I took the first few examples in silence and then started asking him for more examples just to hear him speak. He started, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, got halfway through the conjugation, sighed, lost his place and started over. I smiled and asked him again, crossing my legs against a sudden itch, squirming in my seat. The wolf cub next to me tittered at some joke imperceptible to me. I glared around the room. The professor cleared his throat and tried to continue. More laughter, I became more uncomfortable, unable to sit still. Finally, he managed to say, sternly:
"Ms. Corbett, I must ask you to leave the room. If you cannot control yourself, please see the school nurse." I had never seen a fox with such a red face, and he seemed to fight to control himself as he gestured toward the door. I was upset and embarrassed, and wasn't sure why.
I didn't feel ill enough to go to the nurse, more uncomfortable and out of sorts. I decided instead to go to the snack bar for a glass of water. Walking down a wooded path, I encountered a male fox coming the other direction. He greeted me with the casual 'hey, femme' that was the fashionable greeting that week. As he came abreast of me, he stopped and unexpectedly said, "Wow! You're ready, you looking for someone new right now?" He leaned forward, nose almost in my face. Even for the relaxed sense of personal distance among the Diyim'yi, he was in my space.
"What are you doing?" I asked, puzzled. He back off slightly, stung.
"I'm sorry. I was just reading the signals you were sending. I didn't, mean to be forward. I just assumed, since you were scenting like that…"
I was confused, and sorry for this very attractive young fox. "I don't understand?" I placed a paw on his arm. He simultaneously covered it with his other paw, holding on, while backing off in distress.
Now slightly upset. "No, I'm not."
"If you've got a cold, and can't smell yourself, you should get home and wash up, or see a doctor. Don't tease, if you can, 'cause somebody less civilized than me is going to call your bluff, lady!" This said with his tongue half out of his mouth. I pulled myself loose, realizing at last what he meant. I fled back to the apartment.
I was still lying in the now cold bath when Jena came home, neither bottle opened. She stuck her head in through the bathroom door and looked down at me.
"Drowning your troubles?" She saw the pills, and reached down to pick up my panties from the floor. Testing the air, "Your secretary Pok'op told me you went home early. Come on, girl! Make up your mind. Pick which pill you're going to take and let's go out on the town. One way or another, we need to find you a man."
I looked again at each bottle. One prescription an effective contraceptive, the other only reduced the hormone production that makes a 'vixen in heat' a fierce fighter, ready to drive off rival females and unworthy males. I had a choice: Did I want to be civilized, or civilized and fertile? The first time around, fear had kept me celibate. Jena handed me a glass of water, and I opened a bottle and took one.
She tended me like a squire armoring a knight for a tournament, or a mother helping her daughter dress for the prom. I was lost in memories of myself as a young girl: first date, first dance, first time. So long ago, so different, and certainly not for the same reason I went out now. My goal, to get the one thing I could never have as a human then, and the one thing my husband and I could never make together now: a child. Yes, this time I planned to become pregnant. Jena forced me into my dress. Finally, when I was brushed and powdered in a style fashionable for my apparent age, she pronounced me ready for battle.
"I guess I'm ready. Oh, this just seems like too much trouble to go through! Maybe I should just go to a sperm bank."
"No way! If that was all you needed, I would go next door, grab Ulmer by the scruff of his neck toss him onto your bed. I'd just lock the door on my way out, leave you two to get the whole thing over with right here in this apartment. We're going out, and that's that" The Select-a-Mate program that had replaced my brain kicked in.
"No, Not him! You keep that little pointy-eared fox with you tonight, don't let him even think about getting close to me. I like him, but…"
"You're missing a bet. The boy's good." She made a rude gesture. "I know. You're looking for mister tall, red and handsome, a member of the master race, vulpes vulpes sapiens." Her sharp tone hurt: I looked hard to see how much she meant that. I realized I had dismissed her (and my) good friend without a second thought.
"I know it sounds awful, I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I do want pretty babies. It's not like the father is going to furnish anything besides his looks." She looked at me seriously.
"So, you are still going back to Earth to be with Dave?"
"If I can. Maybe we can find a replacement for him there someday, and we'll move here. My kits deserve to be raised among foxes, not on the run back home. And Chessec needs to come home too. She says she doesn't want any, but once she feels what I'm going through, she won't last long. I guarantee that whichever of the two of us gets pregnant first, the other will follow. You and H'raawl-Hrkh'll be the same, you'll see."
"You're not pregnant, yet. And those are pretty confident words for a girl who is about to go on her first date within her own species. You don't even know what a male Diyim'yi's member looks like. And you're not going to find out unless we get going."
We went to a dance club near the campus. Jena kept to her word, monopolizing Ulmer's attention. It was impossible to be inconspicuous sharing a table with the big cat. Anytime I saw an attractive fox, she pestered me to talk to him. Once, when I decided I'd rather not, I was surprised by a large paw against my backside, propelling me onto the dance floor. I met and danced with several handsome young males, joked with a few more and only snapped at one female. But most were far too young for me. It's easy enough to act 21 when your body actually is that age, but harder to convince a mind twice as old.
By the last dance, I had a possible name for second consideration, but nobody that I really wanted. I decided I'd had enough for tonight. Jena looked daggers at me, and Ulmer just looked tired as the three of us walked together toward the underground station.
Waiting in front of our building were Commander Candroc with a detail of his bodyguards.
"Captain Chopka has just reentered the system. I'm afraid the opposition will try something to clean up loose ends before he can report to headquarters with his side of the events on Nurnkh. We'd like to move you both out to the farm where you'll be safe. My men will guard us while you pack."
"Marie, H'raawl-Hrkh's not on the ship. I can't sense her," Jena said anxiously.
"It's too soon to worry about her. There's nothing we can do until he lands." We walked out to the waiting limo. Candroc inhaled my scent appreciatively, but said nothing. I found myself admiring his appearance, calculating, before my subconscious dismissed him as ''too old." But I knew what I'd been missing all night, what I needed now: Somebody close to my own age.
AFIS 3.82 This Ain't No Disco, This Ain't No Foolin' Around
A journey of nine days from Earth to home on a ship with marginal life support would normally be a high-tension experience for an experienced crew; but adding an excited young cub to the mix somehow made it an adventure. Kirron wanted to learn every duty position, was always willing to help (except when he needed a nap) and turned out to be genuinely useful when shifting heavy objects. The growing jaguar's size and strength made possible repairs we would otherwise have deferred until we docked, and he kept us too busy to worry about conserving oxygen. Only when I took my readings each shift, seeing the gauges drop measurably, did my stress return.
We transitioned from hyper, entering the home system as close to the primary as Lossp could navigate, gaining precious hours of oxygen. Something was definitely wrong at fleet headquarters. Once our transponder interrogated the outer marker, contradictory and cryptic instructions poured in: the one thing they had in common was they wanted us off the ship and on the planet as soon as possible. Which really wasn't an option; our situation air was critical. I was about to decide who could best take our surrender when a message came in from a familiar sender.
"Captain, the Old Lady sent us a message." Lossp ripped the paper off the printer after he decoded it. "Commodore Amkro sends landing, coordinates, and oh, by the way, has a date lined up for you." At least someone thought I'd done the right thing, if Amkro was still determined to bring me into her family. I had about decided on the middle niece. I had Lossp program the data for Mitzep to land the shuttle.
"This co ordinate's not on the estate." I asked Mitzep over the intercom: "Where is it?"
He opened his microphone before he spoke. "Kirron, push the buttons 'lightly' with your claw tip. Those plastic ones are more delicate-oh, sorry Captain. We're pulling up a map right now. This looks like a farmstead near the capital. No place I know."
"Any chance this is a trick?" I asked Lossp. He shook his head.
"She used her personal authentication."
"OK, we'll do it. Put us in a parking orbit." Keying the intercom, "Mitzep, is everything ready on the shuttle?"
"Ready, Boss. Kirron is helping." I barked a laugh.
"We'll join you as soon as we secure the bridge."
By the time Lossp shut down the radio, I'd been variously directed to place myself under arrest, rendezvous with three different ships and orbital stations. More ominously, the press didn't seem to know we were coming. There was nothing on the 'net or broadcast. We were a secret, but one with wide exposure in certain quarters. I wondered what our reception would be when we landed. I said to Mitzep, "Do we have body armor aboard the shuttle for everyone?"
"Got it. Kirron is wearing your spare, it's a bit crooked, but H'raawl-Hrkh's was still too long for him to bend over." He gestured at the armored cub. "He loves it, though. Boss, I've got all the small arms aboard the shuttle. How do you want to disembark?"
"Me first. You last. I'll wear my dart pistol in plain view. You all stay clear of the hatch, holding slug-throwers. If they want us arrested, leave everything here. If they shoot first, I'll drop backwards if I can, and Lossp can lay suppressive fire while you get us out of here. Short hop, get this thing behind some cover. Don't worry about me; if I get hit, get to your mother. We still have the tapes, after all."
We set down in the courtyard of a substantial farm. As I opened the hatch, a shot rang out, answered by a burst of automatic weapons. I braced for the hit, but it wasn't aimed at me. Candroc himself crouched near the landing pad with three armed guards facing away, watching the perimeter. He waved me over, so I jumped out of the hatch and crouched down with him beside his sedan. We touched noses and sniffed: He was excited but not afraid, an excellent sign.
"Welcome back, Captain. Sorry for the hot reception. The opposition moved sooner than we expected." He saw Lossp's barrel stick out of the hatch. "Bring your crew and follow me, we'll get you someplace safe." Lossp ran down, followed by Kirron. The cub had our grenade launcher, my slug-thrower, an ammunition belt and the haversack of tapes all slung over his shoulders. I started to warn the old sea captain the jaguar was friendly, but he was laughing too hard. "I see you brought reinforcements. Let's get you all out of here."
We entered a dairy barn that had been converted into some kind of administrative offices, passed two more armed guards, and went down some basement stairs. A lighted underground passageway brought us to another stairs leading upwards to a closed fire door. Candroc scratched on the door, and a vision slit opened briefly, revealing a pair of orange vulpine eyes. There was the sound of a bar being removed, and the door opened to reveal an absolutely gorgeous vixen in an evening dress. Chessec, was my first thought, but immediately realized she had to be Marie. She held a short automatic shotgun.
"Chopka!" She gave me a quick, fierce hug, surprising me. "It's good you made it." She felt wonderful, and I reluctantly broke off our embrace. As we stood aside for everyone to pass through the door, I wondered what had happened to let Amkro persuade Marie, of all vixens, to be my 'date.' There must have been some difficulties while I was gone, to change her mind. One thing was certain, it was sure to be uncomfortable, possibly dangerous to explain to Dave when we next met, if I was reading her wrong. Still, there was definitely an attraction that was missing when I'd seen her before.
"Is this everyone?", she asked. "What happened to rest of the crew?"
"The crew was fine when I left them on Earth."
"You've been to Earth?!" She started to ask more, but I needed information now. I could hear more gunfire outside.
"Tell me what's going on here first. They're all safe enough for now." I looked around the room. It appeared to be an old concrete-walled coal storage bin that had been roofed with massive beams and small narrow windows. There were four armed Diyim'yi peering through those windows, and the farthest corner was filled with a mob of immature Jaguars. They were watching Kirron with great interest, and he returned it in full measure. That certainly explained Candroc's lack of surprise at the cub's appearance; it appeared he had acquired a few of his own.
Marie gestured at the crowded room. "We didn't think they'd find the farm so quickly." She brought me up to date about the jaguars in a few words. "Maybe two-dozen armed men, fortunately without any heavy weapons, tried to overrun us about two hours ago. They've captured the administrative building, but our guards are keeping them away from the nursery. We brought all the bigger cubs in here for safety. There are reinforcements on the way, and Candroc thinks the attackers will break off as soon as they show up."
Candroc looked up from the radio he held at the mention of his name. "In the central government's opinion, it looks like we still are the good guys at the moment. I'll want you both to testify in front of the council as soon as we can get you there safely. Mitzep says there is evidence of the plot on those tapes. They'll want to see that too, but they certainly want to hear it from that cub's own mouth. Marie, take the Captain, Kirron, and the most presentable of these cubs, and get them cleaned up and ready to go. There's a washroom through there. I hope you've got a brush?"
It was a tight squeeze, too tight until Marie perched up on the sink stand. I relieved Kirron of most of the ordnance and picked the worst of the knots from his fur while she brushed the other cub. When they were done, I eased them out the door, turning to face her in the mirror. The room became suddenly smaller, as I inhaled her scent under the covering perfume. She held up the brush.
"Come here, I'll straighten you too."
"Marie, I think…" She leaned forward and started brushing my cheeks. I was suddenly aware just how long it had been since I'd been with a vixen.
"I know. It's obvious. Everyone can smell me. These things happen at just the wrong time." If I was confused, she was certainly sending mixed signals, too. She grabbed my cheek fur with both paws. "Chopka, you are the most handsome fox I know. I want to have children, and I need someone to help me with it. I want you to be the one."
I pulled her paws away.
"Marie, I would like that very much, but this is not the place and we don't have time. Besides, I don't think I heard you ask me to marry you, and- Well, we just need to talk first." That was certainly unexpected. I don't think I've ever turned anyone down before. I picked her up from off the sink, setting her on her feet. "Let's go."
Shakily, she arranged herself and I started to open the door. A sharp 'crack' sounded outside, and I pulled Marie down to the floor with me. Working the bathroom door open, I could see a stunned Diyim'yi reel away from the window, blood pouring from her face.
"Everybody down! There's a sniper. Somebody come help with Dr. Renswi, she was hit by a splinter." Marie and I started to crawl toward Candroc, but he waved me back. "I want you down there, Captain. I've got two doctors in this room alone. Once my men flush that shooter, the four of you are going to run with me to an armored limo, and we're getting out of here." He glared around the room, individually making eye contact. "No heroics from any of you!" He spoke quietly on his radio.
A sudden burst of automatic weapon fire and the distinctive 'bloop…wham!' of a grenade launcher announced the sniper's demise. The radio crackled, and he gestured for a guard to open the door. We ran through, throwing ourselves into the limo, which started rolling before the doors were closed. The armored car delivered us to the nearest town, where we picked up a police escort that grew ever larger until we reached the Council's chambers.
As I stood aside to let Marie walk through the doors, I saw she was still holding the shotgun at port arms.
"Better to leave that here." I propped it behind the door.
"Right, but I'm keeping the grenade," she whispered. As we finally faced the Council, I wondered where a vixen wearing an evening gown even carried a grenade.
The opposition really never had a chance once we started our. Our recordings and photos from Nurnkh showed the extent of their treason without any doubt. Whatever the justification offered, no one would be able to claim the fleet had done anything other than exceeding the authority granted by the Council. Still, several members were clearly in sympathy with their illegal actions, but confined themselves to asking pointed, sarcastic questions.
Their counterargument was two-fold: To show that my crew and myself acted illegally, and that the greater danger of a re-emergent Jaguar people offset any 'irregularities' they might have committed. Swallowing heavily, I took the stand, offering to answer any charges on behalf of my crew.
"I request a Court of Honor." There was a moment of silence as our chief antagonist considered the prospects of a hearing in open court.
"I withdraw my last statement." The final straw was the testimony of the cubs. Kirron, in halting Diyim'yi, described growing up in the lab, including the tests and punishments inflicted on his fellow cubs. He spoke politely to the council members, taking refuge in confusion if they asked questions he didn't understand. It was well past his bedtime, but he was determined to stay awake long enough to tell the story, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his paws. He managed to win over all but the most hardened members of the opposition.
Just as planned. Candroc had explained on the drive over that, as far as he knew, every member of the council was a parent.
"I want them to see these are children, not the soldiers they fought when they were younger. They all should realize that children always learn what they are taught, and that we have a chance to teach them the right things now. And that it might be too late, later."
"What if we lose? What if they decide to let the opposition carry out their plan?" The old fox smiled.
"All Council meetings are filmed for the record. The camera operator is one of my people. If nothing else happens, even if we win, someone is going to 'leak' the cubs' testimony to the news tonight. If we lose, the whole hearing gets broadcast."
In the end, there was not even a recorded vote. The Council directed an investigation into the actions at Fleet headquarters, into the attack on the farm, and reinstated me in my current rank. As a concession to the opposition, the investigator who was appointed was a conservative, retired officer who, while known for his xenophopbic attitude, was known even better for his rigid code of honor. The Council prepared to adjourn, when a member began to speak heatedly to the Chairman. He glared at her and then tapped his gavel on the table.
"There is one more item of business. Marie Corbett, you will stand." She stood in front of the microphone, stunning in her long dress. Certainly, the eyes of all the males on the council were on her.
"Ms Corbett, you continue to appear at the center of entirely too many crisis that demand our attention. You are a foreigner in our midst, a guest. Other alien species live among us in great numbers without difficulty, so why are you such a, for lack of a better word, bother?"
She stood there for almost a full minute, thinking. No, she posed there. Fully aware of the effect her perfect appearance had, but aware that while they wouldn't forget seeing her, they might not remember what she said.
"Mister Chairman, with the defeat of the Jaguar, you have inherited their empire. What you do not realize, yet, is that all of the people inside that empire are its citizens. Most are backward peoples now, but as they approach your knowledge and sophistication, they will more and more demand the privileges of that citizenship. And eventually, they will get them. The question is, how much will they hate you by the time that day comes?"
"I don't know if you care yet about the answer to that question, but I do. So, I'll tell you why I'm being such a bother. First, because I'm an alien living among you, I've met and listened to the Alwroo, the M'raeenn and others, because they happen to be the people I know. I care what happens to them, and I care what they think about you. Second, because I'm human. We are not part of this little empire, and my people are almost certain to discover who you are soon, and many would oppose friendly relations with a government with colonial relations like yours when that happens. Diyim'yi cannot afford that. Lastly, in spite of the first two points, I'm one of you. Anyone here can see. If I can do so, I intend to have kits, and want to raise my children as Diyim'yi. This is my home, now. I am willing to work to fix it, which means unless things change, you will be seeing a lot more of me in the future."
There was silence, broken by the restrained clapping of Amkro from her seat on the end of the Council bench. The rest sat stunned, while the chairman looked thoughtful for a moment, then said,
"This session is adjourned. Thank you for your views, Ms Corbett."
AFIS 3.83 Bargaining from a Position of Strength
Chopka led me out of the Council chamber into a quiet alcove.
"That was a tremendous speech. I could never have thought up something that profound on short notice."
"Chopka, I am in serious rut here. I could never have thought that up under these conditions. I wrote it last month, rehearsed it until I got it right."
"Heat, I mean. Speaking of which, we were going to discus something?"
He let out his breath with a 'whoosh.'
"I can't do it, Marie. I won't father a child that I can't call my son. I'm sorry."
I was speechless. I had offered myself to the fox my whole body told me was my best choice, and he turned me down. I wanted to beg, to scream, to pound on his chest, but I kept silent. He left, and I caught a cab home. I was surrounded by blessed quiet as I closed the door to my little apartment. The last 26 hours had certainly been full enough with shouts, gunfire and crowds to suit me for a long while to come. I just stood and closed my eyes for a moment, letting loose of all the tensions, readying myself to embrace my future without all the baggage of the past.
Save one. The sensitive skin, throbbing blood vessels and swollen glands reminded me I was still very much in need of a male. With Chopka's refusal, I decided I'd better find that slip of paper with my handsome, anonymous young fox from the club's address printed on it. Despite everything that had happened, it was still the weekend, after all.
I heard a soft scratch at the door and I reluctantly opened it. Chopka stood in front of me, a sheepish grin of his muzzle, holding in his paw a small bunch of flowers, stolen from the hedge outside the building.
"I'd heard you human women liked these things." He gave them to me, entering the room, taking advantage of my distracted search for a glass to use for the vase to walk over and sit on the couch. "I've given what we talked about some thought, and I'll do what you want me to if you'll do one thing for me."
"Chopka, I'm not going to give up Dave. I intend to continue to be his wife, and I will always treat him as my husband. What I want from you is finished once you've impregnated me." I did not want to go over all this again. Better some anonymous male during a one-night-stand. I snarled, ready to drive him away and storm out of the room. His eyes widened when he saw my teeth, but he grabbed my paw and held me still while he spoke.
"Marie, listen to me. That deal is not enough. I won't make a kit who doesn't have the right to call me his father. But you are forgetting our customs, thinking too much like a human. There is an easy answer, you know. I'm going to marry that youngest Candroc girl as soon as we can arrange it. If you would accept status as Second Wife instead of First to Chessec, then Dave would be considered married into Clan Candroc as her husband: since she is the daughter of Amkro. And it is not unheard of for one co-husband to 'assist' when his brother clansman cannot produce offspring. Please consider this. You know Amkro would want your family joined to her clan. And I want you, too."
It reminded me of the plot of "Pirates of Penzance" for some reason, and was the longest speech I'd ever heard from Chopka, not his style at all. But when he mentioned her name, I remembered hearing something similar from a speech Amkro gave me when we first met, so long ago.
"Come on, Marie. Please accept this." He pulled me into his lap. My instincts were at a hair trigger; the vixen that was ready to lash out at him, to drive him from me, competing with the one who was telling me this was the right one. My intellect took one last shot.
"And that's legal?" He agreed, struggling to hold me in front of him. "I asked the Old Lady herself." He grunted and lifted me, holding me out at arms length.
"Marie, I will leave right now if you don't accept those conditions. You're scent is driving me crazy! Please, tell you will join our clan, otherwise I'll have to go before I do something I regret."
Which is exactly what I wanted from him. But I liked him too much to place him in that position, and I respected Amkro enough to not want to cause her family embarrassment. I thought once more about Dave. He had never wanted children, but had expressed support for my desire once I found out it was possible. He had accepted my sister in my place; I hoped he accepted the rest of her family likewise.