(A series of short scenes taking place either before Breaking Protocol or after Courting the Ice Princess. Mostly pointless. Additionally, several of them refer to characters created by Amaretto Sour and are borrowed with permission from her stories: No Matter What - http://maderr. Poor Kitty - http://maderr. Sleeping Beauties - http://maderr. It's very helpful to have read those first.)

Creme Cookies and Lemon Tea

It was well after normal office hours on Zero, but there were still two persons awake and diligently working in Lower Chancellor Rana Eridani's office. One was the Chancellor himself, absently chewing on the end of a creme filled cookie while he surveyed a series of reports, and the other was one of his three secretaries. Delta Altair.

Rana Eridani's other two secretaries had gone back to their rooms and their beds nearly three hours ago, with a gentle parting barb for the remaining two "not to work too hard and get at least some sleep." Rana had dismissed them absently, most likely not even comprehending the words, and Delta hadn't heard them at all.

The minutes ticked by slowly, only the faint sounds of deft keystrokes breaking the stillness as Delta summarized the transcriptions of several meetings. So absorbed was he in his task that he completely missed when Rana moved until the distinctive sound of the door lock clicking shut brought him out of his focus.

Delta looked up and around, finally turning to regard the Lower Chancellor where he stood a few paces away from the door. The man was no great beauty, but he wasn't plain either. Shorter than Delta by nearly half a foot, with long, silken red-gold hair that was usually twisted back in the current style. When it was loose it could be observed to hold a hint of a curl, far more striking and captivating than Delta's own straight dark-blond hair in its utilitarian tail. The man wore a lightly-embroidered variant on the high-collared uniform of the Infinitum Government that hugged the slender, willowy shape of his body and made him appear all the more graceful. His expression, as always, seemed completely composed. To nearly everyone that knew him, Rana Eridani was a complete mystery.

Delta had never had any trouble reading him. From the first day they'd met in the Palace of Eternity library he'd been able to see beneath the mask. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time, until a chance comment sometime later had let him know that the ability was unique to him. Well, he amended mentally, his brother would probably be able to, but his brother could read everyone. Delta could only read Rana.

He didn't much care about everyone else. As long as he had Rana, he was content. And the look Rana was giving him now beneath the veil of that so-polite mask let him know that the feeling was entirely reciprocated.


Rising slowly from his chair, Delta paced across the floor to slide his arms around Rana's narrow waist and lower his head to muss the red-gold hair with his nuzzlings. Rana smelled like lemons, as always. Rana barely went anywhere without a cup of lemon tea waiting for him. It made him smell fresh and new and entirely delicious.

"Need a break?" Delta murmured, sliding his hands slowly up Rana's back, feeling the smooth silk and soft hair beneath his fingertips.

"Do you mind?" Rana asked softly, his breath hitching as Delta's caresses found a sensitive spot.

Delta's hands brushed upward along Rana's sides, gliding over the thin fabric covering his chest before reaching up to cup the man's cheeks and tilt his head up. Rana's eyes flitted closed as he stood on his toes, willing and waiting. Delta raked his eyes slowly over the sleek body for a moment before lowering his head to capture those enticing lips with his own.

Just a little nibble at first, a light brushing of lips, a little lick to pick up the taste of both Rana and the cookies he'd been nibbling on. Then he ran his tongue along the crease and those warm lips opened up obediently beneath him, allowing him in to plunder the depths that awaited him. Here he could taste the slight bitterness of Rana's tea, softened by the sweetness of the creme in his cookies, and overlayed with the indescribable flavour of Rana himself that Delta could never seem to get enough of.

He withdrew slowly, licking each of Rana's lips again as they parted, then quirked his lips up into a smile. "You weren't really planning on staying here all night, were you?"

Rana's dark eyes blinked unfocusedly at him, his own tongue darting out to wet his lips, then he slowly shook his head. "No."

Delta smiled and pulled Rana close. "Good."

Bounty Hunting

High Councilor Pyotr Kavalerov sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair for what felt like the hundredth time that hour. He was getting nowhere other than extremely irritated and that was never a good thing. Rather than let things get worse he decided instead to take a break, making his way out of the Palace of Eternity to where a large warehouse sat on the edge of the main city on Zero.

From the outside it was very plain and uninteresting. Thousands passed by every day without even really noticing it. The only reason Pyotr knew it was there was because he'd been the one to locate and purchase it, though he didn't set foot in it all that often.

Stepping up to the smaller of the two doors, he placed his hand upon an unobtrusive metal square set at shoulder height. It was faintly cool to the touch and prickled ever so faintly as it scanned his genetic coding. A moment later the door slid open and he stepped inside.

The interior of the building was as different from the exterior as it could be. Bits of dismantled or partially-constructed objects lay everywhere, several completed projects hanging from the ceiling while the walls were covered in thousands of tiny hooks, shelves, and drawers, each holding a small component and arranged in a manner that made sense to only one person. The person that was sitting cross-legged on a clutter-covered table near the back wall and looked up idly as Pyotr entered, something thick and dark sticking out of his mouth.

"Well, it must be serious indeed if it's pried you away from your monitors and your paperwork," Tau Ceti observed sardonically after removing the chocolate bar from his mouth. "So what is it today? Encrypted files? Hidden drug caches? Contraband weapons smuggling? Lurian slave girls?"

Pyotr chuckled quietly. "Out of control bounty hunters."

The Gremlin's brows shot up in surprise. "Sounds a little out of your usual area of interest."

"That would be because there are innocent bystanders getting killed in the crossfire," Pyotr replied with a sigh. "Unfortunately we can't seem to locate them before they show up and cause a bloodbath, and of the few people we've been able to find that have done business with them, none of them know how to find the killers. All they have is a contact number."

Tau Ceti sat back, chewing thoughtfully on the end of the chocolate. "Contact number... huh. I take it you've tried to trace it already."

Pyotr smiled. "Would I bring you a project that simple?"

The Gremlin laughed. "True. You do like to make me have to think." He considered a bit longer, then grinned. "Okay, I'll find you your bounty hunters, but I get my payment in advance."

Wincing slightly, Pyotr asked, "Dare I ask what esoteric thing you're after this time, Tau?"

Tau Ceti smirked and brandished the chocolate bar beneath Pyotr's nose. "I'm running out."

Pyotr grimaced. "I never should have let you near the case that ambassador gave me. You do realize the only place to get those is Bangkok, right?"

"So?" Violet eyes blinked innocently at him.

"And they're more than a little bit expensive."

Tau Ceti smirked. "Put it on your expense report."

Pyotr sighed and rolled his eyes. "I'm still trying to figure out if I'm the bad influence on you, or you're the bad influence on me."

"A little of both," Tau Ceti told him cheerfully, then twisted so he could reach his half-buried console and switch it on. "Now are you going to give me that contact number, or do I have to guess?"






With a quiet sigh, Sigma leaned over the sitting Gremlin and waved a small bar of delicately-wrapped chocolate in front of his nose. "Pay attention to me, or you aren't getting any."

"Huh?" Violet eyes blinked slowly as Tau Ceti leaned back to peer up at Sigma, then to the sweet in his hand, widening as they jerked back up to meet Sigma's bemused gaze. "How did you... Pyotr! He wasn't supposed to tell."

Laughing at the fury in his lover's voice, Sigma helped Tau to his feet and tugged the Gremlin over to one of the smaller worktables that currently held an assortment of expensive exotic chocolate. "Which part? Your weakness for Bangkok chocolate or the fact that it's your birthday?"

Tau Ceti blinked again. "My..." His eyes widened again and he looked around, trying to locate his chrono, then grimacing as he remembered dismantling the thing it make it better. It was still lying in pieces somewhere, forgotten, after Sigma had decided to 'distract' him. "Remind me to kill Pyotr later," Tau sighed, then prodded a bit at one of the chocolate bars. "Or at the very least, change the access code to his office to a randomly shifting series."

Sigma's arms wrapped around him gently, lips brushing softly along the length of one ear. Tau shivered, pressing back against his lover, tail coming up to slide underneath Sigma's shirt.

"What's so bad about a birthday?" Sigma murmured, nibbling on an ear tip.

"Um." It took Tau Ceti a moment to remember what they'd been talking about. "Brother. Brother's birthday too. He used to..." The Gremlin gasped as Sigma's kisses shifted to his neck. "To... to... do things."

"Things?" Sigma asked, his breath hot and humid against Tau's skin.

"Nmh." Tau shifted around so that he was facing Sigma and kissed the human hard. "Doesn't matter. I've spent the last fifteen years getting even." He scowled. "I forgot this year."

Sigma chuckled quietly. "This feud between your brother and you... don't you think it's gone on long enough?"

Tau Ceti closed his eyes, a brief pained expression there and gone almost before it had even fully formed. He shook his head, eyes reopening as he wrapped one arm around Sigma's waist while the other snagged several chocolate bars off the table. "I'll deal with him later. First, I'm going to enjoy my birthday presents." He smiled wickedly. "All over you."


Deep in the bowels of one of the greatest ships in space, two figures darted back and forth across the open floor. All of the room's normal furnishings had been shoved aside to give them room to move, and move they did. Back and forth, dodging, whirling, the hard material of their synth-metal swords clashing and clanging every time blows were exchanged.

The slightly smaller, vividly sunset-colored figure grinned suddenly. "Ah ha! You are using Bonetti's defense against me, ah?" He lunged.

The other, thinner and uncharacteristically dressed in snug black pants and a looser shirt, green skin visible only at the hands and lower part of his face, saluted with his sword. "I thought it fitting, considering the rocky terrain." He leapt up onto a holo-pong table.

"Naturally," the orange Draconis replied, "You must expect me to attack with Capo Ferro." He jumped up to join the black-clad Gremlin on the table, their swords crossing.

"Naturally," Tau Ceti replied, teeth flashing as he grinned darkly.

They both leapt down and resumed their wild duel, throwing out further barbs and carefully memorized lines, until at last Meiki was 'defeated,' falling over dramatically and lying motionless on the floor for several moments before opening his eyes to grin up at his partner in madness. Tau Ceti reached down to grab his hand and yank him up, then they each dashed to opposite sides of the room.

Tau Ceti yanked a foppish purple costume on over his black and removed his mask. Meiki liberally sprinkled his own leather and cotton with red goop 'liberated' from the kitchen and then rejoined the Gremlin in the middle of the room.

"Hello," Meiki greeted softly, though it was obvious from the brightness in his eyes that he was struggling not to laugh. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Clangs rang out as their swords crossed, circling wildly around the room again. Meiki tripped briefly, caught and steadied by Tau Ceti's tail, then the fight resumed in earnest. Eventually Meiki managed to get the Gremlin cornered up against a wall and Tau Ceti adopted a frightened expression. Or as close to it as he could manage.


Meiki grinned and tapped the point of his sword against Tau Ceti's left cheek. "Offer me money."


The Draconis tapped the other cheek. "Power too. Promise me that."

Tau Ceti did a credible imitation of a nervous shiver. "All that I have and more, please."

"Offer me everything I ask for!" Meiki ordered.

The Gremlin's eyes widened ridiculously large. "Anything you want."

Meiki leapt back, his sword flashing. "I want my father back, you son of a bitch!" He lunged, the tip of his sword touching the center of Tau Ceti's chest. Tau Ceti made a few small choking sounds, then fell over onto the floor. Again, they remained there for several moments before the Gremlin leapt up and began squirming out of his purple costume to reveal the black beneath.

The Draconis darted over to where he'd gotten the red 'blood' for his costume, slipping out of the entire ensemble with absolutely no thought for modesty and pulling on a rust-colored gown that looked dark and plain next to his brilliantly-hued skin and glimmering scales. He paused a moment to let his hair down, then zipped back over to help Tau Ceti set up small holographic projectors around the rec room.

"No kisses," Tau Ceti said firmly as he switched on all his toys to create an elaborate 'fire swamp.'

"No kisses," Meiki agreed compliantly, then took up his position. "We'll never survive!"

"Nonsense," Tau Ceti proclaimed, wrapping one arm around the Draconis. "You're only saying that because no one ever has."

"Has it ever occurred to you two that you're insane?" a dry voice inquired, making them both look up in startlement. Q'inn leaned casually against one wall.

"That's not the next line," Meiki pointed out rationally.

The Hellcat laughed. "No? What is the next line?" he asked, amused.

"It's not that bad," Tau Ceti supplied instantly, earning himself a look of disbelief from Meiki. The Gremlin grinned. "I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely."

Q'inn pushed away from the wall and made his way through the holographic trees to join them. "Like I said, insane." He considered them for a moment, then chuckled. "What I want to know is, what's this 'no kisses' thing?"

Meiki and Tau Ceti shared a look. "Westley and Buttercup kiss a lot," Meiki explained. "I'm Buttercup right now, and Tau Ceti is Westley. We agreed no kisses when we do the fire swamp."

"Oh?" Q'inn arched a brow. "Just when you do the fire swamp?" He grinned, flashing a Hellcat's sharp fangs. "Or have you been kissing the Gremlin behind my back?"

The Draconis flushed. "No, no kisses at all," he replied.

"Pity," Q'inn murmured mischeviously. "That might be rather interesting to watch."

Tau Ceti swatted Q'inn in the head with his sword. "Stupid cat in permanent heat. Control your urges or I'll neuter you."

Q'inn jumped back as Meiki interposed himself between the Gremlin and the Hellcat. "Don't you dare," Meiki chided. "I like those parts."

"Just those parts?" Tau Ceti asked deviously.

Meiki flushed and shook his head silently, jumping slightly when Q'inn's arms went around him. The Gremlin and the Hellcat glared pointedly at one another for a moment, then Tau Ceti smirked. "Meiki, I have an idea..."

The Draconis blinked at him curiously.

Tau Ceti shrugged out of his black shirt and tossed it at Q'inn, leaving him bare from the waist up. "Teach him how to play Westley, then we can actually do the whole thing, kisses and all."

Meiki's eyes lit up and he promptly began 'helping' Q'inn into the shirt, despite the Hellcat's protests. Once he was more or less dressed Meiki pressed one of the swords into his hand and stole a brief kiss, then dragged him further into the 'swamp.'

"Okay," he explained, "This is the part where the flames come up and set me on fire and you put it out. All the lines are Westley's, so I'll tell you what to say."

Carefully stepping in the trigger location he waited until there was a series of odd popping sounds and then holographic flames flared up just beside him. He shrieked dramatically, then yelped as Q'inn yanked him away and frantically checked him for injuries. "Meiki! Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"That's not what you're supposed to say," Meiki replied with a frown.

Q'inn stared at him. "What?"

"You're supposed to say," Meiki adopted a jaunty, adventuresome pose. "Well now, that was an adventure. Singed a bit, were you?"

Gaping slightly, Q'inn shook his head and pulled the Draconis into his arms. "Next time you decide to set yourself on fire, warn me first," he muttered, nose buried in Meiki's hair.

"If you'd watch the vid-film with me, you'd know what was coming," Meiki pointed out logically.

"I refuse to come over to the dark side," Q'inn retorted, though he gradually loosened his grip on the smaller Draconis. "So before you decide to make me panic again, what other holographic dangers are you about to throw yourself into?"

Meiki grinned and linked their hands together, pulling Q'inn over to a part of the 'swamp' that looked just like the rest of it. "This part's the Lightning Sand. It swallows Buttercup and Westley has to dive in after her. Then the R.O.U.S.'s come and attack and Westley has to fight them off, and gets injured in the battle."

Q'inn regarded him curiously. "R.O.U.S.?"

The Draconis giggled. "Rodents Of Unusual Size." He raked his eyes down Q'inn's lean feline body before flashing a grin. "I think you wouldn't have nearly as much problems with those as Westley did."

Q'inn snorted. "Rodents are only good for lunch."

Laughing, Meiki stole a kiss, then turned to continue, only to stop and blink. Following his gaze, Q'inn blinked as well. "Xalin?"

The ship's medic stood at the edge of the holographic swamp, holding a sword. Near him was Tau Ceti, smirking broadly. He murmured something quietly, then Xalin loudly proclaimed, "Surrender!"

Delighted, Meiki clung to Q'inn. "It will not happen!"

"Surrender!" Xalin repeated, waving his sword for effect.

"Death first!" Meiki proclaimed gleefully, struggling not to giggle. He blinked, then looked up at Q'inn. "Wait, that's your line. Um... Will you promise not to hurt him?"

A brief whispered conference between Xalin and Tau Ceti later, Xalin proclaimed loudly, "May I live a thousand years and never hunt again." More quietly he added, "Who would want to harm that magnificent body?"

Meiki and Q'inn approached Xalin, then Xalin reached out with two of the arms not holding the sword to pull Meiki against his chest. Q'inn frowned. "Wait now, that's not fair. He doesn't get to keep you."

Xalin and Q'inn regarded one another for a moment, Meiki still caught securely within the circle of Xalin's arms, then Q'inn stepped up close to smirk at Xalin over the top of Meiki's head. "We don't have to 'fight' you know..." he purred.

"Oh?" Xalin asked, arching a brow.

"We could... share..." Q'inn's tail flicked over Xalin's leg as the hellcat pressed closer, trapping Meiki between them.

"Hmm..." Xalin considered, then leaned forward to roughly kiss Q'inn, his one free arm sliding down to stroke the skin just above the Hellcat's tail. "I think I could be... persuaded..."

Q'inn groaned quietly and shifted, his own arms coming up to tease at Meiki and Xalin's sides. The three of them traded caresses and kisses, heedless of anything else until Tau Ceti ordered flatly, "Not in my rec room, you're not. If Westley and the Prince want to share Buttercup, they can do it in their own rooms."

Giggling quietly, Meiki grabbed one each of Q'inn and Xalin's hands, dragging them out of the rec room and blowing Tau Ceti a kiss as they departed. With a sigh and a slight head shake, the Gremlin began setting the room to rights.


Three people stood on the sparkling new bridge of the Combat Class vessel, only one of them human. The human was standing a little apart from the others, strikingly in his dark uniform and looking rather bemused. The two non-humans were staring intently at one another in disbelief.

"... you brought me a stray alley cat," Tau Ceti stated flatly. "Did you remember to bring a litter pan?"

The tawny, red-brown haired hellcat growled and glared darkly at him. "Obviously common courtesy is not your strong point." His tail lashed angrily behind him.

"Tau," Pyotr Kavalerov said with a sigh, "Please try not to pick fights the moment you meet someone. You gave me the criteria to look for, he passes with flying colors."

The Gremlin turned his annoyed gaze on the Lower Chancellor. "If he's even half as annoying as Gypsy, I'm getting even with you later."

Pyotr chuckled quietly. "Gypsy was your own fault," he reminded gently.

"Hmph," Tau Ceti said, then pointed to one of the front consoles. "Go sit down," he ordered the hellcat, "And we'll see if you're as good as the Ice Princess thinks you are."

Somewhat stiff-legged the man complied, and Tau Ceti reluctantly summoned Gypsy to the bridge. He explained their orders to them, a contest of sorts, then set them loose with the Melee's weaponry.

"Well?" Pyotr asked as Tau Ceti returned to his side.

The Gremlin shrugged, his in-specs flashing as he called up a diagnostics program on the main screen. "Now we see if Gypsy kicks his ass or not." His vivid eyes scanned over the data, the faintest arching of a brow the only indication that the readouts were at all unusual. He'd flashed two brief, slightly-sullen glances at Pyotr when the display changed abruptly, then both Gypsy and the hellcat leaned back with matching groans.

"That's not fair," Gypsy protested with a grimace. "You just cut my best time in half."

Tau Ceti stared at the smirking hellcat, then Gypsy, back to the hellcat, then turned to glare at Pyotr. "I hate you."

Pyotr laughed. "You only hate me when I'm right."

"Which is entirely too often for my peace of mind," Tau Ceti grumbled, then waved a hand at the other two. "Gypsy, go take the kitty to medical for some headache tabs. When it's gone, come back up here... I want to test him on something else."

Pyotr waited until they'd gone before looking archly at the Gremlin. "Something else?"

Tau Ceti sulked. "You saw the screens."

"You think he'll be able to handle the full ship?" Pyotr asked.

The Gremlin shrugged. "We'll find out. But you do realize I'm going to drill him intensely before I set him loose with my toy."

Pyotr laughed. "I never doubted."

There was silence for several moments, then Tau Ceti shifted and sighed in annoyance. "All right, you may as well tell me his name."

Pyotr smiled. "Cornelius Lady."

Tau Ceti blinked, then smirked as he rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Oh, this is going to be fun..."

Here Kitty Kitty


"If you hadn't taunted him, it wouldn't have happened," Pyotr pointed out calmly.

"You didn't tell me he was poisonous," Tau Ceti grumbled, wincing as Pyotr bandaged another scratch.

"I did warn you not to get him riled up."

"He started it."

Pyotr made a mild sound of non-committal, then sat back. "That's all of them. You'll probably feel a bit woozy until the antitoxins clear all of the poison out of your system, so don't go doing anything exciting."

"Exciting? No." Tau Ceti gingerly slid off the table. "I'm just going to go put a collar and a muzzle on your little pet so I can clip all his claws."

Sighing quietly, Pyotr shook his head. "I'll make sure I have the med-kit ready."

Explain Something To Me



"Explain something to me?"

Only the ease of familiarity let Ekaitz see the vague hint of curiosity in his Second officer's light grey eyes.

"I've asked around and nobody seems to know. Why does the Ice Princess have two registration numbers?" Ekaitz asked.

Sigma's lips quirked and he chuckled quietly. "One is its production number. The other is the legitimate registration. Chancellor Kavalerov wouldn't let Tau reformat the ship registry to allow for letters, so they compromised and simply left both designations active."

"All right..." Ekaitz frowned. "So, 'TSPKAST-0000' would be the production number then? Is there some meaning behind it that makes him keep it?"

Sigma's smile widened slightly. "It's an acronym."

"Acronym?" Ekaitz considered for a minute, then shook his head. "If it makes sense to Tau Ceti, it probably doesn't make sense to anyone else. What does it stand for?"

Eyes gleaming in amusement, Sigma replied, "Top-Secret Pyotr-Kavalerov-Annoying Space-Toy."

Ekaitz stared. "You're kidding."

Sigma laughed. "Entirely serious."

"That's..." Ekaitz shook his head in disbelief. "What is his problem with the High Chancellor anyway?"

One pale brow arched. "Who said he had a problem with Kavalerov?"

"Well he..." Ekaitz gestured in frustration. "He seems to go out of his way to be rude and try to annoy the High Chancellor..."

Sigma chuckled quietly. "You only see it from Tau's end. Trust me, Kavalerov gets even. The game those two play has been going on for turns. I think half the reason they're both so devious is because they keep trying to out-maneuver each other."

At Ekaitz's doubtful look, Sigma laughed again. "The High Chancellor is as human as I am, Captain. If getting into highly complex sorties helps relieve the stress of his daily work, who are we to question them?"

Ekaitz shook his head slowly. "I keep having to remind myself that from the moment I stepped onto this ship, the normal rules of the universe ceased to apply."

Sigma smiled and said nothing. His captain would figure out sooner or later that Pyotr Kavalerov and Tau Ceti did not bend to the whims of the universe, the universe bent to them.

Repair Costs (or: Why Master Engineers Should Be Kept Separated)

Something shot sparks and a cloud of rather nauseating black smoke caught Formane squarely in the face. He coughed and scrambled backwards, groping blindly for his oxygen mask and inhaling deeply once he had it on, glaring balefully at the smoldering parts in front of him. Apparently, even an elite custom-built ship like the Melee couldn't survive a fight with five drug-runners and come out unscathed.

At least they were alive, which was more than could be said for the slagging runners and their merc ships. Unfortunately the battle had taken out the Melee's primary weapons systems and crippled her light-drive. Getting the light-drive back online and operational was going slowly, but he'd get it eventually. The problem was with the weapons systems.

Everyone on board knew that the Melee was a one of a kind ship. A sparkling jewel in a sea of glass. Beautiful. Deadly. Unique. Unfortunately, the fact that half her systems had been designed and built from scratch meant that most of the conventional repair methods didn't apply. Under normal circumstances it wasn't a problem. He just had to think back-asswards and diagonally and everything was fine. Not counting the headaches, of course.

But this... The central interface circuits had actually fused together, and the library manuals seemed to have been written in gibberish. Some parts seemed to make sense, but others were nothing more than random diagrams that didn't appear to actually correspond to anything on the ship. He was starting to get the feeling that whoever had put them together had just picked up the designer's notes and shoved them in a file without bothering to make sense of them first.


Grimacing, Formane crawled out from beneath the panel that had so rudely gone up in smoke. "If I had about three turns to puzzle through the nightmare blueprints or access to the original Engineer, maybe. That last shot really hurt."

Cornelius grimaced. "In more ways than one. Thank the stars for emergency eject systems. I seem to remember being told that without them our brains would have melted when the system went down."

"Pretty much," Formane agreed, getting to his feet. "The secondary weapons systems are still operational, but they're practically useless with the PCIS circuits like they are."

Cornelius regarded him for a long moment, wincing slightly. "You said... if you had the original engineer... you could fix it?"

Formane frowned curiously. "Probably. Do you know how to reach him?"

Wincing again, Cornelius sighed. "No, but I know someone who does. Come on." He wrapped an arm around Formane's waist and leaned against the engineer, ears flat against his hair. "I'm really, really going to regret this..."

Thirty-seven hours later Gypsy frowned at his console, then turned swiftly in his chair to stare at where Cornelius had slouched in his own seat. "Captain, we have an incoming call..."

Cornelius sat up a little straighter, frowning as well. "From?"

"The Ice Princess, which is sitting approximately fifty kilometers away off our starboard wing."

Trying not to cringe too badly, Cornelius sighed. "Put her on."

A lot of things changed in six years. Some things remained exactly the same. Tau Ceti, for instance, still looked exactly how Cornelius remembered him, slightly-stained navy jumpsuit and all. The people around him, the froo-froo snow-scape masquerading as a bridge, that was all new. But the infuriating Gremlin hadn't changed a bit.

"You overgrown alley cat, what have you done to my ship!?" Tau Ceti demanded furiously.

"It's not your ship anymore," Cornelius felt obliged to remind him, wondering how much trouble he'd get into with Kavalerov if he added a few new scratches to the old ones beneath the Gremlin's clothes.

"Fine," Tau Ceti spat, "What have you done to Pyotr's ship?"

"I didn't do a thing to your precious ship. Apparently you forgot to set it up appropriately for dealing with five angry merc ships firing at us."

"If you quit picking fights with people bigger than you, you wouldn't be getting your ass handed to you, now would you?"

On the screen a pretty man with light blue skin and darker blue hair laid a hand on Tau Ceti's shoulder. "Enough. The High Chancellor didn't send us all the way out here so you could get into an argument with Captain Lady."

Cornelius and Tau Ceti both hissed at him, though the man didn't seem to notice. "Captain," the blue man said calmly, "Please stand by to receive our Master Engineer. We'd prefer if you send him back in one piece, thank you."

Devoutly wishing he could just tell them all to go to hell, Cornelius sighed quietly and signaled to Gypsy. "Fine. We'll meet you in-"

"I can find my own way around, thank you," Tau Ceti snapped, spinning sharply on his heel and stalking off the bridge.

The pretty blue man winced and sighed quietly. "I'd apologize in advance, but it sounds like you already know him."

"Yeah," Cornelius replied with a grimace, flexing his claws and growling softly. "I do."

"So," a voice drolled, carrying a hint of arrogance and more than a hint of mocking, "You're the one they dredged up to try to keep my ship in one piece."

Formane looked up from the system he was working on to take in the figure standing lazily in the doorway. He wasn't overly tall and the loose fit of his jumpsuit hid his body shape, but the green of his skin and the long pointed ears were unmistakable.

"You must be the Gremlin Cornelius was talking about. You built the Melee." Polite, Formane, polite. He'd been warned that this wasn't going to be pleasant.

The Gremlin strolled in casually, vivid violet eyes gleaming as they looked him over carefully, then shifted to take in the general damage that had been done to the Melee's weapons systems. "If this is the best you can do, I think they need to send in for a replacement," he said off-handedly, lips twisted up into a smirk.

Stung slightly, Formane shot back, "Well if you actually made reasonable blueprints, we wouldn't have had to call you out here."

Those eerie violet eyes shifted back to blink at him in confusion. "Blueprints?" he echoed, obviously taken off-guard. "What blueprints?"

Formane blinked and dug his data pad out from underneath a small pile of wires, switching it on. "These blueprints."

The Gremlin paced over to crouch down and peer at the screen, taking it out of Formane's hands after a moment and switching through the various diagrams. "Huh... These aren't blueprints, they're my design notes." He calmly threw the data pad over his shoulder; it landed with a clatter somewhere on the other side of a terminal. "I don't make blueprints."

Formane sighed quietly. "I noticed. So what do you do when something breaks?"

"I fix it." A shrug.


"I just do," the Gremlin snapped, dropping down heavily on the floor and prodding at one blackened mess. "That should not have happened," he muttered beneath his breath. "What the bloody hell did they hit you with, a plasma cannon?"

"Two plasma cannons, a phase emitter, a high-powered space laser, and all the standard stuff on top of that," Formane informed him flatly.

The Gremlin looked up and blinked. "Say that again?"

Formane drew in a breath. "Two plasma-"

"Never mind," the Gremlin said quickly, shaking his head. "Stupid pirates. Remind me to upgrade your armor and shielding before I leave."

Leaning back against the wall, Formane regarded his green associate thoughtfully. "So we're forgiven for frying our weapons systems now that you know what caused it?"

"Mmm, maybe. I have to see how bad the damage is."

"Bad enough." Formane shrugged. "The PCIS main circuits are fused and the primary weapons array is down. And that's just the big stuff."

The Gremlin regarded him thoughtfully, murmuring "fused" several times beneath his breath, then he shifted around so that he was comfortable. "All right. I'm going to go have a look. Don't go anywhere."

Formane started as the Gremlin calmly grabbed onto a handful of live wires, his eyes flickering shut. For several minutes he remained that way, motionless, then his shoulders relaxed and he stirred.

"Umf. Yes, bad enough. Though not a complete disaster." The Gremlin rubbed his temples irritably. "Interface system first. The Ice Princess doesn't have the firepower to defend us if someone comes along and I'd like to stay in one piece. What do you know about neural network pathways?"

"Neural pathways? Not much. I've always been an engineering geek. Never got into the bio stuff." Formane regarded him curiously.

The Gremlin grinned darkly. "How would you like to learn?" he asked.

Taken slightly off-guard, Formane never the less saw the challenge in the question. "Sure."

The grin widening, the Gremlin stuck out his hand. "Tau Ceti."

Matching the grin with one of his own, Formane shook it. "Formane."

Eleven hours, fifteen bottles of water, eight caf-tabs, five clothing changes, and two showers later, Formane was having the time of his life. The insane Gremlin had dragged him all over the ship to replace or adjust various parts, much to the annoyance of the crew who couldn't quite figure out why the deck plates in hallways and private rooms needed to be pried up.

Tau Ceti had been talking almost constantly once he realized that Formane not only was interested in what he was doing but could understand it with only a few sparing questions. They'd had a bit of a rocky spot when Formane had challenged him on one of his theories and the resulting argument had set them back nearly an hour's worth of work. In the end they'd stuck with the original design, but from a few things the Gremlin absently muttered when he wasn't set on making Formane the foremost expert in neural networking patterns, it sounded like he was more than interested in the proposed changes.

They'd just finished getting the PCIS back on-line and were about to test it when Cornelius arrived.

"You link in the normal way and I'll keep an eye on you to make sure-" Tau Ceti broke off suddenly as Cornelius's voice carried.


"He's a little busy, pussy cat," Tau Ceti drawled. "Go find a nice corner to lick yourself clean in and I'll send him your way when we're done."

Formane winced. "Lius..."

"It's three in the morning, you arrogant brat," Cornelius snapped, tail lashing. "Or hadn't you noticed?"

"Aw, does the little kitty need his beauty sleep?" Tau Ceti mocked, scrambling out of the way when Cornelius lunged at him.

"Lius!" Formane grabbed onto the enraged half-cat, pulling him close and holding him in place with all his strength. "Quit that. And you-" He looked up at the Gremlin. "Would you please quit taunting him?"

"Let me go, Formane," Cornelius growled, claws flexing.

"I like taunting him." Tau Ceti shrugged. "But if you prefer I could just collar him again and call it good."

Formane blinked. "You did that?"

Cornelius went still. "Don't even think about it. Either one of you. I mean it."

"Why do you ask?" Tau Ceti grinned. "Want me to do it again?"

"No!" Cornelius hissed, resuming his struggles to get away from Formane.

Formane considered, tightening his grip. "That depends... can you customize it so it says 'Property of Forith Demane'?"

The Gremlin positively preened. "Of course. I'll even throw in a grav-leash to make things interesting."

"You are both dead," Cornelius growled, ears flat.

"Sold," Formane said cheerfully, oofing quietly when Cornelius elbowed him in the stomach but refusing to release his hold.

Grinning brilliantly, Tau Ceti scooped up a handful of extra parts, his fingers flying almost faster than Formane could follow as he manipulated them into doing his bidding. Barely more than ten minutes later he stood and approached, cautiously, his eyes on Cornelius's claws.

"As I don't really want to explain to Sigma how I ended up with more cat scratches..." He gestured.

Formane shifted his grip so that he mostly had Cornelius's arms pinned as well. The Gremlin stepped up close, snapped a silvery collar around the half-cat's neck, then skipped backwards quickly. "There you go. One kitty collar." He snapped a smaller, matching bracelet on Formane's wrist. "And that controls it. I'm sure you can figure out how to make it work."

Cornelius growled lowly, ears still flat against his head, the very tip of his tail twitching in displeasure. Formane considered him for a moment, then smiled at Tau Ceti. "Given that it is, as Lius said, three in the morning, I don't suppose you'd be amenable to a break..."

The Gremlin blinked, then laughed quietly. "I'll be on the Ice Princess when you want to resume." He sauntered toward the door, then turned and waved. "Ta-ta, kitty cat. Have fun." A moment later he was gone.

"Formane..." Cornelius grumbled sullenly. "You are not supposed to be adding to my humiliation. I swear I'm going to flay that Gremlin alive."

"Mmm, you can do that later," Formane murmured, tasting the skin of Cornelius's shoulder just below the collar. "But right now I want to play with the new toy that Tau Ceti was so kind as to gift me with."

"Forma-mmmmm..." The rest of Cornelius's protests were silenced as Formane pinned him against a wall and kissed him soundly, the press of his body revealing in no uncertain terms just how much he wanted to 'play.' "I'm not-" He gasped quietly as Formane's fingers sought out a sensitive spot. "I'm not wearing it in public."

"I never said you had to." Formane's eyes were bright. "This is all for me."

Far sooner than he'd expected, the repairs to the Melee were done. Tau Ceti had promised to draw up true blueprints for him, though he'd also warned that Formane might have to remind him a few times. Apparently Gremlins were easily sidetracked from 'non-essential' projects. More imperative projects, like the repairs to the Melee, were something else entirely.

Formane had always considered himself a geek when it came to technology and engineering things. Tau Ceti had successfully proved that there was a whole other level to technological obsession that he'd barely even touched. This was going to be one of the most fascinating friendships of his life, regardless of what Cornelius thought on the matter.

The half-cat was still sulking over the collar, though the gleam in his eye the last time Formane had seen him wasn't reassuring. Revenge would be had, the question was whether or not the rest of them would survive the fallout.

"I'll put you on the approved list for my workshop so the calls will actually get through," Tau Ceti was saying. "Unless I've blocked everyone and in that case you wouldn't want to talk to me anyway."

Formane laughed softly. "No, I doubt that anything would be that important," he agreed.

They were standing in the transport room, doing the space equivalent of swapping numbers that was a requirement for new friends while the Ice Princess debated whether or not they really wanted their Master Engineer back. From a comment Gypsy had made while trying to hold back his laughter, it sounded as though the discussion had come down to an arm-wrestling match to settle the matter.

Formane had simply decided he was very glad that he was on the Melee.

A few minutes later the doors swished open to admit Cornelius, who regarded Tau Ceti with equal parts hatred and determination. The Gremlin looked him over, lips quirking up into a lazy smirk. "Where's your collar, kitty cat?" he asked.

One of Cornelius's ears twitched, but he didn't rise to the insult. "Tau Ceti. As Captain of the Melee I am obliged to thank you for your assistance." He scowled. "Now get off my ship."

Tau Ceti's smirk widened. "You didn't say please, Lady Kitty."

Cornelius growled lowly, then took two steps forward to put him face to face with Tau Ceti. They watched one another intently for several long moments, then Cornelius lunged forward and roughly kissed the startled Gremlin. They both drew back as though burned, Cornelius's eyes narrowed, Tau Ceti's wide in shock.

"Get off my ship," Cornelius snarled, "Or I'll call Gypsy down here to continue that."

Tau Ceti stared at him for several long moments before shuddering and turning to march onto the transport pad. He was still making faces and rubbing at his mouth with his sleeve when the machinery kicked in and he disappeared.

Formane turned to stare at Cornelius, who promptly dug a bottle of water out of his sleeve and drained the entire thing.

"Yuck. Remind me never to do that again," Cornelius spat, shuddering.

Formane shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure which one of you is going to be traumatized more by the experience."

Cornelius shot him a glare, reconsidered, then reached out and yanked him close. "Do me a favor and erase the taste of Gremlin for me?" he asked.

Formane's lips slid into a slow smile. "On one condition," he said teasingly.

Cornelius's ears flattened against his head. "No."

"Then no kisses." Formane shrugged, struggling to contain his mirth.

Torn, Cornelius's ears and tail fidgeted all over the place before the half-cat finally sighed. "Fine, you win, I'll wear the collar. Now shut up and kiss me."

Laughing, Formane complied.

Royal Exile

The cool water of the pool was soothing and refreshing all at once. He glided from one end to the other effortlessly, darting around plants and twisting every which way just for fun, content to simply relax in his native element. Every time he came down here and immersed himself in the water Ekaitz felt a wave of gratitude that he'd somehow managed to find a place on the one ship in space that boasted its own pool.

It wasn't like being home would have been, but then, 'home' hadn't really been home for a very long time. With every passing day Ekaitz was starting to think of Eliv as home less and less. There was nothing for him on his homeworld now, and everything on the Ice Princess.

A ripple on the water alerted him that he was being watched. Ekaitz rose to the surface, blinking to find Jei regarding him dubiously. "You have no idea how much you freak me out when you do that," the Avarri stated solemnly.

Ekaitz blinked and swam over to the edge near his lover. "Do what?" he asked.

"Stay underwater for so long." Jei made a face. "It's unnerving."

Laughing, Ekaitz reached up with wet hands to pull Jei's face down for a kiss. "My planet is entirely covered in water," he explained when they parted. "There are floating facilities for visitors and such, but the Elivin people all live underwater. I spent the first eleven years of my life without ever breathing air."

Jei considered thoughtfully. "Must make it tricky for your people when practically every other race breathes air..."

Ekaitz shrugged. "You've seen how I end up carrying bottles of water everywhere. I got used to having to make do."

"Yeah..." Jei frowned. "I keep meaning to ask about that."


"You and... well..." Jei hesitated. "You kind of get weird whenever you or anyone else mentions your homeworld."

Wincing, Ekaitz settled back into the water some, trying to decide how much he was willing to share. Did it still hurt? He considered the question carefully, realizing that with Jei's presence so close, so comforting, it really didn't hurt so much. Not anymore.

Shrugging as nonchalantly as he could manage, Ekaitz said, "Nineteen years ago I was exiled from Eliv. If I ever return, I'll be put to death immediately."

Jei's crimson eyes widened. "What? Why?"

It didn't hurt. It didn't. "I..." Ekaitz hesitated. Explaining the banishment to the High Chancellor had been one thing. Explaining it to Jei was harder than he'd expected. "I lost a challenge. By our customs, that made me outcast."

"Challenge?" Jei looked puzzled. "What kind of challenge?"

Steeling himself, Ekaitz drew in a slow breath. "I challenged my cousin for the throne of Eliv."

Jei blinked several times, then gaped. "You... throne... cousin? Your cousin is the King of Eliv!?"

"Actually, he's still the Crown Prince, but my Uncle isn't doing so well..." Ekaitz shrugged as casually as he could manage. "And technically we're no longer related, as I'm in exile now."

"But..." Jei looked rather spectacularly overwhelmed. Even moreso than when the High Chancellor had permitted him to stay on board. "But how did you... why did you... You wanted to be King?"

"Not... exactly." Ekaitz winced. "It wasn't so much that I wanted the throne as I didn't want my cousin to have it. He's lazy, selfish, and arrogant, and will make a horrible King. Unfortunately, he also cheats."

Jei blinked. "Cheats? So..."

Ekaitz nodded. "He cheated, so I lost. But I still lost." He shrugged. "Our laws are less forgiving of potential challengers who lose their challenges than they are of spoiled princes who fight unfairly."

"But..." Jei blinked again. "But... you can't just... He can't..." He sighed in frustration. "Isn't there anything you can do?"

Ekaitz shook his head slowly. "I tried, and I failed. Perhaps someone else will see what he is like and be able to depose him. But it is out of my hands now, unless it somehow becomes a threat to the Infinitum Government." He smiled briefly, somewhat coldly. "If the High Chancellor so orders it, I will face him again, and this time I am not obliged to fight fairly."

Jei hesitated. "If... if it did come to that... would you still..."

"My place is on the Ice Princess," Ekaitz said firmly, reaching up again to caress Jei's cheek. "With you."

Smiling a bit, Jei leaned forward with the obvious intent of stealing a kiss, then yelped as Ekaitz pulled him into the water. The Avarri flailed wildly for a moment until Ekaitz managed to get his arms around Jei's waist, supporting him.

"You... you... you..." Jei sputtered. Ekaitz silenced him with a kiss.

"Don't protest, or I won't show you how we Elivin do certain... things..." he slid his hand between Jei's legs, "In the water..."

Jei bit back a soft moan and leaned into his touch, though his shoulders remained a bit tense. "Just promise you won't let me go under..." he managed to gasp out.

Ekaitz smiled and kissed him again. "I promise." His eyes danced. "My word as a prince on it."

Jei shook his head slightly, though he submitted willingly to the kiss. "That's really going to take a while to get used to."

Chuckling quietly, Ekaitz murmured, "You have all the time you need. I'm not going anywhere."

Birds of a Feather

The tension on the bridge was so thick it would take a thermal-slicer to cut it. Everyone who could possibly find reason to be elsewhere had done so, and those remaining were very carefully looking anywhere but at Tau Ceti. Meeting the Gremlin's eyes when he was in one of his furious snits was always dangerous.

The source of the problem was sitting in his chair very studiously studying his console and trying hard not to feel absolutely miserable. It never seem to fail that whenever Meiki was left alone for more than ten minutes, he broke something. That, inevitably, meant that Tau Ceti had to come fix it, and thus set everyone on edge.

Every time it happened, Meiki apologized. Every time it happened, Tau Ceti completely ignored him in favor of correcting whatever had gone wrong this time. It was hard on Meiki, who tried so very hard to be friends with everyone, but it hadn't gone without notice that Meiki was the only one the Gremlin treated in such a manner. Anyone else would have been subject to a scathing tirade with dripping insults before Tau Ceti went to work. Meiki got... nothing.

A few of the crew had tried asking Meiki, who didn't really understand that he got special treatment. No one dared ask Tau Ceti.

Nervously the Draconis shifted, then cleared his throat. "Um, Captain? Incoming call from the Ice Princess..."

Ekaitz nodded. "Put him on."

The High Chancellor's head and shoulders filled the screen. "Captain Kai," he greeted, then his pale brows arched slightly as he took in the unusual green presence swearing quietly at electronic components. A moment later his eyes fixed on the orange Draconis trying desperately to disappear into his chair. "Ah. I see Meiki broke something again."

Ekaitz smiled faintly. "I'm convinced that one of these days Tau Ceti is going to make the entire ship Draconis-proof."

"Draconis-proof, yes," the High Chancellor chuckled. "Meiki-proof, no."

"You have a point," Ekaitz laughed. "I guess there's something Tau Ceti can't do after all."

Tau Ceti patiently ignored everything but the task at hand, knowing full well that Pyotr would gently tease him later about Meiki's constant accidents and Tau Ceti's remarkable tolerance for them. They both knew why; the only reason Pyotr could get away with teasing at all was because he shared the sentiment.

He still vividly remembered the sunset Draconis's first day on the ship. Pyotr had actually sent a message to warn him, though he hadn't understood why until Meiki actually arrived. He'd been bouncy, bubbly, cheerful, outgoing, and Tau Ceti had wanted to strangle him. No one should be that perky all the time, especially not a big orange lizard. He'd said as much to Meiki before storming off to put in a call to Zero so he could curse Pyotr out in every conceivable manner.

Pyotr had known. He always did. There was no way he hadn't done it on purpose, giving Tau a brilliant, hyperactive Draconis and knowing that there was no way the Gremlin would be able to refuse. From the moment he'd seen the scales, he'd known he was trapped.

Draconis. Genetically-engineered to be living energy supplies. A race of artificial creatures that had vastly outstripped their original design and were now the subject of fierce debate within the IG. Debate over whether the species would live or die.

Tau Ceti furiously wrenched a panel into place, his searing hatred focused on nebulous groups billions of parsecs away. How dare they so calmly pass judgment on a living, breathing species? How dare they think they had the right to decide who lived and who died? It wasn't right. His own people were facing extinction within the next few generations and battling as hard as they could to stay alive. The Draconis were thriving - or at least, until some idiot somewhere decided they didn't get to live anymore.

He slammed the casing back into its position with more force than was strictly necessary, sitting up and looking out over the bridge at where Meiki was looking up at the screen and listening to the conversation between his captain and the High Chancellor. Tau Ceti's lips tightened imperceptibly as he stood. Whatever decision the fools on Zero reached, at least one Draconis would be safe. The Ice Princess would never give him up.

Only Pyotr noticed his gaze, so no one else knew what the barely-there smile that briefly flitted across the High Chancellor's face was for. Just Tau, and he scowled darkly as he gestured rudely at the screen before stalking off. They both knew it didn't mean anything, just as they both knew that if Pyotr asked, Tau Ceti would allow a second, a third, a tenth Draconis on his ship.

There was absolutely nothing he could do to save his own people from extinction. The same would not happen to the Draconis.

Even if one Draconis in particular did find new and unexpected ways to break things every week. Or less.

Gremlin Priorities

Everyone was both expecting and dreading the call. There was no way it wouldn't come, not after what had happened scant hours ago. What did surprise them all was that Tau Ceti had chosen to stay on the bridge and wait for it rather than squirreling himself away in his workroom and pretending he hadn't just gotten into a whole mess of trouble.

Then again, maybe he was actually proud of what he'd accomplished. It had certainly taken him long enough to figure out how to do it. This particular project was something the irritable Gremlin had been working on for considerably longer than Pyotr Kavalerov had been High Chancellor of the Infinitum Government.

And speaking of the High Chancellor...

"Captain, incoming call from Zero..."

They all winced almost in unison and Ekaitz subconsciously straightened his clothes. "All right, let's get this over with..."

The main screen flickered to life, displaying the sternly handsome features of High Chancellor Kavalerov. The deep black of his formal uniform made his hair and eyes seem all the more pale by comparison, and the carefully neutral expression he wore was reassuring to no one.

"Captain Kai," Kavalerov greeted formally before his gaze shifted to the unrepentant Gremlin and his lips twisted slightly. "Tau Ceti."

"I'm not apologizing," Tau Ceti stated, almost daring Kavalerov to make an issue out of it.

"I didn't expect you would," Kavalerov replied, sighing quietly. "Tau, you know the importance of the Sweet Dream. This vendetta you have against your brother needs to cease."

The Gremlin shrugged. "He started it. Besides, I didn't touch any of the central core memory banks. None of your precious data was lost, so I don't see what the big deal is."

Kavalerov sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose. "The big deal is that I've asked you before not to tamper with the Sweet Dream, and that stunt of yours not only damaged ship systems, but it very nearly interfered with Toby's functions as well."

Tau Ceti blinked, his sullen facade evaporating in a sea of confusion. "Toby?" he echoed. "Who's Toby?"

The slightest of smiles tugged at the corner of Kavalerov's mouth. "Toby is the only remaining android left in the IG."

There was a rather stunned silence across the bridge of the Ice Princess, Tau Ceti's jaw dropping open in shock as he gaped at his long-time friend, then snapped it shut with an audible click. "You're joking."

Kavalerov shook his head. "Not at all. You'd probably like him if you met him, but I'm not letting you within a hundred parsecs of the Sweet Dream now."

"But... but... but..." Even if he realized he sounded like a petulant child, Tau Ceti most likely wouldn't care. "Pyotr! You knew all this time there was an android on that ship and you didn't tell me?!"

"Whatever I don't tell you, you normally find out by accessing my files," Kavalerov pointed out rationally. "I had no reason to believe you didn't already know."

Tau Ceti was silent for nearly a full minute, entire body gone oddly still, even his long tufted tail. Finally he looked back up at the screen and asked, softly, in such a meek voice that the entire bridge crew turned to stare at him, "Is... he's okay? Toby?"

Kavalerov smiled. "Toby is fine, yes," he confirmed. "He was merely disoriented for a few minutes until his systems recovered. Fortunately he was designed with recovery circuits in case of just such an occurrence."

"Oh." More than a few jaws hung open, no one quite able to believe that the ever-temperamental Tau Ceti could behave in such an uncharacteristic manner. It was more than unheard of, it was unthinkable. All this over an android that shouldn't even exist?

"I'll just, um... I'm going to go..." Tau Ceti turned, mumbling something not quite audible as he made a hasty retreat from the bridge. The stunned silence following his departure lasted for several long breaths, then oddly enough it was Sigma who broke it.

"Congratulations, Chancellor." He smiled in amusement, looking up at the image on the screen.

Kavalerov's lips quirked, a bare impression of a fleeting smile. "Sigma?" he questioned.

The ship's Second chuckled quietly. "Well played, Kavalerov. Well played. You and I both know he won't touch that ship now, regardless of Omicron Theta. All I want to know is, why didn't you tell him turns ago?"

"Mostly for Toby's sake." Kavalerov's smile became slightly more noticeable. "He'll probably be rather obsessed for a while trying to figure out how Toby works. Another reason to keep him away from the Sweet Dream."

Sigma shook his head slowly. "If he starts trying to build androids, I'm holding you responsible."

Kavalerov considered. "If he reacts the way I expect he will, there won't be a problem. He's never shown any desire to construct a sentient android before, and I doubt he will now."

More than one brow arched at that statement, though no one argued. It was almost a given by now that, somehow, Pyotr Kavalerov could understand the unpredictable Gremlin's mind. Ease of many, many years of practice, perhaps.

"I would like to extend my apologies on behalf of the crew," Ekaitz said, speaking up finally. "We should have-"

"No, Captain," Kavalerov said with a quiet sigh. "I know better than anyone that nothing can stop Tau Ceti when he's set his mind to something. All that can be done is to distract him." He smiled slightly. "Though I think I've gotten him away from the Sweet Dream now... all I need to do is figure out how to keep him away from the Darkside and there might actually be peace in the universe."

"For about fifteen seconds," Sigma pointed out, drawing a chuckle from those assembled, including the High Chancellor.

"True enough," Kavalerov admitted. "I'm relying on you to keep him suitably distracted so he doesn't have enough time to cause chaos, Sigma."

Sigma rolled his eyes. "Don't ask the impossible, Chancellor. Though I will do my best. I did manage to convince him not to go through with the Shiva plan."

Kavalerov's brows shot up, then he shook his head slowly. "I don't want to know. Do what you can, Sigma. Captain Kai." The screen went blank, and it took a moment before everyone started fidgeting.

"Did he just..."


"And Tau Ceti..."



Glances were exchanged, then all eyes turned to stare at the door through which Tau Ceti had exited. "Do you really think he's gonna give up on the Sweet Dream?"

"Maybe. I'm more concerned with what he's gonna do when he realizes a third of the crew saw him practically apologize to the Ice Princess."

All but one of the assembled faces went white.

"Oh, shit."

Strengths and Weaknesses

Something was most definitely odd. Not once during Sigma's shift had Tau Ceti wandered by the bridge, which he always did unless he was consumed in some special project. Given that he'd been fussing last night about being bored, obviously that was not the case. Therefore, something was odd.

He'd considered asking Meiki to break something non-essential to see if that would draw Tau's attention, then discarded the idea. Surely he wasn't so desperate for a glimpse of his lover that he'd put the Gremlin in a snit. Though working him out of the snits later was always amusing.

That train of thought wasn't helping. Absently he glanced at the chrono, nodding to himself in satisfaction to note his shift had ended fifteen seconds ago. Perfect. It was time to go hunt down an irregular Gremlin.

Tau Ceti was not in his workshop, nor was he in their quarters. In the rec room Sigma found Jei and Q'inn sparring while Jayce and Zion watched, but still no Gremlin. In the engine room he found Irinar, who hadn't seen Tau Ceti since the day before. Getting increasingly worried, Sigma swung by the infirmary but Xalin hadn't seen the man either.

Finally he made his way to the galley - Volar was fanatical about making sure the forgetful Gremlin ate - and walked into a heated fight.

Well, he'd found Tau Ceti. The Gremlin was flinging handfuls of white goop at Volar, who was returning the favor. The room was a mess, and what little Sigma could see of the kitchen looked worse. He ducked a stray handful of goop, listened to the flying insults for a moment, then put his fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply.

Two sets of eyes blinked up at him in surprise, Tau Ceti going pale and then flushing while Volar dropped his gaze to the floor in embarrassment.

"Do I want to know," Sigma queried archly, "Or am I better off not asking?"

"He started it," both promptly replied, glaring at one another.

Sigma sighed, in-specs flashing as he summoned the automated cleaning servos in to clean up the mess. "Let me guess, he tried to feed you something and you objected," he commented, picking his way slowly across the goop-spattered floor.

"I did nothing!" Volar snapped. "He's destroying my kitchen!"

"I told you I'd fix it when I was done!" Tau Ceti snarled back, tail lashing angrily behind him.

"Those who cannot cook should stay out of the preparation area and leave such things to those who know what they're doing."

"This isn't something for you to make!"

"If it keeps you out of my kitchens, it is!"

Sigma winced. "Enough already." He reached out, enfolding the irritable Gremlin into his arms before something else could be thrown. "Tau, you want to tell me what you're doing here? Last time I checked Gremlins preferred others make their food for them."

"... wanted to make it myself," Tau Ceti mumbled sullenly.

"Make what?"

The mumble he got in response was slightly less than audible the first two times he made the Gremlin repeat himself, though the third made him blink. "Cheesecake? Why were you..." Sigma paused. "For me?"

Tau Ceti shrugged. "I asked your brother and he said you liked it when you were little but after you went into the Authorities you always ate like you do now, all healthy things, so I thought for your birthday I'd make something special but..." He trailed off, sighing. "Apparently there aren't enough electronic components in cheesecake for me to be any good at making it."

Volar snorted, but said nothing.

Sigma blinked several times, then felt a slow smile creep across his face. "If you promise to do exactly as I say and not get frustrated, I'll teach you," he offered.

Brilliant violet eyes blinked up at him. "I... oh..." One of those slight, surprised smiles flitted across Tau Ceti's face, the ones that the rest of the crew swore he was making up. "That would be nice..."

"Volar," Sigma called, raising his voice a little, "Why don't you find somewhere else to be for a few hours. I'll make sure your kitchen stays in one piece."

The Drizelli hesitated, then sighed. "Yes, sir." He cast one last backwards glance over his shoulder as he exited, then was gone from sight.

Sigma turned Tau Ceti around to face him, dipping his head just enough to meet the Gremlin halfway in a long, slow, sensual kiss. When at last they drew apart, Sigma smiled softly. "You didn't have to do anything, you know. I haven't bothered to celebrate my birthday since before I left home."

Tau Ceti shrugged, trying his best to look nonchalant, though he'd never been a particularly good actor. "I know. I wanted to do something anyway."

Sigma smiled. "The greatest gift I could ever ask, I already have." At Tau Ceti's questioning look, the man laughed and kissed him again, hot and hard, panting slightly when at last they parted. "You. All I want or need is you."

The Gremlin fought a smile and a blush, failing to hide either, and turned away in a showy imitation of indignancy. "Well, you're still getting cheesecake, no matter how much of Volar's equipment I have to destroy in the process."

Laughing, Sigma directed his lover into the kitchen. "Hopefully none. Let me show you how to do it the right way. Without anything exploding."

"Where's the fun in that?" Tau Ceti grumbled, though he willingly allowed himself to be led.