Ebony and Fire 1:
Misplaced Courtesan

by Fur and Fantasy
PG-13 for F/M/F
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Syrkar groaned reflexively as he tried to struggle to his feet. The world around him slowly shifting from the white nothingness of whatever had hit him to something that at least vaguely resembled grass and sunlight.

There was a the roar of jet engines as two high-tech aircraft made a VTOL landing about 30 yards from the Kat. Four large individuals in gray uniforms with navy piping wearing black helmets jumped out and surveyed the area. Two of them, started over toward him.

It was a moment before he realized there were others in the area, and he blinked and shifted in distress when it registered they were combat-types.

("Umm, hi.") He tried a sheepish smile. ("I'll just get out of here now if I'm not supposed to be around, okay?") He added with a hopeful note in his voice.

Two of them looked at each other, apparently not understanding him. Another walked up, and took of her helmet revealing the six and a half foot tall person to be a fairly striking Black Lioness, though her feline features were very muted.

She looked at him for a moment, and he felt a strange surge run through his head. ("Who are you, stranger?") She said in a distinctly challenging, but not really unfriendly voice.

("Syrkar Callahan.") He relaxed significantly and smiled at her. ("I'm not real sure how I ended up here. I'm not looking for trouble.")

She smiled brightly. ("You hardly seem like an invasion force.") She chuckled. ("Are you injured?")

("Umm, don't seem to be.") He chuckled nervously as he patted down his body. ("Just a bit turned around. Where is here?")

("You're on the planet Felsinor, about five miles from the capital. That's why you've got so much attention, not every visitor gets Rapid Response's attention.") She smiled. ("So where are you from, Syrkar?")

("Planet Felsinor?") He nearly choked. ("Ever heard of Enderich before?") He asked almost hopeful.

("Can't say that I have.") She said with a shake of her head, and then laughed slightly. ("I am forgetting manners, my name is Artania Torwell. So what's the last thing you remember, before being here?) She asked gently.

("A very bright flash of light.") He shivered slightly. ("I figured I was dead, until I woke up.")

("Did you see what caused the bright flash of light?")

("Not really.") He shook his head. ("I saw the ESDF in a battle, but not who it was with this time.")

("Who's the ESDF?") She asked curiously.

("The Enderich Special Defense Forces.") He smiled apologetically. ("They handle all the stuff the police and military can't. Like you, I think.")

("Similar.") She smiled. ("From the sound of things, you don't have a way back, do you?")

("Not on my own.") He admitted quietly.

("I know some people who might be able to help.") She offered helpfully. ("First thing, though, is to get you set up so you're legal here.) She said as one of her teammates unloaded a high tech motorcycle from the back of one of the jets, and pushed it over to her. She put her black flight helmet back on, and handed a spare to Syrkar. ("Unless you're waiting for someone, you're not going to accomplish much standing in this field.") She laughed warmly, as she mounted the motorcycle. ("Get on behind me, and hold on.")

("Not on my own.") he admitted quietly.

As one of her teammates brought a high tech cycle over to her, she smiled. ("I know a few people who may be able to help. But first you'll need to get legal here. I can give you a hand with the bureaucracy, if you'd like.") She said offering him a spare helmet as she put her flight helmet on and mounted the cycle.

("Thank you.") He gave her a winning smile before climbing on the bike and holding on to the much taller female tightly. ("I would appreciate it.")

("My pleasure.") She said as they started off. ("It's always a relief when a first contact turns out to be friendly, as well as attractive.") She chuckled over the helmet comm as the bike sped up.

("This happens often?") Syrkar asked with a touch of alarm over the helmet-comm.

("First contact? Sure, though not as often as if we were on one of the frontier worlds. That's why units like Rapid Response exist.") She said, as the capital became visible in the distance.

("Frontier worlds?") Syrkar swallowed. ("You've got space flight and stuff?")

The Black Lioness chuckled. ("Of course, interstellar flight is as common as airplane travel was when we were limited to one world.") She said casually. ("I take it that your homeworld doesn't?") She said as they crossed a huge gleaming silver bridge over a wide river.

("Just a couple shuttles that go up and come down, and some satellites.") He shook his head, still trying to process the concept.

("Oh.")

As they entered the city proper, there was traffic moving on two levels since vehicles were mixed between ground and hovercraft. There was also a light monorail system that wound around the city above the regular streets.

The Lioness agilely maneuvered the fast moving cycle through city traffic, to an on-ramp to a eight lane highway which she followed to a wide open area surrounded by buildings. As they approached the building a navy blue delta wing shuttle came in for a landing, and a larger white commercial shuttle took off.

"Old tradition." She said over the helmet comm. "Immigration and alien processing is headquartered at the Spaceport."

("I think the ESDF handled it back home.") Syrkar murmured as he watched the real life sci-fi scene in fascination.

("I wouldn't be surprised.") She said, as she parked her cycle in front of a large gray building that was clearly very old, and several times restored. She put the two helmets back into their storage compartments, and led him inside.

Inside was an office building that would fit on almost any world, except for the dizzying number of different species. A variety of feline, canine, avian, dragon and lizard morphs passed the two as they walked through the broad halls.

The Lioness knocked and then opened a door to step into an office where a petite female Lynx was sitting behind a desk doing paperwork. "Artania, what a pleasant surprise." She said with a smile as she looked up. "Who's your cute friend?"

Artania chuckle. "His name's Syrkar Callahan and he's a first contact alien. He doesn't speak Galactic and he needs to get local documentation."

The Lynx stood up, and walked from behind her desk. She was notably shorter than the Lioness, being maybe 5' 6", as she stood nearly eye to eye with him. "Why don't you introduce us?"

The Lioness nodded. ("Syrkar, this is Keira Felwithe, a friend of mine who's going to help get you through the red tape.") She said with a smile, as the Lynx offered a friendly hand.

("Pleased to meet you, Keira.") He smiled brilliantly and half bowed before taking her hand and kissing the back of it. ("You will be a most pleasant sight to work across from.")

Keira chuckled. "Hopefully, we can keep it from being too much work." She said in the local language, which Syrkar realized that he knew now. "After we finish, then maybe the three of us can grab lunch." She suggested.

The Lioness smiled. "I like the way you think Keira." She grinned, and patted Syrkar on the shoulder in a friendly fashion. "You're in good hands here for now. I've got to go fill out some reports and deal with a briefing, but I'll be back in time for lunch." She said, as she stepped out.

"Both sound excellent." He slipped easily into the very subtle flirting most females enjoyed, available or not.

Keira smiled, and sat back down behind her desk and pulled up a form on her computer. "My apologies if you've been asked these questions before, standard protocol for non-resident aliens from outside Alliance space." She said a little apologetically.

"Full name, title if any?"

"Syrkar Callahan." He said easily as he relaxed back in a chair. "I don't have any official titles."

"Age and occupation?" She asked easily.

"Twenty-seven by the Enderich calendar." He paused to consider and riffle through the new lingual particularities before answering. "Umm, Escort is probably close enough to my last job, though I've does a few other things."

"No problem, though make sure to get properly licensed before working if you decide to continue that profession." She said in a non-judgmental tone of voice. "Was your arrival on Felsinor by your choice, or involuntary?"

"Involuntary." He sighed.

She turned from the form for a moment. "We'll get to details later, but as an involuntary arrival you do get a fair amount of government support to give you time to adjust. It also provides for educational benefits, in case there's a profession that interests you that you don't have the qualifications for yet." She smiled encouragingly. "There are worse places to get dumped."

"Sounds like it." He nodded gratefully.

She typed a bit more, filling in the blanks she didn't need to ask about. "Almost forgot." She smiled. "Species name?"

"K-A-T. Kat." Syrkar supplied. "What kind of jobs got added with space-flight?" He asked curiously.

She smiled. "That's a pretty big list. Military or civilian?" She chuckled warmly.

"Civilian ... I'm a lover, not a fighter." He smiled playfully.

She chuckled. "Gods, is that line universal or what?" She grinned. "Well, you've got the various positions on starships, though a lot of those are simply adaptations of ocean going cruise line positions. There's the space mining and manufacturing sector, including things such as planetary and asteroid survey, and scouting, in addition to the actual mining of asteroids which is much different than the planet bound variety. There's the new science fields that opened up, with the sciences that can only be practiced in space, such as stellar cartography, stellar physics and such." She paused. "I could keep going for quite some time, since space opened up so much. It's kind of like the wheel, the discovery of powered flight, or fusion power."

"I guess so." Syrkar shook his head. "It's a lot to absorb at once."

"Don't worry." She smiled warmly. "No one expects you to. It'll be easier when you have a computer to pull info off of." She thought for a moment. "Your world has computers, right?"

"Well, yes." He said a little hesitantly. "It's not really a skill I picked up much of. There wasn't any reason to."

The Lynx chuckled. "Guess Tania and I will have to help you pick it up then. It's essential to modern living." She grinned. "But I figure we'll be helping you get settled so that's just part of it."

She typed quickly filling in spaces that were either obvious, or not appropriate. Then she slid a section of the desktop on Syrkar's side open revealing a lighted glass panel. "Okay, put one hand on the glass and look into the light. We need to get retina print and fingerprints for ID purposes."

He nodded and complied, trying to relax as the scan was made.

The scan was quick and painless. Keira smiled after it was finished. "See not so bad. You're all set except for one detail...the physical, which shouldn't take too long. Especially since I can get you into the facility's doctor now."

"Oh, joy." He groaned and rolled his eyes with a soft chuckle. "Lead the way, oh lady of answers."

She lead him through the halls of the Alien processing building. "You don't have some incredible fear of doctors do you? You'd be surprised the number of aliens we get who are terrified of doctors." She asked conversationally as the rode the elevator down.

"Not really." He shook his head. "Not the kind I like to see in their professional capability, just because it's hardly ever a good thing."

"Not an unreasonable view." She said as they walked into medical. "Hi, Tavin. Got time to do a new intake physical?" She asked the six-foot tall male cheetah in the lab coat.

The wiry doctor turned to face them and flashed a smile, and bright green eyes at Keira. "Since you brought him down, I think I can manage."

"Syrkar, this is Tavin. He's the facility's doctor, but he insists on being on a first name basis."

The cheetah extended a hand. "I refuse to beat people over the head with my title. Pleased to meet you, Syrkar."

"Pleased to meet you as well." The athletic orange on black tabby shook hands. "I like you better than most docs already." He smiled.

The cheetah smiled. "Good. If you'll just follow me back to the examination room, we'll get this over with as few needles as possible." He smirked as he headed back to a door off the main room.

"That would be a good thing." Syrkar agreed readily. "All these advances and you still use needles?"

Tavin chuckled, as he closed the examining room door. "No, it's just a standard medical joke. The hypos work much better than the old needles and without the danger of infection." He said as he punched a series of buttons on a console next to an examining bed. "Okay, if you'll just take off your clothes and lie on the examining table." He patted the padded surface.

Without a trace of self-consciousness Syrkar stripped and got on the table, watching what Tavin was doing out of curiosity and lack of another distraction more than anything.

Tavin looked at the reading on the monitor as the table did a detailed scan. He hummed and ahhed and made a few notes.

"Any surgery, serious illness or hospitalization?" He asked as he brought up a medical history form on one computer.

Syrkar paused to actually go through his memories carefully before answering. "I was hospitalized for a while when I was nine, I don't remember for what though. I think I was sick."

"No broken bones, or serious illnesses in adulthood then?" He asked carefully. "Any allergies, medical or otherwise?"

"Nothing I know of." He shook his head. "I've been pretty healthy."

"Excellent." He said, as he made a note. "Nothing in the scan indicates a need for actually drawing blood." He said as he pulled a hypo off a shelf. "So, just one more thing to do, and that's bring you're immunizations up to date. Fortunately, we can do that with one shot, and you're genetically so close to Felsin that I don't even have to specially formulate something." He said as he walked over and pressed the tip against Syrkar's shoulder.

"All done." He said after a brief hiss from the hypo. "You're good to go, from a medical perspective." He smiled. "You can get dressed now."

Syrkar smiled as he swung off the bed, almost unconsciously giving both Felsin in the room a sensual display as he covered his striking flame-orange stripes and glossy black fur.

Tavin smiled in appreciation, as he led the Kat back to Keira in the waiting room. "He's all set, and probably the best looking alien I've seen in quite a while." He smiled at the Lynx. "Thanks for picking my shift."

"You're welcome, Doc." She said as she led Syrkar out of the medical section.

"I think he actually enjoyed doing the paperwork that time." She smirked as they rode the elevator.

"I do try to please." Syrkar chuckled. "And we do seem to share some aesthetics."

"That we do." She agreed easily. "That was the end of the paperwork. Any other questions will just be my curiosity about a handsome newcomer." She smiled pleasantly.

"Well, you're welcome to ask." He smiled at her. "I'm sure I'll have a few of my own."

"Good, it always works better that way." She smiled as they got back to her office. She turned to open a small refrigerator under her work table. "Would you like something to drink while we wait for Tania? I've got bottled water, milk and fruit juice."

"Milk sounds good." Syrkar chuckled to himself slightly. "There's ... for all the changes, a lot is the same."

She handed him a glass bottle with a twist off top, as she took a water for herself. "We're all felines so that's probably some of it, it's even possible our species are related. Especially, since we're not native to our homeworld." She said easily, as she leaned back. "Would have been quite different on say Karnor, or Lupo Prime." She smiled.

"Karnor?" He cocked an eyebrow in curiosity. "Let me guess, Lupo Prime is a canine homeworld."

"Actually, both are though Karnor is the Canem homeworld, while Lupo Prime is the Lupo homeworld. If you go back to their primal origins, Canem are descendents of the 'domestic' canine types, while the Lupos are related to the more wild types; wolves, dingos, coyotes, hyenas and the like." She explained casually. "Was your world exclusively feline as far as sentient races, or were there others?" She asked curiously.

"Umm, okay." He blinked as he thought about that. "Yes, there are others. The canines are Kantin. We don't distinguish them like that though. Felines are broken into two groups, Kats like me, and Xanith." He hesitated, trying to put together a description that would make sense. "Xanith are usually a lot bigger than Kats, seven to nine feet tall as opposed to the five to six and a half for Kats. Xanith also tend to be more likely to shapeshift, and have fur patters than hold very strongly between generations."

Keira nodded making mental notes. "Then your Xanith have significant similarity to Felsin. Though Felsin are a bit smaller, with the big subgroups topping out at around eight feet tall. Fur patterns tend to hold, and shapeshifting is present in about one in three Felsin. Subgroups tend to be noticeable, Tania's a Lion, and I'm a Lynx for example. But that's just a shorthand for describing fur patterns, there's no real social or legal significance to it."

"We do that too." Syrkar nodded. "With Xanith, Kantin and Muscled it had temperament, build, and social stuff mixed in too, as they tend to stay with their own for breeding partners. Ursine and Kats it's just a color description. Like me, I'm called an orange on black tabby Kat. The only one, too."

"The only one? It is a very striking pattern, I would've said reverse tiger, but that's only cause the term 'tabby' isn't used locally, unless you're discussing a domestic house cat, of the pet variety." She smiled. "There are build and some temperament differences, Lions tend to be more social, while Tigers tend to be less so, for example. And the larger Felsin are either Lion or Tiger, or have a parent who is." She explained easily. "But with the exception of a few old families, no one is that hung up on breeding."

"Thank you. I've grown to like it, once I got past being different." Syrkar chuckled. "We use tabby because I'm a Kat with stripes, not a Tiger Xanith. There are facial differences and they're much heavier built with very different stripes. Tigers have thin, intricate stripe patters you can actually use to ID them with and a very set color set. It doesn't work that way with tabbies, though some of the tiger-tabbies and swirl-tabbies can be."

Keira nodded. "A distinction we didn't need with only having Tigers." She smiled. "Just don't be surprised if people think you're a short tiger." She smiled. "Do feel free to ask anything, even if it seems like it might be offensive or controversial. Better to ask me, than trip over something dealing with someone who isn't incredibly difficult to offend." She said encouragingly.

"What are the social and legal aspects of being an escort/ professional consort? And is there a difference between them and those that sell sex on the street?" He cocked his head.

"Legal aspect is that prostitution is regulated and licensed by the Bureau of Tourism and Entertainment. Which means a license is required to sell sex, regardless of venue." She said easily. "Selling sex on the street is restricted to very specific areas, and is illegal in some cities. They prefer such commercial activity not be transacted in open public places, however most nightclubs don't care since being known as a gathering place for prostitutes generally increases revenue.

"Social aspect is far more complicated. The overall view is that it's another job, which serves a useful social purpose but that most people wouldn't chose to be in. But then again, sanitation workers are viewed much the same." She smiled gently. "The individual views range all over, though the worst is usually that off 'someone who was qualified for anything else.'" She said easily. "Not that I'm of that view, but then it is how I paid my way through college." She grinned.

"Well, that's not much different, though it sounds like it's more accepted here." Syrkar chuckled softly. "Except we made a very big distinction between those on the street, and professionals who worked for higher class clubs and the wealthy. Most of what I did was serve as a companion and pretty consort at events. Sex was part of it, but my clients expected a lot more social graces and skills of me. Being good in bed was a bonus, but I was there to make them look good. I don't expect I'll be doing that here, though."

"Well, that clients expect more is a given, given the difference in price." She chuckled. "What they expect is so widely varied that it's hard to categorize. But there are some who look for what you describe." She said casually. "But the more visible people try to avoid having a paid consort at too many events ... it leads to people suggesting that that's the only way they can."

He raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

"The dynamics of Felsin relationships, especially those who are married, does complicate things for escorts. Married persons are rarely if ever repeat customers, at least on a regular basis." She explained. "That being said, it's worth noting that Felsin are not by nature monogamous. Some do form exclusive pairs, but it's far from the rule."

"So those of wealth and power having a paid companion or two is quiet unusual?" He cocked his head. "Most I went with chose me instead of a normal relationship for the simplicity. They know what the expectations are, and don't have to worry as much about all the relationship stuff with most of the perks of one." He shrugged, then hurmphed as a thought crossed his mind. "If Kats and Felsin are genetically compatible, what is the heat cycle like for you? What are the warnings?"

"Felsin have a very strong drive toward family, and for someone of visibility and influence to not have a mate, would be highly unusual. They might have a paid companion, but not for public display purposes." She said easily.

Syrkar filed that away with a nod.

"We don't have a heat cycle." She said simply. "There's a period of each month, that a female is fertile but it's hard to tell. That's what birth control is for, most females restrict fertility either by biofeedback or chemistry until they're in a permanent relationship. Males can practice the biofeedback as well, but most females don't leave such an important decision to male self-control." She chuckled lightly.

"That's quite different." He shifted. "Shekats go into heat for a week twice a year. It's very obvious, and just as intense for both partners."

Keira smiled. "Intensity is all in who you're with. At least in my experience. But I guess some differences are to be expected, even if we do share a common ancestor there's about three thousand years and some divine influence in between."

"No doubt." He nodded and relaxed back. "Did you grow up in the capitol?"

"Nope, I grew up in Taranto, a medium sized city on the southern coast of this continent. I moved here to go to college. My folks weren't thrilled, but I wanted to see everything, and there's no place like the Landing for that." She smiled.

"Landing?" He regarded her curiously. "Odd name for a capitol city."

She chuckled. "It's not the official name, it's just always been thought that the capitol was founded where the first settlers landed, hence the name Landing." She explained. "Its actual name is Tygrenor."

"Oh," he murmured. "Far as I know, all the races on Enderich evolved there."

"Yeah, most of the races we've encountered did." She said quietly. "Supposedly, our ancestors migrated here when some catastrophe threatened Origin."

"Do you know where Origin is?" He asked with real interest.

"That's probably one of the greatest mysteries in Felsin history." She shook her head. "There's no record, and we've never recovered any of the original ships. It's probably in another galaxy since according to the ancient records it took one thousand years to get here from there."

"Are you the only feline species in the Alliance?"

"That there's more than one of, yes." She smiled. "But then only the canines have more than one species, and there's still some debate over whether the Canem and Lupo are really different species."

"Like Kats and Xanith back home, though even the Xanith call themselves Xanith Kats when you get technical with them." Syrkar shook his head. "So there hasn't been another Kat dropped here?"

"Not that I'm aware of." She said curiously. "Is that just curiosity, or were you looking for someone?"

"Just curious." He shrugged. "If there's another Kat, I'd want to meet them."

"Understandable, if I was stranded I'd want to meet every Felsin who was there to." She nodded, and looked at her screen. "Ah, Tania's going to be delayed a bit, but said she'll meet us for lunch at Carelli's. It's a bit of a walk, but it's a lovely spring day." She said and then paused. "Assuming you feel up to walking, that is."

"Not a problem." He smiled and stood to offer her his arm. "I don't suppose you'd be available for more than dinner?"

She chuckled, as she took his arm. "We haven't got to lunch, and you're planning after dinner." She smiled. "I might be, what did you have in mind?" She said warmly, as they exited the building and boarded a moving sidewalk.

"Finding out if I can still cook to start with," he chuckled. "But mostly I'm hoping I wouldn't have to spend my first night in a strange place alone."

"That sounds promising, and actually I don't have any plans. That reminds me, after lunch we'll need to get you settled into an apartment." She said as the slidewalk quickly moved them to the edge of the city proper, where they disembarked and started walking.

Mixed in with the hovercar traffic, were a number of gliders, both avian-morph and dragon-morph. A seven foot tall avian morph with gold-brown wings swooped down to land on the sidewalk next to them. "Hello, Keira." He said brightly. "It's been a long time."

The Lynx smiled and hugged the eagle morph. "Kelos, it's been too long. What brings you back?"

"Business, but first things first. Who's your very distinctively marked friend?"

She smiled sheepishly. "Kelos, this is Syrkar; he's a new immigrant. Syrkar, this is Kelos; he's a professional warrior from Soaring Heights."

"A pleasure." The Eagle nodded politely and offered his hand, on which Syrkar could see evidence of retracted talons.

"Mine as well." Syrkar shook the eagle's hand strongly even as his mind and heart were racing at the sight of a person who could fly on their own power.

"Care to join us for lunch?" Keira offered.

"I wish I could, but I'm scheduled to meet with the Commandant of the Aerospace Academy shortly. But it would have been rude to not stop and say hello." The Eagle said politely. "Perhaps some other time." He nodded politely and then took off with a gust of wind.

"That was probably one of the best pilots you're ever likely to meet." She said as they watched him soar away, Syrkar's eyes never wavering.

"He's got his own wings." Syrkar whispered in awe.

"Yeah, that he does. Very handsome wings too, though Dracon wings are a pretty impressive sight too. Especially the ones with the metallic highlights." She said dreamily.

"I take it cross species relationships are accepted?" He smiled at her.

"Yeah, as long as both parties are adults and willing." She smiled. "Well, there are those who are close-minded about such things, but that sort aren't worth worrying about." She said as they resumed walking once the Eagle was out of sight.

"Speaking of which, what does legal adult mean here?" He asked as a thought crossed his mind. "And how much does it change between locals?"

"Legal adult is set by the planetary government, so as to keep people from running from one jurisdiction to another. Currently, Legal age is sixteen and it covers sexual interaction, alcohol purchase and consumption, vehicle licensing and eligibility to serve in the armed forces.

"Actually, vehicle licensing is a little more complicated since some licenses can be earned as young as fourteen." She said casually. "Was there a specific area of legal adult you were interested in?" She asked encouragingly.

"Mostly trying to keep myself from getting into trouble." He chuckled. "Back home it ranged anywhere from twelve to twenty one as being legal to bed someone, with some pairings being illegal at any age, plus the complications of parental consent at some ages, capability to consent and emancipation." Syrkar shook his head. "Teenagers aren't my thing, but it's good to know what's likely to get you in trouble."

"Parental consent is only an issue between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Though if you should travel to another planet, you should check the local laws." She said casually. "I can't think of any pairings that are outright illegal on Felsinor. Mostly the law is only concerned with the relationship being consensual.

"We used to have that sort of patchwork of laws, before the planetary government was founded. Having one government for the entire planet makes things a little less crazy." She said easily, as they walked through the bustling street past a mixture of Felsin, Canem, Lupo and Dracon.

"Are there any circumstances that would make it illegal even if someone is old enough?"

"Non-consensual contact is always illegal, this includes conditions under which the person can't consent ... such as drugged or unconscious. This includes use of violence, or threat of violence to obtain 'consent'." She explained. "Between two or more consenting adults, it's legal unless you're doing it in a public place. In which case, it's a minor offense."

"Good, that all falls under what I consider common sense." He nodded in approval and relief.

Keira chuckled. "We've got the advantage of a religion that's very open-minded on the subject of sex. We never had a solid source for narrow-mindedness on the subject."

"That may well be a feline trait." He chuckled. "We seem to breed liberal views, though the canines back home had us beat on exhibitionists."

"Yeah, but we actually had divine precedent for threesomes and same-gender LifeMates." She chuckled.

"Oh?" Syrkar raised an eyebrow at her.

"The main 'gods' of this world are the Triad: Felsira, Keltin and Caito. According to scripture, Keltin and Caito, both toms, were LifeMates before they met Felsira who became LifeMate to both of them." She explained.

"What are some high demand jobs in the Alliance?" Syrkar asked abruptly.

"I guess the biggest areas would be in the Sciences, Technical and Entertainment industries. The sciences because good researchers, and talent research staff are always in demand. Technical because with a high tech society comes the need for people to invent new technologies, fix and upgrade existing tech, and to train others. And Entertainment because the need to be entertained, to have an escape from the everyday world has remained a constant over time." She said easily. "And area interest you more than the other?" She asked encouragingly.

"Well, I'm from the entertainment industry, just not a segment you have here." He considered. "Though I've been thinking about learning another trade. I'm getting a bit old for courtesan. I just haven't run across much that I want to do, that pays very well at least." Syrkar shook his head. "There are disadvantages to starting from a very well paying job. I got used to the luxuries."

"Well, what have you run into that you want to do? Things may pay differently than you're used to." She asked casually.

"And I expect a lot that I think of as luxuries aren't here." He nodded. "Technology tends to do that too."

He considered silently as they walked. "I think what I've enjoyed the most is learning, exploring new situations and people. That was a lot of the draw of being a courtesan; I got to meet new people and situations all the time. I was always in a position to learn something new, see a place I'd never been to before."

"Well, there's always the diplomatic corps." She suggested. "Or Immigration, the agency I work for." She smiled. "Guess that would depend on what you define as a luxury."

"Diplomatic sounds interesting, paperwork is not my favorite hobby. I like the less regulated hours too, if yours are anything like ours were." He chuckled. "For luxury, I can probably give you a better answer after I see what you consider the basics."

"Diplomatic is also nice if you decide you like travel. It's one of those careers where you can stay on one world your whole career, or visit many, depending on your preference. It does have some minimum schooling requirements though." She said as they walked. "We'll cover basics when we get you settled." She smiled as they turned on to a street with numerous restaurants, which filled the air with a dizzying variety of smells.

"Oh, it all smells good." Syrkar rumbled as he nose twitched. "I do like travel."

Keira smiled. "We're headed for Carelli's, which is in my opinion the best Italian restaurant for lunch. They have good food, good prices and a very friendly staff." She said easily. "And I say that even though the head chef is an ex-boyfriend of mine."

"Which reminds me, where I'm from, almost everyone enjoys the company of both sexes in bed. What is it like around here?"

"About 75% enjoy both, 15% exclusively same gender, 10% exclusively opposite." She said easily. "No legal significance to said preference."

"It's a good thing to know," he chuckled softly as they were seated. "Is casual dating and one night affairs common?"

"Very common." She said as she picked up her menu. "Even those with LifeMates still date, normally." She opened the menu and then chuckled.

"What's funny?"

"It's a card from my ex for free lunch for me and a guest, from him personally. The back of the card says, well here." She handed him the 3 x 3 card done with elaborate calligraphy.

Syrkar looked at it for a moment before flipping it over to read the hand written note.

Good to see you, Kie. Like your new boyfriend, we always did have similar taste in toms.
Signed RK

Syrkar shook his head and chuckled. "I guess I still make quiet a first impression. Is he nice?"

"Reggie? Yeah, he's nice. A real sweetheart actually." She smiled distantly. "I'd have stayed with him, but he's just more umm ... exotic in the bedroom then I care for, at least on a frequent basis." She said quietly.

"Exotic?" He raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like a conversation to have in private. But I am curious. Professionally and personally."

"It's something I'll explain later, and if you like I'll even introduce you to Reggie." She smiled.

"I think I would." Syrkar smiled back. "I've found I enjoy many kinds of exotic bed play.

She grinned. "The two of you will have a lot to talk about." She thought for a moment while perusing the menu. "Tomorrow is Reggie's day off, remind me in the morning and I'll take you to meet him. He's far more interesting away from work." She smiled, and then turned to wave at Artania who was just walking in.

"I will." He promised. "As long as more interesting things haven't come up."

"So how're things going, Syrkar?" The Lioness said as she sat down.

"Quite well, I think." He smiled at her. "I've got some ideas about what to do with my life here, I like what I know of your legal and social structure, and I've already met several pleasant people. And Kelos," his eyes widened in the memory, "he's incredible."

"Kelos Andr'tarven? The Eagle Avar?" She asked, looking at Keira.

"Who else, Tania?" The Lynx smiled.

"You did invite him to lunch, right?"

"Of course, but he was on his way to a meeting at the Academy."

"Too bad, I always miss him." The Lioness said wistfully, before she looked back at Syrkar. "Sorry about that. But I knew I was leaving you in good hands. So what are you thinking about doing with your life, if you don't mind my curiosity?"

"Well, the Diplomatic Corps seems promising." He chuckled softly. "I like travel, meeting new people and learning."

Artania looked at him serious for a moment. "Yeah, I could see that. You're friendly, likable and attractive. Sounds like the diplomat I dated a few years ago. Though you're more attractive." She smiled, as she picked up a menu and scanned it.

Syrkar smiled politely at her before picking up the menu to see if 'language' included what these things actually were, or tasted like.

As far as he could tell, most of the dishes involved one or more forms of pasta, a sauce of a variety of flavors, meat and one or more cheeses. Unfortunately, taste wasn't included with language, so he went with his next best trick.

"What would you suggest?" He asked politely of Keira.

"Depends on your general preferences." She replied. "How spicy do you like your food?"

"Spicy is good." He grinned playfully. "I like flavorful meals."

The Lynx and the Lioness exchanged glances. "I'd suggest the linguini marestes." Keira said. "Very flavorful, and it's one of the house specialties."

"Then I will try that." He smiled playfully at her. "You said Felsin landed here, are any of those sites known?"

The Lioness flagged down their waitress, a petite panther. "I'll have the Lasagna, the cute one." She smiled at Syrkar. "will have the linguini marestes, and " she stopped and looked at Keira.

"I'll have Orchola primavera with extra cheese." The Lynx said with a smile.

The panthress nodded, made some notes. "Appetizers and beverages will be out shortly." She said before walking away.

"There's a couple sites, that are thought to be landing sites. But none with any of the hardware from the time. It's thought that those may be buried deep, possible beneath Tygrenor. Unfortunately, earlier times had little interest in preserving the past."

"Pity," he murmured. "Though it makes sense, in a way." He said quietly. "Enderich didn't start looking into history until our first female leader, Lady Camath, was elected."

"Our change came with our first leader who wasn't a warrior, but a scholar. Though it's thought that much of the earlier buildings lie beneath Tygrenor still waiting for someone to unearth them. I think it's the artifacts that turn up, that gives credence to that." The Lynx said with a smile.

"What is known?" He asked with an intense curiosity.

"According to history there were two previous cities on this site that 'disappear', due to subsidence, a problem solved by a Mage about seven centuries ago. So that there is one city built on top of another, on top of another. It's possible that others are further down. The Royal University of Felsinor's Archaeology and Engineering departments are working on a way to explore the lower cities without compromising the foundations of Tygrenor."

"Subsidence?" He prompted.

"Tygrenor is built on an ancient flood plain, and in earlier times, the ground would become more like a liquid causing the city to suddenly sink beneath the surface. According to the council of Mages, there was a water lay line that ran along the river, and once in a great while it would surge, greatly increasing the power of water in the area. This would cause subsidence. Fortunately, the Mages were able to 'redirect' the lay line away from the city."

"Oh," he blinked. "You have real mages?"

"Technically, the Alliance has three branches though only two are 'native' to Felsinor: Mages, and CyberWizards. The third branch, TechnoMages are native to Draconea. Most of the Alliance races have mages currently, though some of them have only rediscovered the art recently." Artania explained.

"Can anyone learn magic?" He asked, utterly fascinated. "What are the differences between them?"

"As I understand it, the difference between CyberWizardry and 'real' Magic is that Cyberwizards have an 'understanding' of machinery that alones their magic to work through and on such things without the difficulties that non-CyberWizards have. The trade-off is that their strength in the traditional magic form isn't as great. TechnoMages, I'm not sure of though what little I've heard indicates they treat machinery in a far more 'friendly' fashion than CyberWizards." The Lioness said, picking up the large glass of milk as fast as the waitress set it in front of her.

The waitress set a large glass in front of each of them, and a large plate of finger food in the center of the table. Keira smiled and picked up one of the golden brown cylinders from the plate. "Nobody does cheese sticks like Carelli's." She said as a sort of blissful look crossed her face.

Syrkar chuckled softly at her expression and tried a sample. "Oh, very good." He murred in honest appreciation. "So are mages common, or is it something only a few can understand?"

"As I understand its a talent that either your born with or not. But I'm not really sure how common the talent is. It's a fairly demanding field of study and not everybody is up to the challenges." She said. "Mage are rather uncommon, but so are quantum physicists." She chuckled, as she paused to nibble on a cheese stick.

"What do mages do in the Alliance?" He asked, sipping his milk.

"Like most people it depends on their interests. Magic is tool that can be applied to many things. A fair number serve with planetary defense and security, we even have a couple in Rapid Response." The Lioness said after long pull at her glass of milk. "But there are mages in just about every field, though not a huge number in any field."

"Can I find out if I have the talent for magic?" He asked with a mixture of awe, fascination and hope.

"That's easy enough to do. The Mages Guild will check anyone who wishes to be. It'll have to wait till tomorrow though, they're not open today."

Syrkar nodded and tried to relax to enjoy the finger food, but his mind kept chasing around so many possible futures, making it difficult to focus on much but them.

Keira put a gentle hand on Syrkar's shoulder. She'd seen the expression before. "Don't try to sort it all out over lunch. There's no rush." She smiled warmly.

"It's exciting." He grinned at her. "There are so many things to explore here. But I'll try to take it slow."

"I know, but I just don't want you to burn out trying to do it all quickly." She smiled.

"I understand." Syrkar inclined his head and made a real effort to focus on the meal that was arriving, instead of the future and all its changes.

The meal arrived shortly thereafter, with a very flavorful aroma that was a good preview of the meal itself. Along with the three plates, was a fourth smaller plate which was piled with golden brown star shaped pieces of something.

"Batter fried starfruit?" Artania said, cocking her head at Keira. "Are you and Reggie seeing each other again?"

"No, but the sweet dear remembers what I like." She said picking up a piece and nibbling at it. "And he does them so well." She grinned. "Well, everyone help yourself. They're far too good not to share." She grinned, as Artania and Syrkar each picked up a piece.

"Mmm, I like your taste in food so far." He rumbled appreciatively.

"Thank you." She said with a smile, as she took a bite of the main course. "This is the part of my job, I really enjoy."

"I can see why." He chuckled as he sampled his own. "Though I can imagine it can be dicey at times."

"Yeah, some arrivals are a lot less friendly, and then some act friendly but it turns out to be a show. I haven't actually fallen for one of those in a long time, so don't go breaking my streak." She teased lightly.

"I have no intention of it, ma'am." He straitened in mock indignity.

Artania laughed broadly. "Well Kei, I think you owe me. I almost handed the case to Cendor."

"Cendor? That pompous twit should've stayed in intelligence doing interrogation. He's got zero empathy for anyone. How he got into Immigration is beyond me."

"That's easy, his older sister is sleeping with the director."

"I see some things are universal." Syrkar shook his head.

"Unfortunately, yes." Keira agreed. "There hasn't been a system invented that completely excluded favoritism from decision making."

"Well, there has been, but the results are easily as bad." He sighed. "Taking the gut feelings and personal reaction out of the equation doesn't work either."

"Agreed, I recall an experiment that let a elaborate computer system pick candidates based on an exhaustive criteria list, its picks weren't very good. The candidates looked good on paper, but often lack certain qualities that aren't easily measurably."

"Though it works well if you're trying to get someone that works with the computer." He chuckled.

Both Artania and Keira chuckled at that. "True enough, though it's fairly rare to find a job that requires interaction with only the computer."

"And not one I'd want." He shook his head. "I like people too much."

"I'd say that's one thing we all have in common." She smiled. "There's a rumor that Artania even likes her fans."

The Lioness waved a fork of pasta at the Lynx. "Don't start that again, just cause I flattened that one twerp."

Syrkar raised an eyebrow at the pair.

"I worked with a band when I was in college, and we still perform. We're even fairly popular, and one night this one rather intoxicated Black Lion didn't understand that I wasn't interested." She shook her head. "He put a paw where I didn't want it, and I laid him out on the deck."

Keira smirked. "What she's omitting, is that he sent her flowers to apologize and that he still comes to all her shows." He chuckled broadly.

"Yeah, but he keeps a respectful distance now."

"I would hope so." Syrkar chuckled. "I like your style."

"Well, he was paying to hear me sing, not to get intimate." She grinned.

"Alcohol will take all the sense out of even a wise Kat." He intoned, then snickered. "It pays well to never get drunk. People say the most interesting things when they're not thinking."

Artania smiled. "That they do. The covert operatives I know all consider alcohol a very valuable tool."

"So, Syrkar, what do you look for in an apartment?" Keira asked between bites. "Since the next thing to do is find you a place."

"Umm, open space, lots of light, a good kitchen, soundproofing, and a view." He ticked the points off as he thought of them. "Pretty much in that order. Oh, and convenience too."

"Convenience?" Keira looked at him. "That word means different things to different people. What do you mean by it?"

"How close it is to shopping and entertainment districts, what perks it offers." He paused to consider just what he looked for. "I expect a fair amount of what I would look for is irrelevant here, between the technology and my career shift. If you allow private vehicles, secure parking is definitely on the list." He paused again and rested his chin on interlaced fingers. "This will require some thought, and what I choose as a new career will affect it."

Artania grinned. "Well, private vehicles are allowed and very popular though I expect we have a few varieties you're not familiar with." She chuckled. "We have rush hour in three dimensions."

"That sounds ... dangerous." He shook his head.

"Not as bad as you might think. It's fairly well regulated." Artania chuckled.

"I know a few places that could fit, I'll take you to see them after lunch." Keira said after taking a drink.

Syrkar nodded. "Do I need to choose today?"

Keira thought for a moment. "Well, not necessarily. Most do, but since you've got a couple people willing to let you stay with them, it's not necessary." She smiled.

"Thank you." He smiled at the pair. "I would like to find a place that I'll like for a while, and I kind of need to find out what I'll be doing first."

"Not a problem." Artania said with a smile. "We've both got extra space, so you can stay with either of us."

"Or even both, to get a feel for different parts of the city." Keira suggested, while nibbling on a starfruit.

"I like the sound of this." He purred with a playful grin.

"I bet you do." Keira winked playfully.

"And to think I actually complained about the early alert this morning." Artania smirked.

"I'll try to make it up to you." Syrkar chuckled with winning smile.

"Oh, that sounds fun." The Lioness grinned. "Last alien I met as attractive as you wasn't interested in females, at all."

"His loss." He smirked. "I like to keep my options open, and so far it's all been fun."

"Can't disagree there." Keira said. "Besides the threesome options are so much wider if you don't cut out half the species, and that's without bringing in other species."

"I think I'm going to like hanging out with you two, even when I don't have to." He grinned playfully. "Oh, the possibilities."

"So have you ever played outside your species, Syrkar?" Keira asked curiously. "Or perhaps more accurately, outside of felines."

"Once." He nodded. "A pair of Kantin wanted to try with a Kat. It didn't go very well."

"I can see a lot of ways that might have gone wrong." Artania nodded.

"Of course, she won't mention Archie." The Lynx teased.

"No need to bring the Lab into things." She shook her head. "He was so immature."

"Don't tell me you didn't know that Labs don't hit emotional maturity until around twenty-five or so."

"Not till after."

"Mine was very basic, simple physical incompatibility." Syrkar shrugged. "No matter how careful I was, it hurt them, and I didn't feel much at all."

"Hmmm. Can't say that was a problem." She grinned. "And the Black Lion tom didn't have any complaints."

"New species interaction is always uncertain." Keira said. "But usually worth the effort."

"You learn something either way." He nodded easily.

"Yeah, like never try keeping up with a Ferrin in bed." Artania grinned.

"Ferrin?" He raised a curious eyebrow at her.

"Ferret-morphs, between four and five feet tall normally. Lithe, agile and very smart. They also happen to have the Alliance's highest sex drive. Usually if a Ferrin isn't having sex, he or she is thinking about it, planning for it, or picking out a partner." She grinned. "And that's when they're not in heat."

"And this is an advanced society?" He asked with a touch of incredulousness.

"Oh, the Ferrin are quite advanced. They multitask well, which means just because they're thinking about sex, doesn't mean they aren't also aren't flying a combat aircraft." She smiled. "Something they do very well, by the way."

"It's also a slight exaggeration." Keira said. "Not all Ferrin are that bad, but they are very sex oriented. They had a serious overpopulation problem prior to the invention of contraceptives."

"Contraceptives?" He glanced between them at the unknown word.

The two females looked at Syrkar surprised, each other, and then back to him. "Drugs designed to inhibit conception. They allow a female to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and a male to avoid causing one." Keira said easily.

"Oh," he nodded slowly. "That's right, you don't have an obvious fertile cycle."

"Nope, it's believed our ancestors did but somewhere along the line, we lost it. That has its advantages and disadvantages." She said easily. "Nowadays, we can even control fertility through biofeedback techniques."

"So how ... should I make sure I don't sire I kit I don't intend to?" He asked carefully. "And with what species?"

"Yes, you should." She said seriously. "And if your mate's not feline you don't have to worry about accidental siring. It's possible, but only with medical assistance." She added casually. "You should be aware that current medical technology makes kits possible between any two Mates, regardless of gender, or species."

"Oh," Syrkar nodded slowly as he tried to assimilate this lot of strange concepts.

"I read somewhere that they think our ancestors had larger litters too." Artania said to bring on a slightly lighter subject. "I can't imagine trying to handle four or five infant kits at once, even with a full triad."

"If it's anything like how it works for Kats and Kantin, it's very much a family affair, and they mature to a critical point very quickly." He commented. "Most kits and pups can feed and take basic care of themselves by six months, and start school at about a year."

"We don't mature quite so quickly." Keira said easily. "School isn't usually started until somewhere between three and five years, depending on the kit. Though development's a little different with some of the shifters, especially the ones born in primal form."

"Well, that much is the same." He seemed a little relieved.

"Shifters being about a third of the population, and latent shifters another fifteen percent, its a significant genetic factor. In some of the stronger shifter lines, there's occasionally a kit born in primal who can't get out of it for the first two or three years."

Artania nodded. "That happened to my brother, he was a four-legged cub for three years. He's still got the nickname 'Paws'." She chuckled.

"That much have been hard for him." Syrkar shook his head. "Not to have hands or a voice for that long."

"The hands was rough, but he's enough of a telepath to make himself 'heard'." She smiled. "That's why we tease him, 'cause it was inconvenient but not tragically so."

"Telepath?" He raised an eyebrow. "They really exist?"

Keira nodded. "Most definitely. Most TechnoMages and CyberWizards are, though on a strange frequency. A fair number of healers are a least empathic and many are full telepaths." She explained. "But don't worry, random mind-reading is strictly forbidden and a very serious offense."

"That's good." He nodded quietly as he felt his ability to cope with new information start slip away.

Keira reached over and patted Syrkar on the shoulder reassuringly. "Perhaps a little time without new information." She smiled and turned her attention to actually eating her lunch.

"Yes, for all the similarities, there are a lot of differences." He nodded quietly.

"Probably a good thing." Artania said between bites. "All similarities wouldn't be very interesting, and all differences would be too much."

"Except with all differences I wouldn't keep trying to fall back on what I know about Kats and Enderich." Syrkar chuckled.

"That could land you in a heap of trouble." Artania chuckled. "Though it'd hardly be the first time someone did."

"Oh?" He raised a curious look at the Lioness.

Artania chuckled. "Well, about three years ago this Komodan, that's a big lizard morph, got stranded here. He seemed to have adjusted just fine, until there was this string of missing person cases. Turned out that males on his world collect harems of attractive persons of both genders. It's somewhat complicated but the strong and high ranking ones can basically 'collect' a weaker, lower ranking ones perfectly legally. Since by his reckoning he was stronger than most he encountered and he was the highest ranking Komodan present, he was entitled to collect a harem, he thought." She shook her head. "He was very surprised to find out that it was a very serious criminal offense to do what he was doing."

"Did he get in a lot of trouble?" Syrkar asked quietly, seeing both sides a little too easily.

"Well, it turned out aside from the initial abduction and the refusal to let them leave, he treated his 'harem' very well. None of them actually wanted to press charges, so the Judge gave him five years probation and mandatory cultural education classes." She explained. "If he completes probation successfully, then his record gets wiped clean."

"I remember that case." Keira added. "Didn't the two male gray wolf Lupos he abducted stay with him willingly?"

"Yeah, apparently they consider him a very good Alpha." She shook her head. "The Lupos and their Alpha games."

"Do they have an attitude problem with feline Alphas?" Syrkar asked curiously. "Kantin, especially the Wolves, are really stuck up on what species can lead. Most won't even follow a non-Wolf Kantin."

"No, and that's kind of a problem at times. A fair number insist on playing their Alpha game in any group they're in, despite the fact that many species don't determine leadership that way." Artania said tiredly. "It can be especially bad, if the domineering behavior gets out of hand. Usually as a precaution, we make sure to have a non-Lupo who's bigger than the Lupo in any group, at least in the military. That way there's somebody to sit on the Lupo if the game gets out of hand. But yes, they will follow other species."

"What are the games like?" He asked curiously, the meal and his weariness all but forgotten.

"It's mostly psychological, trying to dominate everyone else in the group through intimidation, and thinly veiled physical violence. Most of the time they don't resort to violence because they don't need to. It's tough to get a conviction when they do, because the victim is usually suffering from self-confidence issues by that point." She said quietly.

"Amazingly, some people actually like the whole dominance game." Keira shook her head. "There's a Lion in my office who's a very happy Beta."

"Not quiet as ... civilized as the Wolves back home." Syrkar shook his head. "With them, it's mostly a posturing game. Resorting to violence is considered something of a failure for the looser. They should have known to back down earlier."

"Usually Lupos do, violence usually only comes in when a non-Lupo isn't interested in playing but the Lupo doesn't quite get that. They treat the non-Lupos failure to play, as not backing down."

"Ah, see there's the key difference. With Kantin, you have to intentionally posture to challenge. Not doing anything is a sign of acceptance. Not terribly polite, but not challenging either." He shrugged. "But they've been integrated into the general population for a long time now. I think it used to be different."

"Well, most of the contact comes in the big cities where population mixes are broader, and Alliance facilities which draw staff from all the major worlds, and some of the minors. Of course, the biggest area of contact is the Alliance Fleet, the Lupos love military service, especially when the ship is all Lupo crewed."

Syrkar nodded and munched on a bit of the fried starfruit as he thought. "These cultural education classes the Komodan had to attend, are they held often? And are they locally available for other cultures?"

Keira nodded. "Immigration runs the Felsin culture classes, and they're held monthly. The Royal University of Felsinor offers cultural studies courses every semester, though which cultures are being offered varies. Dracon is offered every semester pretty much, though, and it's by far the most popular."

"Good." He nodded. "I'm sure I'll want to attend. Why is Dracon so popular?"

"They're the race we're on best terms with in the Alliance for one thing. They have a very interesting history for another. And it doesn't hurt that they tend to be rather attractive." She grinned. "We also share the protection of a greater power with them."

"Those are real too, then?" He asked with a touch of skepticism.

"Very much so." Artania said sincerely. "StarFire of Draconea is both the Greater Power and the planetary ruler. The Triad, our local powers are also very real."

"How do you know?" He asked quietly. "I mean, if they're that real, how do you know they're gods and not just ... well, something else?"

Artania smiled. "The members of the Triad don't call themselves gods, the usual explanation is highly power immortal spirits, which sounds like a God to me." She smiled. "As for StarFire, well she's documented back over fifty thousand years in Dracon history, which is unheard of, even as long lived as that species is. And I guess the important thing is, the Dracon believe she is. What kind of proof do you get for someone being a god. And what's the differentiation between an immortal with great power, and a 'god'?"

Keira rolled her eyes. "I see you learned something in philosophy class."

"Intent." Syrkar answered quietly.

Artania patted him on the shoulder. "You'll get used to it." She said with a smile.

"I expect so." He nodded. "It's just a lot to take in."

"True, but you appear to be handling it quite well." She said with a warm smile.

"Survival tactic." He chuckled. "The middle of a crisis it not the time to break down. That's for after things calm down."

Keira chuckled broadly. "You've definitely got the temperament for diplomatic work, if you decide to go that route. That's something that not everyone can internalize. A lot of people will claim to know that but when it matters they don't act on it."

"I've found it's as much nature as anything." Syrkar nodded. "And it runs in families, as much as being hot headed does."

"That is often true, though there are exceptions." She smiled. "The Canem chief diplomat comes from the most warlike of their leading packs. It's amazing to see him working calmly on some tense situation while his packmate is chomping at the bit for a full scale retaliation."

"Life is about exception." Syrkar chuckled softly.

"True enough, it's the exceptions that are interesting." She said as she ate slowly, and then smiled. "You're a good example of that." She said with a wink.

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "Not that I'm disagreeing, but how am I an exception here?"

"Coloration for one thing, I'm sure I've never seen a orange on black Tiger, or tabby as you'd put it." Keira said easily. "It's very striking. I hope you don't mind attention, 'cause you're going to have it."

"I don't mind in the least." He purred with a smile. "I was just wondering if it was anything I don't always here."

"Well, expect people to think you're a shifter." Artania replied. "Since the only 'Kat' most people are familiar is the 'Ancestral' form that some shifters have."

"I'll keep that in mind." He nodded. "What exactly are shifters, around here? The word has a lot of meanings."

"Shapeshifters, those Felsin possessing more than one physical form, and the ability to shift at will between them. The Canem, Lupo and Dracon also have shapeshifters."

"And among Felsin, how many forms are common? What are they?" He prompted.

"Most common is two forms, Felsin and either Primal or War-form. A smaller number have three forms; Felsin, Primal and War-form. A very small percentage have Ancestral instead of either Primal or War-form. Perhaps the smallest group is those who have Felsin, Primal, Ancestral and Warform." Artania explained. "I've never actually met anyone with the latter arrangement, but it is documented."

"Primal would be a four-legged feline, like what we evolved from?" He asked, thinking it through. "What's a war-form look like?"

"Correct. A war-form looks more like a Kat, but is more feline still and is optimized for combat. A war-form is stronger, faster and more agile than the base Felsin form. It's also somewhat socially uncouth to transform to it except under certain circumstances." She explained. "A Felsin usually gains a good foot plus in height, and as much as a hundred pounds of muscle."

"Sounds like the Garou," he said, mostly to himself. "And not anything I can do."

"Don't sweat it, most can't." Keira said reassuringly. "Neither Tania or myself are shifters either."

"Oh, that'd be fun, lose my temper during combat and shift to war-form in the cockpit." The Lioness chuckled.

"Is there any way to tell if someone can shift, short of seeing it, or asking?" Syrkar asked curiously.

"Not really. If you see someone in war-form, they can shift since all Felsin have the base form. Same goes for seeing Primals in urban areas."

"Makes sense." He chuckled before returning attention to lunch.

"It's generally considered impertinent to ask someone if they are a shifter, unless you've known them a while." Artania said between bites.

"Any particular reason?" Syrkar cocked his head at her.

"Falls into a category of questions known as 'why are you asking?' questions." She said. "It doesn't really impact anything outside kits."

"Oh," he murmured. "I can think of a lot of things it would affect, including some things I'd want to know on a first date." He shrugged. "Thanks for the warning."

"Generally, most shifters will mention it. Especially the ones who like intimate relations in their other forms." Keira added.

"Kinky." Syrkar chuckled. "Sounds interesting though."

"Yeah, it can be." Keira agreed. "There's something distinctly 'naughty' about doing it with the Primal form." She said clearly not disapproving.

"And I bet the war-form is very good at dominance games." He purred.

"It can be, but there's something exciting about someone that big playing sub." Artania said with a knowing smile.

"That's part of the game to." Syrkar chuckled as he finished the last of his plate.

"True enough, though most people assume that war-form would be playing the dominant. It's fun to turn things upside down." Artania said as she pushed back from the table.

"Well, Carelli's has done its usual stellar job." Keira said as she nibbled at a last few morsels.

"That was very good." Syrkar agreed as he finished off his milk.

"So, you feeling up to looking at some of those apartments, or is there something else you'd rather do?" Keira asked casually.

"Since you're giving me an option, I'd like to learn more about magic, and the diplomatic corps." He grinned at the Lynx.

"The diplomatic corps will be a good place to start." She said as she waved a card over a scanner port on the table. "Those who practice magic are a little less predictable as far as finding them." She said as she stood and led the way out, the Kat and Lioness keeping pace.

"What day of the week is it?" He asked suddenly.

"Caitain, second day of the work cycle. Why?" She asked curiously.

"Just curious." He shrugged slightly. "It sort of sounded like I'd dropped in on a weekend."

"Not a weekend, just a quiet period for Immigration." She smiled, as they walked toward the Government sector.

"Ah, so what do the Diplomatic Corps do in the Alliance?" He asked.

"Depends on whether you're talking about the Felsin Diplomatic Corps, or the Alliance Diplomatic Corps." She prompted.

"Well, what is the difference between what the two do?" He considered.

"The Alliance Diplomats deal with new races, the non-Alliance powers and that sort of thing. The Felsin Diplomatic Corps, handles relations with the other Alliance members, and occasionally new races." Keira explained.

"Would a Felsin Diplomat ever been sent out with an Alliance team?" He asked as he ran through pluses and minuses in his mind. "Is it difficult to get transferred from Felsin to Alliance if I decide I want to see more unusual cases?"

"Felsin diplomats have been sent out with Alliance teams, in special cases. And it's not that difficult to transfer, a fair number of Alliance Diplomats start their career in their homeworld's Diplomatic Corp."

"That certainly makes starting out easier." He nodded with a smile.

"That it does." She agreed. "The military works similarly, with soldiers in the planetary defense forces moving into the Alliance military structure."

"Sounds like a well integrated system." He nodded approvingly.

"After two centuries, we've worked most of the bugs out." She smiled, as they entered an area where the buildings seemed older, and the people more serious.

"And you have your alien integration down fairly well." He chuckled with a friendly smile as he took in everything.

Keira chuckled. "Oh, that we do. Though you got lucky and showed up during a slow period."

"You get rushes of unexpected visitors?" Syrkar raised an eyebrow.

"Occasionally." She admitted. "Once we had a starship fall out of a warp and land in the ocean off the coast of Tygrenor. Turned out to be a slaver ship from a race we'd never heard of, or actually two races we'd never heard of. Kept us busy processing over a thousand stranded aliens.

"Oh, my."

"It also lea to a serious debate regarding the fate of the slavers, since slavery is strictly forbidden, and the practice thereof is a capital offense."

"But was it where they were from?" Syrkar asked. "What happened?"

"That was the heart of the debate, in the end it was agreed that they had no way of knowing our law before they crashed therefore there was no intent to break the law. We freed the slaves, and made sure the slavers understood that they couldn't keep or take slaves in Alliance territory."

"I remember that case." Artania smiled. "The slavers claimed slavery was legal were they came from, the slaves said it wasn't."

"Possibly both were telling the truth, since they were different species."

"Or the slaves were trying to take advantage of the situation." He added quietly. "Few slaves I've known were particularly happy with the law.

"Didn't actually matter, they were free as soon as they entered Alliance space." Artania said certainly. "Slavery is just plain wrong." She added with low growl. "The slavers eventually managed to get together enough funds to get a ship, and left. The former slaves formed a separate community on the southern continent. They produce some of the most incredible wood art."

"It's good they've held on to something of themselves." Syrkar said quietly. "It's too easy to loose your heritage in that kind of situation."

"One of the many evils of slavery." Artania said. "But they've definitely held on to their heritage. I've been down there a couple times, it's like walking into another world."

"It's a fine government and world that would let them as well." He said softly. "Not many I've know are so strong that they don't find it a threat."

"The Sydona are hardly a threat to anyone." Keira said fondly. "Of course, the fact that they're the smallest race in the Alliance doesn't hurt. But violence is repugnant to them, it's why they were so easily captured in the first place."

"Sometimes, fate supports the meek." He nodded quietly.

"That was basically what the Sydona Elder said when someone suggested they'd been lucky to crash here." Keira said, as they turned to head up broad white marble steps to a large gray stone, bright chrome and reflective glass building.

"Some things seem universal." Syrkar chuckled. "Government does like to look impressive and perfect."

Artania nodded. "Yeah, definitely." She said as they walked through the broad halls. "So who we going to see, Kei?" She asked curiously as the Lynx moved through the halls, never checking maps or directories.

"Sordan."

"Head of recruitment, senior diplomat Sordan?"

"The same." She said as she pushed open a heavy wooden door and entered a luxurious outer office, where a Leopard fem sat at a desk wearing an expensive looking business suit, and a head mike.

"Hi Laurana." Keira said warmly. "Uncle busy?"

"Hi Kei, Hi Tania." The athletic fem said brightly. "Who's the cute tom?" She said as she looked Syrkar over appraisingly.

"His name's Syrkar, and he's interested in the Corps." She said with a smile. "So, he busy or not?"

"Never to busy too see you, or a potential recruit." She smiled, and pressed a button.

"Yes, Laurana?" A deep powerful male voice responded.

"Kei and Tania are here to see you, and they brought a potential recruit." She said professionally.

There was a click from the door behind Laurana. "Well, send them in."

"You can go in." She smiled.

"Thanks Laur." Keira said as she led the way.

The inner office was as luxurious as the outer office, with all the decorative touches being done in a bright maroon wood. Sitting behind a large carved wood desk was a large, powerfully built graying Lynx tom. He stood as they entered and embraced Keira.

"It's good to see you, Keira. You too, Tania." He said familiarly. "This young tom would be the potential recruit."

"Yes, uncle. His name's Syrkar and I think he's definitely got potential for the Corps."

"I'll be the judge of that." He teased lightly, and extended his hand to Syrkar, which was taken firmly. "Welcome to Corps HQ, Syrkar. I presume you had some questions concerning the Corps." He said in a friendly, yet very take-charge voice.

"Yes," the Kat nodded as he took a seat in one of the plush leather chairs across from Sordan and relaxed as things began to feel very familiar. This was just a different kind of contract negotiation. "I'm new to Felsinor, and need a different career as my previous one doesn't really exist here. I enjoy working with people, experiencing and learning new things and making a positive difference in their lives." He smiled softly and casually locked eyes with the elder Lynx. "I hear that the Diplomatic Corps can meet my interests."

The elder Lynx smiled, he had a good feeling about the younger tom. "That is true if you can meet our requirements." The Lynx smiled. "All members of the Corps attend the basic training schedule at the Academy, with those interested in being actual diplomats attending the advanced training schedule." He said easily. "Normal time for completing the full schedule is four years. How much formal education do you have?"

"In the Alliance, none." Syrkar admitted without a trace of discomfort. "Where I am from, I have seven years of higher education, and did well at it."

"I didn't expect any in the Alliance." The Lynx said with a smile. "I was more interested in your comfort level with higher education. What was your primary course of study?" He asked, leaning back in the high-back leather chair.

The Kat nodded and he dug through his memory for what he'd actually taken as a course of study, instead of just random classes for fun. "In order: Social Sciences with an emphasis on Sexuality and Philosophy, History, Physical Sciences, Law, and Political Science. I also took a lot of courses because they looked interesting, and I value a well-rounded education."

The Lynx smiled. "Well, sounds as though you should be able to handle the Diplomat Academy. Some candidates prefer to stay on the homeworld, while others prefer assignments off-world. Do you have any preference?"

"Right now, it's all off-world to me." Syrkar chuckled with an accepting smile. "But I'm most interested in seeing as many cultures and places as I can."

"Very true, and a very healthy attitude." The elder diplomat said approvingly. "Sounds as though you would be a good candidate for the Corps. But perhaps you have more questions about the Corps." The Lynx encouraged.

"Well, a good start would be, what do Diplomats do?" Syrkar regarded Sordan evenly. "One thing I've already have ground into my head is that things are not the same here as they are on Enderich, even when they seem to be so on the surface."

"Diplomats are how we deal with things, before resort to the military. We negotiate, represent our people to the best of our ability, establish and maintain good relations with races willing to be friendly, and try to convince the unfriendly to be friendly." He steepled his fingers. "As my brother in the military would put it, we do a lot of talking. But equally important we try to understand, especially the unknown and the unfamiliar."

"That is what I was hoping to hear." Syrkar smiled politely. "It is something I enjoy going."

The Lynx nodded. "Excellent. Kei said you were a potential candidate, have you considered any other careers, if you don't mind my asking?" He asked politely.

"If I test positive for magical ability, I'll probably follow that." The Kat answered easily, his fascination with the subject shining past his calm exterior. "And I do intend to look at others over the next few days. This was what came up when we were matching my interests and skills up with careers."

"Understood. However, if you decide that you wish to pursue a career with the Corps, please come back. I believe you are well suited to the work." He said sincerely.

"It is at the top of the list." Syrkar said seriously. "Tomorrow will tell a lot about my future plans." He suddenly paused. "Do you have a place for a mage in the Corps?"

Sordan smiled. "It would hardly be the first time. Magic, like telepathy, is a tool with many applications. It might even possible to coordinate your magic training with your Academy classes."

"That would be very worthy of further discussion." He smiled. "I'm sure I will have many more questions once I've had a chance to sleep on this. I've had a lot to try to absorb in the last couple hours."

"Understandable, and assuming I'm not occupied by other duties I'll be more than willing to talk with you at a later date." He said with an approving nod.

"I do not expect I will need to know anything that can't wait for you to have time." Syrkar chuckled softly. "This is not a career to rush into, not with a four-year Academy."

"You'd be surprised the number of kits who rush into it thinking an easy way to see the galaxy. They forget we also have a job to do." He shook his head. "The Academy does a good job of separating those who have the calling from those who don't."

"Most good training programs do." Syrkar inclined his head. "Whether short or long."

"True, though the length of ours is because of the material that needs covered. People are often amazed to discover how many subjects are worked into diplomacy."

The Kat suddenly became very interested. "Or looking at it another way, what isn't covered?"

"Mostly the physical sciences, and engineering. Though there are Xenotechnology specialists but they're part of the military." He said easily.

"Sounds very interesting." Syrkar smiled as he stood. "I'm sure I'll be in touch."

"I hope so." Sordan said as he stood, and offered the Kat a friendly hand, which was readily accepted. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Syrkar."

"It was my pleasure as well." He smiled.

He smiled at the two fems who had also stood. "A pleasure as always, ladies." He said as he opened the door.

"Good seeing you, uncle." Keira said as she kissed the Lynx on the cheek before leaving.

"See you 'round, Laurana." She said as they left.

"I'll call you later, Kei." Laurana smiled.

"That went well, I think." Keira said as they walked down the broad marble steps.

"It definitely didn't change my mind about that being a very interesting career." Syrkar added.

"I didn't think it would." She smiled. "Uncle Sordan likes you, that's a definite plus." She grinned.

"It's always plus to make a good impression on those who hold power." He winked at her.

"True." She grinned. "I wish I could say I have a relative in the magic division, but that's a talent my family doesn't seem to manifest."

"How about Dario?" Artania suggested. "He's been known to work off-days."

Keira chuckled. "I'd almost forgotten about him. Well, he's certainly a possibility."

"I thought that wasn't an option until tomorrow?"

"That would be the training center's testing time." She smiled. "Dario is an old friend, who's been an instructor for a long time. He's a sure hand at telling who has talent. I'd honestly forgotten about him as a tester."

"Ah," He nodded. "Well, it would be nice to know, to sleep on that too."

"You're going to have a lot to sleep on tonight." Keira said compassionately. "Hopefully, it won't keep you from sleeping."

"It never has before." He chuckled.

"That's good." Keira smiled. "You've had this much new info to deal with before?" She asked curiously.

"Not quiet this much, but I have taken a few condensed crash courses to prepare for a contract." Syrkar explained. "I'm well-traveled and educated for Enderich."

"Well, at least you had some preparation." She smiled. "We've gotten a few unwilling transplants who'd never been outside a day's travel from the small village they were born in." She shook her head. "Those usually require a team of counselors to pull through."

"Oh, my." He murmured in sympathy. "That must be terribly traumatic. At least I could do a fairly good job of pretending not much had changed if I wanted to just by not looking past this world."

"Very true." She said as they turned down a street into an older portion of town. The buildings were more ornate, and very well maintained. The architecture, the conservative style of dress, the expensive vehicles all spoke of 'old money.'

With a soft smile Syrkar looked around affectionately. "I've spent a lot of time in districts like this."

Keira nodded. "So did I in college, pays well and they're usually decent people."

"True, though I've found a preference for new money, the older I got." He chuckled.

"I stopped after I graduated, so I never had much of a change of preference." She said as they approached a very gothic building with a tall central tower at its center.

"You also didn't take it as a lifestyle." He added. "An courtesan on Enderich is quite different from a prostitute or even call-kat."

Keira smiled. "Well, an Escort is a step above either of those two." She chuckled. "But you're right it wasn't a lifestyle, it was just better than working retail."

"If we really want to have this conversation, we'll have to swap legal nomenclatures." Syrkar chuckled. "But I think we're talking roughly the same thing. Long vs. short term paid companions. And it definitely has retail beat."

"Escort can be long or short term, depending on what the client wants." Keira said. "Though long term usually amounts to being on-call in case they want to see you. It's like being paid a retainer." She smiled. "But the big difference is that Escorts are more expensive, and some are actually incorporated as businesses." She grinned.

"Ah, that is what I'm used to referring to as a call-kat. We differentiate between those who do it as a profession, and those who don't." He nodded. "An Escort is a professional, a call-kat is in the same class, but doesn't see it as their lifestyle or career."

"I see. Well, it was a profession for about four years." She grinned. "But we don't differentiate between those who do it for a few years, and those who make a long-term career out of it."

"Understandable." He nodded easily and took in the building they were stepping up to.

An older gray and black tabby tom answered the door. "Yes, may I help you?"

"I hope so." Artania said cheerfully. "Would you tell Dario that Keira and Artania would like to speak with him? We're friends of his."

"Of course, please come inside." The Kat opened the door all the way to let them in. He was wearing a classic butler's outfit. "If you'll wait here I'll see if Master Dario is available." He said, before turning and walking further in.

"New butler." Keira said quietly. "Never seems to keep them long."

"You know how moody he can be, must be a tough person to work for." The Lioness shook her head. "He hasn't changed the decor though, early haunted house."

"There's probably a fortune in artifacts and relics in this haunted house."

"There would be in most homes in this area." Syrkar hazarded a guess.

"Not quite the same level." Artania explained. "Dario has recovered things from the early days, the very early days. He has a fascination with the ancient past, because he believes that our magic was stronger then. He's one of the primary sponsors of the research into ways to search the cities that lie beneath Tygrenor."

"That seems to be how it happens." Syrkar nodded slightly. "The more advanced a society becomes, the less magic is around." He cocked his head at a piece of statuary he couldn't make heads of tails of. "But then, magic isn't real there either."

Keira nodded. "That happened to some extent, and we came very close to losing the knowledge at several points in our history. Magic, like technology and science, has its Dark Ages."

Artania smiled. "True enough, though the Dracons claim to never have had a Dark Age of either sort. Might even be true, I can't see StarFire putting up with that kind of chaos." She chuckled.

"It also wouldn't count ... you have to lose a leader before you can lose what they support." Syrkar chuckled. "And they haven't lost their leader in over fifty thousand years."

"True enough." She chuckled.

"Artania, what a pleasant surprise." A smooth male voice said from nearby. The three turned to see a seven foot tall Panther tom wearing red robes trimmed in gold. "And Keira as well, this is indeed a special day. But who is this strikingly attractive tom you've brought with you?" The Panther asked as he exchanged hugs with the two females.

"Dario, this is Syrkar. He's new to this world." Keira explained. "His world doesn't have an organized study of magic, and he was curious about his own potential."

The Panther smiled. "So you're interested in the magical arts, are you?" He asked curiously.

"Very." Syrkar smiled. "As far as I knew, it wasn't real."

"But you now believe that it is real?" He asked, quite serious.

"I believe I'm on a world I never imagined possible, and have seen and experienced a lot of things I didn't think possible, or even think of at all, before this morning." He met the taller tom's gaze. "Magic wasn't the first item on that impossible made real list, and I'm quiet sure it won't be the last. I don't see any reason to disbelieve them about magic any more than I did about the flying cars and bird-people I've seen, or the space flight and Alliance I haven't yet."

The Panther smiled broadly. "Very good, an open mind for the unknown." He said approvingly. "Very well, if you'd like to find out if you do indeed, have the Gift, follow me." He said and turned to walk further in. "Ladies, you'll have to stay here."

"We know." The two said at the same time as Syrkar unhesitantly followed the Panther.

The house was museum like in its collection of historical artifacts, including numerous old-fashioned weapons. Climbing a broad spiral staircase they reached a second floor which was distinctly more like a library with shelves of books filling all the unused spaces.

"Did you have any questions, before we get to testing you?" The Panther asked as they passed a statue that seemed to be a Kat one minute, and a Felsin the next.

"How is magic different from science, or technology?" Syrkar asked quietly, utterly fascinated by all the objects on a level he couldn't remember being about anything before.

"A Terran philosopher once proposed that any technology sufficiently advanced would be indistinguishable from magic." He began. "There is a certain truth to this; for example if you see a tom flying through the air without wings or obvious propulsion can you tell if he's using magic or technology to do it?" He asked rhetorically. "Of course not. Magic sufficiently detailed can also appear as technology, take golems for example; statues animate by magic. But looking at one you'd be hard pressed to say what animated it without taking it apart. It could be robot.

"The basic difference is that magic operates by force of will; the mage imposes his view of things on a small section of reality. The more powerful the mage, the larger a change he can make, and the bigger an area he can affect.

"Technology creates things to change reality. In a sense it works like magic would, if we only worked through talismans and magical artifacts."

Syrkar nodded as he absorbed and sorted that into his shifting definitions and concepts before speaking again. "Is it true that magic can learn things about an object or person that aren't available other ways? Like what happened?"

"Yes, sometimes magic can see things that aren't available to science, and the reverse is also true. Magic is definitely more capable at probing the past, though it becomes more difficult the older the desired information gets."

"Does a personal connection help, when searching for something with magic?"

"In most cases it is easier to find something you're connected to." The Panther said as they climb another set of stairs. Two housecats; one completely black, the other completely white ran down the past them. The object of their pursuit appeared to be a mouse, half black, half white.

Syrkar considered for a moment as he watched the hunt. "There are primitive felines on this world?" He asked curiously. "I thought you didn't evolve on Felsinor."

"We didn't, and we're fairly sure they didn't either. But there are a good number of primitive felines from the small ones like those to the big cats. Actually those two aren't native, they're from Earth."

"Oh," Syrkar blinked as the pair disappeared down the stairs. "I haven't gotten used to thinking in terms of other worlds providing things yet." He considered for a moment. "What are the social restrains on the use of magic?" He asked carefully.

"Mostly common sense." The Panther replied, as he unlocked a door. "Don't use magic on someone without asking. Casting destructive spells in public areas is the same as firing off automatic weapons, a bad idea." He grinned. "No enchanting people to get them to sleep with you." He added with a smirk.

"I agree totally with the last two, but are there exceptions about having to ask? What if someone is badly injured, or about to do something self-destructive because they're drunk? Could you heal them, or stop them with magic?"

"Common sense always applies, as with any other ability." He nodded. "Stopping self-destructive behavior is socially acceptable, but should be done with minimum force. Healing is much the same as first aid."

"Good," Syrkar nodded. "It's good to know my concept of common sense seems to apply to most situations so far."

"That's probably because Felsin are close cousins to Kats." He said as they climbed a set of steep, shadowy steps. "Similar origin leads to somewhat similar thought patterns, once you adjust for three thousand years of separation."

"It makes adjusting much easier." Syrkar commented. "It's more like moving to a new country, than another world. For all the differences, there's enough similarities that I'm not wondering every second if I made a mistake."

"And here in the capitol people are more tolerant of such mistakes." He said as he traced a complex pattern of lines on a wall with one glowing claw tip. The lines coalesced to form a door, which the Panther opened, and led the way in.

The room beyond was perhaps fifty feet across and well lit by lights floating twelve feet up. Scattered about the room were small tables, each with an object on them. Scrolls, books, small jeweled daggers, cups, small paintings and other small art objects.

"Okay, what you're going to do is look at the objects around the room, but not in the normal way. What you want to do is ignore the normal sight, and let your mind 'feel' its way to see with a new sight. Take your time, and relax there's no pressure or time limit." The panther explained. "Once you find one you feel you know something about that your primary senses don't tell you, let me know. Then you'll tell me what you've learned. Any questions?"

"I don't think so." Syrkar looked around the room and let his mind try to look past what his eyes saw as he drifted through the room. With an absent touch he let his fingers drift over each item, but never picking one up.

As he walked up the other side of the tables, back towards Dario, a soft smile crossed his face at the small statue of a Lupo harem dancing girl. "What an interesting use." He murmured as he watched the statue in fascination for several minutes.

Finally he looked up at the Panther with a relaxed, happy look on his face. "Where would you like me to start?" Syrkar asked with an utterly content tone.

The Panther's face was completely neutral. "Start where ever you feel like starting, Syrkar." He said evenly.

The red on black tabby nodded easily and turned to trace his fingers over a beautifully crafted dagger and scabbard. "This one glows rosy from its core." He began. "It was created out of love, to signify that love. Over its life it has refused to injure any who know love."

The Panther smiled approvingly. "The Blade of Love Eternal, from the fourth Karshen Dynasty, approximately fifteen hundred years old." He detailed. "And you're quite correct about it's history." He patted the Kat on the shoulder. "Very well done, Syrkar. No doubt about, you definitely have the Gift. The question then becomes what do you wish to do knowing that?"

Syrkar blinked in surprise as he scrambled to answer a question, nearly shattering his relaxed, content state. He eased himself back into the new view he had of things and looked around before speaking.

"I wish to learn." The Kat said simply.

"Always a good place to start." The Panther replied. "Had you given any thoughts to what career you might pursue if you didn't have the Gift?"

"The Diplomatic Corps." Syrkar nodded easily. "I'm still interested in it, but ... I saw ... touched ... felt ... so much history here," he motioned around the room, "I'm not as sure as I was."

"The Diplomatic Corps is certainly a worthy pursuit." The Panther said approvingly. "I take it that history interests you?" He asked encouragingly.

Syrkar paused to actually think about why the past was suddenly so fascinating. "It hasn't been, but now ... this isn't history, this is real." He looked at the objects again. "Real lives, real feelings ... those objects, some of them actually care."

"Psychometric archaeology is the technical name for what you just experienced." The Panther explained. "It's a fairly small field, but as you felt it can be very rewarding. It would combine magical study with study at the University. However, magical study always includes field work, so you'd be getting some hands on right away." He added. "You don't have to decide this instant, if you need to think it over there's no hurry." He said encouragingly.

"I need to sleep on this, all of it." Syrkar said quietly, before looking up at the Panther. "Why can I do this all of a sudden? I'm twenty-seven, and I've never had anything like this happen."

"That's a very good question. By what means did you come to Felsinor? Since Keira is guiding you, I know it wasn't of your choosing." He said with a surprising gentleness.

"The defense forces were fighting something maybe a mile or two away. Then I saw this bright flash of light right on top of me, and blacked out. I came to about five miles from the capitol."

The Panther nodded. "High energy exposure of an unknown type. It wouldn't be the first time that sort of event triggered latent abilities. But you definitely should take some time, there's no need to rush. Sleeping on it is probably a good idea. A small bit of advice though, be very careful if you decide to indulge in alcohol or other recreational chemicals, they can have unpredictable effects on the untrained."

"Thank you for the warning," Syrkar nodded. "I'll remember to avoid wine with my meals."

"You'd be safe with a glass or two, I was talking more in the alcohol as entertainment mode. Some people don't know restraint and go overboard easily."

"Ah, I have never found that kind of indulgence appealing." Syrkar nodded. "It is good to know the safe limits. I hardly need more unpredictability in my life at the moment." He added with a grin.

"Probably not." He smiled. "And definitely don't get an apartment at Crescent View Towers. That place has an excessive amount of 'background noise.' At least till you've had enough training to avoid accidentally reading strong impressions."

"Avoid Crescent View Towers." Syrkar nodded.

The Panther chuckled. "I suppose we should get back to the ladies." He smiled. "Unless of course, you had other questions." He said encouragingly.

The Kat considered for a moment. "Did I pick up the hint that this is not something you talk about to those that don't have the Gift?"

"That's entirely a matter for your own discretion." He said simply. "My own experience was that it was better to only tell those I knew well and felt I could trust. The ladies are certainly safe to tell, in fact they're probably dying of curiosity."

"Why couldn't they come up then?" The Kat asked quietly.

"They don't know how to shield and would have added extra 'vibrations' to the room. This room is shielded to block outside influences, so as to keep the testing pure." He said easily. "It's not like they both haven't been up here, just neither of them has the Gift."

"Oh, that makes sense." Syrkar nodded slowly. "Is the ... magic sight, what I did here, safe to do, or is it something I should avoid until I have some training?"

"The only danger is that you might get overwhelmed if you encountered impressions of a negative nature that you weren't expecting. I noticed that you shied away from the larger dagger over in the corner for example.

"It's very ... unpleasant." The Kat suppressed a shudder. "I don't even have a name for it, but it's as close to evil as I've experienced."

"A good description of it. It's called the KinBlood Dirk, and as the name implies it's often been used to kill family members. It circulated among the nobles of the Calrun Empire about eight hundred years ago and there are probably over a hundred deaths attributed to it. I've handled it a few times, and I'm convinced that it enjoys killing especially if the victim was betrayed first." He said with a barely concealed distaste.

"It's a pity, but I guess to be expected." Syrkar shivered again. "If good emotions and traits can be absorbed, so can bad ones."

"That's the danger in reading without training. Training teaches you how to shield and brace yourself so the buffeting isn't as bad." The Panther explained, as he put a reassuring hand on the Kat's shoulder.

"So be careful of what's around in that state, until I'm trained." He nodded, carefully filing that information right next to the 'do not drink' one in his important notes memory. "Well, I was wondering what to do with myself that would be interesting when I retired, I guess it found me."

The Panther looked at him curiously. "What could you be retiring from as young as you are?" He asked a little baffled.

"Umm, it's a job you don't have here, but basically an Escort that lives with their companion." He tried to explain without getting into the nomenclature conversation again. "I've been one for twenty years, and I'm starting to want a real relationship." He shrugged. "I was figuring one more five year contract and find something else to do."

"Oh that exists here, people just don't talk about it." He said with a wry smile. "My companion, Rennie is on his second three year contract with me. I don't care much about appearances, or being just what people expect so I can do as I please." He said casually.

"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Syrkar chuckled and shook his head. "I'm still ready to get out of the business, and right now there are two very tantalizing ones in the offering."

"I understand, I just wanted you to know that I understood what you were talking about. Actually Rennie may be retiring as well, I proposed to him last night." The Panther said warmly.

"It's how many do." Syrkar grinned up.

"I think you'll do well no matter what path you choose, though if you decide to go with the Diplomatic Corps I'm certain we can work in enough magic training to at least let you control it." He added as he opened the door to the stairs.

"I've already discussed it a little with them, and if I turned out to have the Gift, my magical studies wouldn't be ignored." The Kat shook his head. "I have no intention of letting this ability be ignored. It's far too interesting."

"Excellent." Dario said as they walked back they way they had come up. "You must have talked with Sordan, I've always found him to most reasonable."

"Yes, I did." Syrkar nodded.

"Good, him I can work with." The Panther grinned, as they turned a corner and walked out on to a sun porch, where the two females where sitting sipping coffee.

"Oh, there you two are." Keira grinned, as she noticed them. "So, how'd it go?"

"It's incredible." Syrkar said with a warm, distant look in his eyes. "Looks like I'll be double-majoring."

Both of them stood and hugged him warmly. "I'm so happy for you. That's really what you wanted isn't it?" Keira said with a bright smile.

"Yes, it is." He grinned and hugged her back. "And it so much more than I expected, too."

"I knew there was something special about you." Artania said with a grin. "Just turns out there was more than I figured."

"Thanks." Syrkar grinned brightly at her. "I'm glad this came up."

The butler walked in carrying a tray with four wine glasses with a bright blue liquid that sparkled on its own. Once everyone had a glass he left, closing the patio doors as he went.

"It's somewhat traditional to toast the discovery of a new Gift." Dario began. "This is one tradition I actual have no problem with." He grinned and raised his glass. "May your newfound Gift bring you happiness and fulfillment." He said addressing Syrkar, as the others raised their classes as well.

"Congratulations." Keira and Artania responded warmly.

Syrkar nodded politely with a thanking smile and sipped the glowing liquid, which somehow managed to taste 'happy', and gave a positive lift to his already good mood. It was a sensation somewhat like having the glowing lights in the drink in him.

"That is a most unusual drink." He purred softly.

"Genuine Chimra'shen, imported from Draconea." Dario explained between sips. "Contains no alcohol, nor does it behave like alcohol."

"It is much more pleasant, and tastes better too." The Kat purred as the pleasant sensations infused his entire body.

"Somebody once called it the negative image of alcohol." Keira explained with a warm smile. "'Cause it enhances the positive emotions, and doesn't do the long term damage that alcohol does."

"But you still shouldn't drive while drinking it." Artania giggled. "One should not drive on Cloud Nine."

"One might try to drive to Cloud Nine." Syrkar snickered, utterly relaxed. "Especially with those flying cars you have here."

"Nope, Cloud Nine is a luxury resort near the Rainbow Nebula. You can't drive there." Artania giggled. "Hovercars don't come with hyperdrive, not even the luxury ones."

"But the Rainbow Nebula is an incredible sight, especially just as the Kanter quasar pulses." Keira said romantically.

Syrkar blinked in confusion, then shrugged slightly and smiled at them.

Keira spotted the confusion. "Okay, Syrkar. I've seen that look before, why did I say that was confusing?" She asked encouragingly.

"You just went off on how Cloud Nine is a real place." He shrugged. "It wasn't what I meant by the joke."

"Sorry, it's kind of what the joke turns into around here." She smiled apologetically.

"I gathered as much." He smiled back reassuringly.

"Uh, huh." Artania agreed. "The joke about not driving on Cloud nine, is usually followed by the comment that of course you don't, it's a space station." She said a little sheepishly. "Our bad."

"I'll learn." He grinned acceptingly.

"You appeared to learned an important lesson already." Dario commented from where he was leaning on porch railing. "Just roll with what happens, it's easier to adapt that way."

"Particularly when you've figured out roughly what happened." Syrkar chuckled softly.

"Always easier that way." The Panther agreed easily.

Keira looked at the Panther curiously. "You're in a remarkably social mood today, Dario. What's up?"

Dario grinned. "It's not every day that I meet someone who reacts to history much the way I did when tested. It's rather refreshing."

Artania smirked. "So, did Rennie give you an answer yet?"

"How?"

"Dario, you've been hinting for over a year that you were going to. And yesterday was your fourth anniversary together."

"Alas that I am so transparent, but yes I did ask, but he wished to think it over."

"Seems reasonable."

Syrkar smiled and relaxed into the nearly invisible presence he so often wore in social situations.

A small brass gong sitting in an alcove started sounding on its own.

"Huh?" Dario looked at the gong. "Oh right. I almost forgot that I'm supposed to meet with Minister Darshell. I do apologize for being so abrupt, but I must dash. Syrkar, do feel free to stop by when you've had some time to sort things through." He said with a smile for the Kat. "Ladies, you should visit more often." He said with a grin, as he vanished in puff of smoke."

Artania shook her head. "How terribly theatrical of him. Everyone knows about the old smoke powder in the pocket routine."

"Well, that answers your question about your magical talent. Anything else you can think of that you'd like to see." Keira offered as she looked at her wrist chrono. "Almost too late to really start looking at apartments. Don't suppose you'd be upset about putting that off till tomorrow." She asked with a smile.

"No, and no." He took a deep breath. "My head's quite full enough for one day."

"I'm not surprised." She smiled sympathetically. "So how about we go back to my place, relax for a while, and decide what to do about dinner?" The Lynx suggested.

"You do have the bigger place." Artania agreed.

"Job perk." Keira grinned.

"Sounds excellent, I've had quite enough excitement for one day." Syrkar sighed gratefully.


"Welcome to my place." Keira said as she led the way into a tastefully decorated apartment. The living room was dominated by large plush couch, love seat and two chair arranged on three sides of a square with a large entertainment center making up the fourth side.

The tables in the center were carved from a deep reddish wood, and were very carefully done. Lighting came from recessed panels in the ceiling. There were two sets of closed folding panel doors, one at the far end of the large living room from the TV, and the other at right angle from that. In the corner between the two doors was a wrought iron spiral staircase, with the steps done in the same deep plush carpeting as the living room.

"Nice place." Syrkar nodded appreciatively as he all but collapsed gratefully on the love seat. "Nice padding."

"Thanks." Keira said with a smile, as she opened the far end doors to reveal a medium sized dining room. The doors to the far end of that revealed a decent sized kitchen. "Either of you two want something to drink?" She called from the kitchen.

"Anything soda is good, Kei." Artania yelled back as she dropped into the padded chair near the love seat.

"Milk for me please." Syrkar added.

She picked up a complicated looking remote from the end table between the two. "So what do you like in audio-visual entertainment, Syrkar?" She asked as relaxed into the chair.

"Urr, whatever who's paying me likes, really." He shrugged. "It doesn't pay to have opinions of your own."

"That's something you really should consider working on." Artania said gently. "Not having opinions of your own, will make some people think you're a door mat." She smiled to take any edge off the words.

"It's also important if you decide to look for a non-paying intimate relationship." Keira said as she walked in carrying a round tray with three clear glass mugs. She handed a bright red one to Artania, a white one to Syrkar, and kept a light brown one for herself. She set the tray down, and plopped down on the sofa. "Consider this us busybodies looking out for you, just part of the service." She grinned.

"Oh, I have opinions." He grinned warningly at them. "Just not in entertainment." He chuckled. "Actually, that's was something I was looking forward to in retirement."

"Ouch, look out." Keira winced in mock pain. "Okay, shall we pick something at random then? If you don't like it we can pick something else." She suggested.

"Works for me." Syrkar grinned at the pair before settling back to drink and let his body relax.

"Okay, good thing I got the latest in home entertainment systems." She grinned. "Includes voice response software."

"EnterSys, pick random channel excluding news, history, education, biographical or documentary. End program."

There was a pause as the system processed the available channels.

"Hey cool, it's the Alliance Cup Finals." Artania said almost as soon as the program came on. "Looks like its Earth vs Lupo this year." She said with some interest.

"So they have professional sports where you're from?" She asked quietly.

"Nothing like this." Syrkar raised and eyebrow at the high-speed, borderline violence on ice they were calling a sport. "I wouldn't be expecting Ducks to be beating Wolves at any rate."

"Those aren't your everyday Ducks." Artania commented. "I've watched one of their games in person. I don't know for fact, but I'd say everyone of them has commando combat experience. Especially the dark feathered one, Duke. His style is polished way beyond hockey."

Keira smiled. "Professional sports are rather popular both on Felsinor and in the Alliance as a whole. There are a fairly large number of them, all with their fans." She said quietly, waiting to see a sign of like or dislike from the Kat, and saw mostly bemused fascination, mostly for the Ducks who were thoroughly trouncing their opponents' score.

"Interesting group." He eventually chuckled. "Odd game."

"Yeah, one of these days the FHL is going to get its act together and get the Ducks to play the Sabers at home." Artania said. "Looks like a solid win for the Ducks, I sure didn't expect the Lupos to get trounced that badly." She shook her head.

"FHL, Sabers?" He glanced over at the Black Lioness.

"So shall we try something else, and do you want to leave professional sports in the mix or take it out this time?" She asked Syrkar.

"This looks interesting."

"Okay, we watch the rest of the game then." Keira smiled, and settled back.

"The FHL is the Felsinor Hockey League, and it regulates the teams on Felsinor and coordinates games with other worlds' teams. The Saber, or more correctly the Tygrenor Sabertooths are the current Felsinor Champions for the third straight year." She smiled. "My little brother plays for them."

Syrkar look at her for a moment. "You don't have to be a Sabertooth to play on the team?"

"Nope and good thing too, there aren't any Sabertooth Felsin. As far as anyone can tell there were very few during the evacuation and they died out during the first two or three centuries. What little we know about them indicates that they were very insular, having no dealings with anyone outside their own clan." Keira explained.

"Not like the Sabertooths on Enderich at all." He nodded, still mostly watching the game.

"Oh, how so?" Keira asked quietly curious.

"They're military leaders, scientists, cops ... very much a part of society." He smiled softly. "Very smart and quite social as far as Kats go, only Lions really liked company more, on average."

"Well, I can't say we know the real story for sure." She said. "We only have scattered records that far back. Though it is unusual since all Felsin are rather social by nature." She smiled. "That would be another one of Dario's interests by the way. He thinks that each 'species' of Felsin held a piece of the whole of Felsin magic, and that without the Sabertooth piece the whole is incomplete."

"Just like a society or ecosystem is incomplete when it looses a species." He said quietly. "They weren't feline, but Enderich had its lost clans too."

"Sounds like the legends of the Ultrech, a race of bear-morphs supposedly native to Felsinor. There aren't any ruins or artifacts to give proof of their existence but there are a large number of legends that mention them. There are no bears on Felsinor, so one wonders where they would've come from." She said wonderingly.

"I can think of a good half-dozen ways." Syrkar chuckled. "If you were seriously wondering."

"Given the things we've had appear out of nowhere, a large number of bear morphs wouldn't be that strange." She grinned. "We had a derelict alien spacecraft appear in Krynock Desert about fifty years ago. The technology, language, it's all completely alien unlike anything the Alliance has encountered." She said. "There's a major research lab out there just to study it."

"I was thinking much more normal ways." He shook his head with a chuckle. "Extinction, genocide, a holdover from Origin, they left." He shrugged. "There are so many possibilities, depending on tech and time."

"True enough, and the first two have often been considered. The first is preferable because the second says unsavory things about our past." She said quietly.

"Most groups do." He nodded understandably, still keeping an interested eye on the game. "But any society that had warrior-leaders for that long, is bound to have some unsavory things in the past, or they wouldn't have needed the warriors in charge."

"True. I guess that's why as cultures mature they turn from warrior-leaders to more learned leaders. At least till they develop bureaucracy." She chuckled.

"Then it's politicians." Syrkar made a face.

"Who are neither learned nor warriors." Artania chuckled without taking her eyes off the game. "Unless of course you're the Dracons in which case you use the same basic government that you've used for fifty thousand years."

"Which I still say doesn't count. They've got a god as the head of government." He chuckled as Mighty Duck 13, the dark feathered one, made a particularly spectacular shot.

"Actually, she doesn't govern that much." Keira said. "The day to day governing is done by whoever the current Clan Overlord is, in consultant with the Clan Lords."

"Like that's any different from other planetary leaders?" He raised an eyebrow.

"The other planetary leaders are like the Clan Overlord. The rest don't really have an equivalent to Queen StarFire, mostly cause the other powers don't chose to be involved that way." Artania explained.

"So what do planetary leaders usually do here?" Syrkar asked curiously.

"Talk with each other, a lot. Hold summits in exotic vacation spots and claim to be discussing matters of vital importance." Artania quipped.

"Usually the propose legislation when they see a need. They usually promote a variety of causes, they direct the planetary military and the bureaucracy. They're like the old national leaders, just on the larger scale." Keira explained.

"Basic politics." He shook his head and chuckled. "The game is much more interesting. Eagle people that fly, Duck people that don't and play Hockey." Syrkar murmured. "A very different world."

"Definitely more interesting." Keira said as the Lupos managed to finesse the puck down the rink, till the Gray Wolf Lupo snapped it over to the Timber Wolf center who powered it at the goal. It looked like he overpowered it, and went wide, but it clipped the post and deflected in.

"Whoa, that was one damn lucky shot." Artania commented.

"I think the Ducks are miffed." He chuckled softly.

"Looks like it." Artania smirked. "They'll probably score two or three in a row just to put the Lupos in their place."

"And there's one." Syrkar's chuckled turned into a yawn.

"Should we figure out what we're doing about dinner, or do you need sleep more?" Artania leaned over and asked gently.

"Food, then sleep." He smiled at her. "I'm good for a couple more hours."

"Seeing as lunch was fairly fancy, shall we go with casual for dinner?" Artania suggested.

"Pizza, soda and chips to go with the entertainment?" Keira suggested with a smile. "Or would you rather something more adult dinner, as opposed to college hangout, Syrkar?" She asked clearly okay either way.

"Pizza sounds great." He grinned enthusiastically as he leaned back and rested his arms on the top of the love seat. "Informal suits me just fine."

"So, how hungry are you and what do you like on pizza?" She asked as she picked up the phone.

"Mmm, not very, and everything, anything, or just cheese for that matter." He grinned.

"Dial Dranzor's" She said, and then waited. "Yes, I'd like two large extra cheese pizzas delivered. Yes, the usual account. Thirty minutes will be fine."

"All set. I've got the chips and soda here. With teenage nephews it pays to be stocked at all times." Keira chuckled.

"Yes, I remember that kind of fun." He smiled with something of a far off look.

"Something we should never forget, and try to grab when we can." Artania said quietly.

"That is true." He nodded absently as a flurry of action on the screen caught their attention.

"Oh dear, looks like the Ducks scored again." Artania chuckled. "And Grin just checked the Lupo defense, all of it." She smirked. "You'd think teams would stop giving him that opportunity.

"Some things must be experienced to learn." Syrkar chuckled. "I'd worry about the team that lets him do it twice."

"I've never heard of such a team making post season play." The Lioness chuckled. "Normally, it's exhibition matches where that happens. Something set up by that bonehead manager of theirs." She shook her head. "I looked at their schedule online once, he doesn't have many standards."

"How'd he get a team that good?"

"If the story that's circulating is true, then it was more like they got stuck on Earth, and he helped them with some of the contact and legal problems. Something to do with him having a hockey rink, but no hockey team. They just wanted to play hockey. According to an interview I read, their whole planet plays hockey."

"There's not from Earth, then?"

"Nope, different dimension as I understand it. But the only dimension generator tuned to their home dimension got busted saving Earth. Busted by them as I understand, guess it was bust the generator or this evil Overlord would've invaded the planet." She said not entirely certain. "Any rate, Earth gave them all citizenship."

"Is it just the strange arrivals tend to make the news, or are they really as common as it's starting to sound?"

"Some worlds are more prone to them then others." Keira explained. "Felsinor has a history of refugees, and Earth attracts all sorts of strange happenings. The Canem homeworld has few if any strange arrivals and the same is true of Draconea, though it does happen."

"Kind of explains your immigration policies, though." He chuckled softly as the red-haired female Duck made a lightning-fast goal. "Damn ... she's got some serious training too."

"Well, our immigration policies are mostly a tribute to our own heritage as refugees; we understand racially what it means to lose your home and everything you understand." Keira said quietly.

"Yeah, Mallory's got some serious background too, I'm sure." Artania agreed. "Someone half-jokingly suggested we teach Rapid Response's Arctic Unit to play hockey so we could field a team with equivalent background."

"Or enter them against these guys." Syrkar chuckled deeply. "That would be a game to see.

"That was the idea." She grinned. "And you're right it would be."

"That'd be one hell of an exhibition match." Keira commented. "Think Rapid Response would go for it."

"Artic Strike? Hell yeah, those maniacs will try anything." She chuckled.

"So why not 'suggest' to?" Syrkar got a dangerously playful gleam in his blue eyes.

"Well, they just got back from a mission and their Commander's on recovery. Something about a Sayshalian Urslok getting the drop on them. I figure Colonel Dreighton will be back on his feet in a month or so, I'll suggest it to him just before then." She grinned.

"Maybe even get them here, to watch first hand." He chuckled, though the look in his eyes said he was serious about watching it live.

"I think Dreighton will almost insist on it." She chuckled. "I can't see him wanting to have Arctic that far out of position."

"Do these Ducks ever lose?" Syrkar winced as a shot was made through the Lupo goalie.

"It happens, though more often in exhibition games. They're very serious about league play though."

"No kidding. You'd think they'd just had their honor insulted." The Kat shook his head.

"I think you're not far off." Artania said, as she watched Duke very smoothly relieve a Lupo of the puck. "Of course, it is supposedly a planet-wide obsession."

"What do they look like without all the padding?" He asked curiously.

"Easy enough to show you, if you don't mind breaking from the game for a little bit. There's a pre-game interview running on the SportsTalk Channel." Artania offered.

"Sure, it's not like I can't guess the outcome." He chuckled.

"Yeah, its not if the Lupos are gonna get handed their tails, but how badly." Artania smirked.

Keira grinned agreeably. "Entersys, SportsTalk. End program."

The program appeared to be just starting. "And now the challengers to the Lupos claim to the trophy, those Duck morphs from Earth, the Mighty Ducks." Said a petite young Black Lab Canem with long blond hair and a pretty voice. Behind her was the entire Ducks team, in civilian clothes.

"Rrruuuph." Syrkar rumbled as his eyes fixed on the dark feathered one. "Okay, ducks are good for more than eating."

Artania chuckled. "They're probably still good for eating, if you take my meaning." The Lioness said with a lewd wink.

"Godda wonder if he tastes as good as he looks." The Kat rumbled. "I've always had a weakness for the swashbuckling thief type." Syrkar shook his head with a chuckle.

Keira smirked. "Rumor mill has it that that may have been more than just a look at one time."

"It's probably true." The Kat chuckled. "It's hard to get that look without actually doing it.

Artania rolled her eyes. "Not the jewel thief gossip. Where'd that get started anyway?"

"No one's really sure."

"Oh," Syrkar's eyes went wide at something on the screen.

"Oh, what?" Keira asked as both fems looked at the screen.

"Duke's fast." He breathed in honest respect.

"Yeah, we saw that on the ice." Artania said. "But what was that oh, about?" She asked intently curious.

"No, his hands are fast." The tom corrected without taking his eyes off the Duck in question. "I haven't seen anyone move like that since I got to watch Master Cieron work."

"Okay, Syrkar just what did you see?" Keira asked getting as intently curious as Artania.

"He palmed something from the leader." He chuckled.

Artania blinked. "He may have fast hands, but you've got damn good eyes to spot that. You catch what it was that he palmed?" She asked curiously.

"No, but it was something small and black."

"Good catch all the same. Bet there weren't many that caught that. Wonder why he did it while they were on camera though."

"Probably cause he could." Keira chuckled.

"Running joke maybe." Syrkar shrugged. "Still, that kind of still ...."

"Suggests he really was some kind of thief before, and a damn good one." Artania finished quietly. "Somehow that just makes him more attractive.

"He's cute, but that goalie of theirs is a real hunk." Keira added.

"I wouldn't refuse him, but Duke's quite ... appealing." He licked his whiskers back.

"Okay, we definitely need to get them out here for that exhibition match." Artania said. "And maybe see about some in-person contact." She wink lustily, but half serious.

"Ooo, I like the way you think." He murred at the Black Lioness.

"Thought you might." She rumbled back at him.

There was a buzz of the doorbell, which Keira got up to answer.

"Interesting we have similar tastes in males." He purred invitingly and shifted slightly to open space on the love seat.

Artania smiled and moved over next to him on the love seat. "I noticed, at least in male Ducks at any rate." She grinned. "There are so many others to discuss." She grinned.

"Well, we've covered Ducks, and I'd say tomkats, what you do like in females?" He shifted so their sides touched slightly and his arms were behind her shoulders on the back of the love seat.

"Well, you've seen one example." She smirked in the direction of the door as Keira came back to set two large, hot pizzas on the table in the middle of the entertainment square.

"Be right back with plates, soda and chips." She said as she headed for the kitchen.

"Well, that matches up too." He chuckled softly.

Artania chuckled. "Maybe that's why my team got scrambled to check out your arrival ... the universe putting those who think alike together." She grinned.

"It must have plans." Syrkar chuckled and moved a little closer to nuzzle her neck gently.

"Doesn't it always." She rumbled, and slipped her arm up behind him. "Of course, it's not going to tell us."

"Of course not, but we can have fun in the meantime." He rolled his head sideways to lick her jaw line.

"Absolutely." She rumbled pleased, and turned a little so her body was facing him. "So handsome, what do you think of threesomes?" She whispered.

"It's usually been with a second tom, but I've enjoyed them greatly." He purred as he leaned forward to kiss her, moving slowly enough she could stop him if she wanted.

Artania leaned forward to meet his kiss, and held it for a little. "Maybe we can do that sometime too." She rumbled as they broke. "I like both, but prefer toms."

"Same here." He chuckled, more than a little amused by it. "Wonder when we're going to find something we disagree on?"

"I suspect our professional interest are quite different. I just don't see you as the military type." She grinned.

"Okay, you have me there." He chuckled as he leaned forward to bring their chests together in a firm embrace and nuzzled her neck as light arousal began to weave into his scent. "Though I have enjoyed being with many military types, I have no interest in be one of them."

"Nor would I be interested in taking up your former profession." She said as she put her arms around him. "Though there are several in that profession who are quite dear to me, and always will be." She murmured as her arousal mixed with his.

"Umm, do we have any idea how compatible we are?" He asked uneasily without moving away.

"Compatible in what sense?" She asked quietly.

"Physically, sexually." He murmured. "I don't want to hurt either of you."

"Doctor would've warned you if there was a physical incompatibility. Though what do you mean by sexually that wasn't covered by physical?" She asked gently.

"My penis is much like my tongue." He raised her hand to his lips and ran his tongue strongly across her palm-pad. "Both can be painful for a partner who's not designed to find it pleasurable."

She smiled gently. "Same as every tom I've ever been with, Syrkar." She rumbled.

He smiled softly with a mixture of pleasure, relief and affection. "I just wanted to be sure, before we got much further."

"There's something that was discovered after the Alliance was formed and the races started mingling often enough that interracial sex became acceptable; there's a 'natural' adaptability that makes it work between them. What little research has been done suggests that it's magical at least in part, but it would have to have been done by one of the Powers, and none of them will admit it." She grinned. "Personally, I suspect the Trickster, it seems like something he'd do." She said as she nuzzled him affectionately.

"We had no such luck on Enderich." Syrkar rumbled as he angled his head to lick her jaw and cheek.

"Well, here you do." She smiled as reached one hand to rest lightly on the Kats groin.

Syrkar's purred deepened as his body responded, his penis quickly hardening and pushing out from its sheath at her touch.

There was light thud as Keira set the soda bottles on the table. "I see you two decided to start with an appetizer." She grinned, honestly amused.

"It was more appealing." Syrkar purred in equal amusement as he trailed his free hand down to cup, then tease, Artania's firm breasts.

"I can see that." She chuckled and knelt down by the loveseat end where Syrkar was. "Most appealing." She said as she kissed the Kat, and then nuzzled him affectionately as he shifted to open his body for both of them.

"Want to take this to the bed?" He purred and stretched to kiss the Lynx tenderly.

"Sounds good." Keira rumbled, as she ran a hand across the Kat's chest.

"Definitely." Artania agreed as Syrkar stood gracefully, looking to Keira for directions.

"This way." The Lynx said as she stood, swishing her fuzzy bob-tail across Syrkar as she lead the way to the bedroom, with a very seductive sway in her step.

"This is turning into a fairly pleasant day." He chuckled softly and he and Artania followed.

"Most definitely." The Lioness agreed playfully.

Ebony and Fire 1: Misplaced Courtesan

PG-13 for F/M/F
Het Level is Low
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is Low
Herm Level is None

135 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written February 24, 2002 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall

Setting: Enderich, Galactic Alliance

Primary Races: Felsin, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Femslash (F/F).

Pairings: Artania/Syrkar Callahan/Keira Felwithe

Blurb: While the courtesan Syrkar has been considering retiring, doing so in a galaxy far away was not what he had in mind.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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