The Future is Wyld 5:
The Shrouded Isles

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

A lone figure walked along the shoulder of the road leading up to Jurnix's School for the Gifted. The scenery was remarkable, he had to admit; the day was bright and sunny, and a cool breeze carried the scent of the surrounding greenery.

The stranger was fairly remarkable himself; eight feet of powerfully built Liger, his tawny pelt striped faintly with dark tiger stripes. The green tint to those stripes was probably one of the more striking things about him, at least once you knew what to expect a Liger to look like. The clothes he wore, simple slacks and shirt, leather hiking boots coming up his calves, were sturdy, but looked home-made, rather that store-bought. Between that, and the fact that he was walking the road, rather than driving, he almost looked out of time, as much as out of place.

He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, looking up at the Eagle approaching airborne from the far side of the gate. He didn't need to see her power at work to suspect she was a weather-witch, and a powerful one at that. She shared the same wildly regal presence, even at this distance, that all the ones at home did.

He chuckled slightly; clearly, he must have been noticed on his approach. He stopped, waiting for her. If she was coming out to greet him, they might prefer that the meeting happen farther out from the gates.

Given the type of people who probably came out here most of the time, he couldn't blame them.

She circled twice as he waited, clearly taking his measure with some care, before she descended to hold a position in front and above him. Her icicle blue eyes watched him with the unnerving unblinking lock of all predatory avians.

"Greetings, I am called Surauli. Who are you?"

"Samson Wick," he said, nodding her a greeting, but not turning from her gaze. "I'm sure this is rather unusual, but I would like to speak with Professor Jurnix, if he's available. It involves the Exodus Project he was approached about a little over fifty years back."

She paused briefly, then nodded regally to him. "Follow me."

"Thank you," he nodded, smiling slightly and falling into step behind her flight path on the way to the gates. This was a good sign; he'd expected to have to explain more up front. Surauli was also keeping a politely slow pace for airborne flyer.

The wrought iron gate opened without anyone else making an appearance, though as he stepped into the manicured formal garden walkway towards a grand classical-style mansion he could see a variety of faces watching their approach from several windows.

"You have several students here," he observed, still following the Eagle in. Not for the first time in his life, he wished he had sufficient control to follow her at a more comfortable speed, but his abilities weren't quite that developed yet. "More than I expected, honestly."

"We are a growing school." She nodded, her powerful voice answering easy before she came to light on the wide porch with its carved marble columns. "There are almost forty students and staff in residence right now."

"Impressive," he nodded, knowing just how impressive it was here. He decided not to drop the numbers he had quite yet; that was for Professor Jurnix's ears first, hopefully. From her silence as they entered the building and walked threw an entrance way fit for any royal house it was likely to happen that way.

Samson did a good job of not gawking, but the level of luxury he was seeing was still clearly well beyond what he was used to being anywhere near. Not that that was particularly unusual, he was sure. He hadn't seen much since arriving in The United New World, but he knew this wasn't typical.

In a way, it made what the Professor had achieved even more impressive. This school was a far cry from anything he was used to, and the pictures he'd seen before coming over hadn't done the place justice, in his opinion. His attention was mostly on a piece of metal sculpture in the hall when a small black and white puppy of perhaps five years poked his head out of a door up the hall to stare at them with an almost unnatural intensity.

The Liger turned his head slightly, looking at the pup and smiling. He wondered what the pup's gift was, if he had one. It was possible that he wouldn't, here, if unlikely. Of course, that was assuming he'd been born here - there was no guarantee of that.

"Are his parents here too?" Samson asked Surauli quietly, his deep voice a near rumble as he followed after her.

"Yes, Ginny and SnapShot are two of our early members." Surauli nodded. "Scott is the first born here."

"What is his gift, if you don't mind my asking?" He looked at the pup with a gentle smile, following after the Eagle.

"We are not positive yet. Like most mutants they are not expected to emerge until adolescence. He has another seven to ten years in all likelihood."

The Liger looked at her with a slightly startled expression, but nodded, not saying anything. Again, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but of all the things that could have worked out differently from home, he hadn't expected that to be the one.

"It is a standard among almost all mutants on record." She continued with the explanation and guided him past the curious puppy and into a hall paneled in darker wood. "Very few display their abilities before puberty."

"That's... not necessarily true," he said cautiously. "Or at least it doesn't have to be."

"That would be something to discuss with the Professor." She stated coolly and evenly, uncertain about just what manner he meant the last part.

"Yes," he nodded. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything."

"You will have the opportunity shortly." She stopped to open a fine oak door.

Samson waited, wondering what Professor Jurnix would be like. If he would remember the Exodus Project, after fifty years and his own remarkably successful efforts.

"Do come in, Samson." The dark brown Foxbat motioned him into the room even as Surauli stepped out. "Have a seat. We have a great deal to discuss, I believe."

"Yes, we do," the Liger nodded, stepping in and sitting down in the offered chair. Even sitting, he was much, much taller than the Foxbat he was talking to. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor."

"So how is Rasputin these days?" Tamerin asked and leaned back to regard the huge feline.

"He passed away about four years ago, I'm sorry to say," Samson said softly, closing his eyes for a respectful moment. "That's a part of why I'm here, actually. On behalf of his successor."

"Then the Exodus Project has done well?"

"Very well," Samson smiled. "The original colonists found a place to settle not too long after Rasputin approached you about joining. Since then, our numbers have grown slowly, but steadily. I'm a second generation native, myself."

"Most impressive." He nodded. "So what does his successor wish with me?"

"Well, first, he told me to congratulate you on your own successes in creating a place for people like us," Samson smiled, before becoming more serious. "More to the point of why I'm here, he feels that we're currently being too isolationist. While Rasputin's intentions were good ones, Solomon, his grandson, is considering the possibility that they went too far, at least now that we are well established where we are."

"Is he sure those are waters he wants to tread?" He leaned forward slightly. "International recognition of independence is not an easy road and is rarely bloodless. Believe me. It is a choice I still face."

"Part of why he wanted to contact you," Samson nodded. His expression and tone were just as serious as Jurnix's. "He hasn't broached the issue to the population at large yet, either. I'm sure he has his reasons, and good ones, Professor. He isn't prone to rash decisions."

"A wise successor, then. How may I be of assistance?"

"In part, we need contact with somebody in the outside world," Samson explained. "The closest we have is radio, very limited trade, and when somebody happens across our settlements. Even what trade we do is generally without the knowledge of those involved, aside from our people who bring the proceeds in."

"I see." He leaned back and steepled his slender fingers. "My stance has not changed since I last spoke with Rasputin. I would welcome contact with his project again. Perhaps even as a refuge should things get particularly ugly on the mainlands."

"You would be welcome, along with everybody here, I'm sure," Samson nodded. "Though I have noticed some differences already that might surprise you. In the meantime, if Solomon does decide to go ahead with revealing our presence, it might help your cause, after a fashion. Get your foot in the door, so to speak, or at least distract anybody causing you trouble."

"On the other hand, it may also cause international panic because of the troublesome mutant groups and incidents that have happened. We are not a publicly know mutant school for just that reason. It takes very little to cause a cry of harboring terrorists these days."

"That is something to consider," the Liger nodded, frowning slightly. "And a very serious concern. You can see why he started out by only sending one person to start looking into it. Frankly, there's nobody in the Isles who would be qualified to make the decision based on what we know at this point."

"I understand. Are you trained to understand what I can teach you about this world?"

"I suppose that would depend on what you can teach me about it. And what you mean by understanding it. I don't have any particular background in politics or sociology, but I learn well. And I'm used to the idea of being on the outside; you won't have to worry that I'll react too badly to dealing with them."

"Does anyone in the Isles specialize in politics?" Tamerin asked with serious concern. Samson leaned back, thinking about it.

"Internally," he explained, " the various administrators do. Solomon and a handful of others. We really don't need that many, given the size of our population. There are some whose gifts would help them take to it easily, but nobody's really experienced in external politics."

Professor Jurnix nodded thoughtfully and considered the situation. "Is Solomon agreeable to myself and a few others coming to the Isles to gain a thorough understanding of what it is like, to best prepare and advise for coming into public view?"

"I'd be surprised if he wasn't, as long as you weren't going to let everybody know exactly what was going on until things were closer to ready. The only possible problem I could see would be explaining why you're leaving again, if the decision is made not to 'go public.' I'm sure he could think of something, though; it's not strictly against any of our laws to leave, just highly unusual. I'm the first we know about," Samson admitted, "and it's not too hard to notice somebody missing around there."

"Perhaps a truth, without the absolute truth, is the best approach there. I was supportive of Rasputin and his dream fifty years ago and I still am. Even if going public at this time is decided against, an alliance between the Isles and my Institute would be advantageous to everyone concerned and the mutant population in general."

"That's very true," Samson nodded. "Especially if there is a way to let mutants know we are available, without letting the rest of the world know as well. It's a different life from what I've seen out here, even as briefly as I've been out, but a good one for some people."

"And very difficult for others." He nodded with a knowing sadness. "Both are residents here, and everything in between. There are definitely ways to let selective groups know of the Isles without letting everyone know. It is a fairly easy thing to add to our recruitment program options."

"I would have to find out if it was something Solomon was interested in first, but that sounds like a good idea. By the way," he added, "if you have any questions about how things have gone over the past fifty years, feel free to ask. We've seen some incredible advances."

"As have we." Tamerin smiled in amusement. "Perhaps you would consider sharing with us over dinner? I believe there will be great interest among the staff and several students."

"I believe one of them was watching me as I was led back here," Samson chuckled. "Everybody eats in the same area here?"

"Yes," he nodded easily. "We have not yet grown to the size where the main dinning room has become impractical, though we no longer eat at the same table."

"That would be a very large table," the tawny-furred Liger chuckled. "I can try, though I'm not the best at speaking to groups."

"It is more likely to be volleys of questions from various individuals with everyone else listening to the answers than a speech." He chuckled lightly.

"That will still be... interesting," the huge feline chuckled, blushing slightly. "Just eating with that many people in the same room will take a little getting used to."

"Fortunately, you will not be the only new face at the table tonight." He smiled slightly. "We took in a new student shortly before you arrived."

"Oh? Should I wait until I meet him or her, or do you mind giving a few details?"

Tamerin chuckled. "Her name is Megan; a very energetic blue merle Rough Collie teen with a fixation on solving mysteries and herding substitutes. She came from a solid family background that is looking out for her by placing her here, and she came quite willingly from what I understand."

"It sounds like that's unusual here," Samson observed quietly. The tension gathering in his massive frame was noticeable. "Or am I misinterpreting?"

"Unfortunately, a supportive family to go home to is uncommon." He nodded reluctantly. "There are exceptions, the McCade's, the grandparents of the pup you saw, are perhaps the most exceptional of those exceptions."

"In what way?" Samson asked cautiously. He had a bit of a hunch, but he didn't like it at all. "Something about the pup?"

"They never stopped welcoming their daughter home, they visit here on occasion and when she became pregnant with SnapShot's pup they adopted him too, even going so far as encouraging him to take their family name with the wedding. It was a very encouraging year for us."

"It sounds like it," the Liger smiled, relaxing again. The thought that a pup might have brought most families further apart still bothered him, but at least that hadn't been the case here. "It sounds like she has an exceptional family in many respects, both in parents, mate, and child. If you don't mind my asking, how are you handling children here? Clearly, if there's only one, you're not actively encouraging them too much."

Tamerin paused, instinctively brushing against surface thoughts to gather the intent of the question before he answered.

"We encourage partners to have children only when they are ready and it is expected that parents will raise them here with our assistance." He inclined his head slightly. "We would likely have many more children around if four of our five long-standing pairings were capable of it." He shook his head slightly then smiled. "Though I understand that SnapShot and Ginny are planning a second litter soon."

"That's good," Samson smiled. "Is infertility a problem here, or are there other issues?"

"There are two same-gender pairings and two that are infertile due to side-effects of one partner's mutations." He explained briefly. "I discourage our younger residents from reproducing until they are fully mature and are in a stable relationship. I expect to see several of the newer pairings start in the next couple years."

"You might be interested in some of the technology being developed on the Isles then," Samson nodded. "They're working on methods of allowing same-sex couples to have biological children, that should work for infertile individuals as well."

"Definitely, and a technology that is being researched out here as well. It has a great many uses among all segments of society. How close are you to being successful?"

"Fairly close with same-sex individuals," the Liger explained easily. "The biggest problem is that the methods that work best tend to rely heavily on our gifts to get the genetic material to form a stable bond. For cases of infertility, the reason is more important, I'm afraid." There was something about Samson's tone that suggested the subject was of more than just academic interest to him. "Nature seems to have decided that some individuals simply aren't meant to breed."

"True," he nodded with quiet understanding. "Be it from heritage or mutations. Our infertile couples are almost exclusively due to their gifts. The female and free-form shape-shifters tend to be particularly hard hit as a group."

"I think that would be mostly an issue of getting the material to work," Samson said, frowning slightly. "If it's classic infertility, where it just won't work naturally, that's something that can be handled now, to an extent. If it's a case where the genes simply don't work right, then there's little that can be done right now, or in the foreseeable future, as I remember."

"Our research indicates that it is some sort of biological safety net. The shifting genetic design has not yet developed to the point where the pregnancy survives a shape-shift, so the body prevents the wasted resources by preventing one in the first place. Gaia believes she is close to a way around it for those like her, but it is difficult to test as her partner is also a free-form shapeshifter infertile do to a natural form of liquid metal similar to quicksilver."

"That would pose a problem yes," Samson nodded, trying to remember if there was anything in the research that could help them get around that. "Unless something resembling an ordinary cell could be extracted, at least. I'm afraid I'm not an expert in the field, just an interested layman, and freeform shifters are rather rare back home. The theory makes sense to me, though. An artificial womb system might be able to help with that, once it's perfected, if her method wouldn't work."

"True," he nodded. "At this point we have had little need to test it as she has not found a male she wishes to breed with and we have no other free-form shapeshifters. The two female limited-range shifters are both not yet interested in reproducing. We have been looking at surrogate mothers for them when they chose to, but an artificial womb would be even more advantageous with the lower chance of rejection of the fetus. It would also be useful for those mutants that can not reproduce due to the danger to the mother."

"One of the two major reasons we've been working on it," Samson nodded. "There actually has been one live birth already, with the systems we've been working on; an emergency 'test' during the last trimester. The more developed the child is, the easier it is to get the system to support them to term, and to make the transfer safely."

"That is very good news." Jurnix smiled warmly. "Even if it never progresses further, it will save many lives and much pain."

"Especially as powers start to manifest earlier," Samson agreed. "Which is likely to happen, if the Isles are any indicator of what will happen out here."

"That will be interesting to track." He considered the contradictory evidence to what data he had. "It is not what is foreseen here, but we do have much less data in that area."

"And I doubt you're trying to breed for mutations," the Liger admitted. "Something we've been doing since the start, for the most part."

"No, we have not." He nodded in agreement. "We haven't even been trying to breed at all, only train and establish a haven for outcasts."

"Which might have something to do with it. While we never decided not to accept newcomers, we've never expected them to help increase our population, so the focus on improving our people through the breeding program has been a major drive."

"An idea you will want to keep fairly quiet about in the outside world and be careful about broaching with newcomers." He cautioned softly. "It is an exceptionally unpopular one to almost everyone for a wide range of reason."

"Several of which we are aware of," Samson nodded. The Exodus had happened barely a decade after the last World War; it featured rather prominently in their history lessons. "Those might mean we have other issues, related to our identity, but that's somewhat complicated. But when you consider the genetics issues at hand, it's the only way to guarantee that everybody finds a genetically compatible mate at least once in their life. With our population, it's a key factor."

"I understand why it is your norm. But it cannot be ignored how it brings up unpleasant memories for the rest of us of the last World War, eugenics and super-solder programs. Planned breeding is just not acceptable in any context out here by the masses, and it will be used against you by world leaders intent on war instead of peace."

"Particularly given that, if you were to look at the inhabitants, it wouldn't be hard to believe that some sort of 'super-soldier' program was the intent." The Liger sighed, shaking his head. He could imagine the response many would have to an island full of mutants; it wasn't generally a good one. "With any luck, it's something we'd be able to keep quiet about. It will take quite a shift to remove the emphasis from it internally, though. Even if we never talk about it with the outside, newcomers would be likely to find out about it fairly soon, at least if they were moving for a long time."

"All the more reason to keep your boarders largely closed for the time being, even if the Isles present themselves as a nation to the world." Jurnix considered it thoughtfully before shaking his head. "It is a matter that will require careful consideration and some research to make the best choice on how to handle."

"And discussion with somebody who has a lot more knowledge about the big picture back home," Samson agreed. "Though as I said before, I'm sure Solomon would be thrilled to find out you were interested in visiting."

"That as well." The Foxbat nodded. "I am curious if you brought any demographic information with you."

"That I do have," Samson smiled. "Mostly focused around how many Avatars there are of each generation, how old they are, gender, and what fields powers break down into." He kicked himself mentally as he realized that he'd used their own internal term for their 'race' without warning, though it didn't seem to faze Jurnix. "Mutants, that is."

The Foxbat considered him thoughtfully with a slightly cocked head. "What is the origin of that term for us?"

"Mostly early research into how our gifts manifest," the Liger explained, glad that he didn't seem to have offended him. "Our findings suggest that powers typically manifest in what might be considered metaphysical categories. Fire, nature, mind, among others. We still find new ones once in a while, though some are much more common.

"The 'Avatar' term was chosen by Rasputin and the others involved in the research, since all their findings suggested that most or all mutants embody these categories to some extent. It's how we've categorized ourselves since, by generation and category of power."

"Fascinating," he murmured. "I take it there are significantly more Avatar's than known mutants out here."

"Our population is upwards of 500 and growing," Samson nodded easily. "I'm afraid I don't know how many mutants there are out here, though. Likely more than that, but I wouldn't be afraid to say we have the highest density in the world."

"To put it very lightly." Jurnix blinked in real surprise. "It would be safe to say that the mutant population has yet to recover its numbers from the Exodus. You have well over half the known world population."

"I didn't think it was that extreme," Samson murmured, a surprised expression on his own face. "Though that was Rasputin's goal, in a way. Makes it rather dangerous though, with all of us grouped in the Isles."

"Only if you are known to the outside world." He countered quietly. "A single well-placed weapon of mass destruction could end things for some time. But for that, targeting information is required."

"And the ability to hit, but it's definitely another point to consider. A plague would also be devastating, if one developed that our healers couldn't cure. The biggest problem I see with maintaining our isolation, at this point, is that it can't last forever... not the way we're doing it, at least."

"On the other hand, maintaining it for another fifty years should not be terribly difficult between what you must have and a few select alliances on the outside." Jurnix considered thoughtfully. "In that time we should be in a position to be legally protected by at least one superpower in an acceptable manner or have the technology and ability to escape the situation completely if the international scene gets worse instead of better."

"True. Unless something happened to all our telepaths at once, we should be able to keep it going that long." Samson regarded the Foxbat curiously. "Do you really think fifty years is long enough to develop an 'escape,' so to speak?"

"If your technology and resources are what they seem to be, then yes." He nodded with a bit of a guarded promise. "While mine are intended for smaller numbers, the additional resources you bring should be enough to bring the option about on close to the same timetable."

"Well, I should warn you that a lot of our technology is medically oriented, rather than what I've seen out here. But I think it's safe to say we'd be willing to help."

Jurnix nodded easily. "Medical technology is still going to be very useful. It will also be a useful bargaining chip when facing the outside if advanced enough to make a difference in the lives of many. Hopefully, this will all remain an academic discussion for some time to come."

"Hopefully," the Liger agreed. "I know I'm not going to make it more than that. By the way, I haven't asked about this yet. While I'm away from the Isles, would it be acceptable if I stayed here? I'm willing to do my share to help."

"Of course," he smiled warmly. "Our doors are open to all mutants, and Avatars, who come. Do you know how long you will likely stay with us?"

"That depends on when I'm called back, or when you're ready to pay a visit to the Isles, whichever happens first. I don't have any pressing need to return, honestly."

"Then we will settle you in a room before dinner." Jurnix nodded with a smile and stood easily, his advanced years not showing in his finely boned body. "Did you bring anything with you?"

"Just the demographics information," Samson chuckled. "And that, I'm afraid, is up here." He tapped the side of his head. "I have a good memory, and that's the sort of information we would not want getting out in the public if something had happened to me."

"No doubt." He agreed easily. "Your markings make you a natural target unfortunately. Come, we will see about a few more sets of clothes and fur dye so you can go out in public more easily."

"The fur color's the only issue," Samson asked curiously as he stood up, glancing at the faint green stripes along his arm that his homespun clothes didn't cover, "not the fact that I'm a hybrid?"

"Those are different kinds of targets." Jurnix admitted and guided the much larger male into the hallway. "Your fur marks you as a mutant, while your hybrid nature a protected status. People may not like hybrids, but like being any breed or race, it is a federal felony to do harm based on it. Being a mutant has no such protections."

"At least some progress has been made since they left for the Isles," the Liger mused, shaking his head. "Still a great deal to be made, though. In case it becomes an issue, which I hope it doesn't, non-lethal self-defense is legal?"

"Lethal self defense is." Jurnix said quietly as they passed threw the building designed to accommodate many more than it's current number. "While unadvisable because of our nature, we have passed that test once already, about five and a half years ago."

"I'll keep it in mind, though I'm not sure I want to know what happened, given your tone. Most of my combat techniques are non-lethal, at any rate; I worked with the Peacekeepers sometimes, and the use of lethal force is strongly discouraged if anything else will do." More than that, Jurnix could feel a distinct distaste for the idea in the back of the Liger's mind.

"A good idea at any rate." He nodded easily. "There is rarely need for such extreme measures, particularly not if you follow general policy of not going out alone. It is far more unlikely that a group will be assaulted than an individual."

"Bullies anywhere are rarely brave enough to want a fair fight," Samson muttered, rolling his eyes slightly. "Do you have problems with students being assaulted often?"

"No, only one incident and that was not related to being mutants." He shook his head and sighed.

"Mugging?" From the sound of it, the Liger had to honestly wonder why their new leader was thinking of making contact with the outside world more regularly. There was crime back home, yes, but nothing like what it sounded like there was out here. He could feel the fur along the back of his neck bristling slightly against his shirt, and quickly focused on keeping his reactions under control.

"Most likely, though it had an anti-gay component as well. Your Isles have the great advantage of not having brought those ideas with you. We have no such ability to strip society and begin over with a select population."

"And you have a population large enough that crimes like that aren't as ... personal." Samson tensed his muscles briefly, relaxing them and letting the tension out. "I hope nobody from the school was hurt?"

"That too." Jurnix nodded his head and showed Samson up the grand staircase. "Chester had a bump on his head, but they were otherwise only badly shaken, not hurt. It went as well as such situations ever can."

"That's good." The Liger followed Jurnix quietly for a few moments, taking in his surrounding, glad that the building seemed built for people much larger than the Foxbat who owned it. He seemed to fit easily, something he wasn't entirely used to back home, outside of his own residence.

"What types of training do you do here, aside from power control?" He asked after a few moments, hoping to change to a less touchy subject.

"Everything," he chuckled slightly. "Basic education through most advanced collage degrees and specialist training, combat, teamwork, social skills and whatever else members need. We are still at the stage of developing programs as the need arises."

"You might consider a couple 'welcome to the real world' options, if more Avatars start coming here," Samson chuckled. "The differences are noticeable. Is there anywhere someone with a good background in ecological science could be of use out here?"

"Definitely." He nodded with a smile and opened the door to a large room, while in keeping with the wealth and size of the mansion, was remarkably unostentatious. "And someone who can handle a class on 'Welcome to the Isles' for those headed that way."

"I could handle some of that, I'm sure," Samson nodded, looking around the well-appointed room. It didn't have much in the way of personal touches, which was to be expected, but the creature comforts within far exceeded what he was used to. He shook his head slightly, noticing a television and small refrigerator. "Probably less culture shock than moving here, though; just have to adjust to less tech and more Avatars. Is this where I'll be staying?" He asked politely.

"Yes, it is a standard room," he nodded easily. "You are welcome to decorate it as you please. If you find anyone you wish to stay with moving in together is just a matter of moving things. The far door leads to a bathroom suite you share with the adjoining room."

"Thank you," the Liger nodded. "Plants are acceptable decorations, I assume, as long as they're reasonably safe?"

"Yes," the Foxbat kept his amusement to a soft chuckle. "We can also make special accommodation arrangements if you stay for long. A greenhouse or something similar."

"If I reach the point where I need a greenhouse, I'm doing something very wrong," Samson chuckled, smiling some. "Unless it's for space, though I don't think I'll go that far."

"You never know, especially around here." Jurnix grinned at him. "I am quite sure you won't ask for anything as unique as the water room Slquella needs. She's on the aquatic end of amphibious."

"No, I doubt I'll need anything as unique as that," the Liger smiled. "It must be awkward for her to get around, if she needs to be in the water most of the time."

"It does make socializing difficult," he nodded. "She has several advantages for us however, and both our free-form shapeshifters can do aquatic forms. The ocean has many riches that she has helped us gather to support the facility and outside programs."

"I don't doubt that," Samson agreed. "They've always been useful at home, fully aquatic or not. If she's interested, we might be able to develop an environmental suit for her."

"So far she isn't interested in what we have developed, but you are welcome to offer it. You'll meet her at dinner if you'd like."

"I'd assumed you hadn't developed one yet," Samson admitted sheepishly. "Though I look forward to meeting her, and the other students. When is dinner here?"

"Generally at nine. Only Sunday dinner has semi-mandatory attendance as that is when the week is reviewed and the next week discussed along with any issues that have developed."

"Of which I imagine there will be several this week," Samson chuckled. "Is there anything else I should do before I start trying to settle in?"

"Don't let everyone run you ragged." He cracked a grin. "New faces, particularly attractive ones, tend to cause a great deal of excitement."

"Well, I shouldn't cause too much excitement then, but I'll keep it in mind," the Liger smiled and earned a slightly sad smile from the elder Foxbat before he entered his quarters to investigate them more thoroughly.

"It is almost reassuring that he didn't figure out a way to strip all disfiguring prejudice from society." Jurnix said softly as he walked away.

"Haya!" An excessively perky female voice interrupted Samson's exploration of his quarters. "You must be the other new kid here. I'm Meg." The Liger turned to look at the canine at his door, noticing her distinctive blue-gray speckle markings.

"Glad to meet you," he smiled, stepping forward and offered the moderately curvy blue merle Rough Collie his hand and felt it taken by one almost child-small compared to his giant stature. He noticed a slightly, unconscious trembling, and made sure not to grip her hand too tightly. "I'm Samson. The Professor mentioned you," he added, not really sure what, if anything, else to say.

"Really?" She blinked and then grinned, her mismatched eyes sparkling with mischief as she assessed this enormous Lion-kin with faint green tiger stripes and no mane. "What did he say?

"That there was another new student, a Collie with a fondness for mysteries," he smiled. "He also said I'd probably meet you some time today; it seems he was right. Would you like to come in?" He asked, stepping back and slightly to the side as he released her hand.

"He already knows me too well." Meg giggled and took the offer with a relaxed and eager manner at odds with what he'd felt was deep down in her. "You're kinda old for a new student," she commented and flopped on the bed to bounce on it a bit. "Except for Chester everyone's been a teen."

"I'm not quite a typical student," Samson chuckled, pulling up a chair. After twenty minutes of looking around the room, he was getting used to the fact that the furniture all seemed to fit him with minimal adjustment, most of which had already been done. "You've met the others already, then?"

"Some of them," she nodded easily and stretched out, giving an unconsciously sensual display of her well-developed adolescent body. "Our resident puppy and his father are so cute."

"I sort of met the pup," Samson smiled in agreement, blushing slightly beneath his tawny fur as he noticed the display, even if she didn't. "I would imagine both his parents are cute, if he takes after them at all."

"I guess so," she shrugged. "I'm not into fems much so I'm not a good judge. Are you?"

"A good judge?" He asked with a chuckle. "Or into fems?"

"I meant the second," she laughed playfully and grinned at him. "But either answer works."

"Debatable, and yes, generally," he answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Cause there seem to be a lot of folks only into their own side of things." She shrugged, then grinned at him over his deepening color. "And I like knowing what the options are."

"Well, mutants aren't the only outcasts these days," he said softly, and a little sadly. "Still, I'm sure you'll be able to find a handsome guy out here who's into fems. They can't all be that exclusive," he smiled.

"I'm looking at one, unless you've got a mate you aren't talking about." She licked her muzzle eagerly.

"Uhm, no," the Liger said quickly, blushing even more deeply than before, adding a slight crimson tone to his otherwise tawny fur. He swallowed a bit, wondering why she was coming on to him, if she really was. "Though I'm hardly handsome."

"Don't be silly." Meg giggled despite being serious. "You've got great fur, you're buff, really unique looks and lovely eyes. Whoever raised you just doesn't have an appreciation for what they got." She abruptly got very serious. "Don't let them win, Samson. We can change things, but only if we aren't ashamed or afraid of ourselves for being born what we are."

"Meg...." He trailed off, trying to think of how to explain it. "It's not because I'm a mutant, or anything related to that. Have you ever heard of a Liger before?"

"Yeah, you're a Lion/Tiger. Pretty much the same thing as a Tigon but more common. So?" Her blue eye seemed to pierce through his very soul while her brown one was full of compassion.

"I'm also an accident," he said softly, turning away from her gaze slightly. "Among other things. I don't know if those don't mean much out here, but ... where I'm from, it's more of an issue." He wasn't sure why he was telling her about this, this soon at least. Maybe it was the novelty of the situation; the things he'd done for years to avoid discussing it didn't quite apply here.

He nearly jumped when her low growl reached him, but she cut off his explanation even as he turned to face her again.

"Samson, we are all accidents of nature to some degree or another." Megan rumbled forcefully. "Where ever you are from, whatever problem they have with you, it's all the same. We will never live in this world openly and safely while people are discounted, feared or hated for what they are born as. Believing their problems only perpetuates them into the next generation and contributes to the problem. We have to change our own perceptions of worthlessness before we can ask anyone else to believe in our worth or right to exist."

He was quiet for a moment, not sure how to respond to that. He knew she was right, at least from the angle she was looking at it. At the same time, it wasn't easy to think about it the same way.

Or to explain why it wasn't.

"The 'problem' they have with me," he tried to explain, "isn't as subjective as that, Megan. Also probably not the most appropriate topic to discuss with somebody I've just met. My people never treated me the way mutants are treated out here, it wasn't like that."

"So just how did you end up with such a self-worth problem?" She tried to mellow her tone with moderate success.

"You don't have to be treated like a monster to be on the outside," he explained quietly. "I was never treated badly, never ostracized like mutants have been. I'm simply not like they are, and even if I'm not treated that way, I know it. Home is a wonderful place; but it's not a place I fit in. I suppose you might say I'm a black sheep. Or a lone mule, in a herd of fine stallions and mares," he mused. The analogy was much closer to his situation in several respects.

Megan regarded him for an agonizingly long time with those eyes that conveyed such different things in their separate colored orbs. "Come lay on the bed so I don't have to keep looking up, okay?"

"Sorry," he said a little sheepishly, getting up and moving over next to her. His own eyes betrayed the uncertainty he was feeling as he tried to find a way to lay down that wouldn't invade her personal space too much.

"Don't be," she smiled warmly at him and patted a spot.

"Is this better?" He asked, managing to settle in, his eyes much closer to level with her own now.

"Yeah." She rolled over to relax with her legs tucked under her and her fluffy multi-colored tail curled around her knees. "Now how about this explanation about how society never treated you badly yet it lead to this belief in your minimal worth."

"You don't give up, do you?" He asked, shaking his head a little, looking into her mismatched eyes and trying to find another way to word it. "Where I come from... there aren't many of us," he explained, not entirely sure how much detail to go into yet. "A number of small settlements and colonies. Children, and the ability to have them, are important. So is having a good bloodline, though not in any sort of 'family name' sense." He leaned his head back with a sigh.

"I've never been attacked or berated for what I am, never been told I should never have been born. I've been treated like everybody else, but everybody else knows, the same way I do...." He trailed off, shaking his head again rather than finish with a comment that wouldn't have done any good, and probably just would have upset Megan more.

"That you can't have pups." She nodded. "While out here that can be a dating plus. A lot of fems would be thrilled not to have any chance to face an unplanned pregnancy and still not have to deal with birth control. Sounds like you'd do well here, and better not to go back to where you aren't valued for a quirk of fate."

"I am going back some day," he said firmly. "Maybe not forever, but I'm not just going to disappear from the Isles." He paused for a moment, thinking about it. "So pups aren't as important out here, to most people?"

"Only those that haven't realized there are too many people in the world already." She shook her head. "Most folks seem to have one or two, but a lot of couples don't ever breed. It's pretty
normal in these days of the two-income household and overcrowded cities to have no pups, or only one fairly late in life."

"Definitely different from home," he chuckled slightly. "Normally, I'd have at least one of my own by now, if a good mate was available. So the standards of attractiveness change as well," he said softly, thinking about it. By those standards, it made her comments, and the Professor's from before, make more sense..

"Do you get to choose your mate there?" She asked with a curious and wary note in her tone.

"You can," he nodded. "With all the issues that mutation can create, most people have at least one child with a partner who's a good match genetically. But beyond that you can choose whoever you want as a mate or lover, as long as they're willing."

"Where ever you are from, it's going to be a real event when the press finds out." She said quietly. "Breeding programs like that are all bound up with trying to conquer the world and wipe out everyone else. We fought a world war over it in my grandfather's time and a major one every generation since. It's bad stuff, getting linked with eugenics in any way, shape or form."

"The Professor already mentioned that," he said softly. "The public won't take it well, despite the fact that that is hardly the goal of what we're doing. But there's no other way to answer the question honestly, I'm afraid, and I felt doing so would be best here. The press isn't going to find out, if there's anything that can be done about it. Is it something that bothers you?" He asked, looking into her eyes carefully.

"As long as they don't start trying to apply it to me, not really," she shrugged. "At least not without better details."

"If it ever came up, you'd have plenty of details," he chuckled slightly. "Not that it's going to, unless you were to come to the Isles for a rather long time."

"I'll keep that in mind." She nodded. "So who raises the pups if you aren't usually mated to your partner?"

"Usually the mother raises them, unless she isn't interested and the sire is," he answered easily. "Otherwise, or if something happens to the parents, the community raises them, so to speak. Somebody raises the pups from their friends and family, but the entire settlement pitches in to help. Usually happens when one of the parents raises them as well, but it's more official with orphans, or ones who might end up as street kits out here."

"Sounds like a pretty nice place, except for the breeding thing."

"Which isn't that bad, if you're expecting it," Samson chuckled slightly. "It is nice. You don't have to hide what you are, either. And if you're interested in mysteries, we have some big ones, from what I understand."

"Oh?" Her entire body perked up with her soft triangular ears. "Like what?"

"Well, it seems we weren't the first people there," he explained. "But we know very, very little about whoever was there first. They left some ruins, but they've been mostly sealed off, except to a handful of researchers and our leader. Found them not long before I came here, actually."

"Have you seen them?" Megan licked her muzzle and moved to drape herself casually over his chest.

"Uhm, no," he said, a little surprised at the shift in how she was acting. "Not the inside, at least."

"What did you do, before coming here?" She smiled slyly and played her fingers across his shirt.

"Ag work, mostly...." He trailed off, taking a discreet experimental sniff to see if she really was as interested as she seemed to be acting. The scent of her arousal definitely answered that one for him. He gently rested his hand over hers, looking at her somewhat uncertainly. He wasn't honestly sure if she was being forward or not... not that his body was objecting if she was.

"Lots of sweaty work with the sun on your fur?" She dipped her nose to nuzzle his hand briefly, her tail wagging over her back playfully.

"Actually, remarkably little," he admitted with a bit of a chuckle. He took her hand in his gently, bringing it up for a gentle kiss. "Megan?"

"Yeah?" She looked up to meet his gaze.

"Forgive me if I'm misinterpreting...." He didn't honestly know how he could be, between her hands and her scent. "But are you sure you want this, now? I'm probably ten years your senior, and... to be honest, you've just met me."

It was enough to cause her to pause, a curious look on her face. "Didn't think you were that old." She cocked her head slightly. "Playing around isn't big on your fun things to do list?"

He blushed a bit. "I haven't had much opportunity to find out... but honestly?" He brought her hand up and kissed it lightly, smiling at her. "I'd like the chance to get to know you better first, for you."

"You're a virgin?" Megan managed to ask bluntly without sounding too incredulous, just surprised. Fortunately, he wasn't too surprised by the question.

"For all intents and purposes," he admitted, blushing a bit more. "The one time I came close, it... didn't end particularly well." He flushed a deep crimson beneath his tawny fur, thinking about how that disaster had turned out.

"Because of your heritage." She barely had to guess, her voice low and gentle and eyes soft.

"In part," he nodded, still blushing deeply. "Though she didn't mind that, as much as... well, I didn't exactly develop like most felines, in that respect...." He really, really hoped she wouldn't ask for more details about that one.

"Somehow, I think you'll find that less of an issue out here." She licked his fingers gently. "I saw it's not your size."

"No," he admitted, nuzzling her head gently, "but it is one that's... important... to most felines. And while I can definitely tell that you're not one," he smiled softly, "I would still like to know you a bit better first. Is that all right? It might be a little old fashioned, but...." He chuckled sheepishly. "You seem special enough to be worth taking the time to know outside the bedroom too."

"Sure," Megan giggled and shifted to sprawl on top of him with the easily relaxed manner of one accustomed to being told to calm down and complying without letting it ruin her mood. "Anything in particular or just that general getting to know you stuff?"

"The latter, I think," he smiled, easily shifting to support her weight on top of him, wrapping one of his thick, well-muscled arms around her back after only a moment's hesitation and smiled as
she snuggled in without any hint of a problem.

"No prob." Megan snuggled her head against his broad chest and relaxed significantly. "Oh, and welcome to the JIG," she added with a giggle.

"No offense to Surauli, but I think I like you better as a welcoming committee," he chuckled, rubbing her back lightly, closing his eyes with a contented smile.

"Mmmm, so is a blow job sex to you?" She asked out of nowhere while still comfortably sprawled across his chest with her feet trailing off each side of his body. He looked at her, a little surprised; he hadn't really thought about it before.

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "Haven't thought about it too much. What's your take on it?"

"That it's fun and a lot less messy." Megan giggled. "I don't really think it's real sex, but I don't think about sex like you do either."

"No, you don't," he admitted with a chuckle, rubbing her back gently. "Though, like I said, I hadn't thought about this much at all. Mind if I ask you something?"

"Not at all." She smiled and nuzzled his shoulder.

"Why is it so... casual, for you?" He asked, blushing a bit as he realized how that might sound.

She cocked her head, considering the question instead of giving a flippant answer that came to mind first.

"It's just part of how I grew up. It feels good. It's fun and a better outlet for excessive energy than fighting. As long as you use a little protection against pregnancy and disease it's fairly harmless." Megan chuckled and shrugged. "Besides, I'm a teenager. It's kinda hardwired to be interested in fooling around."

"I remember," he chuckled, smiling at her. "I suppose it's just one more way I'm strange; as interested as I was, I was also a bit slower about it."

"It's hardly that unusual." Megan smiled and relaxed, trying not to pressure him into something he wasn't ready for.

He rubbed her back a bit more strongly, thinking about it. "You're really interested?"

"I wouldn't be bringing it up if I wasn't." She looked at him very seriously for her age. "I like the way it feels to bring a guy off. I like the way I feel around you. You're big and strong and gentle and uniquely handsome and very well endowed. Not much not to want, really."

He blushed again at the praise, nuzzling her slightly. "Would you be willing to put up with me trying to return the favor?"

"Sure," she grinned happily and shifted down his body to rock against his groin enticingly. "Just be careful with the rough side of your tongue. A little feels good, but it can hurt too."

"I'll keep it in mind," he rumbled softly, glancing over to make sure the door was closed. "Want to try at the same time?"

"Not for your first time, big guy." She grinned up at him and slid down between his legs to rub her face against the quickly hardening length still concealed by cloth. "Besides, I like to give my full attention to a guy the first few times till I know him well."

"No complaints here," he groaned, instinctively spreading his legs slightly, his thick tail twitching beneath them along her belly. His scent started to get stronger, through the fairly heavy pants he wore, and the growing bulge suggested just how impressive he would probably be.

"I didn't think there would be." Megan grinned and continued to nuzzle him threw his pants, in no apparent hurry now that she had consent. "You smell good too."

"Thanks," he said, taking a few deep breaths to get himself under control again. As much as he could, at least; the sensations she was giving him were incredible, and he was still completely dressed!

"Mmm, you definitely aren't short on responsiveness." She rumbled appreciatively, her throat vibrating against his sheath while her pointed nose edged his shirt up and one hand ghosted across his balls and inner thighs.

"Just hope I don't roar when you're finished," he chuckled a bit, his leg twitching a bit at her touch before he reached down to rub her head gently with one hand, and shuddered when she vibrated her throat against sensitive flesh.

"Don't worry about it, handsome. Just relax and enjoy."

"This feels incredible, Meg. Want some help with my shirt?"

"I've got it." She nuzzled her way under the slightly rough cloth to lick playfully at the taut muscle and dense fur underneath. His powerful body rippled slightly, and she heard a deep rumble of pleasure, the sound almost like a small engine idling beneath her. She could feel his shaft pressing against her through his pants, and his powerful hands stroked her hair, her shoulders, anything he could reach fairly easily.

It made her smile and relent a bit. Though she kept her tongue working his abs, she brought her hands up to unzip his pants and slowly part and draw them down to reveal bare flesh and his heavy, swollen sheath. The scent of his arousal was stronger now, and his breath caught as her top brushed against the downy fur covering him. He nearly cried out as her throat vibrated directly against the soft, dry, smooth skin covering the hot rod of blood-rich flesh she'd drawn out of it's sheath.

She stayed right there, simply rubbing the thick, soft fur of her vibrating throat along his sensitive skin before she ventured a hand between them to heft and slowly explore his heavy balls with gentle fingers. He whimpered, fighting against the urge to thrust up against her body as the tawny-furred orbs twitched slightly in her grasp.

"Meg," he groaned, biting his lip to keep from crying out.

"All right, big boy." She grinned and lifted herself up to arch over his groin and took the tip of his smooth shaft into her mouth, playing her tongue around the cylindrical tip. Her hands closed around the thick length under her muzzle and purposefully stroked it while exploring it's every vein and variation.

This time, he couldn't keep himself from crying out in pleasure, the feelings throbbing through his body ripping a sharp, ragged gasp out of him. Pre started trickling down his length, and she could tell he likely wouldn't last too long. Not that it was a surprise, given his inexperience, and it was hardly a bad thing in her book either way.

She closed her hands a little tighter as she stroked his shaft in a counter-rhythm to her mouth as she opened her mouth and took him as far into it as she could, only to draw her head back up and her hands down to his sheath while her tongue played along the skin available to it.

He let out a roar that felt like it was rattling the window, thick, hot seed shooting into the back of her mouth to be eagerly lapped and swallowed as he came hard. His tail lashed against her front and her soaked panties. His hands clenched down on the sheets with a powerful grip.

All the while Megan continued to work the pulsing, twitching flesh in her hands and mouth, intent on giving him the most intense experience she could for what was likely his first time. Finally, it seemed like he couldn't give her any more, just panting and twitching slightly beneath her, his eyes not quite focused.

"Gods," he panted as she licked him clean of what had dribbled from her mouth down his shaft and into his fur. "Incredible...."

"Thank you." She smiled warmly at him and nuzzled the hard flesh again. "It gets better, but that is for later."

"Yeah," he smiled down at her, leaning down to rub her shoulders, and slowly draw her up along his body for a tentative kiss that was returned warmly and gently with little indication of the fire pounding in her veins and between her legs that her scent conveyed so clearly.

It also drove home just how much smaller she was than him when he could close his mouth around her entire head with little difficulty.

"Have you ever done this to a girl?" Megan breathed when they parted slightly.

"Done what?" He asked softly, rubbing her sides and inhaling her potent scent. A part of him wanted to take this just as far as she'd let him, but he forced it to the back of his mind for now. and concentrating on what she was saying, and then doing, when she slid off his chest, leaving his pale chest fur streaked with her juices.

"Not-sex pleasuring." She smiled slightly at him and settled upright against his side with her knees spread invitingly and her breasts firm against his shoulder. Her blue eye read his body and soul as easily as a telepath might while her brown one held little but gentle compassion. "Touched, explored a female's body without the demands of sex."

"A little," he smiled, reaching up to brush his fingers against the curves of her breasts and felt her arch eagerly into the contact. He licked his lips a little nervously as he leaned up to kiss her gently again. "Want me to show you what I know?"

"Yes," she breathed heavily, her arousal given a little more reign on her responses. He shifted to kiss the base of her neck, running a powerful hand down her body to loosen her shirt from her waistband, while the other continued its attentions to her breasts. He was careful how much force he used, each touch starting out gently, then becoming firmer as he tried to get a feel for what she liked best.

"Samson..." she gasped eventually, her legs spreading further apart as she guided his hand between them, "explore the rest later."

"As you wish," he rumbled deeply, rubbing her crotch through her silky panties and kissing down her chest, letting his whiskers tease her breasts.

"Ohhh, yesss." Megan shivered and trembled as she used his strong body for support without a second thought.

"Tell me if I do something you don't like," he said, nuzzling her belly and rubbing the inside of her thigh.

"I will." She moaned and leaned more heavily against him. "Touch me already." She whispered hotly.

"With pleasure." He slid her panties to the side, pressing his thick, powerful fingers against her slick sex, inhaling her musky scent. "Mind if I take these off of you?"

"Not at all." She murmured hotly, almost intoxicated by his touch and presence. "Do anything you want," she added with a hungry moan.

"Later," he rumbled, pulling her panties off and unzipping her skirt, shifting down a bit further. He hesitated for a moment, then carefully, tentatively ran the bottom of his tongue along her slick lips, spreading the lightly furred mound with a soft groan as he tasted her and she cried out softly at the touch.

"Oh yes." She shivered and moved her hands to his wide skull to rub his ears and wide forehead in encouragement. "That's good, handsome." He ran his hands along the insides of her legs, rumbling with pleasure at the praise. He pleasured her with his tongue, occasionally experimenting with the rough surface of it, heedful of her earlier reminder to be careful. He shifted an arm behind her, rubbing the globes of her ass and drawing her closer. He pressed his tongue into the hot, tight entrance to her body as she moaned and wordlessly encouraged him with her hands and voice.

"Oh ... close." Megan shuddered as her womb began to tighten, the pleasure spreading from deep inside her to spiral through her excited body. "Don't stop. Gods, just like that." He did just as she said, his broad, powerful tongue delving deeply into her sex, the sharp tips of his teeth pressing against her as he tried to bring her over the edge, her juices dribbling down his chin while she groaned and cried out in pleasure.

He felt her body stiffen, her hands clenched against the back of his head to hold him tightly against her sex as she shuddered. Her body instinctively contracted and fluttered around his tongue, the motions that on his cock would have driven him over the edge very quickly. He rumbled softly, imagining that and savoring the feel of being this close and intimate with the gorgeous Collie. He rubbed her back gently, supporting her as she trembled and the contractions gradually calmed down, allowing her to loosen her grip on his head.

Despite the whimpers, there was no doubting she was feeling nothing but pleasure while she slowly massaged his ears and gasped for breath.

"That was incredible," he rumbled, smiling up at her with an affectionate nuzzle just above her soaked sex and took in the change in her scent her orgasm created.

"Yeah. Yes it was." She shuddered again and smiled down at him.

"Glad you liked it," he smiled, shifting up to snuggle close to her, his fur still matted with her juices, his shaft still rock hard; a state of affairs that did not escape her notice.

"I think you need a little more attention." Megan grinned and reached down to play light fingers along his smooth cock. He shivered, rubbing her arm lightly.

"Depends on the type of attention," he smiled at her, a bit of a mischievous look in his eyes, "but I don't think you want to try and tire me out quite yet."

"Oh?" Megan licked her muzzle with mischief in her own gaze while one finger circled the tip of his cock teasingly. "Now why is that?"

"Feline," he chuckled, blushing a little bit. "I might not have the barbs, but I do have the... endurance." He kissed her gently. "Doesn't take me too long, but I can handle quite a few rounds. Probably more with... inspiration... like you."

"Now what makes you think that's a bad thing?" She grinned eagerly at him. "Have you checked out the bathroom yet?"

"Just that you might want to know what you'd be getting into before you try to tire me out," he grinned back, though not quite as eagerly. "And I looked around, but that's about it. Why?"

"Because we do need to clean up before going out in public, and there are a lot of fun things to do in the shower ... and a bathtub." She dipped her head down to lick the tip of his cock. "And the water deals with the mess."

"You're incorrigible," he laughed, a sound he didn't make nearly enough, now that he thought about it. "So, should we go get washed up?"

"Thank you." She grinned back and rolled off the bed easily to strip down to the fur with a comfortable ease with her own body. "Yes. We need to clean up, get messy under the water, clean up again." She winked at him over her shoulder and swaggered into the bathroom with her tail raised invitingly along her back as he followed after her.

"Giving a whole new meaning to rinse and repeat," he chuckled.

"You are incredible, you know that?" Megan smiled, lazily content, as they lay snuggling on his bed while she absently fondled his soft sheath and he played a hand along her back and ass.

"And you still put me entirely to shame," he rumbled softly, kissing her gently. "You know, a guy could get used to this." It was almost two hours since she'd come to his room, and they'd only quit a few minutes before. Samson, for his part, honestly couldn't remember feeling like this ever before in his life.

"It's a girl thing," she winked at him and nuzzled him in return. "Your endurance will improve when you're a little more used to be touched."

"Is that a promise?" He asked, grinning at her and returning the nuzzle. "Mmm... Meg? If you don't mind my asking, where's your room?"

"As close as I can get." She licked an exposed nipple. "It's across the hall. They just fill the rooms on the end as new folks show up."

"One of these days, maybe we should think of clearing one of our rooms out," he mused softly, rumbling and reaching up to rub her own firm breast. "Not right away, but some time."

"Sounds like something to think about," she murred in appreciation of his touch and arched her back to press into his hand more firmly.

"Hay, Samson! It's Dinner...." A deep male voice boomed before trailing off in surprise as its owner stood in surprise at the now open door. The Liger was just as surprised by the sudden appearance of the black Lion as he was by the Megan's sudden disappearance with a squeak. He couldn't feel her against his hand anymore, but he hadn't felt her move either.

"Thanks," Samson said quickly, turning in the bed and trying to cover up some. "I'll be down in a bit." Where was she? He didn't look around too much, but he couldn't see her anymore. There had to be a logical explanation ... maybe she was a teleporter?

If so, he hoped she'd teleported somewhere that wasn't overly public.

"Umm ... was Megan ... a little gray canine ... in here?" Kris asked awkwardly from the doorway.

"Uhm... yes?" Samson answered just as awkwardly, hoping neither of them was going to regret it later. "I think you startled her."

"Yeah." He nodded. "Prof wanted me to tell you she phased to the ground floor and is headed back." He got a funny look on his face. "At warp speed."

"I'm going to guess that means you don't want to be standing in the way when she gets here," Samson said, getting a slightly confused look on his own face at the reference. He shrugged a bit, reaching over to grab his pants off the floor. "And since her clothes are still here, you might want to look the other way; we'll both have to get dressed."

"Right. I'll wait in the hall." He stammered a bit and backed out of the room to shut the door quickly.

Samson nodded and looked down at the faint image of Megan, who was becoming more solid and hidden against his side. His face was burning bright red beneath tawny fur, a shade she shared under her multi-shaded gray fur.

"Think it's time to get dressed," he said sheepishly.

"Yeah." She nodded and tried not to start laughing nervously. "Am I solid?"

"Mostly," he nodded slightly, carefully rubbing her mostly-solid arm. "Your gift, I presume?"

"Yeah," she nodded and focused on solidifying again. "Great defensive quality, but occasionally freaky."

"To you, or others?" He asked softly, getting up to collect their clothes from the floor.

"Both," she shrugged and rolled off the bed to catch him around the waist in a hug that included her tail. "Thank you for a wonderful time."

"Thank you," he smiled, hugging her close and kissing her tenderly. "It doesn't bother me," he added firmly, tipping her muzzle up to look into her mismatched eyes, "not now that I know about it. Do you want to head out at the same time?"

"Yeah," she smiled and nuzzled his abs, which were as far up his body as her nose reached. "I'm not ashamed, I was just startled."

"Okay," he smiled, reaching down to rub her shoulders, setting her clothes down on the bed. "Let's get dressed and go meet the Lion."

"Yeah," she grinned and quickly pulled her shirt over her head and her short skirt up. "I bet he's almost as bright as you were"

"Almost," Samson agreed, blushing a bit again. He rather hoped that the Lion would be at a different table at dinner; he couldn't see any way they could be at the same one that would keep him from blushing through the entire meal. He pulled his own clothes on quickly, looking around the room.

"I'm going to have to put some fragrant flowers in here some time soon," he mused quietly, moving towards the door. "Ready?"

"Yap," she smiled up at him and made one last adjustment to her skirt and ran her hands threw her copious main of hair to make sure it was suitably settled. "At least we're not going to be the only ones with embarrassing moments around here."

"I'd be surprised if we were," Samson admitted, smiling and leaning down to steal one last quick kiss before he opened the door.

"Sorry about that," he said, ducking his head a little sheepishly as he looked down slightly towards the black-furred Lion.

"No problem. I'm Kris NightStorm." He offered his hand and took assessment of the giant Liger and his much smaller companion bitch that was acting decidedly submissive.

"Glad to meet you, Kris," Samson smiled, shaking the offered hand. Despite his smaller size, the Liger could feel that Kris was most likely significantly stronger than he was. "Samson Wick, and this is Megan, though you might have met her already."

"No," he smiled at the decidedly shy female. "But my mate, Sandy, gave her tour of the place. Have you met anyone but the Prof yet?"

"You, Meg, and Surauli," Samson answered easily. "And I sort of met the pup; he watched me while I was walking through."

"He's a cute one, isn't he?" Megan grinned at the bigger males.

"Pups are, it's a defense mechanism," the Liger grinned back down at her.

"And we grow up sexy." She snickered.

"I never said otherwise," he rumbled, squeezing her shoulder affectionately.

Kris just groaned. "What is it about canines and sex?"

"I think it's teenagers," Samson chuckled. "Canine or otherwise."

"Yeah, but the shifters aren't that bad. That's a horse and cat ... or maybe two horses. You can't be sure with Charlie." He shook his head and shut his mouth when he realized that most of the 'calm' pairings had a canine in them.

"Can't be sure about their ages either," Samson pointed out. "I've met people who were in their thirties you would swear weren't older than twelve."

"Yeah, Gaia did that a lot when she was first here. Her favorite shops wouldn't admit teenagers." He shrugged.

"What sort of shop would that be?" The Liger asked, cocking his head curiously.

"Toy shops." Megan piped up with a giggle.

"Sex toys." Kris amended with a shake of his head for the young canine.

"They have stores for those out here?" Samson asked, his eyes got wide for a moment while Megan cracked up.

"Yes. Mega-stores on occasion and do not even get Gaia or Sandy started on the internet shopping." The Black Lion shook his head his disbelief. "There are things ... lets just say, if you can think it up, it's available for sale. Usually from more than one place."

"Sounds like I'm going to be running into a lot of surprises," he chuckled slightly, shaking his head. Apparently this was something pretty well known.

"Sheltered life so far?" Kris asked curiously as they entered the grand dinning room with one large table and two smaller ones.

"Might say that," he nodded slightly, looking around the massive, richly appointed room. "More that some parts of it are still stuck about fifty years behind the times...."

"Might we well be a different planet, from what my parents said." Megan shook his head but spoke softly as she tried to assess all the looks they were getting from more breeds of people than she'd met in her life.

"You're both sitting at the Prof's table." Kris motioned to the largest and richest carved table with seating for sixteen. "It's tradition that the newbies sit with the teachers and us oldest students."

"A good way to get to know everybody in charge," Samson guessed quietly, looking at the large gathering and feeling slightly overwhelmed. There were enough people here to fill a small settlement!

"Everyone's ... like us?" Megan whispered.

"Yes, dear." Professor Jurnix's gentle voice came from behind them and the Foxbat guided them to sit next to each other and himself at the main table. "At one time we could all sit at the same table, but we have outgrown that custom."

"I can see why," Samson murmured softly. "It would have to be a very, very large table."

"And it would still make conversations involving everyone simply impractical." A big Lioness shook her head as Kris sat next to her. "I'm Sandy. Team leader for the action team."

"Otherwise known as the highest ranking student body member, even if none of us are students anymore." A dapple gray draft mare with icicle blue eyes chuckled. "I'm Gaia, her second."

"A pleasure to meet you both," Samson said politely, smiling a little weakly. "I'm Samson," he added by way of introduction.

"I'm Kelly Sanders, the school nurse, and my mate, Dr. Sandra Keller." A fluffy feline introduced herself and the Red Fox next to her. "The Isles into small groups?"

"Yes," he admitted, nodding a bit. "Something like this would be a major festival, in the village I grew up in. Probably a solid tenth of the people in all the isles here."

"Almost all like us?" Gaia's ears swiveled fully forward to focus on him.

"Yes," he nodded easily. This he'd been expecting. "To one degree or another, nearly everybody on the Isles is a mutant. The main exceptions are normal people who came in with family or lovers when they were first settled."

"That would make more mutants on the Isles than the rest of the world combined." Sandy's ears flattened in a shocked awe that was shared by much of the table.

"The Professor mentioned that earlier," Samson nodded softly. "The first colonists, my grandparents included, left about fifty years ago. It sounds like our leader at the time found most of the world's mutants at the time, and the population is still recovering."

"Then you're still on world?" Gaia focused on him with her unsettling eyes.

"Yes," he nodded, not too unsettled by her gaze, though it was definitely intense. "Not unless there's some sort of dimensional shift between us and the rest of the world that nobody's noticed. We're fairly well hidden, thanks to local tradition and our own measures."

"Sounds like it." SnapShot shook his head. "That'd be big news if it was known."

"Dangerous too," Lyal said softly. "Even if it wasn't for the anti-mutant people."

"So why have you come here?" Sandy asked curiously. "It's obviously not for training or a haven from the real world."

"That's a more complicated issue," Samson admitted, not entirely sure how much to say. "But we need some contact with the outside, and we were aware of the Professor's work. He seemed to be a good person to contact about it."

"A wise choice." Surauli inclined her head regally.

"You're not staying?" Megan looked at him with a bit of disappointment.

"I am for a while," the Liger said, flinching mentally. "And it might be quite a while. I'm not sure when I'll be heading back, and I might not be going for good when I do. There are a lot of reasons to stay out here," he said, smiling a bit at Megan, hoping it wasn't noticed too much by the others.

"Are you sure you two didn't come together?" The youngest resident piped up without any more regard for consequences than his sire usually managed. Samson blushed, and Ginny looked down at her son.

"Scott, be nice," she admonished, trying to keep back a giggle at the Liger's response and only got confusion and a little bit apologetic look from the black and white pup.

He looked between the giant newcomer, the decidedly bashful new canine and several other adults. "What did I say?"

"They didn't think they were being too obvious," Lyal stage-whispered to the pup, while Ginny tried to come up with some way to explain it. "We were gonna let 'em think that yet."

"So I'm going to have a playmate by next year?" He perked up hopefully, his fluffy tail wagging rapidly at Megan, who just about self-combusted, right along with the Liger who had gotten them into this increasingly awkward series of questions and answers. Lyal had to use all his self-control to keep from laughing out loud, and Charlie was doing his best to keep from snickering. Ginny, for her part, looked almost as embarrassed as Megan and Samson did.


"He's your son tonight," she whispered to SnapShot.

"That he is." The Boarder Collie snickered.

"Wha'd'I say this time?" Scott whined.

"I don't really think so," Samson managed to say, recovering a little faster than the others, whether from embarrassment or the innocent humor of the situation.

"Oh." Scott nodded, satisfied with the answer.

"Yeah, cats and dogs don't do that." Megan managed.

Sandra got her humor under control enough to nod. "Yes, they can only play, but there won't be any pup-kits from it."

"Oh." Scott nodded in partial understanding. "Not quite like mom and dad then?"

"No, not like mom and dad," Ginny agreed, rather hoping the subject could change fairly soon, but knowing better, by now, than to try forcing it yet.

"So tell us about this place you're from." Gaia gave everyone the opening for a clean start as the food arrived by telekinetics from the kitchen.

"Yes, the Isles," Samson nodded, grateful for the opening, apparently not at all phased by the floating food. Any preferences for where I start? History, the people, what it's like there?"

"What it's like." Megan piped up with apparent support from the black and white canines and the Lab sitting next to them.

"Just about as complicated," Samson chuckled. "Depends on who you ask, I suppose. We haven't focused on developing technology as much inside as out, for one thing. If you're addicted to television, then you'd probably hate it there. We have some radio, refrigeration, plumbing, and limited internet access, but a lot of the mass entertainment was left behind fifty years ago. If you're interested in a simpler place, it's almost a utopia. Sort of like a throwback to fishing villages about fifty, sixty years back. Assuming, of course," he chuckled, "that you could find a fishing village where everybody was a mutant, and wasn't worried about using their powers in public."

"A mixed blessing." Sandra served herself a portion of roast chicken. "Is medical technology as far behind as the rest?"

"In some ways, you might say it is, but not in others," Samson explained, waiting for everybody else to finish serving themselves first. "A number of antibiotics and medicines have been largely ignored, or are only brought in when they're needed. We have healers who can handle most diseases and injuries, and each generation is more and more resistant to being infected or hurt in the first place.

"On the other hand, medical technology to deal with reproductive issues, or mutation-specific issues, has advanced more quickly than what I've seen out here, as have sciences intended to make us more self-sufficient. With as many mutants as we have in the Isles, we have found one or two illnesses that seem to prey on mutant genetic structures, but they've been isolated and eliminated quickly."

"What do you do for fun?" SnapShot asked with honest curiosity.

"Reading, more 'old fashioned' things," he replied. "We've got some good actors, especially among our shifters. We have some sports too, including a flying variant of soccer that's rather... intense," the Liger grinned. "Just about anything somebody comes up with can be found somewhere, as long as you're not too likely to break your neck doing it."

"What's the catch?" Charlie asked cautiously. "Besides minimal entertainment tech, what's the down side of this place?"

"The big one is that we typically like being as isolated as we are. I'm the first person to actually leave in fifty years, and most new arrivals stay. Not that it's impossible to leave, just very uncommon."

"There's something else," Lyal said certainly, looking at the much larger feline curiously as Samson glanced at Professor Jurnix, not sure if he should bring up the potential powder keg of the breeding programs.

"Reproducing is held in extremely high regard." The Foxbat answered for him. "More than some of us will get along with."

"Doesn't sound like a fun place to be a male Liger." Sandra commented softly.

"Not particularly," Samson admitted. "Though in much the same way that it's not fun to be out of shape or otherwise unattractive. Being unable to reproduce doesn't make you a second-class citizen, just a poor prospect as a mate."

"What about unwilling to?" Charlie asked quietly, the shifter's gaze focused on Samson keenly. Given what the Liger knew, he thought it was an odd question; from what he'd gathered, Charlie was on the 'couldn't' list.

"Rape is as abhorrent there as anywhere else that's civilized," he answered, deciding that it must have been the main intent of the question. "Even for the purpose of reproduction, if not more so."

"And the price for being unwilling to breed?" Surauli asked levelly, her distain for the idea showing faintly in her steely composure.

This was definitely going to be something to warn Solomon about before any visits were paid to the Isles. Samson fought the urge to draw back behind his mental shields, reminding himself that the telepaths here weren't likely to be looking for more information, but would likely notice a reaction like that.

"It's unusual, but the matter is usually dropped with a request to consider AI, and possibly a surrogate mother. Some people might keep pressing it, but they're usually just convinced that somebody is playing 'hard to get.' They give up fairly quickly."

"Then there are no laws in place on the matter?" The regal Eagle pressed slightly.

Samson paused for a moment, then shook his head with a slight sigh.

"There are some," he admitted, "but focused on encouraging breeding with somebody who will have a child that has a chance of surviving to adulthood. With as many mutants as we have in the Isles, the medical issues required it. As far as I am aware, there has never been a case of somebody being forced to breed who didn't want to, or penalized for such a refusal."

"'Encourage?'" Charlie asked, the tone to his voice making it clear that his definition and Samson's were likely worlds apart, at least regarding this subject.

"Love." Gaia put a strong hand on her mate's arm. "He honestly does not believe any ill will is meant by this, as hurt as he has been by it. It is nothing like what they did to you."

"Sorry," the Clydesdale said after a moment, trying to calm down. "Been on the wrong end of something like that before."

"I understand," Samson nodded, "and I'm sorry. I didn't mean any offense, and all I meant by 'encourage' was just that. Nothing forced, no coercion, just trying to make it as easy and appealing as possible, without forcing it."

"It's not a concept that is well understood out here." Gaia told him softly. "It tends to be either forced or feared and discouraged. The number of children born here is evidence enough it's not exactly a subject we have much to do with."

"And it's a subject I wouldn't have brought up, honestly," Samson admitted. "For most of those reasons."

"It is better for it to have come out here." Sandy shook her head. "Where the reactions are controllable by non-violent means. As poorly as we take it on a whole, it would be much worse for it to have come out as a surprise while there ... or in more public surroundings."

"That would have been bad," the Liger agreed. "Even though we do have non-violent means of our own, having to use them on new arrivals never works out well."

"Doesn't exactly inspire the most trust in the world," Charlie agreed, calming down the rest of the way. "Even if somebody is overreacting to something."

"And having it come out in public could be disastrous," Samson nodded. "On the bright side, that's probably the most 'objectionable' part of life on the islands, to most."

"That or the lack of technology." Megan nodded. "It could be hard on the big city-types."

"Very," he agreed, chuckling slightly. "Though at least people aren't expected to start working the farms as soon as they arrive."

"A good thing." Kris scrunched his face.

"There are other jobs there, right?" Sandy focused on him.

"Oh yes," he smiled. "Basically, we can find a use for just about anybody. Teachers are valuable; particularly ones who are good at teaching and can pick up new subjects. Fishers, people who can handle manual labor and construction, the Peacekeepers, other jobs. I worked the farms mostly, thanks to my powers, and with the Peacekeepers as well. The most important thing is that you have some sort of skill, rather than that you be able to do something specific."

"What about changing specialties?" Jurnix asked as much from his own curiosity as what he was picking up from the others.

"It happens. It's not too common in the long term, but people don't do the same thing day in, day out. In the short term, you can't leave a critical job undone, but as long as you're a good worker, you can usually take a day or two off as long as you're not falling behind too much. In the long term, you're expected to find a replacement, but usually the settlement will let it slide if you just give them a little warning. The settlement leaders and Solomon, the leader of all the settlements, are the only people who can't just find somebody to take over for them and move on."

"Leadership is for life?" Surauli cocked her head slightly.

"No," Samson explained, shaking his head, "but since they can be crucial positions, it's not as simple a matter to leave. So far, our leaders have been for life, but if they were to choose to retire, they would have to wait until a qualified replacement could be found. In Solomon's case, until a new leader could be elected from the current settlement leaders."

"How open is he looking to make the Isles?" Sandy asked.

"That's something I'm not sure of," the Liger admitted. "I doubt we would be opening up to tourism, but I suspect that new arrivals would be more welcome, along with more trade with the outside. Possibly bring the local tech up a bit more. But given the complexities of letting the world know there's a large, well-trained community of mutants...."

"Is so what the PR department doesn't need on the front page right now." Sandy nodded. "I was thinking more about open to mutants ... a vacation spot or something for those who are friendly to it."

"It's possible," he nodded. "The biggest problem with something like that, of course, is security. If the rest of the world doesn't know about us, and mutants disappear for a week or two for their vacations, somebody's likely to ask about what's going on."

"That is a level of big brother monitoring that just doesn't exist." Gaia shook her head. "Besides, we do it anyway."

"Family and friends wouldn't be curious where you'd spent your vacation?" Samson asked curiously. "Or was the intent mostly for mutants from the Academy here?"

"I was thinking about us initially. The few of us who still have family and friends outside of those here have those people fairly well trained not to ask too many questions about what goes on."

"That would likely be fine," he smiled. "Something new to us, but I can't think of anything they'd have against it. At the very least, I can guarantee that we would be willing to act as a sanctuary for any mutants who needed to... disappear... for some reason. We've been doing so for years."

"At least those who are not disruptive to society or dangerous." Jurnix asked with the statement.

"The question of current behavior has always been more important to us than past," Samson said quietly. "If somebody came to us who was actively homicidal, that would be a problem; if they had been disruptive in the outside world but there was no sign that they would be so in the Isles... well, mutants have often been considered disruptive by their very nature, as we are all aware."

"True," he inclined his head. "How do you handle those with desire for power or to control the Isles?"

"If they're competent, and not too ambitious, they've got a shot at having power," Samson explained. "At least to a limited level. We haven't had to deal with somebody trying to take power since the earliest days of the Isles, though. One of the early colonists tried to take power from our leader at the time. He found that it really doesn't pay to try a violent takeover from a popular leader in a settlement of mutants, even if you are stronger. That's one of five cases where a criminal was killed in the Isles," he added softly. "Though not as a penalty; there was no choice. They founded the Peacekeepers after that."

"One per decade is a very good record." Gaia nodded thoughtfully. "Why were you chosen as the first ambassador?"

"Solomon and I are old friends, and he came to me with the offer," the Liger chuckled. "As he put it, he could be sure I wasn't going to spread the word about what I was doing, and that I could take care of myself in a worst-case scenario."

"Always a good thing." Chester nodded.

"So what kind of diplomatic authority do you have?" Gaia prompted.

"At this point, more information than ability to promise anything," Samson admitted. "I was mostly meant to come here and gather information about whether or not it's safe to consider becoming more public. Make initial contact with Professor Jurnix, and other possible allies if there were any."

"Sounds like we'll be paying a visit to the Isle fairly soon." Sandy mused, to which Jurnix nodded.

"Solomon's looking forward to it," the Liger smiled. "I imagine he would have tried to make contact himself first, but he didn't know any way to contact the Professor via telepathy from that sort of range."

"Yes, Rasputin and I did not part with a plan in effect." The Foxbat nodded. "I admit I never anticipated the numbers who would follow him even existed then, or that he would succeed so well. I wish he had survived to meet me again."

"The idea of a safe homeland, where there wasn't any shame in being a mutant, was a powerfully appealing one," Samson agreed. "And though I didn't know him very well, I think he would have enjoyed meeting you again too, especially if he had known of your progress. More than any of our records indicate he had ever thought possible in the outside world."

"It is admittedly much slower going, and much, much more dangerous." Jurnix consented. "But the same thing that has brought you here is what I could not turn my back on. We are of this world and sooner or later, we must learn how to exist within its realities."

"Something I doubt Rasputin ever truly acknowledged," Samson admitted. "Especially once things were progressing well."

"What does everybody else there think?" Lyal asked curiously. "If the guy who led them there thought they should stay away from the rest of the world, what will they think about letting it know they're there?"

"That is something that will vary widely," the Liger said softly. "I just hope not too widely. The last thing we need would be some sort of civil war over this. It's definitely not an over night project."

"Such drastic changes in a social structure rarely are." Jurnix nodded. "Is there a plan in effect to explain our presence?"

"We already have some trade with the outside. Once people realize who you are, the easiest explanation would be that we're thinking of expanding it, and you're interested in seeing the progress we've made, given your interest in the early stages of the Exodus. There might be some people who would be a little paranoid about it, but no more than they are about getting refrigeration units from the mainland."

"And it is not a falsehood, merely not all the information." Jurnix nodded in satisfaction.

"Just be ready for a little mistrust, especially from the telepaths who run the Screens. They're the most isolationist members we have; I think it's a part of their jobs."

"Screens?" Lyal asked curiously.

"Our main 'defense system,'" Samson explained. "Telepathic broadcasts that keep most normal people from thinking about coming to the Isles."

"A system I expect is both very effective and with a few key weaknesses." Jurnix nodded easily. "It does explain why I never noticed such a mutant concentration before. Such shielding would work against even me, as long as I wasn't actively trying to counter it."

"And could go down with even a single telepath turning against us," Samson said softly. "One of the reasons we pick ones who aren't inclined to see the Isles become more public. But with a little help to show you where we are, Solomon thinks you should be able to contact him telepathically. You two should be able to set up a meeting from there."

"I am sure it is possible." He agreed easily. "Even simple once I have met him."

"Most likely," the Liger agreed. "Familiarity can make range a far less critical issue, especially since you both have telepathic gifts. Oh, one thing I think I should mention, before anybody goes to the Isles. Don't be surprised to find that a goodly number of the people there have some level of mental shielding up most of the time. We've had a couple new telepaths think we were being rude," he chuckled.

"I understand." He nodded easily. "I am looking forward to visiting. This alliance should prove advantageous for both of us."

"We'll be happy to help however we can," Samson nodded with a smile. "This is going to be an interesting several months, at least, for both our homes."

"It usually is." SnapShot chuckled and tried not to fidget with a fully belly and empty plate. "At least around here."

"Yeah," Charlie agreed with a chuckle, finishing his own dinner and sitting back a bit. "But then, I don't really think it'd be the same any other way."

"Would you mind helping me unpack?" Megan asked with a nearly innocent face as she walked on Samson's arm back towards their rooms.

"You have a decidedly one-track mind," he chuckled, picking her up easily and nuzzling her as he carried her the rest of the way up to her room. "Not that I'm complaining."

"Good," she giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Might want to grab a fresh sets of clothes from your room first." She winked at him.

"Maybe while you get your door open and start sorting?" He suggested, setting her down a little reluctantly as they reached her room. "I'll be right over," he smiled down at her.

"Sure," she nodded and made a well-practiced move that fished a set of keys three keys and a small pocket knife from an inside pocket in her skirt's waistband and unlocked the door. "Maybe paranoid, but my laptop's too valuable to trust unattended to strangers yet."

"Not paranoid at all," Samson chuckled. "Though I just remembered, I haven't really had a chance to get any extra clothes yet. Something distracted me this afternoon."

"Sorry." She grinned without any real regret and turned on toe to shut and lock the door behind him. "Do you have money to go shopping for clothes?"

"Not yet?" He said sheepishly. "I'm afraid I was traveling rather light, and money isn't something we really bother with in the Isles."

"That is really light." She blinked and almost instinctively pulled a padded black case to put her laptop together with it's separate mouse and find the power and LAN plug in she knew was around.

"Wasn't sure how long the trip would be, or if I'd be staying," Samson admitted. "Plus, being the size I am, finding them is probably going to be tricky. I'd been planning on getting measured so I knew where to start looking tomorrow."

"Mmm, you have a point." She nodded and clicked the laptop on after finding all the plugs. "Probably even the big and tall shops would be hard pressed to find stock for you."

"One advantage of learning how to sew," he chuckled, watching her set up her computer curiously. "Everything work?"

"So far." She nodded after a glance at the screen as it was booting. "Would you put the stuff in here in the nightstands?" She pointed to her backpack on the bed. "While I get my books?"

"Sure," he nodded, not sure what she'd have in the bag, but moving to start packing it anyway. He pulled a thick binder out, turning to look at her over his shoulder.

"Shouldn't this be in with your...." He trailed off as he caught the rest of the contents of the backpack out of the corner of his eye, and looked back at the relatively wide collection of dildoes, scarves, feathers, obviously adult DVD's, and other things he simply had no idea what to call that were under the binder.

"Oh, yes." She smiled and padded over easily to take it from him. "I think I stuck a couple DVDs in there too. They didn't fit in the tote bags. Just leave them on the bed, 'kay?"

"Uhm, right," he said, not really moving for a moment as the strangeness of the situation sunk in. "These are all yours?" He asked, recovering enough to take the DVD's out and set them on the bed, half-forgetting just what he was supposed to do with the rest of it for a moment.

"Yap." She nodded easily then looked at him more steadily over her shoulder. "Don't even know what half of it is, do you?" She asked more quietly.

"If that much," he admitted. "You're talking to the 26 year-old virgin, remember?"

"Sorry," she said gently and came over. "I was playing with toys before I had a guy."

"How did you get your hands on a ... collection like this?" He asked, more curious than anything else. "I seem to remember you and Kris mentioning there were age limits at the assorted stores?"

"Liberal parents are a wonderful thing." She grinned. "My money paid for most of it, they actually ordered them."

"That works," he admitted. "You wanted these in the nightstand then?"

"Yes, I like them in easy reach." She nodded easily and nuzzled his side. "Unless you find something interesting."

"I wouldn't even know what to do with most of them," he said, blushing deeply. Do you ... want me to find something?"

"No," she shook her head. "If you don't already know what to do with them, it's not really the time to introduce them."

"Okay," he nodded, feeling just a little relieved as he started putting them away for her. He was sure he wasn't imagining her watching her reaction to what she saw as she went back to putting her clothes away.

"Care to watch a video?" She rumbled and slid up behind him to run against his ass and hips.

"Why not?" He asked, looking behind himself to smile at her a little uncertainly. It was probably the safest place to start, and he'd have to start somewhere at this rate. He reached back, rubbing her sides gently.

"Don't be so apprehensive." She nuzzled his hand. "I'll keep it to nice, simple soft het porn."

"Sorry," he blushed, turning and kneeling so he was closer to her level. "Just nervous."

"Why?" Megan's voice was soft, gentle ... almost motherly ... as she took his face in her hands and kissed him lightly. "We can just snuggle if you want. No video, no toys ... even dressed if it's an issue right now."

"It isn't," he smiled, returning the kiss gently. "Just feels like I'm still trying to catch up with the rest of the world since I left; I'll be okay. You're incredible, you know that?"

"Thanks," she ducked her head and blushed slightly. "It's just I'm not out to make you uncomftorable, okay? I like you. I've just never played with anyone who didn't know at least as much as I did."

"I know you're not," he smiled, nuzzling her lightly. "And I like you too, a lot. I'll try catching up," he added, rubbing her sides gently, "it just might take me a little."

"No problem," she smiled easily and snuggled close. "Just don't be shy about telling me if you don't want to do something, okay? Not everybody ever gets interested in everything. Nothing wrong with it either."

"Okay," he nodded. "What sort of things are you interested in?" He asked curiously, moving to sit on the bed and offering his lap to her and found it quickly full of snuggly Collie.

"In general or just sexy-stuff?"

"Both," he chuckled. "I wanted to get to know you better, remember?" He held her close, relaxing more easily now.

"Okay," she paused to think about it. "Well, I like technology." She made a general motion towards the entertainment center setup and her laptop. "I'm a city-girl, big time, and I like it. I like the shopping, the stuff to do, all the people around, the buildings and activity and life. But what really fascinates and hooks me in are the dead cities. The ones that don't have people to tell their story anymore. I love being able to tell those stories and being the first person in centuries or even millennia to touch an object."

"Sounds like the Isles won't really be your thing for a while," he murmured. "Did I tell you about the site we ran across lately?"

"A little, I think." She smiled shyly. "It's been a really wild couple of days for me. Ruins from a previous inhabitation of the Isles?""

"Yeah," he nodded. "Don't know much about them, but if you do decide to come along, you'd probably be interested. Good chance of getting in; we don't have many people who even come close to specializing in something like that."

"I'm hardly a specialist," she blushed in denial. "I'm barely an educated armature. But I am interested."

"That puts you ahead of a lot of us," he chuckled. "We have more linguists than anything else there, who don't know much more than what we managed to sort out from a handful of texts. No archaeologists who joined the Exodus."

"Well, if you can con them into accepting a pup as head archeologist, I'm hardly going to complain." She grinned and nuzzled him. "Especially if you're around at night to snuggle with."

"I could at least talk them into letting you in to help," he smiled, nuzzling her back and laying back with her on top of him and felt her sigh contentedly. "And I think snuggling can be arranged. That, I'm definitely up for."

"Good," Megan murmured and nuzzled his chest. "Are you having second thoughts about what we did?" She asked softly.

"Only the timing," he said softly, rubbing her back and side tenderly. "And not really regretting it," he added.

"Good," she smiled with a happy murmured. "Fewer clothes, under the covers and maybe a nap?" She suggested with a stifled yawn. "It's been a hell of a day."

"Works for me," he smiled, reaching down to start undoing her top. "Sleep well, beautiful."

The great Liger shuddered in his sleep, his body responding instinctively to what was being done to it by a skilled pair of hands and a hungry mouth. He rumbled, groaning a bit as he started to wake up, reaching down towards Megan sleepily to rub her neck and shoulders while she worked his balls in her mouth, lavishing them with a level of attention she'd only paid his cock the day before.

He could hear, smell, almost taste that her happy eagerness was much stronger than her pure arousal that made his nose twitch.

"Oh, Megan," he groaned, his cock throbbing, his balls twitching at the attention. He looked down at her, his breath quickening and watched her move up his body to take the tip of his cock into her mouth and pressed her breasts around it's base, encasing the sensitive skin in warmth, wet and fur that moved up and down with purposeful slowness. He swallowed hard, watching raptly as she slid her breasts up and down his shaft. The feel of her soft fur along the sensitive flesh was almost as intense as the feel of her mouth around his spongy, throbbing head, dribbling pre-cum into her hungry mouth.

He moaned inadvertently when she let his cock go to turn around and straddle his chest. Her tail draped thick and rich in her arousal scent along his shoulder, giving him a partial view of her wet nether lips as they pulsed and twitched in pleasure.

Then her mouth was on him again, taking him much further into the hot wetness of her mouth while her hands rubbed the unattended shaft. He leaned forward, inhaling her scent, but not quite able to reach her with his tongue. Instead, he moved a hand to rub her slick pussy-lips, parting them and tracing a thick finger around her tight entrance. It amazed and somewhat worried him that she would want something as large as his cock in there. It didn't seem large enough for his finger to get in.

Her moans around the head of his cock were encouraging though; as was the way her body trembled and twitched at his touch with fresh desire. His own shaft twitched eagerly in her mouth as he carefully pressed his smallest finger against her tight entrance. Gently, slowly, he started stretching her with it, groaning as she kept up the attention to his throbbing cock.

It wasn't long before he had his finger sliding in and out of the tight, slick heat and it's rippling muscles that nearly drove him over the edge just thinking about what it would feel like around the much more sensitive extremity it was intended to take in. He was breathing hard when her mouth slipped away from his shaft, her moans filling the space between them as her body took a life of its own. Her hips rocked, moving her hard clit threw his soft fur as her body began to tremble with the growing, twitching lightning heat that radiated from her womb out to every corner of her body.

He sped up the thrusts he was making with his finger, the scent and feel of her pleasure pushing him ever closer to the edge.

"Me-Megan," he gasped between her whimpering cries, "not long...."

"Second finger." She managed to say as her hands clutched against his thighs, not trusting her own body enough to try and pleasure him directly. He wasn't sure how she could take it, but he fought against the pleasure building inside him, the aching feel of his balls wanting to empty themselves, as he pressed a second finger into her as carefully as he could, spreading her until he almost thought she was going to split in two.

It was rewarded by a howling cry as she lost her battle with control and every muscle in her body tightened at once, the ones around his fingers fluttering in a contraction pattern that went straight to his cock even before the scent of her orgasm reached his nose.

It was more than enough to push him over, his seed jetting out as he roared, spurting onto Megan's muzzle and painting her blue-gray fur with streaks of pearly white cum. What didn't stick to her fur fell onto his own as he sank his fingers as deeply into her as possible.

Megan gasped, twitched and whimpered under the shower of seed and intensity unleashed by her own body. As many times as she experienced it, she doubted it would ever be less than mind-blowingly intense as she drew in a few calming breaths between reflexive shudders.

"That was a wakeup call I can learn to look forward to," Samson murmured, after he'd taken a few moments to recover, his fingers still inside Megan's body.

"Me too." She licked her muzzle clean before going to work on his fur. "And if that's your fingers, your cock is going to be just incredible."

"Either that or split you in two," he chuckled, though he was a little worried deeper down. He pulled his fingers out of her, licking them off before rubbing her hips, groaning some as she cleaned him off.

"I've taken a Zebra, I can take you." She giggled and drew herself up and around to sprawl across his chest facing him. "It's supposed to be tight."

"You're just lucky my barbs never came in," he rumbled, kissing her tenderly. "That could be painful." He held her close, sighing contentedly at the feel of her warmth and weight on top of him.

"It takes some getting used to, yeah." She nuzzled him. "I doubt I'd be game to take you in if they had. At least not without some serious lube."


"Oh, boy." Megan shook her head with a low chuckle. "It's a jel that eases the passage of things, like a rough or too-big cock. It's used a lot more for anal sex but it's good for any kind that the natural amount isn't enough."

"Ah, that would be the tubes you had in with your toys then?" He chuckled, blushing a little. "That would explain a few things." He rubbed her back lightly, hoping she wouldn't ask for more details there.

"Yes, those are the tubes I have." She nodded. "What did you think they were for?"

"I wasn't sure I should ask," he admitted sheepishly, nuzzling her nose lightly. "One looked like it was supposed to be cherry something, figured I should keep quiet before I wound up basted."

"Not that it doesn't sound delicious, but that's not what that one is for." She giggled and grinned at him affectionately. "That one is a message oil. It makes a passable lube, but it's much better at warming someone up."

"I have got a lot to learn, I think," he chuckled, holding her close. "And a very sexy teacher to help me do so."

"While I have a very sexy and delicious student to teach." Megan grinned and nuzzled his chest. "Hopefully undo some of that damage your society did before you go back."
"If you decide to stay here, I might not go back for long," he rumbled softly. "Especially if all goes well between here and there. You... really didn't like the idea of me going back?"

"No I don't." She said without apology. "No matter what you believe of their innocence in the matter, they've hurt you badly with their values and I don't like seeing anything go back to a bad situation. Especially when there's an option. And you have an option."

"They're also my people, and my home," he said softly. "I might be a bit of an outsider there, Megan, but that is something I have to think about. I'm still more one of them, than somebody from out here. I'll think about it, and I don't know if I'd go back for good even now, but I am going to go back some day, even if only for a little while."

"I didn't mean you should never see it again," she softened and brushed his cheek with the back of her fingers. "Visiting a place is different from going back to live there. It's the living there that hurt you, not what would come up visiting. And in the end it is your choice and I'm not going to hate you or anything either way. I just don't think it's in your best interests to live there until you are much more self assured and past the problems not being able to sire kits has created for you."

"That I can see," he agreed quietly. "Or until they've got the tech that would make it a non-issue perfected. Still might not live there, but that's something worth going back for long enough to see if it would work for me, if I had a mate at the time."

"I'm quite sure you'll be able to find one." She snuggled him. "You're handsome with a fine body, a wonderful personality and a lot more going for you. Those are qualities I'd want in a mate and a lot of girls I know are the same. Hell, a lot of guys would love to have someone like you interested in them."

"That was attention I did occasionally get back home," he mused, mostly to keep from blushing at the praise. "At least I think it was, from watching the guys who were together last night. Not my thing though, really." He nuzzled her lightly, thinking about it.

"Given it's a pairing where reproduction isn't an issue, I'm not surprised. You're probably one of very few on the Isles that wouldn't bring up having kids every few years."

"So you think I'd be good mate material too? Rather than just playmate," he added.

"So far, yeah, I think you're stellar mate material." She smiled softly at him. "You really are much more of a catch than you think."

"You'd better be careful, or I'll start believing it," he chuckled slightly, smiling back at her. "My head's big enough as it is." Despite the flippant response, she could see how much it meant to him to hear somebody say that.

"If I'm not careful, some Ligeress will steal you off." She chuckled, half joking, half quite serious.

"I very much doubt that," he rumbled quietly. "Even if I met one." That did bring up one issue though, one he wasn't quite sure how to bring up to her. "Megan? What do you think of monogamy, in general? I know it's supposed to be the norm around here, pretty much."

"Honestly? I haven't thought about it much." She admitted fairly easily. "I'm big on partner loyalty; it's how I was raised. But I think I'm bi and I haven't really gotten into a situation where it was an issue yet. I play around, but I haven't had a real boyfriend yet. Just friends I play with."

"Understood," he nodded easily, rubbing her back. "Am I in that group too?" He asked, curious about just where he stood more than worried about what the answer she gave him might be.

"Haven't really thought about it, but I'd like that." She smiled and nuzzled him. "I like being around you, great sex aside."

"I'm glad," he smiled, nuzzling her affectionately. "I like being around you too; you're a hell of a woman."

That managed to make her blush. "Getting there, maybe." She ducked her head. "I kinda need to finish high school first."

"Young woman then," he smiled, brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "You're still incredible."

"You bring out the best in me," she nuzzled the hand touching her face. "I like that."

"It's not hard to bring out," he smiled, kissing her lightly. "And you do the same to me."

"Good." She nuzzled him and ran her hands along his chest. "Care for shower games before breakfast?"

"As long as it doesn't take as long as last night to actually stay clean," he chuckled, blushing a bit. "We need breakfast, and I have to get fitted for clothes."

"I think we can manage that." Megan grinned and kissed him. "Not that you don't look great without them."

"Yes, but I imagine there would be complaints if I left the room without them," he smirked, kissing her back. "That much is the same as back home."

"Only by those who aren't too busy ogling at the view." She winked. "Which I think is about half the school."

"Yes, but between the half that wouldn't be, and the fact that at least part of it is the people in charge, I think it's better if I am dressed at least most of the time I'm in public," he chuckled, shaking his head and sitting up. "Besides, you seemed interested in making sure I had more than the one outfit last night."

"Of course." She grinned mischievously. "Didn't you know that some clothing can be more sexy than none at all?"

"If you think you're getting me to wear a negligee, you are definitely going to be disappointed," he said firmly, though the grin on his face said he definitely wasn't serious - at least not about thinking that was what she meant.

"Ewww," she scrunched her face up. "That is so not my thing. There's stuff for guys though, masculine and sexy as hell."

"Let's work on something along the lines of street clothes first," he chuckled, shaking his head. "Or else they'll get the feeling we're never going to get out of our rooms again."

"I can think of worse fates." Megan winked at him and licked his nose spontaneously. "Let's get a show, handsome." She rolled off his chest with a squeeze along his half hard cock. He groaned slightly, sat up and picked her up off the bed easily, nuzzling her as he carried her towards the shower.

"So can I," he chuckled, closing the door behind them.

A couple hours later, Megan and Samson were finishing breakfast. Samson looked up as he finished off a plate of fruit and bacon, trying to spot Gaia. If she was in charge of the student body, it made sense she'd know where to go for his fitting, and to find out what they could do about his stripes. He saw her walking over to the two of them, and set his plate a bit more towards the middle of the table, turning to meet her when she reached them.

"Ready to get some clothes?" The dapple grey equine greeted him with a smile.

"Definitely," he smiled, standing and picking up his plate, looking down at her. "I could definitely use something fresh to wear."

"Despite that looking way too clean for extended wear." Megan grinned at him and gulped down the last couple bites of her meal and stood.

"I'm resourceful," he chuckled. "Do we drop these off somewhere," he asked, indicating the empty plates, "or leave them here?"

"In the kitchen." Gaia chuckled and motioned them to follow. "Just leave them in the dirty dishes bit and the staff'll deal with it."

"All right," Samson nodded, the two of them following after her and dropping off their dishes quickly.

"So," the Liger asked, "where to next?"

"Your quarters, most likely." She chuckled. "You'll need to strip to dye your fur."

"The dye first, then clothes?" He asked easily, figuring she had a better idea what to do than he did.

"It'll give a better idea what will go well with your colors to have your colors set." She nodded easily. "Have you given any thought to what you want? A solid black, recolor your stripes black or cinnamon-ish, a solid Lion gold."

"I think just darkening my stripes will be the easiest way to go," Samson said after a moment's thought. "After all, I'm not trying to hide that I'm a Liger, just a mutant." He paused with a blink, then shook his head, chuckling slightly at the ease with which he'd said something that was such an alien concept to him. Maybe he was adjusting faster than he'd expected to.

"No problem," Gaia nodded as they headed upstairs with a stop by her quarters to grab a handbag without a commonent about Megan following like a love struck puppy. "Black or cinnamon?"

"Black," he said easily. "Probably easier to make work, and it blends in better most of the time."

"All true," she nodded. "Are you ticklish or touch-shy?"

"Not as far as I know," he answered, shaking his head. "I take it this is going to be something I need help to maintain?"

"Unless you're a very skilled telekinetic or can otherwise dye the base of your tail and neck, help would likely be quite useful."

"I don't think that'll be a problem." Megan snickered.

"Reaching my neck could be," Samson pointed out to her, which made Megan burst out in giggles and Gaia only just control hers. "Which means I'll probably need the help, at least unless I figure out an alternative at some point."

"She meant finding the help won't be a problem," the big mare translated.

"I meant help that could get up that high," Samson chuckled, shaking his head slightly.

"Oh yea of little faith." Megan smirked. "What do you think chairs and beds are for?"

"We'll see," he chuckled, his long, thick tail waving behind him. "A little work, I might be able to find a way to handle it myself. Less dye on the furniture that way."

"It's dry-apply dye." Gaia shook her head with a chuckle. "Easily removed with another gel."

"It's a dry apply gel, removed by another." Gaia chuckled. "It's not very messy and is weather resistant."

"That would make it a lot easier," Samson mused. "Didn't know there was anything like that that wouldn't rub off too easily."

"There is out here, but it's also useful out here, by us and the entertainment industry that originally developed it."

"So it's not a natural dye," he guessed, nodding slightly.

"What do you mean by 'not natural'?" Gaia cocked her head at him and let the Liger open his own door.

"Chemically based, synthetic instead of plant based, for example," he clarified, opening the door and stepping aside politely.

"A little of both," Gaia chuckled. "I believe it's a plant base, but it's had the hell processed out of it in the meantime. Much like most things out here."

"That would explain why I don't know anything about them," he nodded, chuckling a little himself. "I know most of the plant-based dyes in the area."

"So quickly?" Megan blinked in surprise and hopped up to sit cross- legged on the bed with her fluffy tail around her knees.

"Okay, strip." Gaia instructed easily and opened her bag on the bed.

"My gift," he explained, starting to strip down easily once the door was closed. "I'm good with plants and animals, so when I find a new place, I 'ask around,' so to speak."

"The makes sense," Gaia nodded and double-checked her assessment of his measurements while Megan just grinned and tried not to jump him. "Have you had any exposure to modern fashion?"

"Very, very little," he admitted, trying to hold still as she took the measurements she needed. "Besides what I've seen here, at least. Fashion changes a lot from one place to the next."

"Are you interested in being fashionable?" The big mare asked easily and stepped around in front of him to flow into a black stripped Liger of very similar appearance, except for the stripes.

"Hot damn." Megan breathed threw a tight throat.

"Fairly accurate?" Gaia asked them both in a distinctly male voice.

"Very," Samson nodded, impressed at how close she was, and curious just what Megan was responding to with the change in her voice. "The stripes are different, but that's about all. Though I'm not honestly interested in fashionable, as much as being able to move easily, myself. If the two intersect, so much the better."

"The standard request around here." Gaia chuckled and flowed back to her natural, and clothed, form. "Have you met the concept of the supermall yet?"

"No, I haven't," he admitted, chuckling slightly. "Though I suspect it will prove rather educational when I do."

"Most likely," she nodded with an amused look at the puppy trying not to hyperventilate. "Ready to work on your stripes?"

"I think so," he nodded, glancing over at Megan and trying not to ask if she was ready for it. "It should set fairly quickly?"

"Not as fast as turning you black, but not too long." She nodded and picked up tube of gel. She applied a small strip of the dark brown stuff along the center of a green stripe on his arm, then rubbed it in along the stripe.

He held still easily as she started rubbing in the dye, shifting only as necessary to let her reach any stripes his body hid. He resisted the urge to look, letting his curiosity wait until later.

It progressed fairly quickly, though still took the better part of two hours, while Megan watched with varying degrees of self-control keeping her on the bed and dressed.

"Okay, give that another twenty minutes to set, then a shower to rinse off the extra." Gaia instructed. "Feel free to test it for durability afterwards." She winked at Megan, who grinned back.

"Thank you," Samson smiled, finally blushing some as Gaia started out of the room. "Are you sure you'll be able to last twenty minutes more?" He asked Megan, chuckling as the door opened.

"I'm just going to have to," she chuckled, causing Gaia to pause at the door before opening it. "Unless you like to watch...."

"I think we can probably find something that wouldn't mess up my fur, if we had to," he blushed, glancing at the dapple-gray horse, realizing she was still in the room.

"Or someone to play with," Megan looked over at Gaia with a playful grin that was returned with more than a bit of mischievousness.

"If you two like," Samson agreed, blushing even deeper. "I can go wait in the other room."

"You never mentioned he was this delightfully innocent." Gaia grinned and allowed her form to flow into the muscular Liger so similar to Samson.

"The invite was to watch us play, handsome." Megan grinned at him and sprawled out on his bed invitingly. "For twenty minutes."

"And join afterwards if it appeals." Gaia added with a grin and a raised eyebrow at Megan before shifting form again into a Tervueren male with its traditional long silky fur and black to golden tan saddle markings.

"I think I'll pass on that one... or pass out," the Liger murmured, almost sitting down as his brain tried to keep up with what was going on. "Are you two sure?"

"As long as you don't mind." Gaia smiled warmly at him and scanned a little deeper to make sure it was okay.

"Not at all," he said, shaking his head, that much certain inside of it as he watched the naked canine approach Megan, both their sheaths warming with the flow of blood in response to her hot scent and wanton sprawl on the Liger's bed. He swallowed hard, trying to control his arousal as he watched them. There was something about watching this, being allowed to watch the two canines, and knowing what was likely to come.

Okay ... bad choice of words, maybe.

But it wasn't a bad choice to stay and take the pair up on the offer. Fantasies were one thing, but to watch a telepath take full advantage of their gift when pleasuring their partner and the voyeur ... that was something else.

He had no doubt that's what Gaia was doing as the large black and golden-tan male knelt on the bed and drew Megan up so her back was against his chest. Strong, sure hands moved over the Border Collie's body; teasing, exploring, humoring the moans of pleasure as Megan put on a show for her lover.

He blushed, suspecting a good amount of it was for his benefit. He rubbed his leg unconsciously. His eyes roamed both their forms, but mostly Megan's, who was still dressed. Gaia's hands were making good use of the fact that Megan habitually didn't wear anything under her short skirt and her loose shirt came up easily to reveal glimpses of firm, round breasts and the pink nipples that poked out from long marbled gray fur.

"Like this, baby?" Gaia breathed hotly in Megan's ear, her male voice husky with desires, her own and those of both of the others in the room. It had its own intensity to open herself up like this.

"Oh, yes." She shuddered and tipped her head back to lay it along Gaia's long muzzle and powerful neck. "Wanna tie."

"Anything you want, beautiful." Gaia grinned and nuzzled the exposed neck before she slipped her fingers between Megan's legs to lightly tease the swollen lips there. "It'll keep you still till that handsome creature can sate you himself."

"Oh ... it won't be too soon." Megan shuddered and spread her legs further apart, her hips rocking to press those teasing fingers against slick, sensitive skin. "You haven't seen him."

"I will soon," Gaia rumbled and licked along Megan's neck before lowering her hips to bring her cock forward, sliding it along Megan's lower lips enticingly until the Collie whimpered and cried out in the wordless agony of desire. "Do you see him? Do you see how hot this makes him, watching you in such a state?"

"Just fuck me already." Megan cried out and pulled her body forward, her hips thrust above her shoulders and her legs spread far apart while she shamelessly rubbed her crotch against the handsome dog behind her, not caring in the least that her sweater top was only pulled halfway off her chest and her skirt was still on, only pushed up on her back.

Her arms forward, her head flat on the bed and her hips and tail thrust high in the air. Megan looked for all the world like she was bowing, prostrating herself to Samson while she offered her body up to the canine body behind her.

Samson barely heard the whimpering growls that came from his own throat as he watched Megan take the larger canine's cock inside her with a cry of pure pleasure. The way her body, her breasts and hips, rocked forward with each thrust that wrenched another sound of needy desire from her throat. Sounds that soon became recognizable.

She was calling his name with each thrust her playmate made. A name called in ecstasy and desire.

Gods he wanted to answer her, do what she wanted him to, be with her like that. The obvious pleasure Gaia was taking from it certainly didn't discourage him in the least. It took all his self control to only move over and caress Megan's face gently, lovingly, not really sure what else he could do at this point.

"Kiss me," she gasped in demand between the whimpers of carnal pleasure as her body began to tremble in the radiating waves of overwhelming pleasure that were beginning to take over her self control. He leaned down, kneeling to kiss her deeply, groaning into her mouth as he inhaled the mixed arousal scents filling the room and the way her body moved with each thrust from behind.

Her mouth molded against his, her moans reverberating against his with each sound. Then from above and behind her, Gaia's pleasure began to build to intolerable levels. The liger reached down, caressing Megan's breasts tenderly, knowing it wouldn't be long before the two of them tied, or before they came afterwards, and wanting to be as close as he could when it happened.

He felt as much as heard Gaia thrust forward harder than usual as she pressed the swollen knot at the base of her cock into Megan's body and locked the pair of them together for a time while they shuddered and howled with the peak of their mating.

His own body was screaming for release by the time Megan relaxed, panting for breath, with Gaia along her back and half supporting the smaller canine. Samson took the rest of her weight easily, holding back, trying to calm himself along with the other two, kissing Megan again heatedly.

"Gods that was hot," he rumbled softly.

"That mean we can play together again sometime?" Megan grinned at him and relaxed in his arms, not caring about the slight smears she was making in his fur, not that he was particularly concerned with them either.

"As long as Gaia doesn't mind," he chuckled, kissing her again and looking back at the shapeshifter. "I'm not the jealous type."

"I would have never stuck around if either of you or my mate were." Gaia smiled back. "But you're mussing up your stripes."

"Guess it hasn't been twenty minutes yet," he said sheepishly, trying to shift a bit to keep the damage to a minimum. "Hopefully touching them up afterwards won't be a problem."

"No, it just means a bit of cleaning off and reapplication." She explained easily between deep breaths and gently rolled to her side, pulling Megan down in the process to face Samson. "And another twenty minute wait."

"Somehow, I doubt anybody minds too much, especially if it goes the same way the last one did," he chuckled.

"With less touching on your part." Gaia chuckled and nuzzled the canine locked with her flesh. "Or we'll never get to the shopping."

"I'll behave," he blushed deeply. "Even if it isn't easy, with you two. Especially you," he rumbled, kissing Megan playfully.

She grinned at him, then over her shoulder at the canine she was tied to.

"You know, if he was restrained he couldn't mess up his stripes, but I can still have some fun with him."

"Oh my, now that sounds delicious beyond words." Gaia rumbled deep in her male chest. "If the handsome Liger is willing."

"Restrained?" He asked somewhat dubiously, looking at the two of them. "Just how 'restrained' are we talking?"

"A little silk to keep those hands from getting you into trouble with the dye," Megan grinned at him. "Only way I can expect you to stay still while you get off."

"Just the hands?" He asked, wanting to be sure he knew what he was getting into here, relaxing a bit though. "At least like that?"

"That's all I can think of needing to be kept in check." She grinned encouragingly. "It's not like your claws couldn't cut you loose if you really wanted to."

"Assuming I could reach them, but you have a point," he agreed. "Just wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into if I said yes. Which I think I will," he added, smiling a little bit, kissing her lightly. "Once you're free, of course."

"One advantage of the shifter," Megan grinned back at Gaia as they pulled apart. "The knot isn't as ... set ... as in a real dog."

"That is an advantage," Samson chuckled. "Though we should probably do the touch-up work before you try tying me up."

"You are an evil girl, you know that?" Gaia shook her head and laughed as they rolled off the bed. Megan made quick work of putting her clothes in order for a short bolt across the hall for the needed goodies.

"Not that I'm about to disagree with you too strongly," Samson asked Gaia curiously while Megan was out of the room, "but what brought that up?"

"A bit of what she has in mind for the next hour." Gaia flowed into the form of a female Liger nearly as large as Samson. "It's all going to feel very good, but it's going to be intense as hell."

"Do I need to remind her about the 'waiting' issue?" He asked quietly, even as he felt a shiver of anticipation along his spine.

"Oh, but you can do so much to the male body that doesn't involve smudging your stripes." She grinned at him. "Now let me get to that touch-up work before she gets too excited."

"I'd been thinking about a different waiting, but I'll assume we're on the same page there," he chuckled slightly, wondering just what she did have in mind -- particularly since it seemed to involve Gaia as a very attractive female version of himself. "And yes, let's," he nodded, "do we need to get anything more for the repair work?"

"No, the cleaner and the gel is here." Gaia smiled easily and went to work with a small cloth on the smudges. "And that wait is going to work out. She's many things, but she's not interested in pushing those kinds of limits."

"Thank you," he smiled, relaxing more and letting her work. "I know it's a little strange, but...."

Gaia paused and stood to look him in the face. "I don't find it strange at all, when you are actually interested in them for more than a one-off. I'm the same way, though I don't think I made the twenty-four hours." She added with a chuckle.

"Thank you," he smiled softly, looking into her amber feline eyes. "I'm not sure I'll make much longer than them, honestly," he added with a slight chuckle, "but... in a way, I want to try and make it something... special," he tried to explain, as much to himself as to her. "For both of us."

"I don't think that's going to be a problem." She smiled and kissed him lightly before going back to work on the smudged stripes as Megan burst back in. "Or a fast education in the carnal arts."

"Now that is a fun class." Megan grinned and put the stuff on the bed to examine the room for somewhere to secure the silk rope to keep his hands over his head.

"Especially when you have the right teacher," he chuckled slightly, winking at Megan and trying not to move too much while Gaia worked on his stripes and she made a shameless display of getting undressed for him.

"Yes, a good teacher is always important." She grinned and approached him seductively. "A willing and eager student nearly as important."

"Seems to me you'll have a captive audience shortly," Samson rumbled, blushing some as his arousal mounted again.

"Yes, but I am so not into the non-con thing for real."

"Willingly captive, as long as you keep to the introductory lessons," he smiled softly at her.

"Oh, I will." She said fervently and met his gaze. "It's meant to be fun, not stressful."

"I trust you," he nodded slightly. "So far you've managed to keep to a good sort of stress," he added with a chuckle.

"Good." She grinned and paused to make an appraising look at Gaia's new form. "Very nice."

"Thanks," she grinned back. "You have good mental images."

"I have to agree," Samson added with a grin of his own. "Very good ones."

"A vivid imagination is not something anyone has contested." Megan chuckled.

"I'll get a hook up." Gaia said out of nowhere.


"We are going to need a couple," Samson agreed, feeling a bit of the apprehension, and the anticipation, return at the thought of what she might do to him. The apprehension, at least, went away when he reminded himself he could get himself out if he had to.

"Do you know what a safe word is?" Gaia asked without looking up from her work on his stripes.

"No," he admitted," I'm afraid not."

"It's a word, other than 'no', that means stop." Megan explained easily. "It's a way to make sure games never go too far."

"And I'm guessing it'd be a good idea to have one for today," he said quietly. "Any suggestions?"

"A word that you will not forget, or say by mistake." Gaia considered the Liger. "It is a good idea to have in place, even if you never get any more kinky than this."

"Probably," he agreed, blushing a bit at the thought, knowing how likely that was to happen. "Tulip?" He suggested.

"That's not likely to come up by mistake." Megan nodded with a bit of a giggle. "Tulip it is."

"Unless you have a better idea," he chuckled.

"It's more important that it be one you remember under stress." Megan said firmly. "Mine will likely be different."

"All right," he nodded. "Tulip it is then."

"Will all that stuff save?' Megan asked with ulterior motives as she watched Gaia and Samson carefully stow the Liger's garden supplies in the back of the SUV they'd taken out on the town.

"Yes," the dapple grey Draft Horse looked over at the significantly younger female curiously. "What are you thinking?"

"Well, I saw the signs for the New World Mall." She grinned at them winningly, rocking on her heals with both hands clasped behind her rump.

"The New World Mall?" Samson asked curiously. "Why would they be advertising at this one?"

"She saw it on the way in," Gaia shook her head with a chuckle. "I think they may qualify as cruelty, pup, given the little mall made him glaze over completely."

"But that was just shopping," she persisted with that grin and big blue and brown eyes. "The NWM has everything. Swimming, animals, coasters ..."

"I know what's there, pup." Gaia laughed, shaking her head. "I just don't think Samson is ready for it."

"It sounds like you're talking about a small city instead of a mall," he chuckled slightly, a little uncertain about the idea. On the other hand, Megan did look like she wanted to go there.

"Small city would qualify it," Gaia shook her head with a chuckle. "One focused on entertainment and consumerism. I'll take you there after we drop Samson off at the Institute. That place is not first day material."

"I think he'd really like the gardens." She grinned back at the adults unrepentantly.

That did catch his attention. Indoor gardens and zoos, from the sound of it... if nothing else, it struck him as the sort of place that he'd have to see before he could really believe it.

"Well, we could try it," he said. "Worst that happens is I curl up in a ball in the back of the car," he added with a bit of a chuckle.

"Ah, it won't be that bad." Megan grinned and bounded up to hug him with a playful lick on the cheek while Gaia just shook her head. "Though you'd be a great pillow then."

"Well, we'll just hope that doesn't end up happening," he chuckled, hugging her back and giving her a quick kiss. "Even if I'd be a great pillow, it'd probably take both of you to roll me back out here."

"Just buy her a life-sized Liger pillow," Gaia chuckled with a shake of her head. "Seriously, Samson, that place is intimidating to folks who have been out here their entire lives. More people work on one level than live in the Isles."

"Yeah, isn't it awesome?" Megan all but bounced at the thought.

"It... does sound impressive," Samson said quietly, but smiled after that. "I think I'll be able to take it. If I can't, I'll let somebody know before things get too bad."

Gaia simply shook her head with a bemused sound. "All right, but I'll be keeping an eye on things too. And we're sticking to the wilderness areas, not the shopping zone from nirvana."

"No problem." Megan beamed and happily hopped into the back of the Institute SUV with an inviting grin for Samson to join her.

"Just try to keep your clothes on, okay?" Gaia winked at him and headed for the driver's seat, being the only one who actually knew how to drive.

"Yes ma'am," he blushed deeply, sitting next to Megan and snuggling up as they started out of the parking lot.

"You are so cute when you do that." Megan nuzzled him and managed to behave herself for the first 30 seconds at least.

"And you're just cute," he rumbled softly, nuzzling her back and holding her close. "You also make it difficult to follow orders, sometimes," he chuckled as her hands started getting more daring, something her easily gotten under outfit did nothing to discourage returning.

"Oh, but you can have plenty of fun with all your clothes on," she winked.

"Don't you even dare." Gaia rumbled with all the menace of a predator. "We do not need to get pulled over."

"I think that's a subtle reminder to stick to the spirit of the law, not the letter," Samson blushed, shifting back to a much less suggestive snuggle with the smaller Collie.

"Oh, don't mind her," Megan snickered. "She was reading too much into my mental image."

"You're saying that wasn't on your attempt list?"

"Not for here," She stuck her tongue out at the driver. "Maybe in the garden... or the aquarium."

"There are times I'm glad I'm not the telepath," the Liger murmured, blushing deeply and not sure if she really should be wondering what Megan was thinking about trying.

"You'd never last, believe me," Gaia chuckled softly. "She's... quite intense."

"It sounds like she's as bad as a mink or two from back home," he chuckled, shifting to nuzzle Megan affectionately, rubbing her side. "Much cuter though."

"Glad to know that," she grinned and snuggled as close as she could get, intent on behaving while the vehicle was in motion. There would be plenty of privacy once in the mall.

In the meantime, lessons in making out passed the time very nicely.

"Anyone going to come up for air or sightseeing?" Gaia's tone was more amused than anything.

"I could live with staying here," Samson rumbled, another moment passing before he caught on with just what he'd said, his cheeks turning a deep crimson beneath his fur.

"Mmmmm, as fun as it is, I do want to see the birds." Megan licked her muzzle eagerly.

"Megan... no herding the wildlife." Gaia laughed and got out of the car.

"Yes, mom," she shot back with an unrepentant grin and climbed out of Samson's lap and the SUV in the same motion.

"If they're out where she can herd them, I'll be surprised," Samson chuckled, following her out. "I'll keep her close at hand though."

"Ooooo, how close?" She turned her intensely hot grin on him.

"Oh hush," Samson blushed.

"I am getting such flashbacks to taking the pups out." Gaia shook her head. "Even if you are better at keeping your clothes on."

"I take it you couldn't trust them to do that in public?" Samson asked, looking at her curiously.

"That's putting it mildly," she chuckled. "Mostly his doing. I'd truly fear if it had been Megan that caught his attention."

"Oh my," the Liger chuckled, shaking his head at the idea of two people with Megan's libido seeing each other.

"Now realize that one of them had super-speed for his gift," Gaia snickered. "It was fun, when you weren't in charge of keeping him under control."

"Sounds like a suicide mission," Samson laughed, shaking his head. "He could get in trouble without you even knowing about it until it was too late."

"Not even I managed it." Gaia grinned and waved them to follow her towards the tram station that connected the parking area to the actual complex that called itself a mall. "Thought it was closer to Mission Impossible than suicidal."

"I think that's a reference I'm not familiar with," Samson said after thinking for a bit, following Gaia with Megan and taking in their surroundings. He was careful though, not to take everything in at once. He had a feeling that smaller pieces would make it much more manageable.

It was still almost impossibly huge. Just the number of vehicles around them, the multi-story parking complexes that stretched for what seemed like forever.

"You'll love the tropic garden." Megan grinned up at him and pressed close as they walked, her head only just above his waist.

"I'm sure," he smiled down at her, squeezing her shoulders and doing his best to stay relaxed. At least when he had some plants around he'd have something he could keep grounded with.

"The lack of flora disturbs you, doesn't it?" Gaia asked softly as they stood and waited for the tram that was scheduled for every ten minutes.

"It's a buffer layer that I'm used to having around," he explained quietly. "Background noise, if you like. When you get used to it, you stop noticing it until it's gone."

"Well, there's lots of plants all over the mall." Megan told him reassuringly. "They like to make it feel less overwhelming by giving lots of distractions."

"I know," he nodded slightly. "I'll be all right," he smiled at her, what he hoped was reassuringly, "just takes some getting used to."

"Yeah, I bet it does." She nuzzled him as the tram pulled up.

'*Guys, try to remember that it's technically illegal for you two to be a couple out here.'* Gaia warned them silently as they got a few glances from the disembarking passengers.

*'Noted,'* Samson thought back carefully as they followed the throng of passengers onto the tram. *'Even just dating?'* He asked her mentally, figuring it would be good to get those issues out of the way fast, and preferably quietly.

*'Dating is suspicious, but it's the sex that will get you in trouble.'* She explained to Megan's disgusted snort. *'We have something called an age of consent, and it's sixteen years old. So until she turns sixteen, it's grounds for trouble if anyone wants to use it against you.'*

"Stupid laws." Megan muttered but kept her hands to herself, as Samson did the same himself, taking his arm from around her shoulders.

*'I'll keep it in mind,'* he thought-spoke to Gaia.

*'It's not bad, just try to keep the major smooching contests a bit discreet.'* She smiled at the pair. *'And it's only if someone complains to the authorities.'*

*'We'll just have to hope that doesn't happen,'* the Liger agreed silently, reaching down to give Megan's shoulder a gentle squeeze and felt her lean into the contact.

*'The whole 'almost old enough to be her father' doesn't help.'* Gaia smiled supportively at them. *'It's only a few months.'*

*'We'll be hearing about that even after that,'* Samson pointed out, his distaste for that fact evident. *'But we'll tone it down. I will, at least,'* he added, looking down at Megan with a slight chuckle.

"I can behave," she rolled her eyes.

*'True, you may, but it will no longer matter.'* Gaia pointed out. *'And in a few years it will no longer become a subject of comment. Time changes a lot, in these cases.'*

*'A very good thing,'* he agreed. "And I know you can, Megan," he added out loud, quietly enough that he thought nobody else on the half-full tram could hear.

"When you want to be." Gaia smirked at her as it pulled to a stop in front of the grand modern structure of the New World Mall's main entranceway.

"This is it?" Samson asked, following them off the tram and looking up at the massive structure, dwarfing most of the ones surrounding it, which were already larger than just about anything he was used to seeing.

"The main entrance," Megan perked up again. "Want to see the arboretum first?"

"That sounds good," he smiled. "You two know where you're going, so...."

"Well come on then, handsome." Megan grinned and grabbed his arm as Gaia laughed and walked along his other side as they passed throngs of people and shops of all kinds he hadn't even imagined could exist. He did his best not to look too out of place, for all it was worth, walking between the two of them. He couldn't help but feel a little silly at his nerves. He'd been around people before, this was just more of them.

A lot, lot more.

He'd be better off once they were in the arboretum; he'd be able to adjust a bit there, be ready to move on. Things were going to be fine.

*'Focus on me if it helps,'* Gaia's smooth mental voice came only to him.

*'I'll be all right,'* he thought back firmly, as much to himself as to her. *'But thank you.'*

"Have you ever been on a rollercoaster?" Megan asked out of nowhere.

"No," Samson admitted easily, "though I do know what one is," he added with a slight chuckle. "Which means if you're going to try getting me on one, please try picking a sane one."

"They're all sane," she winked back. "You won't get hurt."

"Remember that you're dealing with somebody who's never willingly been in free-fall," he chuckled, though the intent behind it was serious enough.

"Do you serf?"

"After a fashion," he hedged, not wanting to get into the specifics in public. "Not particularly good at it, but if there's something that isn't much more extreme than that, I should be able to handle it."

"Actually, I was thinking that since you're from a tropic island you might enjoy the surfing pools here." She smiled up at him.

"Not exactly tropical," he chuckled, smiling back down at her and wondering how they could manage something like that indoors. "But that isn't too bad an idea, if I'd been expecting it. As it is," he smirked slightly, "I don't know that you want a wet Liger in the car next to you on the trip home."

"Oh, they have dryers and showers and swimsuits and boards and everything for rent." Shegrinned unrepentantly. "There's even a section that goes threw this tropical aviary where you can swim and play with all these bright colored birds around and tons of tropical plants and all the smells. There is everything here."

"If they have all that in the right sizes I'll be pleasantly surprised," he chuckled. "About how much does rental usually run," he asked her curiously.

"A few dollars." She shrugged. "Probably twenty for the three of us."

"Just checking," he smiled. "You interested, Gaia?"

"If you guys want to, I'm game." She shook her head and chuckled.

"Aviary first." Megan grinned and pulled him sideways into a space that smelled heavy of moisture and flowers.

"We have got to work on your focus," Samson chuckled, following her and relaxing noticeably as they moved into the more natural area.

"My focus is just fine." She stuck her tongue out at him. "I can just plan ahead."

"That's what worries me sometimes," he teased, before looking around and inhaling the scents of the aviary. He let himself reach out a little, not actually doing anything, but more letting his mind brush up against the nature and life of the plants and animals in the room.

"You just relaxed." Megan observed with a smile.

"Yeah," he nodded with a small smile of his own. "This type of crowded I'm more comfortable with."

"Noticeably," she smiled and leaned against him as they walked threw the steamy tropical aviary. "I like you relaxed."

"I like it too," he smiled. "Don't usually get this relaxed with other people around," he murmured softly, wondering about it a bit as he squeezed her shoulder gently. "This was a good idea, I think," he added with another smile for her.

"You'll probably love the big zoo then." She smiled and sniffed the air for all the unfamiliar plan and animal smells, her tail wagging.

"Probably," he agreed. He watched a few of the birds flying around, noticing a couple of them look at him curiously, and pulled his senses back carefully. "How big are we talking?"

Well, the big local one, not the one here." She tried to think back. "I got tired walking threw it all."

"That makes more sense," he chuckled. "If they managed to fit a big zoo in here, I think I'd need somebody to wake me up. But that does sound big," he agreed after thinking about just how energetic she was.

"They've even got these awesome interactive exhibits where you can go in an pet the animals."

"Not the big ones," he guessed, looking down at her curiously. "At least not the big ones that think fingers are a handy snack-size."

"Not the predatory ones." She nodded. "Mostly domestic critters. Goats, rabbits, chickens and such. Though if you catch the raptor show you can touch a couple of them. And they have this one fennic fox that is really friendly."

"Sounds like you've been there fairly often," he observed. "You like animals?"

"I'm a Collie," she rolled her eye and giggled. "If it moves, it's interesting."

"Especially if they're close enough to reach," he chuckled. "You ever have pets?"

"Nah, mom didn't think I was responsible enough to take care of them."

Samson nodded, wisely stifling another slight chuckle. "What sort do you like?" He asked her curiously, but quietly enough to keep from bothering anybody else in the aviary, not that he really thought anybody'd hear them over the sound of the tropical birds surrounding them.

"Of animals?" She glanced up at him uncertainly.

"Yeah," he smiled down at her. "Just curious, not planning on coming home with something extra that's furry."

"Ummm, ducks are a lot of fun." She tried to think of what critters she liked to hang out with. "Sheep too."

"Not the usual," he nodded, thinking about it. "Interesting though."

"I'm not sure I'd call them pets," she shrugged. "But they're fun."

"I probably wouldn't," he admitted. "But you're right, they can be. Besides," he smiled, squeezing her shoulder affectionately, "I just asked about what animals you liked. Not necessarily pets"

"Good," she smiled up and leaned into the contact, though her eyes flicked to the rippling water and the colorful fish swimming in it.

Samson's eyes followed hers, and he leaned down a bit closer to her, focusing slightly on the fish she was looking at.

"Watch the one with the gold forehead," he said softly, just before the small but eye-catching koi leaped out of the water, glittering slightly before it landed back with a tiny splash.

"Oooo ... you can tell?" She grinned.

"Sometimes," he nodded slightly, smiling at her. "They're easier to figure out than people," he added with a chuckle.

"Simpler minds," she grinned. "Animals can be fun that way."

"Do not try to herd fish, Megan." Gaia rolled her eyes.

"No, that's not even a good idea back home," Samson chuckled. "Not that we don't have some people who try, sometimes. They usually end up very wet, tired, and annoyed at the fish."

"Sounds like they don't do it right." She giggled. "But I'll leave these alone. They're pretty though."

"Yeah, they are," Samson agreed, chuckling. "And I would hope that even you might think twice about herding 25-pound tuna."

"Aren't they like deep-sea critters?"

"Sometimes, but in the right weather, they'll come up further. At that point, sometimes people who are trying out new fishing techniques will find that what works on small fish in schools don't work on bigger ones, schools or no."

"Makes sense, I think." She nodded and just leaned against him in the muggy air.

"Good," he chuckled. "That makes one of us who thinks so. Any time you want to move on, let me know, okay Megan?" He told her quietly, more than content to stay there with her for now.

"Okay," she smiled and snuggled against his chest.

*'Press the blue button when you want me.'* Gaia chuckled softly and slipped a small object into Samson's pocket.

 *'Thanks,'* he thought back sheepishly, blushing a little as he held Megan close, not worrying about any of the few looks they were getting from the passersby. The two of them spent a bit over three hours more exploring the aviary on their own, watching the birds and fish, before they decided to signal for Gaia. Heading towards the door, Samson pressed the button on the signaler she'd given him, and they waited the brief period it took for her to meet up with them.

"Ready for the water?" An almost-familiar voice asked with a grin on the female Liger's face.

"I think so," he nodded easily, recognizing Gaia from when she'd been working on his stripes before. "Trying out a new look?"

"A bit sexier." She chuckled and caught his arm. "I like standing out on occasion."

"You certainly manage that," he chuckled, blushing slightly as he realized what it might look like to somebody watching the trio as they walked out of the aviary. "So, where to next?" He asked.

"They'll think we're a couple taking a pup out as a favor." Gaia snickered.

"All right," he nodded. "So, where to next?" He asked and was guided with matching grins on his escorts threw the level and into a building that smelled of cool air and warm purified water.

"You know how to swim, right?" Megan licked her muzzle at all the water and children playing.

"Of course I do," he chuckled. "Hard not to learn how when you grow up on an island." He looked at the people swimming and playing in the water, the scene familiar, even if the scents weren't.

"Then here is you're swimming trunks and go get dressed." Gaia handed him a small package from her shopping bag as Megan paid the entrance fee for the three of them. "We'll meet you in the shallows."

He took the package and the key Megan handed him and went into the locker room/showers to change. It smelled heavily of water and chemicals, and the scents of dozens of breeds of males in varying states of health, age and emotions.

He wrinkled his nose at the pungent chemical smells, noticing a sign on the inside of the door that told people to shower before entering the pool. He shook his head a bit, wondering what would make that necessary. He made a note to ask about it later, when they were on their way out. Heading back to change, he was glad to notice that there weren't too many people in the locker room. Even so, he did notice a few looks while he was changing, ranging from appreciative glances to nervous ones from people who seemed to think that eight-feet of Liger was distinctly intimidating.

Neither reaction was particularly surprising, though the lack of real fear was nice. He wasn't completely sure what to make of the desire he was sure he sensed in a couple males towards him after he'd stripped. He decided that the safest approach was to play dumb, changing and heading into the showers as though he hadn't noticed anything.

A quick shower in peace was a pleasant change to the varied looks, even though it was an open shower room with several dozen nozzles that could handle even his height. He showered down quickly, doing his best to ignore the wide array of scents that hung in the muggy air, along with the smell of a number of disinfectants and cleaners that were used to try and keep most of the smells tolerable. All in all, it made for a potent cocktail of odors unless you were ready for it.

"There you are." Megan's light yip greeted him as he entered chaos personified in water and moving bodies.

"It's not too easy to find you two out here," he chuckled, wading out to the where the Collie and Liger was in the shallows.

"You, on the other hand, are very easy to spot." She giggled while Gaia extracted herself from the decided interest of a well-build Tiger with minor success.

"Oh? Well, seeing as there's only one other Liger here, I'll give you that one," he chuckled, looking over at Gaia. "Looks like somebody's in a flirting mood."

"She does make for an attractive show of fur." Megan snickered. "You don't wear that little unless you're looking for attention after all."

"Which she is definitely getting," Samson smiled, watching the Tiger continue his advances. "Think I should go rescue her?"

"Nah, I think she can handle him."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure if he can handle her," the Liger chuckled. "Are we supposed to wait, or let her have fun on her own?"

"He doesn't look like he wants to be rescued just yet." She giggled. "Let's go play on the waterslides."

"Sure thing," he grinned. "Just make sure you get clear once you hit the bottom."

"Who said I'm going first?" She winked at him and guided him over to the waterslide pool area entrance. "Unless it's in your arms."

"Somehow," he blushed, "I don't think that's quite within the safety rules here."

"Somehow," he blushed and followed her into the loose queue for the waterslide, "I don't think that's quite within the safety rules here."

"Oh, I don't know." She grinned and motioned to the varied mats available to sliders. "There are couples and family ones."

"I also seem to remember we were supposed to try being low-key," he chuckled a bit. "You want to try that though?"

"Yes," her tail made a sizeable wave in the water. "Just keep your shorts on."

"Of course I will," he blushed, batting her thigh lightly with his tail as he followed her towards one of the larger slides.

"Thanks for coming out here," Samson smiled down at Megan, walking by his side as he carried a picnic basket in his other hand. The two of them were walking through the woods on the grounds, two weeks after their trip to the mall, looking for a clearing he'd found a few days later.

"Like I ever refuse your company." She grinned back up and nuzzled his side.

"You could," he chuckled, squeezing her shoulder affectionately, trying to keep his nerves under wraps. "Though I think you'll like what I've got in mind." He certainly hoped so, at least. He'd been planning this since he'd found the clearing, and was hoping it was all going to go well.

On several levels, he couldn't help but think that the mall had been less nerve-wracking than this.

"You're so cute when you're wound up," she giggled.

"And here I thought it was when I was blushing," he chuckled, relaxing a bit and telling himself that things were going to work out. If something was going to go wrong, it would have done so long before now. He could see the clearing now, a soft blanket of green grass covering the ground, the trees giving it a comfortably private look, but still giving a slightly shrouded view of the gradually approaching sunset.

"There it is," he smiled, nodding towards the opening the path made in the tree wall.

"A sunset picnic," she smiled and leaned against him. "You are such a romantic."

"I do my best," he smiled, leading her in and laying down a blanket for the two of them. He rubbed her shoulder lightly, then squeezed her close. "Besides, with the sunsets around here, it's worth it."

"Not so good on the Isles?" She murmured and happily snuggled into his lap.

"They're different," he smiled, wrapping his arms around her and nuzzling her neck. "The skies out here are clearer, though you can still have some breathtaking ones through the fogs."

"I bet," she rumbled and rolled her head to give him better access to her neck and slid her legs down to straddle his lap.

"Another week or so, we should be able to see some," he rumbled back. "I've got a surprise for you later," he murmured, hugging her close and inhaling her scent contentedly. "Have to give it to you before things get too dark."

"Oh?" She licked her muzzle, then his, and rubbed her body against his chest.

"Mmhmm," he rumbled, for once not worrying too much about how he was responding to her attentions. He rubbed her belly lightly, licking her muzzle back. "Up to you if you want dinner before, or after. I brought along things that'll keep," he chuckled, kissing her gently.

"Dinner later," she grinned and nuzzled him.

"All right," he smiled, licking her neck lightly. "I take it that means you're interested now?"

"When am I not?" She giggled and ran her hands up his chest, her thick tail wagging rapidly.

"Wrong interested," he chuckled, holding her close and kissing her playfully. "Though if you're still interested in a few minutes… well, take a look out that way," he rumbled, closing his eyes as he indicated the break in the clearing towards the sunset.

"Okay," she followed his directions with curiocity.

There was a soft green glow in the grass ahead, as the plants beneath the surface started to grow and develop, budding as the Liger's powers coaxed them through the early stages of their life. Daises and lilies started to bloom, distinctly out of season for the middle of summer, with taller, darker flowers forming patterns in the middle of them.

As Megan watched, deep blue roses bloomed, forming the words "I love you" in the middle of the lighter field of more natural flowers.

"Ahhh," she murmured and hugged him, melting inside at the gesture. "You are so sweet."

"I try," he rumbled, blushing a bit as he hugged her back, kissing her tenderly. "And it's true," he added softly, licking her muzzle affectionately with his broad, rough tongue while she snuggled against him and slowly explored his chest with firm, eager hands. He let his hands explore her right back, laying down on the blanket and drawing her down on top of him, kissing her again, licking her lips with the underside of his tongue as his hands shifted down lower, rubbing the backs of her thighs.

"Mmm, you're getting good at this," she rumbled and spread her legs a bit more. "But you are wearing far too much."

"Hope to get better," he rumbled just a little shyly. "Care to help change that?" He ran his hands up under her skirt, squeezing her bare ass gently.

It sent a bolt straight to his cock the way she arched back into his grip as memories of how she'd get them both off by rubbing along the exposed skin of that hard flesh.

"Anytime, anywhere," Megan grinned down at him and worked his shirt up from under her thighs. He shifted to let her pull it off, working on her own shirt once his hands were free again, rumbling deeply as their bodies pressed back together fur against fur and mouth against mouth.

Then she'd moved down, her slender muzzle against his crotch, working to unzip his pants with her teeth. He groaned, reaching down to rub her head and shoulders lovingly as the scent of his arousal in the clearing grew heavier, his sheath heavy inside his shorts.

"Mmm, Megan," he rumbled, looking down at her as she nuzzled him threw his shorts, then pulled both layers down.

"Want them all the way off?" She asked with a throaty rumble as her nose and tongue worked on his heavy balls.

"Yes," he groaned, gripping her fur as his shaft started to slide from his sheath. "Want you," he breathed, looking down at her, licking his lips in a mix of nerves and anticipation. "All of you, if you're willing…."

"Always," she smiled and pushed her skirt down and off before working on getting his shoes and pants off. Soon, the two of them were naked on the blanket, and he pulled her up for a kiss, rolling them over so he was supporting himself on top of her, careful not to crush her much smaller frame.

He inhaled her scent as he pressed against her, rubbing his thick fingers between her thighs as she moaned and opened her body to him with a willingness that was totally and honestly eager.

He moved down her body, nibbling at her neck as she moaned and rubbed against him, her throat bared and willing in her submission.

"Ohhh, yessss," Megan moaned softly. He was really getting to like that sound. He kissed her collarbone, then licked at her breasts, fingering the lips of her sex.

It drew more sounds of pleasure, soft and wet and eager as her hands moved along his shoulders and caressed his ears. It was a pattern they were well accustomed to after two weeks of play that ghosted the very brink of everything.

"Take me, Samson." She moaned breathily, more than happy to give him the first experience he desired. He rubbed himself against her sex, moving up to kiss her again as he groaned.

"Let me know if it's too much," he murmured, kissing her again as he pressed his thick shaft against her entrance and felt her hot, slick flesh part before the pointed tip, welcoming him in with a moan and quiver of pleasure.

"I will," Megan promised with a cry of raw pleasure from being stretched and filled with thick, hard male flesh. "Deeper."

"Gods," he groaned, obliging her, as his shaft throbbed ever deeper inside her body. He pressed into her impossibly tight sex slowly, letting his own body adjust as much as hers was, if not more.

It was the newness of the pleasure that challenged his self control as much as the intensity of arousal and desire below him. Her moans and cries for more echoed from his ears threw his entire body until he shuddered in a moaning roar as he delved deeper. He started to thrust, carefully at first, but faster and harder as he became more confident, and her body stretched to accommodate his member. His shaft throbbed, close to release far too soon for his liking.

"Close," he gasped, kissing her hotly.

"Let it come, Samson." She moaned and squeezed her abs to tighten around him, urging him onward. He roared, his balls and cock twitching inside of her, pouring his seed deep into her sex as she called out encouragement with each breath.

"Yes, pour it all into me." He did just that, panting hard as he finished, licking at her neck tenderly as his hips slowed. He didn't slow down for long though, picking up the pace again, hoping to get her off this time.

"Mmmm, oh yeah, show me what you've got." Megan moaned and squeezed, sending a gush of Liger cum out around his thick cock and began to rock with his rhythm, enjoying every second of the stretched, full sensations. With every thrust, he buried more of himself inside her body, until he felt the head of his cock press against her cervix. For once in his life, he was devoutly grateful that he'd never developed the barbs hairs most felines had, savoring the feeling of his shaft moving in and out of his lover, reaching down to fondle her breasts and shuddered with each contraction of her body's pleasure as it spiraled out of control. He groaned again, flooding her sex with his cum as her pussy spasmed around his length and they roared and howled their mutual pleasure under the setting sun.

"Oh, you are something else," Megan murmured and snuggled up against him as he panted and trembled in keeping his weight off of her. Finally, he gave up, rolling the two of them onto their sides and holding her close as he recovered.

"Like you're one to talk," he rumbled after a few moments. "Gods that was intense."

"Yes," she smiled warmly and nuzzled him, gently easing him to his back and sprawling on top of him. "You are going to spoil me for normal guys."

"Somehow, I think I could live with that," he teased, leaning up to lick her muzzle affectionately before leaning back again to hold her close. "Be a shame to have happen though," he chuckled, rubbing her back, kneading it gently.

"I don't know," Megan giggled and settled in with a contented sigh. "I could stand to have you spoil me for a nice long time."

It was hardly an ordinary day on New Avalon when the ship arrived. It started when the telepathic lookouts sent word of two flyers approaching. Most newcomers to the island arrived by boats and shipwrecks.

It only got stranger when word made it to Solomon, leader of the Shrouded Isles.

The Lion was down at the docks with his mate and some of the local settlement leaders, waiting for the arrival of the flyers. Word was quickly relayed through the Isles; new arrivals from the outside were here, mutants who wanted to see what life in the Isles was like.

That was the strangest part of the morning... until the ship finally arrived, not long behind the streaks of flame the two flyers left, the fiery peacock-eagles, mythical Phoenix, landed just beyond the docks and waited for the ship they heralded to dock.

The ship that arrived... that was well beyond anything, even Solomon, had possibly been expecting. It gleamed white and despite the name emblazoned in gold on it's bow, Swift Haven, it was more reminiscent of something from the gilded age made beyond modern standards than a ship belonging to anyone who might belong here.

*'Greetings Solomon,'* Professor Jurnix's mental voice echoed in the Lion's mind. *'Are we earlier than you expected?'*

*'By a day or two, yes,'* the Lion admitted. *'Though I'll admit; you do know how to make an entrance.'*

*'It is the only sea-worthy ship small enough not to draw attention here.'* He explained simply. *'The Phoenix ... speak to Gaia,'* he chuckled. *'She enjoys the flair on occasion.'*

*'I'm sure somebody will mention it,'* Solomon chuckled. *'Assuming she doesn't get mixed up in a flying challenge first. Care to come down so I can introduce the lot of you?'*

*'Before or after the ship docks?'* He asked politely. *'I can fly.'*

*'Whichever is more convenient for you. I hope we can handle your ship,'* the Lion added, his mental chuckle belying the serious concern behind the comment. *'And that you have enough fuel for a return trip.'*

*'We have plenty of fuel,'* Jurnix chuckled softly as the yacht pulled up and was tied telekinetically to the dock. By now, a crowd had gathered outside, some walking, some flying, most of them obviously mutants.

*'Old habit; most who arrive here aren't quite that prepared.'* The Lion glanced around at his people, looking at the newcomers and the ship curiously. A dull murmur was moving along, and the telepathic chatter increasingly noticeable between the lookouts who were on duty and those who were at the docks.

*'What are outsiders doing landing here, like this,'* one of them asked the Lion, worry and a bit of indignation tinting the mental voice.

*'They are mutants, like us,'* he responded firmly, wondering how many of the other Islanders were going to react the same way. He repeated the telepathic reply, sending it to all in the gathered crowd. There would be time for more later. Right now, Samson was walking down the yacht's ramp to the dock with an older Foxbat and a teenaged Blue Merle Rough Collie. A grin spread across Solomon's muzzle as he saw his old friend, and their new ones.

"Welcome to New Avalon," he said warmly, stepping forward to welcome them formally. "It's a pleasure to see new faces, especially when they bring old ones back with them."

"Thank you," Jurnix smiled and inclined his head to the much larger male. "And thank you for the envoy to invite us. Samson has been a delightful guest. May I introduce my party. The Collie is Megan Ryzer-Marce. The Phoenix are Gaia and Chester Kincaid, both gifted shape shifters." He motioned to them as the pair came forward to join the main group as their flames faded into the larger Draft Horse forms. "I am Professor Tamerin Jurnix of the Jurnix Institute for the Gifted."

"Good to hear, though it's good to have him back," the Lion chuckled, glancing up slightly towards the Liger with a smile. "I am Solomon, leader of the Isles," he added, looking down at the Foxbat and Collie, then over to the two equines. "And these are some of the local settlement leaders," he continued, gesturing to a variety of people standing nearby, of several different species. "I'll handle full introductions later, after the crowd's thinned out a bit." The vocal noise had quieted down now, as those gathered tried to hear what was being said, and even the telepathic conversations seemed to be dying down.

"It will be a pleasure to meet your people," Jurnix smiled and politely didn't glance at Megan as she did her best not to fidget. "I am looking forward to learning more about the Isles and how we can mutually benefit from a friendship and alliance."

"Perhaps we should go to discuss just that, unless you would prefer to look around the Isles some first? Either way, I'm sure your people will be able to find locals willing to show them around."

"I would like to discus that with you, while my students explore and talk. They will be bored to tears by political nitpicking." Jurnix chuckled.

"As would most of the people here," Solomon chuckled. "Though it would be one good way to clear the onlookers. Your students should feel free to make themselves at home, we can see about setting up more housing for them if necessary."

"Excellent," Jurnix nodded with a smile and motioned to the others, sending the Equines into the crowd and Samson and Megan walking out, the Liger greeting a few friends cheerfully.

"It looks like he got along pretty well in the outside world," Solomon observed quietly, smiling before he turned back to Professor Jurnix. "So, to the council chambers?"

"Yes, that would be good," he nodded and followed the Lion towards the largest of the nearby buildings. It wasn't decorated ostentatiously, but it was clearly a well-kept, important building.

"We can still fit most of the Islanders in here," Solomon explained conversationally as he led the way. "Mostly for votes or news that affects everybody. Most of the time, we have plenty of space and privacy." He led Jurnix to a fairly large office, opening the door and gesturing for him to go ahead.

"Something that is also true of my Institute," he commented and stepped into the office of power with an open mind and curious eyes. It didn't look much like the office of somebody who was in charge of the Isles. It was much more casual, with windows open to the salt-sea air of the outside, a few comfortable looking chairs for guests near the door, a matching one, though clearly built larger for its occupant, on the other side of a large wooden desk, that looked like it had been cleaned off rather hastily. There were a couple paintings on the wall, one of Solomon's predecessor, looking on with his habitual stern expression, and the other of the Lion with his mate and cubs.

"Make yourself comfortable," he said easily, following Jurnix in and closing the door behind him. "How are things, outside the Isles, for our kind? Hopefully some change since the colonists left?"

"We are no longer on any government's target list, but we are not a protected group either," he admitted. "It has not improved as much as we would have liked, but things are getting better."

"That's a start," Solomon pointed out. "And one that can be built on, in time. My apologies of some of my questions seem obvious. We can and do read about the changes that are happening, but so much of it is kept from the general public that it's hard to get a feel for what's really happening. Most of our new arrivals haven't exactly had the world's most heartening experiences."

"No, I expect they have not." Jurnix nodded and relaxed in one of the available chairs. "Those that have good lives rarely desire a sanctuary from them."

"Or are desperate enough to take a boat and start away from their homes, just hoping to find something better," the Lion agreed, closing his eyes for a moment. "Though it's been a while since we've run into shipwreck victims like that. One thing I do want to check on though. Is TGRI well and truly out of commission yet?"

"As a company, yes." He nodded. "We are still hunting the mage that founded it."

"That's good to know, on both counts. It would have been better if you had caught him already, but it might be just as well, for now. I was mostly concerned that an individual like him might still have the resources and power of a large company. If he did, it would be impossible to make the public aware of the Isles until the climate was friendlier."

"Even as it is, you will have to be careful. Going public one stage at a time and carefully as public knowledge in general increases."

"Fortunately, it will be some time before we're near ready to do that," Solomon explained. "I want my own people to be ready for the idea before it happens. I'm not sure if you picked it up already, but even your arrival has a few people on edge."

"Fifty years and a generation in isolation will do that." He nodded. "I have never expected this to happen quickly. Society simply does not move that quickly."

"Not peacefully," the Lion agreed. "And I won't entertain any suggestions for other methods, not that I think you would make any. Honestly... I have to agree with those of us who would rather stay hidden until it is ready, or at least readier."

"My question is, how do you expect the world be become readier?"

"An excellent question," he admitted. "Though it seems that we hardly need to be out in the world for things to improve, even gradually. Even if we can't remain self-sufficient, there's a good part of the population that would rather wait until 'gradually' becomes a reality."

"You do know that will never happen," Jurnix said quietly. "It is not the nature of the beast to be without an enemy, and that enemy is what they do not know."

"Unfortunately, you're probably right," he said softly, leaning back in his chair. "That is one concern. Realistically, we will either reach the point where we can't sustain ourselves, or can't hide any more, and have to reveal ourselves. It would be best to arrange things on our terms, rather than somebody else's."

"A third option to consider," Jurnix continued quietly. "To claim a world for our kind, with only an outpost here to rescue newly born Avatars. The technology and power are almost capable of it."

"Have things really advanced that quickly?" Solomon thought for a bit. "You would need a generation ship, to have a reasonable chance of it succeeding, unless you've discovered a much closer habitable planet than anybody knows of."

"A generational ship is preferable, yes." He nodded. "But it's not completely necessary. Not with the powers that will soon be available." He paused, considering the Lion carefully. "There is a great price to pay with such a choice. We will be abandoning our home world, our origins, our heritage of fighting for what is rightfully ours. It was Rasputin's way, it could save many lives, but it could also be our destruction when we meet the people of this world again."

"It would, however, be a viable way out. If things went poorly... just because we don't want to use it immediately, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to develop it. Grandfather wanted to have a homeland for our people, Professor. A place that was ours, where we could live in peace as we pleased. Maybe there was a better way of going about it, but it was also a way of ensuring that some mutants survived. There are so few of us, even here... his methods were sound, if extreme."

"As I agreed then, I still agree now," he nodded. "But it must also be realized that any place we can go with our advantages they will be able to follow within a couple generations, unless our home is the ship and we run forever."

"Though if we were established there, we might be able to hold a planet they weren't on. Not a preferable solution, but a more acceptable one than extinction, which is what would happen if war started here. I do, however, agree that it isn't what we should do as our first approach here. I just feel better about any plan A when there's a plan B in the works too," he chuckled slightly.

"And a C, D and E in some stages of progress," Jurnix agreed. "Evacuation is not an option I like, but it must be prepared for as necessary. What I have more difficulty with is how not to abandon those born after the ship leaves."

"Not something easy to accomplish, no. Unless, rather than evacuating to another system, it was only to an orbital outpost. Lunar, for example, though that does put us much more 'in reach' in the event that evacuation became necessary. Also the difficulty in building such an outpost."

That made a sly smirk cross Jurnix's muzzle. "Building it is fairly simple when the government has several of your companies contracted to do exactly that. They have no concept of the cost. Building our facility while building theirs is quite viable. From there the ship is much, much simpler. Work on crippling their space program in minor ways and it'll give us a serious head start."

"You've been thinking about this for a while, haven't you?" Solomon asked with an approving chuckle. "Though if mutants were caught sabotaging their programs, I would imagine that it would hardly earn us brownie points."

"Thinking about it, planning it, acting on it." He nodded. "And only I am sabotaging anything. Odds manipulation can do amazing things when you're creative with it."

"That it could. A very useful gift to have. Though it marks you as having some interesting connections," Solomon grinned slowly.

"Connections?" He cocked his head slightly. "Oh, the Gift categories."

"Yes," the Lion chuckled. "Though it would be hard to pin somebody with your gifts to a single category. I have a feeling it's hard to pin you down for just about anything. I'm sorry, I'm digressing."

"Not a problem," Jurnix smiled slightly. "I am not in so much of a hurry that a little wandering is unreasonable."

"That's good; I can sidetrack myself fairly easily, when it comes to some subjects. I try to keep it to a minimum though. Unusual gifts is one of my worst."

"And Gifts in general are one of my interests." Jurnix grinned. "The genetics of it, what causes them, how they pass on. Unless my students get edgy, I find that an entertaining side-track."

"I should have you talk to some of our genetics experts," Solomon grinned back. "They're still pulling their fur out trying to find a way to figure out what somebody's gift will be. They've asked us to groom a precog for a position with them."

"Really?" Jurnix raised an eyebrow. "It is traceable and fairly predictable. Though it is only half genetic. That is the hard part to measure."

"Hmm... I wonder if there might be a difference in the Isles then. We've found that having gifts is clearly traceable, and the strength and broad type tends to be similar, but specific gifts rarely seem to be inherited here."

"It's just as likely I look at things differently and therefore see it differently. I'm also coming from base research of a normal population and seeing what changes, not an all Avatar population trying to see patterns."

"Also true," he nodded. "We never had a great deal of normal material to work with, for obvious reasons. It may also be, as you suggested, that part that isn't genetic. Some other factor involved in the changes we haven't found yet. Most likely," he chuckled, "a bit of two or three of those."

"I know it isn't all genetic," Jurnix commented. "Do you believe that the soul Is real? That there is something more to us than what builds the body."

"Not much definitive proof either way," Solomon observed. "But I'd be lying if I said I didn't. Especially with some of what I've seen. You think there's a connection between the soul and how our Gifts manifest?"

"And occasionally that we have Gifts at all." He nodded. "The genetics that mark an Avatar are not recessive, yet a significant portion of those who have it out there never manifest. Granted there are many other factors that could be responsible, but it seems likely that the individual shapes their powers as much as the powers shape the person."

"Though not consciously," the Lion mused. "Or else there wouldn't be the issues with not being able to control them. Of course, it could also explain why they tend to manifest under stress."

"And their power is frequently affected by emotional strength," Jurnix nodded. "A theory I am working with is that all forms of extraordinary ability are effectively the same. Magic, psionics, Avatar Gifts, many creatures of myth all are actually from the same origin used and nurtured differently by cultural expectations."

"Then there's something you might want to see," he said quietly after a few minutes. "Eventually at least, but not something for general consumption. We aren't the first people on the Isles."

"Yes, I have noticed." He nodded. "There are... remnants of their presence still here."

"And of how it ended," Solomon nodded. "Samson might have mentioned it, but we found what seems to be an ancient library they studied in. Some details haven't been disclosed yet, but your theory seems to hold with what I've read and what we've observed."

"Oh?" The Foxbat looked at him very curiously. "That would be more proof than I have yet."

"It's a round-about sort of proof," the Lion cautioned. "And this is part of what doesn't get discussed with anybody outside the room. It has some implications that could be very dangerous, especially coupled with your theory."

"Please tell," he encouraged the Lion. "All hazards should be known if we are to make the best choice."

"I just wanted to be sure you were comfortable with keeping it quiet, for now," he explained. "The texts discuss looking for people born with the ability to use magic, and a number of anecdotes that suggest that the same developments were found among the students and families of the masters that we've seen among our own people. Whatever their abilities derived from, they seem to react to the surroundings in the same way. According to the legends, a spell laid by the founders of the school."

"Most interesting."

"Now, there are others who've read this, of course. Not many, but a few, and all people who are capable of understanding why you don't necessarily want to try self-teaching yourself magic from books that are kept in a well-concealed library."

"Yes, that would be a poor choice," he nodded. "What have you learned of their fate?"

"Apparently one of their own, who had been forced to flee after an attempt to take over, returned with a small army from the outside. They didn't have any allies to call on and, eventually, the weight of numbers overcame their power and skill. A survivor ensured that the library we found was hidden from the attacker, but her wounds were too much to recover from. It seems that her efforts were not in vain though; everything else was razed to the ground, but that part of the library survived."

"A good example of why treason carries a death penalty almost everywhere."

"Unfortunately, death penalties are relatively easily escaped when all you have to do is cross the borders. Not that it was easy, especially at the time, but compared to returning from the dead, the mage in question seemed to think it was worth it."

"Returning from the dead?" Jurnix raised an eyebrow. "That was not an option I expected to truly exist."

"As far as I know, it doesn't," Solomon admitted. "But to judge by what was described, there are... options... available to somebody with enough skill and power. Not ones to be taken by anybody with a shred of decency. They may just be another set of legends; probably are. But frankly, I think we both know better than to discount legends out of hand."

"Yes," he nodded seriously. "Far too dangerous a step, particularly with one who is powerful and ambitious. It is such a dangerous combination."

"More so when coupled with a hint of sociopathy. Fortunately, it sounds like such a difficult feat to achieve that it would be a virtual miracle if it was performed properly. Anything less than perfection would prove permanently fatal, so it wasn't attempted often."

"Except when there was nothing to loose," he nodded. "Fortunately it is unlikely to be our concern, for all we do have to keep an eye open."

"Most fortunately," he agreed. "There are enough other problems for us to worry about without adding immortal archmages to the list."

"Very true. Do you know what happened to this traitor after he destroyed this place?"

"No," he admitted, leaning forward and steepling his fingers thoughtfully. "The only records we have that he existed were from the hidden library, and end shortly after the attack. We've put together the rest based on what our psychometrist and the handful of people we have who know anything about archaeology have been able to find out."

"I understand," Jurnix nodded. "Do you have an idea how long ago this occurred?"

"Several centuries ago, but nothing more specific. Towards the end of the Crusade period, we think, based on some of the references; they used a different numbering system for the years, so we can't be entirely certain."

"Still well out of the modern history era." He nodded with a touch of relief. "What are the trouble and troublemakers you deal with now?"

"Actively, nothing that can't be handled through good management of the Isles. There is some debate about whether or not we should send people out into the real world, but from what I've seen, I suspect it would be much harder to blend in than any of them expect. Especially with the tells some of us have. Of greater concern to me is the possibility that history will repeat itself; there are many enemies we have to worry about, and no allies on the outside who could help if we were discovered."

"Thus the messenger to me," Jurnix nodded. "For mutual protection, among other things."

"Yes," Solomon nodded easily. "He doesn't know about the full reasoning behind my plans, by the way. You seemed like the most likely candidate, and somebody who would have a good idea of how, or if, to go public."

"Not without careful planning and an escape route."

"Which I hope you're willing to help arrange? Some knowledge of the world's politics, at the very least, would be helpful."

"I wouldn't be here otherwise." The Foxbat said seriously. "An alliance between us will be beneficial to both of us, and hopefully the world at large as well."

"Hopefully," the Lion agreed. "Is there anything in particular you're interested in here? It would be nice to have an idea where we stand for things that would be useful to the outside, aside from the fishing industry."

"For me, the most valuable thing is a safe place to send Avatars that don't want to deal with the outside. The added firepower and resources if it comes to a battle is also a consideration." He considered the land outside the window. "You could easily create a very profitable industry here in various forms of tourism and healing, but I am not sure if there is anything here now that would interest the general population much."

"Tourism, unfortunately, won't be happening for some time. Healing has much the same problem, given the general attitude towards mutants." He thought for a moment. "There are a handful of other options, but most of them have legal and ethical considerations. The reproductive technology isn't necessarily general-interest either, I presume."

"It is, but it an area that you will have a great deal of competition in." He admitted. "But on healing, I think you underestimate how much effect being told you can be cured of an incurable condition will make people not only open their wallets but leave their issues at home."

"I don't doubt it, especially given some of the issues in the modern day. That is something we'll have to look at then. I'm mostly unsure how we would get people here to be treated without revealing ourselves, unless we used the Institute as a meeting place."

"Or a similarly neutral ground." Jurnix nodded. "Even using an existing company as cover so we don't have to explain things right away. Set on an island or large ship we can avoid almost all the red tape and legal issues involved with governments wanting to know what we're doing beforehand."

"Though I would imagine the press will get involved eventually. People coming home from their trip cured of something that science can't answer, and doing so reliably, is certain to attract attention."

"Oh, it will, and to a point we would want to encourage it. But it is difficult to put a negative spin on it, whether or not they know Avatar powers are involved." Jurnix suddenly blinked and closed his large round eyes for a moment, focusing internally as something occurred to him.

"Another idea?"

"On a completely different subject, but yes." He nodded thoughtfully, his excitement and caution against it clear in his body language. "I can't believe I haven't thought of it before. At least in most of the industrialized countries there are laws against discrimination based on breed and a few other things. It at least gives us some legal protections as a minority. It does nothing against the hate or fear but it could well cause a massive legal tangle for any government agency that tries to cause trouble. At least enough of a tangle for us to move another plan into action."

"You're proposing suggesting mutants as a separate breed?" The Lion thought about it. "In many ways, it's what we've done here... though it would be awkward to define, for mutants from the outside. The argument would be much stronger with an Avatar with a noticeable tell that couldn't be duplicated."

"Not exactly. The anti-discrimination laws cover breed, gender, heritage, religion, age, sexual preferences and disabilities. Within those, we are covered, mostly under heritage. It is far from perfect, but it is a strong legal start to giving them red tape hell while we get a backup plan working. And it is a legal grounds for including us specifically."

Solomon nodded thoughtfully, thinking it over. It would be one way to protect those from the Isles, at least potentially. "But how would you advance Avatars as a common heritage? After all, there are still those of us on the outside, and it would be hard to make that case when some of them don't even know we exist here."

"There is no common heritage." He shook his head. "There is no category that covers everyone. That is not what would be argued. The existing protections are intended to stop minority groups from being excluded unfairly from jobs and activities. What the argument would be is that Avatars are a minority group that is being persecuted for what they were born as and deserve protection just as every other group.

"It will not be quick or easy, but it is the groundwork. It is also not what will help the Isles all that directly. You are a sovereign nation after all."

"Not yet, but it is a goal eventually," he admitted. "And the groundwork is a good start. You need a foundation before you can build, after all. As for quick and easy... what's worth doing rarely is."

"I am not so sure you are not," he considered the situation. "But it is also not an area of law, if such laws even exist, that I have studied much."

"I would imagine the laws exist," the Lion thought, leaning back. "If nothing else, on the books from when things like this were more common... even if we were one, getting recognition of any sort would be the problem. Without recognition by other nations, the question of sovereignty is largely academic."

"True," Jurnix nodded thoughtfully. "And there are pros and cons to each way of showing up, though from my own experience the most effective way of getting your way is a combination of bribery, blackmail and calling in debts."

"Most of which we don't have available," Solomon pointed out. "Not right now, at least. Bribery we might be able to arrange, of course, but the blackmail and debts we don't have. Of course, if we go along with the option to open up our healers, then we might be able to get some fairly powerful allies on our side rather quickly."

"And there are what I have gathered over the years," Jurnix pointed out. "Both under my own name and others. I have been preparing for the trials of creating a new country since well before I founded the Institute."

"Are you sure you want to call those in now? Most favors are only good once, and blackmail and bribery only go so far. If you wanted to try and pull it off for the Institute's territory, it might be more difficult if you attempted to arrange it here instead."

"There are too many unknowns to see how it will happen now." He countered. "You may be able to do it on your own when it comes. I am also practical. If my boons tip the balance, they are better spent ensuring the Isles freedom. When it comes right down to it, it is far more likely to work here where no one currently claims the land then at the Institute where we are under an existing government."

"It would be easier than convincing them to give up territory," the Lion assented. "We'll have to see how it works out; this might not even be an issue, in the end. I certainly wouldn't want to bet on it, but it might not be."

"Yes, we have to work on Isle attitudes as well as outside ones." Jurnix nodded. "Right now would not be a good time to go public, you'd put off many people that might otherwise be reasonable."

"Most likely; we are going to have a hard time of convincing the people that more contact with the outside is a good thing. Some of the younger Avatars are interested, but that's to be expected. Of course, they're also the ones who would have the hardest time fitting in."

"Usually the case. Educating them in the ways of the outside will have to be a top priority. For all the similarities, the world has changed a great deal since Rasputin's time."

"For better and for worse," the Lion nodded. "That much we've gathered. Perhaps we should start with that then? See to it that Samson's the only one of us who has to leave without being ready for it."

"At least as much as possible." Jurnix nodded in agreement.

Meanwhile, half-way across New Avalon, Samson was showing Megan around. It wasn't too hard; there weren't many particularly interesting sights to see, at least not to her eyes. There were a few times when they'd stop to chat with a friend or acquaintance of the Liger's, and it was after one of those when they finally took a bit of a break.

"Sorry about Fire," Samson chuckled as they sat down, and he brought over a glass of cold juice for her. He sat down next to her on a bench, sipping his own drink. "The look on his face was priceless though," he added, looking up into the sky at the retreating streak of flame the Fox was leaving behind.

"I'm not sure which was more offensive. That he thought he was God's gift to females or that he could actually be better at it than you." She rolled her eyes in good humor. "I take it you two are fairly good friends?"

"Fairly good," the Liger nodded easily, chuckling with a bit of a blush under his fur. "He's definitely a character. So, anything particular you want to see next?"

"Well, there's the ruins you've mentioned," she grinned and leaned happily against him. "And your folks if you want to." He blinked, looking down at her with a surprised expression.

"You, uhm... want to meet them?"

"If they're anyone still in your life, yeah." She looked up at him softly. "It's kind of customary to introduce a mate to your family if it gets serious."

"I wasn't sure if it had," he admitted with a blush, hugging her gently. "Any preference for which one to meet first?"

"Up to you," she nuzzled him.

"Probably easiest to meet my father first," he said, thinking about it a bit. "Get along with him best, honestly."

"For or after dinner? I'm hungry."

"After," Samson said easily, standing up and offering her his hand. "It'd be rude to show up for dinner without some warning. I should have something back home, if you don't mind stew for dinner."

"Not at all," she accepted his hand with a smile. "It won't be spoiled after your time away?"

"The meat's well preserved," he explained. "It should be just fine. The vegetables I can get on the spot, if the dried ones aren't any good any more, or I'm forgetting what I have on-hand. Could get the meat in too, if I had to."

"Sounds good," she nuzzled against his side. "Worst case we just go back and eat on the ship."

"Yeah," he chuckled, the two of them starting to walk away from the bench. "Actually, if you'd prefer that, it'd probably be faster. My place is a bit of a hike from here."

"I think I'd like that better. I am hungry."

"So let's go grab dinner, then head over to my father's," he smiled, turning back towards the yacht at the nearby docks. "I'll send a bit of warning that we'll be on our way," he added, as a nearby gull took off from the top of a building and flew towards the end of the island he'd started towards at first.

"By messenger bird?" She looked at him dubiously.

"Signal we agreed on a while ago," he chuckled. "I have a gull go by and tap on the window to get somebody's attention. They'll do that on their own once in a while, but there are a couple other bits in there that make it pretty clear it's not accidental. It's rather like what happened with the fish at the mall."

"Urr?" Megan blinked up at him. "You did that?" She broke out in a grin and hugged him. "You are such a sweetheart."

"Aww...." He blushed deeply, hugging her back. "I do my best. Figured you'd like it."

"You were right." She squeezed him as best she could as they walked. "And Foxie wondered why I wasn't interested in anyone else."

"Well, he's not going to be the only guy who's interested," Samson pointed out with a bit of a chuckle. "You're definitely a catch," he rumbled, rubbing her shoulder and inhaling the salty air.

"He's just the boldest," she giggled and grinned at him. "And I would have said yes if I wasn't with you."

"Boldest is the polite way of describing him," the Liger grinned back down. "And you don't have to turn 'em down if you're interested. Not that I mind having you myself," he rumbled, leaning down to nuzzle her affectionately.

"Now why would I be interested when I've got you?" Megan asked seriously. "It's not like they could compare."

"Variety maybe? You might meet somebody who's interested in more than a one-night stand too. I know you aren't interested in pups now, but you might be eventually."

"And I'll worry about that then." She shrugged. "If I'm going to sire-hunt, then they'll be pure-breeds and he'll be a Blue Merle too."

"All right," he nodded easily, accepting it as they reached the yacht. "Just be ready for it to take a little bit for word to get around."

"I'm already used to it." She nuzzled. "Rumor mill's like that everywhere."

"Very true," he chuckled. "Though when you've got telepaths and as few people for it to spread through as we do, it works faster. Probably going to get a few people wondering what you're thinking too," he added more softly, knowing that wasn't going to go over particularly well.

"The smart ones will keep their mouths shut and the looks civil." She growled angrily as her thick, fluffy tail lashed hard. *'Civilized countries lost that attitude a generation ago." He winced, knowing that her reaction had probably been picked up by half the mentalists in the area.

"Please try not to hurt anybody," he said, looking down at her seriously. "Most of them won't be worse than if you were dating somebody who didn't look appealing outside."

"I'll behave," her voice was still a growl, though she did mean it. "As long as they do. Promise."

"Thank you," he said, relief in his tone as he led her into the ship. "C'mon, let's see about getting dinner cooked."

A couple hours later, the two of them were approaching one of the large houses near the administrative buildings.

"We're lucky we came back when we did," Samson smiled. "This time of year, Father usually stays here with his wife and cubs. Something might have come up back home, but it's usually pretty quiet now." He knocked on the large, carved wooden door, one easily tall enough for the Liger. After a few moments, the door opened, and a Lion nearly a foot shorter than Samson greeted him.

"Samson! I'd heard you were back," the older Lion grinned. "And you've brought a friend with you."

"I told you the rumor mill worked faster around here," Samson chuckled, looking down at the Collie next to him. "Father, this is Megan Rhyzer-Marce. Megan, my father, Marcus Grove."

"Hello sir." She smiled at the large Lion, her tail wagging gently.

"Welcome to the Isles," he said, bowing slightly towards the shorter Collie. "Come on in, both of you. We were wondering what you were up to, Samson. Any particular reason you've brought her around, rather than your other friends who came with you?" He asked, looking over his shoulder at his son as he led them both into the house.

"They're doing other things," Megan piped up easily.

"The Professor is speaking with Solomon, and the others are exploring with some others," Samson nodded.

"Is that all?" A younger lioness piped up from her seat in the main room, looking over the book she was reading at Samson with a bit of a smirk.

"Cassie," Samson rumbled warningly as she stuck her tongue out at him over her book.

"Hey, it's not my fault I'm an empath," she shot back.

"Is this something I should be hearing about?" Marcus chuckled, looking at Samson with an amused expression.

"Megan and I've been going out," Samson said, blushing beneath his fur as she half-smirked and nuzzled against his side.

"Told you you'd have to get off the Isles to find a good girl," Cassandra teased lightly.

"Is there really that big a shortage of them here?" Megan snickered at Samson.

"She's a precog too," Samson chuckled. "Though she isn't always right, as a few of her tutors could testify to."

"Okay, that's just not fair," the Lioness grumbled, crossing her arms with a frown. "Besides, one of 'em was blocking me."

"That's what you get for trying to get away without studying," her father said seriously, before looking back at Samson and Megan just as seriously for a moment, before he smiled.

"Glad you finally found somebody, Samson. So Megan, how did you two end up meeting? He isn't exactly the social type."

"But I am," she giggled. "It seems that despite the Prof's warning he left his door unlocked so I could bound in and introduce myself while he was unpacking."

"That sounds about right," the Lion chuckled. "Have a seat," he added, gesturing towards the chairs, mostly oversized for the Collie, though there were a few that would fit her. Samson led her over towards one near a chair sized for him, sitting down.

It wasn't hard to read the temptation to settle in his lap in Megan's, body language, but she did the polite things and sat down in the chair next to him instead.

"Are you planning on staying here when the others return then?" A new voice asked, an older Lioness walking in from the other room as Marcus took a seat.

"That depends, m'lady," Samson said, bowing his head towards her politely. "Solomon may wish for me to return with them, and if he does, then there is no question about what I will do. Even if he does not ask me to return, I may."

"I find the fact that you ever left questionable," she said simply, sitting down and leaning back in her chair with the air of one accustomed to being in charge. "New Avatars arriving is one thing, but traffic with the outside is another."

"Could we please leave this conversation for another time?" Marcus asked, looking over at her almost hopefully. "He just got back, they'll be here for some time, I'm sure. We can discuss politics and philosophies another time."

"I take it this one's an old argument." Megan all but snickered in Samson's ear.

"Very much," he agreed with a quiet nod. "Particularly between the two of us."

"Very well," the Lioness agreed with a bit of a shrug. "Samson is well aware of my position on the subject. It's up to him if he wishes to consider it." For a moment, everybody thought he was going to come up with some sort of retort, but managed to hold it back as Megan glared at her in utter contempt and a fair bit of disgust.

"So," Cassandra started after a few awkward moments, "Megan... what do you think of the Isles? I know you haven't been here long, but...."

"It's... quiet here." She struggled for nice things to say. "And very green."

"You prefer the cities?" Marcus guessed. "More people, creature comforts?"

"More things to do, more information, a better sense of the whole." She thought out loud. "And yes, more people."

"Sounds like you're not planning on staying here," Cass giggled. "What's it like, outside? Samson probably spent the whole time in a garden or something, so it's not really helpful asking him," she teased, winking at her half-brother.

"Oh, I got him out a few times." Megan grinned back at the older girl. "I think the general assessment was it's completely overwhelming."

"Well of course he'd say so," she grinned back. "What do you think? You've said some of the things you like about it, but what's it like?"

"It's big and busy and you can be or have anything you want if you're willing to work for it." She struggled to explain a thing she never really thought of. "You can see a new city every day of your life and never see one twice. There are malls, places to shop and have fun that take up many square miles with so much to see that you can go ever day for years and never see it all. And there are people of every kind you could imagine and a lot you'd never think of on your own. And the internet has everything you could want to know about at your fingertips and makes it easy to have friends half a world away, whether or not you ever see their face in real life. There's everything out there."

"Sounds incredible," the Lioness grinned.

"There's also a good number of problems," her mother pointed out. "Even if things have improved since when your grandparents fled, Avatars are still not equals, and that is only the first on the list."

"True," Megan nodded. "Though I've never actually witnessed a crime, or had one happen to someone while I knew them." She shrugged. "It's not like you are in a position to throw stones one the subject of acceptance."

"Excuse me?" The Lioness said, the hair on the back of her neck bristling slightly as the air picked up the stinging scent of ozone. "I'm hardly out organizing a lynch mob to string you up for being from the outside. I'm not treating you like a monster for it, not trying to make you feel unwelcome. All I am doing is making sure that my child doesn't forget that there is a reason we are here, avoiding it."

"I think this would be a good time to leave for the evening," Samson said, hoping to get out before anything escalated. And to think, he'd thought it would be a better idea to bring Megan here first. Should've known this would happen.

"Of course," she stood to follow him with a hard, fearless glare for the Lioness. "All you are doing is perpetuating what brought you here in the first place. Fear, hatred and ignorance." The Collie walked out with a snort of disdain and without a backward look or thought for a possible reprisal. Samson followed out behind her, giving his father an apologetic look, very glad that they were getting out before the lady of the house could recover enough to really start raging.

"I am so sorry," he said to Megan quickly, as soon as the door had closed behind him.

"You are not responsible for her." She shook her head and hugged him sideways. "It's okay, but if that's the friendly household, maybe not meet your mother for a while." She nuzzled her. "I'm not real good at keeping my mouth shut either."

"She usually doesn't get going quite that much," he said, shaking his head with a sigh. "She grew up on some of the nastiest stories of what happened during the Exodus, and before it. Fortunately, she's also pretty good at keeping her powers under control. My mother... she'd be a different issue, that might be a problem."

"What can she do?" Megan asked quietly and nudged the much bigger Liger into walking.

"My mother's a were," he explained, starting to walk, holding her close. "Can shift into a feral tiger, though it doesn't do much for her self-control. I meant a different issue that'd be a problem, by the way. Most people have solid control on their powers around here, unless they really get going."

"As long as it's physical, I'm all but immune to them." She reminded him with a light chuckle. "But so far these people have further to go to adapt to the outside than the outside has to adapt to us."

"Diane is... traditionalist," he sighed, rubbing her side lightly. "And even if you're immune to them, it still wouldn't be good to test it that way. Most people are more like Father on that issue. They're not crazy about the idea, but not dead-set against it either."

"And the Prof is thinking of this place as a sanctuary?" She muttered bitterly. "It's better off as a prison colony. They're already xenophobes, the might as well take the rest of the anti-social idiots so the rest of us have a shot at a decent life." Samson winced, sighing and shaking his head.

"We're not all like that, Megan, not any more than everybody on the outside hates mutants. We've been raised with a history that's not kind to the outside, no... give us time to come around? To see how things go with a chance to learn about it."

"It's not my choice anyway," she shrugged, trying to put the worst of her reaction away. "But it really is like walking backwards to grandma's time. I guess I keep expecting to see the rest of the pre-liberation stuff too. Those were nasty times to be different, Samson, and I see every bit of its foundation here in what you've said and what I've seen." She glanced up at him. "Yes, time can change things, but it's time you really don't have. Do you know algebra? The exponential growth chart."

"You think things are only going to get worse, before they get better?" He guessed, trying to figure out how she thought it applied here.

"I don't know about that. I was referring to the rate of change in my world. Especially the technology growth rate. We're already building a permanent space station. It's scheduled to be completed within two years. We landed on the moon in my parent's time. Baring another big war, we'll have colonies on Chemar before I'm too old to join them." She shook her head and sighed. "The growth rate is exponential."

"You're right there," he admitted. "But in a lot of ways, you hit the nail on the head with the chief issues; fear, hate, and ignorance. For most of us, it's ignorance and a bit of fear. The hatred... it varies." He sighed as the two of them walked along. "We are going to have to find a way to deal with the real world eventually. Whatever she thinks, there's no way to stop it, just to slow it down until we're ready, gods willing."

"Time... I just don't see the resources here or in your words to give you that."

"What would you suggest, Megan? What do you think would happen, if the Isles were revealed no, just thrown out into the world? The best-case scenario is that we'd be wiped out or scattered to the corners of the world within months, maybe a year or two. Worst case, it could ignite anti-mutant hysteria world-wide. We're a spark in a powder keg, right now, likely at any time. And it just won't work, to keep hiding like this. I may not be a precog, but nothing remains hidden forever. It's a miracle nobody else had found and settled the Isles before we did, in the modern day." He sighed, shaking his head again. "What else is there to do?"

She looked around, at people, at plants, at the birds, at the sky; at anything but him.

"That's for smarter people than me to figure out." She admitted. "What I would have done differently was a choice you never got the opportunity to make. The choice of whether or not to create this mess for others to clean up." She sighed. "But I'm a fighter, not a hider."

"It's not my job to figure out either," Samson admitted with a sigh, leading her over to a bench and sitting down as the night sky was pierced by the occasional Avatar exercising their flashier powers. "And I don't envy those whose job it is." He was quiet, holding her close, thinking things over.

"Sometimes," he said softly, after a little time had passed, "I wonder what would have happened, if Rasputin had taken different means... if he had stayed in the world, rather than retreating from it, and taking the colonists with him. Would the world be a better place for mutants because of it, or worse? What would have happened? Well, no good asking things like that now. Have to deal with what did happen, see if there's any way to make it better...."

"What would have happened is the same thing that happened with every other social conflict in modern history." Megan held back the snarl. "It would be well under way to fixed by now, instead of a situation that'll blow up into a war and extermination more likely than not. Grandin didn't have the tech or the infrastructure to pull it off because it didn't exist then. It does now. And now the adults here are doing what Rasputin did. They want their comfortable lives so badly they're willingly condemning their children to loose the battle they could have won."

"Could they have won it, any more than we can, than the G3's can? I'm not the most up to date on post-Exodus history yet, but I did see a trend in the Liberation. Every time another group was recognized, was given equal rights, it was because a mass number spoke out. Because when they fought, they had the strength to fight, as well as the determination. How many people did it take, to make things better for people like your mothers? And it's still not totally equal."

"No and it may never be," she shook her head. "Most who spoke out weren't gay or domestiques or females. It was the ones in charge who acquiesced because their own members sided with us. Because we were out there to make friends and be savvy and make ourselves too hard to ignore. Avatars could have been part of that movement. We could have really made a difference in it. Not just for ourselves but for all the other minorities. The risks are so much higher now. The world not only has the capability to wipe us out, but to keep us from ever being born again. Then there was the possibility to go quiet and work on things more. It won't happen for us. We'll win acceptance or we'll never be born again. It's already begun, you know. The pre-birth purging of undesirables. Ten years and some it's been going on and publicly known that anything genetic can be checked before the abortion boundary and the young gotten rid of if they aren't what the parents want. We're not twenty years shy of true genetic engineering of children for desirable traits."

"The capability to wipe us out was around before," he said softly. "There aren't a thousand of us in the world, Megan, even now, according to the Professor. And we're not all bulletproof." He sighed, leaning back and closing her eyes. "I'm not trying to argue with you about this... I know you're right, about us having to fight, to try. Do... do you really think it's at the point where it's impossible to 'win' any more? More difficult, yes, maybe a lot more difficult... but impossible?"

"Nothing is impossible," she leaned against him and buried her face in his dense fur. "But bitterly difficult and bloody? I expect it will be."

"Shh...." He rubbed her back gently, holding her close. "I'm sorry, Megan... but it was going to be, as long as the fight was there for us to be in. Maybe it could have been over by now, but we can't change that. All we can do is try to deal with it ourselves. Like you said... you're a fighter." He leaned back from her slightly, looking down into her mismatched blue and brown eyes. "It's still worth fighting for now, and we will do so. We have to."

"Yes, we do." She murmured and let her eyes close. "It just scares the hell out of me sometimes, knowing what happens to revolutionaries in my own country, much less some of the others."

"I know," he sighed, shuddering a bit and holding her close. "We don't have to start out as revolutionaries though, and I'm sure the Professor and Solomon will search for any other way to start things out there is. You want to go somewhere more private?"

"Yeah," she murmured quietly, most of the spirit and fight drained for the moment. "Anywhere around here got an internet connection I can actually use?"

"Do you have your wireless connector with you?"

"Yeah, my laptop's on the ship. But I don't have coverage here and Jurnix disabled the relay on the ship for it."

"Probably doesn't want us traced," Samson murmured. "Well, I can probably get you to the connections at the library, but it's a bit of a hike; my access points are all on my home-island, the next one over."

"I can deal with a hike," she smiled a little shakily. "I am a Collie after all, even if I'm not the psychotically energetic kind like SnapShot. I could just really use a nice dose of normality right now." She leaned against him. "You go into the garden to relax and recover, I log on and e-mail."

"Just be sure you don't say anything about where we are to anybody outside the Institute," he said seriously, standing up and offering her his hand. "I'm afraid that the policy is to scan emails for that sort of thing. By the way, I hope you trust me to handle bridges? It'd be faster than grabbing a ferry."

"I can cope," she rolled her eyes and stood with him, her spirit returning enough for the snide, if serious question. "Do you have any right to privacy around here?"

"As much as you ever do in a small community," he said apologetically. "Which means remarkably little happens that doesn't end up in the rumor mill, even if you think you're the only person who was there."

"Well, it's not like I talk about this stuff anyway," she shrugged and started towards the docks where the Institute's yacht was moored. "I'm used to keeping quiet about some stuff already."

"True," he nodded, following after her. "If you'd like, they do have computers at the library, you wouldn't have to get your laptop."

"Do they block websites?"

"For what?" He asked. "I haven't run into it, myself. And I've got it on good authority from a certain Fox you've met that they don't block sites the libraries out there do," he added, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.

"Well, given the amount of scrutiny this place has for outside contact, they might not allow folks to access sites all about free communication."

"The sites are allowed," he explained, "we just all understand why it is we're careful about it. They're not popular with a lot of the more traditional people like Diane, but then, neither is the fact we have the machines at all. They're a more recent addition, after Solomon came into power."

"I am so not surprised." She chuckled with a shake of her head. "Okay, I'll just use them. Do you have something to do while I play?"

"Catch up on my drills," he chuckled. "Maybe restock my larder with something that isn't dried or salted half to death." He turned her towards another end of the island. "I'm sure I'll be able to find something to do."

"Good," she leaned against him as they walked quietly. "I'd hate to get you stuck in the library with nothing to do while I chat."

"If I couldn't find somebody to talk to, to really catch up on what's happened when I was gone, I could always read," he smiled. "Should I wait up for you tonight?"

"Nah," she shook her head. "I'll probably still be right where you leave me in the morning."

"I'll warn the people running the place," he chuckled. "Though it's not particularly unusual. I'll make sure to nudge you in time for breakfast."

"I'm sure someone will." She snickered lightly. "Not that it's unusual for me to notice breakfast around noon."

"Even when I'm cooking?" He asked with a teasing tone.

"If it's within smelling-range, I'll notice that." She giggled. "You're the group cook for a reason you know."

"Yeah, I don't burn water," he chuckled, grinning down at her in the night as they walked along. "I swear, you'd think Charlie was an army cook, from the time he tried it."

"Everybody's got their gifts. Cooking is just not one of his. Or mine for that matter. Eating nummy food is nice, but I'll never manage cooking."

"Now I know why you like me," he teased, ruffling her hair.

"Hey, can't blame a girl for wanting to keep what she likes." She nuzzled him teasingly, her tail brushing under his. "You've just got too much going for you not to be a keeper."

"Sure," he smirked. "Just wait, one of these days, you'll have me staying at home, slaving over a hot stove for you, just taking care of your pups and cooking."

"Mmmm, now I could really get to like this domestic nature you're developing." She looked around quickly for onlookers, not finding any, though the lights and noises from a few of the nearby buildings suggested where some were. Maybe there were advantages to having fewer people around after all.

"Oh really?" He rubbed her shoulder. "Of course, if I was full-time domestic, you do realize that means you'd have to bring home the bacon," he winked.

"I think I can manage," she grinned back and half pushed him into the darker area off the path and onto the grass behind a few bushes. "Of course, if I go archaeologist, you'll have to keep the tent instead of the house." She grinned up at him playfully from a full body press against his chest and groin.

"Oh, I think I could manage," he rumbled, grinning down at her. "Of course, you'd probably be the only archaeologist with your boyfriend along." He knelt in front of her, nuzzling her neck and rubbing her back while she arched and moaned into the contact, welcoming his advances without reservation.

"I don't think anyone will complain after the first meal." She moaned softly, her hands working along his shoulders as she breathed in his scent so deeply it made her whimper in desire.

"Only if we keep them awake nights," he murmured, kissing her neck and reaching down, rubbing the firm globes of her ass, then down her legs, his breath heavier as he responded to her own desire and arousal with his own.

"Then we'll just have to learn to be quiet when we play." Megan shuddered and cried out softly. Her scent quickly grew heavy with her arousal as the downy fur between her legs became slick with her juices. Her lover worked his fingers up between them, rubbing her sex as he claimed her mouth with a tender kiss, groaning into her muzzle.

It was quite enough to draw a shuddering cry from her stiffening body. Against his fingers, her flesh quivered and pulsed, an exterior echo of the sensations crashing threw her body until she slumped slightly against his shoulders.

"Ohh, on your back, handsome," Megan breathed heavily, her body still twitching. "Want you in me so bad."

"You are wound up today," he rumbled, laying back and drawing her down on top of him, kissing her again as he rubbed his thick shaft against her through their clothes.

"It's stress relief," she moaned and made quick work of unzipping his pants and pushing them down enough to expose his groin. Without a second thought she spread her legs and rubbed her sex along his cock, slicking it between her near-orgasmic cries of pleasure. He groaned deeply, his arousal quickly rising to match her own as he spread her slick lips with his shaft, rubbing his length against the sensitive flesh beneath her clit, rubbing a bit harder against the sensitive nub itself.

"Oh, you are good." Megan shuddered and moaned before lifting up to guide his huge cock into her body. With each inch she slid down that hot length, a cry of need escaped her throat and her body tightening around and massaging the hard flesh penetrating it.

"Have to be, to keep up," he groaned, holding her hips and helping to guide himself into her carefully, half-rumbling, half-whimpering at the feel of her incredibly tight sex around his shaft. "Gods, Megan...." A week was simply not enough time to get used to this.

He had to wonder if any amount of time was.

Then mind and body were swept away by tight, slick heat and the pressures of pleasure spiraling out of control that made him so grateful of his endurance to pleasure her long enough to content her body and desires.

Earlier that evening, when the group had split up, Gaia and Charlie were faced with a small, but apparently very curious, crowd of onlookers.

"Any idea how much we're supposed to say or keep quiet about around here?" The male Clydesdale asked Gaia quietly.

*'I wouldn't mention the mind-wiping thing, but otherwise I think it's all pretty open.'* She replied on a tightly shielded channel and walked up to the mixed group. "Questions, folks?" She asked with an easy smile.

"Yeah," a voice from the crowd shouted. "Who are you guys?" There were several other questions, and she could sense the telepathic chatter, along with the light probing of their surface thoughts.

"I am Gaia, he's Charlie." She looked directly at the one who asked with a light rebuke to those probing for poor manners before letting them past the outer layer of her shields.

"What are you doing here?" Somebody else asked.

"Seeing if we like it here."

"Why?" A suspicious voice asked. The owner stepped forward, a lean, white-furred Persian female wearing what looked like a badge or medal. The newcomers couldn't help but notice that the crowed moved out of her way easily, or that there were a couple other people with similar badges in the crowd. Charlie frowned mentally, realizing that they were probably being read by the telepaths in the area.

"Why would anybody?" He asked back. "We'd like to know what the place is like, if we want to stay here, or at least spend more time."

"You're Avatars, where else would you go?" A younger Rabbit this time, more curious than suspicious.

"Home, somewhere else," Gaia shrugged. "From where I'm standing, this welcome is less friendly than most I've faced." She addressed the white feline, then turned to the Rabbit with a softer tone. "There is always a choice, another option."

"Not where we can be who we are," the Persian said evenly. "And can you blame some of us for being suspicious? It isn't often that people manage to come in out of the blue, without being noticed before they're close enough to be seen."

"Why you missed us is your problem." Gaia snorted. "We were hardly hiding on the way in, we were invited here by Solomon and the idea that this place is unique in the world is just laughable, and arrogant as hell."

"It's not like we tried to sneak in," Charlie pointed out. "Last time I checked, how we showed up wasn't exactly subtle."

"No, but it was neat," another one of the onlookers grinned. A sort of generation gap was already becoming apparent; it looked like the older they were, the less likely they were to be openly interested in the newcomers in any positive way. "Where are you from?"

"The Jurnix Institute for the Gifted," Gaia answered him. "Near Corondin, Pumith, United New World."

"It sounds like Corondin's changed quite a bit, with the Unification," a very old Fox said. He looked like he was probably older than any of them there, quite possibly one of the original colonists. "Unless they don't know what you really do there?"

"It is quietly known," Gaia answered him politely. "We don't advertise we are a haven for mutants to the world at large, but much of the area knows."

"Changed quite a bit," the Fox mused, looking over at the younger Persian. "If it hadn't, that place wouldn't be standing today."

"They're still hiding, from the sound of it," she replied matter-of-factly. "And Avatars and mutants still aren't accepted by the public, or they wouldn't be considering this as a backup."

Gaia shook her head. "With an attitude like yours so prevalent, Mindshadow, I would have to vote against an alliance. You are too immature and fearful to do anything but harm to our acceptance in the real world."

"My duty is to protect us from the outside's knowledge," she said in a low voice, narrowing her yellow eyes. "Caution isn't fear."

"And paranoia isn't caution," Charlie said. "Even if the world was as bad as you think at some point, it's a hell of a lot better than that now."

"And more to the point, you can't hide forever." Gaia sighed. "No defense is that perfect. Sooner or later, the Isles will become known and we will all suffer the fallout."

That sent up a murmur of activity through the gathered onlookers, some worried, some seeming to agree.

"We have remained hidden for fifty years and more," Mindshadow said firmly. "We will remain hidden until the time is right, which is not my place to decide."

"And some of us believe in preparing for the inevitable so it goes the best it can." Gaia considered her with crystal blue eyes. "If you do not believe it is your place to decide, do you believe there is someone who has that choice?"

"Of course," the Persian said levelly. "If it is anybody's, it is Solomon's, though even he must answer to the people of the Isles."

"He asked them to come here," the Rabbit pointed out, leading to another murmur of activity.

*'If I was still in my old line of work,'* Charlie said quietly to his lover, over the frequency she'd used before, *'this would be the point where I'd be in a good spot to start a riot. We might want to be careful about that sort of thing.'*

*'Yes, the generational rift is greater than normal around here.'* She nodded to him fractionally. "And he is now meeting with the leader of the Institute." She pointed out evenly. "Two brilliant leaders are likely to find an acceptable solution to a bad situation."

"We will just have to wait and see what they come up with, then," Mindshadow said, inclining her head slightly. "In the meantime, the Isles will continue as they have."

"And we are here to see what you have accomplished." Gaia smiled, though she looked at the Rabbit more than the fluffy feline for an answer.

"Accomplished? What do you mean, what we've accomplished?" The brown-furred Rabbit asked, not sure why he was apparently being asked.

"You've had fifty years of thinking outside the mainstream," she explained easily. "Samson has spoken of significant accomplishments in encouraging Gifts and how beautiful the Isles are. The leaders look at politics, I look at people and culture. You have a most unique situation here after all."

"You want to look around?" He asked, almost hopefully. "We can help you with that."

"Pretty much," Gaia smiled at him. "Why don't you show off what you like the best of the Isles?"

"Well... sure!" The Rabbit shrugged, starting to grin as parts of the crowd started to slowly disperse, perhaps recognizing that the 'show' was over for now. "You sure you want me to show you around?"

"Why wouldn't we?" Gaia asked him curiously.

"Well, I'm not exactly a guide," he chuckled sheepishly. "I know the place, but not sure I know what'd be the most interesting spots for you."

"That makes you perfect," Gaia smiled at him. "I'm not fond of taking tours from people who think they know what I want to see. I want to see what life here is like."

"For a new arrival, or somebody who's grown up here?" He asked, his ears twitching a bit as he stepped forward and extended his hand towards the two equines, while everybody else went back to their business. "The name's Windshear, by the way."

"For someone who isn't a stuffy adult too worried to have fun." She chuckled and shook his hand. "I'm sure we'll get the official tour too."

"Only if you ask for it," he chuckled, relaxing as he shook Charlie's hand. "You want to see where we have fun then? Samson tell you about the Skyball league?"

"Nope," she grinned at him. "So how about you showing us."

"Sure," he grinned back. "They should be starting practice on Maes Stennes, it'd be great to have somebody new to watch. You two have to shift to fly?" He asked easily.

"Yes," Gaia nodded, answering for them both. "We can do less flashy forms than those Phoenix though."

"That would probably be better," he admitted, the winds picking up beneath him as he floated off the ground easily, his fur ruffled by the stiff breeze surrounding him. "Follow me?"

"Sure," Charlie nodded easily, sprouting wings and taking off after Windshear, Gaia following close behind them on dapple-gray wings of her own.

A short flight later, and about a half-hour into watching the strange blend of soccer and what they would have sworn were aerial combat drills, Charlie and Gaia heard a somewhat familiar voice behind them.

"So, I heard a couple a new shifters were in town," a lazy voice chuckled behind them. "When I heard what they looked like, figured I should check if they were the folks I'm remembering." Charlie looked back over his shoulder, a surprised grin spreading across his muzzle as he saw the Cheetah behind him.

"Lightning? What are you doing here?"

"I would guess making himself comfortable," Gaia chuckled. "Good to see you again."

"Good to see you guys too," the shorter mutant grinned. "Sorry I never managed to get back to the Institute, but... well, things came up."

"I'll bet they did," Charlie chuckled. "Or you just forgot about us. How'd you end up out here?"

"Long story," he smiled. "I'll tell you guys later on. You busy, or think you can take a few minutes away from watching the team to meet a couple people I'd like to introduce you to?"

"I think we'll always have time for you." Gaia chuckled and stood. "We'll be back in a bit, Windshear."

"Okay," he nodded, looking back at them. "Say 'hi' to Fugue and Stalker for me."

"Will do, bud," Lightning nodded, as Charlie stood to follow his friend. "Come on, they're back at my place."

"You found a mate here?" Gaia took a not-so-random guess.

"Mates, actually," the Cheetah admitted, glancing up at Charlie, who reached out to put a hand on his shoulder reassuringly.

"Good to know," the Clydesdale said warmly. "What're they like?"

"Two Leopards," he said, any sort of worry he had about Charlie's reaction fading. "Stalker's who I hooked up with first, great guy, incredible hunter. Fugue was his mate, we ended up getting together a couple months ago. She's carrying a litter of our cubs now," he added, the nervous pride in his tone of voice coming through loud and clear the Gaia's mental senses.

"Half breed cubs?" Gaia asked curiously.

"Some of them," he nodded. "At least probably, I'm not sure how the genetics will work out between Cheetah and Leopard."

Charlie glanced at his lover, almost as if asking if they should point out what Samson seemed to have had to deal with.

"A planned litter?" She asked softly, trying to find a way to bring it up herself.

"Kind of," he explained. "They were planning on some from them, the ones with me weren't expected, but the healer said they'd be healthy cubs. You... know about the Programs?"

"Yes," Gaia actually growled in her Horse form, her ears flat back. "They were in Samson's briefing. But trying for half-breeds? That doesn't sound right."

"I don't like it either," Lightning said lowly, shuddering some.

"Too much like what the bastards at TGRI did to us," Charlie nodded, reaching back to rub Gaia's back gently, hoping to help her keep relaxed. "But it doesn't sound like they're planning the same thing, or using the same methods."

"No, they aren't, but... damn, Annie, it's just too much like what they did. They're still hoping to find me a Cheetah for a mate, but they haven't found a match, and they'd have to find one I wanted to have cubs with, they know that much, and why. Now that was a conversation. Honestly, the cubs I have with Fugue weren't part of their 'plan,' but the healer seems less worried about the half-breed issues than they do."

"Given the way they treat half-breeds around here, I'm not surprised." The big mare snorted. "It's disgusting to be so fixated on breeding that you discount people."

"You've noticed that too, huh?" He asked quietly. "Tell me that Samson's started to catch on? I've... well, I've tried to be friendly with him, but a few of them around here can be pretty nasty about it. I didn't mean the health issues though; the healer seemed to be trying to convince us not to worry about what they'd have to go through. I'm holding out... hell, I shouldn't be talking about that one, now," he said, shaking his head. "Let's just say I've got a couple ideas, especially now that you're here."

"He's getting there. And you can tell us about it," Charlie assured him.

"His girlfriend has a lot to do with that." Gaia smiled softly. "She's quite... aggressive... about not allowing anyone to be a second-class citizen."

"So, you're plan... something you haven't suggested to Fugue yet?"

"No, I haven't, and I'd rather suggest it before I plan it too much."

"Want to run it by us?" She offered.

"Well... with you guys here, it's safe to assume you'll probably have something to do with the Isles? Maybe be able to take a few people to the Institute from here?"

"Samson's likely to come back with us," she nodded. "Your family is certainly welcome. Ginny and SnapShot's pup could use the company."

"The two pups have grown up, hmm?" He chuckled a bit.

"Not to watch SnapShot," Charlie smirked. "Though, seriously, he's not a half-bad parent, when he has some backup."

"Makes sense. I'd want to run it by Fugue and Stalker first, they might not want to go along with that. They're not as bad as Mindshadow and crew, but I can see why they wouldn't want their cubs growing up totally outside of the Isles."

"I expect we'll be able to visit when we want to." Gaia commented. "They wouldn't be out of contact, just out of the hate."

"And I will bring it up to them," he nodded. "Just going to have to see how it turns out. Who knows? Maybe it'll turn out that Leopard/Cheetah cubs can breed," he mused.

"I wouldn't bank on it," Charlie said gently. "I've never heard of it, either way, but I'd keep your options open, if you can."

"Yes, and it is also something that doesn't have to be decided right away." Gaia added. "It's not like they are in physical danger here."

"That's one thing we can be sure of," Lightning agreed, as they reached his house. "I've never seen anybody physically attacked for what they were. The occasional bar brawl," he admitted, "but that's about it."

"I don't think anybody gets away from those," Charlie chuckled, shaking his head.

"Not where alcohol is involved at least." Gaia smirked. "But that's not going to be a hazard for young cubs."

"Especially not if they inherit my reaction to it," Lightning smiled, rolling his eyes a bit as he opened the door. "Come on in," he added, stepping into the front room, then almost flickering, a strong breeze passing through as he noticed the room was empty.

"Fugue's in the kitchen, making breakfast," he explained.

"Lead the way, at our speed." Gaia grinned at him.

"Just needed to figure out where she was," he chuckled, walking back at a much more normal pace as the two equines followed. He led them back to the kitchen, where they could smell the spicy aroma of sausages and eggs being cooked. When he opened the door, it was a bit more surprising; three leopardesses, two of them still wearing their nightclothes, all of them noticeably pregnant, were cooking or cleaning up the dishes. It took another moment to realize that their spots all seemed to match up perfectly.

"I have some friends to introduce, love," Cheetah smiled, looking over at the woman at the sink, washing up the last of the bowls from mixing breakfast as Charlie tried to keep track of what was going on through the room.

"Thought I heard you getting back," she chuckled, turning around and putting the bowl aside to dry. "Thanks girls," she said, walking over to hug the Cheetah as her duplicates winked out of existence, one of them turning off the stove before she did so.

"Are you going to be popping out of bed tonight?" Lightning asked with a smirk, nuzzling his mate and turning a bit to the side. "Fugue, this is Gaia, and Anastasia."

"Call me Charlie, it's what I go by now," the Clydesdale explained with a smile, reaching out to shake the Leopardess' offered hand.

"Pleased to meet you," Gaia smiled and shook her hand next. "It's good to see Lightning with a home and mate."

"Thank you; it's good to meet the friends he told us about," Fugue smiled. "You came with the ship that arrived this morning then?"

"Yes," Gaia nodded. "We were the ones in the sky."

"The Phoenix," she nodded with a chuckle. "Three mentioned that. You definitely got people's attention, especially your ... chat ... with Mindshadow."

"Three?" Charlie asked curiously.

"The second duplicate you saw," Fugue explained easily, moving over to start dishing breakfast out. "I'm a Time Avatar, my gift lets me pull myself out of time, past and future at once, when I need a little help. It makes keeping up with Lightning here a bit easier," she teased, winking at her mate.

"Not my first guess on how that worked," Gaia admitted with a smile. "But certainly an interesting one."

"The names are usually a clue," the Leopardess smiled. "My power is called a 'temporal fugue,' so it came from there. Would you two care to join us?" She asked, filling up plates for herself and Lightning, two empty plates already set out for the new arrivals.

"Uhm, sure," Charlie said, glancing at Gaia to see if she would as well. "Thanks for the offer."

"My future self tipped me off," Fugue explained, answering the question she knew was on his mind.

"You get used to it after a while," Lightning chuckled, taking the first two plates and setting them down on the table, giving her a quick kiss. "Though it makes trying to surprise her tricky."

"I bet, unless it's a surprise she thinks works better as a surprise." Gaia grinned and sat down. "Stalker won't be joining us?"

"It did save him from giving me a set of flowers I was allergic to once though," the Leopardess chuckled. "And I try not to tip myself off too often. And no, Stalker grabbed something quick and left for a hunt earlier, just after Lightning here left to watch practice."

"Did he say if he'd need any help today?" The Cheetah asked.

"Not going after anything large," she said, shaking her head a little as she sat two plates with sausage, eggs, and fruit in front of Gaia and Charlie. "Might need some help bringing it in later, but that's all. Sorry he won't be able to meet you two yet, but I'm sure you'll get the chance before you leave."

"You hunt for your meat here?" Gaia asked curiously, more than a bit uncertain she liked the social implications with meshing with the outside world.

"Sometimes," Fugue nodded, sitting down to eat. "We raise most of it, along with fishing, but Stalker and a few others are good hunters. It helps add a bit of variety to the menu, and there aren't many animals too much larger than rabbits and squirrels."

"'Something large,' that he might have needed help with, would be if he was going to go after one of the Cape Deer," Lightning explained. "Local species, good eating, but they're a bitch to bring down alone, even for a mutant. Mostly hunted for special occasions."

"So what is his Gift?" Gaia nodded and relaxed a bit as she breathed deeply of the breakfast offerings' aroma.

"Color-shifting," Fugue said simply. "He's as good as invisible when he wants to be."

"Sounds quite the useful one, with a creative mind behind it." Gaia nodded. "Can he alter his clothes as well?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Though he usually hunts near-nude; I used to tease him about dressing like something out of an old movie," she chuckled.

"Yeah, but neither of us are exactly complaining about the view," her mate smirked.

"Glad he was born here, instead of outside," Charlie mused, nibbling at the fruit.

"Yeah," Lightning agreed. "They'd have killed to get somebody with that sort of gift at TGRI. Just glad you guys put them out of business."

"And they haven't come back, since we did," Charlie nodded with a tone of satisfaction in his voice.

"Very good to hear," Fugue smiled. "We've heard about what they were doing."

"Yes, it was a pleasure to disassemble their corporation," Gaia grinned with a vengeful pride. "Even more so that their assets now aid us."

"Oh gods, I'll bet that pissed Storm off no end," Lightning laughed, shaking his head. "The bastard was obsessed with controlling everything."

"And now he has the odds-manipulation genius out to do as much damage to his existence as possible." Gaia laughed with a shake of her long gray mane. "You don't know bad luck until you piss the Prof off, and he makes Murphy look like a lucky guy."

"We haven't found him yet," Charlie admitted. "But when we do, he won't be controlling anything. Except maybe a shallow, unmarked hole in the ground."

"I don't think there'll be enough of him left for that."

"That depends on which of us got dibs on him," Lightning growled, calming down when Fugue put her hand on his shoulder. "Sorry, love. You know what he did to Charlie and me, and the others. Is Lyal ...?"

"Doing a lot better," Charlie smiled. "Though if there's anything that'll set him off, it's still mentioning that creep."

"He has a boyfriend now too," Gaia smiled warmly. "They've done wonders for each other in the last few years."

"Sounds like Mel's the only one of us who hasn't hooked up with somebody yet," Lightning smiled, nuzzling his mate's hand lightly. "Though it's weird to think that Lyal picked out another guy. Good to know he's doing better; the bastard deserves to die for what he did to any of us, but slowly for what he did to him."

"Give the girl time, she'll find somebody," the Clydesdale chuckled, relaxing some and working on breakfast. "Right now, I think she's still getting used to having full control over her powers."

"And Amphibians aren't exactly common as far north as we are." Gaia added softly. "She's just not enthusiastic about the idea of going to where her kind are common."

"She wasn't trained in how to control them?" Fugue asked, her ears twisting towards Charlie a split second before her face, and the unbelieving expression on it.

"How to use them, but never fine control, that she learned on her own with our assistance," he explained quietly. "And Dr. Storm had so many mental compulsions stuck in her brain that she didn't have full control. Some to keep her from using them on his people, others to make her use them on others."

"Monster," the Leopardess growled. "Using Avatars as living weapons...."

Gaia only just kept her mouth shut, but it wasn't hard for those who knew her to read the look on her face that she didn't see the Isle's as much different.

"He's out of power now," Charlie said, glancing at his lover with a mental frown. This was definitely not going particularly well. "And if he ever has the balls to try something like that again, they'll be removed in the most creatively painful way we can come up with."

"And we do have some very creative people," Gaia smiled viciously, a look that didn't mesh well with her Equine form.

"There are wolves I'd rather have look at me like that," Fugue chuckled slightly. "They're not as likely to mean it."

"If there's one thing I've learned since I got to the Institute, it's not to tick off Gaia," Charlie said seriously, rubbing her arm affectionately. "And we've all got our... ideas, you might say."

"I'm sure you do," the Leopardess nodded. "Good to know he's the exception out there. What is it like, these days?"

"Probably much like what Lightning's told you about after he left the Institute to explore." Gaia relaxed and focused on presenting a good, though accurate, description of things. "Things have not changed so greatly in the last couple years. Did you have any questions? It's kind of a broad question."

"Lightning's almost proud of the fact he never spent enough time in any one place to really get to know it," she chuckled, as the Cheetah shrugged a little sheepishly.

"I had a lot to see."

"At any rate, maybe you could tell me more about what it's like, to be outside and an Avatar, staying in one place?"

"I kept low key," Lightning explained. "If anybody outside the Institute and TGRI's former employees knows I'm a mutant, I'd be surprised. I didn't run into the prejudice too much."

"We keep it low key as well," Gaia nodded and considered things thoughtfully. "Honestly we've run into homophobic and race hate more than issues with being Avatars. That may change as the Institute gets better known and larger, but much of the general area is aware of what we are. We don't advertise our presence, but neither do we hide. Though using our powers blatantly in public is still discouraged."

"What we do is known, after a fashion, to the people who need us," Charlie added. "Just not to the public at large."

"Like us here, but easier to reach, and not hiding actively," Fugue guessed. "It doesn't sound as... dangerous... to be one of us any more."

"It's not," Gaia inclined her head. "It is not without danger, but being different for any reason is dangerous for the same reason. I won't say it's as safe to be an Avatar out there as it is here, but there is not a single way to be different that isn't much more accepted than it was sixty years ago."

"So why come here? I mean... I'm sure there's more out there for you than there is here, especially as a group." She glanced at Lightning.

"You know why I'm here, Fugue," he said seriously. "And I'm not planning on going back with them, not yet at least."

"Because you represent over half the world population of Avatars and we were requested to come by Solomon."

"Over half?" She asked incredulously. "You must just mean the known ones... right?"

"I don't think so," Lightning said softly. "I didn't know the numbers but... it doesn't really surprise me to hear it."

"We know all of them," Gaia shook her head. "It's one of the things the Prof is very good at. Most aren't part of the Institute, but we know who and were they are, and most of what they can do."

"That's frightening," Fugue said softly. "I mean... we'd always known there were more outside. We'd always assumed...."

"Now do you understand why the population here is so important to us to be at least on reasonable terms with?" She asked softly. "When you become known, you will determine the fate of Avatars everywhere."

"Especially since our discovery will mean that there's no longer a haven for them, at least not that the rest of the world can't find easily."

"Precisely," she nodded. "Regardless of the truth, the perceived politics and attitudes here will be assigned to all Avatars. That is something we need to control very carefully."

"Don't want the Lookouts doing the talking then, that's for sure," Fugue said, closing her eyes and thinking about it. "Or a lot of us, really. Might not be any better letting some of the more... open-minded ones doing it, either. Too many strong feelings on both sides."

"We've noticed," Gaia nodded slightly. "There are also issues with some things you probably don't even think about, like the breeding program. That is going to blow up in our faces if it's not handled very carefully."

"I have an idea of how some people will think of it," the Leopardess said softly, looking over at Lightning. "Too many memories of the old war, and what everybody was told it was about?"

"Then, and what it really has been about on several occasions since with the genetic research angle."

"I'd meant what the war was about," Fugue sighed, closing her eyes. "Where for us, it's the only way to guarantee the next generation. It can't be stopped, but I don't know that there's any real way to 'soften' the blow.'"

"No, I don't expect it can be stopped. What makes it so offensive to most folks can be." Gaia said softly. "Unfortunately such social changes take time we likely don't have. It is not the matchmaking that will cause most of the grief, it's the fixation on reproducing. That extra bit that has Lightning so worked up."

"We don't force it," the Leopardess said, her tone suggesting that she'd had this particular conversation before.

"Maybe not for real," Charlie agreed, "but the encouragement is strong enough that it feels that way. I came from the other end of what Lightning went through, the more willing one... it gives me the creeps," he admitted. "Even if you don't force it, it's so much like what they did to us that it's unsettling at best."

"I don't suppose keeping it something confined to the Isles is likely to help?"

"As long as it actually can be kept to the Isles, yes." Gaia nodded. "The cultural issues all but exclude here as sanctuary for any raised on the outside. Some will adapt enough," she inclined her head towards Lightning. "Many, especially females, will be more outraged by the pressure to breed than they are afraid of the outside." She paused, thoughtful for a moment. "Or if, like Megan, they'll follow their parent's examples and incite social rebellion to fix the suppression of rights."

"What? Suppression of -- what are you talking about?" The look of shocked incredulity on Fugue's face made it clear what she thought about that. "You're making it sound like the only thing women have to look forward to around here is being pregnant."

"To both the women who just arrived and those who have heard of this place at the Institute, that is exactly how it comes across." Gaia told her gently. "The truth in this case is far less important than perception, and the perception that has been convoyed very clearly is that life is about two things. Hiding from the outside and reproducing, in or out of a relationship, as much as possible with minimal choice as to who it's with. It's not a helpful image."

"One litter, and as many choices as they can find that are likely to make for a litter that is born, instead of resulting in miscarriage." Her tail lashed behind her, and she shrugged off the hand Lightning put on her shoulder. "Most of us choose more, when we can support them, and they work out."

"Fugue --" Lightning started.

"Quiet," she said sharply, looking over at him, then pausing for a second, closing her eyes. "I'm sorry...."

"I understand," Gaia tried to be gentle. "But even knowing the technical truth of it and needing to find this place a haven, I can't not feel it, how central it is to almost everyone. And even more, the pain and disgrace there is for those who can not breed. The bitterness of those who only accepted because they do not believe they have any choice." She shook her mane and dropped her nose down. "I don't know how the local empaths can take it, honestly.

"Listen to me, Fugue." She looked up at the agitated Leopard. "If this is how it comes across to those who must see the best of this place, try to comprehend how it will be taken by those who are looking for every excuse to hate it."

"We can't change that fast," she said softly, swallowing hard. "Maybe the legal reality, but... not the social one. It's just not possible."

"I know." Gaia nodded regretfully. "And there will be much more resistance to changing it here than on the outside. It can still be argued as having a practical rational here."

"And, as much as Megan and people like her might mean well if they tried to speed things up, I don't know that it would work out or backfire," Lightning murmured, putting his hand on his mate's shoulder again tentatively. "Too many things that could end up handled very poorly there."

"Trying to simulate, overnight, a change that's still happening outside after decades isn't likely," Charlie admitted. "Though there has to be some way to handle it."

"Beyond very carefully, the best chance is for those here to comprehend, to really understand, what the views here are going to look like to the outside if they ever really get wind of them and just because an Avatar comes here to stay, does not mean they will find it any more palatable. Those are the people that will be our salvation, or our destruction.

"Either the Isles will be a refuge to all Avatars it espouses it is, or it will fall and take all of us with it."

"We've taken in outsiders before. The question is going to be how well we can handle 'taking in' a world of them," Fugue sighed.

Gaia shook her head. "The question will be how well can you deal with outsiders and natives who object to your ways that you can not force to comply through social pressure because they actually have recourses they can accept." She paused and regarded the other female. "Resources like the Institute itself."

"That, like so many things, is going to vary from one to the next," the Leopardess said quietly. "There's no way of knowing how it's going to end up. I'm like a lot of the G2's, though hardly all of us, as you've pointed out. The G3's will grow up entirely differently, I'm sure. The G1's are worse... the colonists who are left, they're all over the place." She sighed again, shaking her head. "Why couldn't I have told myself this was going to come up?"

"Because you would have likely freaked on us right away," Gaia suggested.

"Probably," she admitted. "Still would have been nice to have a little time to get used to the idea, think it over before this."

"I'm sure it would," she nodded. "It's also possible that the future you hasn't figured out how to tell the current you in a way and time that would work out. Obviously you had some reason at that time not to bring it up."

"True," she nodded. "Which I might well not get until tonight. Might've just decided that it would be best to let somebody with more time to explain things bring it up, so we could work instead of sending my past-self back while I talked it over."

Charlie tried to follow the conversation, glancing at his friend as though asking if he could understand it yet.

"You get used to it," Lightning chuckled slightly. "Just try to keep up for now."

"Makes sense to me," Gaia chuckled. "But being a telepath helps. Though if it was my power, my future self would talk to my past self to gain more time with it and have three points of view and minds to work it out."

"No," Fugue said firmly. "We tried that once. It was very messy, and it took me a couple weeks before I was fit to be out in public again. Screwy time-stream issues that can do some very nasty things to your mental stability."

"Something about existing in an objective point in time," Lightning explained. "I don't pretend to really understand it."

"It's complicated," she chuckled, "and involves more theories than facts."

"But rather bottom lines that your past self can't learn anything important about the future." Gaia only half guessed. "So no talking to yourself three ways. Makes sense, in a way."

"Basically," Fugue nodded. "I can, but if 'she' does, it changes 'my' thought processes around to adjust. I've learned to ignore some things I've learned from the past, but anything that'd be worth a serious conversation about can't be helped, not and still have me do any good in the conversation."

"The joys of time travel," Gaia nodded. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to chat theory and experience with the Prof and a temporal physicist friend of his? They really love the opportunity to learn a little first hand info."

"Sure," she smiled a bit. "Not a problem. They might be able to help me put names to things a bit better too. Time's a fairly rare ability, even around here, especially manipulating it like that."

"It's certainly a better topic than social engineering." Gaia smiled back. "So how many are you carrying?"

"Much better. And three," she smiled. "Thanks for asking. Two are Lightning's, one Stalker's."

"And nobody's sure why it worked out that way," Lightning admitted. "We're still surprised there's even one on the way from me."

"Well, litters are more likely for me," Fugue chuckled, nuzzling Lightning affectionately. "Though you're right, the 'mix' is a little odd."

"Welcome to the wonderful world of modern genetic reengineering." Gaia rolled her eyes in exasperation. "TGRI's touch never leaves their victims."

"What?" Lightning and Fugue both looked at her.

"The experiments that they ran on us," Charlie explained. "We found out, once we managed to decipher all the notes and their implications, that they were working on the two of us with an eye towards getting kits."

"I know about that," Lightning growled a bit at the memory. "But what does that have to do with this?"

"They tried to make me capable of reproducing," the Clydesdale continued. "But they weren't sure what the problem was. It turns out that one of their experiments with you was directed towards making you more 'compatible' genetically." There was silence for a moment.

"How much more?" Fugue asked eventually.

"You being pregnant isn't too big a surprise. We can't tell exactly how far, because they never had the chance to test it out. But the researcher didn't think they could get a viable litter out of him and Mel."

"They didn't think they'd have lived through trying either," the Cheetah growled deeply, his tail lashing, his fur bristled slightly.

"Bottom line, you are fertile with all the felines, most likely fertile with canines and ursines and possibly fertile with other mammals." Gaia explained more easily. "If the notes are correct, most of your young should carry the same compatibility."

"Is that possible?" Fugue asked, not entirely sure she could believe it.

"If they'd managed it, they would have tried something," Lightning said, shaking his head a bit. "Right?"

"They didn't have a chance," Charlie chuckled a bit. "Thankfully. Apparently, they weren't sure if it had taken yet; they started the final series of experiments after I'd left, it's part of why they kept you under lock and key those final days. But we've had the genetics people at the Institute look at it, and while the theory's weird, it's also apparently sound."

"Is there any way our people could look at this?" Fugue asked, an eager look on her face as some of the possible implications sank in.

"Assuming Solomon and Jurnix come to some kind of alliance, I expect it will be in the first data batch sent." Gaia chuckled softly. "It is likely to be quite an interesting conversation."

"You have no idea," she said, closing her eyes and thinking about it a bit. "If it could be reproduced, at least on volunteers...."

"It could change a lot of the problems with breeding around here," Lightning guessed.

"Most of them. There'd still be pressure, but if something could create compatibility across species, and across mutations, the successful birth rates could go up more towards the norm, and open up more options for pairings."

"And cool the fires that could rip this place apart." Gaia nodded. "Something to remember as well. Those that don't like it here are welcome at the Institute. It's not as safe, but it is very different socially."

"Have you seen some of us with more obvious Tells yet?"

"Yes," she nodded. "There are those at the Institute as well. We've found ways around most of them."

"That might work then," Fugue nodded. "It's something you might mention, especially to some of the younger ones. There are some who aren't... content... with how things are run here. Especially not the isolation."

"I am quite aware of it," she nodded. "If nothing else we have a fully body holographic system that will likely be working within the five years. We have other projects as well geared towards quietly walking among the normals."

"That would definitely help with avoiding being recognized," the Leopardess admitted. "Particularly if we started training them to tame their environmental Tells. I'm still not crazy about the idea," she admitted, "but it sounds like you'll be able to answer any nay-sayers, except on the fact that it does involve contact with the outside."

"And they are just going to have to deal with the fact that contact inevitable, whether or not it's with us."

"Just keep an eye out for some of them," Fugue cautioned. "The Lookouts aren't in any official power, but they have a fair amount of clout, if they decide to push it."

"Blackmail the Isles with it is more like it," Lightning grumbled.

"It would work though."

"Only if they remember it." Gaia rumbled grimly. "They wouldn't be the first social hazard we've fixed the hard way."

"They've got the off-switch on our ability to hide at all," Fugue cautioned. "That's a lot to 'erase.' And they're all powerful telepaths on top of it."

"You misunderstand what is done," Gaia shook her head. "And they aren't the Isle's only hiding method. It doesn't show up on satellite images. The Isles themselves are hiding, with or without people on them helping out."

"I'm simply saying it's something to be careful of," the Leopardess explained. "Whether the Isles are hiding themselves or not, the fact that you're here demonstrates that they can be found. If they were to broadcast our location, it could have some dangerous effects."

"They wouldn't get the chance," Charlie said, just a little grimly.

"And it wouldn't get out." Gaia added with a flash in her crystal blue eyes

"Maybe this is something best discussed another time?" Lightning suggested.

"Yes," Gaia nodded. "And it is not truly for us to choose anyway. It is for Solomon and Jurnix to sort out."

"And for events to see what happens," the Cheetah nodded. "Really, I think I'd much rather have it work out that way."

"I hope it works out well. If nothing else I hope the old guard can accept hiding away on one islands while the rest of us get on with living."

"That would be interesting, in a way," Fugue mused. "Almost like a smaller version of the Exodus all over again. Not matter what happens, I doubt it's going to be dull around here."

"Not in the end, no." Gaia shook her head with a slight chuckle. "Of course, they'd also be perfect for the space station projects. They'd never have to be anywhere near where normals could show up by accident."

"Space station projects?" Lightning and Fugue asked at once.

"Something tells me that's going to be a pretty common response around here," Charlie chuckled slightly.

"Given they've missed out on what qualifies as a couple millennia worth of change, yeah, I expect so." Gaia chuckled in return. "Strangest editing of imported goods I've encountered yet."

"I meant the idea of a privately controlled one," Fugue pointed out. "As for the rest... well, it's rather difficult to get cable TV when you don't want people knowing where you are."

Gaia cocked her head slightly, then shook her mane with a ripple of twitching of muscles along her powerful neck. "This is going to be a very interesting series of conversations. Would I be correct in guessing that neither of you are particularly interested in internet browsing?"

"Not for that sort of news," the Leopardess admitted.

"I follow the outside news and anything related to TGRI, but that's most of it. And a little financial news. I heard about the private shuttle they've gotten up into a near-stable flight, but that's about it."

"Do you think that's fairly representative of your age group?"

"Where?" Lightning asked.

"If you mean here, probably," Fugue said more helpfully. "There are some who go on more often, but most of us don't look around too much. We're also careful about anything that would blow our cover."

"I would hazard a guess that the younger generation is more in tune with the internet and it's information." Gaia murmured in thought as she cast a light scan around for thoughts on the matter. "Which also covers the rather extreme generational break that's occurred."

"Remember, I'm pretty close to being the latest generation, though an older member of it," Fugue explained. "My kits will be G3s. But you're right, the ones who are more interested in the outside, different from what it's normally like here, do spend more time using the connections. I'm not sure which causes which."

"Probably a bit of both," Charlie said. "Some of them get ideas from what they see, others go looking for like-minded sources of information. The best way to start a revolution is to hand out the keys to the library."

"It's also the usually the least bloody way to get it to happen." Gaia added. "The radicals of youth become the norm as they grow up, and it's not always by changing their views."

"It's certainly one way things have worked out historically," Lightning nodded.

"Around here too. The G1's are much more conservative than their parents," Fugue said thoughtfully. "Not that they're advocates of returning to the outside, but they're reasonable. The G1's are frequently terrified of the thought though."

"It's hardly uncommon to become less receptive to change and new ideas as one grows older." Gaia nodded. "For them, it's not just returning to the outside, it would be going to an alien world for all practical purposes. Things have changed so much from the time they know about."

"And most of what they know about it isn't that good," she nodded. "We don't get classes in hating the outside, but we get a lot of stories about what happened before. We've grown up with a slightly different POV these days though, it's not all we get from the outside."

"And the outside itself is a more moderate and accepting place than it was two and three generations ago. It's still not fun to be different, but it is no longer as instantly fatal."

"Which is something we're learning," Fugue nodded. "Not as far as we'd like, before going public, but we don't have to fear lynch mobs as much. Some aren't catching onto it yet, though. Some believe it's more than enough. Most of us would rather see it get farther."

"Having some mutants come in who can tell them that they're known on the outside without being ostracized helps too," Lightning added.

"While having some come in who can tell them they have been hurts," Charlie guessed, leaning his head back a bit to think about it. "And both sides listen mostly to the folks they want to."

"Hardly unusual," Gaia chuckled. "People rarely like to have their beliefs challenged. But people also tend to adapt to what fate throws at them. It will end better than many fear."

"That, I think we can all look forward to," Lightning smiled, moving his chair back and walking towards the small fridge, pulling out a pitcher of juice and pouring a few glasses. "A drink? To things turning out better than we fear?"

"An excellent toast," Gaia smiled at him, as the four took their glasses and drank.

The lights on for the first time in a month, coupled with the words of the newcomers drew her back to one of her favorite dinner haunts to knock on the door. A few moments passed, before it opened to reveal the Liger inside, who looked down with a happily surprised expression.

"Xanx!" He grinned. "This is a pleasant surprise."

"I heard you were back." The steel gray Saluki grinned back at him with the scent of fresh air and spring flowers.

"Just got back a couple days ago," he chuckled, stepping back. "Come on in! I would've looked you up by now, but I've been a bit busy getting things together again and splitting my time between being a cook and playing tour guide for Megan."

"Yes, I heard about her." Xanx grinned and stepped into the home built for one much larger than herself. "Is it true she's your mate now?"

"Working on it," he smiled fondly, blushing a bit. "Around here she would be, out there... well, there are a few differences. To be expected, really. No idea how I managed to luck out that way. So, staying for dinner?"

"Likely by being your sweet self somewhere where no one cares about your heritage." She commented, then grinned. "And when have I ever refused your cooking?"

"That would be never," he chuckled, starting into his small kitchen. "You know, you and she talk a lot alike. Maybe you'd have been a better pick to send off to talk with them. I hope you don't mind bouillabaisse tonight."

"Not in the least." Xanx grinned and relaxed against the wall out of his way, her feathered tail fur waving gently with her motions while her large brown eyes never missed a thing. "But you got sent because you actually like the Isles and you are seriously obedient when given a mission."

"You would've told them about the place at least," he chuckled, pulling out some fresh fish he'd brought in during the day. "Though you're right, probably best if it's somebody who likes the place a bit more. So, uhm...." He hesitated a bit, not sure if he should finish the question. Apparently he decided against it, working on cutting up the fish. "How've things been going since I left?"

"Same old stuff, though the oldtimers are uneasy with Solomon's choices." She shrugged. "They're really not happy with the whole acknowledging the outside exists thing."

"They'll have to deal with it, one way or the other," Samson sighed, shaking his head. "We can't hide forever, it just doesn't work that way. Of course," he chuckled slightly, "you know that already. Gods know we've talked about it enough."

"Yes," she smiled shyly. "What is this Institute like?"

"It's as big as one of the Isles," he chuckled, putting the fish into the pot and walking over to the planter outside his windowsill. Putting his hands out, his eyes and fingers glowed for a moment, and soon, the variety of vegetables he needed for the soup were growing, fresh, large, and ripe.

"You've got some of the privacy and freedom we do out here, right along with the modern conveniences from outside. It's... well, it would be a good place to go, for a place to stop between here and the outside. Good place to live too," he mused. "Could probably fit all of us, with a bit of work and time to get ready."

"And the people?" She asked curiously. "Are they open minded or like here?"

"About?" He chuckled a bit. "Most things, they're much more open-minded about. Others... well, I think it's sort of a counter reaction. Open-minded as they are, they respond to some things badly. Megan... I think it might have been better if she hadn't come here," he admitted. "Though you'll be glad to know there's only one real pup there, out of about forty students."

"The breeding program, pedigrees... you know what I rant about." She shook elegant head lightly.

"They don't like the ideas at all," he admitted. "Some of them accept them a bit better than the others. Megan and Charlie, he's one of the shifters who came with us, hate them with a passion." He picked a few of the fresh vegetables, preparing them and throwing them into the pot, pulling out a few potatoes he'd had stored in a dry cupboard to finish that part of the soup.

"Sounds a bit like Lightning," she nodded. "Any Saluki there?"

"Very much. They came from the same place, before Charlie was sent to the Institute. And no, not that I met in a couple weeks. I suppose one might have arrived since we left, but I imagine we would've heard. New students aren't that common."

"Think they'd welcome an Isle refugee?"

"You'd have to ask the Professor to be sure, but I'd be surprised if he turned you down. It's something he brought up while we were first talking. Though... refugee is a little strong, isn't it? Or did things get worse while I was gone?"

"Okay, escapee." She chuckled. "And no, it hasn't gotten worse, but I don't hate this place any less."

"You'll definitely get along with the folks from the Institute," he murmured, turning the stove on after adding some herbs and spices, then turning back to face her. "Xanx... do you really think this place is so horrible? The Programs aside. I'm trying to figure out what it is that I'm missing."

"Everything, Samson." She said gently. "The xenophobia, the programs, the lack of freedom to be what you are when it doesn't mesh with their idea of proper behavior, the utter lack of anything to do around here if you aren't like everybody else. The ostracism when you don't fit in for any reason, whether or not it's under your control. The utter unwillingness to even consider there's another way to do things." She rumbled as she ramped up and the list lengthened. "The way they treat both of us for an accident of birth. Appointing Solomon was the best thing Rasputin ever did for the Isles."

"The people here chose him too, remember," Solomon pointed out quietly, closing his eyes for a few moments. "And there are other ways that we're considering. We've gotten to the point where you didn't have to have pups yourself, you had other ways around it. That was before Rasputin died. And since Solomon came into power, they've been changing more. We've both had bad times of it, yes, but it's been getting better. The last I heard, the older ones where the ones giving you the most trouble, and they're losing control."

"And that is a reason to stick around when I have a better option?" She shook her head. "No thanks. Someone else can play the martyr to stupidity. If there's a place that wants me, I'm gone and not coming back."

"No, it's not a reason to stay, and I'm not trying to convince you you should," Samson said, shaking his own head. "I'm just... I'm trying to see what it is that's so wrong about this place. Why it is that everybody else seems to hate it. I understand wanting out, I'd be shocked if I stayed here myself. But if everybody who wants out leaves, then the people who are left won't have any reason to change. Everything that's good about this place will leave with the people who don't like the bad."

"You know better than that," Xanx shook her head. "There are people who thrive on the challenge, on getting people to change. They'll stay and they'll come and with contact with an outside group of Avatars the kids won't have to grow up knowing nothing better that this insanity. Or if all the sane people leave, then we'll just have to work a little harder so that when this place is discovered it won't be taken as the norm. Either way, it's the choice that will destroy the worst of what's here. People won't have to accept this as the only way to do things because they don't have anywhere to go."

"Assuming we last that long," he said, sighing a bit. "I'm starting to wonder if we will. None of this is what they want."

"Which they?" She prompted.

"Any of them," he said. "The people of the Isles, the people outside... the Isles, most of all." He turned part way, stirring the soup.

"No, I don't expect it is," she agreed quietly. "But it's what is needed. We won't stay hidden for much longer the way technology and traffic is going on out there."

"I don't mean the contact," he sighed. "I mean the schism. There's been enough fighting here."

"There hasn't been any fighting." Xanx pointed out. "No revolt has happened, no one killed over this. Blood hasn't even been spilled yet. It'll get much worse before it gets better if the existing culture remains. Oppressive systems are rarely overthrown without bloodshed."

"No, that's a trait more common amongst democracies," he chuckled darkly. "You're right, we do need the contact. We do need another option. We just don't need...." He sighed again. "We don't need the Isles falling apart. There has to be some way of keeping that from happening."

"Somehow I expect that if it happens Jurnix and company will be here cleaning up the mess."

"Probably," he nodded. "Right along with the rest of us. I just can't help but think of the damage done by civil wars when everybody's normal. Here, it could be a hell of a lot longer and bloodier, help or none."

"Or it could go a lost faster and more bloody." Xanx replied. "Some here can do serious damage on day one."

"And some here can undo that same damage," he pointed out. "And they're on both sides. If it happens, I just hope it happens soon... before the G3's can get involved. After they can be gotten out, but before they're old enough to join the fighting."

"I expect it will be. If the old guard doesn't act soon, then we'll have too much contact with the outside to let it happen as easily. After all, it's going to involve removing Solomon from power to reverse his choices."

"Or convincing him it's a good idea to do so. Thank God he's got strong enough shields to keep the Lookouts from taking over," Samson shuddered.

"They'd doom us all," she sighed. "All the more reason to get the hell out of here while we can."

"He knows to keep an eye on them," Solomon pointed out, adding some more spices to the soup and tasting it. "This should be done as soon as everything's tender. At any rate, he knows full well who the top two people to keep an eye on around here are, and he's keeping it."

"A good thing," she nodded. "It's never good when the extremists get control of anything. Any kind of extremists."

"And gods know we've got both sorts," he nodded. "Days like this I almost feel sorry for him, getting Rasputin's job when he passed away. We can talk about it all in theory and 'what ifs.' Him, it's about half his job when things start getting weird."

"He's got the mind for politics though." Xanx chuckled. "And I'd be willing to bet Jurnix is at least as good."

"Better," Samson admitted. "He doesn't have any known edge aside from his telepathy, but I'm still convinced Solomon has at least a weak Gift for it. He got too good, too fast. Still, they're both good men," he smiled.

"A good thing, considering they control the two largest Avatar strongholds around. I'd hate to think one of them was controlled by a madman."

"That was the third largest," Samson snorted, "up until the Institute ripped it down around the bastards ears. Lightning's old 'boss.' That man redefined psychopath, from what I've heard."

"Before it became public, I hope." She murmured with a slight shiver.

"Long before," he nodded. "Sounds like he was the sort of person Rasputin could have been if he'd gone completely off the deep end."

"I don't even want to think about that, given the number of followers he had."

"Good news is that this guy couldn't find Avatars the same way, he had to do more legwork. Only had four that I know of."

"A good thing," she let out a small breath. "And even better that they were rescued. "Did any of them come with you?"

"Charlie," he nodded. "Lightning was one too. The other two are back at the Institute."

"How does Jurnix handle mix-race pairings?" She asked curiously as the fragrant fish stew wafted into the air to mingle with the fresh spring air of her presence.

"From what I've seen, they're almost as common as matched-race ones," he chuckled. "He doesn't seem worried about them, not beyond making sure they don't get any grief for it. They're not worried about having pups or kits there, they've only got a handful of couples who are ready to think about it even, and most of them have Gift problems in the way. The treat the one they've got well though," he added with another smile.

"Sounds like a pretty nice place, all and all." She nodded thoughtfully. "What's the down side?"

"The downside is the outside," Samson explained. "You've got all the benefits, but a lot of the problems too. Avatars aren't as hated as they were before, but you do have to hide who you are and what you can do while you're off the Institute's grounds. There are also crime issues, but that's to be expected when you've got the higher concentration of people, particularly desperate ones."

"Sounds like it's not bad at all. Do they let you out much?"

"Pretty much any time you like, as long as you don't have something there to be doing and can find somebody to play chaperone until you know what you're doing out there a bit better. Gods the things they have out there... they have some places where you could fit everybody from the Isles on each floor and we'd still rattle. That takes some getting used to."

"I bet." Xanx grinned, rumbling slightly at the thought. "Especially for you. So just how'd you get hooked up with that vivacious thing in the short, short skirt everyone's hitting on?"

"Dumb luck, I think," Samson grinned back, taking the pot off the heat. "We arrived almost at the same time, she introduced herself, and decided I was a good catch. Fortunately, she's also patient enough to put up with me," he chuckled sheepishly.

"It's not hard," she laughed lightly. "When you aren't fixated on breeding. You are a catch."

"Well, that wasn't the only thing she had to put up with," he chuckled again, blushing beneath his fur. "Let's just say she moves a bit faster than I'm used to thinking of."

"That, my dear Samson, is almost required." She grinned teasingly. "You don't even think on that level last time I checked."

"I'm getting better," he protested playfully. "She's a hell of a girl though. Smart as a whip too, though she downplays it sometimes. Just don't get her mad at you."

"Oh? She as feisty as she is flirty?"

"You haven't heard about her argument with Diane yet?" Samson asked, looking over at her. "I would've thought it'd be pretty well known by now, thanks to Cass if nothing else."

"Oh, I heard, but I wasn't sure how much of that was her usual." She chuckled.

"Megan's? I pulled her out before she really got going," Samson chuckled slightly. "Want to grab a couple bowls, Xanx?"

"Sounds like you got quite a firebrand there," she laughed playfully and moved to get the bowls. "What's her Gift?"

"One that helps her keep from getting into quite as much trouble for it," Samson said, shaking his head as he carried the pot into the front room. "Intangibility. She's getting better at not phasing out when she gets startled by things, fortunately."

"Definitely good. That could get really bad in a hurry if she couldn't catch herself in time."

"That already almost happened once," Samson shuddered. "She managed to stop falling before she'd gotten below the ground floor, thankfully."

"Man, that is just an ugly way to go," Xanx's silky fur rippled in a matching shudder as Samson filled each bowl. "What happened?"

"I was ... uhm ... still working on the whole 'locking doors' thing," Samson blushed deeply, handing Xanx her bowl and going to grab a loaf of bread he'd picked up earlier.

"And someone walked in while you two were less than dressed." She grinned with a giggle. "Oh, that must have been a priceless look."

"I was a little more worried by the shocked squawk that came before my girlfriend fell through the floor," he pointed out. "But yeah, it's earned a few giggles from those who picked up on it."

"Particularly after she was safe." Xanx nodded, still giggling a bit as they moved to the small dinning room table.

"Which was pretty quickly," Samson agreed with a nod, sitting at the table after everything had been set down. "The Professor helped her get control back, from the sound of it. Though I would imagine that her run back upstairs was interesting."

"And quite fast," she chuckled and dug into the fish stew happily. "Sounds like it was a hell of a first day."

"For both of us," he agreed. "Though it's not usually quite that crazy. At least not compared to here," he added with a chuckle.

"You know, you're much more fun when you're getting laid on a regular basis." Xanx observed with an amused grin.

"Oh? And how am I being more fun than usual tonight?" He asked curiously as he started on dinner. "And I think it has less to do with the sex than with just being involved with somebody," he added with a fond smile.

"Could be," she consented. "It's just usually the sex in my experience."

"And it could be here too," he admitted. "Just doesn't feel that way. Not that I'd be one to talk. Just glad she isn't too interested in raising pups."

"She's fifteen." Xanx pointed out. "Have you talked about much? About a sire or second mate?"

"I'm still used to 'ever' being the stopping point," Samson countered quietly. "And not seriously. She'll look for a sire when she's ready, and neither of us are particularly interested in a second mate, though you know I wouldn't have any serious trouble with it. Not sure if she would, but it's not too likely to come up."

"And you have plenty of time to work it out when she's a little older too." Xanx nodded and stood to get a glass and filled it with a precise rain of cold water from a mini storm cloud.

"Of all the things for me to forget," Samson chuckled, going over and getting a pitcher of grape juice. "Sorry about that. You might have to chill that down, I made it earlier today. But yeah, there's time. Might be able to work something out with Gaia if they want to," he mused.

"And who knows what the tech is going to look like in ten years." She added. "Or what she'll want when she gets there."

"Both good points," he smiled. "Though she wouldn't be interested in pups by me even if it was possible, if her current thoughts hold. Ah well, non-issue, thankfully." He poured himself a glass of juice, smiling at the Saluki. "Who'd ever have expected me to say that?"

"Not me," she chuckled and sat back down with her icy water. "But I always thought it was almost funny. They tortured me because I could have pups and tortured you because you can't."

"The asses who gave you trouble had their own issues," Samson muttered. "You did all you should be expected to do, and given how you react to pups, they ought to be glad you didn't decide to have them yourself."

"Yeah, we'd have our first pup murder to contend with." She murmured quietly, a deep shudder running threw her body. "That or I'd be so doped up I'd be a zombie."

"Which would still mean you wouldn't be any help as a mother," he nodded. "I don't suppose their parents have told you how they're doing lately?"

"Haven't asked." She shrugged.

"Fair enough," he conceded. "I'm sure we'd know if something was wrong with them. New subject? Would you mind if I introduced you to Megan tomorrow?"

"That'd be great," she smiled warmly. "I wouldn't mind anyone who could put in a good word for me with Professor Jurnix when I asked to join you."

"You probably won't need it," Samson smiled. "We're not short on weather witches around here, so Solomon isn't likely to object. Actually, if you'd like, I could introduce you to both of them tomorrow, if the Professor isn't too busy."

"Sounds great," she smiled and relaxed back in her chair with the last of the stew finished. "I for one will be glad to get out of here."

"Then assuming we can get a few free minutes tomorrow, I'll introduce you to the gang," he nodded, leaning back as well. "You know, at this rate, they're going to have to figure out a curriculum for people who know how to use their powers, but need to know about the outside."

"Probably started working on it when you showed up," she chuckled.

"It's only been a couple weeks," he chuckled. "More of us coming back will definitely put it at a slightly higher priority. The Professor was probably right about us needing something here too, maybe more than they do."

"Only here it takes more effort, not to mention a volunteer or two to teach it." Xanx chuckled. "At least we aren't inclined towards lynch mobs."

"It's not like we never get new arrivals, either," he chuckled. "Just going to be more common."

"Which will hopefully level the who culture thing out too. And the unheard of phenomenon of visitors."

"Yeah, tourists aren't exactly something we see much of," Samson agreed. "We might also get some more temporary refugees, have to see what happens. That'll throw a major wrench into the Programs."

"And the social evils it leads too, if we're lucky," she grumbled.

"It'll have to change, Xanx," he said confidently. "Hopefully for the better, but it'll have to change one way or another."

"We just have to hope for the best." She nodded thoughtfully.

It was the early morning, two days after they'd arrived at the Isles. Megan was chatting with one of her friends on the computers in the Library again, as she had for most of the night, when she felt somebody standing close behind her.

"Talking to a friend of yours?" A friendly voice asked, just a little too close to be casual.

"Yap," she glanced up and back at the handsome Collie. She took in his thick, silky fur and perfect Sable and White markings reflexively with a hint of approval before she thought anything of it. "You are?"

"Charlemagne," he said easily, moving around where she could see him more easily. "You can call me Charles, if you'd like. You came with that ship a couple days back, didn't you?"

"Yap," she nodded again and quickly typed out a message to her friend that she'd be off-line for a little while before swiveling the chair to face the dog nearly as old as Samson.

"You've made some waves," he said approvingly, smiling at her. "Especially after that little spat with your friend's step-mother."

"Can't help it," she shrugged with a chuckle. "It's my nature to speak my mind and stand up for it. Stuck-in-the-pasts never like it."

"Her daughter did though," he chuckled, his tail twitching behind him. She noticed that it was a lot different than a Collie's normal one, more leonine in appearance. "Along with a lot of her friends. Lady Diane's still pretty out of sorts about it, apparently."

"Good thing Samson dragged me out of the house before I got going then," she smirked and made the effort not to stare at his tail. "She'd never get her temper down."

"That would make living in her part of the Isles very interesting, I'm sure," he chuckled. "Though probably not in the best of ways." He noticed her frequent glances, bringing his tail off to the side and glancing at it. "My Tell," he explained easily. "Still getting used to that part, huh?"

"I didn't think it was possible with a Lion and Collie," she admitted.

"Huh?" He looked at her, then laughed, shaking his head. "Sorry, you misunderstood. It's the Tell from my Gift. I'm pureblood Collie, it's just part of my mutation, as they call it out there."

"Tell?" She cocked her head, her odd-colored eyes running over him again. "Are they common?"

"In the younger Avatars," he nodded. "Samson's stripes, such as they are. Fire's eyes, especially if he really gets turned on or ticked off. That sort of thing. The G3s are really showing them."

"Not something that's happened outside yet," she nodded. "So what's up?"

"Wanted to meet you," he smiled winningly. "See if you were as cute as they said," he added with a wink. "You are, by the way."

"Thank you," she smiled back, the flirting coming to the fore instinctively. "So what's your Gift?"

"I'm good at working with crowds," he smiled, leaning forward a bit, against the table. "It's hard to describe, really. Kind of like being a good public speaker, without a lot of the troubles with getting to be one. Yours?"

"Intangible," Megan chuckled and demonstrated by standing up without shifting the chair, leaving her legs going threw the seat.

"Must make it easy to get away from a date who's too fresh," he chuckled. "Nice one. Not quite sure how useful it'd be day to day, but good to have in a pinch."

"It's just a matter of how you think about it," she winked and grinned devilishly. Then she took a step up, and a couple more, right on thin air until she was standing a couple feet off the ground with nothing under her. "Besides not needing to worry about walls and doors, I can fly, after a fashion."

"Same way you keep from falling through the floor, I'll bet," he grinned. "Figure that out on your own?"

"Nah," she giggled and dropped down to the floor to sit down again. "My mom suggested it when she found out how it worked. She's the smart one in the house."

"I'm sure it runs in the family," he chuckled. "Right along with looks and personality."

"So everyone keeps saying," she snickered. "Scares some folks, how much we look alike at any given age."

"Funny how that happens sometimes, isn't it? So, your folks are pretty good, about you being an Avatar? Or is one of them one too?"

"That's one thing I don't have in common with mom," she admitted easily enough.

"Didn't think you did, but it's worth asking about," he smiled. "You get a chance to look around the Isles yet?" He asked curiously.

"Samson's showed me around," she nodded even as she was getting a little annoyed at the conversation for no real reason other than the timing and the utterly disturbing Lion tail on a Collie. "There really isn't much to see if you aren't into either camping or talking to folks who have no clue what they don't have around."

"He show you the ruins yet?"

Megan did an instant interest about face as her ears snapped forward and her entire body energized. "Not yet. Probably in a day or two; after I get some sleep." She added with a half-guilty look at the computer she'd been playing on for nearly fourteen hours.

"Want to get a look while you're still buzzed?" Charles asked, chuckling slightly at her response.

"Silly question," Megan smirked. "And you know it. Of course I do."

"It's still polite to ask," he grinned. "So, why don't I take you out there, get you there faster than the Liger ever will."

"Now why is that?" She flicked a curious ear at him even as she turned to log off for the morning with a bit of a rumble in the back of her mind about dismissing Samson.

"I'm friends with the people in charge," he chuckled. "Come on, I'll show you the way. It's a ways off, but worth it if you're into that sort of thing. Probably none of the others there yet, too."

"Cool," Megan grinned and shut down her application before standing threw the chair with careless ease. "Lets go." She added and took out a small cell-phone device. "Hay Samson, heading off to the ruins with Charlemagne."

"Communicator?" The Collie asked curiously. "Is he up yet?"

"I doubt it, it's just a message for when he come looking for me."

"Good," he nodded. "Let's get going!"

A little later, the two of them were approaching what looked like an old, disused monastery. There had been some repairs made, apparently, but it still had the feel of age long, long before the Isles.

"Seriously cool," Megan rumbled softly, her hands touching the ancient stone and humming absently as she felt the power and energy resonant in this last bastion of what had come before.

"The good stuff's farther in," he explained, coming back after sending the guard on his way. "You like this sort of thing?"

"Yeah," she grinned up, her long-furred tail wagging sharply. "I've always liked really old stuff."

"This place qualifies," he chuckled. "Gotta be centuries older than anything else you'll find here, at least without digging for it. Got it all to ourselves, too."

"Even better," she grinned and shivered in eagerness at the warmth and protective nature that she felt from the crumbling stone despite its condition. "Has any Paleontology been done around here?"

"Kind of, but everybody around here's seriously amateur at it." He moved a bit closer to her. "Cold?"

"No," she giggled, her tail wagging eagerly. "Excited. This place is really nice."

"Glad you like it," he grinned. "Want to see the inside?"

"Oh, definitely. Did anything survive?"

"Some stuff did," he nodded, stepping just inside and motioning for her to go on ahead. "Kinda weird, really, the place looks like they tried to level it."

"And was the only place they didn't succeed." She nodded thoughtfully. "Something here prevented it."

"Probably," he agreed, watching her walk into the temple, her wagging tail bringing her skirt up just enough that he could notice her lack of panties. He rumbled quietly, following along and trying to keep his mind from focusing too much on thoughts of whether or not there'd be a chance to take advantage of the privacy the remote temple afforded them. "So, where'd you like to start looking around?"

"Are there any spots where paintings or murals survived?" She asked, her hands touching everything as she walked along.

"Maybe one of the side rooms. Nothing in here, as you can see," he said, motioning towards the fire-charred walls of the main chapel. "Side rooms might not've been looted or torched though. Besides, hear there's a nice view out of the eastern chamber."

"That works too," she looked up and around, taking in the overview of what looked to be a medieval monastery or small castle.

"This way," he explained, leading the way out the door on the side and down a fairly narrow corridor while Megan happily padded along behind him, unconsciously appreciating how close he was to breed perfection once you discounted his Tell.

There was a small climb, and they were in the room he'd described. There weren't any paintings or tapestries, but it looked like there was a mural painted on the wall, beneath the soot. There was an open window across from it, at about the right height for the two of them, and she had to admit that he was right; the view of the coast was pretty good.

It created an instant conflict between touching the wall, knowing she shouldn't because of the studies going on and the fresh sea breezes that reminded her so much of holidays with her family.

"What's known about this place?" She went for a diversion as she watched the water and green forest from the vantage point.

"From what I hear, it was the private study of one of the higher-ranking folks. Did their entertaining here sometimes, but other than that, it was pretty private before." He moved up behind her, looking out over her shoulder a bit. "Like the view?"

"Yeah," she smiled and breathed deeply of the fresh air. "My family always goes to the coast for big holidays. It's good memories."

"Miss home?" He asked sympathetically, putting his hands on her shoulders lightly from behind, rubbing them a bit and smiled when she made a happy sound and moved into the touch.

"Some," she nodded. "I'm close enough to go home on the weekends thanks to the Institute's small planes, but it's still a long way when you're used to spending almost every evening with family."

"It would be," he nodded, shifting to nuzzle her lightly. "And you're even farther away from here."

"Yeah, but this is more like a vacation," she shrugged, responding reflexively to the affectionate contact despite being uncertain she wanted it. "Those I've done before. And I've got Samson."

"Good guide, hmm?" He asked, shifting his hands a bit further down her back. He was rapidly reaching the point where there was no way of misinterpreting what he was interested in and her mixed signals were not helping him any.

"Good everything," she smiled softly and shifted away from him a bit. "You're bolder than Fire."

"You should see him when he's not in public," the Collie rumbled, his hands following her as she moved, though he stayed put. She was near a wall, not much farther to go without shifting. "You mind? You seem like the type who likes bold."

"Usually," she admitted. "But not when I'm just starting a relationship."

"Ah, right, monogamy's more normal outside," he guessed, backing off a bit.

"It's not the monogamy," she chuckled slightly. "It's not fooling around when we're still sorting things out."

"Hope he goes along with it as much as you do," Charlemagne chuckled. "It'd be pretty lousy to get back home and find out he's foolin' around while you're gone. Assuming you're heading back after this?"

"Definitely," Megan nodded sharply. "This place is not my idea of anywhere to stick around."

"How about paying visits? Or taking visitors from here," he added with a bit of a shrug.

"Not sure why I'd want to visit again." She said simply.

"Well, when you decide you'd like pups, no place better to find out if you and your mate can have them safely, especially if he's an Avatar too," the Collie pointed out. "Or find somebody who you can have them with, if it wouldn't work out."

"That's something for years from now." She chuckled slightly. "I'm not nearly old enough for pups."

"Different way of thinking of it," he chuckled. "About when is it more common out there?"

Megan got an utterly sick look on her face and turned to stare at him. "Pups at fifteen are common here?" She squeaked.

"No!" He said quickly, looking back at her with a shocked look. "It's happened at sixteen before a few times, but those were accidents. Eighteen's usually about when folks try to get in their first litter around here. Years off, but probably less than you were thinking of."

"Yeah," she nodded. "Like when I'm actually out of school and finished growing. Early twenties."

"Definitely longer," he chuckled. "Of course, we don't have the career issues or overpopulation problems either. And the Healers probably make it easier. At any rate, no big deal. Though if you ever wanted to practice, once you've got things settled a bit more with your boyfriend...." He winked at her a bit.

"Right," she shook her head. "Is sex all anyone here thinks about?"

"Not any more than it is with most young folks without too much else to do and nobody telling them they shouldn't," he shrugged slightly.

That raised an eyebrow. "You still qualify as 'young folk'?"

"Early twenties," he shrugged. "Don't feel old, and Rasputin was in his nineties when he kicked off. My folks are in their late forties."

"Do you have a job?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "Not one that keeps me busy too much, but I'm working my way up in the administrative disciplines."

"Which amounts to ...?" She opened the offer up for any details he cared to give about himself.

"Probably going to end up making settlement leader," he explained. "Mayor, easiest way to link it to the outside. Given my gift, if I wanted to work up higher I have a good shot at a position running a few settlements, maybe one of the smaller Islands. I'm not ambitious enough to be interested in running the Isles in Solomon's place though, thanks. I'll leave that to the real politicians."

"So why haven't you found a mate yet, if most have by your age?"

"Mix of family and quirky genetics," he admitted. "My folks want me to find a Collie, if at all possible, and they're still finding a few good matches for me with the Programs. Not that I can't sire, just that the only Collies around here have mutations that might not react too well with mine."

"Have you ever considered going outside the Isls for one?" She suggested. "There's plenty of good Collies out there."

"I was kinda thinking of it earlier, for down the road a ways," he chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "I'd prefer to find an Avatar, keep both ends happy. Also cuts down on the problems with courting somebody from outside who might not be too good about Avatars, and not finding out until it's too late."

"There are ways around courting, you know." She chuckled. "It's not that hard to find a bitch who's willing to donate a few eggs to a good sire who wants pups but no commitment."

"True, just have to find a surrogate mother, or wait until they've finished the Womb," he nodded. "I'll figure something out, I'm sure."

"Hell, it won't be that long before you can look at the guys for compatible genes if that's all you care about." She chuckled.

"Well, for a dam," he pointed out. "A mate's another issue. Need somebody I'd want to raise pups with too, before I picked somebody out for that."

"Generally a good order to do things in." Megan nodded and turned to look out the window against, her tail waving gently.

It was a view that gave Charlemagne a little too much to think about.

"Y'know, Fire and I aren't going to be the only people to hit on you," he chuckled after a moment. "Especially if you keep dressing like that. Not that I'm complaining, but it's definitely an attention getter."

"Habit," she chuckled and relaxed against the stone windowsill. "They're comfortable."

"I'll bet," he chuckled, moving beside her so he didn't have quite as good a view to focus on. "And we've already established you usually like the attention," he winked at her.

"That I do," she smiled and relaxed. "It's a hobby."

"Nice hobby to have," he chuckled. "Bet your boyfriend appreciates it too."

"Once he got over the shock that I was interested in him." She giggled. "He blushed a lot at first. It's seriously cute."

"So you made the first move?" He asked curiously. "Sounds like bold just might not be the best way to get your attention."

"Depends on what you're trying for." She considered it. "A quick roll in the grass, it'll work well enough most of the time. Can't really say other than that, since Sam's my first boyfriend."

"Another Collie?" He guessed

"Nah," she shook her head. "Breed's the least of my cares when I'm looking for a mate. Top grade Collie sires are too easy to come by to bother worrying about it."

"Must be more common outside," he chuckled. "So what is he, if you don't mind my asking?"

Megan shrugged. "A Liger."

"Samson?" Charlemagne guessed, looking over at her with a slightly confused expression.

"Yap," she nodded with fond smile while she watched the ocean and not her companion.

"How'd he manage that?" The Collie asked, the cool sea air blowing along outside the window.

"He's sweet, strong, caring, adorable when he blushes, a complete romantic and great in bed. Can't ask for anything more in a mate."

"Except maybe the ability to have pups with," Charlemagne pointed out, looking back out the window with a shrug. "Of course, we've established you don't care about that yet, so it ought to work out for now."

"The odds of actually liking anyone who's right for Sireng pups is so low it's not even worth trying." She shook her head. "So no, I don't care about that. Same with you and Fire if I'd been single when I got here."

"You're looking for another Blue Merle when you go for pups then?" That was a level of matching he hadn't really thought of holding out for, himself.

"Who's at least at my level in the competition circuit," she nodded. "A top champion really should only breed with the same if you're looking to keep the breed standard going."

"Didn't know you were in the circuit," he chuckled slightly. She certainly had the looks for it though. "Of course, not something we think about out here all that much."

"True," she nodded. "Even if it were only dogs out here there'd hardly be enough to run a proper one. At least not without serious inbreeding."

"Well, if it were only one breed we might get away with it," he chuckled. "Of course, then you'd have to make allowances for the quirks," he added, glancing back at his tail. "I can just imagine what the rules book would look like."

"I expect it would depend on whether or not a given Tell matters to the breed standard and if they pass on." She thought about it. "If Tells like your tail passed on, then it would have to be taken like any other serious fault or the breed standard is pointless. If it doesn't pass on, then I expect it would amount to finding a bitch who's willing to overlook appearance for genetics. Or one that simply doesn't care one way or another."

"If they pass on, we haven't noticed yet," he shrugged slightly. "They seem to vary pretty strongly, like Gifts."

"Now that doesn't make much sense to me, but I'm barely into first year biology. Maybe the guys who really have it sorted out can explain it better."

"Doesn't make too much sense to a lot of us," Charlemagne admitted. "As far as I understand it, it has to do with being an Avatar being genetic, but the rest only being slightly related to genes. But neither of my folks had a Tell like this, or even very noticeable ones at all, and their gifts were a lot different too."

"And yet Gifts can make a choice of mate more difficult." Megan shook her head. "Strange."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I'm just going by what they tell me, honestly, don't know how it all works. Maybe if you talked to somebody with the Program they could explain it better."

"Quite possibly," she nodded. "Or just confuse me more." She giggled. "It can be like that, when you ask a question too complex for your understanding."

"Good point," he chuckled. "Though they could probably come up with a way to explain it better. Maybe you could find a translator," he smirked.

"That doesn't involve ten years of study." She giggled back, then glanced around. "So what else is here?"

"Plenty, if you like old things." Charlemagne motioned her out into the ancient burnt out entrance way to begin a proper tour of this place.

Megan breathed deeply of the fresh air tinted with the ancient presence. Despite feeling older than any thing she'd encountered outside of a natural history museum, as persistent as the mountains around her home, this hand-built creation that resisted death as strongly as any person to an unnatural level.

It wasn't long before she wasn't really listening to her guide, instead following an internal voice that was as comfortable as an old friend in a walking exploration of the history here as much as the physical location.

She shivered slightly, ruffling her fur as she would against a cold wind, but there was none. Still, she couldn't help but feel the living will that had once ruled this place and still lingered, unwilling to give up its residence yet. The impressions inside were jumbled, like layers of paint or wallpaper over each other. One she was sure of was a sort of angry feeling, stronger than the others, closer to the surface. It didn't seem to be recent, relative to anything she thought of as recent at least, just sustained for a long, long time.

It produce a decided sense of deja vu to what she expected was happening right now. She just hoped this round would turn out better than the last.

Last time had almost certainly ended in a war lost by the residents. The signs of fire, of the attempts to destroy everything inside, were evidence enough of that. She had to wonder though; why was this building apparently protected, while the others weren't? There hadn't been any sign of anything like this elsewhere on the Isles that she'd seen.

As she explored the main chapel, she gradually approached the ruined altar. Of all the things that had been attacked, it seemed to have suffered the most. There were dark stains on the wooden edifice, though she couldn't be sure what they were.

If it was like every other war she was aware of, the stains were the blood of those who had once worshipped here. It made her shiver again, this time for thoughts of the future if people like Samson's stepmother had much to do with it. If they did, about the best the Isles could hope for was that it ended more quickly than it likely had here. For the rest of them outside the Isles... that didn't bear much thinking about.

She had a feeling that there was something missing, something she wasn't seeing. Looking around more, she spotted it; a small emblem of an open book carved into the back of the altar.

It drew her to it, almost calling her to touch and understand the way books had meant to those a generation before her and she still understood in her soul.

The raised lines closed her eyes as she saw through her fingers for a moment, curious what was so special about this spot. She could sense that many hands had explored the crest, different people who'd been here long before her. Unlike the rest of the temple, it didn't have the same jumbled sensations. There was a sort of reverence associated with it... reverence, and hope.

She felt a warmth from it, almost like a glow in her mind as something was activated. And despite her naturally hyper nature, it calmed her as she turned to face the hidden passageway that was now bared open to her with a soft smile and inner peace that she had known on only a handful of occasions before. She started down it, surprised at the change in the way it looked. While the temple had been burned, hacked at, had everything imaginable done to try and destroy it, this place seemed to be untouched, as though what had struck the Isles hadn't been able to find the key to the secret entrance.

Or use it, if they could find it.

She would have thought that the air would be stale, unopened for centuries. It didn't seem to be any different than the main chapel though, so it seemed that this place had been discovered before.

What had they found there?

And if this site was truly an archaeological dig, then this place was just too clean. The decorative stone floor, the smooth marble walls, even the painted ceiling were all in a state of repair and order that spoke of constant care, not centuries in hiding.

Despite the unease her thoughts gave her, Megan walked quietly down the passageway, her eyes open and curious but no fear in her heart. She sensed something almost approving about the presence she'd felt before. As she walked deeper into the passage, it started to open up, the hallway going further down, beneath the surface of the Isle. It was cool, but not moist like most basements.

All together it made a pleasant sensation that brought up memories of the evergreen forests around her home. It brought a smile to her muzzle, even with the slight homesickness that came with it too. She reached a door at the bottom, an ancient inscription on the oak surface looking almost as new as the day it had been carved.

~Seeker, enter and find ye secrets. ~
~Knower, enter and find ye knowledge~
~Traitor, enter and find ye death~

She ran her hands along the smooth dark wood, caressing the surface as curiosity made her choice and she pushed the barrier open. The first things she noticed were the electric lamps and batteries sitting on the tables in the middle of the room, all turned off, and totally incongruous with the rest of the room. The massive chamber seemed to be lit by an elaborate array of mirrors, coming down from a skylight in the ceiling, revealing shelf after shelf of ancient books.

"Seriously cool." Megan grinned as she looked around, taking in the grand space with an eagerness tempered by respect for ancient things and the research being done around the site. She looked around eagerly, noticing that she couldn't recognize the languages some of the books in, or read most of them. There were a handful of them, mostly on one of the central tables.

Careful fingers ghosted over bookshelves of bindings as she mused over the cyclic nature of knowledge. Centuries, maybe millennia, before it was credited to someone in Bradonia, these people had built a modern library with books of a single subject and labeled on the spine to be stored neatly in shelves. It was enough to make her lips curl in sarcastic amusement.

So many languages, some she couldn't even recognize the family the script was from. They didn't feel like any other book she'd ever encountered either. They felt... they felt like their topics. Just like the library radiated protection and stilled time, these felt like other things. Fire, water, air, healing, understanding, hiding... every book was different.

Then there were the books on one of the great tables. Left out when whatever happened had happened. She closed her eyes against the pain and rage at the almost-memory, making a mental note to talk to the Prof. If she was developing as an empath, she wanted to know now.

As it was, she had to restrain herself from picking up each book and feeling for it's home on the shelves to put it back.

Then there was one that felt like a normal book. Old, but normal. Its clasp was broken but the pages themselves were intact. And it was in titled in Bradin.

"The Order of the Shrouded Isles"

She hesitated only a moment before gently opening it.

It took her a few moments to decipher the handwriting in the old variant of Bradin, but it wasn't long before she read of the rise and fall of a group that was so similar to what was happening now it chilled her to the bones. Even worse when she realized that the changes, the xenophobia and physical markers of power, that had taken six hundred years to develop last time had happened in less than sixty.

A beautifully crafted image of a striking black tomcat drew her thoughts away from the morbid thoughts of a past repeated because it was forgotten. Even just in image he radiated majesty and power enough to tighten her throat. The charisma this male must have exerted in life drew a whimper from her.

The caption was simple and elegant in gold leaf.

~Simon de l'Orage~

Below it ... scribbled in black ink ... a single word that chilled her even deeper.


Trembling she skimmed to find his name in the text, to find who would have to be kept from doing this again.

The Headmaster's prodigal. Gifted, arrogant, unwilling to heed the laws set down for everyone's safety. He craved power too much and by his sixtieth year was caught and exiled, stripped of his powers, for learning one of The Forbidden Studies. The Path of Immortality.

Megan was whimper-crying as a frightened pup as the style and voice of the writing changed with a new Headmaster. She knew the end, but she could not make herself stop turning the pages until she saw his name again. Saw written proof that he had indeed returned, broken the bindings on his powers and led an army from the outside to sack his former home.

This library, this archive of their advanced knowledge of magic, was hidden by the Headmaster before she wrote her last words for whomever would find this place again.

~"I go now to face de l'Orage, and challenge him by our Laws. I do not expect to triumph, or that he will leave should I do so. His power has grown since he undid the binding of my predecessor, and should he find this, our last bastion, he will be unstoppable. I will hide the key to this place from his Sight, or that of his allies, before I face him. I only hope that his death, should it be brought about by myself or another, is slow and painful. ~

~"If these words are ever read, if the destruction of the Order is somehow stayed, then I ask only one thing. Change the path we have followed. We alone did not have the power to stop the traitor's armies. A mere handful of allies may have been enough to turn the tide. The threats posed by that outside our shores pale compared to the threat of a single traitor from within." ~

With that, the Headmaster blotted and dried the ink, putting her quill aside and closing the book, locking it carefully. It was time. The silver-furred vixen started up the corridor, locking the Master Library behind her and restoring the sealing spell. If, by some chance, he penetrated her concealing spells, there was always the hope that he would be the first to enter and face the wrath of the guardians on watch for his kind.

She continued up to the main corridor, and worked the spell to hide the crest from any who intended the Order ill-will. It would certainly count de l'Orage and his armies. The cries of her friends and students could be heard outside, coming ever closer; they were retreating, and being cut down even as they did so. She stepped around the altar, focusing her energies for the fight to come.

She never got the chance. As she took a step forward, one of the enemy archers burst through the doorway. The last leader of the Order was slain before she could utter a word of a defensive spell, the first arrow piercing her throat.

Megan screamed as the flashback ended, gasping for breath and clutching her own throat in a sympathetic reflex.

"She's in the lower library," a powerful voice shouted above. She heard the secret door opening again, and the sound of people coming down towards the chamber at a run while Charlemagne cradled her and tried to get her attention, his fur drenched in fear.

All she could do was clutch her throat, the book in her lap where she was half seated, half crumpled on the floor, and wait for the aid she desperately hoped was real and friendly and not part of whatever had just happened. The door opened, and Solomon and Samson were the first two in, the Liger kneeling beside her and Charlemagne as Jurnix and somebody she couldn't recognize, a slender Mouse, arrived.

"Are you all right?" Samson asked worriedly as she shivered and snuggled closer to him and let a cautious Solomon take the book from her.

"Will be," she gasped weakly, only half aware that there were two males in a subtle contest over who would hold her.

"Everything will be fine." Jurnix assured her with a gentle hand on her forehead. He brushed her fluffy, soft hair back while he eased the trauma of her first psychic flashback. "That was a memory of another, nothing more."

"Yes, sir." She mumbled threw Liger fur, not entirely convinced but willing to believe him.

"Something tells me she's found a new gift," Solomon said softly, closing the book and setting it aside. "One she wasn't ready for."

"Yes, and a very traumatic one," Jurnix nodded as she relaxed in Samson's arms between the safety of his touch and the assistance of Jurnix's.

"Maybe we could get her out of here, then worry about what happened and why?" Samson suggested.

"Yes, she will rest best on the yacht." Jurnix nodded. "If you would stay on board for a while."

"Not a problem," Samson said easily, standing up slowly and picking Megan up almost on reflex while Charlemagne hovered, uncertain what to do, particularly given that neither of them was supposed to be down there.

"I'll stay on the ship to keep an eye on her," Gaia offered as she and Charlie arrived only to turn and follow Samson.

"Thank you," Samson rumbled back over his shoulder, before nuzzling Megan gently. "Just hope she doesn't have another flashback while we're there."

"You're not the only one," Charlie murmured softly, as the people in the library all started out.

"I'll have a word with the guards while you return," Solomon nodded. "And you, Charlemagne." He added with a hard look for the Lion-tailed Collie.

"Yes sir." He glanced away and let Samson take Megan out, his ears flattening.

"Get the guards, Dem. I'll meet then upstairs. And not a word about where we are, of course," Solomon said to the Mouse as the students from the Institute left. "What the hell were you thinking?" He demanded of Charlemagne once the Mouse was just out of earshot.

"I didn't bring her down here," the Collie protested weakly, his tail tucked between his legs. "I just brought her into the main temple to show her around! I didn't even know this place was back here...."

"Then how did she get down here, hmm? There are only a handful of people who know about this library, and while you're not one of them, I can't believe you'd be so stupid as to let her wander down here alone."

"I told her I was going to be talking to Brannon and...."

"And you left her alone, in the main temple, directly against the rules about any researchers being alone here without permission?"

"Only for a few minutes, I thought...."

"That she couldn't get into any trouble that quickly," Jurnix finished for him. "Ignoring the fact that she is not only just coming into her powers but that she is a teenager and both get into trouble as a matter of course."

"There wasn't supposed to be anything she could get in trouble with," Charles said again, seeming to shrink under the looks of both the Lion and the Foxbat.

"That shouldn't have mattered," Solomon rumbled deeply. "The rules for this place are here for a reason. We're all lucky it didn't go worse than this."

"Worse?" He asked with an almost sick tone to his voice. "When I found her she smelled like she'd seen a ghost, what would be...?"

"If she'd become one, instead of seeing one. We don't know enough about what's down here, that's why it's been kept secret from the general public." The lion sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking his head. "Gods. I don't need to ask, but I'm going to. Why did you even bring her here in the first place? You, of all people, I'd never expected to bring somebody from the outside in here without clearance. It's hardly your usual haunt."

"Quite simple, actually." Jurnix chuckled softly with a slightly softer look. "He was trying to impress her. Collies are not that common here, after all."

"That's about what I thought," the Lion muttered. "What do you think I should do about this?" He asked, looking at Charlemagne directly.

"M-me?" The Collie asked, not entirely sure what to say.

"That's what I'd been thinking. It's your mistake. What you say isn't binding, of course, but what do you think is fitting here?"

"I have no idea," he admitted. "Just leaving her alone would be worth a week manual, but with what happened...."

"You're right. But when you look at what really happened, all you did wrong was to leave her alone in here. You didn't lead her down there, you didn't intentionally leave her down there. What I do want to know is how you got down there with her, without knowing about it."

"The door was open when I got back in... I figured she must be down there, followed her to try and find where she'd gotten to. I didn't get there too long before she screamed."

"And it was closed behind you because?"

"How should I know?" Charlemagne asked incredulously. "I sure as hell wouldn't have closed it behind me without knowing how to open it again!"

"One week," Solomon said after a moment. "I'll have Brannon pulled off guard duty here, and somebody you're not so friendly with put in charge, just in case you decide to try this again, but one week manual, starting tomorrow. You know the drill by now."

"Yeah," the Collie admitted, ducking his head a bit. "I had no idea this was going to happen...."

"It's why you're getting a week's manual labor, instead of being put on a quarrying detail for the same period."

"Thank you, Solomon," he said, looking down at his feet.

"Dismissed. Go handle any of your remaining chores for the day and set things up for tomorrow." Charlemagne left in a hurry, and Solomon shook his head, chuckling slightly after a moment.

"Amazing, how simple things boil down to when you manage to get the first reaction out of the way," he mused, glancing down at the Professor.

"Most things are caused, in the end, by only a handful of drives." Jurnix nodded thoughtfully. "We would likely do well to keep him and Megan separated. His issues with hybrids will cause problems if she gets wind of them."

"I'm surprised they didn't already," Solomon admitted. "She's quite... enthusiastic... about her feelings, and Charlemagne isn't traditionally very careful about concealing his. Keeping them separated won't be a problem for the next week, I'm sure. I don't think Megan's all that likely to visit him on a farm or construction detail. Of course, we'll probably have to be subtle about it. I don't think just telling her not to hang around with him would help."

"She is what we would call a raised activist. Born a fighter and raised to do her best to make change come about." He chuckled with a shake of his head. "Her parent's generation was very into speaking out. She's honestly calmed down about things a bit. Things were quite explosive when she first started learning about Samson's background."

"Thank the gods for small favors," Solomon murmured. "Maybe we should go see about the guard, then check on how she's doing? What happened here hasn't happened with anybody else we've had working in the area."

"Yes," he nodded easily. "I would expect you do not have an untrained psychometric working here. That is most likely the power she just manifested."

"That, or another retrocognitive ability," Solomon agreed. "I'm sorry about what's happened; I hope she wasn't harmed by her experience."

"I sensed no harm beyond exhaustion and shock." Jurnix said easily. "She should be fine with a good rest, something she has also not had since arriving."

"Yes, I believe that if Charlemagne hadn't convinced her to leave soon, the librarians were going to pull the plug," the Lion chuckled, leading the way up the stairs. "Not that I can blame her, she's very much a creature of the modern age, technology, philosophy and all."

"Who is very taken with a creature who could do without all of it quite easily." He shook his head in bemusement. "They are quite a case of opposites."

"He's quite taken with her too," Solomon chuckled approvingly. "Proving, once again, that opposites attract. The outside agrees with him, I think. Thank you, for taking him in on such short notice."

"It is no trouble at all." Jurnix smiled at him. "I am quite accustomed to short notice. It is how most of our residents arrived. And I have to agree that the outside agrees with him, dye job and all." He nodded. "But mostly that feisty creature he carried out. She's going to be among the leaders in the next phase of our social revolution."

"Take this the right way, but I hope she waits for the revolution on the outside, at least for a bit. I know she doesn't like the way things work here, but in this case, the people in power agree with her about at least pieces of it. It's one of those potentially volatile situations."

"Right now, she is of an age and temperament to tackle whatever is put in her sights so she'll leave things be once she's back home. Honestly, her main issue is how hybrids, Samson in particular, have been treated below the surface acceptance. It hits far too close to home for her with how her parents are treated."

"That's one of the first things on my list of things I want to change," Solomon growled slightly, his tail swishing behind him. "He's a good friend of mine, and a good man, all of them like him are. There are very, very few here, but enough to make it an issue. Just not one I'm sure how to change, in a reasonable time frame. The scariest part is that if history repeats itself, it will be gone in a matter of years once we find a way to make it possible for them to breed. There's another hell of an issue to tackle."

"In related issues, it might not be a bad idea to be prepared to set up one or two of the islands as where Avatars from the outside settle when they are like Megan or have other social issues, such as Xanx."

"You've heard about her already, hmm?" Solomon shook his head a bit. "She's an odd case in a lot of ways. She'll probably be happier on the outside. The suggestion's a good one though. Now that we've gotten to a relatively secure population level, and we're dealing with the outside more, it should be easier to arrange too."

"It will take the pressure off of those unable to adapt on both sides as well." Jurnix added easily. "With the Institute as a halfway house of sorts going both ways, it would be good to have someone that can help translate things and give options to both sides."

"We'll have to go over the surveys of some of the outlying islands," Solomon said after a bit of thought. "Make sure we find some that can support a higher population density, among other things."

"Yes, though it is likely to be a similar population across the island, but larger areas left untouched while most of the population lives in one or two settlements. Much more trade and contact with the outside, and normals as well."

"That will make it easier," he nodded. "And it changes the primary issue - if, or how, to hide these Islands."

"At the moment, my inclination is towards the 'feign ignorance' if discovered and really play down the things like the breeding program and fact that almost everyone is an Avatar that are likely to cause a bad first reaction. Pretend you're surprised no one knows you're here and say you've traded with the rest of the world for years. It's not lying, just selective speech."

"And we do have evidence to back it up," Solomon agreed. "The breeding programs shouldn't be too hard to play down, especially with visitors. The Avatar-laden nature of the Isles... that's another issue. Tells aside, it would be like trying to hide the fact that you have computers outside."

"That is not quite what I meant," Jurnix smiled slightly at him. "I meant not stating outright the Isles are a 'haven for mutants' and largely unfriendly to the outside and normals. Don't even bring it up. Act confused when they point out the Tells and obvious Gifts as strange or to be feared. Shrug and say it's always been that way or they were born with that. The outside may be reactionary, but it also is very much a world of followers. If you act like nothing is going on and everything is normal, most won't think about it too much."

"Well, it's certainly not a problem to act like our gifts are normal," the Lion chuckled slightly, putting his hand on the inside catch for the secret door. "Have to keep people from worrying too much about the newcomers though, biggest problem. If we're supposed to act like it's normal, we'll have to keep a solid half the people of the Isles under mind control to pull it off, at least."

"Or at least out of sight contact," Jurnix suggested. "It's not like you won't have plenty of warning if someone gets that close."

"Maybe re-establish our major ports, make sure the least xenophobic ones are the ones living there. If we can establish ourselves as a backwater settlement that doesn't want too much outside attention beyond what we've got, we might be able to get away with that."

"It wouldn't hurt," he nodded. "Having at least one of the port settlements be those from the outside might not be a bad idea either. They will know how to deal with the outside world a bit better."

"At least primarily people from the outside," Solomon agreed. "Not all though, too many problems that could come up with that from not knowing how to handle the inside well enough, or at least try and answer questions about them. And I don't know that we have enough to put together a large enough settlement, unless you expect a mass influx of settlers. But if we have the 'paths keep an eye out for xenophobes before we send them there, things should work out."

"It is all personnel management." he agreed as they stepped into the fresh air outside the temple. "And no, I do not expect a huge influx at any point, short of a drastic acceleration of the number of Avatars around."

"Or something very ugly happening," the Lion agreed quietly, looking around for the guard and the Mouse he'd sent up to find him earlier. "There they are. If you'd like, I think I can handle Brannon on my own. You could get back to your ship, check on Megan."

"I will see you later then," Jurnix nodded easily and spread his great wings half open as he launched into the air to make a leisurely flight back to his yacht.

Megan started to slowly wake up to the comfortable feeling of Samson's strong, warm arms wrapped around her. Snuggling in, she rumbled softly, nuzzling him as her hands started to 'wake up' too, finding their way down his fully-clothed body towards his crotch.

"You might want to wait on that a bit, love," he rumbled, rubbing her back with a bit of a chuckle.

"Oh, no need to wait on my account," a strange voice giggled from behind the Collie, towards the back of their cabin on the yacht.

"I think he'd burst into flame if I didn't." Megan giggled and slowly rolled her head back to look at the slender white Mouse fem with long, bright blue hair, dressed in the simple tunic and slacks most of the Islanders wore. "Have I met you?"

"You weren't exactly in the best shape when we met," the Mouse admitted. "The name's Demeter, you can call me Dem. Good to see you awake and feeling better."

"Seconded," Samson rumbled. "And I wouldn't burst into flames, just hold you still until we convinced her to leave the room."

"Good luck," Dem smirked.

"You could always tackle her and move her out." Megan grinned impishly at her boyfriend. "I'll be right here."

"Or you could wait a bit," he chuckled, pulling her up to kiss her lightly. "Figure out if she has any legitimate reason to be hanging out in our room, now that you're up and doing better."

"My big strong Liger not up for playing?" She rumbled with a teasing grin.

"Not with company, and not particularly in the mood to remove said company quite right now, since it'd mean letting you go," he rumbled back, licking her nose playfully.

"I could always turn around for a bit," Dem teased. "Maybe hum or something. Still, cute as your girlfriend is, shame to keep her all to yourself."

"So you think you can do something he can't?" Megan raised a challenging eyebrow at her.

"Well, if you're interested in girls, he is kind of not one," the Mouse pointed out. "Besides, I'm probably better at a few things," she winked, flicking her naked tail behind her.

"Okay..." Megan regarded her uncertainly. "Not that interested in girls aside, that doesn't even make sense."

"Don't worry about it," Dem chuckled. "Just good with my tail. If you'd like, I could scoot, let you two be."

"Guess I'm curious why you're here more," she admitted.

"Well, for one thing, Samson wanted a 'path nearby in case you freaked out again," the Mouse admitted easily. "Also, I'm kind of curious how you managed to stumble into something it took us weeks to find, and why you're interested in talking with one of the researchers after what happened. From what I saw, I wouldn't want anything more to do with that place ever again if I were you."

"I saw the switch-thingie," she answered a bit uncertainly at a combination of hazzy memories and how she could see something that wasn't obvious. "As for talking... I... experienced... what the writer of that book did just after she finished writing. At least I think I did."

"That sounds stronger than a psychometric response should be, but in there, I wouldn't be too surprised," Demeter murmured. "I don't know too much about it all, but I am on the research team, if you want to talk about what you saw."

"It was first person," she nodded and snuggled back against Samson's larger frame. "She finished writing, set some... spell... to conceal the room and got shot in the throat." She shuddered. "Didn't even get to fight him."

"To fight who?" Samson asked gently.

"De l'Orage," Dem said softly. "I've read that part of the book myself. It's in keeping with what we've been able to figure out, though nobody's gone through it first-person before. Thank heavens that's one old wives' tale that isn't true."

"It was pretty freaky anyway." She shuddered. "Not an easy way to die."

"But you lived through it," Samson said softly, shuddering a bit at the thought of how it could have gone. "It sounds like we've found at least part of Solomon's reason for wanting to deal with the outside more."

"To avoid a repeat of that," she nodded. "It'd be so easy. And the Isles don't lack for dissenters capable of it either."

"Though most of them don't have much, if anything, to gain from destroying us," Dem pointed out. "The prospect of getting the Library was what tempted De l'Orage, we're fairly sure."

"It's still not a pretty picture. I just hope we got the message quickly enough," Samson said softly as Megan looked between the Islanders in disbelief.

"Umm, these days, it's not nearly so time consuming to raise an Isles demolishing army, or get it here. Just being pissed off would more than suffice."

"It might be easier, but you're still talking about destroying everything and everybody you've known," Samson pointed out. "The last I heard, that was hardly something you did because you were pissed off. Still, something we need to avoid having happen again."

She nodded and settled down, trying not to think about just how wrong they were in this day and age of rapid change and easy willingness to use violence that could destroy millions or even billions instead of the thousands of before. Did they even know about biowarfare or the nukes in a suitcase?

"We do," Dem said softly. "And an external threat we recognize as a very real one. Internal too, really. We're not saying it wouldn't be easy to destroy everything... just that you'd still need a motive to do it. Some of us are 'suitcase nukes,' almost literally."

That snapped Megan's face up to stare at Dem, then she ducked back down, half humiliated that what she'd thought was now spoken and half furious that her mind was read.

"Demeter," Samson growled, holding Megan close.

"Sorry," the telepath sighed. "I'm used to people having shields of some sort, not everything being right on the surface. I wasn't trying to pry."

"So try not to," the Liger 'suggested.' "Most folks from the outside don't have shields, of any kind, unless they are 'paths.

"And here I used to think keeping my mouth shut was doing a good job of being polite," the Collie murmured apologetically.

"It is usually," Dem admitted. "You've got a loud mind though, for around here. Part being strong willed and not liking keeping your mouth shut, part not having any shields. Only reason I was picking up on it was because I'm talking to you; most of us wouldn't notice more than emotional impressions otherwise."

"Oh," she nodded slightly. "At JIG keeping your mind to yourself unless you're looking is like one of the first courses for a telepath."

"I didn't get anything more than that," the Mouse said apologetically. "We teach it here, we're just also used to keeping half an ear out in case there's an invitation, and that's enough that I pick up on surface thoughts sometimes."

"Once word gets around, I think it'll be easier to keep things under wraps," Samson said, his tone suggesting that it had better be.

"I'll see about it getting around," Dem agreed quickly.

"I must have given a hell of a lecture to the telepaths that first night, hu?" She looked rather guilty. "Everything I didn't say to that... Lioness." She just barely corrected her words.

"Like I said, I'm only getting this because you were right here," the near-albino Mouse reassured her. "We picked up that you were pissed off about something, but none of the 'paths who were involved said anything, and the rest of us knew better than to pry intentionally. And if you were going to say 'bitch,' the only reason you'd be wrong is because you're nicer than she was. Sorry, Samson."

"No good arguing with either of you about it, even if I wanted to," the Liger chuckled weakly.

"We had a little 'debate' about contact with the outside," Megan sort of shrugged. "And how she's trying to poison the minds of her kids against something they know more about than she does." She tried to relax. "I can be a fearless little bitch when someone rubs me the wrong way. Being all but immune to attack doesn't help that reaction."

"No prizes for guessing what she thinks about that. Grew up on stories about her parents being chased by lynch mobs, can't blame her too much. We got the same thing, but it was a bit more removed. And we had access to other info on the outside, rather than just that. Always easier to remember the bad than the good."

"While I was raised by a second generation activist who helped write the affirmative action laws and child abuse laws and put spousal abuse and rape on the list of crimes." Megan sighed. "It's not in us to let things lie when they're hurting people."

"But did they change those overnight?" Dem asked softly. "It took time for those things to happen. To get past the way everybody was used to thinking."

"Oh, yeah. Still working on most of them." She nodded. "There are those who change things by working quietly in the background and those who change things by speaking up and fighting for what they believe. I'm the second kind. I act when I see these kinds of things happening."

"Just have to give us time to change some of these things. Some of them we can 'flip a switch' on. Just not all of them. And it's a pretty big switch to flip, too."

"It's just not how she is, Dem," Samson said, nuzzling Megan lightly. "Things will change, given the time. Once we head back to the mainland, it should be easier to give it that time."

"Yeah, no one will be shoving it in their face." Megan nodded and tried to wind down. "At least not as blatantly as I do."

"When you push, people tend to push back," Samson pointed out gently. "Some of the changes you want, we're just getting to the point where we're thinking of making them already. Others, some people have been making already. It will happen."

"It's time to leave it to the support crews." She nodded. "Time for the activists to picket elsewhere."

"That's one way to look at it," Dem nodded. "We've got the people in power on our side, out here," she added with a bit of a smile. "The ones highest up in it, at least. Solomon, some of the other settlement leaders."

"Yeah, when it gets to that point, the brazen, in-your-face stuff isn't really needed much." Megan chuckled. "Except as a visible support when elections and stuff happen and when conservatives get it in their head that we're gone."

"The good news is, we finished our elections about six months before I came out," Samson chuckled. "So it'll be a few years, barring something happening to Solomon. And we've got the Prof helping him figure out how to do it."

"Yeah, and he gets what he wants," she snickered. "Unless he likes girls."

"Huh?" Dem asked, looking at Megan curiously.

"This is when you learn why I've got a strict 'don't ask' policy around the Institute, I think," Samson chuckled, wondering what the reference was to himself.

"Sorry, history buff and political activist team in action." Megan chuckled sheepishly. He's accomplished everything he's even taken on spectacularly well. But he's almost never had a lover, much less a mate."

"Well, at least he's not the only living proof that there isn't something in the water anymore," Samson chuckled. "Might just not be interested, at this point."

"Given his age, I'm not surprised." She nodded. "I mean, he hardly looks it, but the guy's pushing the century mark."

"No antigeria treatments?" Dem asked curiously, cocking her head. "He doesn't look like he's even fifty."

"Haven't a clue. Running theory among the curious is that it has to do with his powers or just is one."

"Makes sense," Samson nodded. "Either way, really. Just hope it keeps going; when the world loses him, it'll be worse than losing Rasputin was."

"Yeah. Even with Sandy and Gaia in charge, it's not going to be easy to loose him. But it's never easy to loose a gifted leader no matter the cause."

"Just hope it doesn't happen until he's gotten the chance to set things up so somebody can take the reigns," the Liger said softly. "So many places something could go so wrong."

"It's always that way," Megan smiled softly, as comfortable with the truth of it as she was in his arms. "No matter what you are doing, it's always true. You just do the best you can and prepare for as many contingencies as you can without harming your overall goal."

"At this rate, you're going to make me think he needs to bring more of us along as bodyguards when he heads off the grounds," Samson chuckled slightly, holding her close.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea, honestly." She said quietly. "Whether or not he realizes it, he is the target for anyone who knows anything about stopping revolutions. You always take out the head and voice when you can."

"Only if you can destroy them first," Dem countered. "MLK, remember? It can work, but it can just as easily backfire, especially if done publicly."

"I remember the stories," she nodded. "My grandmother was there at the speech. It was the first time she'd seen blood up close like that."

"None of us were there, but the lesson's clear," the Mouse pointed out. "The only thing worse than a living firebrand is a dead martyr to the same cause. One can rouse people to action, but show his flaws. The other proves that you're afraid, and can be safely deified."

"And it pits you against the system you were trying to preserve," Megan added. "It's one thing to not care about a given cause or not like it. It's quite another to be considered a murdering extremist to go against it because that is what those who have spoken against it have done."

"Quite," she nodded. "End result, there's a certain level of security in being a public figure in a movement like this one. Not enough that you want to gamble too much on it, but there is some. More subtle methods have to be used to be truly effective, and it sounds like your Professor has handling those methods down to a fine art."

"I think so," she nodded with another giggle. "And subtle everything else too."

As they spoke on the yacht, another meeting was going on beneath the temple. Jurnix looked around the ancient library, the cacophony of mental impressions assaulting him. It almost seemed like something had woken up before, sending the once-passive feelings of the room into an anxious, noisy wakefulness. The feeling of age was incredible, as was just how much was left afterwards. Pain, anxiety, mourning. The impressions of the old war were strong, and hadn't had the chance to be washed away by anything since then.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Solomon asked from the oak table he sat at. "Especially now."

"Yes," the Foxbat nodded. "It is likely that some of those who fought here have yet to leave. Something was definitely woken by Megan's vision."

"It's hard not to notice. We've had psychometrists down here before, but none who went through something like that. All I can guess is that it's the blend of power and lack of training in how to control it. How much of what she saw did you see?"

"All of it, between when it happened and scanning her mind afterwards." He acknowledged. "It was not very informative, for all it was very personal."

"I only picked up the last flashes," Solomon admitted. "It's a shame, really. Had the Headmistress been prepared for the attack, gotten the chance to fight, there's at least a slight possibility things would have turned out differently."

Yes," Jurnix nodded and casually opened the book to the picture of de l'Orage. "One very important piece of information did come of it. He's still alive." He brushed slender fingers over the picture of the black tomcat. Solomon stilled at the suggestion.

"That's impossible. It was centuries ago, and while he might have been ejected for attempting to achieve immortality, he had not completed his studies...."

"He did not complete them here." He shook his head. "But I have met him twice now, once in memories and once in person. He still lives."

"Gods," the Lion said softly. "You're sure?"

"Too sure," he nodded. "We've hunted him for six years now with little success beyond damage to his holdings."

"Doctor Storm," Solomon guessed. "He's not even hiding his name, at least not these days. Though it sounds like he's lost quite a bit of the power he had."

"Yes, though all forms of magic have suffered in the last few centuries."

"I wonder how much of that is because of him," Solomon wondered. "I wonder if he's made any other moves before his latest one, that people have missed."

"I do not know that, but if magic has suffered because of him, he has lost far more power than the world in general because of it." He looked around at the great library. "I see far too many parallels between what happened to these people and the past century. Far, far too many not to be very concerned for our future."

"You can understand why I'm worried about it?" Solomon asked softly. "The physiological changes they saw aside, the social structures are in place now, in many ways, for us to face the same fate they did."

"And the physical changes are starting," he added regretfully. "And the increase in power with each generation as well. Only what took 600 years for them has happened in less than 60 years this time."

"Not to the same extent, but events are bearing them out," Solomon agreed. "Though most of the physical changes aren't detrimental. The Tells make it harder to hide, but in many ways, the rest of them could be the difference between temporary survival and instant death, if it comes to violence. I think it might have had something to do with the blend of Rasputin's genetics programs, and something inherent to the Isles."

"Given what I know of the Isles, it is mostly this place. The power that hides and protects this place is far older than even the mages who build this library."

"Mostly," the Lion granted. "I was thinking of why it might be going so much faster is all. Somehow though, I think it does more than protect it. It's strange, to say the least. It could, however, explain why this place has remained so well hidden for so long. If it's not just the artificial defenses, and things like the Lookouts, but if the Isles themselves don't want to be found...."

"Solomon, they don't show up in satellite photos of this area." Jurnix shook his head. "It is found by refuges with power. It wants people of its own. Special people that can help protect it."

"And instead, we're calling on it for protection. Though if there is a spirit here, why can't we contact it telepathically?"

"An educated guess?" Jurnix offered. "It's not a true intelligence. At least not in the way we understand. It could be the residue of it's inhabitants mingling with the magic, it could be a spirit or ancient Avatar that remains. It could even be an Avatar or something similar. There is a great deal we do not understand about the world, much less what lies beyond it."

"Maybe Samson knows something more about it," Solomon said. "His powers work better in that area than anybody I know of so far, and he's talked about communicating with spirits before. Do you think there would be any benefit to trying to establish contact, at some point?"

"Given it is unlikely to be hostile to us, it would be useful to know what it wants, or at least what it likes."

"Then I'll talk to Samson about it later, unless you'd rather. It would be nice to know if we're alone here or not."

"You would be best. It is your territory after all."

"Thank you," Solomon smiled, inclining his head towards the smaller Foxbat. "It's still rather odd to think of it that way, at least while taking an active role in running it. Would you like to be there when the attempt is made, if possible?"

"Yes. Even if my skills are of no use, it is of significant interest to me."

"I doubt that would happen. If nothing else, it would be a comfort to me to have somebody handy who could help if Samson goes in too far. He's not a trained telepath, and you've already demonstrated that you can help with situations like that."

"I am fairly skilled," he consented. "And I would not want to deal with Megan should something happen to him." He added with a chuckle.

"Maybe we should send her back home before trying this," Solomon chuckled. "After all, I'm the one suggesting he try it. Puts me fairly high on the list if something goes wrong."

"I won't let anything happen you to," Jurnix winked at him with a chuckle. "She's feisty but her bark is worse than her bite for the time being."

"Given how bad her bark can be, I'd hate to see her bite if it was the other way around," Solomon laughed, before pausing, turning his head as though listening to something. "Professor, it sounds like I have a situation to deal with. If you'll excuse me?"

"Of course, Solomon." He nodded easily. "If you do not mind if I stay and explore this library for a time?"

"Feel free," the Lion said, standing up quickly. "I'd warn you to be careful, but I don't think that's overly necessary. Just don't read anything out loud, please. No telling what might happen."

"No, there isn't." Jurnix agreed readily. "If you need any help with Siren, just give a mental shout." He paused. "Her distress is rather difficult to miss."

"I'll let you know," Solomon nodded. "Hopefully this will be fairly simple to resolve. I'll be back as soon as I can." With that, he started up the stairs in a hurry, the concerned impression he left behind belying his confident tone.

Despite being deep in committing an important looking book to memory so he could translate it at leisure, Professor Tamerin 'Mindwalker' Jurnix had no problem hearing the mental shout for his assistance and immediately set the large tome down to follow the request with all the speed his wings and Gifts provided him.

"Professor, we need your help above ground," Solomon said as the Foxbat flew, literally and figuratively, into the central chamber of the building. He seemed fairly calm about things, and it had seemed like the situation was mostly under control up until then.

"What happened to her?" Jurnix cartwheeled to slow down enough to land gracefully next to the large Lion.

"Siren's powers are sonic based," Solomon explained, leading Jurnix into a small building where Gaia, Charlie, and a handful of locals were waiting. Sitting in a chair in the corner, holding her mouth shut, was a young Brown Bat. She looked over at Jurnix with large, expressive eyes that spoke of a blend of embarrassment and exasperation.

"Earlier, she lost control over her amplitude and frequency. Right now, she seems to be stuck in the ultrasonic frequencies. Anybody with maximum hearing range in the low-ultrasonic might want to head out now." A few canines left quickly, having already dealt with the results before.

"Lost control as in an emerging Gift or her skills in using it no longer work on it?" Jurnix asked curiously.

"A bit of both, I think." He held up a handful of powder. "This is what was left of a rock she hit earlier. But the rest of her control has been compromised as a result. She doesn't seem to be destructive anymore. By the way, we've gotten permission for telepathic communication, but we thought it might help if there was somebody who could talk to her, and listen, without needing to use it."

"Of course," Jurnix smiled warmly at her. "Can you hear normal speech?" He clicked in the high-pitched native language of their kind.

"Yes," she clicked back, nodding to him. "Just can't speak that low."

"Good," he nodded and knelt next to her. "Do you have any idea what caused this, or at preceded it?"

"Nothing I haven't done a hundred times before. I should be able to get back down to normal ranges, it's just like talking."

"Try to relax," he advised in a gentle voice as his hands moved slowly along her jaw, cheeks, the back of her neck, massaging the half-panicked tension from them.

He moved along her shoulders as she started to relax, then up along her throat with a touch that was more a caress than anything else in respect for the fragility of the area. She shivered a bit at the touch, realizing what he was trying to do, and what the problem was that had her 'stuck' at the level she was at.

She took a few deep breaths through her nose, trying to calm down, and remember the exercises she'd taught herself for how to work her vocal chords when they were too tight after a day's practice.

"That's good," he murmured softly. "Just relax and let your body return to normal. There is nothing to be ashamed of Siren. You are simply too tense. You're voice was stuck in the high range."

"Thanks," she squeaked, coughing as her voice dropped into the high end of audible for most people, then back into a more normal register in general. "Thank you," she said gratefully. "I should've been able to figure that out...."

"And next time you likely will." He smiled. "There is no shame in needing help."

"All right," she smiled. "You're Professor Jurnix, right?" Most of the locals started heading out of the room, now that the problem was dealt with.

"Yes," he nodded easily and stood, offering her a hand up that she took a little shyly.

"Thank you. Are you busy now?"

"Not particularly," he chuckled lightly. "I was reading in the Library."

"Maybe I could talk you into an aerial tour, when you're done? Pretty sure they haven't shown you the sights the way we can see them."

"I would like that," he smiled. "After dinner, perhaps?"

"That'd be great," she smiled brightly, not noticing the amused glances exchanged by Charlie and Gaia. "Should I meet you there?"

"That would be good," he chuckled. "I have been known to loose track of time while reading."

*'It might be a good idea to specify which Library,'* Solomon warned the Foxbat mentally. *'I doubt she's thinking of the one under the temple.'*

*'Thanks,'* He chuckled mentally. "Do you know how to get to the Temple Library?"

"There's a library somewhere in there?" She asked, glancing at Solomon.

"Under it," the Lion explained. "I'll give the guards instructions to show you down when you get there."

"Think I'll be able to figure it out then," she smiled, looking back at the older Foxbat.

"Then I will see you after dinner," he inclined his head with a smile and let her hand go before shooing his students off with a look and followed them out. *'Think it's funny, do you?'*

*'Absolutely,'* Gaia giggled. *'You're cute together.'*

*'And you think I need to get laid,'* he added drolly.

*'It'll do you good.'* She smirked at him before the Foxbat launched skyside and back towards the library.

Siren took a deep breath as she approached the temple, trying to calm her nerves. She was just going to take him up, go around the Isles on-wing instead of on-foot. That's all she'd said, probably all it was to him. The fact that he was inexplicably available, according to local gossip, only made it more likely.

Still, she couldn't really help but be a little nervous. There weren't more than one or two available Bats in the Isles, of any sort, and he was definitely the best of them, even if he was only going to be there temporarily.

The guards nodded as she walked up to the temple's entrance, showing her to the secret door in the back. She'd already agreed not to spread the word about how to get down, so they had her open it once, just in case she needed to get down in the future.

It was also understood that she wouldn't be going down there often.

For now though, she started down the stairs, wondering if he'd remember when she arrived. Reaching the bottom, she hesitated a moment, her nerves almost getting the better of her. Shoving them aside, she opened the door, stepping in a bit and looking at Jurnix where he was sitting, engrossed in one of the thicker books from the shelf near him.

"Hello?" She said shyly, her voice carrying well in the silent library.

"Hello, Siren," he lifted his head to smiled at her and stood, closing the book. "After dinner already?" He asked almost sheepishly.

"I'm a little early, actually," she admitted, smiling at him as she stepped further into the room. "About dinnertime. If you'd like to finish, it's okay."

"No," he chuckled and walked over to her. "It will be here when we are done, I am sure."

"Of all the things I've heard of," she chuckled, "books putting themselves away isn't on the list. You want to get something to eat before we get going? Or maybe on the run?"

"I think before we go," he decided, doubting his skills at eating on the wing after so long. "Unless you have a picnic spot in mind?"

"I know a couple you can't reach without flying," she smiled brightly, her expressive eyes nearly sparkling. "Incredible views, and usually pretty quiet this time of year."

"Quiet is good," Jurnix chuckled and guided her out of the Library and into the hallway. "Did you have a kind of meal in mind?" The mental image his question brought to mind was well-buried, but very explicit. Still, she didn't seem to notice it as much as he had, or at least was good at ignoring it.

"The pub usually has something hot and portable ready," she smiled as they headed up. "What sort of food do you like?"

"Spicy red meat, bread and butter, fresh fruit," he considered his favorites, more than a touch amused to be treated like this even just counting his apparent age. "Though I have yet to meet the meal I didn't enjoy when it came with good company."

"Oh, we can definitely arrange that," she grinned, as they headed out into the main temple. "Ever try pasties?"

"Can't say as I have, but they sound good," he agreed easily to the beef-filled pastry.

"Good," Siren nodded. "They're easy to carry, and a solid meal on their own, especially with a little fruit and something to drink. We'll pick a few up on the way out, then head down to the Crag? Unless you'd rather eat somewhere a little further away from the coast."

"I enjoy the coast," Jurnix shook his fox-like head slightly. "I set my Institute there as much because I love the sea as for it's tactical practicality."

"Then you'll love the Crag," she grinned. "It's a spot about thirty feet down the cliffs along the western coast. Come on, if we hurry we might beat the sunset."

"Sounds delightful," he agreed easily and made a practiced launch into the air, half circling to let her lead the way to pick up their dinner, and then to the Crag.

The trip passed fairly quickly. It was just a few minutes by wing to the pub, where they had a brief wait for the order Siren placed quickly, with almost practiced ease. They were both keenly aware of the interest the gathered customers had in them; the Professor hadn't been seen around the Isles very much, at least not without Solomon.

*'New guide?'* A telepathic voice asked him curiously.

*'For tonight,'* he answered calmly, his amusement at the situation not completely concealed.

*'Enjoy your tour,'* the questioner replied, picking up on the amusement. *'Sounds like it might be... entertaining.'*

*'It's certainly in her thoughts,'* Jurnix chuckled back.

"Let's go," Siren said cheerfully, strapping on a thick belt with several pouches. He followed her outside and back in the air without an outward sign the conversation even happened. The two of them flew over the island a little more slowly now, Siren being careful of her cargo. It gave the older Foxbat an excellent view as he followed her, both of the village, and of the younger Bat's firm rear and well-toned body.

"It's down here," she called back to him, angling down towards the cliffs overlooking the ocean, and the sunset, spectacular despite the fog.

Almost a century in the air made following her an easy proposition, both because he was hungry and she had their meal and she was attractive in her own right.

"Have you ever seen the sunset without the fog?" He asked, his gaze mostly on the sparkling sea and its show of fire as he landed neatly on the broad rocky outcropping that led into a small cave. It really would be nearly impossible to get there without flying, or crawling down the rock face.

"Once," she nodded. "It's not easy to stay in one place in the air long enough to really watch it, I'm afraid.

"It is quite beautiful," he commented and relaxed on the rocky ground, not the least bit bothered by it as she passed him one of the heavy pouches from her belt, sitting down next to him and opening her own, pulling out an apple as the hearty, spicy scent of the pastry within was released. "The roof of the manor gives an excellent view of the sea on a clear evening."

"It sounds gorgeous," she smiled. "Are the days usually clear out there?"

"Yes, though not quite so often in winter," he nodded and watched the sun slowly sink into the shimmering fog covered sea. "The fog here is part of the Isle's natural hiding method." He commented after a bite of the pastry and an approving chirping sound.

"Out this far, I'm not surprised," she said after a few moments. "There are some of them where the tides do something strange, but it'd be weird for that to happen through the whole chain. It gets monotonous after a while, when you think about it. Most of us don't anymore." She took a bite of her own, chewing and swallowing quickly.

"It's not a subject many but the defenders and scholars would find interesting," he nodded easily. "You have good taste in food, Siren."

"Thank you," she smiled. "Used to be miner's food, back outside, but they adapted to something a flier could take along pretty well. Which are you?"

"A little of both," he chuckled. "Mostly I am a leader and teacher." She nodded, opening the third pouch and pulling out a bottle of juice with a couple small glasses.

"Sounds like you've got a lot in common with our leaders." She handed him a glass, and poured one for herself. "More Rasputin than Solomon, but the better parts, at any rate."

"The better parts?" He prompted curiously

"The skill, wanting to help people," she elaborated, smiling over at him. "Wanting to make things better, in the long run. You've got the confidence, too; that's something Solomon seems a little short on, sometimes."

"I have many years of leadership experience on him," he chuckled and sipped the lightly citric fruit juice. "Confidence comes with experience for many people."

"We know," she chuckled. "He'll get used to it, with time. He decided to bring you guys here, that's a step in the right direction."

"A friendly alliance on the outside will be very useful as it gets more difficult to hide this place." He nodded. "A larger gene pool to draw on will be useful as well."

"Tell me about it," Siren said, rolling her eyes a bit. "There is a serious shortage of certain species around here."

"Such as bats?" He chuckled.

"Well, yeah... among others," she chuckled a little sheepishly, realizing what it might sound like, but not sure how to get out of it. "But yeah, not counting my family, there's no more than a handful of bats in the Isles, and that's with new arrivals since the Exodus."

"With only five hundred residents, it's not surprising that some races didn't get a good representation." He nodded. "Honestly, it's surprising as many races are here as it is."

"Avatars have never been focused on any particular species, from the sound of it. That's what Rasputin looked for, more than getting a given spread of species. Unfortunately, it makes finding mates from among the locals pretty tricky, unless you're a Dog or Cat. Even then, it's not easy if you're worried about variety."

"Which some are, either for social or genetic reasons," he nodded. "It can be difficult finding a good mate even in the outside world, much less when a population is this restricted. Even with only a handful of species you'd have run into inbreeding issues within a few generations."

"That was the basic idea behind the Programs. Minimizing, at the very least, the inbreeding problems long-term. Our population was just large enough, without the species issues, to make minimizing the damage possible.""

"And the Avatar issues make it that much more complex," he nodded. "Though at least those issues are uncommon."

"And we're finding ways around them," she nodded. "Though it seems like just about every time something goes wrong it's something new."

"Similar to how every Avatar's Gifts are new," he added with a thoughtful nod as the sun's light began to disappear. "The increased gene pool will be very valuable to the Isles, even if it does not come with much of an increase in actual residents."

"And if contact with the outside includes considering non-Avatar mates, it'll be a major help," Siren agreed. "Though ones who are Avatars will still be preferred, I'm sure. I know I'd prefer one, all else being equal."

"For a mate, yes, it definitely has it's preferences, though I'll take an understanding normal non-Bat over an Avatar Bat that I don't have enough in common with. For one to have pups with, an Avatar is a significant factor in their favor."

"As few Bats as there are around here, I'm used to thinking of sire and mate as the same," she admitted. "Though I'm not looking for either too hard, right now. Just somebody to be with is an improvement."

"It is nice," he agreed thoughtfully. "I've lost too much to be very eager for another mate. Twenty years though, it may be time to consider it again."

"What was your last one like? If you don't mind my asking."

"I don't mind," he chuckled and looked at her before letting his gaze drift to the sky and his mind drift back. "She was feisty, military before we met. Trained as a front line messenger and supply runner until she broke her arm. It took her two years to recover fully and fly again, but she'd been discharged by then.

"We met in Geranda almost forty years ago. She was an independent working for the news and offering aid on the side. I was there tracking down an Avatar and trying to keep those I knew of alive in the process. We made a good team, Shara and I. I never told her what I was though, for all I did use my gifts to help us." Siren did the math; he had to be older than he looked. That was interesting. Of course, given that he'd been around when the Exodus was in progress, that was a given. He had to be at least as old as Rasputin had been.

"She had problems with Avatars, or you just didn't want to take the chance that far back?"

"Honestly, it just never came up." He chuckled weakly. "Though I expect I didn't want to risk it. We were good together."

"No children?"

"No," he said softly and little sadly. "Not for lack of wanting or trying, but it wasn't to be."

"I'm sorry," she said sympathetically, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. "It sounds like the two of you were happy together, at least."

"Yes, we were," he smiled softly. "It was a good time for all its problems and the dangers of going from one hot spot to another in search of that next great shot."

"I'll bet half the dangers were what made it a good time, in the end," she smiled. "Strange, but that's how it happens some times."

"As much because she enjoyed it as it was exciting itself," he chuckled.

"Sounds like she was an adrenaline junky," Siren chuckled.

Jurnix thought about that and thought back to his last mate. "She was gifted in her own way. Not an Avatar, but gifted and driven to use that gift. Even without my help she had an incredible talent for being in the right place at the right time to get a picture that said it all."

"You hardly need to be an Avatar to be good at what you do," she smiled. "It just makes it easier sometimes. Better to find something you enjoy, and it sounds like she did. And like she had a full life, no matter how short it might have been."

"Yes, she did." He nodded. "She had a good life by her own standards and enjoyed most of her fifty years."

"More than a lot of people do. It sounds like she was pretty lucky, in love and in life."

"She thought so," he smiled fondly. "I only wish it had been longer."

"You remember the time you had fondly. Sometimes, that's all you can really ask for." She leaned closer to him, nuzzling his shoulder lightly. "What was it? 'Better to have loved and lost...?'"

"Than never to have loved at all," he finished for her and shifted to nuzzle her in return. "It is true, for all the losing hurts for a long time."

"Somebody told me once, that the longer it hurts, the better it must have been while it lasted." She took the chance of wrapping one winged arm around his back lightly.

"Then it was very good with Shara," he chuckled softly and smiled at the warmth of her arm against his back. "Twenty years and it still hurts, though not nearly what it did in the jungle when it happened."

"If it still hurt that much, I'd be worried," Siren admitted. "You've been alone since then?"

"For the most part." He nodded. "The last decade has been taken by building my Institute and rescuing Avatars from that base." He said softly. "When she died, I threw myself into my own dream, as much not to think about seeing anyone like that again as to build the family we could never have."

"She'd be proud of you, I'm sure," the younger Bat smiled softly, hugging him a little. "You've done a lot of good in the world, from what we can tell."

"I hope so," he smiled faintly, more than a little surprised how good the praise made him feel. "There is still so much yet to do."

"But you don't have to do it on your own now," she pointed out softly.

"I'm not," he shook his head slightly. "But I am leading it, guiding it."

"And doing at least as good a job of it as Rasputin did, each in your own ways. And in less time."

"But with far more resources." He chuckled. "For all that I'm the telepath, I've always done better manipulating money than people. It's so much simpler, more predictable. And a lot less violent when it goes wrong."

"And there aren't nearly the same moral issues," she chuckled, snuggling close to him. "Or ulterior motives."

"True," he admitted. "It's made me much more observant of what people care about. The things that are easy to manipulate to get them to want what I want them to. Or simply to shut down a group that is a significant threat."

"Like the people who had Lightning," she nodded. "That's quite a story, really."

"Yes," he nodded slightly and laid back slowly so she could follow or not as she wished. "It was our first real operation as a team. The Institute's first test against an opponent who would fight back."

"Sounds like they passed with flying colors," she murmured, following him back until they were both laying under the cover of the rock above them. She made a contented sound similar to his when they came to rest against each other and he slid an arm around her to draw her a little closer.

"Yes." Jurnix smiled. "They have done well with every challenge we've faced. It is quite an extraordinary group that has gathered as my strike team."

"I have the feeling you attract extraordinary groups of all sorts," she rumbled, pressing close to him as he chuckled in honest amusement. "Like attracting like, for a change."

"Quite possible," he let the amusement at the situation fade into a smoldering desire for the pleasures of another body so eagerly given. Even so, he couldn't help but think about how nice it would be to have a companion again, what it would do to his ability to act and how others saw him even before they realized he was at least four times her age. She ran her hand down his chest, doing her best to distract him from the train of thought with her hand and a shy, tentative kiss to his lips, one clearly inviting him to take farther if he wanted.

Almost to his own surprise, he did. He closed his eyes and tilted his head slightly to slip his long, slender tongue into her mouth to play with her own. She returned the attention with a soft moan, their tongue dueling as her hands grew bolder. Rubbing his sides, shifted to press against him more heatedly, encouraged by his responses and the hands lightly exploring her fit body with a knowledge that made it hard to believe he hadn't had a serious lover in her lifetime.

"Mind if I include our minds?" Jurnix asked softly as he broke the kiss with a lick along her slender jaw.

"All right," she nodded, lowering her natural shields easily as she shivered at his touch. She didn't think they'd be in the way, but didn't want to take any chances either. She licked at his neck tenderly, nuzzling the soft fur there as she prepared herself for the new sensations.

She gasped softly at the incredibly gentle touch of such a powerful telepath as he drew her to her feet and began to kiss along her jaw and neck. His hands moved along her body, leaving a tingle threw her clothing that was soon on the ground with his without a real notice of it leaving until it was gone and she felt her naked fur pressed against his.

*'Let me,'* Jurnix's mind breathed.

"Please," she whimpered softly, her breath quickening, the glow of anticipation and pleasure rushing through her mind more intoxicating to the telepath she was with than any brew.

He couldn't help but smile and kiss down her throat to her breasts, where his long tongue flicked out to taste and wet her fur with gentle curiosity, circling towards a hard nipple standing out from her mousey-soft fur. Her own hands explored his body, occasionally pausing as she moaned, the soft sound echoing through their shelter as her mental groans echoed through their minds. She arched her body towards his submissively and was rewarded with a brush of pressure directly to the pleasure center of her brain as he knelt and slowly kissed and licked his way to the slight ruff of fur just above her swelling sex. She gasped, a squeak of sound higher than anybody but them could hear echoing as she spread her legs mindlessly, her knees already shaking slightly.

*'Gods,'* she thought, one of the few coherent ones that made it through the excited jumble.

*'Relax,'* he soothed her, wanting to draw this out to it's fullest. Still he flicked his long tongue along the part of her swelling nether lips. The shock of pleasure it sent threw her body to feel him so close drew a soft moan from him. Despite that, he delved no deeper to taste her slick juices and tease the tip of her hard clit that poked from them. She drew a deep breath, trying to calm herself down, draw this out as far as they could. A part of her, a very noisy part in both their minds, wanted to feel him inside of her as quickly as possible.

It was a part of her than understood just as firmly that it was not going to get it's wish. Jurnix had no intention of entering her quickly or without a significant length of play beforehand.

She reached down, stroking his large, sensitive ears carefully as she let him pleasure her. The vibration of his voice shivered up her spine from where his lips touched her lower ones.

Very slowly his tongue slipped between the swollen, slick flesh of her mons to caress her clit and the folds of sensitive skin around it fully. Her juices leaked from her body over his long, slender muzzle, and she let out a deep, heartfelt moan of pleasure when he finally pressed his tongue into her body just a little, flicking the tip around, seeking the rough bit of skin that pleasured beyond all others.

*'So long,'* she thought to him, focusing on keeping her mind at least semi-coherent as he worked with relentless patience to pleasure her more than anyone had. She let loose a high pitch keen as he found her g-spot, his long tongue sending bolts of pleasure arcing through her as he teased it with a gentle sweep of his tongue.

*'So hungry,'* he rumbled back, his body responding almost as strongly as hers to the pleasure he gave with his mouth and hands along her hips and thighs.

*'Long time,'* she admitted, squeezing her body down around his tongue slightly, pressing her sex forward towards him, the powerful scent of her arousal literally right in his face. *'Gods you're good....'*

*'Then I'll give you what you want most.'* He smiled and drew his face away from her crotch to stand up and kiss her, his hard erection against her belly. She licked her juices off his muzzle and lips hungrily, rubbing against his shaft. "Have you been taken in the air before?"

"It's been a while," she admitted, her breath quick, her body on edge as he drew her to the edge of the ledge. "But I think I can handle it yet."

*'Good,'* Jurnix rumbled threw a deep kiss as he knelt slightly to sink his cock slowly into her wet and willing body, drawing a gasp of pleasure from her slender frame.

*'So big,'* she thought, as much to herself as to him, squeezing down around his shaft as they stood mere inches from the open air, and then dropped into freefall.

Instinctively she tried to spread her wings, only just managing not to foul his when he reminded her silently to hold on and let his strength carry them higher. Each stroke of his powerful arms drove him deeper into her body to run against her G-spot. Every shift of the wind and twist of direction rubbing their bodies together in an erotically pleasurable dance neither had indulged in in far too long. She let out a high pitched keen of pleasure, her body erupting into ecstasy around his shaft as they both shuddered and struggled to remain airborne through the pleasure.

Siren panted, her body shuddered with every breath and movement Jurnix made on the way back to the Crag and their clothing.

"A reasonable start?" He smiled down at her after a surprisingly smooth landing.

"Very reasonable," she rumbled, looking up at him and licking his neck affectionately as he slowly softened and slid from her body with a shiver. "Gods, it's been forever since I've done that; don't think I've ever come so hard. Of course," she added with a wink, "this means I'll have to return the favor...."

"You'll get no complaints from this old bat." Jurnix chuckled and nuzzled her in return.

"You're not that old," she smirked, kissing him playfully, pressing close to his warm body. "Besides, I like older men. Mmm... so, you want me to return it now, or take a break for a while first?"

"A break would make it more enjoyable," he smiled and drew her into the cave a bit to make a resting place with their clothes. "So surprise me."

"Assuming I can," she chuckled, drawing him down onto their makeshift bedding. "Thank you."

"You about done for the day?" Cassandra asked Megan cheerfully, just as the Collie was about to wrap up her day's work on the library computers.

"Yap," she smiled over her shoulder at the Lioness. "Escaped from your mother for the evening?"

"Thankfully," she grinned. "She's still fuming about you once in a while, you know."

"Man, she's touchy." Megan laughed and stood through the chair as usual. "I didn't even get going at all."

"You're one of the few people who've even tried arguing her to a standstill who wasn't clearly proof that 'your father has no idea how to raise children,'" Cass pointed out, rolling her eyes. "If she thought she stood a chance of either of us listening, she'd probably have forbid Samson and I talking to you at all."

"If she'd tried that with Samson she'd be in for a very rude awakening to the hazards of interfering in my life." She rumbled, ears flat, her hatred visible enough to catch a few looks from the empaths in the room before she settled. "And a reality check about what happens when he's not there to get me to leave."

"Good chance that's why she didn't, though he'd have some very choice words for her too," the Lioness chuckled slightly. "Come on, let's get out of here so they can't gripe about us chatting too much."

"Sounds good." Megan nodded and fluffed her thick, long fur. "So does lunch."

"Samson's cooking, or my treat?" Cassandra asked curiously. "Either's good with me, just up to you."

"Samson's a great cook, but how about something closer to fast food." She chuckled. "It's been ages."

"You're in luck," the Lioness grinned. "Just so happens that I know a place where the cook has the fine art of the fry-chef down pat. Should at least be able to get you something like fast food."

"As long as it's not more stew," she grinned accommodatingly. "Or your basic roast meat."

"He really does have better variety when he's got a fully stocked pantry," Cassandra chuckled. "But for now, I can definitely manage that. Come on, we'll get you something with some grease to it."

"Sounds great," Megan grinned with a wagging tail. "But he still has a fondness for stew and roast. He cooks like that even at the manner and yatch. Great guy, but not all that creative in a lot of ways."

"But you love him anyway," the Lioness grinned back, her own tail waving lazily as they started out of the library and towards one of the larger buildings nearby, already fairly noisy with the crowd gathered inside.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't," she chuckled. "This isn't a trip that they'd bring the newest resident on for no reason."

"Especially not if they had a good clue how much you'd love the way things are run out here," Cass smirked.

"Oh, they did," she giggled. "Samson got the third degree on it more than once. A lot of it's not very popular with anyone, but I'm the mouth of the group."

"Bet he's glad he's not a telepath then," she chuckled as they reached the restaurant, working their way to an open table. "Everybody out there feels about the way you do?"

"Not by a long shot," she shook her head. "No matter what subject you pick. You're more liberal than most of the world on some things, really backwards on others and both sides have heard my family's bark about it."

"I meant everybody out there at the Institute," Cass chuckled. "Cheeseburger with fries good?"

"Oh, that sounds great." She grinned eagerly. "And that group, well, I'm probably the most aggressive of the lot, but yeah, we're a pretty liberal group overall. Kind of have to be to get along with that much variety."

"All Avatars, all different species, and all different backgrounds on top of that?" The Lioness guessed, after giving their order to the telepathic cook. "Food should be towards the top of the list, he doesn't ask about it until he's ready."

"'Path?" She guessed. "And yeah. Though it'll be far worse when we're actually at something resembling full operational numbers. There's only about forty there now, but it was designed with several hundred, may be even a thousand, in mind before significant changes would have to be made to anything other than a few extra housing complexes already planned for."

"You could fit the Isles in there easy," Cassandra whistled. "And yeah, he is. How many folks have already asked to head back with you?" She asked curiously.

"A looker of a Saluki bitch and that cute bat that's hanging with the Prof." She giggled. "No matter how he's denying it, she's definitely there for him. Might be others, though. I'm not the one they have to ask."

"Well, at least you're not filling your ship with escapees," the Lioness giggled. "Set us back a solid twenty years, population wise," she smirked.

"If there are that many who want to leave, you know I'm going to hunt them down." Megan grinned mischievously, though she clearly meant it.

"If there are that many who want to leave, it'd be a surprise to me," Cass chuckled. "I mean, for heaven's sake, I'm staying, and I've got the witch-queen for a mother."

"Not even going to visit the outside?" Megan cocked her head curiously.

"Visit maybe," she admitted. "Not this trip though."

"Catch too much heat from mom?" She asked.

"Precog, remember?" Cass pointed out. "I thought about it, but all my visions suggested I should stick around here in the immediate future. Maybe I'm supposed to help keep things going out here, once you're gone," she chuckled.

"Or maybe just be the main target for your mother so she doesn't cause actual problems to integration and the new arrivals that aren't going to give up many of their ways."

"That was one of the options I wasn't so crazy about," she admitted. "Still, seems I'm supposed to stick around, one reason or another. Maybe I'll visit in a couple months, make sure Samson's head doesn't get swelled." Just then, their meals came out, two large burgers with fresh fries next to them.

"Not likely," Megan giggled with a very appreciative twitch of her nose for the meat and fried food that she dug into with relish and some attention to her manners.

"Lemme guess," Cassandra grinned, picking up her own food, ready to start eating. "He's got you to make sure that doesn't happen?" With that, she bit into the thick burger hungrily, enjoying the heavy flavor.

"And the rest of the guys there," she added between bites and happy noises. "Besides, if he ever gets too full of himself I'll just take him back to the New World Mall."

"Well I need some excuse to visit," the Lioness smirked. "Though it sounds like you've got that one pretty well covered. What happened at the Mall?"

"Oh, it's just huge," she snickered. "Nothing really happened other than he was completely overwhelmed."

"Lots of people in close quarters?" She guessed.

"And several thousand merchants and an amusement park under a single roof, and that's just the main building."

"Yeah, that'd overwhelm a lot of folks from here, especially him," Cass admitted. "Sounds like it'd be a blast though," she added with a grin.

"It is," Megan nodded eagerly. "And it overwhelms a lot of folks from outside. It's big even by our standards, but it's majorly popular and a lot of fun."

"Sounds like I've found an excuse to visit, not that I'll tell Mom that's it," she grinned.

"At least if you don't want to cause a huge scene," she snickered. "You know I would, but that's me. I like causing waves."

"I don't mind, but I prefer to do it when I can start running if I have to," she chuckled. "Besides, that's something there's a chance she'd have a leg to stand on if she decided to keep me stuck here."

"You look way too old to be a legal minor when breeding starts at eighteen." Megan rumbled softly.

"It's the whole 'closed borders' thing," Cassandra explained. "Anybody who wanted to, at this point, could try and get anybody leaving stopped. Probably wouldn't work, but there's always the chance. Though I don't have more than two years on you."

"You don't look it," Megan shook her head slightly. "Though I have to admit little experience judging a Lioness' age."

"I look a bit older than I am too," she chuckled. "But trust me, if I were a few years older, I would so not be living where I am."

"You can't get your independence early here?"

"Sometimes, but with everything involved I'm just better off staying at home. Dad's not so bad, after all."

"And you've only got a year or so left before you are out anyway," she nodded, assuming that was about right.

"Yep," she nodded. "Out, on my own, and don't have to see her again if I don't want to. That's one example I'm thinking of taking from my sister," she chuckled.

"Show your mom by example that she's alone in her beliefs among her children."

"For the most part. Sis mostly objected to the control freak parts of it, I'm a bit more radical than that."

"You'd get along great in my family." Megan giggled. "So what else are you more radical about?"

"Radical compared to here," Cass admitted. "Don't know how I rate compared to the outside. There are some things we've managed to do right, after all; a working communism has its advantages. But the way some people treat Samson, or anybody who doesn't want cubs, is downright archaic. Hell, the Victorians were better about it than some of the people out here."

"What's sick about it is that they all but had him convinced it was natural to treat him that way," Megan bristled. "And the hell Xanx got is even worse. She's been harassed already for packing her stuff to go with us too. Nothing she thinks is worth reporting, just venting to a like mind about." She chuckled slightly. "The two of us can really get going when we hit the right subjects."

"I'll bet you can. She's sort of like an older, more bitter version of you," the Lioness chuckled softly, shaking her head.

"That was one impression I never got." Megan cocked her head. "I'm planning on pups when I'm older. I'm just bred and trained to fight for individual rights and the right to love who you choose and breed or not are so high on the list it's not funny."

"That's a big one, but there's also the way you both look at the xenophobes, and the way you both think things need to be changed around here. The Programs really are something that started out with a good idea, but went bad pretty fast."

"Yeah, though I think there are parts of it in place, like the database and screening for compatibility that are great and I'm probably going to make use of them when I'm ready."

"Same here," Cass agreed. "I mean, I don't really mind it, but Gods! Some people seriously need to get their heads out of their asses about it."

"You'll find that's true about anything." Megan chuckled darkly. "I'm sure more than a few folks think I'm just as bad with how strongly I hold and speak of my beliefs."

"Maybe, but you're still willing to let people live their lives when they aren't screwing with somebody else's."

"It's the core of what I was raised to believe." She nodded seriously. "But they will argue they aren't forcing anyone to do anything either." She added more quietly. "That all they are doing is speaking their minds. It's a very fine line, you know, between speaking what you believe in and hurting someone by it. It's a very difficult line to prove exists too."

"I'll give you that, but there's also a difference between speaking what you believe in and saying that somebody's a waste of air because of what they were born as," Cass muttered.

"That's not speaking your mind, that's throwing insults." Megan rumbled before remembering to take a big bite of the juicy burger. "When you sink to insults, you've lost control of the situation."

"Try telling them that," she said, rolling her eyes. "Y'know, I'm surprised you managed to keep things civil talking to Charles so far."

"Charles?" Megan cocked her head, trying to place a face to the name.

"Charlemagne," she clarified. "I'd call him a few other things, but if he's around he'd bite my head off for it. Talk about your ego on legs."

"And not nearly as able to swallow a rejection. Fire may have the ego, but he takes it better." Megan giggled. "Charlemagne was dumbfounded when my final reason for turning him down for pups in the future was his breed."

"Fire's also nicer about things," Cass chuckled. "Not a bad guy all around, really, even if he does think with the wrong head most of the time. But Charlemagne... did you tell him you were dating Samson?"

"I told him we were mates," she nodded. "Though at the time he was still trying to court me."

"Sounds like you lucked out. He was one of the worst for giving Samson grief when they were younger, would've thought he'd have given you an earful of the old song and dance when he heard that."

"That would have gotten him hurt." She growled softly, the rage hot enough to frighten even the non-'paths nearby.

"Woah, relax Megan," Cassandra said softly, glancing around at the alarmed looks being sent their way. "You're broadcasting pretty strongly right now. I don't like it either, but he didn't do that; maybe he's learning his lesson."

"Maybe," she took a deep breath and did her best to settle. "I'm just pretty sure why he hates hybrids so much, and it's sickening to hate someone because you're mistaken for them."

"His tail, huh? Could be," the Lioness admitted. "I think it's kinda cute, honestly, though he is seriously not my type. Though anybody who gets in his way can look forward to being cut down, not just the hybrids. Just glad he's male," she chuckled.

"Given his family is trying to stay purebred here and he'd been turned down or incompatible with almost every Collie bitch on the Isles, I expect that personality is more result than cause, at least at first." Megan looked at her curiously. "Why does it matter that he's male?"

"Because if he was one of those Collie bitches, he'd be the poster child for the catty, nasty things people think fems our age all want to be," Cass giggled.

"The kind of creature that deserves to be removed from existence as quickly as possible." Megan snorted.

"Tell me about it. There's a reason I can't stand socialites, at least not ones who have to prop themselves up on the remains of the people they've torn apart."

"And society tends to reward them as success stories." She sighed with a shake of her head.

"Of course; they know how to hide the bodies," Cass sighed. "Sometimes I think it's instinctive for some people. Even if there's no reward, unless you punish it, it starts again."

"Because escaping is its own reward."

"And before too long, having enough of them in one place makes it rewarding again. Go figure, hmm?"

"Yap, a self-fulfilling cycle. That's the cycle that has to be broken, be it abuse or just screwed up culture. It's a learned behavior."

"You know, maybe if we herded them together and shipped all of them off to some island on their own, we could be rid of them in a few years," the Lioness grinned evilly.

"Now that's an idea," Megan matched her look. "And make sure any kids they have are raised elsewhere."

"Why give'em the chance?" She asked with a smirk. "Ship the guys to one island, the gals to another, sell the footage online to cover rental of the two islands."

"Not a bad idea," she giggled. "You just have to round them up."

"And find an island big enough to fit them. That'd be the real problem."

"Nah, just stick them on a ship with no engine and set it in the middle of the ocean. Or mind-wipe them and bring them up right."

"Aww, but that's no fun," Cass pouted, before breaking up into a fit of giggles.

"But they are some of the best stock in several breeds."

"Breed quality can be re-bred, mind-wiping that many people and fixing them would probably take longer."

"Probably," she consented thoughtful. "Never mind how close it is to stepping on some really questionable behavior."

"Like a lobotomy with less physical damage," the Lioness agreed. "Besides, believe it or not those people aren't considered psychotic, so it'd be way out of ethical bounds."

"Then the best way to attack them is to get it included in the mental defects book," Megan giggled. "Make it committable."

"That one, I could live with," Cass smirked. "Right along with a half-dozen other ways to be a generic asshole."

"Now that could be fun to write up," she winked at her companion. "Want to come to the yacht and work on it while I tease Samson?"

"Sure," she giggled, finishing her lunch and standing up. "Just make sure the teasing doesn't get too noisy," she winked.

"Samson?" Megan's voice was soft in the darkness of their luxurious cabin on board the Swift Haven. "I think a 'path's digging in my head." That got his attention fast. Samson sat up slightly, looking at her with a concerned expression.

"Why?" He asked softly, wrapping an arm around her. "And any idea who?"

"I'd guess it's 'cause I'm a revolutionary and not shy about it." She actually shrugged, though she also snuggled against him. "I'm not even sure anyone is, but I have that same feeling as when I know the Prof or Gaia are digging for something."

"I'd guess the same," he admitted. "Was wondering why you thought that more... but that answers that, too." He thought through the admittedly not-very-short list of people who might want to keep an eye on what Megan was thinking, finding himself more and more disturbed by the people at the top of it. "Have you talked to anybody else about this?"

"No, though the Prof is next," she said quietly. "He's got the skills to know for sure."

"Yes, he does," Samson admitted. "He's not the only one though." He kissed her gently on the forehead. "It might just be nothing... but if it's more, we'll figure out who's doing this and make sure they stop. There's no excuse for this," he rumbled dangerously.

"No there isn't," she murmured more quietly. "It's really creepy too."

"I'll bet." He rubbed her back reassuringly. "I could poke around some, see if anybody knows anything about it, or if they can see what's going on if it happens again."

"They might know something the Prof can't find?" She looked up at him uncertainly.

"They might know it faster. Besides, it has to be somebody from the Isles doing this, unless somebody from the outside has one hell of a range. It'd be better for it to be handled from the inside."

"Okay," she nodded slightly. "But I'm still telling him."

"I understand," he nodded. "Still, he's pretty busy, between setting things up with Solomon, his research, and Siren. Won't hurt to see if we can solve this without him having to get involved. You want me to wait until morning to start poking around?"

"Don't wake anyone up," Megan chuckled and shook her head. "It's not like they're going to kill me. It's just really creepy."

"It's also serious, especially if they're doing more than listening to your thoughts," Samson said seriously. "Besides, the people I'd want to ask first wouldn't be asleep yet." He kissed her gently and was nuzzled in return.

"All right. Just don't get yourself hurt or in trouble, okay?"

"Hey, you know me," he chuckled, rubbing her shoulder and sitting up. "I'll just go ask a couple people if they know anything about it, have them keep an eye out."

"Okay," she nuzzled him again and let him get up. "Don't be gone too long."

"I won't be," he smiled, leaning down to nuzzle her lightly before dressing. "You'll wake up with me holding you, as always," he promised with a light kiss.

"Good," Megan smiled up and closed her eyes, though sleep would be some time in coming without her Liger security blanket.

Shortly before, across the island, Samson's stepmother was walking up to a friend's house. She knocked politely, shaking her head as she thought about the conversation that had led up to this, another argument with Cassandra. It was all quite unsettling, these strangers that arrived with more wealth and power on board their 'simple' ship than most of the Isles put together.

And the arrogance! Especially that little bitch that had made Samson think he was the equal of a real male.

"Another fight with your youngest?" Schielade, a Lioness of the Lookouts, answered her door and motioned her friend in.

"That obvious?" Diane asked, trying not to growl. "Ever since Samson brought back those outsiders, she's been simply impossible. Not that she was particularly well-behaved before." It didn't help in the least that Marcus seemed to be encouraging her half the time.

"Well, it's been longer than usual if it was about that little bitch Samson is enamored with." She chuckled slightly and closed the door. "You want to talk about a troublemaker, she's it."

"She's been making trouble elsewhere for a few days," the Lioness muttered. "Did you know she managed to talk her way into the restricted portion of the ruins? And all the time she spends on the computers. I swear, every day I expect to hear she's telling half the people she knows exactly how to find us."

"She'd be stopped before that thought became action." Schielade growled with flattened ears and poured two glasses of chilled juice. "I'd never let that happen."

"None of the Lookouts would," Diane nodded gratefully. "There are days I think you're the only other sane people in the Isles. Can you believe that Solomon asked them to come here?"

"There are days I wonder what goes on in his brain," she shook her broad, square head. "All this talk of opening up and more trade with the outside. It's crazy."

"We can't say we didn't see it coming though," Diane sighed, shaking her head. "Fifty years of secrecy and work, and he's ripping it apart piece by piece. If many more of them are like that Collie, we'll be a luxury resort within a year. Hunting grounds for the lynch mobs," she muttered.

"She's bad, but the one that scares me is her leader. That Jurnix is the most powerful 'path I've ever brushed against and he's got the moral makeup of a sociopath." She shuddered. "Not that anyone in power listens to me. I'm just a paranoid Lookout." She added with a frustrated mutter.

"I listen," Diane said thoughtfully. "And Mindshadow would as well. Do you think Solomon might be being influenced by Jurnix? If so, then those in power might be changeable."

"If Jurnix wanted to, Samson doesn't stand a chance against him." She nodded carefully. "What I'm worried about there is just what Jurnix wants, what he's found in the ruins that fascinates him so much and what he's willing to do to keep it. I'm not even sure if Siren is on our side or not. He's shielding her mind from us."

"He's shielding her, but not Megan or his other students? That's odd. He just met her too; I wonder what she knows about what he's up to."

"I can feel him and Gaia, the other 'path, keeping an eye on them, but Siren is the only one either of them are actively shielding." She confirmed. "Any ideas just how to find out what she knows? Or at least what is special about her to him."

"To judge by what I've heard, she's smitten with him," Diane chuckled, shaking her head. "Though if that's all there is that makes her worth shielding, I have to wonder about his priorities. If nobody's shielding the others, we might be able to find out through them. Even if you couldn't take it from their minds without being noticed, I suspect Samson could be convinced to let a few things slip. Especially if somebody kept his 'mate' busy."

"She's easy to distract," Schieladen smirked. "And keep occupied. What did you have in mind?"

"Nothing immediate. We'd have to make sure that there was something to get first, after all. I doubt that Jurnix is clumsy enough to let his students talk about what he's planning more than once."

"Quite true," she nodded thoughtfully. "Though given what he doesn't mind them saying, what he deems worth keeping secret would be very dangerous for us. Just look at what that bitch gets away with."

"Ah, but he agrees with her, as do those currently in power," Diane pointed out. "A pity we don't have any laws regarding sedition, she's come close enough to it in my presence often enough."

"And I know she doesn't think of it as even close to inciting trouble, much less a revolt."

"Of course not," Diane actually laughed. "It's not causing trouble, or encouraging revolt, it's bringing us out of the Stone Age, kicking and screaming if necessary."

"Well, I prefer the Stone Age, if that's what we have," she snorted. "That little bitch is bred for what she's doing. Third generation revolutionary. They actually look for revolutions to start."

"Don't get me started on her take on breeding," Diane half-snarled. "Revolutionary and a hypocrite on top of it."

"Just be glad you're not in my place," she muttered darkly. "I have to actually get into that head and feel how she thinks. Makes me want to scrub the inside of my head."

"Still haven't been noticed?" Diane asked with a concerned tone. "With Jurnix and his pet telepath keeping tabs on things, it almost seems too good to be true that somebody hasn't spotted it, even with her mind as open as it is."

"If I have been, no one has changed their thoughts or made any indications of it."

"And no indication that they're up to anything in what she knows, except for what she has no problems telling us about?"

"In her head, they're doing what she's thinking of." Schielade growled. "Just by being here and talking. There's some plan about making the Isles where they send Avatars that don't get along with folks, and a separate 'colony' for them. I'm just praying what she was thinking earlier is just teenager joking." She shuddered.

"And what was that?" Diane asked with a growl.

"Something about putting all the disagreeables on an island with no mates and sell tickets over the internet."

"And just who was she discussing this with?" Diane growled, her ears flattening, her tail lashing behind her.

"Your youngest."

"Who I'm going to be having some words with later tonight," the Lioness said darkly. "I would have thought something like that was beyond even them."

"Be careful with those words, or she'll ignore her visions and leave anyway. She took it as joking. I'm not so sure about the bitch."

"Even joking, that's the sort of thing that shouldn't be taken lightly. Cassandra's had a good talking to coming for a while now. I don't suppose you found out when they're going to leave while you were poking around, did you?"

"When Jurnix is finished sorting things out with Solomon," she shook her head. "Too long in her mind, but probably only a week or so."

"Well, there's one thing we agree on," Diane chuckled darkly. "Too long before they head out."

"And we can start putting things back to normal."

"There's something to look forward to. I think we're approaching the point where we desperately need to have Solomon come up for another vote; after this, there's a good chance we could put somebody more sensible in power."

*'Diane, that half-breed is here, and pissed.'*

*'I'll be leaving,'* she said apologetically. *'Best if I'm not obviously associated with whatever he's pissed about.'* With that, she stood and moved towards the back door, hurrying out before Samson arrived.

*'Agreed, he's heard far too much already.'* The back door closed, and Diane was on her way, just before there was a heavy knocking on the front door.

With a deep breath, Schielade gave her friend a bit more time to be gone before opening the door. "Hello, Samson."

"Hello," he said darkly. "You know why I'm here already. Diane is on her way back home, I assume?"

"Yes," she nodded and stepped aside to let him in.

"Convenient," he muttered, his lashing tail indicating just how much restraint he was using as he stepped inside. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"My duty," she told him gently but firmly and retrieved two glasses of juice; offering him one before sitting. He turned it down, though he did seem to be calming down slightly. "Please sit and let me try to explain this in a way that you'll understand. I know it seems unreasonable and I understand your rage."

"Of course you do," he growled, taking a seat slowly. "Did Mindshadow put you up to it, or have you added spying to your list of hobbies?"

"Samson, it is normal to keep a close eye on newcomers to the Isles for a few months. Making sure they are adapting, that they don't have problems, catching misunderstandings and issues before they blow up on us. I grouse with Diane just as your mate does with Cassandra. But I am a Lookout, the first and last line of defense of the Isles and I am concerned for our safety with these people Solomon asked here. They want to change a great deal very quickly and their leader is a telepath powerful enough no one can be sure of anything about him, including his intentions."

"Yes, Megan doesn't agree with a lot of the things here, but the last time I heard, that does not warrant going beneath surface thoughts. The Lookouts aren't the KGB. Even new arrivals are only listened to, not probed.'*

"Samson, it is not my fault if that girl doesn't have even basic shields and I slip in a bit further than I normally would. You know she's not quiet about her beliefs and some of them will wreak havoc here if pressed into effect."

"Yes, I know that. I also know that Solomon has more sense than to press things into effect immediately. So far half the Avatars she's run into and talked to have been like Diane; it's like throwing oil onto a fire. Schielade, I understand surveillance, that's normal. I don't like it, not without somebody knowing about it, but I understand it. The problem is that she already feels like she'd be thrown into a prison given half a chance. You're not exactly helping her paranoia."

"I went that deep?" Schielade frowned. "That does not sound right."

"Deep enough that a non-psi caught you in her head. That's not something you do accidentally."

"I did not go that deep." Schielade shook her head. "I only made sure she was not going to instigate a revolt."

"I didn't come out here randomly," he said, frowning. "Actually, if Diane hadn't been here I wouldn't have come here at all. Megan told me that she felt somebody in her head; I was going to ask Diane if she knew anything about who it might be, when I come out here and hear you two talking about what you found in her mind. I won't even get into what Diane said before you had her leave."

"And you believe everything people say?" She arched an eyebrow in daring and very carefully began to nudge his mind into accepting it was all just a harmless and regretted mistake. "Your mate is planning some serious trouble then."

"That's why I'm not so worried about that part of it, though I know her ambitions better than you might think."

"You did live with her." She acknowledged with a nod.

"For a time," he agreed, as her mental efforts started to have their desired effect. "Megan will be talking to the Professor tomorrow, Schielade. I'll let them know what you've said, but they'll probably want to talk to you about it yet."

"I will expect his summons, then." She inclined her head, smiling internally at this enemy turned ally.

"I still don't like that this happened," he pointed out, standing. "But there's a chance you're right; it might have been somebody else, or you might have done it accidentally. If not, I'm sure they'll figure it out."

"It is always found out here on the Isles."

"That is how things tend to work out. Good night, Schielade," he nodded, starting out and back towards the yacht while she scrambled to think of a better cover than what she'd given him in the event she was questioned.

"Hey, handsome." Megan's silky voice and deft touch drifted into Samson's pleasantly erotic dream-world of mid-morning sleeping in. He rumbled contentedly, starting to wake up to the more satisfying reality of the Collie in his arms and her body eager for his.

"Mornin'," he murmured lazily, rubbing her back. "Sleep well?"

"Once you got back," she smiled and nuzzled him. "Things go well?"

"Fairly," he nodded, returning her nuzzle and kissing her lightly. "Found out who was probably in your head; sounds like she hadn't meant to go as deep as she did."

"Why was she in there in the first place?"

"She's one of Diane's friends, with a touch of paranoia on top of everything else. She wanted to make sure you weren't actually going to start a civil war while you were here." He growled a bit, shaking his head. "She sounded sincere enough when she said it was a mistake doing more than listening to what you were thinking. Still don't like it, but she should be stopping."

"As long as she stops," Megan nuzzled him again. "It's not like there's anything hidden in there." She chuckled and slid down his body to rub his sheath between her breasts.

"Mmm... sounds like you want to give her a show if she's still paying attention," he rumbled, reaching down to rub her shoulders as his body quickly started to respond to her attentions.

"That's her problem," she giggled before taking the emerging tip of his penis into mouth to lavish with her tongue, earning a groan of pleasure from her Liger.

"Gods Megan," he groaned, rubbing her ears, anything else too low for him to reach. He worked his tail up between their legs, rubbing her sex with it, making her moan around his quickly filling shaft. The added vibration quickened his breath even as she slowly slid up and left the wet skin exposed to the cool air until her slick sex rode along its length and her body arched in a shameless display over his hips.

"Gorgeous," he murmured, trying not to whimper as she took advantage of one of his strongest kinks. He rubbed her sides with his powerful hands, working them up to fondle her full, firm breasts, breathing hard, his rigid shaft throbbing against her slick lips in time with his pulse and felt it matched to her own.

"You'd cum right like this, wouldn't you?" She smiled down at him, her hips never missing the smooth rocking slide along that sensitive skin stretched taunt by blood and desire.

"I have before," he groaned, "and you know it. Mmm... prefer something a little different though...."

"Yes, and you are so very hot when you do," she breathed shamelessly and leaned forward to kiss up his chest. "Tell me what you desire."

"Inside you," he rumbled, pressing against her willing body hungrily. "You coming with me, around me."

"Easily done, the way you make love to me," Megan rumbled as she shifted forward. She slid one hand between her legs to lift his hard flesh into position and sank slowly down, relishing every moment of her body being filled so close to its limit by such a tender lover.

Samson groaned deeply, holding her close as he started thrusting into her gently, kissing her head and licking the edge of one ear tenderly.

"Love you," he murmured, his powerful body rubbing against her smaller one as they mated with a gentle passion despite the raw fire that all but consumed them both.

Siren looked around the centuries-old library beneath the temple, where she'd spent the last few days helping Jurnix in his research and occasionally distracting him with various kinds of snacks he was more than willing to indulge her with.

"What is it you're looking for, down here?" She asked, looking over his shoulder at the book he was reading now, another thick tome in a language she couldn't understand but he could work threw at incredible speed.

"Not one thing in particular," he chuckled and lifted his long muzzle to nuzzle her affectionately. "They influenced the Isles a great deal, so understanding them will be of great value in understanding what is likely to happen in the decades to come."

"You don't work in the short-term, do you?" She asked, returning his nuzzle with a smile. "Or even medium."

"Generally, no." He chuckled softly. "Having to do so is generally an indication I failed to plan ahead well."

"So what have you planned for yourself?" She asked curiously. She hadn't been able to learn much about him, beyond what they'd talked about that first night. Though, to be fair, she hadn't really asked about him too much yet.

"Myself?" He glanced at her, uncertainty an unfamiliar mask for a moment before his mind reached out instinctively to understand her intent. "Nothing you would consider a plan," he admitted. "I am my Institute, my dream. I have not thought past that in a very long time."

"Don't plan on it being over while you're still alive? Or just nothing much else to think about for a while?"

"Over?" He glanced up at her, a bit of sadness apparent in his large brown eyes. "It will take centuries to be over. So no, I do not expect to see that day."

"Any change to society takes time," she nodded. "Still, you don't have to do it all alone, and you've got the right to a life in the meantime."

"I've had plenty of life already," he chuckled. "And right now, no one else has the likelihood of accomplishing it as I do."

"No," she admitted. "Still, it's good to get a break once in a while. You work on something too long, you end up losing your edge. Not that I think you are," she added quickly. "Just that it sounds like you've been putting everything into this, for years."

"I have." He nodded. "There is also a lot to it. Finding Avatars, training them, politics, research on dozens of subjects, mediating trouble, dealing with enemies... unlike Rasputin, almost all the Avatars that are with me came to me young."

"So you have to be teacher, leader, and warrior along with everything else? Quite a wide variety for one person, even with help."

"It is what the founder of a nation must do," he said simply. "You have to fill all the roles until someone else can."

"So there's pretty much nothing else you want to do, anymore? It's enough for you?"

"There are always things you wish but can not have," he smiled at her gently. "But yes, it is enough for me to see my kind survive in relative peace."

"What are you giving up?" She asked softly. "You might be able to have some of it, more than you think. After all," she smiled, "with all the help you give others, you're entitled to getting a little yourself, once in a while."

"The things I miss are largely impossible to have." He shook his head and relaxed in her touch. "My innocence, freedom not to worry... the things money and power can not buy."

"The sleepwalker's blessing?" She wrapped her winged arms around him lightly. "You're right, that's not really something you can get back, not without losing who you are."

"No, though after nearly a century with no end in sight, it is not as unappealing as it once was some times."

"Have you ever thought of pups, though? Since you started this," she clarified, knowing the answer to 'ever' already.

"I've never had a Bat in my life long enough to." He admitted.

"Might think about it a bit now," she smiled. "Even if not with me, it couldn't hurt to let them have a sample here, try and find a good dam. I've heard that pups, for all the trouble they can be, can do a lot for reminding you about the happier parts of life, even if you are a leader."

"They are also a great vulnerability," he countered, though the idea had its appeal he didn't contest. "But perhaps."

"They can be, but anybody who tried something with anybody's pups around me would be learning several new definitions of pain before they were done," she rumbled dangerously, before shaking the response out. "Sorry. Still, it's something to think about. What safer place could you think of to raise them, than somewhere they'd be surrounded by Avatars, either here or the Institute?"

"A world where their home could not be bombed out of existence in a single action."

"Unless you can find a different world, that hasn't existed for some time," she pointed out softly. "The tech's been there for decades, though most aren't targets."

"Yes, another world," he murmured softly as slender fingers lightly traced the book his was reading. "What Rasputin would have dreamed of if he knew they even existed. What we know how to do, for a price."

"What price?" She asked softly. "Something in there?"

"The price of never coming back." He shook his head. "Of abandoning all the Avatars that will be born here to save ourselves."

"Not an option, not at this point," she nodded slightly. "Though if you could set up something on another world, maybe orbital would be possible. After all, you'd have to have the technology for it before you could try another world entirely."

"Already well underway," he chuckled. "It is little safer than the Isles, but eventually we will know how to determine how Avatars are born from the general population. That will answer a great deal about whether they will ever stop being born to them."

"Depending on how long we've been around and hiding, could be never. If the genes have had generations to be dispersed through the population, it'd just be a matter of dumb luck whether or not the recessives get put together."

"That is one possibility, yes." He nodded. "It is not the only likely one, however. We simply do not know enough to make even an educated guess yet."

"Understood," she nodded. "Probably going to take a long time to figure out for sure."

"Only a decade or two, I expect." He nodded in general agreement. "Assuming what is known now about genetics and Avatar genetics is true overall. Our knowledge is accelerating even quicker than the technology related to it."

"I don't think of a decade or two as being an 'only' time frame," she chuckled, nestling her shorter muzzle on his shoulder. But yeah, it is. It's easier to figure out how something works, than how to change it."

"At least when people are involved," he nodded. "This is not an easy road Rasputin, Solomon and I have chosen, but it is an important one to carve."

"The important things are rarely easy," she nodded. "Life-long choice or otherwise. There really isn't anything more important to you, is there?"

"In the end, no," he acknowledged. "I have loved, known war as a soldier, reporter and protester, succeeded beyond anyone's comprehension financially. I have already had a long and full life. This is my legacy, a world forged to face the future and succeed without resorting to fear and repression."

"Of all the legacies you could leave behind, it's one of the most noble," she smiled, turning to kiss him lightly. "With all the roles you've played, it sounds like you've always been a visionary at heart."

"It is difficult to find a challenge when you become skilled with a Gift for the manipulation of the odds themselves." Jurnix chuckled slightly. "They are the things that such a Gift may get your hide out intact, but even I can not determine the exact outcome."

"Too many variables to control?"

"And far too many free wills to influence." He nodded. "I can manipulate, to an extent, what one person or a small group will do. To influence tens of thousands, much less millions, is well beyond even my combined Gifts."

"And using your telepathy for it wouldn't be right," she agreed. "Not to mention the problems sustaining it. Might feel better about how things turn out if you talked to one of the pre-cogs," she mused.

"Perhaps," he accepted, though he doubted it. Changing their visions was what he did for a living after all.

"Maybe Samson could set something up; his half-sister's one, after all. Just an idea," she shrugged slightly. "What's it like on the outside now?"

"Much more populated," he chuckled. "There are so few places anymore that do not have many people. The technology and our language have infiltrated almost everywhere. Where the industrial countries ruled things when you left, it is now the technological countries and soon it is the information that will rule more than armies or bomb or industrial might."

"And most of the industrial ones have become the technological ones, or are trying to," she nodded thoughtfully. "Are things better for species-relations? I remember being told about the big Colonies when I was younger."

"They still exist," he nodded. "Though these days it is more as part of a larger community. A Colony being where Bats live in a city, but not where most work. That much has not changed greatly from the large cities of before. The large cities are just far more common. The advanced schools are all but completely integrated."

"Are they more flyer-friendly too? Winged, of course," she chuckled. "Flying around like some of the folks here can would be a good way to get in trouble, I'm sure."

"No doubt," he nodded. "Yes, the general world is more flyer-friendly but you is still land for most events. It is not very different from here in that regard."

"Do you like it?"

"It is my world," he said simply and leaned into her slender form lightly. "Good, bad and simply there. I am so much a part of it now it is no longer a matter of liking it or not. It's where I am."

"Do you think Xanx and Samson are making the right choice?" She asked, tightening her arms around him a little, nuzzling his neck. "Leaving here for there?"

"For them, yes, I do." He nodded. "They are both so far outside the social expectations and acceptance that they belong here even less than Megan."

"Samson has her too," she nodded. "Though he did always seem to like it here, for the most part. Didn't know him that well, I guess he might have been hiding it."

"It was all he knew before a few months ago," he pointed out quietly. And this is a pleasant location, whether or not you like the people. It is true that he was largely content here."

"He's happy out there too?"

"Very much so," he nodded. "Megan has a great deal to do with that."

"It looks like it," she smiled. "Uhm... people out there aren't all as... forward... as she is, right?"

"No," he chuckled. "She is very forward from a long line of very forward women."

"That's good to know," Siren chuckled. "You'd probably be taking time out of a civil war to visit if everybody was like that.

"Activists have their place. They just tend to be difficult to be around, especially before they find their cause."

"I know they do," she nodded. "Though I'd maintain that being their cause isn't too easy. She has some good points though," she conceded.

"No, being a focus isn't easy," he laughed easily. "And somewhere between her extremes and the other side's extremes is a middle ground the majority moves towards."

"Moving faster than the extreme over here likes," she chuckled. "Started long before she was here too, at least some of it. Still, it'll be interesting around here after you leave, for the people who stay."

"Which will be most of them, for now. It is not as if the Isles are a bad place to be. The lack of modernity will be a draw for many, as much as it's antithesis for others."

"Like Megan, I think," she chuckled. "To judge by how much time she spent on the computers the first few days. Think... you might be able to bring one more back?"

"Easily," he nodded. "Interested in coming with us?"

"Yes," she nodded a little shyly. "It'd be good to see the outside... and that's hardly the only benefit," she added with a smile for the older Foxbat.

"No, it's not." He agreed with a slight nuzzle.

"By the way," she blushed beneath her light brown fur, "my folks wanted to meet you some time, before we head out."

"Did they indicate when?" He looked up, clearly willing to entertain the desire.

"Tomorrow night work out?"

"Yes," he smiled and nuzzled her.

"Okay," she smiled back, returning the nuzzle and kissing him lightly. "I'll let them know later. So," she continued, nuzzling him again, "think you're ready for a bit of a break?"

"More than just talking?" He murmured against her neck with one hand still on the book he'd been reading.

"Mmm... if you were interested," she rumbled, licking his neck affectionately and felt the subtle caress of his mind against hers.

"Your desires heighten mine," Jurnix breathed against her fur.

"Is that a yes?" She smiled, wrapping one arm around his back. With gentle fingers she rubbed along the edge of his wing membranes that drew a shiver and loan moan of pleasure from him. She began to let her shields down and wondered through a number of effective 'distractions' that appealed to them both.

"Yes," he shifted in the chair to face her fully and drew her into his lap, spreading her legs outside his own to open her still clothed body to him. "You are quite intoxicating, you know." He added and buried his long, slender muzzle between her breasts.

"Thank you," she murmured and nuzzled his head, licking the edge of one large ear with her long tongue. "You do a pretty good job yourself though, don't forget it."

*'I won't,'* he smiled mentally at her while his slender fingers worked her t-shirt out of her shorts and gently rocked their bodies to rub their nerve-rich groins against each other's.

"Mmm... I won't let you," she chuckled, rubbing back against him. She worked on removing his tailored shirt, running her fingers through dense, mouse-soft brown fur while their large, round deep brown eyes remained locked until her shirt, then his, came up between them.

Without hesitation Jurnix pulled her tightly against his chest, relishing every movement that rubbed her breasts and the warm, hard velvet of her body against his own hard muscles. She kissed him, eagerness, affection, and lust coming through her mind almost as clearly as it did through her actions.

It was more than enough for him to draw her closer and lift her legs to brace her shoeless feet against the side of the chair behind his hips, opening her still covered crotch even more to the hard shaft in his pants and the instincts of her own mind and body that this was a pleasurable position meant to be penetrated in.

The intensity of his body rubbing against hers, the pressure of his hardness against her sex, the way his hands moved along her back and nose and long slender tongue worked on breasts before turning their attention to her mouth had her trembling. So close to the edge of coming it was an erotic agony she wanted to never end.

Still he didn't hesitate to touch her mind, intent on pushing her over the edge before either of them were even fully undressed. The stimulation, physical and mental, were enough to do just that.

"Gods," she gasped, arching up against him, her empty sex spasming as the scent of their mutual arousal filling their senses.

*'The pleasuring will end when you ask me to,'* he murmured into her mind as much in images and feelings as words. *'I want to show you so much.'*

*'Just... want you... to feel it too.'* She groaned, physically and mentally, reaching down to rub his thighs. *'Gods you're good....'*

*'I do,'* he breathed against her throat and opened his own mind to her just enough to ensure she understood just how incredible this was for him whether or not he physically came.

She actually whimpered as she shifted to hold him close, her body hungry for his on a level she could barely understand.

"Love you," she murmured, rubbing his back, every nerve and sense tingling with pleasure that was as much from his pleasure as what he did to her mind and body.

*'My beautiful, spirited, lusty Bat.'* Jurnix rumbled back even as he shifted them to stand up without breaking the tongue-tangling kiss he held her attention with.

Then her shorts were gone and his slender fingers moved across the fur of her hips and belly, unconcerned with ending their lovemaking anytime soon.

*'All yours,'* she thought back, pressing her body against his fingers, enjoying his attentions immensely. Her panties were soaking wet, her scent strong on them. She let out a soft trill that seemed to tingle pleasantly along the older Bat's nerves.

*'With a few tricks of your own,'* he crooned back at the unique application of her sonic Gift.

*'Have to try and keep up with you,'* she rumbled, keeping up the sound as she started to stroke and caress his body between the shivers his hands and mind were causing in her.

Siren soon found herself sitting in the chair he'd occupied before with her legs spread. His muzzle was against her crotch, so much like their first night it drew a shiver of anticipation even before he spread her mons with slender fingers and his long tongue curled around her clit.

"Gods," she moaned out loud. She started to rub his ears as her body trembled in pleasure and anticipation. She was quickly rewarded by that talented tongue when it slid further down to press into her body without hesitation in the flicking motions that caressed and rubbed the slick inner walls that so wanted to be stretched and rubbed.

And he knew exactly how to give her what she wanted to drag it out as long as possible. He drove her to greater and greater heights, keeping her from coming and enjoying the sound, taste, and feel of her pleasure and excitement.

*'You are such an intoxicant.'* he breathed against the pleasure center of her mind and greedily drunk the pleasure in her juices and cries. Every touch and exchange an exercise in control, of himself and of her, driven by their shared desires to draw the experience out as long as possible.

"Feel free to drink deeply," she rumbled. She moaned, wrapping her slender, brown-furred legs around his back lightly and shuddered as he did just that and the flow from his mind grew ever more needy to bury himself deep into her body.

"Take me," she begged with a whimper, even as a part of her mind wished that this could go on forever. Despite knowing that he was willing to try, the sharp thrill she felt skitter across his body at her words was worth the loss of his tongue withdrawing from her keyed up body.

*'Yes,'* Jurnix breathed and drew her to the floor, gently laying her out on her back. With tight self-control despite the shuddering moans he rubbed his hard cock along the soaked and swollen mons that begged him to enter even as he focused his mouth on lavishing her breasts with attention.

She moaned as she arched her chest into the contact, her nipples rock-hard. Her body ached to feel him inside of her, and she spread her legs invitingly as she rubbed his lean, powerful back. Every move and touch was geared to encourage him down, against her and in her.

When the moment came it passed almost without notice if it wasn't for the sensations he caressed her mind with of feeling her hot, wet body around him. The slick pressure of her muscles squeezing him, trying to milk his seed.

*'Ohhh... worth it.'* He shuddered and moaned as instinct took him and his hips thrust against hers in the hungry power of being so close to the edge.

*'So worth it,'* she agreed, panting hard between lusty groans. Her body squeezed down around him hungrily. Pleasure lanced through her body with every powerful thrust, his shaft sinking deeper and deeper into her willing sex until their high pitched voices mingled in a keening echo that vibrated the entire stone complex with their pleasure.

"Gods," she panted, recovering slowly after he'd finished pumping his seed deep into her body. She pulled him close, kissing him and exploring his welcoming mouth with her tongue.

*'You are amazing,'* Jurnix murmured silently without breaking their kiss of the small thrusts their entwined bodies called from him.

*'And you're incredible,'* she thought back, groaning softly into his mouth. *'Good match, hmm?'*

*'I'm not complaining,'* he chuckled and broke the kiss to nuzzle her neck and tried not to acknowledge the rustle of unease the statement made in the back of his mind.

"Something wrong?" She asked, nuzzling him back as she picked up on the dim sense that something was.

"No," he smiled slightly down at her. "It just brought a few memories up."

"Of Shara?"

"Yes," he relaxed and pulled her to her side as he rolled off of her.

"Good memories, I hope," she smiled, holding him closed as she rolled up next to him. "I don't want you to think I'm trying to take her place; I know that's not possible," she said softly, kissing him gently.

"I know," he nodded and nuzzled her, content to remain in this messy, naked embrace for a time. "You share some good qualities that make the memories come easier."

"That's good to know," she smiled softly, nuzzling him back. "Mmm... mind if I take the lead for a bit?"

"No," Jurnix rumbled and kissed her deeply as their minds caressed each other again. *'Do as you will.'*

*'Oh, I will,'* she rumbled back, returning the kiss with increasing hunger before she finally broke it to nuzzle and lick at his neck and collarbone, rolling over on top of him when he shifted to his back with a compliant chuckle.

Even letting her run things, he still found the time to slide a slender finger between her lower lips to spread their mixed juices around the sensitive skin and swollen flesh.

She groaned a bit, working further down his body to lick at his furless nipples with the tip of her long, flexible tongue. She fondled his balls and half-hard shaft, spreading their juices over his own sex, inhaling their scents eagerly as her ears echoed with the pleasured approval and encouragement from her lover. The intimate touch also gave her a good feel for how much he was holding back to let her have her way in her time.

She made her way down the rest of his body a bit faster, nuzzling and kissing the soft fur of his body as she pleasured him with her hand. Finally, she was looking at his member, and licked her lips in anticipation, before licking his thick, musky shaft with her long tongue, savoring the flavor of their mixed juices as much as his shivering groan that pulsed along the hard flesh in her mouth as much as her sensitive ears.

Jurnix spread his legs instinctively and stretched both wing-arms over his head in a submissive display that was as much to keep his hands off of her as give her the rush of power it represented.

She finished cleaning his shaft off, shifting between his legs so she was comfortable. She rubbed his thighs and ass lightly as she took him into her mouth, slowly and sensually. She took him as deeply into her throat as she could without pushing her nose too hard against the slightly rougher fur around his mouse-soft sheath.

Even as she swirled her tongue around the length in her mouth she managed to dart the tip out to lavish his balls with extra attention between the wordless cries of pleasure. Her body tingled with excitement, both at the scent and flavor of his shaft and arousal, and the feeling of his raw pleasure, and knowing she was the source of it.

She closed her eyes, and started to bob her head up and down his length slowly. She let out the same soft, nerve-tingling trill she'd used before, letting the full focus of its vibrations thrill through his cock and held herself back despite his cries of ecstasy that didn't quite become pleas. Against her fingers his balls tightened, pulling up against his body while everything pulsed in rhythm with her head.

Despite being so close, he held himself back. The deep desire to come inside her pulsing body not completely hidden by his shields.

She wanted to fulfill that desire for him... but not yet.

Instead, she teased him for what felt like an eternity, taking him to the brink of an orgasm, then slowly bringing him back from it. Finally, she buried her nose in his pubic fur, fondling his balls and groaning softly, focused entirely on bringing him off buried deep in her mouth.

She wasn't disappointed by the keening howl that ripped from his chest when his hips thrust up hard. Carp claws dug into the smooth marble floor without leaving a scratch just before the first burst exploded into her mouth, almost all the way down her throat before she could even taste the gooey stream.

She drank down his seed eagerly, cleaning him off entirely as she coaxed all the bittersweet juices she could into her mouth and found him very compliant once his resistance to coming was broken.

*'Impressive.'* He gasped softly between their minds as he came back to his senses.

"You liked?" She asked, pulling off him and shifting up his body to nuzzle his chest affectionately.

"Very much," Jurnix murmured and brought his hands down to caress her back and rub their wings together in a sensual caress.

"Still have enough oomph to go until you've filled me up again?" She asked, kissing him lightly and returning his caresses as well as she could.

*'I think I could go forever with you,'* Jurnix breathed between their minds. *'Do you still wish control?'*

*'Just wanted to do that for you,'* she thought, shaking her head slightly. *'Up to you.'*

Jurnix considered her, the sensation of her warmth and weight on top of him and kissed her before spreading his wings over his head again with a lick around his lips. "Show me this new way."

"I don't know how you can be this relaxed," Siren murmured quietly, as she and Professor Jurnix walked towards her parents' house. It was early evening the next night, and they were right on time to meet her family.

Which, of course, had her remarkably nervous.

"A combination of practice and a lifetime of not showing when I am anything less than in complete control." He chuckled.

"Probably just as well, I'm nervous enough for both of us," she chuckled slightly. "So, ready?"

"Yes," he smiled at her. "So are they."

"Great, that just leaves one of us who's not so sure," she chuckled, stepping forward and knocking on the door. It opened a few moments later, revealing a middle-aged Bat-fem who looked about Jurnix's age.

"Hello Siren," she smiled, stepping out to hug her daughter. Siren returned the gesture affectionately with a smile, stepping back a little after a moment so her mother could turn to offer her hand to the older Foxbat. "And you'd be Professor Jurnix?"

"Yes," he smiled and shook her hand. "It is good to meet you, Winterwing."

"Good to meet you too," she nodded, her expression and mental tone friendly. "Come on in, both of you. Dinner's just finished." She led the two of them into the house, fairly typical of the Isle's architecture.

"Smith will be up in a minute," she explained as they breathed deeply of spicy fruity scents. "He was just finishing up a project before you two arrived."

"A habit of his?" Jurnix chuckled in bemused understanding.

"Dad makes workaholics look like slackers," Siren snickered, shaking her head a bit. "At least that's normal."

"He's actually making a point of being done in time to eat with us," Winterwing chuckled, glancing back at her daughter. "He's in a good mood though," she added, when she saw the worried look she got as a reply.

*'The last time she introduced somebody to us he was a little surly about the 'interruption','* she explained to Jurnix, letting the thought close enough to the surface that he could pick it up easily.

"Good timing all around then," he smiled, privately amused that he hadn't even had a hand in it this time.

"It does seem that way," Winterwing smiled, leading them into the dining area as the back door closed loudly.

"Sounds like he still needs to switch to decaf," Siren chuckled slightly.

"Oh, I doubt he's that wound up," Jurnix chuckled. "At least not after you've lived with some of my students for a while. SnapShot is a Border Collie built on speed, quite literally."

"Oh my," the older Brown Bat chuckled, shaking her head. "And these are the people you'll be moving in with?"

"That part isn't any different from the people I've grown up with, Mom," Siren said, shaking her head.

"I know dear," she smiled, motioning for the three to sit down.

"Hi, be there in a minute," a black-furred Bat said quickly, poking his head into the room for just a moment before disappearing into the bathroom to wash up.

"Only that group is much closer to her age overall," Jurnix chuckled. "I have a decided shortage of mature adults, though my oldest students are getting there. Well, some of them are. I don't think SnapShot or Kris will ever grow up."

"At least partly in a good way, I hope," Winterwing chuckled, bringing over the covered pot that was the source of the delicious smells they'd picked up when they came in. "Vegetarian, Professor, or do you take a mix?"

"Mixes are quite good," he nodded with an easy smile. "I live with far too many carnies to

"Good," she smiled. "This works for either, but it's better when you add a little meat, I've found."

"It is often true," Jurnix agreed easily. "Mixing cuisines can produce excellent results when a good cook is in charge."

"And when Mom took cooking classes at school before she got here," Siren grinned.

"Oh hush," the older Bat chuckled, shaking her head. "Now, if your father would just get in here...." Almost as if on cue, the smaller Bat walked in from the other room.

"Sorry I'm late," he smiled sheepishly.

"Don't worry," Jurnix grinned at him. "Your mate is an excellent hostess and her cooking a fine distraction."

"And now you know why I married her," Smith chuckled, leaning down to kiss her quickly before taking a seat.

"I'd be offended if I didn't remember the real reason," she smirked over at him, taking the lid off the pot, one section filled with thick, hot pieces of meat, the other with a fragrant fruit-based sauce. "Why don't we start dinner, hmm?"

Jurnix nodded and sat between Siren and Smith at the table as shallow bowls were passed out, each with a piece of the meat in it.

"Help yourselves to the sauce," Winterwing smiled, taking her own bowl and putting a ladle into the part of the pot with the spiced fruit, "and to more of the meat, if you're hungry enough for it."

"Thank you," he nodded and poured a hearty portion of the sweet fruit mush over his serving before using a knife and fork to cut it into bite sized pieces before eating. The other three did the same, eating for a few moments before the conversation continued.

"We've heard you run a school for Avatars on the outside?" Winterwing asked, looking at him curiously.

"An institute more accurately," he nodded. "In addition to education in scholastic areas, I provide a physical sanctuary and everything we need to exist. Similar to the Isles in many ways."

"Just more condensed, and with more exposure to the real world," she guessed. "How does education there translate into the rest of the world?"

"I founded it in the eyes of the governments as a boarding school that covers pre-school threw collage. In theory someone we educate will have at least a comparable one to the finest public schools available. In reality, we teach a great deal more."

"I just wanted to be sure it wasn't like education here," she smiled. "Siren, officially, hasn't had any education, let alone a recognized diploma or degree."

"Which might be an issue out there," the younger Bat admitted. "Though, technically, I don't have anything quite like a degree here either."

"You have basic skills however," Jurnix glanced at his lover. "Reading and writing, math, chemistry, history?"

"Of course," she nodded easily. "I meant beyond basic education. I have the basics down, but I haven't completed anything like the more advanced training some folks get around here."

"Depending on the field you go into," Smith explained, "the equivalent, knowledge-wise, of an advanced degree is virtually mandatory. I've got something like a doctorate in mechanical engineering, though it might be a little outdated by now. Siren never really found anything that qualified here."

"Such a specialty is useful in the outside, but not truly required to succeed." Jurnix said thoughtfully. "We are equipped to offer the training should she find one while with us."

"That's all we can ask," Winterwing smiled. "Though if she doesn't find one, will there be a place for her yet? I remember that when I was growing up, if I wanted to get out of clerical work, having a degree was almost a requirement."

"It depends largely on what she wants to do with herself." Jurnix explained diplomatically. "And how technically talented she is. Most Avatars do not really leave the Institute once they come. We have needs to provide most people with a job on the property."

"I'll be fine, Mom," Siren said. "I'll be able to find something to do, and they're not going to throw me out on the street. Absolute worst that happens on that front is that I'd come back here on the next boat."

"Which will be whenever someone wishes to visit, or leave." Jurnix nodded. "You do not need to be out of communication either. I know e-mail works both ways. I assume other arrangements can be made if needed."

"I'm her mother, it's my job to worry," Winterwing pointed out with a chuckle. "I'm glad that things have gone well enough this is even possible, really. Truth be told, I'm glad you're getting the chance to get off the Isles for a while, Siren."

"Thanks," the younger Bat smiled.

"Just be sure you don't get into too much trouble out there," Smith added with a chuckle.

"I won't, Dad," she chuckled back, shaking her head.

"Well, sounds like the business part of things is out of the way," the black-furred Bat said calmly, taking a bite of his dinner and chewing thoughtfully for a moment. "Which leaves us both a bit curious about you, Professor."

"Primarily her interest in me," he chuckled lightly at their primary thoughts about his interest in her. "Your daughter is quite foreword."

"Oh really?" He said, raising an eyebrow and looking over at Siren.

"I just asked him out, Dad," she explained patiently. "He'd helped me out when I lost control that last time."

"Not too forward then. Afraid for a moment you'd been taking lessons from Fire."

"No, not that forward," Jurnix laughed easily. "But for someone who saw the turn of the century, she is very forward."

"By those standards, any woman around here is," Winterwing pointed out with a chuckle. "You age well, Professor."

"Thank you," he inclined his head to her. "I have adapted to an extent, but being asked out within an hour of meeting someone is more than I am used to. She has a talent for taking my mind off of work as well," he smiled fondly at Siren. "I haven't enjoyed my time this much in a very long time."

"It's mutual," the younger Bat smiled back.

"We've noticed," her parents chuckled together while Jurnix considered the pair and how direct any of them wanted to be.

"Could you be a little more specific about your concerns about a pregnancy?" He asked gently.

"We weren't quite sure how to word the question," Winterwing admitted. "But it is something we're worried about. The things that worry us most, honestly, are whether or not you're set up to handle the problems that can arise with Avatar-pups, and with whether or not you're interested in helping to raise them if they're not expected. Being a single mother wasn't easy, when I was outside yet."

"It still isn't," he admitted. "We are set up for Avatar pups. There was one born to us a few years ago, an unexpected pup to two of my early students. I expect we would make liberal use of the pool of knowledge the Isles represent in that case. We know some, but you know a great deal more, and Siren is from here." He inclined his head to her, then focused on Winterwing. "I will respect Siren's choices should there be pups, but I would want to be part of their lives and do what I can to help without sacrificing my students."

"That's what we were most worried about," Winterwing smiled slightly. "It is her choice, but we wanted to know, if she wanted you to be a part of their lives, that you would be willing. Though we don't want to hear about grandchildren overly soon," she added seriously, looking at her daughter.

"That makes three of us, Mom," Siren agreed. "And probably four."

"Yes, four." Jurnix nodded quickly. "It may not even be possible, given I have not sired a pup with anyone yet." He added more quietly.

"If that turns out to be the case, do you object to Siren looking for a sire when she wants pups, or to artificial methods?" Smith asked.

"Not in the least," he smiled slightly. "I am inclined towards monogamy, but I have no objections to a second mate or sire as long as it is in the open and all agree to what is happening before things start."

"So it sounds like we'll be able to sort something out when the time comes," Siren said, blushing as she tried to think of a way to change the subject.

"I'm sure we will." Jurnix nodded. "It is hardly going to come up in the next few months, after all."

"Well, it sounds like we don't have to worry too much about sending her off with you then," Smith smiled. "Student or otherwise."

"No, you don't." Jurnix chuckled. "Though she may want you to write down some of these recipes for us to take back."

"Thinking of adding home-style cooking to the menu?" Winterwing chuckled. "I can get some put together before you leave, I'm sure."

"We've always have it," he chuckled. "But it's mostly carnie meals. A little more variety would be welcome."

"I'll send a copy of my cookbook then," she smiled. "Be good to know somebody else is using it," she added with a smirk for her daughter.

"I can cook," Siren sighed dramatically, "it's just that the last time I tried making one of your recipes it was a week before anybody who tried it wanted to let me anywhere near food."

"The notes are in there already, but make sure you use fresh produce," the older Bat chuckled, shaking her head.

"Of course," Jurnix nodded. "And don't worry, she's not our chef. Samson does a great deal of it now."

"He won't have any problem getting fresh fruit then," she grinned. "I've gone to him before, when something was out of season."

"He is quite amazing," Jurnix nodded in agreement. "Even in this day of year-round production and availability, fresh from the garden is still far better."

"And cheaper, the way he does it," Smith chuckled. "So he's staying there now?"

"As far as I know. He seems quite happy to stay with Megan at the Institute."

"No offense, but I think I'm glad she's staying there," the black- furred Bat chuckled, shaking his head. "She is not happy here, to put it mildly, from what I've heard."

"And I definitely will not authorize her return for visits." Jurnix stated firmly. "Though the one I'm truly concerned about is Xanx. Megan at least wants pups when she is older and has a trained reflex to speak her mind. Xanx ... I'm grateful she does not have a more overtly dangerous Gift. The hate and pain in her runs deeper than I've encountered in a long time."

"And it's not all directed at the Isles," Winterwing warned him. "You might know already, but be careful with her around pups. There's a reason she lives where she does here, assuming the 'paths aren't exaggerating what she broadcasts sometimes. I feel sorry for her, but... she's just not always safe, even if her powers aren't immediately dangerous."

"I am aware of it," he nodded. "The pup we have is well above the danger range. Her condition has several medication options on the outside that won't harm her quality of life as well."

"I hope she's happier out there," Winterwing nodded. "Born to the wrong parents; be good to see her somewhere better for her."

"Yes, it will be," he nodded. "People should not have to suffer like that for an accident of birth."

"I hope you haven't found any more who are?" Siren asked, looking over at him. "If you have, might be a good idea to talk to them before we leave."

"None that troubled here," he shook his head. "Two have chosen to come, a third is content with the compromises of staying here."

"That's good. I'd hate to think there was anybody else who hated this place that much, but was staying here."

"I find it disturbing that anyone could be made to hate it here so much," Jurnix said quietly. "On the outside, I understand the lack of insight, but the number of 'paths here should have prevented the social pressures from growing so great as to create such a reaction. It is very disturbing how far out of control it got."

"Some of the telepaths can be the worst ones," Winterwing said softly. "I don't know how, but a lot of them are convinced that things here are perfect, or at least would be if everybody else would just go along with them."

"Which we have, for a long time," Smith admitted. "It didn't take long for 'that's the way we do things' to become a valid excuse."

"That I am far too familiar with," he nodded. "It was my greatest fear for Rasputan's mission that it would create such a insular society. It was set up with some of the highest risks possible for it."

"Fortunately, Solomon is a little more forward thinking, along with parts of our society," Smith nodded. Rasputin... I always had the feeling that he was dealing with a lot of being pissed off at the outside. He wanted things to work out perfectly here so badly that he made it do so, even if it meant forcing a few square pegs into round holes."

"He was facing a great deal of pressure from all sides." Jurnix shook his head. "Yes, he was angry, but he also had difficulty seeing that not everyone's needs were the same, or that sometimes it is for the greater good to bend the rules for some who need them bent."

"I don't suggest having this conversation with some of the others," Winterwing cautioned Jurnix and her mate. "Especially the Lookouts."

"It's true though," Siren pointed out. "For better or for worse, he wasn't perfect. Between what we've got here, because of him, and what there is on the outside, we might be able to get things a bit closer to what he would have actually wanted."

"That is the hope," Jurnix nodded. "And I have no intention of beginning a conversation that is likely to end in a duel. Not yet at least."

"They're going to be your biggest opposition here, biggest organized opposition, at least," Smith mused quietly. "They're already not crazy about Solomon, you're just about everything they dislike about him carried to the nth degree."

"I am sure they do not even have the words to describe Megan." He couldn't help but chuckle. "At least I do know something about tact."

"They can shove it," Siren muttered. "If they don't like it enough, we've got ways they can work it out without being asses about it."

"That is too likely to bring public ridicule in failure to them." Jurnix reminded her sagely. "They know the majority do not agree with them enough to side with them."

"Besides, when your job consists of screwing with people's heads, it's easier to think of ways to do that than to do things the hard way. No offense," Smith said quickly, looking at Jurnix apologetically. "It's literal, in their case, even if impersonal."

"No offence taken," he smiled slightly at the other male. "I do understand though. It has been an unpleasant part of my duties as well. Just not in the same way."

"And it's not something you think of as a first option," Siren pointed out. "Some days, I think they're the reason those of us who were born here have at least some level of shielding from psi's."

"I have no doubt of it." He nodded with a slightly tighter mouth. "There is very little teaching of moral use of abilities to them, if any at all. They are not an aid to any cause but our extermination."

"They get the same training the rest of us do, especially the other 'paths," Winterwing said calmly. "It's how they choose to use it. I think the 'ends justify the means' mentality is drawn towards the job."

"Who are the last people who should be allowed to do it," he sighed and shook his head. "There is something to be said for suiting the job to the person, but it runs risks like this as well. The most violent or paranoid may make the best solders and guards, but if they are not careful monitored their nature can turn them against you as they begin to think they know what is best."

"Which leaves the question of how to fix things up now," Siren sighed, shaking her head. "They might be paranoid, but until the Isles are ready to be known, we can't take the chance that we'll be found if they stopped."

"The greater risk is one of them turning on the Isles should they be removed from power," he shook his head. "There has already been serious talk of deposing Solomon among them and their supporters for contacting me and what has already happened. It will be much worse when they learn that this is truly not a single contact that will go away."

"A truth they truly wish was true," he said softly. "They may assist it, but the Isles themselves are what keep it hidden. It has done so with and without inhabitants since long before written history. It will continue to do so long after everyone is gone."

"Do they know this?" Smith asked, a shocked look in his eyes.

"Not consciously," he shook his head. "Perhaps not at all. It was quite the surprise to Solomon when I told him the Isles don't even exist on satellite images of this area. I do not believe that anyone could have known before we were up in space and looking down ... at nothing here."

"Any idea what Solomon's planning on doing, knowing that? It sounds like the Lookouts could be disbanded, if he thought it was necessary."

"That would be unwise, on many levels," he shook his head. "Unless they force him, I do not see that he has any interest in disbanding them. If nothing else, it keeps them occupied and many of them would be very dangerous if stripped of the duties they are so dedicated to."

"Idle paws," Winterwing nodded. "Best not to give them more time and reasons to cause trouble, given that they're mostly harmless the way things stand. Still, it changes the balance of power dramatically around here."

"Yes, and it is a shift few are aware of and fewer believe." Jurnix nodded. "Politics did just become much more stable in the long run, but the dangers of when they find out are very significant. They are powerful 'psis if nothing else, and not the most stable people here."

"That's the understatement of the century," Siren agreed. "Though I'm pretty sure most of them wouldn't do something rash just because they found out they weren't necessary. They'd wait until they had a better reason, and spend the rest of their time trying to convince everybody that the Isles being naturally hidden was more proof that we shouldn't touch the outside world."

"If that succeeds, I strongly recommend everyone who wishes to survive to leave." Jurnix cautioned quietly and very seriously. "It has been written in the past and every indication is that once the outside has been forsaken, it will return to destroy the inhabitants. That is what I have studied in the records of the last inhabitants."

"I don't think it'd work, without using their powers against the public," Siren said softly. "And not even the entire Corps is that strong."

"I do not expect such things to happen, but it is worth preparing for."

"Just be ready for a lot of new arrivals if things go badly out here," Winterwing said, shaking her head. "To the tune of a solid three-hundred plus."

"I understand," he nodded. "I am prepared to take in several thousand at the Institute, and a great many more at various locations elsewhere. It is not what I would like, but I am prepared to take in the entire potential Avatar population of the world and challenge the governments for our right to exist. It is not my preference, but we are prepared for war if need be."

"Not the preference of anybody who's sane." Smith agreed. "Something most of us want to avoid here as well, at almost any cost."

"That I can not concede to," he said quietly. "At some point the cost of avoiding war exceeds the cost to fight. I am doing everything I can to avoid that point, but one person, even one with my gifts, can not do it all. Things are progressing regrettably slowly on many fronts. Technology is the only one going at a good clip." He smiled slightly. "With even a little luck, we could even colonize a new world before things come to a head here."

"What's the biggest problem you have with that yet?" Smith asked curiously. "Technology-wise?"

"The engine, give or take. Right now the only way to make the distance in a reasonable amount of time requires the powers of several Avatars used in concert to warp reality enough. Faster than light travel is still very much a theory in the purely tech world."

"You do realize you've just made sure I'll have to drag him in from his workshop for quite some," Winterwing sighed, shaking her head as her mate started thinking about the problem.

"I do apologize for that," Jurnix told her sincerely. "But a solution to FTL travel issues other than relying on Avatar gifts will give us a true advantage and more leverage than you can imagine in our dealings with the outside."

"If it's possible by real science, he'll find a way," Winterwing said confidently. "Before real science does, I might add. Though it will have to take a back seat, for a while, compared to his current projects. Unless Solomon assigns somebody else to the AR projects."

"Yes, an artificial womb will be a great asset on so many levels it can hardly be guessed at." Jurnix nodded, then looked over at Smith. "I would recommend you at least speak to those working on both projects for me. I expect there will be a great deal of review and assimilation in the next few months as we exchange our information."

"Bring 'em here or give me a chance to figure out some way of getting in touch with them without a traceable signal, and I will," the Black Bat grinned. "Be good to speak with somebody else whose eyes don't glaze over."

"Are you willing to visit my research facility?" Jurnix looked at him seriously. "Not to stay, but some of what you'll have to talk about will be assisted by models and such that are not so readily transported as people or data."

"Not this trip," he said apologetically. "Though maybe in a month or so. I'm on call for the lab until then."

"Of course," he smiled easily. "I was not thinking right away. Should I contact you or will you contact me when you are free to spend a week or two away?"

"Probably best if I have somebody contact you. Shouldn't be more than a month or so, barring complications, but they've got a nasty habit of coming up at the last minute."

"I understand," he chuckled. "I am quite familiar with them and their joys. Perhaps you will both come to visit Siren then? A look at how she's doing and handle the parental concerns about it."

"I think that would work nicely," Winterwing smiled. "Make sure she's not getting into too much trouble."

"I'm sure somebody will make sure I don't, Mom," Siren chuckled, shaking her head. "But it would be nice to see you two."

"Oh, I'm very sure of it," Jurnix grinned at her. "Even when I'm stuck in a lab or on some political mission. I don't think you're quite ready to go on those yet."

"Probably not," she agreed. "Something to work on, but not something I'm ready for yet. Just have to keep myself occupied while you're gone," she smiled.

"I am quite sure you won't have a problem with that," Jurnix chuckled with a wink. "Between the pup running around, Megan spiriting you off for modern adventures and your continued education you will be quite busy."

"Probably more than she's had to do around here for a while," Winterwing chuckled. "She's been focusing on training with her gifts, lately."

"Given what my latest training mishap resulted in, I wouldn't think you'd complain," Siren grinned, reaching over to squeeze Jurnix affectionately.

"Point," her mother conceded with a chuckle.

"It's a shame to see you all leaving," Solomon said, smiling despite his words as he met Professor Jurnix and the others at the docks a week later.

"We will return," the Foxbat assured him with a firm hand on the Lion's shoulder. *'When things are a bit less volatile.'* "And not be out of touch this time."

"We look forward to it," the Lion said warmly. "Take care of our prodigals for me." *'I hope you found what you were looking for,'* he added mentally.

"I will." He nodded and turned to fly up to the deck while he untied the mooring ropes. It was not a surprise to be leaving with more than he had come with, though it was a bit of a surprise that neither of them were half-breeds.

"Ready to ship out?" Siren asked, flying up after saying good bye to her family.

"Yes," he nodded, noting how few were on deck to watch the Isles disappear from view. "We will be at the Institute in a week." He added with a slight smile. "We're taking the scenic route home."

"Sounds good," she smiled. Looking back, she saw her parents, friends, Samson's father and Cassandra. The Liger was leaning over the railing, shaking his head at something she'd just called up to him.

"I'm going to miss this place," Siren admitted. "A bit."

"You can always return," Jurnix smiled at her and joined her near the railing.

"I know," she nodded, leaning close to him. "Just jittery, I guess."

"Hardly unusual," he leaned against her slightly. "You're leaving everything you know for a very big world."

"Very big, and very different," she nodded, leaning back against him with a smile as the ship started pulling away from the docks. "But worth it, I think."

The Future is Wyld 5: The Shrouded Isles

NC-17 for M/F
Het Level is HighHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

503 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written July 15, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: JIG

Primary Races: Bat, Canine, Feline, Mutant

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Romance, Romance (Teen)

Pairings: Samson "Verdance" Wick/Megan Ryzer-Marce, Jurnix/Siren, Gaia/Charlie, Lightning/Fugue/Stalker

Blurb: Six years after Ginny and SnapShot's pup is born, the successor of an old friend of Professor Jurnix sends an emissary to see if Jurnix is willing to open political relations fifty years after going their separate ways.

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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