A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 6 of 7
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for friggen Everything
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Rafael D'Argent stood up and stretched to get away from the seemingly endless stream of reports He stood for a moment with his tall, muscular body framed against the morning sun, as he considered taking an unscheduled afternoon off The large short furred black on silver tabby Kat laughed to himself "What's the point in that? The guys aren't available and I don't feel like random company."

Just as he sat down and picked up another databoard, a young gray squirrel morph ran in carrying a sealed gold foil pouch He saluted the tabby "General D'Argent, Apollo Division wanted you to see this immediately." He said breathlessly as he held out the package Rafael took the package, opened it, read it and blinked twice He gently set the databoard upside down on the desk.

"Gany, do you know where Gemini is right now?" He asked the squirrel quietly.

"Not exactly, sir But I recall them mentioning a short visit home."

"Right Aristal 11650, Megakat City He typed quickly at his computer until it spit out three datacards, which he handed to the squirrel "Lt. Maxin, I need you to deliver these recall orders to Gemini, personally." He handed two of the cards to the squirrel who carefully pocketed them "These are your travel orders You're to leave immediately for Aristal 11650 and bring back Majors Furlong and Clawson."

"Yes, Sir." The squirrel saluted sharply, and turned to leave He paused for a moment "Megakat City is quite large, where should I start?" He asked hesitantly, his tail twitching nervously.

"Hmm." The general thought for a moment, and then consulted the calendar for that dimension He chuckled "Off hand, I'd suggest Commander Feral's apartment to start with." He got up, walked around the desk and put his hand on the young squirrel's shoulder "Don't be too shocked by what you see."

"No, sir." The squirrel said, thinking about some of the things he'd heard about Gemini's after-hours interests.

As the squirrel left, Rafael sat back on the desk and laughed "I wonder what those two mates of mine are up to now."

The young squirrel came out of the Technicolor time/space vortex on top MegaKat Towers, which he thought was pretty good targeting for a change His last trip had landed him in the middle of an intersection during rush hour He activated his wristcomp and locked it onto the local ITA InfoNet frequency, and quickly updated the pertinent information.

Within seconds he was airborne on gray glider wings soaring over the city It was a pleasant evening for flying so he took a somewhat leisurely route toward Commander Feral's apartment He also wanted to do some sight seeing, since his last trip to MegaKat City had ended with him running from juvenile Kats who decided the Squirrel had trespassed on their 'turf' This time he was well out of reach of such misadventures.

As he landed on the balcony outside the Commander's apartment, he noticed that the balcony door was ajar A quick scan with his wristcomp's security analyzer revealed that the security system had been disabled His analysis of the situation was interrupted by muffled yell from within The squirrel drew his blaster, and carefully edged toward the open balcony door.

Lieutenant Maxin dove across the patio and rolled up to his feet with his gun held steady on the apartment living room His jaw dropped at what he saw The muffled cry had come from Commander Feral whose mouth was full of Major Clawson's cock, same way his ass was full of Major Furlong's.

What really stunned the squirrel was that the normally domineering Feral was on all fours and bound securely with leather straps, which Gany guessed were probably reinforced armor leather On top of that both the Major's were wearing what appeared to be their old SWAT uniforms redone in shiny black leather with chrome chains accenting them.

"That's a bad kitten, trying to talk with your mouthful." Jake growled playfully, as he roughly grabbed Feral's cheek ruff and brought the giant tom's gaze up.

Chance grunted as he roughly fucked the big tom "He really needs to get out, I mean put out more, he's really tight back here."

Feral moaned lustily around the lean tom's cock, as he worked it with a skillful mouth.

Jake moaned. "Must get out some, this mouth knows what its doing." His body began to stiffen as he got close to the edge.

The burly tabby only responded by fucking Feral harder, and reaching under to jack the tom's rock hard cock A cock that the squirrel noticed was bound with a leather cockstrap.

Suddenly both Jake and Chance started coming, and quickly filled the Commander's mouth and ass The squirrel could see come leaking from both ends, realized he was staring and didn't care Besides, Archangel had ordered him to deliver these recall orders as soon as possible, which would be after they finished.

The straps holding Feral to the floor were undone, and all three toms collapsed to the floor Chance weakly undid the cockstrap and Feral and jacked him a couple of times causing the brown tom to come in powerful spasms.

As all three lay recovering on the floor, Jake and Chance turned leaned over and kissed Feral teasingly "Happy Birthday, Commander." They said in unison.

"Like your present?" Chance said, chuckling.

"Uh, huh." Ulysses said, still quite out of breath and a bit dazed "How'd you know?"

"Marcus." Jake said simply, referring to a Great Dane Kantin that both he and Feral had slept with, though at different times.

"Oh." Feral said simply.

"What d'ya suppose the squirrel wants?" Chance asked indicating the somewhat shocked Lt. Maxin with a nod.

"Round 2?" Jake suggested lustily, leering at the athletic squirrel in the streamlined flight suit, with a noticeable bulge.

"Punishment for trespassing?" Feral suggested with gruff humor.

Gany's eyes went wide, and he pulled out the two datacards "uh ... uh ... orders from Archangel."

Jake looked disappointed "Oh, he's here officially, too bad."

Chance chuckled "What's Rafe want, Gany?" He asked recognizing his and Jake's mate's assistant.

"Not sure, Major Furlong These are just immediate recall orders." He said professionally.

"Immediate recall, damn." Jake said struggling to his feet "Sorry Uly, duty calls."

"Yeah, can't keep Archangel waiting." Chance said grinning.

"Of course, I know the feeling Turn my beeper back on, would you? I know one of you turned it off." He said grinning "Thanks for the present, Razor, T-bone."

The two Kats waved at the happily sated Commander, before going out to the waiting squirrel "Where's the portal, Gany?" Jake asked.

Lt. Maxin pulled out a small silver metal box with a silver button "Right here, Major Clawson." He pushed the button and a technicolor vortex appeared on the patio in front of the three "Majors, after you." He said politely.

"Right, think we'll have time to change?" Chance asked curiously, before stepping through.

"Think he really cares what we're wearing, buddy?" Jake said, grinning and stepped through.

The squirrel shook his head in amusement and shock "And these two are the tops in Investigation and Intervention, amazing." He took one last look over his shoulder at the Commander of Megakat City's defense forces lying against a sofa with dazed expression on his face.

Rafael sat in his office reviewing files relating to the current case, when the intercom on his desk buzzed demanding his attention He pushed the pile of databoards aside uncovering the intercom "Yes, Corellia." He said a little more impatiently then he meant to.

"Sorry to disturb you, but Gemini is here." Rafael's assistant said evenly.

"Well, send them in."

"Yes, sir."

The door opened and Jake and Chance walked in wearing shiny, black leather versions of their SWAT uniforms Rafael's sensitive nose detected large amounts of sex and Commander Feral, and his eyes caught dried semen on the leather in several places.

"So, did Commander Feral like his birthday present?" Rafael asked evenly.

"Oh, I'd say he did Right, buddy?" Jake said winking at Chance.

"Yeah, I'd say so He was speechless." The tabby replied with a grin.

Rafael rolled his eyes, and shook his head "You two are incorrigible." He said with a laugh "Well, it's good for relations between the ITA and the Enforcers."

"You could say that." Jake said coyly "So, what's up, Rafe? You don't issue immediate recalls on us unless something big is up."

"According to Apollo, there are major forces at work in Dimension 3579 and it looks like the balance has just shifted dramatically against Pattern The good news is Apollo thinks it's a reversible shift, which is where you two come in Take whatever steps are necessary to push things back to Pattern's favor Apollo will be providing a briefing on what details they've come up with Any questions?"

"Is there time to play before we have to clean up?" Jake leaned across the desk with a leer.

Rafael smiled, and hit the 'briefing in progress' button on his intercom "I think we can spare the time." He said while claiming a passionate kiss from Jake while gently pulling him more onto the desk.

Chance grinned, walked up behind Jake and teasingly ran his leather-gloved hand up under he excited tom's tail.

Jake rumbled in a mixture of want and approval "Yes, do it." He turned almost his full attention to trying to suck Rafael's tongue from his head.

Without breaking the beyond-passionate kiss with Jake, Rafe reached into the top drawer of his desk, pulled out a jar of lube and tossed it to Chance.

The tabby quickly prepared his wantonly willing partner. He quickly released his rock hard cock from the leather pants and plunged roughly into the lean tom.

As Jake moaned in a lust and pleasure, Rafe moved his hands teasingly down the Kat's chest until he was roughly fondling the tom's cock and balls Jake squirmed in ecstatic pleasure between the one tabby's skillful hands, and the barb hairs of the other moving inside him.

Suddenly, Chance roared and started fucking Jake harder as he came in powerful spurts This stimulation was too much for the cinnamon tom, and he stiffened and then began spurting all over Rafe's desk The intense smell of mutual arousal, sex and cum pushed Rafe over the edge and he stiffened into orgasm, his seed greedily swallowed by the Kat suckling him.

"I love these briefings." Rafael said winded, as the three of them relaxed in a pile on the desk with the happy Jake on the bottom, uncaring of the databoards on the floor, or the poor ones under them.

"I can't wait to see what our debriefing will be like after this mission." Chance said while licking Jake behind the ear.

Jake mumbled in agreement, then twisted to claim an awkward kiss from the tabby behind him "Shower, guys?"

Rafael laughed. "As much fun as that sounds like, there's a Governing Council meeting I'm supposed to be at shortly Not that the shower wouldn't be preferable, but duty calls." He spent of few moments digging through the databoards that had scattered from the desk. "Here it is." He said handing Chance a datacard.

"After you guys get cleaned up, and into something more mission appropriate, grab Canard before you leave He's going with you, time he got some field experience and I can't think of anyone better for him to work with then you two."

Chance looked at the black on silver tabby. "A rookie? Thought you said this was important."

"It is and he's only a rookie in ITA, he used to command a team of his own in a planetary resistance movement." He cocked an eyebrow at the chocolate on gold tabby "I'm serious, I want you two to show him how things are done right ... or barring that, just show him how you do things." He said with a wise-ass grin. "Now go get cleaned up."

"Mmm," Jake licked the dark sheath and balls still in front of his nose "Sure you don't want to stay for clean-up?"

Rafe laughed and kissed Jake chastely while recovering his clothes "Unfortunately, I can't always do what I want to do." He walked across the room and stepped into a booth that had been concealed in the wall There was a brief hum and bright light, before Rafe stepped out cleaned up and dressed "Not any fun, but it does let me get to this meeting on time."

As he left the office, he turned to smile at them over his shoulder. "You can use the crisis quarters shower to get cleaned up if you'd like."

A bookshelf slid aside revealing a door into the small short-term quarters off of Rafe's office, put there for times when he needed to on top of things continuously.

Chance leered at Jake. "Shower?"

"And see who stays standing the longest." There was a definite challenging gleam in his eyes.

Chance grinned, accepting the challenge "Like there's really any question?" He said teasingly.

"You never could outlast me." Jake retorted with a smirk back as they headed for the bathroom.

After they cleaned up the Kats went looking for Canard, since he should be at the briefing they were headed to According to the their ITA wristcomps he was in the hockey rink section of the ITA Central Sports Complex It was no real surprise since Canard was team captain for Investigation and Intervention's hockey team, and well known for his opinion that hockey was *the* sport of all civilized cultures.

By the time they wound their way through the massive sports complex, they located the muscular white wine feathered duck morph in the locker room of hockey 'stadium' They turned a corner around a bank of lockers to find him changing back into his off-duty clothes having just come from the showers.

"Gentlebeings, sorry to keep you waiting." The large Black LionTaur apologized as he padded into the conference room where Jake, Chance and Canard were waiting "Pythia wanted to discuss some elements of the case before I briefed you."

"Hermes recently brought us data that revealed that the dimension you're headed to just had a major Pattern shock Simply put one individual who has the ability to influence a great many others, and to affect the Pattern itself, has been kidnapped, and apparently Chaos is attempting a Conversion."

"Normally we don't bother with kidnappings, but there are several greater powers involved, which is fortunate in that they will largely cancel each other out ... but unfortunate in the amount of damage that could result to the Pattern in the process.

"According to Mistress Pythia, if you can return the individual in question to his correct place in things it should avert the impending Pattern damage."

He displayed an image of a black on red-brown athletic tiger in a white gold uniform "This is Colonel Nathan SwiftClaw-SolGardin of the Galactic Alliance Medic Corps He recently disappeared en route to a new assignment at the Vandred Command Center aboard a Canem Cruiser 'the Winds of Rozar' Current location is unknown, as is the exact method by which he disappeared.

"He is known to be associated with one Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea, grandson of Queen StarFire the near immortal ruler of Draconea.

"Pythia has told me that she believes the Darshar known as Tartirin is involved in this matter promoting the cause of chaos You should be aware of this since Tartirin is a near immortal, occasionally referred to as a 'fallen god', and is powerful even by Darshar standards.

"Any questions?"

"How 'quiet' are we supposed to be on this one?" Jake regarded their target critically as he played with a pen.

The Taur considered "Command has authorized broad discretion on this mission because of the level of Chaos powers involved However, Command would prefer that damage to local political structures and societies be kept to a minimum In short, be as quiet as is possible, but Command realizes that quiet may not be possible."

"Good, he doesn't look like a simple retrieve," he glanced at the datapad, completely into mission mode, "especially not after a year to make friends Any info on the existing plots and politics in the area, and around him?"

"Unfortunately, the level of chaos in the area is making info retrieval unreliable However, our analysis of him indicates that he is a rather apolitical individual He's a dedicated physician with no liking for politics He's currently associated with the metropolitan general hospital and a large research facility known as Cathedral Both have attempt to recruit him to full time status, but he has refused both, reason unknown.

"Command has classified this mission as a near-blind, which is why Gemini drew it You have the best record in dealing with situations where information is absent or unreliable Janus will be providing standard dimensional delivery, along with an intergalactic rated scoutship since you may have to change planets during the mission.

Jake nodded and glanced at Chance, then turned to Canard "That's probably it on info, but any questions you want to ask, rookie?"

Canard didn't like being called a rookie, but when it came to dimension hopping rescue missions he couldn't deny being one "So this person has had a year to create a whole new life, what if he doesn't want to leave where he is? He might have decided he likes the new situation."

"Then we find out why he needs to be back home, and what he likes about the new one and find a compromise in there," Jake nodded easily and gave him something of an approving smile "That's part of our specialty too Finding the not-so-obvious answer Anything else?"

"Think we'll be back in time for the Divisional Hockey Finals?" Canard asked in a voice very similar to the one Jake usually reserved for asking if there was time to 'play'.

Both Kats laughed heartily, and grinned at him "We'll try, Duck." Jake stood and thumped his shoulder "Do a good enough job and they'll start postponing these events for you."

The LionTaur concluded that there were no more questions regarding the briefing He cleared his throat "Janus has your transportation set-up, and Vulcan has loaded the appropriate equipment on board the shuttle Pythia recommends that you begin as soon as your preparations are complete." He said quietly, though loud enough to be noticed.

Canard stood up and looked to Jake, since he was team leader and waited to see what their next move was.

Chance stood up casually, and leaned back against a table. "You know bud, I think someone's trying to rush us along." He said to Jake with a crooked smile.

Everyone's always in such a rush to get rid of us." He chuckled and headed out "Come on rookie, time to find out how well you play with Chaos."

Jake, Chance and Canard followed the eight foot tall, black feathered Condor morph through the Janus Transportation Command Center "The Scoutship we're providing is capable of both interplanetary and intergalactic travel since Pythia thought that both might be needed She's also fully stealthed and armed, just in case.

They stepped through an airlock and after it irised closed the light s came up revealing a reasonable sized shadow gray shuttle, which lacked any identifying markings A boarding ramp at the nose of the craft was currently in the down position.

"Sort of looks like the AeroWing." Canard commented quietly.

"We'll shift you into that times-space locale, in a discrete location that should be unobserved, yet connected to your case in some fashion The shuttle is fully V-TOL capable, so take-off space is irrelevant."

"We'll launch as soon as your team is aboard and ready, Major Clawson." The Condor said respectfully.

Jake sighed in contentment as he supported most of Nathan's exhausted weight, absently wondering if it was possible for anything in his life to go at less than mach 20 ... for just a little while.

They both noticed the scene flowing into another sharing memory about the same time, one Jake recognized almost instantly "First real night with Chance." He explained easily, with a pain behind the calm tone as Nathan shifted to hold him tightly.

As it played forward smoothly, the visual image blurred, and the mental one sharpened, focusing more and more on the satisfied need and pleasure in the lean Kat's mind, though his body's responses weren't entirely lost.

"Oh, my, god." Jake went completely stiff in shock as he finally placed the same feeling he'd had the first time he'd been with Patrik ... and watched happen earlier that day "Bonded ... I Bonded ... to both of them."

Nathan nodded quietly, having had forewarning on the subject of Jake's LifeBond with Chance "*Given how much you care for both of them, I'm not surprised.*" He thought, quietly supportive without a trace of disapproval.

"No wonder his head's so fucked up." Jake shook his sadly "Rik has a hard enough time keeping up ... must have been hell on a normal Kat."

"Jake, by observation ... he doesn't know it's there I think it's harder on you then it is on him." Nathan said quietly, trying to deflect any developing guilt.

"Maybe ... still it's not a good thing." Jake shook his head sadly "Whether the bond is broken, or I try to deal with him ..." he shivered, a little queasy "I hope somebody out there is getting a good laugh about this."

Nathan sighed quietly "Jake, I know you don't think so now but dealing with him will be a lot easier than a broken bond Neither of you can handle the feedback." He said quietly in a mixture of concerned LifeMate and professional Medic He carefully avoided mentioning Storm and his being mixed up in the mess.

"I could handle it, you just might not recognize me afterwards." Jake murmured, nearly defeated "And it's not like it matters, whether I break the bond or deal with him on this level ... the difference is whether he lives through it or not."

Nathan nuzzled the cinnamon Kat gently "No hasty decisions, okay? You need to let this rest for awhile." He said quietly, before considering whether to say something he'd avoided.

"Jake, I didn't want to mention this now But with your talk about Chance I have to mention it ... Storm has a Kin-Bond with him, and as best I understand TechnoMage bonds ... it'll pick up feedback from any breakage, probably a lot of it." He sighed quietly.

"Wonderful," the nearly pure sarcasm in Jake voice was unmissable, "this is going to get ugly in a hurry."

The scene shifted against, almost without them noticing Nathan caught the movement from the corner of his eye and saw Jake sitting on the coffee table in front of Chance's unconscious body The note and box the tiger-tabby had found when he'd come back home ... could it have only been four days ago ... were in Jake's hands.

"Well ... love ... when you're ready to come to me, I'll be here for you." Jake stood and shivered as he set the objects down.

The lean cinnamon tomkat fingered the paper for a while, then picked up the box and opened it With trembling fingers he removed the thick gold engagement collar with an azure and crimson ying-yang He hesitated, then stepped up to the couch and draped the object along Chance's throat.

"I would kill to see you wear that because you wanted to, you know." Jake studied the strange image for a moment longer before returning the collar to its case and regarded his partner with a choked throat "No, you don't know I doubt you know I can kill I doubt you even begin to comprehend how much I love you Hell, I doubt you even know what you want these days."

He knelt and brushed the worst of the hair from Chance's face "I hope you find what you need to get through this, because it's clearly not me, and I can't let you drag me down with you."

Then Jake stood returned to his bike, walking through the Hanger for the last time and tried not to stop at the TurboKat He chuckled to himself lightly as the bike started to roll out "Like Felina's any more likely to have a kitten with me than Chance is." Then his face fell and he looked back at his only true home "I'm sorry, but at least she wants me."

"That seemed so long ago." Jake closed his eyes and pressed a little closer to his LifeMate "Doesn't even seem like it was me."

Nathan shivered a little remembering what he'd seen next after getting these images the first time He shook his head sadly, remembering all the things he'd picked up.

The tiger-tabby looked at the box and note, and got a solid flashback of what he'd seen the first time ... and came close to losing his balance ... just like the first time "He never saw it ... couldn't see it." He said quietly, not really sure who he was talking to.

"I know." Jake answered quietly with a hand on Nathan's arm "Neither could I."

Nathan blinked feeling that they were in separate conversations "Umm ... I meant the box and note you left." He seemed a little confused "Though its true in other ways too."

"I couldn't see what he left me," he spoke quietly, staring at the limp body on the couch "How badly he was asking for help." He watched the tabby for a long moment "I'm not sure if it would have mattered, but he was begging for help as much as I was."

Nathan nodded quietly Then he turned and sat down trying to figure what to say Part of him desperately wanted to say something, to fix things again, to ease all the hurting; but another part no longer thought that was possible And then there was the part that closed it's eyes tight, afraid to see what he remembered following, what he never wanted to see again.

Confusion, fear and some amount of despair warred in the medic's heart and he was too divided to realize ... that it was showing in his scent as well, though his body simply shivered.

"I ... I'm sorry, Nathan." Jake swallowed as he sat next to the Medic and leaned against him slightly, comfortingly He closed his eyes with a soft sigh "I'm sorry you got hurt trying to protect us, from ourselves."

Nathan couldn't quite make his voice work "*It was my choice, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat I'm sorry I failed you both.*" His mental voice broke up for a moment. "*I couldn't make a difference before, but maybe I can at least heal a little of the damage.*" His mental-voice was submerged in waves of self-doubt.

"*You didn't fail.*" Jake thought softly, with a level of certainly that made Nathan blink "*The only thing you might have failed to do was lock us in a room and force us to figure this crap out ... and honestly, you didn't meet us early enough to do that Remember who set this up ... sent you away?*" There was a slightly pause "*Damn, things are obvious in here.*"

Nathan sighed quietly. "*I remember, but a Medic's supposed to see the signs when the unit's in danger ... I didn't.*" He tried to shake the self-doubt with marginal success "*I didn't see it, because I wanted to believe things were okay, that they'd work out None so blind as those who will not see.*"

"*So that's three of us, at a minimum.*"

Nathan looked up, and recovered a little of his voice. "As for the locked room ... that's not the first time its been suggested lately." The was a little forced humor in his voice.

"Ka?" Jake rolled his eyes "Or Pat? I'm getting more surprised by the minute no one did just that."

Nathan chuckled quietly "I've never actually talked to either of them about it Actually, I don't think I'd ever met Master Kahn before Monday and I've only talked with Pat occasionally It was Ashley's suggestion, but neither of us had the patience for the decades we figured it would take." The grin was a bit more sincere, then he sighed deeply "It's in my nature to want to heal when I see the Kats I love hurting." He paused "I'm having trouble dealing with the fact that this time maybe I can't do anything."

Jake put his hand on the Medic's arm "You got one of us basically sane, and sounds like you saved Chance's life on a couple of levels." He regarded his LifeMate "And frankly, that's a lot more than 'nothing' Do you have any idea how much the situation has improved because of you?"

Nathan smiled reluctantly "As one of my Corp superiors once put it, I hold myself to standards I'd never expect anyone else to meet Unfortunately, until someone points it out, I don't realize I'm doing it."

"Now where have I heard that before?" Jake voice dripped with sarcasm.

"I guess its just I'm still trying to figure out 'what next', which is kind of where I've been since Friday Which I also think is the last time I was thinking straight, well Friday morning at any rate."

He grinned quirkily "I don't know what you've heard about my little 'fit' Sunday at Cathedral, but don't take it seriously I was a bad combination of no sleep in too long, too much adrenalin along with fear, worry and panic Probably makes for interesting report though."

"I bet," Jake raised an eyebrow "That wouldn't be what that ... that scream of yours ... was part of?"

"Scream? Oh dear, I think I missed that." He tried accessing his memories and got terribly frustrated with the horrible jumble that he found "'Fraid I'm not sure what exactly you're referring to, but it probably relates There's a pretty solid gap between leaving the genetics lab and Brandy's quarters."

Jake paused a moment, "that was the timeframe You scared the hell out of me, not to mention the jets." He shuddered as his memory provided what Nathan's would not as a tiger's roar of grief, anger, pain, and most of all, betrayal, echoing with the words: "Jake, how could you?" ripped through Joining space.

Nathan thought for a moment, before some of it came back It paused him a little "I'd spent days trying to make sense of things that didn't seem to The shock of discovering the jets put things together to a very tired, confused mind It was a surprise discovery at the wrong time."

He looked at Jake "The details are still fuzzy, but what scared me was I thought I was never going to see you again ... and I thought that was what you wanted." He said quietly remembering how bad that thought had scared him.

"Right up to hearing that, you wouldn't have been wrong." Jake sort of shrugged "You were part of a life I was trying very hard to walk away from and forget That lasted about as long as it took to realized I'd hurt you doing it."

Nathan couldn't decide how to take that, so he just let it pass He sighed quietly "If it hadn't been for Brandy, I probably would've been gone ... but some how, I'm still not sure how she managed to talk me out of tiger mode, and back into my normal form ... which I didn't have the energy to support...there by leading to my passing out in her quarters."

"She's good that way," Jake chuckled softly "It's why she was hired."

"Honestly, I just want to forget everything between Friday and Sunday ... unfortunately, that doesn't happen." He looked at Jake "Somehow, I think things got derailed again."

Jake looked up, around, anywhere but at the Kat on the couch and the Felsin next to him "Not derailed ... this is very much a part of happened between us ... why we're in here." He picked the engagement collar and turned it over several times, studying it "You've already said more than enough to tell me you won't back down about fixing things with Chance somehow ... even if you decided you would leave him for me, which I'm not buying even if you say it." He shivered and crushed the marriage symbol under his claws "It's part of what *I* am to make sure you comprehend what you've gotten yourself into, now that I've accepted letting you inside my secrets."

Nathan sighed quietly. "I'm a Medic and a NightBlade, backing down just isn't in my nature, even when it might be the wiser course of action." Nathan shook his head "But a NightBlade doesn't abandon teammates or friends, and I'm more a NightBlade then anything else when it comes right down to it.

He looked at Jake. "Leave him for you? Funny you should put it that way, he thought I had But 'leave' is a funny choice of words to use since all Chance and I are is friends, nothing more But then I told you before how rarely I use that word."

"Yes, you did." Jake made the effort not to growl "And as tired as I am of this, I very much doubt we'll get out of here without figuring it out."

Nathan sighed and sat down on a previously not-there bench "Probably not, given that I'd packed everything away and wasn't even going to mention it I guess I should've figured it wouldn't be that easy, not the way things have gone so far."

Jake took a deep breath and concentrated, shifting the scenery to a black-sand beach at sunset He sat down in the sand next to Nathan and rested against the Felsin's leg He spoke softly as the deep purple sky as the golden-orange sun slowly sank towards the horizon.

"I guess a good place to start, would be just what do you want me to do, as far as Chance is concerned?"

Nathan choked back a few knee-jerk reactions which came too quickly to be a good idea, and thought for a moment "Jake, before I say anything on this subject I just want to be sure you understand that I'm trying to look out for both of you I'm not taking sides, and I'm not looking to place blame for what happened."

He paused to see what Jake's reaction to that statement was, and to gather his courage to say what he thought needed to be said One hand idly played in the sand, while the other rested on Jake's shoulder.

"I know," Jake sighed softly "As long as I'm feeling rational about it Even the rest of the time, I just think you don't want to hurt him."

Nathan nodded "In so far as I don't want to hurt either of you, that's true."

The tiger-tabby leaned back and sorted through a few things "It's too complicated a situation to try and propose a solution without correcting a few perceptual errors that you both are operating under."

Jake sorted of humphed with a background emotion was something along the lines of sarcastic agreement.

"You told me that you don't think you matter that much to him; he told me that he was never that important to you Now if you'd both tell each other what you tell me which is how much you do care about each other ... we just might have the beginning of a solution.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't in a good frame of mind to correct his perceptual mistake the last time I had an opening However, I'll just try and deal with yours for now ... I'll get back to his when I get out of here.

He paused momentarily, but not long enough to be interrupted "If he cares as little about you as you want to believe, then just why he did he surrender to Feral that night in an attempt to protect you from the harm Feral was threatening?" He nodded at Jake's sudden tension "He knew what Feral had in mind, and he let it happen in order to protect you." Nathan sighed "If that's not caring, I'd be interested to know what caring looks like."

Nathan continued quietly "I know he missed clues that you wanted more from him, and he's not perfect and I'm not trying to say he is But he does care, enough that he couldn't figure out how to go on by himself."

"*I've got a speech for him in mind, don't worry And you've already seen me yell at myself for my part in this mess ... I'm not leaving anybody out.*"

"He ... " "*He told you he was protecting me?*" Jake stared up in bewilderment, then back at the glittering black sand "Did he say why he tried to handle it himself?"

"Told? Only in the sense that it was strongly imprinted in the mask. Remember he hasn't actually 'told' me that it happened yet But the psychic impressions are very clear, especially on that point."

"As to why he tried to handle it himself ... apparently, it was made very clear that if he tried anything other than giving in to what Feral wanted, the consequences would be the same as refusing."

He paused a moment "Exactly what those consequences were, weren't imprinted But his fear of them was very clearly imprinted ... so they had to be pretty damn severe.

"Going on the basis of the shame he left on the mask, I don't know that he ever would've admitted what happened He felt he should've been able to handle it, to do something about Feral.

"In the end, the only recourse he felt he had left was the alcohol."

Nathan carefully shoved his guilt about not being there back out of sight, and just hoped that Jake hadn't seen it, and just as quickly realized any guilt that Kat would have noticed would have been claimed by Jake as his own.

"That just doesn't make any sense." Jake mumbled, clearly to himself "It's not his style ... never mind damn near suicidal Even if he knew I was almost ready to walk away ... it'd never be allowed for long."

Nathan was no longer sure who Jake was talking about. "Umm ... who's style, Jake?"

"Ulysses Feral." He glanced up "Sure he's domineering, aggressive, loves power games more than I do, and not the least bit troubled by playing all sorts of mind games .... it's a lot of why I enjoyed his company so much ... but this is just not his style." Jake shook his head in confusion "He's got higher standards than that.

"It could be someone masquerading as Uly, or the Kat lost his mind ... or he didn't pick up on what was going on ..." He growled in real frustration "He not that good a liar."

Nathan caught the growl before it appeared reflexively, and forced himself to go purely clinical ... even though he was sure Jake would spot the sudden emotional 'lights out' "I'll grant insanity as a possibility, however given that the psychic impressions were definitely Ulysses Feral that eliminates masquerades with perhaps a few very unusual suspects."

"Of which I know at least seven on planet right now capable of it, not all of them friendly."

"However, there are certainly personality elements that play the border of rape very closely ... close enough that even a minor instability would lead to criminal behavior." The tabby's voice was flat and completely clinical.

"Been there, done that, Nate." Jake sighed "I'm still significantly more likely to have committed that crime than Ulysses Feral." He shook his head "We've had more than our share of fights about his damn moral code."

Jake finally look up, real sorrow on his face "Given what you felt, I don't expect you to ever not hate him, but I've known Uly a long time, and if he really did rape Chance, without something else going on ..." he shook his head "If I'm that wrong about him, there's a lot more at stake than his life and my partnership with Chance."

Nathan forced himself out of clinical mode, it wasn't right to be that way here "Jake, if somehow I'm wrong I'll manage to let go of the hate ... I try to keep that emotion to a minimum, especially with my Jedi abilities resurfacing." He shook his head "But truth of the matter is, Ulysses Feral and I have bumped heads on more than one occasion To be honest, we just don't get along."

Nathan chuckled "I believe the phrase he used was 'rash, insubordinate hotshot' to which I countered 'swaggering, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood.'" The tiger-tabby grinned "That was one of our more civil conversations ... I don't think he likes the fact that I refuse to be intimidated by him."

Jake actually laughed, hard "Nate, he'd just complemented you Take it from someone with an advanced degree in Feral-talk ... he not only respects you, but likes you if he said that."

Nathan thought for a moment "Adept shapeshifting, psychic aura duplication ... oh, my ... I think we may have something far worse than an insane Ulysses Feral to deal with."

Jake's humor fled in an instant "Not much worse than the repercussions if he really did it, honestly." He sighed "Wars have be fought on my judgment call ... on calls just like that one If I wasn't that sure of him ... it wouldn't be bad ... but he's on the short list of Kats I actually trust, when push comes to shove."

Nathan very carefully separated things out "Okay, Jake if there's proof that he didn't do it ... I'll reconsider what I think about him, because I trust you." He thought for a moment "But I've at least an idea who could be responsible ... I encountered them back when I was in Republic space training to be a Jedi They were phenomenal shapeshifters and powerful telepaths as well ... if one of them had had time to study Feral carefully, they could probably duplicate him completely." He shivered "They were called the Kamlen Sith, and they were as nasty a bunch as I've ever had the displeasure to encounter."

"Yes, them." Jake shivered "Ka's lecture was quite enough to give me the permanent creeps about them There's also an indigenous 'mutation' that shows up every so often, and a couple of tecs I've either worked with, or know about ... plus we have mages." Jake shook his head "Beginning to understand why I insisted on a full investigation? There are way too many strange things on this planet to accept just about anything at face value, especially something this disruptive."

"Jake, beyond the obvious disruption to SWAT ... how far-reaching could the consequences of the current situation be? Remember, I don't know anything about the real state of affairs ... I was thinking SWAT was just the three of us." Nathan had shifted from angry NightBlade to full ranking officer in strategic operations mode "For example, does anyone know that Feral's been 'arrested' because if we are dealing with a Kamlen Sith ... it would be entirely like them to be playing Uly Feral to the hilt, now that he's out of the way."

Jake settled down to sort through procedures "Assuming Kenya is following procedure, we would have 'arrested' him ... kidnapped really ... set up the paper and witness trail that he's on a vacation, and proceeded with the investigation If he's found guilty, he'll be found where he was on vacation, the victim of some unfortunate random act of violence If innocent, we give him memories to cover the time and he wakes up in his hotel room in time to catch the plane home.

"As for far reaching ... it will be very far reaching any way it falls at this point Exactly what the point was would depend on what was known, and assumed." Jake shook his head "There are a lot of possibilities, with the critical information being how much they knew about how I was taking our problems, how much, if anything, they knew about the status of Black Phoenix, Cathedral and the shadow politics and how things actually work around here, like the Mayors office ... and that is assuming we were the target and not Ulysses Discrediting the Commander like that can cause havoc ... even with Felina ready to take over and well supported, it would be a major blow to the city's moral we really can't afford."

Nathan nodded "Another important thing to keep in mind is that if it is the Sith...and I can't shake the feeling that it is, they always operate in teams Normally, between 2 and 8 members with the two leads being a Sith Master and his student Actually, another possible target, assuming the Sith have any info on Black Phoenix, might be to disrupt cooperation between the City and Black Phoenix creating disruption in defense arrangements."

"Or this is a fight against the Jedi that are part of my squad." Jake sighed "Fucking with my head ... and normally this would have done a real number ... would keep both of them occupied for a while."

Nathan nodded "Assuming I haven't missed something critical here, I presume that a 'fake' Feral could create that kind of disruption."

"For as long as he could keep it from coming out he was fake, which would be a very bad move given the situation." Jake sighed and leaned against his mate "If this just trashed SWAT, it means Phoenix has to come on line which means *lots* of meetings within Cathedral, with not only Pat and Me, but Ka, since she's my second It would have never lasted If the point was to take Uly's place and disrupt things that way ... they didn't do a very good research around here He sees way too many folks that can scan for such things if they have cause ... and this is way more than cause.

"And this also assumes it's not a simple power game with one of them and Chance looked interesting to them ... nothing at all to do with actual politics or anything Just an attractive Kat to break." Jake rubbed his eyes and groaned "And I'm starting to chase my own tail We'll know more when the results come back." He paused "Probably already have, come to think of it It shouldn't have taken more than a few hours.

Nathan nodded "Jake, I'm sorry I gave you so much grief earlier about Feral I've been trained as a Command officer and I should know better than to take things at face value I think the NightBlade side got the better of me."

"It'll be okay," He embraced Nathan across the shoulders and chuckled softly "If it's the last time something like this happens, I'm going to be very scared."

Nathan turned and drew Jake into a close hug "I'd settle for it being the last time it happens before we get back to the real world Assuming we do get back at some point." He said grinning, mischievously "So should we just plan on a press conference to handle all the explanations people are going to want?" He asked mostly joking, trying to lighten the mood.

"Oh, gods, *don't* bring Anne into this Please." Jake groaned in real dismay "And no one outside Cathedral will be asking any questions They don't know anything is wrong."

Nathan looked at Jake in confusion briefly. "Anne?" Then it hit him "No, not that kind of press conference Sorry, its kind of joke from back home whenever a station commander had to explain things to the troops ... they called it a press conference because of all the Q&A."

"Oh I don't remember anything like that here." Jake shrugged "We don't do base briefings ... that's what the computer system is for."

"I'm just figuring there's a number of people in Cathedral who are going to have questions, people who probably actually deserve answers." Nathan said, though he looked less than thrilled at the prospect.

"Yes, though you won't need to deal with them." Jake rolled his shoulders to get some of the tension out "Well, except for maybe Ka, since you know about the Sith It'll most be us ... or me ... getting the briefings, not the other way around."

Nathan spotted Jake trying to get rid of tension, and blinked in a blanket spread out on a firm surface "Let me help with that." He offered, gently putting his hands where the tension appeared to be, and massaging in a healing manner "I've always been pretty good at this." He gestured at the blanket. "A good massage does wonders for tension."

Jake just nodded and lay on his stomach.

"As far as briefings, I'm willing to help in anyway I can I know I'm not really part of things, but I wouldn't be much of a LifeMate if I didn't at least offer to help you in anyway I can, anyway you might need me." There was a distinct note of needing to help in the Medic's voice.

Jake sighed, partly in relief at what the talented hands on him were accomplishing, and partly in acceptance "Nathan, if you want to be involved in my political life, it's done." His eyes drifted close "It's just nothing I expect of you ... hell, just being there when I manage to get to bed would be quite enough Anything more is a bonus."

Nathan nodded, as his hands carefully worked the stressed muscles "Yes, I want to be involved Your political life is too much a part of who you are, for me to not want to be involved Besides, its not like I haven't been involved in politics before ... I just need to get the hang of the players and plays here." The tiger-tabby's voice had perked up a great deal.

"As for when you manage to get to bed ... well, you need to sleep more than you do ... as evidenced by the periodic collapses to make you sleep." His voice was part teasing mate, and part serious Medic He kissed the back of the Kat's neck "And I will be there."

"Thank you," Jake's voice was very soft, belaying just how much it meant to him "More sleep? Keep the nightmares away and I'll sleep more." He shrugged "All there is too it, mostly As for politics ... you want a primer now? 'Cause I don't want to move."

"Keep away nightmares? Well, they'd just better keep away 'cause I won't put up with them messing with my LifeMate." Despite the somewhat light tone, the emotion behind it was quite serious, and there was a distinct implication of the ability to do something about it "But I understand not sleeping because of nightmares ... it's been days since I've actually slept ... not counting passing out Sunday night."

"Damn ... and you're not that used to it." The Jake chuckled softly "I bet Ka had something to do with how long you stayed down Probably figured you needed to be reasonably coherent to deal with me, any way it went."

"Very Jedi Masterly think to do," he rolled his eyes "As for the politics primer, fire away It's not like we're on a time table or something." He grinned amusedly at the image of one of the big Arrival/Departure time boards from a major starport with a line saying "Jake and Nathan :: Delayed" He grinned sheepishly when he spotted the image hovering in mid-air "Didn't mean to do that, really."

But Jake was laughing too hard to notice When he finally got himself under control he grinned broadly over his shoulder "I know the feeling."

When Nathan leaned forward for a kiss, covering the smaller tom with his body in the posses, it sidetracked the conversation rather abruptly as the lean tom arched into the contact hungrily as their clothes vanished.

"You really are into being on the bottom." He quirked an eyebrow as leisurely rubbed his bare chest against Jake's bare back, more than a little turned on by the intensity of the reaction.

"Y-yessss." Jake closed his eyes and shifted, putting himself in the same position the War Form had taken him in "*Please?*" Came with the desire for that form to take him again, now.

Nathan found that it was easier the second time as he smiled, and shifted "*Of course*" He thought tenderly, before he got into the form Jake wanted, but this time Nathan had control of his actions, so he took a moment to use his fingers to open the Kat up gently before he leaned over him and held his wrists down the way he'd wanted before.

Giving in to providing his mate with the pleasure he wanted, Nathan plunged into Jake with the greater strength of the war-form Nathan made it rough enough to please Jake, without actually hurting him, and easier posses than he though, as the Kat's mind lay open to him.

Nathan quickly became overwhelmed by the arousal he smelled from Jake, and the discovery that he there was a safe ground for this rough sex He carefully caught the scruff of Jake's neck in his teeth and held him until the roar of his orgasm shook Nathan to his core.

As he held the thoroughly fucked Kat, he realized that Jake had come as well, which pleased him no end ... maybe he could get into this rough sex with time As they relaxed he stayed in war-form, holding the much smaller Kat close to his chest as his mate purred in real pleasure between deep breaths.

"You're getting okay with that, aren't you?" Jake's voice held all the pleased contentment he felt in his core.

Nathan nodded "I enjoy making you happy." He said simply, though there was also a level of being more comfortable with the war-form itself, and of understanding that the roughness was pleasurable for his mate.

"Any kinks besides rimming and airborne sex for you?" Jake asked softly, with a distinct hint of a plan in his tone.

Nathan smiled quietly. "I never really developed any, rimming was as far from 'vanilla' as Rhy got But I'm open to suggestions." He said, figuring Jake probably had whole lists of things he hadn't tried yet.

Jake shifted to claim a fiery kiss with both hands on the war-form's shoulders, not enough to force the big form to move, but more than enough of a clue that he was perfectly willing to try and dominate even this "*Willing to try something ... unusual?*" There was a distinctly teasing, playful tone behind the question, and a promise of something even better than the shower.

The war-form grinned playfully "Sounds ... interesting, what did you have in mind?"

"Combining your known kinks." Jake grinned and concentrated a moment to shift himself into a draconish form, probably eleven feet tall and licked his jaws with a slender, forked tongue.

Nathan looked at Jake's new form, and found it quite exciting, though for some reason he found the height difference disconcerting, though he couldn't put a finger on why.

"*Nathan?*" There was a touch of concern in the contact "*Too far?*"

"*Not sure.*" The mind-voice was confused "*It's exciting on one level, but for some reason it unnerves me on another Wish I knew why.*" He stood and Jake followed him up "I like the design though, especially the tongue." He said teasingly as he looked up at the giant.

"*Kneel then, we'll see how you like it, without the addition of flight.*" There was a mixture of concern and apology in the tone "*I just need the mass to keep us airborne The winged Kat may be more comfortable, but it can't lift you, even in Felsin form.*"

"*Kneel, huh?*" He complied curious. "*Actually, in here airborne is a matter of will not mass.*"

"*I figured if you were okay with Morin ... it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for this one.*" The dragon shrugged as he slid one hand along Nathan's thigh "*I'm flying ... the whole psi-flight concept is still a bit beyond me.*"

Any retort Nathan may have had was vanquished as a very different sensation than he was used to with rimming flickered across his anus Rhy, Jake, Morin ... all of them had wide tongues with a rough and slick side ... this ... this was nothing like that.

He closed his eyes and groaned as the twin points of sensation danced across the nerve-dense flesh He barely heard himself cry out as that serpentine length pressed inside, just barely registering around the ring it was so thin, until it danced inside his body.

He knew he whimpered as it was withdrawn to return to the teasing of before Then a slicked, finely scaled object pushed gently into his body, all without the flickering torture letting up.

As the object in his ass began to move in and out with a steady, unhurried rhythm Nathan knew he wouldn't hold out ... no matter how much he wanted this to last.

The roar his orgasm ripped from his body rattled the sand he was crouched on, as did the second as he spilled his seed on the glistening black sand As his body clamped down around the object fucking him the tongue teasing never let up as his voice was lost to a hiccupping echo of his spiriting cock and the movement of his mate.

Happily exhausted, Nathan rested against his mate's larger body as Jake came up to lie next to him and pulled Nathan close As he recovered, he gently pushed the large Draconic Jake over so he could lie on top and gently knead his mate's scaled chest. "*Sorry I seem nervous about the size, its just ... after my parents died, Citadel taught me, inadvertently, not to trust anyone significantly larger than me.*"

He laid his head on Jake's chest and found himself wrapped in warm, soft leather wings "*With one exception a long time ago, I've never unlearned that, except as much as I needed to, to function professionally Morin doesn't affect me the same, because my War-form is as large as him ... so no problem.

"*But then again, this is the first time I've ever wanted to unlearn it.*"

Jake smiled on the distantly familiar muzzle and stroked his mate's hair, loosening it from the braid again "*It feels very strange for me too I'm not the bigger one, usually.*"

"*If you still want to try it airborne, I'm game. Or we could try something 'like' airborne ...*" He grinned "*How's your zero-G tolerance?*" He asked with a mental leer.

"*Depends on form,*" he chuckled "*Though it's usually good It's high-G's I have problems with sometimes What did you have in mind?*"

"*Oh just the basics to start with There's just something about the acrobatics of it all ... and it's like flying Besides, I can't leave you thinking of all the games.*" He grinned broadly.

"*Good, I get tired of that ... though at this rate it'll be a while before I have to think up one.*" He purred in his mind lewdly.

"*High-G's aren't any fun to play in, they screw up blood flow to the extremities.*" He chuckled.

"*You lead, then, because I haven't tried that.*" There was a real touch of amused surprise in his mind-voice.

Nathan concentrated and suddenly the two of them were 'floating' in the middle of large sphere, which had a walkway around the perimeter. Glowing ripples of light could be seen cascading around the smooth inside surface of the sphere, and jumping off the surface to stream through the air like waves.

The war-form spotted a multi-colored wave leave the surface and 'shoved' the larger dragon, taking advantage of psi-flight and chuckling softly as his partner's reflexes sent him rolling. As the two of the drifted through the air, Nathan twisted himself in midair so he could apply mouth and tongue to the dragon's balls while his tail played intimately up under the dragon's tail, and harrumphed when he didn't find anything to play with between those strong, green-blue thighs.

As the wave flowed across them, all their pleasure nerves became briefly energized especially the erotic zone ones The war-form smiled mentally as he felt the dragon stiffen briefly and the moan in pleasure.

Given the missing equipment on his partner, Nathan decided a little more 'fireworks' were required He made a few adjustments to the wave generators and was pleased to see a brightly colored vortex spin off the surface He redirected their flight to intercept the vortex, and adjust for his partner's reaction slowed them down so they tumbled along inside it.

The sensation was an intense, yet pleasurable, energization of the erotic zones and a strange mix-up of sensations leading to a taste in the mouth that tasted as erotic as good sex felt Nathan was pleased at the increased response from Jake both shuddering and moaning, even if he was a little unsure of how to get this form of his mate's 'off.'

Nathan felt his mate give an inarticulate cry before it melted into the familiar, and extremely aroused, tomkat 'More understandable?*"

The war-form nodded. "*Much.*" He thought lustily as he eagerly sucked and licked the Kat's cock and balls He could see that their path was taking them into the path of a large fiery energy wave so he moved around behind Jake and entered the Kat He was more aggressive than normal, but still careful not to hurt his mate The energy wave engulfed them while the war-form was still slow fucking the lean tom; it lit up both their pleasure nerve endings and sent them over the top, both coming explosively.

As they did a slow tumble through 'space', the war-form gently licked Jake behind the ear "*How was that?*"

"*That work in the real world?*" A decidedly content, sated thought drafted with, with something about Patrik in the background.

Nathan smiled contentedly "*I was part of the research team that designed and built one about four years ago We could probably make it work locally given time and resources.*"

"*That was a research project?*" Jake mind simply refused to deal with the concept for a moment "*Who funds stuff like that?*"

Nathan chuckled broadly "*The original idea was to develop fully free form flight simulator for non-airframe flight like flightpacks, psi-flight and such The neuro-stimulator was supposed to enhance the sensations associated with flight and combat It just occurred to the researcher that if you can stimulate one nerve, you can stimulate others So we broadened the frequency range of the wave generator and gave it a more random dispersal pattern to make it more exciting.*"

He grinned. "*It does work as a flight simulator though; we also adapted it to deep-sea exploration simulation The project was funded by the Alliance Military Advanced Projects Agency.*" He snickered "*You should see what came out of the sonic weapons labs ... those guys really had too much time.*"

"*I think I need to check on some of Cathedral's projects when we get back.*" A mixture of bemusement and disbelief fowled with the comment "*I ....*" the thought froze in his mind as the scenery changed.


"That is *not* possible! I can hear him talk to her." Jake, dressed in a Cathedral flight suit, was growling at a slightly plump brunet shekat in a white lab coat.

"The tests are conclusive, and you know it, sir." She replied calmly "You took him up yourself Chance is not strong enough to be a PsiPilot You will have to find another for the Squad."


"That was almost five years ago." Jake explained quietly as the scene faded "Less than a year later I had a PsiPilot, just not the one I wanted."

Nathan sighed quietly, trying to figure how to throw out the next big thing "Tests aren't always right, you know Sometimes they're quite wrong." He said with quiet unease.

"Except it proved right," he sighed in remember defeat "We tried, the AI's did He may be one, but he can't fly like that Once there was an independent intelligence involved he stopped listening and talking."

He sighed "People change, Jake Ask Amerith about the test flight she gave him earlier today." He said quietly as Jake jerked around to stare at him "Some of the best pilots can't do simulators, but they excel in real planes It's a very well document phenomena, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that Chance worked that way."

"It wasn't a sim ..." he stammered before reaching out to Amerith with difficulty "*Chance can fly a PsiJet?*"

"*Yes, quiet well.*" She hesitated "*Why care now?*"

"*Nathan ... never mind It's just a shock ... drop a note to Kelly about it.*"

"*Umm, okay Clue me in on this eventually?*"

"*Yes.*" He quietly shut the connection down and closed his eyes "I really didn't need to know that yet."

Nathan sighed softly "Maybe not, I wasn't sure but there's been too much illusion and half-truth floating around," He sat down "I'm tired of it, and the cost of it has been too high."

He looked up slightly confused. "What difference does it make anyway? He turned down Black Phoenix already."

"The difference was that was why half of me could never commit to him, even though I needed to The difference is that those test results, and the others, are why Rik was created." He sank into the black sand of the beach that surrounded them and whispered "The difference is I know before we finish Joining I'm going to have to choose one of you." He closed his eyes and went nearly limp in Nathan's arms "It's not in me to choose anymore, if it ever was."

Nathan sighed, as he held the lean tom close "I'm not sure why you have to choose at all It's not as though we're interchangeable And besides, Jake there's one thing you're not taking into account ... Chance is running from SWAT just as much as you are, it may be a long time before he'll accept anyone as his gunner again.

"I just don't see what choice is required." He shook his head in confusion "There's not much I can say, except that I'm here for you and always will be." He said as nuzzled his mate comfortingly.

"Never said I was a logical creature," Jake shivered slightly and sighed "I don't know what the choice is ... besides between three pilots, and only one of you wants to be my pilot But it hurts ... it ... it sc-hurts."

Nathan gently held his mate close. "Actually, there's three things in common between us; we're all pilots, you love all of us and you have a bond with all of us, though the bonds are not exactly the same Well, I guess there's a fourth thing ... we all love you I know that Rik and I do, and based on my observations of Chance he does, though right now he's very confused on the subject.

"I suppose its possible that on some level you don't think that that's allowed." He paused to think "That's the closest to an explanation that I can come up with at the moment But they're really isn't any incompatibility, there's no reason for you to change the way things are ... certainly not right away."

"You're right," Jake said simply "It doesn't help." He sighed and let his head sink into the warm, crystalline sand "Knowing something's okay, and feeling it ... it's two separate things, you know?"

"The separation between knowing with the head, and knowing with the heart ... yeah, I'm well acquainted with that one It's not easy getting the heart to believe something new ... it likes things to stay the same." He lay down next to Jake in the warm sand, and listened to waves lap against the shore.

"It hasn't been an easy week for hearts, with so much changing." He said quietly, as much to himself as to Jake, though the lean tom nodded.

Nathan quietly compiled everything he'd learned about the 'Darshar' and what the near immortal one had done, and carefully sent it to Caito He figured that Felsira and Keltin were already busy enough, but he wanted the Triad to be aware of what deeper implications there might be to things.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and he and Jake were in what appeared to be an Alliance shuttle on atmospheric entry, though the strange technicolor energy streams visible in through the cockpit window suggested something significantly stranger.

Nathan looked around for the 'him' that should be present, and realized that 'he' was actually the pilot of the shuttle 'He' was wearing the familiar SG uniform and the all to familiar strange silver half-mask.

"Okay, that's Marquis," Jake took a good look outside, "and that is Earth, late twentieth century Got a clue what's up?"

Nathan sighed "I'd guess this is Marquis arriving on Earth for what was my second visit to Earth's past I remember that he was assigned as a technical advisor to an industrialist named David Xanatos, who was waging a small war with the clan of Gargoyles who had taken me in, back when I was on Earth the first time.

"Marquis was assigned to give Xanatos sufficient technological leverage to finally eliminate the Gargoyles, something he'd been having trouble doing."

There was a bump as the shuttle set down on solid ground Nathan looked out. "Guess we've arrived, at this time Xanatos controls Castle Wyvern which he has placed atop a mile high skyscraper called the Eyrie Building."

The view shifted outside to where Marquis was talking with a tall, dark athletically built human.

Marquis' voice was quiet "Mr. Xanatos, I'm not here to get involved in your personal squabble. I'm just here to provide technical data and equipment, what you do with it is your business."

"Very well, Mr. "

"Lieutenant Marquis, please, I'm not a civilian." He said in a polite but uncompromising tone.

"Lieutenant Marquis, Owen will show you to the labs you requested and can provide you with anything else required How soon can the new Steel Clan be ready?"

"That will depend on several things most of which are not in my control But I would expect at least a month to analyze data, assess weakness and correct the designs Possibly longer."

"That will have to do."

Marquis followed the thin, light skinned Owen into the interior of the castle.

"Completely mercenary; doesn't know what fight he's involved in, what's at stake or anything." The disgust in Nathan's voice was clear.

"Would this be a bad time to point out you have too?"

Nathan shook his head. "I always at least thought I did I've always tried to be on what I thought was the good side of the fight I always cared He didn't care, it never mattered to him."

Jake raised an eyebrow, but challenged the statement no further.

There was a sudden scene jump to a laboratory inside the castle What appeared to be a silver ExoFram stood in the middle of the lab, and a burly human sat a nearby table wearing a strange wire-covered cap.

Marquis made a few adjustments at a control panel "Okay, try again." He said impatiently.

The human concentrated and the ExoFrame moved jerkily, and then stopped The human slumped sweating profusely causing Marquis to shake his head in disgust.

"How soon until the new Steel Clan is ready?" Xanatos' voice said from the stairs.

"As soon as you get some decent pilots for them The rabble you've been sending are completely unacceptable." Marquis said not trying to hide his disdain.

"Some of the best mercenaries money can buy." The industrialist said simply.

"And that is your problem, we need the best pilots money can buy, not simply the best mercenaries." Marquis said pedantically.

"And these will defeat the Gargoyles?"

"And pretty much anything else in the air currently."

"Very impressive, I'll see what can be done to get you some better pilots."

"Yes, why don't you do that?" Marquis said dismissively.

As scenes started flowing by one 'recruit' after another failed to meet Marquis' requirements.

Nathan chuckled "Not surprising he had problems, Direct Linkage Control is a very demanding interface system And it doesn't look like he really took the time to adjust for the difference between Felsin and Human biology.

"He doesn't understand what he's working with." Jake said simply, watching the entire scene in true fascination "That's not how you do it."

Nathan nodded "DCL was never intended for remote operation, it was supposed to be the latest advance in aerospace-fighter control interface It works fairly well as that, though one does have to remember to keep the synchronization safeties properly set."

"If I understand his intent he's trying to gain the same performance improvement that I discovered in the DCL Jet program to Steel Clan Might have worked that way if Steel Clan had been piloted Exo-Frames instead of remote controlled robots."

Jake nodded agreement, absently wondering why that entire speech actually made sense, and fell silent to wait for the next event "*You're doing well, Nate.*"

Nathan shrugged. "*The tech is easy, I helped developed the DCL system, test piloted it too.*"

"*I meant with the memories It wasn't that long ago that even thinking of this sent you into a fit.*" He glanced at his mate "*Acceptance is the only way to reclaim your mind, now This is what has to happen.*"

Nathan sighed "*I guess, but his mercenary side isn't so bad I suppose I can understand it ... sort of It's the not caring I don't get How can you fight without caring about something?*" The question was largely rhetorical, mostly from a mind trying to understand a very foreign concept.

"*It's not hard.*" Jake thought quietly "*I've done it most of my life And he does care, just not about the same things you do Mercenaries work, fight, for things other than 'what's right'.*"

"*I suppose so I've just always needed the 'what's right' to make the fighting have some meaning, otherwise it just seemed like meaningless violence.*" He sighed. "*I guess this is just one of the reasons Marquis and I don't get along.*"

"*That and he wants to get rid of you,*" he rumbled "*I'd hope that tends to make relations dicey.*"

Nathan chuckled slightly. "*That too, though that's kind of a new thing for him I don't think its his idea either.*"

Suddenly they were soaring over the skyscrapers of New York, a strange overlay effect on 5 of the 7 Steel Clan robots showed a human connected to them The seventh Steel Clan robot had Marquis overlaid and the red ExoFrame was clearly actually a suit.

"How are the links holding, Lieutenant?" Xanatos asked over a scrambled radio frequency.

"Synchronozation is at 125% and holding steady, the Steel Clan Mark III is operating at a net 45% improvement over the performance of the previous design in all categories." Marquis' voice came back clinically.

"Targets sighted Mr. Xanatos." One of the other suit operators reported.

"I see them, move in and take out all targets."

"Yes, Sir." The five humans responded.

"Whatever." Marquis responded, far more interested in the technical performance of the robot, than in what it was actually doing.

Immediately, a major aerial battle broke out between the Gargoyles and the Steel Clan The new Steel Clan seemed to be more than the Gargoyles could handle, though it was by no means a certain outcome.

Marquis' observed a small gargoyle on a nearby rooftop with what appeared to be some sort of transceiver set The commando recognized that the little one was the real threat, since he understood the enemy he was fighting If the little gargoyle found the right frequency he might be able to jam the controls of the Steel Clan robots.

He directed the robot into its stealth mode and swooped down Unfortunately, the robot was spotted and a chase ensued Despite the nearly flawless performance of the robot, the little one was far too agile for the targeting system of the robot.

Marquis got frustrated and overrode the safeties, pushing synchronization as high as it would go Suddenly, the improved response paid off and the blasters on the robot scored, sending the Gargoyle plummeting downward.

The image froze and blacked out as Nathan turned away from it, sobbing quietly "No, I can't have done that. He was my friend." Pain and guilt surrounded the medic in a palpable aura.

"Nathan," Jake embraced his mate, "we all do things we regret latter Sometimes things we don't think possible.

"Not to mention the little one may be your friend, but he wasn't at the time he was shot."

"Huh?" Nathan looked up blankly, not sure how to resolve the apparent contradiction.

"Nathan," he sat down and crossed his legs for an extended discussion "Have a seat and try to follow this one There are two main ways to look at the time Marquis was in control Both are valid, both work, it's just whatever makes more sense to you."

Nathan sat down and watched Jake intently, grateful that someone was going to explain how two contradictory things could both be true.

"You told me before that Marquis, and therefore you, did not have access, or at least good access, to your memories from your times as Nathan, correct?"

Nathan nodded "There were things he didn't understand very well so they tended to be inaccessible to him Friendship, family, loyalty were all rather foreign to him, save as tools."

"And you didn't have much access to when he was in control, until now, right?"

Nathan nodded "It was blocked out afterwards by people who didn't think I needed to know about him and what he did."

"So, how could you, as Marquis, know the Gargoyle was anything other than an enemy if that information wasn't available to him?"

Nathan felt a looming headache. "I don't know If he wasn't so hateful and manipulative the information would've been available but he refuses to understand things like friendship."

Suddenly, the scenes started again as Marquis watched the Gargoyle tumble Abruptly, he felt something like a sharp blow to the back of the head and the robot blasted into a power dive exceeding the freefall velocity of the Gargoyle The robot easily and gently caught the falling Gargoyle and set him down on the rooftop.

Nathan stared in amazement as the robot began examining the small Gargoyle for injuries.

The scene froze as Nathan looked puzzled "I'm not sure how or why but I think there was an abrupt control shift there But that doesn't make sense ... I don't remember being on Earth. If I'd been in control I would've remembered.

"That would indicate there is a third party involved." Jake commented with real annoyance, and a little amazement "You're head's nearly as mangled as mine."

Nathan grinned slightly "A third party involved? Why am I not surprised? Well, it could just be another mental block, I suppose."

The scene moved as Nathan, frustrated by the robot's impaired ability to do medical tasks, sensed movement behind him He turned to see a large, muscular human in a robe standing behind him near the edge of the building.

Reflexively, he activated the robot's weapons and interposed it between the downed Gargoyle and the newcomer "Who are you? What do you want?" He demanded through the voice of the robot.

The newcomer smiled gently "The same thing you do, Nathan: to see that Lexington is all right Let me check, though my medical skills are no match for yours; they are unimpaired by working through metal."

The medic's intuition said that the human was truly concerned with the Gargoyle's well-being He stepped aside to let the human pass "Lexington? He has a name now?"

"Yes, Nathan he does." As the newcomer checked the blaster injury, Lexington regained consciousness and tried to sit up groggily.

"Gently, Lex. You've had a rough time." The human's voice said gently.

"Hey, Xander. When did you get here? Thought you were in Europe."

"You needed me here." Xander said as if that explained everything.

Lexington spotted the robot watching from behind Xander, and started to bolt "Look out, Xander! That's one of the new Steel Clan."

"Don't panic, Lex The control on that one has changed just recently, he's the one who caught you as you fell."

"Did he really? Change of Control, huh? Guess I wasn't the only one trying to hack the communication line."

"Something like that Now we need to take out the control center for these new robots I think between the three of us we can handle it."

"I think we better hurry, the rest of the Clan wasn't doing too good against these new robots either."


The scene shifted abruptly to Nathan, having discarded Marquis' mask, sitting at the command console typing furiously Lex and Xander were making short work of the rest of the lab's equipment Nathan smiled briefly and walked away from the console, as he did it began to bellow smoke and then overloaded spectacularly.

"We may wish to depart." He said calmly "The feedback will be most impressive as it hits other systems in this building."

Lexington smiled "Looks like Steel Clan III is going to be an even bigger disaster than the other two."

Xander nodded "Indeed." He considered something. "Lex, you should return to the Clan and see what the state of things is I will return the Colonel to his proper place."

Suddenly one of the Steel Clan robots crashed in still throwing sparks from malfunctioning circuitry It began firing its weapons randomly, and Nathan dove in between Lex and the robot to protect the little gargoyle There was the smell of scorched fur and flesh as the medic tumble to the ground.

Arcs of electrical power surged from around Xander to rip the robot apart He gently bent down and lifted the wounded Felsin, before turning to Lex. "I will see him safely to his own people who will care for him Return to the clock-tower." He said commandingly, as he open a space warp that showed the clock-tower balcony.

"Okay Xander He'll be okay, won't he?" Lex asked worried about the person who may have just saved his life.

"His people can worked wonders in medicine." He said simply, as Lexington stepped through the portal.

Xander created a larger warp, and stepped through On the other side he looked around and found the person he was looking for, a female Black King Cheetah in the uniform of an Alliance Medic.

He gently set the unconscious Nathan down in front of her As he stepped away he looked at her "You should take care of him He'll be important to you, him, well maybe all of you." He said cryptically before disappearing through another space warp.

The scene faded with Ashley looking down at the wounded Colonel.

Nathan sighed relieved "Things worked out in the end after all, I guess sometimes they do."

"So his name was Xander, hu?" Ashley's voice behind them held a mixture of amusement and irritation "I can't say I'm too surprised at this point I did learn one interesting thing about myself though, Medic overrode Programming."

Nathan looked over his shoulder. "Hi, Ashley. What do you mean Medic overrode Programming?" He said, not even reacting to her sudden appearance.

"My Medic training overrode my programming." She regarded him softly "It's the only time I've been around you and not turned on to the Nth degree You were too injured." There was more than a trace of relief in her tone.

Nathan nodded. "Medic training seems to override just about everything It even overrides death-rage, which surprised me." He said quietly "But yeah, I was pretty messed up. I've still got a scar from that blaster bolt."

"So you remember doing that now?" Jake asked quietly "As Nathan?"

"It seems to be straightening out Feels like Xander tried 'protecting' me from the pain of what happened, but he's not all that talented a telepath I think somehow he managed to knock Marquis out of control, so I could take over." He smiled slightly.

"I've always known about the scar, and waking up on the hospital ship in bad shape But I was told that the wound was from an encounter with pirates Still trying to figure out where eight decades of extra memories go, things aren't filed properly yet."

Jake nodded with a slight chuckle "At least none of yours seem to overlap in the timeline I'm starting to place events that happened to me in one order, and to the rest of the universe in another."

"Oh, the joys of time travel and an insane megalomaniac for a master." Ashley replied tartly "I'm starting to look forward to seeing that bitch again."

"I think nominally, my first trip to Earth and my time in the Republic are in the same timeframe but they don't really relate except to me." Nathan thought about Ashley's comment, remembered the 'price' Jake had mentioned and hoped that Caito would be able to get enough support from the Spirit Court to make it unnecessary.

"Maybe somebody else will deal with her first." Nathan said quietly.

"Maybe," Jake shrugged "But who'd bother that can actually do anything? She's been at this kind of crap a long time."

"Maybe somebody she's pissed off this time, that she hadn't before." The tiger-tabby said quietly, and then dumped the briefing he'd given Caito along a shielded channel to Morin.

"*Show StarFire, Morin. This is important.*" He thought to the Dracon with some urgency.

"*Of course, Nathan I think she may already know, but I will remind her.*"

Ashley jerked as her eyes went wide "Maybe, and maybe someone she pissed off before will find her." She glanced between the males "We do have at least two Darshar here."

"So?" Jake glared at her.

"So, they hate her." Ashley was clearly possessing information as it came in from somewhere "Heron and ... Soron?"

"Him, Lord Soron of the Darshar One of the last on Earth." A new, rough, female voice spoke as an image of a dark skinned, heavily muscled gargoyle male with intricately tattooed wings appeared.

"Aberith Mirra?" Jake asked as he turned to face a tall, striped, dark brown she-wolf standing on digitigrade legs.

She nodded "I served with him in the Endless Storm, and he hates her, with a passion."

Nathan looked in mild surprise, before he remembered the wolf from Ashley briefing on Jake's past lives He nodded. "So that's the 'Soron' Caito referred to." He looked closer at the image "Looks a lot like Goliath, Leader of Clan Wyvern."

"They're LifeMates." Aberith nodded, then smiled a little sheepishly and extended a hand to Nathan, who stood well under two feet shorter than she was "Sorry, I'm Aberith Mirra of the Endless Storm, and one of Jake's prior lives."

Nathan shook her hand. "I recognized you from the briefing Ashley gave me earlier LifeMate's, huh? That must be new, when I knew Goliath he was mates with a female Gargoyle from Clan Wyvern Of course, that was a thousand years ago, probably more So are these Darshar just a separate clan of Gargoyles, or is there more to it than that?"

"They are the ancestor race of the Gargoyles you met, according to Soron." She considered for a moment "I haven't actually met a non-Darshar, but from Soron's statements the main differences involve how magical they are Darshar don't turn to stone, and they are quite powerful on average, especially the Nobles like him, and I think Heron ... though I'm not sure about her I'm not very good at reading the tattoos."

Nathan considered. "I see, similar to the Dracon's developing from the Ancient Dragons." He relaxed considerably "So is Tartirin a Darshar, or just similar?" He said, shifting to the attitude of a military officer looking to define the enemy.

The two females looked at each other, considering, before a less than pleased looking gray dragon biped appeared with Erra perched on his shoulder.

"You're the only one to have actually *seen* any of them, V'Feri." Ashley shrugged a little apologetically.

"And how should I know ... oh, never mind." He grumbled and scratched Erra's head as he started cross-referencing memories and data "Jake really should be doing this, for practice.

"I'd have to say they're the same race If Heron and Soron are Darshar, then Tartirin most likely is as well She definitely fits the power profile of one." He shook his head "Next time, get Jake to do that It'll be his place soon enough I'm going back to bed."

Nathan nodded "Hmm Well, I imagine the Darshar will be involved soon enough, since Caito knows Soron, at least somewhat, and will probably question him on the matter shortly If the hate between Soron and Tartirin is that strong, then the question alone should warrant involvement." He paused as he considered the situation strategically "Its simply a matter of uniting sufficient forces to avoid excessive cost to any single player in the drama." He said with strangely clinical detachment.

Jake nodded, not quite sure he cared just why he wanted to rip her throat out himself so badly, but more than willing to let his mate plan without a fight over details like who got involved as the scenery shifted again.

The dusty red planes stretched out in all directions, and a battle of grand scale seemed to be going on between fish-morphs in tanks and body arms and large mice-morphs, who were mostly riding motorcycles Scattered through were a variety of other creatures, all of them pounding on the fish-morphs.

"One of the last battles for Mars." Aberith commented and drew their attention to the sky, where Soron, a very small white shekat, and a true dragon, golden-skinned and probably forty feet long, were in complete command of the air.

As the scene played forward, the undisciplined natures of both sides began to show, and it quickly became just as obvious that the smattering of true 'aliens' on the Mouse's side were the most cohesive unit there.

Nathan simply nodded as he observed the battle Though he was most fascinated by the Dragon, since even on Draconea such sights were rare He mentally made a note to see if any of the Ancient Dragons would be available for the coming war.

"Wow," Jake soft voice held little except awe as Soron drew a tremendous amount of power around himself before letting it loose to crackle over the battlefield, draining life-energy and liquid from every fish-morph it touched, leaving only dried husks.

Then the scene went blank with a sharp pain, though a general sense of what was going on remained in place as the slaughter continued.

"That's the point I got hit." Aberith shuddered "He said that wasn't even the extent of what he could do, combat-magic wise, and *that* was a match for nearly any Celestian."

Nathan blinked at the sheer amount of power involved He decided that the coming war was going to be a very large one "Impressive." Was all he said in a quiet voice.

"Just how far does this go?" Jake asked in a very small voice as he tried to digest a new category of 'power.'

"Soron said he didn't want to draw on any more than that because if he did, and anything went wrong, it would tear the planet apart." She shuddered "And I believe it, even coming from an admittedly 'weak' member of his race." SHe shook her head, "I don't want to meet his 'Queen' when she's angry."

Nathan was amazed. "Power like that ... makes me wonder if the Darshar and the Ancient Dragons aren't somehow ... related."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Jake spoke softly, still rather stunned "There's critters like that where we're going?"

Nathan nodded slightly "They exist, but they sleep most of the time, I don't think they've been seen in centuries Supposedly, they come at Queen StarFire's command, which makes me wonder how powerful she must really be to command the obedience of such beings."

"Powerful enough to do damn near anything she wants." Jake murmured, then shook himself "And your other LifeMate is her *grandson*?"

Nathan nodded "Yep, though I'm not sure if that's direct grandson, or simply a contraction of great-great's, like some cultures do." He grinned "I guess it's a good thing she likes me, huh?"

"No kidding." Jake shook himself "And I though this planet had it's share of power brokers."

"Well, it's just a matter of how large an area they have to operate in." Nathan grinned "Imagine what Ms. Dyne could accomplish if she had access to something the size of the Alliance, and a planet with a unified government to work from." Nathan thought about it for a moment, and realized that there were a few of that type in the Alliance already MegaCorps were nothing new ... they were just bigger.

"Yes ... just imagine." Jake chuckled softly "Could be significantly fun, though I doubt she'd appreciate having to start from scratch."

Nathan nodded, then shook off the memories that the words 'start from scratch' brought up "True, she has built quite the empire here...I doubt she'd want to play the early game again But even so, I think she'd give the MegaCorps a serious run for their money."

"Hmmm, you mentioned having a ship that could travel the distance come for us ... think it would take much for it to stay put for a couple months?" Jake clearly had something in mind.

"Actually, I mentioned that StarFire might have 'acquired' one and sent it our direction If that's the case, I don't know where it is and so making it stay put is less certain If StarFire hasn't already done that, then I suppose I could ask her to wait Though between 'acquiring' the ship and travel time I think a month is as soon as it could possibly be here."

Nathan raised an eyebrow at Jake "What are you up to?" He said playfully curious. "Actually, does the ship need to be waiting in Alliance space, or does it just need to wait."

"No, no, stay here for a month or two." He grinned, showing his teeth "To study that drive She can expand into the Alliance when she's got a planet to back her up."

Nathan chuckled "Well, I don't see a problem with that Assuming that anyone here has any better luck making Trans-Luminal Drive understandable then anyone back home has Its a breakthrough the Mephits made, and there are parts of the engineering we've never been able to duplicate ... we just steal their ships when we need to go that far ... which isn't very often."

"We haven't met the concept we can't break, and we have several folks here who are from societies where it's normal to go that fast Just haven't have the reason to drop that many resources into it."

"You have folks from societies where inter-galactic travel is normal? That's impressive I mean faster-than-light is relatively easy, I can probably put the basics of the hyperdrive system on paper, but Trans-Luminal is another world entirely."

"Really?" Jake cocked his head in real curiosity "I always got the impression it was just a matter of degrees between interplanetary, intersystem and intergalactic travel It's always been time and dimensional shifts that required the 'different approach'."

"That's what our scientists still think, the problem is the energy requirement to push hyperdrive fast enough to cover intergalactic distances in a reasonable period of time is so high that its unfeasible TLD goes a dimension beyond hyperdrive. Which is to say, 'space' is the first three dimensions, 'time' is the fourth, 'hyperdrive' is the fifth, and 'TLD' is the sixth."

Jake blinked in real surprise "That not now I hear it described."

Nathan shrugged "Well, that was the layman's description I've never been a hyperdrive engineer, or even dated one."

"Problem is we haven't quite figured out how the Mephits have bridged the sixth dimension And there never was a need, since all the Alliance races are within easy hyperdrive distances, and hyperdrive has allowed for a sustainable, defensible rate of expansion."

"Reasonable," he nodded "Not quite the POV we come from, but it makes sense."

"But its not like the journey hasn't been made before Felsinor was settled from Aristal." The medic said matter-of-factly.

"When?" Jake suddenly focused his full attention on his mate.

"Exactly? I'm not sure, probably somewhere between one and three thousand years ago would be my guess based on the scriptures The colony ships barely made it, and most was lost Technology had to be rediscovered from a fairly low level, basically starting over from the dark ages No written records survived the crossing."

He frowned and did some quick math "That doesn't make much sense This world wasn't even out of the bronze age yet ... assuming the records we have are correct, but the odds of an inter-galactic capable civilization being here in that timeframe ..." his voice trailed off as he tried to find the discrepancy that would let that work.

Nathan thought hard trying to review his ancient history "You might want to look for any large open ocean stretches in your southern hemisphere Supposedly, the evacuees were escaping from a major cataclysm in the southern hemisphere And I'm not sure they were really intergalactic capable ... it took them thirty generations, more or less, to reach Felsinor They might only have reached interplanetary."

"Still ..." he shivered and reached outside again "*Amee, could get start a search for anything that could be this?*" He added a package containing what Nathan had said about the Felsin's origins "*And ask Pat to stick a few million dollar grant on Callie's girlfriend to dig too It's her field.*"

Nathan noticed the shiver "What's wrong, Jake? There's something about this that's bothering you."

"Just really not looking forward to finding out this is a planet is a hidden past." He sighed and flopped down, onto the black sand beach that appeared around them "This place is wild, but at least it had a history without any missing chunks At least that's what I thought.

"I guess I just wish there was something in my life that didn't have at least a couple serious secrets."

Nathan sat down next to the lean tom. "Jake, when you go back beyond the written history of planet its likely there will be holes in its history Especially if any cataclysms were involved; a large volcano can wipe out the evidence of medium sized civilization."

"As for the other, well I know what you mean It'd be nice for something to be, what it appears to be for a change." The tiger-tabby paused a moment, then changed the subject to the future "You think Pat can get the planet unified? From what I've seen, I would've thought planetary government was at least a generation away, maybe two."

"Really?" Jake raised an eyebrow "Cool She'll be thrilled to know it's working that well I'll introduce you to the Council when we get a chance."

"Don't hold me to that guestimate I'm beginning think there's a lot I didn't take into consideration Once I have a better idea what planetary politics are really like here, I'll be able to make a more accurate guess."

"As long as it looks to be a ways off on the outside, that's a good thing." Jake chuckled "We're estimating another ten to twenty years before we can make the next real move and incorporate the 'legitimate' governments into the Council.

"And yes, it's considerably more complex than it looks from the outside For starters, there are three separate governmental systems one this planet The one everyone knows about, which Mayor Manx and the other leaders you hear about on the news are part of.

Then there's the Council, which is what Pat is nominally in control of, and there's the Mob, the Ikata, which is the organized criminal elements."

Nathan nodded "All sounds pretty normal. Elected government, Business government and of course, organized crime I can only think of two civilizations that lack organized crime ... the Dracons, who's Code of Honor and Queen StarFire's displeasure prevent it; and the Mephiston, where there isn't any difference between government and organized crime Well, actually most organized crime is pretty unorganized compared to the Mephits."

"The trust test of having rank within your society." Jake chuckled "Most folks who don't think that three-part system is crazy, or just plain doesn't exist."

Nathan shook his head in amusement "The first two are hard to miss, and as for the third, lets just say that if I was a little less principled I'd be very rich."

Jake chuckled lightly "Yah, but half the fun is in getting the system to work for you It's too easy to just ignore it."

Nathan grinned. "Oh, I couldn't ignore it I just couldn't figure away to profit from it with compromising my principles I still managed to make use of them once in awhile, sometimes organized crime is the fastest way to get medical supplies where they're needed ... especially through war zones."

"True," Jake rested against Nathan's side and closed his eyes, relaxing.

Caito was sifting through what he received from Nathan when he decided that he needed a more first hand information source Seeing as the mortal he had been supporting was standing quite well on her own, he quickly shifted to mostly invisible and bounded to the top of one of the jets to be out of the way.

He looked around and quickly located the dark-skinned Darshar he was looking for He narrowed his mental band and shielded tightly before sending. "*Hey, Soron! If you've got a moment, I need to talk to you I just got some what looks to be fairly important info relating to what's happening here, and since it relates to the Darshar I wanted to check it with you But I think we should keep out of general sight for the time being.*"

Soron maneuvered around the organized chaos of the unit gearing up for trouble to stand next to the trickster "*What did you learn?*" He asked politely, completely focused on the calico.

"*Looks like somebody who are at least calling themselves Darshar have been meddling with both Jake and Nathan Actually, the way Jake talks these Darshar created him about three hundred years ago Also looks like they were the ones who hired the Mephits to kidnap Nathan.

"*Apparently, they tried to genetically and psionically alter Nathan to make him some sort of sleeper weapon to kill Jake Failed though because the new genetic engineering didn't take over the old I still don't like that somebody tried to do that to Nathan.*" There was a low growl in the trickster's mind-voice matching the agitation apparent in his audience.

"*At any rate we got a name, some near immortal who Jake calls a fallen god, name of Tartirin Who uses magic that looks like this.*" He created a copy of the glowing runes that Marquis had scene and blinked as raw hatred erupted next to him in true Gargoyle fashion before Soron controlled himself.

"*So what I'm wondering is does this entity have anything to do with the Darshar, and do you know anything about her?*" The little tricksters tail flicked back and forth agitatedly.

"*Jake named her correctly,*" Soron's deep growl just barely contained his fury His tail and wings didn't still in the least, and his eyes still glowed a crimson red "*She is The Betrayer The one who killed the Queen and her daughter.*" He was shaking in his rage.

There hadn't been many times in his life that Caito had been speechless, but this was one of them Between the stunning nature of the revelation and the barely contained rage of the Gargoyle it took him a few minutes to regain his composure "*Okay, well looks like she's taken some interest in what we've got going on here, and I don't like the sound of that at all.*" The little trickster still felt something was missing "*If she's so powerful why all the subterfuge and games?*"

"*Her way.*" Soron's agitated mind barely managed to explain over its rage "*She killed the Queen How 'should I know how her mind works?*" The sheer incomprehendability of the action drenched the statement.

"Soron?" A gentle, yet commanding female voice called from behind them "What's wrong?"

When they looked, a pure black, delicately boned Darshar in silver-white robes and a glittering crown watched them with real concern.

"The Betrayer is near, my Queen." He gathered his wits enough to bow to her properly, looking every inch the prince and Lord he was "It is not safe for you here."

Caito observed the 'Queen' with some interest curious as why she decided to show up now But the little trickster had no plans to bow, even Mother had never asked that of him ... in fact he remembered her being upset the one time he'd done it He just watched to see what would happen next.

"Anyone who is actually a threat to me is a threat wherever I am." Se retorted gently and crossed her arms, rather effectively breaking the illusion of royalty despite the power surrounding her "Now just what upset you enough to rattle your Den-Realm?"

He took a deep breath and tried to calm down enough to explain this most tender of subject "I only failed once, Lady Elisa ...."

"Would you please drop the titles?" She cocked her head at him "I'm still not going to stand on formalities because there's an audience, you know."

"Yes, ma'am." He breathed out and tried to settle himself again "Tartirin is involved in this ... she killed your predecessor, and you will kill you if she gets that chance."

"And you didn't call for reinforcements because ..." She quirked a gloss black eyebrow at him.

"Because I hadn't gotten that far." He grumbled slightly "And this is personal She betrayed me, and she's crossed the Triad." He nodded to Caito "Please, let us handle it."

She regarded her agent for a long moment before turning her attention to the calico tomkat "What is your interest in this mess?" Her voice was gently understanding, but still held the expectation of an answer.

Caito had caught the 'Elisa' and began to wonder if it could be the same 'Elisa' he'd met in connection with Gargoyles before "Easy, Nathan's one of ours and this Tartirin tried to turn him into some sort of sleeper weapon and we don't like that And on top of that she was trying to use him to kill his own mate, who happens to be a Kat we think a lot of."

The little trickster smiled quirkily as she nodded acceptance, and decided to run with his intuition on this 'Elisa' "You're a long way from New York City, Detective Elisa Maza." He said knowingly, figuring the worst thing that could happen was that he'd made a fool of himself, and that wouldn't be anything new.

"Hurr?" Soron actually reacted more than Elisa, who smiled at him.

"Not as far as I have been." She smiled knowingly back, earning a bewildered look from the male Darshar watching the exchange "Have we met before, when I was human?"

The little trickster smiled "On several occasions, actually But I'm not one for my own form, normally I was this form once or twice." He shifted into the canine form of Bronx, and then back. "And this one once." He shifted into Puck's form that he'd borrowed during a very unusual game they'd been playing And then he shifted back "Oh, and there was this one." He turned into the winged jaguar with the same colors as his calico form, and back. "You might remember that one from a run-in with some of Xanatos' goons before sunset."

He chuckled happily "Well, this saves me from having to ask if you know Goliath or not, Soron. 'Cause if you know her, you've got to know him."

Elisa actually laughed hard at that "Yes, he 'knows' Goliath." She smirked and didn't stop chuckling "In more ways than one."

Caito looked between them and then chuckled "Lucky him." He said simply.

"I know." Soron replied in a completely serious tone, trying to regain some measure of dignity, and only setting off another round of snickers.

"Seriously, Soron," Elisa striated and put on a nearly flawless air of authority "Is this another one of those major wars that only involve a few people?"

He nodded quietly "Sorry I lost my temper like that."

"It's not a problem," she patted his shoulder "Just don't doing anything too stupid, okay? I do not want to have to explain to Goliath that you're not coming back."

"Yes, ma'am."

She turned to look at Caito and quirked a teasing grin of her own, though her tone was serious "Keep an eye on him, if you would I'd appreciate getting him back in one piece."

Caito smiled and nodded "I'll see what I can do, but he doesn't strike me as the sort who takes looking after well But I think I can fit looking after him in with looking after the tabby."

"Thanks, though he's quite the cooperative type, with the right bait." She smirked before vanishing.

Caito considered that comment as he reconsidered Soron, who he realized looked a lot like Goliath He started considering what the right bait might be The little tom started getting some very interesting ideas in his head, though he really was supposed to be keeping on eye on things in several places.

"I know that look," Soron grumbled, "and I doubt I want to know what you're thinking of, but I'm going to ask anyway."

"Oh, not much." The little calico grinned "Just thinking how much you look like Goliath, and of course that set me thinking all the things I thought concerning him." The look on his face was quite unmistakable.

"We both have work to do, maybe after this is dealt with." Soron shook his head, half in amusement, half in frustration "And I do not understand why everyone outside the clan thinks I look like him."

"You're right, of course." He smiled. "Oh, I can think of one other person here whose going to think you look like Goliath, Nathan most certainly will."

"Thanks for the warning." Soron shook his wings out and recaped them uneasily "I don't suppose their's a way to help besides playing control personnel out here?"

The little calico shook his head "Unfortunately, everyone out here is waiting for Jake and Nathan to finish Joining ... and thanks to all the interference there's no way of knowing how long that will take.

"Felsira's taking care of handling the Joining, plus healing the genetic damage Nathan's suffered Keltin's got the place under more security that it's ever seen, I don't care what the mortals think And Cazi is keeping Jake's pilot out of trouble for the time being.

"Nope, I think we just have to keep the waiting crowd from getting too anxious."

The Darshar nodded and swept the room again "And they seem to be chilling out fairly well on their own." He sat on the fuselage they were standing on and relaxed slightly.

"For which I'm grateful, Nathan's repeating agitation has been unsettling enough." He leaned back on the fuselage and relaxed "I guess we just have to wait for the next act to start."

"So what's your home turf like?" Soron asked conversationally.

"Looks a lot like Aristal, really Keltin and I built it together and he was born on Aristal and it was the first place I really considered home Warm, sunny and lots of vegetation We even constructed a copy of the palace Mother kept here back when we lived with her."

"Kel and I change the decor periodically, depending on what our interests are." He grinned mischievously "I drove Kel a little nuts after my one visit to Earth There were Goliath replicas of various sizes all over the palace, there are still a few of the lifesized ones here and there."

"But it's basically a pocket dimension near Felsinor, like the rest of the Spirit Court, except for StarFire who lives on Draconea."

"How about you, what do you call home?"

"It's a pocket dimension, a form of Bastet Den-Realm, off Earth and the new capital It's mostly northern forest, evergreens, with a scaled down copy of the Royal Palace in Raussurin, the old Darshar capital city between the forest and ocean." He closed his eyes in remembrance "It goes from green trees to green grass to white marble to blue-green sea.

"Home used to be Raussurin, before ..." he sighed softly and focused into space, "before the Queen was killed and the world collapsed I grew up there, I can still remember how it smelled when the gardens were in full bloom."

Soron shook his head "The new capitol is starting to be home, but it's not quite the same."

Caito nodded sympathetically "I know what you mean, no matter how carefully you make a copy its never quite the same as the original Especially if somebody is missing."

"Yes," the Darshar nodded, then pulled himself out of his mood with some difficulty "So you found Goliath rather ... interesting ... on your last trip to Earth?"

Caito grinned "Yeah, that I did Unfortunately, there just wasn't the time I figured would be required Heck, I wasn't even sure he had any interest in males, given how seriously attached to Elisa he was."

"Still is, though the new form admittedly doesn't hurt the attraction level any." He chuckled "That was an interesting conversation, the first time she and I talked She asked me outright if I objected to him having a human lover."

The little trickster smiled "*Given what I've heard about her encounters with some elements of his past, I'm not surprised she'd ask such a question Trying to spot a problem before it starts, always a good idea.*"

"*It's still quite the interesting thing to have asked of you almost first thing.*" He chuckled mentally "*Are you serious about being interested in me?*"

"*I bet.*" The trickster chuckled in response He had to think a minute about the question, because usually people assumed he wasn't serious He looked over the Darshar again, and realized that he really was interested He nodded "*Yes, as matter of fact I am.*" He said quietly, as he tried to stay focused on what he was supposed to be doing.

"*Then, since we are on a down-time of sorts, I'll ask Goliath for permission for when it becomes an option.*" Soron stood and stretched.

Caito smiled "*Seriously? Cool, guess I'd better make sure Fel and Kel don't have a problem with it.*" He completely relaxed physically while maintaining a mental watch on things as Soron vanished quietly.

"Goliath," Soron stepped up to embrace his LifeMate with wings and arms, "I have a favor to ask."

Goliath stepped into the embrace and lightly kissed his LifeMate "Of course Soron, what is it?" He asked curiously.

"Would you grant consent for me to be with Caito, one of the Triad of Felsinor?"

Goliath smiled understandingly. "Politics?

"That obvious?" Soron chuckled "Unfortunately yes I need to make nice with him, he's reasonably attractive, and he's interested in me." The Darshar sighed softly "It could go a ways towards helping heal the rift between Queen and Triad if I was free to say yes At the very least it'll make my duties involving them easier to get cooperation with."

"Well, I see no harm in it After all, you ask so rarely You may be with him if you wish."

"Thank you, love." He backed the statement with a long, slow kiss.

"Triad of Felsinor?" Goliath asked with quiet curiously as their moths parted "So what are they like? Or perhaps more to the point what is this Caito like?"

"Caito is the trickster of the three, a shapeshifter and general kindred spirit of Puck, if they aren't the same soul." He chuckled softly "He seems a nice enough sort, very loyal to his mates and his clan." He kissed Goliath again and slid his nimble tail up the Gargoyles inner leg "His mates are Keltin, a Warrior, and Felsira, a Healer and their leader, such as they have one.

"And he's got a serious crush on you, from when he was on Earth last ... though I'm not too sure when that was, except for after you became serious with Elisa, and I'm fairly sure before we met again."

Goliath nodded as he ran his hand along Soron's broad chest "I'd say I don't remember him, but as a shapeshifter I suppose he could've been anyone." He kissed his LifeMate again, and smiled "Aside from this attractive new playmate, how are things going?"

Soron shuddered, controlling himself just barely by determination not to display that kind of hatred in front of his LifeMate "Pretty well, I guess The Betrayer is involved." He trembled in the effort to control himself "I'll finally get a chance to deal with her."

Goliath looked a little surprised He looked directly into Soron's eyes "Just be careful, Soron Don't let your hate cloud your judgment Remember what hate did to Demona, I don't want to lose you the way I lost her In fact, I don't want to lose you at all."

"I known," he pulled Goliath close "I'm trying I don't want to loose what I have to the past either, but it gets to me, what she did She ... she did the unthinkable, Goliath It's not even that she betrayed her clan in killing the Queen." He shifted to look Goliath in the face "I know it's not how things are for you, but Darshar are bound on a very base level ... magic ... to hurt one hurts us all, and she killed our *soul* That ... it just can't be allowed to exist Especially not with Elisa's status."

"I understand, Soron Do what you feel necessary, but be careful and if there is anyway I can help you, ask." His voice was stern and insistent Do not isolate yourself, and remember you're not the only one who cares for Elisa." The sudden softness in voice reminded Soron that Goliath had loved Elisa before Soron had even known who she was.

"I will." He tail-teased the big male in his arms "I won't be tackling her alone if I can avoid it, I promise." He rumbled softly "I do have a little time before I need to be back ...."

Goliath rumbled happily. "And I think you could use some relaxation." He said, casually returning the tail-tease as he 'helped' Soron out of his clothes. Once clothing was out of the way, he knelt down to teasing Soron's balls with his tongue, then took his LifeMate's cock in his mouth.

The Darshar sighed and closed his eyes, willingly letting his mate drain some of the tension from him with a pleasure he never tired of He did his best to stroke Goliath's hair without guiding him and eased his wings around them, touching as much of the Gargoyle as he could without shifting his weight.

Soron rumbled deep in his chest as he gave up a barely contested struggle to hold out even a little while longer, but determinedly held his hips still as Goliath suckled and swallowed, unphased by the wall-rattling roar above him.

As he swallowed the last of Soron's seed, Goliath looked up at him and smiled. "That sounded like you definitely needed to 'relax.'" He said as he noticed the reduced tension in his mate, though he knew that 'relaxing' wouldn't last, not with the Betrayer involved It was just too close to his LifeMate's soul to hope he'd let it go for long.

"Yes," he knelt to embrace Goliath; his tail deftly undoing the Gargoyles belt, dropping the loincloth he wore to the ground, and gently stroked the half-hard penis it covered to full arousal "And just how shall we deal with this?" He rumbled seductively.

Goliath looked at him curiously. "Oh, you'll probably figure something out." He rumbled in amusement.

"Yes, I suppose I will." He weaved his free hand under Goliath's long, loose hair and pulled him in for a consuming kiss as power began to weave down his hand to dance along the hard flesh it caressed.

Soron chuckled without breaking their kiss as his mate's eyes began to glow and the rocking of his hips became more pronounced He smoothly shifted his grip on a down stroke and pressed the tip of one claw, crackling with energy, against the tender skin just to the right of the cock's base.

He relaxed his hold on Goliath's neck and mouth as the Gargoyle's eyes began to glow, heralding his impending climax, and smiled when it arched back with a deep roar as his body surrendered to the touch.

It took Goliath several minutes to recover from what he thought was the most intensely sexual experience he'd ever had He looked at Soron curiously. "What ... what do you call that?" He asked breathlessly, clearly not displeased ... just intensely curious.

"Touch of God," he chuckled with something of a smirk "It's a trick I learned from a Bastet a while back." He leaned forwarded for a long, gentle kiss "You like?"

"I most definitely like." Goliath said as their lips parted as he traced Soron's jaw gently with fingertip "Makes me wish you didn't have to leave again But duty is duty What's this clan you're putting together like, Soron?" He asked, curious to know what his mate was up to.

"I wish I could stay as well ... though there's no reason you couldn't come visit, Elisa can open the portal for you." He claimed a quick kiss "And about the only think I can really think of to describe this clan is 'convoluted'." He shook his head and helped Goliath to his feet "I'm afraid I don't understand them well, though I doubt that will last This looks to be another long one."

Soron hesitated before wrapping Goliath in protective embrace "I hope you visit, if this takes very long."

"If it takes very long, I think I will I'm not sure how long I want to leave you alone with the trickster." Goliath teased lightly, before claiming a quick, gentle kiss.

Soron nodded and sighed "I hate leaving you behind," he shook his head and stepped back, "but I really should be going."

Goliath nodded "Will my showing up there cause any problems for you, or your mission?" He asked quietly, thinking seriously that 'very long' might not be long at all.

"Not any time or place Elisa would let you show up in." He smiled in fond frustration of the times she'd refused him access to a time and place one of his friends was at "She'll know if there's a battle or something you shouldn't be around for."

Soron stole one last kiss before quickly pulling his clothes on and heading out for the Gateroom of the Palace in New Raussurin.

As he watched Soron head out, Goliath started making plans so that he would be able to spend time with Soron on this mission of his, without leaving his own responsibilities unattended.

Inside the cabin the three could hear the powerful dimensional bridge equipment powering up, as the Technicolor whirlpool formed around the shuttle Eventually, the whirlpool became large enough and the shuttle slid into dimensional space.

Canard shuddered at the familiar 'landscape' outside the shuttle's windows He still had occasional nightmares from the time he'd spent drifting in dimensional limbo.

"You okay, Canard?" Jake glanced at the Duck with some concern.

Canard nodded uneasily. "Just spent too long drifting out there." He shook off the unease "I'll be fine." He said as he took courage from why he'd been out there.

About five minutes later, the shuttle passed through a second whirlpool, and landed with a 'thump' As the distortion cleared they could see mountain of 'salvage' outside the windows of the shuttle in large, familiar mountains.

Canard looked out the window "Janus put us in a junkyard Are they trying to tell us something?" He asked with a certain amount of forced humor, still a bit shaken from his first trip through dimensional space since being rescued.

"Not again." Jake groaned slightly as he took in all-too-familiar surroundings "I *swear* this city has the biggest Chaos-quotient on the entire cruddy multiverse."

Chance shook his head, slightly annoyed "I wonder 'which' version it is this time If it's the one where Viper's swamp stayed, I'm gonna have a few words for the boss when we get back."

Canard looked a little confused as he looked at the junk piles again. "So, you know where we are?" He asked curiously.

"MegaKat City," Jake supplied with an annoyed grumble "The Megacat City Salvage Yard to be precise It's where we're from, originally." He took a closer took "Though this is a new one, I think I'm going to take a guestiment that it's about a year, year and a half after Zed." He pointed to a peculiar piece of twisted metal with black paint "That had to be my shortest lived invention."

Chance smiled. "The HoverKat? Yeah, that didn't last long." He looked around "So the Salvage Yard is connected, huh? I wonder if that's true, or just chaos distortion."

He looked at Jake and grinned. "Wonder what the 'us' from this dimension is like?"

Canard nodded quietly "Well, at least you have something to go on Where should we start?" He asked wondering just how they were going to find one Tiger morph in a place as large as MegaKat City was supposed to be.

"Start with where we land." Jake stood and headed for the hatch, Chance only a half pace behind him "We see what's here, and if it'll clue us in any Nathan's supposed to be connected to Cathedral, and if we're here, he's probably connected to the me in this universe too."

Chance grinned "As long as this 'us' isn't a pair of psychotic cyborgs, one pair of MetalliSWAT Kats was quite enough."

"No kidding," Jake rolled his eyes as they quickly made their way to the main building after a scan told them it, and the facility under it, was vacant.

Canard quickly fell in behind Chance "If he's connected to the 'you' in this universe, that should make things easier, right?" He asked Jake curiously, as he realized why the Investigations instructor had said that the book was at best a summary, and that fieldwork was in fact the best instructor.

"Not necessarily," Jake shook his head "It depends on what state the relationship is in now, and what has happened It usually makes it harder, since I don't know what happened between them, and that's no way to try to talk someone into going with you."

"Especially in a city like this." Chance added absently as he keep a sharp eye out for any security they weren't expecting "Where there's very good reason to be suspicious of anything even a little off from expected."

Canard nodded "That makes sense If the relationship just went bad, he's not likely to trust someone identical, and if it's good ... well, he's not likely to want to leave Do you ever end up having to 'rescue' more people than planned?"

"Yap," Jake nodded "It's not uncommon when the target has been there a while, it's one of the reasons I asked how much discretion we had Felsin are too social to have made it a year without forming some *strong* attachments."

"Hope he hasn't made too many, the shuttle's only so big." The faun-colored Duck said smiling.

"I don't like this." Jake narrowed his eyes at what greeted him upon opening the door to the empty, almost pristine waiting room.

Chance looked around "What the hell? Looks like the you in this dimension went on a cleaning frenzy I'm sure it wasn't the me in this dimension." The tabby grinned past his own discomfort They had yet to encounter a dimension with a Chance Furlong who was anything approaching tidy.

Canard looked past the Kats' "The place is tidy and well-kept This is a problem?" He asked, curious at what orderliness would be a problem.

"Yah." Jake took a deep breath of the stale air and shuddered "We aren't this neat Especially not around here." He shivered "And there's enough hate and depression in the local's scent, and a small invading army of all sorts of not-locals ..." he glanced at Chance "I think there might not be the SWAT Kats here anymore."

Chance put his arm around his partner "Frightening thought, huh? I guess we better give this place a thorough going over, just in case If they were angry enough to split ... who knows what might have happened."

"And none of it's likely to be good."

The tabby looked around, and spotted the keys "Hmmm. Either the local me is still here, or didn't plan on coming back."

Canard's sharp eyes spotted the dent made by Nathan's riding boot when he kicked the wall. "Looks like somebody was here after the cleaning, there's debris from this hole tracked on the floor." He said as he knelt looking at the dent.

"Let's start on the top floor and work down." Jake nodded and headed for the stairs up.

The white-wine feathered Duck remembered on of Chance's previous comments as he followed the Kats up the narrow, twisting stairwell. "Cyborg SWAT Kats, huh?"

Chance chuckled. "Yep, that was one hell of nasty fight."

The Kats took to examining 'their' quarters, and Canard went to look in the 'extra' room The first thing he noticed was a picture lying on the floor, the glass and frame broken. He recognized two of the felines as being his teammates in their SWAT uniforms, and the third one looked a lot like the Felsin they were looking for in a similar outfit.

The Duck carefully picked up the remains of the picture and went looking for Jake "Major Clawson? Were there ever three SWAT Kats?" He asked tentatively, holding the picture in his hands.

"Not usually, though it happens Particularly with Felina or Callie for some reason." Jake took the picture to study it, clearly not pleased as Chance looked over his shoulder with a matching expression "I'd say we're in for trouble." He looked up at their rookie "What's the state of his room? Mine's almost empty, and Chance's is intact, if far too clean."

"His room was empty of anything 'personal' although dust on the tops of things suggest the recent removal of numerous objects The picture was a notable exception, and it was on the floor My guess is that it was right were it fell." Canard reported in a very professional manner.

Canard considered the picture "Perhaps this was the strong connection from the past year? " He ventured carefully.

"Only one good thing about it, if 'we' broke up, and he was in SWAT, he'll be easier to get." Chance commented, still rather disturbed by the whole concept Even when they were evil, at least they'd always stayed together "Not much to hold him here."

Jake caught the curious look from Canard "If he bonded to us, and in SWAT, he's unlikely to have any other friends It's not a career conductive to much socializing."

As they climbed down the ladder into the Hanger Jake froze "Not good."

"What is ... oh, hell." Chance jumped down, his eyes fixed on the empty space in the middle of the huge room and the circular hole in the floor there "Not good at all."

Canard climbed down and looked around, he wasn't sure but it seemed like something was missing There was sufficient space for something like a single AeroWing "Is something missing?"

"To put it mildly." Jake shook himself out of the shock and moved to the data control panel in one corner "The TurboKat's gone."

"It was the centerpiece of our gear." Chance began a stalking tour of the space, clearly looking for specific items as well as to get a general idea "The implications are very bad, no matter which of us took her out alone As in one of us is probably dead."

"Okay, you two, time to watch what happened." Jake called them over to the big-screened console.

Chance found a hole in the wall of the main hanger space. "Hold the movie, Jake Take a look at this hole in the hanger wall." He looked at it somewhat amazed.

Canard looked it over closely "Umm ... there's black fur on the edges of this hole Someone punched a hole in this reinforced concrete." He looked over his two teammates trying to decide which one's local equivalent probably did it.

"Black?" Chance picked some of it from the edge "No one that should be in here has black fur."

"Nathan had some in his stripes," Jake walked over, "but there should be more orange-red if it was him And that is one hell of a hole." He regarded the damage critically "Whatever it is, it caries a good punch." He glanced between them "But I found something just as interesting The TurboKat took herself out, and she had a lot of company down here when she did."

Chance looked at Jake curiously "She took herself out? That's a feature I don't recall seeing before And who was this company?"

Canard followed the two Kats back to the big screen, still wondering about a being powerful enough to put a *fist* through reinforced concrete He considered the wall again, and thought that maybe Dragaunus' goon Siege might be capable of it.

"The company are a few folks I remember from when we've run across a Cathedral before, and the uniforms match, so I'd say it's one of those Cathedral-backed-SWAT universes." He ran the security camera's recording for them.

"That," Jake pointed to a very tall Lioness with a multitude of golden braids, "is Kenra Issyra, Chief of Security at Cathedral Both traditionally and by her uniform The dark furless female with wings is a Darshar Gargoyle." He commented as over three dozen individuals, mostly Kats, swarmed through the Hanger, quickly and efficiently inventorying before beginning to disassemble the areas further in.

Chance couldn't hold his low growl at the sight back, and blinked as all activity froze when the very empty jet powered up and the Darshar rushed up and put her hands on the jet's nose.

Everything was still for a moment, then the Darshar backed off and turned to Kenra "Lower her Amerith will show her the way."

The Lioness gave a questioning look, but nodded and turned to the control center they were watching on to initiate the launch sequence.

Canard looked at the scene curiously "So was this a case of theft, or were those support staff of some sort?"

"If Cathedral backed SWAT here, which seems very likely, they always do when they're around, then support staff, that isn't usually around." Jake continued to watch.

Chance growled lightly. "What I want to know is who Amerith is." He shook his head "Tough to remember that's not our TurboKat we're looking at." He looked around "Okay, so everyone's left the Yard The briefing said Nathan was associated with a hospital, which is probably MegaKat City General, and Cathedral."

"If Cathedral's supporting SWAT and SWAT's broken up, would Nathan still be associated with Cathedral? Depending on just how the break up went, he might be trying to avoid any associations."

"Easiest way to find out, is to find out where he is." Jake said calmly and began tapping on the console as small whips of energy danced between the Kats dark fingers and the equipment.

There was a great deal of chaotic noise in 'net' as Jake's magic tried to find the missing Tiger, and himself. Cathedral itself seemed surrounded by a very high level of static, and technomagical defenses of several kinds as well The only certain information Jake got on the Tiger was an address in a reasonably well-to-do section of the City His other self had a 'weak' address there as well, and a stronger one listed with Felsin Feral.

Canard looked at the whips of energy curiously "Is the equipment supposed to do that?" He asked, concerned.

"Only when Jake's play with his special touch on it." Chance chuckled "Any luck? You look ... irritated."

"Somebody who knows more than I do is shielding Cathedral," he growled softly, "but I've got an address on our Tiger, and two on my other self Seems he's rather attached to Felina."

Chance chuckled "Oh, one of those universes."

Canard looked at him curiously. "One of what universes?"

Chance laughed loudly. "It seems that in about half the universes Jake's attached to Felina, and in most of the rest I am Then there's a few where neither of us are This is one of the Jake and Felina universes."

Canard nodded "Probably most productive to check the Tiger's address first."

"Let me see if I can find what caused that hole in the wall first." Jake turned back to the console and quickly brought up an image of a very large Kat-monster near the hole, then ran it backwards Near the lockers the monster became Nathan, who stepped backwards towards the ladder.

When Jake had it run forward they watched a very distraught looking Nathan walked up to the lockers and pull a strip of black cloth from T-Bone's There was a moment of stillness, then sick horror crossed the Tiger's face and starting with a bright green glow in his eyes he became the significantly bigger Kat-beast.

Chance was morbidly curious "I wonder what was with my counterparts mask that caused that kind of transformation? And why didn't the briefing mention that he was some sort of Garou?"

Canard was a little more practical "If he doesn't want to come, just what are supposed to do about that?" He asked pointing at the cat-beast.

"Well, your mask is easy to check," Jake turned towards the lockers and shrugged "They did warn us that this was an info-light mission As for dealing with that if he doesn't want to come, that's what stun weapons and the brig is for, if it comes to that We have options that aren't obvious as well."

Chance shook off the slight surprise. "Yeah, so they did Though for a minute I thought we'd fallen into one of your horror films ... again." He said laughing. "Well, I want to see what's on that mask."

Canard considered the Kat-beast again, and wondered if either the stun weapons or the brig were enough It was going be like taking Siege prisoner ... only having to be nice to him He quietly followed the Kats back to the locker.

A quick search didn't turn the mask in question up, and neither did a though one, much to Jake and Chance's irritation.

"He dropped it," the tabby thrust his thumb at the cat-beast still on the monitor "How far could it go?"

"Unless the Cathedral crew wanted it for some reason." He concentrated and growled softly "Kenra has it."

"Jake, why would the head of Cathedral Security want my counterparts mask? That doesn't make sense, they clearly already know who's who." Chance asked slightly irritated.

"Probably trying to find out what upset Nathan so much about it ... or something." He shrugged.

Canard thought about it. "Would the head of Cathedral Security do a criminal investigation?" He asked carefully "Maybe one of the three turned up dead, and Cathedral's investigating If they do that sort of thing."

Jake nodded uneasily "Since that would be a crime against their personnel, she would head any such investigation Let's just hope it's not out Tiger on either end of that investigation." He stood up "Come on, let's see what Nathan's place can tell us."

The three reached the apartment building quickly on the high-tech cycles they offloaded from the shuttle They parked them around the side of the building, and activated the anti-theft system As they entered the building, a graying black on orange tabby Kat came up to them.

He looked at Chance "Mr. Furlong, your friend Nathan asked me to make sure you got a copy of the keys in case you got back while he was away." He handed the tabby three keys one at a time. "That's the deadbolt, second lock and the mailbox key." He said before walking away.

Chance looked to Jake. "This is an interesting development."

"And no doubt not the last at this rate." The lean Kat shook his head and started to walk towards the apartment in question "At least it saves us the trouble of breaking in."

As they entered the apartment Jake's keen nose picked up three distinct recognizable scents; one was obviously the local Chance, the second male had to be Nathan since it was one he'd smelled in the garage and it wasn't his local counterpart; the third was female, Hyena and less familiar. Then he remembered it from most Cathedral-SWAT universes; Brandy Ressa, a Cathedral recruiter All the scents were relatively recent, probably less than 36 hours old.

There were also three unfamiliar Felsin scents; two male, one female.

As they fanned out and searched the apartment Jake drew the bedroom and smelled Chance and Nathan there as well, but no smell of sex One set of sheets with Nathan's scent on them were shredded by large claws, though no scent other than Nathan was present.

Set to one side he found a backpack Inside Jake found a SWAT Uniform, a blaster which obviously came from the Yard arsenal, a glovatrix, and buried carefully in the pack, a silver engagement collar box and a carefully folded note.

He carefully read over the note, then read it again as his brain tried to accept that a version of himself had written it.

"Guys," he stood uneasily with both box and note in hand "I think you should read this."


I'd be surprised if you have any idea how much this hurts me, and I'd be even more surprised if you cared right now.

I can smell the rage and hatred on you even now, and the sex and Feral of all Kats I don't care what happened that made you turn back to the bottles I got for you -- for the day I knew would come when you needed them more than you needed to stay away.

It wasn't always this way I still remember when you smiled most days I only turned to Felina when you turned away from me.

And I didn't tell her about our hobby, BTW I didn't have to She knew before I started seeing her Figured it out herself.

When you figure out what the thing in the box is here for, and if it means anything you want, come talk to me I doubt I'll be hard to find.


Chance took the note, read it, looked at it, and then read it again. "I've never seen a version of us where this would even make sense No wonder they broke up if there was this much pain But I think there's some serious pieces missing in this puzzle."

He considered for a moment "This still doesn't tell us how Nathan fits in, unless when our local counterparts broke up, my counterpart went to Nathan." He shook his head, still not comfortable with the idea of the break up.

Canard read over the letter "I think the local Jake is very confused, judging by what's said here Was there anything else of significance?"

"Just our engagement collar." Jake held up the box "I don't like that it doesn't mention Nathan, especially with a Cathedral Recruiter having come by Brandy can talk just about anyone into anything, and if she's anything like most, she'd jump at the opportunity to nab a pilot like Chance."

Chance chuckled. "Sounds like Missy, back home. But seriously, if she was here that might mean that my counterpart is at Cathedral." He shook his head "That doesn't make any sense, why would Cathedral be recruiting from a unit they created?" He thought for a moment "Of course, I suppose it's possible my counterpart doesn't know about Cathedral's involvement, if your counterpart's been keeping him out of the loop." The tabby said looking at his mate.

"It wouldn't be the first time, for either of us." Jake half growled before turning away to see if there was anything else of interest in the room.

Canard was curious "Engagement, so that letter was sort of 'Goodbye, please marry me.'" He looked at the two Kats "It's beginning to sound like our Tiger may be the one out of the loop."

"I'm beginning to wonder if anyone is *in* the loop." Jake shook his head "And I really want to know who those three other Felsin that were in here are." He headed back into the living room, where most of unusual scents were and started to play with the TV set.

After several false starts with various local programming, including a special CatsEye report on the morning's invasion being repelled by multiple SWAT Kat jets, Jake finally got a 'useful' Channel.

First a quadruped tiger walked into view of the set, and then past it The TV picked up a roar, and then a second roar As the tiger came back in view, a gold-furred Lioness 'appeared' in a soft golden glow She talked with the tiger who hopped up on the sofa and flowed into Nathan wearing a white/gold Medic uniform jacket and running shorts The two talked for a while during which the TV caught Chance watching from the entryway.

Suddenly, Nathan turned back into the tiger and started pacing in and out of view of the television The TV also caught the appearance of a large midnight blue furred panther Felsin, in a military uniform, who then briefly disappeared to reappear dragging a small calico jaguar Felsin.

The small tom talked to the Tiger who turned into a somewhat despondent looking Nathan After a few more minutes, all three of the visitors disappeared and Nathan was left sitting on the couch alone Chance shortly joined Nathan on the couch, and they talked for while, before they both got up and left the view of the TV.

Some time later, Nathan appeared in view to answer the door A well-dressed female Brown Hyena was shown in, and Chance left with her, carrying a tote bag Nathan left a brief while later That was the last thing the TV had seen.

Jake grumbled softly and brought out a laptop from nowhere "The Triad of Felsinor The female is Felsia, Healer The blue one is Keltin, Warrior, and the other is Caito, Trickster Say hello to the first of the greater powers running around." He looked up, not at all pleased "Let's hope they don't object to what we're doing."

Chance shook his head. "What did Rafe get us into this time? First of the greater powers? You expecting more, Jake?" He said a little concerned, not all sure what to do if they did object.

Jake raised an eyebrow at his partner in real concern "You feeling okay, Chance?"

"Me? I'm just fine But seriously, how many greater powers are we expecting?" The tabby said confidently, trying to shake a few bad memories from his first ITA mission, which had contained a few 'greater' powers as well ... none of them friendly.

"Several," Jake stood and drew his partner into a bedroom with a warning glance at Canard not to follow He faced the tabby after shutting the door "Chance, that's second time you've forgotten one of the very few facts we got in this case What's going on, buddy?"

Chance sat down on the bed and looked at Jake "Same thing that happened on my first run First dimension I'd ever been outside of home and as soon as whirlpool cleared I had this wrenching feeling of something awful happening But it wasn't me, but it felt like it.

"Rafe said it happened on rare occasions, and wasn't anything to worry about Probably never happen again, he said, which was true until today It's happening again, but I can handle it." He caught the uncertain look on his partner's face and read it just fine "I can handle it, Jake And I think I might have an insight from it Whatever that sex and Feral in the letter was about, it drove my counterpart back to drinking, and I mean the hard stuff."

"It might not have been voluntary?" He shuddered, remembering enough Commander Ferals that were quite capable of that, even if 'theirs' wasn't.

The tabby nodded "Seems likely Wouldn't be the first time that's happened to one of our counterparts, would it." He said, more confidently then before "Though if my counterpart saw that note, he's probably feeling betrayed as all hell He'd just gotten raped, and now he's being accused of sleeping with the rapist.

"I think our missing Tiger is caught right in the middle of it Briefing said he's a Medic, and one thing Medics are known for is holding their teams together." Chance said confidently, as if to point that he hadn't forgotten everything.

"Poor guy," Jake sat next to his mate and kissed him within a gentle embrace.

"I'm beginning to think that that applies to all three of them." He said quietly, before kissing Jake "Maybe we're supposed to be rescuing them from themselves."

"Certainly worth doing as a side mission," he grinned a little impishly "We do have a 'great deal of leeway' after all."

Chance chuckled. "That we do, buddy Think Command would object too much if we eliminated Feral if he did in fact rape my counterpart?" The question was part wise-ass, and part deadly serious.

"What they don't hear about, they can't bitch about." The deadly tone in Jake voice reminded Chance of more than one occasion before the lean Kat had given in to him and Rafe and curbed his violent temper.

The tabby looked at his partner. "Didn't we bring a Duck on this mission?" He asked as though he might not be sure, though the grin clearly indicated he was.

"Yes, we did." Jake ran a teasing hand down the tabby's chest "He's being a good rookie and staying outside."

Chance purred lightly, and ran his hand through his mate's cheek ruff "Don't suppose the leeway applies to how long we take, do you?" He said clearly suggesting something that would take extra time.

"We should be quick ... it's time sensitive from every indication ... but I'm sure we can spare a few minutes." He purred, already breathing hard "Rookie'll check out the place ...."

Canard watched the pair disappear, not sure which disturbed him more: that the tabby was clearly loosing track of what little info they had, or the developments that happened since arrival.

After a few minutes he shook his head at the noises that soon reached him, wondering if the two Kats thought he was deaf He decided to give the livingroom, kitchen and dining room a thorough sweep for possible clues while the senior agents 'investigated' the bedroom.

Canard looked over at the two Kats as they came out, remarkably unrumpled considering what they had so clearly been doing "I didn't find anything of interest, other than the pace doesn't look like he used it for more than weekends." He paused a moment "It's probably not a good thing that three greater powers showed up in Nathan's living room at the same time, is it?" He couldn't recall anything on greater powers in the field agent guidebook And he certainly never had to deal with any on PuckWorld.

"Depends on why." Jake shrugged "If they're concerned about Nathan and think we're here to do the right thing, they could be an invaluable help If they object, we could be in for a *lot* of trouble We've handled them before, though, even when they're beyond 'not friendly'."

"Either way, we don't deal with them 'till they make a move." Chance added calmly "We saw that he didn't leave with my counterpart which leaves him looking for Jake's counterpart as a distinct option."

Canard thought that through. "Which leaves us trying to figure out where he went to look We've got three good possibilities; those two addresses and maybe Cathedral." He ventured confidently.

"Start with the least potentially volatile," Jake snagged his laptop and it vanished a moment later "His private apartment, then Felina's, then tackle Cathedral It's unlikely to be easy to get into, much less out of."

"It wasn't anywhere else we've encountered it." Chance chuckled grimly as they left the apartment.

"They do tend to get the best of the best, and most of the off-worlders." Jake added.

Canard followed the Kats silently, since he figured that given events so far, Nathan was going to end up being at Cathedral.

Jake took less than five seconds to pick the locks on his counterpart's apartment, a feat that apparently surprised him as the door swung open to the working class apartment "Either we have the wrong place, or this Jake has a very unusual sense of security."

"Or he hasn't gotten around to it yet." Chance suggested as they walked into an apartment that clearly was only just being moved into Boxes were stacked in somewhat orderly piles everywhere, and there was next to no furniture.

Only two items indicated anyone had spent any time in the place, and both all but screamed that that person was Jake Clawson.

One was a cluttered desk with a computer on it The other was a drafting desk with a half dozen designs scribed on the paper around it.

Jake aimed right for the computer, and attached his own laptop before booting the primitive device.

As Jake worked with the computer Chance decided to take a look at what his mate's counterpart had been working on, thinking it might be some clue Meanwhile, Canard began looking things over thoroughly searching for anything out of the ordinary.

"Bingo." Jake's triumphant cheer brought his teammate's attention to him as he rapidly scanned through information scrolling down the screen "I'm into the BlackNet."

Chance thumped his mate's shoulder in congratulation. "Way to go, this should give us something useful."

Canard looked both of them "What's BlackNet? It wouldn't happen to be Cathedral's internal network, would it?" He asked hopefully, thinking that that would simplify matters greatly.

"It's a good deal more than that," he whistled at something on the screen and tapped a rapid series of commands on the laptop, his excitement palatable "It's the planetary net ... created at Cathedral, but it is connected to the entire system." He typed several more things, scanned the contents of the screens that scrolled by and quickly shut the system down "Now let's get out of here before someone on the other end of that notices what I did." He stood hardly and all but herded them out of the apartment before locking it with a key.

Once they were back outside by the motorcycles, Chance turned to Jake "Aside from getting in, what did you do that they'd get upset about?" He said smiling, curious to find out which of the many things he could think of his mate had actually done.

"Oh, just downloaded the actually political situation, and the who's who file." He shrugged like it was nothing "And a few interesting bits that are still encrypted ... titled Black Phoenix."

"And where'd the key come from?" Canard asked quietly "I recall you having to pick the lock to get in."

Jake chuckled deeply as he pulled his helmet on "That, partner, is a trade secret."

The tabby chuckled as he pulled his own on "Some things, Canard, you learn not to question, they just are." He'd learned that about Jake, back when it was just a matter of what tech miracle the lean tom would pull out of the TurboKat next, and that was considerably less than what the Kat did regularly these days.

Canard shook his head in amusement as he realized that he was probably feeling how WildWing did when he first told him about finding Drake Ducaine's mask Canard put his helmet on as he realized again just how much he missed WildWing.

Chance's voice came over the helmet radio system. "Felina's next, Jake, or did you get something from BlackNet that says 'don't bother'?"

"Back to the shuttle," Jake nodded and revved the engine "Sort through what I acquired and see where that leads."

"So what revelations are in there?" Chance nuzzled his mate's ear as the lean tom dug through the files.

"Lots of them." He mumbled, completely absorbed in what he was reading from the coded screen "Most notable, this universe is *way* off the baseline The Jake here is a genetic creation, and an unstable one at that.

"Pat raised him as a pet, and he did more than a fair round of ... interesting jobs ... for her before getting in with the SWAT program He's probably more destructive than I am ... and he's got a skill list that puts him in my class as a Mage too, though it looks like his tech-control is psi-based."

Chance nodded "Sounds like our missing Tiger's got his hands full if he went looking for your counterpart Psi-based tech control? Well, that probably explains the shielding around Cathedral ... it's probably just your counterpart."

"That and his friends He's not the only 'TechnoMage' listed in what I got."

"More destructive?" The tabby grinned "Bet Rafe'd be surprised to hear that." He teased gently.

Canard was beginning to realize just why Gemini was so highly regarded, it seemed like nothing fazed them "So the local Jake is unstable, you mean he's somewhere near insane?" The faun colored Duck hazarded a guess.

"Well, he seems to be that too, but his genetics are unstable He's only a 'Kat' because they did some kind of stabilization procedure on him Before that, he kept slowly changing.

"Politics actually look fairly normal for a Cathedral world, though Cathedral seems less friendly with the Enforcers than normal, and have more control over the Council, and a *lot* more control over the Ikata than usual.

"The tech is higher too, at least in a few realms They've already developed several Psi-Jets, and Cathedral seems to be a primitive AI from evolution, not design More of Jake's doing, though it seems Pakitra here has the same kind of powers this Jake does Which means pray we don't have to break in It's going to be very, very ugly if I have to go up against them.

"I did get confirmation that, at least according to record, Jake has not told T-Bone or Medic ... that's Nathan's call ... about Cathedral's involvement in SWAT Or much of anything else, for that matter.

"I also found that Nathan's contact with Cathedral was on his own, not through Jake He cut some kind of deal trading technology he knew for building an Exo-Frame of some kind Specs aren't in here, but it's a safe guess it's something meant to keep up with the TurboKat in combat.

"Speaking of which, when we saw her leave ... that's because she woke up She's an AI now The info on why is very sketchy, but it seems to be connected to Jake and Nathan somehow ... Chance was hired as a test pilot for Cathedral, and turned down a Black Phoenix post -- they're the new SWAT Kats, by the way -- and Jake and Nathan are listed as being in Cathedral, and 'occupied', with a smiley face."

"Occupied, with a smiley face?" The tabby grinned broadly "Sounds like our missing Tiger found your counterpart after all." A decidedly unhappy look crossed his face "Sounds like he's still quite connected locally, and to people who may make 'rescuing' him difficult."

"Yah, and among other notables to make this even more difficult, we have at least two Jedi, a Darshar Gargoyle, several genetic creations and a level of security that is downright amazing."

Chance thought for a moment "Say, was there anything in there on what Nathan's status with regard to Cathedral is? The briefing said he'd turned down full-time association, but has that changed?"

"Not that's in here, but it's blatantly obvious to me that this weekend has seen more shaking up in the halls of power and SWAT than most decades see."

"And I've got a feeling that our Tiger's right in the middle of things." Chance said with strangely cheerful grin "For someone they labeled as 'apolitical' he sure does get mixed up with things."

"Too bad Hermes hasn't established a local ITA section, some official presence would've been useful." Canard commented.

"Might just have to try." Jake kept skimming the files "There's some useful folks here, and the kind that seem likely to accept our existence, especially if we can deal with this without pissing the mortal higher ups off too much.

"Two Jedi and a Darshar?" Chance shook his head. "Command would just love to have those as 'friendly' But I think that 'not pissing off the mortal higher ups' is going to be quite the trick, even for us." He said grinning broadly.

"Looks like Cathedral where we have to go." Canard observed "Anything in the files suggest a good way to approach them?"

Jake stared at the files for a moment, then look up over his shoulder at Chance "How daring do you feel?"

"Daring?" Chance grinned down at his mate. "About the usual. But what I really am, is curious to know what you've got in mind."

"Oh, just flying up and introducing ourselves." He got something of a wild gleam in his eyes, a look Chance had long ago learned to recognize as 'yes, I know it's crazy, but it'll work'.

Chance grinned "Well, it's no crazier than some of the other things we've done The identity confusion is usually good for a few minutes of not-shooting at any rate." Chance went up to the cockpit and sat down in the pilot's seat "You get directions to Cathedral in that file?" He asked as he started powering up the shuttle.

"Same place it always is." Jake settled in the co-pilot's seat and started setting up his part "Head out to sea and come in on heading 60-52 at five thousand feet When we cross the boarder, we drop the stealth shields and open the com."

Canard looked at both Kats, a little worried "Just fly up, huh? Has this ever worked before?" He asked, half expecting to hear that it had.

"A few times." Jake chuckled "Sometimes they're so stunned by the direct approach they actually cooperate Pakitra seems particularly prone to it, though a couple time's she's done her damndest to kill me for it too ..."

Chance brought the shuttle up and headed out to sea, before making the turn to come in at Cathedral "We should be entering Cathedral airspace in 5 minutes Figure it's more impressive if we come in supersonic." There was a distinctly daredevil grin on his face.

Canard looked to Jake "Should I power up the weapons? Just in case this is one of those 'damndest to kill you' situations?"

"No," he chuckled at his pilot while answering Canard "That'll be taken as an aggressive move on our part Remember, we're invading their territory and asking for an audience, basically." He double-checked his settings "Showing our weapons is not conductive to that You might want to buckle in though, in case his flying is tested."

Canard nodded, and strapped himself in securely He was not thrilled about this plan, if it could be called one, but Archangel had said these two were the best to learn from.

Chance checked the geopolitical map readout. "Crossing Cathedral boundary in thirty seconds."

Moments later, the tabby announced. "We've just entered Cathedral airspace Dropping cloak." He flipped a few switches "Your show, Jake." He leaned over and kissed his mate quickly "Good luck."

The cinnamon tom got a completely serious look across his entire body as he opened a channel on the main comm frequency Cathedral used.

"Cathedral Command, this is the ITA Shuttle BlackSun Five," his voice was cleanly professional and held just a hint of command, "requesting permission to dock."

After a gut-twisting pause a professional male voice replied "Hold your distance ITA Shuttle BlackSun Five and state your purpose."

Chance banked the shuttle easily at Jake's nod as the Kat replied "We were sent to assist in returning Colonel Nathan SwiftClaw-SolGardin of the Galactic Alliance Medic Corps to his home space."

The silence in the cabin stretched as they took one lap around Cathedral airspace, then began the second.

Canard looked at Jake "So how long you figure they're gonna leave us up here cooling our heels?"

Chance smiled at the Duck "Don't worry Canard, this is a good sign. They didn't tell us to go away, and there's been no shooting or sign of fighter launch."

"ITA Shuttle BlackSun Five, do you see the black jet approaching you from the east?" The controller's voice finally came back.

"Yes, sir." Jake nodded and relaxed slightly, despite it being an advanced TurboKat like fighter approaching them.

"That is Amerith of the Black Phoenix Squadron You will follow her in."

"Understood, command Altering course." Jake replied as Chance shifted their flight path towards the jet and it swung up along side them with an agility that startled Jake.

Canard relaxed as they followed the jet in. "Well, that explains who the Amerith mentioned in the security camera footage is."

Chance nodded "Another AI, probably." He said without letting his attention waver from following the far more agile craft One he was fairly certain didn't have anyone in the pilot or gunner seat.

"Back off to five hundred yards directly behind me and follow into the tunnel." A decidedly grim, and more than a little curious, female voice came over the com "You will be stopped by a Kinetic Dampening Net Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am." Jake nodded as Chance brought the shuttle in line.

Chance looked at Jake. "Kinetic Dampening Net? I guess they are a bit ahead of the normal Cathedral situation Of course, that's old tech back at HQ." He grinned as he maintained the five hundred yard position directly behind the pilot-less jet.

"At least she doesn't sound unfriendly." Canard commented. "A bit stressed though."

"If even half of what I found in those files is correct, 'stressed' doesn't even begin to cover it." Jake shook his head as they entered a wide tunnel ... one designed to launch a ship bigger than theirs, or three fighters Amerith's size side by side "They're in hell."

The KD net slowed them to a stop and the floor maneuvered them off of the ramp, giving them a good view of five jets and quite an interesting array of folks who's attention seemed rather focused on them, though it likely wasn't before they'd landed.

When they came to a stop Jake pointed to a white shekat, shorter than anyone else on the field "That is Pakitra Dyne Do not piss her off if you can at all avoid it."

Chance nodded as he unbuckled "I remember, from the other Cathedral worlds, and she doesn't look happy to start with."

Canard made careful note of the shekat. "Right I take it, that she's one of the people in charge."

"She's the person in change here." Jake nodded "She can make our lives very difficult on this world, or very easy."

Chance activated the ramp. "Time to see how things are After you, Jake." He said, clearly happy to leave 'diplomacy' to his gunner.

While the shock on the white shekat's face was obvious when they stepped out, she was focused by the time they reached the ground and Jake extended his hand to her.

"Thank you for seeing us, Ma'am." Jake inclined his head as she accepted his handshake under the scrutiny of some obvious security types, and a few that looked significantly more dangerous.

"We try to always listen," she nodded "Please follow me, we can discus this in calmer surroundings."

"Of course," Jake nodded again and followed her, aware of the eyes on him, and counting the number of minds and magic that scanned him until it became too disturbing to realize just what the odds were, should they have to fight This Cathedral was significantly more advanced, and connected, than most, no doubt about it.

She didn't take them far, just into one of the smaller side rooms off the main hanger and sat in a plush chair "Have a seat, introduce yourselves, and explain what you meant in a little more detail, please."

Jake nodded politely. "Thank you, Ma'am." he said three of them sat across from the shekat "We're with the ITA, I'm Major Jake Clawson, this is team pilot Major Chance Furlong." He gestured to indicate his mate. "And Lieutenant Canard is with Field Investigations." He indicated the Duck morph.

"We've been dispatch to see that Colonel SwiftClaw-Solgardin is returned safely to his home-space, and the Alliance Medic Corps Command deemed it worth sending a full team, since the Alliance is fairly short on intergalactic transport."

She tapped the tips of her delicate fingers together and regarded the threesome "Now why should I trust the word of someone I don't know, from an organization I've never heard of, who's mission has very good odds of destroying twenty years of work if I just let you take him away?"

"You don't have any reason to trust us," Jake inclined his head to her, "and I do not expect to earn that trust overnight But our mission is very important, and we have some authority on which to earn your trust."

"Given that Nathan will be unavailable for three or four days, I don't see any reason to rush things But it might help if you provided a little more detail on this organization that sent you, and why Nathan's of interest to them." She said evenly.

Jake took a moment to organize his thoughts before answering "The ITA is the Interdimensional Troubleshooters Alliance Our charter is to protect the Pattern against Chaos by intervening when a dimensional balance is threatened by events Nathan SolGardin is at the center of such an event."

Pakitra raised an eyebrow at him.

"Nathan is at the center of a very complex web of loyalties, power and destiny that are coming to a critical junction." Jake met her emerald eyes "He needs to return to Alliance space as soon as possible."

"Given how central this matter is to Cathedral, I'm going to ask Jedi Master Sheir Kahn to join us Webs of destiny are more her specialty.

"Allowing you to remove Nathan will likely remove his LifeMate as well, who is critically important to Cathedral's continued operation at this time So you'll understand that I'll require exceptional proof of what you've said." The shekat said fixing Jake with emerald green eyes.

"I understand." Jake nodded easily, not betraying the twist in his gut "I intend to make every effort for us to come to a mutually satisfactory solution."

There was a knock at the conference door, and Sheir Kahn entered. Pakitra nodded to her. "Please be seated Master Khan These gentleman are with the Interdimensional Troubleshooters Alliance; Majors Clawson and Furlong, and Lieutenant Canard It appears that Nathan is at the center of some critical junction of loyalties, power and destiny that requires him to return home."

"Of course," The regal flame-furred tigress nodded as she sat, fully in 'Jedi Master' mode "I am not partially surprised to hear he is, after what happened with our Commander Clawson."

"Umm, yes," Jake nodded at her "I don't suppose there is something we can do to prove our good faith?"

Pakitra considered "Allowing you to remove Nathan may very well end up jeopardizing the safety and security of Aristal Some proof that this risk is outweighed by the gains of cooperation would be a good start." She sat back and watched Jake closely.

Jake blinked and tried to figure out which way to answer that would work best, and settled on a question "I'd be happy to, but it would be useful for me to know just how he is critical to security.

"If it's something a small unit can deal with, we can take the problem out; if is broader ... I'll do my best to provide a solution."

"It's not Nathan, though he has been a tremendous asset, so much as his LifeMate, Commander Clawson, who is critical." She never wavered her gaze from this near clone of her second in command "At this point, however, they are a package deal If Nathan leaves, I have no doubt our Jake will go with him, and that is simply not acceptable without significant compensation He is the squad leader for our only effective defense force against invasion, and the source of most of the critical developments that have allowed us to survive this long I'd rather neither of them left.

"As to what we'd need to replace him ... assuming it is even possible, we would need the technology to defend ourselves from both the invaders that stop by every couple years, and the training to use it It is very difficult to replace a TechnoMage Defender/ Inventor of his caliber."

"Or the ability for them to commute." Master Khan added.

Jake considered Pakitra's request and realized that a technology transfer of that magnitude would have to go through Rafe at the very least, and more likely through Hermes and the Governing Council He sighed, it would figure that on top of everything else this Aristal would have to have a higher than average invasion quotient Though it did help explain the tech level: they required it.

"Commuting, it may be possible." He said tentatively "Just how available would you need Commander Clawson to be?" He could feel both of his teammates looking at him, but right now they needed to establish some sort of working relationship with Cathedral if their mission was to have any chance of success.

Pakitra settled down a little further in the chair as Jake recognized the look of a massive data access on her part When her eyes focused back on the real world, they were grim "When he's needed, we've rarely had two hours to spare before the battle would be lost.

"We have the beginnings of a technology that would work until we can stand safely without him, but it's still a good decade from completion, even if I devoted full resources, which I simply can't." He locked eyes with the amber pair across from her "This is also all assuming they are both willing to leave."

Jake realized that the commuting option had just gone out the window barring major support from Janus, since the only way to move anyone that fast intergalactically would be to transfer them into Olympus, and then back out again The situation was looking like it would require higher level intervention, something he wasn't used to having to call in.

"Still not out of the question, but you're correct that it does assume their cooperation You mentioned them being unavailable for three or four days, is that definite or just likely?" He asked, thinking that what they knew about Nathan indicated a devotion to doing the right thing, which should be a point in favor of cooperation.

"It's definite they are both unavailable right now, though for how long, not even Felsira knows for sure." "Pakitra shrugged with a touch of annoyance showing "They're in the middle of Joining ... a psychic-based marriage ceremony as far as I understand it ... and have four god-class creatures that I'm aware of making sure no one interferes Not even Jake's pilot could get that door to open." She chuckled slightly "It's a bit much, even for around here."

Jake was glad he knew a few things about the Felsin "Joining? That shouldn't take more than twenty or thirty minutes, tops."

"That's what I was told as well, but they are already into the fifth hour, and no sigh that it will be over soon."

He looked surprised at the number of greater powers. "We were aware of Felsira, Keltin and Caito being present I take it there's more."

Pakitra nodded "Heron said that a Darshar Prince, Lord Soron, has taken up residence for this, and I seriously doubt he's our only unannounced visitor."

"That alone is indicative of the complex web that surrounds Nathan, though so far you're only seeing the positive powers." He said calmly.

She regarded him a little curiously "If it is, I'm very curious what makes Nathan so different from the others of similar connections who are here."

Jake made note of the Darshar's name and rank for the report he figured he'd have to write all too soon "The Darshar presence seems to suggest that the Darshar civil war is spilling over here, since we were warned of the probable involvement of a Chaos power, a near immortal Darshar named Tartirin Our data on the Darshar indicates that the majority of the Darshar bear a deadly hate toward that personage Something to do with an assassination a long time ago."

Pakitra grunted "I remember," she shuddered "That was an ugly conversation, and an uglier confrontation."

He raised an eyebrow. "Others of similar connection? Then it's not uncommon for Cathedral staff to be connected to multiple greater powers."

Pakitra shook her head "No, it's not Several here probably qualify as greater powers themselves if you anger them enough ... Heron I know does after the last attempt Tartirin made on Jake's life."

"This would explain why forces are gathering here, power tends to attract power."

She nodded "We've held our own, but only by the grace of Jake's connections and skills."

Jake nodded "Unfortunately we're looking at a crisis on at least a multi-planetary scale, if Nathan stays out of position Our best information suggests that Chaos went to fairly significant lengths to put Nathan here Unfortunately, the information on why here is not clear."

"Just what is Tartirin's connection to Chaos?"

The whole Pattern and Chaos relation had been one of the hardest things for Jake to deal with when he first joined ITA, and Rafe had been showing him how to control the magic he'd discovered he had Now he had to try and explain it, not exactly a good thing "Chaos is one of the Primal Forces of the universe, it seeks to undo creation and smother life In a sense it's Entropy, only it's both self-aware and malign.

"The negative greater powers, Evil to put it simply, are fragments of Chaos, even though they don't know it Tartirin is a fairly strong Chaos element; the assassination was a major blow to the Chaos/Pattern balance It would be entirely consistent with her Chaos attribute to seek to cause another imbalance in Chaos's favor."

Pakitra looked decidedly worried as well as confused when the tigress turned to her "Something like the power behind the Sith we're hunting."

"Ah, krud." The petit white shekat rolled her eyes "Like we don't have *enough* trouble around here without them getting help."

Jake turned to Chance, who had been more interested in the Jedi, since Jake had enough to do understanding his own magic. "Sith?"

The tabby nodded. "Chaos-aspected Jedi Can be quite powerful, and very disruptive Sartros Cabrin was one, you can't have forgotten her." He said shaking his head.

"Kats, no Some people just don't take no for an answer."

Chance chuckled "She thought you were cute."

"She wanted a pet, Chance. Not a mate, or even a boyfriend." He said disgustedly "Well, you beat her at laserswords anyway."

"Just barely."

He turned back to Sheir and Pakitra. "Sorry, just reviewing an old mission We've butted heads with the Sith before, anyway And yeah, they're definitely Chaos connected."

Master Khan focused on Chance with real interest "You defeated a Sith in a duel?"

"Only by a whisker." He said shaking his head "Even with ITA's healing magic, I was still out of action for almost two weeks Still got scars to show for it too."

"Perhaps we can spar before you leave," she inclined her head slightly "My Padawan would do well to see such a match."

Chance looked at the Tigress, intrigued "I'd be willing." He said nodding his head He'd always wondered how he'd do against an actual Jedi, as opposed to one of the corrupted ones.

"Well then, since we have to wait on Nathan to get back to the real world, mind showing me your ship?" Pakitra addressed Jake "Chance and Khan can have their match while we wait on the guys to come out of seclusion."

"Be happy to." Jake said easily, standing to follow Pakitra out, back towards their shuttle.

Chance stood up and walked over Sheir "Any time you want the match is good with me." He said easily.

"As Ms. Dyne said, things are calm now, so now would be good." She indicated for him to follow "We have an area set up for 'saber practice Do you have a weapon with you?"

"Yeah, its in the shuttle I'll go get it."

Jake quirked an eyebrow as the second Darshar he'd seen here seemed to be casing the shuttle, clearly fascinated by it and not hiding the magic she was using to study it in the least.

"Come on, Myrra," Pakitra chuckled, "the Major's giving a tour."

Both females paid close attention, both with their regular and extraordinary senses as Jake showed them around.

The inside of the shuttle was a very efficient, and function oriented design The cockpit was reminiscent of an advanced bomber, with four stations; pilot, co-pilot, gunner/ scanner, and communications/ computer officer The chairs were padded and contoured in a manner similar to an orbital shuttle, designed to lessen the effect of G-forces The pilot and co-pilot stations were identical with a wide array of displays, and a user-configurable holographic console A fairly standard advanced fighter style control stick was present at both stations.

Behind the cockpit was a combination dining area, conference room and computer access area There were two computer stations, one on each wall and two more consoles built into the central table.

Aft of the conference room was a small passenger area, designed more for the safety of passengers than luxury.

The rear section was the engineering compartment, with access to the main and secondary drive and power plants A ladder connected the two levels of the engineering section Both females lingered, extremely curious about what they could glean, but made no objection when Jake gently moved the tour on.

Foreword of the engineering compartment on the lower level was a fairly simple barracks set up to sleep eight roughly Kat sized individuals The sleeping slots had a side which appeared designed to keep sleeping individual from falling out of bed if the craft moved suddenly.

Fore of the barracks was the galley and infirmary There was one life support capable medical bed and two non-critical care ones.

"Very nice." Pakitra purred softly as they wound back to the bridge.

Before anyone could say anything else, the red alter claxon went off again and Cathedral's slightly mechanical female voice boomed though the hanger "Invading fleet incoming, scramble for defensive counter-strike."

"Three in one day?" Pakitra all but cried.

Jake looked at Pakitra "Need any help?" He asked pointedly looking at the weapons console in the cockpit.

"Any and all is welcome." She didn't even hesitate before running to the gunner station and touching it, focusing deep inside to connect with it and get the links set up across the alien gear "You've got a link to the main control station, and reference on who *not* to shoot."

Jake hit a button on the communication station as Pakitra followed the Darshar out. "Chance, no time for that duel we've got an invasion to repel." He turned to Canard. "You're taking co-pilot this time, I'm Chance's gunner." He sat down at the console and powered up the weapons.

"Invasion?" Chance said as he slid into the pilot's seat and powered the ship up. "Any info on the attacker? And what's the fast way to get airborne from here?"

Canard checked the co-pilots station and accessed the comm gear. "BlackSun Five to Cathedral Control Requesting launch clearance to join defense forces." He said professionally as three of the five jets lined up and launched from the ramp they had entered through.

"Follow Black Phoenix out." A female replied with an edge of excitement in her voice as the floor began to position them "Data should be downloading to you by now."

"Acknowledged, Control." Canard replied.

Chance waited for the jets to launch and followed them out at an appropriate distance He expertly configured the shuttles systems for atmospheric dogfighting, and looked for the enemy.

"Canard, bring up the electronic warfare controls. Try to determine the enemies comm frequencies and if they don't overlap Cathedral or Black Phoenix; jam them An enemy who can't communicate is severely handicapped Correction, jam them if Cathedral or Black Phoenix isn't already doing that." Jake said from the weapons station.

He scanned at the edge of the weapons long range looking for targets, figuring the shuttle's weapons would have a longer range than the local fighters, even as impressive as they were.

He didn't have long to wait, even as fast as they had scrambled, the incoming formation, a mixture of fighters and bombers, crossed into MegaKat City airspace at supersonic speed before they have even passed over the entire gigopolis.

Out of the corner of his awareness, Jake felt the three Black Phoenix jets power up on the magical plane and dark forward, leading the hodgepodge Cathedral force, which was quickly joined my much more primitive craft marked as Enforcers.

Following standard procedure, Canard set the shuttle's scanners to record all available sensor data on the invaders for later analysis by Apollo.

"Chance, bring us above the pack and angle in on the bombers We want to take them out before they can do serious damage to the City."

"Okay, buddy. Hang on, here we go." Chance said as he opened up the atmospheric ion drive, and pushed the fighter up to Mach 10 bringing her quickly above the altitude of the enemy.

Jake quickly locked on to what seemed to be the lead bomber and cut into it with the forward plasma guns, followed by a volley from the twin railguns "Got it!" He exclaimed happily as the bomber became an impressive ball of fire The lean tom was ecstatic, since they didn't get too many missions where fighter combat was necessary.

Chance smiled and turned to bring the shuttle around on another target He made a note to thank Vulcan for making the shuttles comparable to a fighter in performance.

As Jake targeted his fourth target the three Black Phoenix jets roared into the conflict, using a mixture of missiles, lasers and ramming to take their share of the force out The three seemed to pay not head when they were targeted, and as the first missile exploded against a strong energy shield it became apparent why, and why they dared the ram-tactics.

Within minutes, it was over, and the final sweeps and clean up began.

As final sweeps completed, Canard compiled the sensor data into a encrypted package and transmitted it back to Apollo for analysis

Jake shook his head at the thought of three invasions in one day MegaKat City was always a hotbed of problems certainly, but that was completely out of line with any other universe they'd encountered.

Chance waited for Black Phoenix to return to base, and followed them in He chuckled at the thought of ram-tactics with a jet; even given the shields making it possible it was still somehow unbecoming Ramming was something tanks and ships did, not jets.

As they pulled into place they watched the six members of Black Phoenix, including the two Jedi, head to the back of the complex, and out of sight as the jets powered down and Jake noticed all three 'download' themselves into the main complex system, then elsewhere.

The other two jets were being worked on at almost a furious rate, and there didn't seem to be a single unoccupied hand anywhere.

Chance noticed the two jets under construction He turned to his partner. "You know, even with five jets, if the pace of attacks continues they're going to have problems."

"Agreed That wasn't a real invasion force anyway; it was more of a softening up force More of a prelude to invasion This is going to complicate getting Nathan out of here, unless Janus goes along with the commuting idea."

"Rafe'll get them to agree, he always does." Chance said assuredly.

"Maybe, but this may require more than that."

"Perhaps Guess everybody went in for debriefing."

"Probably, we can wait here Especially since we weren't invited, and we don't know where they went for debriefing anyway."

"ITA officers?" A professionally calm voice came over the comm.

Jake toggled the comm "Yes, this is Major Clawson."

"You are requested to join the command briefing in one hour." She stated evenly "Master Khan will show you there In the meantime, Ms Dyne authorized you to have a tour of the facility, or you may stay with your craft She asks that you not wander on your own at this time."

"Understood And a tour would be appreciated if someone can be spared to show us around." Jake said evenly.

"Security Officer Celci will be there shortly." She replied.

"Thank you." Jake nodded as the line went dead.

He turned to Chance and Canard. "Might as well get a look 'round Just in case."

Chance grinned at his mate. "And you want to get a look at whatever they're working on."

Jake tried to look innocent. "Well, that too." He lowered the ramp. "Keep an eye out for our escort, rookie." He said grinning, making it clear it was just in fun.

After they'd watched the work on the two incomplete jets for several minutes a chocolate skinned human approached them, wearing the typical dark blue and red uniform of Cathedral.

"Majors, Lieutenant," he saluted them sharply, "I am officer March Celci I'm to take you on a short tour of Cathedral Is there anything of particular interest?"

Jake looked at Chance briefly "Think we can get a look a what's going on aviation-wise here? After all, that seems to be what's important."

Chance looked over the human briefly and realized that he was an Earth shapeshifter of some sort, though he could be sure what kind exactly It vaguely reminded him of the Mouse morph he met while recovering Rafe during his first ITA mission.

"Certainly, sirs Feel free to ask any questions that come to mind, though I may not have answers for you on all of them." The human motioned to the Black Phoenix jets "They are the most advanced we have built, full AI controlled craft mind-linked to their pilot-gunner team Three teams are operational, the two you see there should be combat worthy within six months, and four pilot/ gunner teams and AIs are making due with lesser craft, including a few we have from other worlds."

Jake looked with interest at the Black Phoenix Jets, but then found the mention of other worlds interesting "Other worlds? So how extensive is Cathedral's contact with other worlds?" He asked curiously, since that was one of the big variables between Cathedral variants.

"We have members of over forty worlds and sixty races on staff." He said after consulting his wrist-comm "Most crash landed here by one means or another, and don't have the capability to return home, though a couple prefer to live here."

"Sixty races? Well, that's not quite as many as HQ but almost nobody has that many So what do these off-world craft look like, it's always interesting to see the differences in designs between species." Jake said curiously.

Chance chuckled at his partner, who quite reliably could get sidetracked by two things ... sex and tech, or gods forbid some mingling of the two.

Officer Celci nodded and turned "Follow me Our latest is called a Veritech She just finished speed tests The pilot was a human, much like myself, and its main feature is it can transform into two other forms, a humanoid and a jet with legs." He chatted as they entered a room-like lift.

"Very Cool." Jake said conversationally "Sounds similar to the Gundams we saw in one dimension, right Chance?" He asked since the tabby had actually, flown one Jake was curious to see what a Veritech looked like in comparison.

"Yeah, the Gundam Wing did the transform bit. Kats, was that a rush. Switching from Jet-mode to mobile suit mode while in flight." He said enthusiastically, though he didn't mention that Jake had an under construction 'Gundam' in their hanger at HQ.

"Ever get anybody here from a place called PuckWorld?" Canard asked, since the subject of off-world aliens was the topic.

Jake sighed mentally, remembering that Janus and Hermes hadn't been able to find the right PuckWorld to date They'd found a few, but there was always something wrong with them Rafe had talked about that a bit, since the black on silver tabby hated not being able to keep a promise, even if there had been an understanding that ITA might not be able to locate the Duck's home dimension.

Celci did a quick datacheck "No, no one from that world, but there are three mentions of a 'PuckWorld' in various universe reports."

"Thanks for checking." Canard said, returning to looking around He hadn't really expected anything, but it never hurt to ask.

Jake and Chance nodded, and followed the officer quietly for awhile taking the opportunity to gauge things around Cathedral, so they'd have a better idea of the situation, once Apollo got back to them on the combat analysis.

Jake couldn't help but be reminded of the early days of SWAT, the highest tech weapons on the planet built in a junkyard While Cathedral was considerably nicer than any junkyard, it held much the same feel: one of technology scavenged and designed by brilliant minds well ahead of anything that should be possible.

They stepped out of the lift into a viewing lounge overlooking a 'hanger' that stretched as far as the natural eye could see It was crisscrossed by thick colored lines, many of them forming squares or rectangles, each contained a single vehicle Vehicles that were as varied as the creatures working on them.

"This is our main working hanger for prototypes." Celci indicated the expanse "The Veritech is in slot 26-95." He pointed at a large white jet.

Chance looked over the facility. "Wow, looks like the main hanger at AeroTechnics Eyrie Design Facility."

Jake nodded, as he realized that that was the other thing he was reminded of "Not quite as big as the Vulcan Facility, but then again that's also used to design starships."

He turned to Celci "So is the Veritech going to be housing one of your AIs?" He asked curiously, most of the ITA pilots stubbornly preferred that their vehicles be smart, but not intelligent Chance had even been a bit taken back when he found out for the first time that TurboKat was an AI.

The officer nodded "They use it when there isn't something better available, along with several others Black Phoenix has more teams than craft."

"Recruiting working faster than design and production? ITA usually has the opposite problem, we can get craft faster than flight qualified agents." Jake commented making a mental note to check with Command about setting up some sort of loaner program.

Chance looked around and realized that his counterpart would probably jump at the opportunity to fly this stuff He would if he didn't have access to similar or better.

Celci nodded "The Black Phoenix are hand build and designed for their team It's a slow process, but the results are rather spectacular."

Jake nodded. "They certainly were in that last battle." He said admiringly.

"But just who came up with the idea of ram-tactics for a fighter plane?" Chance asked, still a bit shaken by the idea of doing that with a fighter.

"Sometimes you just have to check the opponent into the boards." Canard commented, not seeing a problem with the tactic, given that it worked.

"I believe it was NightRazor." Cerci nodded and ushered them out of the observation lounge "Though it was his AI, Amerith, that took to it the most She's apparently quite the up-close-and-personal type, for a jet." He shrugged "I believe this tour will continue after the meeting."

They followed him quietly, though Chance eyed his partner a few times Jake just shrugged, it wasn't like it was him; it was just the local variant. A variant who was more not him then many of the ones he'd encountered, he felt.

"Thank you for joining us," Pakitra nodded professionally as the ITA agents sat down "This is Kenra Issyra, my Chief of Security." She motioned to the tall, golden Lioness with a multitude of braids controlling her long hair "And Jedi Master Sheir Khan, second in command of Black Phoenix." She indicated the stately tigress that had joined them before "The point of this meeting is very simple," she leveled her gaze on ITA Jake, "I want to know what you and the ITA will do to help us, and what you want in return, besides our cooperation in the SolGardin case."

Jake recognized a straight-talk session when walked into one "As far as what we want that's simple, just the cooperation on the SolGardin case As far as what we can do to obtain that cooperation ..." He decided to go a ways out and figured that Rafe'd cover for them, as usual. "One of your problems right now is that you're short on defense craft As you saw from the shuttle's performance, ITA can provide the craft to allow you to get all your teams in the air Now, according to what we've been told your handcrafting craft to teams, which is why you've got more teams then operational craft By providing craft we can give you the time needed to do this 'hand-crafting' process."

He paused. "But I think the real issue here isn't equipment, or even Colonel SolGardin The issue is that Colonel SolGardin is currently LifeMate to your chief inventor, Commander Clawson; and that the Colonel's departure stands a good chance of costing you the Commander as well." He looked at his wristcomp briefly "But the simple fact is, that Colonel SolGardin is not here of his own accord, which leads to a simple question: If a ship from the Colonel's homeworld showed up, and he chose to leave and the Commander chose to go with him ... then what would you do? It's a very real possibility you realize."

He wasn't entirely sure this was the best approach but it wasn't like he had a TechnoMage he could just drop in to substitute and even with full cooperation from Janus, the commuting idea had some serious flaws ... dimensional striation for one thing This had the distinct potential for becoming a serious mess; the Colonel was way too tangled in local politics for someone who was supposed to be apolitical.

Of course, the fact that a Hermes scout had spotted a ship from the Colonel's galaxy did make things far more interesting.

"If I couldn't get some kind of help from them, same as I'm asking from you, we'd do our best," she shrugged, "same as we always do I've sworn to protect this planet, and my people, and I will do just that, no matter the odds."

Jake nodded "We're willing to help, though it would help if you'd be more specific with what you wanted The only limit really is that we can't go introducing tech that's far ahead of what you already have. Though you've got a tech advantage on the opponent currently."

"Unfortunately, we can't just pull a replacement TechnoMage out of a hat If you've got some specific research areas where you could use help, we can provide some assistance there We're not trying to disrupt things for you, but same as you've got a planet to protect we're protecting dimensional stability as a whole Same mission, different jurisdiction.

"But we'd really like to keep this on a cooperative basis, things generally work out better for everybody that way And it's a lot less paperwork, as well."

Chance shook his head He didn't know where Jake had picked that line up, but used it every chance he got.

Pakitra nodded, apparently pleased "There are two projects, and the answer to one question, that are on the top of my priority list."

She brought up a technical holo display in the middle of the table "This is what we have of a unit useable teleport system It is very close to ready, but a handful of bugs, technical glitches, are preventing use and we're in a stalemate with it.

"This is the EverGreen Project." Another set of technical specs came up "It is an estimated eight years from operation When it is working, the entire planet could be fed from a fifty-acre complex.

"The questions is: who is trying to take over the planet and how can we get rid of them?" She glared in real irritation "We know it's an offworlder, past that, it's speculation and not very productive speculation."

Jake looked over the teleport system and the super-farm project "We can pass these along to our R&D Division, and have them get back to you They seem feasible within the local technology curve, and it shouldn't be a problem to get them to at least the functional prototype stage, and probably complete the teleport system."

"As to who is trying to take over ... we'll have our scouting and intelligence operations look into things But if they're off-world that should make them fairly visible to our resources I expect our diplomats will probably show up shortly to establish a more regular and formalized line of communication, since none of this is going to happen instantly and secured communication will make consultation easier and less vulnerable to interception or interruption."

"I understand," she nodded, then considered for a moment "Since you have the capability, would you be willing to return those who want to go to their homeworlds home? Many of our personnel are not local, and not necessarily happy to be stuck here." She sounded more like she was asking a personal favor than anything.

Jake nodded. "Transportation can make arrangements, once we get things set up more formally It will probably take a little while to get it set up properly, but it's certainly not a problem." He said calmly, glad that he'd checked about the amount of acceptable noise "So, any sign of the Colonel and Commander coming out of Joining yet?" He asked conversationally.

Her eyes flicked 'out' for a second and she shook her head "No news yet Anything you are interested in, in the meantime? At this rate, they may be a while yet."

"For myself, I'd like to get a look at the lab where that teleportation project is being worked on You never know, I might have an insight or two." He smiled at Pakitra "But I think there was a sparring match that got postponed by that attempted invasion." He nudged his quiet partner.

She nodded "I'll show you the lab, while they spar." She shifted her focus to Canard "And you?"

Canard looked surprised to be noticed "I think I'll watch the sparring match A good friend of mine is pretty handy that way."

Chance slapped him on the shoulder. "Sure thing, Canard You haven't seen anything like this before I'm sure."

Pakitra stood with a slight smile "Jake, if you'll come with me, Khan will show your friends to the energy weapons arena."

The three ITA agents stood, and Jake stage whispered to Chance. "No getting hospitalized for weeks this time. I do not want to fill out the paperwork."

Chance chuckled "I'll see what I can arrange."

"Nathan?" Jake purred softly as they relaxed on the black sand beach, still at sunset "What's important to you?"

The tiger-tabby thought for a moment about whether to answer the question specifically, or philosophically He rolled over to face Jake "Short list? You, family, friends." He said quietly, some part of him wondering where this was going, since nothing lately was as simple as it seemed "Or were you looking for something more general?"

"I don't know," he answered quietly "I just ... wanted to know."

Nathan nuzzled the tom gently "Perfectly reasonable question It's one of those things that often come up in the early stage of a relationship."

He smiled slightly "Not terribly original of me, but what's important to you?" The tiger-tabby asked quietly.

Jake looked thoroughly stumped for a long time before answering after several false starts "Being useful."

Nathan smiled gently "That's something I can understand, I may not think of it that way, but it tends to be how I relate I'm always busy worrying about how I can help, protect and generally look after those important to me."

Jake nodded and let his mind drift "Just how much does Sharing actually have to cover?"

Nathan looked stumped for a moment, then chuckled quietly. "I honestly don't know I know we've covered more than most couples ever do ... but then we had more to cover I would think we've covered enough, I mean if we aren't comfortable with each by now, I don't know what else will help." He hugged the Kat close "Earlier you were having doubts about wanting to return to the real world Feeling up to that now?"

"I guess," Jake sighed "Nothing's ever going to be easy, is it?"

Nathan pulled the lean tom close. "Probably not, love But then again, if things were easy we'd go looking for a challenge We both get bored too easily for our own good."

He looked around at the unchanging beach "Guess I'd better ask Mother about getting us out I think we've gotten sidetracked so many times, that our minds are comfortable in here."

The tiger-tabby focused along the link with the Triad. "*Mother, I think the Sharing is over, but we seem to be 'stuck'.*"

The Lioness stretched and carefully examined the state of things making sure that the LifeBond was fully completed in both ways, before gently guiding the two new LifeMates back to their respective bodies.

Jake groaned as he tried to move muscles stiff from too long in an awkward position and wrinkled his nose in distaste as the mixture of sweat, semen, sex, fear, hate, pain and exhaustion assaulted his nose.

"We definitely need a shower ... and breakfast." The cinnamon tom tried to sit up.

Nathan looked at his mate, and nodded. "Definitely." He tried sitting up and found himself more than a little dizzy.

Felsira looked at the two and gently washed out the stiffness with a gentle golden light Keltin suddenly appeared, and the two of them helped the LifeMates to their feet She wrinkled her nose. "Yes, you both need a shower ... just a shower." She said with a wink.

"Yes, Mother." Jake smirked playfully at her.

Nathan chuckled as they headed to the bathroom "I guess she figures we've had enough 'playtime' for today."

Jake chuckled "At least till we explain to everyone out there who's upset."

Nathan grinned. "Of course, after that we'll probably need some more playtime." He chuckled.

"Or just hide-time," he shook his head as he turned the water on "That isn't going to be fun."

Nathan nodded, as he got the cinnamon Kat under the comfortably hot water "I know." He said, putting levels of understanding into the simple words, as he tried to keep his own nervousness at the back of his mind, only partially successful.

Jake sighed in contentment as he leaned back for a long moment, soaking in the heat from both sides before grabbing the shampoo "Worth it."

"Absolutely." He agreed quietly, while soaking in the warmth and humidity from the shower, which felt a great deal like the jungle on Felsinor after a summer rain.

Alex woke to the sudden jerk of tension in the sleeping tom in his arms, and grabbed Patrik as the petit tom tried to bolt for the door.

He used his larger weight to hold the small tom back. "Hold on a minute Rik, what's the sudden rush?" He asked concerned.

"They're awake," he grinned to cover his worry and racing heart as tried to squirm out of the calico's grip "Joining's over."

Alex smiled. "Yes, they're awake, but given how long they've been at it, they'll probably need to clean up a bit So why don't you calm down and pull yourself together." He said gently. "They just came out of what should be a very positive experience ... not major surgery."

"I need to see Jake." He squirmed insistently, then unsheathed his claws without true malice "Let me up I need to see him." There was real fear in his voice and scent.

"Okay, Rik. Just calm down, we'll go see them But get dressed first, okay?" He grinned, trying to calm the little tom down as he let go The calico rolled out of bed and dressed quickly, though he wasn't entirely sure about this He wasn't sure how his son would react to a father he hadn't seen in fifty years.

Patrik was dressed and out the door as Alex buckled his belt and ran after him, catching up at the lift to Jake's quarters when it made the agitated pilot wait.

"Never around when you need them." He grumbled as he paced, then bolted in before the doors even finished opening.

Alex got in quickly. "Universal constant, elevators are never where you want them." He said lightly.

As they reached the scarred door, Alex spotted that it was still pretending to be part of the wall He chuckled, figuring that either Keltin hadn't remembered yet, or Jake and Nathan weren't quite ready yet.

Inside, Felsira sensed the agitated pilot approaching She was amazed at just how noisy the kit was on a tech-psi level She looked at the two LifeMates lingering over breakfast, that she'd saved both of them the time of fixing.

"You two feel up to dealing with a small part of the outside world, or should Keltin keep the door thinking it's a wall?" She asked smiling.

"Please, let Rik in." Jake spoke softly and stood to greet his pilot at the door.

Nathan nodded quiet agreement.

"*Okay, Kel. Put the door back to being a door.*"

"*Okay, Fel. It was starting to complain anyway.*"

The door, now remembering what it was, opened and a black and white ball of fluff and worry all but collapsed into Jake's arms.

"You okay?" The almost quivering tom asked, fear rich in his voice.

Jake smiled and licked his face affectionately "I'm in better shape than I was, Rik You okay?"

"Yeah," he shivered again and twisted to put himself in a position for a kiss, and smiled and relaxed when Jake met it, then claimed his mouth with a real passion.

"*I love you, Patrik.*" Jake gently touched minds, much to the pilot's surprise "*I want you in my life no matter what happens.*" He broke their kiss and tipped Patrik's chin up so bright blue eyes met dark amber ones "I love you, always."

Nathan smiled at the two, and then spotted the small Calico in the doorway, who seemed to be watching him He quietly walked over. "I don't think we've met, but from what Jake said you must be Alex Thanks for looking after Rik. Took a real load off Jake's mind."

Alex grinned "My pleasure." He hesitated "And we have met before, Nate It's just been a while."

The tiger-tabby had a brief surge of reaction "You don't look familiar, and 'Nate' is reserved for special people."

"That hasn't changed any."

"Huh? Now I know I've never met you before I never forget who I've met." The tiger-tabby was getting a little annoyed.

"Unless they're shapeshifted."

"What? Well, that's true enough But shapeshifting is a pretty rare talent among Kats."

"Who said I was a Kat?" Alex said, the corner of his mouth quirking.

"Oh, then what are you?" Nathan asked, figuring he was talking to another product of local engineering He grinned, they did seem to like to do small ones.

"*Felsin, like yourself.*" Alex said mind-to-mind, along the weak parent-child link.

"What?!" Nathan yelled in disbelief. "That's not possible. And what are you doing on that frequency, my parents died fifty years ago."

"*I know, Nate I felt it too, and I'm sorry I took so long, but it was necessary.*" Alex's voice was apologetic.

Nathan stumbled backwards till he hit a wall He shook his head. "Not possible, it's just not possible."

Alex shifted slowly so that no one would miss it, when he became the Lion Felsin. "*I know its hard to believe, and I'm not going to force a relationship that I haven't done anything to deserve But I wanted to congratulate you on your Joining Kind of jealous actually, I think you got the best tom around.*"

Nathan recognized the Lion's scent finally. "Cazi?" The Lion nodded "Thank you, and you're right, I did." The tabby pulled himself away from the wall, and didn't shy away when the Lion hugged him.

"*I'm glad to see you, Cazi, really It's just hard to believe.*"

"*I know, I had the same reaction when I first found out you were still alive.*"

Nathan noticed the two Kats watching curiously. "Oh, I guess I should explain Jake, Rik this is my father, Cazimir Sunfire."

Jake was staring at the Kat-turned-Felsin with a mixture of emotions on his face as Patrik stayed contentedly in his arms "Okay ... I'm not sure whether to hug you, hit you or turn you in to security."

Cazi grinned a little sheepish "The first is preferable, the second understandable, and third would hardly be original."

Nathan rolled his eyes, and shook his head "Just what are you doing here, anyway? Or better still, how did you get here?"

"Xander is the answer to both questions." Cazi smiled.

"No fair answering a question with a question." Nathan chuckled.

Jake groaned and slapped his forehead, then shook his head "Okay, father-in-law, just what form are you keeping around here, and what should I call you? And humor me, voluntarily put this in the system."

Cazi chuckled and resumed his calico form. "This is the form I've been using, very comfortable with it too As for what to call me, well Alex or Cazi will do, whichever your more comfortable with." He grinned broadly "Sure I'll put it in the system Heck, I'll even leave it there."

Nathan shook his head, and looked at the calico in mock disbelief. "You didn't?"

"Not even once, though I make no such assurances with regard to the rest of the planet." He said smirking.

"You're as bad as Caito, you know that." Nathan said smirking.

"Ebon used to say that too."

"You aren't still playing the Lion of a thousand faces game are you?"

"That was work, not a game."


"Just to keep in practice."

Jake shook his head and made a move for the bed "You two play catch up wherever you want," his voice lowered to a whisper "I have some making up to do myself."

Nathan grinned, and whispered back. "Have fun, see you later, love." He said as he ushered the calico out of the room "*I'm glad you've decided to keep him You had me worried briefly that you might do something foolish.*"

Outside in the hallway, Nathan looked at Alex "Okay, why don't we go to your quarters to talk? My place is back in MegaKat City."

"So when did you two start dating?" Alex asked casually, as they walked back to his quarters.

"This morning." Nathan said calmly, ignoring the stunned look on Alex's face.

"You're joking, right?"


"Bit soon for Joining, don't you think?" Alex asked with a little concern.

"There wasn't exactly time to think about it."

"I thought he was marrying Felina."

"Don't remind me."

"Don't like her?"

"Hardly know her But I'm a little concerned about how she's going to take this."

"Yeah, she's bigger than you and an Enforcer."

"Bigger only sometimes."

"Come again?"

As the doors to Alex's quarters shut, Nathan shifted to war-form.

"Keltin's claws!" Alex exclaimed "How did you do that? You don't have, I mean didn't have that ability."

"Don't know exactly, but I've got the primal back too." He said, shifting to tiger mode, and then to Felsin mode "Since Friday."

"Busy weekend."

"That is a serious understatement."

Jake gently pinned Patrik to the bed with his body and kissed him tenderly "*I'm sorry for how I've treated you, Rik I'm very sorry I left you with any doubt about how much you mean to me.*"

Rik responded enthusiastically to the attention, kissing Jake back "*Nothing to be sorry for.*" The small tom was a little uncertain "*I'm your pilot still right?*" He asked thinking about what Cazi had said about Nathan flying again.

"*As long as I'm a gunner, Rik.*" He whispered "*And when I am not, I still want to be your mate, if you want me.*"

Rik wasn't sure what Jake meant, he knew he wasn't designed to be Jake's primary mate "*But you've got Nathan I mean I'll follow you, but he's your mate.*" Rik said, feeling more than a bit confused and it showed in his scent.

"*Yes, he is,*" Jake spoke softly as he caressed the small tom's face "*He is my LifeMate But you are more than my pilot, Rik I care for you beyond that, beyond anything ... I know you don't want to be my primary, that it's not part of what you are, but Nathan's culture is much like ours that way There is no reason you can't be my mate as well as he is my LifeMate.*"

"*So it'd be okay with him? I don't want to cause trouble between you.*" Rik asked leaning into the caress happily, even while his mind was struggling with the different relationship Jake was suggesting He knew he wanted to be with Jake; that was simple But he had never though about being anything more, being Jake's pilot had always been enough.

"*No, no problems, other then when he bopped my ears when I was worrying over it He's rather adamant that if I love you, I had better stay with you, and make sure you knew.*" He moved slowly down Patrik's neck, grazing the pulsing vein with sharp teeth "*You are mine Rik Now and forever Never doubt it.*"

Rik relaxed and went submissive beneath Jake's teeth. "*I never want to leave you, ever.*" He thought, working on becoming the mate that Jake wanted After a moment, he smiled weakly. "*If he's being that nice, think he'd go for a threesome?*"

"*He's already suggested it, he thinks you're quite attractive.*" Jake chuckled softly "*Do you want?*"

Rik purred lustily under Jake. "*The way Alex described that Joining it sounds like we should be celebrating, what better way. Besides it's good practice, I think we're going to be together a lot.*" It was hard to tell were lust ended and amusement began.

"*Nate? Would you mind coming here for a while ... Rik wants to celebrate properly.*"

Nathan chuckled. "*I'll be there momentarily.*"

The tiger-tabby looked at Alex. "If you'll excuse me, Dad. My mates want to celebrate." He said grinning.

"Mates?" Alex raised an eyebrow.

"Jake and Rik."

"Both of them? I thought you Bonded with Jake.'

"Package Deal." Nate said as he headed out the door, shifting to tiger mode to cover ground faster.

As the tiger left, Alex shook his head "From no mate, to two in less than 24 hours And I thought I worked fast."

Nathan walked into Jake's quarters still in tiger form, having forgotten he'd shifted.

Jake looked up and chuckled as Patrik stared in curiosity "Nate, I thought you weren't too familiar with that body, at least not in this context."

Nathan mrred. "*Well, I learned a few things during Joining. Like I had much choice.*" His voice was teasing, and clearly quite amused. "*Actually, I forgot I was wearing it.*"

"Well come up and pick a form to start with," Patrik smiled playfully and patted the bed.

"*Yes, do,*" Jake rumbled hungrily "*The war-form is welcome too, you know.*"

Nathan shifted to his Felsin form and climbed into bed with them "*I'll have to work up to the war-form in the real-world, it's easy in Joining where nobody can get hurt.*" He looked between Jake and Rik "I take it you two have worked things out." He looked significantly at Jake.

"Yes," he took a deep, contented breath "I think we have."

Nathan smiled happily, managing to get an arm around each of them "Good, I'm immensely relieved to hear that Nice to see something going right." His scent was entirely that immense satisfaction, though a little arousal tinted it when he looked at the two Kats.

"Jake sandwich?" Patrik suggested innocently to Nathan.

Nathan grinned at the small tom. "I like the way you think." He said before rolling to the side of Jake opposite Rik He smirked at him over the lean tom, who was making a determined, and very successful, attempt to get Jake turned on enough not to argue about anything.

When the lean gunner growled, his arousal heavy in the air, Patrik shifted to his knees and curled a pillow under his chest It took no further prompting as Jake covered him, grabbing black scruff in his jaws before plunging into the tom under him His hands roamed over Patrik's body, drawing whimpers and cries of pleasure from the black and white.

Nathan expertly ran his hands over Jake's back; gently rubbing those places he'd learned the tom like to be touched He gently ran a teasing hand up under Jake's tail, looking for a response to tell whether the Kat was interested in that attention.

"*Yes!*" Both toms' minds answered him, though Jake's was slightly stronger as he stilled, buried completely in his pilot and added, "*mount me.*"

The tiger-tabby needed no encouragement, and after using two fingers to loosen the Kat up, mounted him in a somewhat rough fashion reminiscent of their encounters in Joining He put his teeth near Jake's neck in the same fashion Jake was doing with Rik He instinctively timed his thrusts so that he was on a down when Jake was on an 'up' with respect to Rik Of course, occasionally he mistimed and they both ended up thrusting down at the same time.

The raw, lustful, approval from both of them washed over Nathan as Jake lost control first, jerking Patrik's upper body up and down to deepen his penetration for the last few shuddering thrusts Patrik grunted and shivered before Jake finished, soaking the bed under him.

Nathan lost control almost immediately after Patrik, and thrust harder into Jake for the last few thrusts, filling the Kat's ass quite thoroughly He roared as the muscle spasm passed through his body, taking the last bit of control he had left.

Patrik recovered first, purring deeply in his chest as he squirmed out from under the file of felines to snag a quick kiss from Nathan "So ... is this one of these everybody can touch everybody groups, or do I need to keep to Jake?"

Nathan reached over a claimed a quick kiss from the little tom. "Unless Jake objects I'd say it's everybody can touch everybody." He bent down and kissed the recovering tom. "I certainly like the idea."

"*No objection,*" Jake mumbled "*Godda take another shower through.*"

Patrik rolled to his side, clutching his gut and laughing hard enough to roll tears down his eyes.

Nathan burst out laughing, just before he fell off the bed. "*This isn't the first time we've had that problem.*" He'd said on a frequency he'd figured out included both Kats.

"*Won't be the last, either.*" Patrik howled in amusement and rolled over to drape and arm over Jake and looked at Nathan, still sprawled on the floor, over the gunner's prone body.

Jake just muttered incoherently.

Still laughing Nathan crawled back up onto the bed, draped an arm over Jake and leaned across to claim a deep kiss from Patrik "*Probably not, and that's a good thing.*" He said grinning. "*Gotta year of catching up to do.*" He said, his grin widening.

"Rik ..." Jake mumbled quietly "*Just a note ... Nate takes to rimming like someone thought I would.*"

"Really?" The small tom perked up considerably and grinned broadly and leaning forward with a distinctly predatory expression for Nathan.

Nathan caught the predatory look and just smiled As far as he was concerned this could go on for days, since the longer they played the longer the so-called real world would stay away He looked mischievously at Jake. "Who 'ya gonna slip in while I'm not looking this time?" He teased, chuckling in pure amusement.

"Mmm, Alex maybe?" Jake mumbled, not even very awake.

Nathan looked shocked, then started giggling. "Jake, there are a lot of things I'll try ... but sex with my father isn't one of them You really aren't awake are you?"

He looked at the Kat seriously, then at Rik. "I think somebody needs to actually sleep." He lay down next to Jake, and put his arms around the lean tom as Patrik snuggled in on the other side.

"*You're already good for him.*" Patrik's deep approval and trace of amazement laced through the thought.

Nathan settled into a quiet, meditative watch ready to disperse any nightmare that might disturb his mate's sleep He looked at the small pilot and smiled. "*You're good for him too.*" He thought with a great deal of approval and acceptance.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3         Part 4         Part 5         Part 6         Part 7        

A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 6 of 7

NC-17 for friggen Everything
Het Level is Low
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

228 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written April 1, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka, Todd McCall, Vorex and Lailokos

Setting: Galactic Alliance, SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Darshar, Felsin, God, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Abuse, Betrayal, Death, Mpreg, Violence

Pairings: Nathan SwiftClaw/Jake Clawson/Patrik Celest and many others.

Notes: Part of the infamous STD set of stories that began the monster that is Fur and Fantasy. This was the first spin off, and second story we ever started.

Once upon a time, on a list called SWATKats_Adult, a conversation resulted in Vorex posting a snippet to the effect of 'Chance as requested; fucked, abused and a little confused' and invited me to add the Jake parts to the series that would become Secrets Too Deep.

Around pt 7 of that, a nut case going by Todd McCall joined the fray and created a divergent timeline with me, which became this beast, Variant B. Known elsewhere as 'Secrets Too Deep: SWAT Kats Three' and 'STDB', among others.

Now the six of us involved in writing various variants have taken over our own list for it, because we chatter too much.

Originally released in 41 parts, it's now compiled for archiving.

Blurb: With the third SWAT Kat away at a medical conference, all hell breaks loose at the Yard, and getting his partners back together are the very least of Nathan's concerns soon enough.

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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