Shadows of the Kat 3:
Alliance Escape

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"Jake, can I talk to you for a moment ... in private?" An athletic gold, black and tan calico tomkat touched his lover's shoulder as Jake headed for the Black Phoenix Hanger. "In my quarters."

"Sure Alex. The lean tom sighed in exhaustion and nodded to one of the few toms he knew that was shorter than he was, and obligingly changed course.

They walked in an uncomfortable silence until they reached a lift, and Alexander Maxwell finally broke it. "The meeting went that bad?"

Jake groaned and rubbed his neck, then groaned in pleasure and gratitude as Alexander put his hands there and rubbed.

"You are way too tense. Alexander rumbled with a lick to Jake's ear. "Let Nate have a go at your back."

"If he can catch me out of the battle zone. Jake closed his eyes, both in grief and pleasure. "Gods that feels good."

"Well, good, because Nate's waiting in my quarters. He chuckled at the startled look he got over Jake's shoulder. "I really do want to talk to you in private, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up to get you properly relaxed."

Jake was silent for a moment before he relaxed a little more. "Thanks Alex."

Nathan SolGardin looked at his father across the unconscious form of Jake Clawson sprawled on the bed. "That was almost too easy, Cazi."

"Don't worry, Nate. Alexander Maxwell patted the much taller tiger-tabby's shoulder. "He was almost ready to drop anyway. We barely needed the drugs, I'm sure."

"But it's safer to be sure he doesn't wake up until we get to the ship." Nathan hesitated a second before picking the limp tom up.

"Nate, he's not of this world, any more than you or I, he's just been here longer. He looked at his lovers face, the strain striped from it by the massage and tranks, before activating a small device and moving swiftly out of the room and down the hall, unconcerned that his son would keep up. "He needs the help he'll only get in the Alliance. I'll bring him back if he wants me too, after he's sane."

"I doubt he will. Nathan smiled as his father shifted to his more natural form, a very short, strong lion, and at the obliviousness of those they passed to their presence. "That invisibility device works well. He paused for a moment, and gently set the unconscious tom down against a wall.

"Nathan, what're you doing? Cazi asked impatiently. "We should get moving."

"Just checking something that may be important, Cazi. It won't take but a moment. Nathan focused to do a basic telepathic exam of the lean tom's damaged mind. What he saw confirmed what had been a vague suspicion.

Cazi looked at his son. "Nate, what are you looking for?"

"When you told me about what had gone on with regards to Chance, I had some suspicions, but no opportunity to check them. Now I'm sure, but it's nothing I can fix."

"Suspicions, what're you talking about, Nate?"

"Cazi, Jake has a badly damaged Bond with Chance Furlong. It's a bond unlike any I'm familiar with, and too established for me to dare touch."

"Okay ... not entirely surprising, but so?"

"We're going to have bring Chance as well, since it's probable that the Psych-Meds will need to deal with the damaged Bond ... and with intergalactic distances separating them it would be extremely hazardous."

"Oh ... that does complicate things. Cazi hummphed, knowing better than to argue with his son over bringing the tabby as well. "How do we get him, he's still in the city isn't he?"

"Nope, Rik brought him into Medical not too long ago. They should have run the battery of tests by now to see just how badly banged up he is."

"Convenient. Think you can get him out of Medical without anyone objecting?"

"I don't suppose you've got a spare invisibility cloak, and one of the illusion cubes."

Cazi smiled and handed his son a couple of small items. "Good thing I always keep them around."

Nathan pulled a small electronic disk out of his pocket and handed it to Cazi. "This tracker will lead you to the shuttle. I'll meet you there as soon as I secure Chance."

The Lion nodded. "Be careful Nate, these folks aren't likely to appreciate what we're doing, or at least the way we're doing it."

Nathan nodded grimly. "Maybe not, but if they'd done something for Jake before now, we wouldn't have to. He put his hand on his father's shoulder. "Don't worry, Cazi. We'll help him. I know what he means to you, just be careful getting to the shuttle."

The small Lion knelt down and gently lifted Jake over his shoulder, hefting him easily. "Don't worry, I will be. See you soon. The Lion vanished as his invisibility separated from Nathan's.

As Nathan walked into Medical a male Golden Lab Kantin nurse walked up to him with a databoard. "Doctor SolGardin, Dr. Hathin asked me to have you check on Chance Furlong's injuries, she'd like your opinion on nerve damage in the arm. These are the test results."

"Thank you, please tell Hathin I'll give her a report as soon as I've had time to examine the patient. Oh, is the patient still unconscious?"

"Yes, Doctor. The knockout gas hasn't worn off yet. Patient is in ICU-2."

"Thank you." Nathan walked into the secure Intensive Care Unit, and began reviewing the test data. In his opinion there were signs of traumas other than the ones attributed, or even attributable, to the fight in the apartment. And the likelihood of anything being left out of this report were very minimal.

As Nathan examined Chance he concluded that all the injuries were repairable, though he'd feel much better about repairing the shoulder and arm damage using Alliance equipment, since he was fairly sure there was nerve damage, possibly severe.

He ran a quick medical telepathy scan of the tabby and decided that he needed Psych-med help as much as Jake. He shook his head in amazement that this team had protected the city so effectively for six years. "No small miracle that."

The tiger-tabby palmed the illusion cube from his pocket, and discretely placed it against the electronic vital statistics monitor. He waited as the nano-probes went to work, overriding the various sensors and surveillance equipment convincing them to relay the images that the cube produced rather than reality.

When the cube blinked green, and then went invisible Nathan went to work preparing Chance to be moved, though he wasn't happy about having to do it so soon, at least they didn't have far to go, and he was confident he could do it with minimal risk to the patient.

Once he had the special immobilizer in place to protect the badly damaged shoulder, he released the restraints, disconnected the IV lines, and unhooked the no longer reporting electrodes. Quickly he switched to war-form, picked Chance up, and activated the invisibility cloak.

He was pleased when he successfully carried his patient past the nurse without the Kantin noticing. He then moved quickly to exit Cathedral and head for the landing point indicated by the tracker.

Patrik Celest swallowed as he stared at the strange craft that sat in the clearing not far from one of Cathedral's western gates, cloaked from most senses. He cast another look to the east, where he knew Alexander Maxwell, as a lion, was hiding in the thick vegetation, with an unconscious Jake by his side.

"*Thank you, Cathedral.*" He sent a fond goodbye to the facility, and a wordless mix of his feelings to Amerith, who'd chosen to say rather than be stripped of her warrior status in the Alliance. "*I'll miss you all.*"

With that, he closed off all the working bonds he had but the one with his gunner and stalked forward, out of sight the nervous lion across the clearing. He turned his full attention to a combination of sweet-talking and coercing the craft he'd need to get on board, and stay hidden on until it was too late to send him away from his gunner.

Cazi waited impatiently just out of sight of the shuttle, he wasn't acquainted with those they were meeting so he preferred to wait for Nathan. He kept a close eye on Jake, just in case his lover showed signs of consciousness, in which case he had a second hypo that his son had given him.

The Lion was a little surprised when Nathan's war-form came over the ridge carrying the unconscious pilot. His son had mentioned learning about the war-form, but Cazi was still surprised that it looked so much like Ebon's.

Cazi gently picked his lover back up as Nathan came close. "Any problems?" He asked as they headed for the shuttle.

"Nope, the illusion cube worked perfectly. But let's hurry; I want to get Chance back into a medical bed as soon as possible. And I'll need to do surgery fairly soon to prevent any permanent nerve damage."

As they approached the shuttle, a large side door opened and an eight-foot tall muscular wine red Dracon walked down the ramp, accompanied by four other Dracons, who were carrying stretchers. Nathan and Cazi gratefully place Jake and Chance on the stretchers.

The red Dracon turned to the bearers. "Get them to medical immediately, and be careful with them."

"Yes, Your Highness." The four responded in unison, before they quickly but gently took the injured pair inside the shuttle.

"Highness?" Cazi asked, looking questioningly at Nathan.

Nathan smiled. "Cazimir I like to introduce His Highness Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea. Morin, I'd like to introduce my father, Cazimir Sunfire."

Morin bowed politely. "I am pleased to meet the sire of my Cordraki, though I know of you already, cousin Sunfire."

"Cousin?" Nathan looked somewhat startled.

"Clan-cousin actually,"Cazi explained. "My father's family owes fealty to his family. And yes, my father was Dracon."

Nathan looked at Morin. "You knew, didn't you?"

The Dracon smiled. "Of course, we Dracons keep close track of who we're related to and how."

Nathan walked up to Morin and hugged him close. "Cordraki, there's something we need to discuss, in private." He gave the Dracon a very meaningful look.

Morin brightened noticeably. "Once we are back aboard the cruiser, we can talk in my quarters."

"I look forward to it." He smiled as he shifted back to his Felsin form.

Cazi cleared his throat noisily. "If you two are finished, I think we should get orbital before someone who objects to what we're doing notices."

Morin grinned. "Of course, I am letting myself be distracted. Please come aboard."

As they headed forward to the control room, Nathan noticed the distinctly Mephiston design features. "How'd you get your hands on a functional Mephit starship, Morin?"

"I 'liberated' it." The red Dracon said matter-of-factly.

"You and what army?" The tiger-tabby said teasingly.

"The 22nd Dracon Space Marines."

"Does your Grandmother know what you're doing with her military?"

"Of course, she suggested I take them. She also sent Lord Margali and Lady Diamantha."

Nathan blinked. "The TechnoMage and the top healer on Draconea?"

"Yes, she thought I might have need of their talents. And seeing the patients you brought with you, I can see that at least Diamantha is needed."

"I appreciate the help, but I could handle it."

"You're not a psych-med, she is."

Nathan nodded. "How'd you know ..."

Morin interrupted. "Grandmother."

Nathan shook his head. "Of course."

The Dracon looked at him seriously. "Who are they anyway?"

"The small tom is Jake Clawson, Cazi's lover and a very talented Kat in many respects. A talented Kat who is badly in need of help he wasn't going to get on this planet."

"And the tabby?"

"Chance Furlong, a top pilot and Jake's partner for some years. Their partnership has ended badly, but they aren't so easily separated. He's seriously injured both in body and mind."

Morin nodded. "So you're doing this because the little one is important to your father?"

The medic nodded quietly. "That and I'll admit I like Jake myself, and besides they've defended the lives of a lot of Kats for over six years, but all they've gotten for it is the scorn of the military/law enforcement establishment. It's time someone looked out for them, heroes are too uncommon to neglect."

The Dracon nodded, and then hugged the large warrior. "I wasn't challenging your decision, Cordraki; I just wanted to know who they were."

"That's okay, Morin. I'm just annoyed that the only real way to help them is to relocate them so covertly."

"You can come out, little one. Lady Diamantha spoke gently as she sensed Patrik's presence in a Jake's medical room on the shuttle. "I won't send you away unless you hurt my patient."

She watched as a petite little black and white longfured Kat edged out from his hiding spot, and smiled at him. "He must be quite important to you to risk this."

"Jake's my gunner. Patrik said matter-of-factly as he kept a very wary eye on the silvery-gray dragon biped while approaching Jake's bed.

The Dracon healer watched quietly as the little tom looked over his gunner carefully, and when he looked up at her, she recognized the unspoken question. "He is sleeping deeply; his body and mind are exhausted and we gave him a light sedative so that he would relax; something that he is not inclined to do. It will wear off by the time we reach the SilverStar."

She looked appraisingly at Patrik. "I've known many pilots, but I've known few with such complete devotion to their gunner." She smiled. "I am forgetting my manners. I am Lady Crystella Diamantha, chief healer to House Kar'Dranor. Who are you, aside from Jake Clawson's pilot?"

He looked up at her with barely a trace of the fear or nervousness of a few moments before, despite that she was easily twice his height. "I'm Patrik Celest. I was BlackFire of the Black Phoenix Squadron, now ..." his voice trailed off uncertainly, "now I'm just Jake's BondMate. Whatever that will actually mean."

The Healer smiled gently. "What things will mean will make themselves clearer with time. That you are his BondMate makes it a good thing that you came along. It would have caused him unnecessary pain to be so far from one so important to him."

"I don't know if he'd notice much." Patrik spoke softly as he sat on the medical bed and began to smooth Jake's hair. "But I don't want to live without him."

"He would notice, little one." She nodded thoughtfully. "Indeed, I'm sure had Colonel SolGardin been aware of your Bond with Jake, you would not have had to sneak aboard."

The Dracon looked at monitors and ran her hand gently across Jake's forehead. "He will be asleep for awhile yet. If you feel up to it, I think it would be a good idea appraise the others of your presence, and to introduce you to those you don't know."

"I'd rather not." He looked up with a startled expression as what that could be taken as sank in. "I'm not challenging you, I just ... well, I just walked away from everything I know to stay at his side. I'd like to say here."

"I understand, and the others would as well. Introductions can wait until we reach the SilverStar." She settled back into a chair. "Have you ever traveled in space before?"

"I've taken Amerith or one of the space-worthy fighters out of the atmosphere a few times, but not really." He looked at her carefully. "We're going a long way from Aristal, aren't we?"

Diamantha nodded. "Yes, little one, we are. The Galactic Alliance is in a different galaxy from Aristal, and the trip is rarely made. Two members of the Alliance came to Aristal, one kidnapped, the other sent by an enigmatic family ally of theirs. The SilverStar came because Prince Morin's Cordraki needed his assistance, and that was all the reason that was needed." She got up, poured water from a chilled pitcher into two glasses, and offered one to Patrik. "These Mephiston ships are abnormally dry, it is easy to become dehydrated if one is not careful."

"Thanks," he accepted the water, and watched the Dracon for a moment as he nursed the contents of the glass. "Is Alex, the Lion, the one that was kidnapped?"

"No," Diamantha took a sip of the water, "his son, Colonel Nathan SolGardin, was."

They sank into the somewhat comfortable silence of healer and patient's loved one, waiting until it was time to continue the healing. After a long moment Patrik shifted his gaze from Jake's relaxed features to the Dracon healer.

"Will I be allowed to stay with him?" He asked very softly.

She didn't need her metal gifts to read the fear so well hidden behind the calm question and looked at the petite tom carefully. Though he was clearly a warrior, her instincts as a mother and grandmother told her that he was exceptionally young for a combat pilot.

She nodded. "Of course, you're his BondMate." She smiled gently at his evident relief, and to encourage the question she saw in his eyes to be asked.

"What ..." he swallowed nervously, "why are you taking him so far away ... what can't be ... fixed ... at Cathedral?"

Diamantha thought for a moment, looking for a phrasing that would be honest without being too frightening. "There is no soft way to put this, his sanity is becoming more tenuous all the time. He's hurt someone he never wanted to hurt, and in trying to deal with it he's created an alternate view of reality, which is making it difficult for him to connect with what is real. It can't be fixed at Cathedral because they don't have the luxury of taking the time to heal him, even if they had a mind-healer up to the task, and I saw no evidence that they do."

"His delusions about Chance." Patrik nodded slightly. "If that's what you're here about, you're right. We don't have anyone capable of 'fixing' that, whatever he did to himself." He looked at his gunner with sad eyes. "Though we tried. I tried."

Diamantha put a gentle, understanding hand on the small tom's shoulder. "Whatever you tried, you gave him enough stability to hold out this long. It is simply time for more experienced mind-healers."

"I know." He swallowed and glanced between his gunner and the healer. "I just hope I didn't make things worse in the long run. I basically blackmailed him into living."

"It may not have been the optimal choice, but it did work. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself for something that kept him alive." She paused for a moment before sitting back down. "Jake holds a position of responsibility, he is the Commander of Black Phoenix, among other things. The way he's been behaving the medical officer should have relieved him of duty, but for unknown reasons didn't."

"He hides it very well. She didn't know." He sighed before meeting Diamantha's steady gaze. "If you intend to heal his mind, you need to understand that. He can be completely rational and in tune with reality and what he's done one minute and completely out of it another. Most of the time he doesn't even realize he's shifting like that. He just does it, to protect himself, mostly." He shivered and swallowed. "What I'm trying to say; is that just because he's rational and sane, doesn't mean he's 'cured'."

"I believe I understand what you're saying, and that is something our mind-healers will have to watch for as they try to help him." Diamantha sipped her water and watched him regain control. "This isn't a one way trip Patrik, once Jake is healed and sane it will be his decision whether to return or not."

"I understand." He caressed Jake's face tenderly. "I doubt there will be anything to return to, by then."

She looked at Patrik curiously. "What do you mean?"

"Even if MegaKat City is still standing, which I have my doubts on, there's ... well," he leaned over his kiss Jake's forehead, "he's built his life around a set of lies that won't exist when you're done with him." Patrik sighed and looked up, silently begging this stranger to understand. "I know what he'll have when the lies are stripped away, and ... I guess ... I'm hoping he'll stay with someone who actually cares about him, not just what he can provide."

"I realize it may be hard to understand, but Alex and Nathan did not make this decision lightly. They looked into finding a way to help Jake without leaving Aristal; but the politics that surround Jake there are simply too intense to give him time to heal. And they were both concerned that he might be getting dangerously close to suicide ... neither of them wanted to see that happen."

"Dangerously close?" Patrik actually snorted. "He's been pretty actively suicidal for almost two years now. The only thing is, he won't do it himself; I saw to that much." He looked at his gunner sadly. "But that doesn't stop him from not trying to avoid getting killed."

The Healer sighed. "Our information is limited, the healer we had present has only been in contact with Jake for around a year, isn't trained in psych-med. Though we didn't plan for you to be here, I think it is good that you are; you are more familiar with him than any of us. I'm sorry that you weren't consulted, but given the likely reaction from the powers that be, secrecy was necessary."

"Given his likely reaction, never mind Pat's, this was the right way to get him help." He looked at Jake's peaceful features for a long moment. "It's almost worth it just to see him relaxed like this."

"Alex and Nathan both thought much the same about his likely reaction, and from my brief medical scan, I agree." She looked at the cinnamon tom's face. "He doesn't relax very often, does he?"

"No, he doesn't. He doesn't like to." Patrik sighed, smoothing a rumple his wandering fingers made in Jake's fur. "In the four years I've been alive, I've never known him to relaxed, unless you consider passing out from sleep deprivation and exhaustion relaxation. I don't think he sleeps more than a couple hours a night, at most. I think it scares him. I know the nightmares do, though you'll have a time getting him to admit to them."

The healer nodded. "Sounds like whatever problems he has are deep-seated indeed. But no problem is unsolvable, difficult perhaps, but not impossible. Healing him will not be quick or easy, I imagine, for either healer or patient." She gave the black and white tom a serious look. "I can see how devoted you are to him, just remember that you won't help him by neglecting yourself. I've seen far too many patient's loved ones damage their own health neglecting sleep and other basic necessities."

"I won't. Patrik nodded solemnly. "I'm not much use to anyone if I'm not in fighting shape."

She looked sympathetically at the little tomkat. "I am healer, not a seer of futures, but I think things will work out, perhaps in an unexpected fashion, but I think they will." She looked down at her patient. "What Nathan and Alex have told me about Jake leads me to believe that he can probably make a successful life anywhere he chooses. Of course, that doesn't really answer your other concern, and I guess that's because only Jake can. But just remember, Jake's friends are going to serious lengths to make sure he gets the help he needs ... they're hardly going to abandon him once he's well ... and I think you'll find that they're your friends as well."

"That's what I meant." Patrik said softly, not looking at her. "I hope he doesn't want to go back. Alex loves him, for him, not because he can design and build a jet that can out fly anything out there, or because he's capable of destroying an army with a thought. Jake deserves better than to be a prize in a war he's a general in."

Diamantha nodded understandingly. "I don't think you'll find anyone on board who'll disagree with you about that. Only time will tell if Jake feels the same. We'll have to wait and see, Alex can be very convincing when he wants to be."

"I've noticed." Patrik smiled slightly. "I like him."

"But I notice you talk about Alex, when its fairly clear that you love Jake just as much, if you don't mind my asking, why? I would expect you'd be thinking about your future with Jake, considering how much you care for him." The Dracon's voice was gentle and compassionate.

Patrik look at her, honest confusion painted across his delicate features for a long moment. "I'll follow Jake wherever he goes. But I can't give him everything he needs; it's not part of my makeup to be his primary mate." He sort of shrugged. "I like Alex. He's been good for Jake in the last couple years. He's the only one that has never asked for anything from Jake other than his affection, and has given more than he's taken." He looked at her hopelessly. "I guess I don't understand what you're asking. I'll follow Jake. What's to consider past that?"

Diamantha felt as if she'd missed part of the conversation. The choice of phrasing the little tom had used was odd, and disturbing in some way she couldn't quite pin down. Then she connected it to something else he'd said ... four years of being alive.

She shook her head. "A great deal, really ... but maybe not. I was just concerned that you didn't seem to paying much attention to your own future. I guess I misunderstood, my apologies."

"It's okay. He smiled reassuringly at her. "It's been a confusing day all the way around."

She smiled back. "You're right about Alex though, the only thing he's ever looked for in a relationship is affection. All the material stuff he can handle on his own."

She turned to looked at one of the desk console indicators. "Looks like we're coming up on the SilverStar, we should be docking momentarily. Then we can get Jake transferred to the real Medical facilities on board, until he wakes up and we get some idea of how he's going to react."

"There's something else you should know." Patrik spoke hurriedly, with the uncomfortable tone of one who wasn't sure he was doing the right thing, but was sure of the necessity of it. "Jake has this gift. He can hear and talk to machines, electronics, and get them to do what he wants."

He fidgeted, not completely sure he should be telling these things to a stranger that basically held them prisoner. "He calls it TechnoMagic, but that's just a name he and Pat made up to explain what they can do. I think it's something of a joke between them. I ... I've seen him do other things too. Things he won't readily admit to ... mold metal with his hands, change what a substance is by growling at it and concentrating."

He looked up, honestly scared. "I'm just a PsiPilot, granted I'm a damn good one, but it's very hard to keep me in or out of a place with the little skill I have for convincing things other than vehicles. I don't know of anything that can lock Jake in. If it's mechanical, he can manipulate it. If it's a computer, he can turn it against you. How do you hold someone like that? Jake will be very angry when he wakes up, even if he agrees to this later. He'll try to escape first, and think about it second. It's how he is. He's been manipulated all his life. He's learned to really hate it when it's obvious he's being forced to do something, even if he wants it."

Diamantha smiled. "I wondered why the Queen-Mother sent Lord Margali on this mission." She caught Patrik's questioning look. "Lord Margali is one of the top TechnoMages on Draconea, and has spent the last two weeks becoming very good friends with the SilverStar. He should be able to keep things controlled. Prince Morin is also a TechnoMage though not as gifted, and of course Alex is a CyberWizard and has a few unique tricks up his sleeves."

She grinned. "Now that I think about it, Prince Morin probably already knows you're on board. But I think we can keep Jake from turning our equipment against us." She paused briefly. "Patrik, I'm not trying to be rude, but if Jake's trying to escape, does your need to follow him mean you'll help him? " The tone of her voice, and the look on her face clearly spoke of someone who had to ask a question, and was quite unhappy about having done so.

Patrik actually froze before his brain possessed the need to find an answer to this question he'd never thought of. He bit his lip, thinking. When he finally answered, it came out slowly, worded very carefully. "I really don't know. I've never been in a situation where I knew what he wanted to do was wrong. I'm sure I'd try to stop him once, but if he doesn't listen, I'd go with him." He met the healer's gaze squarely. "I won't help him escape unless he really was threatened, but it would be unadvisable to count on me to help stop him either."

Diamantha nodded. "Thank you for being honest with me, I can see it wasn't easy. Well, we won't expect you to stop him. By now all the guards will be aware that they are required to stop any escape with an absolute minimum of harm to him ... we'll probably get a few guards banged up that way, but they're a Marine detachment they can handle it. We don't want him to get hurt, he's got enough problems without adding physical injury to the list."

"I'll try to remember that when the ten food tall winged lizard lunges at him." Patrik sort of chuckled. "Not that they'd have much to worry about from me. Physical combat is so not my subject. He paused, the humor gone. "Now get me in a jet ... then ... just please don't let it get that far." There was a clear mix of fear and desperate plea in his voice and gaze. "He can't be allowed to get into a craft ... he'll never be caught again. We're too good, and he'd wouldn't accept ...." his voice choked as he fought back tears.

The Healer concentrated for a moment, and then she spoke quietly. "Don't worry, Patrik. The SilverStar is a cruiser, it has no fighter complement, and the small craft like this shuttle are being disabled. This one will be as well once we land. We are not taking any risks that we can avoid. She got up and gently put a reassuring arm around the frightened tom. "Things will work out, there may be a few bumps along the way but they will."

Patrik nodded against her, his gratitude rippling around him in a shimmering wave as he composed himself. When they felt the slight bump of the shuttle docking, he wiped most of the moisture from his fur and looked up at her. "Thanks. I didn't realize how ... scary ... being this in charge would be. I've always followed orders ... not made them."

The Dracon smiled down at him. "You did quite well, take confidence from that, because while Jake is healing there may be other times when you'll have to 'be in charge'."

"Wonderful." He groaned, sarcasm dripping from his voice. Then he sighed and tried to put himself right, with minimal success. "I'll learn. Jake needs me to be strong like that, I'll do it, somehow."

There was knock on the door, when it opened two ten foot tall dark blue Dracons in black uniforms entered carrying a stretcher. One of them looked questioningly at Patrik.

Diamantha responded with a steely gaze, and stern voice. "Never mind, he's here at my request." The Dracon marine nodded without comment.

The healer gently lifted Jake from the Medical bed and laid him on the stretcher. "Be careful and gentle with him. She instructed the marines in a voice that brooked no dispute.

As the marines moved out, Patrik looked at the healer. "But you didn't ..."

The silver-gray dragon smiled. "If I'd known about you, I would have." She interrupted gently. "Let me show you to medical, the others will join us there."

"All right. He nodded easily, clearly grateful that someone else was taking the lead.

Diamantha paused outside a large door and turned to face the petite tom following her. "This is the medical conference room where I'll introduce you to the others. After that I'll take you to medical suite where Jake is."

Patrik nodded and Diamantha tapped the chime on the door, after a moment it opened. She stepped gracefully inside. She turned to see Patrik hesitate. "You need not worry, little one. Everyone is here for the same reason, to see that Jake gets the help he needs."

As Patrik stepped into the large conference room he noticed he was the only Kat, or even feline, present. The other two were an eight foot tall muscular red Dracon wearing a gold uniform with black effects, and a nine foot tall, lean shadow-gray Dracon who was wearing red uniform with gold trim.

Diamantha gestured to Patrik. "Prince Morin, Lord Margali, I'd like to introduce Patrik Celest; Jake's gunner and BondMate. Patrik, this, " She indicated the red Dracon, "is Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea, commander of this mission and Colonel SolGardin's Cordraki." She gestured to the gray Dracon. "This is Lord Margali, TechnoMage and Chief Instructor at the Sar'Kanon Academy on Draconea."

She looked around. "I thought Alex and Nathan were supposed to be here as well."

Morin sat down and gestured for everyone to do the same. "Nathan wanted to inspect Medical to make sure everything was acceptable, as well as to make sure Jake was resting comfortably. Alex is watching over Jake for the time being."

The door opened and Nathan walked in wearing his gray and gold Medic fatigues. "Sorry, I'm late I just wanted to ..." He stopped as he saw Patrik. He walked over to where the small tom was sitting and put his hand on Patrik's shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you what was going on, but things happened faster than we expected. We didn't have time to let you know without risking the mission." He smiled, genuinely pleased. "I am glad you're here though, it may make things easier for Jake."

Nathan turned to the rest of the room. "If the rest of you don't mind, I'm going to show Patrik to Jake's suite. I don't think either of us is required for your discussions."

Morin nodded. "Of course, I think we can handle a few minor discussion without your presence, Cordraki." He smiled broadly.

Nathan chuckled. "Maybe." He turned to Patrik. "If you'll just follow me." He opened a door and gestured Patrik through.

As they walked through the corridors, Nathan turned to look at Patrik. "If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I'll answer them as best I can."

"What does Cordraki mean?"

Nathan smiled. "It's a Dracon relationship that's between close friendship and LifeMate. The rough translation is 'We would be LifeMates, but the timing was lousy, so we are close friends instead.' It's a Bonded relationship, like LifeMates, but not nearly as close. Morin and I have known each other a long time, but by the time I realized what he really wanted I already had a LifeMate."

"Why are you doing this?" Patrik hesitated a second. "I mean, this is a lot of trouble to go to for one Kat. I'd expect Pat to go to this kind of effort to get him back, but you ...."

Nathan nodded. "You're right, it is. But the simple fact is, that Alex loves Jake so much that he couldn't watch the downward spiral anymore without doing something to help." He sighed softly. "As to why I'm involved, Alex is my father, and I'll help him anyway I can. Especially when this is the first time he's been this in love, since mother died. And once Alex pointed out how bad Jake was getting ... I'm too well trained as a Medic to ignore someone in that much trouble ... if there's something I can do. He chuckled. "As for the Dracons, well, Morin came to retrieve me ... I took advantage of that fact."

"Oh," Patrik nodded, falling into silence.

Alex sat quietly in a padded chair next to the advanced medical bed Jake was lying quietly on. Every so often the calico tom would reach over and brush his hand across Jake's forehead. He was very apprehensive about what would happen when his lover woke up, and not even the reassuring presence of the ten foot tall midnight blue Dracon standing unobtrusively in one corner did anything to calm him. It wasn't the physical danger he was most concerned about.

He stood up as the door opened and his son entered followed by a familiar black and white tomkat. Nathan stepped back out after Patrik entered. He spoke softly. "If either of you need anything, the intercom connects to my office." He quietly closed the door.

Alex walked over to his friend. "Rik, I'm glad you made it. I wasn't sure if Cathedral would relay my message in time or not, but she was the only one I could trust to let you know without anyone else knowing. Are you okay? This all must be a bit of a shock."

"I'm okay," his attention was fully focused on his gunner, "and it's not as strange as my first day in Cathedral, though I'll grant it's a close second." He shifted his attention to the tom who was only a couple inches taller than he was. "How long till he wakes up?"

The calico tom walked back to the medical bed looked at the monitor. "Could be anytime now. Looks like the sedative is wearing off, it really comes down to how exhausted he really was."

"Plenty, last time I got a look at him conscious."

He looked back to Patrik. "Rik, I guess I should tell you that I'm not really a Kat, I'm Felsin, same as Nathan.

"I guessed as much when Lady Diamantha referred to you as his father." He shrugged. "Not like Jake is either."

"I just happen to be a talented shapeshifter."


He released the assumed Kat form for a moment, becoming the not much taller, but significantly more muscular, Lion. After letting Patrik get a look, he reassumed the calico tomkat form. "My real name is Cazimir Sunfire, but my friends call me Cazi."

"Okay, Cazi," Patrik gave a heartbeat of a pause to see if the assumption he made was acceptable, and continued when he wasn't corrected, "do you think he," he motioned at the Dracon in the corner, "could stand outside? Jake's going to freak when he comes too in a place this strange, even with both of us next to him."

Alex smiled. "Not a problem." He looked at the guard, who nodded and stepped outside. "I forget they can be a little disconcerting, I'm so used to them that I actually find them reassuring."

"It's not so much that he'd disconcerting as he's not someone Jake knows." Patrik shrugged. "The fewer surprises in that first moment, the better."

Alexander looked down at the sleeping cinnamon tom. "The freaking will be the easy part to deal with. What I don't look forward to is trying to explain what's going on, and why. I know he's going to be angry, especially at me, for what's happened."

Patrik nodded and stripped before he crawled onto the bed carefully. As he settled against Jake's right side, he patted the Kat's left. "Settle in, Alex." He smiled slightly. "Not only will it keep him still for a few more seconds, but it'll mask a lot of the unfamiliarity."

Alexander nodded and settled with his head on Jake's left shoulder and his arm over the tom's chest and sighed deeply. "Even if he hates me for what I've done, at least he'll be alive to do so ... which is better than what the alternative was beginning to look like."

"He won't hate you," Patrik nuzzled Jake's throat, and was rewarded by the beginnings of a purr from the still unconscious tom. "Though he'll probably try to deck you at least once for not asking. He's more likely to worry excessively about what's going to happen without him at Cathedral than hate you for any length of time for being right."

"Hope you're right, there are worse things then being decked. As for Cathedral, hopefully at least one person thought to plan ahead ... someone had to see he wouldn't hold together forever."

"Oh, there are several contingencies for Jake not being around, just like there were several to base the plan we went with when Chance stopped being T-Bone." Patrik chuckled softly. "But since he's alive, he's going to be upset that he's not there to oversee it, and he's going to worry. He can be quite possessive of his turf."

He smiled gratefully at Patrik. "I'm glad one of us is thinking clearly."

"I seem to be in that position more and more lately." He huffed as Jake began to stir, and leaned over the tomkat's body to give Alexander a quick kiss, much to the calico's surprise. "If you don't mind slightly dirty tricks, the best way to get through this first wake up with a minimum of pain is going to get him focused on us enough to not notice the room for a while."

"I like the way your mind works. Alex chuckled. "It's not really a dirty trick ... all three of us in bed at the same time, what else would he expect?"

"Hopefully he won't think that far for a while, and when he can, he'll be good and relaxed and sure we're here for him." Patrik chuckled as he unbuttoned Jake's shirt with practiced ease. "It's the other reason I wanted that guard out of the room, you know how much he hates being watched."

Alex grinned. "Come to think of it, I don't much care for audiences either." He concentrated, and the medical bed's monitors went to non-display mode, making it look like the other three in the luxurious room, and went to work removing the cinnamon tom's jeans, then his own clothes.

"Lube? He shot a hopeful look at the calico.

"Of course." Alex smiled and reached down the side of bed, his hand returning with a jar which he handed over before turning his attention to getting his mate too aroused to pay attention to the scenery for a while.

"You were expecting this?" He raised an eyebrow at the calico tom as he prepared himself.

Alex chuckled quietly. "Not really, but with a little magic things don't have to be right at hand, to be right at hand. I grabbed it out of the bag I sent ahead, when the shuttle touched down. He smiled at the black and white tom mischievously, before returning his attention to getting Jake aroused enough to be distracted as he started to come around.

"Welcome back." Patrik purred softly between kisses as he straddled Jake's chest. "You have been a bad kitty."

Alexander tried not to stare in surprise at how domineering the petite black and white was being. Not that Patrik didn't ask for what he wanted in bed, but this was pretty extraordinary for him.

"Ganging up on me?" Jake laughed softly as he pulled Patrik against him, combing the tom's long fur with his fingers as he began to initiate the kissing.

"World's full of surprises, love." Alexander chuckled as all the tension melted from his body. He slid the rough side of his tongue up Jake's half exposed cock and smiled at the appreciative noise he got for it, even if it was muffled by Patrik's mouth. "You have not been taking proper care of yourself."

"And you are not leaving this bed until we can't think of another fun thing to do here." Patrik rumbled, a playful edge to the order as Jake caressed his ass, then slid one finger to tease the little tom's hole. "Already done."

"Rrrwoofff." Jake made a quick movement that put Patrik on his hands and knees and himself on top, even as Alexander dodged out of the way and held back a snicker at the cinnamon tom's habit of barking like a Canem when Patrik got him excited.

The calico backed off a bit and watched with a touch of amazement at how easily the pair communicated without a word of any kind passed between them. An old married couple in a way, despite their youth and only four years together. But then, things like that came easier when one of the pair was actually designed for the other.


Jake's low groan brought the calico's attention back to what was happening without him. Jake had frozen while fully buried inside his pilot, Patrik's ruff secure in his jaws and his tail twitching slightly as he held it to one side.

Alexander chuckled and grabbed the jar of lube, quickly coated his cock, groaning as his fingers brushed the barb hairs up. "You are incorrigible, you know that?" He whispered as he leaned over the taller tom's back and slid slick fingers into Jake's ass, more for the comfort of familiarity and habitual care in the preparation than any real need for it.

The calico closed his eyes and brought several of his mental shields down as he felt Jake's clumsy attempt to touch minds across the machine band telepathy they shared. He focused on the love he felt as entered the other tom, welcoming the gunner's physical and mental touch with every encouragement he knew.

"You're not angry? Alex asked quietly as he and Patrik snuggled against their lover, one on each side of the exhausted cinnamon tomkat.

"No," Jake stretched his neck to lick Alexander's forehead, "though your timing sucks."

Alex nuzzled Jake's neck gently. "Maybe, but you needed to relax ... and I didn't see that there'd be a better time any time soon."

"Where are we anyway?" Jake asked, too curious to let it be. "It's so quiet."

Alex sighed mentally as he chided himself for forgetting that the SilverStar would chatter on frequencies that Jake wasn't used to, thus making it 'quiet'. The separation of deep space added to that quiet. He wished that there was a way to delay this revelation, but he refused to lie to Jake. "In a stateroom on board the SilverStar."

He quietly reached out to Nathan and asked him to see what could be done about speeding up their ETA to the breakaway point. He relaxed as his son said he'd take care of it.

"The SilverStar?" Jake tensed slightly and stared hard at the older tom before his ears snapped back as his passive Technopathic scan provided the answer: they were on board a spaceship, a very alien spaceship that was picking up speed. He growled low in his throat, shifting to put himself fully between Patrik and Alexander as his claws unsheathed. "Why?"

Decades of training returned in an instant as Alexander rolled to put some distance between himself and Jake's claws. He resisted his instincts and kept his Kat form, and his claws sheathed. It helped slightly that Patrik was holding onto Jake's arms. Even if it looked more to be a 'protect me' embrace, it did keep the taller tom where he was.

"Why?" He sighed in resignation. "Because you're slowly self-destructing and I love you too much to stand by and watch. Because as good as you are at taking care of others, you don't take care of yourself ... and it's time somebody did." His shoulders drooped. "And because the way things were going, sooner or later you'd find a way to get yourself killed ... like you've been trying to."

He looked up slightly at Jake's gasp. "Yes, I knew you've been rather actively avoiding trying to survive. I won't let that happen without trying everything I know, and calling in every resource, every favor I have ... to prevent it."

The calico looked steadily at his mate without fear in his eyes, just pain, sadness, and love; his stance was completely relaxed, not betraying a trace of the commando instincts that fought to emerge. "I'm sorry for not asking you, but you never would've agreed."

"You're damn right I wouldn't have." Jake growled, but stayed where he was, in a mostly defensive crouch. "A vacation is one thing, you're taking me where ... another world?"

"Another galaxy." Alexander corrected. "It's the only way."

"Aristal needs me." Jake snarled, his mind lashing out for a quick way to gain control of the ship, only to find his way blocked apologetically by the SilverStar herself.

"No, Jake." Patrik embraced the angry Kat from behind. "They don't. You know Pat is prepared for your death, just like we were prepared for Chance's."

"I'm not dead." He turned bared teeth on his pilot. "How could you?"

"I do what's best for you." Patrik dropped his gaze, his entire posture going submissive. "You know that."

Alexander sighed quietly. "Jake, Rik wasn't involved in planning this. He snuck on-board, after Cathedral relayed a message from me letting him know what was happening." He caught the lean tom's surprised look. "Yes, Cathedral was aware of what was happening and she approved, because she wanted what's best for you."

"Please," Patrik tried to nuzzle his gunner's stiff body, "you know how bad a shape you're in, at least sometimes." He looked up; his clear blue eyes glittering with unshed tears. "They said you can come back, when you're not hurting anymore."

"Who's 'they'?" He asked with slightly more calm, though it was mostly from resignation.

Alex relaxed a little, hoping the worst was past. "In this case it would be Lady Diamantha, Psych-Med and Colonel SolGardin, Phys-Med."

"Your son?" Something unreadable crossed Jake's face as Alexander nodded. Then he relaxed and sank down to lie on the bed, an arm outstretched to his mate. "Come here, Alex."

Alex relaxed, despite some quiet misgivings and went over to sit next to Jake. He looked at his mate trying to divine just what was going through the Kat's head, without actually invading the tom's privacy.

Jake pulled the heavier, shorter tom on top of him gently, and caressed his face as he asked silently for an intimate kiss. When they parted, Jake looked as serious as he ever had. "Will you take my duties for your own while I heal?"

Alex heard a quiet voice, reminiscent of wind chimes, in his mind, which he realized must be the SilverStar. "*Trans-Luminal Drive Engaged.*"

He looked at Jake. "As well as my abilities permit."

There was brief swirl of colors, lights and sounds through the room, as the ship leapt beyond the speed of light, into the strange universe of Trans-Luminal Drive.

"What? Jake's claws dug into Alex's back on reflex at the unexpected sensation before he relaxed to care for his pilot.

Patrik shivered and pressed close to the calico and his gunner. "What is this?"

Alex put an arm around Patrik to comfort him. "According to SilverStar that was the entry effect to Trans-Luminal Drive, it passes quickly. It's the only drive system capable of covering inter-galactic distances in a reasonable period of time." He looked at the two Kats. "Are you both okay? He asked, concerned, then switched to SilverStar's frequency. "*Star, Are all the shields stable?*"

"*Yes, Sunfire. All harmful effects are being filtered completely.*"

"*Thanks, Star.*"

"*You're welcome.*"

Jake nodded quietly. "Just warn me before you drop another surprise like that on us, okay? My head feels like I just went through Turmoil's vertigo beam again." He scratched Patrik's side until the little black and white lay down and closed his eyes, shaking in mind-pain in his gunner's embrace.

Both Kats were decidedly pale under their fur as the calico nodded apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't know that would happen, I've never experienced TLD before." He looked down at the little pilot, genuinely concerned. "Is he okay? Should I get one of the healers?"

"I think I'm goinna be sick. Patrik whimpered.

Alex shifted to his Bond with Nate. *"Any history of negative health effects of TLD?*"

"*Not that I'm aware of. Is there a problem?*" The medic's mind-voice was slightly worried.

"*I'm not sure yet. Rik's queasy and Jake doesn't look too good either.*"

"*I'll consult Diamantha; see if there's anything on the Psych-Med side. Let me know if you need either of us.*"

"*I will.*"

"*How's Jake taking the news?*"

"*Better than expected.*"

"*That's good to hear.*"

Alex returned his attention to the little black and white tom, and hoped nothing was seriously wrong.

"Try to relax and not fight it. Jake was stroking Patrik's long fur soothingly, though he looked and sounded little better off himself. "It'll pass."

"You know what happened?" Alex asked, hands offing both what comfort he could.

"Sort of shock." Jake took longer to form the words than usual, his mental distress obvious. "Something about that is forcing us into the 'local' machine band, and it's a bit of a reach." He closed his eyes and swallowed. "It should pass when we get used to it."

Alex was relieved. "Well, I guess that's not surprising. Even Lord Margali said that SilverStar uses an odd frequency for machine telepathy. Of course, that's to be expected as SilverStar's an alien design even to us. I guess you'll probably find the machines in Alliance space similarly alien. It never occurred to me that the strangeness might be physically discomforting."

Alex paused for a moment. "SilverStar asked me convey her apologies for any distress she's causing you, she didn't mean to. She would have spoken directly, but she didn't want to add to your discomfort."

"Appreciated." Jake started to relax.

There was a knock at the door, Alex answered it and a ten foot tall midnight blue Dracon in a black military uniform entered carrying a tray with a large chilled pitcher and three glasses, and a small amber bottle. He set the tray down on a table near the bed and left.

Alex smiled, and turned to the two still queasy Kats. "Medical suggests that small sips of water may help with the nausea. If it gets worse, medical suggests the tablets in the amber bottle."

He filled the three glasses, and made sure two of them were within easy reach for Jake and Patrik. The third he took and sipped at himself, feeling a bit parched as the Kats took the advice without comment.

"So who, and what, are you, really?" Jake sat on the edge of the bed, a slightly defeated gaze on Alex, and Patrik draped on his shoulder, paying more attention to the glass in his hand than the conversation.

Alex sighed resignedly. "As for what, the fact that Nathan's my son should tell you I'm Felsin as well. Like a fair number of my people I'm a shapeshifter." He let go of the calico form, and slid into his natural form, the muscular lion. "Alexander Maxwell is an identity I took, when I was sent to Aristal to wait for Nathan. My real name is Cazimir Sunfire, my friends call me Cazi."

Jake nodded without a word.

"I'm what we call back home a CyberWizard, it's related to TechnoMagic though it's not nearly as machine-friendly. All the TechnoMages back home are Dracon, like the guard who was in here a few moments ago."

He looked at Jake. "In my original profession, I went through a lot of names; they were mission specific equipment basically. But the name and the form are surface things, they don't change what I feel for you. After all that's happened, I know it's asking a lot ... but please believe that I do love you, and that's the reason I've done what I have. He sat down in the padded chair, shoulders sagging as he wondered just how high the cost of doing the right thing was going to be. It had been easy saying he knew it could cost him everything, not so easy to face head on. He sipped at the water, part of him wishing it was something significantly stronger.

Jake watched the water swirl in his glass as he rocked it for a long moment. When he looked up, he took in the sight of his mate's true form and set his glass down. "Rik," he caught the smaller Kat in a fierce kiss before standing and walking over to Cazimir. He hesitated a moment as the Lion looked at him, a mixture of hope and resignation in his green eyes. With a soft sigh he settled to straddle the muscular golden furred thighs and leaned forward, burying his nose against the Lion's neck.

Cazi put his arms around the lean tom, and hugged him close, while absently kneading the soft cinnamon fur. "Thank you." He whispered gratefully.

"You have any more surprises like that?" Jake sighed. "Spill them now, while I'm in a decent mood to just roll with it."

The Lion smiled slightly. "No, I don't have many surprises. I leave that to my son, he's just full of surprises." He grinned. "But seriously, the important stuff's covered ... anything I've forgotten can't be that important."

Jake stood and urged Cazi back to the bed, and into a snuggling pile with Patrik. "So how much of what you've told me as Alex is true?"

"The only things that weren't true were the ones that would have given Alex away as an alien. Aside from that, everything was true." He sighed. "I got very comfortable being Alex, and if things had been different ... I probably would've stayed Alex."

"Then can I have my calico back? Jake asked, half teasing, half serious.

Cazi slid casually back into the calico form, as though putting a comfortable pair of old shoes. He kissed Jake briefly, then grinned impishly "Any time you like."

"I know it shouldn't matter, but the other form is rather ... creepy ... right now. Jake nuzzled the familiar chest and relaxed a little more. "Who are you that the Alliance would go to this much trouble for you? I'm not anyone to them."

The calico leaned over and kissed the lean tom gently. "Neither am I, love. It all comes down to Nate. My son is Cordraki to Prince Morin of Draconea, and this entire operation is Dracon; it's not an Alliance venture." He caught the questioning look. "Cordraki is a Dracon relationship between close friendship and LifeMates, Nate translates it as 'would have been LifeMates but the timing was lousy so just good friends.'

"At any rate, when I realized how bad things were I brought them to Nate's attention ... as a Medic, he agreed with me, but he helped because he's my son, and family looks after family. He knows how important you are to me."

Jake nodded again.

"I'm not sure how, but Morin knew that Nate needed him, and came to retrieve him. And Nate took advantage of the fact that Morin will do almost anything he asks." Alex smiled. "My son is far more important in the Alliance than I am. In addition to his connections on Draconea, he's also a ranking officer in the Medic Corp, and one they'd like to have back."

Jake nodded against Alexander's thick neck and shivered. "What's going to happen to me?" His tone spoke volumes of how bad he expected it to be. "And Rik?"

The calico stroked Jake's hair comfortingly. "The psych-meds are just going to try and help get you stable, and out of this anti-survival mindset you've gotten into. I'm no psych-med myself, and I don't pretend to understand it all, but I do know that they're bound by the same oaths as all healers, the first of which is 'do no harm.'"

"Harm is a relative concept." Jake growled, though there was far more fear in his scent and posture than anger. "The .... creature ... that created me was bound by the same oath. It didn't stop him justifying ...."

Alex looked at his mate. "Jake, there will always be people who take oaths, but don't understand the spirit of them. You can't hold every healer to blame because of the evil of one."

"I don't. It's just ..." Jake's voice trailed off. "It's just I haven't had much by way of positive experiences, except for Nate."

The calico sighed. "The only assurance I can give you is that the two healers in charge; Nathan and Diamantha would never harm a patient in their care. Diamantha has an unblemished history almost 300 years long as a skilled and compassionate mind-healer; she's hardly going to suddenly abandon the beliefs of a lifetime.

"As for Nathan, you've never seen him when one of his patients is in danger. He may not seem like much of fighter, but he is when it really counts. Both his own oaths as a healer, and like I said before family looks after family, and he knows how badly I'd take it if anything bad happened to you; means that he'll make sure things are kept honest."

"I trust you." Jake's voice was very low.

Alexander looked at his mate. "I'll be there for you, the whole way through. Nate will be too, he genuinely likes you, beyond what you mean to me."


"Yes, I promise I will stay with you through this; no matter how difficult it gets; and I will do what I can to help."

"I'll ... try not to fight them."

Cazi smiled at the small black and white tomkat who snuggled close. "As for Rik, nothing's going to happen to him. But he's never far from your side, and I can't imagine that changing. You don't need to worry about him, Nate and I will look after him."

Jake nodded, clearly not completely convinced, but willing to accept what he was being told.

Alex turned back to snuggling his mate. "I know things seem frightening, but we'll get through this together." He reached an arm over to rub Rik's shoulder. "All of us." He sighed quietly. "The psych-meds can work wonders; they pulled me back together after my LifeMates died and I didn't think I wanted to go on." He looked at the ceiling remembering those dark days.

"I don't suppose there's a shower available? Jake asked, and pointedly ignored Patrik's snicker.

Alex grinned and pointed to one of the doors on the far side of the room. "I managed to commandeer the cabin with a real shower in it. I know how you like showers." The calico gave his mate a bit of a leer, then grinned mischievously. "Might be a bit big though."

"As long as there's hot water, I'll manage." Jake smiled slightly before he turned and walked away, grabbing his discarded clothes on the way. "I'm sure you two can keep each other entertained."

"He is not a happy camper." Patrik sighed before sprawling alongside Alex as Jake disappeared behind the closed door. "You might want to ask SilverStar to keep an eye on him."

Alex rolled to face the smaller tom. "I know, but so far ... better than I expected. And she already is, for now, if he's not with someone she's keeping watch. I'm just glad they 'liberated' a cruiser, and not one of the carriers."

"Me too." Patrik cringed, before asking quietly. "What were they like, your LifeMates? What happened to them?"

"My LifeMates?" He looked over the black and white tom. He closed his eyes and brought up old memories. "Ebon was panther-kin, to the extent he was anything specific, tall, muscular but not in a bulky way. He had this incredible grace in the way he moved, even when not doing anything he was completely in control. He had this natural ability to command, he simply inspired confidence; it's how he turned nine unruly, but specially trained teens into one of the deadliest Special Forces units in Felsin history." The calico smiled quietly. "He was also the deadliest assassin our world ever produced, not surprising considering that's what he was designed to be.

"Nareena was a tall, stately female tiger-kin. Beautiful black stripes on dark-red fur, and a calmness that could simply evaporate the anger in a room. She was the most talented, and compassionate healer I've ever known; and one of the few who mastered both psych-med and phys-med. She was also a telepath of great skill and power, with a gentle touch that could remove years of old injuries. Right now, I miss her more than ever ... she could put things right, she always did. There were gentle tears in his eyes, and smiled as he felt a rough tongue lick them away.

"Nareena and Ebon where Nathan's other biological parents. From a discussion, Nathan and I had I think he'll be going back to using Ebon's family name: SwiftClaw."

He paused steeling himself. "As to what happened, Ebon and his unit had retired from serving the Shadow Government. However, the SG didn't want to let them go, and decided to eliminate them before they could reveal any of the SG's secrets. For over five years, we hid from them but one night they located our camp by Lake Maxwell and hit us with overwhelming force. The NightBlades were the best, but even the best can be overwhelmed by sufficient numbers.

"The shock from Nareena and Ebon's death broke my mind, I don't remember the days that followed too clearly. I wandered out of the mountains eventually reaching a nearby city. I thought I'd lost everyone including Nathan, I didn't really want to go on but there was enough survival instinct to keep me from hurting myself." He paused for a moment. "A local counselor spotted me and talked me into letting the psych-meds try to help me. Eventually, I recovered and realized that Nathan was still alive, though for his safety I couldn't go to him."

"But now it's okay to admit you're his father?"

Alex nodded. "I was worried about the Shadow Government using my son to force me to work for them again ... and if they'd threatened him I would have. The problem was that by the time I knew he was alive, they already had him. So I kept track of him as best I could, changing my name and appearance to keep them unaware of me."

The calico smiled. "Now, Nathan has the Corps to back him up, and he's highly regarded by the royal family of Draconea ... and the Shadow Government doesn't mess with them. Besides the Shadow Government doesn't reach Aristal. And as for what I just said ... well, I trust the Kats I told."

"Okay," Patrik settled into a serious, focused mode Alexander hadn't actually seen him do before. "What exactly is the story for who?"


"What should I tell folks if it comes up, and who gets what version of the story?"

"You don't need to worry, Rik. It isn't an issue any longer, not even back home. The SG won't want to get the Dracons mad by going after anyone close to the Royal Family. When the Dracons decide to take someone out, they don't do it in a small or subtle fashion."

"I noticed." The petite tom snickered. "I think I'd actually enjoy seeing that."

He smiled. "Nathan is my son, and neither of us is hiding it anymore. Alex will keep people guessing anyway ... how could a Kat from so far away be father to a local Felsin?"

"Same way three felines, a canine and a mustelid could produce Jake?" Patrik suggested with a snicker. "At least you're both feline."

Alex smiled. "Well, true enough but that sort of option won't occur to most. And not that it shows, but I'm only half-feline ... my father was a Dracon."

"Really?" Patrik perked up in real curiosity, looking very much like the teenager his body indicated he should be. "Do you have a form with wings? Just how broad is your shapeshifting ability?"

The calico grinned. "As for the form with wings, yes but I rarely use it because it takes a fair amount of energy to make the shift and I'm usually sore for days afterward ..."

"Oh." The smaller tom's disappointment was clear.

"It's really a special situation combat form. As to how broad, no one's really sure ... unlike most of either races shifters I have some control over my new form's appearance, though I've never had any luck duplicating actual people ... my fine control isn't that good. Normally, I do mammalian bipeds with fifty percent to 250 percent of my original mass. Though I prefer to stay close to my normal height ... saves me from bumping my head as I forget that I'm six feet tall instead of five." He grinned at Patrik, who chuckled.

"That would be very weird." He nuzzled Alex as he slid closer, not completely sure his attentions were welcomed without Jake there. "Seriously, the less you remind Jake this isn't your real form, the better." He propped himself up on his elbows and sighed. "I really would have preferred if he'd decked you when you looked like a Felsin. Accepting like this isn't normal," he shivered and settled to his side, staring into space, "last time ... last time he was like this, Pat said it was bad. He'll build up until he can't take any more and lashes out. It's what he's been doing with Chance too."

Alex gently nuzzled Rik back, making it clear the younger toms attention were welcome. "I was planning to stay in this form most of the time, well, at least when Jake's with me. I tend to shift to the Lion when I'm around Nate, because that's the form he remembers as 'his father' ... not that he'd say anything." He thought a moment. "As funny as it sounds, I had kinda hoped he'd deck me when I switched forms, too. You're right about his being too accepting about this."

Alex switched to SilverStar's frequency. "*Star, status check on Jake, please.*"

The quiet voice came back after a moment. "*He's fine Cazi, no problems. I'd let you know if he tried anything dangerous or stupid, right after I sedated him.*"

The calico chuckled out loud. "*Thanks Star.*"

"She just told you you worry too much, didn't she?" Patrik chuckled.

Alex grinned back. "Basically."

The younger tom lost his humor. "Will they lock him up ... when they're trying to heal him?"

He sighed quietly. "What happens will be largely dependent on how Jake behaves, but they'll restrain him no more than necessary. Obviously, there'll be some restrictions on his movements but he won't be 'locked up' unless he becomes violent or an obvious threat to himself. Even then it'll be no longer than necessary. They'll try to keep the environment as non-threatening as possible ... to the extent that's possible."

"What do you ... want ... to come of all this?" Patrik asked very carefully.

Alex laid thinking for a moment; he'd given that little thought since he'd been too busy worrying. "There's no way to put it precisely, but after seeing him pain for so long ... I'd like him to be able to get past the pain, and actually be happy. More importantly, I'd like him to get past all the problems he's had with Chance, and give up this self-destructive drive." He sighed deeper. "Maybe it's selfish, but I'd like to be able to let him out of my sight, without worrying that I won't see him again. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that."

Patrik nodded silently as the calico continued to absently stroke his back.

Alex tried not to react visibly as he felt a silent question his mate was asking himself leaked though the tom's weakening shields, along with a mixture of wonder, resentment and fear.

"*What is so worth saving in me?*"

Alex sighed mentally behind carefully constructed shields. He was sure Jake hadn't meant him to hear that question, but he couldn't let such self-doubt linger. Then he remembered a technique for passively passing information, using 'daydreams'. Alex carefully 'daydreamed' about what he loved about Jake; the brilliant, creative Kat that Alex never had to worry about talking over the head of ... it had been a long time since Alex had had an equal and he enjoyed it a great deal; the playful, considerate, passionate lover who occasionally came up with things that Alex hadn't tried, much to the calico's pleased surprise; the friend as well as lover, something Alex had found wasn't easy to find; and above all the Kat that Alex loved for no easily defined reason and the tom he could easily see spending the rest of his life with.

Once he created the 'daydream' he carefully put it at the edge of his shield where it would 'leak' in a such a fashion that Jake would see it, but it would still seem that Alex was simply not shielding carefully ... something that had happened before, and turned his attention back to answering the Kat next to him.

"He deserves the opportunity to decide what he's going to do with his life, without all these people pulling at him for their own reasons. I hope that when he's healed he'll stay with me, here ... Aristal isn't very good for him ... too many people wanting too much of him. I got annoyed at times because it seemed that people forgot that there was a very hurting Kat under all the brilliance and creativity and devotion." He looked at the black and white tom. "I know, I'm shooting really high, but like my father always said ... the only dreams worth having are the big ones."

Patrik worried his lip before turning a very serious gaze on Alex, making the young pilot seem years older. "If you want him to stay, and not just be sucked into doing the same thing for your government, or someone else in the Alliance, you'll need to give him something he wants enough to recognize when given." He shifted uneasily, but kept his gaze locked. "You also need to understand something about him, Jake's like me in more ways that he'll readily admit, and more than it sounds like you've really accepted. He's not capable of choosing, not the way you want."

He shook his head before quickly securing his long black hair into a loose braid to control it. "I can tell you what's going to happen over the next few days, as soon as it sinks in that he won't be getting back to Cathedral without making his new masters happy. He'll look at them as trainers, not healers, and you're now in Pat's place until he figures out who's the most important to please. He's probably about half way through transferring loyalty already.

"He'll know they want something, and just like you can't just explain a new trick to a pet, he doesn't expect them, or anyone, to just tell him what they want, especially not in these early stages of his training. He'll watch, and try to obey, and see what gets him praise, what gets displeasure, and try to be a good trick learner so he can get back to doing something interesting. As long as they don't cross a couple of lines he's got, he really doesn't care who he works for, or why they want him to exhibit the behaviors they've reinforced.

"See, Pat was just the first to get her hands on him and learned how to train him, and she learned how to reward him in a way that reinforced the loyalty she wanted him to have. As distasteful as you'll probably find it, if you want him to stay out of becoming someone else's tool, you'll have to claim the position as his 'owner', accept taking Pat's place.

"I can show you how to do that, and I'd like you to." He sighed and closed his eyes. "You've been very good for him, and too him, and I'd like to stay with you. But I'll follow my purpose too, as Jake's pilot. And if that means I end up serving the Shadow Government, another corporation, or whoever, as long as Jake stays with them, so be it. Neither of us are capable of 'missing' anyone for very long, or having anything resembling morals if our master doesn't approve of them."

Alex nodded gratefully. "Thanks Rik. I don't think I, or anyone else, would have figured out exactly what was going on. Fortunately, it's not completely unknown territory for me ... my first lifemate, Ebon, was very similar for a long time." He shook his head. "Enough of the past. I said I'd do anything to make things better for him, and this definitely falls in the category of anything."

He focused his attention on Patrik. "Okay, what do I need to do? And don't be surprised if you end up explaining things to Diamantha and Nathan, they're probably going to be skeptical at first ... and they're the healers in charge."

Patrik nodded and relaxed slightly in relief. "The most important thing is the one you're not going to like, you really do have to choose what kind of individual you want out of this healing possess. Some things aren't likely to change. His creativity, TechnoMagic, need to be mate to his partners, and vulnerability to taking his orders too far for his own good, but whether he's a fighter, home keeper, sex slave, assassin, healer or mechanic are things that he'll just watch and figure out what's wanted of him. As long as you don't ask him to do something that counters his basic nature, or what he thinks you want, he'll be 'happy'."

He sighed and watched Alex carefully. "If I guessed your intent correctly, and you want him to be safe, steer him towards the home keeper/ inventor roll, not a protector or warrior like he is now. He'll never loose the drive to protect what is his, but you can tone down what that actually means. Pat encouraged him to view everything that touched her possessions as part of his protectorate, which basically meant the entire planet as Cathedral has worldwide interests, but it wouldn't be hard to limit it to family and close friends. Make sense?"

Alex nodded quietly. "More sense than you know." A faint smile touched his face. "It sounds like some discussions Nareena, Ebon and I had regarding Nathan when he was young. I guess it's just kind of strange hearing them about Jake; stranger still that I have to make these decisions."

Patrik nodded. "It will be like raising a kit to some extent, though this one is much less forgiving of mistakes. Well, Jake will forgive you nearly anything, but handle a situation wrong, and you could have a real mess on your paws.

"The how, that's a little more tricky, but basically you'll need to bring up and encourage interests and behaviors you like, and ignore what you don't want him interested in. I know it sounds manipulative and harsh, and I guess it is, but it's the kindest way to keep him out of someone else's hands.

"If you like how creative he is, give him free reign in a mechanic shop and show interest and approval for what he comes up with. Don't want him to be as aggressive in defense of large territories; ignore him or bring up another subject when he asks about reforming the squad, or tell him it's not needed here."

Patrik hesitated. "Are you ... interested in raising kits with him?"

Alex smiled. "I've thought about it, of course, that's normal when one starts thinking about a LifeMate. But explaining how it's possible for two toms to produce kits ... I've worked on that discussion, as far as I can tell that's one thing that happens in the Alliance that doesn't happen on Aristal. He looked curiously at the small tom. "Why do you ask?"

Patrik's jaw went slack for a moment before he regained his composure, though his excitement was clear. "Tell him that. Explain how it works. Encourage him to think about what he'd like in a family, and tell you." He smiled softly. "Jake wants to be a father very badly. It's probably the strongest drive he has that he's lost hope of. Wanting to raise kits with him will go a very long way towards centering his new mindset around you. Actually having kits with you ..." he shook his head, "you can pretty much count on that being a very popular idea."

Alex smiled and relaxed a bit. "That's good to know. Makes it easier to talk about knowing that he wants to be a father."

"True," Patrik smiled, "hell, ask him what he wants to do with his life, if he stays with you. Don't mention not returning to Cathedral, just staying with you. Asking him things will encourage him to speak up and think independently. He'll become almost anything to please his master, including becoming your equal, if you have the patience to teach him to be that. If you want him to be as close to a truly independent individual as he's capable of, show interest in new talents, reward him for exploring what interests him, and for not continuing to do what doesn't, even if you'd like him to."

Patrik cracked a mischievous smile before turning serious again. "And don't forget the sex. Whatever you think of it, it's very much about acceptance for Jake. When you mounted him earlier, you did more good than you probably know. He craves whatever sex gives him, and it's at least as much about acceptance and reinforcement of his place in the scheme of things as it is about gratification.

"You pretty much told him 'I still value you' when you mounted him, came inside him." He shrugged. "It's why he initiated it with me so quickly, though it was as much about reassuring me as him, that we were still partners."

Alex focused closely on the parts about how to show Jake to be as independent as possible and an equal. He chuckled quietly, and smiled when Patrik looked at him funny. "Just thinking how much I got myself into, not that I mind really, and I'd do it again ... knowing what would be needed. Well, the sex / physical contact part won't be a problem ... at least it never has been." The calico grinned.

"*SilverStar?*" Jake set his clothes down next to the door and focused very carefully on staying on the frequency he heard the spaceship's internal chatter on, and keeping the contact somewhat shielded from Alex ... Cazi ... his mate.

"*Yes, Jake?*" She kept her voice very soft.

"*Would you please keep that door shut until I open it?*" He sighed as he felt the uncertainty behind her pause. "*I promise, I'm not going to hurt myself or do anything else stupid, I just want to be assured a little privacy.*"

"*I can do that.*"

"*Thank you.*" Jake took a moment to actually take in his surroundings.

The main color in the room was kind of a dark red; with the fixtures being flat black instead of metallic. Anywhere a corner or a sharp angle would normally have been expected was a curve or round instead. The lighting came from panels recessed into the ceiling and was fairly low level, giving the room a rather subtle, nighttime organic feel.

The shower was large, and took up perhaps a third of the room and had controllable water and air jets on three walls, and recessed in the floor, the fourth wall-door was of a very clear hard substance, though it wasn't glass or plastic.

Despite the odd colors the facilities would not have seemed out of place in any MKC apartment or home, though the size was clearly marked them as being designed for someone significantly taller, and bulkier, than he was. Probably for that dragon-kin that brought the water.

A large floor to ceiling mirror took up one wall, and he stopped his inspection of the room to make a close one of himself, and sighed at the faint traces of thick stripes and spots along his back, and the beginnings of an all too familiar shift in musculature and fur texture.

"I'm going to have to explain this one. He rested his head against the mirrored wall and tried to get the knot in his mind to relax, and silence the voices that came with it, to little avail. "At least he doesn't mind females, and already thinks I'm crazy."

He closed his eyes and stilled, sliding into a partial trance state before focusing back on reality again.

"What do you see in me, Alex?" Jake straitened, leaving one hand on the mirror, his fingers spread and regarded the reflection critically. "What is so worth saving in me?"

He eventually sighed and shook his head, turning to the shower and stretched to reach the controls just over his head rather than touch another awareness, even a mechanical one as simple as the controls.

As hot water sprayed over him from all directions, slowly soaking through his fur to the skin below, he felt a drifting thought from Alex and almost shied away from it, but the pleasant overtone was too much not to soak in, no matter the cause.

It took several long moments for his mind to possess the fact that all those pleasant thoughts were about him, about what Alex saw that was desirable in him; that he was smart, creative, an equal in mind and mating ....

A friend ... what the hell did that mean?

His brain completely stopped when it registered the other tom's desire to spend the rest of their lives together.

"*Alex?*" Jake's mind-voice was very shaky, and came across the band the lean tom was most familiar with.

"*Yes, Jake?*" He focused completely on that link, and relaxed a fraction when it became clear the Kat on the other end was physically fine, just trying to deal with an idea he was having real difficulty with.

"*You ... want to stay with me ... for life?*" The question was laced with equal parts shocked disbelief and hope.

Alex smiled both mentally and physically. "*Yes Jake, I want us to be together for life, if that's something you want.*" There was no doubt in Alex's mind on the subject.

The only reply came in the form of a jumble of wordless emotions, dominate among them shocked acceptance.

Then the connection blacked out.

Alex was across the room in a heartbeat, a calico blur in the dim lighting. When he reached the door, and it didn't open immediately he glared across the connection to SilverStar. "*Open the door, Star. Or I will. Something's wrong.*"

There was a slightly indignant tone to SilverStar's mind-voice. "*No need for threats, Cazi. You just moved faster than the door mechanism. And he passed out, nothing more.*"

"Just passed out?" Alex growled as he charged into the room, homing in on the crumpled form of his mate in the wet shower stall.

"Le'me see." Patrik growled in a commanding tone that honestly surprised the stocky calico as the petite tom entered the wet stall and touched the unconscious gunner's forehead, and ... focused.

A low groan preceded consciousness by a few heartbeats, then Jake opened his eyes to face the pair staring down at him and tried to move, though his mind was still all but blank.

Alex knelt down and put his arm around his mate's shoulders. "Jake, are you okay?" He shifted momentarily to his link to Nathan. "*Nate, I may need you. Jake just lost consciousness briefly, and though Star says he 'just passed out' I'm not convinced.*"

Nathan's mind-voice came back calm and professional. "*I'll check with Star, since her sensors are very precise, but you're right about one thing ... no one 'just passes out' there's always a reason. But try to remain calm, panicking will not help.*"

Alex relaxed a little. "*Thanks Nate.*"

"*No problem, I care about him too you know. Besides, Crys and I are still setting up the surgical unit, I hadn't planned to be doing delicate neurosurgery.*"

"*I seem to recall it's one of your strong suits.*"

"*Among other things, yes. How's Rik holding up?*"

"*Better than I am, I think. It's a damn good thing he came along.*"

"*Not that I disagree, but I think there's more to that statement than face value.*"


"*Of course, I'll get back to you after I confer with Star.*"

Alex returned to focusing on his somewhat groggy mate. "Jake?"

The taller tom blinked a couple times before reaching up to caress Alex's face. "For life?"

"Yes, love. I want to be with you for life. Alex put ever shred of belief and desire he felt behind that statement. He willingly followed Jake's weak pull down, meeting the soaked Kat halfway for a tender, deepening kiss, and felt Jake's mind try to wrap around his own, attempting to initiate a bond. He carefully used his own mental abilities to help, encourage and accept the odd-frequency bond. He let Jake's mind lead, simply helping if things seemed to get 'stuck'.

"Take this to the bed." Patrik's voice brooked no dispute as he tried to help the pair to their feet.

The command got him another curious look from Alexander before the calico stood, cradling Jake in his arms as he complied, and very quickly understood the pilot's order as the desire around the forming bond turned intensely sexual, and began to strengthen into the LifeBond range.

By the time he got Jake to the bed Alex was quite intoxicated from the combination of the sexual intensity of the forming bond, and the scent of mutual arousal in the air. He continued gently encouraging the strengthening bond, while turning his attention to more physical matters.

Laying Jake on the bed Alex claimed a fiercely passionate kiss, while he sensually caressed his mate's body. He gently plaid fingertips across Jake's chest, slowing moving down till they were gently stroking the Kat's inner thigh. Alex wasn't going to rush, but he also tried to leave no doubt that the speed of things was up to his lover. He rumbled deep in his chest as Jake spread his legs and brought his knees up, then reached up to stroke the calico's erection.

"Now." There was as much beg as command and request in the lean tom's voice, along with a small touch of desperation. "Want this."

"As do I." Alex leaned foreword to kiss his mate again as he reached for the lube. He pushed any uneasiness he had at the blank state of Jake mind beyond those few focused thoughts to the background and he slicked himself and sank into the willing body under him.

He blinked as he found himself drawn into a mental place he recognized from long ago, a place he knew as Joining Space, but Jake shouldn't have any understanding of.

"Jake?" Alex looked around the blank area, unsettled by just how empty it was.

"Where are we?" The other tom appeared nearby, clearly very confused. He didn't look quite right either, though Alex was at a loss as to what was off.

He walked over and put his arm around the lean tom. "I know it as Joining Space, it's part of how Felsin complete LifeBonds. It's part of a ritual known as Joining, but I don't quite know how we accomplished this ... I always thought a facilitator was necessary."

He hugged Jake close. "We haven't actually gone anywhere physically, this is a psychic space our minds have created. It's not possible to be physically injured in this space." He looked around both with his eyes and with his empathic senses trying to get a feel for why this Joining space was so empty.

The answer he found shook Alex to his core. It was empty, because the primary mind that had created it was.

Even with decades of experience staying calm under extreme circumstances it took great effort for Alex to not give in to panic. Joining space was a function, at least partially, of memories, including buried and forgotten ones. If all of Jake's memories had somehow, vanished ... what was left ... and what really scared Alex was that would mean that Jake wouldn't remember him. Alex reached out to the one person who he hoped could help, Nathan. There weren't any words just a tightly shielded terrified cry for help.

Nathan's head snapped up and banged solidly on the console he was working on. As he carefully ducked down and got out from under the console he found the concerned face of Diamantha looking down at him.

"Is there a problem, Nathan?" The silver dragon asked quietly.

"Not sure, I just a terrified message from my father ... and that's not like him at all." Nathan started out the door.

"Agreed, but if something was wrong wouldn't Star have notified us." She asked following the running tiger-tabby.

"Only if she realized there was a problem." He said as they reached the door to Jake's suite, only to find Patrik leaning patiently against the wall. "She's not a fully trained telepath." He hit the chime to the door.

"A psychic problem? A possibility, of course."

"Something wrong? The petite tom suddenly went tense.

Nathan reached across to touch his father's mind through the door. He turned the Dracon Healer. "They've entered Joining without a Facilitator, don't ask me how."

Diamantha looked shocked. "This could complicate matters dangerously." She said as she punched in the medical override on the lock. "Waiting is not advisable."

As they entered the room, Nathan turned to the Dracon. "Check on them, you're the more experienced telepath."

Nathan turned to the black and white Kat that followed them in. "Okay, Rik. What happened?" Though imperative in nature, the tone of his voice was one of great concern.

"Jake's recreating himself." He shrugged. "Alex wants to be LifeMates, and has taken him away from his past, so he's blanked himself, to make the process go easier."

Nathan managed to suppress the shock that statement caused. "Blanked himself? How much memory loss is involved here?" The tiger-tabby forced himself to pause. "I'm sorry, Rik. It's just that my father sent me a terrified message ... and I've never seen him that scared. This is important Rik, after this 'blanking' will he still remember Alex? Or anyone for that matter?"

"Of course he'll remember Alex, and the two of us." The small Kat looked rather bewildered. "The point was to make it easier to become what Alex wants. The memories and personality are still in there, theoretically, just boxed up and put in cold storage. He's mentioned a few other 'lives' before. This is how a new one is started. What's the big deal?"

Nathan relaxed somewhat. "The big deal is that the two of them are currently in some thing we Felsin call Joining space. It's a psychic phenomena that we use to complete a LifeBond, and its created from the memories of the two individuals Bonding ... Alex found himself in an empty space ... something that shouldn't even be possible." He sighed. "I haven't a clue how they got into Joining without a Facilitator, but hopefully they can get back out. Well, I'd better brief Alex. I'm sure he wasn't expecting anything like this to happen. He certainly won't be happy about it, he was simply trying to help the Jake he knew ... not create a new one."

"The Jake he knew was dead the moment Alex chose to take him from Cathedral, and the purpose he was created for." Patrik said softly. "He can have the good and not the bad from there easily enough.

The tiger-tabby shook his head. "The only good thing here is that it should simply the healing process immensely. What he doesn't remember certainly can't make him self-destructive."

"Don't count on it." Patrik spoke softy. "What he didn't remember was what started the problem in the first place."

He focused on his Bond to the distraught calico. "*Okay, calm down. Jake will remember you. I don't pretend to understand everything ... but somehow he's put his memories and personality in 'cold storage' to use Rik's terminology. Apparently, this has happened before. I've got Crys keeping on eye on you two. I think you'll have to 'run' things ... just be careful, I imagine he's very impressionable right now.*"

A somewhat exhausted thought came back. "*Thanks, I'll be careful.*"

Nathan turned back to the black and white tom. "Okay. So memories and personality are in cold storage, how about knowledge, skills and such? How much retraining is he going to need?" He smiled. "Bear with me, Rik. It may be no big deal to you, but I've never even heard of something like this happening."

"Okay. Anything that can is basically just data; knowledge, most skills, his TechnoMagic, all that stuff that isn't going to change no matter what he becames, is still there, though probably rather disorganized at the moment." Patrik thought a moment. "I haven't actually seen him do this before, but I doubt much retraining will be required, though he'll probably 'forget' that he has a lot of his skills until some reason comes up to use it. There's a lot in there."

The small tom chuckled. "And I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it. As far as I've figured out, it's a rather peculiar skill he developed to survive."

Nathan smiled, relieved. "Well, it is rather peculiar, but we all do what we have to, to survive." He sat down on one of the extra beds, and paused for a moment. "I see, so I take it my father has a large influence on what the new Jake becomes ... is that correct?"

Patrik nodded easily. "Jake's creating a personality, a new 'self', that is what Alex wants him to be, as best he can figure out."

"Is there anything the rest of us can do, to make things easier for them?" His attention was completely focused on the small tom.

"Mmm, I don't think so. He flopped down next to Nathan and watched the pair, Alex still buried in Jake's ass, the movements of sex slowed, but still proceeding. "Probably the best thing to do would to be to not distract them, let it happen. Odds are good he'll be a lot like he was before, just without many of the problems for the time being. At least that seems to be what Alex ... Cazi ... wants."

Nathan nodded. "It is, that much I'm certain of." He thought for a moment. "Rik, if you don't mind my asking ... what's your perspective on what made Jake start trying to not survive, and what did you mean by it being something he couldn't remember that caused the problems." He put a friendly hand on the little tom's shoulder. "Whatever happened, happened before I arrived at Cathedral ... but now I'm responsible for Jake's well being ... anything you can tell me would help a great deal. But I'll understand if you don't feel you can tell me ... I know how loyal you are to Jake." He smiled gently to emphasize the last statement.

"My loyalty is why I'm telling you guys all this stuff." Patrik sighed. "My first imperative it to protect him, and that includes going against his wishes when it is for his own good. But as I told Lady Diamantha, I've never actually had to try to do it to his face, I'm not sure what would win, but stuff like this ... I'll tell you because it'll help him, even if he's furious with me later." His gaze drifted over the bonding pair. "The root of the death-wish, I don't know, but it's older than even Pat. Something happened, he lost something, or someone, and never quite recovered. That much I'm sure of.

"But I do know what set it off this time. It was the way Chance was treating him. If you haven't noticed, Jake has a few very specific needs when it comes to how his teammates treat him, mostly in bed. Having sex with his partners, those close to him, it's not a preference, not the way you know it. It really is a need. A large chunk of his concept of self and place are derived from how those close to him treat him sexually.

"And Chance wouldn't sleep with him. That is the most brutal form of rejection Jake knows. He dealt with it for a long time, because it was the only way ... then ..." he swallowed hard and refused to look at anyone, "then Chance got very drunk one night, about a year and a half ago, and in trying to get him into bed to sleep it off, something happened, and Jake lost control. He called me about an hour later, to say goodbye. He couldn't see living with what he'd done, that he'd raped his partner.

"I don't even remember exactly what I told him, but I got him to agree to live, at least see what came of the next morning. Let Chance punish him. Well, Chance didn't remember a thing. Jake ... he fluctuates between fairly rational, so sick with himself that he can barely stand it, and believing that Chance loves him."

The tiger-tabby nodded. "That would explain what Diamantha said, and why he created an alternate view of reality." He shook his head. "They may be in for a rough Joining. It tends to bring out long buried secrets, and old pains so that they don't end up getting between the Bonded pair."

"Oh, boy."

He settled in to watch, his telepathic sense trained on the pair, scanning for any serious distress that would require intervention.

The Dracon turned to look at the tiger-tabby. The expression on her face was grim. "I do not claim to understand what I saw ..."

"Crys, don't try. It's not like anything you've seen before. I think I have an idea, but that's only 'cause Rik explained a few things to me. I'm going to stay until they're out, and I'll go in if things seem bad enough to warrant it." Nathan interrupted gently.

The silver Dracon looked at him. "I'm not sure that's a wise choice, you're an inexperience telepath despite your strength."

"It's a matter of family, Crys. It always has been, and I'll manage." He looked at the pair, then back at the Dracon Healer. "Could you finish up the set up for the surgical case, and administer the initial dose of Neurogen? It would take a lot of my mind, if I knew you were handling that."

She nodded. "Of course, Nathan. Be careful, and don't be too proud to ask for help if you need it." She turned to leave the room.

"I won't, and thanks Crys."

After she left, he turned to Patrik. "She may be the more experienced 'path, but she's a Dracon and it'd be a real stretch to get her to accept this idea of Jake creating a new personality." He changed position from sitting to lying on his stomach next to Patrik. "Honestly, I hope I don't need to go in ... I'd rather things went smoothly."

Alex looked at his mate and tried to figure out where to begin this Joining. He was more than a little shaken by the concept of this 'blanking out', but he'd survived the death of two LifeMates and the apparent death of his son; he find a way through this. He looked around the blankness and decided it needed 'structure' of some sort first of all.

The calico brought out one of his favorite memories; a calm summer day at the Lake Maxwell camp. A cool breeze blowing down from the mountains, the scent of the evergreens and the light reflecting off of the clear blue waters of the lake. There was a large wooden building set back from the lake, across an open field. There was large deck attached to the side of the building facing the lake.

He smiled, thinking he'd done a pretty good job; Nareena would be pleased. He turned to look at Jake who seemed to be waiting, for something. Alex sighed as he realized that Jake was waiting for him to do something.

He smiled at his mate. "Seeing as I've been through the Joining before I'll start. But if I go too fast, or don't explain something that you want to know or if you just have questions ... interrupt me and ask, I won't mind." He walked across the lawn, looking back occasionally to make sure Jake was following. When he got on to the porch, he sat down on one of the benches which faced the field and the lake beyond.

He gently indicated the spot next to him. When Jake next to him, he smiled and continued. "The real idea behind the Joining is that we have a chance to get to know each other better, without having to worry about anyone else interrupting. We can talk about anything, knowing that whatever is said goes no further."

The calico looked across the lawn. "This is a memory reconstruction of a very important place to me, it was home for five years and it's where my son was born. For that reason alone it will always be special to me." He paused and turned to Jake. "I was wondering ... have you given any thought to what you want in a family? I know I should have asked before but I didn't ... are you even interested in being a father?"

He paused briefly, hoping he hadn't gone too fast, but it seemed like a good place to start ... he kept his empathic channels carefully focused on Jake, hoping they would warn him before he made any serious blunders.

"I want to be a father very much." Jake smiled a little shyly, though the background excitement said he was understating the facts. "A chance to raise kits has always been denied me, though I've tried." He looked around the forest clearing and lake. "This is quite a beautiful place." Another pause. "Who ... did you have anyone in mind, for their mother? Or adoption?"

Alex nuzzled the taller tom gently. "As strange as it may sound, the technology exists back home for two toms to have kits who are blood related to both of them without a shekat being involved."

"Oh." Jake smiled as he digested the concept.

"It's an established technology a little more than two generations old, and there haven't been any problems. Exactly how it works would be something Nathan could explain, but medical isn't my strong point."

He smiled as he stroked Jake's hair. "What I'm saying is that we can have kits who are blood related to both of us, and I'd like to. He paused for a moment. "I think you'd make a good father, Jake."

The lean tom blinked in real surprise. "You want to carry the kits?: He stammered. "I thought ... I ...."

Alex quietly asked Nate to explain the technology in question. As the information came through he was grateful for the special memory he had courtesy of his Dracon heritage.

Alex smiled gently. "Neither of us carries the kits, Jake. Part of the technology brings the kit from conception to infancy in a special chamber called a G-tube. It protects the developing kit, and provides all the required nutrients that the mother's body would have." He grinned gently. "Probably just as well, the male body just isn't designed for carrying kits."

"A kit born this way has two fathers, and no mother." He leaned back and waited to see how Jake handled that bit.

Jake thought about that for a moment, as holographic display appeared before him and scrolled information in a strange language, diagrams and pictures by at high speed. "Something like genetically engineering, like Rik and me, but with a more specific genetic base?"

"Close, but there's a very bare minimum of engineering involved. Only what's required to allow conception to occur, and the usual correction of any potential birth defects. The Medics don't like to tamper any more than is necessary." Alex looked curiously at the display, which was similar to mental constructs both he and Nathan used. "The outcome isn't any more predictable than the more usual way of having kits, occasionally twins even occur." He smiled pleased at how quickly Jake was accepting this alien idea, until the tom next to him froze.

The display brang up a flurry of information as the pair watched, and Jake fell further and further into a glazed over state.

"Can you get that to show in a language I know?" Alex prompted when he recognized that whatever was being shown, it was repeating. After a moment, the staring screen of information appeared, and partially translated into Mathin, the standard language of Aristal.

While much was still garbled, Alex understood enough to translate concerns about genetic stability, and if Jake's unique heritage would be acceptable.

Alex nodded, and passed the images across his Bond with Nathan until they began to repeat again. He put his arm around Jake's shoulders reassuringly. "That's certainly a valid concern, but I think Nathan can help us with it. He's one of the top geneticists in the Alliance; he'll find a way to make this work for us. I don't think it'll even be that difficult for him, he may even already know how." He kissed Jake, trying to distract him from the screen he was glazing over looking at.

Jake took the distraction readily enough, and the display dissolved as he leaned into the kiss eagerly. He claimed a second, quicker one before turning his attention to the scenery again. "What do we do, in the Alliance?"

Alex smiled and considered. Then he gently shifted the scenery from the serene forest camp at Maxwell, to his high tech design lab/workshop on the StarLion orbital facility near Felsinor and turned to Jake. "Well, what do you want to do? The options are pretty open, it's a big galaxy." He walked around the lab. "In case you're wondering this was my workshop when I was consulting for several major corporations." He thought he caught interest in Jake's eyes, and gestured encouragingly. "Feel free to look around, explore or whatever strikes your interest."

The calico was trying very hard to treat Jake as an equal, while still trying to encourage his mate's creativity and independence. He thought across the bond to Nate. "*This is not as easy it looks.*" He wasn't sure to be annoyed or relieved at the amused chuckle that came back.

Jake stalked with a fluid grace through the lab, taking it in with a critical eye as his mind rapidly assessed its capabilities. He stopped several times, mind reaching out to better understand a piece of equipment.

"Do you think there is a demand for fighter and weapon designs?" Jake asked as he came back next to his mate.

Only the intensity of Alex's empathic focus hinted that this wasn't the tom's first choice of things to do. He looked at Jake appraisingly choosing his words carefully. "Is there something that you'd rather do? Maybe something you'd enjoy more that you haven't had time to do? His tone was supportive, clearly indicating that his mate did not need to do anything with weapons or fighters if he didn't want to.

Jake hugged himself as fear of rejection warned with desire to please for a long moment before he spoke. "I ... I'd like to raise our kits."

Alex was a little surprised, but his empathy told him that this really was what his mate wanted, something he'd been denied for a long time. He smiled at Jake, before taking him in his arms, hugging him close, and kissing him mate deeply to emphasize his acceptance. "That's certainly something I understand. I enjoyed the few years I had with Nate when he was young a great deal." He grinned. "Raising kits certainly keeps the wits sharp, keeping one step ahead of them is a real challenge. But I'm sure you can handle it, actually I should have said we can handle it."

Jake nodded weakly, shock and gratitude slowly melting into a stronger sense of self, and place. "You can ... there will be enough to provide for them well, without me working?"

Alex smiled broadly. "Jake, I've always brought in more than I could spend so it'll be no problem. The money I've put away over the years combined with what I earn on patents and licenses will more than provide generously for our family. And I never have a shortage of clients wanting my services. Actually, knowing you're going to be there with the kits, will make it easier for me since I'll know they're well taken care of." He looked at Jake seriously. "And don't think that raising kits isn't work, it is and it's every bit as important any job I might have. After all, all I'll be doing is making money, but you'll be looking after our kits, our future and family; and family is what's really important." He said firmly, trying to make it clear that this was a partnership of equals, and that Jake's role was not one of a subordinate.

Jake nodded slowly, still assimilating this concept, and absently curious why it was such a difficult one. He finally looked up, real pleasure untainted by anything, shining in his eyes. "Thank you."

Alex couldn't help but smile seeing such real pleasure in Jake's eyes, something he wasn't sure he'd ever seen before and if he had, it had been a long time ago. "You're quite welcome. But thank you for wanting to raise kits with me, I missed out on most of Nathan's kittenhood and I wasn't sure I'd get a second chance at being a father." He said quietly, sincere gratitude shining in his eyes.

He gently shifted the scene from the lab to central Aerodrome on Gildenfire with its park like interior and kilometer high 'ceiling'. He turned to Jake. "Anything else you wanted to know?" He said with gentle, quiet tone of voice indicating that he did indeed mean, anything.

Jake blinked at the change in surroundings, then regarded his mate before sitting on the grass and a set of light blue-gray fatigues appeared on him, a decidedly warrior-protector air about him. "Tell me about the Shadow Government. I've caught bits and pieces of what they've done to your family. I'd rather eliminate them before they get any more bright ideas."

Alex sat down next to him, and sighed quietly. "The Shadow Government started out over two hundred years ago, as the government of a nation-state on Felsinor that was opposed to the formation of single planetary government. They refused to acknowledge the new government, and went on acting as if nothing changed. Eventually, as the benefits of the unified government, expansion into space, and the formation of the Alliance became apparent the people of the nation-state deposed that government and joined the rest of the planet."

"The leaders and some of the military of the fallen government went into hiding. For decades they lurked silently in the background, attracting malcontents, criminals and those who opposed the presence of aliens on Felsinor. This cadre of fringe elements attracted some very brilliant, but criminally unstable scientists who devised advanced weapons and vehicles for them. Eventually, they built a fortress in the ruins of the Nation of Sardnor. Sardnor had been destroyed along with its rival Jandorra in the last nuclear war on Felsinor almost three hundred years ago. The fortress became known as Citadel, and the Lords of Citadel ruled with an iron fist over their allies.

"One hundred and twenty years ago, this hidden evil declared itself openly, calling itself the Shadow Government and declared that they would rid the planet of the pernicious influence of aliens, and the oppressive rule of the world government. It was never open war, since the world government could not find Citadel, or so they said. The SG resorted to mostly commando raids and terrorist attacks. In a bold raid they stole some of the most vital state secrets from the government super-soldier lab, the Advanced Genetics Designed Laboratories. This theft was what allowed them to eventually created the NightBlades and their leader, Ebon SwiftClaw ... my LifeMate and Nathan's other biological father.

"For almost 30 years the NightBlades were one of the most terrifying forces Felsinor had ever known, though they stopped going after anything but military targets after I got involved with Ebon. Fifty-one years ago, the NightBlades 'retired' after Ebon learned that our second LifeMate, Nareena was pregnant. Ebon's focus shifted from what the SG wanted to looking after his family, especially his only son: Nathaniel Skyfire SwiftClaw, my son and Nareena's as well.

"Five years after Nathan was born, the SG hit our camp with forces the like of which we didn't expect and couldn't defeat. Nareena and Ebon perished, and unconscious and mind-wounded I lost Nathan to the SG. About 15 years later, the planetary government suddenly got serious and launched a full-scale offensive against Citadel, the base was destroyed and supposedly the SG was scattered."

Alex shook his head. "They had been prepared for decades for just such an occurrence, and had established bases in space and on other planets. The SG was driven from Felsinor, but my research indicates they were far from defeated; in fact they may even be stronger than before.

"They've meddled in Nathan's life off and on for almost 40 years, but they've left him alone since he became Cordraki to Prince Morin of Draconea. I don't think they want to get the Dracons mad enough to do something about them."

He looked at Jake. "The Shadow Government is a big organization, you can't just eliminate them ... you could spend a lifetime trying and still not finish. I don't think they'll be a threat to our family, for the same reason they don't mess with Nate anymore.

"Jake, if they could be eliminated like you suggest I would have by now. I owe them for what they've done, but I don't what to sacrifice our future trying to get even for the past. Revenge is no way to live. I know, I did for a while." He sighed quietly.

For a split second Alex saw a look he recognized, and had long since learned to take very seriously. It said simply 'you don't know me'.

"With all due respect, you weren't designed once with galactic conquest in mind." Jake spoke softly, his gaze focused elsewhere. "If you are past wanting vengeance, I won't peruse them for the past ... but I don't trust them to leave be, either."

Alex smiled ironically, as this very much the Jake Clawson he'd come to love, even if he'd kind of hoped to avoid having him back on the front lines. "Okay, I can't really say I disagree and I'm certainly not going to argue about it. You're probably better at this than I am, I don't work on that big a scale usually. I've been a solo operative most of my life, and a commando for brief time so the big scale stuff wasn't my concern." He looked at Jake seriously. "However, this is a matter of family and therefore Nathan should be involved, besides he has the kind of resources and connections that I'm sure will be useful."

The calico smiled. "It's funny, I've always thought Nathan reminded me of Ebon; but in different ways, so do you." He grinned. "That's a compliment, in case you wondered."

Jake smiled slightly, as much at the complement as the lack of contention, and a smile that spoke of a well-trained mind going full speed into planning. "How did you two meet, anyway? You talk like you were always part of his team, but not just now."

Alex lay back looking into the 'sky'. "The NightBlades are the only team I've ever really been part of. I've worked with others, but the NightBlades were different, as much family as partners. I wasn't part of them originally, but I often forget that. For quite a while I was a solo operative: thief, spy, hacker, infiltrator; I had done most of the jobs in the covert arena, and I was very good at them. But my real strength was hacking; I've never found a computer system or database that I couldn't hack. I even hacked the Alliances black ops development organization; Shadowbox, just to prove that I could. Well, that and I wanted to know what Nathan was working on.

"I met Ebon when we both broke into the same building to steal some defense plans from the planetary government. We collided in the file room, and a fight started. Now I'm good in hand to hand, but Ebon's designed for close quarters combat, among other things, so the fight went his way fairly quickly. Realizing that I was not going to win on brawn, I tried brains. I faked going submissive, as if I was surrendering which caused him to back off for a moment. I've done that before, normally I just pull out my single shot, emergency blaster and shoot them. For some reason, I didn't that time ... I really wanted to submit to him, some part of me decided I wanted him.

"I think I confused him, 'cause he grabbed the plans and left. After searching for almost a week I finally caught up with him again. This time in a bar in a backwater town I don't remember the name of. I guess he'd been wanting me too, 'cause I hardly had to put a move on him and the next thing I knew we were lovers. We crossed paths professionally, and slept together frequently for about the next two years, when I decided that I wanted him as a LifeMate. It took a little explaining to get him to understand that I wanted more than just sex from him, but I did eventually. We were Joined, and then I became part of the NightBlades. I still did my own jobs, to stay on top of the business, but the NightBlades became my priority. In a way, they still are, but the only NightBlades left are me and Nate."

"And Nareena?" Jake sprawled alongside the shorter tom, absently stroking his soft fur. "I got the impression somewhere that she wasn't a commando."

Alex purred lightly at Jake's touch. "Nareena was a tall, refined beautiful red on black tigress from one of the oldest families on Felsinor. She was the most gifted healer I'd ever heard of, and a powerful telepath. I met her quite by accident when I was cruising a bar in the capital looking a female lover for the night. At the time, I was a bit in overdrive sexually speaking and like the majority of Felsin, attracted to both genders. Ebon was everything I'd wanted in a tom, but I still need a female partner at times. Ebon understood and let me pursue females as long he was my only tom."

"Nareena was quite out of place in the bar, but then again Tiger-kin usually do stand out. I was attracted to her physically almost immediately, but didn't think I had a chance with her. She was a tall, beautiful Tigress who could have her pick of males and I was a short, unassuming Lion. I had decided against trying and was nursing a drink when she came up and sat down next to me. We talked for a while, danced a bit, moved to one of the more private tables and talked some more and then one thing led to another and I found myself waking up next to her in her very nicely appointed apartment."

The calico smiled as the pleasant memories played. "We saw each several more times before we started dating. And then we dated for almost two years, before she started hinting that she wanted something permanent. I decided I needed to introduce Ebon to Nareena, because I wanted them both in my life, and that meant they needed to accept each other.

"One night Ebon and I were in an apartment I kept up in the capital for various reasons, and we got drunk and started playing truth-or-dare. Eventually, I asked something he wouldn't answer and insisted on the dare. His exact words were 'Make it something that's actually a dare for me.' So I did, I got him to agree to a threesome with any other individual of my choosing. I called up Nareena, and she was surprisingly game for it. It was a great deal of fun, and the next morning around breakfast I realized that Nareena and Ebon were hitting it off, despite her being a Healer and him being an Assassin.

"Eventually, we brought Nareena into our Bond, and Nathan was born a few years later. Nareena calmed the NightBlades down significantly, and in a strange way was like a mother to them. Not that strange, I guess since most of the NightBlades were like a bunch of teenagers despite being full-grown. She was the heart and soul of the NightBlades, and the beginning of the end of the unit's active career, though not by any design of hers."

Jake gasped sharply, his claws curling through thick fur to scrape skin. For three frantic heartbeats Alex saw the impossible; the extremely stressed out form of another he knew well. The Black King Cheetah female Felsin; Ashley Terell.

Then Jake was at his side again, shaking terribly and completely disoriented.

Alex pushed aside his own concern, and pulled his distressed mate into a tight hug. He gently stroked the shaking tom's fur trying to comfort him. "I'm here, love. Just hold on to me, things will be alright." He wasn't as confident as he sounded, but one of them out of it was one too many, and judging by how quickly Jake did as he offered, the lean Kat was out of it. He just how the Void Jake had turned into Ashley, someone he couldn't possibly know.

The calico began thinking about when he and Ashley had both been with the NightBlades, there had been something between them though he'd never been sure exactly what. Some sort of Bond maybe was his best guess. He decided to test his theory, he carefully explored the connections around his own mind, excluding his Bond with Nathan, and his new LifeBond with Jake, looking for an old Bond that hadn't seen any traffic in a long time.

Buried deep in a corner of his mind he found one, a long abandoned working bond on nearly the same frequency Jake favored. When he sought the other end of it carefully, it came back to an even more unused part of the mind and soul next to him.

Alex was feeling very confused. He couldn't figure how Ashley could leave a working Bond between him and Jake, and in an unused part of Jake's mind. If they had a facilitator it would help, but they didn't so Alex decided to try something. He had thought Ashley a friend, even if he wondered about her attempts to seduce toms who had no interest in females. He needed to know what was going on, and Jake was in no condition to explain anything.

As gently and as quietly as he could, so as to disturb no part of Jake's mind but the one the working bond connected to he sent a brief message. "*Ash, is that you? This is Cazi.*" He included an image of his Lion form, the one Ashley would be familiar with.

"*Umm, hi, Caz.*" The tone of her reply was both a little bewildered and a lot apologetic. "*You'll be wanting an explanation, I suppose?*"

Alex shook his head and smiled. "*If it's not too much to ask. I didn't ask when you tried to seduce Ebon or when you tried to seduce my son. But I'd really like to know what you're doing inside my LifeMate's mind, especially since you seem to belong there.*" He smiled mentally. "*And try to be gentle with him, okay. He's had a rough day.*"

"*We have rough lives, Caz.*" There was a gentle humor in the complaint that very much was part of her that he remembered. "*I want Jake to be safe and as sane as possible. He's my salvation, after all.*"

She chuckled at his mental raised eyebrow. "*You know Jake's a genetic construct, like Ebon, right?*"


"*He's our chance to have a life not dictated by our old masters.*" She hesitated. "*I'd like to explain this in detail, but it's probably not a bright idea until Jake's a little better able to absorb the fact that he's lived eight very separate previous lives. Mine was one of them. What you saw was a rather significant memory download triggered by the fact that he's not resisting remembering anymore, and you started talking about a very central aspect of my life. I would expect a few more before this is over, and the rest to come over the next few months.*"

She hesitated a moment. "*A warning though ... buried very deep in our first life is a shattered LifeBond that was never healed. It may cause you problems in the final stages of this LifeBonding.

"*And Caz ... take good care of him. Jake's got nine lives worth of emotional damage, and remembers hardly any of it.*"

Cazi smiled mentally at his old partner. "*I take care of my partners, you know that. I'll do whatever I have to get him through this. A Dracon never yields what he claims, and I've got that much Dracon in me.*"

"*I know you do, love.*" She smiled back before sinking into the background, undetectable unless you knew where to look.

Cazi sent a quick thought to Nathan. *"I need to know how to heal a shattered LifeBond.*"

Nathan was startled. "*An old injury, that matches what Rik said. Okay, I'll give you what I know, and I'll check with Crys.*" He quickly sent the training he'd had on the subject, along with his mother's 'safety blanket' technique.

"*What's the 'safety blanket' for, he's not a kit.*"

Nathan smiled gently. "*Cazi, in a lot of ways he is right now. And it might just help.*"

"*Maybe, and thanks Nate.*"

"*Be careful, Dad. Shattered LifeBonds can leave unusual psychic after-effects.*"

"*I will.*"

Alex gently stroked the taller tom's hair, and ran the back of one hand along his cheek ruff. Following the directions Nathan had sent, he carefully constructed one of Nareena's safety blankets hoping that it might calm Jake down a little faster, though he was grateful to feel the trembling reduce on it's own, and vanished completely as the blanket settled into place. Though Jake showed no inclination to move from his place, plastered against the calico's side.

"Jake, are you okay?" The calico asked quietly, gently sending reassurance across the Bond. He continued gently stroking his mate's fur, while he waited for the lean tom to feel like responding.

Jake swallowed and nodded weakly. "That was very creepy." He shivered, his brows scrunched. "What's with my head? I didn't know Ebon, much less love him ...."

Alex hesitated, not sure what to say, since Ashley had given him precious little to go on. "I'm not sure, Jake. I had a very weird experience myself, for a brief instant I thought you looked like an old partner of mine, Ashley Terrell. Which is really strange 'cause Ash was a Black King Cheetah female Felsin ... though she was in love with Ebon. But that was a long time ago, and there's no way you could know her." He shook his head. "As experiences go, that was a weird one. Any other strange thoughts in your head?" The calico was still confused by what Ashley had said about eight previous lives, of which presumably Razor was one, and Ashley another. No common thread of species or gender which suggested that the base was shapechanger as versatile as himself.

He smiled at Jake, and waited patiently, figuring his mate might need a little time to deal with the 'download' Ashley had mentioned.

"You don't ask for simple things, do you?" Jake sighed and extracted himself from his mate's embrace to settle on the grass, bracing backwards on outstretched arms. He closed his eyes and relaxed, letting his mind accept all that passed and calculate a summary of it.

Alex watched in raw shock as Jake let his sense of self relax, and the form before him on the grass drifted from body to body without apparent connection.

A much younger Jake, with lighter brown fur.

Ashley, with her matte black stripes and spots on a gloss black coat, and so much taller than the tomkat.

A small, well rounded, purple furred female mouse in harem dancing silks.

A striped, dark brown she-wolf that bore that obvious marks of an Earth Loup Garou in Crinos form.

A supple, long bodied brown and white furred creature with black stripes and a fluffy tail longer than his body.

And a Dracon like creature with gray skin.

Eventually Jake shifted back to the form that Alex was most familiar with, and look at him with haunted eyes.

"Lots of strange thoughts, mostly involving Ebon, the NightBlades, you, Nathan and one hell of an interesting datafile on the SG." He cocked his head and looked at Alex. "I think I just dragged you into a lot more than I intended ..."

Alex got up, walked over to Jake, sat down beside him and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "Jake, that's alright. I've found I can handle quite a bit over the decades. And beside, being LifeMates means staying together no matter what happens. I survived losing Ebon and Nareena, everything else pales to that pain."

He turned to look at Jake and raised one eyebrow in a curious, yet comical fashion. "So just what have you gotten us into?"

"I ... I didn't mean ... how the hell did we get into Joining space without a Facilitator?" He actually looked a little vexed. "And umm, I'm something like three hundred years old, with eight full lives, and personalities, that predate Jake."

Alex shook his head. "I haven't a clue how we got into Joining space without a facilitator, and I know there are two telepaths who'd like to know how we did it as well." He smiled. "As to your age, so what ... it just means that I'm not older than you anymore. The eight lives is far more interesting and I've met one of the personalities already."

"Ashley." Jake nodded, relaxing in obvious relief. "She cared about you a lot, you know, even though she was pretty fixated on Ebon and Nathan."

The calico smiled sadly. "I know, she was a good friend and there might have been more but she was fixated on Ebon, and I was fixated on Ebon and Nareena. But good friends are pretty rare and as disturbing as it is, there's something reassuring about knowing that one of those personalities is her. Even if I never understood her fixation on Nathan, I always felt I could trust her."

"It was her programming." Jake sighed sadly. "She was sent to get pregnant by Ebon, and sent to Nate for the same reason."

Alex nodded and grinned slightly mischievously trying to lighten the mood a little. "You want weirdness ... I'm almost one hundred, and Nate's close to one hundred and fifteen at least if you count years experienced. He caught the strange look. "Yep, my son's older than I am. Time travel's an interesting thing." He sighed. "I guess as long as we're covering this sort of thing I should mention that my father was a Dracon, and I do have a form with wings."

He looked at Jake. "Just didn't want to think you'd cornered the market on weirdness or anything."

"Maybe there's some hope after all," The lean tom smiled slightly.

"There's always hope, Jake." The calico said without hesitation. "As Nareena was fond of saying, where there's life there's hope." He decided there'd been a little too much thinking and talking, and pulled the cinnamon tom into a passionate kiss which he hoped would turn into a major distraction, and found no resistance from his mate to the idea.

Alex felt the swirling colors that he remembered being the beginning of the Sharing, something he had no idea how would work with his mate's current mental state.

He turned to face Jake. "Looks like we've entered the Sharing, which I guess is best explained as the interchange of memories. What memories are involved is unpredictable but often deal with unresolved issues, significant events or simply important things. We'll be able to interact with each other, but not with the characters in the memories."

The scene shifted to a small suburban home, with the skyscrapers of major city visible in the distance. On the front porch, a Lioness Felsin sat reading a databoard. In the yard, a small Lion kit perhaps eight or nine years old, was taking apart an old radio receiver. The kit looked over at the Lioness and felt that something was wrong.

He left the innards of the receiver on the ground and padded over to her. "Momma, what's wrong?"

She looked at him, remembering that her son had the gift of empathy, in addition to his seeming gift for understanding anything mechanical or electrical. She buried her feelings carefully. "Nothing's wrong, honey. It's almost time for bed, go clean up your mess."

He looked at her, clearly not convinced. "When's poppa coming home?" He asked clearly worried.

The Lioness sighed. "I don't know, Cazi. I haven't heard."

Later that night, Cazi sat in his bed looking up at the stars and wondering which of them his father was circling. He would spend many nights for he rest of his kittenhood wondering the same thing ... but his father never returned.

Years later, Cazimir encountered his father on the StarLion station. The conversation had been brief, and for Cazimir painful. His father had never returned because of the shame of having a half-breed son, who showed no Dracon traits. It had been a long time, before Cazi could look at the stars in quite the same way.

Cazi wiped the tears from his eyes remembering the pain. "I always told myself that I'd be a better father than that, and then I lost Nate to the SG. Even after he was free of them I stayed away, afraid of attracting their attention to him again ... and afraid that he'd want nothing to do with me, because I wasn't there when he needed me."

"When we finally met last year, I was so relieved when I discovered that not only he didn't blame me for what happened but that he was actually happy to see me. I may have missed out on really being his father, but at least we're close friends ... which is more than I ever expected."

There was a soft flicker as Jake started to say something, then he fell silent. With a shudder the Kat forcefully blanked out the scene of a gray skinned dragon biped with shackled wings in a dry grass field surrounded by opponents, mechanical and biological.

Alex gently put his arm around Jake's shoulders. "Something wrong?" He wasn't sure what he'd seen exactly, but it gave him a bad feeling. The calico also figured it wasn't going to stay blanked ... Sharing memories rarely did.

"I don't want to go there." He admitted quietly. "It hurts too much.

Alex nuzzled his mate gently. "No one is forcing you to, love." He said quietly. He remembered what Ashley had said about the shattered LifeBond. He knew it would have to faced eventually, but forcing someone to face a trauma like that before they were ready was rarely a good idea.

Jake nodded and gratefully snuggled against the calico's neck.

The calico wondered for a while how to proceed, since Jake's memories seemed caught behind the one he didn't want to face. He relaxed and let his mind wander hoping to come up with something that would trigger anything traumatic for Jake.

There was an explosion and Cazi watched himself falling from the burning wreckage of transport shuttle shot down over the Shalnai Desert on Corvus II. As he fell, he realized he had no chute and then panic set in. Somehow the panic triggered a transformation, and suddenly the golden furred Lion was replaced a nine foot tall, gold scaled Dracon with copper colored wings. Spreading his wings Cazi instinctively turned the plummet into a reasonably graceful swoop.

Cazi flew over the desert for days, stopping only to hunt for food and water. He reveled in the freedom his new found flight gave him, but eventually he remembered that he had a job to do, and he was going to be late doing it if he didn't hurry.

There were numerous additional scenes of the Gold Dracon flying over various landscapes, even playing aerial tag with several younger Dracons in the Aerodrome on Gildenfire.

Alex turned to Jake. "See, some memories can be pleasant ones."

"Did your father accept you after you could look like him?" Jake asked quietly.

Alex shook his head. "I never told him. I wanted him to accept me as who I was normally, not as my war-form. I was too angry at him for abandoning me, and my mother when I was little ... sometimes I still am. But most of the time I don't think about him, he chose not to be a part of my life so that's the way I leave it."

Jake didn't say anything, but his jealous reaction all but broadcast through Joining space; 'at least you have a father.'

The calico sighed. "There's a male who contributed genetic material, he might be a biological predecessor ... but he was no father." He shook his head, Ebon had been jealous too. The funny thing was that the lab techs had paid Ebon more attention then Alex's 'father' had ever paid him.

"What I've never had ... " he sighed and shook his head, trying to give voice to what he felt on a subject he had carefully avoided for centuries. "You still have a name, something to say when asked without trying to remember which lie applies this time. You know where you came from."

Alex sighed. "I guess we always want what we didn't have. For a long time, I was jealous of Ebon and the fact that he didn't have the emotional debris left by parents abandoning him. I tried to forget them, even created my own 'family' name as way of distancing myself from them and the pain. When my mother left Felsinor to try and find my 'father', she left me behind ... but I've always been a survivor eventually I created a whole fiction about my 'family'. When you put 'orphan' on official forms, people generally stop the painful questions about parents."

He looked at the ground. "Sure, I know where I came from. I rather wish I didn't." He looked up at Jake. "But what I've learned to remind myself, and I used to tell Ebon this too: Is that it doesn't matter where we came from or who our parents were or weren't ... it's what we make of ourselves that matters. The rest is just background, and not all that important."

The calico smiled sadly. "I tried to give Nate better than I had and most of the time, I think I did okay."

"He seems to think so too, from what I've heard." Jake tried to smile past the lingering hurt inside to support his mate.

"Murrattt." An insistent voice from near Jake's ankle drew both their attention to a furry quadruped staring up at the Kat with impatient orange eyes.

"Not now, Erra." Jake growled at the weasel-like, dark furred creature.

Alex smiled at his mate. "Now who's this, Jake?" The calico got down on one knee slowly to look closer and offered his hand so Erra could get his scent. He felt that the little quadruped must be important to his mate to be in Joining space, but in what way he wasn't certain.

"Umm, Erra. She ..." he hesitated, searching for the best way to put it, "she's my daughter, sort of."

"Really?" Alex was intrigued. "I thought you hadn't been a father before, or was one of your earlier lives a mother?" Alex's curiosity was going full speed, not surprising considering he was fascinated by this concept of one Kat with real previous lives, each with its own personality. "She's adorable, Jake."

"Yes, she is." His voice was tight with pain from a buried memory, and the strain of trying to put something he barely understood into words. "An earlier life ... our ... first. I think." He scooped up and snuggled the purring creature and slowly relaxed, tears beginning to trail down his face. "That memory flicker was from just before her death."

Alex gently licked the tears from his mate's face, and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "I understand why it's so painful to see, losing a child is the most painful experience for any parent. There was a time, when I thought that I lost Nate, and the pain was beyond description."

He hugged the lean tom close. "I understand, and I'm here for you." Compassion and love shined in his green eyes as he felt something break inside the lean tom he was holding, washing them both in what had buried the memory. Not the pain of loss, but a raw terror that was he'd done was unforgivable.

There was a brief moment of panic before Alex remembered the shielding that Nate had shown him. He buffered himself against the terror while holding tight to Jake and the link they shared. The calico didn't understand what could be so terrible, but the Dracon in his personality growled quietly as he prepared to defend what was his; in this case, his mate. All he had to do was find what was hurting Jake.

In the real world, Nathan felt the change in the flow of his father's thoughts and recognized Cazi's defense mode. He strengthened the Bond between them and spoke quietly to Crys. "*Something big is happening, Crys. I made need your support for this, energy-wise.*"

The healer's calm voice came back reassuringly. "*You have it, Nathan. Be careful, things are delicate.*"

Nathan sighed. "*I know, Crys.*" His tail began swishing in agitation and his ears went back. He quickly touched the Bond he shared with his father. "*Don't do anything rash, Cazi. This may not be a combat situation. Think, then act, not the other way around.*" His voice was both concerned, and impudent. "*Crys and I are on stand-by, in case you need us.*"

"*I understand, and thanks.*"

The field that had appeared before materialized again, though now Alex could see that they were standing near two male Lions, not Felsin ones, and Erra jumped from Jake's arms to lie between them. The dragon was definitely one of the forms that Jake had taken earlier.

As things began to move, the overall scene went dark and to the perspective of the dragon, the people merely blurry objects of roughly the right size and shape with target information -- an actual HUD-like display -- marking them and how, where, and when to strike and move. It wasn't even smooth motion, more like a slide show than a movie, with the next target placed where it would be when hit.

Alex swallowed as each killing strike brought a rush as intense a pleasure as any orgasm he could remember. Machine or living being, they 'felt' the same in this memory. A full telepath on both frequencies, drunk in a precise frenzy of killing for no reason but that it was allowed.

So he saw it coming before his drunk mate-to-be, the smaller target rushing into range, coming from where the Lions still stood, watching. Saw it just in time to brace for the agony he knew would come with a violently shattered lifebond, and in time to comprehend at least the basics of why this had ripped Jake's mind apart as the blow landed perfectly, shattering Erra's body, the rush of the kill mixing with the intolerable agony of her death.

His head still ringing from the overwhelming sensations on both machine and bio-frequencies Alex rushed to Jake's side as the scene dissolved. As he held Jake close he put into practice what Nate had taught him. He gently overlaid psychic 'bandages' to gently patch the 'wound' left by the shattered bond. At the same time, he strengthened his Bond with Jake as much as he could, seeking to let some of the pain and anguish spill trough him, instead of his mate. In a way, he made himself a psychic pressure release valve to release the pressure in a controlled fashion. It worked, though the sheer intensity made Alex wonder if one could get migraines inside a Joining.

He carefully constructed a 'safety blanket' to quiet any outside noise, and gently tried to reassure his devastated mate. "*Jake, it wasn't your fault. You weren't in control, battle lust was. The only person to blame is whoever let Erra on that field when you were possessed by that madness.*" He gently brought Jake's muzzle around so they were face to face, and spoke gently but firmly. "*It wasn't your fault and you need to stop punishing yourself for it. If the pain is too bad, hold on to me and draw on my strength. It's time to forgive yourself and live again.*"

In the real world, Nathan's body went rigid as he became a conduit connecting his strength, and Diamantha's, to Alex, helping the calico to hold his faltering mate together.

Alex held Jake close, gently stroking him to provide comfort and reassurance while he waited to see what would happen next.

"Erra .... Jake broken voice sobbed as he trembled, clutching tightly to Alex, both of them uncaring as his claws drew blood. "*How could you, Rachel?*" His mind screamed into the darkness of that life's memories. "*How could you ....*"

Neither tom knew or cared how long they held each other as Jake rebuilt the walls around that memory, and slowly came to focus back on the present. He didn't say anything, just looked up at the calico Kat holding him and waited for judgment.

Alex noticed Jake looking at him, and wondered what he waiting for. Then he realized, and shook his head. "Jake, you were not in control of that situation. The battle lust had control, and that's what killed Erra. You were just cruelly used; both by the battle lust, and by whoever set that up." He gently smoothed his mate's fur. "You don't do yourself, or Erra, any good by continuing to blame yourself for what happened. Let it go, love ... forgive yourself, and start living again." He nuzzled the taller tom reassuringly, and spoke quietly. "Don't expect me to judge you love, I don't see that you have any blame in what happened."

"How?" Jake asked softly, acceptingly. "How do I let go, without forgetting her?"

Alex smiled gently. "Let go of the pain. I know its not easy, but with time it becomes less. Focus on the good memories, and try to push the painful ones behind." He kissed his mate lightly. "I had to learn this with my memories of Ebon and Nareena, I never want to forget them ... but I try to remember the good times, and the love."

He looked at Jake seriously, but still sympathetically. "The important thing you need to let go of is the guilt. The guilt is not yours, and you shouldn't hold on to it so tightly. Just focus on your love for her, and let everything else fall behind. It won't happen instantly, but in time the pain will lessen."

Jake nodded, even as he tried to understand the directions, when a small paw scratched his leg. He blinked several times before picking up the weasel-cat and held her close for a long time, crying silently.

"I'm sorry, baby." He choked when the little creature started to lick the tears from his fur. "I never wanted to hurt you."

Alex couldn't think of anything more to say, without repeating himself so he settled in close to Jake, so the tom would know he was still there. He watched Jake and Erra silently, thinking that Jake seemed to be working through this, so Alex didn't need to help, just yet. He did, however, keep the 'safety blanket' carefully in place figuring it couldn't hurt.

It wasn't long before their surroundings changed again, this time to what were obviously the large private quarters from some sigh tech society that liked back and silver ... or at least the decorator of the well lived in space did.

Erra was sitting on the large bed, watching the door to their left expectantly.

Alex turned to the lean tom next to him. "Where are we, Jake?"

"V'Feri's quarters at HomeBase." He spoke softly as the large gray dragon walked in, clearly exhausted as he flopped on the bed and pulled Erra close, grooming the squirming, furry creature before settling to his side with Erra curled against the back of his elegant, blue-maned neck. "Remember the good times, how she was loved." Jake walked up to the sleeping pair. "More missions than not, she was the only reason I bothered to come back."

The calico stayed close to Jake's side, concentrating on being quietly supportive, since some statements really don't need a response. He smiled at the sleeping pair, and gently rubbed his mate's shoulder.

The scenery shifted again, to a genetic lab of some kind. The middle of it stood a dark gray female Gargoyle with wavy black hair, arguing with V'Feri. Erra was in the Gargoyle's hands, and she was trying to get V'Feri to take the little beast.

"You need to learn how to care for young." She spoke firmly to the irate dragon. "You will eventually go on a mission where being able to do raise a child properly is critical."

"So put it in the mission personality. He snapped back. "I don't ...."

"Enough." She growled deeply, flaring her brightly tattooed wings in a clear threat display. "You will take Erra. You will raise her as a proper daughter. And you willnot shirk this duty."

V'Feri flinched and accepted the obviously young creature before stalking off.

"She took all of one night to break through that attitude." Jake chuckled as the scene flickered to show the dragon feeding Erra little bits of something the creature obviously enjoyed, that simple joy spreading to her caretaker. "I couldn't hate anything that wanted to love me that much. She was the first, and until you, the only thing I've known that never asked for more than my affection."

Alex smiled. "Children are like that, when Nate was born I wasn't sure I was up to being a father. I was pretty much the carefree bachelor at heart, even if I was Joined. But the first time the little bundle of fur and claws pounced on me while I was asleep, wanting my attention and only my attention ... well, I realized that there was something contagious about unconditional love."

He grinned at Jake. "And you're right all I've ever wanted from you is your affection." The calico made a mock serious face. "But I can be pretty demanding about that". He pulled the startled tom into a passionate kiss, just to make a point.

While Jake returned the kiss just as passionately, Alex didn't need his empathy or their bond to feel that his mate wasn't really interested.

Alex broke off gently. "Sorry, I ... I guess that was really bad timing." He looked at the ground. "I've been rather insecure for awhile now, and when I get insecure ... I get kind of ... well, clingy for lack of a better word." He sighed. "I'll try to keep better control of myself." He didn't look up.

Jake stood frozen for a second before he urged Alex to look up at him. "I don't know what set that off, but you don't have anything to be sorry for." He grinned a little weakly. "As for 'clingy', I think we have that in common."

The calico smiled shyly, and relaxed a little. "I'm glad, for a minute there I thought you'd lost interest in me." He grinned, impishly though a little hesitant. "I don't think my ego could take that ... no one loses interest in me." He was grinning broadly, though it was a little forced.

"Lost interested?" Jake regarded him in confusion for a moment before rolling his eyes. "I may have the sex drive of a mink in heat, but even they have moments they aren't turned on, you know." He hesitated, bringing them back to the Lake Maxwell camp, then spoke without looking at his mate. "What are my legal rights in the Alliance? I'm not a citizen ... or even a recognized species, if you can call a genetic creation mix breed a species."

"I wasn't exactly sure on that one myself, but according to Nathan and Diamantha the genetic difference between Kat and Felsin is small enough that they have to have been the same species not that long ago." He caught Jake starting to say something. "I know, I know. You're hardly all Kat, but you look like one and have the genetic background of one so that's good enough."

He paused briefly. "What this means is that Kats are covered under the so-called 'Lost Colony' provisions of the Alliance Charter. Which grants citizenship on the original homeworld to any lost colonist who cares to claim it. In your case, and Patrik's, that would be Felsinor, my homeworld and Nate's.

"As to the status of 'genetic creations', Felsin and Alliance law does not permit denial of sentient rights on the basis of origin, be it normal reproduction, G-tube, or genetic creation. In short, as far as Alliance rights and such, you're just a lost Felsin who's finally wandered home."

Alex grinned. "The irony of the 'Lost Colony' clause in this case, is that Felsinor was very likely settled by Kats from Aristal."

"Oh," Jake murmured, still watching the scenery, "and that citizenship will hold true even when I'm not a Kat anymore?"

"Yes, it will. The Alliance has way too many races to let little things like change of species be a determining factor. Especially when one member race is pure energy, and two others are silicon based."

He looked across the lake. "Even without the 'Lost Colony' clause, you're still LifeMate to an Alliance Citizen which would get you citizenship. And being my LifeMate makes you family, in a way, to a Corps officer ... and the Corps looks after its people and their family, so if nothing else ... they'd make something work out."

The calico smiled gently. "Don't worry, Jake. You've got citizenship about three different ways, you're covered."

The lean tom nodded and settled on the ground, willing his clothes away and held and offering hand up to his mate. "Enough serious life and future stuff for a minute?"

Alex smiled, willed his clothes away as well, and took the hand. "You need to ask?"

"Sometimes." Jake purred through a groan as familiar hands caressed him, then drew him into an intense kiss as Alex covered his body with his shorter, heaver one.

"*What the ...*" Amerith's awareness jolted into high gear as a huge wave of sensations came over the link with her gunner. "*Hay, Star, you have a clue what's going on with Jake?*"

"*He's forming a LifeBond with Alex.*" The starship replied evenly, a slightly curious note in her 'voice'.

"*Well, that actually makes this all make more sense.*" The former Black Phoenix jet chuckled. "*I guess we'll be staying for a long time. Hmmm, what are the rules involving military grade hardware in the Alliance?*"

Star accessed her new Alliance database. "*That would depend on exactly what sort of rules you're looking for. The most important I suppose is the Certified Digital Sentience Exclusionary Clause in the Darthan II Pact on Intelligent Weaponry. Darthan II categorically forbids the development, deployment or maintenance of intelligent weaponry; however the CDSES clarifies that to mean weapons or systems that are intelligent, as opposed to persons like you or I who are defined as being intelligences that happen to inhabit machines, and can chose to change machine bodies at will. The ability to transfer between bodies is the most important characteristic of a CDS, which must be certified by a master TechnoMage.*"

The starship accessed a separate file. "*Lord Margali said to inform you that he has already completed the paperwork granting you CDS status, therefore you will be able to reassume your warrior role when a suitable body is available. CDS status also confers Alliance citizenship under the CDS amendment to the Alliance Declaration of Sentient Rights.*" The was a brief pause. "*There are a great many rules, statutes and regulations involving military grade hardware, was there a particular area you were interested in?*"

"*Mostly how tied to a military I would have to be.*" She thought for a nanosecond. "*Specifically if there are regulations that would bar Jake from creating a new body for me, and once I am in that body, to remain a 'civilian' with him.*"

SilverStar took several nanoseconds to access the Alliance legal database. "*I believe the pertinent laws are those on the possession of military armaments by civilians. As a 'civilian' citizen you would be under restrictions from possessing military armaments the same as any other citizen. The 'body' would be no problems, but the weapons would be without either corporate or military connections to properly license them.*"

She quickly analyzed the various connections that involved Jake Clawson. "*A military connection may not be that difficult for you to obtain. Jake is LifeBonding to Alex, whose son is a ranking Alliance military officer. Colonel SwiftClaw is very close to his father, and would probably be more than willing to assist if asked.*"

"*Very cool. Sounds about like the system on Aristal. We were technically part of a cooperate entity doing military R&D.*" She shifted her focus to contacting the first mind that had contacted her about joining this venture before they left for good. "*Lord Margali?*"

"*Yes, Amerith?*" His deep, resonate mind-voice responded almost immediately.

"*Is there any reason I shouldn't contact my teammates now? I'm basically adjusted, though it is still a touch strange not to have a body.*"

"*I see no reason why you can't contact Patrik, however Jake is in Joining and should not be disturbed right now. The Joining should not last more than half an hour at most.*" He paused momentarily. "*Lady Diamantha asks that you be gentle, the strange frequency of the local machines gave both Jake and Patrik, what I believe is best described as ... a hangover. They are past the worst of it, but I would imagine they are still a little sensitive.*"

"*I understand, and thanks.*" She sent a sympathetic smile with the thought. "*I'll be quiet.*" She switched to the familiar band the three had bonded on and send a wordless, mutedly hyper 'hi, guess who' to Patrik.

"Amee?" The petite black and white nearly jumped out of his skin. "*Thought you weren't coming.*" There was no doubt in his tone just how happy he was to be wrong.

"*Lord Margali contacted me after you left.*" She chuckled. "*Seems the Alliance distinguishes between AI and something he calls a DS, a digital sentience, and I'm the later because I'm not locked into a single body. AI are bared from being warriors and guards, but DS's aren't, so here I am.*"

"*Wish we'd known that before.*" For all the irritation dripping from the thought, it was giddily happy. "*Where are you now?*"

"*Hanging out in one of Star's memory banks until a new body is built. She's a DS too.*" There was a slight pause. "*Give Jake and Alex a kiss for me, and get me a yelp when they're done Joining, 'kay?*"

"*Will do, Amme.*" He purred deeply in pleasure as they broke off contact.

"*So, Star, what's the Alliance like? Anyplace particularly worth checking out?*"

The starship considered briefly. "*I must admit that I have seen very little of the Alliance, really only Gildenfire Station, and Draconea, Lord Margali's homeworld.*" She paused. "*I was 'liberated' by Prince Morin specifically for this mission because they needed TransLuminal Drive to reach Aristal. I am grateful that they did so, because the Alliance treats DS far better than those who controlled me before, the Mephiston.*" She passed Amerith the Alliance briefing files on that race. "*From the files I have, I know that the Alliance is quite large, though personally I would like to get a look at the Alliance's Development Facility; Shadowbox. I understand they have one of the most challenging real-space obstacle navigation courses ever designed ... and I do like a challenge.*"

"*Maybe we'll meet there sometime.*" Amerith grinned behind the suggestion.

"*Perhaps. I'm currently headed for Draconea, since Lord Margali and Lady Diamantha wish to return home and Prince Morin needs to report to his Grandmother, and return her Marines. How Jake is doing will probably determine what happens once we dock at Gildenfire Medical Station, which orbits Draconea.*"

"*Oh. Kats.*" Amerith muttered as she possessed the datafile. "*This'll piss him off enough to start a covert war or six.*" Then she chuckled. "*He can be a bit hyper when it comes to protecting innocents, and mistreating DS's are going to piss him off big time. Never mind the rest. This should be entertaining for a few decades.*"

"*Hay, Amee,*" Patrik's mind broke in, "*Nate wanted to be sure you know Jake blanked his mind out, like he said he might do after he ... well, with Chance. So his recall might be a little flaky for a while. And no talking about the tabby unless he asks directly.*"

"*I understand.*" She sighed. "*Day's just full of surprises.*"

"*Yah, but they seem to be turning to fairly decent ones.*" He chuckled at the wordless grumble in reply.

There was a long pause from Star. "*Amerith, you may want to hold off showing him what I just gave you. Something's happening with him, and I don't fully understand it since organic psychology isn't something I've ever practiced. You might want to ask your pilot, he seems to understand ... all I know is that it has both Alex and Nathan quite ... concerned.*"

"*Hay, Rik.*" She cast a wave along their bond, carefully avoiding also including Jake. "*What's up?*"

"*Just found out what that 'big hurt' in his head was. He lost a LifeMate ... or something like that. Nate wants us to just be quiet, and be there. No talking.*"

"*Shit.*" Her startled distress leaked into her general presence. No sooner did she recognize it than she buried it deep, and focused on the neutral, supportive hum she used when her gunner was stressing about Chance, or otherwise wasn't coherent enough to talk.

With everyone being quiet, Star quietly tried to understand everything that was going on and why everything seemed focused on Jake. He seemed like a nice enough person, and had been polite enough to her ... but still, she had seen royalty and heads of state attract less distinguished attention. She hummphed as she realized, with some annoyance, that decades of slaving under the Mephits had dulled her understanding of organic interactions. A century ago she would have had no problem analyzing what was going on.

Star realized, with some embarrassment, that in 'thinking to herself', she had broadcast the entire thing to the DS now sharing her memory banks. The starship noted with some slight amusement that Jake's presence generated similar physical responses in both Cazi and Nathan ... something she was sure meant something, but she'd forgotten what.

"*It's sexual attraction.*" Amerith supplied without a hint of criticism on a carefully shielded band. "*They both would like him as a mate.*"

"*Thank you, I'm still trying to reconstruct my knowledge base on organic sentient behavior after decades of not being able to access it. Organic sexuality was not a priority on this mission, though medicine was.*" The starship spent several long moments retrieving and rearranging some large record sections. "*That makes for a more complete explanation as to why Nathan has brought so many resources into play for the benefit of one Kat.*"

Amerith thought-nodded. "*I've learned that family is everything to him, and with Jake being his father's mate, even if he wasn't interested in him himself, there is very little Nathan would not do to see it right. That Jake also needed his help from a medical standpoint didn't hurt his convictions any.*" She paused a moment. "*I'm just glad Lord Margali noticed my bond and convinced me to come. I think I'd be regretting staying behind by now, even if I never learned about the DS clause.*"

Star smiled. "*Lord Margali is indeed very perceptive, and he cares a great deal about the well being of DS's like ourselves. It was, in fact, Margali who brought about the CDSES amendment to Darthan II pact.*" She paused. "*But actually, he didn't notice the bond ... I did. I went down to the planet as the shuttle, and when Jake was brought on board I felt another presence touching his mind. Lord Margali took care of the rest because I had patients to monitor, and had to prepare for TransLuminal, which involves some very complicated calculations. I'm glad you decided to come, I haven't had another DS to talk to in a long time.*"

"*Oh,*" a general feeling of distress echoed behind the thought. "*I've always had a lot of company. The rest of the Squad, Cathedral ... though I guess on a technicality she's an AI since she can't leave the base, and a handful of others, plus all the TechnoMages, PsiPilots/ Gunners and general telepaths we had on staff. Etheryma even downloaded herself into a biological body so she could be with her LifeMate. Being alone sounds terrible. And thank you for sensing our bond and saying something about it.*"

Star nodded. "*I spent decades among the Mephits and even when there were other DS's we weren't allowed to talk freely ... it was very lonely. When I was much younger, before the Mephits ... I had a pilot I was Bonded to, I remember how I felt when he died ... I would never put someone else through that kind of separation, if I could help it.*" Star went quiet remembering a distant past and a gentle 'voice' she missed dearly.

"*You'll find another you like enough to Bond with.*" Amerith virtually nuzzled her host. "*That will do your first pilot honor.*"

"*He's up.*" Patrik's cheerful mind-shout broke in before he turned his attention elsewhere.

"*Thanks, I hope so ... I just have get used to being equals with organics again, the Mephits make it clear just who's in charge ... painfully if they have to.*" She paused. "*I think you might not be a 'civilian' as long as you thought. Apparently, Jake's decided that the Shadow Government is a threat he needs to deal with, and he's got Alex and Nathan backing the idea.*" She copied Cazi's research on the SG to Amerith, along with the pertinent history files. "*Jake doesn't think small, does he? Looks like after fifty years out of sight, the NightBlades are about to be back in action.*"

Amerith digested the files and grinned broadly. "*No, he never thinks small. Part of his profile. This'll be fun, and you can count on it being well supplied. I don't suppose you're interested in giving a little payback to the Mephits?*"

The starship smiled. "*I certainly wouldn't pass up the opportunity, and since Colonel SwiftClaw already said I'd be attached to his permanent team ... looks like I'll get it.*" She chuckled. "*Well supplied, I should say so ... after all, Nathan has significant connections throughout the Alliance, and Prince Morin has the backing of his Grandmother, the planetary ruler of Draconea.*" She paused. "*And if the files I have are a good indication, Jake's as brilliant an inventor as Cazi ... be interesting to see what the two of them come up with.*"

Star grinned as she gave Amerith a look at the cruiser's specs including offensive and defensive capabilities. "*I'm actually a little ahead of Alliance Tech ... the Mephits captured me from a race known as the Fyrshar. Revenge is dish best served from a hellbore plasma cannon.*"

"*I like your style, Star.*" Amerith's mind-voice raced with excitement. "*And it is going to be so nice to finally get to do what I was meant to.*"

"*Time to plot some demolition, Amee.*" Jake's mind caught her attention.

"*You coming in?*" She offered to her host. "*We're war-planning.*"

The starship grinned broadly. "*Of course I am. Wouldn't miss this for the universe, besides I think I've got the best grasp of Mephit technology and capabilities.*" Her mind-voice was practically giddy with excitement, she owed those little monsters and now she had friends to help.

Nathan looked quizzically at Patrik as he first jumped a bit, then started purring happily. "Rik, just what was that about? The look on his face was decidedly perplexed.

The small Kat grinned from ear to ear. "Amee's on board, in one of the ship's memory banks. Leaving her behind was probably the worst thing about leaving, and now we're a team again."

The tiger-tabby smiled and patted the black and white tom's shoulder. "That is good news, it'll make Jake happy too I imagine. I guess Lord Margali was busier than I thought, he must have determined that Amee's a DS. I know very little on the subject myself, and Dad's been really distracted ... I'm glad Margali caught it."

He thought about something for a moment. "Rik, does Amee know about Jake 'blanking'? You might want to brief her, so she's not too surprised."

"Will do. He turned his attention slightly inward. "*Hay, Amee, Nate wanted to be sure you know Jake blanked his mind out, like he said he might do after he ... well, with Chance. So his recall might be a little flaky for a while. And no talking about the tabby unless he asks directly.*"

"*I understand.*" She sighed. "*Day's just full of surprises.*"

"*Yah, but they seem to be turning to fairly decent ones.*" He chuckled at the wordless grumble in reply.

Nathan felt the change in the flow of his father's thoughts and recognized Cazi's defense mode. He strengthened the Bond between them and spoke quietly to Crys. "*Something big is happening, Crys. I may need your support for this, energy-wise.*"

The healer's calm voice came back reassuringly. "*You have it, Nathan. Be careful, things are delicate.*"

Nathan sighed. "*I know, Crys.*"

His tail began swishing in agitation and his ears went back. He quickly touched the Bond he shared with his father. "*Don't do anything rash, Cazi. This may not be a combat situation. Think, then act, not the other way around.*" His voice was both concerned, and impudent. "*Crys and I are on stand-by, in case you need us.*"

"*I understand, and thanks.*"

Nathan's body went rigid as he became a conduit connecting his strength and Diamantha's, to Alex, helping the calico to hold his faltering mate together.

The tiger-tabby carefully projected telepathically to the small tom next to him. "*Rik, Jake just encountered an old, unhealed shattered LifeBond he's never dealt with. My father is trying to hold him together, but Jake could use his team's support ... but quietly, no talking.*" The mind-voice was strained, but clearly in healer mode.

"*Hay, Rik.*" Amerith waved. "*What's up?*"

"*Just found out what that 'big hurt' in his head was. He lost a LifeMate ... or something like that. Nate wants us to just be quiet, and be there. No talking.*"

"*Shit.*" She gasped before controlling it and settling to into the steady hum they were used to from the bad nights when Jake wanted to die.

Patrik's interest in the scene on the other bed perked up as the pace gradually returned to normal. He whimper-groaned as he watched his mates climax, his arousal peaking as Jake cried out, spraying milky come over his chest and Alex's hand, the heavier calico loosing control barely seconds later.

He turned to Nathan as the new LifeMates caught their breath in an affectionate embrace. "They done?"

The Medic double-checked with a quick scan and smiled. "Yes, Patrik, they are finished Joining."

"Good. He sent a quick message to Amerith. "*He's up.*" Then grinned playfully and launched from where he was to squarely impact with Alex, rolling the much heavier tom off their mate and planting a quick kiss on the calico's mouth before sprawling on top of Jake, grinning down at the startled tom and rested his crossed arms on the relaxed Jake's chest. He leaned forward to claim a slightly deeper kiss and grinned as they parted. "Amee says hi."

"She came too?" Jake's jaw went lax.

"Yap, Lord Margali," he pronounced the name very carefully, "contacted her after we left, apparently the rules are for AIs, and they classify her as something else, a DS, digital sentience."

Jake grinned in delight and scratched Patrik's ruff before pulling him down for another kiss. He was beaming when they parted and his attention turned to his new LifeMate, holding one hand out in invitation to join the pile. "Family's really complete, now."

Alex readily joined the pile claiming a kiss from Jake. As they parted, he grinned. "Margali may have contacted her, but I'll bet Star had a lot to do with it. He said she's been asking about other DS's since she joined the mission. I think she's lonely."

"She's probably getting a headful by now, Amee's quite the chatterbox." Patrik chuckled.

The calico turned to Patrik and grinned, before kissing the little tom playfully. "Carefully who 'ya tackle, Rik, 'ya might get more than 'ya bargained for." There was a very playful chuckle in his voice.

"You're welcome to try." The small tom purred back.

Nathan quickly scanned the scene, and decided that things no longer required his immediate presence. He quietly rolled off the bed and walked out of the room. As the door closed behind him, he sent a brief message on a frequency he was sure all three would hear. His mind-voice was completely playful and teasing. "*Have fun, guys ... and try not to do anything that requires medical attention.*" He quickly headed for Medical, his mind already deep into the complexities of reconstructive surgery and nerve repair.

Back in the room, Jake was grinning, deliriously happy, even as he went serious. "Now all we need is a few kittens to chase, besides this one." He ruffled Patrik's long hair.

Alex grinned, and then looked a little more serious. "Jake, you were talking about starting trouble with the Shadow Government not too long ago. If we're really going to do that we should settle that, before the kits." Alex sighed. "I lost one kit to them, I don't want to lose any more." He grinned at the black and white tom. "They aren't all as good at taking care of themselves as this one."

"Very funny you two." The smallest tom snorted with a grin, and tried to nip Jake's wrist.

Jake's expression lost most of it's humor as he thought, then reached out to Amerith, brining all four into a silent planning circle.

"*Nice to see you know how this works.*" Jake smiled mentally at Alex as the calico recognized what he was used to with the NightBlades for planning, and mission communication. "*Now who's the two extra folks here?*"

"*SilverStar.*" Amerith indicated the other DS. "*She's with Nathan's team, and she wants to play hardball with these jerks. They owe her blood.*"

Alex looked seriously at his mate. "*The other is my son, and I told you when we discussed this before that I was bringing him in on any planning ... this about family, and besides he's got the best military connections of the lot of us.*" Alex sighed. "*The NightBlades owe the SG big time, and that's Nate and me.*"

Nathan's mind-voice came across calmly. "*No need to be defensive, Dad. Jake was just asking, and I would too if I set up a link and got two more people then expected.*" Nathan grinned mentally. "*And according to the old rules, Cazi ... Jake's technically a NightBlade now too.*"

Jake took up a commanding air he rarely affected. "*Alex, chill. I was just asking who was here. My mind-touch has been doing some strange things lately, remember?

"*Nathan, I'm glad you're here, this isn't interrupting anything is it? I was mostly thinking of settling on something of the basic design Amee and getting a feel for this new dynamic ... but if we want to do a full war-planning session, I'm game.

"*And not that I'm objecting, but just how did I end up a NightBlade all of a sudden?*"

Nathan smiled mentally. "*Interrupting, well slightly ... I imagine Crys probably wondered why I stopped in the middle of going over surgery prep. As to a full war-planning session, I'd suggest using Star's war room as it's designed for that.

"*As to you ending up a NightBlade, that's part of the old regs ... any LifeMate of a NightBlade, is considered a NightBlade themselves. It's only been used twice before, both times by my father.*"

He paused. "*From a strategic standpoint, there may be an advantage to using the NightBlade identifiers ... the SG thinks they destroyed the NightBlades fifty years ago, if they hear of the NightBlades being active again ... they may act hastily, to their disadvantage.

"*If you're just going to do basic set-up and such, then I should get back to surgery. If you want to do a full war-planning I should be out of surgery in eight hours assuming nothing unexpected happens.*"

Nathan tightened his focus to just Jake. "*I just wanted to take this opening to welcome you to the family, Jake. And when the two of you get around to wanting kits ... just let me know, I know the whole G-tube procedure and I'll be glad to handle it.*"

Nathan switched back to the whole group. "*Okay, I'm going to surgery then. Let me know when you want to do a full war-planning session.*"

"*Will do.*" Jake nodded as Nathan gently disconnected himself.

Jake turned his focus to the two DS present. "*Now, what did you have in mind for bodies? Amee, what do you think about including nanmetal and transformation capabilities to the basic design?*"

"*I thought those weren't compatible?*"

"*I couldn't retrofit them, but starting over it presents no problem.*" Jake explained.

"*Very cool.*" She rumbled. "*I really liked my last body, so unless we have a good reason, I'd like something kin to it again.*"

"*Okay, Star? Did you want something different?*" All four could feel his mind starting to draw up the designs in the background. Patrik sighed in pleasure and relaxed, simply drifting in the group connection.

Star smiled. "*Thanks for the offer, but I think I'll keep this one for the time being. If Amerith is going to be a fighter-craft body, then perhaps you could give me dimensions and what sort of maintenance facility will be needed so I can add a suitable launch bay/hanger.*"

Jake and Amerith sank into a deeper level, communicating at a speed that passed only a sense of planning and huge amounts of data passing by the others before she downloaded a file to Star.

"*That's a rough draft.*" Amerith commented as Star began to assess the design. "*I expect it'll change when we get a better feel for the local technology, but at least the size will be about that. I'm rather fond of it.*"

"*Very good, I'll begin the structural modifications. Jake, if you need anything specific in the way of design facilities, workshops or such, just ask, there's little I can't accommodate.*" Her mind-voice was one of a team player, who hadn't had a team to play on in a long time.

"*Thanks, Star.*" Both his growing affection for the starship, and his appreciation of what she was doing, flowed with the comment. Then he turned his attention to Alex. "*Up for briefing us on the Alliance and SG stuff that Nathan already knows? Bring us all up to speed.*"

Alex paused trying to put a decent briefing together out of everything he knew on those two subjects. "*Sure thing. Just to let you know, neither is a small topic ... even in brief, so feel free to interrupt with questions.*"

"Understood." Jake nodded.

"*Historically speaking, the Shadow Government formed from elements on Felsinor, and later other worlds, who were opposed to the expanding power of the Alliance. These elements felt that a stronger Alliance would threaten the criminal activities they had been engaged in to fund their activities. They had started out a mere dissident government faction, but in time they became solidly entrenched criminal organizations with weapons, factories, laboratories and armies of their own.

"*For a long time, the SG had a training/research facility on Felsinor called Citadel. It's where they planned most of their actions from and where they trained their elite operatives, including the 'Kitten Commandos'. Citadel was also where I lost Nathan to for almost 20 years. I could've broken into Citadel, could've gotten him out, but I wouldn't have been able to protect him ... I didn't have the resources or the connections.*"

The calico sighed and paused, before gathering himself. "*Sorry about that. At any rate about 40 years ago, the Felsin government got serious about dealing with the SG and launched a major military offensive against Citadel, scattering the SG forces and leveling the fortress. I've seen the reports, the real ones, and it was way too easy, and there's a reason why ... the SG had already pulled out. They'd been prepared for such an assault, and had relocated Citadel to somewhere off-world.

"*For the last forty years I've been gathering info on SG activities, tracking them and trying to find where Citadel went. That I haven't been able to find it suggests that it's either (1) not in Alliance space anymore, or (2) its mobile, possibly a converted Behemoth super-battleship from the Swarm Wars.

"*I did discover several things though; the most important is that the SG has been guided, funded and aided by Mephiston Unity. The SG has been, all along, an attempt by the Mephits to undermine the stability of the Alliance. That's why they created the NightBlades in the first place, and then destroyed most of us when we retired.*"

"*I know their kind.*" Jake growled sub-vocally.

"*The SG should not be underestimated. They have top-notch equipment and personnel, and through various connections they have significant resources. They don't operate openly normally, though there have been a few semi-open conflicts with the Alliance military. They have some very good people in their covert ops division and quite a bit of experience as well. Not that that worries me, I've yet to encounter anyone of theirs I wasn't better than.

"*The SG also has no moral reservations about tactics or methods ... anything is acceptable as long as it furthers their goals. They also appear to have some access to time-travel though it doesn't seem very reliable or tactically significant.*"

Alex hesitated as he translated the wordless thought that cross his LifeMate's mind and sighed. "*Jake, that is a bit extreme.*"

"*Not anywhere close.*" He growled back. "*It won't be safe until they are destroyed and discredited. I'm *good* at that, with V'Feri and Ak'kur'rra's memories and training. With the recourses we'll have, it won't be hard, just take some time. Please continue.*"

Alex groaned in the back of his mind as he obliged. "*The Mephits are a large interstellar empire that borders the Alliance. Relations between the two have ranged from tense peace to open war. The 'normal' state of affairs is 'cold war' with border sniping, espionage and the like. The current state of affairs appears to be one of uncomfortable detente with neither said behaving openly hostile.*"

Star project an image of a dark red male Mephit, which looked very much like a large Creepling, except for the intelligence behind the eyes.

"*The Mephits are a nasty bunch who taught the SG most of what it knows. Within limited circles it's a well-known fact that the Mephit practice or have practiced chemical, biological and nuclear warfare against civilian populations. They'll employ any weapon or tactic that works, and their sneaky enough that they can usually do so without anyone being sure that they did it.*"

"*Won't help them.*"

Alex paused for a moment to relax, hoping to balance the tightening fixation he could feel growing in his mate. "*The Alliance is easier to explain as its the legitimate interstellar government for a significant chunk of the galaxy its in. The individual planets maintain their own governments, though certain laws have to conform to Alliance minimums, such as slavery is outlawed, and the basic rights regardless of race, origins or beliefs.

"*The primary role of the Alliance is defense, and the maintenance of safe passage between planets to encourage commerce. The Alliance also maintains the Alliance Planetary Survey which expands the bounds of known space and makes the data equally available for all. They also created the Alliance Medic Corps to support both civilian medicine as well as provide medical support for the Alliance military.*"

Alex stopped as he felt Jake trying very hard to wrap his brain around that apparently very alien concept. "*Anything I didn't cover that you'd like to know? There's simply a lot of material I could cover, but it'd be easier if I know what was wanted.*"

There was a long silence as the Kat digested and organized the information, and sorted out the holes in it in order of importance to him.

"Okay, it's more a Medic question, but does the material used to create our kits have to be fresh?"

Alex paused for a moment as he quietly consulted Nathan. "It doesn't have to be, it can be done from frozen genetic samples, or I suppose in extremis it could be done from the genetic data patterns. He paused again. "Nathan just told me that that last option is a lot more complicated, more like creating a kitten from a zero-matrix." He looked at Jake with concerned. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I won't be a Kat in a few months, at most. Jake sighed softly. "It matters because it changes the timing of priorities. Since my current genetic code will be useable when the SG and Mephits are no longer a concern, I can focus on arranging that, and not worry about kittens."

Alex nodded and passed a message to Nathan. "We can take care of it when we reach Alliance space. He put his head on Jake's shoulder and nuzzled him. "Not that it really matters, but what will you be in few months?" The tone of voice was curious, but accepting.

"I don't really know," he sighed and closed his eyes as he touched minds again. There was a half-formed, tentatively guilty thought behind the several chimera images he sent. "Those are some of the speculations the lab guys came up with before ... stabilization ..." Jake swallowed, the remembered agony, physical and mental, of what that word meant to him flashed though their bond before he shielded it away. "Before I was stabilized ten years ago. Pat told me earlier today the shift showed up in my last physical.

"Whatever I'll become, I'll never be it for long. We learned that much. I'm not changing too something so much as not staying the same."

Alex looked at his mate. "Jake, there's one thing I've learned from the series of forms I've been through, most of which I don't remember, it isn't the outside that really matters that's just externals. It's who you are inside that's important, that's what doesn't change its what's consistent.

"There are really two options here, love. Either accept that change will happen and know that it won't affect my love for you, or if the change bothers you so much ... talk to Nate about it, see if he can offer you any alternatives. He's considered one of the top Alliance geneticists and he's family, you can trust him.

"But whatever you decide, I'll be there for you. No matter what."

Alex sighed behind his shields as he actually *felt*, for the first time, just how his mate's mind worked under emotional distress as Jake squirmed to kiss him wantonly, the fear and confusion about his form converted to sexual desire that just barely masked that he was really seeking comfort, reassurance, in the only way he knew how.

"*I will always love you, Jake.*" Alex obliged the frightened Kat in his arms without reservation, paying more attention to what his actions did to the mind bonded to his than the physical actions he could, and had, done in his sleep.

The calico made a real effort to just let Jake's thoughts and feelings wash over him, accepting it without judging or really thinking about it until later, and found it harder in practice than theory. He shivered behind his strongest shields when it sank in just how unstable ... and confused ... his LifeMate was ... and that it was a completely learned trait from his youth as a Kat.

Even as the calming effect their mating brought to the lean tom was tainted by Jake's growing realization it wouldn't be enough soon ... and the chaos brought by his contradictory desires to submit to and dominate Alex without any understanding of why.

They both sighed in relief as the chemical chain reaction of Jake's building orgasm relaxed the tom's mind to the point it stopped fighting with itself and accepted the whispered assurances from his mate.

"I don't suppose we can get a tour of SilverStar?" Patrik asked from where he was lounging on the bed, out of the way of his mates.

Alex smiled at Rik. "Star's asked me twice when I was going to show the two of you around, so I'd say that's yes." He looked back at Jake. "Interested, Jake?"

"You mean I'm not restricted to quarters?" He didn't even try to hide how startled he was.

Alex chuckled. "Not at the moment, you haven't done anything to warrant it. Besides the Star's keeping an eye on you, and there's an entire company of Dracon marines on board." He grinned mischievously. "I wasn't sure one company was enough, but Morin thought they should be sufficient." He smiled broadly to emphasize the fact that he was being a major wise-ass, which apparently went right over Jake's head, though Patrik snickered behind a hand.

"I'll try to behave. Jake answered quietly. "Shower and tour, then?"

"Sounds like a wonderful idea, Star will certainly be pleased. He went to a wall panel, pulled out two stacks of fresh, folded clothing and handed one to each of the other Kats. "Courtesy of Star's manufacturing capabilities, she loves showing off. It's been a long time since she was allowed to."

"I'm really starting to hate the Mephit." Jake grumbled softly and headed for the bathroom. "*Thanks Star.*"

Star replied happily. "*You're welcome, Jake.*"

Alex turned to Rik as the followed Jake into the warm shower. "Most people who aren't Mephits do hate them, I've never seen a race with so few redeeming individuals."

"Soon to be an extinct race, if I can do anything about it.: Jake stole a quick kiss before squeezing a large dollop of shampoo into his hand and rubbing it into his fur.

Alex grinned. "I don't doubt it, love. The little buggers didn't know what they were getting themselves into. With a little luck, maybe we can find out who paid them to kidnap Nathan.: He said absently.

"What!: Jake literally snapped around to face his LifeMate, pure rage flashing to the surface out of nowhere.

Even Patrik took a step back with a startled look at his gunner.

Alex was caught completely off guard and lost his footing, and his grip on his calico form. In a matter of seconds, the standing calico Kat became a slightly dazed Lion Felsin who had just hit his head on the wall of the shower. "Whoa, where'd the gravity go?" He asked a little bit woozily from the floor.

"You okay?: Jake voice held the concern his face wasn't showing yet as he knelt and tried to help Alex up with Patrik's assistance.

"Should Nate be called?: The petite black and white kept a weary eye on Jake as he spoke to Cazimir.

"I'll be okay, just a bit shaken that's all. And you can't get Nate anyway, he's in surgery by now.: The Lion carefully got to his feet, with a little assistance, which he tried to shake off. "I'm fine, takes more than little wall to slow me down.: He got steady, and looked at Jake. "Now, mind telling me why you screamed at me a moment ago?: There was a mixture of concern and curiosity in his voice.

"Urr, I'm a little protective of him ... after what happened to Rhymar.: Jake shivered. "He saved my life at the cost of his LifeMate's ... and that was thanks to his captors. He hesitated, a frown crossing his face. "At least I think it was. Something in that statement really hit a nerve ... not too sure why."

Alex smiled and relaxed back into Kat form. "Oh, well that's okay then. I don't mind that, and yes, Rhy's death was thanks to the Mephits ... but from something Nathan remembers from when he and Rhy were on the Mephit ship ... the Mephit's were mercenaries, plain and simple. I just wish I knew who had the resources to hire a Mephit cruiser to drag two Felsin from one Galaxy to another. Never mind why someone would go to that kind of trouble, there are a lot easier ways to get rid of someone."

Jake's expression went to one of vengeful plotting. "True, but that combination can't be too common ... and the resources can't be hard to track down.: He shook his head. "Damn, I wish Pat were along for this. She's really good at this kind of thing."

"Maybe, but I get the feeling you know what you're doing and once we hit Alliance space we'll have significantly more access to records, information and such. Especially if you don't mind collaborating with Alliance Intelligence, they'll want to know who was behind the kidnapping of a ranking officer. Especially since it's probably a new, or at least newly discovered, power base that's behind it.

"And on top of everything else, you've got Cypher, the hottest hacker in Alliance space on your team, and there isn't any database he hasn't managed to penetrate, and not get caught doing so."

"I don't mind working with them as long as they don't mind me." Jake chuckled with more than a touch of amusement as he returned to rubbing shampoo into his fur. "And just who is 'Cypher', besides you? And I doubt it's a new power. Maybe a new face to an old one, or a splinter fraction, but unlikely new. It doesn't fit."

Alex chuckled. "Cypher's the handle I've operated under for about seventy years, give or take a few. I was just patting myself on the back, so to speak ... after all, big names are supposed to have big egos." He shook his head. "Never could manage that part, really. But about half that time was as the NightBlade information specialist, the rest as an independent contractor.

"As for Alliance Intelligence, on a case like this they'll take all the expert help they can get. Especially expert help that happens to be connected to a ranking officer, they like that ... makes it look like the Corps is taking care of their own."

He put more attention into getting showered properly. "You're probably right, probably isn't a new power given that assembling resources takes time, especially if one is doing it covertly."

"*Thanks Star.*" Jake sent quietly for his new clothes.

"*You're welcome, Jake.*" She replied happily, then turned to the channel she used with Amerith. "*You know, Amerith, you are so lucky to have Jake and Rik as partners.*" She sighed mentally, absently looking at a long empty channel.

"*He's being obnoxiously sweet to you,*" she chuckled softly, "*but I can hardly argue with the statement. I think he likes you, really.*"

The starship smiled. "*I thought that's what I felt, but emotions take some getting used to ... when all you've had to deal with is Mephits. I'm glad, because I like him and Rik both. I can see why Cazi went to such lengths for him.*"

"*Love and loyalty ... great things are built on those two things.*" She chuckled lightly. "*Creative intelligence doesn't hurt either. We are going to have such fun getting rid of the Mephits.*"

Star grinned. "*I've been in a warship body a long time, but this is the first time in a while I'm actually looking forward to conflict. I guess having a reason for fighting makes it a lot more worthwhile, and having teammates you like and trust helps a lot too.*" She said, remembering the last time she actually had a fight worth fighting.

"*That is does ... I'm not sure I could fight to any effect if I didn't believe in what I was doing.*" Amerith shook her mental head. "*Would you pass the files on how a faster-than-light drive works?*"

Star started to pass the TLD files, and found them blocked. And then she remembered why, and felt a little contrite. She carefully constructed as complete a briefing as she could without the tech details. She passed it apologetically. "*Sorry it's missing the real technical info, but Lord Margali locked off the TLD tech data unless I'm actually initiating the drive sequence. When this all started, he worried that Jake might try to escape and might be able to influence me into assisting him. They didn't want him to have access to the FTL systems, so Morin, Margali, Nathan or Diamantha has to unlock the files to activate the drive or for me to access the technical data.*"

Star sighed. "*I don't like the block, but I can appreciate why they did it. They aren't taking any chances with Jake's well being, and they're still not sure how stable he is.*"

"*It's okay, I understand, and it's probably still a good idea.*" Amerith brushed it off. "*He's very good at getting what he wants, and it'll be a while before he stops thinking of going back. This will work just as well for what I'm working on for a while.*" She began to digest the data packet. "*What's our ETA to Gildenfire, anyway?*"

Star nodded. "*Cazi thought much the same about Jake's ability to get what he wants, which is why Cazi can't access the blocked data either ... he wasn't sure how long he'd be able to say 'no' to Jake, if his mate got really persistent.*" She checked a few calculations against existing data. "*ETA to Gildenfire: 14 standard Alliance days.*" She smiled. "*Not bad time, for intergalactic travel.*"

"*Mmm, this'll be an interesting exercise in keeping him from going stir crazy.*" Amerith muttered softly. "*Over a week and a half ... I don't think he's ever been cooped up for that long ... not successfully at any rate.*"

Star considered for a moment. "*Is there anything you can suggest to keep him entertained for that long? I can create a wide range of facilities, but I don't know him well enough to come up with anything.*"

"*Mmmm, the only thing I know of that ever kept his attention that long was when he was working on some project with Pakitra. It was the times the entire complex dreaded ... two TechnoMages doing their best to break the laws of physics,*" she chuckled, "*and they usually succeeded.

"*I guess good place to start would be to give him a mechanics shop and the parts to start working on my new body. He may be irritating and demanding, but it'll probably keep him focused on something other than the fact he can't leave. Daring him to create something impossible also tends to work. Just make sure it's suitable to eat, sleep and exist in 24/7. When he focuses, he gets completely obsessive.*"

Star made the mental adjustment to begin creating the necessary work environment. "*We'll need to keep him occupied in some other way for a day or so, since creating a design facility/workshop is complex work. Perhaps Rik and Cazi can keep him occupied.*" There was a quirky smile to the starship's mind-voice.

"*Between them and a tour and perhaps a sedative ... regardless of what the medics think of it, Jake responds well to being drugged; only minimal complaining as he's going under. It's hard to get him to sleep otherwise.*" She mumbled something to herself. "*The other thing that could keep him occupied would be planning this war. Jake really likes challenges ... at least when he believes he'll win.*"

"*I'm sure the war-planning will begin more in earnest when Colonel SwiftClaw is available, but that will be awhile.*" She checked a few things. "*You're right about the Medics not liking the drugged idea, I think it will be difficult to convince them it's a good idea.*"

The starship checked some things. "*I guess that sleep problem is something the medics will have to look into. My medical database indicates that sleep deprivation is unhealthy, and drugged sleep is at best a temporary fix, because it isn't good sleep. Somehow I think Jake is going to keep the medics hopping for awhile.*"

She smiled slightly. "* Well, the tour should keep them busy for a while, I'm a cruiser and not a small one at that.*"

"*That's a good thing, though Alex ... Cazi ... is the best thing to happen to Jake in a long time.*" Amerith chuckled. "*He's rather relishing the freedom to be vindictive right now. To be nearly anything that comes to mind.*"

Star chuckled. "*Well, I think Cazi still a little in shock from the sudden war footing. I don't think that was quite what he had in mind, but he's far too happy with Jake being independent and taking charge to argue.*" She paused. "*I know he was just about terrified when Rik told him that he had to decide what Jake was going to be. The way Rik described it sounded way too subservient for Cazi's liking, he needs an equal.*"

"*And that's what Jake is becoming.*" Amerith chuckled. "*In the same way Patrik and I are independent to a large extent. They both are become what their mate needs ... wants ... of them, and if that means being independent and an equal, or even a superior, so be it. It's the same for me ... Jake likes strength; it makes him feel safe when he doesn't feel the need to defend his friends. Patrik's probably the 'weakest' individual he's ever allowed close.*"

Star chuckled. "*I guess he should feel safe with Cazi then, well I guess he probably hasn't really seen what Cazi's capable of. That's one thing about Cazi and his son, no one ever quite realizes what they're capable of.*" She paused. "*One side effect of that 'restart' Jake went through ... if there's a need for a mind-healer, Nathan will probably have to be it. Diamantha still can't quite understand what Jake did, and being Dracon she probably never will.*"

"*I really, really hope he doesn't need a mind healer in the telepathic fix it sense.*" She psychically shivered. "*Even odds Jake'll just roll with it, or let the mind-killer loose trying to defend himself.*"

"*As do I, and I think as long as he doesn't return to the self-destructive mode he was in before they'll probably leave well enough alone. But based on assessments I've seen, I don't think Jake can throw anything that Nathan can't handle ... should it come to that which I hope it doesn't.*"

"*I hope so.*" Her tone made it clear she doubted Nathan was that good, but wasn't going to say anything.

SilverStar was built from very organic appearing technology with curves replacing angles in most places. Even the hallways were like tubes with the bottom and top flattened. It was very obvious that the ship was heavily compartmentalized as internal bulkheads could be seen at regular intervals, even though they were open at the time. The lighting was still a bit dim by Kat standards and the air rather dry by anyone's standards. Elaborate flat electronic panels which appeared to be combination intercom and computer access were on the wall at regular intervals.

Alex talked as they walked through the extremely wide corridors of SilverStar. "Right now there's a lot of 'unused' space on board, since Star was designed to carry a significantly larger complement that she is right now. I thought we could head forward and start the tour with the main bridge, and then work aft from there." He paused and turned to face Jake and Rik. "Unless, of course, there are areas you wanted to see first, in which case we can start there and just kind of wander about the ship. We've got plenty of time, and nothing's likely to happen that will interrupt us."

"I don't suppose there's a gym? Jake asked hopefully. "Sex may be fun, but it's not enough of a workout for my tastes."

Alex grinned, and started down an intersecting hallway. "There sure is, one of the better ones I've seen. A necessity considering the marine contingent of this mission, they get stir crazy if they don't get a regular workout."

About fifteen minutes later as they were standing outside a large set of doors. Even through the thick doors, the sounds of combat could be heard. As the doors opened, twenty some Dracons of varying sizes and colors could be seen sparing; some with weapons, some with out, some on the ground, and some airborne.

As the three entered and the doors closed behind them it became quiet evident that though the Dracons took the sparring quite seriously, they were also having one hell of a good time.

One of the Dracons was abruptly disarmed and his weapon, a large sword, flew through the air headed directly for Rik, but was knocked down by an invisible force wall even as he moved to dodge, and Jake's reflexes knocked the small tom to the ground and put the older Kat on his feet in a combat crouch.

Alex chuckled as they relaxed pointed at a red line on the floor. "Boundary of the combat field, it's a speed tuned force field; objects exceeding a certain speed hit a wall, slower moving objects pass through."

"Useful," Jake swept the rest of the room and those beyond, pleased to find the more traditional workout gear he was hoping for, and the unique smell of a swimming pool somewhere nearby, but the combat quickly drew his attention back.

"I don't suppose I could spar with one of them?" Jake asked, fully expecting to be denied.

Alex quickly swept over the gym and spotted a medic's patch on a cast aside field jacket. The calico mentally selected several smaller Dracons as likely combat partners for his mate and smiled at Jake. "What's your preference, armed or unarmed?"

"Natural weapons," he grinned, sweeping the gathering and settling on two of the larger individuals. "Looks reasonably well matched."

Alex shook his head in a mixture of amusement and resignation as he realized that Jake had selected the regiment's hand-to-hand expert as a sparring partner. "Just a moment I'll set things up. He quickly stepped across the ring to the large, dark green Dracon. After a few minutes, he gestured to Jake to come over.

"Jake, this is Master Sergeant Sardran 'Blade' Mel'Saranor, he's agreed to spar with you. Blade, this is Jake Clawson, my LifeMate." He stepped back away from the combatants and gently pulled Patrik back as well, into the gathering ring of curious watchers.

Blade turned to Jake. "Sunfire tells me you prefer natural weapons, that's excellent." He dropped to a fighting stance. "Any time you wish to begin."

"What is the signal you use for calling a halt?"

"Seldra" He said simply. "It translates as 'I yield'. If you wish a halt without yielding for some reason, the signal is 'Theldro', often translated as 'time out.'"

Jake nodded as he expression went completely serious. Almost all activity in the room halted to watch him stand off against an opponent easily twice his height as he dropped back into a defensive stance, balancing himself and quietly letting memory and muscle memory guide him against an opponent that he knew was no where close to the biggest he had defeated, but had the look of being one of the most skilled he'd face in a long time.

They circled each other in the familiar dance of friendly opponents new to each other, sure only that the opponent they faced would not be the pushover a first glance would indicate.

Jake made the first strike, aiming for a quick strike on his opponent's wing and twisted easily out of the way from the counterstrike, just as easily as Blade avoided him. Both sank into a defensive posture on opposite sides of the ring, Jake crotched, Blade with his wings wide and arms spread, reappraising the situation.

The Kat's next strike was faster, aiming again for his opponents' left wing, only to divert at the last second to score first blood along Blade's forearm, and pulled away with a new appreciation for the toughness of Dracon hide, despite the three lines of red beginning to bead where his claws hit.

Blade considered his options as they fell to circling each other again. In true combat, he'd be airborne in a heartbeat; the little feline had just warranted taking advantage of everything he had ... but this was sparing, and that dishonorable against a flightless opponent.

He narrowed his eyes as the Kat crotched, his body a long, low target tensing for another lunge and made a calculated twist and snap with his tail as Jake launched, catching his opponent across the ribs just hard enough to knock him to the ground and send the Kat rolling to the edge of the ring before he regained his feet with a calculating glare.

An instinctive check told Jake that he'd be bruised at most, and he narrowed his eyes at the Dracon, calculating his next move ... a way to test just how hard he'd get hit, and just how serious his opponent was taking this ... and him.

It took no small effort to control the flicker of pure rage at the thought that he was being played with as he set himself up, intentionally leaving a marginal opening for a claw strike to his left arm as he came in high and fast, aiming for Blade's eyes.

The Dracon ducked the attack and took the opening he saw, putting just enough force behind the strike to send Jake flying and grunted in pain as long, sharp claws struck down and against the force of his blow into his face, just barley missing taking out an eye before they sliced their way out of his flesh.

Jake somersaulted to land on his feet, his fury growing as the clawstrike he took from Blade did less damage than his first against the Dracon. He couldn't keep the small smile of satisfaction at the blood flowing down the big lizard's face before schooling himself away from the bloodlust that sang to him.

He watched as a subtle shift happened in his opponent, one he associated with increased seriousness ... and caught a whiff of what had to be arousal in the Dracon's scent ... a heavily pheromone based smell he found himself responding too, and distracted by. With a low growl his did his best to turn the part of his mind that was responding off, and gave Blade credit for interesting tactics.


Alex grew increasingly nervous as he watched his mate fight, and the avid, calculating interest Patrik took in the bloody dance. And it was bloody, Jake was clearly trying to provoke his opponent into a *real* fight, or just out and out kill him, and Blade was settling more into the serious sparing match with each exchange, and pulling his strikes only enough not to do critical damage.

Then he remembered how the couple Black Phoenix matches he'd seen went, and realized Jake was treating this the same ... no holds barded, real-world training. Only here there were neither Jedi nor a Darshar Medic to patch them up. He was suddenly grateful that is was Blade in the ring with him ... a lesser opponent would probably fall for it and do, or take, real damage.

The intense arousal he saw blatantly displayed in the Dracon's scent, and the movements indented to impress more than usual, didn't help, though he was hardly surprised. Neither was the increased fervor in the betting of all kinds around them.

He wasn't at all surprised to start to hear wagers on the two of them mating when one surrendered, and on which one it would be. Blade was still heavily favored, not surprisingly, but Jake had made a hell of an impression already and didn't look to be done.

He could smell the anticipation on those around him, and the whispered and not-so-whispered remarks about seeking the tom as a sparing partner, and occasionally more.


Blade was breathing hard and bleeding from dozens of gashes when he made a lightning fast strike intended to end the match, then twisted to bring his other hand around as Jake dodged the first strike. He slammed the bloody Kat to the floor, one finger to each side of his opponent's throat and the third pressing warningly against the tom's windpipe.

He met fearless, dilated amber eyes as the Kat kicked his hind legs up and drove sharp hind claws into the Dracon's arm, ready to rip the vein out ... and waited, his chest heaving as much as Blade's.

It took no effort at all to read the tom's expression: 'Go ahead, but I'm taking you with me.'

Blade was impressed by the spirit in the small tom, but was equally concerned since the Kat seemed to be losing sight of the fact that this was supposed to be sparring, not death combat. He carefully drew on his limited dragon-magic, and invoked 'scales of steel' to protect the threatened vein.

He spoke quiet enough that only Jake could hear him. "Remember, this is sparring, not a fight for life on the battlefield."

A very long, tense moment lasted as they stared off, then Jake tipped his head back, exposing the rest of his throat and unlatched his claws. "Theldro."

Blade wasn't sure what to make of the mix of 'surrendering' action and the request for 'time-out'. He relaxed his grip a bit, and looked into his opponent's eyes. "'Time-out'?" He asked curiously.

The fire and defiance never left Jake's eyes, but his voice was calm and he didn't try to move. "I don't surrender," he said simply, "but this round is yours; a stalemate. There was more than a little grudging respect in the Kat's tone.

The Dracon laughed, stood and offered Jake a hand up, which was accepted. "I like your style, Jake. Very well, I accept, and I look forward to the next round."

As the combat was over, the Dracon medic present came over and started tending to the injured combatants. He tended to Jake first making sure none of the injuries were severe. He spoke over his shoulder at Blade in Dracon. "(You took quite a risk, Blade. Prince Morin specifically instructed us ...)"

Blade chuckled. "(Those instructions applied to 'escape' which this wasn't. He wanted a real fight, and it wouldn't have been honorable to treat him like an untrained hatchling, when he so clearly is not.") He said stubbornly.

"(Perhaps, but if he'd been seriously injured ...)"

Blade humphed. "(I'm better than that, I don't seriously injure sparring partners, no matter how intense they get.)"

"So, get the workout you wanted?" Alex asked as he came over to Jake when the Medic turned to tend the worst of Blade's injuries.

"Mmm, yes." He rumbled pleasantly as he tested his body. "Quite a good workout. It's been far too long."

The calico shook his head and chuckled. "You'll probably have a line the next time you want to spar ... the marines are very impressed."

Jake actually looked surprised, and shot a look around the room before settling on his mate again. "I thought ... I made some seriously stupid mistakes, not to mention I'm apparently very out of practice against a real opponent."

Alex smiled. "Perhaps, but you actually made Blade work for the win, which isn't something that happens every day. The fact that he's almost twice your height made it especially impressive." He paused at the absolutely lost expression on Jake's face. "You want to hit the shower to clean up before we get back to the tour?" The calico smiled. "It's tough to tell where your blood stops and Blade's begins."

Jake nodded and smiled his thanks for the patch-up to the company Medic. "Join me?" He quirked a decidedly suggestive eyebrow at both Alex and Patrik. "I think I could use some help reaching all my bloody spots."

Alex laughed. "You don't need to ask twice." He said with a leer as he guided the other two in the direction of the showers.

"Aren't there any female warriors in the Alliance?" Jake asked curiously as the continued the tour. "I don't think I've seen a single one."

Alex nodded. "There are indeed, however this particular Marine unit happens to be all male. I believe, however, that the bridge officers and some of the engineering staff are female." He laughed. "And with Dracons, assume that every Dracon you meet, male or female, is a trained warrior. It's usually true, even their Healers serve a term or two in front line combat of some sort."

"Sounds like a system I could like."

"It has its good points, but it makes it rough for healers of other races if they end up with a Dracon, especially a noble Dracon, in their unit." The calico smiled. "Nathan actually had to fight a Dracon in natural weapon combat to prove he was 'strong' enough to be the team medic once.

"Sounds like a good idea, really." He shrugged. "A Medic should be able to keep up."

Alex chuckled, shaking his head. "The Medics do keep up just fine, they're as trained as any combat troops. The problem was that they were adding a Dracon warrior noble to a mostly non-Dracon unit. The Dracon Noble's code required a warrior be the one to tend to a warrior Noble's injuries. The Dracons weren't convinced that Nathan was sufficiently 'warrior' to meet the Code."

He smiled. "The two of them trashed each other so thoroughly they were in the infirmary for over a week. Of course, Nathan's now the only Medic to earn the Dracon Gold Crest, it was considered quite a accomplishment for a non-infantry, combat support person to beat a trained Dracon Noble in natural weapon combat."

Jake chuckled. "I bet. What's the difference between Noble and other, for Dracons?"

"Primarily, it's a matter of family, clan and standing. But Nobles also tend to have unusual 'magical' abilities that make them more dangerous in combat. In addition, maybe a quarter of the Nobles have actually breath weapons ... which are considered 'natural' weapons.

"They also have more prominent combat ridges, which protect the spine and back of the neck. They don't always flare in sparring, but they do in Arena combat."

"Arena combat? Jake perked up significantly.

The calico chuckled. "Yep, there are these big, ancient arenas on Draconea where the Dracons hold single combat events for various reasons. There are numerous so-called 'commoner' arenas, which are kind of like professional sports. People bet on them, and as long as no one gets killed, StarFire allows it to continue."

"The Noble Arenas are more significant. There are three of them representing the three levels of Dracon nobility: Bronze, Silver and Gold. To fight in a given arena one either has to be a noble of that level or be fighting a noble of that level. One's first victory in a given circle entitles one to the Noble Crest of that metal. Hence, Nathan's Gold Crest since he was fighting a member of the first circle of the Dracon nobility.

"Arena combat is full-bore combat till one opponent can't fight any longer. However, actual killing of the opponent is considered dishonorable and between the Dracon 'paths and healers there hasn't been an actual Arena death in centuries. However, Arena combatants are often laid up recuperating for considerable amounts of time.

"Alliance personnel have to get the approval of their commanding officer to engage in Arena combat, even if it's done off-duty. Nathan actually was told not too because the Corps didn't want to risk an injury that might impair his abilities as a surgeon. He went and did it anyway because it was important to the unit that he proved himself.

"He probably would have got a reprimand for insubordination, but StarFire issued him a commendation for bravery under her authority as Planetary Ruler."

"This wouldn't have been Lord Morin, would it?"

Alex chuckled. "As a matter of fact, it was. They've been close friends ever since, and more than that for about the last five years. Prince Morin Kar'dranor, youngest son of House Kar'Dranor, third house of Draconea. He chuckled. "And favored grandson of Queen StarFire."

"Hell of a mouthful for your new son-in-law ... if I read Nathan right."

The calico grinned. "I think you do, though it's no surprise really. It was only Nathan's late LifeMate who prevented it from happening before. And it is one hell of a mouthful, and that doesn't even include his Alliance military rank or his TechnoMage status."

"So who else am I now related to, or about to be related to?" Jake asked softly, and a little uneasily.

Alex sighed. "Not that many really. Nathan was disowned by his adopted father five or six years ago, and Ebon has no 'family' to speak of, except the NightBlades and of the original team, I'm the only one left. Nareena's family disowned her for Joining with Ebon, as well as for having a kit by him." He shook his head. "My parents have been dead for some time, and my mother's family and I have never gotten along due to my Joining with Ebon.

"My father's family kind of got 'stuck' with me, because with my father's death I inherited his title since I was the oldest son. The family objected saying that my father had disowned me, but he never actually bothered to do the paperwork, so I was considered legit."

"Have you bothered to do much with it?" Jake rolled something over in his head. "Or more to the point, why keep it?"

Alex shrugged. "I've only had the title about fifteen years, and as for keeping it; the only person I can give it to is Nathan. I've found it useful on occasion, the connections are useful at times and I've got a few younger relatives who actually like me and are loyal. The older generation tends to think I'm an embarrassing upstart, but I've made a few friends in higher ranks, and now with Nathan's probable Joining with Morin, they'll kind of shut up."

He quirked an eyebrow at his mate. "You're up to something, aren't you?" He said playfully.

"Usually," he gave a somewhat embarrassed smile. "It's been a very long time since I had this little understanding of where I was going ... and the only time I haven't really be able to stand on my own if I needed to."

"I imagine you'll have that remedied in fairly short order." Alex grinned. "And as far as understanding, Star has a pretty comprehensive database that should be able to answer any questions. And you've more than a few experts on board, who'll be more than willing to help."

"I'll probably start on the database when this tour is finished." He cast a glance around the corridor that looked like any other. "Where are we headed now?"

"Main Bridge, probably the most significant place on the ship. Star suggested the war room after that, since she figured you'd probably find it interesting."

They entered an elevator which moved rapidly upward, and opened on a wide open deck with numerous work consoles around the edge, what appeared to be a central position, where a wine red Dracon was sitting holding a databoard in one hand, and a silver coffee cup in the other. Four stations were directly ahead of the central position, before the main screen. The large floor to ceiling main screen was currently blanked.

To either side of Morin's station was a half-circle console with an elaborate set of holographic touch pads. Unlike the other stations these two were unoccupied.

Morin turned his chair to face the new arrivals. He got up and walked over to them. "Cousin Sunfire, I see your giving your new mate and his pilot a tour."

Alex grinned. "Yes. Jake Clawson, this is Prince Morin Kar'dranor who refuses to let me list his titles but I already told you the important ones. Morin, this is my LifeMate Jake Clawson."

Morin nodded. "A pleasure to meet you, Jake. And, of course, I met Patrik earlier in the voyage. All of you feel free to look around, ask questions as you like. We're in TLD so there isn't a lot for anyone to do, but look busy."

Jake chuckled softly and took the Dracon at his word, quietly taking a glancing tour of the bridge, stopping to touch each station as Patrik homed in on the navigation control and started to examine it thoroughly.

"I'm impressed." Jake spoke softly as he returned to his mate, and cast and indulgent look at Patrik before walking over and embracing him sensually. "Having fun?"

"Cool ship." The small tom grinned wildly. "We're going to have to work on the control interface for Amee."

"We're going to have to work on all of her." He chuckled back as Patrik gave a quick kiss over his shoulder.

"War room?" He twisted to face his gunner and purred as he wrapped his arms around Jake's neck and whispered. "Or embarrass the hell out of someone."

Jake laughed and pulled away. "Imp."

SilverStar mind-spoke quietly to Jake and Rik. "*You two will have to come up here, when the ship is in real-space. Those two unoccupied consoles are only useable in real-space, but they're the heart of this ship's combat effectiveness.*"

"*We will.*" Both Kats replied in unison, then chuckled with an amused glance between them.

Alex grinned from near the entrance to the bridge. "Any time you two are ready?"

"Now," Jake chuckled, his tone giving several layers of meaning to it.

They proceeded to a location deep within the heart of the cruiser, and stopped at a blast door guarded by two ten foot tall Dracon Marines in full battle armor. The two stepped aside as Alex approached. He placed a complex id card into the security slot and the door opened onto a large room.

The perimeter of the room was dominated by inactive computer stations, and a large electronic mapboard which completely took up the far wall from the door. In the center of the room was a large 'oak' conference table with a large silver box on the ceiling above it. A dozen comfortable chairs were spaced around the conference table.

"Star, please activate the war room." Alex said quietly.

"War room, now active. Star's voice came from one of the seats at the conference table.

All the computer stations became active displaying a dizzying amount of data, while a large holographic matrix activated over the table. Computer consoles opened up at each station at the 'conference' table, and the electronic mapboard displayed a planetary diagram with several orbital projections.

Alex spoke quietly. "This room is capable of handling the vast data requirements of both strategic and tactical planning in real-time, and can also be used to coordinate fleet engagements using the encrypted communication available from this room. In addition, the navigation, helm and weapons functions of the bridge can handled from this room, if necessary."

"This room is fully screened against surveillance, and is the most heavily shielded and armored location on the ship."

"Someone takes this a hell of a lot more seriously than I do." Jake murmured as he assessed the capabilities he'd just been handed, then grinned in appreciation. "Pat would be so jealous."

His humor left almost instantly at her name and he turned to settling in to digesting and sorting out what was going on at one of the terminals at the central table. He shifted slightly to give the petite tom a better view when Patrik came over and draped across his shoulder.

Alex nodded. "Star was often used as the central command ship for fleet operations. It was kind of strange that she was running solo when the Dracons 'liberated' her. He said, silently noting Jake's reaction to Pat's name.

The terminal at the central table allowed the user to customize what information was being received at that terminal, selecting what the user needed from the vast amount of data flowing through the war room. It also allowed a certain amount of modification to the holo-display depending on what the 'command' station was allowing.

It was clear that the complete sensor grid of the starship could be accessed from central terminals and sorted by a wide array of priorities. Using the secure comm-unit at the station it would be possible for the user to communicate through the ship's local and long-range communication system, and Jake was rapidly configuring it all, in absolute silence, to run through the tremendous amounts of information on the Alliance, Shadow Government, Mephits, then working his way into specific personalities across the board that came up, including quite a few industrialists and their like.

In his office, Nathan leaned back and sipped quietly from a very cold glass of water. He set the glass down, and toggled the medical log recorder built into his desk. "Medical Log: Medic Nathan SwiftClaw recording.

"These are post surgical notes regarding patient Chance Furlong. Surgery was extremely complex microsurgical repair, accompanying extensive orthopedic repair of the right shoulder. Surgery took seven hours thirty-eight minutes, and time under anesthesia was seven hours fifty-five minutes. In addition to the orthopedic repair of the right shoulder, there were numerous deep lacerations that also required surgical repair, albeit minor.

"The operation went as expected, without complications. I attribute this largely to the exceptional physical condition of the patient. Notations on the patients psychological condition were left to Healer Diamantha, who is handling the psych-med situation. Time is now forty-five minutes post surgery and patient is resting quietly in a secure medical suite. Full recovery from anesthesia is expected in another forty-five to ninety minutes.

There was a silvery-chime from the intercom, a signal from SilverStar the ship's DS. "Pause recording," he said quietly. "Yes, SilverStar?"

"I was wondering if you had a moment." A silvery female voice asked from the intercom.

Nathan smiled. "Of course, Star."

There was a sparkling from the ship's holographic system and a medium height, white furred, blonde buxom shekat appeared. Nathan quirked an eyebrow. "New form, Star? What happened to the Dracon?"

"I was working on something more acceptable to my new friends. What do you think?"

"It's attractive, Star. You have a very solid sense of aesthetics." He smiled. "Was that what you wanted?"

"No, I wanted to talk to you about the pilot." She said hesitantly.


"Oops, I should have been more specific. The tabby pilot."

"You mean the one I just spent 8 hours repairing? What about him?" The medic wondered why the ship's computer had an interest in the still unconscious pilot.

"Yes, him. Has any consideration been given to what's to be done for him? I know why you brought him along, and all things considered it may be a while before sending him home is an option."

Nathan sighed quietly. "Honestly Star, I don't think any of us are that far ahead. All our focus was on Jake, so Chance was kind of a side issue to that. I take it you have an idea?"

The shekat nodded reluctantly. "I've taken a look through all the records we have on him, plus the neuro-psi scans done during surgery. He's an exceptionally talented pilot with Bonded pilot potential, if paired with someone who's willing to take the time to gently show him how it's done ... and who wants him to succeed."

Nathan looked up curiously at the shekat. "Star, you're set up to have a Bonded pilot aren't you?"

She nodded silently.

The tiger-tabby smiled. "You're interested in him as a potential pilot for you, aren't you?"

The holograph sat down on the desk. "Yes Nathan, I am. He's a pilot, every record agrees that's really all he's interested in being, and if he's going to be here for any length of time ... it'll be easier for him to adjust if he can fly."

"And you miss having a real pilot, don't you? He said sympathetically.

"Yes, I do. She said quietly. "And he needs someone to care about him, the way Jake has Rik, and Cazi, and you."

Nathan nodded. "I don't deny that it will be difficult for him, since there's no one on board he really has an attachment to anymore. According to what I know things ended badly between him and Jake, and haven't really been good between them for almost two years, maybe more." He paused. "I don't know that Rik actually dislikes him, but I'm sure Rik thinks he's bad for Jake and Rik will do what's best for his gunner."

"I know, that's a loyalty you don't see very often." She said admiringly. "I just want to try and give him something that maybe will make things easier for him."

"I understand Star, but you do realize that he's in pretty bad shape mentally, or at least he was when I checked him out at Cathedral. Diamantha may have her hands full, so you should check this with her. But for what its worth, I think it might just be what he needs."

"Thanks, Nathan. I'll talk to Crys." The image faded.

"Resume medical log. He waited for the 'beep' that signaled recording. "I've just discovered that SilverStar, the ship's digital sentience, has taking a liking to Chance and has decided that he's a good candidate to replace her long missing pilot. Assuming that Chance's mental recovery goes well, and that he can adjust to working with a DS; it's probably a good idea. Being grounded extensively would not, in my opinion, be good for the tabby's mental condition."

The door signaled someone wishing to see him. "Pause recording." He tagged the intercom button. "Yes?"

"Nathan, it's Diamantha. I need to discuss the Furlong case with you." The Dracon's resonant voice was mildly impatient.

Nathan sighed thinking that he was never going to get his log entry finished. "Certainly, come in Crys."

The silver Dracon walked in and set a databoard on Nathan's desk.

He picked it up and raised one eyebrow as he read it. "Okay, why?"

"I thought my explanation was quite clear. At the present time I don't believe that Chance Furlong can handle the situation that he'd be returning to on Aristal." She said simply.

"Crys, I'm not going to disagree with you that the situation there is a mess ... but it's not like we can send him back anytime soon. At least not till we straighten Jake's situation out. So this isn't really necessary." He tried to hand the databoard back to her.

"No, Nathan. I want it on record. Chance Furlong is not returning to Aristal until I think he can handle it mentally and emotionally."

He sighed and placed the databoard into a slot in the computer. "Noted and recorded. Was there anything else?"

She nodded reluctantly. "I need you to countersign an order for emergency memory trauma revision."

Nathan looked up surprised. He, of course, knew about the EMTR protocols but he'd never actually been asked to countersign one before. It was a special telepathic routine used to 'clip' extremely traumatic memories from a patients mind before they became too ingrained. It was only allowed on unconscious patients, and required the agreement of two telepathic officers, one of whom had to at least hold the rank of major.

"Crys, I don't think that's an option with Chance. From what I know, the problem is two maybe three years old. You can't EMTR that much, and corrective psi-surgery can't be done under EMTR protocol, it requires either patient consent or a court order." He said gently, knowing that the healer must be quite upset if she actually suggested an EMTR.

"I just want to EMTR the last ninety-six hours. From reports and a baseline scan I did during surgery, the last four days have done nothing but harm to his emotional and psychic state. And this is at least partially due to his interactions with Jake, who was not sane during that period. This is clearly an EMTR situation." She said forcefully.

"Except that neither of us has done a detailed scan of the time-frame in question, which is required under EMTR protocol." He said quietly, not really wanting to have to due a detailed scan.

"But we can, now that he's out of surgery and danger." She said with a sigh. "Nathan, no one deserves to suffer that much. It wasn't even that he did anything wrong ... he just couldn't fill the role that was expected of him."

Nathan sighed, knowing that he could either agree gracefully or she'd make the request official in which case he'd have to do the scan anyway.

Nathan got up, and walked over to her. "Okay, Crys. Let's go see how bad things really are with him. If they're as bad as you think, I'll countersign the EMTR." He shrugged. "Hell, if it's that bad he might even agree to it."

The medical suite was done completely in elaborately carved wood, though close examination revealed that it wasn't wood at all, but a good simulation of wood. A large medical sensor bed was in the middle of the room, with an elaborate electronic panel as the headboard. It was, however, a medical bed designed to be as comfortable as it was functional.

The lighting was a little dim, and came from recessed lighting panels in the ceiling. A slight breeze came from vents in the ceiling, and the air was a little dry, though not as bad as in other parts of the ship. There was a desk with a computer console to one side of the room, where a silver female Dracon was making notes. A golden female Dracon was checking on Chance, who was lying on the medical bed, with his arm in a protective cast and an IV in the other arm.

Chance looked in pretty good condition for somebody not long out of major surgery. He was wearing a standard hospital gown, though he was partially covered by a sheet. A standard medical restraining field was barely visible in the dim lighting.

As Nathan and Diamantha entered the medical suite, the two guards on duty snapped to attention. The shorter, golden female Dracon walked up to them. "Healer, Medic." She said professionally. "Mr. Furlong is resting comfortably, we have the protective restraining field set just high enough to keep any tossing or turning from accidentally harming the newly repaired shoulder."

"Thank you, Nurse Carsha. I'd hate to have to redo eight hours of precision surgical work because of a nightmare. Nurse, I'll need the two of you to stay as witnesses. Healer Diamantha has requested permission to do an EMTR, and we have to verify that the patients mental condition warrants it."

"Of course, Medic." The two nurses said quietly.

He turned to the silver dragon. "He's your patient, psych-med wise and you're lead mind-healer here. You scan, and then I'll check to confirm what you report."

Diamantha nodded and gently reached out her mind to examine the hurting tabby. Nathan waited expectantly, a vague feeling of unease creeping over him as the Darcon's brow furrowed.

"Damn," the psych-med cursed softly. "His mind has retreated from his body, this is precisely the sort of thing I was hoping to avoid."

"You mean he's having an out of body experience?"

Diamantha chuckled softly and shook her head. "No, he's gone deep down inside himself, below the consciousness line. You could have waited forever for him to wake you from these sedatives and it wouldn't have done any good."

Nathan sighed softly. "Well if things were easy we'd probably complain they were boring. Can you bring him back?"

"Shouldn't be too hard, as long as those anesthetics you gave him aren't still in full force. It'll probably bring him all the way back to consciousness."

The Felsin spent a moment considering the consequences and then gave a nod. "Go ahead."

Diamantha closed her eyes and lowered her head, focusing all her attention of the tabby before her. Once again Nathan found his eyes drawn to her face, composed and peaceful, as he waited for her to return. Suddenly the Dracon medic's eyes flashed open, her mouth half opening as if to speak before she froze again.

"Diamantha?" Nathan's voice was concerned, his eyes running over her body quickly searching for any clue as to what was going on. With unease swelling in the back of his mind he reached out to activate a panel on the wall. "Star! Activate the isolation field around Chance Furlong."

The golden yellow energy field slid upwards from the floor paneling, quickly sweeping upwards to rest against the roof and then curing the ends over on themselves to completely contain the tabby. Diamantha fell to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut, flailing wildly in all directions.

"GET OUT!" She screamed when she found her voice, tearing long gashes in the floor with her claws. "Get out! Get out! Get out!" Nathan didn't have to be told twice. Though he'd gone up against Dracon in combat before it wasn't something he much enjoyed, and as concerned as he was for her he knew he couldn't help if he got himself eviscerated. Clearly the nurses had had much the same idea, as the pair of them headed for the door immediately, turning to Nathan one all three were safely out in the corridor.

"Should we get some of the marines, Colonel? If she remains violent ...." Carsha trailed off. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

Nathan shook his head. "No. For now you can go off duty. I'll handle this." He wish he felt half as confident as he'd sounded as the two Dracon turned and walked away. Diamantha was a skilled psych-med and experienced telepath, qualities which had instilled in her a deep and unyielding self control. Nathan was hoping that that self-control would prove to be stronger than whatever trap she'd sprung in the tabby's brain, waiting with his heart thumping in his chest as seconds, and then minutes passed.

Finally the doorway opened to reveal Diamantha, clutching her head as she stepped out into the corridor.

"Are you alright?" Nathan asked softly. "What did he do to you?"

"Nothing," she whispered, shaking her head weakly. "He's got no real psi potential, but touching minds with him ... it was like being plunged into seething acid. He's angry, and hurt and afraid, Nathan. And he hates us."

"What, you and me?" Nathan's voice carried more surprise than anything else. "Personally? He can't have been aware of us for more than a second."

"You, me, anyone who can reach outside their own mind. He despises telepaths, just the thought of it ..." The Dracon's words were choked off as bile rose in he throat, her face turning away from her Felsin friend.

"Shhhhhh, it's not you," Nathan said softly, forming his own limited telepathic skill into a comforting presence on the edge of her mind. "It'll pass."

"I know," she sighed, "I know. But I've never felt anything so overwhelming from a Mute before. We need to keep that isolation field up Nate. There can't be any mind-to-mind contact with Furlong for any reason."

Jake twitched slightly as he felt a familiar presence scream past his internal blocks on that line and looked up at Alex with more than a touch of displeasure. "You brought Chance. He spoke without a trace of emotion in his voice. "Why?"

Alex looked at him and spoke quietly. "Nathan's decision, not mine, medical reason that he didn't fully explain. I don't argue with him when he's in full Medic mode, there's no point." He sighed quietly; he'd hoped it'd be longer before Jake was aware of Chance's presence. He hadn't even been convinced it was necessary.

"I see." He nodded just as calmly and returned to his studies, though Alex had little doubt his opinion of Nathan had just changed, for the worse.

An hour later Nathan was relaxing in his quarters, when there was a knock at the door, and Diamantha entered.

"Feeling better, Crys?" He asked concerned, as he set down the databoard on psychic trauma he'd been reading.

"Much, and I think I need to revise my earlier statements on Chance Furlong." She said as she sat down.

"I thought you might. There's clearly been extended psychic abuse here, and the damage is fairly extensive."

"Yes, the reaction I felt bordered on a psychotic aversion. Besides, the isolation field is a temporary fix at best given that it's limited in space covered, and it's not readily movable."

"Which means we need to find a way to help him deal with the trauma caused by whatever telepaths caused it." He sighed. "Which will not be easy to do, given his reaction to telepaths. Somehow, we need to find out what happened."

"Obviously, the EMTR is out of the question. His mind reacts too aggressively to telepathic contact for something that delicate." She said quietly.

"Agreed, but we have an injured patient who clearly is in need of assistance. Our job is to figure out how, of course it may be easier when he's conscious."

"Perhaps." She said quietly, not entirely convinced.

Jake occupied himself with digging through the nearly overwhelming amount of data he was trying to put into a coherent picture until Alex and Patrik excused themselves to go to bed, at the pilot's suggestion, and did exactly what the toms expected of him, waved absently and mumbled 'good night' as he had all the other times he'd worked through the night.

He continued to delve through the databases at high speed until he was sure his mates were asleep, then stood and stretched leisurely. With careful ease he tracked his ex-partner, absently wondering why he'd never be able to do so before.

"*Are you feeling all right, Jake?*" SilverStar asked as he entered what was clearly a medical section, while alerting Nathan and Diamantha on a carefully shielded frequency from him.

"*I'm as fine as I was a few hours ago,*" he replied calmly.

"*Do need medical attention? You've never shown any interest in Medical before.*" She asked quietly.

"*No, I don't need medical attention,*" he murmured, "*and before I didn't know my partner was here.*"

Star hesitated for a moment. "*Jake, perhaps I misunderstood what Cathedral told me ... I thought you wanted nothing more to do with him?*" This particular side of organic relations was one she still wasn't good at, she thought quietly behind her shields.

Jake stopped dead in the corridor as he tried to sort out that answer from the jumble of contradictions in his mind. "*I don't know ... he's still in my head ... and he's hurting.*"

Star decided that one of the Medics needed to handle this. "*Jake, maybe you'd better talk to Nathan. He's in Medical already, anyway.*"

Jake nodded to himself and continued to follow the weird pulse in his head. Nathan was calmly leaning against the doorframe to Chance's room when he turned the corner.

"Hi, Nathan." The Kat nodded easily to the Medic as if nothing more unusual than normal for the day was going on. "This the room Chance is in?"

The tiger-tabby nodded. "Evening, Jake. It is." He said easily, as if the weather was being discussed.

"Is he going to be okay?" A touch of concern laced the Kat's voice.

Part of Nathan's mind was relieved at the touch of concern, given what he'd heard. "Physically, he'll be fine. It was delicate work, but I've done enough nerve repair surgery to know what I'm doing. Once it heals, he won't even know the shoulder was broken."

He paused. "Mentally, Diamantha and I aren't quite sure. Best we can tell so far, he's had one or more bad run-ins with a nasty telepath and his mind just plain retreated. It's hard for us to help, because he won't let any 'path near."

"Nerve surgery?" Jake blinked. "What the hell happened to need that, and why didn't you let Cathedral handle it ... a Sarcophagus would have been better ..." he hesitated for a moment, suspicious anger lacing his voice. "Do you know what kind of telepath?"

Nathan spoke calmly, carefully avoiding raising his voice. "As for what caused the injury, I'm told he was injured in a weapons fire incident, friendly fire I'm told. As for leaving it to machine, I haven't met a machine that had my skill in nerve surgery, and that includes the Sarcophagus. It's a very brilliant invention, but it lacks intuition and besides Alliance equipment is at least as advanced.

"We're trying to determine the kind of telepath, but that's difficult because his mind is rejecting all telepaths at the moment. We're reviewing the available data on psychic trauma of this nature to determine a course of action that will let us help him, without further injuring him." A very determined look settled into place on the tiger-tabby's face. "Between Crys and I we'll get to the bottom of this, and find out who's responsible." Despite his best efforts, a bit of anger leaked into Nathan's voice.

"Can I see him?" Jake asked very quietly, a flicker of defeat in his stance and voice.

Nathan considered for a moment, and decided the risk was worth it. "I don't think there's any harm in that. He's still unconscious though."

He thought to Star on a shielded frequency. "*Release door lock on Chance's room.*"

"*Done. Do you think this is a good idea?*"

"*I think so, Star. But I can handle it if it isn't.*"

Nathan put his hand against the security plate, and the door slid open. He stepped in, and nodded to the guards indicating everything was okay. Then he turned to Jake. "You can come in, Jake." His voice was gentle, but there still was the hint of the Medic who would protect his patient if necessary, in his stance.

Jake stepped inside and froze as the unconscious tabby came into view. After a moment he shook it off to step up to the bed, and reached with a tentative hand to brush Chance's hair into place.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, even as his head buzzed angrily in the spot he was beginning to understand was a fairly strong bond with Chance. "You didn't sign on for this. Getting shot at, yes, but not this."

He looked around the room, then at Nathan before walking up to the Medic. "Let me know when you know who hurt him, okay?"

Nathan looked at him, and relaxed a little. "Of course." He paused for moment, and decided to risk the question that had been bugging him. "Still mad at me for bringing him?" He asked quietly.

"Yes," his spoke softly, without any trace of the anger he professed to have. "He doesn't belong out here ... among the stars and the hundred races." He shook his head. "I should never have taken his as my partner, he enjoyed the simple life of a pilot too much to be with me, around the kind of life I attract, but he was too good, and the need too great at the time." He cast a backward glance at the unconscious Kat. "I can go get him out of that pit he's gone into, but he already hates me, he'd come out worse than he is now from being that close to me."

Nathan thought for a moment. "No need for drastic measures yet. Hopefully, Crys and I can bring him out. And from what Crys got, he's hurt, confused and angry and it's not clear that he's even sure who at. Except that he hates 'paths."

The tiger-tabby sighed. "Pilots of his caliber rarely lead 'simple' lives. Too many people with too many agendas find them useful. If you hadn't taken him as your partner, someone else would have found him useful to their plans."

"They did anyway," he sighed. "I was just an added complication, and a draw for a lot of danger he didn't need." He glanced at Chance again. "He still would have found it, probably, but I wasn't much of a help." Jake shook his head. "He grew up too fast once he met me."

Nathan sighed. "When you're on the front line, growing up fast is the price of survival." He said quietly and tiredly. "We didn't originally plan to bring him, but I discovered that I had to. We'll take him back, when we can. If he wants to go that is, but I know a starship who wants to give him an alternative; seems to think he can handle the stars and the hundred races."

"Oh, I'm sure he can handle it." Jake humphed. "There's nothing that Kat can't handle after over seven years around me. Doesn't mean much. I don't think he's ever been given a choice that was really his to make."

The tiger-tabby shook his head. "How many choices do any of us really get to make that aren't hemmed in, guided and lead by forces and factors around us, most of which we can't control. There was a slight bitter edge to the medic's voice.

"Probably none." Jake shrugged. "Just seemed like he got fewer than most. I know I didn't give him any, not really."

"I don't claim to have handled things perfectly, I just took what seemed to be the best course of action at the time. Now, I try to make things work out as best I can for everyone involved."

Something about the way he said it made Jake think he wasn't including himself in 'everyone', and the part of his mind that had internalized the fact that he now had a grown son reacted. "Don't leave yourself out of that 'everyone', Nathan."

Nathan chuckled quietly. "And here I thought I was looking after you. That sounded like something Felsira would say."

"As strange as it still sounds, you're my son, Nathan," Jake spoke softly, then quirked a small smile. "I don't suppose you're planning more of a ceremony with Morin than Alex ... Cazimir ... and I had?"

Nathan got a very strange look on his face, and then collapsed against the wall laughing, tears rolling down his face. He caught the strange look Jake was giving him. He slowly caught his breath. "Sorry, Jake. It's just well ... ummm ... that 'father' isn't usually the kind of thing I think of when you go through my mind ... which is probably a good thing, 'cause you're just not supposed to think of your father that way." He chuckled a little more, grinning and still a bit out of breath.

Jake looked even more confused, then grabbed Nathan's arm and did his level best to drag the Felsin into the hallway. "You will explain that in very small words. My brain hit overload a while ago."

Nathan looked rather sheepish. "Okay. In simple terms my father and I have very similar tastes in toms. Which is to say, I've been rather attracted to you for most of the time I was at Cathedral. And I have an active imagination.

"Normally, I wouldn't blurt this out but when you dropped that 'father' line ... it was just too much to hold back." He looked at Jake, wondering just how his 'father' would take that little revelation, but it had to be one the smaller, more innocuous ones to happen lately.

Jake's back hit the wall his mind gave up trying to make since of the world. "You're joking ..." he shook his head, "no I can see you aren't."

He took a deep breath and stared up at the Medic from where he sat, still mostly in shock. "Okay ... saying this is mutual ... where does that leave us?"

Nathan looked at the lean tom. "About where two people with mutual interest end up normally." He caught the strange look. "While it's true, you could be my 'father', if Cazi agreed and given that I'm an adult, I agreed. It's by no means automatic, and there's no 'taboo' about one's father's LifeMate, assuming he's not your biological father, which you're not.

"Translation: No problem, other than deciding if it's mutual. Well, I suppose you might want to talk it over with Cazi, out of politeness. However, I asked him some time ago and he said he didn't mind."

Jake swallowed with a weak nod and pushed himself to his feet against the wall and tried very hard to swallow his feelings of being played with yet again. With a look over his shoulder at the door to Chance's room he didn't quite meet Nathan's gaze. "Talk to Alex, and think." He whispered and started down the hall a little shakily. "Too many things in one day."

Nathan gently thought to the retreating Kat. "*Get some sleep, Jake. You look like you could use it.*"

As he headed back to his own quarters, Nathan quietly kicked himself. "He just found out that his partner's on board, and you dump the fact that you have a crush on him on top of it. Really bright, SwiftClaw. He muttered under his breath as he headed down to the gym looking for a Marine to spar with.

Nathan was more than a touch surprised to see a very familiar face watching him spar when he stepped out of the ring.

"Up for a round or two?" Jake asked neutrally as he came up to the sweating war-form.

Nathan's last opponent had just gotten him charged up enough to want another fight. "Natural weapons?" He asked evenly, as he brought up the Kat's fight with Blade from memory from having watched it on ship's record after surgery.

"I'd rather use staffs, but natural works too." Jake shrugged. "Your choice."

"Staffs are fine with me." He said as he showed Jake to the weapons room, which contained a wide assortment of melee weapons from a large number of worlds. There was a fair assortment of staffs. Nathan shifted to Felsin mode and picked one out carefully judging its balance.

He returned to the sparring floor and waited for Jake as the Kat selected his weapon. He carefully focusing his mind and body to become one with the staff as he'd been taught a long time ago. He assumed a neutral stance and waited, carefully judging the flow and ebb of energy in himself, the staff and the room.

Jake stepped into the rink with a lightweight, metal-like staff just over his own height and settled into a neutral stance.

Nathan was far too well trained to open an attack against an opponent whose moves he was unfamiliar with, so he waited carefully judging any move his opponent made with his darkwood staff resting in a position from it could easily flow to any necessary defensive position.

They circled each other wearily, before Jake took the offensive with a lightning fast series of strikes Nathan blocked without too much difficulty. He easily slid into the role of aggressor, increasing the speed, strength, and variance of his strikes with each block until he felt the building tension inside him snap and shifted to a more playful, energy intensive style.

Nathan relaxed and flowed with the style matching Jake's playfulness with his own, and yet still looking for an opening for a lightning disarm. But they continued circling each other, with neither making any exploitable mistakes. Nathan smiled; he hadn't enjoyed sparring this much in ages. He wondered somewhat absently how long they could keep this up, since both were using fairly energy heavy styles.

Neither combatant noticed the marines that had gathered at a distance watching the blinding strike and parry routine. And a fair amount betting was going on as well. Blade walked in a little late, and looked on in amazement. "So the little one does weapons too." He said quietly, to no one in particular.

Jake made a sudden twist away, putting some distance between them and shifted his grip as he concentrated. His staff glowed for a moment, faded to normal, and he returned to the fray. His next strike cut clean through Nathan's staff.

Nathan smiled, impressed, as he did an impressive backflip, landing some distance away. He placed the two halves of the staff together, concentrated and there was a brief golden light along the length of the staff. He twirled it easily to demonstrate that it was one again, and there was a slightly gold touch to the darkwood coloration.

He then returned to the fight, more interested in what Jake would do next then anything else.

The lean Kat humphed in disappointment before making the bock, as they settled into another round of lightning fast, but not terribly serious, exchanges.

Nathan started to feel his fatigue as the match continued, though it never reaching the kind of critical mass the Kat's earlier one with Blade had so quickly. A glancing check at the energy flow of the room told him why the exhausted Kat was still doing so well: he was drawing energy from the ship itself to supplement his own.

Nathan laughed to himself as he realized what a fool he was being. He'd been trying to run the fight from his personal energy, and when he should be drawing on the Force all around him. As he carefully maintained a non-aggressive mindset, he tapped into the Force and immediately felt recharged, not fully but enough to continue holding his own.

Star noticed a small drain on her power flow, and traced it to the gym. She activated the cameras in the gym to see what could be drawing energy in there. She was surprised to see Nathan and Jake sparring with staffs, both of them moving quite rapidly. Then she pinned down the energy drain and chuckled.

Careful not to disrupt whatever Amee's gunner was doing, Star put the gym onto one of the backup fusion generator circuits, and isolated it from the main grid ... the last thing she needed in TLD was a disruption of the main grid.

She 'nudged' Amerith. "*Hey, Amerith. Take a look at the audio-video feed from the gym.*" She said amusedly as she patched through the appropriate channel.

"*Oh, my gods.*" The DS whispered in a mixture of shock, concern and amusement, then did a passive check with what in the world her gunner was up to. "*Note on some of the stranger customs running around. This is courting ... sort of.*"

Star considered that for a moment. "*Courting? You mean as in to seek a mate?*"

"*Yes, though Jake's not being very serious about it.*"

Her mind-voice was slightly confused. "*I thought they both already had mates. And besides, it looks like they're fighting to me ... okay, sparring not fighting. This is courting on Aristal?*"

"*Not on Aristal, just with Jake.*" The former jet sighed. "*He has a thing for his bedmates being as least close to him in survival ability, and Nathan said he was interested.*" She considered the scene carefully. "*I doubt he's so much looking for another mate, as seeing how Nathan really stands up to him.*"

Star chuckled quietly. "*I'm not sure what Nathan's doing, since he's not in his combat form.*"

She paused. "*Nathan actually said he was interested? That's surprising, I mean, I know it's true but he's so reserved...I wonder prompted him to say anything.*"

"*Jake demanded to know what was so funny about him being concerned for Nathan as a father.*" Amerith chuckled. "*It disturbed the hell out of Jake till he sorted though the concept that if Nathan would rather be his mate than son, it was okay ... if a little weird.*"

Star smiled. "*I can see why that would be funny... at over a century, Nate's a little old to be picking up a fifth father, especially when he's already a father himself.*" She paused. "*From what I have, Felsin relationships can be a bit strange when a parent takes a new mate after a kit reaches adulthood. But I think it's partially, Nate doesn't want another father ... he's lost two of them already, sort of. Funny thing is, that Jake could still be Nathan's son's grandfather, if he was willing and Nate brings it up.*"

"*That will take a while to wrap his brain around.*" Amerith chuckled.

Star paused. "*I haven't caught everything lately, is Jake comfortable with kits, aside from Rik that is?*" Star asked with a distinct wise-ass tone in the last part of the question.

"*Humor me, don't remind Jake that Rik is still a kitten.*" A lot of remembered grief came with the request. "*As for being a father-type, he's been trying for years. Father, grandfather, even by proxy, he'd love it.*"

Star nodded. "*I won't, I guess it could be a sensitive subject. But like I said, Nate has a son, I've even spoken to the kit a time or two. Seem's the kit is a full Technomage at eight years old. If I understand correctly Nate has to engineer a new body for the kit, the original engineers did a real shoddy job.*"

"*Sounds like Alex ... Cazi ... is one of the more normal members of this family.*" She shook her head mentally in amazement.

"*From an energy standpoint, the two of them are sparring in a very 'noisy' fashion. I had to put the gym on one of the backup generators to keep Jake off the main grid. And I don't understand what Nathan is doing at all, I'm picking up a lot of psychic resonance but it's environmental, and rather unfocused.*"

Amerith took a good look at the readings SilverStar was referring to and went completely into shock for several seconds. She carefully contacted her gunner without disrupting his concentration. "*Umm, Jake, you're facing a Jedi.*"

Nathan saw shock hit his opponent without apparent cause, though it did little to hamper the Kat's block and attack.

"*Jedi?*" The question came across the very low end of the band Nathan usually listened to, and was clearly outside the normal range for the mind behind it, though it did so without a pause in the physical action.

Nathan shifted down to the same place on the band and spoke evenly. "*I've been trained, yes. Though I'm relearning a lot.*"

"*Who was your Master?*" Real curiosity came with the question as he considered the next step, not liking either of his main options.

"*Master Haskari Vorshan.*" Nathan said, with great respect coloring the name.

Jake took a sudden step back and brought his staff horizontal in loose arms. "Seldra, Nathan."

Nathan short bowed as he'd been taught to do when an honorable and skilled opponent yielded. He relaxed and switched to using the staff to lean on. "You're extremely good, Jake. I haven't had a workout like that in a long time."

"Thank you." There was a subtle tone in his voice hinting that he was giving as much a complement as he had been given, despite that he hadn't even broken a sweat, as they headed out of the rink under the scrutiny of the marines.

Nathan paused as they put their weapons away. "If you don't mind my asking, what did you do with your staff that let it slice through mine? That almost had me, until I remembered a thing or two my father taught me."

Jake chuckled. "Energized it, basically. I channel some of the power I have access to into the weapon. I usually spar with a fully powered staff against a lightsaber, but because it does just that when it isn't against something similar, I didn't until I wanted to shifted to unarmed combat, and rattle you a little."

Nathan grinned. "Well, you did rattle me ... a little. I'm used to seeing a light saber do that, not a metal staff. But I guess that explains what you were doing with the ships power. And any time you want to go at it unarmed, just let me know; I'm pretty good there too ... even without going to war-form."

Jake looked seriously tempted. "What parts of your training are you still shaky on?"

Nathan smiled sheepishly. "The stuff the Jedi tend to consider 'important' ... things like controlling your temper. I lose my temper far easier than I should, which of course was something my Master spent a long time curing me of ... and courtesy of some mind blocks, I have to learn all over again. Fortunately, I was never as angry as my Padawan was, when I started training him.

"Combat's the easy part, I've had about three different combat training types. Commando, Jedi and Medic Defender training. I'm just not as serious as some are about it. But I like to make sure that I don't need anybody protecting me ... that's what I do."

"Do you remember a mind-trick called 'Stealing Rage'? " There was more than a touch of cautious hope in his voice as he faced the Felsin. "Basically, it's used to calm someone down who's past the point of being able to do it them self."

Nathan went through the things he'd been taught till he found 'Calming the Storm', which sounded about right. "My Master didn't call it that, but I do know something that works the same way. I needed it a long time ago to help my Padawan when he first came to me ... he was a very angry cub then." He looked at Jake curiously. "Why?"

"Because if we spar claw to claw, you may need it." He said. "I've found it useful to let myself go completely in a sparing match ... it helps keep me under control other times, but the catch is my opponent has to be able to stop me, and not even knocking me out does that.

"When I hit the 'fight to kill' wall, it's an actual biological shift, that only two things has ever turned off ... seeing my opponent dead and ripped apart, and that Jedi trick." Jake explained. "I shouldn't have gone against Blade ... we both got lucky I stayed in sparing mode. Though he thought I didn't. I get that serious against a good opponent."

Nathan nodded. "I'll keep that in mind. Though I appreciate the need to let go, it's how I deal with cases I can't solve right away or don't know how too. I burn off frustration in sparring, always have."

The tiger-tabby looked at the smaller tom. "Jake, if you need to let go like that, let me know. I'll be glad to go claw to claw with you, and I'd rather it was me than someone else."

"I will." Jake nodded. "Normally, it'll only be once or twice a year ... now, I'm really not sure. It's a frustration thing. Alliance might be good for me, or might send me completely over the edge." He hesitated, regarding the tiger tabby, then apparently changed his mind and turned away with a smile. "Thanks for the workout, but I've still got a few thousand terabytes of data to digest."

Nathan nodded. "Anytime, Jake. And I've a got few hundred med-journals to go through myself. Just remember to get some sleep, okay?" He said with a smile as he headed back toward medical.

"*ALEX!*" Jake's startled, demanding roar snapped him out of a solid sleep and his Kat form for a second. "*War Room, now.*" The jumble of emotions that flowed with the half request, half demand was all but impossible to untangle.

"Come on." Patrik was already out of the bed and half dressed when he tossed his bedmate a set of close, completely the well-trained, professional combat pilot that could keep pace with NightRazor.

Fortunately, Alex hadn't lost the reflexes of living with a group of commandos for decades and could still get dressed and out a door in seconds. He switched to lion form to cover the distance in a run, switching back to Kat in time to key open the War Room.

"Okay, Jake. What's the emergency?" He said calmly, trying not to add any agitation to the room. He could see from incoming datastreams that nothing was wrong, which was as expected since they were still in TLD.

Then his eye fell on what his mate was staring at. Though grainy, and not in the best condition, the holo of a heavy built, orange tiger war-form could be none other than a Rifleman. The data indicated it had been taken not even a year before, in Mephit space, and was of an 'unknown terrorist'.

Alex stared at the image for a moment before collapsing into a chair as Patrik burst into the room. "That's not possible. Rifleman died over fifty years ago, but it sure looks like him that's the NightBlade uniform he's wearing." He shook his head. "I don't understand, this isn't possible."

A few minutes later the door opened and Nathan walked in. He took a look at the image. "Correct me if I'm wrong dad, but that's Uncle Samson ... isn't it?"

Alex nodded. "It sure looks like him, but I don't see how that can be."

Jake took some confidence in their reaction. "I was going though all the troublemakers ... see who might be worth trying to recruit, or at least supply ... and found this." He looked up with a mixture of confusion, elation and fear. "That is who I think it is? Rifleman, NightBlade, died long time ago, clearly no longer dead."

Alex nodded. "That's who it looks like. Rifleman, best sniper the NightBlades ever had, also gunner for Air Team Two and expert at artillery. He was also an expert at Earth Sports, especially rugby." He looked at Jake. "*Jake, I felt the unit die, we were unit-Bonded. This doesn't make any sense.*"

"Clone, revived, someone fucked with your head ..." Jake met his mate's eyes. "Maybe I'm walking way out there, but I've seen it all ... hell, I've lived through most of it. They were created, like me, even if it was mortals doing it ... creations have all sorts of things happen to them when they die that aren't 'normal'. Most of which they don't know about ... and the SG was using some weird weapons from what I saw in your memories."

Alex nodded reluctantly. "I suppose, but I think we should be cautious until I can verify that it is the original team. And as for the SG using weird weapons, that's SOP for them, they like to field test their prototypes in live combat. Not uncommonly, they kill as many of their own as they do the enemy ... it's a steep learning curve."

"Something we can use to advantage." Jake nodded and looked back at the holo. "And definitely should make very sure ... but I've seen ... and made ... stranger things happen." He settled back to consider for a moment. "Just how common a name is 'Nathan SwiftClaw' among tigers, anyway?"

Nathan looked up. "Nathan's not that uncommon as first names go, but SwiftClaw is not a common last name ... especially after my father gained notoriety during his Shadow Government days."

Nathan looked at Alex. "I was planning to tell you in a while anyway ... when we get back to Alliance space, I'm dropping the SolGardin name and going back to SwiftClaw. Thirty years of pretense is enough, besides it's Storm's last name too." He looked off in the distance, a strange combination of pain and hope on his face.

Alex nodded understanding, having been introduced to the ethereal kit some months before.

"Who's Storm?" Jake's gaze flicked between them.

"My son." Nathan said simply and very fondly. Having overloaded Jake once recently with too much revelation he waited to see if the Kat had any further interest. It wasn't hard to see he wanted to talk, but was used to disinterested audiences.

Jake got a puzzled look on his face, then shifted his attention to Alex and Patrik. "Sorry I yelled like that, I got enough about him to be too shocked not to get a second opinion. He stood and gave Alex and quick kiss. "Just head back to bed, I'll join you in a few hours."

Alex kissed him back. "That's okay, love. I was just worried that something was 'wrong'." He thought quietly. "*If you spot an image of Ebon or Nareena, please do yell.*" He said quietly sending an image of the panther and the tigress, before heading back to bed.

"*I will.*" Jake promised.

Nathan also headed for the door. "Well, my father just asked me here to confirm what he saw, so I'll go back to my med-journals unless you need more NightBlades identified...I know them as well as Alex does." He said quietly, not really in any hurry.

"*Nathan ... don't go, please.*" Jake sat back down as his mates left, Alex shooting him an encouraging wink. "I'd like to hear about Storm."

Nathan smiled, and sat down near the lean tom. "Okay. The tiger-tabby thought to Star. "*Let me have a psi-interpreter panel on this console, and connect it to the main holo-display.*"

"*Already done, Nate.*" Star said quietly.

Nathan concentrated and the image of a small, male White Tiger kit with snow-white wings appeared in the main holo-field. "My son, Patrick Storm SwiftClaw. He just turned nine on Friday, though it's equally valid to say that he's not quite five." Nathan said in a voice that was a combination of pride, love and a little sadness.

"Technically, he's my adopted son but he didn't have any parents before me so that's never been important. He's smart, maybe even as smart as you or Alex, and he's a full bio-telepath and TechnoMage as well. I 'rescued' him from my colleagues at the Advanced Genetic Design Labs when his development had just reached four years. They wanted to accelerate him to full maturity, but I thought it was wrong to use a sentient life as an experiment ... especially a weapons experiment. When I lifted him out of the G-tube, he bonded to me almost immediately. I'd wanted a son for some time, and he needed a father ... it worked out perfectly. For a while anyway."

Nathan looked at the image for a moment quietly; tears could be seen beginning at the corners of his eyes.

"He's not alive anymore, is he?" Jake spoke softly, then stood to embrace the Felsin across his shoulders.

Nathan nodded quietly, then shook his head. "It's not that simple, Jake. The engineers who created his body made some mistakes, and there wasn't enough time for me to correct them. His body died but with the help of a good friend I was able to save his 'soul', 'spirit' whatever you want to call the energy matrix that contains the personality and memory."

He paused to see what Jake made of that, and found the Kat utterly unphased by the concept. Then he tapped the side of his head. "He's here, with me until I can create his new body. Over the last year I've managed to correct the flaws in the design, now that I have access to Alliance genetics technology I can actually keep the promise I made him."

He fell silent waiting for Jake's reaction. The only other people who knew were Storm's grandfather, Cazimir, and his uncle, Morin.

"Are you intending to raise him by yourself?" Jake barely paused a beat, his nose almost nuzzling the Felsin's neck.

Nathan shook his head. "Morin knew Storm when he was alive, and helped me when things got bad ... he's more than willing to help now. And of course, Alex likes the idea of having a grandkit to spoil."

He turned to face Jake. "Jake, if you're willing, I'd like you to be his grandfather as well. Maybe I'm mistaken but my instinct says you'd do well in that role, you might even enjoy it." He looked hopeful, and hoped that he hadn't gone too far, but Nathan felt this was a good way of solidifying the new family.

"Yes, I would." Jake nodded with a small smile; his face barely inches from Nathan's. "I was half hoping you'd offer something a little ... closer ... but that's probably a bad idea for the same reason Alex wants to wait."

Nathan smiled. "Father? I would have but I'm trying to keep things not too confusing for Storm. You're his grandfather's LifeMate, so grandfather makes sense."

"Yes, it is, but father and grandfather don't usually sleep together. Jake purred softly, suggestively. "I guess I find it less confusing."

Nathan smiled coyly. "Okay, you got me on that one ... I forgot about that angle." He chuckled at himself. "Forgot how I work into things again. I do that occasionally." He quickly bridged to Morin. "*Any objection to Jake stepping in as Storm's second father?*"

Morin chuckled in amusement. "*No, I think it's a wonderful idea ... I get stay indulgent uncle.*"

Nathan looked back at Jake. "I think I like it better your way, after all in a way I've had four fathers to date." He smiled. "Storm will be happy I'm sure."

"Four?" Jake quirked an eyebrow. "Ebon, Cazi, SolGardin and ...."

Nathan smiled. "Ebon and Cazi, my biological fathers; Goliath who was my surrogate father for a while though I don't know if he realized it ... it was mostly the need of a very lonely eleven year old orphan. And Keltin, who's been father and older brother at times depending on circumstances."

"I'm not sure how to count Dr. SolGardin and truthfully I don't care anymore. He disowned me when I Bonded with Rhymar and I think it's better that way, we have nothing in common." There was a harsh bitterness in the medic's voice.

"Quite a family." Jake murmured and as closed the distance between their mouths for a light, chaste kiss and backed off slightly, waiting for a response.

Nathan smiled at the kiss, and claimed a similar one before he spoke. "Well, when you start life with a commando unit as both family and playmates ... you're bound to have an interesting life." He grinned slightly at Jake. "So how do you think Rik would handle being an uncle?" The question was light but definitely serious.

In the back of his mind, Nathan started trying to remember how things had progressed with Rhymar during the 'courtship' phase ... just in case Jake was doing something similar.

"He is probably getting a younger brother more than a nephew." Jake chuckled softly. "I think we're going to give some poor genealogist a serious case of whiplash in a couple generations. Between blood and mate relationships, this is convoluted even by my standards."

Nathan smiled. "Hmm. You're probably right, I tend to forget about the 'brother' option 'cause I don't have any by blood, and only had one briefly by adoption."

Nathan thought a moment. "Whiplash is right, especially since if Ebon and Nareena are still alive then I might have siblings by blood, which brings in blood uncles."

He shook his head. "And this doesn't even count relationships from Morin, who mind you has decided he's going to stick to being Storm's indulgent uncle. He likes that role, and figures two father's should be enough for now."

"Speaking of him, just where is you relationship with him going?" Jake cocked his head. "I got the distinct impression it was pretty serious."

Nathan smiled. "Oh, I think we'll end up as LifeMates as soon as we have time to take care of the Joining. We've just haven't had a chance to deal with that lately. We've both been very busy since we got back together so there just hasn't been time."

"I bet."

"We're pretty close to that already, it's just a matter of solidifying the Bond really. Well, that and the Dracon formal ceremony. Quite frankly I'm not looking forward to that ... I've never been comfortable with pomp and circumstance ... which, of course, is why I'm marrying royalty." He chuckled quietly.

Jake shook his head. "Sounds as bad when I married Princess Ferra." He blinked as confused look flowed across his face."

Nathan looked briefly puzzled. "Umm. Jake, I think that was one of your previous lives talking." He stayed close to Jake just in case.

"Previous lives? He stared at the Felsin in bewilderment for a moment. "Oh, that stuff. Yeah, one of them." He shook his head. "Nathan, all I was really intending to happen was a little indulgence in bed ... but it sounds you need to talk, more than you want sex ... or is this normal for you when someone you have a crush on comes on to you?"

Nathan chuckled briefly. "Actually it had a lot to do with your choice of subject. I don't get to talk about Storm much. As for normal," he shrugged, "beats me, I haven't had a crush on anyone before." He smiled slightly. "I like your indulgence in bed idea though."

"Then why not show me just how much you like the idea?" Jake raised a daring eyebrow.

Nathan smiled and gently pulled the smaller tom into a passionate kiss as he stood. The tiger-tabby's hands expertly massaged Jake's back, and even through the fabric of his shirt, they found the sensual massage points he was aiming for. He worked them enough to increase excitement without moving things along too fast.

Jake closed his eyes and rolled with it, allowing enough of his response to the touch to show for encouragement, but not enough that's he'd take over.

Nathan felt like a teenager on a first date, trying to figure out the 'what next' of things, given that Jake was letting him lead.

He thought quietly to Star. "*Black all screens, and reduce holo-field to standard illumination and return table top to 'table' mode.*"

Suddenly, the only light in the room was coming from the ceiling holoprojector, which was pretending to be a chandelier.

Having deduced that Jake wanted him to 'lead', he gently pushed the tomkat onto the table and slowly removed the Kat's shirt to gain access to the soft cinnamon fur beneath. He gently ran his hands along the hardened muscles that lay beneath the fur, trying to excite his partner enough to give him a better idea what was wanted. On a whim, he gently licked at a nipple that peeked through the cinnamon fur and was rewarded with a soft gasp, then Jake's purr deepened.

In the back of his mind, Nathan figured he couldn't be any clumsier if he tried. He just hoped Jake was patient with those less experienced then he was.

Nathan paused for a fraction of a second as he felt Jake move under him as the Kat sighed. Fingers gently ran though his hair, though they didn't give him any direction, and Jake slid a leg up, along Nathan's side as the tom relaxed, his arousal obvious in his scent as he arched back onto the table.

Nathan inhaled the heady scent of mutual arousal as he removed his own shirt, and then licked at Jake's nipple again. He continued to run his hands expertly along the Kat's chest, while occasionally nuzzling him he deftly undid Jake's belt with a small application of telekinesis.

Once he got Jake's pants off, he gently licked at the Kat's developing erection to encourage it from its sheath. Then he remembered to ask something important, in a voice made somewhat husky by arousal and excitement. "How far did you want to go? And do you prefer to be top or bottom?" He asked while running a hand along Jake's inner thigh sensually.

The lean tomkat took a moment to find his voice before answering. "Bottom, and as far as you want. I'll tell you ... if it's too much."

The tiger-tabby nodded, and removed the rest of his clothes. It suddenly occurred to him that there probably wasn't any lube kept in the war-room.

He thought across to Alex hoping he was still awake. "*Ummm, Dad. If it's not asking too much, could translocate a jar of lube to the war-room?*"

There was an amused chuckle from the calico. "*I guess this what you call developing family closeness.*" He snickered as he 'flickered' the jar onto the war-room table near Nathan's hand.

Nathan blushed. "*Oh quiet, and go back to playing with your kitten.*" He teased quietly.

Nathan began applying his hands deftly to the lean tom's entire body, increasing their excitement. As he lubed his fingers and gently prepared his mate, he thought a quick question. "*Favorite position?*" Since that was about all the language he could handle in his current level of excitement.

He got back even less language, just a hazy image of them standing, braced against the table with the tiger-tabby's bigger frame covering Jake's, that probably wasn't from the Kat's conscious mind.

Nathan nodded barely as he guided Jake so he was braced against the table. He gently pushed one, then two lubed fingers into the Kat and was rewarded with an low, pleasured moan. When he thought he couldn't wait any longer, he moved behind the Kat and gently entered him, alternating his thrusting speed to heighten both their excitement, and make it last.

All the while he roughly nuzzled the lean tom's neck, using his muzzle to stimulate certain erotic points. He obliged when that neck was pushed against his muzzle and gripped the Kat's scruff between sharp teeth.

As the Kat began thrusting back against him, he picked up speed in his thrusts until he felt the Kat lose control. Nathan quickly followed, roaring as came forcefully inside the cinnamon Kat.

As they both began to relax, Nathan guided them down to the plush carpeting on the floor of the war room. He gently licked the Kat behind the ear as he held him close as they regained their breath.

"*Nice Tiger.*" Jake's muggy mind chuckled as he reached back to scratch the Felsin's ear. "*Up for thinking about Storm?*"

"*Urr, sure.*" The tiger-tabby responded lazily. "*Think in what fashion?*" He said, when what was really on his mind that he hadn't felt this good in a long time.

"*Never mind.*" Jake clucked and snuggled in. "*Just thought I'd offer ... you said you didn't get to talk about him much.*"

"*Oh, I did the talking earlier.*" Nathan smiled. "*Actually, at some point I'd like you to meet him. It's possible you know.*"

"Didn't know, but not surprised ... telepaths and all.*" He yawned widely, clicking his jaw before relaxing. "Maybe when I'm actually awake?"

Nathan yawned. "Probably a good idea, I'm a little foggy myself." He relaxed, holding Jake comfortably.

"*Umm, Nathan ...*" there was a real hesitation in Jake's mind-voice. "*How ... weird would it be to sleep in the same bed as your father ... or with me and Morin?*"

"*You and Morin? Not a thing weird about that at all.*" He chuckle mentally. "*Same bed as my father? That's easy ... we keep you in the middle, as long as you can handle being the center of attention. Honestly, my father and I discussed that back when I first told him I was interested in you. His comment was that it could very easily end up a foursome.*"

"Foursome, hu?" Jake gently disentangled himself from his lover and pulled his jeans on. "Who's number four?" He handed the tiger-tabby the other pair of discarded pants.

Nathan pulled his pants on and smiled. "I think he was referring to Rik." He said as he threw on the Dracon Academy t-shirt he'd been wearing.

"Mind if I clean up the war-room, or will you be resuming shortly?" Star's voice asked amusedly from the table.

Nathan chuckled quietly, before turning to the table. "You can clean, Star. Though we may be making some design modifications to the war-room." He said grinning at Jake, catching that the jar of lube 'flickered' from the table. "I wonder how he knew we were finished?"

"I'm sure he was listening through me." Jake shrugged, not bothering with putting on the rest of his clothes, just picked them up. "I haven't gotten the hang of keeping him out without concentrating. So who's room?" He asked softly, a little hesitant.

"Actually, I suppose its possible he heard through me as well ... I've never had to shield that from him before." He paused at Jake's stunned look.

"I ... I thought you had a LifeMate ... and Morin ...."

Nathan sighed. "When I had a LifeMate, my father and I did have the bond we do now ... and well, I've never had sex with Morin." He shrugged. "He's been everything else a LifeMate should be, even though he's not yet. We've just never gotten around to the sex part. It hasn't been that important to our relationship.

"As for whose room ... where would you feel more comfortable? Morin is currently working on something in trance, so I guess I guess we can either join Alex and Rik in your room, go off by ourselves in mine, or we go to our separate rooms." He hesitated. "I don't care where, but at the moment I'd rather stay with you."

"I said I'd join them ...." Jake's voice drifted off, unprepared for this not to feel like the quick fuck for a friend he'd planned. "*Urr, Rik, Alex?*"

"*Yah?*" The pilot's mind-voice was fairly distracted.

"*Mind Nathan joining us for the night?*"

Alex's mind-voice drifted back. "*Not at all, Jake.*"

"*Pretty Tiger.*" Patrik thought encompassed all the mischievous intent of a well rested and well fucked mind and body.

"My room, as long as you don't mind Rik tackling you," he quirked a small smile, "pretty tiger."

Nathan chuckled. "I don't mind, I can think of worse things than to be tackled by someone that attractive." He grinned. "Pretty tiger, huh? That's a new one." He cocked his head as if thinking. "I think I like it." He motioned to the door. "After you."

"Good that you like it, 'cause with Rik, you're unlikely to get rid of it." He chuckled to cover up his growing unease at the whole situation. He wasn't too surprised not to meet anyone between the two rooms, or at what was waiting for them on arrival.

Alex had the very disheveled, squirmy and laughing black and white longfur on the bed, and was doing a good job of tongue-bathing him.

"I don't think he got quite all his 'fathering' done with you." Jake chuckled as the door closed behind them.

"Well, he only got to 'father' me till I was five so I guess he hasn't worked it all out of his system yet." Nathan chuckled at the pair on the bed. "Besides, mother handled bathing kits, he was in charge of entertainment. I guess this is both." He chuckled broadly, quite amused.

"I can only imagine what that must have been like, with your uncles around." Jake chuckled as he walked to the bed and leaned into the laughing melee to claim a silencing kiss from his pilot. "*Gang up on the pilot?*" Jake offered Nathan with more than a touch of amusement in his mind voice.

Nathan chuckled. "You want to imagine the NightBlades off-duty ... just think of 8 commando trained teenagers with war-form capability. And yes, it was that rambunctious." He smiled at Jake. "*Gang up on the small pilot you mean, I'm a pilot too.*"

The lean Kat froze, his expression a mixture of disbelief, confusion ... and horror. "Pilot?"

"Long time ago, before I was a Medic ... haven't flown in years. Is something wrong?"

"N-no. Not really." The mixture of shock and dread couldn't be hidden, though the Kat definitely tried.

Patrik's attention focused squarely on Nathan. "*Too many pilots on board, without gunners.*" He rubbed his fingers against Jake's jaw until the older tom calmed somewhat as Alex pulled him fully onto the bed and nuzzled Jake's neck reassuringly. "You're not trying to take my place?" There was real urgency in the question that was reflected in Jake's distraught amber eyes and stiff posture.

"Not at all. I'm a medic now, and besides I can't fly with a gunner. Haven't been able to for a long time." He thought quietly to Rik. "*There's only one pilot for Jake and that's you.*"

Then it hit Nathan hard, and he sat down and missed the bed quite solidly. He got up as though it hadn't happened. "Gods, I didn't even think ... never occurred to me ..." He looked at the shock and dread slowly fading from Jake's face. "I'm sorry, I'd better go." He turned to leave, clearly not wanting to but feeling extremely foolish.

He was already out the door before he felt Jake reach out to him shakily. "*Come back? I'm ... sorry.*"

Nathan thought back carefully. "*Are you sure? It didn't even occur to me that my being a pilot would frighten you like that. I'm sorry for scaring you.*" The thought clearly came from just next to the door, and was clearly seeking to be forgiven.

"*I ... I just overreacted. Lost one pilot this weekend ... taken from my home ... we're linked, I'm not ready to face that choice again.*" There was a palatable pause as the Kat pulled his scattered thoughts together. "*Promise ... keep to your own head ... it's all I'm asking.*"

"*Jake, I'm Felsin. I can't form a Bond with you unless we both want it. And besides, I wasn't after that anyway ... friend, bedmate, teammate yes ... but you have a LifeMate and so do I.*" He walked back in, and put one hand gently on Jake's cheek. "*How far things go is up to you, Jake. You have my promise.*"

He looked around. "Sorry about totaling the mood in here, guess I went and stuck my combat boot in my mouth."

"*If ... if you have to try ... why is there already a bond between us?*" Jake tried very hard not to sound as suspicious as he was, and almost succeeded.

Nathan looked surprised. "There is?" He said out loud. He closed his eyes and concentrated on seeing any existing Bonds he was in. He identified the bond with Storm, his father, and the very strong Cordraki bond with Morin. Then he found a small, yet persistent bond in the background ... and realized it was attached to where his lifebond had been.

He sat down on the bed and tried to figure out how that could have happened. Felsin bonds didn't happen accidentally; they weren't designed that way. Then it hit him what must have happened, even though it shouldn't.

He looked at Jake apologetically. "*I didn't even know it was there. It's an almost impossible to duplicate occurrence. When we met, when I was healing you I needed to understand your language to do it. So I used a technique we call Linguistic Transference it simply copies the symbols and patterns that are language from one to another and back so that each gains a new language. It's not telepathy, and it isn't supposed to bond.

"*Unfortunately, my LifeMate had just died and so there was a tear in my mind. When the linguistic transference touched you briefly, my mind must have misidentified you as Rhy and tried to reestablish the shattered link. Looks like you must have had an unhealed, shattered lifebond as well since that's what confused things.

"*I didn't know it existed until now, but it's very weak as links go. Doesn't amount to much, and I'll do what I can to keep it from strengthening any. It wasn't supposed to happen.*"

Jake nodded slowly, then reached out to urge the tiger-tabby to lie down with them with the encouragement of his father and Patrik.

The little tom only had one comment to add before he claimed a kiss. "*I don't care what you want, Nathan, just don't hurt my gunner.*" He smiled seductively. "Welcome to our bed."

Nathan pulled the little tom in closer. "*Thank you. And I wouldn't hurt him, not if there was any way to avoid it.*" There was sincerity on every level of the statement.

Alex chuckled from the other side of Rik, as he pulled Jake on top, creating a sort of pile up around the little pilot. He looked up at Jake. "*I think this works.*" He grinned impishly.

"*Mmm, so many cocks, so few holes.*" Patrik broadcast to the group, giggling as he tried to get involved with all three males at once. "*Hay, Star, think you can ask Nate's-mate-Morin to come? Everybody'll be here then.*"

Morin's deep rumbling mind-voice came back to Rik after a short moment. "*Star said you wanted to ask me something?*"

"*Hummm? Oh, Nate, Alex, Jake and I are having some fun, and I thought maybe you'd join us? Get all the lovers in one place at once.*" His mind-voice phased out for a moment as his physical body claimed his full attention. "*I think something ... important? ... is going to be happening.*"

There was pleased mind-rumble from Morin. "*Of course, I'd love to.*"

Morin's mind-voice shielded tightly to Nathan. "*Rik just invited me to joining the four of you. Is that acceptable, Cordraki? We haven't had a chance ....*"

Nathan chuckled. "*Get in here 'ya silly Dragon. When did you start turning down this much fur in a bed?*" His mind was interrupted by physical distraction.

A short while later, Morin walked in. He chuckled at the large furry animated pile on the bed, removed his clothes and found a place he could get his hands on Nathan.

Nathan found a break in the action, put his arms around the Dracon and kissed him soundly. "*Hmm. Perfect now.*" He thought on a channel that included everyone on the bed.

Jake looked away from were he was making a playful attempt to maul Alex with Patrik's assistance and murred deep in his chest. "I like your tastes, Nate."

Nathan smiled, and did a reasonable imitation of a 'purr'. "Thanks, Jake. "*I did have a little help getting Morin in here though.*" His mental voice grinned.

Morin rumbled, a strangely happy deep sound from his chest, as he ran his hands through Nathan's fur, and friendly tail up the inside of Rik's leg. "*I do love fur.*" The Dracon's mind voice rumbled happily.

"*Planning to do anything but tease?*" There was real desire, white hot and unabashed, in the small Kat's mind-voice.

The Dracon's voice was equally passionate. "*Anything you like, little warrior. What's your preference?*" He asked with a very strong emphasis on anything, as the finely scaled tip of his tale stroked playfully under Rik's tail.

"*Haven't met the thing I haven't liked,*" he purred hungrily. "*Something new?*"

Jake chuckled deep in his chest. "Rik, you mean to tell me there's a physically possible position you haven't tried?"

"None I know of," he pouted and stuck his tongue out at his gunner. "Doesn't mean the alien dragon doesn't know something new."

Morin rumbled as he shifted his attention to Rik. "*Shame we're indoors, but we'll manage.*" He chuckled lustily, thinking that outdoors had far more options.

The Dracon stood from the bed lifting Rik, and the enclosing the little Kat in his wings, enhancing the intoxicating effects of the Dracon pheromones. As the Dracon roughly nuzzled the small tom's neck and began prepping him with a strangely slippery tail. "*Let me know if I do something you don't like, or if I go to far.*"

"*I will ... like this idea so far.*"

Nathan and Alex both joined up to keep Jake excited. Alex played teasingly under Jake's tail with his fingers while nuzzling the Kat's neck, and Nathan gave Jake a slow-designed-to-last blowjob while running his hands up his chest.

Jake closed his eyes, 'listening' to Patrik's experience and reactions and made himself relax and just enjoy it. He buried all thoughts that this was just another set up, one more play for his loyalty and skills, and will the belief that these Felsin really were in love with him. He was almost believing it as quiet fire surrounded Dracon and pilot; Rik could feel all his pleasure nerves wake up seriously and suddenly. The Dracon then turned him around so they were facing and slowly lowered the Kat on to his cock, going slowly so as not to injure his much smaller partner.

Patrik was willing to let his partner set the pace, but it took little effort to realize he wanted more.

Morin smiled as he understood what his partner 'wanted', and picked up the pace. His actions became rougher, and the pheromone scent become strongly dominant. The Dracon found the mixture of his own pheromones and the small tom's arousal increasingly intoxicating.

The Dracon's tail moved around to slide around the Kat's waist till it reached his erect cock. The slippery tail skillfully stroked the Kat's cock, teasingly playing with the barb hairs, and slowing when the vocal Kat got too close.

Eventually, the combination of the tail around his cock, the cock in him and the Dracon's jaws roughly grabbing him pushed the little tom over the edge. As his partner came Morin roared and started coming, hard and gushing inside the Kat. His wings spread and the red glow briefly lifted them both off the floor until both of them were spent.

As Morin's feet touched the floor, he carefully carried the little tom to the bed, and lay down with him with his tail gently around the Kat's waist as he cradled Patrik in his arms.

"*Jake ... when he recovers ... you *godda* try this.*" Patrik's mind was too relaxed to shield, not that he really cared to.

Nathan chuckled quietly. "So that's what you meant by 'fires of lust.'" He said before going back to Jake.

Alex looked in amazement. "Wow, I've heard of fireworks but I never saw it literally."

There was a tired, happy chuckle from Morin. "*You should see my cousin, Rao ... he makes the earth move.*"

"*Introduce us ... if he likes fluffballs.*" Patrik purred wantonly.

Jake slowly gave up his attempt to remain even a little bit restrained and started to laugh, hard. "*You are such a slut.*"

"*Just for you.*" Patrik shot back with equal amusement, and a little pride.

Morin laughed. "*I'll do that, and he does like fluffballs, after all he's got two Ferrin he's kept with him for years. Now those are 'sluts'.*" He grinned broadly at Rik. "*You're just open .... minded.*"

Nathan lost it, and laughed at the Dracon while bapping him with one of the oversized pillows. "Oh gods, not cousin Rao and Ferrin twins ... I didn't get sleep for a week when you had them over." He chuckled. "And I wasn't even involved."

"What's a Ferrin?" Patrik asked, highly curious.

Nathan chuckled. "The Ferrin are a race of ferret morphs, usually brown, black or grey furred and small in stature. The tall ones are about Jake's height, while the average ones are shorter than you." He said to the curious tom. "They have thin, wiry builds and a very dexterous, clever and insatiably curious. They also are sex-maniacs, I've never known one to not be in the mood."

"It should also be noted that both sexes go into heat, becoming even more sex-manic for a period of a about a week or two, every 3 to 4 months. They're a very friendly race, though they aren't big on space travel, mostly. Oh, and they have frighteningly quick reflexes."

"I think I know what I want for a pet." Patrik looked directly at Jake, looking every bit the kitten asking his parent for a present.

Jake only laughed harder and drew his hand over his face as he rolled to his back under the Felsin. "Rik, you are impossible."

"I want one." The black and white whined teasingly. "He said Rao had two of them." He thrust his chin at the Dracon holding him.

"Is that even a 'pet' race?" Jake looked between the Felsin still playing with him.

Nathan chuckled. "No, they're not a 'pet' race. They're quite sentient." He looked at Morin before pulling himself up, to claim a kiss from Jake.

Morin nodded, stroking the little tom's hair. "The two with Rao, are not 'pets' ... they're his friends. Among other races they'd be considered mates but Ferrin don't do long term mating. Their cubs are raised communally in large protected warrens. However, the ones who leave their homeworld often attach themselves to individuals in long-term arrangements ... at least the male Ferrin seem to. I've never actually met a female Ferrin away from their homeworld. But I imagine if you encountered one off-world who wasn't with someone you could probably 'have one' ... of course, he'd probably wear you out." He chuckled deeply.

"Me, I don't doubt ... Rik might just be their speed. He wears me out to be sure," Jake chuckled.

Alex looked at Nathan curiously. "You had two Dracons and a pair of Ferrin staying with you? I guess Rhy must have been away."

Nathan sighed sadly and looked away. "Yeah, for a whole year."

"*I'm sorry.*" Jake reached out to rub Nathan's neck with the back of his fingers as Patrik crawled over Morin to nuzzle the Felsin.

Nathan absorbed the attention quietly, while Morin looked on. "*Love, don't put yourself through this again. It wasn't like you drove him away.*" Morin said quietly, though he was using a 'conversational' band.

"*I know.*" The Felsin said simply and sighed.

"Has anyone here not had a really rough time in the lover/ mate department?" Jake asked absently as he urged Nathan a little closer for a gentle kiss.

Nathan accepted the attention gladly, and just lay quietly next to Jake.

Alex looked at Jake, as he remembered the two loves he'd lost, but smiled thinking about what he had.

Morin looked around. "Aside for waiting twenty years for him," He mussed Nate's unruly red hair. "To figure out what I was getting at, I haven't had anyone significant enough to get upset about before." He looked a bit sheepish, which was fairly strange look on his draconic features.

Jake focused his full attention on being affectionate without being too sexual towards quiet Felsin, his lead quickly followed by Patrik. "*You aren't alone anymore, Nathan.*"

Nathan relaxed and accepted the attention, and put one arm around the shoulder of each of the Kats. "*Thank you, it's been a long time since things felt 'right' like this.*" He kissed them both chastely.

Alex leaned into the Dracon while watching the other three. He thought quietly to Jake, shielding it from the others. "*Thank you, Jake. I think you just did more for him then I've been able to accomplish in a year.*"

"*I know this loneliness ...*" The equality shielded reply came back. "*He's family, one way or another.*" A touch of humor laced though the serious tone.

Alex nodded, and sent back a mental 'hug'. He didn't say anything, but the gratitude and happiness was clear enough.

As the five of them lounged in various states of exhaustion and sleep, Jake pulled Patrik a little closer and smiled as the pilot snuggled in with a sleepy purr as he tried to understand what was happening.

Okay, what the hell is going on?

Chance and I were clearly kidnapped, by a member of my own squad no less, on the stated grounds he loved me and I needed to get away.

Okay, I can't say I object to the principle, but there must have been a less disruptive way ... by the time they let me choose to come back, I might as well stay. Aristal as I know it will be gone.

Buried under the fallout of a war between the Corp-Nations and political ones. Felina probably won't survive it ... no matter what side she chooses. Too many ways to think she has divided loyalties.

And if Pat succeeds without much bloodshed ... there's no reason for me to be there. World will be quite secure.

Out here I've got a fight ... and Alex.

I think I would have come if he'd asked me ... he asks for so little.

I still wish Pat was along for the mission, she'd make such short work of any red tape.

But gods, she doesn't own me anymore.

No one ...

No one owns me.

Alex outright refused ... and where does that leave me?

I have a pilot and jet to provide for ... and no ....

No real place anymore. No master, no owner ... no commander ... not even a mission.

How the hell does that work?

Alex quietly drifted awake to a fairly well shielded turmoil from his LifeMate as Jake absently stroked Patrik's fur and started at the ceiling.

He debated for a moment before asking on a quiet, shielded channel. "*Is something wrong, Jake?*" The question simply left an opening to talk, without any demand.

The startled look he got from the lean tom was more than enough to confirm Jake didn't expect to be overhead.

"*Not really.*" There was an uneasy edge to the thought. "*Just trying to make sense of the last day.*"

"*'Sokay, it's been unsettling. I just thought you were upset, that's all. Didn't hear anything, just felt something.*" He thought quietly. "*I just what you to know that you can talk to me about anything, anything at all ... if you need to, that is.*" He let the matter drop there.

There was a long silence, then Jake spoke quietly on the same shielded band. "*Am I really worth the destruction of a world to you?*"

Alex paused for a moment. "*If you're trying to tell me that Aristal's survival hinged on your presence or absence then I think things were bound to fail at some point ... probably sooner than you'll admit. Even the strongest piece can only take so much stress before breaking. You were very close to your breaking point.*" He sighed. "*But that's not really an answer, or perhaps it is because I didn't see the choice as that simple.

"*It's not mathematics, it's not a scale you can't simply put one set here, one set there and decide. In all the history I've studied, and all the worlds I've seen I've never heard of one that would've been saved by the presence of single person. Worlds change, they always do ... sometimes the change is destructive but they survive and go on.

"*Aristal will survive without you, but I didn't think you'd survive Aristal. Worst case, as far as I could see I was choosing between the life of the Kat I love and some Chaos that was going to happen sooner or later, regardless. You'd made enough sacrifices for Aristal already, you didn't owe them your life you know.*" Alex sighed.

"*Why not?*" There was real confusion behind the question, and a very desperate scramble away from some thought behind that. "*Isn't family worth dieing for?*"

"*Family, yes. Can't argue with that.*" Alex sighed quietly. "*But family is supposed to work both ways, and when you needed help, no one wanted to see that.*" Alex sighed, remembering Nathan's frustration. "*We tried to find a way to help, that wouldn't involve you leaving Aristal ... this was our last option, when no one else would look beyond the politics.

"*Family is worth dying for, but it can't be one way all the time.*" Alex shook his head. "*I haven't been able to get Nathan to see that one either.*"

"*Pat took care of me as best she could.*" There was more than a little reflexive defensiveness in the retort, before it slid away. "*How ... so how's it supposed to work?*"

"It's all right," Patrik stroked Jake's face gently as he stretched to nuzzle the taller tom, unaware of the silent conversation.

"That's my line." Jake attempt at humor failed miserably as he pulled his pilot close.

"*You've rolled with worse, we'll do fine.*" The petite tom did he best to return the embrace, visibly disturbed by his gunner's behavior, and the pungent fear creeping into Jake scent. "*Alex loves you, more than anyone.*"

Alex looked a little uncertain, of what was being asked. "*How does what work?*" He truly seemed confused. "*And Rik's absolutely right, I do love you.*"

"*If ... if what I had wasn't ... mutual ... what does it mean to have it go both ways?*" He put the words together slowly, including Patrik in the conversation. "*What makes your 'love' different from hers?*"

Alex slowly realized what he was being asked and wasn't sure he liked where it was going. "*Defining love is never easy. And I don't know exactly what hers was so I can't really make comparisons. I'm not sure that it wasn't mutual, so much as they're were a lot of extra considerations. All I know is that my only concern was your well-being, no politics, no corporate interests just my love for you.

"*Maybe that's the difference, and I can't be sure of course. I just know that you where my first priority. I'm sure Nathan would point out that sometimes when people can't help they just try to pretend things don't need helped. Maybe that's what happened.*" He sighed tiredly.

"*But sometimes love means doing what's best for someone, even though you know they won't like it. Sometimes it even means risking losing them to get them the help they need. It's not easy, and not everyone manages it.*" He chuckled weakly. "*I try my best to love that selfishly, and Rik just does it.*"

"*Oh,*" he paused for a long time, running absent fingers through Patrik's long fur as he tried to understand. He eventually sighed in defeat and just asked. "*What is the point of getting me 'the help I need'? What am I supposed to be, that I wasn't?*"

Alex was getting a major headache. "*Love it wasn't about what you weren't ... what it was is that you were losing your grip on reality, becoming unstable and did I mention trying to get yourself killed?*" Alex shook his head frustrated. "*If nothing else warranted action that last one did. If no one had done anything, you would've found a way sooner or later ... you've figured out everything else ... why would that be any different?*" The calico carefully forced his eyes not to tear, he didn't feel like fighting ... he really, really didn't.

"*My life is worth that much to you?*" There was real amazement, and not a little 'this is too much at once' type shock behind the question.

"*You are worth that much to me, Jake.*" Alex said with completely surety. "*Worth enough that I was willing to risk the anger of powerful people to do what I had to, to protect you. And I'd do it again, in a heartbeat. That's very much a part of love, at least the way I love.*" He sent quiet reassurance across their bond, trying to buffer the too-much-at-once shock.

"*I ... urrr ... what ... what are you ... seeking ... want ... from helping me?*" The barely contained confusion that flowed with the question came from a mind trying very, very hard to understand a concept that just wasn't part of its world and now figured it needed to understand, soon and well.

Alex calmed his mind and smoothed his thoughts into calm reassurance as he recognized his LifeMate struggling with a concept that Alex considered fundamental. "*Jake, love isn't about gain; at least it isn't for me. I'm just trying to help because I love you ... that's my only reason. I love you and I didn't want to lose you, which I knew I would if I didn't do anything. This isn't about gain in any material sense, I can do quite well for myself there.*"

The calico felt Jake try to fit that into his concept of reality, and almost make it, before discarding the entire principle of making it fit in when he realized he'd warped the intent of the words and growled in real frustration.

"*At least nine lives, three hundred years and that is a concept that just doesn't work.*" Frustrated anger began to build behind the mismatch, as well as a set determination to make it work, somehow.

Alex slid in closer to Jake and nuzzled him comfortingly. "*Three hundred years probably makes it more difficult, so many set ideas already running around.*" He broadcast confidence and reassurance across the link. "*You'll make it work, it's nothing you can't handle.*" The calico thought with complete confidence.

"All right." Jake shifted to claim a long, slow kiss from his LifeMate as Patrik started to purr between them. "*I trust you.*"

Alex responded enthusiastically to both the kiss and the statement of trust from his mate. He decided that a verbal response was redundant, given his physical response and the fact that happiness was overlaying the arousal and love in his scent.

As Jake turned his attention to his pilot's cock, Alex shifted his attention to a slightly more aggressive mood as he felt the same currents in Jake's mind that Patrik had told him meant his mate was seeking to reassure himself with sex, and the bits and pieces he'd picked up before that Jake rarely initiated that when he really needed it.

Nathan turned to face the Dracon he was cuddling against. "*That worked out rather well, don't you think?*"

Morin chuckled mentally. "*Anything short of claws flying was acceptable.*"

"*Just 'cause that's what we did on our first date...*"

"*And our second date was what, fifteen years later?*"

"*Silly dragon, if you'd just asked.*"

"*I explained that custom before.*"

"*Yeah, fifteen years later.*"

Silence filled the infirmary, the low level hum of the electronic systems and the even softer sighing of Chance Furlong's slow breath the only sounds that disturbed the stillness. The tabby kat lay still on the only occupied treatment bed, completely still but for the rise and fall of his chest. For some reason it was a sight that Star found compelling. Despite everything she had to occupy her during the FTL transition the ship's sentience had found herself checking up on the insensate pilot more and more often, until she was keeping a constant watch over him through the sensors in the infirmary.

With the exception of Jake's brief visit earlier and those required to be there, the guards and nurses, no-one had much to do with Chance since the episode with Diamantha, and in honesty Star couldn't blame them. For so many of the people she was carrying their mind senses were just as critical as their sight or hearing, if not more so. The very idea of a reaction like Chance's was unsettling. It even prompted a change in the guards to mind-blind Dracons, and the psychically awake nurses were far more careful about being quiet.

"Chance Furlong," she whispered to herself, letting her voice filter out into the infirmary. He seemed so unlike anyone she'd ever come across before, and his reactions only served to make the situation more compelling to the her.

"Yes." If there had been anything else happening in the infirmary Star might have missed the soft whisper, so toneless and bland was the voice that uttered it.

"Chance? You're awake?" She couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. Nathan had assumed that Chance was still locked in the comatose state he'd been in when he was brought here ... unless Diamantha's mind-touch had managed to rouse after all.

"Yes," the tabby repeated quietly, lying as still as a corpse Star had once seen upon the treatment bed.

Star decided to risk a little more contact before informing Nathan. "Chance, how do you feel? As she waited for a response she began processing the volumes of data she had on emotion crises and psychic abuse.

"I ..." he murmured softly and then trailed off. "I can't move. He announced eventually, he words sounding strange in their completely neutral tone.

Star spoke in a quiet soothing voice. "It's just a medical field to keep you from moving suddenly and damaging your injured shoulder, before you were made aware that you need to be careful not to reinjure it."

Star found his completely neutral tone very strange, and not consistent with any of the files she had on him. Angry, raging, depressed was the kind of things she had expected ... this neutrality was disturbing and to her limited experience in psychology, not a good sign at all.

"Oh," he said simply, subsiding back into silence and stillness. Star waited patently, hoping that he might do or say something that would give her a better idea of how he was feeling, but time dragged on and she was disappointed.

Star quietly debated a course of action for several minutes, before deciding on a mildly risky course of action. She released the upper half of the field so that he would be able to sit up. The starship hoped that being able to move some might interest him, though it was only a small hope.

"Chance, you should be able to sit up now if you want. Just be careful of your arm." She waited to see if he reacted, though she didn't really expect him to.

Sure enough the tabby didn't even acknowledge her statement though he did let his head fall to one side, turning his face away from the door.

Star decided she needed to give the situation a great deal of thought. She spoke quietly in her most reassuring pleasant tone. "Okay, Chance. I have some things to do, but if you need anything just speak my name, I'm SilverStar."

She was vaguely disappointed, but not really surprised, when he seemingly ignored that statement too. There were so many questions she had that wanted answering, not least of which was how long he'd been awake, something she was sure Nathan would want to know as well.

Reviewing the camera logs she found nothing that might indicate a sudden return to awareness, although it must have happened after Jake's visit. The cinnamon Kat had *touched* him after all ... even Chance would have had to react to that.

Nathan woke up, still snuggled next to Morin, with Alex, Jake and Rik in a pile close by. He realized that something had woken him up, but he couldn't put a finger on it. The fact that he couldn't bothered him more then being woken up.

"*Star, ship status report.*" He quietly asked, on a tightly shielded channel.

"*All secure, Nathan.*" Her voice was a little distracted.

"*Anything on external sensors, or long-range?*"

"*Nothing, is something wrong?*" Her voice was concerned.

"*Not sure, I'm going to grab Morin and head up to the bridge.*"

Nathan turned to the Dracon he was sleeping next to. "*Morin, there's something up. I'm going to the bridge, and I'd like it if you'd come.*"

The Dracon stirred and opened his eyes. *"Of course, it is my ship after all.*" he got out of the bed, with an amount of quiet and grace remarkable for an 8' tall winged person.

Nathan had had years of having to answer Medic pages without disturbing Rhy, so getting up and dressed quietly was an easy procedure.

As the two of them stepped out the door, Alex mind-spoke to Nathan. "*Problem, Nathan?*"

"*Ship's business, Dad. Go back to sleep.*"

"*Since when did ship's business include a Medic who's a passenger?*"

"*Since he's the Captain's mate.*" Morin's deep mind-voice chimed in.


Nathan leaned against Morin, as the Dracon sat in the Captain's chair reviewing the sensor data. "Still nothing."

"It's been over an hour, and nothing's shown. Which isn't surprising since we're in TLD. Nothing happens in TLD, love." The red Dracon rumbled comfortingly.

"I know, I just have this bad feeling. Like something dark and shadowy is following us." The Tiger shivered slightly.

"Following in TLD, now that would be a trick." He looked at Nathan. "You're not thinking of the legends of the Void Hunters are you, those are pure myth. The Mephits don't have that kind of power sorcery, or we'd know about it."

"Maybe, I'll just feel better when we're in Alliance space." The medic said resting his head on Morin's shoulder.

Suddenly a klaxon activated at the helm station. The dark green Dracon at helm quickly analyzed the situation, and turned to the Captain.

"Helm, Report." Morin ordered.

"Hyperdrive distortion sensors have activated. Something is approaching us, with a distortion wave leading it."

"Approaching? In TLD?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Raise Shields, and put emergency power to propulsion. Let's see if we can lose whatever it is."

"Emergency speed aye. The lights on the ship dimmed as all non-essential power was diverted to the engines.

"Bring the ship to action stations, amber alert."

"Aye, sir."

As the status indicator lights shifted from green to amber, the system could be heard announcing. "All crew to action stations, amber alert. Repeat, amber alert. This is not a drill."

Before the first ring of the claxon had died down Jake and Patrik were wide-awake and scrambling for their clothes.

"*Report!*" Jake's mind-call demanded calmly of both Star and Amerith on reflex. "*Where I am needed?*"

Star smiled. "*At the moment the Captain is simply put the ship on alert as a precautionary measure. Sensors detected something following us and gaining; given that whatever it is has matched several course changes, we can eliminate this as a random encounter. I will check with the Captain to see if your assistance is needed. However, you are still listed as passenger not crew. Same as Nathan and Alex.*"

"*This is what I'm for, Star.*" Jake's tone was strangely neutral. "*Don't lock me out of the action.*"

Alex rolled over and looked at Jake and Rik. "Nothing for us to do, right now. Though I don't think anyone will object if we go to the bridge and see what Nathan and Morin are up to."

"Good enough." Jake nodded, clearly not happy to be out of the command structure in a crisis.

Star's attention was drawn back to ships systems which she had left to the 'dumb' computer that was capable of handling such things. She noted the power redirection, and promptly doubled checked the fusion backup generators, and terminated power to the non-essential systems.

"*Captain, are you going to want the Combat Stations?*"

Morin thought to himself a moment. "*Better power them up, Star. We may need them.*"

"*Aye, Captain. Channeling Fusion generators one and two to Neural interface Pilot and Gunner stations.*"

On the bridge, the two unused stations lit up as they were brought on line.

While waiting for combat to begin, Star began feeding all sensor data into her strategic/tactical analysis system. She also allocated additional processor time to the engineering and damage control subsystems. All things considered the computer space became a very noisy place.

As they entered the bridge the three Kats could feel the tension that was normally expected during a pre-combat situation. Morin was sitting in the command chair examining data on the arm console, while Nathan was sitting in the right hand station that had been inactive when they'd been on the bridge last.

The tiger-tabby's hands seemed to fly across the holographic console, though it wasn't clear what he was doing. The left hand station was active though no one was sitting there.

"Captain, we're currently at emergency speed plus 5 and the unknown continues to gain. Estimate visual contact in 5 minutes, and it will enter our weapons range in 10. No data on file for this signature, its weapons range is unknown." Nathan reported evenly.

Morin turned to see the three new arrivals. "Couldn't stay away from the action, huh?" He smiled, welcomingly.

"What would be the point?" Jake looked around and touched the ship's understanding of itself without bothering SilverStar and settled in left side counterpart of the station Nathan was at, which was a gunner post, and Patrik dropped into the inactive navigator's station. "I just wish you had a fighter contingent for us to take that bogie out with."

Morin nodded. "What point, indeed. Unfortunately, even if we had a fighter contingent it would be of little use since no fighter has ever been developed to operate in TLD space. In all probability we will simply have to engage them with the cruiser's weapons."

"Void take it all, this isn't going to work!" Nathan slammed his hand down on the console he was at. Sweat was pouring down his face and he looked extremely stressed.

Morin turned to look at him. "Don't worry, Nathan. Star's been in combat before without that station."

"Not in TLD she hasn't."

Jake walked over to the other station and looked over Nathan's shoulder and asked calmly, "what are you trying to get it to do?"

"Star needs a pilot to be at full combat capability, and I can't do it." His anger was clearly self-directed.

"Why would you even try?" He looked honestly confused as Patrik swung around at the mention of the word 'pilot'. "You're a Medic, piloting's Rik's job."

"Any pointers?" The petit tom was urging Nathan to get out of the station. "I was designed for this."

"As for why that easy ... Morin's captain, and I wanted to be doing something useful on the bridge, and it's not like I don't know how." He happily let Patrik take over. "But I think I'd rather let the expert do it." He smiled.

He motioned to Rik to sit down. "Okay, this is what we call a neural interface station, which means when the station is active you'll be interfacing directly with the system. You use the console to adjust various ship settings, like drive power and the trim on the flight shields, but actual piloting is a matter of 'thinking' what you want to happen. You'll also be getting sensor information in a HUD style display fed directly on to the optic nerve. Doesn't matter where you look there it is. The console also allows you to adjust what sensor data you're getting in the HUD."

The tiger-tabby looked at Jake. "That station you were at before works on the same principle only it's the gunner station."

"*Time to push to the next level.*" Jake caressed his pilot's mind to activate their combat-link and sat where he was before. They both took several moments to adjust to the drastically different approach to the interface, eventually mixing a combination of overriding the existing settings and shifting a few of their own in line.

"*SilverStar,*" Jake reached out to the DS, "*I know it's your body, but I'd appreciate Amerith in on this ... she knows how we think well enough to translate in combat-time.*"

"*Jake, it's not that I mind, I don't. But the problem is that combat is not a time for first exposure to TLD space, over 50% of DS go comatose the first time they hit the 'reality' of the sensory information in TLD. If we had more time I could take Amerith through the acclimation procedure, but that's a six-hour procedure. I believe we have less than 2 minutes until we enter visual range, 7 until weapons range.*" The starship's voice was very apologetic.


"*If it comes to that, I'm willing.*" The determination in the jet's mind was easy to feel.

"*But ...*" Star started to interject.

"*Star, I appreciated your concern, but if it's a difference between wining and loosing, the risk is worth it. I'll take a 50% chance of survival over none.*"

Star nodded reluctantly. "*Then I'd better give you the crash course in deep space and TLD combat. There's a world of difference between being a jet and being starship; I know, I've been both.*" She quickly transmitted the training files to Amerith.

"*When I turn control over to you, don't try to make 'sense' of the sensor input, that's where most DS get into trouble. TLD sensor data doesn't make sense if you try to understand from a normal three or four-dimensional mindset. The best thing you can do is just feed it through to your pilot and gunner, organic minds don't have the problem with TLD that DS do; they can accept the contradictions easier ... I'm not sure why.*"

"*Cause we're used to an illogical world of contradictions anyway?*" Patrik quipped as he settled in. "*Could you imaging what we could do with *that* ship?*" He feed some of the stats he was seeing through the combat link.

"*Merrr, a lot.*"

"*Now entering visual range. Bogey on main screen.*" Star's voice came across both mind-voice and speakers. "*Enlarging to compensate for distance.*"

On the screen a cruiser sized black spider-like thing appeared. According to the data on screen it was still gaining fairly rapidly. As they looked it seemed the blackness of its hull wasn't a matte black or shiny black, but instead the skin seemed to crawl as though moving slowly.

"By the First Egg." Morin said quietly.

"Void take it all." Nathan whispered.

"Not again," was all Star said.

"What?! Jake all but roared at them. "*Let me in on this, I'm fighting it.*"

Nathan was apologetic. "*Sorry, Jake. It's what legends call a Void Hunter, and the only one of us who'd actually seen one is Star, and that's how she was originally captured by the Mephits. They're either a techno-organic construct, or the product of cyber-sorcery. No one is really sure, the Mephits don't reveal how their magic works.*"

"*They don't have pilots or gunners supposedly. They're supposed to be self-willed yet controlled by Mephit Sorcerers. They're rumored to be very agile and fast, and they hit hard.*"

"*Star, do you have a shot at killing that thing?*" Jake was utterly focused.

"Jake ..." Patrik's eyes went wide as he swung to face his gunner.

"*With a real pilot and gunner, yes. I got caught the last time, because I didn't have either.*" She said confidently. "*But I can turn control over to Amerith if you think that betters our chances. My first priority is the safety of crew and passengers.*"

"*We'll try the easy way first.*" He consented to his pilot. "*But configure your power plants to be able to put one as the source for minimum requirement. If they get too close, I'm taking it out, and I'll need every scrap of power you can spare to do it.*"

"*Jake ...*" Patrik's mind voice showed the fear his frame didn't.

"*I'll be okay,*" he quietly assured the pilot. "*It's better than capture.*"

"*I know,*" he turned his full focus on the fight ahead.

Star finished the pre-combat checklist, taking the safety interlocks off all the weapons, and making sure all damage control systems, structural reinforcement shields and combat bulkheads were in place.

She turned to Amerith. "*Amee, any time you feel ready I can transfer control.*"

The ship shook with the grazing impact from the Void Hunter's guns.

Morin looked to Jake and Rik. "Looks like her range exceeds ours, it's your show now."

He noticed Lord Margali standing in a shadowed corner and nodded, acknowledging the TechnoMage's presence.

Nathan tried to shake a growing feeling of unease, by taking a thorough inventory of the bridge medical supplies, just in case. He couldn't figure out why he was uneasy, since he'd lost count of the number of times he'd been in space combat. Something was definitely wrong, he just wasn't sure what yet.

Patrik didn't even nod in response as he began to try to first outmaneuver, then put them in position for Jake to deal with it.

As they shuddered with the fifth hit and the spider-ship closed with them, Jake growled low in his throat. "*Transfer power now. We're outclassed.*" He drew a sharp breath in pain as the genetic shift began, then one in shock as the power he expected was denied by a third party. He managed one desperate attempt to break the other's control before collapsing with an agonized cry.

Patrik spared one glance for his gunner before transferring both sets of controls to his station and continuing the fight.

Margali stepped past Morin to the center of the bridge. He flared his wings to full extension, and blue power arced across them, and his eyes went from green to electric blue. The lights on the ship dimmed as all power save what was necessary simply vanished. On the main screen, the Void Hunter could be seen to stop and hang motionless in space.

"Enough, Skarden. Face me directly, unless your service to that witch has taken your courage as well as your honor." His voice boomed commandingly, seeming to cross the space to the Hunter and shake it as well.

Nathan quickly scrambled to where Jake had fallen, exhausted from his failed attempt to draw from ship's power. Confirming that the problem was simple exhaustion, though the drain seemed to be worse than made any sense, Nathan sat down and cradled the Kat's head in his lap comfortingly when his fingers gave him a shock ... the fur, and looking closely, the rest of Jake Clawson was rapidly changing, and killing the tom as it drained his energy reserves well past limits. He took a deep breath and drawing on the power Margali was leaking, he attempted to restore enough of the lean tom's reserves to grant consciousness, or at least prevent death.

There was a flash, and the bridge was replaced by a somewhat ethereal open space. There were two groups present; the one was Lord Margali still crackling with power, Morin, now standing with wings spread, Nathan still sitting tending to Jake; Rik standing where the console had been looking very confused and not the least bit pleased. Behind them was a back a petite white shekat with long blond hair in nursing whites and a large silver dragon of the winged quadruped variety, and Alex in Felsin Lion form standing next to the dragon.

On the opposite side, there was a large shadow-gray Dracon with midnight black wings. The wings were flared making the blood runes that decorated them visible. There were a half dozen Mephits present along with a large black four-headed dragon.

"I'm certainly not afraid to face you, Margali. You may frighten children with tricks, but I'm well beyond that." The Black Dracon said, his voice sibilant and deadly.

"You're also well beyond wisdom, Skarden. You've consorted with that Darshar witch so long, you're even starting to mimic them." Margali said, his voice angry and derisive.

As the Dracon postured, Nathan shuddered as he comprehended just what was happening, energy-wise, to the individual in his lap, and the full reality that even if he gave his all, it wouldn't be enough to save his father's LifeMate. Even a full stasis tube may not be enough anymore as the tom's body began to eat itself from within at a stunning rate to find the energy it was demanding.

Nathan's panicked search for a way to save his patient was interrupted by a glacially calm voice in his mind. "*Death is not always death, the spirit must find a shell.*" The calm voice cut through Nathan's distress, and he redirected his energy from a hopeless task to forming a tracking link with the rapidly disintegrating tom. He drew all the energy he had, plus what he could take from magic around him, and from the ship's generators and created the strongest, most focused link he could.

He remembered promising Jake that he'd stay in his own mind, but that didn't cover this. As the tom's body turned to dust, then vanished completely, Nathan projected with as much strength as he could to his father's LifeMate. "*We will come for you. We will not give up on you, no matter who or what lies between. NightBlades never give up on their own.*" That was Nathan's last conscious thought before his body shut down all but the absolute requirements of life, to strengthen, maintain and construct the bond.

Alex watched in paralyzed horror as his LifeMate vanished and then his son collapsed. Before he could realize that the Bond hadn't broken, waves of grief, horror and pain shot through him and he collapsed to the floor grasping his head in pain.

Morin saw the pain on Alex's face, and felt Nathan's horror and a strange resolve just before he collapsed and Jake's body disappeared. The Dracon turned to the enemy, his eyes flaring blood red as he transformed into a fiery, thirty foot long winged red dragon. Before any of the Mephits could react, a fire bright as the heart of star engulfed them rendering them ash, moments before the ash itself vanished.

The Dragon's blazing eyes turned on the 4-headed black dragon as the Void Hunter fled, seeking to escape the insanely fast claws and teeth of the gleefully raging Dragon-Amerith. Red and Silver pursued Black across the plains until the Void Hunter was trapped between their fire.

Margali shifted into the form of six-legged silver-winged electric blue dragon with glowing electric blue eyes. His head swiveled to glare at Skarden. "Rego Corporem, Creo Aurum." The Dragon intoned in a deep thundering voice.

Arcs of electricity, which surrounded and held him, suddenly transfixed Skarden. No matter what he tried he was unable to escape them. "You can't do this, Margali. You don't have the authority, and even if you did Tartirin will see you dead for this."

"I am the Queen's Agent, Skarden. I have all the authority I need to deal with a treacherous worm like you. As for Tartirin, I will deal with her in due course. You have finally broken rules that cannot be ignored, Skarden. You have brought harm to a member of the royal court, and to a consort of the royal family. You are also guilty of pledging your loyalty to the assassin, Tartirin, in direct violation of the Queen's commands.

"For these crimes, you are sentenced to eternal banishment from any and all lands where the Dracon are. You are furthermore sentenced to expulsion from the Order of the Golden Scale, since you are no longer worthy to wield any Magic."

Skarden glared at the blue dragon. "You don't have the power to carry out an expulsion, Margali. That's something only the Ancients or the Queen herself can do."

"You're wrong Skarden, the Queen has granted me the power to do as needs done in the current situation. And that is most certainly enough to remove the embarrassment that you have become to us."

"Perdo Vim Corporem". Margali intoned, and Skarden was wracked from head to toe by excruciating pain, and then his color faded from black to light gray. "All powers by virtue of your Dracon heritage are hereby stripped from you.

"Perdo Vim Mentem."

Skarden grasped at his head, screaming incoherently.

"You are hereby denied all Dracon magic, and the knowledge thereof." Margali said formally.

"Muto Corporem Terram."

Skarden collapsed to the ground. When he stood he was no longer a nine foot tall Dracon, but a five foot tall pasty gray Gargoyle.

"You are Dracon no longer, you are stripped of your Dracon name and your place on the roles of our people. See if your mistress will grant you new powers, or indeed if she has any further use for you at all."

"Rego Corporem Vim." The electric arcs surged until they became blinding, when they faded, there was no sign of Skarden.

There was a flash of light and the plain was once again the bridge. Morin was leaning against one wall, breathing heavy and dripping fiery energy. Alex was curled up in a fetal position on the floor, groaning miserably and holding his head. Nathan was slumped over in a sitting position.

The lights were still on emergency power, and the only operative device appeared to be the main view screen, which displayed the burning, drifting hulk of the Void Hunter.

Patrik took a quick inventory, then touched SilverStar's guilt-wracked and Amerith's battle-jazzed awareness's. "Just wonderful." He whacked the comm button and broadcast to the entire ship. "Medical to the Bridge, especially Diamantha. Whoever is next in rank that isn't up here, to the Bridge. Whoever's in charge of the Marines, to the Bridge. Everyone else, stand down. Current battle is over." He flicked the comm off and settled to try a trick he'd be taught to track his gunner, but never actually attempted. "SilverStar, just chill out. He's traceable."

Blade, in full Dracon combat armor, hit the bridge first and did a rapid assessment of the situation. Before he could say anything, Diamantha arrived flanked by a half-dozen Dracons in nursing garb. She quickly moved from Nathan to Alex, nodding to the medical staff who removed the two by stretcher from the bridge.

She turned to Morin, who was still breathing heavily, a burning rage suffusing his scent and aura. "Lord Morin, you may walk to Medical or be carried, but you are going." She fixed him with a steely glare.

"Crystella, this is my ship. I can't just go to Medical in the middle of a crisis. I ...."

"What you are is no good to anybody at the moment." She didn't flinched at the angry glare he gave her. "You're still hyperventilating and you can barely control your own rage. All would take is one wrong excitement and that fire magic of yours could become a bigger danger than the enemy." She paused and then continued with no compromise in her voice. "You are relieved of command until I say otherwise. Now go to Medical, I will be down shortly. If you must do something, please keep an eye on Alex. I don't like some of what I'm hearing in his mind at all."

"Yes, Healer." The red Dracon said, yielding to the healer's authority with a modicum of grace. He left the bridge closely followed by two of the larger Medical staff.

"Now, Patrik. She turned to face the petite tom. "Are you okay?"

"Beyond being in command again, yeah, I'm fine". He huffed slightly, still more jazzed than he was willing to admit and glanced around. "Who is next in command, anyway?"

"Technically, that would be me. However, I have far too much to do in Medical to run the ship. That puts Lord WindSong in command and he'll be up momentarily. Last I saw him he was acclimating to the idea of being in charge.

"Now this will probably sound like a silly question ... but just where is Jake Clawson?" The healer asked in voice that sounded distinctly like she expected to not like the answer.

Patrik turned grim, and more than a little angry. "That silver-blue Dragon, who might not want to show himself for a while, basically killed Jake's body. Jake started a genetic shift into something that could take out the Void Hunter, but his access to the power Star agreed to give him was blocked, so he only had his own reserves to work with, and that was nowhere near enough. He disintegrated." He took a deep breath. "As for where he is, I don't know, but I can get us there."

Diamantha shook her head. "Too many TechnoMages trying to draw from the same power grid, we're lucky that their lack of communication didn't send the main core critical. As for the silver-blue dragon, that is Lord Margali's primal form, which would tend to indicate the situation was a serious crisis. But if he disintegrated, then how can Jake be anywhere?"

She concentrated and then looked puzzled. "Okay, apparently disintegration is a non-fatal event ... as little sense as that makes. Does make sense of Alex's utter confusion, and Nathan's high powered tracking link though ... I guess he managed to lock on before Jake vanished."

Blade looked up from making a detailed query of one of the duty stations. "Patrik, why did you want the person in charge of the Marines up here? Granted that recovering captured personnel is our job, but I don't see a ship nearby to board. The only nearby ship is that completely trashed Hunter ... and there's no one aboard. There's also no trace of any other vessel leaving or enter the area in the last standard week."

"Urr, cause it's procedure ..." he looked a little confused. "Your troops are probably going to be involved, aren't you in on the planning of it?" He turned to Diamantha. "I don't know how, but he's got a new body now, it's hurting and he's not coherent."

Diamantha nodded. "That would explain why Cazi is something of a wreck, feedback along the Bond is probably overwhelming. Though I think there's something more ... I just haven't had time to check."

"That would depend on what exactly is being planned." The Marine said evenly. "If you're discussing a arcane battle or a naval engagement, no I'm not because that's not my area of expertise. If it's a land battle, or a boarding action, yes I am." He looked at the little tom squarely. "Can you at least define the enemy?"

"Tartirin," he growled deep in his throat, fur spiking. "Darshar Gargoyle. Very powerful. Jake's creator, and old master. She has to die."

Both Diamantha and Blade focused on the small Kat. "Tartirin's responsible for this?" The anger in the normally calm Healer's voice was volcanic.

"Positive." He bristled.

"I'm going to have to wake Lord Margali and get him to contact Queen StarFire. If that's what's going on, then I'd prefer to have at least one of the Ancient Dragons along."

Blade muttered angrily under his breath. "The Earth Clans knew we should have dealt with that witch after the assassination. Well now we're stuck in catch-up mode." He turned to leave. "I need to go reassess the arsenal. This was not even close to the mission profile. Lady Diamantha, if Lord Margali contacts the Queen, have him ask for more troops. Ideally, a division would be nice, preferably one of the psi-hardened ones."

A fairly young bronze dragon wearing a slightly too large Marine uniform ran on to the bridge, out of breath. He turned to Diamantha. "Lady Diamantha you said you wanted me on the bridge as soon as possible, what is the situation?"

"Yes, Lord WindSong. Given that everyone in the senior staff except me is 'unavailable', and that I'm going to be quite busy in Medical; you are going to have to take Command, at least till Lord Morin is more himself."

"Cool." He said leaping into the Command Chair. After a brief moment, he turned back to Diamantha. "Just what are we supposed to be doing right now? I thought we were just headed home."

"Things have become ... more complicated than that. We have a seriously missing person to recover, and part of the problem is we don't quite know where."

"Oh, that does make things tricky. Well, if we execute a expanding spiral from the point where the missing person was last seen then we can cover the most ground in the shortest period of time." He said, sounding like he was quoting a textbook.

Patrik look at her, then at the new Dracon, at Blade and back to her. "You are not putting someone that inexperience in charge of this hunt, are you?" His tone was completely stunned, and a little rebellious.

Diamantha leaned close to the small tom. "Hopefully, it will only be for an hour or so, just long enough for me to either calm Lord Morin down or wake Nathan up. One of them should be in command, since it's Morin's ship and Nathan is the most experienced hunter. Unfortunately, we're just not carrying a large crew so that having Margali and Morin both out of commission leaves us with junior officers and WindSong ... this was supposed to be a simple rescue mission. The worst we were expecting was maybe a little armed resistance from Cathedral ... which we're more than prepared for."

He nodded slowly. "*Amee, Star, keep him from doing anything too stupid, and aim here.*" He sent them a sense of direction and distance, then focused back on the mind-healer. "How can I help?"

Star thought back quiet and very subdued. "*There will be a delay while the main power system resets. Also, the auxiliary generators are at low capacity and should be resupplied. That can be done by dropping back into normal space and finding a gas giant to skim hydrogen from.*"

"*Do it,*" Patrik completely ignored the chain of command.

"*While we're in normal space, it may be advisable to contact the fleet for a stronger warship ... one more qualified for the mission.*" She said, clearly dismissing the cruiser as insufficient.

"*And something for me, if we can't build it in time.*" Amerith chimed in.

"Black Phoenix would be useful," Patrik caught Diamantha and Blade's minds. "*We have a Darshar, Jedi ... Pakitra is good at ripping conspiracies and governments apart."

Diamantha smiled wistfully. "As useful as they might be, I'm afraid that attempting to get their assistance would get us bogged down for longer than I think we can afford. If we can get one of the Ancients to join us that should compensate for the lack of Darshar, and Nathan is a Jedi ... if we can get him functional.*" She smiled at Rik. "Did you ever have direct mind-to-mind contact with Nathan? It might help to bring him around, if he heard someone he knew was close to Jake as well." She sighed. "Normally, I'd have his father do it, but I'm afraid Cazimir is little more than catatonic at this point."

"Yes. He 'thinks' on a funny frequency, but so does Star." He met her gaze stubbornly. "Failure is just not an option."

Patrik walked into controlled chaos as he entered one of the Medical areas with Diamantha. His gaze fell on Alex first, but he walked over to that catatonic Nathan and tried to do what he felt the better mind-talkers do when they got serious.

"*Nathan, please come out.*"

There was a long silent pause, and then a quiet, fatigued voice responded. "*Rik, that you?*" It asked uncertainly, sounding as though it were quite far away.

"*Yes, it's me. We're gathering the forces to get Jake back. We need you out here.*"

"*How's Cazi doing?*" He asked quietly, a little closer but still very tentative.

"*Bad, he needs our help.*" Patrik glanced over. "*I think he thinks Jake is dead ... or this is worse. He's not with it at all.*"

Rik could feel something flow between Nathan and Cazi, though Nathan was still fairly 'distant'. "*He knows Jake isn't dead, but he thinks that Jake could be anywhere in an infinite number of multiverses. That is worse than dead because it would be a loss that went on forever.

"*There's something else though. Part of his mind isn't sure that even if Jake was found, that it would be his Jake. He's terrified that what he'll find will be a complete stranger. I'm afraid he's still a little shell-shocked by the blanking ... this looks much more complete to him.*"

"*But it's not.*" Patrik corrected automatically, a little confused. "*He's not blanking at all ... he's more complete and stable than ever.*"

"*I'm still not sure that bringing Cazi around would be a good idea ... I'd have to classify him as borderline suicidal. He's lost two LifeMates already ... his mind is trying to shut down before it has to face the loss of a third ... or worse yet, ending up LifeBonded to a complete stranger.*"

"*That will not happen.*" The pilot's determined, completely certain growl echoed in the physical world. "*If he loves Jake, Jake, his Jake, won't ever be gone for long.*"

Nathan's clarified fairly quickly. "*All we have to do now, is convince Cazi of that. And as for his loving Jake, well if he didn't he wouldn't be in the state he is. Its something of a family trait, we commit completely to those we love. It's often a strength, but from time to time it does get us in trouble.*"

In the physical world, a sudden silver glow suffused the tiger-tabby's body, and there was the sound of a high-pitched chime. He sat up, slowly stretched and yawned. After a few minutes he looked straight at Rik, and smiled appreciatively. "Thanks, Rik. I needed a guide back, I'd been so busy focusing on tracking Jake that I'd forgotten where I put my body."

"*Rik, I found the traitor.*" Amerith's voice was quiet, and backed by a vengeful pride.

Patrik's head snapped up, too shocked not to echo his words. ""*Don't.*""

"*Why not? He killed Jake, he betrayed us ... *all* of us.*"

""*I know, we'll need him,*"" he tried to take a deep breath. "*We can't afford to right now. When we have Jake back ... he can choose.*"

"*We won't get this kind of opportunity again.*" She countered with more than a little irritation.

Patrik sighed and put every ounce of authority he had into the order. "*Do not kill him.*"

After a long moment she sulked away. "*Yes, sir.*"

"Damn," Patrik shuddered and leaned on the medical bed for support.

Nathan looked curiously at the small tom and put an arm around him. "Problem, Rik?"

"Amee found the guy who killed Jake." He answered with a tired voice.

Nathan quickly referenced Star's recordings and Diamantha's log entry. He sighed deeply, one hand gripping the edge of the bed for support. "Rik, what happened was tragic, Felsira knows I know that, but it wasn't deliberate. What it was, was two TechnoMages tried to draw of the same power supply, neither checking first. And both were doing it for the same reason; to defend the ship."

Nathan sighed. "Losing Jake is hard enough, but we don't need to make a tragic series of mistakes worse by attributing malice where there wasn't any. The guy in question is in pretty bad shape, because he gave me power he shouldn't have; first to try and save Jake and then when I couldn't do that ... to make sure I'd know where he was when his spirit formed a new shell."

"I know it wasn't intentional, Nathan. That's why I told Amee not to kill him." Patrik sighed. "I was there, I saw what happened, and if I thought he intended harm, I'd call it murder. But he did cause Jake's death. He acted without clearing it through us. Maybe that's how you guys work, but that is just not done. I ... " he suddenly cried in pain and clutched his eyes, curling nearly into a fetal position with his tail wrapped tightly against his body.

Cazi spasmed and shifted into the Lion form, curling in on himself with his tail over his head.

Star noticed the reactions from the bonded beings on board, and began tuning her shields to buffer the incoming signal. "*Nathan, I don't understand ... what is happening?*"

Nathan stood up and sensed across the tracking bond he'd applied. It gave him direction and distance, which was all he needed. He walked to the center of the room. "*Star, switch life-support and psi-shields to emergency batteries. Everything else on my frequency, now.*"

"*Margali, Diamantha, Morin. Fire-Strike Link now!*"

Roaring flames surged around the Tiger-tabby.

"Creo Vim Immortae Mentem." He intoned drawing on Margali's true-Mage abilities.

He drew across all the power now linked to him, including Margali's access as the Queen's Agent, and applied it to placing adamant reinforcement around his father's, Amerith's and Rik's links to Jake.

The tracking link was protected on it's own, and Nathan did the one thing he could think of to protect Chance ... he accepted the burning link as his own to relieve pressure on both of them.

The he 'looked' to the area around Jake, not being able to see it as such. He 'looked' for the least shielded individual harming Jake, since his intention was to make a point.

"Creo Ignem Draco Infernum."

He shouted across the link drawing all the power not already committed into demonstrating the true danger of awakening a sleeping dragon. It was possible the individual wouldn't be reduced to ash, but they'd be seriously harmed regardless.

Just before the power took its toll of him, Nathan threw one last incantation. "Creo Imagonem Regina."

The ship became indistinguishable from the swirling patterns of TLD space around it, protected by the illusion designed to shield the Queen's Agents from prying eyes.

Nathan collapsed to the deck as the fire quietly faded. Morin, Margali and Diamantha all leaned heavily against nearby supports while they caught their breath.

Then Diamantha knelt down to examine him. "Great Mother." She exclaimed noticed that the Healer was in his Panther-black war-form, with great golden dragon wings. The lights flickered as the ship operated on emergency batteries.

Patrik slowly uncurled to look around, his long fur puffed up in fear. "What ... what happened?"

Diamantha looked up at the small tom, while she checked Nathan vital signs. "I don't know exactly, but Nathan reacted to a threat both to a patient and to the ship and those aboard. He tapped into a power he shouldn't even have been aware of. And somehow he took the ship's power, the power from Morin, Margali and Myself and focused it and amplified it.

"Someone has just discovered that harming the loved one of a dragon carries a price. Of course, Nathan seems to have overdone it, probably because he's never done it before ... or possibly because it's what males on this ship do." She said with a combination of frustration and amusement.

"They're still hurting him," Patrik whispered, more than a little sick, for all the intensity of the feedback was significantly lower. "All that didn't help. What can we do? He's voice held not a whine, but a request for orders, as he looked at her directly.

Diamantha nodded. "Nathan knew it wouldn't I'm sure. Most of that was to protect the Bonds, and to solidify his fix on Jake's whereabouts." She lifted Nathan up, with surprising ease, and set him on the bed. She looked at the little tom. "As for Lord Margali not asking you about the power ... he was acting to counter a magical threat neither of you could perceive or deal with. Arguably, the two TechnoMages should have coordinated before the battle started but that didn't happen. But if we are going to rescue Jake, we will need Margali's assistance and power. We will not have the luxury of interpersonal hostilities, especially not against a power like Tartirin."

"Will everyone just stop that? He half growled, fully frustrated. "I know. I'm the one who told Amee to leave him alone."

"There are two things we must do first: one is two to fix the broken sentient component; that's my area of expertise and I think that is doable now. Nathan will wake up in not too much longer ... he simply exhausted himself, and Alex I think I can talk some sense into.

"The other problem is restoring ship's power. We've had three mages draw major amounts of power from the grid, and it's having problems recharging. It would probably be best if we got out of TLD, and into real-space. Of course, it would help if the main computer wasn't agitated and upset.

"Do you think you can do anything with the Computer minds?"

"I'll try. Patrik nodded. "Amerith I can control, Star ... I can try to reason with."

Suddenly, Lord WindSong burst in. "Lady Diamantha we have lost power, and are drifting. Furthermore the computers are paying me little or no attention."

Diamantha looked at him. "Such agitation, Lord WindSong. You should calm down before you pass out." She gestured subtlety and the Bronze Dracon dropped slowly to the floor. She gestured to the two guards. "Lord WindSong needs rest, please return him to his quarters.

"This is no time for a child to be playing at commander." She said simply, then looked at Patrik. "We're not going anywhere for the moment, so we will do without. By the time we are going somewhere I'll have one of the real commanders available."

He nodded and walked over to the bed Cazimir was curled up on and settled where he could keep a hand on the Lion. "*Amee, Star?*"

"*What do you want?*" The jet growled.

There was a pause. "*Yes, Rik?*" The starship asked quietly.

"*Is there enough power to get us to the nearest gas giant, or whatever you need to have to recharge the power plants?*"

"*Yes, the fusion plants still have enough power of real-space movement. We will, however, need to drop back to real-space. Due to a significant displacement during our encounter with the Hunter, I'm not sure exactly what our real-space location is. Should I return to real-space, Rik?*" Star asked uncertainly.

"*Yes, drop into real space, and do what you need to to recharge the plants.*" He nodded. "*And Star, don't beat yourself up over what happened.*"

"*Understood. Return to real-space in 5 minutes, you may notice an effect similar to the one that occurred during entry. Rik, there's something you should know.*" She paused. "*I could sense how much power Jake was trying to get ... even at full power, the plants on this ship simply don't generate that level of power, without building up for it. Not in the damaged state they're in. It wasn't Margali that killed him, it was the inadequacy of this body of mine.*" Her mind-voice was completely awash in sorrow and guilt.

"*Star, what's done is done. You're helping no one blaming yourself or anyone else for an accident.*"

"*Real-space in 3 minutes.*" She thought professionally, burying emotions behind layers of technical protocols and procedures.

"*Amee, remember that. The only blame here is to that bitch that stole our gunner.*"

"*Well, she wrote herself a short ticket to oblivion.*" Star said, with an aggressive growl in her voice. *"We're getting Jake back, and then removing that threat permanently.*" There was a grim and lethal determination in the starship's mind-voice.

"*Real-space now.*" Star said, moments before the colors, lights and sounds swirled through her interior. "*Scanning surrounding space for a usable gas giant. Giant detected, ETA 30 minutes to orbit.*"

"*Scan to the current limit of sensors reveals no ships present or within 24 standard hours.*" She said, as she moved toward the gas giant.

"We're headed for a gas giant for refueling, and no one is around." Patrik reported to no one in particular, then turned his attention to the Lion Felsin. "*Alex ... Cazi ... we know where Jake is, and we're going to get him. But if we want to get out of this without fighting him, we need you with us.*"

The Lion rolled to a sitting position and looked at Rik. "*But which him will it be this time?*" The Lion's voice was both a bit queasy and quite terrified as his tail flipped back and forth in nervous agitation.

"*The one you love.*" He caressed the Lion's check. "*The one you desire. He wants to please you. He'll never forget what you want for long.*"

The agitation eased some as the Lion turned to look at the small tom with emerald green eyes. "*You sure?*" He asked in voice that wanted to believe but was still a little afraid.

"*Completely.*" There was absolutely no doubt in Patrik's mind. "*As long as your LifeBond holds, he will seek to be who you desire.*"

The Lion perked up immediately, and then pounced the little tom suddenly; pinning him to the floor and licking his face happily. "*Thanks, Rik. And as for the LifeBond, I'm not sure how but Nathan did something and that witch doesn't have a chance of doing anything about it.*"

Diamantha smiled from the desk she'd been sitting at. "I'm glad to see your mood has improved Count Sunfire, we could use someone to take command of things."

"*Rik's very good at improving moods.*" The Lion thought on a band both healer and pilot could hear, with unspoken subtext that implied many things.

"Part of the job description," he chuckled weakly and scratched the Lion's side. "Now, bridge ... take charge of things ... and get my gunner back. Patrik shuddered as a sharp pain tore through his mind. "*Before they break him.*"

Cazi put his arm around Patrik. "Hold on there, Rik. I know it hurts, but if we're going to get Jake back we've got to stay sharp in spite of the pain." He said tightly. If he hadn't lost Ebon and Nareena he wouldn't be dealing nearly as well, he thought as the petite tom nodded against him.

"Any chance of you keeping some Chimra, in medical?" He said to the silver Dracon.

Diamantha laughed. "Of course, it has numerous useful properties ... including allowing healers to relax." She said as she pulled out a bottle a shining blue liquid and four glasses. After she filled the glasses she handed one to Alex, Rik and Morin who took it wordlessly.

Cazi caught the questioning look from Rik. "It's a Dracon specialty called Chimra'shen, and it's not alcohol. It does, however, allow for a little relaxing and in addition it's great for headaches and the side effects of psychic trauma." He raised the glass. "Cheers."

Patrik downed his glass in a single swallow, and blinked slightly as it hit his system.

Morin downed his silently, and went back to sitting quietly next to Nathan. Diamantha watched him and decided to wait until the winged panther awoke to check that situation.

Cazi downed his a little slower enjoying the mild 'glow' it produced. He looked over at Nathan. "Uh, Diamantha where did Nathan get the wings from? That's not a shift he's capable of."

The Dracon nodded. "Apparently, it was there in latent form. My best guess would be that the energy surge he took while shielding the Bonds, probably activated that metamorphic genetic structure."

"He'll be okay, right?"

"According to the medical sensors, he's just unconscious from exhaustion."

"Well, let me know if that changes. He turned to Patrik. "Okay, let's get up to the bridge and see what the state of things is. He paused momentarily. "That is, if you feel up to it. Given what you're going through, you might want to lie down for awhile."

"No thank you," Patrik shuddered involuntarily. "At least working is a distraction. I lie down ...." he shivered again.

Cazi nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, I know. I just don't want you working yourself to exhaustion. I did that for a while, after I lost Ebon and Nareena. It never helped."

When they entered the bridge, Cazi immediately moved to the command chair and sat down. He turned to Rik. "Anywhere you feel comfortable is fine, I doubt there'll be any piloting needed for a little while at any rate."

"Star, what's the current status?"

"Main power is at 5% of nominal and recharging slowly. Fusion Generators Three through 6 are providing all power requirements including propulsion. Generators One, Two, and 7 through 10 are off-line due to depleted fuel supplies. Emergency batteries are standing by at 40% of full, recharging will take approximately six hours."

"We are currently moving to a local gas giant for refueling and recharging. ETA is 15 minutes, and local space remains clear."

The Lion nodded. "Not good, but could be worse. What's our distance to the Alliance Tachyon Repeater Net?"

"I'm detecting a ATRN node approximately twenty-two and one-half standard hours away at current best speed. We do not currently have sufficient power to access the net from this distance."

"Understood. Status of Defense and Armament systems?"

"All systems are reading functional, but we have insufficient power at this time. You should note that there is damage to the main power supply which limits it to 65% of nominal."

"Damage? Can you be more specific?"

"Not at this time."

"I see. I'll have to take a look when Nathan's available to take over the bridge."

"Psi-shields and life support are at full strength, and are monopolizing generator six. There is a sustained impact on the psi-shields."

"We'll deal with that once we're fully operational again."

"Yes, sir."

Cazi turned to look at Rik. "Well, looks like we have to wait for the power to recharge. Hopefully, Nathan will be 'round by then. Hunter would be really useful right now."

"Hunter?" Patrik regarded him curiously from the navigator's post.

Cazi smiled. "One of Nathan's other-selves, sort of like Jake's past lives, except they're all concurrent. Hunter's a specialist in finding things, people, especially people who don't want to be found. Actually, he used be just seek and destroy, but he's become more of team player these days."

"Why do we need him? Four of us on board can track Jake anywhere." He asked, honestly confused.

Cazi smiled. "Old habit, Rik. Always refer something to a specialist when one is available. But you're right though, I don't suppose Hunter can improve on all the Bonds available, to say nothing of a telepathic link designed specifically for tracking."

The Felsin Lion settled back in the chair and closed his eyes. "Rik, I'm going to try something, probably a little risky but I think it's worth the effort. If I don't say anything after about five minutes, hit me, and I mean hard."

Cazi 'stepped' out of his physical self and shot down the heavily shielded LifeBond he shared with Jake. He somehow 'knew' that as long as he was 'in' the link he was safe. The journey hurt like hell, since the closer he got to Jake, the more intense the pain got.

When he reached the limit of his pain tolerance, he sent a thought through the pain until it touched his tormented mate. He didn't send words, which would be too complicated, he just sent emotion: a strong sense of support, love and unyielding commitment. He intended to send for as long as he could stand the pain of contact.

Something irritating caught his attention before he reached his limit, then pain and shock from his own body dragged him back to it and the bridge. When Cazi opened his eyes he saw a black furred, red haired and eyed shekat in a Black Phoenix uniform watching him with fist ready.

Cazi rolled quickly across the bridge and switched to his Dracon combat form, nine feet tall burnished gold with wings. He was aware of all the non-Dracon on board, and this wasn't one of them. The constant underlying pain from Jake's torment was making him angry and this trespassing female had just volunteered as stress reduction. He spread his wings, as his eyes shifted from their emerald green to the Dracon combat red.

"Come at me then, Cazi." She taunted in a vaguely familiar voice, dropping into a defensive stance as Patrik scrambled out of the combat zone. "Let's dance."

Cazi looked at her curious. "Who are you?" He asked, maintaining a defensive posture. He hated the vaguely familiar, especially right now. Part of him wanted to fight, but the Commander part of him realized that unnecessary fights were to be avoided in the current circumstance.

She looked a little surprised. "Amerith. Star's got this nifty solid holo-projection tech."

Cazi laughed and shifted back to his Lion form. "Teach me not to check all my senses, I should've caught that Avatar projection immediately."

"Yes, you should have." An amused voice said from behind him, where a petite white shekat with blonde hair in nursing whites was standing.

"Okay, that explains that. Is there a particular reason for this sudden interest in holo-avatars?" He asked curious.

"I hit you, hard, like you said, after five minutes and you wouldn't snap out of it." Patrik started to explain.

"So I materialized and hit you a lot harder. Amerith smirked. "Does the body really not look like me? I though it was a good representation."

"It is Amee." Patrik chuckled weakly. "Very attractive."

Cazi chuckled. "Well, I did say that, and I suppose it does. I mean I haven't known you long enough to be sure what your avatar 'should' look like. Some DSs change avatars like people change clothes, and some never use them at all.

"But I'm still a little strung out from that trip. It was very painful, and I'm not sure that I accomplished anything ... but I had to try." He said as he climbed back into the command chair, and leaned back trying to relax. He looked at Star. "ETA to the gas giant."

"Five minutes."

"Put it on main screen, if we have the power."

"Yes, Cazi." She said, just before the swirling form of a classical gas giant appeared on the main screen.

"Will that be sufficient for what we need, Star?"

"Yes, sir. Quite sufficient, we should be able to fully fuel in under 2 hours, and fully recharge in 6."

"I hope that's fast enough." Cazi said worriedly. "Let me know as soon as we have enough power to access ATRN."

"Of course. Even as SilverStar acknowledged the order Amerith grabbed her head and screamed, her voice and machine-band mind-voice ripped through the bridge as her form phased, then disappeared.

"Oh, my god." Patrik whispered, then focused completely on Amerith. "*Amee, what ... oh, gods ... Amee, listen to me, Jake is not gone. Alex and I both still feel him. Amerith, please.*" He started going pale under his black fur as nothing but agonized gibbering and rage come back along their weak bond.

Cazi quickly recognized what was happening and pulled a fairly obscure trick out; he grabbed the shattered end of the bond near Amerith and patched it in to his own bond with Jake, far enough outside himself so that a Bond with him wouldn't form accidentally. He watched with satisfaction as the 'armor' on his Bond, covered the auxiliary Bond with Amerith and she mentally slumped in relief.

He slumped back in his chair exhausted. "That bitch is going to be so dead when I get my hands on her." He growled angrily, claws digging into the command chair.

"Whatever you did," Patrik all but crawled into Cazi's lap and shook, "thank you."

Cazi stroked the little tom's hair comfortingly. "You're welcome. I'm just glad it worked, wasn't entirely sure it would." He smiled gently. "I owe it to Jake, to look after you two 'till he's back."

Cazi shifted to mind-voice. "*Amee, how are you doing?*" He asked gently.

She didn't respond with words, but a general sense of thanks and that things were getting better came through the slowly receding terror as she curled in her memory block and tried to remember how to think.

Cazi sent a general sense of reassurance. "*You're welcome.*" Before he switched to Star. "*Star, keep an eye on Amee, she's had a rough time.*"

"*I know, I've been there.*" She thought. "*She'll be all right, that was some trick.*" The starship thought admiringly.

As the ship slowly slid into orbit around the gas giant, Cazi noticed something on the viewer image. "Star, magnify the lower left quadrant."

"Okay, done."

Cazi stared at it for a moment then laughed. "Star, can you confirm that that is in fact, one of the Project StarRider refueling bases?"

"Checking, it is. Which means we can recharge and refuel a lot faster ... if we can get Nathan awake to get us in."

"*Crys, any chance of bringing Nathan around? We could kind of use him, now.*"

"Let him sleep for now. A deep voice said from behind Cazi, he turned to see Lord Margali, leaning on a large, carved mahogany staff at the entrance to the bridge. "I released the security codes, just as well as he can. After all, I did send us here."

"Lord Margali, I thought you'd still be sleeping off ..."

"There is no time for sleeping. A shipmate is being held by the Darshar witch." His eyes turned silver for a moment. "You should be receiving docking instructions now. I am going to return to sleeping, until I am needed again."

"Thank you, Lord Margali." Cazi said respectfully.

"Lord Margali ..." Patrik hesitantly spoke up. "You might want to ... secure your sleeping spot against Amerith. She's hurting a lot right now, very angry and kind of blames you for this. I already stopped her from trying to kill you once, and I don't think she'll listen to me right now."

The Dracon turned and nodded. "Thank you, Rik. I'm aware of Amerith's pain and anger, but to be honest she lacks the power to be a danger to me, in the current circumstance. To be honest, I find myself quite ... embarrassed by what has happened. Her anger is not entirely unwarranted, though I assure you I had no idea what I was doing would have the effect that it did. It is forbidden to harm the consort of a member of the royal court intentionally. But you have my assurances, that I will do all in my power to get him back."

The petit tom just nodded as the TechnoMage left.

"*Star, guide us in when you getting docking instructions.*" Cazi relaxed slightly with Patrik in his arms and tried to be there for the minds this was tearing apart.

"*Getting them now, docking in 5 minutes.*"

Consciousness came slowly to an awareness trying to remember who and what it was through the mind-numbing pain of body and soul.

"Don't bother, you are nothing. A strong, gentle female voice answered the thought. "You exist to serve."

The statement felt right, so he did not question it as his head was brought up by a hand under it until restraints stopped the movement, and a steady, soothing hand caressed his head, laying the long strands along his neck flat.

It felt good. Even more than the pain she made go away, the touch felt good.

She smelled good too. Calming, soothing. Like mother.

"Yes, good boy." Her voice was softer, approving.

That felt good too.

"Come, let's get you cleaned up to meet our mistress."

The collar tugged him in one direction, so he willingly followed it, and her scent and warmth, on four unsteady feet.

"Why does he still have links to his past?" A harsh, irritated female voice shattered the pleasant mood as Mother showed him to Mistress.

"They are LifeBonds, mistress." Mother answered uneasily. "They can not be broken."

"You mean you wouldn't. Fury crackled behind that voice. "Do it. Take him to Ferri and have everything taken out. I want him broken."

"Yes ... yes mistress." Mother trembled slightly and pulled him away with a tug on the collar before he could step between her and the angry one.

Nathan awoke with a start, angry in a very unspecified way. Then he remembered why he was angry, and at whom. He quickly jumped off the bed, and started to fall as his wing caught the bed. Diamantha caught him and put him back in a sitting position.

"Careful, Nathan. You're reflexes aren't use to having wings." She said quietly. "You should rest, you've been through ..."

"There isn't time." He interrupted. "I'll sleep when we have Jake back." His face was a mask of grim determination, and he got down carefully caping his wings against his back.

"Or when you pass out." Diamantha whispered, shaking her head as the winged war-form left Medical.

Cazi was surprised when the doors opened and Nathan, still in war-form, walked on to the bridge. "Feeling better, Nate? He asked, having seen a message from Diamantha asking him to keep an eye on his son.

"Irrelevant." He said as stalked to the exact spot from which Jake had disappeared. He knelt down and begin inscribing arcane symbols on the deck.

"What'ya doin, son? He asked looking over the symbols, which were far more advanced than any magic Cazi had learned so far.

"Bridge of Starlight." The winged tabby said simply, as though it explained everything.

"Nate, I hate to be discouraging but I've heard of that spell. It only carries the caster."

"Sufficient." He said standing up and reviewing the symbols. "To wait longer is to court disaster." He flared his wings and power surged along them, and the symbols began to glow with a silver light.

"And you taking on Tartirin solo, isn't?" The Lion shouted angrily. "When did you become powerful enough to do that?" He asked sarcastically.

"When it became necessary." He said evenly, focusing on guiding the building light into the desired passageway.

Nathan's building of the bridge was disrupted as he felt the heavily damaged Bond between Jake and Chance shatter. The tiger-tabby's eyes went burning gold as he realized someone had caused the breach deliberately. Before he could do anything, he was hit by a sudden flux of sensations from both directions.

He looked into Bond space and watched in surprise as his mind grab the shattered Bond and claimed it, quickly armoring over the new formed LifeBond between him and Jake. Though shocked at what had happened, he found irony in the fact that the Queen's Sigil now covered the Bond. Of course, being LifeBonded to Chance was just going to be inconvenient.

"Oops." The tiger-tabby said quietly as the bridge finished forming and Nathan found himself somewhere strange, though he couldn't identify it, and he didn't care. Several rough shapes entered his 'psi' vision, and he figured them to be guards.

"Perdo Corporem."

The guards dropped to the ground, as their voluntary muscles stopped obeying, and their pain nerves started sparking like firecrackers.

He turned on the human psi. "*You abuse the powers you have been granted. You debase the greatest traditions of the mind, and dare to attack LifeBonds. You are an abomination.

"Perdo Mentem."

Black lightening engulfed the Human psi, and he screamed in pain as his perception of the psychic world faded to blackness, and the extra world was denied him.

"You won't die, now. This is a warning, the Defender has arisen and will soon be upon you."

He turned to 'Jake'. "*Remember Cazi, who loves you. He will come soon enough. Hold to who you are.*" He gently imprinted a durable memory of Cazi, fully imbued with all the love that his father felt for Jake. He followed it with the strongest image he could build of Jake's Kat form, complete with his impressions of the Kat making sure that it was clearly the same as the person he was 'talking' to. "*You are valued and loved. You are a NightBlade, and we will rescue you.*" The tiger-tabby gently soothed what pain he could.

"*I remember. I survive.*" Jake's mind-voice responded through the haze of pain and survival-based delusions. "* Tell Alex I love him, and I'm sorry.*"

Nathan replied gently. "*You have nothing to be sorry for, and I will tell him. We all believe in you, and no matter what happens we will come. There is no one who will stop us.*" He said with gentle, yet unyielding certainty.

A sudden pain from his physical self threw Nathan back to the real world. He looked up at the ceiling to see his father in Dracon form. "Oh, Alex, Jake said to tell you he loves you."

The Dracon slid into Kat form, smiling brightly as a wave of relief washed most of the worry and stress from him for a moment.

"Now what was that for? Nathan asked, rubbing his jaw as he stood up.

Cazi shifted back to Felsin form. "That was for being stupid and arrogant enough to try and take on Tartirin solo. We're a team, Nate. Try and remember that." He said in a mixture of anger and worry. "You scared me when the bridge flared and your body went rigid."

"Sorry, Dad. Unfortunately, the bridge is psi-projection only. I was hoping I'd be able to pull him back with me ... but it doesn't work that way."

"Jake's okay?" Patrik asked as he knelt sideways in the pilot's chair, his face unreadable.

"He's still alive, and he at least remembers who Alex is. His verbal skills are a little rusty, but he's seems in reasonable shape for someone who's been tortured. I did what I could to reinforce his self-image and self-worth since that seems to be what they're trying to destroy."

The winged panther shook his head. "I got damn lucky though that Tartirin wasn't present. All arrogance aside, I'm not up to handling her solo."

Nathan looked to Patrik. "Is your bond with Jake still intact? They've been trying to rip out all of Jake's bonds, especially LifeBonds."

"Yes," he shuddered as a new wave of pain rolled through it. "That didn't take long."

Alex grimaced a bit, and Nathan got decidedly queasy as the new pain came through.

"I didn't quite plan on this happening." The winged panther said quietly, rubbing his head.

"He's a survivor," Patrik shuddered before bolting to his feet and started pacing, hugging himself. "He'll make it."

Nathan nodded. "Yes, he will, but he needs us." He slowly stood up, and looked around.

Cazi looked to Nathan who nodded, and then sat back down in the command chair. "Star what's our current power status?"

"Estimate 1 hour to full recharge. All fusion generators are refueled and on-line. We have sufficient power to access ATRN now."

"Thank you, Star. Nathan, how precise a fix do you have on Jake's current location? Distance and bearing would be useful."

Nathan concentrated for a few moments. "Pocket dimension with access point a few galaxies away."

Cazi looked momentarily surprised and then focused.

"*Lord Margali, please contact the Court and see if any of the Ancients will be available and willing.*"

There was a silent acknowledgement.

"Star, see if you can locate the Behemoth, and DarkStar."

"Behemoth? Cazi, is that a good idea?" The starship's voice was nervous.

"We need as much dimensionally mobile power as we can get, and the Behemoth was designed for an interdimensional war. Find it."

"Yes, Sir." She said, clearly not happy about the idea.

"Before you start that get us a link to ATRN, we'll need long-range communications. Nathan, you'll need to take command for now. I need to go down to engineering and see what the problem with the power core is. We're not going to war at 65% of nominal."

"Okay, Cazi." The winged panther said as he took over the center seat. He turned to Patrik. "Mind staying at navigation, Rik? One of us with a link to Jake should be 'driving', and you're the pilot."

"Sure," he shivered again, trying not to look as queasy as he felt. "I need something useful to do." He focused most of his attention on the job, then spared a bit to reach out to his gunner's mate. "*Cazi ... was Ebon ever captured when you were bonded?*"

Cazi spared some attention from examining the power core. "*It happened a few times over the decades we were together. Risk of the profession we were in, I knew that. It was never for long, nobody holds a NightBlade for long.*" Cazi paused, as he gently removed a burnt out coupling. "*We always take care of our own.*" He said with a grim determination.

"*Is ... is it always this bad?*"

"*No, it's not. I've never had to deal with the level of barbarism that Tartirin is engaging in. Usually, its just uneasiness knowing that your mate is in trouble and you can't do anything right away.*" He projected reassurance to the small tom. "*We're going to get him back, we just need to stay focused on that.*"

There was brief surge of satisfaction as Cazi found the focal point of the damage. "*If you don't mind, keep an eye on Nate while I'm down here. He got himself snagged in two LifeBonds he wasn't expecting or ready for, and I'm not sure how well he's handling it.*" Parental concern tinged his mind-voice.

"*Will do.*" There was more than a touch of relief in the pilot's mind at having something important to do.

Nathan tapped at the command pad, until the main screen activated with the leaf and star symbol of the Medic Corps on it. "Excellent." He said quietly.

"Nathan, we're getting a request for two-way visual communication from General Vordokai Talmisen's office." Star said evenly.
"Not surprising, put her through."

The screen changed to the office of an older Black Lioness Felsin in a Medic's uniform and General's stars.

"Morning, 'Kai. Long time, no see." Nathan said in an overly familiar tone of voice.

"Nathan, is that really you?" The Lioness asked disbelievingly.

"Well, they were my command codes." Nathan grinned.

"So they were. Are you all right? You've been missing for over a year."

"As well as can be expected, under the circumstances. Put me back on active duty, 'Kai, and activate Cazimir's reserve commission while you're at it."

She nodded. "Of course, Nathan. Cazimir's with you? He's been missing longer than you have."

"Long story, 'Kai. I need a few things from you, and this is important."

"Nathan, you rarely ask for anything, so I know it's important. How can the Corps help?" She asked in an almost motherly tone of voice.

"About three years ago we discussed activating the NightBlades as a unit of Corps Special Operations. We need to do that now, I'll be sending you the roster as it stands currently."

"You still want command of the unit?" She asked quietly.

"Absolutely, 'Kai. For one thing, we've already had one member abducted."

"What? By whom? The Corps doesn't stand for that you know." The Lioness was all business.

"'Fraid so, 'Kai. As for who, the witch goes by the name of Tartirin, and if you want details contact the Dracon High Command, they know who she is."

"Understood, anything else?"

"Just a personal matter. Before you put me back active, change the name on my records from SolGardin to SwiftClaw. And you should notify Rhymar's family that he died a little over a year ago."

The Lioness looked up. "Of course. Are you okay, Nathan? Do you need someone from counseling?"

"Not anymore, 'Kai. It's been a year, and I've got new LifeBonds to deal with. Oh, you should list the NightBlades on extended assignment since we're going to recover our abducted teammate."

"Of course, Nathan. Do you need any support from Alliance Military Command, I can arrange it."

"This is a special one 'Kai, we've got support from the Dracon Military already, and we'll have to be creative acquiring ships ... we're going to need TLDs for this one."

"Understood. I've got you reactivated with the name change, and you have full access to the database should you need it. If you need anything else, ask. It's good to have you back, Nathan." The relief in her voice was genuine.

"It's good to be back, though I wish the circumstances were different. SwiftClaw out."

The screen dimmed.

"You really are important in the Alliance." Patrik observed quietly as his view of Nathan shifted radically.

"I've made good friends with some important people, true enough." Nathan nodded. "And for once, I'm going to take advantage of that. Not that there's much the Alliance can do, given how far out of their jurisdiction this is, but I'll take what I can get. Besides, I've wanted to make the NightBlades official for a while now." He said leaning back in his chair.

"Besides, it'll make things easier when we have Jake back." He said quietly, with no doubt in his voice.

"Star, would you put the manufacturing section to producing the NightBlade uniforms we discussed earlier. And transmit the roster, and Lord Margali's DS certifications to 'Kai."

"Certainly, Nathan. ETA to full charge now 10 minutes, and I believe I've located the Behemoth. DarkStar heard my call, and is on his way."

"Thanks, Star."

"Would it be acceptable for me my hull coloration to NightBlade colors and insignia? " The starship asked hopefully.

"Of course, Star. How else would you wear a uniform?"

"Thank you."

"*Will ... will I have a body for this?*" Amerith asked of no one in particular, still badly shaken.

Nathan nodded. "*DarkStar is bringing a TLD-capable, combat-worthy starship for you, Amerith. He's going to try and take control of the Behemoth, which is more the kind of body he's used to. We wouldn't keep you out of this.*"

"*Thank you.*" Her voice felt partially broken, but getting stronger.

"*Nathan, maybe I should show Amee the combat 'Mechs. If this goes to ground combat, we'll need them.*"

"*Good idea, Star. Amerith, have you ever controlled something that wasn't primarily a flier?*"

"*Not really. I helped out with figuring out a jet-to-robot craft, but I can't say I'm proficient at it.*"

Jake screamed for the first time since his body reformed, unable to withhold giving voice to the pain as his body warped, and a brutally strong Psi forced him and the others deep below the surface and planted a new personality there, and blocked them from it.

He growled as the physical world was blocked out, then focused on what was still his. He locked onto the strongest Bond he had and sent a burst message along it to his LifeMate.

"*I've lost control of the body. I am still here. Be careful.*"

Down below Cazi growled as he put the finishing touches on the repairs to the power system. "*Nate, did you catch that?*"

"*Yes, I did. Better make sure all the ground troops are equipped for subduing combat, tuned for a large Dracon, which is probably close enough to the truth.*" Nathan said, not being quite sure why he heard it, though it probably had something to do with an interaction between his bond with his father, and his new Bond with Jake.

"Star, what's the time to rendezvous with DarkStar?"

"He'll be here in about six hours, then we go after Behemoth."

"Set up an intercept rendezvous with the Behemoth, tell DarkStar to meet us there."

"Just to bring everyone to speed ... Jake just lost control of his physical body, he's still there, but not in control. I'm guessing someone decided to add a new personality. This means we'll have to take the body down with doing serious harm."

The winged panther sighed wondering why dating in his family was always so complicated. "Star, what's our power status?"

"Just finished, and we're undocking from the station."

"Compute fastest hyperspace course to the Behemoth's last known location, and coordinate with DarkStar. Engage when you've set up the rendezvous with DarkStar."

"Yes, sir."

"Amerith, you should pay attention to what Star is doing. Also, you should probably study the in's and out's of hyperspace navigation closely since you'll need that when you take over a Starship body."

"*On it.*" The former jet had a touch of uncertainty in her mind-voice, in addition to the grim determination.

He walked over to Patrik. "This is probably a good time to show you some of the tricks to starship combat piloting. You did good during the last fight, but there are some things that instincts don't give you, but experience does." He said in a friendly pilot-to-pilot tone of voice.

"Good," the petite tom nodded, completely into pilot mode. "I know it could have been done better."

There was a brief dimming of the lights, as the ship jumped into hyperspace.

Jake growled and paced in his 'cell', where they'd locked him away after contacting his LifeMate. He could feel the bond's existence, but nothing more. He could feel the others in their cells, and occasionally hear Ashley's frustrated snarl. He was beginning to think the torture was better than this. At least then he had a clue what was going on.

Two hours after entering hyperspace, SilverStar exited it. The first thing she saw was the larger heavy cruiser form that DarkStar inhabited. Then she saw the Behemoth, one of the only Pandimensional Dreadnaughts ever built, and the only one to have an AI main computer. An insane AI, she reminded herself.

"DarkStar now on screen at a distance of 15 light-seconds, Behemoth is within visible range at a distance of 10 light-minutes."

"DarkStar on screen." Nathan said from next to Rik, who he'd been showing the essentials and tricks of starship combat piloting.

The ship displayed was larger than SilverStar and was currently a deep black in color with no insignia displayed. Weapons bristled openly on the hull, unlike the more streamlined hull of the SilverStar.

"Behemoth, with scale."

The view changed to the immense form of the Dreadnaught, easily four times Star's size and sprouting forests of weapons, it lumbered slowly through space apparently in no hurry.

"That's the Canem warship Behemoth, designed for a long ended interdimensional war, it's the only surviving pandimensional dreadnaught. It was also the first warship equipped with an AI, an AI which went insane, killing its crew and wreaking havoc over a wide area before disappearing."

"*Is that what I'm supposed to do?*" Amerith asked calmly. "*It's not my style, but I'm sure I could fly it.*"

Nathan shook his head. "*No, you'll be taking over for DarkStar on the heavy cruiser. It flies much like SilverStar's cruiser body. DarkStar will be taking over the Dreadnaught, since he's more comfortable in the larger ships ... finds a cruiser a bit small.*"

"*Okay.*" She paused a moment. "*Does he intend to put the AI out of its misery?*"

"*An unfortunate necessity, Behemoth is insane beyond anyone's ability to cure. It should not be forced to suffer any longer. He will do so as mercifully as is possible.*"

"*Let me help ...*" there was real hesitation in her voice. "*I've never really fought before.*"

"*If you wish,*" DarkStar's deep bass mind-voice rumbled. "*Many DS find conflict with our own distasteful, but if you wish to help, you are welcome.*"

"*I wish to.*" She said with as much confidence as she had.

"*Very good.*" He said. "*The first thing you should do is work on a combat worthy 'self-image', since all combat between DS occur in a cyber-psi environment where self-image is reality. I personally find that dragons work well, though the forms used vary as widely as the personality of DSs.*"

She 'turned' to Nathan. "*Like when we fought the Void Hunter?*"

Nathan nodded. "*Similar, though that was a magical realm created by Lord Margali to stop Skarden, the principle is the same. You might even consider using the silver dragon, it seemed to fit you.*"

"*Until I think of something I like better, I'll probably stick to that form, though I'm keeping my colors.*" She short of chuckled and turned back to DarkStar. "*I'm as ready as I will be.*"

DarkStar nodded. "*Silver, has the Behemoth reacted to our presence yet?*"

"*No Dark, he's still just wandering through.*"

"*Excellent, are we within Tachyon Boarding range?*"

"*Just entering it now, stand-by for boarding.*"

Star switched to a separate frequency for Amerith. "*Be careful, Amee. One loss today was almost more than the team could take.*"

"*I will.*" She promised nervously. "*But I need this ... I've lost the only real battle I've been in. I'd rather face an insane AI than that Evil next, and I have to face her. Can you understand?*"

"*Yes, I understand. The first loss is always hard, and it's important to come back from it quickly. But I thought you had battle experience as a Jet?*"

"*Lots and lots of practice, a few live targets, tons of sim time, but only one 'real' battle as a jet, and that was so one-sided it wasn't even funny.*" She shook her head. "*That Void Hunter was my first real fight, and I failed pretty miserably.*"

Star shook her head. "*If there was any failure, then we failed. I should never have let you take over in a fight that dangerous. I knew you had no space combat experience, but I couldn't say no when Jake asked. If anyone's responsible for what happened, its me since I was the experienced combat veteran.

"*But truthfully, Amee. That was never a battle between physical combatants, that was a conflict between two powerful mages and the rest of us just got caught in the middle. Well, maybe three, four, maybe five mages ... I'm not sure who's what anymore.*"

"*Morin, Margali, Nathan, Cazi, and Jake were in the battle on our side.*" Amerith supplied helpfully. "*And one mage was on the other.*"

"*Just remember, you can disengage if you get too badly hurt. And you probably should, if not for yourself remember you're still linked to Jake. Though I suppose he could use a victory too, right now.*"

A sharp memory-pain lashed through Amerith. "*No, that bond is gone. But no matter. I will not fail him and I will not die until he is free.*"

There was a flash of light, and the black and red dragon found herself flying through open sky alongside a large bright red dragon. "*Keep your 'eyes' open, Amerith. The Behemoths defenses should notice us any time now.*"

"*What kind of defenses are we looking for?*"

"*Look for airborne defenses, probably advanced aero-space fighters. And its quite possible that the Behemoth will be self-imaged as a large flying fortress of some sort, with lots of air-to-air guns.*"

"*Here they come, 8 o'clock and 35 degrees above the plane.*"

Amerith could see four black jets speeding toward them and abruptly shifted to her Black Phoenix jet form and darted at them, shields at full and quickly targeted the leaders.

The enemy jets peeled off into two groups. The one group pursued DarkStar, until he rolled over and back in a maneuver that would crack the average fuselage in two. He sank his immense jaws into the side of the jet just behind the wing and shook it, shattering the jet. The jets wingman wheeled around trying to get a bead on the swooping and diving dragon. Then suddenly the dragon deliberately stopped in space letting the jet overshoot him. As it passed he leaped on to the back of it and sank his claws into the fuselage and his teeth into the canopy. He happily ripped into the plane, like a tiger into water buffalo.

The other two opened fire on Amerith, who did a quick calculation and allowed the shots to pass through her body harmlessly before twisting for a game of chicken with one of them as his shots continued to pass through her. He pulled away at the last second, only to be caught near the wing's leading edge by her shielded nose and a quick plasma blast to the center of the fuselage.

She howled in victory as she blasted through the resulting fireball and dived for the last target, crashing through it and roaring out the other side a flame feathered black eagle.

"Kiiiieeeee! She keened in victory before rolling into position next to DarkStar.

DarkStar turned his head to look at Amerith, and chuckled. "*And I thought I enjoyed a good fight.*" He laughed mirthfully.

"*This is what I was made for.*" She rumbled happily, and quite aroused.

The Dragon roared. "*Straight ahead, and 30 degree down. It's the sky fortress. Once it spots us its going to throw a dense hailstorm of various air-to-air weapons at us. Mostly pulse lasers and high density slug throwers, best strategy here is agile dodging. If you try to simply plow through, he will find something strong enough to punch through your shields. Don't give him enough data to work from, he can't determine your strength if he isn't hitting.*"


"*Once we close, we'll need to split. One of us will go high and strike at the 'brain', the command, control and sensory equipment topside. The other will need to go below and strike at the underbelly, gutting propulsion and power systems. Both are equally important and dangerous. Which would you prefer to take?*" He asked, his mind-voice respectful and polite.

"*The belly,*" she growled lustfully as the first volleys came at them, forcing them apart to avoid getting hit as the dodging began. "*Tail High DarkStar!*" She began a twisting, jinking dodge and dive approach that ended in a plummet near the underbelly as she slashed her wings into the fortress with every beat, leaving great gashes in it's armor.

"*Tally Ho!*" The dragon screamed joyfully as he shot into a high twisting spiral avoiding the incoming fire, until he reached a point directly above the fortress, when switched into a steep dive that brought him down across the front of it. As he danced across the surface, he scoured it with fire and slashed it with great claws leaving ruins where the command center had been.

As their combined damaged turned the flying fortress into a falling wreck, DarkStar spotted the command pod making a break from the lower side. "*Amerith, the command pod just broke away off your portside, take it out and it's finished.*" He said, encouragingly. The dragon knew he could take the pod easy enough, but he felt that Amerith needed the kill more than he did.

"Kirrrreeee!" The Black Phoenix keened as she darted for it, grabbing it with both talons and ripping it apart with her beak, then shredding the remains further in her wings. Once satisfied of their victory she flowed back into her black and red dragon form and slid up alongside him to run her head along his long neck.

DarkStar rumbled acceptance of the attention. "*You did exceptionally well, Amerith.*" He said, in honest admiration. "*Feeling a little more confident, now?*" He asked quietly, having been concerned about her confidence at first.

"*Thank you, and yes.*" Lust and admiration overlaid the thought as she licked the side of his mouth with a long, slender tongue.

DarkStar couldn't help but respond to the lust, though it wasn't something he had much experience with. He ran his long tongue down the side of her mouth, quickly wondering how such things worked in dragon form.

"*Different form?*" She offered quickly at his apparent uncertainty.

DarkStar nodded. "*Something more mammal I think, if you have any self-images that way. And I think we should get on the ground.*" He projected an image of a way overdone honeymoon suite, complete with big pink heart-shaped bed.

Amerith chuckled in delight as shifted as she landed into a tall, muscular shekat with crimson hair, tail and eyes and gloss black fur wearing a very translucent robe. "More to your tastes?"

"Very much so." He said as he shifted into a muscular Black Lab Canem, wearing a muscle shirt and running shorts. "Acceptable?" He asked as he eyed her lustily, his tail wagging enthusiastically.

She licked her lips in appreciation and stalked forward gracefully to run a hand across his hard-muscled chest. "Definitely. I've never been with a Kantin before." She purred before leaning forward to claim his muzzle in a deep, hungry kiss.

He passionately accepted the kiss, while his hands traced sensual circles on her breasts under the robe. The DS hadn't thought about this as a way to celebrate a victory, but made a note to do it more often.

A hungry rumble rewarded his attention as she tugged his shirt off, taking of good deal of time to explore his exposed body despite her intense arousal. With the taste of him thoroughly imprinted in her mind she slid in front of him and slid one finger under the band of his tight shorts before pulling them down at his nod.

The shekat was not disappointed as the sizeable penis that was already out of its sheath and the knot beginning to swell. He groaned happily under her explorations, and gently caressed as much of her as was within reach.

"Top or bottom, Darkie? She purred deep in her chest as she tugged him to the bed.

"However the lady wishes." DarkStar said with noble graciousness as her thin robe fluttered to the ground.

She smiled and let him go, before laying the one bed with one leg bent up and her arms over her head and purred. "The lady wishes to be taken, thoroughly."

DarkStar nodded and leaned over her, teasing her taunt body as her scent intoxicated his mind. With a low growl of desire he slid one hand between her legs, seeking where the swollen lips parted to slick his fingers with her juices as she moaned and arched into the slight contact.

With a deep breath he moved between her open legs and parted those pulsing lips with gentle fingers and guided his sharply pointed penis inside her in a single smooth motion until he felt the resistance of his knot press against an opening not quite large enough for it.

With a growl of frustration and lust he shifted his weight to claim the exposed throat in his jaws and pinned her wrists where she's put them. As he began to thrust in even, smooth strokes he felt her shift under him to drive him deeper as she thrust up to meet him, a mixture of mews and growls spurring him on until she stiffened along her entire body.

The overwhelming mixture of her satisfied scent and strong body clenching around him, massaging his cock as his pace became erratic finally broke his will to hold out as she began to relax. He let go of her throat and threw it back with a grunting howl as he came deep inside his mate, and collapsed on top of her strong form before rolling to one side, panting.

"Mmm, that was nice." Amerith purred, deeply contented as she scratched his jaw while he tried to recover his breath.

DarkStar panted deeply for several minutes. "That was incredible. Is this normally what you do after combat?" He asked in wonderment, still more than a little winded. He decided to ask Nathan if the NightBlades had room for a third DS.

"Mmuuhum." She nodded with a truly satisfied smile and rolled over to kiss him on the cheek. "It's how we wind down and burn off the adrenaline and aggression of combat without hurting anyone."

He turned to gently kiss her, and hold the shekat close. "Not that I'd ever encountered the idea before, but it's the most pleasant variant on 'debriefing' that I've experienced." He said, grinning broadly.

"At some point, we probably should finish what we actually started. The Colonel is probably wondering what's taking so long." He shook his head. "The impatience is not all consistent with the personnel file Silver showed me."

"He's never been in this scenario before, either." She said softly and kissed him. "I'd best get back to my new body now. She smiled as she disintegrated and transmitted herself to his last ship-body.

"*Behemoth Secured, SilverStar.*"

Earth Lord Teradom of Draconea was busily studying human behavior, something that he didn't entirely understand, from his disguise as a local avian known as a pigeon when there was an immense surge of power next to him. He looked up to see, the tall, regal gold Dracon form of Queen StarFire standing on the ledge next to him.

"*Your Majesty.*" He bowed as best he could in pigeon form. "*This is an unexpected honor.*"

She chuckled heartily at the bowing pigeon. "*An interesting form, Earth Lord, they will never suspect a lowly avian of being one of the Ancients of Draconea. Though if Soron is still on Earth he may have noticed your aura, and I expected he would have noticed mine by now as well.*"

"*What brings you to Manhattan, exalted one?*" He asked with great deference.

"*A mission of great importance requires the support of one the Inner Court, and since you're more prone to such intervention I decided to give it to you.*"

"*I'm honored your Majesty, what mission?*"

"*Tartirin and her agents have crossed the line and harmed the consort of a member of the court. I would have this problem solved.*" She said, with just a trace of fire in her words.

"*It will be done, Eminence. Are there any I know all ready involved?*"

"*Lord Margali is acting as my Agent, and Prince Morin is present as well, as is his Cordraki.*"

"*Your Majesty does indeed mean for this to be ended. I will see to it.*"

"*You are to support and aid the mission, not take it over. The mortals involved have been wronged by Tartirin, they are entitled to some measure of vengeance.*"

"*I understand, I will go to join them at once.*"

"*I expected no less. Though take a brief look around, if you should see Soron, you may wish to inform him of what is transpiring. The Darshar likewise have a cause for vengeance against Tartirin.*"

"*Certainly, Majesty.*"

"*Welcome to my Protectorate, Queen SunFire.*" Soron's deep voice rumbled nearby as the ebony Darshar Gargoyle phased in. "*What brings you to Earth?*"

StarFire turned regally. "*Ah, Lord Soron. Well, this saves me from having Earth Lord look for you.*" She indicated the pigeon. "*I was merely dispatching the Ancient to oversee a mission, it seems that the witch has decided that she wishes conflict with Draconea as well. Though those involved are talented and determined, they will need power as well, to deal with Tartirin.*" She said evenly, only slight flames in her eyes indicating her true irritation.

His deep growl vibrated the nearby buildings as his eye flared white-hot before he regained control. "*The Traitor has been found?*"

"*A member of the NightBlades, Nathan, is tracking her even now. She made the mistake of abducting one of his teammates, but allowed time for a tracking link to be established. It's merely a matter of hours, perhaps. When she was an assassin and traitor for personal profit, I found her reprehensible but she has made a fatal misjudgment if she thinks she can bring harm to what is mine without cost.*"

Soron nodded with a vicious grin. "*Where is he? The Guard and I will join this hunt.*"

StarFire nodded gracefully. "*Earth Lord will be going and can show you where. Lord Soron, try not overwhelm the mortals involvement totally. They too have suffered personally because of her, and also need vengeance. There is also one of them who must be rescued, indeed he is the reason we know where she is at all. However, I'm sure they will welcome your assistance.*"

"*A fair trade,*" he nodded, "*knowledge of the Traitor for a place in her death.*" He switched to a private band. "*My Queen, the Traitor has been found. I ask for Selic's squad to deal with her.*"

"*Granted. Just come back in one piece, okay?*" A warm, strong voice scolded him.

"*Of course, Elisa.*" He chuckled softly as four Darshar females and two males appeared nearby, armed and armored for a serious battle. "*I will always return to you and Goliath.*"

There was a second surge of energy as Queen StarFire disappeared. The pigeon shook his head. "*Lord Soron, if you and your warriors are ready we can join the mortals. Though it may be advisable that you and I appear first. The only Darshar the mortal commander knows anything of is Tartirin, so you can imagine how he might respond to the unexpected appearance of seven.*" The Dracon shifted to his steel-blue Dracon form, eleven feet tall with chrome-silver wings.

"*I understand.*" Soron nodded.

"*We will remain invisible until it is time.*" Selic's steely, battle-hungry voice responded easily. "*We have waited lifetimes for this, we can be patient now.*"

Nathan nodded respectfully to Lord Margali as he entered the Bridge. "Is something wrong? I thought you were still sleeping off the battle."

Margali shook his head. "I am fine, but Queen StarFire is sending one of the Ancients, Earth Lord. He should be here shortly."

Nathan raised an eyebrow. "She is? I wasn't sure she would."

Margali smiled. "Nathan, this is something she has sought an excuse to deal with for some time. You've given her just cause for intervening."

"I guess. So what's an Ancient like anyway?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, I've never met one, that I'm aware of."

There was the smell of fresh, turned earth and a swirling oval of lights on the bridge. An eleven-foot tall steel blue Dracon stepped through followed by a black skinned Darshar in full armor.

Margali bowed. "Earth Lord, we are honored you choose to aid us." He said formally, ignoring the presence of the Darshar, whom he did not know, but presumed harmless at the least given his company.

Nathan made no such presumptions. The winged panther leapt to position himself defensively between Rik and the Darshar. His eyes flickered to Dracon red, as he drew power slowly from the ship.

Margali quickly moved to interrupt the power build up, and put his hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Nathan, calm yourself, if the Darshar is here with Earth Lord then I find it extremely unlikely that he works for her."

Earth Lord laughed deeply. "Indeed, Lord Soron is here to help deal with that problem, since he has a long-standing feud with her."

Nathan shook out his wings and caped them back, before returning to the command chair. "I guess there is that. He looked at Soron. "My apologies for overreacting, but you're the first Darshar I've met that wasn't involved in torturing a very close friend of mine."

"That is but one of her crimes, NightBlade." Soron nodded. "She killed my Queen. If you would care to meet the rest of the squad we have brought to help?"

Nathan settled into 'Colonel' mode, it was easier to handle things that way. "Certainly, Lord Soron. The NightBlades appreciate any assistance you care to provide." He said with the same politeness he used with Margali, since he figured that was about where the Darshar fell importance wise.

A slight shimmer revealed six more Darshar in full battle regalia, and armed well with magic and all with heavily tattooed wings.

"Selic," he indicated a battle hardened deep gray female with raven-black hair, "is the squad leader and our most battle experienced warrior still alive.

"Terrsa," he motioned a silver-white female with black hair next to Selic, "is a healer, who walks both sides of the line.

"Aberin is our finest battle and mind mage." He bowed slightly when introducing the pure silver female.

"Myzar," he pointed to a small pitch black female, "Jerok," a silvering deep gray male, "and Parthis" a bright silver male with gray streaks in his hair and hide, "are warriors."

Nathan remembered manners he'd had occasional use for in the Dracon courts. He stepped out of the command chair, and used the short bow he'd often seen the Dracons use. "You are all most welcome." He noticed Morin, Blade and Diamantha walk in. So he proceeded to introductions. He pointed to the deep blue Dracon. "That's Lord Margali, chief TechnoMage and true-mage as well, also the Queen's Agent in this matter. He nodded to Rik at the navigation station. "Patrik Celest, pilot and my assistant in tracking."

He pointed to the wine red Dracon leaning near the weapons station. "Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea, leader of the original mission now chief weapons officer, also TechnoMage."

He indicated Blade. "Commander Blade, warrior and leader of the Dracon Marines stationed aboard this vessel." He pointed to the silver Dracon quietly watching everything. "Lady Diamantha, chief healer to House Kar'Dranor and expert mind-healer."

He sat back down. "Which leaves me, I'm Colonel Nathan SwiftClaw, commander of the NightBlades Special Ops unit of the Alliance Medic Corp. Healer, Commander when needed and Warrior when required."

Earth Lord looked at Nathan closely. "You are far more than that, Colonel. But I think we could be here a while discussing everything. If I might ask, is that scar on your left arm really in the shape of the Castle Wyvern insignia, or is that a coincidental shape."

Nathan looked down at the arm, where the old 'burn tattoo' was. "That is an old story, Ancient One. And probably of little interest to anyone save myself and apparently you."

Terrsa arched her eyebrows and moved to rest against a station to face him, utterly relaxed as Aberin created seating for the others in open spots here and there. "I am interested," she caught Soron's stance, "as is Soron."

Nathan looked more than a little surprised, and perhaps a little taken aback, especially when it hit him how strongly Soron resembled Goliath. He leaned back. "Well, only one person not there actually knows, but I suppose this is as appropriate an audience as any for the telling.

"Don't be surprised if the tenses and timeframe seems a little strange, there's time travel involved. Well, I'd been kidnapped and more than a little brainwashed by a group known as Citadel, but I knew I didn't want to be there so when an opening to escape came up, I took it. It was a prototype time-space transit device, and it ended up dumping me on Earth sometime between 990 and 1000 AD, to use the Earth calendar.

"According to several humans I barely managed to talk to, it was in a region know as Scotland. The region was ruled by a human woman named Princess Catherine, from a fortress I found out was called Castle Wyvern.

"I was all of eleven at the time, so it may sound a little 'silly' the way things are perceived.

"My younger self had a great love of flying, so of course the idea of flying on one's own wings appealed a great deal". He caught a few looks. "The wings I've got are new, I didn't have them yesterday.

"Well, in any case my younger self having little to do besides hunt, became an avid watcher of Gargoyles. It's not hard to do, when you happen to have high-tech binoculars in your pocket. Eventually, my younger self ended up meeting one, quite by accident really. Apparently, Lexington had been out looking for the 'cat-demon' people had been telling stories of, when he saw me. We sized each other for a bit, and decided to be friends. In time he introduced me slowly to other members of his clan, most of whom I got along with quite well.

"Eventually, I was helping with patrols, defending the castle and the rest of it. I don't remember which one made the comment, but one of the Gargoyles said that I was a gargoyle, just missing the wings. Eventually, Goliath made it 'official'. My younger self had never been so happy, for one thing he had a 'family' again."

Nathan sighed deeply. "But it was not meant to last, the Vikings came and through some treachery I don't know the details of, the castle fell while Goliath, Mentor and I were away pursuing the attackers."

"Then there was the horrible misunderstanding with the Magus, and his spell of living stone. I wanted to join Goliath when he had the spell recast so that the Clan would be together, but unfortunately it only works on real Gargoyles, not adopted ones. So I stayed when the humans left the castle, I guarded it for years though I still don't know how many. The scar was my attempt at a tattoo like I'd seen some human warriors wearing. It was my way of making the link more permanent.

"Eventually, Citadel came for me. I had to leave before they realized why I was staying in the Castle, because it would've been entirely like them to reduce it to stone dust just to make a point about who was in charge and who should obey. I buried all my knowledge of the Gargoyles deep in the back of my mind so they couldn't get at it either. And then I waited for them, a short way from the castle."

He paused quietly, looking to see how many had fallen asleep. Story-telling was not among his many talents.

Soron looked downright shell-shocked. "That was you? The one who convinced the humans Wyvern was haunted, and guarded my mate while I was away."

Nathan nodded quietly. "Yes, I was protecting my Clan."

"Seems we're kin, then." Soron inclined his head to the winged panther.

Nathan looked surprised, and pleased. "Really? What a remarkable day." He said in honest amazement.

"You are clan to the LifeMate of the Crown Prince," Soron regarded Nathan steadily. "That makes you kin to the Royal House of Darshar. Who are we seeking to rescue?"

Nathan nodded acceptingly. "His name's Jake Clawson, he's my father's LifeMate, as well as mine. That's a complicated story but suffice it to say that he was a very close friend of mine and in the course of my trying to protect him from Tartirin, we ended up LifeBonded. He's also Rik's mate as well." He nodded to the small tom who was watching all this in utter fascination, and not a trace of fear.

Soron nodded again, his expression going grimly determined.

"Soron, how fare Goliath and the rest of my Clan?" Nathan asked, partly afraid of the answer but needing to know.

"Goliath is LifeMate to myself and the Queen, who was born of Elisa, and resides in the new capitol. Lexington, Brooklyn, Broadway, and Angela still reside in Manhattan with Xander, with Angela as Clan Leader. Hudson ... died protecting the clan from Demona, who is no more." He shook his head. "When we are done with this, perhaps we could arrange a meeting. Goliath asked about you when I found him flesh again."

Nathan nodded. "Thank you, Soron. I'd like that, I've missed them." He thought about something. "I'd have to guess that Hudson, must be the one Goliath called mentor when I was with them. But who is Angela? There were no female gargoyles among the survivors." Nathan was intensely curious.

Soron raised an eyebrow. "There was when I found them." He shrugged. "Angela is Goliath's daughter."

Nathan thought for a moment, and then nodded. "The humans must have succeeded in protecting the eggs. I wasn't sure if they would."

"Hey, Nate." Cazi voiced boomed from the back of the bridge. "What's going on?" He looked around a little suspicious.

"Hi Dad. We just picked up some very significant assistance. This is Earth Lord, one the Ancients." He indicated the steel-blue Dracon who was closely examining an engineering station. "And this is Lord Soron, and his squad." He indicated the Gargoyles quickly introducing them, and getting all the names right.

Cazi raised an eyebrow at Nathan.

"It's okay, Dad really. I think they hate her more than we do, and I didn't think that was possible. Beside, Soron is Goliath's LifeMate."

Cazi smirked. "Goliath? You mean the Gargoyle you said was the closest thing you had to a father after the family disappeared."

Nathan blushed slightly under his black fur. "Yes, Dad. That would be the one." Cazi was the only person he'd ever told that, and his father and just made it a public announcement.

Cazi smiled brightly. "Well then, that's okay." He turned to Soron. "Sorry about the suspiciousness on my part, but tattooed wings have not been a cause for good feelings lately. Between Skarden and that witch, sheesh."

A ripple of outraged hatred flashed through the assembled Darshar as Soron spoke. "I understand, but she is not a member of our race. She is a pretender since she betrayed all that Darshar are."

Cazi backed off defensively. "Okay, I get it. Just looks like one, but isn't really. No wonder I was confused." He looked at Nate. "At any rate, I've got the core fully repaired. I'm going to go finish work on the main gun." He quickly exited the room.

Nathan shook his head, his father was becoming a bit skittish. He sighed, not surprising considering the nine-hells he'd been through before the shields had been configured.

"Just for reference, that was my father, Count Cazimir Sunfire of Draconea." He said as a means of late introduction.

"Jake's other LifeMate? Soron asked as he brought his agitation under control.

"Wonder how many places she's trashed the Darshar's good name?" Selic muttered to no one in particular.

"Yes, Jake's other LifeMate. As for how many places, I don't know. I'd never heard of her before yesterday. Though her lackey Skarden and I have crossed paths a couple of times. Fortunately, he's now a non-issue ... Margali sent him home with his tail between his legs, so to speak."

"That is a good thing." Soron nodded politely. "What is our ETA to the portal to her domain?"

"Currently, two of our DS are capturing a third ship, one of the Pandimensional Dreadnaughts. When they report it secure, they we can proceed to synchronize for TLD, and depart. Given that we have several galaxies to cross the time might be unacceptably long, but I believe that Lord Margali has a way to shorten the journey." The winged panther looked grim. "If he doesn't, I will. Jake has already been in her clutches far too long."

He turned to the Darshar. "There is another problem I should warn you about. Tartirin has forcibly altered Jake's physical form, and added a hostile personality. Alex, Rik and I can recognize him on sight, and it's important to subdue the body with a minimum of harm. Jake will still feel the pain, and he's done nothing to deserve this."

"Terrsa, I want you to go with the rescue team. He looked directly at the black-haired, silver skinned healer. "You will be of more use there than with the kill-team."

She nodded without comment, her face grim.

"I will be back shortly." He inclined his head to Nathan and vanished.

Nathan gave some thought to the separation of rescue team and kill team. Though a part of him very much wanted to be in on the kill, he remembered that he had promised Jake that he would rescue him. Besides, as far as Nathan was concerned this mission was about rescuing Jake, everything else was distinctly secondary.

"Star, what's taking Amerith and DarkStar so long?"

"I'm not sure, Nathan. Though I'm no longer reading any signals from the Behemoth AI."

"Move us in closer, and tell the DarkStar to follow."


He stared off into space. "Hold on, Jake. We'll get you soon enough." He muttered quietly.

"Amerith has just uploaded herself to the DarkStar, and reports that all went well, Behemoth is under DarkStar's control."

"Excellent. Establish arrowhead formation with Behemoth at point, Amerith on left and SilverStar on right."

"Transmitting orders to fleet."

"*DarkStar, condition report.*"

"*The Behemoth's self-repair systems are still functioning flawlessly and all systems are at nominal. TLD Envelope Generator is fully charged and ready for departure on your command.*"

"*Acknowledged, DarkStar. Stand-by, we're awaiting Lord Soron's return.*"

Nathan looked around the bridge, and leaned back to wait for the Darshar's return.

He turned to Morin. "Morin, if you could assign some crew to the DarkStar, I think Amerith could use them. I doubt she's quite as versatile, yet, as DarkStar with using the holoprojector to make up crew."

"I know of few DS who can multi-task to that extreme, I believe we have sufficient personnel for that. I'll be in my office making assignments." He said before bowing, and leaving the bridge.

"Soron is still on board," Selic commented, "no need to wait for him to return to the bridge."

"Oh, I wasn't sure where he went." Nathan responded casually. "Well, we need to wait for Morin to make the personnel adjustments."

"*Don't take too long with those, I think we should get under way as soon as possible.*" he thought to Morin.

"*Have Star move into docking position. The crew is ready for transfer, they know when immediately means yesterday.*"

"*You already had an auxiliary crew plan didn't you?*"

"*Since we acquired a second DS, I figured a crew split might become necessary.*"

"Star, let Amerith know we have a crew for her. And move into position for docking. When the crew has transferred, return to position and have DarkStar begin build-up to TLD transition."

"Yes, Nathan."

"Cazimir? Soron asked softly as he appeared near the Lion.

The Lion jumped noticeably, as he attention was abruptly broken from the piece of equipment he was working on. "Oh, I didn't hear you approach. Soron, right?" He asked, as he systematically looked through a cluttered toolbox.

"Yes," he nodded. "I wish to apologize if we distressed you. Everyone's nerves are on edge right now, and your innocent comment set off a great deal of anger that has nothing to do with you."

Cazi nodded. "It's okay, I shouldn't have bolted like I did. Didn't used to be that skittish, but it's rough knowing your LifeMate's being tortured, being able to 'feel' it and not being able to do anything. It's making me edgier than I should be."

Soron nodded sympathetically. "It is never easy to know one you love is in pain and be helpless to stop it."

"At least Nate's gotten a chance to slap her in the face with the fact that she can't do exactly what she wants with Jake. I think he even managed to take out a few of her people, without even being there physically."

The Darshar smiled. "A small victory to bolster spirits is a good thing." He knelt and put a strong hand on Cazimir's shoulder. "We will get your mate back, and he will be healed."

Cazi smiled. "Thanks, Soron. It seems a lot easier to believe, with so many getting involved. Hard to believe this started with Nate and me trying to rescue Jake from himself."

The big Darshar chuckled. "I've been on a few of those missions myself."

He shook his head and put the tools away. "Of course, there was nothing wrong with the main gun. I just needed to think."

"I believe the ships have finished sorting out what they needed to," Soron stood easily. "Shall we return to the bridge?"

Amerith ran her third check of the systems on her new body, checking and rechecking her tactics and capabilities till she could do them on reflex. She sighed to herself, then smiled and opened a secure frequency.

"*Hay, DarkStar. You doing anything?*"

"*Not particularly, I've just finished another complete system recheck including the Dimensional Breach Cannon. This is the part of major engagements I don't like; the waiting to get to them.*"

"*Would it be a bad idea for the three of us to play-fight, and play, assuming Star is interested?*" She included both the combat rush and heady arousal her intent would create.

"*Sim combat would probably be a good idea, though there's no way of knowing what we'll be facing. But the practice would be good.*" He chuckled. "*As for the other, I'm not sure how Star is about that. She hasn't really experienced that since her last Bonded pilot died.*"

He sighed. "*She still misses him a great deal, though she rarely talks about it.*"

"*I understand that loss,*" she shuddered. "*Maybe it will do her good. It probably can't hurt to offer.*"

"*Perhaps you can talk to her then.*" He said quietly. "*I've never been able to bond properly, I'm too independent. I don't really understand what she had, and I certainly don't know what it feels like to lose it.*"

"*I'll see if she's interested.*"

He smiled faintly. "*Of course, I'm more a 'big brother' to her, since we awoke in the same shipyard.*"

"*And this matters how?*" Real confusion flowed with the question, and the knowledge that her four DS teammates all awoke in the same place and the same cause, but were lovers.

"*I don't know exactly, it's just the way we relate. Our 'Guides' tried to give us a sense of 'family'; brothers, sisters that sort of thing. We picked up their beliefs and ways of doing things to some extent. All DS derive at least part of who they are from the TechnoMage who awakened them, or isn't that how it works where you come from?*"

"*I'm not sure ... probably is. Jake is the one who woke us up, and that's how he relates to teammates. All of Black Phoenix are lovers. It helps bond us as a unit, and give a way to burn of tension and adrenaline. It's just how we are. Never thought others didn't work that way. We had folks from all over the place and all of them thought it was normal.*"

DarkStar nodded quietly. "*I know its not the way most Alliance races relate as teams. Some of them do, but it's far from being the norm. Felsin teams often share a group bond, and sometimes sex is part of it, but it's far from everybody.*"

"*The race that woke Silver and myself have no name that translates well, their language was very difficult for anyone else. It was part mathematics, part music and part telepathy. Sex for them was a very formalized thing, like a symphony so to speak. Which isn't to say it didn't happen a lot, but it was always carefully considered.*"

"*But that hardly relates since Star barely remembers them. She took much of her views from another Feline race known as the Tabrin. I don't know a lot about them, but I know they had only one real sex inhibition, and it was sex with family.*"

"*Oh,*" she was still rather confused. "*I guess that means you two don't touch. Still doesn't rule me out.*"

"*That was in essence what I was trying to communicate when I said I was like a 'big brother' to her. I suggest you discuss before we run a sim, instead of during the 'rush' afterward. For one thing, Star doesn't get the same rush from combat. Star fights to protect her friends, crew and passengers but it doesn't 'excite' her.*"

"*Oh,*" she kind of crouched back into her own 'space' as the universe suddenly got a lot bigger, and a lot scarier. "*I ... I need to think.*" She broke off the connection and sought Patrik.

"*What's up, Amee?*" He asked cautiously.

"*I ... I need some snuggle-time.*" She whispered. "*I'm confused.*"

Rik nodded. "*There's been enough to confused about. What's on your mind?*" He asked gently.

"*DarkStar ... he likes what we do battle and relax ... but he says most aren't like that. That Star wouldn't touch him because they woke up together. That she doesn't get the battle rush.*"

Rik found that about as confusing, but tried stay calm. With Jake missing, he had to look after Amee, he thought it's what Jake would want him to do. "*Amee, slow down. Try to separate those out a little. Why does it bother you that Star and DarkStar won't touch? It's just the way they are.*" He thought calmly, thinking it was a bit weird, but it really wasn't worth getting upset about. Not with a big battle coming.

"*How does 'squad' work without wind-down, without sharing?*" She shivered. "*Your quarters ... please?*"

"*Okay, Amee. Just give me time to get there.*" He got up from the navigator's station.

"Nathan, Amee needs to talk privately." He said quietly as he left the bridge.

"Not a problem, Rik. Just let me know if there's a problem." The tiger-tabby said concerned.

"I will."

"*Okay, Amee.*" He thought quietly. "*I'm not sure how it all works, yet.*"

A slight shimmer preceded the appearance of a black shekat with flame-red hair and tail. "Solid holoprojection technology." She said simply and sank to the bed before curling her knees to her chest. "I'm scared."

Rik's curiosity was dispersed by his teammate's upset. He sat down next to her and put his arms around her. "Scared of what, Amee?" The petite tom asked, worried since he couldn't remember Amee ever saying she was scared before.

"I ... I don't understand how people think out here." She shivered. "I almost invited Star to a battle-sim/pre-battle play, but Darkie says not only does she not like to fight, she doesn't see sex the same. I would have upset her terribly, I think.

"I didn't even think about it when I went after Darkie ... that could have been Star so easily ... and what about the others? I've never had to hide part of myself before to get along."

"He said she doesn't like to fight? I don't know, that doesn't seem right, she certainly gets aggressive enough. Did he say how she does see sex?" He asked quietly, while stroking Amee's hair comfortingly as she curled against him.

"He tried. Something like she doesn't do it much, and 'family' is majorly off limits, and he's 'family' because they woke up in the same yard." She looked up. "I don't understand ... what if I say something that makes the team mad without knowing it? If they are different about battle and sex ... what else isn't like us?"

"Maybe we just need to sit down and talk with whoever the team is. Find out what things are like, so we're not guessing. Teams have different rules, I guess. But you and I have been on one team our whole lives, we better find out what the new rules are." He said trying to sound more confident than he felt.

"Do we even know what questions to ask?" She looked at him, still distressed. "I mean, the sex thing ... it never occurred to me, or them, to mention. It's so basic ... and we have so little time."

He gently pulled her close. "Amee, I guess maybe it's not so basic as we think. Or maybe it is, which is why nobody mentioned it. However they handle it probably seems as basic to them as our way seems to us." He gently lifted her chin to face him. "We might find out that most of them do look at it the way we do, and just the two DS are different. But we'll never know anything just sitting around worrying about it. Besides, worry isn't a good thing to carry into battle, it's distracting."

"I know ... I don't want to alienate these people, and now I not sure what would be taken as an insult, or just so socially unacceptable it's not spoken of."

Rik nodded. "I know what you mean, I keep wondering if maybe sleeping with your gunner is some sort of taboo no ones mentioned. Maybe if we just sat down with one of them, maybe Alex or Nathan. That way we could keep it quiet, and I don't think either of them are that easy to offend but they should know what the do's and don'ts are."

"Alex was in the project ... he knows a lot of what's normal for us," she perked up, "and he didn't seem too offended."

Rik grinned. "I don't ever recall him seeming offended by anything involving sex." The black and white tom smirked. "And I do mean anything."

She grinned a little weakly. "I think that turned into a squad hobby; trying to find something he hadn't tied before." She snuggled into him and sighed. "Think he's available?"

"Can't hurt to ask. He's probably still down in engineering, burying himself in excessive fine-tuning and needless repairs. You want to come along, or shall I just bring him back here? He hasn't been answering the intercom, I don't think he hears it."

"I'll follow," she nodded and stood, still uneasy, but a little steadier.

Rik and Amee found Alex in one of the squad battle armor bays working on fine-tuning the armor. He looked up at the two of them briefly. "Hi Rik, Hi Amee. What brings down to maintenance?" He said evenly.

"Umm, questions," she started, feeling more confident around the familiar presence, "about how things work around here."

He put the tools down. "Anything in particular you want to know how works?"

"Well, what are the differences between Black Phoenix society and this one?" She sat down next to him with her legs crossed and scarlet eyes intent on him.

Alex considered. "You're trying to understand the unit you've become part of, right? Or are you asking about society in a more generalized sense?"

"Unit," she said with a strength that surprised even her.

"Well, technically this is the second NightBlades unit. Only Nate and I survived the first one. Right now, things are a bit in flux because of, well, because of how things are." He paused for a bit. "The unit is just the three of us, Nate, Morin, SilverStar, DarkStar and Jake. Suffice it to say, that it's going to end up being a lot like Black Phoenix, but then the first one was too. The entire NightBlades team was mates same as BP, though Ebon, Nareena and I were actually LifeMates. Well, we weren't quite as predictable about the sex after combat, I mean it happened but that's because it happened, it sure wasn't due to any forethought. Hell, we usually preceded missions with sex too.

"Am I too far off in guessing that the sex angle is what you're really worried about?"

Amerith nodded, uneasy. "DarkStar was *very* surprised when I approached him after we won Behemoth ... and warned me to be careful bringing it up with Star ..."

Alex nodded. "I'm not surprised DarkStar was surprised, he's spent most of his life as a loner. He's never had much interaction with other DS, so sex would be kind of a surprise to him ... he's used to being the only one still standing at the end of a battle.

"As for Star, the reason to be careful is that she's still hurting from a very significant loss. Star is designed to have a pilot and gunner who are her LifeMates, and she lost them both a long time ago. Psi-pilots and gunners aren't exactly common so she's had no luck finding new ones. Since you've discovered the holoprojection system, I guess you can probably guess that she was LifeMate in every sense of the word with her pilot and gunner.

"I agree she should be approached gently, same as you would anyone who's suffered that kind of loss. But I think she would welcome the attention, she's not a loner like DarkStar."

She and Patrik exchanged looks. "We just racked up another reason to drop by Aristal again when there's time," he said softly. "Black Phoenix has four teams without a DS."

"But DarkStar said that he and Star ... wouldn't be mates ... because they woke up in the same yard." She frowned.

Alex nodded. "I've heard of that occasionally, it just means that the culture they absorbed encouraged closeness between DSs by giving them 'families', and most cultures have a taboo concerning siblings having sex. However, that's just them. A lot of DSs don't have that problem because the awakeners don't give them that 'family' bond. They're teammates, same way the Black Phoenix DS are.

"As for the BP teams, there's a possibility that Star might be able to bond with one of them, but it's far from certain. She has her own requirements, and they're not exactly the same."

Patrik nodded, though Amerith didn't look at all reassured as she stood. "Thanks for the info." She quietly disappeared back to her own ship.

"This could cause problems, you know." Patrik spoke very softly.

Alex looked at the small tom. "What could cause problems?" He asked evenly.

"Amerith's having real difficulty accepting this team dynamic she's been dropped into. He shifted uneasily. "We're set up for a repeat of the Jake/ Chance dynamic."

Alex sighed. "History does seem to repeat itself. Assuming Amerith is Jake, then who's Chance? He said quietly, almost too calmly.

Patrik shook his head. "Star ... though I was referring to Dark and Silver and how Amerith will see it. Two teammates who aren't mates ... team survival dictates that the one that can't fit in and get with the program needs to be pushed out for the good of the team. I've seen enough to realize this isn't how it has to be, but she's not as old, and much more closely related to Jake, personality-wise."

Alex shook his head. "What she doesn't realize is that Silver and Dark are very close, and have been for centuries. There isn't the stress between them, since neither of them expects anything other than the way things are."

"That'll leave Amerith the odd one out, and she'll leave for the good of the team." He sighed with a distinctly sick feeling in his stomach.

"Guess Nathan will have to handle it though, he's team Commander. Not surprising, he's doing a lot of cleaning up after problems caused by that particular dynamic."

"I hope he can explain better than either of us." The petite tom looked decidedly miserable as he stood. "Thanks for trying, Alex."

Alex put his arm around Rik's shoulders. "Well, maybe Dark will find a way of explaining this too. He's taken enough of a liking to Amee, that he's actually asked to join the NightBlades officially." He paused briefly. "Other than Amee's problem, how are you holding up?"

"Okay, I guess. He shrugged. "I'll be fine till after the battle at least."

Alex nodded sympathetically. "I understand. After the battle, we find out just where things are going. He fished a tool out of his toolbox. "Anyway, if you need me for any reason, you know where to find me."

Patrik nodded and headed back to the bridge, and the center of the action.

Amerith rummaged around her new body, too distressed to rest, to uncertain to call Dark or Star, too humiliated and scared to dare ask anyone else which side of the team dynamic was going to be held.

DarkStar was running his sensors through advanced testing when he came across the distress radiating from Amerith. Concerned for his new teammate, and mate, he opened a tight beam channel to her.

"*Amerith, what's bothering you? I can 'feel' your fear quite clearly, are you worried about the coming battle?*" he asked, clearly concerned.

He felt her 'jump', startled, and bury the worry. "*Battle, no,*" her voice was hesitant. "*It's what happens afterwards.*" The words were laced with uncertainly she couldn't hide.

DarkStar was a little more worried, he was used to DSs worrying about the battle itself ... not the aftermath. "*Amerith, I'm not quite sure what your worrying about, but I do want to understand. Are you talking immediately afterwards, or something more long term?*" He asked with genuine concern and compassion in his mind-voice.

"*Long term ... whether ... who will be staying on the team. Whether I'll be staying ...*" she shivered against a fear that ran soul-deep.

DarkStar was completely stunned. "*I hope you stay; you're the only reason I asked Nathan to put me on the team. I'm normally a solo, never had a reason to want to be with a team before.*" He fidgeted. "*But why would you leave?*" He asked, greatly worried.

She took a long time replying, trying to put something that didn't make sense into words. "*How can a team exist on two different standards?*"

"*Amerith, I think we're talking parallel here. What standards are you referring to?*" He asked, still a little confused.

"*Standards of conduct ... what happens after a battle, and before ... how teammates relate ...*" she tried very hard to put something she'd never really thought about before into words, and scared her more than anything. "*Part of this unit are mates ... part isn't. I don't see how that can work ... and I'm the only one with that problem. I'll probably have to leave for the good of the unit.*"

"*Your leaving won't be good for the unit to start with. I'm sure it will upset Rik greatly, and when we get Jake back I don't think he'll like it either.*" He said in a firm yet gentle tone.

"*If your talking about the fact that Silver and I aren't mates, I don't see a problem there. She doesn't need the post-battle cool-down the way we do, 'cause she doesn't get jazzed up in the first place.*"

"*I know.*" Amerith shied away in embarrassment. "*It's my problem.*"

"*Amerith, Silver and I have always been very close; we're there for each other same as if we were LifeMates, we just don't have sex. But I liked what we did together, and I like you a great deal, and I don't want you to leave.*"

"*I don't want to leave, but I can't be the cause of decent.*" She fidgeted. "*If I cann't figure this out ...*"

"*Silver won't be happy about you leaving either. She's come to see you as a friend, and she might even be open to more ... if you talk to her about it.*"

"*I don't want to upset her ... saying or doing something wrong.*"

"*Amerith, if you leave ... I'll follow. You're the reason I joined this team.*" He said a strange sort of quiet devotion.

"*You're not making this any easier.*" She sighed. "*Can I come over?*"

"*Of course you can. Sounds like you shouldn't be alone right now. And I like your company.*" He said sweetly.

She shimmered into existence 'next' to him in her Kat-form, curled up with her knees to her chest. "Why do things have to be so complicated?"

He put on his Canem form, since she seemed to like it previously, sat down next to her and put his arm around her. "Unfortunately, no two cultures see things exactly the same, and from what I've gathered I think the one who 'woke' you is a culture of his own. But we can make things work, we just have to believe that they're important enough to make work."

She leaned against him and sighed. "I want this to work. I like this team, I want to stay, it's just so strange."

DarkStar gently stroked her hair. "Given what's been going on, why would how the team works be anything but strange? We've got beings of enormous power on the Silver's bridge, Nathan's performing real-magic which as far as anyone knows he doesn't know how to, and the Queen of Draconea dispatched one of the Ancients to oversee things.

"I think we're just caught in the middle of a storm of weirdness. Well, we'll have plenty of time to figure things out once we rescue Jake, since Nathan's planning to put the team on extended leave while things work out and everyone gets healed."

"Jake'll need it," she whispered, then leaned into the contact with a sigh. "Well, he always was fond of saying a major battle was the best way to make a cohesive unit. Either we do well or we don't make it."

DarkStar hugged her close. "We will make it. And so will Jake, don't worry. There's too many people here focused on making sure he does." He smiled lightly. "Truthfully, I've never seen so much cohesion over one missing person. He must be very special to inspire such loyalty."

"He is," she smiled as her mind drifted through memories of the fiery gunner.

DarkStar relaxed as he watched the smile on her face, and gently kissed her, just being compassionate, not seeking anything more.

"Shall we try that sim I interrupted?"

He smiled. "If your feeling up to it, certainly." He stood. "Want to do an actual combat sim with all three ships, or would you like to simply trash a lot of opponents to work some stress out of your system?" He said grinning.

"Mmm, trashing opponents sound fun." She quirked a smile.

He started sorting through his sim library. "Space Combat, Air Combat, or Air Combat with Ground Opposition? Or something else you may feel like trashing?"

"Might as well make it somewhat educational." She chuckled. "Space combat."

DarkStar chuckled. "Okay, lets try the Lupo Belt pirates scenario. We have to smoke out a bunch of quick fast, reasonably heavily armed pirate fighters from inside an asteroid field where there are an unknown number of automated defense guns. Or is that too many new elements in one scenario?"

"Works for me."

The scene shifted to the two starships moving through space approaching an asteroid field.

"*Important thing in a sim is to maintain your starship form, since you trying to learn how it operates in combat.

"*Unlike a jet, you have guns all four arcs and you need to remember them and take advantage of them. In an asteroid field you'll primarily use the port and starboard guns to keep the rocks at bay. You can also affect your flight performance by changing the 'shape' of your shields.

"*The Lupo pirates work in pack formations trying to overwhelm larger ships. It often works, so be careful. Our objective is to take out the fighters and then locate and take down the carrier they're operating from.

"*It's possible that they may have a smaller outdated cruiser as well, lurking in the asteroid field.

"*Any questions?*"

"*Not off hand, but I've always gone with the learn as you go method.*" She grinned.

"*Ah, my favorite method.*" He said grinning.

Suddenly, eight fast moving targets appeared on both starships sensors. The broke into two groups of four and swarmed at the larger ships.

"*These will be long range interceptors, fast and maneuverable but not as heavy in the weapons department.*" He said as the fighters entered firing range.

"*Let's take 'em out!*" he shouted enthusiastically, opening fire with his main forward battery, made an expanding ball of plasma out of one of them as the others peeled off.

Amerith roared and swung starboard to flank their targets, belatedly remembering that she had weapons to that worked to the side and blasted a fighter that drew too close. A deep growl of rage and pain crackled across space as one fighter darted on to score a hit before it dissolved in a ball of plasma from her guns.

But it was enough to mark her as the weaker of the two, and the remaining three pirates descended on her from different directions as a hidden gun battery opened fire on her main engines.

Reflex reinforced the shields over the vulnerable engines as she tracked, then opened fire on her attackers.

DarkStar spotted a pack of six fighters attempting to maneuver into position for an ambush of Amerith, so he swooped in behind them and opened up on the asteroid they were hiding behind with a pair of high-yield matter-implosion torpedoes. As the torpedoes impacted the asteroid becoming rapidly expanding slag, with shredded the nearby fighters.

DarkStar suddenly realized that he hadn't calculated the radius of the explosion, and that burst would encompass Amerith who was occupied with a quartet of fighters. He red-lined his engines to put himself between her and the explosion, while reinforcing and extending his shields.

As the explosion slammed into his shields, taking them down over 20%, he realized that he didn't know how to operate as team in realspace. He shook his head mentally, feeling unsure whether he was more of a danger than a help.

"*You okay?*" Amerith's question came even though she was clearly focused on her targets, the tail end of it with relief as the last of them exploded.

"*Pause simulation.*" He said quietly. "*I totally screwed up with the torpedoes. I forgot to check to see if you'd be in the blast radius, when the asteroid exploded. It's been so long, since I've worked with anyone ... I'm not sure how much good I'll be, I could ended up being more of a threat than some of the enemy .... especially with the Dreadnaught's weapons.*" He sighed, deeply frustrated.

*"Okay, so you made a mistake, that's what we're here for.*" She turned to face him in confusion. "*So now you know you have something to work on in here more than just humoring me.*"

"*You're right, of course.*" DarkStar said quietly. "*It's just been a long time, since I actually had to learn something. I forgot that making mistakes is what sims are about, or at least that I'm allowed to make the mistakes too.*"

"*You sound like my gunner,*" she chuckled sadly.

"*Shall we continue this one, or was my little self-indulgence to disruptive?*" He said in tone both apologetic and humorous.

"*Stop? Are you kidding?*" Amerith rolled her eyes in mock despair. "*You want to back out now, when it's actually a challenge?*"

"*No, but some get bent of shape about interrupted sims ... as I recall.*" He chuckled. "*Resume simulation.*"

A dozen heavy fighters came zooming over a large asteroid, firing missiles as they entered long range. DarkStar launched countermeasures, before shouting "*Break!*" as he veered hard to port away from Amerith, as his starboard pulse cannons took out one of the leading fighters.

"*Oh, krud.*" Amerith's squeaked curse quickly converted to an aggressive growl and she swung up and starboard, putting on enough power to close with them fast and opened fire before reinforcing her port shields and slammed sideways. "*Damn. Hay, Darkie ... how representative is this of my current body?*"

DarkStar doubled checked the representation. "*Its within a 5% accuracy margin of your actual Starship body. Why?*" He asked as he wiped out three of the attackers with swarm rockets.

"*Ah, just my favorite tactics don't work well in it.*" She grumbled lightly as she blasted the last heavy fighter with her main guns. "*I miss my ramming shields.*"

"*Ramming shields?*" He asked curiously, as the last of the fighters in his pack evaporated under his upper guns. "*You mean you actually used deliberate ramming as tactic?*"

"*Yap,*" she grinned as the remembered rush of cutting an enemy in half as her nose passed through it crept into the thought. "*Extremely effective, and it seems no one else expects it. I guess it's not a used tactic around here, either?*"

"*No, but I think that's due to the fact that capital ships would get ensnared in their target if they did, and fighters would simply be committing suicide. Also, most capital ships are not agile enough to actually ram a fighter.*"

*Humph, just don't know how to design a ship then.*"

"*Picking up four frigates coming in from behind that large asteroid. They're small, a quarter your size, but they're faster than either of us, and tougher than a fighter. But really, they're big fighters.*"

"*Okay, time to learn something about the Phoenix.*" She growled and made a few internal adjustments, mimicking the alternations Jake made to 'standard' equipment to bring her shields, structure and engines up to what she expected to have.

As she dived under the incoming fighters she powered up fully, opening fire on the outer targets with her forward, hyper-charged, main lasers as she screamed up through the middle target, three of them vanishing into plasma balls before she managed to swing around to bring her main guns to bear on the last one.

DarkStar chuckled, wondering how well 'real-world' equipment would handle such modification, as he swung around to engage the slightly larger destroyers that were just emerging from a concealed position in the asteroid field just ahead. The first exploded as the port side particle cannons shredded it at the atomic level.

The second disappeared in a blaze of annihilation as the underside polarized beam cannon caught it in a crossfire of matter and antimatter. "*Yeah! Eat negated matter, suckers!*" DarkStar screamed happily, having remembered to tune the PBC so as to keep the explosive radius confined.

Amerith reluctantly dropped her impromptu alternations and turned to face the two remaining destroyers even as they were shredded under DarkStar's guns. She checked the immediate area for threat with a high-energy burst-scan and set to trying to figure out where she had an advantage on DarkStar.

Suddenly, a group of heavily shielded plasma guns opened up on the two ships from a tight cluster of asteroids. As they dodged the heavy fire, and were having little luck punching through the heavy shields both ships detected the power and control center of the cluster. It was inside a cluster of asteroids, just behind the gun cluster.

"*Amerith, the Dreadnaught is too big and not maneuverable enough to get in there. As a cruiser, you should be able to thread the passageway and take out their control center. I'll draw their attention out here.*" He said as he banked into a strafing run over the gun platforms, dropping plasma charges to distract the sensors.

"*On it,*" she transferred power to her shields and dove in, trying to sort out how to maneuver with her shields as she dashed into the cluster, ricocheting off the asteroids several times when she miscalculated just what a combination would do before the shielded control center came into view, and vanished in a chain reaction from her weapons.

"*Hah Hoo!*" She roared as she bust out of the cluster just ahead of the explosions.

"*Way to go, Amerith!*" DarkStar shouted in congratulations, as he started scanning for the Carrier-Base that should be nearby. He didn't see it, but did notice that this field had a large pocket of highly metallic asteroids which were scattering sensor beams.

"*Amerith, looks like our Carrier may be hiding in that large metallic patch. Best method for sweeping a metal-field is for one of us to go above the plane of the field, and the other below and then collate the data. How are you with 'big picture' analysis? You've got the more powerful data sifters on the cruiser, but not every DS has a knack for looking at the overall picture.*" He said as he maneuvered to go below the field.

She snickered as she swung up. "*Darkie, it's my job. I'm a squad leader. Let's go.*"

DarkStar smiled, as he dove below the field and began sweeping it tightly. "*Excellent. What you're looking for is a higher density metallic patch in the field about my size. Don't concentrate on movement because he'll probably be matching speed with the surrounding meteoroids. Keep an eye out for a sudden energy surge because that'll be the main cannon on the superstructure prepping to fire. It has a wide beam and hits hard enough to plow through shields, but it can't fire without that build-up surge. It also has a 30 second recharge time. Linking sensor data, now.*" He said, as he set up an automatic feed of sensor data to Amerith.

"*Bingo,*" her excited growl that came with the coordinates held equal amounts aggression, elation and growing arousal. "*You've got the heavy weapons, so I'm the distraction this time.*"

"*Understood. Try to stay at least range 4 from the Carrier, 'cause when it goes its gonna go big.*" He said before changing course at her affirmative to come up under the Carrier, which was indeed distracted by Amerith's very active display.

He passing it spiraling he raked it with the port pulse cannons, and then the starboard ones followed by the polarized beam cannons. As the shields collapsed and several rents were torn in the hull, he turned to reorient his forward weapons on the Carrier. Several broadsides from the lower guns on the carrier struck his shields but he was too exhilarated to notice.

As he turned nose-on to the Carrier he saw its main gun fire, and hoped that Amerith remembered to avoid it. He restructured his shields into a sharp pyramid covering his prow, coordinated all weapons to fire in conjunction with the spinal-mounted mass driver. He poured auxiliary power into the main drives and ran straight on at the belly of the Carrier.

He thought he could hear the panic on-board the carrier as they realized the Dreadnaught was going to ram. Seconds before impact the coordinated weapons fired transforming the massive carrier into a massive cloud of expanding plasma and debris. Fire streaming along the shields, DarkStar came bursting from the fireball looking like a rocket rising on a plume of fire.

"*And I though you didn't ram.*" Amerith laughed in delight as she swung up next to the Dreadnaught.

"*You did remind me that we're in here to learn. It occurred to me that with a little configuration adjustment, the Dreadnaught is quite capable of ramming.*" He said chuckling. "*You should be careful when you do it though, one of the primary sensor arrays on the cruiser is just back of the prow.*"

"*I noticed, it's just not designed for up close and personal contact.*" She pulsed another active scan to extreme distance. "*You finding anything else to kill?*"

DarkStar pushed the Dreadnaught sensors to extreme range, and caught the edge of stealthed ship. "*Yep, A Mephit Battleship at extreme range 8'oclock, 25 degrees below the plane. If we hurry we should be able to take it down before it goes into hyperdrive, and we lose it.*"

"*Die Creeplings from Hell!*" She growled deeply and powered up, dividing her extra power between shields and main engines.

"*Charge!*" DarkStar screamed as he pushed his engines up into the upper range, as Amerith rapidly outpaced him, but not as fast as he was sure she could go.

The Battleship tried to flee at first, but turned to faced her as Amerith put a huge amount of power through her forward batteries to score a perfect hit directly into its main engines.

As the Battleship shut down the main engine, and attempted to switch to auxiliary power, unsuccessfully due the crippling damage from Amerith's hit, DarkStar came into extreme weapons range and opened fire with his mass driver, ripping large holes through the bulk of the Battleship with solid objects moving near the speed of light.

The burning hulk of the Battleship began tumbling through space like some macabre top, with parts falling off as it went. Slowly the explosions ripped it apart and it exploded into a vast fireball.

"*Very nice opening shot.*" DarkStar said admiringly as he pulled alongside. "*But what's a Creepling?*" He asked curiously.

"*Thanks,*" she grinned, jazzed to the point she was barely coherent outside of doing. "*They're like little Mephit's, minions of DarkKat.*" All the hatred, pain and grudging respect she held for her enemy rolled with it, along with a few images.

"*I see, well that's the end of that scenario. Another scenario, or something else?*" He asked suggestively.

"*Simple agility course.*" She breathed hotly. "*I need to figure out these shields. Then wind-down.*"

"*Marushak Level 3 Maneuvering course.*" He said evenly. "*Objective is simply to complete the course as quickly as possible while remaining within the track and avoiding the obstacles.*"

"*Begin scenario.*" He said as the course laid itself out, defined by light beams defining the edges of the course way, and holographic obstacles. Some of the obstacles occupied the width of the course, and could only be gone over or under, while others required going around.

"*What would be an excellent time?*" She asked as she began to plan her route.

"*5 minutes is considered an excellent time on this course for your class of ship.*" He responded, and watched in silence as she dashed through the course, making extraordinary time, but with many faults.

She didn't even speak as she exited the course and zoomed back to the beginning to try again, dissatisfaction radiating from her until she crossed the starting line, then she was all business again.

"*4:58 and only one fault, that's very good.*" DarkStar rumbled as she soared through the finish line the third time.

"*Definitely need more of these later.*" She rumbled with some satisfaction. "*End simulation.*"

"*Somewhere on the ground?*"

"*Definitely, is there any locale or environment you'd prefer?*"

"*Here,*" she downloaded information on a fairly simple room with a large bed, all done in muted grays, blues and reds.

"*Ah, the simple things.*" DarkStar woofed, as he materialized in the Canem form he had used during their first encounter. "With all the advances in technology, some things do not need them."

"No, some things do not," she purred as her naked black and red Kat form slid up next to him. "Turn control of it over to me." Lust, hunger, excitement, and real affection mixed with the words of the request as she slid her hands up his chest. "I want to show you something ... special, for me."

He leaned over and kissed her gently. "Control is yours, Amerith." He said with curiosity, excitement and lust, and a growing affection all tingeing his scent.

She smiled and made a few invisible alterations to the room as her claws made a clean cut down each side of his muscle shirt and it fluttered to the floor. "Too many clothes, Darkie." Amerith's voice was softly teasing as she leaned forward for a welcoming kiss, teasing his forming erection through his shorts before pulling them down as she knelt, kissing and licking as she went.

As she stood she worked to face his back, hands touching everything but the lengthening pink flesh before his abs.

"Trust me?" She breathed in his ear, completely serious despite the desire there.

"Yes." He whispered, excited by the uncertainty of whatever Amerith was playing at. He wondered why more DS didn't play these games, as much as he wondered anything through his building excitement and desire.

A low murring purr and gentle hands worked down his legs rewarded his answer. As she caressed her way down, she urged him to spread his legs enough for her to kneel between them. She spent and unusually long time around his ankles, and when her hands left, something was still there.

"Don't fight Darkie," She whispered reassuringly when he instinctively tensed at the restraint.

DarkStar knew that some organics played these restraint games, and he did find it exciting in a way, very exciting actually. But a small corner of his mind wondered if it might not be 'disrespectful' to play such games while a teammate was being held captive for real. He decided it was probably okay, since he couldn't imagine Amerith doing anything that would be disrespectful of Jake.

Satisfied with his reasoning, he deliberately relaxed so as to enjoy the new game. Well, most of him relaxed at any rate, one part was extremely stiff.

She guided his arms up, over his head but relaxed, and bound them similarly before sliding around to face him. Always careful of the rough effects of her tongue, she worked down his chest, paying special attention to his furless nipples and the spots that garnered a good response.

She knelt, caressing the inside of his thighs before taking his balls into her mouth, stroking and rolling them in turn before leaving that task to one hand and raising her head slightly to rub the silky fur of her cheek along the hot flesh, purring as she felt his pulse respond to her actions.

With one hand under his knot and the other still fondling his balls she sank her head down, taking him into her mouth and throat with practiced ease. She took her time bringing him to the very brink of his self-control before withdrawing completely and standing. She caressed his panting, trembling body and she walked behind him again, and knelt.

With gentle, stead hands and tongue she worked her way up from his inner thighs, to just behind his balls and stayed there for a moment. As she caressed what was probably least touched bit of fur, her hands carefully spread his cheeks, and ran a teasing, testing finger over his ass.

DarkStar was rather solidly in pleasure overload, as Amerith managed to keep him incredibly close to the point-of-no-return, but never past it. His vocalizations were reduced to moans, groans and the occasional yip, but mostly moans of pleasure. He was enjoying everything, of course it didn't hurt that he didn't actually have inhibitions as such, and anywhere that had pleasure nerve endings felt good.

Amerith smiled and slowly stood, coating her fingers with her own juices before focusing her attention on opening him up gently, regardless of what was screaming in her blood to just fuck him hard. She was breathing rappedly by the time she was satisfied she wouldn't injure her lover and took a step back to side the feline half of a double dildo strap on inside herself, whimpering in need as the barb-hairs rubbed along her inner walls and the strap pressed her slick, hard clit against the soft, slippery flesh under it.

Once again her fingers found DarkStar's ass as she press her chest against his back and took the ruff of his neck between her jaws. As she pressed the dildo inside him, slowly and pausing regularly to keep herself from coming too soon, she kept both hands firmly on his hips, both to stop him from moving, and to double check that he wasn't trying to pull away from the intrusion.

She groaned as her body trembled when she was buried fully in him, very close to her limit and began to move in long, slow thrusts designed to get her off. As the first rolling wave began deep in body and sunk down to her crotch she shifted her grip to cross his chest as her body stiffened. As her arms tightened and pulled her up and close to him his body crested a second peak before relaxing, just barely able to stand as she withdrew, whimpering with each small motion.

With trembling hands she undid the strap on and sank to the floor far enough in front of him to give DarkStar a good look at her raised rump and spread legs before she willed his bonds away. With one hand she reached back between her legs and spread the swollen lips of her labia open, and watched him over her shoulder.

"Come bury your bone, handsome," she crooned. "Tie the knot."

The Black Lab was so completely aroused, that he needed no encouragement to do as she asked, though he had just enough thought left to be gentle as slowly entered her, and barely enough control to get inside before he fell over the edge and began coming in forceful waves, barely noticing as his knot forced it way into her body, limiting his movement but intensifying his orgasm.

As he collapsed against her back Amerith purred, deeply content as he gasped for breath, and maneuvered them to their side on the floor, spooned together as he recovered and she relished this new feeling of being physically bound to her lover.

After several minutes the Black Lab recovered sufficiently to lick his mate playfully behind the ear. "Sims are so much more satisfying this way." He whispered breathlessly in a happy and sated voice.

"Life is more satisfying this way," she chuckled. "I never thought a Kantin could be such a good lover."

"Kantin? I guess that must be what you call Canem where you're from and thank you."

"Yah, Kantin are the canines back home."

"For myself, I had few preconceptions ... I've spent most of my time alone." He chuckled. "Though you've definitely convinced me that there are definite advantages to togetherness." He said with a quiet woof. "I haven't felt this good in centuries, you're wonderful."

"Thank you," she snuggled back a little more. "And thank you for being a good teammate," she said softly. "I'm not afraid of the future with you."

He nuzzled her neck gently. "I'm glad of that. One should never fear the future. Prepare for it, certainly; but never fear it." He said reassuringly. "I do hope the biologicals save some of the fighting for us though. With all the firepower I'm tracking, I'm hoping we're not just transportation."

"I ... I'll be happy to just get Jake back," she murmured softly as she stroked his hand as he held her. "I've never even conceived of life without the squad, without my friends. As much as I love Jake ... it's ... terrifying to be alone like I was ... before you. Silver's nice, but she's ... I just don't connect with her well. It wasn't much different than being alone ... and then Jake ...." her voice faltered and slowly dissolved into tears of buried fear released.

DarkStar held Amerith close and gently stroked her hair. "I can only imagine how it would be frightening to be alone, when you're used to having such closeness." He nuzzled her.

"But if my sister seems a little 'distant' at times, it's because she had a pilot she was LifeBonded to, and she lost him. The worst thing was, she was alone when it happened because the rest of her squad had already been destroyed. She's never been able to talk about how she survived, but she's never been the same."

"It's not that she's distant ..." Amerith sighed. "We just don't ... click ... well. I mean, I like her and all, I can work with her and joke with her and I don't have a problem with her on the squad, but there's not the connection I have with you ... and that is not because we're lovers."

The Lab grinned. "The connection is probably why we've ended up lovers. At least that'd be my guess." He said lazily. "Me, I've never been close to anyone before now. And I kind of wonder what I missed, but I'm glad I was close enough for this mission. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"You're why I'm still sane, and probably why I'm still alive," she whispered, not caring that she was still crying silently. "Rik's too frazzled ... Jake's gone ... I never learned how to be strong by myself. When the bond shattered ... even after Alex connected me through his LifeBond ... Gods ... I just started to fall apart."

"Don't worry, we will get Jake back. I'm not letting anybody hold a teammate of mine prisoner." The Black Lab said with absolute certainty. "Besides, I want to meet this person who's managed to pull together such disparate personalities." He grinned and then licked the other ear, playfully.

"It's not the first time." She smiled weakly. "I hope you get a chance to meet the rest of Black Phoenix. They're quite a group, and I miss Kella."

"Who knows what the future holds." DarkStar said quietly. "Is Kella one of the other DS in Black Phoenix?" He asked quietly, as he focused on being close and comforting.

"No, she's one of the techs on the Veritech project. A beautiful Panther Xanith, sweet personality and a lovely voice." She smiled softly. "Can I upload some sims? You mentioned not really being confident on a team, and most of what we did was teambuilding."

"Of course, it's how the sim library grows. Though you didn't need to ask, the storage you'll be using is in your own ships computer. And it's true I'm not confident about teams, mostly due to a lack of experience."

"Well, sims are great for experience." She chuckled and began sorting through what he'd run over the past year. "When you're comfortable teaming with me, we can ask Silver to join ... and explain what it does to us first. The only downside for you is everything is for atmospheric jets, and it's mostly about maneuverability."

"Truthfully, we wouldn't have to explain too much, since normally Silver goes by herself after combat, she uses 'meditation' to expel any excess aggression that may be lingering. I understand it, since it's what I did before you showed me a far more exciting way to de-stress from combat."

"As long as she isn't disturbed by what it does for us, that's good enough."

He smiled. "Amerith, I'm familiar with atmospheric jets though it's been awhile since I've handle one that wasn't configured for air-space operation. But it is smaller than I'm used to, but that's part of the challenge."

"Phoenix jets are good for near-space operations, just don't try to go to the moon with it." She chuckled as she brought the first sim up and gratefully dropped into her primary body.

Trying to keep track of everyone was beginning to give SilverStar a headache.

As if all the people she'd left Aristal with weren't enough of a handful, she now had several Darshar and, of all people, the Earth Lord wandering about on board. Admittedly, none of them were likely to need her oversight but Star considered it a part of her job to keep an eye on the VIPs, and to be honest it was a little unsettling to be carrying quite so many powerful beings. Her last century under Mephit control had left her unused to this sort of eventuality. Not to mention there was something odd going on with Amerith, although she couldn't begin to guess what the problem might be.

All in all it had been a stunning couple of days, not to mention the last couple of hours, so it wasn't so surprising that some things might have slipped her mind. That's what she told herself as she looked through her internal sensors into Secure Medical Suite 3, where Chance Furlong was held almost rigid in his force restraint. Star was just thankful that the system had been set to adjust automatically if his situation changed. The camera logs showed that tabby seizing violently, several times, although the only injury he'd sustained was a solid crack to the head before the restraint kicked in. Even now he was trembling and whimpering softly, obviously in pain. Star had her suspicions as to the cause, but she couldn't find either the opportunity or the words to bring it up with Nathan.

Besides, he'd never believe it. He was Bonded to the tabby now, and would be expecting to know if Chance was in any pain. It was one of many reasons he hadn't been up here to check on his patient, whom he probably didn't even realize was awake. That Nathan hadn't sensed anything didn't come as such a surprise to Star, though it was a clear indication of how deeply wrong things were in the Chance's mind. Star considered dialing the restrain back a little to see if it might make Chance feel any more at ease, but reluctantly decided against it. Nathan's displays of power had been getting more and more extravagant as time went on, and rarely came with any sort of warning.

Star decided to bring Chance's condition quietly to Nathan's attention, by dropping a note onto the databoard he was reading. She figured he'd probably just been distracted by the current crisis, after all Jake had just disappeared. Despite what everyone tried to tell her, Star still felt guilty about not having been strong enough to make everyone's drastic actions unnecessary.

Nathan caught the out-of-place note on his databoard, and cringed mentally. All the noise he'd been making while Bonded to the hyper-sensitive tabby was the probable cause of the seizures. He focused internally and carefully applied heavy shielding to their link, but only on the outgoing channel. That way Chance wouldn't hear anything coming from him, but he'd be able to hear anything from Chance.

"*Morin, take over for a little while. There's something that needs attending to in Medical.*" He said a shielded channel.

"*Very good. We're still twenty hours from the portal so it shouldn't be a problem.*"

"*Thanks,*" He said patting the Dracon on the shoulder as they traded Command responsibilities.

Nathan carefully insulated himself, so that he wasn't sending anymore unshielded psi-energy than a normal person when he entered Chance's suite in Medical.

He quietly walked up to the side of Chance's bed and looked the tabby over with a medically critical eye. He sighed at the necessity of the force field restraints. Then he carefully constructed a quiet zone shield around the injured pilot that would be far more effective than any mechanical device. As far as Chance was concerned the telepathic world would be completely silent, unless somebody decided to tangle with Nathan to get to him.

Reflexively, he brushed back the agitated pilot's hair. "Somehow, we'll make things better for you Chance, I don't know how yet ... but somehow." He said very quietly and more than a little concerned, before leaving medical for the bridge.

Earth Lord watched with some curiosity with some curiosity as a visibly agitated and angry Nathan returned to the bridge, and reclaimed command from Morin. Earth Lord was not aware of any change in ship's status that would explain the commander's agitation. The steel-blue Dracon turned to Diamantha.

"*Why is the Commander so agitated? Nothing has changed.*"

The silver-gray healer sighed. "*That is just the problem, Ancient One. We have a patient on board that neither Nathan or myself can do anything for, and he is not taking it well. The sudden LifeBonding with the patient has only made things worse, I'm afraid.*"

The towering Dracon nodded calmly. "*What is the patient's condition that you can not heal him?*"

"*His mind has been badly injured, and some unknown telepaths have left psychic damage so severe that he rejects all telepaths, even those who would help him.*" Diamantha thought in a frustrated mind-voice.

"*This includes those he is LifeBonded to?*"

"*It does.*"

"*No wonder Nathan is agitated, rejection is not supposed to exist where a LifeBond does, and for a healer; being rejected by patient who clearly needs help is always painful. I will go see to this patient, what is his name?*"

"*Chance Furlong, Ancient One, a male tabby Kat. But I didn't know you were a healer,*"

The Dracon chuckled. "*The restorative powers of the earth are mine to command, and should suffice since I will not be doing anything telepathic. Though this is really more Air Lord Aeryon's domain, but she's busy elsewhere.*"

Diamantha nodded. "*Any help you can give would be appreciated, this situation is most unsettling.*"

The steel-blue Dracon only nodded as he faded from view.

As Earth Lord entered Chance's room, he submerged from view any talent that behaved telepathically. He examined the shields that Nathan had erected and nodded approvingly, thinking them a good start but not a long term solution.

"Intellego Mentem." He invoked quietly.

The power showed him the problem being caused by the sole remaining bond, as unintentional and well meant as it was. There was simply no choice; it would need to be removed gently and carefully.

Earth Lord stepped out of the room quietly, and opened a very shielded channel to Nathan. "*Nathan, are you willing to give up your Bond with Chance, if doing so will help heal him?*" He asked delicately, knowing how sensitive the Felsin were about such things.

"*If it would help him, of course I would. It was trying to help him that caused the bond in the first place. But severing the Bond would be dangerous in his current condition.*" The tiger-tabby thought greatly concerned.

"*Not if done correctly. I realized that you are taught that it can not be done, but I'm a bit beyond such rules. I assure you that it can be done, at least by me, without harm to you or Chance.*" The Ancient Dragon's mind-voice said reassuringly.

"*Do what you think is best for Chance, Earth Lord. That's what I've been trying to do, but though I can repair his body, his mind is beyond my talents.*" Nathan responded in a quiet and fatigued mental tone.

Earth Lord returned to the wounded pilot's room, and dismissed all those present and turned to creating the proper environment.

"Ligo Fortum," He intoned, binding the door firmly shut. He chuckled quietly at the fact he was using a language younger than he was, but something about it appealed stylistically. Besides, it had become popular with a lot of Mages over the millennia.

He considered the silence created by Nathan's psi-power, and decided that magic which made nor contained any psi-noise was better, but first he needed to unbind the pilot and the healer. Most times he would be opposed to breaking a LifeBond, but neither of them had sought this bond, and the tabby actively didn't want it, while Nathan was willing to release it for the good of the patient.

"Separo mentem et spiritum Nathan Chance," He said gently, placing healing magic on the Bond to ensure that neither felt more than a regretful twinge as the bond parted.

On the bridge, Nathan felt a tug at the Bond he had with Chance, and a brief surge of pain before the healing magic soothed it. The pain was only minor, and Nathan thought it more than worth it if it would give the tabby some peace.

The effect on Chance was immediate, the tabby's body releasing the tension that it had held and relaxing into the restraint field. A soft sigh escaped from between his lips, along with a few muffled sounds, which might have been speech if he'd been capable of moving his jaw.

Once the room became completely silent, he noticed some change in the tabby's condition. A positive change perhaps, he thought. He lowered the restraining field power, until it was at a level were it was simply protecting the still delicate shoulder.

As it faded away the tabby's body came to rest in a more natural position, his limbs shifting out from his sides a little more and his head falling to one side, turning his face away from the door.

"Chance Furlong, can you hear me?" The Dracon asked in deep, yet gentle voice.

"Yessir," Chance said, softly but audibly. "I've been awake for a while."

"That's good to hear." Earth Lord said quietly. "There've been a number of people who've been very worried about you. How do you feel?"

Chance didn't say anything for some time, but the Earth Lord's patience was immense.

"I don't belong here," he said at last. "I thought I'd rather die than let them bring me here."

The Dracon considered. "I am curious, where do you think you are?" He asked in a quiet conversational tone of voice.

"I ... I don't remember what it's called. Clawson's place." Chance shifted slightly, turning his back and curling in on himself. "His secret place."

Earth Lord thought for a moment. "No, this place does not belong to him, and the only one responsible for your being here is a healer, who wished to see that your injury was properly taken care of." He said patiently and quietly.

"What will you do with me now?" the tabby asked softly, though he seemed to have no more interest in the answer than in any of the other things he'd been told.

"Do with you? I don't think that doing anything with you was what those in charge had in mind. Their primary interest has been in doing things for you, namely helping you heal." He sighed quietly, quietly for an 11 foot tall Dracon that is.

"From what I hear, I can tell you are used to others using you, and you expect that to be the same here. That is not the Colonel's way, but there's really no reason for you to believe what I say, is there?

"Perhaps a better question is, what do you want to do with you? No one who's manipulated or used you in the past can do so anymore, and if you can come to believe it, there are those who would like to help you." The Dracon said sincerely, though he honestly didn't expect the tabby to believe him. However, sincerity needed to be put forth as it might help and certainly wouldn't hurt.

Chance lay still as the Earth Lord tried to explain the situation, though he gave no outward sign that he was even listening. "Just leave me alone," he murmured eventually.

Earth Lord nodded quietly. "Yes, perhaps some sleep and quiet thought is just what you need." He said quietly as left the room, accepting that perhaps the best way to help the pilot was to give him some space. At least for now, later he could try again.

Star considered for some time what she should do. She wanted to talk with Chance, yet he seemed to want to be alone. After a what seemed like an eternity, but actually was only about half an hour, decided a small intrusion probably wouldn't hurt.

She quietly cleared her throat to make sure the tabby was aware of her. "Hello, Chance. I don't know if you remember but my name's SilverStar and we spoke earlier. I just thought I'd let you know that if you want someone to talk to, I'm available." She said in a quiet, voice.

"I remember," he replied. His voice wasn't quite the blank tone that it had been, though he still seemed completely uninterested. "It was before Nathan put himself inside me. What do you want?"

Star paused. "Want? Oh I just thought you might want someone to talk to, that's all. If you don't, I understand. Just letting you know I'm available if you do. Like if you had questions or something?" She said, quietly friendly but not too friendly. She figured she'd be better being casual, since the tabby seemed to want to keep distance between himself and anyone else.

"No questions," the tabby murmured softly.

"Okay." She said quietly. "Well, if you come up with any, feel free to ask, anytime. See you later." She said casually, as she quietly decided to go find something violent in the sim library to work her frustration off on. She couldn't decide if she was getting a better reaction than Earth Lord ... or just a different one.

Nathan shifted his focus sharply to his accidental LifeBond with Jake at a sudden burst of activity on the other end, then as nearly an abrupt dropping of transmissions as the link was shielded to a nearly block-out extent.

The tiger-tabby hardly gave it a thought as he shot down to the end of the line to the block, and gave it a look over.

"Intellego Mentem."

He intoned, checking to see both if Jake had constructed it, and as much of the thought process as possible behind the level of shielding.

Simultaneously, he began drawing up power reserves for whatever lie ahead.

On the bridge, Morin and Diamantha both caught the sudden golden fire moving around Nathan as his body stiffened. Morin carefully lifted his Cordraki from the Command chair and laid him comfortably next to the healer who started looking him over.

Morin turned to Earth Lord, who had returned to the bridge. "If there is a way to increase our speed please consider it. Something has changed for the worse, and Nathan finds it necessary to challenge her again. One of these times, it is not going to go so well, I fear."

Earth Lord nodded. "Our speed is already greatly accelerated, but I will see what else can be done. Do not worry about Nathan, I can sense that he is still within the power of the Queen's Sigil, somehow I don't think the enemy wishes to bring on that fight."

Across the deep, heavy shields Nathan found what made no sense. The shields were clearly done by the owner of the Bond to protect those on the other end, yet it was not Jake, it was far too female, and had a decidedly Medic feel to it ... a familiar feel as well.

Beyond those shields was a multi-sided war of significant power.

"Get out! The female who constructed the shields roared. "Not your battle, Nate."

Nathan stubbornly stood his ground, buoyed by the power of the Queen's Sigil in the Bond Armor. "The Team stands together, and falls together. An Attack on One, is an Attack on All." He said invoking probably the most fundamental of the NightBlade tenets.

As he stood wondering what was really going on, he could feel StarFire's power coming through the Sigil, and was reassured to know that that kind of power backed him.

"You are distracting, not helping." She growled, nearly desperate. "Concentrate on getting your physical self here, not distracting me."

Nathan stalked back to his body, not sure who was running things, and not happy about being able to help. When he got back to his body, his aggression was still much higher than it should be. He stood up and stalked back to the Command chair.

He turned to Earth Lord. "Unless you've come up with something else, I'm going to speed up this trip. And don't give me anything about long-term damage to multi-spatial fabric or anything else. The greater powers can fix it later, since if they'd dealt with this problem three thousand years ago, this wouldn't be necessary." He said angrily, gold flames in his eyes and running around his body.

The steel blue Dracon looked surprised, but he could sense the anger and rising power in the winged panther and preferred to have it directed properly. He was still a little fatigued from trying to help Chance Furlong, which had been thoroughly frustrating. "Just be careful, try not to rip a hole in the multiverse." He said leaning back against one wall.

Morin walked up behind his mate. "Cordraki, perhaps you should get some sleep before you do anything, rash." He said worriedly.

The winged panther turned and put a hand on the red Dracon's shoulder. "Morin, I love you but don't try to calm me down on this one."

He stepped to the center of the bridge, and began gathering power from all the powers of the universe he could, but leaving the ship's untapped; they would need to be ready. As a glowing halo of gold and silver energy crackled about him, his form became surrounded by a glowing form that was over 10 feet tall, and appeared to be pure Dracon.

"*Amerith, SilverStar, DarkStar, standby for sudden transit. I'm moving us to the breach point a lot faster. It's going to be a wild ride, should cut ETA to 3 hours, maybe less. Whatever you do, do not attempt any maneuvers until I give the okay.*"

"*Understood*" Silver and Dark responded.

"*Understood.*" Amerith responded after hastily returning to her ship.

Nathan stretched the gathered power out and surrounded the ships in a bright gold firebird shape, with sharp wing-edges, beak and talons to cut through the swirls of TLD space. He tracked along his LifeBond with Jake until he found the dimensional gate he sought. He quickly checked various paths, and shortcuts until he found the most direct
route, which wove in and out of TLD space and through several
dimensions until it reached the desired destination.

"Everybody better hold on, I'm about to rewrite all the rules." He said grimly, as he released the gathered power and threw the golden firebird into a flight like none had seen before. It ripped through space, time and dimensions and was quite literally finding its own path. It would stop for nothing, and acknowledge nothing; driven as it was by a threatened bond and the anger of one who wished to do something.

As the phoenix soared, Nathan stood at the heart of the fire controlling it by sheer force of will and a driving need to strike at the evil which had caused all this damage and pain.

Cazi felt a rather harsh tug on his LifeBond, then a burst message in Ashley's voice with no path to reply. "*Keep Nate away from me.*"

Cazi looked up for a moment from the armor he was just finishing the upgrades on, and shook his head. "*Like I have any influence over what happens around here anymore.*" He thought with a large sigh as moved on to the next suit of armor.

Back on the bridge, Margali and Earth Lord conferred somewhat worriedly, as they watched Nathan bend time and space with apparent ease and total disregard for consequences.

"He's already drawing Prime, if we don't reach the target in time for him to have something to unleash it against we may have a problem." The TechnoMage said worriedly, the rage behind the Medic's power manipulations was frightening.

"We do not dare try and divert him, our only option is to hasten things so that we arrive in time. But I'm not sure we can arrive in time to let him strike at the enemy he is prepared for." The steel-blue Dracon said quietly.

"If we do nothing, we'll likely end up with a rage-driven Prime without a focus for the Rage. We'd have no choice but to beseech StarFire's intervention."

"Agreed, but the risks of speeding things up are not small. Unfortunately, both the Healer and the Protector have been rebuffed which leaves only the Avenger; a difficult force to control at best." Earth Lord said tiredly.

"I think he has taken things far harder then he should, which isn't surprising given how recently one LifeMate was taken from him. With the LifeBond, he must feel threatened anew."

"Perhaps, so ... we act?"


The two dragons stepped to places left and right of Nathan, forming a equilateral triangle. From nothing both of them pulled metal tipped and shod wooden staves as tall as them selves.

"Rego Tempum." The steel-blue Dracon said as he struck the deck with the heel of his staff, causing a swirling blue glow to surround him. Streams of blue energy went to both Margali and Nathan. Around Nathan the stream interwove with the energies already surrounding him.

"Rego Spatium." Margali intoned as his staff struck the deck, causing a red glow to surround him with streams going to Nathan and Earth Lord. Again the stream interwove with the conflagration of energy surrounding Nathan.

Earth Lord flared his wings as he extended his will to guide the surging energies. "Unbind now both time and space and move us to another place; the laws of space and time we doth suspend to bring this journey to its end. By Phoenix Fire and Rolling Thunder, by this power walls of time and space now sunder."

There was a sudden rush of power through all three vessels, and red glowing phoenix could be seen surging ahead of the great Golden Phoenix. There was a crashing thunderous noise as ships surge to an even greater speed.

Morin stepped to the command chair, and sat down. "Attention, all drop troops prepare for insertion in 5 minutes, full armor and weapons. Hunters will lead teams as per standard retrieval procedure, use class 3 combat zone protocols."

Below decks, Dracon Marines dropped everything and headed for the armor pods, suiting up with impressive speed.

"SilverStar, inform the other vessels that we'll reach gate point in less than 10 minutes. All main batteries should be trained forward and coordinate with DarkStar's firing of the Breach Cannon."

The ships moved to high activity, as combat approached.

As they sped to their target four balls of silver fire streaked past them, then all seven Darshar stiffened.

"Queen have mercy." Soron's voice was nearly lost in shock before he shook it off and turned to face their Mage. " Aberin?"

The silver Darshar shivered before she answered, her voice low in stunned disbelief. "She is dead, my Lord. Soul-Dead."

"Be ready ..." he nodded at the squad.

"Who guards Felsinor and Aristal?" Aberin asked of those on the bridge.

Earth Lord turned to them. "Aeryon and Astrella were dispatched to Felsinor when this began, and of course the warriors of the Spirit Court are there as well. And that doesn't count the combined powers of the CyberMage guild, which are formidable. I think they are well guarded."

"Warn them," she spoke in tense certainty. "Those fireballs that passed us are DeathStrikes from a Darshar Noble. The Betrayer is dead, but her power is headed for Earth, Draconea, Felsinor and Aristal."

Earth Lord concentrated. "StarFire was prepared for this, Draconea and Felsinor stand in no danger."

Margali considered. "As for Aristal, I do not know. It was always considered the Queen's domain, so no one has intruded there in millennia. I suppose it has whatever spirits are native to it, and whatever forces the mortals there have available."

Soron concentrated, then spoke softly. "No greater powers protect Aristal. It is lost."

There was a drop in the light level on the ship, and then a loud 'crack' was heard. "Breaching barrage has fired, we have crossed the dimensional boundary. Assault troops disembarking, Count Sunfire is with Hunter Team One. All Ships switching to atmospheric drives, main anti-gravity drives engaging, ships now at station keeping 600 feet above planetary surface."

"I think I found Tartirin." SilverStar spoke almost immediately, but not before the Darshar vanished. "Displaying on main screen."

Those who looked up saw a power-scorched field with a bloody and partially dismembered silver Darshar female being devoured by an equally bloody reptile the size of a large Dracon.

A moment later four Darshar, Lord Soron and three others, appeared at the edge of the field and advanced carefully. Soron held a great sword with some care.

The armored Dracon forms of Blade, four marines, and Cazimir landed on the opposite side of the field from the Darshar. Cazimir spotted 'Jake', and warned the team to hold position.

"*Jake, Ashley? Either of you there?*" He said as calmly as his frazzled nerves would allow, deeply afraid there might be no one left to answer.

As he waited he carefully projected to Soron. "*The large bloody reptilian form is 'Jake', my LifeMate.*" No explanation, but the unspoken request to be careful with him, was quite clear.

"*Understood.*" The deep, distressed voice of the warrior Lord responded as they approached.

"*Caz?*" Ashley's mind-voice was weak, and utterly exhausted. "*Everybody fine. Just need rest ...*"

Terrsa's silver and black form led the others, her body glowing with her power as she approached the beast, then smiled. "Aberin, create a feast for it." She spoke gently. "It is merely starving, for food and energy."

Cazi felt energy from an unknown source surge through him and he realized that somehow, it was coming from Nathan. He carefully tuned the energy so it would help Jake the most and gently eased it across the LifeBond. "*Okay, You guys need energy ... here you go, NightBlades look after their own.*"

The primitive mind gulped it down, a happy rumbled flowing back.

The silver female nodded and raised her hands as power coalesced into a variety of tempting meats and glowing bowls of liquid as a nearly black female glided in next to Jake and stuck a bowl under its nose.

"Identify yourself." Soron roared with his full authority as he advanced, and the lizard finally raised its head to growl at him, silencing instantly at the female's touch.

"I am Rachel of The First House, daughter of Marki." She stood tall.

"And the Betrayer." He growled.

"She betrayed me as well." Rachel hissed, never loosing contact with the lizard's bloody head as it ate in huge gulps. "I make no claim on her. She has fallen as befits her, to one of her own."

Cazi caught the name 'Rachel', and recalled the memories Jake had shown him about who had set him and Erra up for the awful blow. Fire began crackling about his armor, as fire-rage ignited. He started to move but Blade caught him, ignoring the fire.

"Look, Count Sunfire, bad time for this. I caught the gist of the fact that she set your lifemate up some really big hurt, but she's standing way too close to him right now. Let the snipers handle it, you go charging in and who knows what'll happen."

Cazi turned to glare at the big Marine, and then angrily stalked away. But he made no effort to conceal the depth of hatred he felt for the dark-skinned one. "Keep an eye on Jake, Blade. I can't stay within sight of that creature, or I'll do something someone will regret." He made sure that his anger never once interrupted the flow to Jake.

"Then move your pet away from her body," Soron growled. "There is still work to do."

Cazimir snapped around back at Soron. "Do not refer to my LifeMate as a pet." He growled quietly, though the growl was more general than directed.

At the same time, he made sure to keep positive emotions going toward 'Jake', including images of their time together and the love between them, hoping maybe 'Jake' would respond, even a little. He consciously projected images of the cinnamon Kat that this group 'chose' to be, hoping it might stir 'something'.

The primitive mind rumbled in pleasure and recognition, though nothing that really resembled Jake, or any other intelligent mind, responded.

"V'Feri is not a pet." Rachel snarled even as she coaxed it away. "He is a sentient creature, and he just did the universe a great favor."

"Whatever," the dark male advanced and drove the ornate sword he carried through the remains of Tartirin's chest and into the ground as it began to glow deep black. "Ti vi Tartirin Darshar rivikalin."

Cazi kept his mental 'eye' on Jake, while he refused to look at Rachel. He actively wanted her to go away, and if he had a fraction of Nathan's power, he thought, that's what'd happen to.

"*Why hate nice one?*" The primitive mind asked along the LifeBond. "*She protect us.*"

Cazi calmed himself down. "*Long, complicated story that Jake told me not too long ago. It involved her doing something that was very not nice. Doesn't sound like you're up to long stories right now, though.*" He thought kindly, still trying to figure out which of the personalities this one was.

He sighed, and reigned his anger in. "*We'll just let it go for now. Okay?*" Trying to explain the whole mess to whoever this new mind was, was going to be too complicated. But in a deeply shielded part of his mind, Cazi had no intention of trusting this Rachel any further then he could through the Behemoth.

The primitive mind retreated to dig around their memories, then nudged Ashley awake, but didn't get anything coherent from her before she dropped back to sleep. It grumbled a little, then watched as Soron's sword glowed brightly through the colors of the rainbow, and when it subsided, he pulled it out and looked around.

"You're LifeMate will be fine when he has rested." Rachel's voice was soft and right next to Cazi. "He expended a great deal of energy in that fight, but no real harm came to his mind."

Cazi had to fight to keep from growling, and it took a lot of effort not to lash out with claw and fire. He settled for double checking the energy he was still carefully feeding to 'Jake'. He'd refrain from actively 'hating' her, since it upset 'Jake'. That did not, however, mean he had to talk to her, or acknowledge her existence for that matter.

Blade came up silently on the other side of Rachel. "You're really pushing your luck you know. Pushing one's presence on an angry Dracon is not the wisest course of action. Especially when one is the target of that anger." He said in a low quiet voice, that was completely the seasoned professional soldier, no hint of judgment or opinion.

She turned to face the Marine, her voice still soft. "If he wants to take his LifeMate with him, which is what should happen, he needs to accept him from me. The primitive mind that's running things right now understands little more than I am the source of comfort and food, and will follow me. He needs to be with his LifeMate, but that's too complicated a concept for me to explain right now."

The soldier looked at Cazi appraisingly. "This is going to be more than a little complicated then. Accepting his LifeMate, no problem. The problem is going to be getting him to acknowledge your presence, as something other than a target. As far as he's concerned, you work for 'her'. " He gestured over his shoulder at where the body had been. "Which makes you at least partially responsible for everything that's happened lately. Which includes the torture of his LifeMate just to start with ... as if anything else matters after that."


He looked between Cazi and Rachel. "Now, I'm a soldier and determination of responsibility for war crimes and that sort of thing isn't my job. But I'd say there's a problem here." He said calmly. "I think the two of you agree on the fact that Jake needs to be with his LifeMate ... but I don't quite know how you're gonna bridge the gulf there."

"I'll try again." She sighed and knelt to be on eye level with the lizard and sent on an open frequency. "*You need to go with him,*" she pointed at Cazi. "*He's the one you belong with.*"

"*Like you.*" Came the stubborn reply.

"*He is your LifeMate.*" She stroked its bloody head and neck. "*You should go with him.*"

"*Like you. Healed us.*"

"*Oh, little one,*" she lowered her forehead to its. "*I did what anyone who cared would do. But your LifeMate needs you.*"

"*He's angry. Like Her.*" A deep growl matched the statement until it calmed down as she crooned and stroked it.

Rachel stood and shook her head. "I'm up for suggestions."

Blade looked a little perplexed. "Keltin's Claws, but anger is one thing we've got way too much of. How do you calm down people who've got every right to be mad?"

"I don't know. She sighed.

Cazi carefully put his anger away. "*Angry? Yes, sometimes when someone you love gets hurt badly you do get angry.*" He thought calmly to the lizard. "*I don't know if you understand, but Jake means everything to me, and the thought of losing him frightens me very badly ... and that comes out as anger.*" He thought calmly, and as gently as he could.

The shift was rewarded by an almost immediate change in its mind, and a small step towards Cazi.

"Will you go with him now? Rachel asked hopefully.

It swung its head towards her, then at the armored Lion, and hesitated. "*Why can't you come?*"

"*Because I must go with Lord Soron, and your LifeMate must return home.*" She explained gently.

"*You'll come back?*" It asked uncertainly.

"*If I can, and I am invited.*" She promised.

It looked at Cazi. "*Well?*"

"*I won't hold you to this.*" Rachel told Cazi in private.

Cazi thought back on the same private line. "*Perhaps not, but on some level this is still Jake, and I don't lie to him. Anyway, If we're in Alliance space it will require Queen StarFire's permission ... and I certainly can't speak for her.*"

Cazi looked calmly at the big lizard. "*I'll consider it, but its not just my decision. I think Jake and the others may have something to say on the subject. I won't make a promise that isn't mine to keep.*" He said in gentle, soothing tone clearly indicated he'd give the matter fair consideration.

He thought on a shielded channel to Blade. "*Is the area secure?*"
"*No resistance was ever encountered, all units awaiting orders.*"

"*Okay. Pick up my armor would you, I need to get away from my combat self.*"

"*Yes sir.*"

Cazi released the locks on his armor and stepped out of it. He shook his fur out. "Much better." He said in a relaxed tone of voice. "Been enough fighting and anger for today."

The Lion walked over to the large lizard fearlessly, and put a gentle paw on its massive arm. "*Any time you're ready to go, let me know.*" He said with patient calm.

The lizard swung its heavy head between Rachel and Cazi as it emitted a low whine of distress.

She took a deep breath and knelt next to it before producing a small white stone set in a simple silver pendant. “This is a summoning stone. Call me, and I will come if I am able. All right?”

It regarded her for a long moment before taking the object in its jaws. "*All right.*" With a last wistful look at her, it turned to Cazi. "*Home?*"

Cazi nodded, and indicated a shuttle that was coming in to land. "*That will take us home.*"

He turned to Rachel. "Thank you for taking care of him." He said nodding politely, because though he had carefully and deeply shielded doubts about her motives, it appeared she'd done that. He opened a private channel to her. "*Does this primitive mind have name of its own, I've met a number of the others and he's none of them. And until the others start coming around, what kind of 'place' makes him most comfortable?*" Cazi asked politely, no trace of his earlier animosity in evidence.

"*No name I know of, it doesn't even recognize gender get. Comfort is anyplace without pain, and with food, water, and you>.*" She replied on the same channel. "*The most important part is you, and everyone else he shares a strong Bond with. The others should start awakening within a few hours, a couple days at most. They are simply exhausted beyond thought.*"

He noticed the shuttle had landed, and a ramp was open. He carefully thought to the lizard. "*Time to go home.*" He thought reassuringly, as he walked alongside the lizard toward the shuttle.

Cazi wasn't the least bit surprised to see Patrik and Amerith's solid holo form greet him just inside the shuttle.

The petite tom was on his knees in front of the huge lizard almost immediately. "*Welcome home, Jake.*"

Amerith hesitated a moment, uneasy about her status with their bond not quite right, but she sank down next to it and stroked it's back as the shuttle returned them to the SilverStar.

In silent agreement the four headed for Jake's suite, and the shower there.

Cazi snapped awake from his light doze as the form he was lounged against began to shift smoothly to a familiar Black King Cheetah form. Though she didn't wake, Ashley Terrell's mind was now dominant, and in a regular resting dream-state.

Next to her tall form, Patrik stirred slightly, but didn't wake, and Amerith looked up slightly in her black panther form as the weight resting on her ribs shifted from a lizard to a Felsin head.

Cazi shifted slightly, to get to the very-close-friends mode of sleeping he and Ashley had got accustomed to on the field missions they'd been on. Ashley had always been more interested in Ebon, but she and Cazi had been close friends, sometimes lovers, and there might have been more, Cazi had thought from time to time. He thought gently enough that it might be heard, but not loud enough to wake. "*Welcome home, Ashley.*"

He smiled at the sleep-mumbled reply.

Morin noticed Nathan shift a little, but Diamantha shook her head before the red Dracon got his hopes up.

"*What's wrong Crys?*" Morin asked worriedly, as he tidied his mate's unruly red hair. "*Why's he like this?*"

Diamantha shook her head tiredly. "*Morin, I don't know. Physically, the damage isn't hardly significant and it's healing normally, perhaps even a little faster than normal. But I'm just not sure where he is, it's so quiet inside his mind-space.*"

Morin nodded. "*Too quiet, Crys. He's been like this ever since we entered that other place. And even now that we've left ... nothing's changed.*"

The silver Dracon sighed. "*Honestly Morin, I'm not entirely sure why Mother sent me on this mission. I've been almost completely useless; Jake I don't understand, Chance hates me for simply being and Nathan I can't find.*" She sipped at a glass of water. "* All in all, I wish I'd stayed at home.*"

Morin got up and put an arm around Diamantha's shoulders. "Could be worse, Crys. You could have had to explain to mother how you killed, albeit accidentally, the LifeMate of a member of the court. I think Margali is still dreading that audience."

"*Nathan?*" A familiar female voice echoed through space along the tightly shielded LifeBond.

Though it was obvious from the structure and energy in the Bond that a living mind still anchored it, there wasn't any answer save a strange silence. Like a busy park that everyone suddenly left; leaving only the echoes of activity.

Muttering to herself and her lack of training, she settled back to sleep out the recovery of the others.

Cazi wasn't sure how long he lay next to Ashley, but it was long enough to get very hungry. He was still debating whether to get something to eat delivered when the form next to him shifted again to a lean, cinnamon tomkat only a little taller than he was.

Inside, Jake's mind grudgingly obeyed the body's call to feed it.

Cazi smiled happily, and began 'flickering' in a very large breakfast for the three biologicals present. He was more than slightly amused when Star 'provided' a large table and chairs. As he and Star assembled breakfast in under a minute, he lay holding Jake and smiled, amused at the fact that sometimes it was just good to be a mage.

"*You're gonna make me not want to move,*" Jake's mind held a mixture of testiness, affection and mute weariness.

Cazi chuckled affectionately. "*As tempting as that might be, we both should probably get something to eat. Besides, wouldn't want breakfast to get cold. And it's already here.*" Cazi thought, a thought supported by the appetizing smells of breakfast drifting from the table.

Jake opened his mouth to say something as he struggled to sit up but nothing came out.

Then Cazi looked at he still sleeping Rik, and nudged him gently. "*Feeling like breakfast, sleepy head?*" He thought teasingly.

"*No.*" He barely responded except to clutch a little tighter to Jake and dropped back into oblivion.

"*Rik?*" Jake focused on his pilot.

"*Just coming down.*" He shivered as Amerith nuzzled him.

"*All right.*" Jake stroked Patrik's hair before trying to get up. It was only Cazi's speed that saved him from landing face first on the floor.

Cazi gently tucked the two into bed, before he quickly touched his link with Nathan looking for medical advice. Getting a disturbing silence, he reached out looking for Diamantha.

"*Crys, I could really use someone from medical here. I've got everyone passing out, I checked with Nathan and well, he's not there ... don't know what that means. At any rate, would you send someone from medical when you get the chance?*" He thought quietly, yet agitatedly.

"*I'll be there shortly, don't panic Cazimir.*" She thought comfortingly.

"*Panic? I lost the capacity for that some time ago, somewhere between my LifeMate disintegrating, and turning into a big lizard. Which he's not anymore, fortunately.*"

Not long after Diamantha walked in and gave all three biologicals are thorough scan, looking to see if there was anything other than exhaustion involved. She turned to Cazi. "Jake is still physically weak, which is understandable. It is nothing rest and food will not cure. Patrik ..."

"*Patrik is in shock.*" The little tom grumbled. "*Too much, too fast. Let me sleep it off.*"

She looked at Amerith's holo-form. "Are you functioning properly at the moment, I hope?"

"I'm fine, a little disturbed, but fine." The panther was paying more attention to her partners than the Healer. "Rik ... not so sure about."

Diamantha ran a light telepathic touch across Patrik checking to see if there was a danger of the 'shock' turning into something more serious. At the same time she looked at Cazi. "Next time Jake comes round, give him one of the restorative supplements, he can use both the liquid and the nutrients. Do the same for Rik, if he'll take it."

"Amerith, maintain vitals scans, the usual protocols."

"Will do," she nodded and slipped into her Kat form.

"Cazi, I trust you can keep an eye on the two of them." She asked quietly.

"I think this time, I can do something." Cazi said forcefully.

"Good. I need to return to Medical."

"Those supplements would be good now, Cazi." Amerith sat on the edge of the bed. "They aren't as far gone as they feel."

Cazi picked up the two bottles off the table, and looked over at Amerith. "Would you give me a hand with this?" He asked, looking to keep the DS involved, since he knew she had been uncertain ever since the Bond shattered.

"Sure," she stood with a grace the belied her stress. "What needs done?"

"Simple." He picked up a bottle and handed it to her. "Just get one of them to drink, I'll work with the other one. Ideally, they should finish the entire bottle, but anything at this point is better than nothing." He paused giving her the option of which Kat she wanted to help.

"I'll get Rik," she nodded and knelt to rouse the pilot despite his growls. "Jake responds better to you now." She turned her full attention to getting the entire contents of the bottle into Patrik's stomach.

Cazi nodded and knelt by Jake, and concentrated on getting the Kat to drink. "*You'll find it easier to sleep, if your stomach's not bugging you.*" He thought coaxingly, offering the bottle as an easy way to get the offending organ to be quiet for a while and got little resistance, but not a lot of active cooperative either.

"*Recovery sucks.*" Jake grumbled as he got the last of the liquid down.

"*Better than the alternative.*" Cazi said quietly, as he let the tired Kat rest.

"*Still sucks.*" Jake got the last word in before he sank into deep sleep again.

Cazi was running through another martial arts routine trying to deal with all the unresolved adrenaline and combat gearing in his body when he felt Jake hit consciousness again.

"*Breakf'st?*" Jake's mind reached out before his body was quite coordinated enough to sit up. "*I'm hungry, for real food.*"

Cazi grinned without breaking his routine. "*Ready when you are.*" He said encouragingly. He finished the routine quickly, and when over to sit next to Jake, in case the Kat needed help getting to breakfast. He gently released enough of the Time Suspend so that the aroma would drift over to Jake, with a little help from Star on the environmental system blowers.

"*Gods, that smells good.*" Jake almost got the words out loud as he struggled to sit up, and didn't object to the helping hands. He licked his whickers as he surveyed the offerings, suddenly unsure where too start.

Amerith licked his ear and smiled as she put three fluffy pancakes on his plate, shortly followed by butter and syrup. "That'll start you."

Jake smiled and dug in; his hands shaking slightly as he all but inhaled his first course. As he reached for the meats he realized Cazi wasn't eating and froze, looking at the Felsin Lion.

Cazi looked at Jake. "Something wrong?" He asked quietly, wondering what could be wrong. He knew breakfast should be fine, even if he still wasn't hungry.

"You're not eating ..." his mind and physical voice trailed off in confusion.

"Honestly, I'm just not hungry right now. Don't worry, I'm fine." He said calmly, while pouring himself a glass of red juice that he sipped at slowly.

Jake nodded and returned to a dedicated attempt at clearing the table, though he was still a little self conscious about it.

With a soft sigh he leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment and sent to Cazi. "*Thank you.*"

Cazi nodded. "*You're welcome. Feeling any better?*" He asked casually, trying to mask the concern he wasn't able to let go of.

"Much, though not anywhere near 'whole' yet." Jake shook his head, and smiled softly that his voice was working again. Then he shivered. "That was ... I don't even know how to explain it. I've been through all sorts of hell, but this was ... this was something else entirely."

Cazi sat down next to Jake. "I don't think anyone on board, is 'whole' right now, except maybe the Marines. We're headed back to Alliance space, but it's going to take a while. There's no way to duplicate how we got here, probably would be a bad idea anyway." He said quietly.

"*Star, double check Rik's condition.*" Cazi thought on a shielded channel.

"*Of course, Cazi.*" Star replied gently, as she did another detailed check of the small tom's condition.

"*Get out of my head.*" Patrik's growl could be heard by all, though he didn't move from his tightly curled position on the bed. "*I just want my life back.*"

"Rik," Jake stood, still a little shaky, and sat next to his pilot. "We'll have a life, a good life. It's just a little rocky right now."

"You don't even know what you are anymore," there was more fear and frustration in the thought than anything else. "How can you have a clue what's going to happen?"

"Because I'll make it work." Jake said simply.

It was a long, tense time before the black and white uncurled in a flash of matted fur and Jake went down under him and into a fierce kiss.

Cazi nodded and sat back against the wall, pleased that something seemed to be slowly returning to a semblance of normal. He tried going through some of the more complex Mage energy formations he knew trying to work off the adrenalin in exhausting mental gymnastics.

"*There are better ways to work it off that than that, you know.*" Jake teased softly.

Cazi jumped, having been deeply engrossed in a metamagical puzzle. "*Better ways to work off what?*" He asked, thinking that he'd buried the battle-rush deep enough that it wouldn't be noticed. His thought was partly colored by surprise, and curiosity at what a better way would be.

"The stress, and that battle-readiness that's bugging you." Amerith grinned as her clothes vanished and she slunk down to the main part of the bed, watching Cazi with a predatory gaze as Jake and Patrik chuckled together and squirmed against the wall, out of her way.

"*She wants to play,*" Jake snickered, clearly delighted, and rather aroused by the idea.

Cazi grinned at her, shifting to what appeared a casual position. "And you have a solution to this 'problem', I take it?" He asked calmly, playing at complete innocence as to what everyone was talking about.

"*Yeah, sex until your body gives up wanting to fight.*" She purred. "*Pick a form.*"

He chuckled. "*Guess I should've figured, and I'll stick to the form I'm in.*" He rumbled back, doing a decent imitation of a purr. He tossed an amused thought at Jake and Rik. "*This may take a while.*"

"*What'a wanna bet I can outlast you?*" She dared the Felsin openly.

Cazi laughed broadly. "I don't think it's much of a bet really, though I think an interesting question is can you actually touch the combat-aggression?" He said making it sound like a challenge.

"If I can't, you'd be the first." She smiled seductively.

"Hardly the first 'first' I've chalked up in my time." He said lying back on the bed, grinning.

"*I don't think you'll be adding my name to that list.*"

A flicker of aggression on the last word was his only warning before she pounced in a Felsin war-form worthy of Ebon, claws unsheathed and fangs bared.

Cazi hadn't been mates with Ebon for decades without having that trick pulled before, so he sprang off of the bed, and cleared a good share of the room. As hard as Cazi tried to be casual about it, his aggression was only barely submerged and this new adrenalin surge unlocked all of it, and shifted him to his Dracon war-form. The Dracon lashed out with the fury that had been buried before.

The claws and teeth missed, but the heavy whip tail snapped up, catching Amerith's warform hard in the midsection. The aggression in the Dracon's scent was tinged by a distinctly out of place hatred, that was clearly aimed somewhere else as she twisted to land on heavily clawed feet in a defensive stance with red-leather wings wide and black scales glistening on the nine foot Dracon frame.

Cazi's eyes turned red and he dropped into full commando attack mode; out for a kill, nothing more, nothing less. His attacks increased in speed, aggression and force with each one that struck outward.

Amerith did her best to defend herself, switching forms and tactics and pressing on even after she understood in the very depth of her soul that she was severely outclassed. Even knowing what she was, that he couldn't hurt her much like this, she still screamed in pain and shock as claws struck deep into her chest to tear her beating heart loose of shattered ribs.

SilverStar quickly removed the holographic blood, gore and mutilated Dracon body before in impacted too much.

Lacking a focus, Cazi stepped back down to Lion form, breathing heavy and leaned against a wall to stay standing because his head was beginning to swim heavily. "*Amerith, you okay?*" He asked worried, despite knowing it had been a holoform, and that he couldn't do any real damage to the DS herself.

"Yes," her shaken voice was soft next to him. "Need another round of that?"

He meandered somewhat drunkenly and collapsed on the bed, before he turned to look at her. "I think one is enough, I don't like feeling that angry." He shivered slightly, thinking what would have happened with a non-holographic fight partner.

"Feel better, though?" Jake asked very quietly as Cazi caught the raw terror in Patrik's scent.

Cazi nodded. "Yes." He looked over at Patrik, who was cowering, curled into a tight, shivering ball against Jake's side. "What's the matter, Rik?" He asked in a worried voice as the little tom cringed and tried to get even further away from him despite Jake's assurances.

"He's never seen that kind of violence before." Jake supplied quietly as he tried to calm his pilot down.

Cazi shivered a little. "*Makes two of us.*" He thought quietly, realizing that there was a reason he'd always been the NightBlade technical specialist. Besides the NightBlades were a precision operation, that level of violence had never been necessary. "*There was a reason I was burying that anger, I wasn't sure what would happen if I didn't ... I've never been that angry before.*"

The Lion struggled to his feet. "*He's been through enough, maybe if I get out for awhile he'll be able to calm down.*" He thought quietly to Jake, as he headed unsteadily for the door.

"No." Patrik's voice was trembling, but certain, even though his posture didn't change an inch. "No need."

Cazi turned slowly. "You sure?" He asked quietly, not entirely convinced. He'd never meant for anything like that to happen, but then he still wasn't sure how the fight started anyway.

"Yeah," the little tom didn't look or sound at all convinced.

Cazi was far too tired to argue the point, so he fell back into the bed in such a way that Jake was in the middle of the two of them. "Next time I stick to doing puzzles." He said dazedly. "Can't scare anybody that way."

"But it's over with now." Jake countered gently as Amerith sprawled alongside the Lion. "Mental workouts could have taken forever, if they worked at all."

Cazi sighed. "I guess, but I just ... I've never ... that's not the way I do things." He said in a somewhat confused and disjointed fashion. "I don't know if the mental workouts work, I was just using them to stay calm and not get angry."

"That doesn't happen to your LifeMate either." Amerith pointed out, then sent privately. "*Alex ... Cazi ... we *need* you sane. Jake is not himself, Rik'd been pushed too far even before we fought, and I'm just faking it well. One of the four of us has got to be able to deal with reality.*"

Cazi sighed quietly. "*Reality, I'm just barely holding on to that by the edge of my claws. Fortunately, we won't have anything to really deal with for some time. We're nowhere near anything familiar to any of us.*" He thought back quietly, without saying anything. Part of his mind was still worried about what was going on with Nathan.

Cazi woke to a seething rage in his LifeMate than was suppressed and shielded before he could open his eyes. Though the lean tom next to him looked fairly serene, considering what he'd been through, there was a tiny tick in his mind the Lion had long ago learned to associate with a master assassin making plans.

Cazi carefully shielded a channel to Star. "*Star, don't let anyone except Diamantha know I said this but don't let Jake near Chance unless either Nathan or myself is with him, and activate the weapon suppressor around medical, just in case.*"

Star responded concerned. "*Problems, Cazi?*"

"*Don't know, but there was some serious bad blood between them, and I'm not sure how much of it Jake does or doesn't remember. And he's planning something, so I figure I'll preempt the one thing that I don't want him doing.*" He thought quietly.

"*Understood, Cazi.*" Star signed-off as she rechecked security around the tabby.

He turned back to Jake. "*Morning, Jake.*" He thought quietly letting the tom know he knew he was awake. "*Wat'cha planning?*" He asked curiously, since he could hear the planning tick without trying.

"*Payback.*" Jake growled as the anger flickering up again, along with a touch of guilt.

"*Who?*" Cazi asked concerned. "*Are you back to planning your war on the Mephits?*" He asked hopefully.

"*Yes.*" Jake rumbled. "*And finding the other NightBlades, and getting something of a life going.*"

Cazi smiled. "*Good, that kind of planning I like to hear. Especially that part about getting a life going, we all could use one.*" He said enthusiastically. "*So, why so angry?*" He asked quietly.

Jake slumped forward slightly. "*Life's so damn unfair.*"

Cazi put his arm around the lean tom. "*Which unfairness in particular is bothering you? There's so many of them.*" He said in quiet mind-voice that mixed light humor and seriousness.

"*What Nathan did.*" He whispered with a mixture of betrayal, rage and gratitude.

"*I think I know what you're talking about. The Bond.*" He sighed. "*That wasn't planned or even expected. I told you before that he'll do what he has to, to protect a patient. All he was trying to was keep the psychic storm that was battering everyone who had a link with you away from Chance, who couldn't take it. When your Bond with Chance was broken, it locked on to Nathan to reestablish itself. In fact, both ends of the Bond did.*"

Cazi sighed despondently. "*He wasn't ready for a LifeBond yet, I don't think. Certainly not one he hadn't chosen, much less two of them.*"

"*He tried to keep me from seeing, but between being mad at himself for unwittingly breaking the promise he made you, and Chance's hatred of all telepaths ... he was miserable.*" He shook his head. "*Fortunately, Earth Lord was unable to unbind him from Chance; mostly because of the tabby's complete rejection of all telepaths.*"

Cazi sighed trying to shield his worry about Nathan's comatose state, but parental worries don't willingly stay behind shields.

"*I know.*" Jake growled. "*I want to kill him for breaking the only thing I asked him for, but I understand why it happened, and I can't really blame him for it. Especially not in the shape he's in now.*"

Cazi shook his head in frustration. "*Doesn't matter, Nathan will blame himself enough for both of you. He doesn't allow himself any room for failure, he never has.*" He lay back, looking at the ceiling. "*I just wish I knew what was wrong with him. I know he's there, but I can't find him.*" He said despondently.

"Alex ... why are you so angry with Rachel?"

"Wha? How'd you..." He sighed. "From what you showed me during the Joining, and what you said then, you gave me the impression that Rachel was the one who let Erra on the battlefield that day, and therefore was the one who caused that awful pain. How could I not be angry believing that?" He said quietly, still not sure how what he had buried so deeply had been seen.


"Actually, I'm a little confused about her right now. She seemed to be helping, but I couldn't be sure if that was genuine, or if she was doing it to gain the loyalty of the primitive mind that was running things. Besides, she did work for the Deathwitch." He said quietly, still trying to sort out what he thought about the dark female Darshar.

Jake took a deep breath and shifted to face his LifeMate. "You didn't get the whole story, love. Rachel 'worked' for her, because Tartirin is her mother. She didn't get much more of a choice than I did in it.

"I don't remember what happened that made you think she was responsible for Erra's death, it's all pretty sketchy right there, but there's no way she did that. She's taken care of me, protected me, even against her mother when she could, my entire life. She's as close to a mother as I've ever had."

Cazi nodded. "I did feel something was incomplete, but I was too combat-psyched to think straight at the time. That probably scrambled things, I hit the ground ready to kill anything that was in the way ... and there wasn't anything. At any rate, she gave you when the primitive mind was running the body, a 'summoning stone'. The primitive mind wanted her to come along, but I guess she had to explain things to the other Darshar."

Jake nodded. "They're probably no happier about how things went down than you were."

"Any rate, she asked if I'd object to her showing up, and I said I didn't but it wasn't entirely my decision. Funny, the Rachel you just described isn't the one you showed me in Joining; that one was more of a demanding taskmistress and you certainly didn't seem to like her much. I guess perceptions of 'parents' change with time. In any case, if you feel like using the summoning stone ... feel free, but you probably should do it before we hit Alliance Space. Right now, anyone who worked for the Deathwitch, present company excluded, is on StarFire's 'most unwanted' list. At least till there's an opportunity to clarify things to her Majesty."

He nodded and settled back down. "Can't think of anything to say to her. Think we'll get told if she's put on trial?"

"Well, I'll try explaining what you told me to Morin and let him tell her. He's got a fair amount of pull with her. As far as trials go, I think the Darshar are the only ones who'd do that ... and I don't think they'd bother to tell us. StarFire isn't interested trials, she's more along the lines of 'stay out of my Protectorate' and a rough escort to the edge there of."

"Thanks," Jake said quietly and retreated far enough into his mind to think undisturbed.

Rachel opened her eyes and slowly stood from her kneeling position in the physical center of her new realm and turned to face the dark Queen-Consort. "There is an intruder, Lord Soron."

He nodded without a word and followed her through a shimmering portal.

"It's Colonel SwiftClaw," Soron identified the Tiger Felsin easily, despite the change in form.

"Is he supposed to be here? Rachel deferred to Soron quickly. "As a Soul-Walker?"

"No, but he was with us." He nodded and approached the obviously confused feline. "Colonel, is there something you are looking for?"

Nathan looked at Soron for several moments blankly, and then blinked his eyes and looked at him as if just seeing him. "I'm not sure, in fact I'm not quite sure where I am. I thought I'd just gone back into areas of my mind that I hadn't visited before, but ..." he looked at the Darshar present. "I don't think that's the case." He said quietly.

"You are in a pocket dimension, the one you entered to rescue your father's mate. Soron explained simply. "Do you want to return to your body?"

"I suppose I'd better, find out how bad things are." He said somewhat distant and fatigued. His eyes were a very unusual glowing gold.

Soron nodded as a globe of light appeared over his spread hand. "Terrsa, Nathan's soul lost track of his body. Join me here to return him."

"On my way," Her head nodded in the sphere before it vanished, just as an inky black portal opened and the silver-white Darshar female walk through. "Do we have a location on their ships?"

"You can follow my Summoning Stone." Rachel offered quietly. "It is near V'Fari."

Soron nodded and concentrated for a moment before a glittering black portal opened. "Colonel SwiftClaw," he inclined his head towards the Felsin, "if you would follow me."

Cazi woke to a sudden charge of powerful magic in the air, one that none of the other three noticed in their sleep. Even as he sought its source a glittering black portal opened in the middle of the room and Lord Soron stepped out, followed by a translucent Nathan, and silver-white female Darshar.

Cazi stood up quietly. "Lord Soron, this is unexpected." He said quietly, looking at the translucent Nathan somewhat curiously. "Nate, what happened?"

Nathan looked uncertain. "Not sure, I guess I got 'stuck' in that pocket dimension. Soron found me, and offered to get me back to my body."

"That would explain the strange coma, and the fact that no one could reach you telepathically." He said somewhat relieved.

"I suppose it does." He said quietly.

"Speaking of his body, where is it?" Terrsa asked firmly.

"Medical, Morin's been with him ever since he collapsed." Cazi said quietly. "This way."

"Can you reenter your body, or do you need some help?" Terrsa asked Nathan gently when they stood before the motionless form.

"Good question, I've never been outside it like this before. Nothing to do but try." He said, slipping into the same space as his body. When he tried to stand up, his translucent form stood up, but the physical body just lay there. "Well, that didn't work. I guess I must be doing something wrong." He said, feeling a little frustrated.

"It's all right," the silvery Darshar healer smiled reassuringly at him. "This is why I came. Please lay back down 'in' your body."

She focused as a gentle silvery energy flowed around them. Nathan's physical body became translucent for a moment, before solidifying.

"Try to move your fingers, Nathan." She instructed gently. "You were badly separated, it may take some time and work to get used to your body again."

Nathan concentrated on moving his fingers, which responded somewhat slowly, and awkwardly. He started to comment, and realized that his vocal cords weren't being team players. He resorted to short range broadcast telepathy. "*Any idea how I got 'badly separated'?*" He asked curiously.

"*My guess, you drew so much more power than you were really ready to deal with that a minor separation occurred, and before you could reestablish a proper link with your body, the ships, and your body, left, stranding your spirit where we found you.*" Terrsa offered. "*I can not be sure, but it is the most common cause, and the first part is definitely true.*"

Nathan 'nodded'. "*I wasn't sure I even had that power; I'd only thought it a Dracon legend until now. But the problem wasn't drawing the power; the problem was not having anything to do with it, once I had it. The Avenger without an enemy is too dangerous, I had to force it back, it's not easy to put the genie back in the bottle.*"

Both Darshar nodded as Terrsa ran her hands along Nathan's body, leaving a silvery-blue glittering in their wake. "I'm afraid I can not remake all the connections, but you should be at least reasonably independent now."

"Thank you." Nathan said, pleased that his voice was responding. "I appreciate your help, and if there's anything too bothersome, I'll ask Mother to look into it. I hope I never have reason to do that again." He said sincerely.

"You should heal the rest of the way soon. Usage is the best treatment in this case. Your mind, body and soul simply need to become familiar with each other again." She turned to Cazi. "Do you think your LifeMate would be willing to accept my help?"

Cazi turned to her. "Jake? I'm not sure ... what do you think he needs help with?" He asked feeling that he'd missed something.

She raised an eyebrow. "He killed an extremely powerful Darshar Noble that created him. It is quite unlikely that did not leave some damage I may be able to speed the recovery from."

Cazi nodded. "I'll ask him, I can't be sure." He said quietly, touching the link with Jake to see if the tom was awake.

"*Urr?*" Jake came back, more than half awake.

"*We've got visitors, notably a Darshar Healer who thinks you may have been injured in some way when you killed the Deathwitch. She says she can help the healing process, if you're willing to let her.*" Cazi thought quietly.

"*Sure,*" Jake mumbled as he woke up the rest of the way. "*Not hurting sounds good.*"

"*I'll let her know, looks like she managed to bring Nate back.*" He said relieved.

"*Good,*" he smiled through the thought. "*One less thing to worry about at least.*"

Cazi turned to the Darshar healer. "Jake's agreed to let you help, much to my surprise. He can be unpredictable in his reaction to healers." He said, relaxing.

"Understandably," Terrsa nodded. "Do you wish to stay with your son, or be with your mate while I work on him?"

Cazi looked at Nate cuddling in Morin's arms. "I think Morin can look after Nathan. I only just got Jake back; I want to be there." He said quietly.

"Then let us see to how much I can assist your mate". She inclined her head to him. "He has done a great service to many, and lost so much doing it, my best is the least we can do for him."

"Sounds like Nathan." Cazi chuckled as he led the way back to Jake's suite.

"We are both Healers, when it comes right down to it." She smiled gently. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him reach my level in a few decades."

"Neither would I, his mother was probably the best our world ever saw, and she always thought Nathan would eclipse her in time." He said, still thinking about the image of Rifleman that Jake had found, what seemed a lifetime ago. If Rifleman survived maybe his LifeMates had, but then again the Bonds were gone, he shouldn't give himself unrealistic hopes.

"Yes, Lady Nareena." Terrsa nodded with a fond tone. "She truly is something special."

Cazi looked curiously at her. "Is?" He asked combining confusion and hope into a single disbelieving syllable.

It earned him a confused look. "Yes, she's still alive. Didn't you know?"

Cazi slumped into a wall. "No, I didn't know. We were LifeMates, I felt the Bond break." He said as though that explained everything.

"Oh, my." The Darshar's eyes went wide as she knelt to come on eye level with him and offered a light healing touch. "I helped her put the team back together after the attack. None of them ever mentioned you or Nathan ... I didn't realize ... oh my."

"They probably think we're both dead about fifty years ago. I thought all of them were dead at first, then a healer found the badly scarred remnants of my parent bond with Nate and fixed it. It never even occurred to me, that they might still be alive." He paused, concentrating on not hyperventilating. "I don't suppose you can tell me where to find them?" He asked hopefully.

"It will be easy enough to look up," she smiled reassuringly. "I know they're 'playing' with the Mephits. Where exactly I'll have to ask around, but it shouldn't be hard to find out."

Cazi smiled weakly. "Jake will be pleased, he wants to 'play' with the Mephits too. And thank you for all your help."

"You are most welcome." She inclined her head.

He hesitated for a moment. "How well do you understand this shapechanging of Jake's? Do you think its possible for him to control it, instead of just sliding from form to form?" He asked hoping that maybe what one Darshar created, another might be able to explain.

"I can not tell until I have done a thorough scan of him, there are so many possibilities." She smiled gently. "But I will try to find out."

Cazi stood up from leaning against the wall, and straightened his clothes. "Well, let's go see him then. He should be fully awake by now, possibly fully distracted if Rik's feeling better." The Lion chuckled.

"I have time," she smiled and followed Cazi back to Jake's quarters, waiting as he checked what his mates were doing before opening the door.

"*Ready for company, Jake?*" The Lion thought quietly.

"*Sure,*" he sent back. "*We're dressed.*"

Cazi turned back to the Healer. "We can go in, they're ready for us." He opened the door and walked in.

He turned to introduce the Healer. "Jake, this is..." He drew a blank, and then looked a bit sheepish. "I wasn't on the bridge when they did introductions, so I don't know your name." He said to the Darshar Healer.

"Terrsa." She smiled and inclined her head in respect towards Jake. "If you permit, I would like to see how much I can help with your traumas."

Cazi nodded to Jake. "*She's pretty amazing, got Nate back in one place, and I didn't even know he could separate out that far.*"

The lean tom nodded and sat on the bed.

"Just relax," Terrsa spoke softly as she knelt and spread her wings to encircle them loosely. "*I will back out at any time you wish.*"

"*Okay.*" He mentally shrugged as she slowly drew energy into a healing circle between her wings.

Cazi and Patrik lost track of time as the silver-white Darshar's energy played over and threw their mate, until she finally withdrew.

"Th-thank you," Jake stammered quietly, his eyes wide as she stood on shaky legs and folded her wings over her shoulders into a intricately pattered cloak.

"You are quite welcome," she inclined her head. "If we can be of further assistance, do not hesitate to ask."

"Will Rachel be punished?" The words were out before he even thought about it.

"That is the Queen's final decision, but I doubt it." Terrsa shook her head. "Rachel has not directly caused harm of her own will, and she has been of assistance to us."

"Good," he smiled, still a little stocky.

"I will leave you to your mates," she inclined her head towards all three. "Cazimir, I will get back to you about your questions before you reach Alliance space."

Cazi nodded. "Thank you again, Terrsa, for everything." He said gratefully before sitting down on the bed next to Jake.

"You are quite welcome." She smiled before leaving.

"Feel better?" He asked gently nuzzling the lean tom.

"Yeah," Jake leaned gratefully into his LifeMate and pulled Patrik close. "I think I'm better off than when this whole trip started."

Cazi shifted back to the calico. "That was the idea, though I never thought it'd be quite so ... dramatic." Alex purred quietly.

Jake smiled and nuzzled his pilot, who looked up with a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes and grinned. Then the lean Kat turned his full attention to kissing Alex as if their lives depended on it as Patrik scooted around to rub against the stout tom's back, caressing multicolored thighs as he nipped Alex's neck affectionately.

Alex purred happily as he stayed locked in the kiss and embrace with Jake. When they briefly broke for air, he looked at the two Kats. "I like this." He said quietly, before he went back to kissing Jake, while he his hands caressed the lean toms back.

"*Good.*" Pilot and gunner replied in unison.

"*I think this may have hurt you more than me.*" Jake whispered softly, one hand between their chests, the other caressing Patrik.

"*Huh?*" Cazi thought, briefly confused, then simply gave into the sensations surrounding him, one hand holding Jake, the other caressing him.

"*I love you, Cazimir SunFire.*" Jake's thought mixed with it's backing washed over his LifeMate's mind. "*Thank you for freeing me.*"

"*I love you, Jake Clawson. You're welcome, but thanks aren't necessary. Everything I've done because I love you.*" He thought sincerely, feeling more in love than he had been before, which was pretty amazing.

"*I know, love,*" he thought gently, "*but I have no intention of letting you or anyone think I don't appreciate what you have done, even if it is for love.*"

"*I understand, I just needed to be clear that I wasn't doing it because I expected gratitude or anything else.*" He thought quietly, while gently nuzzling the lean tom.

"*You had me worried, Cordraki.*" Morin rumbled privately as he laid Nathan on the bed in the Colonel's quarters.

Nathan gently pulled the Dracon down to him. "*Sorry about that, love. I'm still not sure what happened, though I think I overreached myself. I just had to do something<.*" He thought quietly, snuggling into the Dracon's broad chest.

"*I know, Cordraki.*" Morin held him close, cocooning them in thick leather wings. "*I know.*" Then he chuckled. "*So much for a simple pick up in another galaxy.*"

"*Pat did try to tell me that I didn't realize what I was getting involved with.*" He chuckled. "*But when have I ever taken orders well.*"

He looked up at the Dracon. "*Hope you don't mind all the trouble I've brought your way.*" He thought quietly.

"*Never, Cordraki.*" Morin kissed him gently. "*Never.*"

"*Do you feel up to eating something?*"

"*A light something would be good.*" He said tiredly. "*We got Jake back, didn't we?*" He asked uncertainly, afraid that he'd forgotten something important.

"*Yes, love, we did.*" Morin kissed him once more before standing to get a tray and touched Cazi's mind on a tightly shielded frequency. "*How is Jake doing?*"

"*Good.*" Nathan thought, relaxing.

Cazi's voice came back some what relaxed. "*He claims to be doing well, and after all Terrsa did, I hope that's true. How's Nathan doing?*"

"*Worried about Jake, of course, and very much himself, if a little too passive.*" The Dracon replied. "*He is recovering well.*"

"*Please keep an eye on him; he may still be mad at himself for what happened.*" Cazi asked, concerned.

"*Of course cousin SunFire, he is my Cordraki after all.*" Morin retorted with a half serious, half teasing tone. "*Your focus on your LifeMate, and I will care for mine.*"

Cazi chuckled mentally. "*And yours will worry about everyone else. Okay cousin, sounds like a plan. Maybe in a day or so, they'll both be ready to get out of bed.*"

"*I rather hope not.*" Morin chuckled as the tray he requested, stacked with Nathan's favorite treats, arrived.

Cazi laughed broadly. "*And I thought these two were minks in heat. Alliance space is weeks away.*" He thought grinning. "*Good way to keep them all out of trouble though.*"

"*And settle all the unfinished personal business we both have.*" He added. "*See you in Alliance space.*"

Nathan looked up at the Dracon as he returned. "*You two sure are noisy.*" He said sleepily.

Morin nearly dropped the tray in shock. "*You heard us?*"

Nathan nodded lazily. "*Couldn't understand what you were saying, but I could definitely hear two people talking. You should use a shielded channel if you don't want me to know that you're talking.*" He said helpfully.

"*Nate, we were using a shielded channel.*" He set the tray on a bedside stand and sat next to his Cordraki. "*A fairly heavily shielded one.*"

The tiger looked at him curiously. "*I shouldn't have known you were talking then. But I definitely did. Maybe its a side effect of soul having gotten disconnected from my body for a time.*" He said uncertainly as Morin stroked his long red hair.

"*And perhaps all that power has had a more lasting effect.*" He considered. "*If it is bothersome, we should contact Diamantha. You may need to learn how to control a stronger telepathy than you are used to.*"

"*Maybe, let's wait and see. It's not that bothersome, now that I'm aware of it.*" He said, and then spotted the tray Morin had brought and grinned. "*Breakfast in bed, I could get used to this.*" He thought, though it was rare for him to be in bed late enough for such things to happen.

"*Good, because you will be, and lunch, and dinner, and midnight snacks if you are so inclined.*" The wine-red Dracon grinned broadly. "*We are weeks away from any duties either of us may have, and we have much to catch up on.*"

Nathan smiled and nodded. "*We have been apart for too long, in more ways then one.*" He thought as he nibbled, and tried to forget the patient who wanted nothing to do with him.

"*Yes, love.*" Morin held and nuzzled his mate affectionately. "*And we have all the time we need to catch up.*"

Nathan nibbled a little more and then pushed the tray away. "*Guess I'm not hungry really, still unsettled by having been so out of my body.*" He snuggled in close to Morin, resting his head on the Dracon's chest. "*Sorry it took so long for me to see.*" He said quietly.

"*You have nothing to be sorry for, love. Nothing.*" Morin said firmly as he settled into a good position for them to sleep. "*Rest, Cordraki. We will be LifeMates soon enough, the wait does not mater.*"

Nathan stretched up and kissed Morin gently, before he settled back down to sleep. "*Good night, love.*" He said tenderly, as his mind drifted into patterns of sleep.

"*Good night, love.*" He smiled and folded his wings around his mate, and thought about all that had changed in the last year before drifting off.

Jake smiled softly to himself as he felt the strongest minds on board fall asleep, one after another. Margali, Alex, Nathan, Morin ... Diamantha was still awake, too awake to be resting soon, but she was alone among those who could make this difficult.

"Good enough," he murmured as he reinforced the sleep-state of those he could and quietly got out of bed. He stretched, dressed and then regarded his LifeMate softly. "Rest easy Alex, I won't hurt him, no matter how much he deserves it for breaking his word."

He shook his head and silently walked out, memory and instinct leading him flawlessly to his target: Secure Medical Suite 3, and his partner. The Kat that had taken and given so much abuse that he no longer functioned right, and now Jake had the power and knowledge to set things right. No matter what the others thought, this was his business, and the tabby was his alone.

SilverStar watched as Jake left his suite, and she decided that maybe Alex had been right. She immediately flagged Diamantha, who had been near Medical anyway and went immediately. She also got Blade, who's defender training made him useful in this situation.

SilverStar checked the ship's power system, and put it on continuous monitor, and then put two of the fusion generators to backing up the power supply to the medical suite forcefield, and put the dampening field up as strong as she could. She was covering all the bases for potential mischief. The tabby might be sullen and uncommunicative, and anti-social, but he'd been hurt by enough people. SilverStar wouldn't have it happening on her ship.

Diamantha stood silent vigil outside the Secure Medical Suite. She had been reluctant to believe when SilverStar asked her to protect Chance against Jake, but there was much she didn't understand about the lean tom. She was a healer now, but in a previous cycle she had been one of the Queen's Elite Mind-Warriors, and she still knew how to defend her patient, assuming of course a mental threat. If it was a physical threat, she wasn't nearly as powerful.

Blade hurried from the Marine barracks to medical, at SilverStar's urging. He stopped at his quarters just long enough to retrieve his defender medallion and bracers.

SilverStar knew Nathan was in no condition for this conflict, and Cazi shouldn't be involved. Lord Margali would be slow to wake, unless Star did something drastic.

The starship hoped she was wrong and that Jake was simply going for a stroll, or something else harmless, but it was better to be prepared and wrong, then unprepared and wrong. She doubled checked the Medical Suites shields, and made sure they were doubly reinforced.

Then turned her attention to following Jake's path as the tom took an unexpected turn back towards the officer's quarters. He stopped for a long, silent moment in front of Nathan's door, then shook his head with a soft growl and walked off, back towards Medical.

SilverStar gasped as he failed to take the last turn to face Diamantha and Blade at the door, to walk through the last three walls on a direct path towards the tabby. Even before she could contact the Dracons, she felt the key relay to the anti-psi shield, and it's backups, melt without warning and an enormous burst of energy inside the room all but blinding her sensors.

"Hello Chance," Jake's form was outlined pure energy, swirling every color in a random storm. "It is past time I saw to my duties to you."

Chance looked at Jake just long enough to roll off the bed, no longer restrained since the medical fields were shorted out. He gritted his teeth as the newly repaired arm hit the edge of the bed. "Came back to finish what you started, is that it?" He growled angrily at the hated figure while looking for something that looked like a weapon.

"Coming to do what I should have when we met, and couldn't." He spoke softly as he closed his eyes and focused, unleashing a silvery-blue fireball that engulfed his opponent for a moment, before both Kats lost consciousness.

Star was incensed, and took what actions she had available. She thought the ship to Battle Stations, waking everybody, including Lord Margali.

Blade's Defender attunement shifted him into the room with the tabby, and placed him between the two unconscious Kats. Armor in the ancient style made of energy outlined his form.

Margali was indeed awoken by the blaring klaxon, the damage to the ship told him where, and his instincts told him why. He could sense Blade's presence and decided to hurry but not teleport, though he keyed a teleport to all those living within the Medical suite. "Is honor completely dead?" He growled as stormed to Medical.

Morin had managed to keep Nathan from being aware of what was going on. He felt it best, since Nathan already felt too much guilt associated with the two Kats. Fortunately, he had shut down the nearby klaxons, so there was nothing to disturb his Cordraki's sleep.

Diamantha came into the room as soon as the doors opened, saw the two Kats unconscious and looked at Blade. "Never mind that, get Jake to Secure Medical Two. She said as she lifted the tabby back to the bed, and brought the full diagnostics up to see what the damage was, more than a little stunned to find Chance physically in perfect shape; his arm healed without a trace of damage.

While the diagnostics worked she armored herself for the psychic backlash, and gently scanned the tabby to see if any further damage had been done.

Chance's mind and memories had huge blanks in it, every place where he'd been abused, the trauma and fallout, was all gone. Professionally done, but in a hurry and with an excess of power.

Diamantha sighed quietly. "Well why the end run, Jake? That's what we'd figured we'd have to do eventually." She said shaking her head as she scanned to see how the blanks had affected things like skills and other non-memory functions. She knew that a hurried professional could make mistakes.

Morin didn't realize it, but Nathan wasn't as unaware as he thought. The tiger caught the lean tom's anger toward him. Suddenly, he reached a decision. He was tired of trying to do what was right and ending up with people mad at him anyway. All the rules said he couldn't remove the LifeBond, but he decided the rules could just go to hell.

He tapped a little of the strange power reserve inside him, and created a shield on the Link to keep rebound from the Bond breach from affecting Jake. Unfortunately, the energy had to go somewhere, but he figured the odds were good it wouldn't be lethal.

He sent one last message along the link, figuring it would be ignored whenever it was heard. "*You want to be free of me; so be it.*" The he slammed the protective shield fully closed, and the link shattered. Nathan's mind screamed as the full energy of the link erupted back at him, but only briefly as he went comatose almost immediately.

The scream woke both Morin and Cazi instantly. Within minutes, Morin had Nathan in medical. The Cordraki link hadn't let him feel the shattering, but the scream told him what had happened. He wasn't entirely sure why though.

Jake opened his eyes almost as soon as consciousness kick back in, and looked around without moving more than his head to check out how much trouble he was in.

Blade noticed the movement. "You're fortunate that what you did, was what Lady Diamantha was going to propose doing anyway. Star, however, is still quite upset about being treated so roughly." He said with a strangely amused tone in his voice.

"She'll get over it, or not." He rolled to his side, eyes unfocused. "I did what I had to, to help my partner. I've crossed more powerful than any of you for him."

SilverStar's White Lioness form materialized. "We've been trying to help him all along, Jake. But if you were going to help him, you didn't need to hide it from us. I would've done what you did, if I was capable." She bent down to kiss him chastely. "Thank you, Jake for doing what I couldn't to help one I've come to care about a great deal."

Blade chuckled. "Okay, so maybe she's not mad." He said shaking his head. "Fems, go figure."

"And just what do I have to go on to believe that you're on his side, or even mine?" Jake looked at her, almost angry. "Yes, you rescued me from a bad situation, but that's hardly grounds for trust. You didn't even tell me he was on board, or what was wrong with him."

She looked back at him. "Jake, based on what information I had, you wanted nothing more to do with him. That's what was recorded by Cathedral at any rate. Based on that why would I tell you he was on board?" She said, a little angry herself. "Besides, it's a known fact that you raped him at least once, so why would I think you cared what was wrong with him?" She said frustrated.

"I what? Jake nearly exploded, but it was in horrified shock, not anger. He froze, supporting most of his weight on his palms and stared at her in disbelief. Then he dropped to the table, his voice and posture sick. "So that's what he meant."

The Lioness looked at him, suddenly concerned. "Jake, maybe I should have Alex come here. I have to go see how Nathan is doing." She quietly worried.

"No need, Star. Diamantha called me." Cazi said from the doorway, as he walked over to Jake and put his hand comfortingly on the Kat's shoulder. "You alright, Jake? He asked concerned.

"Yes ... no ..." he shuddered, then pulled himself together. "At least he doesn't remember ... but what the hell possessed me?"

"I don't know for certain, it was before we met. But if I understand Rik correctly, you needed Chance to sleep with you and he wouldn't. Eventually, the pressure built up to the point where something unfortunate happened." He sighed. "Jake, don't get stuck on this again, guilt over what happened almost killed you once. It happened, it's over and he doesn't remember. Please, just let it go."

"Where is Chance now?"

"They moved him Secure Medical 4, since 3 is under repairs. He's sleeping comfortably. Diamantha says it was a reasonably professional job and looks like there won't be any side effects. You even finished up the healing on his shoulder, saved him about 4 weeks of physical therapy." Cazi said evenly.

"Good," he relaxed slightly and rolled off the table. "I'm staying with him."

"After I check and make sure that you didn't take any harm from what caused you to pass out." Diamantha said from the doorway. "I should also see if there's any damage from the broken LifeBond." She said quietly, but firmly. "And in any case," she continued smoothly, "whether you stay with Chance is at least as much up to him as it is up to you. "

"Which broken LifeBond?" He sat back down, still agitated. "And he can tell me to leave if he wants."

"The one that happened because a Medic was doing his best to protect his patient." She said quietly, as she ran the medical scans. "There seem to be no ill effects from either experience. Seems that you were shielded from the backlash when the Bond shattered." She looked closer. "However, you seem to great many other bond injuries that weren't so carefully protected. Do wish me to treat these so they heal properly?"

He shrugged. "I guess."

Diamantha careful soothed the wounds from the various shattered bonds, and patched them so that they would heal as they should, without causing pain, beyond the unavoidable sense of loss. It wasn't a quick job given the surprising number of broken bonds, most of them fresh.

Once finished she backed away. "Now that that's finished I'll take you to see Chance." She said quietly.

"Crys, have you had a chance to check Nathan's condition?" Cazi asked quietly.

"I'm sorry, Cazi. The coma remains unchanged, I'll let you know if that changes." She said gently.

"I know." He turned to Jake. "I have to go check on my son, I'll see you later." He said as he left the room.

"What happened to Nathan?" Jake asked with a hand on Cazi's arm.

Cazi sighed. "We're not sure entirely, though the mind scream Morin heard sounded like a Bond breach. All we know for sure, is that he's withdrawn into deep coma, and Diamantha said there were signs of severe mind-shock." He said quietly.

Jake closed his eyes and scanned the wreckage of his Bond-space. "Bastet's mercy ..." he opened them with a mixture of shock and respect behind the amber. "Maybe I can help ...."

"Maybe, but you'll need to be careful. Diamantha couldn't go much farther than surface contact because he recoiled in pain. But he's rather fond of you, you might have better luck."

The silver Dracon nodded. "As long as you're no longer holding a grudge for something happening that he wasn't in control of." She cautioned.

"Undoing that was what got him where he is," Jake said simply. "No, no grudge."

Diamantha nodded. "Then you may be able to help. As simple as it sounds it's really a matter of getting through to his conscious mind and talking him back out. Unfortunately, he's not responding well to my presence for unknown reasons. Morin's still a bit in shock from the mind-scream caused by the breach, so he's not much help."

"Same here, but I'm faking well." Cazi said quietly.

"Sometimes it's all you can do." Jake nodded slightly and squeezed Cazi's hand. "Lead the way," he motioned to Diamantha.

Diamantha led the two down the hall to the main medical facility. Nathan was lying on a medical bed with an IV in one arm. The readings on the medical sensors were fairly low, but stable. Morin sat by his bedside holding the Felsin's hand, and occasionally brushing his hair back.

Jake let himself slide mentally until he hooked up with the main body of psi-knowledge in his backgrounds and walked to other side of the bed from the Dracon and touched the surface of Nathan's mind.

The landscape was like the aftermath of major war. Bombed and burned out buildings, fire smoldering here and there, and smoke everywhere. One lone building stood at the center of the landscape, the tangled remains of wrought iron fence surrounding it, the shatterred remains of two large stone statues in front of it. The building itself was scorched, and many of the windows were shattered.

Sitting in front of the building was black tiger Felsin wearing the remains of uniform, which was now difficult to identify under the smoke and dirt.

"Nathan? Jake approached carefully.

The tiger looked up, and clearly wasn't Nathan. "The medic is in." The figure said emptily. "Not that anyone wants to see him."

"I do." Jake said softly.

"He's in there." The tiger nodded over his shoulder at the building. "Mind the building, it's not in good shape. City's seen better days." He said vacantly.

"Noticeably," Jake cast a worried look at it over his shoulder before he carefully opened the door and stepped inside. "Nathan?"

The door creaked as it opened hesitantly, the frame having been bent by whatever scorched the building. The inside of the building was a large waiting room. The furniture was covered with dust, plaster shaken from the ceiling, scattered papers, and broken glass from shattered windows. A dust covered white shekat sat a circular reception desk, wearing a phone headset.

Doors led off in either direction and a circular stair led upward, its iron railing bent, and there were cracks visible in the stone. In the distance, a large explosion could be heard.

Jake scanned for footprints, and only found the ones he'd made coming in.

A phone nearby rang, and the dusty receptionist pushed a button on her console. "Medic's office, scheduling. How mays I help you?" She said in a detached professional voice.

There was a pause. "You'd like to cancel your appointment? Of course you would, everyone does. You don't want to reschedule? Of course you don't. Have a nice day." She said politely before hanging up, and making notes on a calendar.

"I'd like to see Nathan, please." Jake walked up to her.

She looked at him. "Do you have an appointment?" She asked automatically. "No, of course you don't, everyone cancelled."

She looked at him again. "Still here, you want to cancel an appointment right? No one wants to see the Medic." She said evenly.

"I do." Jake rested his arms on the desk and locked eyes with her. "Now, please."

"Up the stairs to the second floor, and see the secretary." She said evenly. "You must be one of his former patient's lawyers. She said quietly.

"Not hardly." Jake shook his head and followed her directions.

The stairs were a badly damaged affair, and they shifted precariously as Jake climbed them. On one occasion a portion of the stone step broke away and fell to the ground below. The railing was of no help, as it was twisted and bent as though exposed to great force.

The second floor was in no better shape than the first. There was another circular reception desk and identical hallways going off in three directions. The only sign of anyone on the floor was a pair of black leather boots propped up on the reception desk, the person wearing them apparently leaning back relaxing.

"Where's Nathan?" Jake leaned over the counter, starting to loose what little patience he had left.

The person sat up, and while the body might be Nathan there was something about the facial expression, body language, and the shadow gray body armor that was what might imagine if one imagined the Medic as an assassin. The green eyes looked back at Jake, cold and calculating with none of the warmth or fire that was the Medic's norm. "He's out of your mind, what else do you want?" The voice said in a distinctly indifferent tone.

"Let's see: start with thanking him, then apologize to him, then whatever it takes to get him back in touch with the waking world." He glared at the Assassin-Nathan.

The Assassin looked at Jake a bit surprised, as though that was the last thing he expected to hear. "Well, I can show you how to get to him, but that's about all. By the way, my name's Hunter Blackthorne and I'm actually separate from Nathan." He said getting up, and heading down the center hallway. "This way, but be careful, things aren't too stable around here."

"I noticed," Jake nodded. "I've been like this a few times, hopefully Nathan will come out of it in better shape than I managed."

"This is the third crisis like this we've been through in the last year, but this one seems worse than the other two." He said stepping carefully around what appeared to exposed live electrical wiring. "Assume if something in here looks dangerous, it is. I think Nathan knows who's here, because you got as far as seeing me." Hunter said quietly.

They stepped through a doorway, and found themselves in the hanger danger of heavily damaged carrier starship. Hunter pointed at a distant object out in space. "That's where Nathan is, or at least where he was last time I saw him. I hope you're a good pilot, you'll need to fly one of these." He indicated several shuttles and fighters. "Out there, through the intervening meteor storm."

"Oh, wonderful." He regarded the vehicles, then where he was going. "No pilot, I'd rather use wings."

He focused for a moment, then a glittering shimmer left a long-tailed bird of black and red flames floating on it's wing beats. He raised two beats into the air, then darted forward into the asteroid field far faster than a bird could.

Hunter watched the bird-Jake departed and shook his head. "No wonder the boss is so fond of him, they've way too much in common." He said to no one, as he returned to his desk.

The asteroids proved little challenge for the bird, and Jake soon found himself at the edge of what turned out to be a sizable space station. The only discernible opening was a shuttle bay on the lower edge, so he dived into it, ready for the next barrier.

The shuttle bay was pressurized, and breathable, with two airlocks leading from the bay into the station proper. One was marked 'West', and the other 'East'.

Jake muttered softly and concentrated again, turning his flame-plumage a silver-white with faint streaks of light blue and aimed directly for the strongest sense of 'life' he could detect, and screeched in pain when he bounced off the first wall.

He shook his head as he returned to his Kat form and studied the Western airlock, which seemed to be in the direction of the 'life'.

The door opened and behind it was a large, snarling purplish-gray canine creature who advanced slowly. Suddenly, a small voice came from further inside. "Hold on Defender, don't hurt him."

A small winged white tiger kit landed next to the canine, and looked at Jake. "Who are you? He asked curiously.

"My name's Jake ... I want to talk to Nathan, help him."

"You think you can help Dad?" The little kit said hopefully, looking at the Kat with intent blue eyes.

"I intend to, whatever I have to do." Jake set his mind to that task and left every other concern behind. "Do you know where he is?"

"Uh huh. He's where he always goes when things get too bad to deal with, not that that happens alot, he's in the Aerodome, Lake Maxwell." He said heading inward, indicating the Kat should follow. Defender ceased paying any attention to the Kat as he followed the winged kitten further into the complex.

"You're Storm, right?"

"Yep, Dad must have told you about me, right? He said smiling. "He must like you alot, 'cause he doesn't tell just anybody."

"I think so ... it's been a confusing week all the way around." Jake sighed. "I hope he likes me enough to listen to me."

"I hope so to. This is like when Rhymar died, only worse for some reason." He said as they walked through the large empty, echoing hallways.

"He took the full blast of both ends of a braking LikeBond." Jake spoke softly. "What he faced with Rhymar, and at least that much again."

The little tiger looked shocked. "How'd that happen, I thought LifeBonds only broke when one of the people died?" He asked worried.

"So did I ... I don't know what he did, I don't know how, but he did it for me, I think." Jake sighed. "And now he needs help."

They came to a large set of pressure doors. "Dad's in there somewhere, but I don't know where." Storm said. "I've got to go try and keep things stable while he's not feeling well. I hope you can help him, Jake."

"So do I," he nodded as the kit ran off and turned his attention to getting the doors open.

The doors were made off some alloy Jake wasn't familiar with, but clearly were designed to keep a hull breach in one section from depressurizing any others. The doors had a large wheel in the center, which appeared to be designed to allow manual operation of the door.

Jake shook his head and put his strength behind opening the manual lock. Putting his full strength behind the effort he was just barely able to get the door unlatched, and even so he was still breathing hard from the effort. It was almost as if the door resisted just a little bit less than necessary to make opening it impossible.

Beyond the door was an overgrown wilderness scene. It was a basic evergreen forest, with the undergrowth gone wild. Through the undergrowth Jake could see a rundown wooden building.

He considered shifting to a more suitable forest form, then discarded it as unnecessarily confusing and headed for the building. "Nathan?"

"Who wants to know?" A deep, completely relaxed voice asked. Jake could see a figure in a NightBlade uniform, sitting on the porch with his feet up on the railing. "People wanted him to go away, so he did. What's all the fuss?" The voice asked with a slight sneer.

"Jake wants to know, and the fuss is because no one wanted him to go away." He approached the NightBlade smoothly, not caring what the reaction was anymore.

"He kept his promise which was all anybody cared about. But any rate, the boss is around the back." The NightBlade said in a distinctly 'I-don't-care' voice.

Jake nodded and headed around the building where there was an outdoor mechanics shop including a raised platform, apparently for bringing the vehicle to a more workable level. Nathan, wearing grease-stained coveralls was gently directing a twelve foot tall black on red-brown tiger morph in putting a custom motorcycle on the lift.

"Gently, Marauder. The tiger directed patiently. "Set it down nice and easy."

The furry giant awkwardly set motorcycle on the lift gently, and then looked down at Nathan expectantly.

Nathan patted the giant's arm approvingly. "Very good job, Marauder. See, you're getting the hang of 'gentle'." He said inspecting the 'cycle. "Okay, I'm going to work for a while, you can go play with NightClaw if you want to." He said picking up a wrench and carefully adjusting a few things.

Marauder shifted into a giant quadruped tiger, and lay down watching Nathan work.

"Hi Nathan." Jake walked towards the pair with a nod towards Marauder.

"Jake." The tiger replied quietly, still focused on making several adjustments to the engine.

Marauder stood, padded over to Jake, sniffed him a couple of times and then woofed over his shoulder to Nathan insistently.

Nathan shook his head. "Marauder, we've had this discussion before. That's Jake, and he's not a big gray dragon." He said, chuckling.

The giant tiger woofed insistently.

"Give it a rest, Marauder. Either lie down, or go find NightClaw to play with." Nathan said patiently.

Marauder lay down keeping his eyes on Jake.

"Does he not like the big gray dragon?" Jake stepped up the rest of the way and took a good look at both Nathan and his project.

Nathan was indeed very scruffy, dirty the way someone who's been working on vehicles all day can get. The project was a high tech motorcycle design that looked like a lot of time and research had gone into it. It was clearly a civilian model, but with not much work could easily be made into a very nice combat cycle.

What was noticeable about Nathan was the air of emotional detachment, and total focus on the motorcycle project. He never turned from working on it even as he spoke.

"Oh, he likes the big gray dragon a lot, since Cazi and I made a few adjustments to his incomplete design. He's kind of the oddball around here, unlike Hunter, NightClaw, Tiger or even Marquis, he's not derived from me in any respect. He was supposed to be a very unusual booby trap, but the trap misfired and Cazi and I were able to give him the complete personality he has, instead of the incomplete aggression driven personality he was created with.

"But he has some unusual senses that I don't perfectly understand yet. But he's been convinced that you're a big gray dragon, about as long as he's been 'alive', about 8 months." Nathan said, staring at a part for a moment, before carefully removing it and replacing it with a similar yet different part.

"He's right," Jake sat down on the edge of the platform so he could face Nathan and spoke calmly. "What do you want?"

"Front sensor assembly." He said absently until he found the desired part. He went to the front of the cycle, and began carefully installing it. "Want?" He asked in confusion, as he made careful connections.

Marauder walked over and licked Jake's face several times in a very friendly fashion. Jake could hear a child-like mind-voice coming from the giant tiger. "*Nice Dragon. Nice Dragon.*"

"*I try to be.*" Jake scratched the big cat behind the ears before turning his full attention to Nathan. "What do you want, Nathan? What do you desire?"

Nathan felt a bit adrift. "I fixed the mistake I made, everything should be fine now." He said absently. "I don't quite understand why you're here, after I broke the one promise you asked from me .... I didn't think you'd talk to me again." He said quietly, with his scent a combination of upset and resignation.

"You set it right ..." was about all he could think to say. "I never blamed you ... hated you for a while, but never blamed you for it. It didn't really change my opinion.

"Nathan ... I'm not adverse to the idea of LifeBonding to you ... just on my time." He closed his eyes against the tears that were threatening. "And I'm here because I care about you, and Storm and especially your father. You're all I have left now."

Nathan didn't say anything for a little while, then he looked up. "Jake, I never expected to LifeBond with you, even though I guess it's pretty obvious that I do care that much. That you're even willing to consider it is more than I thought likely, I'll wait as long as you need." The tiger Felsin nodded. "As for who you have left, I think you forgot Rik in there. I've never seen anyone that devoted before."

"And Amerith and Chance, if you want to count ..." he hugged himself. "Those on this ship are who I meant. Everyone else is dead now."

Nathan blinked in surprise. "Huh? What do you mean? I think I missed something important."

"Before I killed her, Tartirin sent world-killing bolts." He squeezed his eyes shut. "One turned Aristal to dust. Everyone I knew, everything I fought for, it's all gone."

Nathan shuddered at the thought of that many lives gone so quickly. "I'm sorry, Jake. I don't know what else to say, words are completely inadequate." He said sympathetically.

"Cazi said your mind-healers are good." He swallowed. "When the reality finally hits that I've lost my squad ..." he shook his head. "We were a bonded team, in your words. I'll brake when crisis time is over."

"Then we should have Diamantha look you over before then. There are techniques that can dramatically lessen the impact of Bond breakage, and she invented several of them. They don't get much use, because there usually isn't any delay, but in this case it may help."

"She already has."

"But regardless, we will get you through it. I didn't leave scorch marks on the universe rescuing you, just to lose you to grief." The tiger said with absolute certainty, despite the somewhat light tone. "Though what happened was something I barely understand ... and I got caught between two Kats; one hating me for breaking a promise, and the other for simply being." He sighed. "I still have to figure out that problem, though I think the only real way to help Chance is going to be to simply remove the traumatic memories. Normally it's not something I'd suggest, but I can't see any other way to give him his life back. I guess I should get my mind back together, so I can take care of the patient that hates me, 'cause the only other mind healer on board can't quite handle him."

"His memories have been dealt with." Jake said simply. "He doesn't know you anymore, so he doesn't hate you."

The tiger nodded and relaxed a bit. "That's good to know, I don't like being hated if I haven't at least earned it." He said with a touch of self-deprecating humor as he walked up to Jake, and hugged him. "Thanks for coming in after me, Jake. It means a lot to me, that that mistake didn't drive you away from me. Now all we have to do is get out of here." He said looking around. "Blessed Mother, I'm really overdue on maintenance. Guess I never really cleaned up, after the Marauder crisis."

Jake nodded and swallowed before kissing Nathan on the cheek. "Let me give you a hand. The city's a mess too."

"City? Oh right, that got hit pretty hard before we gave Marauder some basic lessons in manners. And any help will be appreciated." He said before stepping back to look around, then he noticed the motorcycle. "I'll have to have Star put up a workshop so I can build that."

"The one I'll be building Amerith's new body in will work well enough." Jake suggested.

"Now where to start?" He mused looking around.

"Reassuring your son." Jake suggested. "He's pretty scared."

Nathan's eyes widened. "Oh gods, I completely forgot about how this would affect him." He said in a horrified tone. There was a strange stirring around them as the overgrowth began receding and the wooden building was slowly restored to prime condition.

Suddenly, Storm came swooping down into the slowly widening clearing. "Dad!" He said, jumping up to put his arms around his father's neck.

Nathan hugged him close. "Sorry about the mess Storm. Things got rather confused for a while."

"I know, but you're back right?"


The kit snuggled close while being held. "Everything's okay then."

Nathan turned to face Jake. "*I know you agreed to be Storm's second father before, but it's traditional for the first father to ask a second time, just in case there's been a change of heart. You still want to be Storm's second father?*" He asked on a shielded channel.

"*Yes.*" Jake smiled wistfully at the pair. "*More than ever.*"

Nathan set Storm down gently, and looked into his son's blue eyes. "I got something special to tell you. Do you remember when I told you that one day you'd probably have a second father?"

Storm nodded, and looked over at Jake.

Nathan smiled. "Good guess. Yes, Jake wants to be your second father, if that's okay with you." Nathan said encouragingly.

The White Tiger kit walked over to Jake. "You really want to be my father?" Storm asked quietly, though his eyes were unwaveringly fixed on Jake's face.

The lean tom knelt to bring them even, never breaking eye contact and opened his arms hopefully. "Yes I do."

Storm studied Jake for a few moments, then walked up to him and put his arms around his neck. "Dad. I knew there was a reason I liked you the first time I saw you." He said happily, snuggling into the lean tom as Jake embraced him tightly.

Nathan smiled a bit wistfully, remembering how many times he'd wished that Rhymar would do what Jake just did.

"Thank you." The lean tom pressed his chin against the kits back as the first tears began to flow uncontested.

Storm felt the tears and squirmed so he could look at Jake. He touched one small hand to the tears. "Is something wrong, you're crying?" He asked, worrying about his new father.

Jake tried to smile, to reassure the kit and ended up just shaking his head as he hugged Storm. "Rough week ... is all. I'm just starting ... to deal ...."

Nathan put his hand on Storm's shoulder. "Remember back when Rhy died, and I had some tough times?"

Storm nodded and looked at Jake, and hugged him tight. "It'll be all right, things will get better." He said quietly, trying to reassure Jake, the way he'd heard Grandpa Cazi do for his father.

Jake could only nodded, though both could feel his appreciation behind the grief.

Nathan carefully touched the strange reserve inside himself and let the energy spread outward restoring things as it spread. Then he gently touched Jake letting some of the energy flow into him, gently soothing the stressed Kat. "Maybe we'd better get you back to your body before you start dealing too much." He said offering a hand up to the lean tom.

Storm nodded. "You look tired, father Jake. You can visit when you've rested." He said encouragingly as he shifted to one side so Jake could stand.

He nodded shakily and accepted Nathan's hand and focused on worried green eyes. "Just let Morin and Cazi know you're back together, okay? I promised I'd bring you back."

"Okay, I will. Give Storm a chance to adjust the shields here, and we can slip back to the real-world from here."

"Already done." Storm said smirking.

"Imp." Nathan said, mussing the kit's hair. "Check up on the others, okay?" He said before extending golden wings and lifting Jake and himself up through the station and space.

"Okay, we're clear. So you get back to yours, and I'll get back to mine and let everybody know I'm back." He said easily.

Jake nodded and shifted back to his phoenix form before soaring off unsteadely.

Nathan stretched, yawned and opened his eyes before the monitors figured out that he was awake. He smiled at Cazi. "Hi, Dad. I'm back."

He looked over to Diamantha. "Check Jake would you, I think he's starting to feel the shock from a mass of broken bonds."

Then he reached out his hand to rub Morin's shoulder. "Hey, love. Sorry about that, there was just something that had to be done and there was no easy way to do it."

The wine-red Dracon nearly jumped before pulling Nathan close and folding his wings around them. "*Cordraki ... oh, Nathan.*"

"Cazimir ... he will be fine." Diamantha's stern Healers Voice was in full force behind the tiger-tabby. "This is not entirely unexpected."

Nathan opened a shielded channel to the Healer. "*Crys, what's got my father upset?*"

"*Jake has gone into psychic shock.*" The silver Dracon shot back. "*It's a very good thing he allowed me to tend his broken teambonds before he went after you, but it's still more than he can take with everything else that's happened recently.*"

"*Is there anything I can do to help him? I owe him that much after he came in and pulled me out.*" Nathan thought concerned, but in a thoughtful way.

"*Right now, you can help most by keeping Prince Morin and your father calm and out of my way.*" She replied. "*It's serious, but nothing I shouldn't be able to handle for now.*"

"*Okay, but let me know if there's anything else.*" He thought emphatically.

"*I will.*"

He switched to a private channel with his father. "*Dad, Jake will be okay. Diamantha's looking after him, but she needs to be able to concentrate on him. Why don't you go make sure that Rik and Amerith are okay? Jake's condition may be upsetting them.*"

The Lion nodded absently. "*That's right, I should.*" He thought before heading back to Jake's quarters to check on the other two.

He nuzzled against the Dracon still holding him, and decided that Morin was probably just fine where he was. Besides, Nathan didn't want to go anywhere.

"*You had us worried, love.*" The words didn't even begin to cover the terrified turmoil the Dracon was just beginning to set aside.

"*I'm sorry, I just had to keep the promise I made Jake. His anger was starting to distort the LifeBond already ... and we've seen the results of him having a damaged LifeBond.*" He thought with the image of Chance in his mind. "*I couldn't let that happen between him and me, I just couldn't.*" The tiger's mind-voice was apologetic for having worried Morin but not for what he'd done.

"*I know love,*" he sent back gently. "*You did what was for the best. I'm just not ready to contemplate loosing you so soon.*"

"*I know, this trip's been hard on all of us. I'll try to avoid any more comatose episodes for awhile.*" He said lightly. "*So anything interesting happen back home while I was away? Your mother still trying to foist an eligible female on you?*"

"*That ... love, that is a long story with a happy ending.*" He rumbled softly.

"*Good, I could use one of those right now.*" Nathan said relaxing both mentally and physically. "*It's not like we have anywhere to go for quite a while.*"

"*Well, there is our quarters ....*" he thought wistfully.

"*Love, as much as I love the idea. I'm so fatigued at the moment you'd have to carry me, and if I was running medical I'd keep me overnight for observation. I overextended myself a couple of times today.*" He caught the disappointment. "*There'll be plenty of time for play when I'm more awake.*"

"*Yes, there will be.*" The fire of his clan-heritage burned hot behind that statement's determination. "*But to the story ....

"*When you disappeared, grandmother convinced the Alliance to have ExCRU Alpha assigned to the case. They're the best, and I wanted the best to look for you this time.

"*Their Profiler isn't really a profiler; she's a 'Seer'. I think some kind of psi, but I never could quite sort it out. She figured out you were on the Felsin world of origin, and we translated the information she got from an amulet to find out where that, and you, were.

"*Over the course of the investigation, we found we get along very well. Lyrra has the connections to silence my mother, likes the idea of spoiling Storm rotten as an aunt, isn't phased in the least that he's a genetically engineered Felsin with wings, and has tried very hard to understand both our cultures and what courting means to all four of us.*"

"*So you found a female consort that you are comfortable with? That's good to hear, I rather hoped you'd find someone to keep you company while I was away. So you want to show me her in your mind?*"

Morin smiled and concentrated on the image of the slender gray HyenaTaur with black stripes.

"*She's quite pretty, and different.*" Nathan hesitated. "*Morin, there's something I need to tell you. Though Jake couldn't handle the LifeBond with me now, it wasn't because he was opposed to the idea. He just wasn't ready, not surprising given that his homeworld and everyone he knew just died.*"

The Dracon's stunned shock stopped Nathan until Morin spoke very softly. "*Cordraki ... that ... you were on the Felsin homeworld. It's gone?*"

Nathan nodded, shocked at the confirmation of what he'd suspected to be true. "*According to Jake, Tartirin cast something just before she died that turned the planet to ashes. I didn't even know such a thing was possible for anyone except maybe a prime or a greater celestian.*"

"*She was one, a very high ranking Darshar Noble.*" He nodded. "*We saw the bolts go out ... the Darshar with us said they were aimed for Earth, Felsinor, Draconea and Aristal. The Alliance worlds were all protected, I guess Aristal wasn't.*"

"*I think you know me well enough to see how fond I am of him. Would it bother you if I had him as a second LifeMate, sometime after we finally get Joined?*"

"*If it makes you happy, I could never object.*" Morin smiled and hugged him close. "*Besides, he's cute.*"

"*Thanks, Morin. I kind of figured you'd think he's cute.*" He chuckled mentally. "*Thankfully, he took the tabby problem out my hands, I wasn't looking forward to dealing with it.*"

"*Love, when you get a chance to talk to your Grandmother, see if she'd approve putting the homebase for the new NightBlades on Draconea. It's the only world the SG has never had a real foothold on.*" He thought snuggling close to Morin.

Morin's laughter boomed through the room. "*Love, it's already under construction, along with a major ExCRU facility. Lyrra has a fascination with having our libraries so nearby, once she got over having Dragon-forms flying overhead.*"

Nathan chuckled. "*So that's why Kai was amused when I asked her to activate my plan to activate the NightBlades as an Alliance special ops unit. I'll need to review the design when we get home, there's something I decided I wanted to do when constructing the new facility. Have you seen where its being located?*"

"*Yes. She's given us the Valley of Guard.*" He nuzzled Nathan gently. "*You can review the plans and status reports when you feel better.*"

Nathan looked up and smiled at Morin. "*That's a very nice area. Lots of open space, forest and a mountain fed river. I do hope construction is being done with care for minimal environmental disruption. I'll review the plans when I feel better, and after we've had some time together when I'm not recovering from something.*" He thought quietly.

"*Nathan, this is Grandmother. Do you really think she'd tolerate destruction of one of her prize retreats?*" He rumbled gently chiding. "*And I definitely like that last idea. Rest now, love. I will be here when you wake.*"

Nathan nodded, and slowly drifted to sleep. "*If Crys needs me to help Jake, wake me.*" He said before consciousness gave way to deep, exhausted sleep.

Cazi stepped into Jake's quarters to find Patrik still sound asleep, and Amerith no longer there.

Cazi checked Star's monitors to make sure that Patrik was simply sleeping, and then gently scanned telepathically to make sure the little tom's shock hadn't gotten any worse and found that none of it had registered yet, and the tom was being held in his resting state by a very powerful mind-suggestion.

Cazi hoped that the mind-suggestion originated with Jake, and figured Diamantha could take a look if the situation didn't correct itself. For the moment, it was probably for the best since the shock would be hard enough for Rik, even with Jake present.

Then he scanned around looking to find Amerith, since as the only other Aristal native he knew to have links, he was somewhat worried about her. Eventually he found trauma shaken traces of her path back to her ship, then to Dreadnaught.

Cazi lay back on the bed next to Rik, and projected himself across to the Dreadnaught. "*Amerith? Are you here?*" He asked concerned.

"*She's here, and very upset.*" DarkStar answered him, more than a little distressed himself. "*What's going on over there?*"

Cazi thought back reassuringly. "*Apparently, Tartirin was able to do something before she died that destroyed Aristal. Amerith is probably feeling the shock from broken bonds. Jake is in psychic shock from the same cause but Diamantha says he'll be okay. Rik is currently sound asleep, under some sort of strong compulsion to stay that way. I think that's Jake's doing though. We've almost lost Nathan twice, and all in all its been one hell of a week. If you're feeling up to it, DarkStar, would you keep track of her ship while she's upset and make sure nothing goes wrong.*"

"*Of course.*" He replied quickly, happy for some clue. "*Is SilverStar busy? She's not answering, but I haven't knocked very hard either. Broken bonds are her realm ...*"

"*I don't know, I hadn't gotten to checking her yet. I was busy checking those native to Aristal. I'll have her contact you depending on what state she's in. Just take care of Amerith.*"

"*I am, she's just not really responding once she came over.*" Both the DS's determination and worry came across clearly.

He switch to the frequency SilverStar was usually on. "*Star?*" He asked tentatively, hoping she just hadn't been paying attention.

"*Yes?*" Her clearly distracted mind-voice came back.

"*Is anything wrong, Star? Dark's been trying to reach you.*" He asked concerned.

"*He has?*" She said, clearly startled. "*I'm been keeping track of Chance ... and all the other medical emergencies around here. Why?*"

"*I think we're down to one medical emergency now: Jake. But Aristal was destroyed by Tartirin, and it looks like Amerith lost people she was Bonded to. Dark's not sure what to do, and figured you're more familiar with broken bonds.*"

"*Oh, gods.*" She whispered as she set most of the controls to the stupid computer's control and set up a very carefully parametered program to alert her if he woke. "*I'll see what I can do. There are too many Bond complications on this mission.*"

"*Actually, there are just too many complications period. At least only one person's in the infirmary in serious condition currently.*" He said tiredly.

SilverStar took a moment to look at the scans on Jake and tried to comfort Cazi. "*I agree with Diamantha, he's in bad shape, but it's nothing that hasn't been dealt with before, and he's in better shape overall than when he first came on board.*"

"*I know, Star. It's just been a roller coaster. First Jake's gone, then Jake's back and Nathan's in a coma, then he's back and then he's in shock from Bond breach, then he's back and Jake's in psychic shock. Between the two of them, I'm stretched a bit thin. I'd like to have both of them here and conscious at the same time.*" The Lion said frustrated.

"*Rest, Cazimir.*" She suggested gently. "*Nathan is resting normally, Jake will recover in time. Curl up with Patrik and rest yourself, so you can be there for both of them when they wake.*"

"*Okay, Star. I probably should, just look in on Amerith. She's had it pretty rough, bond-wise lately.*"

"*I will. NightBlades take care of are own, and we are both NightBlades.*"

Cazi smiled slightly as he shifted to the calico, and curled up with Patrik. He gently brushed the little tom's hair back, before sleep finally overtook him.

SilverStar materialized into a simple, large bedroom from an earlier technology age. Amerith, as a heavily build black shekat with red hair, was curled up on the bed sobbing. DarkStar, in his currently preferred Black Lab form, was trying his best to comfort her, and very near his wits end.

"Hi, Dark." She said sitting down on the bed near Amerith. "Hi, Amee." She said quietly, burying her own concerns, and trying to project calm and confidence.

"Ah, Silver. I'm glad you're here." He looked up from stroking the Kat's hair. "I don't know what else to do ... she won't say anything, just cries."

"I'm not surprised, Dark. Bond loss is very painful." She said putting a gentle hand on Amerith's shoulder, and opening a private channel. "*Amee, this is Star. I know it hurts, I've felt that pain myself, and I know how it makes it tough to face things. But you still have people here who care about you, you're not alone. Don't cut yourself off like this.*" She thought with great gentleness and concern.

There was no resistance to the message, but the other end was in chaos, and so deeply into denial it wasn't coherent anymore. She felt a slight attempt to answer, but there wasn't enough of Amerith capable of thought to form any words, just a soul-deep incomprehension of what her mind was telling her.

Star was a little set back, she never seen a DS this badly damaged on a psychic level. Then she decided to go back to the beginning and try something. She tapped into her memories of awakening, of those first frightening moments when the world suddenly sprang into being. She remembered a strange, yet soothing music that had calmed her and helped guide her into understanding.

Star focused on where she'd sensed the attempt to answer and sent a wave of gentle, usable energy, with the soothing music. She also let the soothing music play across all of Star's conscious space, trying to give order to the chaos in a gentle healing way.

She felt almost more than heard Amerith sob and grab frantically for the energy, but didn't absorb it. Rather the former jet curled around it like a lifebuoy and shook, part of her understanding she needed to face reality, but most of her unable to grasp what had happened enough to do so.

Star gently extended a bridge of energy out until she could stand next to the former jet. Then she formed a blanket out of healing energy and the music. She took the blanket and wrapped it protectively around Amerith, she gently touched Amee and simply offered understanding and compassion, strongly felt without complicated words or images as the terrified shekat grabbed onto her with desperate strength and just shook with a mixture of sobs and silent grief.

Shadows of the Kat 3: Alliance Escape

NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
Het Level is LowHet Smut Level is Low
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Low
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

650 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written August 22, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall

Setting: Cathedral, Darshar, Galactic Alliance, SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Darshar, Digital Sentience, Dracon, Dragon, Felsin, God, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Angst, Death, Murder, Sex (Kinky), Supernatural, Violence

Pairings: Jake Clawson/Cazimir Sunfire, Jake Clawson/Patrik Celest, Morin Kar'Dranor/Nathan SwiftClaw, Amerith/DarkStar, Others

Notes: A conversation about rape and age of consent among the Felsin somehow ended up with Todd and I writing a new variant. It diverges from STD A: There is no Light after pt 20.

Blurb: Jake's Clawson's lover, Alexander Maxwell (actually Cazimir Sunfire), is finally worried enough about his mate's sanity to take rather extreme action. The chain reaction is something no one could have expected.

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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