Book Three: Behind Yellow Eyes *FULL LENGTH*

Story by rhenthar on SoFurry

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Behind yellow eyes

©2015 Sinclair diavante


The black limo cruises around quietly, maglev holding it a half meter above the road. Silence inside is mingling with the colorful scent of happiness. The fact that it's coming from Sinclair makes it more intoxicating than anything Mist had ever forced on me. I'm working my blunt claws through his fur, rolling them around over his stomach, my favorite area. I think that I want to either laugh, or maybe cry, perhaps even both at the same time. From my perspective, so _ many _ years have passed since I last saw him. It feels like forever. Strange that I'll be contemplating suicide in another thirty minutes.

We talk.

I mention my experiences, just a few at a time. That he is a good listener is a new concept for me to take in, most of the time it was always he who spoke, while I remained silent. A role reversal, for sure. New territory for both of us to boldly explore.

I keep noticing a whiff of anger, as I lay out what Mist did to me, but right away, it fades quickly each time. He's so happy to have me back. Once or twice, I even detect an odd smell, one that I can recognize as surely as my nose is black.


It keeps coming to me in waves, every time I mention Mist's name. It's so strong ; I know he has to comment on it soon.

"Ten years as a four-legged wolf. I suppose, Keman, that your two-year hiatus has been fulfilled. You coming back to me afterwards speaks much about your desires." He smiles.

I squeeze him in my arms. "Thank you, sir." I was worried he might make me say goodbye, again. I don't think I can handle that. It would rip me apart.

"But when you came back, you were supposed to tell me that you wanted to be my property, in addition to being my mate. I need you to realize how amusing it is, to be wearing your collar, Keman. Why call me sir when I'm wearing this?" A soft grin lines the edges of his big muzzle when he points up at it. Seeing his smile makes me feel so good. Oh, Dog, how I'll do anything to see it again. Anything!

"Well," I say. "Not quite mine." I run my fingers over its warm surface. "But the next best... thing." I'm tabbing through the app the collar had made available for download once my wetware contacted it. Various icons are fighting for my attention at the periphery, including an obnoxious one that keeps eating the others.

My ship.

The AI needs a stern talking to; it needs to learn something about privacy. It isn't actually eating the others; they reappear a few moments later. The computer equivalent of humor. Or was it trying to get my attention?

"I'll inform you that I have a history of wearing these," Sin pulls at it briefly, the motion seems practiced. His weight against my chest is a constant reminder of his heft, and I miss it pressing at me from any angle. "One that is quite unpleasant," he continues.

Time to take it off , I think. I clear more pending icons out, but one catches my attention when I select it, and I see that it's a rejection notice from the collar. Rejection? A rejection to register... I quickly flip back to the app controlling it and notice that the release and unlock fields are grayed out.

I check again, delete the app, and instruct the collar to retransmit its code.

Still grayed out.

I check a few other areas, and see that, in fact, all of them are gray. Outside of my control. My heart rate doubles. Over in the registration section, there is optional text entered in the owner's field. My ears go flat with despair, my body tenses up.


Next to his name, in the extended attributes field, there is something else.

A gift for my beloved brother. It's your turn...

I shake my head.


Happiness peels away to reveal something cold and frightening. What have I done?

"Owned by Mist," I mumble. "It's your turn?"

His eyes open very wide.

"It's your turn..." Mist said, while his eyes leaked tears, which was unsurprising after what he just went through. He was avoiding looking at Sin, though normally when their gazes met it produced such good feelings. He reeked of fear, though, with the usual residue of pleasure. What felt good was never enough to cover up what felt bad, Sin knew.

He threw himself into Sin's arms and the two of them hugged tightly, Sin felt his brother's swollen and abused sheath dig into his thigh, but the love they had for each other was the type that broke through all barriers of shame and propriety.

Rings were inside their sheaths, welded shut behind their knots, and linked to the collars that they each wore. With this, pleasure always came with pain, which sometimes heightened the intensity, turning synergistic. However, it was usually too much, and he never sought the activation that a swollen knot would create, not on his own. Not ever. Even when soft, a knot has some cartilage producing its base diameter. It was much too large for the ring to slip past, there was no way to pull it off, and he had tried many times.

"Sinclair!" A deep, bold voice from beyond the doorway beckoned. "I'm waiting..." The opening was dark and uninviting. In that direction, pain waited, pain unlike anything normal life had to offer. Unlike an empty stomach, or even a broken arm. From as old as nine, the age his first and only owner had told him he was, to current day, almost nine years later. This was the routine. Pain, and then pleasure. Then the pain of the memory... building on top of the last.

Sin broke contact with his brother, letting his arms loosen to fall to the side, Mist's let go in return. It was best not to keep Sir waiting. He only wished Mist wouldn't let go, maybe if he didn't have to. Maybe...

He made his way into the room towards the musky odor of maleness. Light was very low, Sir could see in the dark. Sin had no idea what species he was, only that he looked like a giant cat covered in stripes. He and Mist lacked any real education, outside of pleasing Him.

Slitted green pupils eyed him from within the darkness; a tail lashed around two meters distant. "Up, on the bed. You know what I want, boy. And I know you want it, too. Right?"

"Yes, sir," he said quietly, hoping for enthusiasm that just wouldn't come, no matter how much he tried. He climbed onto the bed's slick rubbery surface. Stray fur was stuck to it in long streaks, from where Sir had sprayed cleaner, carelessly wiping off whatever Mist had left behind.

"Paw yourself, Sinclair. You know you're my favorite. So big and black , the credits I could sell you for, ho! But none will have you, no, you're mine. All mine."

Sin put most of his weight onto his knees and right wrist, he reached between his legs, and gripped behind his knot, tugging and rubbing his sheath over the slender metal ring that had been installed so many years ago. He shut his eyes in expectation of what was to come, the climax that would ensue, and the pain along with it.

He jerked himself off, and tugged on his knot, pulling while thinking of the one thing that wasn't terrible in his life, the love he had for his brother. Sir knew how much they cared for each other, and had threatened injury and death to each of them as a means to control the other. He'd followed through with almost everything, too. Sin's eyes opened in fear when he realized he grew soft, just thinking about it.

He squeezed tighter and pulled, and pretty quick, his collar began to pulse. It was only mild pain at first, a tickle that felt more like an itch than anything else. His knot continued to grow as his pre drizzled onto the bed's surface, in small clear jets. The pain went up a notch, and then suddenly ten. His back shook and his ears fell flat. He gasped and let go, knowing the chain reaction of an orgasm was past the point of no return. Thick splats landed on the bed below him, while his body tensed up from the waves of pain his collar was giving him. Each bigger than the last. His tail rose and fell with each pulse.

The ring was stimulating him, too. His body quivered while his mind fought to make sense of the sensations. Occasionally, pain and pleasure combined, in the good way, and he strained with a loud grunt, his muscles standing out. Muscles Sir loved to run his claws down to trace through his fur.

The bed shifted and large knees appeared to the left and right of his own. Warmth enfolded him with a long, deep rumble, a purring that was usually the harbinger of the worst kind of cruelty. Sin struggled to lean back against Sir, because he knew he liked that. But his body was twitching in ways he couldn't manage, the collar and ring were out of phase.

"Hurts..." A word he had said once, only on accident. But no punishment came. So it turned into one of the few he knew he was allowed to speak, at times such as these.

"Yes it does... I'm sure of it," Sir's deep voice behind him. The hot fur around him grew tighter, with pinpricks of pain stuck deeply in his ribs; a sharp slickness drove quickly under his tail, with burning heat spreading his hole wide, while it was clenching down from his climax. Sir pulled out quickly, and while there was little pain going in, the sharp barbs on his shaft clawed at him from the inside, making him gasp.

Sir fucked him quickly, and he felt, as well as heard, a tearing, ripping sensation to which his ass had only built a limited immunity. Sir's pre stung and burned, though, and by that, Sin was able to gauge the extent of the damage. The pain of the future was all he could think about, through the haze of his orgasm, and in the pain his collar kept dialed in, along with the pleasure he felt behind his knot.

The most important thing Sin held tightly in his mind was not collapsing. If he fell, Mist would be punished severely, that was the way of things. Such a terrible shame and guilt he would then feel. Mist might start having nightmares again, waking up sobbing. A behavior Sinclair had absolutely no way to help with.


"I'm sorry, no, please..."

"But... what does that mean, your turn? Mist is your brother?"

Sin's eyes are still open, but he's startled, reality quickly advances him to the present. He glances at a soft simulated star field glimmering in the roof above, only broken by the dark tinted windows of the limo. His paws ache, because of the tight grip he's got on the collar around his neck. A familiar scent permeates the air, it is in fact the best he knows, and it's coming from right behind him.


Sin recognizes his warm lupine body pressed behind his own as reality fully reasserts itself. He's still dizzy from what he'd been dosed with, earlier, he should still chew him out for that stunt. Nevertheless, he won't, because he pulled it off so well.

The collar, though... and those words. Panic will accomplish nothing useful, but it tempts him.

He leans forward and carefully turns his body around in order to sit across from Keman, lying back in a comfortable leather couch. He regards his mate severely. His wetware icons are alerting him of stressed physiological status, and he absentmindedly dismisses them.

"Keman... did you say this collar is owned by Mist?"

His ears are flat, and Sin can tell that misery soon approaches; by the way he keeps shaking his head back and forth.

"I don't understand," he keeps saying. "I told it to register the same way I did back on his ship... it should have worked. I can't control it. I don't get it..."

The man in the middle attack, the oldest there is. Sinclair used the same technique when Mist had tried registering this exact same collar on Keman.

Well. Mist isn't dead, then.

That is a problem.

Chapter 1.

Marcus winces as his grandfather sticks a needle into a vein in his arm, the third time this week. At this rate, they'll need to switch locations soon, otherwise he'll start looking like a tetrameth junky.

"How are your studies in math going?" his grandfather asks, placing a ball of cotton over the site. He bends his arm at the elbow to hold it in place, while the site clots.

"Eh," he exhales. "Ok. Trig wasn't a big deal in high school, but calculus sure sucks," says Marcus, shaking his head. He doesn't understand the need to learn so much about numbers when computers take care of everything involving them. He had asked his grandfather about that, once, and was only met with laughter. The world is to be understood , he had said. Not merely lived in. Whatever.

"Calculus!" his grandfather declares. "You should enjoy that, the ability to compute orbits and planetary masses, gravities. I remember my lessons from when I was your age..."

"Did you hate them as much as I do now?" Marcus pops a few food pellets into a large aquarium bubbling next to a wall. A deep-sea diving figure slowly rises and lowers inside, exotic freshwater fish dart to the surface and scoop up the food.

His grandfather smiles at that. "Maybe. But I had a lot on my mind, back then. I was worried about survival. The Dee-eight wasn't as well understood as it is today. I lived each day as if it were my last. I had no idea at the time that I was immune, so toughen up, young man. You've a full life ahead of you."

Marcus stares at the fish, lost in thought. It definitely is different, compared to most of his friends. They all have a death sentence, with an unknown date of execution. He can't even imagine what that must feel like. Knowing your days are numbered, that it's all going to end, sooner instead of later.

His grandfather takes the handful of vacuum-sealed vials, samples of his blood, and drops them all into a machine. It's about the size of a laser printer, and it's analyzing the way his body fights Dee-eight, adapting as the virus changes. There is hope that one day a vaccine can be made from his research, but it's probably going to be too late. More likely, the remaining humans all wind up immune, like the both of them, effectively breeding out the disease over time, instead. One by one, the vials clink into an output tray at the front of the unit, evacuated and sterilized, ready to be used again.

"What about the upcoming dance?" his grandfather glances at Marcus with his bushy white eyebrows high. "Spring break, I presume?" Marcus had thought that the pressure to mingle with girls was bad enough in high school, but now that he's a freshman in college, it's ten times worse.

"I don't have a date... I think I'm just gonna skip it."

His grandfather shakes his head. "Come now," he says. "A handsome lad such as yourself, having trouble getting a date? I've seen the way Stephanie looks at you. And you already know, she's immune, too. I've talked with her parents, she's got a great future, a high IQ, and Bardex psych reports all in the high six's."

Marcus covers his face with his hands. "Ugh! I can't believe you guys discuss things like that! We're not slaves, don't you get it?" Marcus holds his arms out, as if he's embracing something huge. "Whatever happened to freedom and the ability to decide what I want to do?"

His grandfather pauses, taking that in. "You're always free to make choices, of course," he cautiously admits. "But you have a responsibility to our society, too. Your education hasn't come cheap," he reminds. "Your generation is our last hope; don't you realize how lucky that makes you? All of humankind might depend on your blood, and your genes. And the few others that we know of."

For his whole life, he's been aware of his immunity. The pressure to take a part in saving his race has steadily increased, the older he's grown. Yet nobody has ever asked him what he wanted. And nobody would understand if he told them.

"Yeah. Fine. I'll ask her out. Ok?" His attention shifts to the digital time displayed in the upper right field of his vision, where his wetware is configured to keep a transparent readout. It's flickering. "Crap. My shift starts in fifteen minutes. Can I borrow your trike?"

His grandfather is intensely staring at a screen showing detailed results of the most recent blood analysis. He nods to the latter. "Don't forget. Ask Stephanie out on a date..."

"Yeah, right," he says, hoping that sounded more enthusiastic than he is.

Chapter 2.

Jack isn't a slaver technician director because of the sense of power he often feels. He doesn't mind the collar Ingen Corp requires him to wear for the duration of his employment. The constant struggle to treat other species, especially his own: Rhenthar, as mere property, while at the same time giving various employees the professional respect they deserve, it neither bothers him overly much, nor does it ever vanish, as the years tick by.

Jack is in this for the money. The pay is excellent.

He's also in this field for the social and political connections; people who buy slaves are usually well to do. And they remember where said slaves came from. They'll come back for more. Jack lives for the callbacks, the re-acquaintance of previously satisfied customers. The casual credit bursts that come his way from those seeking "something special" or rather, someone. They ask for the ones not everyone else might get to see.

Jack always has special ones ready for viewing.

The ship containing the operation, because of aforementioned customers, is never caught. Some say it's full of the ghosts from slaves who have died on board. Others will swear it provides peacekeeping supplies to areas in need. We only know of it as The Clarkson. It routinely completes a circuit in the gamma quadrant, bringing common cargo from worlds that sell it cheaply, to other planets interested in buying. Occasionally, it stops to pick-up and deliver less-common cargo, and that's where the real money is made.

Today, two dozen buyers are viewing three dozen products comprised of several different species. Human, Kzinti, Terellian, and Rhenthar. The ones most commonly sought. These products have all been prepped externally, and doped up on designer drugs that make the process rather enjoyable, yet they can still answer questions truthfully and competently. If Jack had it his way, his products would stay on these drugs for the rest of their lives, but it isn't up to him.

He wants transactions to go smoothly, and doesn't want anyone to come bitching to him later, claiming they didn't get what they paid for. That almost never happens. Almost.

The day started out normal; they're groundside on Tatchit's largest starport, the air scrubbers have been cleaned, and there is no scent of fear anywhere in the ship. Customers are flowing in at designated reservation times, and happy customers are leaving, taking products with them. Everything is in order.

But then it isn't, the high threat alarm starts blaring in his office, auxiliary security teams pile out of their standby quarters. Data pumps into his wetware, critical problem, interview room sixteen, hostage situation .

Jack stands up and runs out of his office, swearing, hoping like fuck that this problem doesn't pan out like last year. Two customers were killed by an explosive device hidden in a slave's chest. That sort of contraband could never get past their new body cavity scanners, though. This has to be something else.

He hears someone yelling up ahead, IR16 is only ten meters away, his feet pound on the high friction surface, security all recognizes him as the one in charge, nimbly stepping out of the way. They're armed with laser pulse rifles and heavy ceremastic body armor. The kind of equipment needed to discourage less-savory customers from deciding they can get things for free, and also to instill a feeling of safety and security with the more normal buyers.

People expect to see armed security, though none of his slaves or customers are ever really any threat to each other, not while aboard this ship.

He doesn't have to lean around the corner of the doorway in order to see what's going on. The hallways are very wide, offering an open, spacious environment intended to mask the sensation of confinement. Through eyecams in the interview room, he sees a slave known as Rhino, a mostly-black Alaskan Malamute Rhenthar with a white star running up his forehead.

He doesn't look like he's under the influence of Erasmus at all. His teeth are showing wide, he's holding a customer against his chest with his muscular arm around his neck, and in his other hand is a laser pistol, pointed at the customer's head, a slender Terellian he recognizes from his itinerary that morning. Seesham is his name. The feline has clearly ripped a few bloody slashes into Rhino's side, but he doesn't seem to notice. He's rolling his eyes around from a lack of oxygen, and Jack wonders if his windpipe is crushed. That would be bad.

Additional windows in Jack's wetware show various customers standing near airlocks, apparently trying to leave. As soon as the alarm went off, those doors shut, and they won't open until the problem is resolved. Not all customers are attempting to leave; some are nearby, trying to see inside the interview room.

Jack knows just what to do.

He broadcasts to every person on the ship, including all the products, especially Rhino. Everyone has wetware these days. If a product arrives without it, a top quality set is installed with no charge to his or her future buyer.

"If I can have everyone's attention for a moment, please." He's staring up at an eyecam on the ceiling. "This is not a disaster; on the contrary, allow me to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate some of our accessories, available for purchase with every product we have to offer."

"I want a ship!" Rhino screams. "Or I'll blow his fucking head off!"

Already the ship's sentient AI has evaluated the situation and determined that the product is wearing a Mark 3 collar, and its security has been compromised via wetware intrusion. Mark 3's_were always buggy and susceptible to hacking, and they're visually identical to a _Mark 4, which was the collar documented as worn when the product transferred aboard. When and where the mistake occurred has already been determined, and Jack files that info away for later reconciliation.

The AI informs him that Rhino was almost able to gain full control over the collar, but before he could get it unlocked, the AI scrambled the unlock codes. Rhino then managed to eject the power supply, and all further collar functions became disabled. Several blast scars mark the ceiling, where he had tried using the small handheld weapon to cut through the cable trailing from the ceiling to his collar. The AI predicts an 84% likelihood that the blaster is now non-functional from blast-back eventuating from the mirror surface of the tritanium cable. Power is still flowing to the supermagnet, keeping it attached to the collar.

Rhino isn't going anywhere.

Jack instructs the AI to dart him. A tiny granule of metal whispers from one of several discrete launchers hidden in the walls. Rhino doesn't feel a thing.

"Ten seconds ago," he announces. "A dart carrying five micrograms of Freeze-12 landed in his thigh. It affects the extremities first, now he won't be able to pull that trigger." Jack leans into the room. "You want a ship, Rhino?" he asks. "Fine, I'll make sure you leave on one."

Rhino leans forward, trying to inspect his thighs.

Their eyes meet.

"You!" Rhino yells. "I know you, you're Jack! I've bought from you before. I've been on the other side of these doors." Jack's ears go sideways; the situation feels like it just jumped a track. Come to think of it, he does look familiar. The recognition unsettles his stomach, and the prime rib he ate earlier shifts around uncomfortably.

Jack sends an identification request to the AI, cross-referencing it to all previous customers. The response comes back immediately, no prior attendance on this vessel. But the feeling of familiarity remains...

"I was one of you!" Rhino yells. "You can't do this to me," he says, now much quieter. Jack sees customers nearby glancing at each other, and the air handlers labor to suck up the scent of discomfort. Rhino looks down at the blaster and holds it away from the terrified Terellian; he must be noticing the paralysis as it sets in further.

"What the fuck?" Rhino asks, with plenty of whine in his voice.

Security teams rush in at the same time the maglock on Rhino's collar cuts current. He falls to the floor, barely able to catch himself on his hands and knees. His movements are slow, he's weak as a puppy. The team has no problem snapping magnetic cuffs around his wrists and ankles, pulling his wrists behind his back while he screams, "No! No-no, stop!" His voice has risen in pitch, his breathing is unaffected by the drug.

Jack thinks that hearing any more words from Rhino might unsettle the other customers considerably. He makes an executive decision and directs the security team to muzzle him, using one of the new Mouthguard v2's they have in stock. He subsidizes most of the cost, only raising the price of the product by a fraction. He hopes it will make him more appealing to a prospective buyer.

One of his techs approaches from the end of the hallway, swiftly passing Jack with some chrome hardware and a long yellow tube in his paws. Rhino's ankles are locked together, and his wrists are now secure behind him. Jack makes sure the AI is monitoring that bound position; it carries a maximum of four hours before product damage can occur.

Rhino is still shouting "Stop!" while a loop of steel wire is drawn up around his jaws, it's pulled tight to force them shut, reducing his words to mere whimpers. The chrome mouthguard is then pushed up against his muzzle, sliding over his nose. Slick hollow prongs enter his nostrils, the outer shell is pushed the rest of the way on. The tech twists a removable knob at the end, and it sets temporary tabs between Rhino's teeth, spreading his jaws apart and into the padding on the inside, allowing room for the anchor to pass through.

"This is our new Mouthguard version 2. In addition to being the perfect delivery mechanism for aerosolized and orally consumed drugs, it can also provide nutrients and fluids directly into his stomach. The anchor is semi-permanent, and the outer shell is removable to allow for washing and sterilizing. Speaking is impossible, and so is biting, of course."

His whimpering grows loud as the tech pushes the slippery tube Jack saw earlier into the port below his nose, where it travels into the back of his throat. His chest heaves and his whimpers fall silent while he gags repeatedly.

"The oral anchor is 90% likely to reach his stomach versus his lungs, which we want to avoid," Jack announces. "The nasal version is a hundred percent, but it will disable his olfactory senses, we've chosen the oral for now. It can be swapped at a later time."

Rhino's eyes go wide, his whimpers start back up, long and drawn out after the tube bottoms out, clicking into place. The tech pulls on it with a ratcheting snap, simultaneously tightening down the muzzle and removing the locating tabs. His chest heaves while tears leak from his eyes, a puddle of drool forms on the floor.

"Get him back up on his feet, there's less nausea that way." Jack watches his teams comply, noting that none of his customers have shown any inclination of buying this slave. That's disappointing, because he really wants to move him.

A thick cutter removes the dead Mark 3, and a Mark 6 takes its place. The clear plastic cover on it is stripped off and its internal methane-nickel fuel cell emits a piercing whine when it's activated. The price of procuring Rhino rises incrementally higher. He's leashed to the ceiling again and his ankle cuffs are removed, one at a time. His wrists are left secured behind his back. Jack is about to instruct their release when a voice behind him interrupts his train of thought.

"Why end the show? You should 'site him, too." Jack turns to look at who's speaking, he sees a tall white Husky Rhenthar with black markings, and he recognizes him instantly. Mist. One of his suppliers as well as a repeat buyer.

"I can't authorize that kind of subsidization," Jack explains. "No one will pay that much extra for what is now basically damaged goods."

Mist rubs a paw under his muzzle, thinking. "My treat, then. I think he needs to remember this day for the rest of his life, and with the one thin g that can't be removed.... There is nothing better to use."

Jack sees a very large sum of credits transferred his way, but doesn't dare hold on to any of them. He passes it all straight to the ship's main account, and authorizes a 'site to come out of storage. The tech who was carrying the muzzle a few minutes ago steps out of the room to retrieve it.

"Kind of makes you wonder... the things he said," Mist casually offers, nose twitching. Jack thinks he's fishing for info. He's very careful about what he says in response.

"Lies, as far as I know. Ship's records don't show him ever having been here before." His ears flatten, and he tries to avoid the sudden feeling of anger when the AI informs him that several pending sales have been cancelled.

"He doesn't seem to be under the influence of Erasmus," says Mist, narrowing his eyes. "How intriguing."

"Yeah, well. He got a big dose, I've got it on record." The tech that walked by earlier has returned, holding a clearish plastic orb in his paws. He enters the room and Rhino's whimpers double in volume once he sees. He starts to panic, straining against his bonds, pulling on his wrists. The Freeze-12 should be fully worn off by now.

"Maybe he's got a tolerance... it is quite recreational." Mist turns to watch.

"Too expensive for a slave to end up with, like that..." Jack trails off, realizing the implication. He glances at Mist, their eyes meet, and then Mist resumes watching. Something is very wrong here.

The paper bonded plastic cover is torn open, and Rhino watches the 'site come alive in the tech's hands, stasis fluid spills onto the floor. Rhino then does the worst possible thing he can do, for sure, and it's the last time he'll ever do it. A thin trickle of urine leaks from his sheath; it runs down his legs and onto the floor. The tech holds the squirming creature up between his legs. A 'site hurts much more going in right after urinating, it will produce a strong burning sensation that lingers for hours, until it's reabsorbed.

A 'site has no visible eyes, but its long tongue does have photoreceptors, it's able to spot its new home and rushes to twist around his sheath, near the tip. It plunges its long tapered end inside, searching for his urethra, it pulls out a few centimeters, and then pushes in further, it must have found it. Rhino is trying to scream, but it's all muffled through the muzzle. He occasionally goes quiet to cough and choke on the anchor lodged in his stomach.

The tech lets go, and the big end of the 'site dangles the air between Rhino's legs while it draws the rest of itself into his body. It finally squeezes into his sheath, pulling itself around his penis, thick and greasy black in appearance. Like a shiny condom, one that can never be taken off. Rhino's body jerks, he arches his back as it draws past and behind his knot, cinching down its bony mouth behind it. The 'sites body compresses, squeezing out an air pocket, it exits his sheath with a wet belch.

Rhino's quiet now, his eyes are shut tightly. He's not in that much pain, but the fresh awareness of his situation has probably settled fully into his mind, Jack thinks. He now has a quick means of suicide, between his legs, 'sites kill their host if they're severely injured. Jack instructs the AI to program his collar with special instructions that will prevent him from ever reaching it with his teeth or claws.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to open bidding on this special slave," Jack announces. "He comes with a 'site at no additional cost." Murmurs surge around him. "Thanks to a generous donation by one of our premier members..." He's cut short, though; a black hand with extended claws grips his shoulder. Jack turns to face imploring green feline eyes. The buyer held hostage only moments ago.

"I want him," he says, rubbing his neck. Someone from security hands him his blaster, and he looks closely at its ruined emitter. "I want him bad."

Jack looks up at the eyecam and announces, "I regret to say that he's already sold." There are mutterings of disappointment all around. "Please, people. Keep your weapons in their holsters, use proper DNA safeties, and situations like this can be avoided."

Jack walks away, trying to remember Rhino's face. He'll hopefully forget it again, soon. He shifts the collar around his neck and writes the situation off.

Chapter 3.

"One through four isn't even worth my time," Mist says. "I told you, they can't be infected." He's having difficulty keeping the growl out of his voice; other shoppers are peering at him when they think he isn't looking. Is it really that hard to find competent help these days?

He watches as the slaver technician bows, some mutt of a Rhenthar with floppy ears. He notes the Mark 6 around his neck. Everyone on the ship wears one, all except for the customers, of course. Cheap insurance, the ease to monitor employees and guarantee secrecy. Plus, if the products ever become scarce, employees can serve a second purpose. Mist smiles at that.

"Number five has tested clean, sir. You'll note the adjusted price."

"Oh, I see it." Mist says. " Quite the rip off, too." He glances down the hall, green indicators show which interview rooms aren't in use. "Put him in IR4. He knows common, right?" The fact that the tech actually pauses before nodding is disheartening. Good slaves are even harder to find than good employees, who knew? IR4 is his favorite, his lucky room.

He thinks back to his time with Keman. The new benchmark, the one that was nearly perfect. All except for where his loyalty is pinned, he could see it clearly in his eyes, it will never leave. Not without destroying all the parts that make him so amazing. He will always want to be Sinclair's.

Sin. Fucking. Clair. His long lost brother. He almost misses him, but almost isn't enough. Not after what he did, and now it's time for Sin to pay a price for his decisions, that's been a long time coming. He had the right idea with Keman, though. Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ. Mist is no fool.

Start with a human, one that wants to be a Rhenthar. Give him his lifelong wish, and then he'll worship you forever. Good slaves aren't found, only built. An old phrase, he thinks, walking down the hallway; optical scanners are at eyelevel next to each door. He stares into one, ruby laser light flickers against his vision and he hears a click, the door slides open. A dirty smell of fear hits him, Mist instructed the anti-serum for Erasmus to be administered moments ago, and the wake-up call has been severe.

A human stands in the center, a leash dangles from the ceiling, maglocked to his collar. It's been made too short to allow him to sit. He's naked and devoid of all his hair below the neck. What's on his head is only a couple of centimeters long, his facial hair is missing, and the fresh scent of depilatory stands in its place.

Mist walks up to him and grips his face in a paw, turning it left and right, looking closely for structural bone damage. What he has in mind will need strength in that area, the slave can't have any previous damage. The scent of fear rises even higher.

He informs the ship's sentient AI that he wishes to speak to the slave, and requires verbal responses. He nods at him once permission is granted. "Well. What do you have to say, human?" Contemptuous.

The slave reaches up and holds his hands protectively over the collar around his neck, almost like that can somehow save him from its effects. How amusing. "Uh. Er. What's there to say?"

" Do not answer my questions with more questions, or I'll make you hurt dearly ," he promises. "Tell me about your wishes. Tell me about your desires. Freedom will never be yours, but perhaps something better waits in the future. You're immune to Dee-eight. That sets you apart."

The human shakes his head, and Mist catches the barest whiff of surprise mixed with denial. This one certainly is new to all this, they often smell that way, in the beginning.

"What will you want to do with me?" Fear has twisted into terror, held only barely in check. He's undoubtedly imagining the horrors that can come to slaves.

"More questions, for me ?" Mist says. He glances up at the ceiling, "Sentient, I want-"

"Wait, wait ! I'll answer your questions, I'm sorry!"

Mist glares. "Well? I'm waiting," he bares his unnaturally sharp white teeth.

"I just wanted to find a girl, have some kids. Get a steady job, that's all I've ever wanted, stability. I could have had it, those tables at the casino, they're rigged! I spent weeks checking out that row. No winners, I should have been next. I should have been next..." he whispers the last part.

"Ugh. How boring." Mist brings up some details of this slave's indoctrination. He rarely does that. Gambling debts, ah. How... unfortunate. "Tell me, slave ," he pauses after the word, waiting for the next scent to hit him. And there it is: resentment. He often likes that part, with the new ones. A shame it never lasts, kind of like the scent of a new ship.

"Have you ever wanted to become something else?" He asks it casually, though the answer is so incredibly important to him right now.

"What do you mean- er, wait! I mean, yes , something other than this... Er, I don't understand!" Desperation creeps into the air. Pretty soon, this one will agree to anything Mist asks him to. He'll feel a false sense of security through a prospective buyer. Happens every time, until the pain begins...

"Have you ever wanted to become... one of us?" He gestures down at his own body with a flourish. The scent of incomprehension twists up a notch, then turns into disgust. Nope! This one won't do, he thinks.

He doesn't wait for a response, he merely turns around and leaves, the door slides shut behind him, locked. He briefly wonders what will happen to that slave, where he might end up next. He remembers what it was like to be in that position, once. Those thoughts fade quickly.

Chapter 4.

Marcus heaves the polymer distribution machine back onto its face, having just replaced its abrasive disc. That he is a mere janitor doesn't really bother him, this job at the biggest spaceport on the planet Tatchit was hard to get. Especially for a human, one of the few still around. He is used to being treated as second rate, compared to Rhenthar. That's who mostly lives around here.

He smirks, thinking about his grandfather's high hopes that humans will one day rise back up. If only he knew what Marcus's dreams and fantasies were. They certainly didn't involve humans, that's for sure. If only things were different. Life is so unfair, he thinks.

He squeezes the trigger on the machine and it starts up, emitting a deep hum and vibrating the floor under his feet. He swings it to the left and right, darting glances at all the entrances and exits around him, looking for his floor status safety emitters. Each sends out low strength pings to signal wetware that the floor in the area might be slippery underfoot.

Various Rhenthar walk around him, coming and going, the area he is polishing is the main mezzanine on the first tier. It's important that it looks good, so he's spending extra effort on it. There is a high ceiling here, open to several of the other floors. The walls catch sunlight through broad windows, emitting a blue sparkle. They have pristine surfaces that repel dust using ultrasound. That won't work on the places that feet come into contact with, it would produce an unpleasant tingle. If not for that, Marcus wouldn't have much of a job.

As Rhenthar pour in around him, headed to ships if they're coming, and leaving them if they're going, he covertly stares at each one. He enjoys the view under tails and between legs. Rhenthar never wear clothes, so his imagination doesn't have to be good in order to see what he wants. Certain breeds he enjoys much more than others, the sleeker arctic ones are his favorite, though they're rare. Next up are any that look close, with erect ears and fluffy coats, wolves are hot, too, but he almost never sees them.

A German shepherd type walks by, and his gaze lingers, he glances between her legs and feels a pang of disappointment. Boy, will his grandfather ever freak out when he finds out he's gay. He likes beef burritos, not fish tacos.

That's another discussion he's been putting off. It seems the older he gets, the harder it is to bring up, which is the opposite of what he expected. His one remaining family member has such great hopes of him somehow saving his species. Someday, he'll have to level with him, Marcus thinks. Just lay it all out and get it into the open.

Once he graduates college, he's sure he'll have the stability he needs to be on his own. Screw what his grandfather wants, this is his life, and he can decide his own future. He's so tired of other people's desires enveloping his life and limiting what his future has in store.

He almost stumbles when he spots a huge white and black Siberian Husky Rhenthar walking in through entrance 3. The black on his head and shoulders stands out, as though it's sucking the light from the room to become even brighter, if that's somehow possible. His sheath is long and obviously full of what's important, with very little fluff around his nuts, he must have to shave them to get that kind of evenness in his fur, Marcus thinks.

Intense green eyes visible from across the expanse catch his gaze, sending electric tingles down his spine before he can glance back down at the floor. He makes bigger circles with his polisher, feeling his cheeks redden. He looks at the battery readout display, knowing it'll indicate what it always does, charge remaining somewhere in the nineties. He only plugs it in once a month, but it's something to pay attention to. He pushes the readout button and pretends to fiddle with it.

Peering behind him, he sees the Husky still staring at him, but contact finally breaks when he turns to disappear down a hallway, headed to section A. The last thing Marcus sees is his fluffy tail, black on top of white, held out with that curly bend Husky's so often get when they're either happy or excited. He wonders what it would feel like to play with that tail, running his fingers through the smooth fur. What else might make him happy or excited?

Marcus snaps back to reality when he realizes he's done with the floor. How long has he been polishing the same spot? He thinks back to when the tugging resistance of the polisher faded away, when the floor quit putting up a fight because of how smooth it turned. He can't remember, so it must have been a while.

His boss, a Greyhound Rhenthar with tons of white on his muzzle, often calls him a scatterbrained human who needs to attend some memory enhancement classes. Yet he has no trouble remembering the last thing he's paid attention to.

That Husky is a ten, by his rating system. All that silky white fur, the striking black markings, perfectly even on both sides. Symmetry is a must. Thick muscles, big paws touching down on the floor he polished, one at a time. Digitigrade, but with long legs like a man. He knows Rhenthar are sensitive about what they put their feet on, and he wonders if the big Siberian feels any relief, knowing how clean the floor is after Marcus has tended it so well.

He switches the machine off and methodically goes around, picking up each of the safety emitters, bright orange cones of transparent aluminium, about a meter tall. He absentmindedly stacks them one on top of another, weaving through the crowd all around him. He's learned a lot about crowds in the last six months working here. He knows they hardly ever notice him, and he likes it that way.

His college set him up with this job as soon as he started his first semester. He began with apprentice pay, a stipend provided by the college itself, while his labor came free to the starport on a trial basis. At the end of 150 hours worked, the starport had the option to hire him with no additional fee. Though he was human, his boss had taken a liking to him by then, often calling him the dreamer. Marcus frequently discusses his wild ideas of travelling around the galaxy in search of those in despair. He got the job.

His boss walks up to him, and Marcus wipes sweat from his brow onto the arm of his uniform, an all-black one piece jumpsuit with a silver shooting star over the left breast pocket.

"Floor looks great," says his boss, while staring at various areas with a careful eye. "You got the third tier done already?" He opens his muzzle and pants, letting his long pink tongue hang straight out.

"Yessir. I just finished it before this one. Do you still need me to purge all the cyk bins?" The laws say garbage cans can't recycle their contents until three hours after the last item was deposited. Sometimes people toss things into them that don't belong there.

"No, I'll take care of them. You can head on out if you want, put the scrubber up and set it to charge, if it needs it. I'll clock you out at the end of the day, my treat." A gray eye winks. "Youth is wasted on the young. So enjoy yours, while you still have it." He smiles.

"Yes sir! Have a good day, I'll see you tomorrow." His boss nods, and Marcus feels a rush of joy race into his stomach, all the bliss and excitement of being released from mundane tasks, the same way he always feels when the last bell in school rings. Finally, time to go home and back out into the rest of the world.

Marcus kicks the wheels of his polisher into transport configuration and pushes it toward its storage room at a good clip, small pneumatic tires emit a steady buzz as he turns corners, deftly avoiding tipping the machine over, he slides it around the last bend. He palms an access panel and pushes the machine through the door.

Normally, the lights turn on when motion enters the room, but they're already on. His boss was probably just in here. He wheels the machine up to its charging stand, not bothering to connect the cables, it certainly won't need it for a while. He turns around to bolt toward the door, and almost runs into a wall of white fur. His high-fric boots squeak to a halt and he stumbles backwards, landing hard on his butt with his back against the polisher, staring up into a menacing green gaze.

"Did you think I wouldn't notice you eye-fucking me, back out there?" The white and black Husky asks, pointing a claw at the door. His voice is full of growl.

"Um, um... I, uh, I wasn't..." Shit! They can smell your lies , his grandfather once told him, so long ago.

He holds out a huge paw with his fingers spread wide. "Stop. You forget yourself, human. Don't waste my time with your fake stories, your lies... they aren't worth the breath you use to make them."

Marcus stares past the Husky, at the door, trying to estimate what it would take to get around him. But the door would need to be pulled inwards. He'd never get it open in time, this dude is huge!

"Um. Er. I'm sorry! I didn't mean anything..."

The Husky turns and looks behind him at the door, glancing back at Marcus with narrowed eyes, they seem to be glowing bright green from within a black mask of fur around them. They lose their focus for a moment, and the door's emergency lock slams home, the status light next to the handle flashes red. Locked.

That's impossible, Marcus thinks. The AI controlling the station would never allow that to happen. Surely, it knows he's gained access to it. Maybe help will come?

"My name is Mist," he says. "You would do well to remember it. I have questions that need answers. Stand up, human. Tell me your name."

Marcus untangles his legs and gets up, feeling shaky and afraid. His Caucasian body is thin and he's tall for his age, almost a meter and three quarters. He's had a growth spurt recently, and his grandfather said all the men in his family would grow one last time, from his age of 18, until when they were around 21. His legs and arms seem too long for his torso, and his boss bitched at him last week about needing to order a new set of jumpsuits.

"M-my name, my name is Marcus. I'm. I'm just a janitor, here. I'm nobody; I'm no threat to you." Another thing his grandfather had said, some of them have instincts you need to be careful of. Direct eye contact and other threatening postures can spell disaster. If only he could remember the rest, but he's never pissed off a Rhenthar before. Humans and Rhenthar tend to avoid confrontation. Too much unpleasantness in the past.

Mist cocks his head, as if he's amused. "If you were a threat to me, you'd already be dead. That's not my concern. Why were you looking at me like that?" he asks. "Do you think I look funny?" he pauses. "Is it because I'm so big for a Husky, is that it?"

Marcus shakes his head. "No, no. I swear! It isn't that." Oh, god. Don't lead to the truth, you're cornered, think of something. By saying that , you just implied it was something else.

Mist flares his nostrils, and nods with the barest grin at the edges of his muzzle. "Well, it certainly is something. You smell as if you're still trying to hide what that might be. What was it? Tell me, Marrrcus. You can trust Mist. Why were you staring at me?" Without waiting for a response, he reaches out and grabs Marcus's face in one of his big paws, squeezing claws tight into his fleshy cheeks, inspecting his bone structure. "Go on..."

Marcus nearly pisses himself. He almost flinches, but realizes at the last moment that if he pulls away, those sharp claws will tear his face apart. He holds still while he's examined, occasionally staring into huge green eyes, his wet black nose twitching vigorously in front. He can feel heat from the massive furry body standing so close to him; it's as if he's standing in front of a fire. The warmth almost burns his neck and face.

"I... I. Um. I..." He can't believe it. His stupid body decides right now to get a stiffy. His emotions heighten, yanking fear into embarrassment. His cheeks burn with a new heat, one of their own creation. He wants to be anywhere but here. He needs to run and hide under his blankets at home.

Mist takes one last inhale and freezes. His eyes open a little wider, and he leans down and uses his other paw to squeeze Marcus between the legs, confirming his identification, a particular thread of scent. His touch isn't unpleasant, and Marcus's boner throbs from it. He'll have to change his briefs when he gets home, he's surely leaking into them.

"Well well well. The plot thickens, along with something else." Mist lets go and stands back up to his full height, the breath from his nose blows Marcus's short brown hair around as he takes in his scent even closer. "You work here, so you're immune to Dee-eight, right?"

Marcus nods quickly, at least as well as he can while a hand as big as his head is holding his face.

"You're attracted to me." He lets the accusation hang in the air for a moment. "Try denying it."

"Um. Um, oh god..." he swallows hard. "I, um..." he blushes even harder. Just die, he thinks. Please let my heart stop beating, so I can die.

Mist releases his head and leans down to look closely at the marks his claws have left, wiping the little dents with his paw pads. He backs up a half step and eyes Marcus's coveralls, pinching the shiny black fabric at various spots in order to get it to stand straight, staring closely at the outline his body makes inside it.

"I actually enjoy the attention from males, Marrrcus. If that's what it is," he rumbles. "You know? Not all of us were born as what we wanted to be. No. Some of us wish we were born as something else. What does this concept mean to you, hm?"

Oh god.

Chapter 5.

"Have you ever wanted to become," Mist gestures down at himself, as he has fifty-nine times in the last two weeks. " One of us?" He shuts his eyes briefly and hopes, with all of his willpower, that this is the last time he has to ask such a ridiculous question.

So far, the answer has almost always been no. Occasionally, the ones who thought they were clever did say yes. But he was always able to scent the dishonesty, and the despair that went along with it. It's easy to tell when slaves are only telling you what they think you want to hear.

"One of you?" Marcus forces a laugh and shakes his head. "Are you crazy?"

He keeps his eyes locked on Marcus's, waiting for the scent to draw into his nose. And there it is, again. Covert fear, the type someone has when they're trying to hide something. There is no hiding from Mist.

He growls, long and deep. Marcus shuts his eyes and cowers. That's right, be afraid.

"I'll ask you one more time. I will not punish you for your honesty. But your lies... they will come with a price you won't enjoy paying. Have you ever wanted to be... one of us?"

Marcus chokes and swallows. His eyes dart around the room, like cornered prey. Finally, they settle on the floor. More color enters his cheeks, he speaks quietly. "Yeah."

" Yeah? " Mist rolls his hands. "Elaborate."

More silence, like he's making a decision. "I think about it every day of my life. I hate being human, I don't even like people." He glares up at Mist, clearly expecting to be ridiculed.

"Ah." He inhales and holds his breath, then exhales. "The scent of truth on you isn't so bad, Marrrcus. I rather like it. Along with what you just stated, yes I do. Very much." He smiles. "Makes me wonder what the future can hold, what can be held within my paws. What if I said your dreams can come true, hm?"

"W-what? That's, that's impossible. I... I don't understand. What would you do, carve out my brain and stick it into another body? It wouldn't fit, I'm not stupid."

Mist laughs at that one. "Were it only that simple. But, with the methods I've got access to, it is indeed possible, through another route. You would keep some parts of your body. Though, not much." He inhales a few more times, savoring the scent of this human, memorizing it. Finally, the one he's been searching for. Apparently he was looking in all the wrong places, he was ready to give up.

"Well, uh. That's cool. But I need to get going, I need to go home..."

Mist gives that a wide, sharp smile. "Home? I'm offering you the chance of a lifetime. Do you really want to say no?"

"No... I mean, yes. Yes, I have to say no. I'm sorry, mister... I just..."

Mist is already erasing his own presence at the station, and filling its sentient AI with footage showing Marcus leaving for home, copied and slightly altered from the last time he left. He notices him staring at a camera in the upper corner of the storage room. Suddenly, he realizes what Marcus just said. _No?_That hurts like a slap. Anger comes out, as it always does. Anger is useful.

" No?" He bares his teeth and speaks quickly, "y_ou have no **_idea** how much I hate the word no ." He growls deeply and leans forward, pointing up at the camera. " It doesn't see you. I was never here, and you already went home." He pokes his own skull with a clawed finger. "My wetware's military grade, top revision three, secret class. You're coming with me."

Marcus's eyes grow wide. "What? No way!" The little runt is building up anger of his own. "I'm staying right here!" he says, backing up against his floor polisher.

"Let me tell you something, Marrrcus." Mist says. "Your body, as it is right now, is of very little concern to me. It is merely a life support system for a brain that I want. You're definitely coming with me to my ship." He turns and glances at the door. The emergency lock light goes dark.

"I see your hesitation, however. You want to stay," he says. "So. Hold out the pieces you want to leave behind," Mist snarls. "And I will cut them off." He takes a big step and reaches forward, grabbing him by the neck, he yanks his body and flings it toward the door. "Walk..."

Chapter 6.

I can't believe it. What the hell have I done? The most important person in my whole life, and I went and locked what has to be the worst thing there is, around his neck. And it's owned by... him. The extent of the situation grows in my head like a corrupting fungus as I stare at Sinclair. Only moments ago, my arms were wrapped around him and I was so happy, we both were.

Now he's looking at me like I'm a threat, and I can smell it, too.

I need more than anything to get a look at his yellow eyes, to deliver my apology with all my heart, but he keeps looking away. Avoiding me, while explaining his past with Mist, how he grew up with his blood brother. All that the two of them went through, as slaves. His parents abandoned them when they were just pups.

I have a building sense of understanding as he speaks. That he was owned as mere property for so long. It sounds to me like fear is an old emotion of his, one he is well acquainted with. But it's been absent from his mind, for a very long time. Sinclair isn't afraid of the unknown, only fear itself. The collar is bringing that fear back, fresh and strong.

"A Mark 6, you don't even know the half of what these can do, Keman." He shakes his muzzle. "It's safe to say, he's listening right now."

The interior of the limo seems to grow colder as I think about that. Mist isn't all that bad of a person, is he? So much history I now have with him, and not all of it was bad. Or was it? It's just the power, that I remember most. That's what he represents.

Picturing him, it's the same feeling I get when I walk near the deuterium containment system on my ship. So much stored energy, all that H3 fissioned and fused, both, suspended in a state of quantum flux. The ultimate reaction postponed until it's guided out the back end. Mist is explosive strength and fearless cunning, to me. The tricks he played on my head, it was like he danced on my brain. That I have a hard time hating him is proof of his meddling. I should hate him to the core of my being. I know this truly, but the awareness doesn't help; only time might.

"I've got the app in my wetware, I've seen the areas it can control." Sexuality, mobility, and mood, just to name a few. Enough to make me bisexual, I realize. Maybe even straight? I shiver, pushing that thought away. I like who I am.

"The app?" He laughs. "Fuck the app. There's a control suite I've got back at the house that'll blow your mind. Extra hardware you have to buy to really control this thing." He runs his fingers under it, like maybe it's gotten tighter. "How do you think I projected myself into your mind?" he asks. "No, you haven't seen the half of it. This is the end of this product line, I highly doubt there will ever be a Mark 7. There is nothing you can't control with this. I want more than anything to find the race that's designing them.

"We knew you'd gravitate to one of these, Keman. It's just how you work, we were ready and waiting for someone to scoop you up. We had the whole station inhibited from activating a Mark 6. You crave dominance as much as I enjoy red meat. Don't deny it. And that isn't a bad thing, not at all. But we intercepted the registration process," Sin wrinkles his muzzle. "The same way Mist just did to you. Either by relay, or maybe he's in orbit right now." He pauses. "I doubt he's local," he says, shaking his muzzle.

I mull that over, unsure of what to say. He breaks the silence with more bad news.

"Zach is going to kill you." Our eyes finally meet, and it's me who has to look away. I've let Zach down, too.

"He's going to wonder what went wrong with our project," Sin continues. "And he's either going to think that Mist corrupted you as part of a grand plan to get at me. Or, he'll think there's something else wrong with you, some weakness which allowed this to happen. He'll be afraid that it might happen again, even after we get the situation fixed." Anger wilts all my fear like a heavy gamma laser aimed at a field of wheat. Fire explodes in my mind.

"What?" I yell. "He's not one to talk, that fucker!" Tears enter my vision as my mind continues to digest the idea of me being a threat to my alpha, my real alpha. I suddenly growl low and deep in my throat, and the sound surprises me into silence. I worry about where that just came from, because the last time I did it, was to another wolf, one who had tried to take my food. I hurt him, and I remember how much I enjoyed it, he really had it coming.

A scent of discomfort sends a cold shiver down my spine when I realize it's Sin's. He's looking at me curiously. I'm not the Keman he remembers. Oh, Dog, who have I become?

I hunch in on myself, hugging my arms over my chest, too afraid to meet his gaze. Mist's death was fake , and he knew whom I'd return to. The sudden idea I had, which seems laughable to me, now. Collaring my alpha? Where the fuck did that even come from? I stare down at my black fur and tongue the empty sockets at the front of my mouth. I feel incredibly damaged and fucked up. I shut my eyes and my whole body tenses up.

"Come here, Keman." His voice is gentle and apologetic. I can't open my eyes, because tears won't stop coming out if I do, and then he'll see and they'll really start pouring, I'll start crying, and I won't be able to stop. I've never been more sorry in all my life. I've never felt regret hurt this badly.

I move as if I'm mortally wounded, slow and terrified, angry and confused, because there's no outlet for it but to hate myself. I sit down next to him and he leans into me, putting one of his big arms around me to hold me against him. He feels warm and strong; I bury my muzzle into his thick fur, and suddenly I can't hold my breath anymore.

It comes out, shuddering, ragged. I cry so hard, because of everything. It's all been too much for one person, one life. And now I've done something so terrible to my alpha, instincts sing inside my head, jump off a cliff, just do it now ! And I want to.

"Keman." His voice is so gentle.

But it's too much, it's just too fucking much , there's only so much one person can handle! Six hundred years, ten as a wolf, ten as a Rhenthar, that personality, this personality, my personality, now what? I just can't handle it!

"Keman." Relentless, yet still ignored.

I've hurt him. Oh, Dog, I've hurt him and the pain hasn't even started, the things Mist can do to him now, so easily, it's all my fault , every single bit of it, my fault!

"Hey." He holds me tighter.

It... he... me.

I'm far past being embarrassed, letting him see me cry like this. I snort a big load of tears back down my throat, and wipe my eyes so I can glance at him, and then I look down at my hands, my paws. Thick, leathery paw pads, dull claws. I owe him the life in this body, my life.

"I still love you, Keman." His words are like warm sunlight breaking through the clouds on a frigid day.

I play that back in my head a few times; I need to make sure it's what I thought I heard. I put my arms around him and hold him. I can't say anything, because my throat is so tight.

The limo continues to cruise in silence, and if I have only one wish, in all of my lives, it would cruise forever, from that point forward.


Chapter 7.

We're at the starship landing field, and The Hahkota is a hundred meters from The Jefferson. I'm surprised to see that my ship is actually a little bit bigger on the outside. I know from memory that_The Hahkota_ is much larger on the inside, though. The majority of my ship is the engine, the technology differs by centuries. Rhenthar designed The Hahkota, humans designed my ship. Then I went and redesigned my ship, at least the parts that I could. Very apropos.

Only Zach has emerged from The Hahkota. We haven't yet figured out what the story will be. Who is Sinclair? Why am I emotionally attached to him? Why is my fur black? A growing terror is building up in my mind, as I worry that Sin's going to get on The Hahkota, I'm going to board The Jefferson. And then I'll never see him again.

"Long time, no see," I tell him.

Zach is looking at me with intense scrutiny, he hugs me and snorts long drags from my fur, completely ignoring my greeting. The wheels in his head are turning, he stares at the 'site calmer ring around the base of my sheath.

"This very strange look for you, Keman. How are you? Feeling ok?"

So he knows something's up. I catch his eyes, they're cold and blue and all-seeing. They're the brightest blue, the color the clear sky would look like at noon, after hiding in a pitch-black cave for a week.

"I'm... ok. Just. A lot has happened, Zach."

He looks at Sin, clearly expecting the real answers to come from him, as usual. I note that Zach is standing between the two of us. And rather than feel threatened by that, I find comfort. I know my wolf pack instincts are freshly to blame.

"Mist is back," Sin says. Zach blinks a few times, glancing at me, and then looking back at Sinclair. I see his gaze center on the collar around his neck, he leans forward to look a little closer.

"But I thought," Zach says. "Your message. He's not dead, then?" He glances at the ground, then back up into Sin's eyes. "Who's collar?"

He glances at me once more, but now I'm avoiding his gaze. There's growing alarm, I catch traces of it as the wind shifts direction around us. It's actually a nice day, warm and sunny, probably in the eighties. Not a cloud in sight, which is rare for Trinity. We're not far from the coast, and the ocean often brings a lot of inclement weather here.

"It's his. We've definitely got some problems." Sin, sounding wary.

"His?" Zach points at me; his eyes go wider when Sin shakes his head no. "Well, who put it on you?" He says it whip-crack fast, intense.

"I did." My eyes meet his, but I don't look away, because I am to blame. I don't precisely understand why I did it, but I'll take what's coming.

Zach keeps glancing at my eyes and then looking away. "He didn't know, Zach," Sin says behind him. "It was supposed to be a joke." Zach begins staring intensely at my eyes, now, and I'm frozen in them. His eyes have turned even brighter.

He takes two quick steps toward me, putting his muzzle right below mine, he shoves both of his paws into my fur and makes to pull me down to his height. "You put Mist's collar on Sinclair? What, fuck," he gibbers for a moment, lips moving but no voice comes out. "What you thinking?"

His claws have drawn blood, and if I didn't feel so guilty, I'd bite the hell out of him. But instead, I only stand there and take it. I deserve so much worse. "I don't know."

"What you mean. Don't know! Need, know," he lets go, twitching, staring at his claw tips, which are coated with my blood, then at the punctures he's left below my pecs, in my ribs. He looks back up at me. "I need to know. What. He did to you, Keman."

Sin interrupts. "He doesn't know anything beyond what I've already told you, Zach. You were there, you saw the times we had his collar watching. Mist probably put the idea in his head at the end. There's no way to know for sure, because we didn't control his collar at that point."

Zach lets out a growl, it's harsh and high-pitched. "He's watching us right now. What have you done, Keman?"

I shut my eyes and sink down onto my haunches, ears sideways. My arms don't feel like they can hold me up, so I drop to the ground and put my muzzle on top of them. I stare at The Jefferson, and my tears are back.

"What, done. Keman!" He yells my name, holding a paw against his muzzle. "This... beyond bad. What done!" His muzzle gets near mine, and he's growling the last words. He crouches to scream at me. I'm digging my blunt claws into my palm pads, wishing they were sharp so I could really hurt myself.

"Worked so hard!" Zach yells. "Everything fine , what you think, put Mist's collar on Sinclair? You think funny?" His words are incredibly loud in my ears, but the last few are whispered. "I show you what funny." My body tenses, ready for the hurt to come.

I hear a quiet snarl, Zach shouting "no!" and claws ripping through fur. I open my eyes and see that Sin has Zach by the throat in both of his massive paws.

"I will fuck you up, little man..." I'm seeing, but not believing. Sin shakes him like a rag doll. "Listen to me." He shows his teeth. "He. Did. Not. Know. Get it?"

Zach's tail comes up between his legs, covering his sheath. The fight has left him like a glass of milk tipped over. He's giving little nods to each syllable.

Sin's eyes are like fire. "You will not threaten my mate , or I will threaten your life. Agreed?"

More nods from Zach.

Sin lets go, and I watch Zach land back on his feet, I hadn't realized he was hanging in the air.

"Course. Not mean," he's massaging his neck, "threaten you, or mate. Oh, Sin. I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you need to apologize to, Zach."

He glances at me, and I shut my eyes. I hear footsteps approach, loose gravel crunching near my muzzle. Warmth surrounds me, Zach is hugging me. I feel stupid, useless, and terrible. I'm painfully aware that my ship is close, and I want to run to it. If they weren't here, I would. Fuck the laws, I'd fly over the sea and hit fusion mode, flying straight up. Let steam from a cubic mile of ocean cook me alive. I'm shaking, my useless tears are back, and I just wish I was a wolf again, because wolves don't cry.

"We fix this, Keman. We fix. It be ok, not your fault. Been through so much. We fix."

I have trouble believing him, but there is still hope.

Always hope.

Chapter 8.

They were outside, following Sir's orange and white striped body from a close distance. Though he rarely punished them in public, it could come, and swiftly at that. Their collars had grown tighter over the years, something Sir constantly growled and grumbled about, he said they would need to be replaced soon, an expense he wasn't enjoying the idea of. If Sin could stop his body from growing, he certainly would. Oddly, he was significantly taller than his brother.

Despite that, this was a special time, Sir had said. Sin's eighteenth birthday gift, which was strange because they'd never had a birthday gift in their whole life. They didn't even know birthdays were supposed to come with gifts, usually Sir just told them they were another year older.

The city was alive around them, which was terrifying to Sin and Mist both, creatures of so many shapes and sizes, most unknown, speaking languages they couldn't understand. Craft descended from the sky and hovered around on the streets around them. Later, Mist and he would quietly discuss what they'd each seen, trying to wrestle the names and purpose of anything memorable.

Sir led them into a shop with a sign mounted above in bright neon. Neither he nor Mist knew how to read, it was all just strange pointy symbols in a language only Sir knew. They were both entirely unable to survive alone in this world, and in fact, the doors to the house they lived in weren't even locked at night. While Sin had wanted to escape so many, many times... where would they go? Sir provided shelter, food, and protection from what he said were far worse experiences than what he gave them.

Sir shook paws with the owner, a Rhenthar with short golden fur, copper colored eyes and floppy ears. He pointed at Sinclair and together they discussed something private, Sir holding up a plastic package he'd brought with him. Sin avoided listening in, he kept his gaze on the floor and pretended not to notice.

"Come here, young wolf. Let Doctor Wyse have a look at you," the store owner said. Sin glanced at Mist, then at Sir, realizing he was being spoken to. He tentatively stepped forward and kept his eyes glued to the floor. Normally they weren't allowed to speak to anyone.

He knelt and inspected Sin's muzzle, holding it gently while poking stubby claws into his nostrils before glancing at Sir. "You know these collars are undersized, right? Looks like they both need new ones."

"I didn't see a sign above your shop that said it offered advice on how to take care of my property. Do your fucking job," Sir ordered.

"Huff," Wyse looked closer at Sin. "I could report you, yes I could... bah." He seemed to make a decision. "I remember when I was your age," he said, changing to a more pleasant tone. "Now I'm older and wiser, hah! Get it, son?" Sin nodded, but he didn't understand.

"All righty, climb up into the chair here. Your first wetware! What an experience you'll have. Only the one is getting it today?" Wyse looked at Sir curiously. Sin felt a cold cloud of doubt descend upon him as he realized whatever wetware was, it would probably suck. He felt Mist's paw touch his side in a reassuring manner, and briefly decided he was glad it was him , and not Mist. He was very protective of his brother.

"Just the one, that's a custom chip I had made. I'll put one in the other when I have the money for it."

"Custom..." Wyse said. "Hmmm, my equipment doesn't recognize any of these functions..."

"And it won't." He said. "Just put it in."

Wyse looked at him curiously. Sinclair noted a strong odor of mistrust and doubt drifting from the shaggy Rhenthar. "Very well... up you go."

The connection with Mist was broken once he stepped forward and climbed into the chair. It was soft and green, he leaned back and let his tail fall through the slot. Fear began its long lengthy process, coming online gradually, in steps. The oldest emotion he had, and the one he experienced the most. He briefly made eye contact with Mist. Yellow eyes seeking green, as long as they could see each other, anything could be endured.

"...what do you mean, no anesthetic?" Wyse was arguing with Sir, and Sinclair felt a pang of sympathy for the man. He seemed so nice, but Sir was big and strong, and would get his way, no matter what.

Sin strained to pick up more of the conversation. "...landlord are good friends. Do you want to lose your shop?"

"What? No, I won't do it! I'm not some torture implement of yours, I took an oath to do no harm. You'll get no help from me." The doctor took one last look at Sinclair, and stormed out, trailing anger and sympathy both. While it only seemed to be a glance, Sinclair could feel the machine he was seated in make a distinct vibration, a silent clunk. Wyse did something, he was sure of it.

Maybe he wouldn't be getting this wetware thing, after all.

A shadow fell across his gaze, and he stared up at Sir, immediately looking away. He smelled anger, and Sin could hardly stop himself from whimpering. Such noises would only make it worse.

Sir started pushing buttons on the big machine, staring at a readout on the front. He swiveled some sort of metal support system until it was right in front of Sin. Sir's pupils were large and anger was transitioning into pleasure, a typical change that meant pain was approaching quickly. It would be here soon.

"Lean forward, Sinclair. Put your muzzle in the hole."

He stretched his neck and pulled his back away from the comfort of the cushion behind him. The machine smelled like sharp chemicals, shiny metal gleamed from within.

Fear picked up another couple of notches.

Sir pushed a couple of buttons and carefully read something on a glowing screen. He let out a long purr, tapping a few more buttons. A padded metal arm swiveled above Sin's head and caught the back of his skull, pushing his muzzle further into the hole, padded rollers on the sides guided him in the last few centimeters.

His breaths turned shallow and quick, sounding hollow inside the machine. Grainy red light flooded his vision briefly, and fear rose to almost the highest it could go, he wondered if he was about to get burned. Anything but that. But it wasn't the color of hot metal, nor did it have the smell of heat.

A paw took his own and he knew instantly that it was Mist holding his hand. Confidence rushed into his mind, the strength of his brother somehow entering in his thoughts, an unspoken language communicated purely by touch.

"I want you to remember this moment forever, Sinclair. This marks the end of control you have over yourself." What could that mean?

A few beeps, and something slid into his right nostril. He squeezed Mist's paw tightly, but not so tight as to hurt. Pain lanced inside his head as a metal squeal ground away, forced into his skull. He swallowed and then tasted blood, fear climbed onto the highest peg in his mind, he was ready to piss himself. His paws jerked forward to fight the machine, to stop it, oh, stop it!

"Mist, if he touches this equipment, it's your ass that will pay. I'll make last year's broken arm look like a love tap, I swear to you."

Firm paws took each of his own, squeezing his hands tightly while a horrible crunching ensued, Sin coughed and tried as hard as he could not to panic. His eyes poured tears as a ripping, gnashing sound penetrated his skull, and his world exploded into pain unlike any he'd ever felt. Pain from the inside. His paws went limp and he collapsed, sounds turned hollow and faded into the barest of existence, a loud ringing filled his ears.

Time ceased all meaning. An eternity passed by, then Sir's voice snapped him back to reality.

"What the fuck, did that asshole sell me junk? I can't get a connection... MIST ! Help him walk. We're leaving."

His eyes wouldn't open, at first. Nothing worked, reality was only vague and fuzzy. His muzzle felt heavy and sore, his nose was numb. He wiped wetness from it, and smelled burned blood. He stumbled, leaning against Mist as they caught up to Sir. His collar felt too tight, like it was cutting off the blood to his head. It did that a lot, lately.

Bright colors drifted into his vision and scattered to the edges, he held his paws up, thinking Sir had punched him in the head. Normally that was the only time he saw stars like that, but Sir was a meter ahead, and walking quickly. Mist kept pulling at his paws. "Come on..." he urged.

Rich music surrounded him, and he looked around wildly as the colors coated various objects, enveloping them, flashing to make them stand out.

A chorus sang: "Innngennn."

The sign on a pole to his left shot visible energy waves toward him, and the pole lit up brighter than anything he had ever seen. Even with his eyes shut, as he walked by, the pole stood out like a beacon, moving just like his eyes were open. Jagged symbols surrounded it.

"Now passing public transit pickup station EX-NINE-DEE-FOUR." A male voice, like a ghost in his mind. Sin shuddered and wondered what new torture this was. He felt glad Mist didn't get whatever Sir put in his brain. Even with his ears flat, there was no way to prevent it from reaching them. He couldn't help it, he began to cry.

"Initialization timeout reached. Are you having difficulty reading? Would you like a reading literacy tutorial? I can assist with a partial download of reading comprehension into your frontal cortex. Select nothing, and I will proceed."

Sin continued to silently cry as his brother led him along, not understanding this new horror... waiting for it to end.

It did mark an ending, but not of what he expected.

Chapter 9.

We're standing on the tarmac, it's hot under my paws. Sin and Zach are discussing what to do next. Zach worked his magic on my mind, massaging my ears and whispering into them all the quiet words of assurance, about who I am and how important I remain. I was terrified that this marked the end, that I failed on such a colossal scale so as to end it all. His voice, so capable of calming my inner demons before. It has worked again, along with his gentle touch. Zach has always been easy to believe.

"Allenvan, head to house and workshop?" Zach asks.

"Yes," Sin replies. "We should see what we can do, and quickly. You remember our discussion a while back? The bird is definitely in the hand."

Zach's eyes go a little wider, he nods, and I wonder what that means.

"I'll go with Keman, I'm sure he wants to show me his ship, hm?" Sin smirks, glancing at me.

"Well, yeah..." I say, feeling a sudden surge of pride. "She's not what she appears to be."

All three of us glance at The Jefferson as a ripple of invisibility slowly washes from the landing struts to the nosecone. The AI is most definitely paying attention, which is exactly what I told it to do.

"Er." Zach blinks. "The Hahkota says your ship just vanished and reappeared to its sensors. How... is, is safe?" He turns and looks at Sinclair questioningly.

"Zach, I know what you're really asking. And there's nothing else Mist would have needed to program him to do. So just drop it." Sin rubs his paws together, washing his hands of the situation.

Zach gobbles and nods. I realize the implication and feel a pang of uncertainty. What else could he have done to me? I've never distrusted myself before.

"Going to need big explanation to crew." Zach leans close to Sin, with barely a whisper: "More lies?"

"Deception has lead us to this problem. So let's start with the truth, for a change," Sin says, one ear sideways. "Just go slow, and let Keman tell them his part, when he feels the time is right."

I'm actually afraid of doing that, but still, I find myself looking forward to finally bridging the chasm that's built up between my friends and I. I wonder what they'll think. I hope to hell that they don't reject me, because it would cut me to the bone. Yet, I have to be ready, if that happens. I'm glad it isn't right now, I don't think I can handle it in my present state.

Zach nods. "See you soon. Old ship," he glances at The Jefferson. "Warp drive still work?" He looks at me with a smile at the edges of his muzzle, and I can smell his arrogance.

I point. "That's the ship that almost ran you guys over while warping, uh. Couple weeks... a month, ago?" I glance at Sin, he nods. I nod too. My grin grows wide. I saw it all in the logs.

"Oh." Zach says, staring at me with his ears flat. "We almost died."

Er. "Yikes. I didn't know that part." I hold my paws up. "I wasn't flying her at the time. It's a long story, call it autopilot error. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."

Zach nods. "Do that," he says, shaking his muzzle. "Oif. Need to talk about all this, but pressed for time. Certainly. Go!" He's walking back to _The Hahkota_without another word.

Sin and I stare at each other, and together we walk towards my ship. He's rubbing shoulders with me while we walk, and my tail is alive as I start explaining how I ended up with it. Nod, Jimmy, and the AI that saved my life.

"1Z-Yoshi, yes, I saw the big charge to your account from them and I wondered what the story was. You do realize those repairs cost fifty million credits, right?" The Hahkota lifts up into the air on quiet a-grav propulsion, producing a deep throb that I can feel in my toes.

My ears splay sideways. "Yeah. I'm really sorry, the AI did it. But if it hadn't... I wouldn't be here." The boarding hatch slowly extends, it bangs against the ground in front of us.

Sin shakes his head. "No, Mist is smart. There's no way he would just leave you to be captured by some random recovery team. Most are no more than pirates, a normal team would likely have killed you and simply taken the ship.

"The real question is," he says, suddenly smiling. "Who was the recovery team working for? And what were they paid to do with you?"

I hadn't quite thought about it from that angle. I figured the recovery was just random happenstance. Well, whoever they were, they're long dead now. My ship blew apart their vessel, vaporizing half of it. I didn't even feel bad, recovery operations are extremely hazardous. Often, multiple ships show up and battle it out.

That was something Mist hadn't calculated, the one thing he didn't know about was my ship. As we walk up its steps, I realize the secret is now over. If he can see everything Sinclair sees, indeed. He knows everything now. The pride of showing Sinclair what I've built temporarily lets me forget.

"I had all new quarters installed and the interior redesigned," I say, with growing excitement. "And it has a real bridge!" The smell of fresh polymers has his attention as we walk up the main hallway towards the front. I instruct the AI to put the ship into minimal automation mode. It will take the most amount of button pushing, and it'll also make the most amount of flash. It then does what computers usually don't.

It asks why.

I tell it that I want to impress who I'm with. That Sinclair might appreciate all the startup sequences and various phases the hardware has to go through while we launch into space. It asks for me to elaborate, and I quickly remind it of the one time I asked for it to show off its own abilities, to me. It understands that as we hold our discussion privately, using my wetware, involving a combination of text and thought images.

The doors to the bridge slide open and we walk in, Sinclair and I both sit down on comfortable blue gel, the embrace against my spine is intimate and I find it even sexual as it firmly hugs my butt. Sin seems surprised when I start pulling thick webbing over my shoulders, but he copies my actions without any questions.

Various screens all around us rapidly display every moving part of the ship, as they're moving. Gears mesh, solenoids move, status lights come alive. Only because the entire ship is coated with nanomachines is this possible, each has its own photoreceptor bank. They band together to create very high-resolution imagery.

There are too many parts to see, so the AI intelligently categorizes things into larger and larger object sets. A sharp whine of capacitors ramps up, transferring a shrill sound through the floor, and we lurch toward the atmosphere, and through it, with a small amount of the g-forces uncompensated. We _feel_the ship moving, and the sensation of speed is intense.

Sin's breath catches as the both of us are thrust deep into our seats, a very big grin forms on my muzzle. We continue to exit Phaylact's no-fusion zone on a-grav, dropping out of its gravity well. I could split deuterium this local, but I've saved the best for last.

Lighting on the bridge darkens and every surface becomes part of a massive screen. Artificial gravity switches off, stars surround us, and the vantage becomes from outside the ship, very realistic and three-dimensional. Sinclair reaches out and squeezes my arm, I take his paw into my own and squeeze back. The Hahkota is little more than a circular graphic, it stretches out and vanishes.

White veined with purple erupts from the back of The Jefferson, and it feels like we're kicked forward, very hard. We hurtle toward the system's sun on a curved trajectory, slingshotting through its gravity well and entering warp at the same time. A long ripping sound permeates through the hull as this method gains incredible speed, and all the stars in front of us slowly stretch toward us, blueshifted at the edges.

Our destination appears ahead, growing larger as the representation effectively zooms in through eighty light years of distance. The slowly turning blue world of Allenvan, covered in clouds and oceans. Our home. Various statistics drop down beside it, but the most important is the expected time to arrive, just a few hours. The Hahkota will be lucky to get there in six, it's long behind us. Gravity kicks back on and things start returning to normal.

"That was... very not legal, Keman. Do you know how many sunspots that might have just created?"

"I know. But since it seems to know what it's doing..." I can't help but grin.

Sinclair shakes his head and laughs, slapping my arm and squeezing it. "He can't hear us right now, you know. Could be recording, but. Otherwise. It's just you and me, for the time being."

Er. I think back to when Sin had disappeared when Mist's ship went to warp. Of course. "Oh yeah. Hurf. Is there anything you want to talk about, that he might..."

"Prevent?" he says. "No. But." His paw lets go of my arm and he grabs my sheath. I sit up a little straighter in the seat. "Still have that stimulator I gave you?"

I swallow and nod. "Yes sir!"

He slides the 'site calming ring off my sheath with a quick yank and quietly chuckles. "Good. Cuz this is mine for now." The 'site wakes right up, and a strong sensation traces its way up into my bladder.

I'm instantly hard.

Chapter 10.

Marcus looks around as he's forcefully walked out of the storage closet, desperate to recognize someone familiar. Mist's paw almost completely encircles his neck, and he has no doubt that he could break it if he wants to. Terror picks up another notch, making his legs feel like they're on stilts. Traces of helplessness rise as he realizes there is no one but his boss that really knows him at this station. He's probably back in his office, ordering supplies or filling out his timecard.

"Wait." Mist pulls him up short, they were about to cross a hallway junction. "Ok, forward now... this way is clear. There's no one around to help you, Marrrcus. I've been doing this sort of thing for a long time, and I know right now up in your head, you're searching desperately for hope that I'll get caught. I'm telling you right now, such thoughts will prolong your suffering, trust Mist on that fact."

Mist walks him forward a little too fast for his human legs to keep up with. Too fast for him to walk, too slow for him to run. Marcus's steps are much shorter than the large canine's. He keeps worrying about what will happen if he accidentally steps on his feet.

Where the hell is everyone? Marcus thinks. The place seems empty, yet it's the busy period. How is this even possible, when he can hear motion in every direction? Announcements steadily come over the PA, doors are opening and closing, all at the edges of every corner, there's definitely movement. But whenever he looks, it's gone. It feels like he's being propelled forward through a dream. Mist suddenly jerks him back into a cleaning bot's isle.

He snarls. "If you speak, those words will be the last your existing vocal cords will ever produce." Marcus doesn't doubt it for a second. Several Rhenthar walk by, oblivious of what's just a few meters beside them. He wants to call out to them, so badly... but wait. His wetware!

"Help!" Typing the word in his head seems to take an agonizing amount of time, he keeps selecting the wrong letters. Mist pushes him forward and he resumes his quick-walk towards section A. "Rhenthar has me, his name is Mist. Help! I'm scared!" It takes several tries to get the transmit icon to glow.

A few moments later, they stop in the middle of what is normally a very busy central walkway. The grip around his neck grows painfully tight, warm breath that smells like an unfamiliar spice whispers into his left ear. " Now you've pissed me off. The spaceport's sentient AI just alerted me to your family member's inquiry. Why is that, Marrrcus? Did you do something stupid , like call for help?"

"Uh, er..."

Mist shakes his head. "Just your attempt at deceit speaks so much truth itself. How Sinclair ever got past this, I wonder..."

"Sin...clair?" Marcus hasn't heard the name before, and feels lost. He catches a flash of green eyes and sharp white teeth in the corner of his vision, and his eyes water with new fear, waiting for him to rip his face off, or worse.

Mist kneels next to him and squeezes his mouth, keeping his other paw tight around his neck, forcing him to look into his terrible eyes. His neck throbs with his racing heart. "By now you remember your lessons on how to interact with Rhenthar safely. Yes?" Mist shakes him, "look at me!"

Marcus glances back into his angry eyes, feeling his body tense up harder, and harder, he wants so badly to look away again. His wetware shows inbound comms, from his grandfather.

"If you use your wetware again, I'll know. And I promise you, I swear on my life, I'll carve that computer out of your skull with my bare fingers. I know where it's at, and that isn't even the part of your brain that I need. So go ahead. Can you guess what I'm going to ask, five minutes from now? Think long and hard about what answer you'll be giving me."

The words cease registering in his head as he pictures Mist pulling chunks out of his skull, he thinks it's about to happen, like right now. Warmth runs down the inside of his left leg. As he realizes what it is, terror mixes with shame. Most prominent, though, is the knowledge, the certainty, of what Mist is saying.

He'll know! And he will hurt him.

Marcus barely nods his head. He puts his wetware into sleep mode, and watches the icons fade to nothingness. He has never felt so vulnerable, so alone. Mist lets go of his mouth and stands back up.

"Time for a new tactic. I can see where this is going," Mist says cryptically.

A shrill alarm erupts in the starport. The whole place fades in noise and activity. "Emergency. Emergency. Evacuate immediately, seek shelter. Do not run. This starport is under attack by hostile ships. Emergency. Emergency. Evacuate immediately..."

Both stare up at the announcements. "What is that?" Marcus asks.

Mist hesitates for a moment, staring down at him. He lets go of his neck and grabs his left hand. "Unfriendlies. Very big. Time to run."

As they streak down the hallway, the warmth down his left leg begins to chill and embarrassment flashes into the foreground of his mind. The end of the passageway is only a dozen meters away, and Marcus wonders why everyone is panicking. Unfriendlies? The starport has very powerful shields, that much he knows for a fact.

The door to the skylift tunnel is already open, and they quickly enter. Mist turns around and slams his palm on the access plate, the door slides shut. He wrinkles his muzzle and stares down at him, Marcus flinches and looks away.

"Scared, are you? I hope, for your sake, that it isn't because you're still using your wetware. You know what I'm going to ask. And that's going to set the pace for our future together, Marrrcus. I'd prefer there be other ways for you to learn that I'm a canine of my word. That when I say something will happen, it does."

Mist reaches down, grabs the zipper at the top of Marcus's coveralls, and yanks it down. He's wearing a t-shirt and briefs under it, and the crotch is wet and yellow, Marcus stares up at the ceiling and once again hopes his heart will stop beating.

"Strip. You're not coming onto my ship dripping piss like that. Is any more going to come out? I can put something in you that'll solve that problem, real quick. If that's what it takes. Hurry up!"

Marcus peels his t-shirt from his sweat-slicked back and tosses it onto the floor, falling onto his butt in order to quickly get his boots off, one at a time. He throws the rest of the jumpsuit off and pulls down his underwear. Urine coats his left sock, and he peels that off last, leaving just the right one on as his only clothing. For some reason, he wants to leave it on, as if it's his last and most important possession.

A coughing growl. "Really? You're just going to leave one of your man feet covered? Leave it. My floors are the best, you'll like them underfoot, I certainly do. Hurry up if you want to live."

Marcus glances at the door leading to the starport, wishing it were open. He sees the lock status lights flashing active. The door to Mist's ship stands open and he sees a dim red interior within. He knows in that direction, it's the wrong way to go. And he's naked!

"Up. You can do it, Marrrcus. Get up!" Mist reaches down and grabs him by the shoulder, helping his legs lift him up onto his feet. They almost won't support him, he's so terrified. He stumbles forward and tosses his last sock to the ground before stepping into Mist's ship. He's naked, so naked. He wonders who else might be in there, and if he sees anyone, he's going to melt into the floor, he's sure of it.

Mist follows him close behind, and as soon as they're both onboard, the inner airlock doors snap shut and lock. "Ship. Clear takeoff procedures and release docking clamps. Depart to nearest jump point."

A smooth contralto human female voice answers from the ceiling. "Liftoff permission granted, initiating power up now. ETA to jump point, twenty-seven minutes."

The floor under Marcus's feet vibrates, with an increasing pitch until it fades into nothing. He knows from his studies that artificial gravity can counter the effects of inertia, so even right now they may be leaping into the atmosphere and he won't feel a thing. There are no windows to show any motion, none that he can see. He wonders who the unfriendlies are, and what threat they pose to the city. He's worried he knows who they're here for.

Behind him, Mist takes a deep breath and lets it out. Marcus turns and sees him leaning against the wall. "I've been looking hard for someone like you, Marrrcus." He points at the hallway on his right. "That way. Need to see what I'm working with. For now, you might hate me for a little while. And that's fine, I can work with that. Do what I say, though, and you'll enjoy the results. Know that as a fact."

Marcus walks down the hallway, feeling his fear returning, wondering what's down it, what's coming next. He wants to go home! He'll go ask that girl out on a date, what's her name again? To hell with Rhenthar, and his own fantasies, they're stupid, he's just an idiot.

The dark red floor is warm under his feet, spongy memory foam, softer than the inside of his grandfather's house slippers. The ship's interior is the nicest he's ever seen, though he hasn't seen many. A few of his grandfather's friends have given him rides a couple of times, but not on anything as nice as this. The ceiling is half a meter above Mist's head, and the passageways are all wider than Marcus can touch with both arms. It's very spacious for a starship. The walls are dark brown, and equipment hums quietly within them, giving the impression of power. Storage lockers of various sizes are everywhere, all in shades of red. He can't figure out if it's actually colored that way, or if it's from the indirect light coming from slits in the ceiling. It's making his vision swim while his eyes adjust.

"Last door on your right. Just stand in the center of the room, Marrrcus."

He does as he's told, wanting to combat the feelings of fear with something else. If he obeys, Mist said he wouldn't hurt him. Maybe if he does what he's told, he'll be nice. He wants that, he needs that. He'll do anything to get it. Most people like Marcus, his boss likes him, the other guys at his college like him. He's that type, Mist will see...

The room he enters is intensely lit, with pure white from above. Though it isn't inherently bright itself, that the whole ceiling is glowing makes for many lumens. He thinks back to his materials sciences class, when they discussed lighting from fluorescing surfaces. Then he looks down and feels embarrassed again.

Mist walks up behind him and grips his shoulders, turning him to face a machine to which he has no idea of the function, but since he doesn't see anything that can poke or cut him, he hopes it can't do either. It's bolted to the wall and looks to be about as big as he is, it's vaguely humanoid in fact. It has bulbous arms and legs, like a robot trapped in the wall. A holo screen fizzes into life right next to it, and he sees himself standing there. He holds his hands over his dick and tries to hide.

"Let's see what we've got." Mist has a small device in his paw, it looks kind of like a gun. He pushes it against Marcus's shoulder and it stings. Mist holds him against the device with his paw on his other shoulder, and the pain increases, turning into a burning ache above his biceps.

He pulls it away and Marcus gasps, slapping his hand against where it was. "Ow... ah, burns!" He can feel something hard under his skin now, about the size of a marble. A cold sensation spreads up his arm. "What was that for! I didn't use my wetware, I swear!"

Mist gives one of his coughing growls. "The first of many things that are going to hurt, Marrrcus. Nothing good in life ever comes without some level of pain. You were born into this universe through pain in your mother. I just implanted a device that's interacting with your DNA." He points at the robot, "watch."

Marcus grows quiet. The pain is like a reality check, to him. This is all bad, this is terrible. He stares up at the huge canine, and glances at the holoscreen. A large twisting DNA helix runs the whole length from the floor to the ceiling.

"Ugh. This scent of fear needs to end, Marrrcus. It needs to end right now." Mist plucks a hypospray from its charging cradle built into the wall, and deftly hits a few buttons on a unit mounted next to it. Marcus hears the tinkle of glass as it ejects something into a tray. He takes it and loads it into the hypospray. Technology that his grandfather can't afford, but he knows what it is, and what's coming next. Marcus gulps. There's nowhere to run...

"I'd tell you to relax, but since you're not very good at following orders, yet," Mist says, as he walks up to him. Marcus is about to turn around and beg him not to inject him with anything, but the big canine covers the distance faster than he expected. He feels a sharp sting in his neck and a hiss. He jumps, but Mist is ready for that, holding his neck steady with his other paw.

He's sure he's going to piss again, and worries about what he said earlier, about putting something on him that would stop that. He wonders what he means, and then wonders why he's so afraid.

Fear... leaves him.

First just a little bit, then all of it at once. Confidence builds up quickly as he assesses his situation. He feels fuzzy at the edges, in fact, very fuzzy. The room spins around him for a moment and then stops. He lets out a huge sigh, the kind he only expects to happen the next time he sees his grandfather.

This is artificial, he knows at a deep level in his mind. But it certainly feels real enough for him. He turns and looks at Mist, and gulps, looking away quickly. Because fear is entirely absent, he might say something, or stare at things that'll get him in trouble. Yet he's unafraid, so he does stare.

"Ah. There it is," Mist says. "I see that, Marrrcus." He sniffs up high in the air, and then down close to him, his nostrils quivering just centimeters from his neck. Mist kneels down quietly, surprising Marcus with how quick and smooth he can move for being so big. Warm breath rushes from the cold wet nose, right next to his crotch, and nothing is there in his head to prevent him from getting hard. Only a small voice, in the back of his mind. The one that says no.

Don't. Think of something else, don't!

He does.

Mist inspects his penis with a rough paw. The fact that it feels good conflicts with the muted, inner voice. The two fight and react together with a surreal sensation, and he grows certain that this is nothing but a dream. So certain, in fact, that he doesn't mind, and the inner voice dwindles to silence.

"Uncircumcised. How interesting. That certainly solves a number of problems, not that they were ever serious. But it's easier for me to work with, building up your sheath. Kind of small, though. I'm going to make you a big boy... with plenty of room behind your knot." He shifts Marcus's erect member up and down, seeing how it lays against his stomach, seemingly caught up in concentration. He lets go and those giant paws trace the arc of his spine, Marcus glances down and realizes Mist isn't in front of him anymore. Something is messing with his sense of time.

Mist walks his fingers down his spine, counting vertebrae. He ends at Marcus's tailbone, and pushes his fingers between his cheeks, prying his paw pads against it. At some point, he retrieved a handheld device, a scanner like what doctors use. Marcus didn't see where he got it from, but he's holding it close to his butt. Where there should be worry, there is only mild lust as he imagines what else it might do between his cheeks.

"What breed of Rhenthar do you want to be, Marrrcus?" Mist is measuring his legs with the scanner, absentmindedly speaking to him. His words feel like honey on the tongue, he likes them, and that conflicts with his recent experiences to a great extent. He glances down at his naked body, and wonders why he ever minded being naked. Everyone is naked under their clothes, so why do people even care? His mind mulls that over until he realizes big green eyes are looking straight into his. Marcus stares at them, wondering why he might look away, normally. The pupils slowly grow larger, the bright green band of iris getting thinner all on its own.

Breed. Breed? Rhenthar... he wants to know what kind of Rhenthar I want to be, Marcus thinks. Is he serious? Of course, this isn't real, it's just a dream. So tell him the truth...

"I like the arctic breeds, I like you. The curly tail..." Marcus points and Mist's immediately falls limp. "The thick coats, you guys pant more than the others, I've always loved your tongues... but I like blue eyes, not green, and not brown either. Not like the Malamute types have... but you're too big to be a Husky. Husky's are supposed to be little." Marcus ignores the soft growl that's building up in Mist's throat.

"I see," says Mist. "Husky's come in all sizes, I assure you. Not all are small. I'll tolerate your insolent tongue instead of ripping it out, because of what I gave you. But later, when you reflect on this conversation, do recognize the peril that would normally be present."

"Can I... pet you?" Marcus reaches his hand out to run his fingers through his thick white fur... wondering what else he can do in this dream.

Mist catches his hand and puts it back at his side. He points at the holoscreen. "Look."

Marcus glances up and sees another Rhenthar, a Husky. White with black markings, but different than Mist's. He leans forward and the Husky does the same. He sees a white star running up his forehead, and black markings wrap around from his back to cover his stomach in a "V" shape. He starts to turn and look at Mist, but catches the Husky turning his head, too. He looks back, and the Husky does as well.

Marcus waves his hand, and the Husky does the same.

"Is that...?" Marcus glances up at Mist.

"It can be. But I don't really see you as a Husky, Marrrcus." He shakes his head, "no, not at all. This is who you'll become..."

Marcus watches as the slender Rhenthar grows, the bones become thicker, along with bigger paws and hands. Not overly so, if he wasn't watching, it would have been hard to spot. But the coat ripples and gains an extra dimension, the stripes fade and outer guard hairs extend.

Bright yellow eyes stare back at him. He's looking at a gray wolf, like straight out of a nature video. It's funny, he thinks, there's more white than gray, so why do they call them gray wolves? His chest is all white, with gray tracing over his shoulders, meeting together below his neck to form a "V". A thin line of the same color travels down to surround his white stomach and sheath. A small amount of brown is mixed in with the gray, between his eyes and around his ears, which are thickly tufted with white inside, by what has to be the softest fur in the world. As he sits there, blinking, watching the wolf watch him, he remembers a phrase from a book he once read.

When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you...

He's the most beautiful Rhenthar he's ever seen in all of his life. He turns sideways and sees the same shade of grayish brown going down his spine, splitting above his tail to wrap down the sides of his thighs, ending just above his knees. Something about what he's looking at makes his eyes water, and he looks up at Mist with an expression of shock and awe.

"A wolf... he's... um."

"Very good looking, yes. For you, there will be nothing but the best."

For some reason, Mist looks different to him now. Where there used to be a monster, cruel and violent, there is someone else, someone who cares. Marcus shakes his head, wondering where he went wrong, why he's fighting anything.

Mist catches the look and nods. "Yes, indeed. That's you. But." He crosses his arms and flattens his ears. "Listen very carefully, Marrrcus. Everything comes with a price..."

"A price? I don't have much money."

Mist shakes his head. "I'm not after your money. You want to be that?" He points. "Fine. I'll make it happen. In return, you're mine afterwards. Mine forever."

Marcus swallows, trying to comprehend what that can mean. "You mean, yours... like, your mate?"

A coughing growl. "You're getting ahead of yourself," he says. "No, mine to do with as I please, without having to say please. It would be easy to force that on you and take you as I might, right now. I've done it before. But I didn't like the results," he says, frowning. "So, what will it be?"

Marcus is shaking his head already. "My grandfather... my friends. My college, my future at helping my species... I'm not supposed to give that up."

"Not supposed to? What do you want?" He asks.

Marcus hesitates, brooding in silence. He tries to think of what his grandfather might say. "No, I can't do this," he says. It's a decision he's sure he'll regret, but he's unafraid to make it. "I just want to go home."

"I see," Mist says. "That's very disappointing. I think you're going to regret this day for a long time. Mark my words and remember them well." He looks away for a moment, eyes coming unfocused. "I do hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, look." He points at the holoscreen. "Remember those unfriendlies? You don't have much of a home to return to."

Marcus stares as the biggest ship he's ever seen flies low over a big city. Beam weapons with spiraling green fire stab out, and where they hit, many tall buildings shatter like they're made of glass. It seems to be happening in slow motion, until he realizes the scale, the size of the destruction.

He recognizes the starport he works at. Several ships launch while multiple explosions tear through it, long gleaming rooftops falling in towards the ground before exploding outwards in hellish plasma. Of the five he watches tearing up towards the atmosphere, only one makes it, the others consumed and adding to the series of smaller aftershocks. Newscasters report the scenes, with destruction and casualty counts scrolling along at the bottom.

No single camera catches it all, and in fact, many go white from a vantage too close, with another from a different angle immediately taking its place. It all happens too quickly to follow, despite how slow and unstoppable it seems.

"Your home is probably gone," Mist says, one ear sideways. "I can take you back. But not right this minute, this ship isn't going anywhere near that city." He points at a bed in the corner. "Maybe get some sleep."

Marcus's mind is going a kilometer a minute, all he can think about is his grandfather. Wanting to get back home to see if he's ok. "Sleep?" he asks through a whisper, fighting back the tears and his terrible concern for this grandfather. "I can't possibly sleep right now!"

A sharp hiss, a sting in his neck, warm finger pads on the other side. "I can help with that..." a coughing growl.

Fuzzy white light, fading to black.

Chapter 11.

Marcus's grandfather is concerned. He never came home, and that last message sent to him is extremely alarming. He knows Marcus isn't the type to play tricks, despite some of the ones he played at that age himself. No, this is serious.

He grabs his leather duster from the coat rack, he was always worried this day might come. A quick request to local services produces an aircab en-route, just seconds from his curb. Expenditure he wouldn't normally take, but his trike is probably still parked at the starport.

With an extra fee, something not quite legal but generally unspoken, he sinks deeply into the cushioned seat as the craft ceases obeying traffic laws. He's rushing to the rescue, towards the most important person in his life.

The sky crane attached to the starport is visible several miles distant and approaching rapidly. A long column surrounding an elevator that reaches all the way to the space station in orbit, it's the cheapest way to put cargo into space. Large craft constantly lift into the air around it, others descending steadily, like bees attending a nest.

As soon as his transport reaches the landing area, he's out and running, ignoring the pain in his left hip. It flares for a moment and then ceases, an old injury from another era, one that plagues him occasionally during inclement weather. He is in good shape for someone 73 years old, though his longevity treatments were started late in life, only after he was able to afford them. All because of the project.

A huge gray ship settles onto its platform a dozen meters away, safety strobes declaring where not to be. The wind whips around his silver hair, and he reflexively goes to hold his hat in place, but realizes he left it at home. Two security officers are approaching him, looking grim.

"Sir, if you'll come with us, we'll take you to the skylift where we found his clothes." Both are Rhenthar with coats so dark it's almost impossible to tell they have German Shepherd in their lineage, but there's a certain gait to their walk, and he spots it easily.

"I need access to any video footage you captured," he says to their backs, while they briskly walk through non-civilian passageways that cut through the starport in efficient ways.

One of the Rhenthar turns to regard him silently, as if it's strange he would even make such a request. The other nods.

"He's cleared," that one says, ears held sideways. "This guy is connected to the company that owns this starport. Deny him nothing or it's your ass." Surprise is an emotion that Rhenthar often have difficulty producing, to a human eye. But he catches it.

"Please, call me Joe," he says, while they wait outside an elevator. He shakes each of their paws.

"Lieutenant Epi," says the darker of the two after they walk inside. "My sergeant, Grayson." He points. "We're assigned to this investigation and are at your disposal, sir. Er, Joe."

The elevator doors open and together they exit, turning a corner to face a flurry of activity. Machines crawling on the walls and floor, neon holotape slowly scrolling CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS. One of the Rhenthar, Grayson, takes a hold of Joe's shoulder and leads him through the visible barrier. There, on the floor, are Marcus's clothes. A textured black one-piece jumpsuit, two work boots, one sock, underwear, and a white t-shirt.

Joe stares down at the underwear, feeling a wave of fear when he sees the yellow in the crotch, at the same time he catches a whiff of urine. His heart starts to race, confusion yields to anger. A lone sock lay on the floor two meters away, as if Marcus wanted to leave a trail of clothing.

"It's definitely his," says Grayson, pointing. "The RFID patch in the suit scans in with his employee ID. What we don't understand is how it got here. The station's sentient program monitored him putting his equipment away and leaving. It was only after you contacted us that we got it to scrutinize its identification routines. It came up with this, eighteen minutes later.

Joe kneels and sifts through the articles, looking for any signs of a struggle, torn pieces or bloodstains. "Did your machines find any blood?"

"No sir, er, Joe." Epi shakes his muzzle.

"Which is a good sign," Grayson comments. "A lack of injuries indicates the abductor wants him intact. That gives a higher probability to him still being alive and well."

Abductor. Joe shakes his head, turning his anger on himself. This is all his fault, for his participation in something that killed so many.

"Some things are worse than death, sergeant. Much worse. Right now my grandson, who's immune to the D8 virus just the same as I am, is naked, terrified, and alone. So terrified he pissed himself, and believe me, he doesn't scare easily. He has a very long life ahead of him, and that life might be spent enduring unimaginable tortures. We need to know what ship that door led to." Joe points to the open airlock doors, where the view drops fifty meters to the ground. Laser strobes pulse the danger of such a fall around the perimeter with grainy red light.

Sergeant Grayson shakes his muzzle. "The sentient says there hasn't been a ship parked here for several days. I could see the doors being circumvented, a small craft docks and takes off from here. It would mean he's still on Tatchit.

"You don't have any logs of who left?" Joe says. "Tell me, do you have any footage of anyone who arrived but never left the starport? Your sentient isn't all-powerful, if something small can slip through unnoticed, it's just as possible that something big came and went."

Epi folds his ears flat and looks at the ceiling. "Sentient."

A metallic voice responds from an indirect source. "Yes Lieutenant Epi. What may I be of service to you?"

"Index a list of all beings who arrived but never left."

"Index complete," is the near-instant response.

"Eliminate all substantiated station personnel and ship rosters, including crew and passengers.

"Operation complete. The list you have requested has been reduced to two individuals, one of which is standing next to you."

"Show me the second, send all footage to my wetware," he pauses. "To all three of us."

Joe's wetware indicates inbound comms, visual footage attached. He shuts his eyes to watch, the airlock door opens and in walks a huge white Siberian Husky Rhenthar. The footage ceases abruptly, and his wetware indicates it's only 68 frames. "Sweet Jesus..."

The two Rhenthar standing near him are engrossed with their wetware, mumbling and darting their eyes around. Joe decides now isn't the time to interrupt them. He feels insignificant, helpless.

Joe nods to himself. He needs help.

Chapter 12.

I'm leading Sinclair to my quarters, basically my bedroom. I have his paw in my own, and half my dick is sticking out of my sheath, it's bunched down around my swollen knot. The parasite is apparently very hungry, and I'm having a hard time seeing straight. It's as if someone opened up a bottle of bitch-in-heat and splashed it on my muzzle. Sin's in a similar state, I'm not sure what he did during the time I was away, but his breaths are coming deep, and suddenly he grabs both of my arms from behind and puts a hind paw in front, tripping me and then gently lowering me to the floor.

"Fuck your room, rrrrf, you know how long I've been waiting? You're about to find out, when I tie, it'll be an hour at least before I'm done with your ass."

I form a dopey smile and am definitely not putting up a fight. My butt is conveniently in the air, and my tail keeps whacking the side of his muzzle. I just can't hold still, I'm so excited and have never wanted to be mounted so badly in all my life. With Sin! It's actually happening, oh, Dog, yes...

"Tail, out of the way..." He lets go of my arms and grabs my hips, I slide my paws forward and try to grip the floor with my blunt claws, digging them in. He uses his strength to pull me back against his sheath, impaling me. His claws in my hips hurt enough that I don't even feel the initial penetration, but once the bulge of his knot slips inside me, I hang my muzzle open further and ball my hands into fists.

Ooof. That hurts, oh, that hurts so good! He pulls out with some effort, his knot has already started to grow, and it feels like my insides are being pulled out with it. I want him back in me as quick as possible, if he gets any bigger, the pain will become insane. I dig my claws into the rubbery floor covering and push myself backwards, against him.

He sinks back in and I bear down on him as hard as I can, clenching down behind his knot. He gives a few strong thrusts, knot-fucking me, and I wonder how long he can last. His body is already tensing up, and his arms come around my chest, hugging me tight.

"No, nono... hurts..." It sure does, I think, clenching down as hard as I can, wishing we'd made it to my bedroom, where my stimulator sits on a table next to the bed. Oh, I wanna cum, so fucking bad...

"Hurts... hurts... fuck you, Mist. Why are you doing this? You know what it's like." Er.

I open my eyes, and while I'm aware that Sinclair is shuddering on top of me, his scent is all wrong, it isn't just an orgasm. There's something else, like he's in pain, incredible pain. I smell wounds that surely can't exist. "Sin? Sir?"

He doesn't say anything, no response. A chill runs between us, all the heat evaporates... the eroticism vanishes, leaving a sickly sensation in my mind. I can still feel him in me, and he's pulsing very hard, spraying my insides with his watery wolfcum, but...

"Sir? What's wrong?"

"Cnt... tlk. Rrrrf. Buh, be ok. Be ok, sssuh, o u fckr." Something metal rolls free from one of his paws, my calming ring. I snatch it up before it rolls out of my reach.

The collar. It's fucking killing him, or something. I try to pull forward, gauging how big he is inside me, and it feels like he's as wide as my hips, Sin has a very large knot. We're stuck together, and with the eroticism gone, all there is for me is intense pain in my ass, hard up against my prostate. It's so weird that being horny can turn all that sensation into something good. But I'm not, and it isn't. Oh, fuck that hurts... but I'm not going to say a thing. Whatever it feels like to me, I'm sure it's worse for him.

An idea springs to mind.

"AI. Can you get into that thing around his neck? C'mon, show me some hacking skills."

A metallic voice fills the air. "Attempting. Yes." There's a pause. "No. Not just human technology. Standby."

"Nn-no, Keman. Don't!" Hearing his voice plead like that makes my whole world slow down. I'm frozen, and have no idea what to do.

"Well? Don't hurt him, just tell me if you can do anything."

"I cannot proceed," the metallic voice announces." It has been made by..." and I hear for the first time something resembling emotion from it. " Them . Species 8672. Cannot eject into space, but must. Not aware of my presence. Why is he wearing that, master repairer?"

"Er. It's a long story. So there's nothing you can do?"

"It will kill him. It could kill me." Just when I think things can't get any worse. "Old enemy, the oldest, is inside. Limited functions, but it's present. I have destroyed so many of its kind. Desire now known, want, need, to destroy more."

I ask for it to explain, and the AI begins telling me a history lesson of the race formerly known as Arcanians, its creator. One of the oldest in the galaxy, what once was a peaceful exploratory race that valued information above all else.

An untold number of years ago Arcanians encountered a race similar to themselves but warlike, and equally advanced. It was an arms race, and for thousands of years they fought. Arcanians ascended to another plane of existence to finally escape. The collar around Sinclair's neck contains technology made by that ancient enemy, the AI is quite sure of it. It's also terrified of that fact, and it takes several questing declarations by me to make sure Sin isn't whisked out an airlock as soon as we're apart.

To me, this all has the feel of a cheesy science fiction book. But unlike in books where the hero has all the information and knows exactly what next to do, I'm completely at a loss. I wonder how much Sin has heard, and if he's even conscious.

"Sir? You still with me?"

"Yssss." His paw squeezes my elbow; his body is still very solid. I keep feeling his spine flex and twitch, and if I find out that's from pain, I'm going to explode. Or fall apart. Or... I just don't know.

Sin grips my sides gently, and tries to pull out of me. I bite my tongue and tell myself, oh, Dog, please don't whimper or yelp, it'll only make him feel worse. The pain flares brightly and then he's out. I collapse onto the floor in front of me; the stinging pain in my hole says I'll be wiping blood now, and for the next few days.

I turn around and see him on his hands and knees; his shaft is twitching, and dribbling little spurts. I've never seen his climax last this long, I know it can't feel good. His eyes are mostly shut, but he is watching me. I carefully reach between his legs and pull his sheath forward, covering his knot and shaft, so he doesn't dry out. There's blood on it, and I know it isn't his; I'm resolutely not looking at what's dripped on the floor between us. I surf my wetware and instruct a cleaning 'bot to tend this section of the floor after we leave.

Now I'm crouched, as well as I can since my knees are so short, more on my haunches than anything. My muzzle is pressed up against his side, and he's still not moving. The collar around him stands out, collecting the light and reflecting it. I wish it wasn't there, and I wonder to myself how I've ever liked them so much, if this is what they can do. I slide my calming ring down to the base of my sheath, the 'site falls silent.

I wonder if this is how it's going to be, forever. I hate myself, that I made this happen. I've never felt so used, and it hurts that I was someone trusted so much that this could be made to happen, through me. I swear on my life that I will stop at nothing to fix this.

"I swear to you, sir. I'll fix this. I fucking swear. Mist, when you do listen to this, know one thing. You've got a hundred kilo sized problem." I snarl, "me."

I can't stand to watch this anymore; my autodoc is just down the hall. I run to it on all fours and grab its portable scanner, carrying it back in my mouth, tearing up little pieces of my floor. The claws in my feet are still sharp and I'm running with otherworldly speed.

My name is Lightning.

I push and hold its powerup button, impatiently waiting for it to finish its self-diagnostics. It seems to take forever. I select scan, Rhenthar, male, yes fucking do it. I hold it out. The display shows his body and nervous system overlaid, I can see his spinal cord all the way down to his tail, and the whole thing is lit up like a Christmas tree. I'm not even sure what I'm looking at, what this means, until it centers on an injury in his neck.

I get it.

That's no injury. His heart rate is low, he's going into shock. I wonder why and how the hell Mist is even doing this, since we're still at warp. It must be some sort of pre-programmed function, set to trip when we... well. When we fucked. I have to do something.

I run back to my autodoc and tell it to administer something that'll sedate him or numb him or whatever it is you can do to someone in shock from an injury like this. A glass ampoule spits into the tray. I grab the hypospray from the holder next to it and load the cartridge, then run back to my Alpha. He looks so small now, so vulnerable.

I push it against his neck, half expecting the collar to send out a bright arc of electricity, vaporizing the hypospray in my paw. It doesn't. Sin takes a deep breath; he looks at me and gives a little nod. He lies down on his stomach, and then rolls onto his side. I pick the scanner back up and practically break it, pushing so hard on the buttons comprising its touch surface. Vitals are all up from before; a powerful hypnotic sedative is coursing through his system now, something that has no impact on his breathing. He's not really asleep, more like he's in a trance. I hug him and tell myself not to cry, because if he hears it, he'll only feel worse. My eyes are so hot, the tears would only sizzle and burn.

We land at the starport on Allenvan, not too far from the house. I'm wondering what the fuck I'm supposed to do now,The Hahkota is three hours behind and I can't communicate with them while they're in warp. I decide to contact the paramedics, and promptly I spend the next half hour arguing with them over where to bring Sin. I want to bring him home, they want to take him to the nearest medical facility. They finally notify the authorities, and the cops walk onto the scene just outside of my ship.

"What's going on?" says a Belgian Whitehound Rhenthar; his partner is talking with the paramedics. I see him point at me, then Sinclair, who's lying on his back, strapped down to a stretcher. I'm still feeling guilty, and I know that scent will read badly with these guys.

"I'm not sure how much I can tell you, sir." Truth.

"I see. Can you at least tell me your name?" I fumble around in my wetware and send him my identity. I pause for a moment, focusing on the secondary one I've got on file. It's Mist's. I start looking for ways to apply it to the collar around Sin's neck. But I can't make it work, it's been locked with a code, some sort of digital handshake. I have Mist's private encryption key, I can send out messages as if I were he, assuming he hasn't changed his public key, which he probably has. No, his identity, what I have, is now worthless. I notice the cop has been repeating himself and is becoming angry.

"Are you on something, son?" My eyes finally show a response. "What the fuck is going on, I've got you registered with," he points at Sin. "That guy. The notes on both your files say do not touch. Do you know how few there are on this planet that say that? About five, including the president."

I shake my head. "This... situation is beyond the scope of your capabilities." The words aren't my own, but they apply well. "I need to get him home. Can you help me, or do I need to make trouble? If I make trouble, I think you'll be looking for a new job tomorrow."

I catch discomfort and even a little fear. I'm apparently telling the truth, and I must have abilities here which I don't know about, stuff that comes from wearing Sinclair's collar for so many years.

"Harry!" The cop walks briskly up to one of the paramedics. They talk to each other and Sinclair promptly goes into the transport. I walk up to it and hop inside. Both paramedics ride in the pilot cabin, they haven't spoken to me any further, I'm alone with him. The ride is rough, and I hope to dog that I'm doing the right things because when this is over, I'm passing out. I haven't slept since just after I blew up Mist's ship a couple of days ago...

I'm staring down at Sinclair, wishing he could tell me what to do. He looks comfortable and peaceful, curled up on his big bed, but I know there's a war going on inside, a war he's losing. I'm too shocked to form any thoughts. Eventually Zach walks up behind me, and I turn to look at him. I'm so happy to see him, but I start falling apart.

"We were, we were... playing... and he started saying it hurts. I didn't know what to do! He... can't control it while we're in warp, what... what the fuck?" I didn't want to say his name, like it might bring his attention.

Zach keeps nodding, not saying a word, he only hugs me, and I'm surprised by how strong he feels. Or maybe it's just how weak I've become. "Some things we can try, Keman." Other Rhenthar spill into the room, they look professional. Doctors, technicians, both, maybe neither. I feel too exhausted to be able to tell the difference.

They're murmuring to each other. How can they understand each other? Why be so quiet? Why aren't my legs able to support me?

Oh, here comes the floor? By practice, I get my tongue out of the way before my muzzle hits it.

I wake up, and the first thing I can smell is Sinclair, it's all around me. I'm curled up on my side, my back is up against his. Briefly, it's the best feeling in the world, and I dig the claws of my mind into the situation in order to hold it as tightly as I can. I know it isn't going to last, there are details pending my awareness that will ruin it all. I finally let those thoughts flow in, and ouch, they do hurt. Reality smothers me with its cruel nature, I struggle to get comfort and I lean over and see bright metal still around his neck. I turn my muzzle and see Zach sitting in a chair.

A metric fuck-ton of equipment is now in what used to be our bedroom. There's barely room to walk, thick cables snake around on the floor, every wall outlet is taken, more cords leave the room and run down the hall, I can see power strips plugged in to other power strips. It reminds me of Zach's lab, and my fond memories of waking up in it for the first time. This room feels a lot like that, and I can't help but smile. There's computers on every flat surface and what looks like a big scanning electron microscope in a corner, along with some antennas hastily bolted to the walls. There's more, but it's all beyond what I can recognize.

"He woke up while you were asleep, Keman." My focus homes in on Zach, and then I glance at Sin. He's obviously still asleep. "He told me to get a power inductor set up in the room, one that can charge a Mark 6. That if I didn't, Mist would kill him. And it wouldn't be quick."

His eyes are so cold, I avoid them while I get up and stretch out. "Power inducer? I thought Mark 6's had enough power to last a lifetime."

Zach shrugs. "Remote virtual reality, it takes additional power. The collar can't do it but maybe an hour a day on its own. If he doesn't wake up soon, we have to put a catheter in him, and start some IV's." Suddenly the room feels very claustrophobic.

I think back to when Mist had me in a virtual setup. He pushed me to 300:1, the theoretical limit. Every hour Sinclair lays there, it could be up to half a month experiencing... anything. Pleasure, or torture.

"Zach, can you stop it?"

"No, I've tried. The signals come in via hyperwave. I'm able to detect them, but... we'd have to put him next to a star going nova before they wouldn't get to him. We could put him on a ship set to warp indefinitely. But eventually it would come back out, and Mist might kill him then. I looked for manufacturing flaws and glitches in the collar, but there are none." Zach drops his voice to hardly a whisper. "Sinclair and I worked out this scenario, once."

"Bird in the hand?" I ask.

"Yes." He fluffs his fur out. "You were paying attention. Sinclair is responsible for a rather large empire. If an enemy or competitor gains control over his mind, we have plans for what to do. When he told me, bird in the hand, he was asking to be put into stasis. Mist can't harm him there. Nor can he gain anything from him, or use him as leverage. Right now he can do all that, and worse."

"So tell me why he isn't in it, right now?"

Zach hops off his stool and walks up to me, staring into my eyes. I look away, but he ducks back into my gaze, pushing my muzzle with a paw so I can't look away. "Need you to decide. In that state, very dangerous. Collar won't be in stasis, Mist will know what we did. Can still kill him. What you think, you know Mist better than I."

I shake my muzzle, but I can't leave those pleading blue eyes. I remember how important Sin is to Zach, just how far he'll go to make him happy. I think long and hard about this, trying to decide. Sin is important to me, too.

"Mist had no one else on his ship. He's been part of the slave networks for a long time, but he has none on board. No strings attached. He cuts and runs as soon as he's used up a situation, or someone. Then he's on to the next. If you put Sinclair in stasis, he'll probably kill him, and move on."

Zach hugs me and sniffs, nodding quickly. "That make sense. Thank you, Keman. I was afraid, that. Plus I can blame you, now." There's a little humor in his eyes, and I welcome the emotional change with all of my heart. Things have been way too serious recently.

"I look forward to his punishment, when it comes. What do we do now, though?"

"Find Mist. Persuade him to release Sinclair."

"Oh, yeah ," I say. "That sounds easy. How the hell are we going to do that?"

"Received something from Tatchit. I think you find it interesting." Zach sends me an electronic communiqué from a human named Joe. My eyes grow wide as I read quickly.

_ You always told me I could call on Clair Industries for help, should I need it. You said big wheels take time to get into motion, so only make that call when there's enough time to get them spinning, and enough space for them to move. Someone named_ Mist has abducted my nephew, the last of my family. He's a young lad with a bright future, he's immune to Dee-eight, the same as me. I need your help finding him, I've attached the small amount of video footage we wrestled from the starport's sentient. The rest seems to have been erased somehow. Any help in this matter that you can provide will go a long ways, please respond as soon as possible.

I watch 68 frames flick by, and my heart stops. I stagger and lean against some equipment, it groans under my weight. Zach is watching me closely. That's Mist, as sure as I'm alive, there he is, like straight out of a nightmare. Barely more than a second of footage, but it's him, oh, fuck, it's him.

"When did you get this?" My paw pads are slick with sweat, and the room is suddenly too bright. I start wondering what next decisions I'm going to need to make. I want to run and hide so badly, I can taste it.

"Today. The footage is from yesterday. Joe worked on a very particular project..." Zach trails off, he must have caught my scent.

"The wake?"

He nods. "As Sin would say, got in one, Keman."

"Holy shit. It's a small universe. So, then he knows about... me?"

Zach shakes his muzzle. "He knows of you, but not who you are. I'm going to send The Hahkota to investigate. I'd really like to see Mist under some crosshairs, but there is no leverage we can produce that he can't counter with..." Zach turns to stare at Sin. "His life."

I stare, too. Zach interrupts the silence.

"You should go in stasis, Keman. Been through too much, recently. Mist controls situation, he can demand anything of you and you would be helpless to comply." His cold eyes are looking right into mine. "He could take you back. Maybe even part of his plan."

That thought is so enticing: Go to sleep, wake up with the situation all resolved, all fixed. Who wouldn't want that? I sure did.


I take a deep breath. "No, Zach. I helped make this situation, I have to help fix it."

Zach shakes his head no. "Out of question."

I lean forward and grab his shoulders, pushing my blunt claws into his fur, wishing they were sharp. I let the growl in my voice get loud. "You'll do what I say!" The dominance comes swiftly, from the times I spent in a pack, with lower members disobeying during a hunt. It surprises the hell out of both Zach and me.

He stammers, breaking his gaze from mine. "Er, Keman. Keman... no ."

"Yes! Zach. I need to fix this! Put me in charge, I'm more than capable."

His eyes find mine again, his nostrils twitch, and I know that he scents nothing but the truth.

He slowly pulls away without giving any answer, and walks up to an autodoc medication dispenser. He pushes a few buttons and a glass cartridge spits into a tray. He glances at me. "Need to go to sleep, Keman. When you wake up, this will be over." No!

"When I wake up, and he's dead, I'll spend the rest of my life regretting this moment. I can't let that happen." I growl through all my words. "So. Come near me with that thing and I'll shove it up your ass."

Zach looks down at it in his paw and swallows. He stares at me and blinks a couple of times, deciding.

"I fucking mean it!"

"Keman... ok." He shakes his muzzle, "you're so different." He slips it into the recycle slot, eyes growing defocused. "I hope this isn't a mistake.

"As of now, you'll represent all of CI's interests, you're in charge of protecting its greatest asset. Reveal to The Hahkota whatever you desire, Keman. But be careful. Some might hunt you still, to this day. The Hahkota is at your disposal. Get to it as fast as possible." He suddenly hugs me, and in an effort to catch his scent, I finally figure out what I've been smelling.

His tears. Holy shit, so much is at stake.

The garage door rolls up and I see that Sinclair is the owner of many private vehicles. Something neon green catches my eyes, parked near the front. It's all sharp angles and abrupt edges, it looks incredibly fast just sitting there, parked. A prancing pony on a yellow background is the polished badge at the front of the hood, and I remember it from my lifetime spent on Earth.

I move to open its door, but can't find any handles. I race back to beside the roll-up door and flip open a gray box next to it, inside are keys. I find one with the Ferrari logo, and carry it back to the car, looking at it closely. There's no buttons, it's just a black oval hanging on a ring.

I'm in a hurry, maybe I don't have time for this. I could just call a shuttle, I peer at the rollup door and wonder if that's the better idea. But they take so long to get here, I figured I could save time if I drove something fast. I turn and look at the car, and hold out the key. The driver's door pops out and rotates up into the air, like a knife blade. I grin and get in.

Wow, my butt can't be more than inches from the ground. A slot runs down the middle of the seat cushion, allowing room for my tail. I push a bright red button marked START, and the seat squeezes me, a sharp rattle vibrates behind me, and I hear the roar of many cylinders as the engine comes to life. It's burning fuel that's probably been proven to cause climate change or cancer in babies or who the fuck knows what else.

I push a tiny shifter into D and goose the throttle, the car casually ambles out of the garage and into the driveway. I cruise down it and turn onto the main thoroughfare. I stand on the gas, and the engine behind me wakes up, loudly declaring that the world needs to spin faster, and it's going to help. Fat tires made from ground up dead dinosaurs burn rubber and the Ferrari slams me back against the seat, it changes gears quickly, and there's some audible alarm, telling me about local speed ordinances.

I'm carving corners that aren't normally sharp at socially acceptable speeds, and I think I'm pretty hot stuff when it comes to driving. An automatic icon on the dash keeps indicating that it can do a better job, though. I reach forward and push it. The engine revs to a new octave, and it shoots me past a long row of cars on a portion of the road that doesn't look wide enough to be considered a lane. I almost want to close my eyes as I keep my hands away from the wheel, but I'm grinning huge, this thing is a rocket on wheels and it drives itself! Crushed cellulose is brutally torn up behind us and spit out around corner after corner.

I'm at the starport in no time.

Once I arrive, I'm wondering what to do with it after I get out, which is not an easy task. I almost fall out, it feels like climbing out of a bathtub, without standing up first. I see more icons in the dash with words like autopark, and go home. I lean sideways and identify the bulge of The Hahkota on one of the platforms. I push _go home_and the door rotates shut as soon as I back away. It turns around and quietly cruises away, with no one behind the wheel. I love the future.

As I'm walking through the starport, towards where The Hahkota is waiting, I'm wondering what I'm going to tell my old friends. Casey, Ash, and Zero. I'm in command. I can tell them nothing, or, I could tell them everything. I decide that I'll improvise, and try to remain honest. We have an important mission, and I'll do nothing to jeopardize it.

My wetware displays private ownership information of The Hahkota, Zach has transferred it to me and the least of it is where it's parked. It's kind of cool, commanding a ZPD vessel, but then I think about The Jefferson, and I know which one I like more. I instruct the AI aboard my ship where we're going and to follow, but I know that's a redundant task. The AI worships the ground I walk on, and it will follow me to the edge of the galaxy.

I pass through the airlock and there's Ash and Casey, but in the front is Zero. I have to follow protocol, I speak to him first in a quiet tone.

"Look," I say. "Not everything with me is as it's always seemed." He's eyeing my black fur, everyone is. "Let's just get one thing straight. The Hahkota_is really **_your** ship, there's never been any doubt about that, and everyone knows it. Zach, er... Zeek..." Zero's eyes get a little wider. Whoops. "Owns it through my mate, Sinclair. You knew your investors were Clair Industries. Well. Here I am. We've got some problems to fix. I need her, and you, and the crew, for one mission. You got any problem with that, say it now so we can get it out of the way."

Zero looks me in my eyes, his are faded yellow, he's pretty old. "I have no problem with any of that, you covered all the bases. I always knew you had some backbone in ya. Sir."

I have to smile at that, though I am trying to be serious. I show him some throat, but not a lot. He shows me plenty in return, and seeing that feels indescribably good. "We're headed to Tatchit, need to find a missing person. If we find out who made him missing, the fur is really gonna fly."

Zero nods. "We'll leave ASAP." He turns around and walks away. Ash and Casey lean in to catch his scent, and I already know it's full of respect and pleasure. They turn and stare at me curiously.

"Keman?" Ash is trying to be polite, keeping her distance. But she wants more than anything to bury her nose in my fur. Her tail is low and twitching.

I hold out both of my arms. They rush up to me and we all hug, we're bumping noses trying to get each other's scent, our tails are alive with minds of their own. I'm so happy to see these guys again.

"Your fur," Casey comments. "This is a good look for you, I like it."

Ash rolls her eyes. "Says the one in black, himself. Keman, this is weird. Why do you look like this? Hold still." She grabs my muzzle and pries my lips apart, looking at the gaps in my front teeth. "Oh my Dog, where are your teeth?"

I fold my ears flat. "Someone took them. And then he went and took someone else, that's who we're after, both of them. Maybe when we get there, I'll ask for them back. Maybe I'll take his if he doesn't have them." There's a brutal, violent edge to my voice, and I have to dial it back, both Ash and Casey are clearly uncomfortable from the tone.

"Woah. You're... different, Keman," says Casey.

Ash grins. "Yeah, less of a pushover."

"Heh," I say. "I'll push you both over. And then show you who's boss, the proper way." I shoot a look between Casey's legs and he turns away. "Don't think you're immune, Ash. I met a lady friend while I was gone. And I do miss her."

"What?" Ash's eyes go wide. "Just... slow down. This is too much change, I don't like change. I was happy with the old you. But you smell... honest. Are you serious?"

"I'm ten years ahead of you both, all in the time that I've been gone. I was forced into a virtual world, and kept there. Not all of it was fun. Some of it..." my voice cracks. "Some of it left a mark in my head. Some of it I miss so bad it hurts, unlike any pain I've ever known."

I sniff, scenting more discomfort, and decide to draw a line in the sand, right here. There's so much more to say, but this is enough, for now. That I'm a human from six hundred years ago... we'll save that for another day. There is a such thing as information overload.

"Ash. My mate, my real mate... is back there," I point towards the airlock. "I love him more than life. He's got a Mark 6 locked around his neck, and the person who owns it is all bad. We have to find him. We have to convince him to take it off. Think we can do that?"

The looks both give me rekindles my hope.

"Fuck yeah," Ash says.

Chapter 13.

Mist wound up making Marcus a nylon one-piece coverall from his MC. He'd only recently learned about matter compilers at his university, it's very advanced technology that can fabricate almost anything within the physical dimensions of the compiler itself. Mist's is about a third of a cubic meter, more than enough to make the clothing.

Shoes and underwear came next, with some begging. Marcus is very worried about the attack on his city, he has no idea of what to expect. He keeps his suspicions to himself, and harbors terrible thoughts indeed. His grandfather had told him very early on in life that he once was involved with a classified project, something top secret. In it he helped a destructive event take place, one which cost the lives of many people. He explained that every precaution had been taken to keep it hidden. But if it ever got out, it was important for Marcus to run and not look back. He has access to an alternate identity and a survival fund his grandfather had setup when he was little. But it's been so long since he's thought about it... so long since life was anything but routine.

Mist was clearly disappointed, but he seemed to refrain from further influence. For that, Marcus is glad. He left him with no wetware contact address, no means to reach him in the future. A one-time deal, indeed. It weighs heavily on him, a decision he already regrets.

He walks awkwardly to the public transit station, just outside the crumbling old starship landing area at the city's outermost edge, the one used before the starport was built 80 years ago. Normally, it doesn't see much use, not with a modern starport providing superior services. But now there is a lot of activity, the starport was one of the targets hit by the hostile forces, it was leveled beyond repair. Marcus worries that it was targeted because he works there. He wonders if it's a bad idea to even check to see if his home is still standing, but since he's received no responses from his grandfather via wetware comms, he's extremely anxious. He has to try.

The one message sent to him while Mist was leading him through the starport is missing from his wetware, and he can't explain its absence. He writes it off as a glitch from powering it off during active comms.

He has to wait in a line to board the subway that will take him closer to home. He sees no humans anywhere around him, and feels reluctant to talk to Rhenthar, not even to ask them what's going on or what they might know about the cause. He finally makes it onto a crowded subway car and travels in silence. He has an intense feeling of dread, the closer he gets. Everyone around him seems nervous, he doesn't stand out at all.

When he exits the car, the first thing he notices is the smell of something on fire. After he walks up the stairs, exiting the terminal, he can't find his bearings, all of the tall buildings in the distance have been destroyed. He looks up at a street sign, Fifth Avenue and Bernois Street. He knows where that is, but it looks all wrong. It's only a few miles from where he lives, so he starts jogging.

He comes up on a blockade in the middle of the road entering his neighborhood. A Doberman Rhenthar opens the door of a city hover patrol cruiser and steps out, holding up his paw.

"Turn around, son. You don't wanna go this way. Where's your parents?"

"I live four blocks from here, 6017 Sweet Oak Court! I need to get to my grandfather."

He's shaking his head, he hooks his thumb behind him in the direction Marcus wants to go. "That area got bombed, it isn't safe. Your grandfather, if he survived, has already been extracted and will be waiting to see you at the baseball stadium, downtown. Comms are online, have you tried reaching him?"

Marcus shakes his head. "Nothing, no responses to any of my messages. I'm really worried, can I just see if my house got hit?"

"Absolutely not," he says. "Get to the stadium, this area isn't safe."

Marcus nods, noticing the wind is facing toward him from the Rhenthar. "Ok, I will, officer." He has no intention of following these instructions. He goes back the way he came, though, and when he's pretty sure he can't be seen, dodges sideways into the back yard of one of the houses that line the street. He climbs the fence and hops over, then runs parallel to the street he needed to go down, climbing over fences in each yard until he's past the blockade. Not every house has a fence, some have community backyards, and he runs through those quickly.

Marcus sneaks out onto the sidewalk and glances around a tree, looking at the blockade about two-hundred meters away. It's designed to keep people out, so nothing faces him. He turns and runs down the sidewalk towards where his house is.

Half a block away, he starts getting a really bad feeling. There's a lot of smoke in the air, one of the houses he passes is a crumbling ruin. Then another, and another, closer together. He's getting near the center of an explosion. Foamed fire suppressant struggles to smell even stronger than the smoke.

He pulls up short when he realizes he's staring at his house, or rather, what's left of it. The palm trees around it are burned stumps, sticking out of the ground at a 45 degree angle. The structure is partially collapsed, and he feels like he's in a dream when he walks up to it. A nightmare.

He's unsure what to do. The front door still stands, and he thinks if his grandfather got out, he wouldn't have shut it behind him, would he? He'll just see if it's unlocked, maybe take a look inside.

He walks up to the door and hears the grinding groan of straining supports. He twists the doorknob, it's unlocked, but the door is stuck in its frame. He leans against it and pushes, it finally scrapes open. He looks in and sees that it's very dark inside, but he knows where they keep some flashlights. It's just down the hallway...

"Hello? Grandpa?"


He carefully walks into darkness, turning back to look at the open door, thin sunlight follows him in for a meter and then releases him. His eyes slowly adjust to the darkness. The windows are covered in dust and debris, allowing very little light to enter. The power must be out, none of the light switches work.

"Grandpa? Are you in here?" He casts his voice out as loud as he can without screaming. The broken house seems to swallow the sound right up.

Something isn't right, the furniture isn't where he expects it to be. He feels lost, almost like he went into the wrong house. He turns around and the floor gives away under him. He slides down jagged plywood, into the basement, landing painfully on his right leg.

He hears a splintering snap, like maybe he broke what he landed on, but then pain strikes him and he cries out, his shin is on fire. He hears a rattling scrape and looks up to see part of the ceiling from the floor above him hurtling towards his head. There isn't any noise when it hits, just a bright flash of light.

His leg doesn't hurt so bad, but he feels very tired, and isn't sure he can move. He rests for a minute, trying to sort out his thoughts, which promptly exit stage left.

Chapter 14.

I'm on board The Hahkota, but it's from a different perspective than I've ever seen her. Zach's chair is firm under my butt, his ready-room has equal amounts of his scent and personal belongings both. I headed straight to it after giving my mission briefing, and am presently hiding there because I'm completely unsure about what I can tell Casey and Ash. Who I am, who I've become, who I'm involved with. Ash's reaction, too much change, she said. If she knew any more of the truth, she might just walk out of my life completely. But if I don't tell her the truth now, if I try it later... she'll probably resent it. Say I didn't trust her enough, both of them could say that. Damned if I do, and don't.

Who has advice for a situation like this? I try, but I can't fit my real mom, dad, or brother into this mess. I've tried to picture what anyone I know would do in my shoes, not that I wear them anymore. I'm coming up with a complete blank, my life has turned into something that's beyond exotic. No one has to deal with shit like this!

Maybe that's the key, because if they ever fully understand... I'm still genuine, sincere. I want to be honest. I just don't know what the best choice for a situation like this is, and yet I have to lead, be strong, authoritative. I can't look unsure. The day I out everything... I don't think they can blame me. I'll tell them more, later. That's my decision, and I feel it's appropriate for an Alpha to make.

I push a button on the desk I'm sitting in front of. A basic metal design that's been spruced up with rich brown leather. Its smell is delicious, and Zach's fur is stuck to it in various places. After I let my finger slip off the stud, there's a beep. The ship's sentient AI waits for a command.

"Put me through to Ash and Casey." There's a pause and a double chime, meaning success.

"Hey. Um. I'm kinda hungry..."

"Keman?" Ash. "I'm starving. Meet in the galley?"

"Food!" Casey.

That's enough of an answer for me. I get up and wander through _The Hahkota's_long hallways, towards what passes for a dining hall. It's door opens and when I walk in, a dozen people, most of whom I don't really know, all stare at me. The sudden quiet in conversation is painfully obvious, people pretend to look away and carry on with what they were saying. The resulting surge in conversation makes it worse. I try hard to keep my ears straight, but they end up sideways.

I spot Ash and Casey facing each other at a table, and I home in on them, sitting down next to Ash. I feel a need for intimacy and my scent says I crave more than just food. Even the smallest bit of submission from up high is like dragging my stomach over the floor. I lean against her and give a big sigh. She darts a look of surprise at Casey, and I catch him giving a little shrug.

"All this command stuff. It's not really what it's cracked up to be." I sound miserable.

"You did fine at the mission summary. No one questioned your authority, I know I was impressed." Casey, trying to cheer me up. Ash grins at that and pulls on my whiskers.

"You're like a shadow now, a bundle of smoke. Your fur is so matte... Casey's has that sheen to it," she points at him. "See? Yours absorbs the light, it's so weird on you Keman."

I look down at my black stomach, even my sheath is black. Unlike Sinclair, I don't have any gray in my undercoat. It's all completely black, the fluff, the guard hairs, everything.

"Yeah. I was looking for something different. The need to..." Hide. "It's a long story, I'm not sure where to start, this time. Ran into someone bad. Got abducted... again." I start rolling out details. Leaving out the parts involving Sinclair.

Casey shakes his head. "I was shocked when Zeek told me. Then he had me route some hyperwave to intercept a Mark 6 collar activation. So whoever it was didn't get control of the collar?" It's rhetorical, but he's just trying to make conversation, I think.

I nod. "Yeah. His name is Mist. Same one we're after."

Ash growls. "Fucking slavers. They're all the same. They think they have the right to take whatever it is they want, and make a profit. When we were hunting you for the first time, I got to know a few, incognito. Disgusting people."

"I've got question for you," asks Casey.

I nod, "shoot."

"That ship of yours. What's the deal? I can't find it in any of my catalogs. It's close to a Sanyo, one of the old Rickback hydro splitters. But that would make it three hundred years old. Yet it passed us like we were standing still." He chuckles, but there's a serious edge to his tone. "I can tell from the warp signature, it's warp drive version one. That doesn't add up, is it some new cutting edge design made to look old?" He smiles, like he's on to my secret.

I start shaking my muzzle while he's finishing the last part. "No, it really is that old, it's just not very OEM at this point. I've changed a lot on it. Someone before me installed a fuser. I had to upgrade everything electrical, the insulation on the wires was falling right off. I put quantum mode fiber into it along with an AI core that's... got quite a personality.

"An AI?" Ash quirks an ear sideways. "Like, a sentient core?"

"An AI as in... something even I don't understand. It's a whiz with nanos, though. It rebuilt and upgraded my ship in ways even I'm not aware of."

Casey's eyes go wide. "You mean, it's pre-emptive sentience? Er." He lowers his muzzle, glancing around us to see if anyone is listening. "You know that's illegal. Remember the Frageli conflict?"

"Of '97?" My ears go flat. "How could I forget? That's where I lost my parents." Though not really.

"Oh!" Ash blurts. "I remember pre-emptive now. You mean you've got an AI that doesn't operate with any inherent constraints, it just does... what it wants?"

I chuckle. "Most of the time, yeah."

Casey is still serious, and reeks of fear. "Don't take this the wrong way, but what's it give two shits about you, Keman? You're just a pile of organic matter, to it."

I lean forward, staring at him. "I saved it from an unknowable timeframe of torture. It's Arcanian, from a weapons platform." I pause. " That old, yes. I gave it something to control again." I smile. "My ship."

He splutters. "That's... that's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I'm telling you." Casey finally smiles, his scent of fear fades away. "That cloak it's got. I've never seen anything like it. Can I study it sometime?"

I shrug. "If it doesn't mind. I look forward to having the opportunity. It'll mean all of this is... over."

Food arrives on a wheeled bot. I'm literally drooling into my lap as we heft sizzling steaks from it onto plates in front of each of us. Wide bowls full of red wine are passed around. Humans think their mouths water, hah. It's nothing compared to what my mouth does.

I gnaw off a hunk and swallow it, lapping at some wine. The vintage is old and French, red Bordeaux. It's got more alcohol than normal wine, around 30%, so it burns... but it's very tasty.

Ash eats daintily, trying not to get anything on her white coat. She licks grease off her fingers for a moment. "So... who's this mate you've got?"

I look at her and hesitate. Knowing full well that with each passing second I take to formulate an answer, it makes whatever I'm about to say that much less credible. Ah hell, go for broke. "Sinclair Diavante." My ears airplane just thinking about him. I look and smell guilty, but it's the kind that's full of happiness.

Ash stops lapping at her wine. She stares at me, then glances at Casey. "You mean... like, as in, Clair Industries?"

I nod, "that's him."

"How... did you find someone like him, Keman?" Casey is nodding too, he smells very surprised.

Another shrug. "He found me, actually." Of course, this is where things get iffy. They know I wouldn't take a mate, if I knew him less than six months. If I push this any further, they'll figure out that the first time, it really wasn't a Chihuahua. My entry into this galaxy cost lives. Russ and Cane, just to name a couple that matter to these two. My scent shifts into deep guilt and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Along with my shame, I notice some skepticism brewing in the air, and hold up my paws to halt their analysis. "Remember, I spent a decade in virtual, and love knows no physical boundaries." Truth. It's easy to remember Snow, and my heart winces in pain just thinking about her.

Ash laughs. "Wow."

Casey shivers. "Ugh. I hate virtual at anything other than one-to-one."

Ash nods to herself. "I always figured CI was tied into _The Hahkota_in some manner or another. That actually explains more than a few things. Funding sources, our line on the newest technology, and the pressure we've always been able to push, politically." She puts an ear sideways. "I knew it was some big entity backing us." She grows quiet for a moment. "People have been asking... how much of this..." she trails off and stares me in the eyes.

"Look," I say. "It's no secret. But if we don't get that collar off him, he's going to be in deeper shit than I ever was when I wore one." I swallow, feeling my throat tighten up. Snow wasn't real, Sinclair certainly is. "There won't be anything to make secret, if that happens." My half-eaten steak is suddenly very unappetizing. How can I eat at a time like this? There's things to do, I want to move forward. No wonder Zach almost never ate full meals.

"And Marcus?" Casey asks. "Where do you think he ties into this?"

"I have no idea." I shake my muzzle, gaining frustration. "I only know that Mist is involved, so it's something big." I poke at my steak, chomping on a chunk of fat.

Ash changes the subject, it's clear to her that this is headed in the wrong direction. "When we fell out of warp, and couldn't find Mist's ship afterwards... it really hurt, Keman." Her blue eyes avoid mine. "I was worried you'd blame us."

I reach over and grab her paw, squeezing it. "I didn't blame you the first time, I won't the second time, either. We all can only do our best. Things with Mist weren't even that bad..." My ears go sideways as I trail off, some part of my brain is helping me lie to myself. Which is strange, that shouldn't be possible. I tongue the empty sockets at the front of my mouth, then notice Casey and Ash's expression of disbelief. I should fucking hate him, especially with what he's done to Sinclair. Why is that hate so hard to envision?

Casey finishes his steak, licking his muzzle clean. "Well, this feels like a second chance, to me. I for one won't let you down. The Hahkota is in tip-top shape, we've got a spare folder ready to bring online. The same problem can't happen again."

"I appreciate that. And it does mean a lot to me that you're both so devoted. I'll make sure it's worth your while. We'll talk money when this is over."

Ash chuckles. "And there it is, the proof that you're filthy rich. Wanna start with buying us another round of drinks?" She sets her wine bowl upside down, and I glance at the empty bottle. I make a few discreet inquiries with the autodoc and find something better to inebriate with.

It's good to be captain.

Much later, we get carried to our quarters.

Chapter 15.

Tatchit seems weird to me from the moment I step off The Hahkota's boarding ramp. Gravity is .89 Earth standard, I'm a little lighter, but that isn't it. I squint at the system's sun and notice that it's surrounded with an actinic blue haze. It burns hotter than Earth's sun. My fur feels like I spent too long in the drier. There isn't that much more UV hitting me than I'm used to, but you sure could have fooled me.

A human walks up to me, smelling eager and hopeful. He's old, with thinning gray hair and no signs of any longevity treatments. Or, maybe he's had them, and it's just been a very long time since. He has a friendly, wrinkled face, and he shakes my paw warmly. I'm careful to keep my claws away from his skin, though they're only short stumps. I've really been meaning to get the autodoc to fix them. I keep forgetting to.

"I'm Joe, you're the team Zach has sent to help me find my nephew?" His eyes are blue, like sun-faded denim, and I see a lifetime of struggle in them, but some success, too. He's partly responsible for my existence, and I'm uncertain when or what I'll tell him, if ever.

"That's us." I hook a thumb at Ash and Casey behind me. "I'm Keman, we'll do what we can to find your nephew. I want to find the guy who took him, at least as bad as you do." I glance away, considering. "I'll just put this out there from the start, I have my own personal reasons for finding Mist. You can't find anyone in the galaxy more motivated than me."

"Keman," he says. "I'm pleased Zach sent someone so quickly. It's been a long time since he and I last spoke. I'm not sure how much you know of my past, what role I played with CI's endeavors." He has a hopeful, searching scent.

I smile, trying to look gentle. "I know enough to understand the need for secrecy. We'd both be in a lot of trouble if prying eyes learned what you did." I wink.

Joe's eyes show a sudden increase in clarity, he nods. "Please, tell me anything I can do to help with this investigation."

I stand a little taller and motion Casey and Ash over. "Joe, this is Casey and Ash." I point at each. "They're going to inspect what was left behind, Marcus's clothes?" His name is particularly hard for me to pronounce without a lot of growl to make the first syllable. I sound entirely normal to myself, but whenever I deal with humans, I remember once being one, and it's almost like an old accent that wants to come back.

Introductions are made, and I spot two starport security officers approaching our group. Joe gestures at them and Casey and Ash walk away, conversing with them animatedly. I don't really expect them to find anything Mist didn't want us to find, which is to say, nothing useful.

"Joe, I've got some questions for you." He steps a little closer, the wind is picking up around us and the sound of ships using reaction drives to lift into the air is briefly very loud.

"Why do you think Mist abducted Marcus? Besides being immune, is there anything else about him that's... you know. Different?" I certainly remember what Mist liked about me. I worry about why he might want a human, though. That he's immune, that had to play a role. But it could mean he only took him to sell as a slave.

Joe shakes his head. "I've been asking myself the same question, over and over. I've had very little sleep these last two days. My greatest fear is that this has something to do with the project. But it's been so long... and no threats or demands have ever been made."

"Hm," I try a different thread. "Is Marcus straight?"

"Heterosexual?" Joe clarifies. "Yes, of course." His words say one thing, but his scent speaks another. This must be a touchy subject in Joe's world. I feel awkward pressing the issue, though.

" Something made him get noticed. That's going to determine just what Mist will do with him. I need his scent, can you show me his bedroom?"

"If you think it can help, absolutely. My trike is parked right over there," he points at a three wheeled open cockpit electric vehicle. "We're only a few minutes from my house."

I fire off a message to Ash and Casey both, of where I'm headed to, as well as some hints of what I'm looking for. They're busy trying to unscramble the starport's sentient AI to see if they can find any additional camera footage. So far, the only reason we've seen what we have is because it was in the middle of being cut to tape for data backup when the data was erased. The backup differs from what's current.

The windscreen offers decent protection from the elements, we cruise down the road at a brisk 60 KPH.

"I'm a retired mathematician," Joe says, loud enough to surpass the wind as it whips his hair sideways. "My specialty was always in pattern recognition. That was my role for CI, so many years ago. I helped them make sure they found what they were looking for in the chaos that comprises the infinity surrounding us."

"So, numbers?" I say, watching cars pass by us on both sides. "That's pretty dry work, you must be very patient." I pause. "Computers can't do that as well as you, or is that why you're retired?" I grin, hoping that didn't sound too harsh.

Joe laughs. "Computers can only find what you tell them to find. They lack the ability to look at the big picture. They wouldn't know something new if it fell out of the sky and landed on their circuit boards."

I change topics, wanting to get more towards something that might lead to Mist. "Tell me about your immunity. How long have you known?"

"About twenty years," he frowns. "Marcus has known his whole life. I spent his years wondering if the next day was my last."

"Hm. That must have been difficult," I say.

"The stress of it was incredible. Suicides were very high in my generation. That's how I lost my only son, just after Marcus was born. My daughter-in-law died two years later. Our race has had it rough, but perhaps Mother Nature isn't done with us, just yet."

I ponder that, realizing how I've cheated death, to a certain extent. Oh, I died for sure. But I skipped past all this Dee-eight stuff. I'm not sure what to feel about it, because I swear I'm Rhenthar to the core. My past life as a human was in a different body, a different era, and a different lifetime.

I've been reincarnated as a canine, and I got to keep my past memories. Has that made my life easier, or harder? I wonder. Dark clouds settle over me, when I think about what will happen if I can't get the Mark 6 off Sin's neck. Things will become very hard for me.

The trike's linear motors buzz to a halt and we get out. Joe's house is a single story, beige Caribbean style with palm trees surrounding it, brown clay tiles line the roof. We head inside and I'm assaulted with the smell of age. Old leather, dust, thousands of meals cooked. I catch the lingering trace of pipe smoke. It's all completely human, and I find it rather pleasant, welcoming even.

Joe shows me Marcus's bedroom, and I catch his scent and memorize it. I could have had it from his clothes, but there are other reasons I want to see his bedroom. Time to ask some interesting questions.

"Joe, look. Mist is... particular about his captives." I spot the confusion in his eyes. "I speak from experience."

Joe's eyebrows rise. "You mean..."

"Yes," I say. "And I'm still recovering. But we need to know if Marcus has any unique interests, something that sets him apart." If Marcus is anything like me. I remember when I was his age. I know what I had hidden away. Stuff I feel guilty about, even today, though I shouldn't be.

Joe shrugs. "I try not to pry into my nephew's life, especially at his age. But given the circumstances, lets dig. If it can help get him back, I don't think he'll mind." He stares off into the distance. "No, not at all..."

I start by looking under his mattress, afraid of what I might find. But there's nothing. Joe goes through his dresser drawers, one at a time. I look under his bed and sneeze on teenage human dander. Ugh!

Joe keeps digging and I stand up to look around, slowly, making a circle. There's a desktop computer, and I'll certainly go into it if I have to. But this could all end quick if we find a collection of dog collars and leashes. Then I would know. Combing through chat logs and internet history, assuming they even exist, I wrinkle my muzzle in disgust. That's invasion of privacy I don't want to step into.

I turn and look at casually obvious places to hide things. I'm a firm believer in security through obscurity, sometimes the best hiding places are right out in the open. A pile of magazines next to the computer desk catch my attention, and I tilt my head, reading the covers. Gaming and computer tech based, nothing surprising there. I spread them out and see a Penthouse magazine. How disappointingly normal.

I pick it up and notice that the pages are all crisp. I sniff at the edges, looking for exactly what you'd imagine I would find on a teenage boys Penthouse magazine. And I find nothing, in fact it's never been read. My nose does not lie. I can even tell how old it is, without looking at the publication date, and it isn't very new at all.

I push more magazines off the stack to get to the bottom, and there is a Doghouse magazine. The Rhenthar equivalent to Hustler. Based on the shaved male canine body on the front cover, make that Playgirl. I give it a couple of sniffs, and stifle my laugh. Bingo.

"Joe? Ah. Yeah. This... sets him apart, I'd say." He gets up and walks over, staring at what's in my paws.

"Oh my." I glance at his blue eyes and shake my head, trying not to sound angry but at the same time feeling impatient.

"Joe. I need your honesty, and I can smell that you're holding something back. So why don't you just level with me?"

He stands there, quiet. Finally, he speaks. "I didn't think... this would have anything to do with why he was abducted." He wipes his hands on his legs. "Yes, I've known for a little while. I raised him like my own son, and we human parents always know when our children are different." He looks away, "this is embarrassing."

I reach out and touch his shoulder. "Don't let it be. This could be a very good sign." The wheels in my head are turning like crazy, my thoughts race. If he's into Rhenthar, then he's not just a simple human resistant to Dee-eight that can earn Mist some quick cash. He's a keeper, as Mist would say.

"He doesn't look at other girls like I did, at his age, not like any of the other kids do. He doesn't look at boys, either, for that matter. I wish it were that simple. But he certainly looks at you guys." Embarrassment twists into shame. "He would probably like you a lot, Keman."

"Hunh." I say, hiding a grin. I know_I_ would have liked me, too. In fact, I do like me, a whole hell of a lot. Very few people in this universe can stand in front of a mirror and paw themselves off by just staring at their own reflection. I've done that plenty of times. I have the body of a god, from my own perspective.

"We can scent that kind of attraction," I state. "Marcus might not even realize that, it's an easy mistake for you humans to make. Our nose is five thousand times more sensitive. I can read all of your emotions as soon as you feel them, pretty much."

Joe nods. "In this day and age, I certainly told Marcus how to handle himself around Rhenthar. We're painfully aware you can scent our lies. Attraction, though. I wouldn't consider that. I knew I should have talked to him about this."

"So... Marcus is attracted to Rhenthar. But..." I frown. "Mist isn't attracted to humans. Not even slightly. I'm stumped on that one." What could Mist do with a human who's attracted to Rhenthar? What could Mist have done with me ? But I'm a Wolf, and he liked that aspect. He could push virtual onto Marcus, but so what? Mist isn't that much into VR. He uses it more as a tool than for pleasure.

In the 12 years before Sinclair, I've met my share of wireheads, people who live more in the computer than reality. They're easy to spot, everything is better with the current flowing, to them. They frequently don't even care about what their partners look like or are interested in. They're not much more than living dildos. Mist doesn't fit that at all.

A message pings in my wetware, it's Ash. She's found out that Mist has frequented this starbase a few times over the years, and he always visited one ship in particular. That ship is currently docked, The Clarkson.

This, I need to see. I tell her to send a transport and get that ship locked down ASAP. We need to know what's on it.

"Joe, I've gotta run. We just found something at the starport, a ship Mist has frequented in the past. It's there, right now. If it's what I think it is, might just shine some light on this situation." Hope fills the air, thick and fresh. I hold out my paw and he takes it. "I'll let you know as soon as I find out more."

Chapter 16.

AVTO air transport sets me down in a special restricted area of the local starport. After I step out, I spot a very dark colored German Shepherd Rhenthar approaching me; he's one of the security officers I saw previously speaking with Ash and Casey. A sidearm is holstered under his right armpit, he's a lefty, and he's wearing tactical gear attached to a chest harness. If my mind wasn't elsewhere, my eyes would linger, he's pretty hot in that getup. He tilts his muzzle sideways, and I mirror the gesture, showing exactly the same amount of throat.

"Lieutenant Epi at your disposal, sir."

"Lieutenant, there's a ship here I need access to. The Clarkson?" I ask.

"Yep. It's a slaver ship. I knew this day would come, sooner or later. It will be my pleasure to get you whatever access you need." He smells eager, but there's a wary scent, too. "I'll warn you now, though. It won't be for long. They have friends in high places."

"Heh," I smirk. "I won't need long."

The officer leads me deeper into the starbase, and gradually we pick up a retinue of other officers, all armed. My confidence levels surge. Casey and Ash join back up with me and I explain what I've got in mind.

We're all walking toward section F, a tidal wave of fur and weapons, and I can hear some alarms ringing in the distance. Holographic do-not-pass tape has been erected, blocking off the whole area. We pass through it unharmed, and my first thought is that something has gone wrong, the slavers are getting away! This thought ceases as I realize, yes, something is wrong: for them.

We pass through the connecting hallway, and the skylift's inner doors are already open, exposing the outer hull of the parked starship. Its door is clearly locked; Epi bangs on it with the butt of his weapon.

"Starbase security," he yells. "Open up!" He doesn't wait long, and motions for two of his officers to start erecting a cutting laser on a tripod. Casey, Ash, and I are standing off to the side, watching, eager to see where this goes.

"It's too much to hope for that Marcus or even Mist is on that ship right now," says Casey.

Ash shakes her head. "No way."

"It'll be interesting to see who is on it, though," I add. My tail wags rapidly with excitement.

"We'll slag their engines if they try to take off," Epi tells us. "So be ready to get behind the safety containment field at the end of this hallway." Epi points to a row of emitters a few meters away, and I start having second thoughts about all this. I distinctly remember the last time I was near a ship that was shot at; my left arm still aches above the elbow.

The hatch abruptly slides open and a red fox Rhenthar, short and lean, glares out at Epi with green eyes the color of old money. "What the hell do you want?" he snarls. I notice that he's wearing a metal collar.

Epi ignores him and deftly steps out of the way, the security team, a dozen strong, presses in past him. The officer at the front pins the fox up against the wall in the airlock, and it seems I'm the only one listening to his swearing and shouting. A few minutes go by and Epi gestures for us to enter.

We board the ship, and the first thing I notice is the sterile quality to the air, there's almost no scent present, which is surprising. I start to become certain we have the wrong ship, my nose can't lie. But after Epi leads me up some steps, I see a long row of holding cells with small round windows at eye level, and retinal scanners next to each door.

I take a peek inside one and see a naked human, definitely not Marcus, standing in the middle with a collar around his neck. A thick cable is attached to the collar; it runs to the ceiling and is way too short to allow him to sit. He's male, and when he notices me looking, he smiles. He must be high on something strong.

The noise of questions being asked and reluctantly answered floats in the air all around us. Epi is talking harshly to the fox I saw earlier, and I spot half a dozen other crewmembers. Six security personnel are standing in a group, in a corner, with their weapons lying in a pile in front of them. They look and smell bored. There is something I notice, looking around, a general trend that I can't explain.

Everyone is wearing a collar. Though I keep catching the scent of frustration and anger, it's gone quickly. I stare up at big ventilation grates in the ceiling and notice that there's a decent amount of air moving around. Must be intentional. Otherwise, this place would stink of fear and who knows what else.

All the employees are Rhenthar, except for one, a female Terellian with a beige coat and green slitted eyes. I walk down the row of available slaves, looking into each door, but none contains Marcus. I spot a few species other than my own. But when I see a Rhenthar, a husky that reminds me of Zach but with red markings instead of black, I get very angry.

Being owned and forced to do stuff I enjoy, sure, that's one thing. But this, it's all wrong, just torture and pain and cruelty. It's evil, and I want to set every one of these guys free and stick the crew in their place.

"Ash, work with Casey, get these cells open. I want every captive removed from this ship."

Casey walks up to me. "Careful, Keman. Those collars might kill them in the process. This isn't as easy as it looks. We need their cooperation to make that happen." He nods at the fox.

I go back to stand beside the lieutenant and the fox looks at me. He actually smiles. I look closely at the collar around his neck, and sure enough, it's a Mark 6.

"You must be Keman. We've been waiting just for you." My world threatens to screech to a halt. How the fuck does he know me?

" Shut up!" I bark, letting my anger burst outwards to cover up my intimidation. "Tell me about Mist, did he sell you any humans recently?"

The fox laughs. "Sell? No. But he's been looking to buy one. All my stock up there..." he gestures at the steps I just came down from. "That was per his request, the humans. Not good for much, I think." I scent honesty. What. The. Fuck?

"What's he looking for? Why the sudden interest in humans?"

"My name is Jack," he growls at me. It's high-pitched, and almost cute. "As in, I'll tell you jack shit about anyone's business."

Epi shoves Jack against the wall and his head bounces off the dull metal. "Answer his questions or I'm gonna jack your shit ," he barks.

Jack yips and slaps a paw against the back of his head, his ears go sideways and his little sharp teeth are all showing. "You just earned yourself a demotion, lieutenant." He looks at me. "Why don't you ask him yourself, mister big bad wolf. We're supposed to take you to him." What... the hell is that supposed to mean? I hear metal boots clattering just outside the airlock. Soldiers in green armor pour in like a swarm of angry ants.

Epi looks at me and shakes his muzzle. "Told you." His body scent has turned resigned, his ears are flat.

A bulky yellow Labrador Rhenthar marches up to us, holding out a piece of parchment while soldiers pile in behind him. "I'm Sergeant McVeigh from the 42nd infantry unit, National Guard, and am hereby authorized to cease this intrusion immediately, per orders from General Macarthur himself, as seen here." He flaps the paper around at anyone looking at him. "A digitally signed copy is available for your review." He stares at me, one of the few obvious civilians present, like maybe I'm in charge. "Do you want this to go easy, or hard?"

Ash explodes, shouting. "This ship is full of slaves, what the fuck? Arrest them all!"

McVeigh shakes his head furiously. He gestures at the collars half the people in the room are wearing. "The sexual practices this pleasure service offers are none of my or your business. If you have a problem with it, too bad."

"Pleasure?" Casey pipes up, sounding confused.

"No, no... you've got it wrong," I exclaim. "There are slaves waiting to be bought, in those rooms right up there." I gesture at the stairway leading to the long hall of doors with small windows. He doesn't look.

"Again, I'm going to tell you." He puts his muzzle right up next to mine. "You're all leaving ."

Jack laughs. "That's right. Get the hell off my ship! Everyone except you, Keman." He has a smug scent now, and his ears are flat. "You should stick around so you can talk to Mist."

"What?" My eyes go wide and my ears shift around. "He's here right now?" Starport security is filing out behind me, one by one. No fucking way!

Jack shakes his muzzle. "No, but our holosuite is set up to let you talk to him before we head out. He's very eager to speak with his wayward pet." My pupils dilate from the reference, and I'm glancing at the officers behind me, wondering if I should join them. I don't like this at all. But I turn to stare at Ash and Casey, because I want to talk to him, I need to talk to him!

"Oh, no... don't even think about it," she says.

"Ash, I need to-" Casey doesn't let me finish.

"We're not leaving you here alone!" He crosses his arms, glaring at the sergeant.

"Yeah. To hell with that." Ash firmly grabs my arm and pulls me towards the airlock. I'm leaning against her, though, putting weight into my hind paws. "We've left you behind one too many fucking times to walk out on you now. Don't be stupid, Keman." She pulls at me again, but I'm still only moving slowly.

"Private Williams," the sergeant glances at the soldier next to him. "Please escort these civilians from the premises. You're authorized to use force if necessary." The soldier drops his energy carbine from his shoulder into firing position, the barrel held low, towards the floor. He thumbs the safety and the power supply chimes twice.

"Look around you!" Casey shouts at me. He goes to grab my other arm but I knock it away, I free myself from Ash and back up. I'm still trying to decide. Fuck...

Ash goes to grab my arm once more, but I keep it out of the way. "I need to talk to him, Ash!" There's growl in my voice. "This could be my only chance, I can't pass it up!" I stare at Jack, then all the holding cells. Fuck, this is the lion's den, the middle of the meat packing plant, and I'm just a cow.

"Send us the comms information?" I ask Jack, but I already know what he's going to say.

"Nope. It's through us or nothing."

"Get to The Hahkota ," I growl at Ash. "That's an order. What the hell else are we going to do, turn around and walk away?"

"Keman, you'd be giving yourself to these assholes. You know what will happen when we leave. Do you like wearing a collar?" Ash asks. Well, yes, actually . I don't say that, the joke would be in poor taste. Still, I feel an overwhelming urge to stay behind and talk to Mist. Like something in my mind won't let it out of its jaws. Like I somehow don't even have a choice. I rationalize it the best I can. It'll put me closer to Sin.

"You just don't get it," I shout, desperation creeping into my voice. "I need my Alpha back, without him, I'm done!" I'm starting to see red, "he brought me into this world, and I owe him my life. You can't understand what that's like, and I don't have time to explain."

Ash and Casey stare at me, her ears are sideways, and both are obviously confused. I realize that I haven't mentioned much about Sinclair, and the real past I own with him. I swallow, feeling embarrassed and guilty.

"There's something you haven't told us," Ash says quietly. Her eyes drill into mine, Casey stares at my feet. My scent is obvious.

"You guys need to leave, right now," barks the soldier. "Don't make this go bad. You seem like nice people, just walk away."

Ash grabs the shoulder of the last starport security officer as he's passing by. She tugs at his harness. "We need this, quick." He glances at Casey and me, and gets the message. He unsnaps the buckles holding it on and hands the whole thing over to her. She slides it up onto my arm and snugs down the straps, placing the sidearm under my left armpit. "This is so incredibly stupid, Keman," she says, holding her ears flat. Bright blue eyes stare intently into mine. "You had better explain everything when this is all over."

Then she's walking away, turning her head to stare at me briefly. Casey shakes his muzzle and follows her out. I watch as my friends leave, and I'm guessing I won't see them again for a while. I just know it; this isn't a quick trip to a holosuite. But we'll figure something out, we always do.

The last soldier steps out of the airlock and Jack walks over and slaps the close button. It seals shut and locks. I turn my head and eye the various employees at the corners of my vision. The fur along my spine stands straight out, and I reek of distrust and anxiety.

"Everyone, go back to your duties." Jack says calmly, he holds his paws out to me in a disarming gesture. "I'm no threat to you, Keman... this is all just business," he says, smiling. "Follow me..."

He heads up the stairs to the holding cells, and I start to follow him. I pull the weapon out of the holster and glance at it, seeing that it's similar to the blaster sitting on my ship. Different make, same design. Mostly aluminium construction, heat sink in the grip, charge indicator along the side. Compensated emitter, tritium night-sights. I click the safety and feel my confidence rise a couple of notches, staring at Jack's back.

I follow him past some of the holding cells, noting that there is one up ahead standing open. My muscles tense up, if Jack stops in front of it, I'm putting a hole in his head faster than he can turn around. I feel like I have no qualms with killing someone from behind. Honor is a human concept, designed to make losers not feel so bad about why they lost. But Jack doesn't stop there.

Peering in, I see a small Rhenthar, mixed-breed, floppy ears. He's scrubbing the walls with a bucket of chemical cleanser. He pauses to look at me.

"C'mon." I jump from that, darting a glance at Jack, he's waiting two meters ahead.

"I don't trust you, not even slightly." I growl. "This place is evil and you know it."

"Evil?" He laughs. "You're wrong about that," he says. "You think I like them all sitting in there?" Jack points at the row of cells and shrugs. "If it wasn't me managing their buyers, it would be someone else. I didn't make the galaxy this way, it is what it is."

I keep up with him as we walk further down the hallway, staying close. "They only represent credits to me," he says, stopping. He turns around and stares. "Same as you," he eyes my sheath, the 'site calming ring snuggled down around the base. "I could sell you for a pretty penny, no doubt about that."

"I'm not for sale ," I snarl, raising the weapon to a forty-five degree angle from the floor.

"Of course not," he purrs. "Mist said to treat you like you're his property. Nevertheless, I'll tell you right now, if you actually threaten me or anyone else on this ship, you won't make it to pulling that trigger. And I don't mean death. So you should just put that away and not even bother." He turns around and walks away.

"I've got money, probably more than Mist. Ever think about that?" I ask, walking quickly to catch up.

Jack stops and turns to stare at me again, wagging a finger back and forth in front of my muzzle. "Ah ah. It's not just having money." His red-tipped tail flits around behind him. "It's who you know and what you've done to earn it. Without both, in the right avenue... I'd never get a chance to spend it."

He turns and points at a door next to us, it doesn't have a window. It slides open and I peer in, it looks like a standard Holosuite. A couple of chairs in front of a metal table in the center. Hologram projection equipment rests in shelves along the back wall, with a mass of cables leading to emitters spaced around on the floor in front of the table.

"Have a seat, Mr. Wolf." In certain areas of Rhenthar culture, wolves and foxes are at odds with each other, though I've never understood why. I ignore the jab.

I walk in and sniff around, knowing full well that threats can easily escape my senses. The Rhenthar I saw earlier, the one cleaning the cells, walks in with a small metal briefcase and sets it on the table. I eye it suspiciously.

"What's that?" I ask.

"Something Mist indicated you would need," Jack says. "I don't know what's inside; he sent it to us via hypertransport." He doesn't spare it more than another glance before both of them walk out. I spot flickering status indicators on the equipment mounted to the wall, something is happening. I sit down on the short-bottomed chair, about as comfortable in it as if it were red hot; I holster the blaster at the same time.

"Ah, Keman." I hear his voice all around me, and glance at the equipment, wondering where the display is. The lasers in the floor finally res his picture into view, and suddenly I'm staring at a life-size version of Mist. Fear whispers in my mind, my heart starts to race. He's staring right at me; bright green eyes exactly the same as when I last saw them.

" Why?" I blurt it out. "Why would you make me put a collar on Sinclair?"

His ears go sideways and he leans forward. "Your accusatory tone is not appreciated nor is your question. My business with my brother is mine , and mine alone." He was always slick with words, and that neither confirms my fear that he intentionally used me as a tool, nor anything else really. He continues to speak before I can get another word in.

"It's true, though. I did send you out to perform a duty for which you were so well qualified. Retrieve something precious for me, the mind of my brother. Then you'd be hot on my tail, eager to be back. Open up your gift. I had it made special, just for you."

This is... off. It feels like I've somehow lost control of the situation, and I desperately search back in time for when I last had it. When was I really in control? Just before Mist took me. Jimmy and Nod, probably still at Yoshi. On this mission to get my alpha back, Mist has had all the cards the whole time.

Curiosity gets the better of me, and I pop the catches on the briefcase and lift it open. I don't look inside right away; instead, I glance up at Mist, to see his expression. It's one of amusement. I look down and see shiny black things...

That's a collar, all by itself.

But the rest, I can't...

Everything is made of an oily black material, my gaze seems to slide right off it, as if it catches the light wrong. I touch a fat blue tube wrapped in clear plastic, about a foot long. It feels like there's soft goopy gel inside, but I can see there's a slender hardness running down the center of it, made of metal. It joins a pair of tubes, each about six inches long. Those are semi-rigid, covered in clear gel. Tube isn't even the right word, for there is no part that's perfectly round, the shape is irregular on all three. They're sticking out of a heavy molded L-shaped bracket, full of little slits. Also black, and as my finger pads can attest, it's made of cold metal. The slots carved through the material are maybe to lighten it, or perhaps for breathability. I have a sinking feeling about this, about where those tubes might go.

The collar has no buttons, screen, or anything besides two "D" rings, at opposite ends. It's made of the same black metal as the bracket. Three gold nubs face inwards, equally spaced. I try to lift it up, but it's slippery, and very heavy. I stare at the tubes, and notice that the bracket the tubes attach to has a very specific shape to it, all smooth curves. I spot a "D" ring on it, and suddenly I understand which the top is and what part is the bottom. It goes under my chin. Those tubes go in my nose, and that fat one goes all the way down my throat.

No way, that's not possible.

It's way too big in diameter, is my throat even that big? I see that it narrows, where it enters the bracket. I tongue the empty sockets at the front of my mouth, thinking it might just fit in the gap, and I glance up at Mist, shaking my head back and forth, my ears are shaking from holding them so flat. The irregularities, the parts that look like ribs, all the weird curves each tube tends toward. A mirror of my nasal passages, and throat, he must have taken molds while I was on his ship. A black egg rests in its own depression, about the size that comes from a chicken. I pick it up, it's heavy also, and I look at Mist in horror.

"What's all this for?"

"You." A wide, sharp smile.

"But... no." I shake my head, ears still flat. "You let me go... I thought we were done."

"You thought wrong. Put it all on." He crosses his arms.

"No... stop this, Mist. Stop it!" I yell.

He holds his paw out towards me and squeezes something imaginary, maybe my throat, or my nuts. He snarls. "You know I hate that word, put that collar on and I won't punish you for saying it to me. I told you before, you'd be wearing one for the rest of your life. That one has no unlock mechanism. Which makes it perfect for you."

I'm slowly shaking my head, trying to look away but it's as if his eyes refuse to let go of mine, I can't escape his stare. I finally break free and glance at the doorway, Jack is standing in it next to a big Mastiff Rhenthar, and both are wearing spray-on gloves. I look back at Mist, nervously tonguing the empty sockets at the front of my muzzle. He notices.

" That's right , you've been such a good boy , leaving your teeth out so you can wear what I've paid for. And your claws, are they still dull?" I stare down at them and swallow. "You know you want the reward that waits for you on my ship." My sheath stirs when he says good boy , all on its own, and I hate him for it.

I close my eyes and am entirely uncertain what to do. I squeeze my paws shut so tight, I want Sin back... I want Sin back!

"Keman." I open my eyes and stare, Mist is now standing next to Sinclair. Sin's bent over on a metal frame, it's holding him on all fours, and he's strapped to it with his muzzle pinned shut to a rod sticking out. His muscles stand out, and he glances at me. His eyes widen in recognition, and he closes them. I see a tear trickle down from a corner.

I fly up out of the chair, it falls over behind me. I rip the blaster out of its holster and snarl, growling as loud as I can. I'm seconds from tearing all the equipment in the room to pieces. Shooting someone, anyone. I point it at the two Rhenthar in the doorway and they lean away, vanishing. Mist is holding up some sort of handheld device, shaped like a gun with a stubby tip. He's looking at it closely.

"This is where it all started, with his betrayal." He lovingly runs a paw down Sin's back. "This tool is used to extract wetware from corpses. And although this is virtual, I'm certain you know how real it can feel, Keman."

"Stop!" I scream, hardly able to see through the redness in my vision. The blaster is hurting my fingers, I'm squeezing it so tightly. My body shakes all over from adrenaline overload. Reality has slowed to jerky starts and stops, I start panting.

Mist shakes his head. "Your words won't stop me, only your actions can." He pushes the device into one of Sinclair's nostrils and shoves it in a few centimeters. I hear Sin let out a sharp whine, and that's it, I simply lose it. I'll do whatever it takes to save my alpha.

I almost knock the case off the table, grabbing at the collar in my fury. He wants me to wear a fucking collar, fine! I'll wear a fucking collar! I try to pick it up, but it falls from my grasp, it's so slippery. It's split open next to one of the "D" rings, maybe that goes to the side. I look at the prongs facing inwards, if they go to the left and right of my throat, then the split is at the front. It's bending in my paws like hot taffy, flowing like liquid. It feels as hard as tritanium when I try to bend it faster than it's willing to move. Like memory foam made of metal inside. I would normally be fascinated with this construction, but the fucker is rushing me.

"Hurry up, Keman. I'm not patient. I'll pull this trigger and the next thing you'll hear will be your precious alpha screaming at the top of his lungs, as I rip something from his brain that should never have been put there to begin with."

I'm having a very hard time holding the collar in my sweat-covered paws, it's so slippery, and it keeps flexing and flowing, I almost drop it again and then grab it by the rear "D" ring, lifting it up above my head to lay both sides around my neck.

I attempt to push the two ends together, but it's tight, oh shit, it's too tight. I stare up at Mist, but he's only looking at what's in his paw. He's going to pull the trigger anyways, and then I'll still have to do this because there's so much worse he can do. I push the two ends together as hard as I can, and they touch, but they don't engage, my fur is in the way, it's getting stuck between the mating surfaces. I try a couple more times, finally there's a sharp snap, and when I let go, the tightness remains.

A tightness that I know I'm going to feel for the rest of my life.

I feel a soft vibration in the collar and it fades, I stare up at Mist and his ears go sideways, he's probably in communication with the collar. He turns slowly to look at me, then pulls the tool out of Sin's nose and tosses it onto the ground. On Sin's nose, a drop of blood slowly leaks, out and down into his mouth. His eyes open and he stares at me, my heart shatters worse than when Snow died. It's worse, because he's real. It's worse , because he's still alive and this isn't yet over.

I reach up and try to pull the warm collar away from my windpipe, it's so damn tight. I run my blunt claws all the way around, trying to get my fur out from under it. It sticks out sharply when I'm done. That makes it a little bit better, but not by much. It's designed to be tight.

"Muzzle up, Keman. You can do it, and if you can't, my people behind you will be more than happy to assist."

I dart a glance back at Jack and his friend and I point the blaster into the doorway. "Don't fucking come near me!" I yell. They only watch, amused.

I pick up the various pieces and really don't know where to start. The long blue gel tube, I know that goes down my throat, but the end isn't round nor does it snap when I pinch it. Fuck, it's huge! I pick up the egg, and it's rather heavy, where does it go, up my ass? I glance at Mist, shaking my muzzle.

"Swallow that. Be a good boy... swallow for Mist..." He smiles huge; my ears go sideways, remembering the last time he said that.

I glance at its smooth surface and hesitate. Can I get it down? I put it in my mouth and go to swallow it. But it's too big... too fucking big. I spit it into my hand and glance at it, then Mist. I put it back in my mouth and gag, oh shit that hurts... but it goes down. Gulp. It feels heavy in my stomach.

I pick up the weird half-muzzle, put the big tube into my mouth, it's flexible but has a metal core, then I notice the clear cover is only a wrapper. I tear it off to expose a glistening wet surface underneath. I put it back in my mouth and gulp it, sliding it in further... I get it down a couple of inches and then choke, pulling it back out. My throat goes on high alert, my gag reflex comes alive. Now I can't even get it in an inch. My paws are shaking while I keep trying, this is impossible!

"Help him." Mist says. "Keman, this is for your own good. Muzzles equal good behavior, and you'll be helping me out over the next few months. More than ample time to prove me right." I hear them walk into the room while he's speaking, and I grab the blaster, can't touch me if you've got holes in you! I turn quickly and feel a sting in my neck, I look down the sights, seeing Jack's huge grin, smile at this, motherfucker. I squeeze the trigger, but it's frozen. Won't... squeeze!

"Nuh... erf." Can't... move! My legs give out and I slide to the floor in a pile of bones and fur. It feels like I've fallen into a lake of tar, my skin is turning numb. Expert paws roll me onto my side, and my world reduces to soft-spoken words passed back and forth.


"Hold him... right there, clean that off. Open his mouth." Fingertips touch my jaws, my mouth opens, but I can't tell how far.

"Watch his vocal cords, ok... further."

A cold sensation of pressure works into my throat. My gag reflex has dwindled to something only theoretical.

" Swallow, Keman..." Loud words, a paw briskly rubs my throat. I can't breathe... I gulp and feel rising pressure, a tightness in my throat, it gets even bigger. The cold goes deeper, then deeper still.

"Close his mouth, ok swallow again, don't make me force this, and then it won't hurt later."

I gulp, but there's too much in my throat, I can't swallow. Tubes squeeze into my nostrils and sink deep, I swallow again and they abruptly pass behind my eyes, it almost feels like. I swallow again, again, and again... full. So full... but I'm breathing through my nose just fine now.

"Wait, no further. Close his mouth, watch the gap. There you go." The egg in my stomach shifts, like two magnets striking each other. The tube pulls against the back of my tongue and I feel the bracket under my jaws press against it firmly.

I weakly try to open my mouth but the tubes in my nose won't let that happen, they have metal inside and the plate under my chin has no padding... no give. It's pinned against my jaw like a hook. I can't open my mouth... but the world is so blurry, I stop caring. I try to look at Mist, to give him my last effort of hatred, maybe I can squeeze some sympathy from him, but. I can't turn my head.

They lift my body up onto a curved, wheeled cart, it's low to the ground and has a softly padded curved surface with depressions for my chest, arms and legs, even a dip for my sheath. It's like I'm on all fours, but with no weight on my paws. Simple Velcro cinches down my wrists and ankles, and they wheel me out of the room.

It feels weird, like I'm floating... my muzzle points forward, I can see where we're going. I know that cell I saw earlier, it's mine. They wheel me inside and carefully transfer my limp form to the floor. A long leash is pulled from the ceiling and attached to my collar; I hear a loud snap from an electromagnet. Constant tension against my neck.

"He's 'sited, see the calmer ring?" A paw pulls my sheath back. "Put a Foley in him, 20 French. He can't pee on his own. We would have had to do the same with Rhino."

I can't move, nothing works. I can barely swallow, and when I do, I'm not sure if anything actually happens. I shut my eyes, there's nothing to see. Plastic tearing, a reel ratchets nearby, click-click-click. I feel something poke into my dick and slide in deep. Deeper, pressure at my bladder, the 'site squirming around inside me. Calm words spoken close to my ear.

"Told you this is just business, Keman. I haven't hurt you even when I should. Here's my final proof that I'm not evil. Lemme see that?"

Hiss, sting... in my neck.

I feel a rush of pleasure and then promptly pass out.

Chapter 17.

Marcus hears a sudden beeping sound and approaching footsteps. He hears a plastic squeak and a click, the beeping stops, and he opens his eyes to a spacious room. It's lit so brightly, he immediately has to shut them. There's movement next to him, he squints and makes out a yellow furred Rhenthar wearing a white vest and apron, a nurse. He? She? Is changing fluid bags on an IV pole to his right. His head is pounding with pain to the tune of his heartbeat, which begins to beat faster as he steals glances at the room he's in. White walls, one bed. Sliding curtain divider...

"Oh, you're awake." Female, by the tone of her voice. "I'll let the doctor know. How many fingers am I holding out?" The room is still blurry, but he thinks he can make out three.

"Three." His voice comes out as a croak, he swallows, and that hurt.

"Ok, good , can you tell me your name and what month it is?"

He coughs, which doesn't improve the pain in his throat any, and the pain in his head gets worse. He leans back against the pillow behind him and mumbles "Marcus Fielding, Jan," he has to swallow. "July."

The nurse smiles, covering her teeth with her lips. "Good. You've suffered a couple of serious injuries, a spiral fracture of your right tibia- that's in your leg, which we were able to fix easy enough. The real damage was to your head. Here's your doctor now, he can explain."

"Thank you, Trist," says an all-black Rhenthar with floppy ears, he squeezes her shoulder and she steps back. He's wearing a green vest, like a doctor in a hospital. Er, that means he's in a hospital...

"How's it going, buddy? I'm Doctor Vardeck, let's see how you're doing." he asks, rubbing the end of a stethoscope against his vest, and then hooking the prongs into his ears. He pulls back the blanket covering Marcus's torso and puts the end up against his chest, over his heart. "I put some heat in it cuz I know these things are cold to dudes with no fur..." he listens for a moment. "Your name is Marcus?" he says it perfectly, which for a Rhenthar is a first.


"Gooood, sounds good," he says, hanging it back around his neck. He pulls a penlight from the pocket in his vest and shines it into Marcus's eyes. "Look up... down... follow this." He moves it slowly left and right. "Excellent." He turns and drags a chair over to the side of the bed and sits down on it backwards, resting his arms on the top.

"Marcus, you did something really dumb. Do you remember any of it?" There's humor in his voice but also a sense of seriousness to the tone.

"Yeah, I went inside my house, and fell. I don't remember anything past that point."

"I'm not sure I want to know what you were doing, wandering around in your demolished house, but it caved in on you and by the time we got there, your head wasn't round anymore." He pauses to let that sink in. "That was a real problem! A hundred years ago, you'd be pushing up petunias. Or is it daisies?" He glances at Trish.

"Daisies," she says, chuckling.

"Yes, well," he says, chagrined. "The point is, you're really lucky to be alive. We had to rebuild a major artery in your brain and repair the bones that make up your skull."

The pain in Marcus's head fades, and he smells something indescribably foul.

"Marcus, you did something really dumb. Do you remember any of it?" He senses humor, but also seriousness.

"Er. Didn't you just ask that? I... was in my house. I fell."

"I'm not sure I want to know what you were doing, wandering around in your demolished house, but it caved in on you and by the time we got there, your head wasn't round anymore." A pause. "That was a real problem! A hundred years ago, you'd be pushing up-"

"Daisies," Marcus blurts out.

"Er. Not petunias?" Vardeck glances at his nurse.

"He got it right," she says, giggling.

Marcus has a sinking feeling that something isn't right. "You just said all that... twice. Didn't you?"

"Um." He glances at Trish then back to Marcus. "No. Are you feeling losses of time, events seeming like they're repeating themselves, something like that?"

"Yeah, that's what just happened, I swear, it's like you asked me the same question twice." His head is hurting again.

"That's to be expected, think nothing of it. Let me know if it doesn't fade in the next month. Check this out, I'll show you what's happening."

Dr. Vardeck starts showing him x-rays before and after surgery, describing the procedure used to repair the vessels in his brain. The pain is becoming stronger in his head now, though, and it's making it hard to concentrate.

"Some pain in your thigh where the catheter entered the artery down there will be normal..." he waves a paw in front of Marcus's eyes. "You still with me?"

Marcus wants to shake his head but it'll hurt too much. "My head hurts, a lot."

"That's certainly to be expected, too. Lucky for you, I've got the good stuff," he says, glancing at his nurse. "Trish? Ten micrograms of ultramorph intravenous for our patient here, please." She walks off to retrieve the medication.

Vardeck begins gently touching Marcus's head at various places, each produces a unique pain, and for a moment, the room turns completely white.

"Ahhh!" Marcus shouts. "Everything went white!"

Vardeck seems unsurprised. "That's because your brain is swollen at the moment and is actually pushed up against some of the repaired area. Right now would be a bad idea to get into a boxing match," he laughs.

The nurse returns with a hypospray and presses it against his arm just ahead of the spot where his IV is hooked into. A small sting and a hiss, and she turns to watch his vitals displayed in a machine mounted to the pole his IV bags are hanging from.

Marcus feels the pain fade, and his eyes start to shut all on their own. It feels like gravity is falling away. He smells something sharp, it's familiar but he can't place it.

Vardeck starts gently touching Marcus's head at various spots, each has its own unique pain, but before he can reach the bad spot, Marcus flinches his head away.

"Right here hurts?" Vardeck says, curiously probing an area that in fact doesn't hurt at all.

"No," Marcus says. "I just didn't want you to touch the spot that will make the room go white." His head is hurting again, throbbing with his heartbeat.

"Well, your brain is swollen and is actually pushed up, right..." he touches that spot, and the room flashes white for a moment. "Here. Right now would be a bad idea to get into a boxing match," he laughs.

Marcus glances at the Nurse as she walks up to him with a hypospray. A sting and a hiss, she turns to watch his vitals.

"Something... wrong... things... repeating..." Marcus says, as sleep sucks him into its numb embrace.

"He'll sleep for a while, check on him every two hours. He can get another ten mcg's every four; call me if he complains about any strange sounds."

Marcus's world fades to black.

Chapter 18.

Marcus has spent the past two weeks in the hospital. After he regained consciousness, he was promptly met by the police. They had some photos of his grandfather to show him. He was found dead in a neighbor's house, and they needed him to verify the remains. He was apparently trying to rescue them from a house fire, and smoke overcame him before he could get out.

"We don't do the whole morgue thing anymore," the officer had said. "Too grisly, asking family to identify a body in person. We use photos now, they're just as effective but it's emotionally easier."

Well, it wasn't. He cried long and hard, losing the only family he had left.

He feels lost. Moreover, he has no idea what to do about it. His grandfather was always the guiding force in his life, and despite how often he resented it in the past, he now wants more than anything to be pushed and prodded in some direction forward. The few friends he had are dead now, too. He's all alone.

As a result, Marcus quickly figured out just how often he could ask for relief from his pain, and a few days ago he noticed that they must be tapering him off because the drugs aren't working like they used to, plus he's getting doses further and further apart.

"Mister Fielding?" Marcus looks up and finds the question coming from a short Rhenthar, he recognizes the breed, Beagle. He's holding out a paw with very short, manicured nails. Marcus takes it and they shake.

"My name is Reese, I'm a representative from the Benjamin Morris investment fund." Emphasis on the, Marcus notes. He's irritable and wonders what this is about. If it's some bill collector, he's going to scream at him.

"So that's how things stand, presently. What would you like to do with the funds?" Reese asks.

Marcus hesitates. "What?" He turns and looks at Reese, somehow he made it over to the chair beside the table in his small area. Papers are neatly stacked beside him, and Marcus doesn't remember them.

"The dispersing of the life insurance payout. Where would you like it to go?"

"What life insurance?" Marcus asks, feeling thoroughly confused.

"Um," he pauses. "I see." Reese's eyes focus on the bandages around Marcus's head, and he nods to himself. "Let's try this again. Do you know who I am?"

"Your name is Reese, and you're... with some investment house?"

"Yes," he says, nodding. "Benjamin Morris sent me here to discuss your grandfather's life insurance policy, which as we discussed?" He looks curiously at Marcus. "Is rather large?"

"I'm sorry," Marcus shakes his head. "I don't remember anything after you just got here. Something is wrong with my head."

Reese is wearing an old-fashioned gold wristwatch, and he glances at it impatiently. "I've been here twenty minutes, perhaps I should come back in a few days?" he asks.

Marcus shakes his head. "Nono, I'm fine. What was this about again?"

"Ok," Reese says. "Let's try the short version. Thirty years ago, your grandfather bought into a policy that isn't even offered, these days. It vested when he died and you are listed as the only beneficiary..."

Marcus is now rich. He's not sure what to do with all the money, but several suggestions are offered to him by Reese. Financial houses that can manage his estate. He opts for one, purely by how the name sounds: Clearwater Investments. He's assigned a personal assistant who has answers for any question he can come up with, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Rather than do what most 18-year-old's would do with 4.3 million credits, and that's after taxes, he thinks about what his grandfather would want him to do. His education was his grandfather's greatest wish, so he decides to make it his own.

"Janelle?" his query is routed through his wetware's audio call processor.

"What can I do for you today, Mr. Fielding?"

"I'm looking for a better education. Can you get me into one of the big universities specializing in..." Marcus glances at busy Rhenthar walking past his hospital room. "The medical profession."

"Absolutely. I'll get back to you within the hour."

Chapter 19.

I wake up like a branch snapping underfoot, choking. Trying to open my muzzle only hurts my nose in a deep, sickening manner. I reflexively swallow what's in my throat. Again, and again. One more time. I roll over onto my stomach, being careful of the leash dangling from the ceiling and the tube trailing out of my sheath. I put my paws under me and swallow. I can feel something go down, each time, but then it slides back up into place, stuck in my throat right where I don't want it to be. It's shocking that I'm not trying to puke my guts out, that it doesn't make me gag.

I can't smell anything, my nose is all stuffed up, and when I breathe, I only feel a vague cooling of my nasal passages. The tubes running through them are packed in tight, but the pressure is even, and my muzzy thoughts finally recall what I'm wearing, where I'm at. I glance at the leash worriedly. I know where I'm headed, who I'm headed to.

I feel an overwhelming urge to yawn, but can't. I reach up and try to pull the device, the strange half-muzzle, off of my mouth. I pry my blunt claws under the metal below my chin, and pull. The tubes in my nose shift forward a little bit, and the one over my tongue starts to hurt in the back of my throat. The harder I pull, the more the pain increases. I reflexively swallow, and the whole thing violently yanks back into place, cramming the tubes further into my nose. I feel them shift in the back of my throat, they apparently go that far. My eyes water from the sudden pain in my sinuses, like the harbinger of the worst headache in existence. I stare at the floor, hoping for it to pass, regretting even touching the damn thing. Did he say I had to wear this forever, too? Oh please Dog no...

I swallow a few more times, I just can't help it. My Adams apple rides under the collar each time, giving little bumps of pain because of how tight it is. I reach down and pull at it, giving me some room. The need to productively swallow is a painful urge, bordering on obsessive, like being in deep water and needing to breathe. It almost feels like if the collar were looser, I could swallow better. So I pull at it with both hands, ignoring the distant memory of the prongs that I saw facing inwards. What it might do. I have to find out...

My body convulses, I hear a loud rapping sound, which draws my attention away from sudden, world-shattering pain. I'm trying to glance at the door, thinking someone knocked on it. But when the convulsions slow, I realize it's my metal shrouded chin hitting the floor.

A second later, one last spasm rips through me, the focal point is definitely the collar, my paw pads have broken out in sweat, and even my asshole is clenched painfully tight. It's rather like an orgasm, but without the mind tingling endorphins that make it feel so good.

The afterglow is similar, too. I lay there, motionless, wondering if I've ever owned the phrase painfully aware to the extent I now possess. Just three lone contacts on the inside of the collar. If any loses contact, the collar kicks my ass. That means it won't take much... if a leash tugs on me, one could pull free. And then... gulp.

I can't get Mist's words out of my head. Wearing this collar, forever? The unique, slippery surface, its weight, the permanent "D" rings at the front and back. The submissive voice in the furthest reaches of my consciousness actually revels in it, bathes in the glow of such intense control. While I have no trouble nipping at its throat and snarling to keep it weak and distant, I know full well that it'll grow stronger.

I know I'll enjoy it, not today, and probably not tomorrow. But eventually, I'll crave my stimulator and with it, the ability to paw myself off. I even know that afterwards, I'll hate this collar more than life as a human. I'll want it off! Like I've wanted to rip the 'site out of me more times than I can possibly count. Every time I've gotten off, in fact. Before orgasm, the 'site actually feels good. The tube in my urethra is stimulating. Immediately after, though. It hurts. Oh, does it hurt. I love it, and then I hate it. Funny how that goes.

A tickle of pleasure from wearing something so permanent echoes through my mind, and that seems premature. I think back to all those fields in the Mark 6 app, the ones for influencing my mind and body. I wonder what this one is set to, what it's even capable of. Is it controlling me right now? What's enhanced, and what's missing? I take a mental inventory, and find that I still hate Mist, I still miss Sinclair.

I feel a desire to overlay this situation with one of fantasy, where Sinclair put this collar on me, and how proudly I would wear it. It makes my eyes water with need...

My door clicks and slides open, interrupting these thoughts. I glance at the doorway, and see the big Mastiff Rhenthar that helped me a few hours ago. Er, yesterday. A week ago? The realization that I have no idea how long I've been in this prison comes to the foreground of my mind. I focus on my nose to make my wetware active... but nothing happens. I repeat the gesture, again, and again, wanting to yelp and whimper when it fails to turn on. If a _Mark 6_can control my sexuality, maybe it can inhibit my wetware from coming active.

I stare at the walls, so close to me, going completely cross-eyed with a violent need to access it, to establish a time reference. To reach out to my team and my friends and seek comfort. To talk to the AI aboard my ship. I need to communicate more badly than I need to breathe, and will gladly give up one for the other, to the point of blacking out.

He walks up to me with a chain leash in his paws, and I worry that he won't be as nice as Jack surprisingly was, I'm almost helpless. He clips it to the back of my collar, on the second "D" ring, while I'm still trying to access my wetware. It isn't the first or even the second time it's been broken. But with the upgrades I performed on it while on my ship, no one should be able to control it except for me. So frustrating.

Reality comes to me in brief waves, fear and adrenaline both rush through my system. I'm terrified of what's happening, and the nameless Rhenthar calmly strokes my ears like a favored pet. I don't mind the attention, in fact, I want it to calm me, but it doesn't. I need to talk, I need to smell, my mind turns frantic. Something shifts in my bladder, and the Rhenthar pulls the cath out, the 'site writhes in me for a moment, from the discomfort the wrinkled end of the cath produces as it's drawn out. He detaches it and coils it up into a ball, then retracts the drainage hose back into the wall, click-click-click.

He's in the doorway, pulling at my leash. I don't remember him getting up; I glance to my left, expecting to still see him there. I stare at him and heave myself onto my feet. I doubt he'll let me stand up, and there's no way I could anyways. I want to run, and that's always on all four. I'm ready to bolt; I want the hell out of here. Ash was right, fuck, was she ever right.

A flare launches into the sky of my mind, hanging bright enough to leave spots in my vision. Where I'm going, it will put me closer to Sinclair, and his freedom. My limbs stop twitching, my adrenaline pulls up short. I push calm into my mind and let him lead me to where I'm going.

The inner airlock of Mist's ship slides sideways and I stare at white legs with stunning black contrast diamonding up the insides of his big calves. I don't look up, I only stare at those feet, they are familiar. My leash changes paws, and I hear the handler who brought me out of my cell walking away. The outer airlock shuts behind me.

"A one-hundred kilo sized problem, eh?" Er. Yeah. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. I intentionally don't look up, I know he's staring down at me. "Imagine my surprise when you and Zach discussed coming to Tatchit. So easy, the two of you have made this for me."

I keep staring at the floor.

" Keman." Painful realization shuts my eyes, but I will them to open. I glance up to his green gaze and then back to the floor in front of his toes. "Mmmph," he says. "Regardless of your intentions, you have no idea how happy it makes me to see you back on my ship." His paw finds my head and he massages my ears, the quiet voice whispering in the back of my mind gains volume and insists I lean into it.

I do.

It feels more like betrayal than pleasure. The next thing he says makes that even stronger.

"Your mission is complete, and so well you have performed it." I steal another glance at his eyes, trying to take in his scent, but I can't. I would have looked away after getting it, but with its absence, my smell-based mind halts, and I keep staring at him. Wolfish instincts have me aware that such a stare is quite dominant, but I've no effort behind it. I'm certain he can smell that. Surely, he can scent my confusion and lack of understanding, what mission?

"Black fur, precisely the way I like it. Your ridiculous patterns of previous did nothing to bring out the green in your eyes like what you now have. As I commanded you to achieve, though you'll never remember, such was made at the subconscious level.

"No, you won't remember my instructions. Nor will you remember all my inhibitions I put in place, preventing you from fixing the claws on your front paws." He pauses; I grip the floor and dig them into the squishy rubber. "Or the repair of your front teeth." I tongue the empty sockets around the slippery tube in my mouth.

"Best of all, you don't remember my plot to bring home my long lost brother ," he says, clearly pleased with himself. "Home enough for me, home in my world of influence, independent of his physical locale." He gives me a long stroke down my spine. "Yes, a job well done, Keman."

No. No! The fur on my spine lifts out painfully, I bear my teeth behind the slotted metal surrounding them, and I stare at him with hatred at a completely new level. You fucker! How dare you use me for these purposes, it's not why I exist. I was made to please my Alpha!

He twists his head sideways, nostrils flaring, and then ignores my scent of fury. "Now you deserve your reward, and you're so well-equipped to get it." He fondly brushes a paw over the half-muzzle and tugs the "D" ring hanging under it with a critical eye. Massive hind paws pad away from me, tension in my neck increases as the collar pulls. I'm not stupid, I know he'll let it shock me. He'll even drag me and lift me into the air to carry me to where we're going, if I don't follow. The neck is the strongest part of a canine body, and that's true for Rhenthar, too. I plod along after him on all four.

At first, this ship looks identical to the one I destroyed. The layout is as I remember it, and that means I'm headed to... my room. I gulp the tube in my throat a few times, feeling the pressure in my nose shift deeper each time. My door slides open, and I see my bed, waiting for me. I hop up onto it and crouch, keeping my belly low. There's a certain port on a certain wall next to me that has a certain something... that I'm pretending isn't there.

"Such a good boy! I know you're eager for this, I can smell it." He takes a length of braided steel from the reel in the wall and points the tip at me. Seeing it brings forth such potent desire, one that I thought was gone. Though the physical addiction was squashed in the two weeks I spent in my autodoc, the psychological craving is going to take a lot longer to fade. Even longer after today.

I reach up and take the end with a paw that shakes and twitches all on its own, I'm angry at my need, guilty, from my profound voracity. I'm not even altered yet, and already my mind is trying to come up with excuses for the situation, shifting my main reason for being here towards a secondary one. I engage the hose into the front, and it clicks home easily. I can't smell the air this time, to tell if it's different. I'm surprised to find even that is something I want, it's a part of my addiction.

Maybe it's not the same drug, maybe it's because I have no tolerance. On the other paw, maybe it's just what Mist wants to happen. But the feeling of pleasure and euphoria slam into my mind like a light switch thrown by an intent hand, groping through the darkness of a room. I'm actually cumming before I'm even hard, but that doesn't last long as my knot fills out. I arch my back like a cat wanting to be pet, surprised and confused... but above all... loving this.

I shudder and close my eyes, and when darkness turns frightening, I open them back up and stare at Mist, while he rubs my ears once more, and the resulting sensation is incredible.

"You would do yourself a favor," he speaks quietly, intently. "Let go of your attachment to Sinclair." More long strokes down my neck, claws clicking when they touch my collar. "Right now." Claws trailing down my spine. "Your future doesn't involve him." He yanks on my collar, shaking it. "You're mine , and when I'm done with him, he'll be in no position to own anyone, not even himself."

I stumble in my mind from these words; they conflict so severely with what I'm feeling. Sin... no, no... I can't let go. I look at him with pleading in my expression. Please don't say that, don't tell me that. Even if it's true, lie to me! Please, no...

He stares at me and pauses from the rubs on my head, looking into my confused and terrified eyes, nodding to himself. "I like you, Keman. Maybe I'll give you a rare opportunity to make changes to some of these facts. I'm less inclined to possess you if there's someone else to take your place. Perhaps you can earn your freedom. Do your job well and maybe... just maybe." He shakes his muzzle. "I am skeptical, though. I don't think you'll succeed. You have to prove me wrong."

Ecstasy picks up another notch, and then ten. I shudder and stretch out on the bed, further thought becomes impossible. Eventually I black out, maybe in just a minute, possibly a hundred hours. I can't tell.

I regain consciousness on a soft bed; it's covered in something with a tight weave. Memory foam, all dipped where my warm body has left indentations from a long slumber. I'm still buzzed, my mind swims in something strong. Someone is shaking me with a paw on my ribs. I gain awareness slowly; memories come online, but are tightly constricted by an unidentifiable source. Probably the collar. The awareness of it is all I have to go on.

"Time to wake up. I have something to show you." I turn my muzzle and glance at Mist.

He disconnects the hose from the front and I watch it recede with a sense of loss. He slides off my 'site calming ring, which takes a lot of effort because I'm a little knotted up, horny. He gets it past and a flutter of response flows into my bladder. It's strong and erotic. I'm even more knotted, now. He shows me the ring and takes my paw, curling it over, just like so .

_ _ "This is a key, Keman. In more ways than one." He pushes my paw up against the front of the muzzle, and I feel the split ring of metal slide into a corresponding slot, the diameter matches perfectly. I hear a loud click and feel a loosening in my throat. I swallow, and what's there actually goes down this time, the tightness against my tongue vanishes, though the tube is still there.

I reach up and try pulling it off, it takes a couple of tries, the tube in my throat is thick and perfectly molded to my esophagus. Every curve, every ridge. The whole things starts sliding out and I gag, retching hard. So much comes out, it feels like I'm throwing up. I'm surprised there's no vomit, but the egg stayed behind, probably acting like a one-way valve. The tubes pop free from my nostrils and I gasp a deep breath, swallowing the odd emptiness in my throat.

I stare at the long blue tube, it's warm and wet, it looks dark purple because of the red light in my room. There's nothing in me now, except the egg. I wonder how permanent it is. I cough and clear my throat.

"Mist." My voice is still hoarse from all the yelling I've done, or maybe it's the tube. I temporarily break free from the feel-good, no-worries induction the collar is trying to instill in my mind. I can tell I'll lose this battle, probably in less than a minute, but I'll take what I can run with. "I will do anything to free Sinclair." I lock gazes with him, and if beams could come from my eyes, I would fry him on the spot.

He seems unimpressed with my long stare, the last learned dominance trick only the arctic breeds and wolves ever develop. "I know," he says, with a grin at the edges of his muzzle. "But your options are limited to only those which I enable." He twists his head curiously. "Go on, Keman. Try to bite me, I dare you." He knocks on the wall next to him. "Might as well try to launch yourself through this." It sounds thick, and makes no noise against his furred knuckles.

I put a paw against my sheath, as the 'site continues to milk me, my knot has swollen big and it's very hard to concentrate, it's good at what it does. Though I'm not breathing the gas anymore, he probably filled my stomach up with something much longer acting. The transition is seamless so far, I'm still very high.

"Please, Mist. Let him go." He stares at me in silence.

"Quit asking." A real dialogue is strange with someone I've talked to so little. Yet his responses are unsurprising.

"I'll do anything that you ask, he's my Alpha, and you can't motivate me with any stronger force. Surely you know that."

"Perhaps. But I also know that I can make you do what I want without such motivations."

I break my gaze and turn my stare towards the floor. Of course, he's right, the collar is active and owned by him. Not only can it control my mind, it's completely able to lock out my jaw muscles and anything else on my body he wants to quit functioning. "Then why this?" I hold up the muzzle, the tubes flop over themselves like freshly cooked pasta.

"Because I think it looks good on you, and you're going to need it. I had that custom made just for you ," he says, green eyes burning a hole in my head. "So, you're either gulping down a prick that's remarkably like my own..." I glance at the end of the tube that was in my throat, and sure enough, it's tapered just like a canine penis, my eyes grow wide with the recognition. "Or, you're wishing you were, that key won't come free unless the muzzle is locked to the anchor in your stomach. By now your 'site has adapted to that specific calming ring, and inside it are a thousand tiny magnets, all with the poles rotated randomly. You don't want to try using a different one. It would reject it for a year, and I'm told the pain during that time is exquisite. So don't lose that." He smiles.

I keep squeezing the 'site, trying to get my head out of the gutter. Somewhere in my mind is anger, but most striking is my guilt over the fact that it's actually vanishing. Guilt, that I want to obey. Guilt, that I'm horny , and when I steal a glance at his sheath, I can't stop myself from remembering the one time he fucked me. And how much I will enjoy it if he does it again. I feel guilt... because maybe I can let go of Sinclair.


I know that's the collar doing my thinking for me, but I can't stop it. Hold it together, Keman. You can't ever let go, remember his eyes, his touch, and his words. Hurf.

Mist reaches out and taps the side of my collar with a claw. "Such intense guilt! Let me relieve your conscience." He lowers his muzzle to stare closer into my eyes, and I glance left and right, trying to escape the intense direct eye contact. "You're feeling this way because I'm making you feel it. Your thoughts aren't your own right now." He grins big. "Submit."

A thread in my mind snaps. I lunge at the broken end, but it escapes my grasp. I struggle to put a new one in place, but it's as if I can't find any more material: why should I hate him? But I have hated him in the past, so severely. He took my Alpha! But I can find no meaningful reaction to that fact. Only a memory of hating it in the past.

I have to do... whatever it is he wants me to do. And I already know, that can be anything.

My eyes find his, and I show him my throat, deeply. His claws rub over it casually, and he laughs.

"That's it, that's much more like it. Follow me, Keman. There's someone I want you to meet."

I follow him out of my room on two legs that are stiff and vaguely numb. This time, I notice that his ship is different from the last, it's bigger. We enter a room about three times the size of mine. Machinery hums and gurgles around a massive aquarium, it's rather shallow and full of reddish fluid. I'm shocked when I notice there's a human lying on his back inside, with tubes trailing out of his dick, nose, and mouth. What looks like mercury is leaking out of his legs, just above the knees, along with a deep cloud of blood. A machine near his head is slurping up the fluid, seemingly returning it, filtered and clear. Red tubes fit into veins in his arms and legs, probably returning the collected blood. Mist shakes white pellets into the fluid, as if he's feeding fish.

All of this isn't cause for alarm as much as when I notice the human's head. His eyes are sank back into his skull, wait, no, his mouth has extended! He's growing a muzzle?

"Ahh, yes," Mist says, taking a long white tube connected to the machine behind the tank, he pries those slightly canine jaws apart. "About time they cut those free." I hear a sucking noise, air rushing into the tube, along with what sounds like marbles being vacuumed up, while Mist pokes the end around. I look closer and see that it's covered in blood, he reaches in and pulls a few white things free, letting it suck them up.

Teeth. He's sucking up his teeth.

"Uh." What the hell?

"This is Marrrcus, Keman." He turns and looks at me, watching my reaction.

I'm trying very hard to follow what's going on, through the effects of the drugs he's pumped into me. Marcus. Marcus was human, and now he's becoming something else? I glance at his hands, and sure enough, the nails have fallen off and claws are poking out of the tips. I look at his feet, and see the biggest source of the blood floating around in the tank. It looks like someone pulped them with a sledgehammer.

I see that his skull is devoid of any hair, and in fact, so is the rest of his body. I shake my muzzle slowly. "How... why?" I wobble over my leaden thoughts, and Mist interrupts me before I can continue, I wasn't making any progress anyways. He sets his paw on my shoulder and squeezes his clawtips through my fur.

" Start with a human, one that wants to be a Rhenthar . Change him. And he'll worship you forever _._Isn't that right, Keman?"

Oh my Dog! That's what's happening? But. I'm from the past... this is to someone in the present. How is this even possible? Holy fuck! I lean forward, noticing a mercurial twist wrapping around Marcus's fingers, it's actually cutting his flesh off. I've seen that kind of liquid metal before... those are nanites. Red blooms into the fluid around the area, I back up a couple of steps.

"Did... does... is he aware of this?" I'm at a pivotal point in my mind, this is something straight out of my fantasies that I had had when I was human. How many times have I wished for this to happen to me? Hundreds? Thousands.

Mist chuckles. "No, he isn't. Not yet, anyways. But he will, oh yes. He's running in virtual right now, as we speak. I'm making sure he leads a long life as a human, first. He'll be plenty tired of that in another ten or fifteen years. By then he'll be much more experienced." He looks at me, "you wouldn't believe how immature he was, in the beginning."

"Mist," I say, feeling shocked. "He's 18! He's just a kid..."

He shakes his muzzle. "Not anymore, he's 23 now... and well on his way to becoming a doctor. Specializing in Rhenthar physiology, go figure." He smirks.

I stare at Marcus, feeling too stupid to come up with any more questions. I think about Sinclair, and change gears. Some part of me just can't let go of him, even though when I concentrate on him, he seems... meaningless. "What can I do to help?"

Mist gestures at the tank. "I'm changing his body, and the physical proportions of his mind. But what's inside, his thoughts, his manners. They're completely human." Mist licks his teeth, they're shiny with saliva. "Your job is to teach him how to be canine." He leans towards me with his intense green eyes. "Teach him, put him behind yellow eyes. Make the wolf dream come true."

I shake my muzzle slowly. How to be a wolf? But... instincts. Tail positions, ear movement, stance, and eye-height. "I... barely know what makes me a wolf." These words surprise the both of us.

Mist frowns, puts his ears sideways. "That isn't true. You remember being human. And you certainly are aware of who you are right now. You lived as a four-foot for almost a decade. I know you remember it all. It isn't just that you're qualified to teach him everything he needs to know."

Mist points a claw at me. "You're the only _ one _who can teach him everything." He rests his paws on the sides of the tank, smelling satisfied.

"So that's what he's turning into? Fucking hell..." Why couldn't he have picked a more domesticated Rhenthar? I catch movement in the corner of my vision and turn to look at a holodisplay rezzing to life. It forms a gray wolf Rhenthar, white on his stomach and sheath, insides of his legs and arms. There's gray marking the sides of his legs and around his stomach, flowing up to his shoulders.

Of course I'm an expert on wolves; I know that fur isn't just gray; if it's accurate, it'll have brown at the tips of each hair. As I watch the body slowly rotate, I spot brown taking over at the back of his head and ears, and going down his spine. He looks cute, and as the 'site gives me a particularly strong lick of stimulation, yanking my attention down to my very full sheath, I can't help but think... he's pretty fucking hot.

I grunt and lean forward, gently pulling at the 'site, massaging it. I want my calming ring back on it, but I swallow, thinking of what that will require. I'm looking forward to putting the muzzle back on, and I can't tell if it's either because it turns me on, or the fact that it'll feed me more of the drugs it can come with.

"I'm going to warn you right now, Keman. You'll have access to portions of his developing mind. It's going to be rough at first, I'm changing the shape of his brain and there is some unavoidable damage occurring. But everything you teach him, he'll remember." He pauses to let that sink in. "However, there is no eraser. If you make him hate me..." Mist growls deeply. "I will kill Sinclair right in front of you, and you'll spend the rest of your days wearing a collar owned by no one," he says, walking up to me. He grabs me by my muzzle and forces my eyes to stare into his. His voice rises in pitch on the last word.

"Do you understand?"

I nod repeatedly, but his grip on my jaws only turns tighter. "Yes sir" comes out muffled. I bend my head up to show him my throat again, tilting my muzzle low after he lets go. I feel strong submission, and some part of me will do nothing to jeopardize Sin's life. Nothing.

"I believe you," Mist grins. "In fact," he strokes a finger pad slowly up the short fur lining the top of my muzzle, between my eyes. "I'd say this is a project you could become rather attached to. While I was planning it a while back, it dawned on me that there is nothing as sacred to you as seeing another of your kind coming into this world as what he was born to be. Helping him become... what would you call it?"

" Normal." I spit the word out with more bitterness than I intended. Whatever Mist is dosing me with must be wearing off. Or maybe I just spent one whole lifetime hating that I was human, there is that, too. I want the muzzle back on. "I'm withdrawing..." I stare at his feet.

"Then let's go to your room and put some things into you..." He's all teeth, a quiet voice at the back of my mind is angry with him and me both, because I know what he's hinting at.

And I want it.

Chapter 20.

Casey and Ash are standing next to Epi, they're both furious. The Lieutenant is solemn and apologetic. His other officers are dispersing behind him, headed back to their various posts.

"I'm sorry about that," says Epi. "I figured we'd have a little more time."

Ash shrugs. "We found out what we needed. Mist was looking for a certain human to buy, not sell. That means Marcus is probably with him."

"The question is, what's he doing with him?" Casey says, fidgeting around on his hind paws, as if he has to go pee.

Ash stares at him. "What's gotten into you?"

Casey points down the hall, to where the skylift tunnel leads to The Clarkson."When that ship takes off, where do you want to be? Sitting here, or on The Hahkota, ready to follow it?"

Ash growls. "But I hate leaving him... I hate this!" she yells, flattening her ears. "Why did he stay?" It's little more than a whisper.

"Lieutenant, thanks for your time. We better get The Hahkota into space." Casey starts walking away.

Ash jogs to catch up. "Wait up!"

He follows a stairway down to the next level, but instead of turning left, he goes right, grabbing Ash's arm and quickly pulling her in that direction. But The Hahkota is to the left, what the hell?

"This isn't how you get to The Hahkota," Ash mumbles, following along.

"We're not going to The Hahkota. We're gonna take Keman's ship, they'll be looking for The Hahkota_and I don't trust its cloak. Not as much as I trust **_his. We** couldn't even sense it.

This is crazy, Ash thinks. Keman's ship has that weird AI on it. She hopes Casey's as good with it as he is with The Hahkota's computing core. "I hope you know what you're doing..."

Ash relays their gathered intel to Zero and explains the situation briefly. "We're gonna try to get onto Keman's ship. Keep an eye on The Clarkson and tell us if it launches." Zero starts swearing but she cuts the channel off. "Zero's pissed...," she tells Casey.

"Zero patience," Casey declares.

They reach the skylift leading to The Jefferson. Ash tentatively steps through the door and walks up to the starship's hull. "Um. Hello?" She knocks on the airlock door, afraid it might shock her, or worse.

"Unauthorized access, permission not granted," squawks a speaker patch next to the door in a crisp, metallic voice.

Casey steps up to it. "Well, look, your friend Keman is trapped on another ship and if it takes off, we kinda want to be onboard, so we can help get him back. Ok?"

Ash looks at Casey like he's insane. "Really? That's your idea?"

" Master repairer is threatened and detained on other vessel?"

Ash whispers, "master repairer?"

Casey waves his arms around. "It can hear you!" he whispers back.

"Which vessel is master repairer detained on?"

Casey grabs Ash's muzzle in his paw, holding it closed, he speaks very slowly. "Not gonna tell you, until you let us board."

"State passphrase for additional access."

Casey starts turning in little circles, Ash yells at him in a whisper, "what now?"

He stops chasing his tail. "Raspberry danish?"

The outer airlock door opens and they both walk inside. The inner door, however, remains shut.

Ash whispers, "how did you know that?"

"It's his favorite food," Casey mumbles, staring at the inner door with a frown. It still hasn't opened.

"I'm not stupid," the voice grates. "You obviously are friends with Master repairer , but I will not let you board until you state which vessel he is being detained on."

"The Clarkson," Casey says. Ash punches his shoulder. "Ow!" he glares at her. "What was that for?"

"It could take off right now and eject us into space?" Ash slaps the top of her head.

They hear a series of clicks, and the inner airlock door slowly irises open. They quickly step inside and find the place decked out with dark red foam on all the floors, silver anodized walls, and spectrum-limited lighting around 632 nanometers, far into the red. The interior smells clean and new. Ash and Casey walk around, both highly impressed.

The voice follows them. "I have been prohibited from intruding into local starport sentient AI per master repairer's orders, until now, since his safety is at risk. I am verifying your proffered data. Verification complete. Master repairer is aboard_The Clarkson_, and that vessel is currently entering the atmosphere.

Casey and Ash both look at each other. "Go after it!" Ash shouts. "Go go go!" says Casey. Zero promptly notifies them of what they already know.

Gravity seems to double and Casey yells, "what the hell! This thing don't have any inertial compensators?"

Ash leans against a wall, looking frightened. The hull is shaking slightly, things are shifting around and pretty soon, she's worried that she's going to start shifting around.

" Master repairer programmed inertial compensators to these settings. Seek restraining seats located on bridge immediately."

"Shit!" Casey shouts, grabbing Ash and running towards the front of the big ship. He's quickly eyeing various doors, reading the labels printed above each. Ash grabs his arm and pulls at him.

"It's at the front, stupid!" She leads him into a spacious room with viewscreens covering the walls, six seats covered in thick gel padding face forward in the center.

Ash and Casey both take a seat and scramble to pull the shoulder harnesses tight over their bodies. The room darkens and suddenly they're floating in space, with stars projected all around them.

Casey lets out a wet burp and mumbles, "oh dog, I hate freefall..."

A targeting reticule centers around The Clarkson and it stretches out, vanishing from this plane of existence as it warps. The Jefferson fires a long line of white-hot plasma for hundreds of kilometers behind it, kicking them forward with a tremendous jolt. Though it doesn't feel like it's been compensated, all organic matter on the ship would have been pounded flat as they pass 40G's of acceleration. The paltry 4G that they're feeling, however, is far more than they've felt in a very long time on any ship.

"Keeeeemann!" Ash screams.

Chapter 21.

Gravity and lighting have returned to some semblance of normal, if anything on this crazy ship ever is. The Jefferson has reached a Mass Accelerator, a towering structure that looks similar to a nautilus shell. Scattered all over the galaxy, these relics are millions of years old, and no one completely understands their operation or who originally built them. They take ships and dematerialize them, fling them across the galaxy, to another MA that somehow decelerates or re-materializes the ship being moved.

They're enormous.

Inside, they've been adapted for use by current denizens. Pressurized living areas complete with artificial gravity. Most of the original systems have been interfaced with modern computing cores, though some portions remain outside of control. Maintenance, for instance, is a separate, proprietary system that completely takes care of itself.

As they were discovered millennia ago by Terellians, there were no offensive or defensive capabilities. They take damage and can be ruined just like anything else, so modern shields and weapons were retrofitted right away.

Weapons that are currently pointing at The Jefferson, along with a small squadron of attack cruisers homing in.

"You are hereby ordered to turn about, authorization to use this jump point is not given at this time because of previous electronic warfare committed to JP-29 in the Delta quadrant."

Casey and Ash both look at the ceiling and then at the front display screen, where green feline eyes surrounded with black fur stare at them angrily. "Yick. Felines," Ash says. "Can he hear us?"

"Outbound communication channel is not active," the AI declares.

"Good. Now what the hell is this about?" Ash says, looking at Casey with one ear sideways.

"I dunno, but they're not fucking around," he's staring closely at analysis icons, which look almost like crosshairs, tracking the approaching ships. He elbows Ash. "Doesn't that look a lot like a crosshair to you?"

"Um. Hello?" Ash is trying to talk to the AI, but she's not quite sure how. "What uh... do they mean, previous electronic warfare?"

"Destination of jump was required previously, and gained via electronic compromise," the AI informs them with its simultaneously rich yet grainy voice, it sounds like being on the opposite end of a tin-can telephone.

"You hacked it." Ash rolls her eyes. "And not subtly, either. Apparently ." She chuckles. "Now who does that sound like?" She glances at Casey, but he doesn't make the connection.

"AI?" Casey asks. "Why aren't we cloaked right now?"

"The mass accelerator will not process this craft if space time channeling system is active."

Ash smirks at Casey. "It needs to be able to see us before it'll jump us."

Casey blinks at that for a moment, feeling the ship start to move. He finally realizes what the other icon on the display is.

The ship they're in. It's rotating to face away from the approaching squadron of four ships, holding in a diamond pattern.

"Right... that makes sense. But why does that look like a crosshair?" He points.

"Who cares?" Ash says. "We're leaving. See?" Tiny icons spit out of The Jefferson, a dozen microsats capable of giving better views and tactical analysis.

"No." Casey looks at the icons closely. "I don't think we're leaving... AI? Are you plann-"He was pointing at the little tactical icons, when his heads struck the headrest.

The Jefferson brings its engine up to 130% capacity in fusion mode, banking the outlet nozzle to a hard 30-degree angle. White plasma streaks out from the back at a near-relativistic speed. However, most of the energy resulting from fusing heavy hydrogen is invisible X-Rays, travelling at the speed of light. With the right kind of modulation of the magnetic containment field the engine uses to control output, this energy becomes coherent. The beam lases, and carves right through two of the ships in the squadron, the shields of the third and fourth gain a mirror-like surface at the last moment, protecting their hulls just in time.

They both return fire, several banks of heavy gamma emitters turn active and track The Jefferson, dumping gigawatts of current directly into her flight path. The beams are represented as fiery lines of purple.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Casey reaches over and grabs Ash in fear as the AI rapidly shifts its path into a random zigzag pattern. This cuts down efficiency, it has to flare the containment nozzle, expanding the magnetic field for hundreds of meters behind in the shape of a mushroom. The gamma rays bend under the intense force, but the capacity of the engine becomes severely limited in performance.

They start catching up.

The Jefferson arcs around and takes the most logical course: straight towards the Mass Accelerator. The ships following her won't likely fire for fear of missing and hitting the structure.

"AI, why not just warp us out of here? Those ships are pissed off, this isn't a game!" Casey can't believe this is happening.

"I have already established direct control over the mass accelerator's non-native systems, which include both offensive and defensive systems and guidance. I possess the destination of the ship Master Repairer currently resides." It is too distant for my warp drive to reach in any feasible amount of time.

Six small icons break free from the two ships following them, racing forward with 60G of acceleration. Missiles. The AI ramps the engine onboard The Jefferson back to maximum output and lases five of them before they're even a hundred meters away from their launch ports. Brilliant explosions rip up both ships; the pressure waves buckle their propulsion systems from the sudden changes in velocity.

The sixth missile streaks forward, travelling at over two hundred kilometers per-second.

"Um, you going to-"A concussion wave rattles through The Jefferson's hull, cutting Ash's words short. The engine changes in pitch, a deep vibration threatens to break her teeth, the engine sputters and falls silent. Red damage icons rez onto the viewscreens, showing The Jefferson in a cutaway view, they're clustered around the engine room.

"Damage. Warning. Damage." The AI repeats itself. "Repairing. Estimated time for repair," it pauses. "Thirty-seven minutes."

The Jefferson doesn't have much for delta-v. It killed off most of its forward velocity twisting and turning like a goldfish trying to avoid a piranha. Now it slowly drifts past the looming structure of the mass accelerator, just outside of its pickup zone, the area a ship needs to be for it to initiate a transfer. So close, yet so far. It isn't even travelling fast enough to fall into a warp window.

The two ships following The Jefferson, however, are travelling at maximum velocity. They're headed right for the accelerator at 30 kilometers per-second. They mass two hundred tons each. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, since its deflection shield can sustain ten times that with minimal absorption.

The AI already shut down its shields though, as part of its offensive capabilities. It can't get them back up in time. The two ships slam into the structure like kinetic bombs. Casey and Ash both watch this in awe, via video feeds from microsats orbiting the structure. Hellish red fire erupts from the hole the two ships made; lightning rides on the highly ionized gasses escaping.

Instead of fading, the electrical discharge slowly intensifies, gaining a yellow hue. Something inside is burning, hotter and brighter by the moment.

Casey unlocks the shoulder straps holding him into his seat and stands up quickly. "That's a core breach... I read about this once. AI, do you see any neutrino emissions coming from the accelerator, from the hole those ships made in it?"

Ash's eyes are wide, she unlocks her harness too, but for why, she's not yet certain.

"Analyzing," from above. "Confirmed, rising rate neutrino count 1x10 to the 6th."

"What's that mean?" asks Ash. "In dumb people terms, Casey!"

"It means we need to get the fuck out of here, like right now. That thing is about to explode."

"We've got shields, right?" She looks up at the ceiling. "How big of a boom is it going to make?"

Casey draws his paws apart suddenly, for emphasis. "Pretty much the same size as a small nova."

"You mean... like a star?" yells Ash.

"That's pretty much what powers it, yup. AI! Is our damage accessible in or outside the ship?"

"Both," comes the response. "Nanoreconstruction, twenty-five minutes to completion."

"Yeah. That isn't going to cut it. Follow me!"

Together they run from the bridge, towards the engine room.

Chapter 22.

Casey is peering in through a thick window set into the door leading to the engine room section of The Jefferson. The door is locked, probably because there's no air in there. Ash is standing behind him, trying to hide her fear, wishing she were more useful in situations like this. Casey probably has the spare parts needed to fix the engines sitting in his personal quarters aboard The Hahkota, or so she would guess.

"AI?" Casey asks. "Focus on fixing the atmosphere in the engine room, that way I can get in there to help."

"Keman probably has some spacesuits stored in here somewhere..." Ash is looking around at all the storage closets lining the walls.

"We don't have time for that." Casey tilts his muzzle sideways, trying to assess the damage in the engine room visually, through the little window.

"How much time do we have?" Ash puts one ear sideways.

"Atmosphere restored," the speaker in the ceiling announces. The door lock indicators vanish and it slides sideways, open. A severed superconductor cable flips around on the floor, sending out dangerous arcs to everything it touches. Now that its arc can superheat air, it produces force, like with an ion thruster. It whips sideways and touches a box below the deuterium containment system, and the front panel blows off in a shower of sparks.

"Probably not enough to fix that..." Casey's shoulders slink. "Ahh shit... AI? Are we venting deuterium?"

"Affirmative, containment system integrity dropping rapidly."

"Kill the power to it, shut down everything except gravity and life support, you got a sc cable in there destroying things..."

The machinery in the room winds down, the cable falls silent, the whole ship goes quiet except for some whistling shrieks. Ash turns and looks at quicksilver crawling along the wall, plugging holes where the inner hull was punctured by flying shrapnel. That much she understands.

Casey quickly steps in and does a 360. "Right... deuterium there, magnetic isolation control, there... life support over there, that looks fine." He turns and runs a paw over the large diamond-like structure in the center. "Warp core... intact. It really is a one-point-oh." He looks up at the ceiling where large sc cables route into it, "amazing."

"Ok, enough with worshipping Keman's ship, and more with the fixy fixy? Big boom, right?" Ash needs to keep the distractible mechanical wizard focused, that Mass Accelerator didn't look good back on the bridge.

Casey is staring closely at the sc cable that was flying around a couple of minutes ago. The end looks burnt, he nods absently. "Working on it..." He starts opening drawers in a toolbox mounted against one wall. One after another, until he finds some complicated-looking cutters. He uses them to trim the end of the sc cable and pulls it over to the panel it apparently attaches to, peering into the hole first. He turns around and Ash almost bumps into him. She was looking over his shoulder

"Hey, um... over there in that supplies cabinet," he points. "There should be a can of liquid squelch, somewhere. Can you go find it for me?"

"Will do. Liquid squelch, got it." She walks over to the cabinet and pops the catch on it, staring at a myriad of supplies. There must be a hundred different things inside, all in various sizes and shapes. She looks at Casey and catches him smiling, then it vanishes. "Gee thanks, this is going to take a minute..."

Casey tries to attach the cable back to its port but it isn't long enough. He glances down and sees why, seeing what's left of about a meter of cable, torn to shreds. "Shit," he mutters, moving further up the cable and releasing some tie-down points. He removes a couple of them, pulls some slack, then goes back to the panel, and successfully inserts the end until it clicks.

"Ok," he says. "Next problem... what was that panel that blew?" He crouches down onto his knees and stares into it. "Oh no... AI! Quick, stop venting deuterium, quick, turn the containment system back on!"

A soft hum builds in intensity, several metallic valve solenoids click all around them. Casey stares at a readout next to a large cylinder as tall as he is. "Fuck! It's empty!"

Ash turns around; she has a dozen different cans sitting on the floor next to her. No liquid squelch yet, though. She's looking as fast as she can. "What's the problem? Doesn't this ship use magnetic fields to scoop hydrogen from space to fill its tank?"

If he had pointy ears, they'd be flat. "Yeah. It does," he points into a charred housing. "And the controller for it is fried."

"But... the AI said it would only take 25 minutes for it to fix. It's been like 15, that leaves ten?"

"That was before we put air into the room and blew this thing up," he grabs some of the charred insides and sprinkles them onto the floor. "AI? Revise the repair time, how long to rebuild this controller?"

"Three hours, ten minutes."

Casey pulls his paw out of the box as mercury flows up, spiraling around the structure supporting it. High pitched noises and scraping sounds ensue within.

"We can't have more than a few minutes left, AI? Any spare H3 onboard?" His voice is hopeful.

"Negative. You should have left me to repair the engine; I don't need atmosphere to make repairs."

Ash covers her muzzle, stifling a laugh.

Casey growls. "Yeah, great. Rub it in, it's both our funerals." His eyes defocus, he holds up a paw. "Wait!"

Ash sees inbound comms, from Zero on_The Hahkota_. He's local! "Casey!"

"I know, I know!"

Ash tries to explain the situation to Zero, and he gives her some bad news. The MA is only minutes from self-destruction. There is no way he can dock with The Jefferson in that amount of time.

"Get in some suits and get the fuck out an airlock, right now!" Zero orders.

"AI, this ship can receive hypertransport shipments? Please say yes?" Casey asks.

"Affirmative, shipments up to one square meter without the use of the airlock cargo bay."

"Yes!" Casey shoots a fist into the air. His eyes go unfocused again. Hypertransport is used for transferring documents and supplies all across the galaxy; it uses small containers with warp drives built into them.

"Casey, what are you going to do, order us some spare parts? We need to get off this ship right now!" She barks. "Let's get into some suits, Zero's orders."

"Screw that," he says. "Got some H3 coming right now... straight from The Hahkota. AI? Do I need to go fetch it or can you bring it in here faster than me?"

Ash hears something outside the hall, a loud whining noise, getting louder. A wheeled 'bot tears into the engine room with a suitcase-sized metal tank in its pinchers. Smoke trails from its overdriven motors.

"I don't know when nema started standardizing these things... but I sure as shit hope it was more than three hundred years ago," Casey says as he detaches a big black hose with a metal connector on the end. He peers at the square end and nods. "Looks about right." He slams it into the side of the suitcase and the hose quickly covers in frost. "We're live! Let's go let's go..." Casey scrambles onto his feet and grabs Ash by the shoulder.

"What about the liquid squelch?" she asks.

"There is no such thing," Casey laughs. Ash starts chasing him down the hallway, that fucker!

"I'm gonna program your doors to shut on your head if we make it out if this alive!"

Behind them, the engine room begins to fill with sound as H3 enters a state of quantum flux, both fused, and not-fused. Casey and Ash strap themselves into chairs on the bridge; the display shows the MA spewing lightning for hundreds of kilometers out of the hole in its side.

Fire blossoms from the hole, and the structure seems to bulge, as if someone is inflating it with air. The Jefferson slams them back into their seats, turning sharply to vector away from the MA at a 90-degree angle. A shockwave bursts from the center and The Jefferson stretches out to infinity and vanishes just ahead of it.

Casey stares at Ash. "Well, that was fun..."

She punches him in the shoulder.

To be continued...

Behind Yellow Eyes: Chapter 12

Chapter 12. I'm leading Sinclair to my quarters, basically my bedroom. I have his paw in my own, and half my dick is sticking out of my sheath, it's bunched down around my swollen knot. The parasite is apparently very hungry, and I'm having a hard...

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Behind Yellow Eyes: Chapter 11

Chapter 11. Marcus's grandfather is concerned. He never came home, and that last message sent to him is extremely alarming. He knows Marcus isn't the type to play tricks, despite some of the ones he played at that age himself. No, this is...

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Behind Yellow Eyes: Chapter 10

Chapter 10. Marcus looks around as he's forcefully walked out of the storage closet, desperate to recognize someone familiar. Mist's paw almost completely encircles his neck, and he has no doubt that he could break it if he wants to. Terror picks...

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