Melody's Captivity

by Sablesword

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© Copyright 2012 - Sablesword - Used by permission

Storycodes: M/f; scifi; captive; bond; straps; tease; tickle; bells; dance; sex; climax; cons; X

Even though she expected it, M’rerallie Clan Chumf winced when the grey metal wall suddenly appeared in front of her starfighter. She’d always found coming out of stasis to be a bit disconcerting.

Earlier, she and her cousin had set on a rich prize of a freighter, and two Commonwealth starfighters had come racing in to its rescue. One of them came straight at her, his quad autoblasters hammering her shields, and she threw her starfighter into a twisting turn while dropping her shield’s threshold to an insanely low two percent. Just in time: A final burst brought her shields below the ten percent that normally triggered stasis.

She flew a pure evasive pattern, trying to buy time for her shields to regenerate, but he stuck to her like a tick-seed in her fur. A deliberately low-power shot splashed against her depleted shields, and a familiar voice came over her comm.

“Give it up, Melody. I’ll stase you if I have to, but I’d rather not risk the leak-through and I don’t think you’d want to either.”

He was right, demons take him. A full-power hit would overload her shields, turning them into a stasis field – but not before the excess energy came through them to hit her.

“Code White,” she had sent back as she cut off her engines. Then, flipping open the protective cover, she had toggled a final surge through her shield generator, sending her starfighter into stasis.

Now she must be in a Commonwealth tender, in the ‘iron box’ used to thaw stasised fighters. Trying to blast her way out would not only be futile, but hissrush as the sarm would say: Both discourteous and dishonorable. She opened her canopy and began the process of surrender.

She removed her flight helmet and threw it over the side, then took a moment to rub the cramps from her ears. The vids undoubtedly trained on her would see a feline face with a broad nose and large green eyes, surrounded by the mane that most Narnow females possessed. Next over the side went her antique blaster, after first ejecting the power cells. After that, her boots, followed by the rest of her flight suit. She stretched, one hundred and fifty-two centimeters of nude feline, flicked her tail, and swung over the side of her starfighter to drop on the deck.

The air and the deck were warm, heated by the energies used to de-stasis her starfighter. She sauntered jauntily to the hatch, stopped when it opened before her, clasped her hands behind her neck, and took three careful steps into the next chamber before dropping to her knees.

Max Anders was waiting there. He was human, built on the same bipedal plan as the Narnow, but tailless and with nude skin rather than stripped fur. He had on the short pants and shirt that pilots and other spacers usually wore when the life support was running warm, and his heavy boots clumped on the deck as he stepped toward her.

The last time they had met, he had been the barefoot one, and she had worn the boots. Demons take it, if only she had zigged instead of zagged, their score would now be tied. As it was…

“M’rerallie Clan Chumf,” said the voice she had last heard from the comm, “I offer you mirlivima. Do you request the Right of Stasis?”

“No,” she answered with equal formality. “I am mirlivima.” Under the Epsilon Conventions, she might have demanded to be put into stasis until the next prisoner exchange. But the Epsilon Conventions also recognized the custom of mirlivima. It had originated among the Narnow in their pre-spaceflight days, but the other species among the Sagittarian Pirates had long since adopted it: Humans, Sarm, Baylee, and all the others. More recently, the forces of the Orion Commonwealth had adopted it as well.

“Welcome aboard Tender 94, Melody,” Max went on less formally. He brought out a set of memory-leather straps, and she didn’t resist as he bound her, pinning her arms to her sides and binding her legs at knees and ankles. The straps were familiar – they had been made to her measurements a few years back. His man-scent was familiar too, and when he picked her up she tried to keep from breathing it too deeply. Not that it was unpleasant – quite the opposite. Demons take it, she didn’t care what the medicos said. There had to be pheromones in his scent. Why else would she feel that weakness in her knees, that fluttering in her belly, that craving for the sensation of his clever fingers in her fur?

Their first stop was at the shower. Melody admitted to herself that they both needed it after hours in the cockpit. She just didn’t want to be reasonable about it.

“You’re doing this to torture me,” she grumped. If she was grumpy, maybe she wouldn’t turn goopy on him.

“Torture?” Max raised an eyebrow at her. “I’ll be right in there with you. In fact...” He stepped into the deluge. “Not too hot, not too cold. Here.” His hands reached out to lift Melody off her feet and pull her into the shower with him.

“Nooo!” she moaned as the warm water drenched her. She squirmed, but memory-leather held her fast, and the shower’s safety-field kept her from falling.

“Oh come off it Melody. I know very well that you use the shower over on your own Amazon Princess.”

“Set to misting. I don’t let it soak me. You don’t have to worry about wet fur. Well, not as much as I do,” she amended.

“So we use shampoo, instead of soap. Like this.”

Warm water wasn’t so bad, Melody admitted privately to herself, once one got past the initial soaking. It was worth it to be clean again. She relaxed and leaned against Max as he lathered her. And if you’re going to go goopy on him anyway, what’s the problem with drinking in his scent?


Thirty minutes later, they entered the pilot’s lounge, clean and dressed. He was back in the day’s uniform: Boots, shorts, and short-sleeved shirt. She wore an even skimpier costume: Barefoot, with a Old Terran bikini of blue silk, Baylee dancing bells locked on her upper arms, on her ankles, and near the tip of her tail, and narnow slave-thimbles on her fingers. These last were silver cups set with synthetic gems that prevented her from extending her claws. Nor could she remove them: Fine chains ran from each fingertip to a bracelet locked around the wrist. They were splendidly barbaric, she thought as she wiggled her fingers to make the gems flash. Just the thing for an untamed mirlivima.

Two other pilots from Max’s squadron waited for them. “You already know Algigu,” Max said. The lean Juddoian looked up from his trilute and nodded a greeting. “And this is Lieutenant Te’oaarl Clan Tiyah,” Max indicated the male Narnow. “He joined us since your last visit. Terry, this is Melody clan Chumf, the pilot I picked up during yesterday’s patrol.”

“So you are the trouble-maker Max was telling us about.” Terry leered at her, human-style, then flicked his ears in amusement when she hissed at him. Max grinned as well.

“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “Terry is pair-bonded to Janet Tiyah-Dunn, the tender’s engineer. She’ll have his whiskers if he does more than look at another female.”

“Ah,” Melody said. “One of those. But…” she looked another question at the three Commonwealth pilots.

“Flight Officer Boronus transferred out some weeks back,” Algigu explained. “And Kim is currently entertaining your cousin Holly.”

“You must have missed it in the furball,” Max said, “but Holly managed to stase both my kid brother and the freighter you were chasing, I saw the Amazon Princess pick them up after you surrendered. We’d drifted in our personal fight, and I was too far out of position to stop them.”

“Fortunes of war,” Melody purred, giving him a grin. Max returned a rueful shrug in agreement. Her ancestors would have been shocked by her grin, but the strict segregationist policies of the old Terran Empire had ended centuries ago, along with the Empire itself. Now the different species lived together – grew up together – in both the Orion Commonwealth and among the Sagittarian Pirates. As a result, they adopted many of each other’s gestures.

It also meant that the concept of ‘species loyalty’ was as dead as old Terra itself. Loyalty was to ones planet, or to the Commonwealth or the Sagittarian Brethren as a whole. Melody did not expect any special sympathy, much less aid, from Terry, any more than Max’s little brother Kim would expect special treatment from the human members of the Amazon Princess. The very concept was something from bad historo-drama, and applying it to the present would be like equipping a modern starship with a coal-fired powerplant.

“Speaking of the fortunes of war,” Max said. He pulled a remote from a pocket and thumbed the illumination down, leaving Melody in a pool of light. “It’s time for you to dance.”

Melody expected this, of course. It was traditional for mirlivima to dance for her – or his – captor’s friends. In fact, Melody would have been insulted if Max didn’t call on her to dance. She was a good dancer, unlike, say, Max himself. Cousin Holly had snickered for weeks after that performance. So as Algigu began a tune on his trilute, Melody stretched, flicked her tail, and began to dance.

The dancing-bells she wore jangled prettily as she spun and gyrated, and the gems on her slave-thimbles flashed in the light. Algigu wove the dance tune as only a Juddoian could, making use of all three hands. The other two pilots kept time with applause sticks as her bare feet drummed on the decksole, then clattered them in an imitation of human-style applause when the dance ended. She panted heavily from the exertion, but tried to control her breathing when Max stepped over and scooped her up. She knew that she would succumb to his delicious scent eventually, but – not now, not yet. Oh? And why not?

A service-bot brought food and drink, and they all set to. Somehow, a memory-leather strap showed up as well, and Melody found herself in the crook of Max’s arm, eating dainties from his hand while her own were bound behind her.

Eventually, Terry and Algigu took their leave. “We have patrol to fly tomorrow morning,” Terry said.

“And datawork to fight before then,” Algigu added. “Sometimes I think the proper division of the universe is not between the Commonwealth and the Pirates, but between the pilots and the data-pushers.”

When the other two pilots were gone, Melody nipped at Max’s fingers. “So, you’re not completely tamed yet, are you?” Max said.

“I will never be completely tamed,” Melody answered. “If it weren’t for these,” she shrugged to indicate her bonds, “I would scratch you right now.” As a mirlivima she had to at least pretend to be dangerous.

“Then I’ll keep you tied until we get back to my quarters.” So saying, Max picked her up and slung her over his shoulder.


Back in his quarters, Max stripped Melody of bikini and bells. That was all right: Those things would only get in the way, in his bunk. He also removed the slave-thimbles, while leaving her wrists bound in the memory-leather. That was all right too: She could stretch her claws and pretend to be dangerous, and he would pretend along with her, but of course neither of them would actually hurt the other, or even offer insult. And so with her wrists bound to satisfy honor, she could relax and admire him.

Somewhere along the way, he had stripped off his own clothes. Melody admired his alien, male body as he propped her up with pillows and strapped her down, restraining her tail and fastening her ankles well apart. The feel of clever hands in her fur that promised more to come. The odd, tough-tender, nearly naked skin of his, that he displayed before her. The muscles under that skin, that possessed such uncanny endurance. She could exhaust herself against them, and they would continue to hold her, unflagging in their strength.

She breathed in his male scent and made herself face him. No doubt she would be mush before the night was over, but pride required that she not start out that way. Besides, there was that wicked glint in his round-pupiled eyes, as he turned from her to hunt through the draws of his tiny desk.

“Do you remember when you first fell mirlivima, and I asked you what you would do if the situation were reversed?” he asked.

“Yes.” Melody hoped that Max wouldn’t remember her answer. She squirmed in his bunk, but the memory-leather held her perfectly.

“And do you remember what you did when I finally fell mirlivima to you that last time?”

“Yes,” Melody answered more cautiously. It seemed as if Max did remember.

“Well then.” Max turned back to her, with a feather in his hand.

“You wouldn’t. Would you?”

Max sat on the bunk and applied the feather-tip to Melody’s naked left sole. “I need you tame before I can sleep tonight,” he explained. “This is one way of getting there.”

“Oh,” Melody said. She grimaced and squirmed as the feather traced lightly over her foot. “Oh, no, he… he-he,” she began to giggle. Her parents had had her feet declawed when she was a young kitten, so that she could wear shoes and boots like a civilized Narnow. And as a result her soles were soft and deliciously ticklish.

Max shifted and began to tickle her right foot with his fingers, while still applying the feather to her left foot. “Ticklish, are you?” he asked rhetorically. But Melody was laughing so hard, now, that she didn’t know if she could answer. Besides, she hated, really really hated, admitting just how much she enjoyed being tickled.

Max knew, however, judging from the confident way he went about the task. Possibly it was from the all the hints she had dropped, when they were together before. Or maybe her cousin Holly had told him. Or perhaps this was just a gentle revenge for all the tickling she and Holly had put him through, the one time when he had been her mirlivima.

Speculation ended when Max abandoned her left foot to impose a vigorous two-handed tickle on her right. Melody yowled with laughter, and thrashed wildly – and uselessly. The memory-leather straps held her perfectly helpless, as he switched back to tickling both feet at once. The sensation on her soles was impossibly, unbearably sweet, and secondary waves of pleasure washed up her legs and down her tail. “Ohh ho ho ho, ha, he he he,” she laughed.

At long last he stopped, letting her catch her breath, giving her a drink of water. “Are you tamed now, Melody?” he asked.

“I… yes. Mostly,” she answered. She wanted him to continue tickling her, but she wanted other things even more. And so she arched herself in blatant invitation.

He chuckled, and began running his fingers through her fur. Clever fingers, that brought a pleasure less intense but no less delightful. His blunt teeth nibbled at her with a delicacy no Narnow could match. His tongue teased her ears and her nipples, sending joyful shocks through her, and then he was in her. She tried to grip him, inside, and he laughed and kissed her, his arms around her. She squirmed, pulling happily against her bonds, as her helplessness added its own spice to the proceedings.

She yowled her pleasure, and he grunted his, grinning at her. As she knew would happen, the uncanny endurance of his human muscles left her exhausted in the end, blissfully limp with barely the energy to purr as he undid the straps binding her. He brought her back into his arms, cuddling her, and she fell asleep.


Late the next morning, she sat alone at his terminal and studied her claws. The new coat of pearl-white polish reminded her of her cousin. Holly had always teased her about having “the claws of a barbarian,” in contrast to Holly’s own blunted-and-polished set. But Max had insisted on giving her a manicure that morning, before he went off to fly his patrol, and now Melody’s claws were as civilized as her cousin’s.

It did make using the terminal more comfortable, she admitted to herself. Of course, the terminal was physically disconnected from the tender’s main network, leaving her access only to the recreation net, but she would see what was available.

If she had been a better tech, she might have reconnected the terminal and gotten into mischief – except for her collar. She touched the gold circlet Max had locked on her neck before beginning to trim her claws. It was a standard mirlivima collar, with a screamer-circuit that would go off if it sensed any funny business on her part. The collar didn’t include a stunner – that would have been a violation of the Epsilon Conventions – but the screamer circuit would alert the tender’s maintenance bots. They had stunners installed, since they doubled as part of the tender’s security system.

No, she’d be a good little kitten for the moment and see if there was anything new in the rec-net. There’d been a couple of decent games installed the last time she was here… But now an icon was flashing at her. She opened the text message.

[If you want out of that cabin, I have something to show you & ask you. Will you give your parole? -- Janet Tiyah-Dunn]

Who? Oh yes, the tender’s Engineering Officer. Well, it might be interesting.

[Yes, I give my parole,] Melody messaged back. [-- M’rerallie (Melody) Clan Chumf] the system added as her sig.

[OK, there in a few. -- Janet Tiyah-Dunn] came back.

Melody sat back to wait. A parole given by text-message didn’t technically count, but violating it would still be hissrush, and therefore Not Done. Strange how the Sarm word expressed a Narnow concept better than any of the major Narnow languages.

“Clothes!” Melody suddenly said, standing up. She currently wore what Max insisted was an Old Terran kimono. Melody had her doubts, but in any case it was a pink-flowered silken wrap, suitable for the cabin – but not so suitable for visiting other parts of the ship.

The admittance tone sounded. “Enter!” Melody called as she continued to hunt for something to wear. The door admitted a human woman in an engineer’s uniform, holding up something bulky. A flight suit? Melody thought. That doesn’t make sense. Then she saw that it was a simulators flight suit, which wasn’t the same thing at all.

“I brought this for you,” the woman said. “I’m Janet Tiyah-Dunn, the woman in charge of the back end of this pile of rivets.”

“Melody Clan Chumf.” Melody accepted the flight suit.

“We’ve just installed four new simulators,” Janet explained, “Two Scoutships and two Gunfighters. I’m trying to get them dialed in, and I thought you might help.”

“All right,” Melody agreed. She began to put on the flight suit. Getting a simulator dialed in properly was scutwork, as far as pilots were concerned. But it was something that required a pilot’s assistance, and she was still a pilot even if she did wear a mirlivima’s collar. In fact, if the Commonwealth pilots were all out on patrol, she was the only starfighter pilot on the tender.

Besides, it would get her out of Max’s quarters. And it would give her a chance to try a Scoutship from inside.

It wasn’t as if either side would be giving away secrets, though. Scoutships were the standard starfighters of the Commonwealth, and Gunfighters the usual ones for the pirates, but both sides had captured so many starfighters that they now routinely traded them back, along with the pilots. This was a function, as an engineer might say, of both improvements in shielding technology and of the Epsilon Conventions. In the old days, the Terran Empire fought ruthlessly against the Sagittarian Brotherhood, blasting them out of space and executing them when captured. And, Melody admitted, the old pirates had been pretty ruthless in return. After the fall of Terra, the Orion Commonwealth had continued this policy, until the Battle of Bedlam.

The bloody Battle of Bedlam had been more shocking, in its own way, than even the destruction of Terra. Immediately afterwards, the Sagittarians and the Commonwealth had agreed on an armistice, and had hammered out the Epsilon Conventions to support it. The armistice had lasted less than a year, but with the Epsilon conventions in place, planetside populations were safe from raids, pilots with overloaded shields accepted stasis rather than making suicide runs, and prisoners were well-treated and regularly exchanged. The Sagittarians still took merchant ships as reparations from the Terran Empire and its successors, and the Commonwealth still tried to stop them, but death in space combat had become vanishingly rare. Only the merchants complained, and even their yowls were muted, these days.

Dialing in the simulators, so that their ‘feel’ matched those of a real starfighter, turned out to be just as boring as Melody expected, but took less time than she had feared. She sat in one of the Gunfighters’ simulated cockpits, and ‘flew’ the standard test pattern. The first time it felt like piloting a child’s toy with sand in its works, but by the fifth circuit it felt just like the simulator back on the Amazon Princess – or like the beginning of her last flight, searching for prey. She touched the collar under her flight suit. And next time, Max Anders, I will wear the boots and you will be the barefoot one.

Afterwards, she switched to one of the Scoutship simulators and took the pilot’s traditional reward for dialing in a simulator, flying the ‘aces high’ scenario. She took a few minutes to check herself out on the unfamiliar controls: The Amazon Princess didn’t have Scoutship simulators, although plenty of other pirate vessels did. The Scoutship was bigger than the Gunfighter, and therefore slower, in obedience to the physical laws governing ship drives. But not much slower, and not nearly as clumsy as she feared. It wasn’t as nimble as a Gunfighter, of course, but in Melody’s opinion the 25% increase in shield strength more than made up for it.

Melody found herself panting from the heat when the scenario ended, so she skinned out of the flight suit as she left the simulator cockpit. “The environmental controls are set a bit high, at least for Narnow,” she said as she adjusted her faux-kimono.

“Thanks, I’ll take care of that,” Janet said waiving her acknowledgment. Max stood beside her, still in his flight suit – a real flight suit, rather than the simulator version. He was smiling, admiring the skimpiness of her dress.

“Commander Tiyah-Dunn’s been telling me how you agreed to assist her,” he said. “And about how you’ve been having your fun. ‘When the mice are away, the cat will play,’ “

“That’s not right,” Janet said.

“Hush, you,” Max told her, then turned back to Melody. “Now maybe you understand what we Commonwealth pilots have to go through, going up against your Gunfighters in these Scouthogs.”

“I understand that the Commonwealth has better engineers,” Melody purred. “You need stronger shields, to make up for your weaker piloting skills.”

“Pilots!” Janet was elbow-deep in the gravitronic guts of the simulator, but her tone implied throwing both her hands in the air. The other two ignored her.

“Weaker skills my ass,” Max said. “The stronger shields only partly make up for –”

At that moment, alarms went off. “Red alert! Red alert!” the bot voices shouted. “All crew to stations! All pilots prepare to launch!”

The two Commonwealth officers looked at Melody in consternation, and then Max pounced. In a handful of seconds he bound her wrists behind her with a roll of tape fished from his flight suit, then bundled her into the simulator cockpit and taped her ankles as well. The hatch closed on her, and she heard the pounding of his boots as he raced for his starfighter.

Melody yowled in belated protest, but it made sense, once she had a moment to think. Her parole wouldn’t – couldn’t – be honored during a red alert, and so she had to be secured. Neither Max nor Janet could be spared to escort her back to Max’s quarters, and so she had to be secured quickly. This was quickly. She would have done the same to him, if the situation were reversed and she had though of it. But Max had enjoyed it, she thought, squirming into a somewhat more comfortable position. Well, she would have enjoyed it too, she admitted to herself. She’d have to remember this trick, in case she ever had an excuse to use it. And she’d have to practice. She pulled at her bonds, uselessly. Max must have practiced to be able to bind her both so quickly and so effectively.

Someone, mercifully, turned on the comm in the simulator, so Melody could follow the chatter as events unfolded. Two fleets had jumped into the system. One was the Sword of Kings and her escorts, the Commonwealth fleet that the tender had been detached from. The other was an unidentified pirate fleet, which had appeared out-system but was closing fast. Both fleets pumped out starfighters, screening the larger ships.

But then a message came through from the pirate fleet: “Code White: Prisoner Exchange. Code White: Prisoner Exchange. This is Commodore Mei-Qin Jones calling the Commonwealth commander. Code White: Prisoner Exchange…”

And an answering message in a gravelly Sarm voice “This is Admiral Kargan Karsh, commanding the Sword of Kings. Confirm Code White. I say again, Confirm Code White. All starfighters will return to their bays. Tender 14, Tender 76, and Tender 94 will dock with the Sword. All other ships will take standby stations.”

Well, that’s a relief. Melody thought. Then it hit her: Prisoner exchange. It wasn’t fair; she’d been mirlivima for only a day. Max would be so disappointed.

She tried to imagine their next encounter, with Max as the barefoot mirlivima surrendering to her booted self. But it might be weeks – seasons, even – before we have another chance to fly against each other. She squirmed, struggling futilely against her bonds and fuming at the injustice of the universe until Max finally arrived to free her.

“Well,” Max said, once he had cut away the tape. “I guess it will be good-bye soon.”

“For now,” Melody answered, trying to cheer him up. “But not forever.”

“For long enough.”

“And when we do meet again, you’ll have your superior starfighter,” Melody snipped, suddenly irritated at the way Max echoed her own thoughts.

“What do you mean, ‘superior’?” he snapped back. “I told you: It’s the Scouthog. Sure,” he huffed, “it’s shields might give an advantage when two inferior pilots dogfight. But when a superior pilot – when two equally superior pilots encounter each other, your Gunfighter has the edge.”

“I’d like to see you prove that!”

“In the simulators you mean? We might have time to do that, before the prisoner exchange finishes.” His expression grew thoughtful. “We really might have time, if you’re up for it.”

“In the simulators?” Melody echoed. “It’s not the same. We’d have to wager something on the outcome, of course, but it couldn’t be the same stakes as a real dogfight.”

“Maybe it could be,” Max was still thoughtful. “Or maybe not. The brass would never go for it.”

“Go for what?” Then Melody realized what Max was thinking. “You mean having the simulator dogfight count as real, with the loser surrendering as mirlivima? You could ask. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

“It depends on how annoyed they get. But it still might be worth asking – if we can answer their objections.” He grinned. “I’ll take you for another torture session in the shower, and then we can think about it.”


Max patted a pocket of his flight suit. “Now, will you come along quietly, or will I have to tape you again?”

“I’ll come quietly,” Melody answered. “This time. But only because I’m too busy thinking to resist.”


Max initially put his request to Commander Saunders, who shunted it up the chain of command. The response came swiftly, and so less than an hour later Max braced to attention before Admiral Karsh, with Melody standing quietly half a step behind him and to his side. The reptilian Sarm looked over the two with a cold eye then returned to the memo displayed on his terminal.

“Let me see if I understand this, Lieutenant,” he said in his gravelly voice. “You propose a simulator battle, with you in a Gunfighter, and M’rerallie Clan Chumf in a Scoutship simulator.”


“And you further propose that the loser remain behind as a prisoner, after this exchange ends.”


“And how do you propose to explain this… oversight?”

“Sir, if Melody loses the paperwork for her transfer can be ‘temporarily misplaced’ until the next exchange. And if I lose… If I lose, I can be caught, after the transfer ends, in an ‘unauthorized commando raid.’”

“I hope your realize just how half-baked your idea is, Lieutenant,” the Admiral said almost casually. Then his voice turned cold: “It is not acceptable for any officer in this command to simply ‘lose’ paperwork concerning a prisoner exchange. It is even less acceptable for an officer in this command to participate in an ‘unauthorized commando raid.’ You do agree, don’t you, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, Yessir!”

“Good.” Admiral Karsh leaned back in his station chair – a custom job, designed to fit his large, heavy-tailed body – and pressed a stud. Above the holoplate attached to his terminal, Commodore Jones appeared. “You received the memo, Mei-Qin?” Karsh asked the female leader of the pirate fleet.

“Yup, sure did,” her electronic image replied.

“So, a bottle of port to a bottle of brandy?”

“Make it two bottles, Kargan,” the Commodore answered. “But only if the wingmen agree.”

“One isn’t enough of a test? Fair enough,” the Admiral rumbled before cutting the comm. He turned to his two visitors, still standing at attention. “Dismissed, Lieutenant. Escort your mirlivima to shuttle bay…” he glanced at his terminal, “Fifty-four, and await further orders.”


Shuttle bay fifty-four was busy with the prisoner exchange: A few mirlivima, but mostly captives still in stasis. They would be ‘defrosted’ once returned to their own side.

Melody found a place to sit, and Max sat beside her. “Your admiral will allow us a simulator flight,” she said. “You hear what he said to Commodore Jones. He just didn’t approve of the stakes.”

“I’m not so sure. He could just be twisting our tails, with that bit at the end.”

“You don’t have a tail,” Melody objected.

“He’s Admiral Karsh,” Max answered. “He can twist your tail even if you don’t have a tail.”

A few minutes later a Juddoian crewer in a Commonwealth uniform arrived, with two plain boxes. “Here, Sir,” he handed them to Max. They were as long as his forearms, and heavy. “Admiral’s orders, Sir, and you are to take the next shuttle to the Amazon Princess. Give one of those boxes to Flight Officer Kim, and if you’re asked to give them up, do so and take your medicine. And for the gods sakes, don’t drop them Sir.”

“What’s this about, spaceman?” Max asked sharply.

“Admiral’s orders, Sir,” the crewer repeated. “You’ll learn when you arrive. And I’m to take over here until you get back.” He nodded respectfully to Melody.

The arrival tone dinged, and the current shuttle began to disgorge passengers. “You’d better go, Sir,” the crewer said, glancing up at the general readout.

“I’ll see you later,” Max told Melody. She answered with a smile, and he moved off to join the embarkation line.

The crewer waited patiently beside Melody. One of the passengers from the shuttle – a Narnow – moved toward them. She was carrying a pair of boxes similar to the ones Max had taken, and she looked like…

“Holly,” Melody said. “What in the demon’s names are you doing here?”

Holly grinned, human-style, and handed one of her boxes over. “Commodore Jone’s complement’s cuz, and you’re to keep this until asked for.”

“That’s what Max was told,” Melody said. “So now what do we do?”

“Didn’t you know? It was your idea after all. We have a simulator battle to fight.”

“That’s right Ma’am,” the crewer broke in. “I’m to escort you both to Tender 94.”


Wearing a simulator flight suit, sitting in a simulator cockpit, and flying through simulated space, Melody wondered how real the situation was. She still didn’t know what the stakes were in this contest. Well, even if she was only flying for the honor of the Amazon Princess and Commodore Jones, she’d still have to do her best.

“Stay awake, cuz,” Holly’s voice came over the comm.

“I am awake,” Melody answered. “And there they are. Let’s get ‘em, cuz.”

Flying through simulated space, two Scoutships charged two Gunfighters. The Gunfighters broke left together – right at Melody – and she looped away in an evasion pattern. Two sets of autoblasters caught a piece of her, and almost sent her into stasis. Almost.

Holly caught one of the Gunfighters and hammered it hard in return. It twisted away into its own evasion pattern, and Melody took advantage to drop on the other Gunfighter’s tail. Her own shields needed time to regenerate, but if she could stase her opponent quickly… It fell into her sights, the targeting computer locked, and she hammered it hard – but not hard enough. It slipped away, and she couldn’t reestablish lock. But it couldn’t break clean, either. Until, finally “Ha, got you,” she breathed. The scoutship spun, lining up the shot, and then… I didn’t think a Gunfighter could do that Melody had time to think before it sent her into stasis.

It was simulated stasis, of course. The simulator’s controls locked, and a bot-voice droned “Stasis…stasis…stasis…” Melody killed the voice and set the controls to observer mode.

Melody’s opponent now raced after Holly, and Holly turned aggressively against her own opponent before she could be taken in a two-on-one. It almost worked, but Holly fired before her lock was quite good enough. Her opponent returned fire more accurately, and Holly’s scoutship drifted in simulated stasis as well.


Janet was waiting for them when they emerged from the simulators. “My condolences,” she said, handing each of them a juice bulb.

“Fortunes of war,” Holly said with a careless flick of her ears. “Thank you.” She drank half the bulb at once, then started stripping out of her flight suit.

Melody did the same. It was the tender’s flight suit, after all, not hers. And it wasn’t even a real flight suit, just a simulator version. “Now what?”

“Now I claim those two boxes of yours,” Janet said, “And then you can just relax until it’s time for you to return to your ship.” Holly snorted at that, and Janet seemed to be having trouble keeping a straight face. She accepted the two unmarked boxes from the felines, then turned back to her memo board, suddenly interested in the eternal datawork battle.

Holly stretched out by the simulator and dozed. Melody sat with her thoughts running in circles: They had to be. But then how could they? So they couldn’t be. But they had to be.

I have to think of something else she told herself. Well, there was the Scoutship. It wasn’t the wallowing beast Max had claimed, but its improved shields weren’t the advantage she had thought they would be. Not against a good pilot, and Max is a good pilot. But so am I. So next time… but that threatened to send her thoughts into the whirlpool again.

Max arrived with his brother Kim, both men grinning hugely. “Good, you’re here,” Janet said. “These two had a pair of suspicious boxes.” She opened one and pulled out a bottle. “Iridian brandy,” she said, looking at the label. “I’d better take these to the Admiral.” She left the chamber.

“Iridian brandy’s strictly contraband, here in the Commonwealth,” Kim said. Both brothers were grinning widely enough to split their faces, while Holly looked both amused and disgusted.

“Admiral Karsh gave orders that any Sagittarians caught smuggling would be kept prisoner until the next exchange,” Max said.

Oh, Melody realized belatedly, so that’s how they arranged it. And Max was behind her now massaging her neck and shoulders. She leaned into him, encouraging him to do more, and felt her hands gently drawn behind her and fastened in the memory-leather.

Holly stood facing Kim. “I’m sure Commodore Jones gave similar orders,” she said with dignity.

Melody didn’t think Kim’s grin could grow any wider, but it did. “Yes,” he answered. “But we weren’t caught.”

Holly threw her dignity into the air, along with the few bits of clothing she had worn under the flight suit. She knelt before Kim and clasped her hands behind her neck.

“H’wollie Clan Chumf,” Kim said formally. “I offer you mirlivima. Do you request the Right of Stasis?”

“No,” Holly answered. “I am mirlivima.”

Max handed Kim the roll of tape, and Kim stepped forward. Melody didn’t catch what passed between Kim and her cousin – she was too distracted by Max’s clever fingers in her fur. She squirmed against him as his hands teased her breasts and belly, ran down to the outsides of her thighs and back up again. But her curiosity drove her to ask a question.

“What’s that tape? It didn’t stick to my fur when you used it on me, before.”

“It’s a special adhesive,” he whispered in her ear before nibbling it. “It sticks to anything except protein – like leather, hair, or skin.” He kissed her, and whispered into her other ear. “I have another roll in my quarters, if you want to see what it can do.”

“Yes,” she answered, and found herself being picked up and carried off.


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