Kat in a Strange Land 1:

by Fur and Fantasy
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Jake woke up to the feeling of a warm rain on the back of his head. Though he hadn't opened his eyes yet, his nose told him he was facedown in something less than pleasant. His head and body ached as though he'd lost a fight with a number of large opponents. Then he remembered, he had lost a fight to a number of figures that had jumped him while he was still disoriented from the Pastmaster's portal.

Then a factor of reality he rarely thought about hit him even harder; this was a magic rich world. He groaned slightly at the bits and pieces he remembered of what would happen in a magic rich environment as he did an internal assessment of his condition, and checked his equipment as he slowly got to his feet, and took in the environment.

His equipment was gone; in fact he had lost everything including his flight suit. Someone had quiet effectively stripped him to his T-shirt and boxers. Internally was in decent shape, just bruises, and an unpleasant headache. And for some reason, the back of his neck itched something fierce.

There was a quiet meow from a small black feline sitting on the ground looking up at him.

"Well, at least something's going right." He muttered as he felt the itching spot carefully with one hand, and reached the other out to the feline. {"Hello there."}

The feline bumped its head up against his hand. {"Hello"} She said simply. {"Lost?"} She asked, looking at him.

The itching spot turned out to have been recently shaved of fur.

{"Yes, little one."} He smiled at her and scratched her jaw. {"I'm looking for a big tabby tom. Have you see one recently?"}

She nodded. {"Follow."} She meowed, as she turned to head down the alley.

{"Thank you."} He kept his eyes on the surroundings as they walked.

The rain turned into a light mist and fog, as Jake followed the cat through the alleys. The buildings were tall and modern, and yet there was a feeling of rundown and decay to them. They passed several inhabitants of the city who were bipeds of similar height and build to Kats, but they lacked fur and their faces weren't feline at all. Indeed, they lacked any appreciable muzzle at all. But still, below the chin the structure was very much same or at least appeared to be.

None of the inhabitants seemed to notice that he wasn't one of them. Or at least if they did notice, they didn't show any noticeable reaction.

The cat stopped and meowed a couple of times, after a few minutes a large, gray and white tabby tom easily twice her size came out from a nearby building. {"Ceaser, my littermate."} She said, by way of introduction.

{"Hello Ceaser."} He offered the big tomcat a jaw scratch. {"I'm Jake. Have either of you seen a yellow tabby tom with brown stripes, that walks on two legs, like me?"}

{"Hello, Jake."} Ceaser replied, accepting the scratch. {"She's Cleopatra. Only two-leg feline I know is Merel, and she's no tom."} He purred. {"Rusty might be able to help."} He suggested.

Cleopatra nodded agreement. {"He might at that."}

{"I'd like to meet Merel too."} Jake said quietly. {"At least she'll be kin company while I look for my mate. Where's Rusty?"}

{"This way."} The two cats said in concert as they climbed the rusting fire escape up to the fifth story of the building. The window opened and they went in. Ceaser turned and meowed to Jake. {"Come on in, Jake. It's safe."}

The lean Kat regarded the path for a moment before bolting up, pausing just a moment to take in what was inside the room.

The room was barely furnished, mattress on a crude metal frame, where a scruffy young boy with tousled red hair sat scritched the two cats affectionately. There was a pair of inline skates hanging on the door handle, and a beat up refrigerator and stove made one corner into a kitchen.

Jake raised an eyebrow as he carefully moved inside. {"This is Rusty?"} He asked the cats.

Ceaser nodded. {"Yep."}

The boy looked up at Jake. ("Hello.") He said guardedly. ("Who are you?")

Jake hesitated a long moment, trying to guess at what the furless biped was saying, before he focused back on the cats. {"I don't know that language. What did he say?"}

Rusty looked at him, blinked and then looked again. He got up and walked over to Jake. {"Are you really a feline, not a were like Merel?"} He asked curiously, looking at Jake with fascination. The boy's feline was rather hesitant and heavily accented.

The lean Kat nodded. {"This is my form. My name is Jake."}

{"Wow. My name's Russel Brandis, just Rusty will do.} He said simply. {"You look like you got beat down by one of the gangs. Want a towel to dry off?"} He offered.

{"That would be appreciated."} Jake finally acknowledged how miserable it was to have wet fur and clothes. {"Have you seen another like me? I followed my partner to this world. He's a big yellow tabby with brown stripes."}

Rusty went into another room, and came out with a large fluffy towel that seemed rather out of place with the room, and handed it to Jake as the Kat stripped.

{"Thanks."} He smiled as he patted his fur dry, then growled to himself when he realized he's have to rub the water out. {"Do you have a brush?"}

He went back into the other room and come back with several different brushes. {"Hope one of these will do."} He thought for a moment. {"Be right back."} He said and darted out the door.

About 5 minutes later he came back with a large handheld blowdryer. {"With all that fur I thought this might help."} He smiled, as he plugged it in. {"I can hold it while you get your fur under the air flow."} He suggested.

{"Excellent."} Jake grinned as he went to work. As he was brushing himself flat under the hot air, Rusty caught a look at the Kat from the back. {"In case you didn't know who gave you the beat down it was the SlaveLords. They even tagged you."} He said matter-of-factly.

{"Who? What?"} He paused for a moment to look at Rusty before finishing up with his fur.

{"SlaveLords of the 21st Century. They're a big gang here in New Chicago. One of their 'hobbies' is giving beat downs to dregs, out-of-towners, anybody they figure the cops aren't protecting. They take everything and spray paint a 'brand' on the victim. In your case, they shaved away a patch of fur, so they could spray paint on your skin."} He said quietly as he looked Jake over again, and went and dug through a closet for a while until he had a pile of clothes.

{"Dry clothes, should fit, not today's latest styles but not total dregs."} He said simply. {"Nope, you're the first two-leg feline I've seen, aside from Merel and a couple of her were friends. But none of them were brown on yellow striped tabbies."}

{"I'm pretty sure he's not a were."} Jake nodded and pulled the shirt on before considering just how to deal with underwear and pants that weren't designed for a tail. "Ah, hell with it." He pulled the shirt off and stood.

Jake closed his right fist and focused, drawing power from the Queen's Soul into a 'simple' spell he hadn't tried since his teens.

{"What is mine, too me ."} He growled the demand as visible power began to crackle around his fist, spreading up his arm and around his body. With an audible rumble as he was encompassed by golden energy, Razor stood in the room and looked around to find Rusty and the two cats were looking at him from under the bed, where they had apparently managed to stash themselves in the time it took Jake to cast the spell.

The SWAT Kat pulled his helmet off, then the mask. {"That's better."}

Rusty's sharp brown eyes scanned the room rapidly as though looking for something, and the two cats huddled close to him.

{"It's okay, it's just a summoning spell."} Jake tried to assure them.

{"I know what it is. You have to careful with those, they can attract bad attention; Drones, HIT hounds, and even Farandwee."} He shuddered nervously.

Jake sat down next to the bed. {"Got time to explain that to someone who's never heard of it?"}

Rusty nodded nervously. {"Some magics make a big noise, 'cause they do things reality doesn't like. Objects disappear there and appear here is a good example. Well, the Technocrats can sometimes trace the noise and they send their drones to grab the mage who was careless enough to splash his location like that. And sometimes they send the HIT hounds to take him out, if they don't want to bother nabbing him.

{"Farandwee is reality's way of slapping back at mages who play to noisy with it. He does really unpleasant things to the mages he catches."} He said as he scuttled out from under the bed, to grab a box from under the refrigerator. The box turned out to be a reasonably advanced laptop computer, and he started working.

{"I'll try to keep it quiet, then."} Jake murmured. {"It doesn't work like that where I'm from."}

Rusty nodded. {"Outsider mages usually get caught 'cause of that. Easiest way to stay out of trouble is to try to stick to making you effects look like something else happened. You want to fireblast somebody, have gas pipe explode next to him, that sort of thing."} He said as he typed and read.

Suddenly he closed the laptop, and tossed it into a shoulder case, and through on his inline skates. The two cats made a rapid departure out the fire escape. Rusty tapped the skates to put the wheels in until he needed them. He turned to Jake. {"Come on, we gotta jam, looks like 'crats glommed our loc from your splash. Piper said to catch up with him stat."} The kid said as he headed into the hallway.

Jake nodded and followed as he put his mask and helmet back on, keeping up easily. "If Kats like me aren't common, why does nobody seem to notice?"

{"Same reason nobody notices that Merel's a were, or that Mr. Calian over on 23rd is vamp. Vast majority of people don't want to see anything that would change their perception of reality, and the veil of mundanity keeps them from seeing what they don't want to see. Most people see you as an athletic twenty-something human whose likely from the Pan-Arab States."} He said as they came out of the tenement building, and dodged down an alleyway.

{"That's ... weird."} He shook his head. {"I'd like to see what they think I look like."}

{"Lila could show you, but we really need to get to Piper, and older guys always make longer stops with Lila."} The flame haired boy said with a shrug as he stopped at minor intersection and then darted across to the next alleyway.

Razor nodded easily and followed Randy in silence.

The boy led the Kat through a twisting array of alleys which were mostly empty except for a few raggedy, decrepit adults who lay amongst the refuse in the alleyways. Suddenly, a car stopped across the alleyway intersection ahead and four men in black trenchcoats wearing sunglasses got out.
{"Drek!"} Rusty muttered under his breath and turned back to see four more at the far end behind. {"Not good, very not good."} He said as grabbed the Kat's arm and pulled him down some stone stairs into a stone archway. Once there he found a concealed switch, and opened a door that he hurried Jake through, and then followed.

{"Just fraggin' great, now we gotta go vice and corruption to get to Piper."} Rusty said sitting on stone ledge to catch his breath and focus.

{"In other words?"} Razor prompted quietly as he tensed for combat. {"I can probably take them."}

The dirty little face looked up at him. {"We have to go through The Underground, and Club Diablo. They're hard to describe, but anything you can imagine but would never think of doing can happen there. Things the civilized mind rejects are allowed, even encouraged."} He said quietly. {"But there were eight of them Jake, and they're tougher than they look. Look, the other route isn't dangerous I just don't like what I see."}

He nodded quietly. {"I'll fight or I'll follow, either way you're not going to like what you see. Especially if the Club Diablo will show you some of what I know."}

Rusty nodded. {"This way's safer, don't need you setting off any more flares."}

{"I wasn't planning on using magic."} Razor shook his head. {"That summing spell was the first time I'd really done anything in twenty years. I'm combat trained."}

{"This way, and if I doing something that seems strange, just play along."} He said quietly, as he led Razor through the sewers beneath the city, eventually reaching a point where he opened another concealed door.

{"No problem."}

Inside was a dark brick room with a blood red neon sign that said "The UnderGround". Standing next to a large iron door, was a seven foot tall, bodybuilder proportioned human wearing a leather harness and trunks. He looked at the pair that approached him indifferently.

Rusty steeled himself and walked up to the giant. ("Hi, Bruno. Can I take my 'friend' inside?") He said, running a small hand along the inside of the giant's leg.

The giant smiled at him. ("Sure, squirt. Maybe I'll take you up on your offer one of these days.") He leered, as he opened the door.

At the front desk, a bored young, blond man with a tightly toned body was watching television, and not paying much attention.

("Hey, Adonis. Mind opening up?") Rusty said sarcastically.

("You're back? Hey, he's kinda cute. Give him my number, and I'll wave the fee.") The blond offered in sultry voice.

("Sure prettybody, you've gotta deal.") Rusty said easily.

("Just remember to change into work clothes.") He said as he tossed Rusty a bag, and opened the door.

Rusty headed inside, and went over to a locker room, and stripped down and started putting on a leather get-up similar to the guards.

{"So far, this seems like the kind of place I like."} Razor commented quietly. {"Should I just keep my mouth shut?"}

{"Oh, I wouldn't have thought you went for nine and ten year olds."} He said as finished changing, and threw his clothes into the bag.

{"What ten year old?"} Razor looked bewildered.

{"Keep your eyes open for the small boys and girls. I've seen them as young as eight in here. "}

{"Just keep one hand on my shoulder, and act possessive like you don't want to share. I'll handle the talking, 'cause they won't understand you."} He said as they started through the maze like complex.

Razor grinned and let himself indulge in the instincts and drives he'd spent a lifetime controlling, if not outright rejecting, for his own safety outside the understanding shelter of his family.

The complex was a mixture of rooms with doors, rooms with no doors and what looked to be theaters. There was little limitation to the kinds of sexual activity being engaged in, and no limitation to the age of the participants male or female. The leers on the faces of the largely male clientele were matched by the often pained expressions of their companions who were often tied up, or penetrated by things not intended for that purpose. In numerous rooms, various household pets and zoo animals were involved.

Rusty kept his gaze to the center of the hallway trying not to look into the rooms as Jake's hand kept a possessive hold on him. The aura of 'mine' the Kat was exuding was nearly palatable, as was his growing arousal and fascination with what was going on around him.

Rusty kept walking, but he wasn't nearly as dense as people said about things, even if he did play at being younger than he was so people would ignore him in terms of sex. He could sense Razor's fascination with the Underground, and maybe he wasn't that surprised.

As they turned a corner, a large dark-skinned man six and half feet tall and quite burly stepped in front of them. He ignored Jake, and poked a finger at Rusty. ("Boy, you and I have unfinished business.") He snarled.

("Not now, Chopper. I'm with somebody.") He nodded to Jake.
("So he can fuckin' watch, and if he don't wanna wait I'll do him first.")

("If you're smart, Chopper, you'll go away.")

On pure reflex Razor took a step forward as his ears folded back and his teeth barred with a low, threatening growl.

Chopper looked at Razor. ("You lookin' for a pounding shrimp. Well, I'm just in the mood to give you one. Hell, I won't even kill 'ya, I'll just fuck 'ya silly after I beat 'ya to a pulp.") He said as he slipped his big hands into fingerless leather gloves.

{"Just one rule for fighting here, no killing."} Rusty said as he stepped behind Razor. {"Winner owns loser here in the Underground for 24 hours, standard rules."}

{"Understood."} The lean tom smiled with a feral pleasure and unlocked all but one part of his early training and slid into an aggressive defense as he judged this opponent, and just how far up he could push his reflexes in this environment.

("Shrimp thinks he can fight.") The giant said, as he threw a solid body shot at the Kat. He clearly was counting on his strength to end the fight quickly, since technique was clearly not his strong point.

Razor smiled softly, playfully, as he danced out of the way, raking a glancing blow with his Glovatrix claws along the outstretched arm before swinging around sharply to get behind the giant and delivered a snap-kick to the back of Chopper's left knee. Almost faster than Rusty could follow, the Kat was out of the giant's strike range again and began to circle, his senses on full alert for anything.

Chopper shrugged off the claws and the kick, and with lightning speed slammed his fist into Razor's shoulder spinning the Kat around.

Rusty looked at Chopper more carefully, then he scrambled to Razor. {"Careful Jake, that's Vampire you're fighting, and one of the more physical ones at that."}

Razor grinned and nodded before he unlocked the last of his training and let the Phoenix Soul take over. {"He's going to regret being that."}

("Come on shrimp, give it your best shot.") Chopper taunted Jake, as a blood red haze surrounded him. He held a flexible defensive position waiting for Jake to come within reach.

The Kat let his body relax, ready to bolt any direction, and brought the Glovatrix up. A three second burst from the flashlight landed squarely in Chopper's chest.

There was a bellow from the giant, and suddenly turned and ran deeper into Underground. ("Not worth, the brat ain't fuckin worth it.")

Rusty looked at the Glovatrix as Razor fought down his hunt-kill reflex. {"Full spectrum light projector, cool. So how many tricks are built into that glove?"} He asked curiously.

{"No one's ever counted."} He chuckled as he came back to himself a little.

{"Thanks for taking on Chopper for me."} Rusty said gratefully as he headed toward the entrance to the Club.

{"It's what I do."} Razor nodded slightly. {"Beyond being a generally overconfident bully, what's his problem?"}

("He thinks every new kid here owes him a certain amount of 'attention', 'cause he keeps the Technocrats away. Well, unlike a lot of the boys I didn't give in to him, so he thinks I still owe him."} Rusty said quietly.

"Humph." He shook his head. {"Will he be leaving you alone now?"}

{"Only while you're around, he's one of the reasons I don't like coming down here. I haven't been here in a while."} He said quietly, as they climbed the stairs toward what sounded to be music with a loud, hard techno beat.

{"Well, there are worse."} Razor shook his head and adjusted the helmet's sound buffers to reduce the music to a dim background noise.

To say sex was in the air was a mild description of the Club atmosphere. The writhing bodies on the dance floor were usually but not always stopping just short of sex in public. On the dance floor it seemed to be largely the teenaged to mid-twenties crowd, while in the booths and tables there was the same mixture of middle age and kids seen down below in the Underground.

The alcohol and drugs flowed freely, and apparently both were on the menu since several waitresses passed Jake carrying pills and mixed drinks. The atmosphere was one of complete relaxation of inhibitions, where everything was both permitted and available.

Eventually, Rusty and Razor reached a locker room where Rusty changed out of the leather gear, and back into his scruffy jeans and t-shirt. He hurled the bag to the far end of the locker room. {"Let's get the hell out of here."} He said as he headed for the door.

{"Interesting place."} Razor shook his head, trying to throw off of enticing effects of what he'd just walked through. {"Callie would never allow it to exist."}

{"Legally, it doesn't."} He said as he checked the alleyway, and then headed out. {"It breaks so many laws it isn't funny. But there are a lot of powerful people who pay the cops to look elsewhere. I'm pretty sure I saw the mayor down there tonight, he was watching his secretary with a donkey."} Rusty shrugged. {"We're trying to help the street kids before places like that catch them, but we're not big enough, yet."}

{"Who's 'we'?"} Razor asked carefully as he followed, still very much on alert.

{"SkateLords."} He grinned. {"We're as close to a non-criminal gang as this city has. We look out for each other, run jobs to make enough money so we stay off the street. Try to take in kids we think we can turn around."} He said as he ducked under a wire fence into a long abandoned industrial complex.

{"Fate."} Razor chuckled and shook his head. {"Godda love it. I go from one outlaw do-gooder gang right to another."}

As they crossed the yard of broken steel, concrete and machinery Razor could feel a power radiating outward across the complex protecting it. It was powerful, yet amazingly subtle and disturbingly familiar at the same time.

{"There won't be many of us visible right now, most are asleep."} He said, as they climb the stairs past two sentries not much older than Rusty. Then they went inside and crossed a catwalk to a central office platform.

Rusty knocked on the door, and then entered motioning Razor to follow. The inside of the office looked more like a teenagers bedroom, with posters and other decorations. But the dominating feature was a large, advanced computer system. The teenaged male sitting in front of it stood and turned to face them. He was an inch taller than Jake, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He was lightly built, athletic but in a wiry sense.

{"Jake, I'd like you to meet Lance 'Piper' Fairlane, Lance, this is Jake."} Rusty said by way of introduction.

{"Pleased to meet you, Jake."} Piper said, extending a hand. His feline was fluent, though the dialect was very old.

{"Good to meet you, Piper."} He accepted the handshake as he tried to place just what was so familiar about the energy around here, and why it made his blood sing with desire for this furless creature.

{"Rusty tells me you've got a missing person problem you could some help with. If you give Merlin here a good description, we can get started.} He said indicating the computer. {"Just grab any chair, and, if you'd been more comfortable in civilian clothes I can have Ari get you stuff tailored to accommodate a tail."} He offered.

{"That would be appreciated."} Jake nodded and shot an uneasy glance at Rusty before dropping into a rolling chair backwards and absently began tapping on the keyboard as he touched the computer's awareness to actually transfer the information. He locked eyes with Piper. {"What are you?"}

Piper looked back at Jake curiously though unfazed. {"A direct, though interesting question. The question 'what are you', requires a context. Are you asking about species, profession, or any number of other quantifiers?"} He responded, sincerely not sure what Razor was getting at, though he felt something very unusual about the new feline visitor.

A 3-D floating holographic head of a mature man with a graying beard and bushy eyebrows appeared. {"Data received, Piper. As we're handling questions of who's what ... I'd say Jake's a Virtual Adept, or something very much like one."} The floating head said in a calm, mature voice.

The lean Kat glanced up at the hologram and smiled slightly. {"For reference, in my terms, I'm a Golden Warrior TechnoMage. Which references species, profession, society and training."} He shifted his attention to Piper. {"You carry the Bastet half of the Golden Queen's Soul. What are you to have acquired it?"}

The head nodded politely. {"I am Merlin, Artificial Intelligence advisor to the SkateLords, pleased to make your acquaintance."}

Piper leaned back against the support of the bunk bed. {"The Bastet? I didn't exactly 'acquire' it, it's more like I'm responsible for looking after it. Same as my father, and his father, and his father's father. We've been the Keeper since the warrior entrusted the Bastet to us over two thousand years ago.

{"My grandfather is the guardian-priest of the last of Bastet's temples on this world. That's kind of my family's other legacy, we still follow the old ways, when so few do."} He said quietly. {"You're carrying the Phoenix half aren't you?"} He asked quietly.

Razor nodded and licked his whiskers. {"Do you understand what it means ... both halves on the same world?"}

{"Not exactly, though according the priestesses at the time, and since the soul can only be reunited in a daughter who is of the blood of both Keepers. For one Keeper to try and reunite the two halves would bring certain disaster. I always thought that meant that the other Keeper was female, since our Keeper has always been male."} He said quietly.

{"Sorry to interrupt."} Merlin interjected. {"But I've completed the image, based on the information provided by Jake. Is this an accurate rendering of your friend?"} The AI asked as a quarter-size image of Chance appeared in the holoprojection field.

{"Yes, that's Chance."} Razor nodded. {"God enough for Enforcers to use, too."}

{"What's his full name, and does he have an alias he might be under?"} Merlin asked. {"The more I have, the easier it will be to search for him. Any exceptional talents that might bring him to the attention of the Megacorps?"}

Piper looked at Razor. {"Enforcers? You mean like the cops?"} He asked dubiously.

{"With military hardware."} Razor nodded at Piper before shifting his attention to Merlin and set himself to not jump Piper, at least until he got Chance back. {"Full name is Chance Furlong, and he'll probably be under T-Bone. He was in uniform when he fell through the portal. There's a small chance he'll use Lieutenant Furlong or Furlson."}

Razor shook his head. {"Special abilities? Nothing like mine, but he's a top level PsiPilot, though he doesn't know it. Beyond being a Kat, he'd probably fit in fairly well. Oh, and he has a major sense of justice and drive to set things right; real hero material with very little trust for organizations and a weakness for pretty fems.

Merlin reappeared and nodded. {"I'll begin sifting all databases at once for any name matches. Because of the Veil, his appearance may not help much. I'll inform Piper as soon as I have any leads."} He said and vanished.

Piper nodded. {"Merlin's good, but the Net's big. Top level pilot with psi abilities, well both the Adepts and the Technocracy will be interested in him. Real hero material is a good way to find major trouble around here, the kind of child abuse sanctioned at Underground is hardly unique, and other predators exist too."}

{"He'll have a fit."} Razor shook his head. {"And he's not likely to think in the long term."}

{"Around here, the cops do have military hardware, it's just previous version, while the military has the state of the art stuff. The MegaCorp armies have state of the art stuff too."} He said simply.

{"Fun."} Razor rolled his eyes. {"Sounds like MegaKat City. Everybody's armed and none of it helps."}

{"It may take a while to find your friend, you got any questions I can answer? Anything to help bring you up to speed with our little corner of insanity."} Piper said, trying to ignore the attraction he was feeling toward Jake.

{"How quiet is quiet enough with magic to not draw the nasty attention?"}

{"It's not a matter of quiet, really. It's a matter of how it fits into the pattern of reality. Blatant visible magic tends to attract nasty attention; translocation tends to be bad because it breaks one of the 'laws of reality'. Reality is really temperamental around here."} He shook his head.

{"The best way to avoid nasty attention is to make you spell effect look like something that could have happened. For example, if you want to toast some bastard with a fireball, have gas line explode under him instead. Sure its not likely, but it could happen. This is called coincidental magic, and its how we keep reality from throwing fits. For Virtual Adepts, its not so bad in cyberspace, on the web, where we can do pretty much what we want, because it's a separate paradigm."}

Razor nodded and opened his mouth to ask something even as he felt the Phoenix in him claim control, and his own reflex to submit to it.

{"Do you like males?"} Razor asked with a sultry promise in his voice as he leaned forward to caress Piper's jaw with one finger.

{"Do I have sex with guys, sure."} Piper said with a little bravado. {"Don't know why you hide your face with that mask. You're way handsome without it."} He said shivering a little at Razor's touch.

{"To protect my family, my friends."} He rumbled and leaned forward to touch lips, guiding the human's chin with gentle pressure.

{"I understand, I do a lot to protect my new family."} He said as he gently touched lips with the Kat as Razor pulled them to their feet and opened his jaw to press his tongue against Piper's mouth.

Piper heard a sudden growling in his mind, and backed away rapidly to the far side of the room. {"Jake, I like you, but the Phoenix is trying to start the merge. The merge can't happen this way, the disaster would kill too many."} He leaned against a corner shivering, trying desperately to avoid tears.

{"It will kill no one but me."} Razor rumbled in a mixture of desire and determination as he closed the distance between them. {"I am the Golden, I will be Her, and return what is ours."}

{"You don't know this world, and you don't know the danger of the transformation your proposing. I was warned this might happen, that the Phoenix might be too eager, not willing to wait for the daughter to be born."} He said quietly. {"I made this place a sanctum for life, no one dies here if I can do anything about it."}

He stood up straight, with the power of the Bastet half radiating clearly from him like a small star. {"Lady Bastet, your power you granted to protect this place, now protect both place and power until the appointed time. By the power of the Keeper line, unbroken for two thousand years, and the guardian-priests, I invoke the power of the Bastet Ankh, let its power infuse this spell."} He said holding up a glowing golden ankh, from which a ball of golden light shot up into the ceiling.

The golden light infused the building, and spread across the entire complex, quickly fading from view. Piper sat down exhausted on the bottom of the bunk bed. {"It is done. I kept my promise to the Keepers, and to Bastet."} He said quietly.

Jake-Phoenix blinked in confusion as he tried to trace the new location without success. With a low, feral growl of fear and rage he lunged at Piper, slamming the human to the ground and snarled only inches from his face. {"What have you done?"}

Piper remained remarkably calm. {"What I was trained to do, and what Bastet expected me to do. The other half isn't lost, but the time for rejoining isn't now, and this isn't the way. The two halves have to rejoin in a daughter born of the two carriers. At least that's what Bastet's priestess told us."}

{"You take the word of a mortal over the gods themselves?"} Razor hissed before they both felt the click of Jake taking control back rather forcefully. He was breathing heavily as he stared at the human under his claws. {"We're going to have to have a very serious talk when I get my partner back."} He shook his head in irritation and twisted to his feet before offering a hand to Piper. {"Be grateful I can still control it or you wouldn't have a world by now."}

Piper accepted the hand up. {"According to the priestess she was relaying instructions from Bastet. As for the other, the Bastet half was sure it could handle any tantrum the Phoenix decided to throw. According to the Bastet at any rate."} The teenager said.

{"So what's your partner have to do with this soul-split situation?"} Piper asked as he sat down at the terminal and started reviewing data at high speed.

{"Because as soon as I have him back, I can get us to a place where neither of our concerns will matter."} Razor shivered as a trickle of power danced down his spine.

{"Still think it's safer to go with the daughter-merge.} Piper said quietly. {"It's not even that difficult, according to Gaia."}

"Some days, I am dense." Razor suddenly growled in irritation as he brought his Glovatrix up and set it to track its mate. {"Safer in some context, maybe. Most desirable, definitely not. The Queen should be a Golden, not a half-breed mongrel."}

Piper shook his head, and laughed. {"Two thousand years of bearing the Bastet soul left its mark on my family. We're not who, or even what we were before."} He said quietly. {"You see, the Bastet soul required a Golden to care for it, over the long centuries. Since this world lacked any, it used its power to make some. It took centuries, but eventually all that remained was the illusion that let us interact with the rest of humanity."} He said softly.

Razor glared at him intensely. {"One damn good illusion, to fool another Golden."}

Piper nodded. {"That illusion, backed by the very powerful Veil. You didn't expect to find any Goldens here, so you didn't."} He said calmly. {"But throwaway that expectation, any expectation at all and just look for the truth whatever it may be, and you'll see I'm telling the truth."}

Razor sighed and let himself go, keeping just enough attention to maker sure the Glovatrix was routed correctly. He carefully touched the part of his soul that linked him to his kind and asked where his nearest kin was.

He opened his eyes and looked curiously at the slightly darker caramel furred Golden Warrior Tom sitting where Piper had been.

{"Greetings, Cardor,"} Razor bowled politely in greeting to an equal. {"From Hylerash of EverClaws."}

Piper recognized the name 'Cardor' as something he'd associated with himself in the web of magic he'd discovered weakly linking his people together. Logically Hylerash must be Jake.

He was visibly taken back by being treated as an equal; it wasn't something he was used to getting from Goldens, especially Warriors. {"Greeting, Hylerash."} He replied formally, hoping he was getting it right, despite not having used the formal in years.

Razor smiled slightly and leaned forward to kiss him. {"You're quite attractive without the Veil, Lance."}

{"Thanks, Jake."} He smiled, shyly. {"It's nice to be appreciated for myself."} He said as he claimed a quick kiss as Razor's Glovatrix beeped.

After a quick glance at the readout he looked at Piper. {"T-Bone's fifteen miles southwest. Am I going after him alone?"}

{"Why don't we have Merlin pin down the location a little more specifically? If we interface his mapping database, and your glove's tracking system, we should be able to get a more specific target."} Piper suggested. {"And you're not going alone."}

{"Good."} He nodded easily as he slipped a thin wire from the edge of the glove and plugged it into the computer. {"At least he's stationary."}

{"Not necessarily a good thing."} Piper said as he quickly made the connections, and overlaid the data. {"Warehouse district, 1339 Colvin, nearest intersection is 49th and Colvin. Warehouse belongs to a small weapons development firm named PocketLaunchers Inc., according to records the building houses both offices and research facilities. OCD believes PocketLaunchers to be a front for Ventrue operations, but lacks confirmation."} He said as he backed out of the net connection.

{"And that means to me?"} He prompted for a further explanation gently.

{"Oops, sorry. That means the warehouse belongs to a small company, which probably has low security, but a little higher because they do research. The Ventrue angle means there may be Vampires involved, or not. 49th and Colvin is just coordinate data so I can program the transportation spell properly."}

Razor considered for a moment. {"Do you have Modorcycles here, ones that won't be missed?"}

Piper chuckled. {"Gimme a sec. I'm expecting a couple of Modorcycles to become available nearby shortly.} He said as typed something in an obscure language into he computer, and then hit a button on the keyboard labelled "COMPILE". There was a surge of energy from Piper, through the computer and out into the net.

{"Out by the North Gate, a Megatech transport with a shipment of Modorcycles broke down. The driver's gone to radio for assistance, he won't be back for awhile."} Piper grinned.

Razor grinned back. {"Good, cause it just so happens that that shipment included a couple very special bikes."}

Piper chuckled. {"Did it? Good thing you checked the manifest. I guess we better go get them before someone else does. This isn't a nice neighborhood."} He said, as he put on a leather jacket and holstered a blaster pistol and headed out, Razor barely half a step behind him, and trying hard not to cop a feel as they walked.

As they crossed the maze of broken metal and stone that was the abandoned industrial site, Rusty came running up behind them.
"Hey guys, wait for me." He called breathing hard, as he ran to catch up.

Piper paused. "Rusty, this isn't a mission for a kit." He said protectively.

"I can fight, you know that." He said fiercely.

"I know, but this is more delicate. It's not just a matter of crashing it and beating someone up." He said mussing the youngster's unruly red hair. "Best thing you can do, is keep an eye on home while I'm helping Jake."

"You sure?" Rusty pleaded with big eyes.

"I'm sure, and the puppy dog eyes aren't going to help." He chuckled.

{"Don't look at me."} Razor chuckled apologetically before snagging Piper's shoulder. {"The bikes?"}

{"Okay, Okay. I'll go back. Just be careful."} The red-head muttered as he headed back. {"This is way too easy."}

Piper smiled. {"This way."} He said heading through an area overgrown with weeds and grass to a break in the wire fence. {"There's our truck."} He said, as he pointed to large, black semi. {"But he's right, this is too easy."}

{"It always is."} Razor muttered under his breath as he clicked a couple commands into his Glovatrix and two powerful engines revved inside the trailer, bursting out a moment later. {"Those are Cyclotrons, well armed, armed and fast as lightning."} He commented as the jet-powered cycles held themselves still in front of the pair. {"Get on, they'll handle themselves if need be."}

{"I never met a machine I couldn't handle."} Piper grinned, as he got on. He quickly wove his tendrils of mage energy into the cyclotron until it was well connected to him, and blinked when he realized they were designed for a mage to use. Then he looked over at Jake's bike. {"The cycles have the up-to-date maps, the location of the other glove, and the fastest route there."} He nodded. {"Ready when you are."}

Razor nodded sharply and gunned the engines before switching them to silent mode as they raced through empty streets at breakneck speed while he tried to get every scrap of information about what was around the other Glovatrix, and the condition of the Kat he played was still wearing it.

Razor was frustrated because the sensors on the other Glovatrix didn't seem to be responding. As far as he could tell, the glove had barely enough power to respond to a request for its location and anything else simply wasn't possible.

Piper was impressed by the Cyclotrons as they sped toward the location of the other glove, and he fed all available data back to Merlin. He kept his eyes peeled for any trouble, but at this early hour of the morning, it wasn't likely. They wouldn't be crossing into any section of town were the cops would really care about speeding.

A short while later the pulled up across from the warehouse. It was as it was listed, the place of operations for a business, which was closed at the moment.

{"Let me try one last thing before we go in."} Razor spoke very softly as he carefully linked his glove to the cycle and set up a power transmission cycle in addition to the request for information.

Piper nodded and concentrated on infiltrating, bypassing and disabling the security system. The security system was no better than he had expected, certainly nothing of any real challenge to an Adept. He tried to access the internal cameras remotely, and found them unresponsive.

The glove's response to the power transmission was to report a short in the power receptors, which prevented the glove from accepting any power from outside sources.

{"Security bypassed. We can go whenever."} Piper said very softly.

{"95% odds we're walking into a trap and Chance isn't in there."} Razor said simply before pointing to where the signal was coming from. {"Let's find out who needs to die."}

{"Only 95%, things are better than I thought."} He grinned quirkily. {"How do we want to do this? Front door assault, enter through the roof, or something else?"} He asked.

{"Oh, it's guaranteed to be a trap, the 95 was whether or not Chance is even in there."} Razor growled and regarded his companion. {"How good are you as sneaking?"}

{"I hang with streetkids, sneaking is second nature."} He grinned. {"What's your plan?"}

{"I'm going to make enough of an entrance with them,"} he jerked his thumb at the Cyclotrons, {"while you find a quiet way in case they're actually prepared for me."}

{"Right, just give me a chance to get to the roof before you hit the front door."} He said softly, as a truck clipped a pole at the nearby corner taking down a transformer and knocking out the streetlights in the area.

{"Cardor,"} Razor put a hand on darker tom's shoulder. {"First priority is to get Chance out. I've got more tricks than he does."}

Piper nodded in the shadowy darkness and slipped across the street, and out of Razor's sight.

With a muttering growl he set up just far enough from the wall closest to where he wanted to go. "No one takes a SWAT Kat and gets away with it."} He hissed as the ring of mini-missiles blasted a sizeable hole in the wall and both Cyclotrons burst through before the flame even cleared.

The Cyclotrons burst through into a well equipped electronics laboratory where the missing Glovatrix lay on a workbench. From the condition it was in, someone had clearly been taking it apart attempting to detail its inner workings. This dissection appeared to be responsible for the Glove's inability to respond. There was no sign of Chance as Razor hastily put the glove back together enough to be stowed easily.

A few minutes later, Piper came down the stairs from the second floor guiding a light brown tomkat in labcoat. {"According to the buildings infrared sensors, this is the only Kat on the premises."}

Razor raised an eyebrow. "Well now, how'd you end up here?"

The Kat looked at him. "End up where? Though I guess it's just like a vigilante to be breaking into a legitimate research facility belonging to Pumadyne."

The SWAT Kat nearly lost his composure. "Never mind. Who has T-Bone?"

"The other vigilante? Why would I know where he is? I haven't seen him, and in fact one of you has been quite enough." The tomkat said tiredly. "Please steal whatever you came for and leave, I'd like to get a start on cleaning up so my research doesn't get set back too much."

{"Keep watch."} Razor ordered curtly before he grabbed the brown Kat, inserting a small clawtip into his arm and locked eyes with him. "Truth serum is a wonderful thing." He hissed in barely controlled rage, only inches from the tom's face. "You will tell me what you know about how the glove that matches mine got here, the Kat who was wearing it, and who would know more."

The Kat's eyes kind of went wide. "Our buyer who picks up Outsider tech from the Auctions brought the glove to me, said there was a substantial bonus for reproducing it. I never saw anyone wearing it. It arrived in the shipping crate on the table where I was working on it. The Auction house would know more, they had to get the glove from some one."

"Your project just got canceled." Razor snapped. "It's stolen property, and it's owner just claimed it back. How many Kats live on this world?"

The tom shrugged. "I don't happen to recall the population of Aristal off the top of my head. Not exactly what you'd call a generally useful figure."

Razor nodded and let him go, not daring to let it show just how completely rattled he was to this ... Kat ... as he mounted one of the Cyclotrons and gunned it out of there, barely remembering to wait for Piper to catch up.

Piper took a moment to through an amnesia spell on the Kat before following Jake, having drive rather recklessly to catch up with the rather rattled Kat. He followed hoping that Jake would decide to stop at some point as they left the city behind them.

Three minutes and twenty miles out, Razor finally pulled to a stop in a small rest area. By the time Piper joined him the helmet was off and he was braced forward against the handlebars with his head dropped down, shaking terribly and muttering something under his breath.

Piper parked the cyclotron and walked over next to the shaking Kat. He put a gentle hand on the Kat's shoulder. {"Jake, what's wrong?"}

{"I should have seen this coming. I really should have."} He shook his head from side to side. {"This is Aristal, isn't it?"}

{"That's the name of this planet, yeah. Why's that such a big deal?"} He asked curiously.

{"Same as mine."} He drew a deep breath and tried to shake it off. {"How the hell does this work?"} He glared at the other Golden. {"That furless creature we look like to most is normal, that Kat in there thought he was normal, how many fucking species think they're the only ones on this planet?"}

{"Jake, there was something wrong with that Kat back there. Somebody with a hell of a lot of talent in Mind Magic has basically wired him to see everything as though it's somewhere else. He thinks he's normal cause somebody wants him to think he's normal."} Piper said quietly. {"As far as I know, humans, which is the term for the furless creature by the way, are the norm for this planet. There's a small colony of Goldens in the Valley of Bastet, hidden by a very a powerful cloak talisman created a long time ago. Everybody else is covered by the Veil to look human."}

"I'm going to kill this fucking planet." He hissed as he tried to shake it off, and almost succeeded. He gently reached out to the Kat researcher and shut the Kat's body systems down as painlessly as possible. {"Okay ... he was kidnapped and fucked with. It's over. Has Merlin made any progress on finding T-Bone?"}

{"Still working, there haven't been any records corresponding to any of the info on him. I think its time to play a bit more dangerous, I want to get back to base and go after the Technocracy DBs, I'd bet creds they've got him."} Piper said quietly. {"Was killing the researcher really necessary? It's not like he was unhappy, as far as he knew he was doing his job same as he did every day."} The teenager asked quietly.

{"He was broken."} Razor said simply as he shuddered. {"Would you have Merlin download planetary geography and politics to my cycle so I can review it? I need to ride."}

{"No problem, Jake."} The teenager said, as linked to the AI. {"If we're gonna find your friend I'd better get back, and start working."} He said quietly. It'd been pretty obvious the Kat didn't want company. {"Just be careful, this isn't a friendly world."} He said as he walked back to his Cyclotron.

{"Thanks."} Razor managed to force out as he pulled his helmet back on and waited for Piper to drive off. Then he started pushing limits, both his own and his understanding of what this world allowed him.

First was a flat download of the information on the world, then he linked up through the cycle and the internet/ satellite structure to find his partner, his condition, and every other scrap of information he could about what happened him.

The level of security existing in the web was incredible. Though many areas were free and open, or barely secure, there were areas that would require a major effort to break into. Numerous areas were secured by defenses which Jake gauged to have been designed and emplaced by Mages of skill comparable to his own, and backed by formidable power.

In the areas Jake could scan, he found no mention of the tabby, either by name or description, until he came across a reference to a Chance Furlong, being wanted for jailbreak and murder in a small community named Argovia. According to the maps, Argovia was about seventy-five miles northwest of his present location.

He spotted a note tagged to the reference. "If you decide to check this out, be careful. Piper. p.s. if you want backup, just ask."

With a snarl of pure frustration he got off the Cyclotron and stormed into the dense forest nearby, following instinct and Phoenix's draw towards power to the nearest location with a strong enough connection to Earth for him to use the magic his people were better known for. It may not be his specialty, but he had a good enough feel for it for this basic a question.

As he found the minor eddy he was looking for he quietly stripped to the fur, consciously leaving everything social of the last twenty years behind with his clothes.

With a gentle touch he tried to link into the living pulse of the world. What he found was frightening. The living pulse of the world was very weak, it seemed to be ill with some black sickness he couldn't identify. On top of that, there was something crystalline, and rigid mixed in with the green, growing energy of the planet.

Suddenly, he felt a power near him, and heard a low growl of multiple voices, probably wolves from the sound of it. Careful not to completely loose his link to the world, Jake opened his eyes to face two Wolves in two-legged war-form, and eight wolves.

The larger of the two war-forms stepped right up to him. {"You are in NightFang territory, and are at one of our nodes, Cat mage. Explain yourself."{ The big male demanded as the wolves spread out to surround.

{"I seek my mate."} Jake said simply without moving, as he asked the world itself where Chance was, and what condition he was in. {"My apologies. I did not realize this area was claimed."}

The female, who was clearly older from the silver in her fur, stepped forward. {"You wanted to ask Gaia if she knew where your mate is. In old times, she could have told you but now the Wyrm grows and the fevered dream consumes her."} She said with a quiet, sad wisdom.

The world couldn't tell him were Chance was, though it seemed certain that he was still alive. There was some truth to what the shewolf said, the planet did seem to suffer from a fevered delirium.

The big male looked at Jake appraisingly. {"You're a Golden Warrior, aren't you?"} He asked.

{"Yes."} The Kat stood with slow grace. {"Thank you for the time in your territory."}

{"Well, you haven't done any harm, so no problem. Just be careful, those Wyrm-serving Technocrats take note of those who can talk to Gaia. They're not to be taken lightly."} He said with a growl.

{"So I have noticed,"} Jake nodded to him before walking with a carefully presented non-challenging posture to dress as Razor once more. {"I appreciate your warning, but if they have my mate, I will go through them."}

As Razor stood, he turned back to the graying female. {"If there is a way for me to repay your favor, please ask."}

{"There might be."} The shewolf said quietly. {"Have you ever heard of a Golden named Cardor?"} She said quietly.

{"Yes."} He nodded, keeping a very careful neutrality about himself.

{"Urzham,"} she indicated the large male war-form. {"has a mate who is a Golden female, and she is due to give birth to their first litter soon. She believes that Cardor is the representative of Bastet in the physical world, and it would ease many of her concerns if he would at least visit before the birth. We have been unable to find him, but perhaps if you know him, maybe you could ask him for us."}

The big male spoke quietly. {"I guarantee his safety personally, and it would mean a great deal to Darssha. She has faced difficulty enough choosing love over tradition."} He said with a quiet affection.

Razor smiled softly. {"I will call him. Should he come here?"}

{"Yes, and thank you."} The big warrior said quietly.

With a friendly nod Razor returned to his Cyclotron and opened a channel through the other cycle to Merlin. {"Hay, Lance, you got a minute?"}

{"Sure, Jake. What's up, you checking out Argovia?"} The teenager asked curiously.

{"Yes, after I repay a little favor. There's somebody up here that wants to see you. Darssha."}

{"Not a name I'm familiar with, who is she?"} He asked. {"You want backup for Argovia, it likely to be unpleasant.}

{"Yes, but first come by ... wherever I am right now. The cycle knows the way."} Razor paused a second. {"Bring any backup that's willing to risk their tail on this, and a good field medic or healer if you can. Please."}

About twenty minutes later, a sleek, black semi with red flames pained along its length pulled up with a three bike escort.

Piper and what Jake realized was a Golden Warrior shekat jumped out of the cab, followed by Rusty. A blonde human male in his twenties joined them from the trailer as their Biker Mice escort pulled up with a roar and snapping tails.

{"Hi, Jake."} Piper said as he walked over. {"I managed to wrangle the HellKnights and Biker Mice into backing us up on this one. They and their cycles are in the semi. Rusty, you've already met. The warrior is Tarissha, and this Doctor Paul Casterlin, formerly of Army Special Forces."} He indicated the blonde human.

Rusty handed Jake a silver Phoenix medallion. {"It's a translator talisman, so you can handle English."} He grinned.

("Thanks,") He smiled at Rusty and looked at the group in stunned gratitude that so many would come before turning to Piper. ("Lance, I guess everyone can go over the gear, battle plans and what little info's in the Cyclotrons on the situation. We have a date with a mother-to-be."}

Piper looked at him. {"Mother-to-be? How does this involve me, Jake? I'm not medically inclined. I can about handle first aid, delivery is out of the question."} The teenager asked in confusion.

Tarissha walked up next to Piper. {"He wouldn't happen to be the sire would he?"} She asked with serious interest, looking possessively at Piper.

{No and no."} Razor sighed. {"A Wolf is the sire, and a Golden the dame. She wants to see the keeper of the Bastet Soul before she gives birth. That's all."}

Piper relaxed. {"Oh, no problem then."} He smiled. {"Enough about siring, Tarissha. Why don't you go tease Vinnie? You seemed to take a liking to him."}

{"We'll discuss it later. Not a bad idea though, for a male."} She said as she walked off toward the white Biker Mouse.

Piper fumed, as he followed Razor into the woods. {"Thank you, Tarissha, for reminding me why I don't make trips home."} He said in a voice that dripped anger.

{"Same reason I live half a continent away from mine."} Razor chuckled softly. {"Does everyone on this trip see each other for what they are?"}

{"The HellRazors definitely do, nothing bothers them. I finally talked the Mice into seeing past the Veil, so they know what's what. Tarissha is being stubborn, and I frankly don't care. Though I'd find hilarious if she actually gets to fooling around with Vinnie and discovers he's a mouse."} He chuckled sarcastically.

He shook his head. {"Tarissha's helping out 'cause she thinks it'll add to the value of the sire price she offered."}

{"You really hate her that much?"} Razor raised an eyebrow. {"She's rough personality wise, but she's got good looks, and I'd judge good breeding."}

{"I don't really like any of them. I got tired of taking shit from the lot of them, and left home when I was sixteen. My female agemates were being acknowledged as warriors, and I was as tough a Mage, but because they couldn't figure out how that worked in the rules, they bickered on it. Leaving me as one more second class non-entity, except when some female decided that she like the idea of a daughter with powerful magic.

{"Well, they've got another thing coming if they think I'm contributing another oppressor to that system, or another poor tom to be the butt of female tyranny."} He said angrily.

Razor suddenly stopped and tipped Piper's chin up so their eyes met. {"But you'd sire the Queen?"}

Piper hesitated. {"I'm a Keeper, that's my duty. Besides, Grandfather told me that things weren't as bad when we had a Queen. He says the females have gotten more abusive without her guidance, because they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. I spent a night in the temple seeking Bastet's guidance, and I got a strong feeling that a new Queen could make things better.

{"I have to believe that. As Keeper it's my responsibility to decide if the time for the Rebirth has arrived or not. I'm not supposed to let my personal feelings interfere."} He sighed. {"It still scares me though. There's this little voice that says I'll just be making things worse for all Golden toms. I'm hoping the little voice is wrong."}

{"It is."} Razor said with easy, absolute certainty. {"And She will make things better for much more than just us."}

A silvered wolf loped up to them, and shifted to become the older shewolf war-form. {"Is this Cardor?"} She asked Jake as Piper stepped back reflexively behind him.

{"Yes, ma'am."}

{"Thank you. If you'd both come this way."} She said shifting into wolf form and loping toward the nearby forest.

{"Werewolves?"} Piper said nervously.

{"Told you the sire was a wolf."} Razor shrugged and followed her.

{"Guess, I wasn't thinking."} He said as he followed.

The werewolves had a somewhat rustic camp in a dense part of the forest. The buildings were constructed of logs, and were built around several central cookfires.

The camp was a mixture of humans, wolves, and warforms with a slightly higher percentage of males than females. As the two Kats entered several male war-forms loped in their direction, but backed off when the shewolf growled at them.

The shewolf led them into a cabin where a light cinnamon shekat lay in bed, clearly late in pregnancy. She looked up as they entered. {"Hello, Cardor. I wondered if you'd come. You were right, love was the only proper way to find a father for my kits. But I don't know ..."} She sighed quietly.

Piper walked over next to her and put his hand on her belly. There was a golden glow as the Bastet energy recoalesced in him briefly, and bathed her. It then dispersed almost immediately. {"Your kits will be just fine, but I wouldn't recommend introducing them to your mother."} He said quietly, as he turned and left.

{"Thank you, Cardor. I knew you'd understand."} She said quietly as Jake followed the other Kat out, with an encouraging smile for her.

Piper found a log in the forest and sat down, breathing heavily as Razor dropped next to him.

{"Seems like they aren't all bad around here."} Razor said quietly as he offered support to the younger Kat.

{"She's changed."} He said quietly. {"She was the first who ever offered me a sire price. I told her she should have kits by someone she loved, not someone she treated as a kitten vending machine.

{"She must really love him, 'cause the clan will never take her back now."} He said quietly. {"Do you think it's wrong to use the power in the half-soul for personal reasons?") Piper asked uncertainly.

{"Nah,"} Razor shook his head easily. {"If it goes against its nature, the power won't let itself be used. Not even the Queen could. If it's not against its nature, it's not wrong."}

Piper relaxed. {"Good. When I touched her, I could see that the female in her litter wasn't going to be strong enough to survive birth. I know how much having a daughter means to her, so I used the Bastet to make the female strong enough to survive. Now she'll have four strong, healthy kits ... cubs ... whatever you want to call half-Kat, half-werewolves."} He grinned.

{"Dangerous."} Razor chuckled. {"Now ... up for going after my mate ... so we can talk about a kit of our own?"}

{"Yeah, we better get back before the others get anxious. Rusty will be especially nervous with werewolves around."} He said walking back in the direction of the semi.

Razor and Piper walked into a glaring match between the tall tan Mouse leader, Throttle, and Tarissha.

Piper walked up. ("Okay, what's going on here?") He asked forcefully, deliberately stepping between them as Razor kept just to the edge of it, watching carefully and trying to hide his amusement at seeing a Golden shekat loosing to a Mouse, even if he was a good foot taller than her.

("You're girl's not listening.") The white mouse with a metal plate covering the right half of his face piped up before Throttle could answer.

("We were trying to discuses who should lead the assault.") Throttle explained evenly, though his temper had clearly been stretched thin.

("The tabby you were with the other night your former pilot then?") She smiled back as she opened the passenger door to a convertible black sports car. ("Hope you don't mind me driving."

("Why is it you males refuse to recognize the simple fact that I, as a Golden Warrior should lead the assault? No discussion is really required, simply do as you're told.") The Golden shekat said flatly.

("Well, maybe dear, if you'd come out of that fantasy world where females run everything you'd realize the real world doesn't work that way. Normally, it's best to let the person with the most experience and skill be in charge, and it doesn't hurt if they know the area.")

("Males simply aren't capable of running such complex operations.") She said in a tone, which was the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head.

Jake could feel the Bastet beginning to coalesce, and it was pissed , as Piper's ears went flat and he growled at the shekat. "Bullshit, you can take that line back home, but it don't fly here.")

("A Golden Warrior is leading this mission.") Razor growled at her in rebuke. ("If you're challenging my status, we'll settle it now .")

Tarissha looked at Razor for a moment as if considering a challenge. ("Well, as long as a Golden Warrior is leading, that's acceptable. Just couldn't let these males run haywire with things.") She said somewhat dismissively.

Piper turned his back on Tarissha, to talk with the Mice. ("Sorry about her, guys. I'd say she's having a bad day, but this is really how she is.") He said with considerable fatigue as a sudden motion of red and blue behind them flipped Tarissha to her back with a hard thud.

By the time anyone could catch what was happening she was pinned under Razor with the Kat's knee on her chest and his claws tight around her throat.

{"You will behave with respect to everyone here as proven warriors, or you'll find out how I got my name. Understand, kitten?"}

Tarissha nodded, her eyes wide with shock and astonishment. She'd been completely caught off-guard by Razor's sudden attack, mostly because no male warrior at home would dare touch her.

Piper smiled, he'd always thought that was what Tarissha needed. He could've done it with magic years ago, but unless it was done physically it just didn't make the same impression, and Razor was good at making a physical impression.

("Now that we've settled the leadership question, the first thing to cover is the fact that we can't assault anything till we find Chance. That is, unless Razor's come up with his location.") Piper looked over at the Kat pinning Tarissha as Razor stood and shook the aggression out.

("Nothing you hadn't already found, that he was last seen in the Argovia area, and I'm pretty sure he's still alive.") Razor muttered, all but ignoring Tarissha. ("What else do we know?")

("Argovia's got some great fishing spots.") The big gray mouse with the metal arm added absently.
Piper looked at the latest update from Merlin. ("According to TW, Argovia is pretty solidly Technocracy territory, at least behind the scenes. The murder looks like a frame job to get the police to pick Chance up for one of the factions, possibly Iteration X. This is especially likely given that there's been no autopsy of the victim recorded.") He said evenly. ("Fortunately, our Doctor here happens to be one of the regional coroners, and has the authority to review everything regarding the deceased, including how the death supposedly occurred.")

("Good start,") Razor nodded. ("I don't suppose there's the riding leathers and civvies you mentioned earlier in there somewhere? Even with the Veil, I've godda look odd in this.")

Piper smiled. ("In the sleeper section of the cab. Ari finished them and made sure I remembered to bring them. She's really a genius of a seamstress, of course being a talented Mage of Matter doesn't hurt.") He chuckled, as he opened the door to the sleeper compartment.

("No doubt,") Razor grinned and gave Piper a light tug to join him. ("Thank her for me if I don't get the opportunity.")

("I will, but you're going to.") He said with certainty as he joined Razor, and closed the cab door.

Outside, Rusty chuckled and got Razor's cyclotron loaded on to the Semi with Piper's. With a minimum of discussion the remaining personnel got back to their respective vehicles, and the semi set course for Argovia, with a three mouse escort.

Jake quickly stripped as the truck started to move and reached for his new clothes. {"Tell me a little about yourself?"} He glanced up at the other tom.

Piper leaned back watching Jake. {"I'm the oldest of nine kits, but the only tom. Since I was supposed to be the next Keeper I was raised largely by my father and grandfather. Father disappeared when I was twelve to pursue some vision he said he got from Bastet, that's when he transferred the half-soul to me.

{"I've never played the male role in Golden society well, and it only got worse when I got the half soul. I've been a Mage since I was 6, and I'm good, always have been. I could never accept that I was inferior just because I was male. That caused a lot of problems, fights at school that sort of thing. Problem was there was a limit to what they could do, because I was the Keeper.

{"Finally, at sixteen I got tired of seeing the females being recognized as worthwhile adults while I was ignored. So I left the Valley and came to New Chicago. I was a street kit for a while, til I realized just how powerful my magic was. That's when I created Merlin, and took over the Industrial park.

{"The Clan's asked me to come back a couple of times. They say it's improper for the Keeper to live apart from the Clan, but these street kits need me. I can make a difference for them, give them a chance no one else will. They don't need me back home, they just want me to conform to a stupid predefined role in their stagnant social structure. Well, I'm not interested, I want to make a difference."}

Piper chuckled quietly. {"Guess I'm not a very good Golden really."} He said softly.

{"No, but you exemplify the traits that have made warriors toms desirable sires and mates for millennia."} Jake shook his head as he buttoned his jeans and tested the flexibility of his new clothes. {"Even if they don't understand why, they're still drawn by it."}

{"I guess that would explain why Tarissha is such a recurrent thorn in my side."} He griped. {"I guess I haven't thought much about the whole mates thing, looking after the street kits keeps me busy enough. I never expected to be a parent at eighteen."} He said quietly, forcing his mind away from being attracted to Jake. He knew the tom had a mate, and he hardly knew him anyway. Of course, his mind refused to cooperate at all.

{"If you want to take the edge off, I'm willing."} Jake offered quietly.

{"Take the edge off?"} Piper looked at him, somewhat blankly and a little confused.

Jake nodded and curled forward to kiss the other tom enticingly. {"No commitment, nothing complicated, just a little physical relief. I know you're feeling it, same as me, even if the draw's controllable without both halves completely here."}

Piper smiled and kissed him back. {"I'd never assume commitment from simple physical relief."} He said quietly, as he reached a hand out to touch Jake's cheek gently. {"But I think we can both use the relaxation."}

("Might want to get dressed back there.") Rusty banged on the divider between the driving cab and the sleeping compartment. ("We're almost to Argovia.")

Piper nuzzled Jake. ("Looks like the outside world wants some attention.") He chuckled.

The older tom groaned and rolled to get dressed. ("I am so looking forward to getting this over with.")

Piper nodded. ("I'd like to get back to base myself, I hate being away for extended periods, I worry about the kits.") The tom sighed as he got dressed. ("Jake, you think you can fake being a cop?") He said as he pulled on his shirt.

The lean tom chuckled, then burst out laughing. ("I don't have to fake it. I'm in law enforcement back home.")

The caramel tom smiled broadly. ("Oh good, 'cause Doc is going to need somebody to fake being the detective that the Regional Coroner's office always sends along. And law enforcement is not a career that the rest of our team has pursued." He grinned. " Coroner squads are usually four person teams, so I figure Doc cause he actually is a coroner, you as the detective, me as the cyber-detective, and Modo as the muscle. Actually, Rusty scrounged us three really solid Coroner's office illusion talismans to cover the fact that Doc's the only human of the four.")

("Works for me. I do a good 'bad cop' routine too.") Jake grinned. ("Managed to disturbed my last CO with it.")

{"We'll see if that's needed. At first, Doc's just gonna try and walk over them jurisdictionally. Funny you should mention 'bad cop', Doc said that Modo wanted to play 'good cop'. Given the sheer size difference even with the illusion, that's an interesting illusion."}

{"It's pure attitude."} Jake chuckled. {"Most folks learn quick that a small Kat that talks tough can usually back it up. Especially an Enforcer."}

{"A acquaintance of mine in C.O.E, is going to be providing a sedan for us, since the Coroner's office does not arrive on Modorcycles."} He grinned.


{"Cult of Ecstasy, one of the other Traditions. I met Calypso in New Chicago a short while after I arrived. He's a bit spacey, but reliable. There's a remote possibility he might even know where Chance is. He has this knack for attracting lost and homeless felines. He's the one I got Cleo and Caeser from."}

Jake raised an eyebrow. {"They aren't just streetcats?" Sudda guessed as much.}

{"Nah, they stay with Rusty when he's away from the Center. They're a lot more perceptive than the average streetcats, Cleo especially. She actually 'heard' you 'port into New Chicago, and went down to meet you. They would've been streetcats, but Calypso found them as kittens and gave them to me. He gives me a lot of kittens, the only rodents within a mile of the Center are over six feet tall."} He chuckled.

{"Sounds like the kind I hunt."} He chuckled as they pulled to a stop.

Piper chuckled as he reached to open the door. {"Well, there was one over six foot tall white mouse, who was seriously checking you out earlier."} He grinned. {"Vinnie might talk 'Ladies mouse', but when it comes to action he just likes action."}

Jake paused a second before he snickered and followed Piper out. {"Not what I thought when you said 'six foot tall mouse'."}

Piper turned and looked at him. {"You mean you've actually seen a six foot mouse, that wasn't sentient. That's something I'm glad I haven't seen."}

{"It's the least of the rodents back home."}

The semi had pulled up behind a black sedan with a logo that said MidCentral Regional Coroners Office. Standing next to it was a six foot tall light brown skinned, bright green haired human, who was wearing the most obnoxious assortment of colors and patterns, along with a large necklace made of beads.

He spotted Piper, walked over and embraced the young tom. ("Lance, my feline brother, it has been way too long. You ought to drop by more often, and chill out.") He said puffing on a obnoxious smelling thing that sort of looked like cigarette. ("I procured this righteous set of wheels so you and your pals can play dead squad. Any other way I can lighten your burden, perhaps some herbs to lighten the mood?")

Piper returned the embrace and backed away from the smoke. ("Thanks for the car, Calypso. I think we'll lay off the recreationals for now. Look we've got a missing person too, maybe you've seen him."}

The spacey human looked at him. {"Maybe, what's this missing dude look like? Under the Veil, since I never look at the Veil."} He said, with his eyes focused somewhere past the semi.

{"A little taller than you, yellow tabby with thick brown stripes."} Jake took a step forward. {"And a Kat, like us, and built like a brick."}

("Whoa, major synchronicity. Yeah, I met the rough and ready warrior dude. Like he showed up while I was drumming major positive vibes, and thought I was somebody named Jake. Next thing I know I'm waking up in bed with a one-night that purrs. Major wild trip.") His eyes focused briefly on Lance. {"Hey, I wrote you about having a big, yellow and brown tabby for you, but you never showed.")

("Calypso, if I came running out here every time you wrote me about a new cat ... I'd never be in New Chicago. Besides, you neglected to mention he was a two-leg, and taller than you.") The caramel tom shook his head. ("Drumming up major positive vibes? You weren't giving Argovia another free happiness trip were you? Yes, you were.")

("Where is he now?") Jake just barely kept from demanding. ("His name's Chance, and I'm Jake.")

("Major bad vibes. Got into an argument with some dude downtown, and shot him point blank on Main Street. I helped him break jail, 'cause the Machines run the back office, but he disappeared right quick like he's used to makin' himself scarce. Haven't seen him since, though I sure wouldn't mind seein' him again, if you know what I mean.") Calypso winked at Jake.

("Yeah, that was a set up.") Jake shook his head. ("Broken neck, tore out his throat, broken spine ... anything that could have been an accident I'd buy Chance doing, but he doesn't shoot in combat , much less out of anger.") He growled low in his throat. "I'm going to kill the bastard."

Piper nodded. ("Then we definitely need to get a look at the body and the homicide investigation. The body will probably give us a good idea who's behind the set up. Homicide investigation will tell us how involved the locals are with the set-up."}

{"You want to drive Jake, or you want to have Doc? If one of the two senior team members, which is you two, drive that makes it look like this team means business and is here for real, not just for show.") The younger tom suggested.

("He can drive.") Jake shrugged, then cocked a grin. ("I'm a gunner, not pilot.")

("Okay, and I'll bet you fly just fine, when you want to.") He grinned, as he nodded to Doc who got in the driver's side. He had badge to Jake, and Modo. {"These are the illusion talismans, so keep 'em on you.") He said, as he put his on and became a twenty something male human wearing a three-piece blue suit. He and the now human Modo got into the back seat, with a great deal of ducking by Modo as Jake swung sideways into the passenger front seat and shut the door with a single motion.

The luxury sedan purred to life, as Doc put her in drive. They proceeded at a deliberate pace, which allowed them to survey the surrounding terrain as they entered Argovia on the main street.

Argovia was a medium sized suburban town, and the main street was moderately busy with people beginning their day. The town was clean and well-kept, a stark contrast to New Chicago. The only visible police presence was one marked cruiser parked in front of a large white building labeled Police. Doc pulled the sedan up into a place parallel to the police cruiser.

{"Okay, everybody. Just remember we're members of the Coroner's office, we've seen it all and then some. Nothing is supposed to faze or upset us."} Doc said quietly. {"Which means those of us prone to growling should refrain from doing so, since the illusion only covers visual appearance not sound."} He said quietly, before stepping out. ("Aggressive posturing is okay, the Coroner's office is known for being arrogant.") He said more toward Jake and Modo.

Jake nodded, absently wondering just what he looked like as a 'human' ... or in a three-piece suit for that matter. {"We going by our real names?"} He asked quietly.

("I am because I'm the legit element here. Our V.A. ID person set up fake IDs for the rest of you inside the Coroner's office. You're Detective Jackson Calhoun, Lance is Detective Charles Farlan, and Modo is Agent Morton Thompson.") He said easily. ("Best to keep real names uninvolved.")

Another nod. ("Let's get this over with.")

The Doc led the way into the Police station, where they were quickly met by the Captain, a gentleman in his mid 40's who was carrying several folders which he handed to Doc.

("Well, I was just about to call the Coroner's office, but since you're here that saves me the trouble.") The captain said casually.

("Calling us is hardly required, we respond to all homicides.") Doc said with a sneer. ("I'm Doctor Casterlin, this is Detective Calhoun, Detective Farlan, and Agent Thompson.") He said indicating each in turn.

("Well, yes but it is procedure when handing the homicide investigation over to the C.O to call and make a formal request.")

("I see, can I presume we'll have full cooperation from your department?")

("Of course, Doctor. Save us from having to investigate one of our own. IA will want a copy of the report when it's complete.")

("Of course, which way to your morgue?")

("Downstairs, all the way to the back. Here's the key card.") He said handing Doc an electronic card.

Once they got downstairs, Doc shook his head. ("Two things; keep your eyes open, the captain does not like our being here, he was hoping to keep this quiet, and things aren't good, they've handed the homicide investigation totally over to the Coroner's office.") He said softly.

("Why is that a bad thing?") Jake asked uneasily.

("Homicides are only turned over to the Coroner's office, when there is only one suspect, and the sole suspect is dead.") He said very quietly as he walked grimly toward the morgue, while Piper choked back a question, and Modo simply looked very grim.

"Someone is going to die, that's for sure." Jake shuddered. "If not the whole damn planet."

Doc looked stopped and looked straight at Jake. "One Phoenix tried that already, the world is still here." He said quietly. "There are too many powers involved for one to singly destroy it. Besides, we don't know for certain, if it's your mate yet. This may be a ruse designed to curtail any attempt by anyone to locate him."

"Who said a Phoenix was going to even try?" He almost spat back, then visibly forced himself under control. "Sorry."

{"We'll get whoever's responsible, don't worry Jake."} Piper said, coming up alongside Jake as they entered the morgue.

("I think we'd better do the identification of Chance Furlong first. Jake, I'll need your assistance since you're the only one of us really familiar with him. There maybe small details you know about him, that might give away a duplicate."} He said as he pulled a large body out of one of the storage slots.

With an unnaturally steady hand Jake pulled back the cloth and went face to face with his worst nightmare. With a choked breath he forced hands and eyes to examine the body.

A barely controlled sob echoed in the sterile room as he turned away and blindly stumbled for the door.

Piper caught up with Jake, and caught the stumbling tom in his arms, and just held him, trying to offer support best he could as the tom cried on his shoulder in deep, shuddering sobs.

Doc watched for a moment and then turned back to the body. His gut instinct said that he was looking at a fake, but he needed to be sure. He started running the morgue internal anatomy scanner down the Kat, checking for anything unusual that would've been hushed by the local coroner. Everything seemed normal, then he found something quite unusual, which a quick reference check came up with.

He walked up next to Jake and Piper. ("Jake, I can't claim to be familiar with your species but would I be correct in assuming that two hearts is one too many?") He said quietly.

Piper felt the nod against his neck, but it was a long moment before Jake managed to choke out, {"I know, not him ... not real."}

{"Too close to being real though, isn't it?"} He said quietly as he held the other Kat. ("Somebody wants any questions about Chance Furlong to end here.")

Doc nodded. ("What that is a member of the Syrellian species. They're Outsiders, and talented shapeshifters, and they're spirit shifters. The mind that was occupying that body was probably gone before the first shot hit. Bet the victim was one too.") He said opening another drawer.

{"Too close to a decade of nightmares,"} Jake whispered only loud enough for Piper to hear as he shuddered. {"Too, too close."}

Piper reached up and tentatively let his hand stroke the lean tom's hair comfortingly. ("This gives us a good idea who's responsible. The Syrellian's work exclusively for New World Order.")

{"Okay,"} Jake managed to nod and pulled away weakly before making the effort to put himself right under the illusion with marginal success. ("At least the badge covers the mess I must be right now, or we'd never keep our cover. Sorry I'm being less than useful with this.")

Modo walked over and put a friendly hand on Jake's shoulder. ("Nothin' to apologize for. It's a messy scene.") He said supportively.

Piper nodded agreement. ("Yeah, it's okay, Jake. It's pretty clear how important he is to you. I don't think we're gonna need good cop / bad cop on this one. But this isn't gonna be quick and easy unless we get lucky. NWO's a pretty big org, I'm still surprised its them, I was expecting IX.")

("This one's Syrellian too.") The Doc said from examining the 'victim'. ("Shot point blank with a standard model 890 blaster pistol. Probably by this other Syrellian, though we can't rule out puppetry.")

("Puppetry?") Jake went stiff.

("Forensic lingo for a crime committed by means of mind control. Basically, it would mean that Chance's body actually pulled the trigger, but somebody else had overridden his control. According to current legal statutes, the mind-controller would be the responsible party.") Doc explained carefully. ("Vampires can exert that kind of control, as can certain Outsider-aliens and Mages skilled in the Mind sphere. There's also demonic and spirit possession possibilities but I consider those highly improbable in this case. NWO prefers to work with either Outsiders or Mind-control experts.")

("Would he ... have been aware?") Jake couldn't keep the mixture of horror and fear from his tone or scent.

("Depends on the skill and nature of the being exerting the control, as well as what their long term goal was. But it's possible that he was entirely aware of his body shooting someone.") Doc said very softly.

Jake shuddered before he nodded, and stuffed every scrap of emotional involvement behind a strong wall of indifference, just like every other pointless crime scene he'd even been on.

("Okay, anything else to be learned here?") He focused on Doc.

("No, I think we've learned what we're going to here. We know who's involved, unfortunately we aren't going to find out why, here in the morgue. Why NWO is going to this effort will require further investigation elsewhere.") He said carefully putting away the body.

("It's interesting that everything the double had on him was local, not a single item traceable to the original Chance. I suspect they're trying to cover him from local discovery only.") He said quietly as he headed out of the morgue with the others in tow.

Jake waited until they were in the sedan again. ("His gear, at least some of it, was sold at auction.") He glanced at Piper. ("That's how his Glovatrix ended up in that lab.")

Piper nodded. ("Syndicate Auction, I've heard of it. They auction off recovered tech to 'trustworthy' companies for reverse engineering. The company gets the patent, the Technocracy gets the blueprints to a working technology.")

("Would the Glovatrix have been the most technologically advanced piece of equipment he was carrying?") Doc asked as he drove.

("That anyone could find, I dearly hope so.") He swallowed hard. ("The rest they'd ... he'd die from its loss.")

Doc shook his head. ("Not if they needed him alive.") He said softly, with a strong hint of personal pain in his voice.

("His helmet would have been a good second.") Jake offered quietly as he shifted uncomfortably. ("Is there an internet access laptop I can use?")

Piper hesitated, and then pulled out a laptop from under the seat in front of him. He opened it, tapped a number of keys, and then passed it to Jake. ("State of the art, wireless web access and fully stealthed and shielded.") He said proudly. ("It's also a lot more than a laptop, but the extras are dedicated.")

("Thanks,") the cinnamon tom's voice was very subdued as opened a text editor and began typing, gradually phasing out awareness of everything around him but what his fingers were doing and a crack in his ear for his name from Piper.

Piper watched what Jake was doing with considerable interest, as Doc and Modo got out, and went to talk to a young male human. They came back after a brief conversation, and Doc put the car back in motion.

("Three Syrellians in one 'burb, NWO is definitely playing the heavy hand on this one.") Doc said softly.

("What next, who's our target?") Modo asked quietly frustrated.

("We need to get back to the Center.") Doc said. ("Time for heavy research, we need to know where NWO took him.")

Piper stared out into the distance. ("Small Lab at the edge of Argovia, disguised as an old farmhouse. They've got him there, but something's not quite right, not sure what but something.") He said with his eyes unfocused. ("NWO is letting New Genesis have a crack at Chance, I don't know why.")

("What will they do to him?") Jake voice held the hollow ring of a mage deep in weaving a complex spell.

Doc answered. ("Depends on what they're trying to get from him, which is still the big missing piece here. New Genesis is the bio-engineers, the organic scientists, and if you like the monster makers of the Technocracy. I've heard they have some interesting questioning techniques ... very effective at breaking the will of captives.") He said quietly.

Piper's eyes went unfocused, and a wet, organic scent began to emanate from him. ("Floating, Blind, Deaf, Unknowing and Unknown.") His voice said hollowly. ("Beginning, Continuing, Knowing, Seeking, Finding.")

Modo looked at Piper, and then at Doc in the front. ("Uh, Doc. Lance is losing it back here.")

Doc shook his head. ("No, it's just a seer trance. It happens to most seers on emotionally charged missions.")

Jake silently stopped what he was doing and shifted his focus, offering the other Golden his power and support through their heritage link, instead of as another mage.

He shivered as old memories crawled up, trying to cripple him, and closed his eyes in sympathy at what his partner must be going through. Then rage, cold and calculating, rippled to the surface with a consuming force all four could feel.

Doc pulled over, with a distinctly nauseous look on his face. Modo looked around as if responding to some threat, but frustrated at not being able to see it.

Piper turned to Jake. {"What is happening is familiar to you, isn't it?"} He said with quiet sympathy, a strange golden fire in his eyes. He carefully leaned forward and touched Jake's shoulder, as he sought to give temper to the rage while he slowly came out of the trance.

{"Yes."} Jake voice was cold as something inside him shifted control. The Phoenix in him dimmed even as his strength increased. {"Temper me too much and you'll have a berserker on your hands."}

{"Sorry, I'm a little out of my league I guess. I just worry about that level of rage, ever since Ryoshi."} He said quietly, backing away. {"It's just dangerous to let rage control you when facing the Technocracy. Rage clouds judgment, and makes things easier for them."} He sighed, sinking into the back seat as the car started moving again.

{"Emotion clouds my judgment,"} Jake replied a little softer. {"Cold rage is better than hot, and as useless as I am right now, it's one or the other."} He glanced at the laptop before looking back to Piper. {"If I'm too much of a risk, I'll step out."}

Piper shook his head. {"No, what little of the vision I remember was pretty clear on needing you there. It's just my fear that's the problem, I keep seeing the fire."} He said quietly. {"I'm out of my league, I just try to play like I'm not. When it comes down to it, I'm a streetkit trying to make like he's something big. Still trying to prove I'm good enough."} The caramel tom said softly, self-doubt starting to grow.

Modo put his hand on the young tom's shoulder. ("I don't understand the words, but I hear the feeling pretty clear. Let up on yourself, Lance. How many could've pulled such an unrelated bunch together for anything?"

("I guess.")

Jake shook his head. {"Lance ... we're trying to put T-Bone and Razor back in the same room. Fire is a given, especially with me around.}

{"Why? Was there a problem?"} He asked quietly, still seeing the raging destructive fire in his mind's eye.

{"Nothing beyond the fact they we're both powerful and on very short tempers."} Jake shook his head. {"And I want to rip this world apart so badly I can taste it."}

{"There's an awful lot of people who'd get hurt in the process, who haven't done anything to deserve to be hurt."} He said quietly. {"One of the few evils this world's avoided has been major wars."}

{"All the more reason to send them on their way."} Jake shrugged and shook his head. {"Lance, I see things through Phoenix's eyes, just as you see through Bastet's. Death isn't a bad thing. It's a release from pain, and just another stop for the soul."}

{"I see things on my own."} The caramel tom said firmly. {"Guess I'm not old enough to be callous about death yet."} He said before dropping into an isolating silence. Part of him sincerely hoping these Outsiders would go back where they came from before doing too much damage.

"Damned if I do, damned if I don't." Jake muttered as he tried to get back to work.

The silence was deafening as Doc drove toward the edge of town, and the location of the farmhouse. Piper turned his back to the rest of the car and stared out the window, and Modo was feeling uneasy. Something about this farmhouse felt wrong, but he couldn't say why.

Doc stopped just up the road from the farmhouse. ("There's our farmhouse, if the vision was correct.")

Jake silently closed the laptop. He turned to look at Piper. {"I'm sorry what I am troubles you."}

Piper was silent for a moment. ("Maybe it wouldn't have before, but with Ryoshi's death last week ... fire scares me, and death is an enemy that all I can do is fight a delaying action against. I hate feeling helpless."} He said softly, looking younger than his eighteen years. {"I just can't understand being so comfortable with death."} The caramel tom sighed, and refrained from mentioning the crush he couldn't quite figure out what to do with.

{"It ... it's what it takes for me to survive."} Jake said simply, then glanced at the other two. ("Anything more concrete than a bad feeling about this one?")

Doc looked off toward the farmhouse. ("There's a strong current of Life magic energy emanating from the house, but it's twisted. That would certainly be typical of New Genesis.")

Modo shook his head. ("Just a bad feeling. That's usually enough.")

("Lab's in the basement, based on the powerflows. Security system is easy enough to bypass.") Piper said distantly, wanting more than anything to just go back to the Center and hide behind its walls and shields.

("Then those who are coming ....") Jake said as he stepped out of the car and regarded the place from his own background to see just what back-up he was going to have.

Piper picked up his laptop, and typed a few lines. Then he slid a cell phone out of the side of the laptop. ("Hi, Rusty. I need to talk to Throttle. Hi, Throttle. Yeah, looks like we've got our target. The computer in the semi has a map of the area, it's the farmhouse on the edge of town, out route 979 headed west. Right, bring in the second wave. First wave will go in ahead, target is in the basement, so no leveling the building. Try not to be late to the party.")

("Okay, Throttle is bringing in the second strike team.") He said and Jake nodded and walked around to the trunk.

("Good thing I always keep my combat gear close.") Jake chuckled as he walked around to the trunk and opened it. ("I do wonder if they've ever met a pissed off TechnoMage like me before.") He chuckled as he pulled his helmet on, followed by a Glovatrix. ("That building actually wood or something more durable?")

("Of course they have, Jake. This is the Technocracy we're talking about, the merging of magic and technology. They've also had to deal with pissed off members of both the Virtual Adepts and the Sons of Ether. The 'wood' is actually an advanced poly-ceramic composite exterior, over a titanium-crytalweave armor. Windows are high-impact resistant, laser proof titanium-lead diamond matrix. Typical New Genesis research lab. They've also got an on-site generator, Near Umbra communications relay system. Looks like they didn't invest heavily enough in their security system though, I can cloak us through it right up to their front door.") Piper said grinning, as he continued analyzing the opposition.

("Lance ... you just proved they probably haven't a clue what they're facing.") Jake chuckled as he shifted to take aim a few feet in front of the building. ("You don't, and you've watched me work. No to mention we're kin. If anyone on this planet should be able to see me for what I am, you should.")

("Jake, I couldn't tell you the last time we had a Golden TechnoMage on this world. I'm as close as we've gotten. I wouldn't judge things too heavily by what I don't have a clue about...There's a lot that I don't.")

("They've got what look to be fuel drums to one side. I should be able to give them something more immediate to think about.") Modo said, with rocket launcher popper up on his metal arm.

("Hold fire, Modo.") Jake ordered softly as a row of three small, silvery spheres launched from his Glovatrix, followed by a second set that were aimed over the roof. ("No need to put Chance in more danger than he already is in.") He added as the spheres settled on the ground in an even row ten feet in front and behind the building. ("Lance, You are a mage who specializes in technology. A Golden TechnoMage is a completely different beast. Let's go.")

The four visible spheres glowed slightly before a line of power connected them, and the entire visible portion of the building converted to energy the spheres absorbed.

("I love this thing.") Jake chuckled as he clicked a button on the glove, calling the spheres back and stalked forward.

There was a sudden explosion, and in a matter of seconds, the building reconstructed itself as though being spun by millions of crystalline spiders. A glowing energy field now surrounded the building, and several shielded turrets rose out of the ground, and opened fire, which Piper deflected with an energy shield projected by his watch. Doc's gun flew into his hand, and three shots later the turrets were smoldering heaps of twisted metal.

("There was a reason I was going to suggest stealth.") Piper said quietly.

("How many know how to disable an energy absorption field?") Jake asked very quietly as he moved forewarned.

("Many Technocracy mages specialize in the control of energy, they would probably be able to either disable or bypass one.")

Jake nodded and pressed a button on his Glovatrix. ("I'll see you inside, one way or another.") He said as his form shimmered, then disappeared.

Doc and Moto looked at Piper who shrugged. ("Wha'cha lookin' at me for? You think he told me anything. Doc, if you'd take care of a door through the shield, I'll keep us 'out of sight.' He said, as he completed his 'cloaking' program and compiled it. There was a rippling effect as the three vanished.

A nearby tree collapsed and fell on to the farmhouse property, partially crushing a tractor parked outside. Then the side door glowed with a brilliant light for about twenty seconds before it opened.

Jake emerged into the basement just in time to see Piper hurl a human male in a lab coat across the room to crumple lifelessly against the far wall, with blue energy still arcing through him. The same blue energy as was dripping from Piper's claws. The expression on the young tom's face was a mixture of frustration and indifference.

He didn't spare the other tom more than a glance before bolting for where he could feel Chance, ignoring walls, people and everything else.

Doc looked the direction Jake had gone. ("Not much of a team player.") He said quietly. ("Hope he doesn't get his friend killed racing around without thinking.")

("Get used to it, we don't count. Feel free to trash the equipment, Modo. They don't need it.") He said, as he pulled out a Talisman he'd found in the Deep Umbra. It was a small high tech handgun, but it fired a strange rippling warp effect that burrowed all the way to the lab in question. The tunnel was enclosed in a compression energy field, which was a good thing, because of the radioactive byproducts of the fission-tunneling gun. They walked through the tunnel, to find Jake face to face with the head of the lab, energy crackling around them unlike anything they'd seen before.

The lab was ultra-tech, and contained a dozen twelve foot high cylinders filled with a viscous, translucent green substance in which floated a body, apparently on life support.

There was a feral growl from Jake as the golden outline of the Phoenix flared its wings out around them for a moment. When Jake looked up his jaws and chest were soaked in blood and the shriveled remains of his victim was rapidly turning to dust.

He was breathing heavily, and only barely cognizant from the look in his eyes when his gaze fell on Piper, and a small flicker of recognition entered them.

Piper stepped out of the tunnel into the lab, still glowing in the angry blue energy. Doc followed quickly, with Moto watching the rear for an enemy counterattack. Piper's electric blue eyes looked around searching for more enemies, and growled low when he couldn't find any. He just stood there fixated, as if not sure what to do next.

Doc walked over to a large computer console and began examining it. ("Thankfully, this lab has its own dedicated power supply beaming power in from the near umbra, because with you two tearing through time and space like proverbial bulls in a china shop, you've crashed every power supply otherwise connected.") He said staring at Jake and Piper as the older tom growled with each breath out as he began a search pattern clearly design to pinpoint a location from a scattered signal.

Doc watched Jake's search for moment, and then noticed Piper interfacing with the main computer. He walked over to Jake. ("Applying standard signal location tactics to an organic signal broadcasting in a chaos manner, is not going to work. You can't triangulate with only one receiver.") He said quietly.

("Who else can hear him?") Jake's voice was a desperate rasp, holding more than a small warning that its owner had been pushed well past his ability to cope and didn't realize it yet.

Piper sat down next to the monitoring and control panels for one of the tubes. ("Jake, I just figured out why I felt Chance was here, but it felt wrong. He isn't here, not precisely, but someone very important to him is, and that person generates an almost identical resonance to Chance...I think because Chance wants him too.") He said quietly. ("Jake, the best way you can help Chance is to focus on the here and now. Calm down, as best you can 'cause we all need to stay sharp.") He said, offering what support both emotional and energy-wise he could along the heritage link, to the extent Jake would accept anything from him.

Jake took a deep shuddering breath and nodded, dropping his nose towards Piper in submission. {"Who?"}

("According to the records, the Kat in this tube is Justin Furlong-SunClaw, Chance's son.") He said very quietly. ("And from the psi-trails I'm scanning I'd say it's true, since Chance is the one generating the extraneous signals. Looks like he wanted whoever looked for him, to find Justin first.")

He returned to the main console and hooked in his laptop, and started checking a few things. He chuckled. ("I'm still not sure what the Techs are up to, but I think Chance has learned more from them than the other way around. With guidance, I'd say he has definite potential as a Virtual Adept.") Piper said admiringly.

He swung his chair back to the tube, and began checking vitals and running a full diagnostic on the system. The young tom seemed far more certain of himself now, than he had before, though there was still a strong shadow of self-doubt.

("Su-son?") Jake stammered as he sank to his knees in shock. ("Chance ... has a son here?")

("So, it would seem. I'm decrypting the medical logs now, to see what's going on here. Mother listed as Mariah SunClaw, a Bastet of the Fianna Clan.") He wove his way into the console, seeking to understand it faster. ("We'll need to hold this location, until I can get him out of the tank.")

Jake nodded weakly and came up next to the other Golden, his posture one of subdued waiting for orders.

("Does it bother you, that Chance has a kit?") Piper asked gently.

("Bother? Maybe when the shock is over.") He whispered as he stared tank containing his mate's son, a child maybe nine or ten years of growth. ("I ... I never ... thought I'd be second in his life. Not like this. How long has be been here?")

("I'm still trying to figure that out. Looks like he operated without legal ID, so he's hard to trace.") Then he blinked. ("Oh, I see. Looks like whatever energy dumped him here slammed him into the Avalon Vortex. He, Mariah, and Justin arrived here a couple weeks ago and got jumped by Techs, a Hunter squad. Mariah died in the assault and Chance was barely able to pull Justin away. I guess they caught up with him again here in Argovia.")

("There's no way to know how long he was inside the Vortex, except to ask him.") Piper said quietly. ("Jake, exactly how did you and Chance get here from wherever you came from originally?")

("A magically created time portal by a major creep called The PastMaster.") Jake spoke softly. ("I jumped through after Chance ... I should have arrived in the same place and time. Guess I didn't.")

("A Time Mage. If you weren't in contact when you entered the portal, then the second of difference was probably why he hit the Vortex and you hit New Chicago.") He said quietly. ("I'm beginning to understand what the Techs are after, still not sure though.")

("Jake, in case it makes a difference it looks like however long it was for Chance, it wasn't so long that he forgot you. He seems to have made sure that Justin would recognize you.") He paused. ("Speaking of which, I'm going to need your help to get Justin out this tube.")

The lean tom nodded and looked at Piper for instructions.

("It's pretty simple, once the tube drains, and I unlock it, you need to take the breathing apparatus off Justin, lift him out and administer artificial respiration. They do teach cops first aid where you're from, don't they? Don't be surprised if Justin reaches out with his mind to you, he'll be expecting his father. He knows who you are, so he should be okay with your presence.")

("I understand.") He nodded and walked over to where he'd be best able to get the kitten out as fast as he could and put all other thoughts out of his mind.

Piper linked directly to the control system. ("Beginning release process. Draining support fluid. Beginning reawakening sequence. Administering narcotic reversal agent.") He said as lights flashed on the panel.

There was a bubbling and gurgling noise as the liquid was evacuated, revealing a dark gold tomkit with black stripes.

("Now unlocking tube, and releasing door.") Piper said as a 'click' was heard from the tube and a mechanical arm lowered the kit to the floor of the tube.

Jake waited for the arm to get out of the way before removing the mask and lifting the solidly built tom out and to the floor. He made a quick wide to get as much of the goop off of Justin's muzzle as he could before taking a deep breath and closing his own mouth around the kit's mouth and nose, and began breathing for him.

"*Father?*" The kit's hesitant, and barely trained mind-voice touched Jake's mind. "*No, you're not Father.*" He realized quickly. "*Jake?*" The mind-voice asked uncertainly, as the kit coughed several times, and began breathing on his own.

("Yes,") Jake said quietly.

The kit opened sapphire blue eyes. ("Father said you'd come, said to go to you if anything happened to him.") He said weakly, before his eyes closed.

Doc carefully checked the kit over. ("Well, looks like he's just exhausted. Of course, I've never seen a Kat / Bastet cross before, but I think his vitals are normal for his age and size.")

Piper nodded. ("They correspond to the recorded baseline.") He said. ("Looks like the Techs think Chance knows the secret to entering the Vortex, and since he's not cooperating they decided to try extracting the info from Justin.")

Jake nodded and picked Justin up. ("Is there anything else to be gained here?") He asked Piper.

Piper shook his head. ("Nope, Merlin's removed everything of interest. I think we can leave now, by way of the stairs.") He said opening a door to the upstairs. ("Don't worry, there's no one up there.")

Modo headed up the stairs first. ("There wasn't anyone up there, let's not get cocky here.") He said as he proceeded cautiously up the stairs.

Jake nodded and fell in behind Modo and Piper, with Doc behind him. His complete focus on protecting the heavy kitten in his arms.

As they reached the upstairs, the second team led by Throttle, Vinnie and Tarissha burst in and took control. Rusty was close behind with the cycle gang.

("Hey, who's the kitten?") Rusty asked Jake curiously, as a rumbling noise outside announced the arrival of the semi flanked by the rest of the bikers.

("My mate's son.") Jake said quietly.

("Cool. I wondered why we needed clothes for a kit. Well, I scrounged some stuff and it's in the sleeper so you can get him out of that support suit. Those aren't very comfortable.") Rusty said looking at the kit closer. ("He definitely looks like his father.")

Jake dropped his eyes and nodded as he headed for the semi to settle Justin in the sleeper compartment.

The terrain outside the farmhouse had changed dramatically. There wasn't plant life within 200 yards, and the ground had apparently suffered some upheaval, become a rocky badland of dirt and boulders. The bikers were in the process of clearing a turnaround for the Semi using wide beam blaster rifles.

Piper climbed into the front of the cab, connected his laptop to the Semi's main computer, and went into a work trance. Rusty opened the door for Jake, and then climbed in after and closed the door as the engine of the Semi rumbled to life as the machine turned around, just barely avoiding the rocks and debris of the former farmyard. Once clear, the driver headed back toward New Chicago at best speed.

("Here's the clothes I mentioned.") Rusty said softly. ("Outside the fluid of the tank, that suit will get uncomfortable.") He said indicating the wetsuit with various electronic contacts that Justin was wearing.

Jake made quick work of stripping and redressing Justin, though he took enough time to allow his hands, nose and mind to become familiar with his charge. Then he settled next to the kit's head and stroked black hair gently as Justin rested.

Eventually Jake looked up at Rusty, though his manner was still very subdued. ("Lance is pretty special, isn't he?")

Rusty lay on his stomach looking at Jake. He nodded emphatically. ("Yeah, he's done a lot for us street kids in the last two years. But he's still trying to prove himself, though I'm not sure why, we're all convinced.") He said quietly. ("He was okay last summer for a little while when his father visited, but it didn't last.")

("Some of us never stop.") Jake said softly, shaking his head. ("I've never heard of a Golden Tom Warrior that was satisfied with himself.") He cocked his head at the teenager. ("What are you, anyway?")

("He'd probably be better, if he actually thought he was a warrior, but he doesn't.") The teenager said quietly. ("His fur's only just back to its original color, he had Calypso dye him up as a black and orange tabby about a year ago.")

Jake frowned. "Okay ...."

("Me?") He said looking at Jake. ("I take it you aren't convinced I'm just a small for his age human.") He asked quietly, looking at the floor. ("I don't know, there's no word for it.

("My father was a strong human Mage, skilled in the Life and Prime magics, and a skilled shapeshifter as well. My mother is the Black Lynx totem spirit. I was conceived when they both were in feline form, I was the only sentient in the litter of five. The rest of my litter mates were just exceptional Lynxes.") He said quietly.

("Cool.") Jake smiled slightly, then chuckled a little sheepishly. ("It's considered a boon to be born of lovers who dare walk a different path.")

("Well, whatever it is, I'm a scrounge without equal. I can always find what's needed, sometimes without knowing why it's needed.") He said proudly. ("Only works for things that I can carry. I can't find people, for example. Means the talent gets stronger as I get bigger.") He grinned, and shifted to a large, midnight black Lynx with very intelligent green eyes. ("I'm a shapeshifter too.") He said clearly.

("An attractive one.") Jake smiled at the big cat, though it was tinged with sadness.

("Something the matter, Jake?") He asked with quiet concern.

("Not really.") He sighed. ("Just trying to accept what this world means ... to me and those I love.")

("Any way I can help? Anything I can explain, maybe?") He offered helpfully. ("Piper likes you a lot, you know.") He said quietly.

Jake hesitated, then thought about it. ("Most of it's about what I am to Chance now, what he wants ... and what to do with myself while I'm here.") He dropped his eyes to the mattress. ("I've never failed as a leader this badly before.")

("I don't see how you figure you've failed.") He wondered quietly, and put a friendly, reassuring paw on the Kat's shoulder. ("It's a messy situation. I know Piper thinks he's in over his head as a leader, and Tarissha showing up isn't helping any.")

("If she causes any more problems for him, she'll end up on the wrong side of my temper.") Jake growled angrily, then sighed as the moment of emotion passed. ("Lance knew the answers, how to pull this off. Every choice I made was the wrong one. I know he's cutting me slack because this is my mate that's missing and he thinks my judgment's clouded ... but these are the tactics I always use. If Chance wants to stay here ... I can't be his leader anymore. I'm not fit for it.")

("Jake, I think you just need to learn how things work here . Your tactics probably worked fine wherever you're from, but this is a different place, different rules. You'll probably be fine, once you take some time to adjust. After all, you've been here less than a day.") The teenager said calmly. ("Piper knew because he's studied Technocracy facilities, and he's done breaking and entering on them before. I'll bet even where your from, inexperienced people make mistakes.")

("Yeah, but no one lets them be in charge, and none with any kind of training would take command. I know better. Or I should have. I knew the rules play different here.")

("Well, even Piper made mistakes. That firebird of yours seems to be putting a lot of stress on you. Is it behaving differently than your used to?") He asked curiously.

("Not much, and no different than I expected.") He suddenly chuckled. ("Well, no, it's more controllable than I expected given circumstances.")

The Lynx looked at him with a curious expression. ("Given circumstances?") He asked.

("That the Bastet half of the Queen's soul is here.") He sighed and leaned back.

("Oh, that.") He said quietly. ("Well, I'd say control is probably a good thing, since scaring Piper too much isn't going to help get the soul back together.")

("Main reason it's letting me stay mostly in charge, I think.") Jake shook his head. ("That stunt he pulled back at base confused the hell out of Phoenix, and I know stopped something very ... unpleasant.") He added softly, uncomfortable.

("Oh, I felt him do something, but I was sure what. I knew he was scared, by something.") He said quietly. ("That firebird has a definite female aspect ... he doesn't like most of them.")

("Really?") Jake cocked his head. ("I guess that makes sense.") He shrugged. ("Phoenix is more male than female, especially compared to Bastet. How can you tell?")

("Just something I can sense, I guess. That and you're the second Phoenix half I've met.") He said quietly.

("Second?") Jake raised an eyebrow in real interest. ("Do tell.")

("Met him about four years ago, back when I was still living with my Dad.") Rusty began. ("Came to see Dad, looking for help locating the Bastet half of the soul, that was native to this world. I guess he'd met Piper's Dad, when he was Keeper, and had been told the time for reunion wasn't then.")

("Dad tried to help him, but wherever the Bastet half is, it's pretty well shielded. The last thing I heard, he gone full phoenix and gotten into a fight with a Umbrood Lord.... no one's seen him since.") He said quietly.

Shock, outage and stunned disbelief warred for control of Jake's mind and expression as he stared at Rusty. Eventually he shook his head and stuffed most of it behind the walls he usually kept Razor and the Golden Warrior parts of himself behind.

They rode in silence for a while, with Rusty not sure what to say. He curled up, with his head facing Jake and Justin. He wasn't tired, but they were taking the long way back to the Center. He figured Jake could ask if he wanted to know something, and Rusty didn't feel like babbling.

("How'd Piper get the name?") Jake eventually asked quietly.

("For about the last two years, he's been rescuing streetkids he sees potential in. The ones who can still be saved, and who haven't broken. There's a legend about a magical piper who led children to a place of safety, and so some of the kids just shortened it to Piper, and it stuck. He's got a real gift for seeing which kids he can help, and which he can't.

("He's a seer, or so I've heard, and I guess that's part of the reason that his people keep asking him to come home. He won't go, not as long as he's got his kids. Besides, he hates home.") Rusty said quietly.

Rusty looked off in the distance. ("I just hope the council doesn't send one of their messengers any time soon ... as temperamental as Piper's been, it could be a really unpleasant meeting.")

("No doubt.") Jake said very quietly as a deep longing for his own home and family welled up. ("At least he has folks he cares about, who care about him.")

("Yeah, we've kind of become one really big family. That's why we took over and cleaned up the Center; we need the space, both for current kids and for the ones that Piper hasn't rescued yet.

"Do you know how to get back where you came from, once you rescue your friend?") Rusty asked curiously. ("Not that I'm trying to get rid of you.") He added hurriedly.

("Theoretically,") he sort of shrugged. ("Assuming Chance wants to leave, and reality wants to cooperate.")

("Reality around here doesn't cooperate normally. In fact it gets down right cranky at times.") He shook his head. ("Well, if you can take Justin as well, I don't see why your friend wouldn't. ("Do they have Bastet were you come from?") Rusty asked quietly.

("What's a Bastet?")

("Like a werewolf, only the animal is a cat of some sort, usually one of the big cats, like a tiger. Some people break 'em down more specifically, but in general its a were-feline. Chance's late mate was one, according to the records, and Justin inherited the shifter ability.")

("Okay ... we have a half dozen kinds of shapeshifters, but what's a werewolf?")

("Werewolves are shifters whose two prime forms are human and wolf. All their other forms are a mingling of the attributes of the two, with the added power of their supernatural heritage. I think you met some earlier, just before we arrived with the Semi. Part of the group was wolves, and the others were big, powerful two-legged wolves?")

("Yeah, there were Wolves, and they shifted two to four leg forms.") Jake cocked his head. ("We don't have anything like humans back home. Felines like me, and canines like their two-leg form are what everyone is. Having a primitive four-legged form matching your two-legged one isn't uncommon among many bloodlines, and a few families have a broader range.")

("With a some small exceptions, everyone here is human, either in whole or in part.") He shrugged. ("Werewolves actually have a fair number of shifts along the spectrum between entirely wolf, and entirely human. Bastet work the same way, and I guess in Justin's case, Kat has replaced the human element.")

("Assuming he didn't take after his father's family.") Jake chuckled softly.

("Oh, he's definitely a shifter, I can see that. Between the two parents he's probably got some Mage ability too.") He smiled. ("But what did you mean take after his father's family? That's where he got the Kat from.") Rusty asked looking at Jake curiously.

("Chance's family has both bird and canine shifters. Kat base, like me, but with a larger, more primitive combat form that's mix-breed, part Kat, part whatever else. They usually have few other forms too. Depends on the individual. Shapeshifting is a very personalized ability.") He chuckled softly. ("It still surprises me sometimes that he doesn't have eagle wings.")

("Probably explains his piloting ability though. The natural flier genetics probably are there, and natural fliers make kick ass pilots. That's sure true of the Aviax, which are were-avians; commonly hawks, falcons or eagles.") He said surprised. ("Be interesting to see what Justin's 'primitive' form turns out to be. Actually, Piper probably knows. He can see things like that, even see right through disguises and illusions.")

("Feeling better, Justin?") Jake asked gently as he stroked the kit's hair.

Justin opened his eyes slowly, and looked around. He looked at Jake, then Rusty, and then back at Jake, and nodded. ("Where are we?") He asked in a quiet voice.

("On the road back to New Chicago, assuming they haven't changed plans on us.") Jake smiled softly. ("Can you contact your father?")

Justin shook his head. ("Don't know how. I can feel him though.") He said quietly. ("You're here to rescue him, aren't you?") He asked, staring at Jake with deep blue eyes.

The lean tom nodded. ("Took me longer than I expected, apparently.")

Justin sat up, and looked at the black Lynx. ("Who's that?") He asked warily.

("Rusty.") Jake answered simply.

Rusty shifted slowly into his small, thin red haired human boy form. ("Hi, Justin.")

Justin smiled, and seem to relax at the shapeshift. ("Hi, Rusty.") He said, before turning back to Jake. ("Dad said you'd come, he never doubted it.")

("Seems he had a few adventures while I was away.")

Justin smiled. ("He told me you'd say something like that.") He grinned broadly.

("Well, it has only been a day or so for me.") Jake chuckled weakly. ("Obviously, he's had a while longer to get into trouble.")

("Mom said his hero streak would get him in trouble no matter where he was.") The tabby kit smiled. ("Jake, is it true you and my Dad where going to get married but he got lost?") The kit asked softly.

The lean tom hesitated a breath. ("We discussed it a couple times, and we both like the idea. Just the last time we talked we couldn't agree on exactly what it would mean.")

("Oh.") Justin said quietly. ("If you married my Dad, would that make you my father too?") He asked curiously.

("Yes.") Jake nodded easily.

("Cool.") He smiled. ("He talked about you all the time. Told me all sorts of stories about the adventures you two had.")

Jake smiled softly at that. ("Did he talk about MegaKat City much?")

("Only as background to the stories...zooming past that building, shooting the bad guy off another building, that sort of thing.") He rambled. ("Never talked about the city much other than that.")

("Anyplace on this world special to him, or you?")

("There was the farm on Avalon, where we lived. But Dad was getting bored, Mom said he needed to be a hero and Avalon was too protected to need any. But we can go back, when we want to. Dad told me somebody named Calypso knew where a hero was needed, but then things went crazy.

("He was supposed to meet somebody named Piper, who needed help protecting kits. Dad said that was the kind of fight he liked, one where it made a difference, and he didn't have to hide from the people he was protecting.")

("Well, Piper's the other Kat with us.") Jake motioned to the front seat. ("Makes sense in a warped way.")

Justin peeked through the door into the front. ("He's rather quiet isn't he?") He asked. ("He's the leader?") He wondered aloud.

("Yes,") Jake nodded and glanced over the kitten's shoulder. ("He's quiet because he's working.")

("Okay. Do you know where my Dad is, Jake?") He asked worriedly.

("Not yet.") Jake's jaw locked in a stubborn set.

Rusty opened the door to the cab, and climbed up front. Justin lay back quietly for a while, tired but not asleep. After a while, Rusty came back from the cab, and closed the door to he almost oppressive silence.

Justin eventually grabbed a pillow and fell asleep. Rusty curled up in Lynx form watching the other two while the semi- rolled toward the Center. He figured they had at least another hour before they got there.

The Semi pulled into through the gates of the old industrial center, and into the large parking depot. Piper absently unlinked from the cab's computer, and opened down and headed into the main building, followed by Doc and Tarissha.

Rusty nudged Jake and Justin. ("We've arrived at Center, I don't know how long we'll be here, but long enough to warrant not staying in here.") He said as he opened the outside door, letting in the sounds of machinery and revving motorcycles.

Jake waited for Justin to rouse, and led the kit out. ("Any place we can crash?")

Rusty nodded. ("Sure thing, we got lots of space. Follow me.") He said heading into the complex and up some stairs.

{"Piper?"} Jake poked his head into the tom's room.

The caramel tom looked up absently from an elaborate three dimensional display of interconnecting pathways, circuits and conduits. ("Yes, Jake?")

He swallowed and came the rest of the way in before shutting the door. {"Do you know when it will be time to reunite the Queen's Soul?"} He asked quietly.

("Not exactly, its more a feeling than anything. I've never been in the same room with the Phoenix half before, so I don't have prior experience to go on.") He said quietly, though there was a current of hesitation and fear underlying his scent.

{"What are you afraid of?"} He stepped forward to touch the younger tom's shoulder.

Piper stared off into space for several minutes. {"A female with that much power."} He said very softly, shivering.

{"A female with Bastet's soul."}

("Yeah, but that's how the system that allows females to be oppressive and cruel was created in the first place.") He said quietly. ("She'll side with them.") He said with more than a touch of fear.

{"Cardor, let me show you something with open eyes."}

The younger tom looked at Jake. {"What?"} He asked not quite sure what Jake was getting at.

{"The truth about the Queen, and the time before her death."}

Piper nodded silently, reluctantly.

{"Cardor, you need to have an open mind."} Jake sighed.

Piper nodded. {"It is open, I think."} He said quietly.

Jake nodded and knelt on the head of the bed, and patted the space in front of him. {"Sit, and relax."}

Piper got up from in front of the computer, and sat down in front of Jake, and relaxed as best he could.

Cardor of Rift opened his eyes to a sight he recognized to some extent. But unlike the few times he'd reached it, the Golden Tapestry, the recording of all that the Golden Clans were, are and would be, was unfurled before him against a black, starry background and sharply defined. There was nothing under his feet but more space, though it was solid.

Hylerash of EverClaws turned to look at him, the Phoenix half of the Queen's Soul a hooded firebird cloak of flickering energy.

The caramel tom looked around. {"Now what?"} He asked quietly. His form was fuzzy with self-doubt and uncertainty, and the echo of the Bastet half hung just beyond him.

{"Now I will show you the truth about our kind, and our history."} Hylerash stated evenly. He started at the hazy form of his companion. {"Or at least the truth about the Golden Clans."}

{"The truth."} He said non-committally, though his eyebrow arched a little. He didn't say it, but he'd been sold the truth more than once. The young tom wanted to believe Jake, even needed to.

Hylerash turned to walk down the long ribbon of intricately woven cloth. {"Tell me of what you know, what you have been told of the Clans and our history."}

Cardor followed, sighing quietly. {"I ignored what they tried to tell me mostly, 'cause it was just stories to justify how they did things."} He said angrily. {"I know we weren't always Goldens, but Bastet made us Goldens to look after the half-soul. Those in the first generation were given the cultural and historical background, so that they could understand who they had become. That's where the whole female in charge bit came from, and how males ended up as second class toys."} He shook his head. {"The Keepers and the Guardians weren't really part of that, until I confused things. Stupid females are probably still bickering over whether a Mage qualifies as a warrior or not."}

{"One does, as does Healer, Seer, Priest, and the Gifted."} Hylerash said as he led Cardor past a section that was shredded nearly to destruction. {"That was the Betrayal, when the last Queen was killed by one of the Clan Leaders."} He said quietly, his shame about the event three millennia old palatable.

Cardor looked at Jake in confusion. {"Why the shame? You weren't even alive back then."} He asked in honest confusion.

He shifted to look at the younger Kat with a mixture of pity and badly hidden displeasure. {"All Goldens are connected by more than blood and heritage, Cardor. Out past is our future, and out strength is only as great as our unity. That is why the Queen is so important, she is our unity, and her betrayal was a warning."}

He paused and touched the tapestry before the Betrayal reverently, taking actual comfort in the tight weave and perfection so much finer than the modern sections. {"We are a dieing breed, Cardor. It could well be said that we died as a people with our Queen. But the Queen is her soul, and though divided, her soul is not dead. And like her soul, we can be reunited and brought back to life."}

Cardor looked at Hylerash, and then at the tapestry. It all sounded warm and fuzzy, but it didn't mean anything. The caramel tom hadn't heard anything that made him any more confident about the reunification being a good idea. He could tell Hylerash believed it was for the best, but that wasn't surprising since warrior toms tended to side with the fems anyway. At least the few there were did.

{"Touch the Tapestry, Cardor."} He instructed quietly. {"And let your soul and Hers show you what it was like back then, what it means to have the Golden Queen alive."}

It took long, silent moments for the young caramel tom to force his hand to touch the tapestry. He'd spent years rejecting his heritage, because of what he thought it was, and this was the essence of that heritage. By the time his hand reached the tapestry, sweat was dripping down his fur, and fear was tingeing his scent. But he'd promised Jake he'd keep an open mind so he let it show him whatever it was going to.

The instant his claw-tips touched the weave Cardor felt a rush of power as the Bastet half of the Queen's soul coalesced into him fully and connected with the trace of itself woven into the Golden Tapestry.


{"Welcome Cardor, I am Sashari, the first to carry the spirit and power you hold half of."} An angular Caracal shekat nearly seven feet tall spoke with her hand outstretched to him and a strange mix of sadness and pleasure on her face.

Cardor forced himself to overcome his fear of powerful females and took the offered hand. He was silent though, not sure what to say.

{"Ever after all this time, it is strange to see a male with Her soul."} Sashari sad quietly as she lead him out of a hide tent and into the middle of a scrubland camp populated by females. {"You are here to have your questions answered. Do ask them."}

{"Questions? It's just that Hylerash said I'd see the truth here and some how that'd make it easier to accept the reunion. Honestly, right now it scares me ... the females are oppressive enough, without having the firepower of something like the Phoenix backing them up."} He paused quietly. {"What freedom I have, is because I'm powerful enough that they can't control me ... I'm afraid to give that up."}

{"Ah, so you wish to know what our true society is like."} Sashari nodded easily. {"Kimbra is best suited to show you that. She is one of the last of the line."} She led him out of camp and into the weave of the Tapestry itself, traveling millennia in moments.

They reentered a pocket of reality to see a fine city, technologically at least as advanced as what Cardor was accustomed to, but almost pristine in its cleanness.

{"Welcome,"} A Caracal female several inches shorter than Sashari greeted them at the gates. {"I am Kimbra. I'll show you around, if you'd like."}

Cardor looked at the city curiously. {"I'd like that Kimbra."} He said quietly.

Kimbra nodded as Sashari turned to leave. {"Unless you'd rather look around and ask folks your questions without my presence?"}

{"I'm still not sure what to ask."} He said uncertainly. {"I didn't quite expect to 'talk' to anyone."} He added.

{"That's all right,"} she smiled at him and walked at a leisurely pace he could easily keep into the wide, clean city streets. {"I'm sure they will come in time. I will show you around then, I just thought you might be more comfortable learning without a female presence."}

{"You're okay, remind me more of Nicky or Ari."} He said as he followed her. {"Not the others."}

{"If you don't mind, would you tell me of what my society has become, without true guidance?"} Her face a slightly odd mixture of regret and determination.

{"Females do whatever they like, males aren't much more than second class servants to female whims. Well, with the exception of the few warrior toms, who manage to fight well enough to impress a female and act enough like one."} He said in a mixture of disdain and disgust. {"I can beat any of them, but since I'm not a warrior but a mage they couldn't decide if I was a Warrior tom or not. They didn't like the fact that I insisted on acting like a tom too. So I left, I won't play the games, and I'm nobody's puppet."} He said softly resolute.

{"Oh, my."} True displeasure rang in her tone. {"Yes, females lead, but that is all wrong. Males aren't slaves by default, and a mage is most definitely a warrior."}

He looked of in the distance at something unseen. {"They're just lucky, I'm not vindictive like them. They have no idea the damage I can do."}

{"They may not, but even without the Soul, I can."} She shook her head sadly. {"One as gifted as you should be respected for your abilities. I see the new Queen will have much work to do."}

{"That's an understatement. In the current generation, some males with more mental talents like mine, or inventors, scientists and that sort, have been leaving the valley. With the Veil, they can mix in with human society and they find the deception better than the treatment they get at home. Some of the brightest minds are being lost."} He said quietly. {"I can't blame them, but on some level it does worry me. I'm not even sure why, I never plan on going back.} He said very softly.

{"It is a further sign of the deterioration of our society."} Kimbra shook her head. {"The lack of a true leader has allowed the loss of understanding what we truly are."} She paused a moment before turning down a slightly smaller street, one with only four lanes. {"Would you like to see one of the schools? See how Golden young should be educated?"}

The young tom nodded. {"Yes, perhaps that would be a good place to start."}

{"Would you prefer to start with the male or female classes?"}

{"Male, I need to see that things will be better for toms with the Queen restored, rather than worse."} He said quietly.

{"Then this way."} She smiled and led him to a five-story building with clean, stylized lines at the heart of a large complex with a wide variety of designs.

Inside it was deserted, clean, with walls lined with lockers and that indefinable feel of a place that saw heavy use by a regularly changing group that was supervised but not yet disciplined.

It all but reeked of school .

As they climbed stairs, he blinked and standing next to him was a much less distinguished looking female.

Kimbra quirked a smile. {"You'll get a more accurate reaction if they don't immediately realize the Queen is standing in the doorway."}

He smiled. {"I'll bet."} He said quietly, as he followed her to the door of a large room with a dozen and some kits in it, being supervised by two toms and a shekat as the kits played.

The adult shekat noticed them quickly and walked over. {"Can I help you?"} She looked at Kimbra.

{"Cardor here wishes to see how schooling works, and talk to the students."}

The female teacher gave him a scrutinizing look before nodding. {"My name is Gryna, Warrior. Please join us."}

It still took Cardor a little by surprised to have a female calling him 'Warrior'. He nodded. {"Thank you, Gryna."} He said politely before joining them.

He got a lot of curious look from the kittens, and from the two adult toms, who weren't warriors.

A slightly bigger male than the rest of the kits abruptly walked up to him. {"Why aren't you wearing an earring?"}

Cardor was a little uneasy. {"Where I'm living it has no meaning."} He said quietly, not wanting to get into the fact that he wasn't inclined to claim membership in a society that he didn't care for.

The kitten snorted and turned his back to play with his agemates. {"If I was a warrior, I wouldn't care if anyone else understood what I'd earned."}

{"According to my sisters I'm not a warrior, I didn't pass the tests."} He said quietly.

That drew the attention of all three adults, and the kit, back to him.

{"But you're a mage."} The kit said in confusion. {"All mages are warriors."}

Cardor sighed. {"Guess nobody ever told the females in charge that."} He shook his head, feeling really self-conscious.

{"Cardor, it doesn't sound like you were raised in Golden society."} The female teacher came up to put a hand on his shoulder. {"No tom is denied warrior status if they desire it. I don't know what 'tests' you are referring to, but they aren't from here."}

{"It's what Golden society is, where I'm from."} He said quietly. {"Guess maybe they aren't getting things quite right, which is kind of encouraging."} He smiled weakly, and managed to still the reflex to pull away from the female touch.

{"Then they have stolen our good name."} The female growled. {"No Golden worth their bloodline would accept such a travesty."}

{"Actually, I think they're lost. I'm the first in a very long time to be aware of the Tapestry, and they think they're the only Goldens left."} He said feeling strangely defensive of his tormentors.

An odd mixture of shock and sadness crossed the female's face. {"You must be from ... after."} She said quietly. {"When there is no guidance."}

Cardor nodded. {"That's about the size of things."} He replied quietly. {"I need to see that things were better ... before."}

{"Well, what do you wish to see?"} She asked curiously. {"Do you want to talk to the kits ... or us?"}

{"I wish I knew."} Cardor said uncertainly. {"I always thought I knew how things were, but it's beginning to look like I don't. And I'm really not used to female Goldens treating me as anything other than a mostly invisible second-class person. I'm not used to being asked what I want, usually things amount to I get told what to do, and I get mad and leave."}

{"So what roll do 'normal' males fill where you were brought up?"} She asked carefully.

{"Subservient housekeepers, child minders, toys for females."} He shrugged. {"Mostly its whatever his mother, sisters, or 'mate' wants him to fill."}

{"Well, most males do keep house and raise the kits."} Gryna quirked an eyebrow at him. {"It's what most males are suited for. But if you don't think they are happy with their lives, why don't you talk to a few?"}

{"Most I'll agree with, but it's the fact that there's no other choice that's the problem. It's a waste of talent too, why confine someone with a gift for architecture to mere housekeeping?"} He said quietly. {"The unhappiness is spreading, at least in my time. The males with gifts; sciences, engineering and such are starting to leave because they're not appreciated at home."} He said quietly.

Gryna just looked at him. {"Well, that's not how we do things."} She huffed. {"Males may be best suited as home keepers on the whole, but gifts are gifts, and are not to be wasted. My mate is a warrior tom, and in all honesty, he is the leader of the household, not me. It's not common, but it works for us. Do warrior toms have female husbands in your times? Or has that been lost too?"}

{"There's only a half dozen warrior toms, and as far as I know they all have male husbands. Not surprising considering they're all trying to prove they're really female. The only way that lot has kits is if they accept a sire price."} He said, barely disguising his dislike of them.

{"That's just wrong ."} She snorted. {"I'm not sure which I like less, the loss of female husbands, or the distortion of the sire price. Just like some males are warriors, some females are breeders. To deny either one their place hurts society."}

{"There's no denying our society is hurting. I'm just trying to figure out if it can be healed. I'm beginning to see that things were better before, but it's gotten so bad."} He said quietly. {"Can one person really make that big a difference?"}

Gryna looked at him quietly for a long moment. {"One person , I doubt it. The Golden Queen within the Golden Clans, yes. We are her. If the Queen wills it, Goldens will obey. It is our way, it is why we are strong."}

Cardor shivered. {"I think that's what frightens me. I've been able to keep my independence this long, because none of the females can match me for power. But Her , a female that strong scares me."} He said, the fear becoming the dominant element in his scent.

{"I have no answer for that for you. We have trusted the Queen for hundreds of generations, and She has never betrayed us. She has kept us strong and free."} She looked at the mage. {"Look around you. Really look . This is what the Queen wants. The Queen that will be born with the reunified soul is this same soul that wills all of this, and has guided us through our history, from the beginning, when Sashari passed through the Circle of Fire to create us."}

Cardor nodded silently, listening more to the sincerity in her voice than to the words. She wasn't trying to deceive him, and somehow he could feel that things were different, better even. It still left him with one issue, but there was no answer to it in the past.

He looked around, letting his mind get past the years of built up anger and distrust. Maybe things could be like this again, but it seemed like such a leap of faith to accept. He tried to suppress the fear that started to possess him when he considered the consequences if his leap of faith was misguided.

He looked around for a moment. {"So when the Queen is reborn, she'll know how things are supposed to be, even though the rest don't?"} He asked trying to pin things down.

{"Of course,"} Gryna smiled gently at him. {"She is one with the Tapestry, and Her prior lives. Each Queen-Host brings something new, but the core of what She is is the Soul."}

Cardor shook his head. {"Countless generations of Keepers and I get stuck with this decision. I begin to suspect the universe of having a weird sense of humor."}

{"Of course it does."} She chuckled and smiled at him. {"That's the nature of reality."}

He chuckled slightly. {"Well, its better than generalized hostility which is what I used to think was the nature of reality."} He said, and then paused. {"You're the first Golden female I can remember not talking down to me."} He said with some amazement.

{"Really?"} She blinked at him. {"I'm sorry."}

{"Not your fault."} He said easily. {"It just makes it easier to believe all this, because you're not talking down to me. It's a nice change, lets me believe that I don't have to be afraid of the Queen, 'cause she doesn't have to be like the females I'm used to."}

{"There is nothing to fear from the Queen,"} she put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, {"unless you betray Her. Her purpose is to preserve and enhance our strength, just as we preserve and enhance Hers."}.

{"I think I actually believe that, which is really surprising since I don't believe much these days."} He said quietly. {"It'll be something of a relief to not have to keep myself carefully partitioned."}

He looked around again at the scene so much unlike home, and better as well. {"I suppose I should get back to Jake, so we can figure out this rebirth thing."}

{"Of course,"} she smiled at him. {"It will be good to have the continuity back. Visit again if you'd like."}

{"I may, there looks to be a lot to my heritage that I don't know."} He said as he started trying to figure out how to get back to Jake.

{"I'll show you the way back."} Kimbra smiled softly.

("Thank you."} Cardor said easily. {"For everything."}

{"You are welcome, kitten."} She smiled affectionately at him. {"It is good to have the wait nearly over. I have missed being able to see the real world."}

Cardor nodded. {"We just have to produce the daughter who's blood to both of us. Jake was going to do it the other way, but with the way the powers of the world are right now, that would be guaranteed disaster."} He said casually, feeling strangely at ease.

{"You think the Queen's Soul is that weak?"} She raised an eyebrow at him as they exited to the wide white street.

{"No, I know the strength of the powers in the world right now, and the power that has corrupted the fabric of reality. Only because Jake came from another reality do we have a Phoenix half at all, the other is somewhere out there, it lost a fight with one of the lords of the outer darkness ... or maybe the fight still rages."} He said quietly. {"I'd hate to see anything happen to Jake."} He said with quiet affection.

She regarded him quietly as they walked to the gates of the city. {"Before you return to your reality, ask the end of the Tapestry what happened."}

{"You mean it knows what happened with the other Phoenix?"}

{"Of course."} She smiled. {"The Tapestry is us. All that we are, have been, and will be is woven into it. If it happened to a Golden, it is in the Tapestry."}

{"Will be? If everything that will be is already known, then what's the point of anything?"} He asked not sure how that could work.

{"Because the will be is not tightly woven, and has few details."} She tapped his nose. {"It can be rewoven, and more importantly very little of what you would care about is in there. Only the big things, and a few random details. Like the reunification of the Soul is in there, but not the exact date or method, or which fragments will be first."}

{"Oh, that's better."} He grinned at her. {"Things would've been a lot easier, if females were more like you."} He said with a real smile.

{"They are supposed to be."} Kimbra smiled sadly. {"And they will be again."}

{"That'd be nice. I could even think about going home again."} He said quietly. {"If I didn't have the kits to protect that is."}

{"The future holds many unknowns."} She promised with a knowing smile. {"Now get back to Hylerash before he gets too board and gets into trouble."}

{"Yeah, he gets bored pretty easily. We still have to get his mate back."} He said as he headed back to Jake. {"I'm glad we got to talk, it makes me a lot more comfortable."} He smiled and waved, as he turned to concentrate on returning to Jake.

It only took two steps before he was face to face with the agitated Kat, still glowing brightly as the Phoenix.

{"Hope you didn't get too bored waiting."} Cardor said smiling.

{"I managed."} He chuckled slightly. {"I haven't had many opportunities to study our history here."}

{"A bit disoriented, but well otherwise. Where am I?"} He asked curiously.

{"In front of the Golden Tapestry." Hylerash raised an eyebrow.

{"Speaking of history, Kimbra wanted me to check something."} He said casually. {"How do you look at a specific part of the Tapestry?"}

{"By watching for it,"} he all but smirked. {"What are you looking for? I know history well enough to find it."}

{"Kimbra asked me to check and see what happened to the local Phoenix Keeper. She said something about ask the end of the Tapestry."}

{"Do you know how recent he took off?"} Hylerash tried not to sound as angry as he really was.

{"Maybe five years ago, according to what I've been told. I never actually met him."} Cardor said, shivering a little at the anger he could feel from Hylerash.

{"Five years?"} The older tom breathed as a nearly insane rage tried to consume his mind. The Phoenix Spirit Cloak he wore flared brightly in response to the kill-drive. {"Yes, I can show you."} He growled and stalked off, his anger notching up every few paces as they passed the Betrayal mark.

Cardor followed him, becoming more afraid as they went. He wasn't sure if Jake was mad at him, or just mad or what. Eventually, the anger he was sensing became too frightening and he stopped in his tracks.

{"What?"} The older tom snarled, still making a valiant attempt at controlling himself.

{"What are you so angry at?"} He asked, terrified that he'd done something to provoke the anger he could feel like a blazing fire.

{"You have had the Bastet and Phoenix halves on this planet for what? Three thousand years?"} He snarled. {"And you've denied a union how many times? You 'Keepers' have betrayed Her as much as the one who struck Her down the first time."} He stalked up to Cardor, eyes literally blazing. {"You never intended to let her be reborn, did you? Just like your father and every one of your forsaken line."} He spat. {"Your story about it 'wasn't the right time' was just that, a story, to keep me from doing what was right, wasn't it?"}

Cardor's power blazed equally. {"As far as I know, we were instructed by Bastet to wait for the 'right time'. And most of that three thousand years we spent waiting for the Phoenix half to show up. As far as I know, my father was the first one to even encounter a Phoenix, and I don't know what happened there."} He growled going fully defensive. {"What I was doing was keeping you from killing a lot of people by acting rashly not understanding the world you were on. If I'd let you reunite the two halves the way you wanted, it would have meant the deaths of millions and probably the newly reborn Queen as well."}

The Bastet energy surged and crackled around him. {"You're such a know-it-all, that you don't stop to consider the consequences of your actions. Remember the devastation at that farm, that was the reality feedback from you throwing power around without thought or restraint. Well, the reunification you tried would've caused devastation on a far greater scale."}

He started to walk away from the Tapestry. {"Funny, the Queen herself wasn't nearly as judgmental about it, in fact she wasn't mad at all. Either we do the reunion the quiet way or it doesn't happen, you don't have the self-control to handle the Queen's soul."}

{"You really don't understand, do you?"} Jake voice was soft and dangerous as he appeared before the younger tom, though his posture was welcoming. {"Why do you still deny Her here ? This isn't your world; this is the heart of Golden power. And I'm hardly the next Queen. What kind of nonsense is that?"}

{"You tried to merge the two halves when we first met. That would've transformed you into a Golden female ... the next Queen-host, and she would've been based on you. Or at least that's how it's explained, and it's what the Queen implied."} He said tiredly. {"Maybe I don't understand, but I understood what She said clear enough."} He growled, and backed away. {"You're just trying to push me around, same as the females. I'm just someone to be used, that's all you ever saw me as."} He said, and promptly dropped out of the psychic realm back to the real world, where he promptly shifted his body to a quiet place and put all the shields back up.

Jake growled softly to himself, unable to prevent the escape. He continued to look at the Tapestry as his brain chased around a sentence that didn't make sense, and seemed important.

Suddenly he smiled and walked up to the Tapestry just after the Betrayal.

"Local Phoenix ... there must be another Bastet, one more willing than that bastard traitor."

A detailed search turned up what he was looking for. Without a backward glance he stepped through and onto another world of felines, absently sending the command for his body their to convert to energy.

Jake appeared on the edge of the small compound where a large number of large bipedal felines were playing a very rough sport which appeared to involve fighting over a ball. A large bipedal panther was sitting next to a slightly smaller flame red Tigress who was keeping an eye on a small tiger kitten.

Jake instantly focused on the Tigress, the raw power of the Phoenix crackling around him in the bird-cloak as he approached, making no attempt at stealth.

All activity came to a halt, and the large felines formed a defensive perimeter around the kit. The large panther stepped forward toward Jake, as a golden dragon morph took a defensive position next to the Tigress.

|"That'll be quite far enough, whoever you are."| The Panther said forcefully, clearly unimpressed by the display.

The Kat didn't hesitate in complying, understanding the pasture, if not the words.

|"Okay, now who are you?"| The Panther asked in a reasonable tone.

Jake considered quietly before shifting to focus on the Tigress. {"Lady Healer, I have not come to fight."}

Nareena looked at him, not sure why she could understand him. She didn't know the language yet she understood him. "*Maybe not, but that was a fairly aggressive appearance. Is all that energy projection really necessary?*" She projected, bypassing the language barrier since she wasn't sure if he'd understand her.

The Kat blinked in confusion before looking around at himself and shrugged a little sheepishly. {"It's not easy to control right now. Didn't realize it was showing off."}

"*It was rather ostentatiously.*" She smiled tolerantly. "*Now, what brings you here?*" She asked gently, as the rest of the team remained in a defensive position.

{"You can save my people."} He said simply.

"*Perhaps you should explain that.*" She thought quietly.

He hesitated, not completely sure how to explain this to someone that didn't even share a trace of his heritage.

Eventually he took a deep breath. {"My people, the Golden Clans, are dieing from within without our Queen, the heart and soul of our society. Generations ago she was betrayed, and her soul broken into two halves, Phoenix and Bastet. I carry the Phoenix half, you carry the Bastet. With their unification, the Queen will be reborn to lead us again."}

"*And just how does this rebirth occur?*" She asked, granting for the moment that he wasn't completely delusional.

{"That is mostly up to you, Healer."} He inclined his head. {"You can release the soul to me, and it will happen in my body. It can happen through our daughter, or into a third party, as long as it is of the Golden Clans. Those are the ones I know of, that I expect you might find agreeable. If one of us dies when we're both on the same world, it will also happen. I'd really prefer to live to see my Queen."}

Nareena smiled gently. "*I think I like the daughter option myself, if you're willing.*"

Jake couldn't hide his disappointment, but he nodded. {"Agreed."}

Nareena wasn't sure why he seemed disappointed, since he hadn't expressed any preference when he gave her the list of options. "*You're timing is good for this.*" She smiled encouragingly, as she stepped past the defensive line. "*But let's go inside.*" She smiled warmly, trying to reassure.

{"Of course."} He nodded easily before looking up to met her emerald green eyes. {"One thing. She will be the Golden Queen; she will be raised as a Golden Warrior."}

Nareena looked at him. "*Which means?*" She asked quietly.

{"It means that if there's a cultural conflict, her Golden heritage is what she's taught."} Jake glanced up. {"This may be your daughter, but she is my Queen, and will need to know her people if she is to lead them."}

Nareena smiled. "*Teaching only goes so far, then the child decides on their own.*" She said philosophically. "*No child ever suffered by knowing all their heritage. Especially those who must lead.*"

Jake nodded quietly and followed her.

She led the short, lean tom into the main building and down a hallway. As they entered the master bedroom she turned to him, and chuckled quietly. "*Here we are about to conceive a daughter, and we haven't even exchanged names. My name is Nareena, what's yours?*" She asked politely.

{"Jake Clawson."} He said quietly. {"There are any formalities that need to happen with the sire of your kit?"}

"*Formalities?*" She asked with a curious smile. "*Only consulting my Mates to make sure they don't object. I did and they don't.*" She said quietly. "*Actually, they find it somewhat amusing that I took so quickly to a stranger.*"

{"The Soul wants to be unified."} Jake could only shrug as he knelt on the bed and pulled his shirt off. {"We wouldn't feel this way otherwise."}

"*Not so quickly at any rate.*" She said easily as they undressed. "*You're certainly attractive enough for me to interested, but kittens on the first date is definitely unusual.*" She grinned as she reclined on the bed looking at him.

Jake smiled with a slight chuckle. {"The Souls know what to do, just let it happen."} He said softly as he knelt to nuzzle her neck.

Nareena smiled, and ran her hands sensually through his soft fur as she explored the unfamiliar body as he relaxed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ========================= ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Piper?" Justin poked his head into a simply furnished room at the far edge of the compound from the main inhabited section.

The agitated teenager looked up, the illusion of being human fully in place. "Yes, Justin?" He said tiredly, from the bed he was laying in.

"I was wondering when we could go after my dad." The dark brown tabby kit asked nervously.

Piper blinked, as he remembered the other rescue that needed doing. As much as he wanted Jake and everything about him out of his life, he still couldn't let Justin down. He'd made a life out of looking after kits in trouble, and he wasn't going to let that fall apart just because another Golden had treated him like dirt. He realized he shouldn't have expected anything else, that's how they all were.

"We have to finish tracing his location, Justin. Then we can go after him." He said quietly, trying to figure how to do both rescues at once.

"What can I do to help?" He asked as he stood up a little straighter.

"Find Rusty, and have him check with Merlin on the progress of the search. I'll be down in a little while, I've got something to finish so I can focus properly."

"Will do!" The kit saluted and dashed off.

The kit's enthusiasm was enough to make Piper smile, before he got serious about locating the missing Phoenix Keeper. He considered what Rusty had once said about having met the Phoenix, and what might have happened. He realized that if the missing Phoenix had run into troubles with the Nephandi, there was a good place to look.

He used his mage powers combined with the Bastet soul to focus on its other half, tuning out anything close by. When he located it he was surprised to find it locked in a stalemate conflict with a Nephandi mage. The two were closely balanced in power, due to the Nephandi's greater experience and home territory advantage. He concentrated on transfering part of his power to the battling Phoenix, thereby breaking the stalemate. There was sudden screech of rage and power as the Phoenix overwhelmed the Nephandi with a roaring burst of power.

"*You are Bastet Keeper?*" The Phoenix-warrior's mind voice came back to Piper, as his opponent disappeared in a burst of fire.

"*As you are Phoenix Keeper. The time the priestesses told us to wait for is here.*" He said with more calm than he felt.

"*I will come to you, as quickly as possible. We can then form the daughter of both of us who will restore what is broken.*" The warrior said in the formal language they both knew instinctively.

"*Follow the stream of power I have left for you.*" He said easily.

As he felt the acknowledgement, Piper stood and straightened his clothing before heading out to see how close Merlin was to finding the missing tabby. The teenager was satisfied that he was keeping his promise, even if Jake couldn't understand.

"How's the search going, Merlin?" Piper asked as he walked into his office/bedroom.

"Slow, the traces aren't easy to follow." The computer replied.

"Let me try." He said sitting down, and weaving strands of mage-energy into the net. "Guys, I should have a location when I come out, so let the rest of the group know." He said to Justin and Rusty, who were watching him.

"Got it," they nodded in unison.

As Piper moved along the electronic paths and ether trails that comprised the web, he discovered that Merlin had been right, the tabby wasn't easy to trace. He seemed to have a natural gift for stealth, which made him tough to follow. After what seemed to be a long time, he found a mental presence that seemed to be the tabby. He quickly scanned the surrounding web to get a real world location from it.

He bounded down the stairs, to the main parking lot where the Mice and the Semi were waiting. "Okay, our tabby is being held at the Tyvesta research facility. Let's move out." He said as he climbed into the cab of the semi, taking the front passenger seat. Rusty and Justin quickly got in the back of the cab.

"Where's the warrior?" The golden shekat asked suspiciously.

"Not relevant." Piper said shortly. "You don't like it, you can go home. I'm coordinating, and Throttle's in charge of combat." He said not waiting for her response.

"Let's roll." The tan mouse commanded as the three cycles moved out ahead of the semi.

The Semi pulled to a stop within sight of the research facility. It was a large three story white building surrounded by a ten foot high concrete wall topped with barbed wire. The main gate was actually two chain link gates controlled from an interior switch house. There were two armed guards at the gate checking IDs on intruders.

"You know where he is?" Throttle asked Piper as he examined the complex through binoculars.

"Second floor medical lab." Piper said evenly. "I've got an idea to get us inside. But you guys are going to have to ride inside with the HellRiders." He said easily. "We're delivering supplies."

"Supplies, so that's what the interior image mask is for." Throttle observed. "Okay, come on guys let's get out of sight."

"Once we get the Semi inside, you three and I will go up and get Chance. When we've secured him, then the HellRiders will create a diversion."

"Risky, but not bad for a beginner." Throttle said agreeably. "Probably the best we can hope for under short notice."

"Yes, I'm sure he's in here." Piper replied to Throttle's most recent question about the tabby's actually being in the building as they searched the large second level. "It's just a big building."

"Just hope nobody notices us wandering around." Throttle said looking out for trouble to come around the corner.

"Maybe you should've talked Jake into coming." Vinnie suggested. "It's his tabby after all."

"I can manage without him." Piper growled irritably. "Better in fact."

"But," Vinnie started before Moto clamped a hand over his mouth.

"That room." Piper said, pointing to a door covered by two armed guards, as they came round a corner.

"Can I see your ID?" The one guard asked as the three big guards, and the smaller officer walked to him.

"I've got it here somewhere." Piper said from under the illusion, as Throttle and Moto slammed the two guards into the wall knocking them unconscious. Vinnie grabbed a key card from the one guard, and opened the door. "Presto." The white mouse said with a flourish.

"Bring them." Piper said as he walked into the room, to confront two scientist types in white lab coats. "Take a nap, guys." He said as electricity arc from the equipment to render them unconscious.

Piper grabbed a key card and unlocked another door to find Chance strapped to a table with wires strapped to his body. Piper put a gentle hand on the tabby's head, and discovered that the Kat's mind was safely in his body. "Keep an eye out guys, it's gonna take time to disconnect all these wires." He said as he reached out with his machine magic.

"Who?" The tabby's rough voice croaked as wires began to fall away.

"My name's Lance, but most call me Piper." The teenager said maintaining his concentration to gently disentangle the tabby from the wiring. "You're Chance Furlong, right?"

"Yesss," he growled through a ragged throat as he tried to get up. "My son?"

"Whoa, let me finish removing these wires." He said putting a hand on the tabby's shoulder. "Justin is fine, we rescued him first."

"Where?" The tabby glared at his rescuer but held still.

"Right now, he's in our mobile command center with my assistant." Piper said easily, as the last of the wires detached itself. "Okay, you can try and get up now. Just lean on me." He said supportively, as he signaled the Mice with a glance to be ready to catch Chance if he fell.

Stiffly, and with a good deal of growling the big tabby got to his feet, and though very shaky, managed to walk with minimal assistance.

"And Jake?" He asked as he got a good whiff from Piper.

"Not sure exactly." He said evenly. "We'd better get out of here before security catches on." He said looking to the Mice. "Any guards in the hallway, Vinnie?"

The white Mouse cracked the door to look out in the hallway, before quickly closing it. "'Fraid so."

"Throttle, would you signal our distraction?"

"Will do." The tan mouse said, and pushed a series of button on a pocket communicator. Thirty seconds later, there were explosions followed by alarms blaring.

"That's our cue, let's move people." He said as he followed Throttle, while Moto stayed near enough to Chance to provide assistance while looking like he was simply covering.

The groups made its way through the mostly abandoned hallways, to find smoke and gunfire filling the compound. Several explosions erupted from other buildings, as HellRiders on their souped up cycles maintained a perimeter around the Semi. The Corporation guards were unable to hit the evasive cycles, and an energy shield deflected the shots aimed at the Semi.

As Piper directed Chance to the cab of the Semi, the three Mice sprinted for the back. He opened the back door, and Rusty gave Chance a hand up, while Piper climbed in the front. The Semi quickly rolled into motion and headed for the front gates with the HellRiders in close escort, and the three Mice on cycles on point. Fire from the Mice trashed the gate, and they roared on through followed by the Semi and the HellRiders. The convoy vanished from view as it rolled out of the gates and onto the highway.

Piper leaned back in the front seat, exhausted from the magical effort required to cloak the entire convoy. "Head for home, Michael." He said tiredly to the driver.

Justin looked up as Rusty helped Chance in, and closed the door. As the Semi rolled into motion, he moved over next to the tabby. "Dad, is that you? I mean really you." He said uncertainly, afraid of what might have happened.

"Yeah, it's me, kit." He sat heavily and opened his arms. "I'm sorry."

Justin quickly climbed into his father's arms. "What do you have to be sorry about? I'm just glad you're back." He said, snuggling in to the embrace that defined safety as far as he was concerned.

"I couldn't protect you, or save Mariah." He said with a choked throat as he hugged his son for dear life. "You met Jake?"

"Not your fault." Justin said easily. "Briefly. I don't think he was feeling well or something."

"Not surprised," he tried to lick the kit's hair into place. "He probably hates this world."

"I don't know what it was, I never really talked to him." He squirmed a little. "He spent more time with Rusty and Piper."

Chance nodded slightly before taking a deep breath of his kits scent and sighed before he let his head dip down and sore body relax for what rest he could get.

Justin gently guided his father to lay down on the bed in the sleeper cab. He pulled the covers over the tabby, and lay next to him, letting himself accept that he really had his father back.

Rusty quietly watched the two, and then climbed up front with Piper who was the only family he had left.

Less than an hour into the drive home, Merlin come on line, as scared as an AI could get.

"Piper, we have a situation here. There's a massive energy build up in one of the spare rooms, and I can't stop it."

"Just a second, Merlin. I'll be back." He said before shifting to the comm-line back to Throttle. "Throttle, there's a situation at base, I'm going to have to 'port back. You're in charge till I return."

Piper focused on the teleport anchor in his room and shifted back, and then promptly shifted to the source of the energy buildup, Jake's body in the spare room.

Piper just glared. "Trouble even when unconscious." He formed a confining shield with the Bastet energy around the energy buildup, and then sent a forceful mind projection that Jake should hear if his mind was still connected to his body. "*I don't know what the hell you think you're doing, but it threatens my kits. Stop it, or I'll put you somewhere where you won't threaten anyone.*"

Nothing answered him, not even the echo that should have.

"So be it." He said before shifting the shielding energy into 'porting the body up to a concealed and abandoned Umbral sanctuary that he'd found. With a great deal of effort he was able to move the body into the sanctuary, without jeopardizing the gauntlet which he promptly repaired as the teleport completed. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but it's not my problem." He said to no one in particular before shifting himself back to the Semi.

"What happened?" Rusty asked quietly as Piper settled down again.

"Beats the hell out of me." Piper shook his head. "I had to prevent a large explosion back at the compound. I just haven't figured out why the energy buildup was occurring." He said quietly, and distinctly tired.


Half and hour later, Piper motioned to the driver to pull over. As the truck pulled to a stop, he got out and walked into the woods as if looking for something. Suddenly, there was the screech of a large predatory avian and a burst of flame as the local Phoenix appeared suddenly.

"I was wondering if you'd make it." Piper said as he hugged the teenage Golden tom.

"It wasn't easy getting through the gauntlet, but I followed one of the Marauders down. I was delayed nuking him before he could do any real damage, and then repairing that flaw in the gauntlet. My name is Davon."

"I'm Lance, and I'm just glad you could make it. We've got a lot to do. But we'll have to go back to the compound, Gaia knows how to do what we need."

"Very good, Lance. Lead the way."

The two teenagers returned to the Semi, and Davon climbed in ahead of Piper, who got up into his usual station.

"Take us home, Michael." He said to the driver quietly.

"You've been with another Phoenix." Davon observed simply.

"Don't worry, he didn't understand how the reunion is supposed to be done."

"He tried the way we were warned against?"

"Yeah, and got all pissy with me when I tried to explain how it's supposed to be done."

"Where is he?" Davon asked looking around.

"Don't worry, he's not involved anymore."

"Just as well."

As Piper and Davon waited in Piper's room for Gaia to arrive they felt their souls start to rip apart as the Phoenix and Bastet separated themselves, even as the roar of a second Bastet Soul was heard across their minds.

Piper saw Davon start to panic, and was grateful that the Keepers had always understood that the Bastet wasn't theirs and wasn't really part of them. He wrapped his arms around the distraught teenager. "Just let go, Davon. We both knew it wasn't ours to keep. Now we're free."

"Free?" The former Phoenix looked at him. "It doesn't feel that way."

"I know, you're used to that extra power. That was always the danger of not keeping it separate."

"How can you be so calm?"

"I always knew it would happen eventually. Never the how or when, but I always knew. Now I just have to regroup the power I do have, and protect my kids." He said. "With any luck, I'll be free of it all now. The keepers aren't needed, maybe I can be human like our ancestors were before the Soul changed us."

"You want to be human?" Davon asked confused.
"I never liked what I was." Piper said quietly. "I don't like them either."

"Guess I never knew, I ran away when I first felt the power." He said quietly. "I feel kind of empty now." Davon shivered.

"Focus on what you do have, I can sense that you're still a Mage. Like me you have your own power, you just have to let that take the place of the Other."

"It's not easy." Davon said, frightened.

Piper put his arms tightly around the shaking teenager to comfort him. "I know, but we have each other."

"You still want me? I thought that was just the two halves talking."

"Yeah, if you're still interested."
"I am." Davon said claiming a gentle kiss from Piper. "Just don't leave me."

"I won't, I know how it feels to be used that way." He said as the two lay down and wrapped themselves in warm blankets.

Realities away, Jake Clawson screamed in raw agony as his mind and body were torn apart by a convergence of power from hundreds of dimensions.

Nareena looked at him in concern, but nothing in her years as a healer fit the description of what was happening. The sheer chaos in the Kat's mind and body defied anything she or any other healer could do anything about. The destructive energy in his mind even made telepathy a bad idea.

"Jake!" A new male voice roared outside, along with the sounds of a scuffle.

Nareena couldn't do anything for Jake, so she decided to go outside and see what was going on, after quickly dressing. She walked outside the main building to find Arsham pinning a very excited, large dark yellow male to the ground, Mason trying to be careful with a similarly built brown kit of about ten, and a third unknown that looked much like Jake.

"So what's going on, Ebon?" She said, as she walked up to the Panther war-form.

"These three appeared in the yard just after the screaming started." He looked at her curiously that she wasn't with one in such obvious pain. "When the big one heard the noise he shouted and ran for the building. We've had less luck communicating with him than with your new boyfriend."

Nareena nodded. "Maybe it's a communication problem." She said kneeling down next to the struggling male pinned by Arsham. She quickly transferred Galactic to him, without actually reading his mind. "Now, perhaps you can explain what you're doing in our camp." She said in gentle, yet no-nonsense tone.

"What the hell are you doing to my partner?" He snarled back.

"If you're referring to Jake Clawson, no one is doing anything to him. Something is happening but it's something no one understands except maybe him." She said in frustration. "The level of energy he's absorbing is unlike anything I've ever seen, and it's blocking all my attempts to help him."

Chance calmed down fractionally, or at least he stilled except for the slight cringe each time a new scream cut the air and focused on her. "I need to be with him."

She looked at him and then nodded. "Follow me." She said leading the way inside, as Arsham released the tabby and offered him a hand up.

"My son." He nodded at the still struggling kitten. "Let him up too. He was just trying to help me."

Arsham nodded to the NightBlade holding the kitten, who promptly let him up to dash to his father's side and looked up, confuted but silent.

"I'm Nareena, and you are?" She said politely as they walked through the building.

"Chance Furlong, my son's Justin Furlong-SunClaw." He said, trying not to cringe or run at the sound of his partner in so much pain.

As they entered the room, Nareena extended her telepathy gently trying to see if she could find anyway to ease Jake's pain, and really not sure what to make of seeing a female screaming where he had been.

Then just as abruptly as it had started only minutes before, it stopped. For a heartbeat the form was completely still, still clutching her head in silent agony before collapsing unconscious into Chance's arms.

"That's not Jake, dad."

"He ... she ... is." The tabby said very softly in obvious confusion. "It smells like him, is him."

Nareena was completely at a loss. "What the Void?" She said lacking any other phrase that fit. She had no clue how a male could simply turn into a female, though she was glad it hadn't happened during sex.

"Where is here?" Chance looked up as he shifted to carry his partner.

"My family's camp by Lake Maxwell, on the Northern continent of Felsinor." She said, as she showed the tabby to one of the guest rooms.

"No where I know." He sighed with the irritation of someone extremely familiar with the concept as he tucked Jake into the bed. "Thanks for the roof." He tried to smile at her as Justin sat down on the second bed in the room.

"You're welcome. If any of you need help, please feel free to ask." She said pleasantly. "Are either of you hungry? I can have the kitchen bring something over if you'd like."

Chance shot a look at his son before nodding. "It would be appreciated, ma'am."

Nareena smiled. "I'll take care of it. Do you have any idea who the other person who arrived with you is?" She asked, stopping at the door.

"Nope, never seen him before. Might be related to Jake though, given looks." The Kat shrugged.

"A distinct possibility." She said as she stepped out, and closed the door gently behind her. On the way to the kitchen, she was passed by two Tyrfan carrying trays to the main building. She chuckled to herself, they always seemed to know when they were needed. With that task attended to, she decided to head back to the front of the main building where the third unknown was.

As she came to the front of the building she saw Cazi's Dracon form blocking the main door, the Cheetah twins entertaining Nathan well away from the excitement, and the others loosely surrounding the rather dazed looking third intruder.

Nareena got close enough for projection, and then sent the third intruder the same package of Galactic she'd transferred to Chance. "Okay, who are you?" She asked curiously.

The Kat jumped slightly and turned to face her with the speed of one well accustomed to taking orders. "Tafri Goldensun, ma'am."

"Well, Tafri, what brings you here?" She asked very casually.

"The new Queen, I expect, ma'am." He said quietly.

"The new Queen?" She repeated curiously. "Perhaps that's why Jake rather abruptly turned female."

Tafri looked inside himself a moment before nodding. "You had the Bastet half of Her Soul, he had the Phoenix half. While you were together he drew your half into himself to become the next Golden Queen, who must be female. You still carry a daughter, as he agreed to."

"Not exactly what we agreed to." She said quietly. "But somehow I don't think that was ever his intent." The tigress said mildly annoyed at having been deceived, it was one thing NightBlades did not take lightly.

"It probably was his intent to sir the Queen, ma'am." He striated sharply, loosing every trace of the subservience of only a moment before. "Goldens do not break our word lightly. I carried part of Her soul as well, and the drive to unify it can override the strongest will. It would have only taken a momentary waver of his determination not to be the Queen for this to happen."

"Perhaps." She said quietly. "But it still felt like he wanted things one way, and was willing to do or say whatever was necessary." She said, as she turned toward the building. "I presume you want to see him, I mean her, whatever. Follow me."

"Yes, ma'am." Tafri nodded and quietly followed.

She stopped at the door to the guest room and knocked gently.

Chance opened it, looking significantly more wrung out than when he arrived. He smiled slightly at her, a clear attempt at a grin. "Hi, Nareena. Please tell the cook he's good."

"I will, they'll be glad to hear that. Tafri here would like to see Jake." She nodded to the Golden.

"Umm, yeah, okay." He looked at the shorter tom. "She's not awake though."

"I know," Tafri nodded quietly.

"Have a seat." Chance nodded toward a chair. "I'm Chance, that's my son Justin." He gestured to the kit sitting on the bed.

"Greetings then, Justin, Chance." The lean tom inclined his head as he moved into the room, his focus on the still, tall shekat in the bed. "I am called Tafri. Who are you to Jake?" He asked conversationally as he pulled the chair over to sit next to the bed.

"Jake is my mate." Chance said simply, though not feeling as easy as he did. He still wasn't sure what to make of his mate turned into a shekat.

"Did he ever tell you of this? His heritage?"

"Not a word, he never talked about his family or past." Chance said quietly. "Hell, if it wasn't for the weird noise in my head, I wouldn't believe it was him."

"*This is not right.*" Phoenix called back to his trapped mate as he descended towards a world named Felsinor as quietly as he knew how.

"*How 'not right'?*" Bastet calmly asked, though she was more than a touch irritated at not being about to see the birth of her youngest, especially with the apparent problems.

"*The host hasn't accepted the Soul completely, I think.*" He said uncertainly as he landed invisibly next to the bed his daughter was resting in, awash with the invisible struggle of the two souls who weren't cohabitating nearly as well as they should.

Keltin had been uneasily watching the power build up near the NightBlade camp, but Felsira had said not to intervene unless necessary. The sudden appearance of someone probably more powerful than any of the three of them, made an appearance necessary. He knew the powers that visited Felsinor, this was a stranger.

The midnight blue warrior of the Triad appeared invisibly near the strange being. There were four Felines that were unfamiliar to him, and not NightBlades either. One of them seemed to be having difficulties, but he figured he better talk to the power before bringing Fel in.

"Hello, there." Keltin said with a strong confidence that befitted the Defender of Felsinor.

"Hello ... Keltin, right?" Phoenix greeted him. "You are one of the locals, are you not?"

"That's correct, I'm afraid I don't quite place you. Though you bear a certain resemblance to the mythological phoenix of Earth." He said uncertainly. "I was wondering what you were doing here." He asked in a way which was polite with out being submissive or fearful.

"I am Phoenix, mate of Bastet." The other spoke with a calm sureness. "The mortal having such difficulties is our youngest daughter." He indicated the female in the bed. "She shouldn't be so divided still."

"Maybe the mortal being transformed didn't really intend that to happen, and now is confused. Felsira, my Mate, is a skilled healer of both mind and body, would you like her to see what is happening." He said politely, but not in a subordinate fashion, Felsinor was his home after all.

"*Bastet?*" He looked back at his mate.

"*Yes, if I can not be there, she can handle it well. And tell her I'm sorry I haven't spoken in so long.*"

"*All right.*" Phoenix looked a little confused. "Yes, if she would, it would be appreciated. Healing like this is not one of my better skills.*"

There was a warm glowing light, and then the tall, regal lion form of Felsira, Healer of Felsinor appeared. She walked over and put her arms around Keltin's neck and kissed. "Hello, love. What matter of urgency now?" She smiled, and then noticed Phoenix.

"You'd be Phoenix, Mother's mate, right?" She said calmly. "And this would be the 'daughter' that's having the difficulty." She said as she walked over and examined the Kat carefully. "Wouldn't it have been less traumatic to combine this fractured soul into a newborn?" She asked not really to anyone.

"*Yes, it would. It should have been.*" Bastet grumbled.

"Yes. Bastet says it should have been." The Firebird relayed. "She also wanted me to tell you she's sorry she hasn't been able to talk to you."

"I understand." The tigress said quietly, as she looked in more detail. "I see, he's resisting the process. Nareena is pregnant with the kit who should've been the recipient. Given that Jake's resisting, with my skill as a healer, my Mate Caito's skill at Change and your power we should be able to put things the way they should have gone. It's not going to be easy on any of us, but it will be best for the healing Soul. Jake's strong enough to fight for quite awhile, especially panicking the way he is, the soul doesn't need that."

She watched as the trickster appeared. "We must act quickly to minimize the trauma to both Jake and the newborn. What does Mother think?"

"*Do it.*" The powerful shekat snapped directed into her mate's mind with as much of her power as she could.

"Direct me." Phoenix said calmly as he gathered as much of his own power as he dared for this purpose.

"*Nareena, please come to Jake's room immediately.*" The Lioness thought to the Healer.

The door opened and Nareena walked in quietly. "Yes, Mother?" She said quietly.

"You were once willing to bear the daughter-to-be of Bastet and Phoenix, are you still?" The Lioness asked gently.

"Yes, mother." She said quietly. "But how is that possible, Jake already.." She started.

"There was a mistake made. Phoenix, Caito and I are going to correct it, but we require your assistance."

"Anyway I can, Mother."

Felsira turned to Caito. "We have to change something very important here, and change is your element. I need you to maximize the fluidity of reality that Jake is part of, so that the resistance to change is minimized. I don't want chaos, merely receptive reality."

"I understand, Felsira." The trickster said seriously, as he began loosening the rules of reality to allow for the major transformation Felsira was preparing.

"Phoenix, I need your power to back up what I'm doing. I know how, but I'm not strong enough alone. Watch as I work, and when my power sags, reinforce me, I can't afford to run out of power part way, it would be catastrophic." She said quietly. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, Healer." He nodded. "I'll try to keep it creative energy."

She began sorting the confusion that had become 'Jake Clawson'. She began delicately sorting out which was Jake and which was Bastet/Phoenix daughter soul.

Fortunately, it appeared that the new soul had accomplished little outside of physical transformation. 'Jake' had panicked and fought back almost immediately, which was probably the only reason this could work. For a long time, how long she didn't know, she worked completing the work of putting soul together as she separated it from 'Jake' and his body. Several times she felt her energy dip dangerously low only to get welcome reinforcement from Phoenix.

On the outside, Keltin was holding a tiring Caito who wasn't sure how long he could maintain the delicate fluidity of the universe that his mate needed. He gratefully nuzzled Keltin, acknowledging the blue tom's energy support, even as he felt Phoenix offer him support from a separate reserve from what Felsira was getting. Much more chaotic, destructive energy, but useable non-the-less.

Eventually, the work was ready, and Felsira created a channel between the newborn and the newly repaired soul. Using gentle healing and reassuring energy she guided the soul to the new, unresisting 'body' and watched as it entered its new host without complaint and begin to modify it as she felt necessary.

Keeping an 'eye' on the newborn, she turned back to making sure Jake was himself again. She gently reminded his body what it was supposed to look like. It wasn't that he made an unattractive female, but his mind didn't need that adjustment to make. She also noted that the absence of the soul had made some changes to him mentally but she didn't want to do too much, but she figured some reward had been earned for what he been through without asking anything. Between the powers of the entire triad, they were able to let him stay who he'd been when the soul was present, though perhaps a touch less driven. They couldn't replace the level of power, but they made sure he was still a significant power among mortals as a TechnoMage."

Felsira then gave his tired, fatigued body a wash of healing, soothing energy and slowly withdrew from contact. "Thank you for your assistance, Phoenix." She said as she leaned into the strong arms of the midnight blue warrior tom.

Caito carefully restored reality to its normal state, and let his form lapse into jaguar form. He lay down at the foot of the bed. "Thanks for the backup, Phoenix." He said quietly, and then chuckled. "Did anyone notice that we've all become visible?"

"You are welcome. Our thanks for your assistance." Phoenix regarded the brown on gold tabby that had carefully walked around them as Jake's body settled back to its former form. " I do not think we are their greatest concern."

"My pleasure, Phoenix. After all, if the newborn is Bastet's daughter that makes her my sister, after a fashion." Felsira said quietly. "*You can tell Mother that we'll keep an eye on them.*" She thought quietly, as the Keltin and Caito faded from mortal view.

She smiled. "*Since I imagine you'll be visiting, you probably should talk with StarFire. She kind of looks on the Alliance as her protectorate, so its just courtesy to let her know you'll be coming and going.*"

"*Gatcha.*" The Firebird nodded before fading away.

Kat in a Strange Land 1: Shadowland


199 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written November 16, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall

Setting: Biker Mice from Mars, Golden Kingdom, SWAT Kats, World of Darkness (generic)

Primary Races: Feline, Human, Kat, Martian Mice

Contents: Furry. Gen. Supernatural

Pairings: None

Notes: Jake / Chance: They are lovers, and if they can ever agree on what marriage means they'll probably be married. Jake's being his usual poly self, and Chance is having trouble reconciling the concept of poly and marriage. But they're both way too stubborn to let go, so they have lots of arguments. They had a major yelling, just short of blows argument just before the alert called them out to go after the PastMaster.

"." Aristal Standard (Kat)
{"."} Golden Clan/ Feline
(".") English
"*.*" Telepathy

Blurb: Chance gets caught in a PastMaster portal-trap, and Jake dives through to rescue him to find himself in a very strange world with all these furless bipeds and a lot of powerful enemies.

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

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