Me and My Big Mouth


Brian W. Antoine

December 19, 1993

Chapter One

Me and my big mouth

"That's the last load boss. There's nothing left in there but memories."

I leaned against the column that formed the Gate to my mountain lab and looked into the empty area that remained. "It does have a few of those. Has it really been nine years?"

"Actually, eight years eleven months..." The look I threw over my shoulder shut her up. "Ah, yeah. Just about nine years."

I stood back and let the first of the cargo loaders by with their load of rubble. "Start filling it up. I'll collapse the ceiling and close the gate when you're finished." The lab under Antoine Peak had served me well, but it was time to grow and close one more loophole in my security. With the closing of those Gate's and the transference of the Velan Gate to the expanded Lunar Lab. No one would ever be able to gain access to things better left unknown until the Human race once more stood on the Moon. Given the idiot's running things back at home, that was going to be a long time.

Earthside, the warehouse we'd used for all those years as a transfer point had been sold. All the Gate's had been closed save the one in Bob's Ex-wife's house, and it only gave access to K1. The Gate from K1 to my lab was under Penny's guardianship. Nothing was going to pass through it without her authorization. Turning my back on the Gate, I walked down one of the new access tunnels to the construction docks.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

"Heaaaayyyyy!" I must have jumped ten feet straight up when Kal ambushed me coming through the far end of the tunnel. "Jesus, are you trying to give me heart failure?"

"You looked depressed and I decided to liven you up a little," came the snicker filled from my mate.

"You want lively? I'll give you lively!" With a growl, I leaped her direction with an evil grin pasted on my face. "Somebody I know is ticklish ..."

She dodged to the side and started backing away from me. "You wouldn't dare ..." The low chuckle of my reply sent her running down the length of the bay with me hot on her tail. "Is this any way to treat the love of your life?"

"I'm not trying to tickle chocolate chip cookies. I just take some well deserved revenge on an obnoxious ball of fur."

"Cookies?" She skidded to a stop and I grabbed and threw her over my shoulder. "You'd trade me for chocolate?" she screamed as she pounded on my back.

"Maybe for some good German Chocolate. The white stuff they can keep. Just doesn't taste right to me." I was having a hard time keeping Kal from getting free, so I decided to prepare a surprise. As I carried her past the two triships that were undergoing final testing. I cupped my hand and teleported something off of my work bench. As she continued to squirm, I reached up and clipped it to the end of her tail.

"What was that? What are you doing back there?" I swatted her on the butt. "Oh, you're going to pay for that."

I set her down on the floor. "You going to have to catch me first. Remember how much trouble you had the last time" and I winked at her. "Penny, kill the lights please ..." Even as the lights died, I was rolling behind a crate I'd spotted.

"You're not getting out of here that easy. Penny, please restore the lights." Nothing happened. "Penny?"

"I'm sorry. The number you have dialed has been disconnected," came the voice in the dark. "But, I can be bribed ..." and her chuckle reverberated around the cavern.

"You are both going to regret this." She took about two steps before she discovered what I'd clipped to her tail. Every step she took, a tiny bell tinkled from behind her.

"Merry Christmas!" and I moved as I heard her move my direction.

"It isn't Christmas yet."

I heard a tinkle about twenty feet to my left. "It will be by the time you find me." For a couple of seconds it sounded like a bell ringer's convention, then silence.

"That is cheating ..." Some more tinkles, as she fumbled with the tiny bell. "When I figure out how to remove this thing I'm going to make you eat it."

"Dip it in chocolate first," and I moved again, this time trying to work my way towards the tunnel entrance. Try as she might, Kal couldn't keep that tiny bell from giving away her position every time she moved. There were any number of things she could have done to find me, but I think we both were enjoying the chance to unwind after the events of the last few months. I was almost to the tunnel when I noticed that it had gotten real quiet. She was up to something, and I decided to make a run for the tunnel. Big mistake ...

I'd only gone about five feet when I was tackled from behind. When we rolled to a stop I was being held on the floor and I had a face full of fur. With nothing better to do, I raised my head and gently bit her to let her know I was still there. I realized what I was nibbling on about the same time she giggled. If the lights had been on, I would have been bright red.

"Could I have the lights now please?" asked a quiet voice from above me. Slowly they came to life to keep from blinding us. Sitting on my chest and holding my arms at my side was a pleased looking Kalindra. Now I really did blush as I saw her blouse wrapped around her tail to muffle the bell. As I lay there trying to figure out what to say, she jumped to her feet. Grabbing my arm she lifted me to mine, then threw me over her shoulder and headed down the tunnel. Behind us came one of Penny's remotes to follow up the rear.

"I'm glad the IR sensors work as good as they do boss. That will make a good home movie for your kids."

"You didn't ..."

"Yep, and it's going to cost you if you want it erased."

"Don't you dare erase that. I want to see the expression on his face when I caught him" came Kal's laugh as we bounced down the tunnel. Switching to another tunnel, she carried me to the entrance of the energy dome that was the surface part of the installation. Standing in the center was the master Gate to Velar and she headed towards it. The surroundings were still pretty sparse as the terraforming hadn't gotten to the point of allowing plant life yet.

"If anyone asks for him, tell them he's busy. He still hasn't taken me on our Honeymoon, and now is as good a time as any."

"Honeymoon? Now wait a minute!"

I could hear Penny laughing behind us as Kalindra carried me through the Gate.

Chapter Two

Let's go shopping

I was sitting in my turret when I heard Kalindra walk into the living room below me. Against everything I'd believed, she had decided she liked that stupid little bell I'd clipped to her tail as a joke. I considered it just another example of how she could surprise me when I least expected it.

"You still working with Penny?"

"Yep," I replied. "The first two Oort Guardians just arrived on station and the next two just arrived for final checkout. It may not be much to start with, but at two of those things a week. It won't be long before I can feel a little safer about the Meenzal's knowing where we live. I still don't trust those fuzzy terrors to not lead the Maal straight to Earth."

"Ok, put down that datapad and get down here. This is suppose to be our honeymoon, or at least a vacation. You promised to take me shopping today for the camping equipment we will need and you can't do it with your nose buried in that thing."

I peered over the edge and looked below me. She was giving me a look that said 'right now or else', and with a Mage you never want to know what 'or else' can be. "Yes sir! Right away sir! How could I ever forgive myself if I didn't take you shopping!"

"Better, but you need to whine more when you call me sir. Also, remember to stay two steps behind me as we walk into town."

I just stuck my tongue out at her as I shut down the datapad. I could hear her chuckling to herself as she went to grab our cloaks. She was still smiling as we closed the door behind us and headed into town. There was no need to lock it. In fact there was no lock to lock. You had to be real stupid to enter the house of the ArchMage without an invitation. "You're feeling pleased with the world today. Did Tan tell you where I hid the lemon drops or something?"

"Lemon drops? You have lemon drops and you didn't tell me! You beast!" <thwack>

I was getting swatted by her tail so I grabbed it the next time it came close. "I'm going to bob this thing if you don't learn how to control it." Ever grab a cat's tail? Velan's react about the same way.

"I'd let go of that if I were you ..."

"If you were me, you wouldn't have this problem." I was holding the end and she kept trying to wiggle it to pull it out of my hands.

"Don't say I didn't warn you." She took off at a good pace to see if I could keep up. Trying to hold on to her tail and keep my balance as I ran was getting to be a bit difficult. She's faster then I am and I was running with a handicap. As always, I decided to cheat. Levitating myself a couple of feet above the ground I let her pull me along. She was running flat out before she figured out something was wrong.

She turned back to see what was going on. "How are you ..." and saw me floating along behind her. As she skidded to a stop, I ran into her back and then floated there in mid-air.

"Wheeeeee! Can we do that again?" I was floating in a zero-G field and when she flicked her tail this time I lost my grip. Spinning head over heels I came to a stop in some bushes that lined the road. Picking bits of junk out of my hair, I stepped back onto the road where she waited for me.

"I warned you."

"So you did," and I bowed deeply. "I am a worthless slime that you should trade in for a better model."

She cocked her head and looked at me for a moment. "No, you might be worth a few coppers if I have you trained." The moment she said it she took off running. I was still chasing her as we reached the edge of town.

"Ok, where is the shop you told me about?"

"The other side of the park," and she took the lead as we worked our way through the light traffic. As we reached the edges of the park, we saw that today was one of the occasional craft's fairs that Velan's hold to sell the handmade articles they create. Since we were in no particular hurry, we slowed and browsed the booths as we passed them.

We had been looking for about a half hour when it finally dawned on me what I'd been hearing since we had reached the edge of the park. Pausing in front of one of the booths, I listened to see if I could tell the direction of the tiny bell I was hearing. "Kalindra?"

She was looking through some cloth in the booth next door. "Yes?"

"Listen for a moment. Do you hear bells?"

She paused and I could see her ears twitching as she scanned the area. "Now that you mention it, yes I do."

"How many people know you wear that one I gave you?"

"Quite a few by now I would think. I've been into town a couple of times the last two days. Why?"

"I guess we have started a fad or something. I swear that sounds just like the one you insist on wearing." I turned around to face the crowd, but couldn't make out the specific direction of the tiny chime I could still hear.

"Well, it is a cute idea," said Kal as she walked to my side.

"You might not think so if you knew where I got the idea from," I said with a chuckle as I listened for the bell in the crowd.

"Well I think it's cute anyway."

Whoever it was, had walked out of range of my hearing. "I've learned not to argue with you."

"Hah!" she snorted as we continued on our way.

We were just about to the other side of the park when I turned a corner and skidded to a stop. Arranged on a table in front of me were some of the finest cloaks I'd ever seen. Given that they were being shown at the fair, they each had to have been handmade. I started examining them and became more impressed with every one I looked at. The one time I looked at the person manning the booth. He just smiled and let me continue at my own pace.

"Kalindra my love, my sweet, the light of my eye."

She got this really odd look on her face, like she had bitten into a sour fruit. "I've heard this before. What do you want this time?"

I held up a royal blue cloak trimmed with some kind of fur. "Buy me a cloak?"

She snorted. "You already have one. Though that is a beautiful color if I do say so. Besides, you can buy your own."

I laid the cloak back on the table and looked at her for a second. Turning to the craftsman who I assumed had created it, I asked "Do you do take custom orders?"

"And what may the Klizach of the nas Kan consider custom?"

"A design on the back of a quality to match the workmanship I see displayed here," and I waved my hand at the cloaks on the table before me. He smiled and pulled aside a small cloth door that had hidden a couple of cloaks in the rear of the booth. On the backs of them were some of the finest needle work I had ever seen.

"Would something like this interest the Klizach?" He was smiling as he knew he had me hooked.

"The artist could work from a model for the design?"

"My mate is the artist and she should find working from a model most acceptable. I assume you wish the lovely lady here to model for the work?"

I hadn't even been thinking about that, but I could see Kal blushing as I turned to see the expression on her face. "I may need a second cloak made at that, but my mate is not the model I had in mind." I hugged her to me as I saw the craftsman's eyes light up. "We will be back in a second" and I lead her around behind a couple of the booths.

"Kalindra, I would like you to buy me that cloak."

"Of course, but why do you not buy it yourself?"

"Because I can't be in two places at the same time." As I explained what I had in mind. She started to laugh to herself.

"Very well, though I now wonder what I will have to look like if you have a cloak with my image made."

"Oh, that one is easy. Though you will have very few clothes on while posing for the design." I laughed as she blushed again. She didn't however refuse, so I made a mental note to myself. When we walked out from behind the booths a few moments later. Kalindra was leading my by the rough of my neck fur. The craftsman manning the booth almost bolted.

"Do not worry, he is safe enough as long as he's been fed." She reached down and ruffled my fur.

*That's one I owe you.*

*Shut up and look cute*

"Your mate can sketch the information needed? We would like it to be a close likeness." He nodded and disappeared though the back of the booth. He returned a few moments later with his mate and an arm load of sketchbooks. She stopped and looked at me for a second, than sat down in a chair with one of her books.

"You have a particular pose in mind?"

Kalindra looked at me and snapped her fingers.

*That's two...* but I curled up in the pose I'd had in mind for the back of the cloak.

"You have him well trained."

Kalindra had sense enough to keep quiet this time as I glared at her. For the next hour or so, the craftsman's' mate sketched me from various angles. Several times we gathered a small crowd outside the booth, as people who walked by spotted what was going on. From the rate the cloaks were being bartered for, I didn't think we were going to have any trouble when it came time to barter for mine. The two of us sitting there in the open was certainly good for his business.

At least once though, our hidden friend with the bell came by. I caught it first and let Kalindra know. *He or she is back again. It sounds like they are about twenty feet behind and to the left of us.*

I had to hold still, so she looked for me. *I still don't see anyone that seems to be paying more attention to us than the rest of the crowd.* A few moments later I heard the bell disappear into the distance.

When the artist indicated she was done. I stood up again and faced her. "I assume your mate will be back to deal for the cloak?" I caught her by surprise when I nodded my head.

Reaching down to scratch the top of my head, Kalindra told her that "I don't think I could keep him away. Male's can be so impulsive at times." <yip!> The later exclamation came when I reached over and grabbed her tail in my mouth. "I've warned you about that ..." and she wagged her finger at me. I proceeded to cower and cover my head in my paws as I whined. Reaching down to grab me by the scruff of my neck, she lead me away behind the booths. "We will be back shortly to deal for the cost of the cloak." The artist and her mate just stared at the two of us like we were crazy.

It took another hour, and a few lessons in bartering, but I would have my cloak in about two weeks. At least once while I was dickering with the owner, I caught his mate looking at the little golden wolf that held my hair back. She looked at her sketchbook, the clasp again, and then at me with her eye's wide open. I just winked and kept dickering with her mate. I'll bet there were a few stories told about that bargain for years afterwards.

When the deal had been sealed, Kalindra and I resumed our trek to the shop we had originally been heading for. "You have anything else you would like to shop for?"

"Well," I paused and looked around. "We are going to need at least one more artist."

"What for?" Kalindra was looking at me with distrust in her eyes.

"I'll need one that doesn't laugh easy. When you pose for the second cloak, or maybe a painting I can hang on my wall. I'll need someone who won't laugh when they see how fat you've gotten from eating all those lemon drops." We made good time to the shop as she chased me the entire way.

Chapter Three

Look what followed me home

"So that is a tent, bedding and the utensils you indicated. Will there be anything else?" asked the shopkeeper.

I double checked the stuff on the table before me. "No, that should do us. Now, you perhaps have some small task that a Mage might help you with?" He smiled and we began to barter for the goods I'd chosen for our camping trip. There are times that I think barter for services is more common than paying in coin on Velar. At least it was more interesting and I was even starting to get the hang of it.

Kalindra had mentioned in passing that she had never been out in the wilderness that makes up most of her world. Since we had both needed the rest, and she kept talking about the honeymoon we'd never had. We had decided to take a week and explore the back country of her world. To make the experience more realistic, we had both agreed that 'no magic' was the rule from the time we stepped off the sub-shuttle. I was curious to find out just what her idea of a honeymoon was also. She'd latched onto the term with a vengeance, though she could not have meant it the way another human would have.

When we finally agreed on what service I would provide, Kalindra and I loaded our arms with our camping gear and got ready to head home. Just as she was opening the shop door, I heard a familiar chime from outside. Stepping through it, I almost ran over a Velan female that couldn't have been more than four feet tall. Behind her was a male that couldn't have been much taller.

"Hello, so our shadow has decided to show itself. Is there something I can help you with?" The female looked at me, then at Kalindra. As a guess, I'd have said she was about half scared to death about being where she was. "Don't worry, I don't bite no matter what you may have heard."

She gave me a shy grin and seemed to get her courage together. Stepping in front of Kalindra, she started to speak. "My brother and I would speak with the Klizan and Klizach ni Kan, if it is permitted."

*That sounded awful formal to me. Mind telling me what's up?*

*Watch and learn oh mate of mine.* Kalindra nodded towards one of the many benches that lined the road. "We have the time and that would be a good place to rest while we talk." The smile that lit the females' face made me believe she thought she'd just won first prize for something. Being absolutely clueless as to what was going on, I just followed along behind with my arms full. When I dropped my bundle I stayed standing to let the female sit beside Kalindra. Instead, both of the kids sat down on the ground in front of her and she indicated that I was to sit beside her. "Very well. What may we do for you?"

I could see the her swallow once before she began. "I am Lythandi and this is my younger brother Sten." I didn't recognize the suffix and Kal must have felt my curiosity through the link. *It means Astronomer.* I was still trying to figure out how a race that was afraid of heights would ever get interested in astronomy when she continued her introduction.

"Though not yet of age, my brother is training to be a metallurgist. His specialization is crystal metal composites. We have recently been freed of our family obligations, and..."

That caught even my attention. I'd studied families and honor when I'd flayed Kalindra for messing with Bob. The 'freed of our family obligations' line was the polite way of saying their family had been desolved because of a conflict of honor. Given their probable ages, they could not have been the head of the family in question. That meant they had been abandoned to their own devices when the family had been scattered.

"So, we have come to petition you for admittance to the nas Kan. We hope you consider the skills we bring and our willingness to serve." Her little speech finished, she bowed her head and waited for our reply. Her brother had yet to say a single word. He just sat behind her and waited. Looking close at him I also got the idea that they had not been eating real regularly lately either.

*So, are you or I suppose to answer?*

*It is a joint decision. It is now for us to question them if we have anything we need to know.*

I looked at them sitting there in the dust at our feet. *Mind if I go first?*

*I have no objections so far. Ask what you may.*

I coughed quietly to get her attention. "You realize that this is not a normal family you wish to join? You may have read the stories that we have allowed the library to publish, but that is not the same as living with us. As an example, why are you wearing that silly bell?"

I got a shy grin as a reply. "I, I mean we," and she indicated her brother, "have indeed read the stories you have allowed to be published. A common thread through out them has been a willingness to learn and adapt to the unknown and the different." Her brother gave a short nod. "We both decided that a family with such a foundation was worth the attempt."

I'd been sensing her emotions as she replied. While there was a small amount of flattery involved, she had been speaking the truth as she felt it. "And the bell?"

"I noticed your coimelin in town yesterday and found the sound it made to be pleasing. I also noticed the looks she was given as she passed the various males in town and decided to see if I could also attract a mate that way."

I looked at my mate, who had a silly look pasted on her face. I also resolved never to mention just where I'd gotten the idea for that stupid bell. "How do you know that we are worth the trouble to get to know? The stories are one thing, but how do you know that I don't beat her with a stick every night to keep her in line?"

I could feel the outrage from Kal, but she kept a straight face. The kid on the other hand snickered. "Is it a very large stick?" I wasn't sure how to reply.

*Ok wench, you have any questions?*

*Yes, but I would prefer to ask them in private.*

"Ok, good enough." I stood up and lifted the kid to her feet. "Your brother and I have some things to talk about and I hate sitting on this bench while you sit on the ground." Sitting her down next to Kal, I pulled the young male to his feet. "You two talk about whatever while Sten and I see if we can find some food." I looked at the young kid looking up at me in shock. "Sound good to you?" He nodded his head and we headed off. Behind me I could her Lythandi expressing her surprise.

"He gave me his seat?"

"It is a custom of his to never prevent a female from having a place more comfortable than his to sit upon. It is a human quirk, but it pleases him to utilize it here as well as his home world."

"The stories spoke truly then ..." and we passed out of hearing range.

"So, you wish to be a metallurgist?" He just nodded his head again. "You can talk can't you?" Again he just nodded. "Well let's see if we can't loose your tongue with some food" and we headed towards the food area of the fair.

Chapter Four

Answer me these questions three

I'd finally gotten Sten to talk to me, but only after he had eaten enough food to choke a small horse. One subject he still refused to talk about was the family his sister and he had come from. I'd also managed to figure out with a few well-picked questions that he didn't know much about metallurgy. Ok, given their situation I'd cut Lythandi some slack for stretching the truth. Just as long as she hadn't done the same with her own profession. Sten was so full he was about half asleep in the afternoon sun when Kal and Lyth walked up and sat down beside us.

"You seem to have made a friend," said my mate with a smile.

"I'm not sure about me, but the cook here is a big hit. You two get your questions answered?"

Kal just nodded and told Lythandi to grab some food for herself. She took off like she was expecting the offer to be withdrawn before she could eat. *They are an interesting pair those two. I am unsure what to tell them.*

*Well I've got another data point for you. The kid here,* and I nodded at Sten, *is about as close to being a metallurgist as I am to being a bright pink Yak. I assume Lythandi is just trying to make a good impression about her brother.*

*Yes, I had figured that out in my talk with her.* The tradesman manning the booth nearby gave a questioning look at Kal as Lythandi made her choice of meals. Kal just nodded to indicate we would be covering the cost. *They have had a rough time the last month.*

*Did you find out what happened? Sten refused to even listen when I tried to talk about it.*

*You would not know about it, but about two months ago there was a construction accident that claimed the lives of some of the workers. The investigation showed that the person in charge had substituted inferior materials for those specified. That person was the Klizan of Lythandi's family. Given the loss of life, the family was forcibly disbanded and the members scattered. They have been moving from town to town since then. Looking for someone who would take a chance on them or a male who would consent to be her mate. She has tried to start a family of her own so that she might hide her shame.*

Lythandi came back and sat down beside her brother. He immediately curled up against her and fell asleep. *Is she really an Astronomer?*

*Yes, that much she dare not try to lie about. She completed her apprenticeship about six months ago.*

I could see Lythandi watching the two of us sitting there in silence. Telepathy is just common enough on Velar that I suspect she knew we were talking about her. *So, it is your decision as I understand it. I find nothing to object about that I can not overlook because of their circumstances.*

*As you have reminded me on more than one occasion. We are not a normal Velan family and your wishes in this matter would not be ignored.*

*I just wish I knew more about them. We have to answer them today?*

*No, we are allowed time to question those that know them.*

I looked at the two of them sitting across from us. *I can guess what we would be told.* I thought about it while I sat back and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun. *Would you be interested in an idea?*

*That's what I keep you around for.*

*How determined are you to go camping?* I could sense her puzzlement as she thought about it.

*What do you have in mind?*

*Take them with us and see how they get along with us. Once we get them someplace where they can relax we might find them a little more talkative also.* I wasn't sure just how to interpret what I felt through our link.

*You keep coming up with ways to avoid being alone with me. One would almost think you are afraid of me for some reason.*

I turned and lay back on the bench we were sitting on so I could rest my head in her lap. *Care to explain to me what you think a human honeymoon is comprised of?* I had to chuckle as I caught just a hint of a blush around her muzzle. *Yep, that's what I thought. You've been listening to my sister too much again.* She just tweaked my nose and began to speak to Lythandi.

"I have considered your request and find that I require more information."

My head was below the level of the table, but I could see the reaction in Lythandi's posture as Kal's words registered.

"However, my mate and I have decided on something a little different as a way to gather that information. You have asked to join what some consider to be a rather odd family. Odd is not the word I would use to describe it, but unconventional does a reasonable job as a description."

I stuck my head above the table for a moment and winked at Lythandi. "She gets a bit wordy now and then." I got my nose tweaked again as I relaxed back into her lap.

"My mate and I are going on vacation for a few days in the back country. Our request is that you join us so that we may spend the time to learn about each other. It is possible that you may change your mind when you get to know more about this lunatic I have taken as my mate."

I reached around with my hand and pinched her as she finished her little speech. I'm sure the impression she gave as she jumped up and screamed had both kids wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Kal was sitting there glaring at me as I smiled and headed back to the shop we had picked our stuff up from. I didn't bother to dicker this time because I wasn't really in the mood. When I left, I had a second set of gear for the kids and a hole in my pocket.

Dropping the stuff on the table, I started sorting stuff into piles. "You each need to pack this stuff away so you can carry it comfortably."

"We have not yet said we would go camping with you," said Lythandi. "What will you do with this gear if we decline?"

"Not my problem. Even if you decline, the gear is yours. From the looks of things the two of you have been sleeping under the stars quite a bit lately. This will at least keep you a little more comfortable while you search for a place to call home." I was getting puzzled looks from all three of them, though Kalindra understood a little more than the other two. I grabbed my pack and slung it over my back. "Well, are you up for some peace and quiet?"

They all looked at each other, than began to grab their gear. While I whistled a tune, our little gang headed for the closest sub-shuttle station. As we worked our way through the fair, I could hear the bells chiming behind me in sync with each other and had to laugh. Lord what an impression we had to be making.

Chapter Five

Snakes and Snails and very few trails

We had left the last sub-shuttle station far behind as the sun began to dive below the horizon. To gain the time we had lost in our little shopping trip. We had headed sunward around the planet until we ran out of both land and sub-shuttle stations. Then we'd just picked a direction and started hiking. While I'd done this kind of thing a couple of times before. The three Velan's behind me were on their first trip and they made sure I knew about it.

"Does every bush have to have thorns?" muttered Kalindra from behind me.

"Yep, I think that's rule number 47 in the wilderness guide. All bush's must annoy everyone within striking distance." I chuckled at the grumble I heard. "Cheer up, it could be raining..."

"Next time, I pick the location for our vacation."

"Vacation? I thought this was our honeymoon?" I ducked to avoid the blow I knew was coming. "Anyway, this looks like a good place to stop." We were just below the crest of a small hill. Testing the wind pattern, it looked like we were in a good spot to avoid gusts off of the top of the hill. "Find a flat spot and clear away an area for your tent."

I saw Lythandi looking around in puzzlement. "How do I know what a good spot is?"

"Avoid soft ground, chuckholes or sharp sticks that could poke you in the back." I started to clear an area for Kalindra's and my tent.

"What is a chuckhole?"

"Uh, yeah. It's a small creature about this..." She was looking at me like I was nuts again. "Never mind what it is. Just don't put your tent in an area with holes in the ground. You never know what might pop up and visit you in the middle of the night." Her eyes grew large as she thought about it.

"There are animals out here?"

"That's why it's called the wilderness. Don't worry, Kalindra here will protect us fragile creatures from harm."

The person in question was busy pulling stickers from her fur. "Eat shit and die human. Your going to get fed to the first hungry thing that shows its face around here."

I grabbed for my heart and sighed. "Oh how quickly they discard us when they no longer need us. What ever shall I do?" Lythandi was still staring at me, but I heard Sten laugh quietly to himself. "Come on kids. I'll show you how to setup your tent. Grumpy here can sulk until she decides to be sociable again."

Things would have been fine had the tents been made on Earth. As it was, we were still trying to figure out the instructions when night fell. "Kal, can you figure out what this is suppose to do? I can't read Velan well enough to see what they mean." She grabbed the instructions about the same time I heard a gasp from Lythandi and Sten.

They were both looking at Kal like the expected her to say something. Then it dawned on me what I said. "Oops, that's something you'll have to get use to. Everyone on my world has a name with at least two parts. When I don't think about it, I'll call her by what I think is her first name. She forgives me for it, I think."

"Only if you fix dinner. Here, this is how it goes together."

It was another half hour before both tents were up and I got a small fire going. With the fire blazing and our dinner cooking, the troubles of the day faded into the background. "Do you two like spicy food?" I was throwing the various ingredients for the chili I was making into a small pot.

"What do you mean by spicy?" asked Sten.

Ah hah! Got you talking about something at last I thought to myself. I grabbed one of the peppers I'd brought along and cut a small piece from the end for each of them. "Touch that to the tip of your tongue. Be careful, it can be really hot." Lythandi tried hers first and after a second or two popped the entire thing in her mouth. Watching his sister, Sten tried it and ended up spitting the entire thing into the fire. Well, one out of two isn't bad.

"Ok, spices get added after we dish it up." Sten was sucking on his water bottle like he was on fire. It wasn't until after we got done with dinner that I had a chance to make it up to him. Digging around in my pack, I pulled out a bag of Marshmallows.

"Now this I think all of you will like."

"What are they? I saw you pack them, but I've never seen them before." Kalindra was watching as I cut a couple of sticks and threaded a marshmallow to the end. "Think gooey, sticky and sugary all at the same time." I handed a stick apiece to each of them and held my own by the fire. After seeing how I did it, the rest of them tried it.

The look on Kalindra's face when she followed my lead and popped it in her mouth was priceless. I think the lemon concession just lost a customer. The kids both reacted the same way when theirs were done. It really started to get silly when I tossed one through the air at her open mouth. By the time we were done. The bag was empty, the fire was down to a nice bed of coals, and everyone was covered in melted white sugar. And I thought cleaning myself up was a chore. Imagine three beings with fur and melted marshmallows splattered all over their faces.

"You have more?"

"Yeah, there is another bag in my pack. I was hoping to save it for the last night though." They were disappointed, but looked forward to the last night.

"Hey stranger. Help a poor female clean herself up?"

Kalindra had snuggled into my arms and wrapped her tail around me. "And just what did you have in mind?"

"Help lick me clean? I'm a sweet young thing and as helpless as I can be."

Helpless my ass, but I leaned down and licked a glob of marshmallow from the tip of her muzzle. Then I heard the snicker from across the campfire. Both kids were taking turns pulling marshmallow from each other's fur, but they were also watching the two of us in fascination.

"How old are you?" and I pointed at Lythandi.


"And you," as I pointed at Sten.


"You're both too young. Off to bed with you." I reached down and tickled Kalindra where I knew she was ticklish. "To bed with you also, wench. I'll be along as soon as I take care of the fire." It had been a long day, so the kids didn't argue too much. Kalindra though gave me a look that promised things were not over just yet.

I took my time getting the fire banked for the evening. Then I just lay back and looked up into the night sky. Bell or no bell, I didn't hear Kal until she whispered to me over my shoulder.

"You really are scared, aren't you."

I just nodded my head and sat there. "As much as I love you, there is still a part of my mind that wonders what I'm doing here sitting next to someone that looks like an animal. That, and I keep having this vision of a Black Widow Spider flash before my eyes."


I explained what a Black Widow was and she laughed quietly to herself. "So be it. Come on to bed then and I promise not to 'ravish' you until you are ready. It's getting cold out here and you are nice and warm."

"So that's why you asked me to be your mate." With a final check of the fire, we crawled into the tent. I was going to have to talk to the shopkeeper when we got back and get a three man sized tent. I'd gotten a two man tent and as we snuggled into the bedding I found out the hard way that it meant to VELAN sized people. Still, it was cozy and warm.

Chapter Six

I've been carrying what all over these hills?

Somehow I survived the night intact. Though when I woke up the next morning I found myself facing parts of my mate that were interesting to contemplate. It took a couple of minutes of blowing cold air at her before she giggled and shifted position.

"Fine way to wake up your mate."

"That was an interesting sight to wake up to," I replied. I listened to the sounds of the Lythandi and Sten moving around outside. "Do you suppose they're morning people?"

"I hope not. We'd have to kill them and hide the bodies."

I would have been content to lay there for another hour and enjoy the sounds of the morning, but Kalindra decided it was up to us to fix breakfast for the group. "Your turn then," I said. "I took care of dinner, remember?" She almost changed her mind at that point, but finally opened the tent and crawled out. Given the fact that Velan's wear clothes out of utility rather than need. The view as she left the tent made me wonder what I had missed the night before. Then sanity, or at least some part of my mind, kicked in and gave her a boost with my foot through the tent door. "I want pancakes wench, with blueberries." I pulled the covers over my head to drowned out her reply.

Eventually though I had to stick my head out of the tent to see what was going on. "Breakfast about ready?" The fire felt wonderful from where I lay and I propped my head on my hands to enjoy the warmth.

"In a couple of minutes. Sten is in the tent, but Lythandi is out exploring the area. You better get ready to head out as soon as breakfast is over."

I pulled back into the tent and started searching for my clothes. "Kalindra, is my pack outside there someplace?" I heard her snicker and realized I'd been had. "Ok, haw haw, very funny. Would you hand me my pack please?"

"Come out and get it."

If I could have reached her, I'd have strangled her. "It's cold out there or haven't you noticed." I realized how stupid it was even as I said it.

"Cold? I think it's your imagination again. Your pack is right beside the tent." I was almost tempted to teleport it inside the tent when I heard her chuckle. "Remember, no magic..." Damn female... In the end I wrapped myself in the blanket and ducked outside to grab my pack. "Next time watch where you put your foot," and she handed me a plate of pancakes.

"All this trouble and no blueberries?" I ducked back inside the tent to avoid the pancake that she flipped my direction.

About an hour later we struck camp and headed out. We'd looked over a map of the area before we'd stepped off of the shuttle. If we didn't get lost along the way, it was about a five day slow hike to the nearest shuttle station. As we were in no hurry, that suited us just fine. Our slow pace also served to let us stop and explore things we found interesting. It also served to let me begin to know Lythandi and her brother.

"So, what got you interested in Astronomy? I still have trouble figuring out how a race that is afraid of heights could develop an interest in the sky above them."

She smiled. "But I'm not afraid of heights."

Oh? Hummm, point in her favor. "That doesn't answer the question." We were following a natural trail through the woods as she slowly began to open up to me.

"You remember a near collision with an asteroid a few years back?"

"Yeah, I vaguely remember reading something about it."

"I was just a child at the time." I looked at her and she realized our size difference still made her look like a child to me. "Anyway, I remember the stories that my family told me about planets and stars and magic things that could fly. It was already obvious by that time that I wasn't afraid of heights and from that point on I read everything I could find about flying and space. When I got older, the only profession I could find that dealt with it was that of Astronomer, so that's what I became."

I caught the look she gave me as I listened to her story. "Go ahead and ask. I might refuse, but I'll tell you why at least."

"Is it true that you can fly? The stories say you can and I've talked to people..." she was talking so fast I couldn't get a word in edgewise.

"Hold it!" She quieted in embarrassment. "Yes, the stories are true. Any Mage with the knowledge can fly. The only thing stopping Kalindra is her trust in my ability to help her overcome her fear."

"That, and I don't see why flying is any better than taking the shuttle," came the comment from ahead of us.

"Could you take me flying?"

I looked at her and could see just how much it meant to her. I also though remembered the promise I'd make Kalindra at the start of this little jaunt. "I'll tell you what. If you still want to try it when we get back home, I'll take you up. I promised my mate I'd refrain from using magic while we are on vacation." She looked disappointed, but didn't say anything.

"So, what were you studying out there in space?" It turned out once I got her talking, she was impossible to shut up. A common trait amongst Velan female's I was starting to figure. We hiked most of the day and were a little ahead of schedule when we decided to call a stop for the day. The entire day, Lythandi talked about her work while Sten followed along in silence. I learned more that day about stellar astronomy then I had in all the years I'd worked with Penny. I guess it just took enthusiasm to make it interesting, and Lythandi had enthusiasm to spare.

We were setting up camp when Lythandi and Sten approached and asked, "Can we provide the dinner tonight?"

I looked at Kalindra who just shrugged. "What did you have in mind?"

"Ah well... I suppose I should make sure you like fresh meat before I commit to anything."

"I don't eat it raw, but I've been known to eat meat. What do you think was in the chili last night?"

"There was meat in there?"

I had to laugh. "Hidden by the other stuff, yeah."

"Then Sten and I will be back in a little while. We have gotten pretty good at trapping our meals." Remembering how they had lived the last month or so, I could well believe it.

"Ok, dinner is yours tonight." She looked at me like she was expecting me to say something else. "Waiting for something?"

"You always ask your mate for something extra to go with your food. I was waiting to see what you wanted us to find."

"I'll leave that up to you. Surprise me." I almost jumped when she reached over and hugged me. Then she and Sten took off into the forest and disappeared. I looked over to find Kalindra staring at me. "You want to explain that to me."

"I'm not sure, but I know she meant it."

I groaned inwardly. "That's all I need. How am I going to explain it to her? I can't let her start to treat me like a normal Klizach. Everything else aside, she's only a kid for crying out loud!"

"She is reacting like any female of my world would to the head of the family. Though I also find it odd to see someone else react to you with interest."

"Well that isn't the way this family works and I'd like you to explain it to her." I thought about it for a moment. "You know. That also might explain that silly bell she's wearing. It's almost as if she was stalking me."

"I had thought of that also. I will explain it to her when I can talk to her alone."

"I'd like that, thank you. One female after my virtue is more than enough, thank you very much."

"Your welcome," and she turned back to her work. As I thought about what I just said, I wasn't sure that I hadn't just stepped from the frying pan into the fire. Anyway, about forty minutes later Lythandi and Sten waltzed back into camp with a couple of small animals in hand. I wasn't sure what they were, and I was even more sure I didn't want to ask, but they cooked up quite nicely.

When the dishes had been cleaned, we sat around the fire and relaxed. "You know. A nice beer would go good about now. Something dark and sweet, with a bit of a kick."

"I hate to tell you oh mate of mine, but the nearest beer you are likely to find is on your homeworld."

"Not true oh fuzzy one." I reached around the side of our tent and grabbed her backpack. As she watched, I dug around in the bottom of it and pulled out a single bottle of McKwen's Scotch Ale.

"You mean I've been carrying that thing around on my back!" she sputtered.

"You don't think I was going to carry this all over your planet did you? Packing my supplies is your job. Or didn't you know that?" Thank god I didn't have the bottle open when she jumped me and started tickling me.

"I'll teach you whose job it is you louse!"

I think I held my own until the kids both joined in. At that point I had to beg for mercy. "Stop!" I screamed between laughs. "I give up!" Surrounded by furry hands, I curled into a ball and tried to hide my ribs from their attack.

"I think he should cook breakfast for all of us tomorrow."

I peeked out from under my arm. That had been Lythandi that had spoken to the group. "Traitor..." and I ducked back into a ball.

"Yes, breakfast would be a suitable punishment," said my mate with a snicker.

"With blueberries?" came Sten's quiet voice.

We all looked at him in shock. He just sat there with a satisfied grin on his face and looked back.

"Would you settle for raspberries instead?" I asked from underneath my arm.

"They better not be in my pack," came the warning from Kalindra. I wisely kept my mouth shut I as tried to sneak towards our tent. I didn't make it and my ribs were still sore the next morning as I fixed breakfast. The whole time being watched by three sets of hungry eyes peering out at me from their tents.

Chapter Seven

You can only juggle so many lies

As we got started on our way later that morning. I made sure that I was walking with Sten rather than Lythandi. I wanted to give Kalindra a chance to explain things to her, and wanted to get to know Sten at the same time. Problem was, the little squirt was about as talkative as a clam at low tide. Anything he couldn't answer either 'yes' or 'no' to, got a non-committal grunt. It wasn't until we had stopped for lunch that I found something he was interested in.

After I'd finished my sandwich, I'd pulled one of my sketchbooks out of my pack and sat back against a rock to relax. Using a small collection of colored pencils. I was trying to sketch the meadow we had stopped at the edge of. As usual I wasn't having much luck.

"Is that the way you see it?" came a quiet voice from above me.

"No damnit, but I can't draw worth shit" I grumbled. Then it dawned on me who'd spoken. Tilting my head back I found myself staring up at Sten as he rested on top of the rock. When he saw me looking at him, he started to back away. "Wait a minute, I'm not mad." His head peeked back over the edge. "Come down here for a moment." He thought about it for a moment, then slid down the front face of the rock to land beside me.

"Can you draw?" I got a shy nod of his head. "Ok," I said as I handed him the sketchbook. "Show me what I'm doing wrong." He looked the book, the meadow, then back at me. "I'm not suppose to. Lythandi said ..." and his eyes went wide as he realized he'd just goofed.

"Lythandi isn't here at the moment." I reached up and pulled him down beside me. "Show me ..." and the damned squirt proceeded to do just that. As I sat and watched him work, he turned the rough disaster I'd started created into something I'd have killed to be able to create. Flipping pages, he sketched the meadow, a couple of animals that were playing in the trees beside us, and then a portrait of me as I lay back against the rock. He was showing me how to shade with the pencil when Kal and Lyth came back up the trail. The moment his sister appeared, he handed me the book and pulled the lid to his shell closed.

"Are you to ready to continue?" asked my mate.

"Yeah, let me grab my stuff here and we can get going. Would you come here for a moment." I packed everything away except the sketchbook and we started down the trail again. I slowed down slightly so that the kids would pull ahead. Then I opened the book and showed it to Kalindra.

"Your getting better."

"It wasn't me, it was Sten. Metallurgist hell, that kids got a talent he should be proud of. The problem is that Lythandi told him not to let anyone see him using it." I looked up ahead to where the two of them had stopped to look at something scurrying around in the trees above them. "I'm going to do some digging. See if you spot anything I don't" and we caught up with the kids.

"Lythandi, where has Sten been studying Metallurgy?" Even I could see her start to panic as she tried to come up with an answer.

"Well, he really hasn't been accepted as an apprentice yet. He just wants to be one."

"I don't think so. I think he'd much rather be an artist of some kind, don't you?" The craziest set of expressions I'd ever seen flashed across her face as she realized I knew. Finally she bowed her head and started to cry.

"Yes, but what would a family of Mage's need with an artist."

I was almost tempted to try to comfort her, but Kalindra beat me to it and that was probably better for all of us. "Silly kit. Why do you believe we wouldn't want an artist in the family?"

"Because you two go on great adventures and fight demons and monsters and fly and ..." she lost it completely.

I looked at Kalindra as she hugged Lythandi. "Was freezing our butts off when the guardian started trying to kill us a 'great adventure'?"

"Not the way I remember it. It got cold in there before we got the power back on. Nothing 'great' about it." She turned to Lythandi who was trying to pull herself together. "I think you have the wrong idea about how we have been living the last few months."

"But, but you two are the ones that saved our world. Working with magic, going to the stars, fighting horrible monsters. How can you say it isn't fun and exciting?"

"Now you know why I hate reporters ... Kid, Kalindra and I have spent the last couple of months either being scared shitless, or so angry we didn't care that we were still scared shitless. The next time you read something about the two of us living some 'great adventure'. Remember that it was written by someone who wasn't there at the time."

I pulled the tiny box of colored pencils from my pocket and handed both them and the sketchbook to Sten. "As for you, you've got a talent I wish I could match. You learn what you want to and the next time someone tells you otherwise. Tell them to go chew on their tail until they learn better manners." With that, I headed down the trail leaving the rest of the group behind me. I wasn't feeling real sociable at the moment, and I didn't want to take it out on the wrong people.

"He is angry with me," said Lythandi to no one in particular.

"Possibly, but I rather think he is unhappy with those who have twisted our words and stories into something that young children believe is fun. I would try to find some way to cheer him up though."

"Then we still have a chance?"

Kalindra reached over a ruffled the fur on her head. "We said we would tell you our decision when we returned. You have proved you want it very badly. Now you have to prove you're worthy." Standing up, Kal took Sten's hand and headed down the trail after me. Behind her, Lythandi sat in the middle of the trail and thought to herself. Then with a look of determination on her face, she hopped to her feet and ran to catch up with us.

Chapter Eight

Avast ye scurvy dogs...

Nobody said much the rest of the day. I'm afraid my sour mood was effecting everyone as we pitched our tents that evening. Some vacation this was turning into. I'm not even sure who fixed dinner other than it wasn't me. I was sitting with my back to an old tree when Sten came up and handed me my sketchbook.

"No, this was yours to keep," I told him as I tried to hand it back to him.

"It is full, so I would like you to have it back."

"Full?" I started paging through the book. I'd been about halfway through it when I'd given it to him. Starting with the original sketches he'd done at lunch. I found pictures of the countryside we had walked through that day and various animals he'd spotted. Towards the end I ran into a group of charactures of our little band. In spite of my mood I found myself laughing. There was one of me all hunched over with black clouds swirling around my head. One of Kalindra covered with so many burrs you could hardly tell it was her. And a group sketch that was a picture of the first night we'd had the marshmallow fight.

It was the last couple of sketches that I couldn't figure out. They were of me leaning against the tree with something behind me. It was a series, almost like a comic strip. I was sitting there with something coming up behind me. Then a frame that showed a couple of figures huddled together on the other side of the tree. I turned the book to catch the light from the fire.

"Hey, is this supposed to be Kalindra? Who's the other one?" I looked around, but didn't see Sten. Turning the last page I found a single panel that showed the figures pouncing on the helpless Mage. I had just about enough time to mutter an "Oh shit ..." when I heard the growl from behind me. Before I made it two feet I was bowled over by Kalindra and Sten. When we rolled to a stop, Sten was holding my legs and Kalindra was holding my arms so I couldn't move.

"You are accused of being a horrible grump. How do you plead?" asked my mate with a twinkle in her eye.

"Are you out of <murpfh>" as I found my mouth blocked by her tail.

"We find you guilty as charged, don't we Sten."

I could just see his head over the top of her tail as he nodded. Ok, if it was another brawl they wanted. I didn't intend to lose this one. Opening my mouth wide, I grabbed for the core of Kal's tail and bit down. As I chewed away, she let out a scream and jumped backwards to get out of my reach. With my hands free, I managed to dislodge Sten and grab him.

With my finger cocked like a gun to Sten's head. I watched her as she checked her tail for damage. "Ar ar arrrr... One step and the alien gets toasted" I chuckled in my best evil voice. "Think you can take the Great Antoine by surprise do you. I've had better fights from my stuffed Lemur than you."

Kalindra was crouched on the ground on the other side of the fire. She was just about to say something when I saw her relax slightly and smile. "Huh?" It looked like she was staring at something behind me. "Oh oh. I think the Great Antoine forgot how to count again. Shit..." I dropped Sten and started to roll to the side when Lythandi landed next to where I'd been standing.

I fully expected to find myself pinned to the ground again. Instead I heard Sten howling with laughter and saw Lythandi tickling him. "Well stand up you big grump, I'm on your team." I got to my feet just in time to dodge Kalindra's leap across the fire. "You traitor!" she laughed as she came to a stop.

I just snickered. "Where is it written that the Human always gets out numbered around here?" I winked at Lythandi as she tied her brother up with his own shirt.

"Won't anyone help this poor helpless boy," he moaned between giggles. "My only defender is powerless before the might of the invading Human."

"You'll wish I was powerless when I get my hands on you. That hurt!"

I caught just the hint of magic and I wagged my finger at her. "Ah ah. Remember our deal." The magic died out without ever doing anything, but she got this real evil grin on her face.

"I don't need magic. I'm stronger and faster than you, remember?"

I struck a ridicules pose in the firelight. "Yeah, but I'm better looking and I don't leave hairballs in the bed." The moment I was finished I turned and leaped over the tree and ran for everything I was worth. I was surprised when I didn't get run down in the first twenty feet and even more surprised to find Lythandi keeping pace with me.

"She stopped to untie my brother" she said as we hit the edge of the forest and ducked into the undergrowth. "Here," and she handed me a coil of rope. "I grabbed a few things as I left the camp."

Looking through the brush I could see Kal and Sten starting to search for us. It wasn't going to take them long to find us if we didn't think of something and fast. "Are you really not afraid of heights?" I made out her nod in the gloom. "Follow me then" and we started to make our way further into the woods.

"This looks like a good one. Can you climb?"

"I think so."

"Then get up this tree and wait for my signal. Kalindra won't be looking for us above ground, she doesn't think that way. When one of them comes by. We drop down and tie them up." I could see Lythandi giving me a questioning look. "Well, do you have a better idea?"

"I begin to wonder how you survived the battles you've been in if all your plans are like that one."

"Remind me to tell you the 'scream and run away' plan a friend and I once used. Very effective when your scared shitless." I turned and began to scrabble up the tree. I could hear Lythandi doing the same across the path from me.

*Are you ready over there?* I heard a yelp and a scramble that sounded like she had slipped.


*Yep, keep an eye and ear open.*

*Your mate said no magic.*

*This ain't magic. Now listen for them.*

I was about ten minutes before I heard someone coming up the path we had staked out. The amount of noise being made, and at least one curse in a female voice, told me Kalindra was headed our direction.

"I'm going skin him ..."

When it sounded like she was below us, I let out an ear piercing yell and jumped. Lythandi was a second or two behind me. If she hadn't have followed me, it would have been a real short struggle and I'd have lost. As it was, she was a good counter to Kal's raw strength and the two of us managed to overpower her. When I was sure the ropes would hold her I fell back into the undergrowth and waited for my heart rate to slow down.

"When I get my hands on you two ..."

"You'll do nothing. We won fair and square." I leaned forward so I could whisper in her ear. "Uh, where did you pack the firstaid kit? I think you managed to slash me a little."

%Worry!% "It's in the bottom of my pack. Are you ok?"

"I've survived worse." Getting to my feet, I lifted Kal and threw her over my shoulder. "Come on. We've captured their leader and the rest of the troops will crumple without her so-so leadership." I got a whack in the face with a tail. "Damn, I knew I forgot to tie something down." We stomped around in the dark for almost twenty minutes before I spotted the fire flickering in the distance.

"Do you always get lost this easy?" asked Lythandi.

"Not usually. Most of the time I don't have to work this hard to get lost." I could hear her laughing as we approached the camp. After plopping Kal down on her butt, I collapsed back against the tree where I'd been when this whole thing had started. Sten was sitting on the other side of the fire with a hugh grin on his face.

"You're silly."

"No argument there." I looked over at Lythandi. "So, what do you think her punishment should be for attacking us." She turned and looked at Kal for a moment.

"Doing the cooking for the rest of the trip?"

"That's a good start. Anything else?"

"Hummm... Donating her share of the marshmallows to the victors of the battle?"

"Now wait a minute," came the cry from my mate.

"No, that comes under the classification of 'cruel and unusual punishment' for a sugar fiend like her. I think the cooking should suffice as punishment for her traitorous actions." My back felt like shit, but I didn't want to scare the kids. "I think that will do it for me today. Thank you for the entertainment."

Moving slowly, I pulled my still tied mate into our tent. "I'll see you two in the morning."

"Are you going to untie me, or do I spend the night like this?"

I reached over and twirled my finger in her fur. "Tied up and helpless. This has possibilities..." I said with my best evil chuckle. I could hear the echoes of laughter coming from the other tent as they heard us talking.

Untying the ropes, I turned her loose and collapsed on my stomach in the middle of that silly Velan bed. "Would you take a look at my back. I think you caught me when we surprised you," I whispered so the kids couldn't hear. As she peeled my shirt from my back, I heard her hiss as it came away sticky.

"I guess Wythdantis is right about us." I lay there as I heard her digging through her pack. "This is going to sting a little."

"It always does ..."

Chapter Nine

Don't think about it, just enjoy it

It was our last evening of our vacation. About mid-day tomorrow we would make it to the town that was our destination. For tonight though, we were enjoying the quiet surroundings next to a small lake we had come across.

"It's going to be a shame to leave this behind. I love tramping around in the woods even if I don't get to do it very often."

"This from the person who built himself a castle on a mountain top," snorted Kalindra across the fire from me.

"Hey, I'm allowed to like them both." I looked over to where the kids were about half asleep. We had polished off the other bag of marshmallows and they were settling in for the evening. *Have you decided what to tell them yet?*

*I believe so, but I was going to talk to you about it later.*

I nodded, then stood up to stretch. "I don't know how you're feeling with all that fur, but I know every place we've been the last week. All I have to do is peel back the layers of grunge. If you will watch the kids, I'm going to go take a swim in that lake."

"Watch out for snath's."


"Yep. They're about a inch big and all of it is mouth. You would make a nice evening meal for them."

I looked at her to try to figure out if I has having my leg pulled. I'd never heard of a 'snath' before. She had me going until I caught part of a giggle. "Yeah, right. Beware the snath's." I headed through the undergrowth and along the shoreline for a short ways. With a check to make sure I could still see the fire, I pulled off my clothes and dove in. Just before I hit the water I had a flash thought. 'Mountain Lake?' I was still screaming as I surfaced. "Christ that's cold!" I heard laughter from the camp as my teeth tried to chatter themselves into small chunks.

Cold or not, the water felt good and I warmed up after swimming for a few moments. As my eyes adjusted to the light from the dual moons overhead. I spotted an exposed rock about 50 yards from shore. Striking out for it, I climbed up on it and scanned the lake from my new vantage point. The water had been freezing, but the night air was still warm and I quickly dried as I sat there and enjoyed the moonlight reflecting from the surface of the lake. I was laying back and soaking up the heat of the rock as it cooled when I heard a low growl from behind me.

"Beware the snath ..."

"Aaaaiiiieeee..." I jumped and spun around. "Damnit, don't do that!" Crouched half in and half out of the water was Kalindra with a silly grin on her face. I yelled again and dove into the water when I remember what I was wearing at the moment. As I tread water, I felt something brush between my legs and Kal surfaced in front of me.

"And still you are afraid to let me see you without clothes. I wish you would learn to trust your feelings about me. I am getting tired of waiting for you to figure out what you are going to allow yourself to enjoy."

"Allow myself to enjoy? Kal, I'm ..." and I let it trail off. She knew exactly how I felt about her and the link we shared made sure I knew how she felt about me. Growing up on a world where the very idea of living with another race was impossible to believe, had left its mark on me. Treading water in the middle of a lake, on a world that only magic could reach, being scolded about my modesty by someone who looked like a large fox, I still had trouble believing the life I was living.

I was just lost in thought enough that I didn't notice when Kal slipped below the surface again. When she grabbed my ankles and pulled me under I almost didn't catch my breath in time. My modesty forgotten for the moment, I decided turnabout was fair play and ducked back under the water after filling my lungs.

There was very little light filtering through the water from the moons above us. So quieting my motion I opened up to the link and tried to track her location. To my amusement I felt her doing the same thing.

*So that's how you found me.* I felt her amusement ripple back up the link. She was coming around behind me again, and this time I was ready for her. Just as she dove deep to come up beneath me again, I pulled back and dove deep myself. Trying to grab her was like grabbing an otter. Her fur was slicked down by the water to the point my hands just slid off. With a final grab though, I managed to get a grip on her tail as she rose to the surface. We were both laughing like kids as we gulped the night air.

"I knew I liked that tail for a reason."

"Race you to shore. Loser dries the winner."

"On the count of three. One, Three!" and I got a small jump on her as she cried foul. It didn't help, she beat me anyway. She was standing on shore as I reached the shallows. Doing my best to stay covered by the water I called out to her. "Hey, hand me my clothes will you."

"No such luck. Your shirt is back at the tent, but the rest I buried. They were beyond hope."

"Then grab my spare set of pants from my pack then." She just stood there dripping water with her arms crossed over her chest. "Let me guess. No clothes for the Human?"

"I knew you'd figure it out without to much trouble."

I was caught royal. "Do I at least get some shoes? My feet aren't quite as tough as yours and I don't need to shove a stick through them in the dark."

"I'll carry you. Now get out here, you promised to dry me off, remember?"

I didn't have a lot of choice, so I stood up and walked on shore. Cursing every time I stepped on a sharp rock, Kal finally grabbed me a held me in her arms. "Christ, I'm glad Bob and Karen can't see this. I'd never live it down with their sense of humor." Carrying me like a kid, Kal and I headed back to the camp. "Hey, are the kids asleep?"

"They were in their tent. Don't worry about it." I did anyway.

When we reached the edge of the camp. I breathed a small sigh of relief as the kids were no where in sight. I thought I was going to make it with my dignity intact until I heard a noise behind me as Kal opened our tent. As I turned around slowly, I found myself staring back at a couple of wide eyed Velan's. I had to look kind of silly as I stood there dripping water by the fire. "You each get one chuckle each. Anything more then that and the Klizach will be wearing a new fur coat when he gets home."

They both scurried back and closed their tent as Kal emerged from ours with the some towels. With one of them thrown over my shoulders to help keep me warm. We sat down by the fire and I started helping her dry off. I also got a quick lesson in Velan anatomy, female flavor.

As I was helping her comb the knots from her fur. I leaned over so I could whisper in her ear. "Do Velan females come with instruction books?"

She giggled. "Do Human males?"

"Yep, they are tattooed on our foreheads with invisible ink. You have to get real close to read them though. The writing is pretty small." She turned around to face me and looked first at my forehead, then into my eyes.

"This close?"

I leaned forward the last inch or so and kissed her nose. "You sure you don't have any instructions?" I saw the twinkle in her eye as she caught my meaning.

"We could search for them. They might be in invisible ink also."

Grabbing her hand, we ducked into the tent and closed the flap. While we never did find the instructions, we found a great many other things of interest. I just hope we didn't scare the kids with some of the noisy ones.

* * *

When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't decide whether to feel insufferably pleased with myself, or mortified. Since this was supposed to be a vacation, I decided that pleased was the better option. Kalindra was not inside the tent, but I could smell breakfast cooking and I was starved.

"Good morning oh beautiful mate of mine," I said as I poked my head through the tent flap. She just smiled and wiggled her tail so that the bell chimed to itself.

"Are you sure you don't want to take another day? We could spend the day here and go swiming again."

Tempting as it sounded, I had to say no. "I need to get back and find out what's gone boom in my absence. I'm beginning to think the universe and Murphy have it in for me."

"You do seem to lead a rather more interesting life than the rest of the population of your planet," came the remark from Lythandi as she crawled out of her tent.

"Comes with the job I'm afraid. Of course the fringe benefits help make up for the trouble." I reached out and tweaked Kal's tail. Quickly ducking back inside the tent, I rummaged around and found my clothes. Hidden in one of the spare pockets, I pulled out a T-shirt that matched the one I planned to wear today. "Here," I said as I crawled out of the tent. I've got a T-shirt for you to wear when we hit town today.

When she had free hands, Kal fluffed her shirt and looked at the picture on the front. She could read just enough English that she figured out what it said, and then explained it to the kids. When we hit the edge of town a little after noon, we were both wearing shirts that had little arrows and the words 'I'm with Stupid' on them.

As we sat down in the park that is part of every Velan town. I looked over at my mate and sighed. "Well, so endith the vacation. Shall we git for home?"

"We have one thing to settle first." She turned to face Lythandi and Sten. Both of whom realized what was coming. "My mate and I have discussed your request and have made our decision. Sten is not yet of the age to request admittance to our family. When he is older he may ask, but not until then. Until that time, it will be the job of Lythandi nal Kan to see that he is apprenticed in a field where his skills will do his future family proud."

Lythandi nearly missed it as she listened to Kalindra talk about Sten. When it registered, her face lit up like a kid who's just seen all the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

"And don't ever let me hear the word 'metallurgy' again," I added.

We had been on the move for a week and the thought of spending the next few hours in a shuttle rankled. "Anyone object to going home the quick way?"

"The quick way?" asked Sten.

"Take my hand" said Kalindra as I formed the image in my mind. When I was ready I opened my eyes and took Kalindra's other hand. A second later we all appeared in the front yard of Kalindra's house. When we got the kids quieted back down I told Kal I'd be back in about an hour. I wanted to check in at the lab with Penny to see how things had gone in my absence.

"We are going to need a larger house if we keep this up," I said as I focused on the meadow that held the Gate. "I'll be back shortly." It was a short 'port and five steps, and I was standing in the exterior dome where I'd started a week ago.

"Hey Penny. Welcome back the mighty hero."

"Well hero, you better get ready to get back to work."

Oh boy, I knew it. I'd been walking down the tunnel when I started stumbling over spare parts everywhere. When I stepped into the construction hanger, there were three triships on the docks being worked on. "The Maal? The Meenzals?"

"Possibly both. You better go talk to Bob."

Running back to the Gate. I reset it and stepped through to K1. "Hey Bob, what the hell is going on now?"