A Light Before the Dark

By A.J. Matthews
Copyright 2000

Author's Notes:
Rating: PG-13
Setting: Before "Durka Returns"
Spoilers: a couple for "Durka Returns"
Disclaimer: Chiana and Farscape belong to other people. I'm doing this for fun, not profit.
Feedback: Yes, please!
Archiving: If you want it please e-mail me for permission first.

Notes: Yes, there is an NC-17 version of this story floating around. Fans of Larry Niven will find a lot of familiar bits & pieces stirred into this story. Then there are the four words from Ulysses. Thanks to Aiobheann, Quilt Lady, Kara Stern and Kare (powrhug) for beta reading.

*I am in deep, deep dren,* Chiana thought to herself as the towering pair of Fotok escorted her through their ship. *How could I have been so stupid?*

*I wasn't stupid,* she reminded herself after a moment. *I was desperate.*

Her thoughts went back to the spaceport, just a few arns earlier. Somehow they had found her again - Salis and his pet, Durka. She'd managed to stay just ahead of them as they chased her but she knew it was just a matter of time until they caught her. She had had to take a major risk.

She had slunk down into the loading area and hidden herself in a cargo pallet about to be put onto an orbital transport. She didn't know who it belonged to or where it was going. At that moment all she had cared about was that it wasn't Nebari. She'd work out the rest later.

*I just hope they breathe oxygen,* she'd thought as the pallet was loaded for the trip up to the mother ship.

She had ended up in a pitch black cargo bay. She inhaled deeply, hoping that any poisons in the air would therefore overcome her as quickly as possible. She didn't want to suffer.

Nothing happened.

*Finally - a bit of luck!* Now she just hoped that the food she could filch would be edible and that the lack of light in the room didn't indicate that the crew saw a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum than she did.

Her thankful mood had dissipated quickly when the lights had come on. She then heard a strangely musical chittering from two points in the room.

*Great... Their language is tonal. My translator microbes are useless.*

Suddenly a gorgeous lilting voice had called out, "We know you are there. Please come out."

*Figures that a commerce ship would have a bilingual crew, though,* she had concluded as she tried to find a more secure hiding place.

"Hiding will not do you any good. A Nebari female such as yourself is easy for us to detect."

*Frell! If their sensors are that good then there is no way I can hope to evade them for long.*

She had gasped in horror as she stood and saw her captors. The Fotok were easily identified by the shapeless hooded black cloaks they wore to conceal every detail of their appearance from outsiders.

Now she stood before what she assumed was the ship's captain. Concealed in its shroud, it was busy chittering with the two that had brought her in. Given the Fotok's notorious xenophobia she figured that they were probably discussing the best way to space her. She watched hopelessly as the captain dismissed its two crewmembers with a wave of... whatever it was.

It regarded her for some time before it spoke. "You are in a great deal of trouble, young Nebari."

Its voice was hauntingly beautiful and musical. Had the message it conveyed not filled her with such foreboding she would have found it mesmerizing.

"I know," she managed to croak out. Compared to the Fotok her voice was like fingernails on a slate.

She decided that there was no point in lying to try to generate sympathy for her plight. The Fotok would not show her any. She was not one of them.

"I was frantic to get away from someone at the spaceport. I didn't know what ship I was stowing away on. Believe me, had I known..."

"You would have chosen differently," it finished for her.

She felt the Fotok's voice pull some of the tension out of her body as it responded without regard for the dire situation she was in.

"Yes," she answered.

"So you must be Chiana."

"How do you know that?" she asked with a start.

"We received a bulletin about you from the spaceport just after we broke orbit. Tell me, what does this Salis fellow want with you? Are you some sort of criminal?"

Again she felt that lying would not help her. "I make my living as a petty thief."

"That hardly seems like something your people would go to this much trouble about."

"It's not. They're after me because I'm not a conformist zombie."

Again the Fotok silently studied her.

*Why is he drawing this out? If they're going to space me why don't they just do it?* Then it came to her, filling her with an even greater dread. *They're thinking of giving me to Salis!*

She began to cry. For once it was not an act.

"Please don't take me back to him," she pleaded. "I'd rather you just tossed me out an airlock."

"What could he possibly threaten you with that would make you feel this way?"

"Mental cleansing."

"Yes, we have heard of this Nebari obsession. It is said that they have even dared to do it to some of the Chosen."

"They do it to whomever they please."

"Then we will not let them do it to you."

"What?" She felt like she'd been slapped at the Fotok's words.

"We have no interest in what others want with you. However, we cannot ignore the consequences of our own actions. To us you are nothing more than a stowaway. It would be immoral for us to turn you over for such foul treatment simply for that."

Hope flared within her. "Then what are you going to do with me?"

"You are lucky this is a commercial transport. We are used to interacting with other species. We will not harm you simply for being different. It is not worth the trouble it might cause us with the Nebari in the future. We will, however, make you work as payment for your passage."

"Yes, yes, anything," she said eagerly. "I owe you my life."

"My crew of twenty could use a good general servant - someone who will bring them their meals, tend to their needs and the like. I assume that even a proud Nebari like you can do these things?"

She considered. *They're Fotok. They probably find me utterly repugnant. I suppose that means I won't have to worry about them wanting me to tend to those sorts of 'needs.'*

"Yes, I'm more than willing to do menial chores. Like I said, I owe you. Your offer is way beyond fair."

"Excellent. Bear in mind, though, that certain behaviors will be expected from you in your duties."

Now she was genuinely curious. "Such as?"

"We will not stoop to wearing the Garment Worn Among Infidels on our own ship during our voyage simply because of your presence. You must therefore never touch one of us or look us in the eyes. If you do the punishment can be very harsh indeed. Do you understand?"

"Sure." *Guess that clears up what sort of 'needs' I'll be expected to deal with once and for all.*

"Next, those gloves you are wearing are an insult to us, as they signify that it is we, not you, who are unworthy of contact. You will not wear them on this ship."

"No problem," she responded as she began removing them.

"And finally, you must also address us properly according to our stations."


"As I am master of this vessel, you may call me Lord Riit."

"Yes, Lord Riit."

It summoned one of her original captors into the office. "Crewman Hamarr will show you to your quarters and get you settled."

"Thank you, Lord Riit."

"And Chiana," Riit added as she turned to leave. "No stealing."

Chiana lay in her 'bunk' staring at the ceiling of her small room. It had taken her a while to get used to the huge over-padded bed-cum-hammock that her benefactors used for sleeping.

All things considered, she thought to herself, her weekans on the Fotok trader had been very good ones. To her amazement, she had been treated with nothing but kindheartedness. No one ever spoke harshly to her and they had been quite patient with her as she become accustomed to her duties. The food she was given was no different from the excellent fare the crew were served and she was allowed as much of it as she wanted.

She was even beginning to feel like she fit in a little.

The only thing that really bothered her was the weird, seemingly religious prohibition about looking her shipmates in the eye. It still put her nerves on end each morning when the crew sat down for their communal breakfast, which put them all at about her eye level as she served them. More than once she'd inadvertently met the gaze of one of them and each time it had sent a strong shiver of something down her spine. Such mistakes made her anxious but, thankfully, the crew seemed to accept them as harmless and inevitable.

So far none of them had allowed her to get close enough to them for any accidental touching to occur and for that she was also grateful.

Still, she wondered what the Fotok were so concerned about and why they hid themselves from the sight of others. She found them very striking creatures. Though their long, thin torsos appeared under their clothing to be roughly humanoid, they had six limbs - two extending from the area of each 'shoulder' and one from each of their 'hips.' These limbs had no joints but seemed to have some sort of very flexible structure somewhat similar to cartilage within them. The long, more muscular legs simply extended down to a point where they jointlessly branched out into four-toed feet. The arms, in contrast, each branched out at the 'elbow' into three smaller arms which each, in turn, branched out at the 'wrist' into three long, delicate fingers, for a total of 36 in all. Atop all this they had large wedge-shaped heads whose facial skin was similar in color to her own. The large, glittering silver eyes that caused her such trepidation were set high and wide in their noseless faces.

They usually walked about the ship with their upper arms sticking out at all angles, but always parallel to the floor, with their long lower limbs hanging straight down. Given that the Fotok came in various shades of green and brown as well as black, the overall effect of being among them struck her as decidedly arboreal.

She also decided that she didn't like having to think about them without a gender reference. So far, though, she hadn't been able to discern any differences that could be labeled 'male' or 'female' and the sumptuous mix of baritone and contralto in their voices didn't help matters. She couldn't even smell any pheromones coming from them.

She'd decided long ago that asking them about it was completely out of the question.

*At least that's helped keep that aspect of this trip more manageable,* she thought with a mixture of relief and regret.

Just then a voice over the intercom brought her abruptly out of her reverie. "Chiana, the Lord's dinner is almost ready."

"I'm on my way."

Bringing supper to Riit in the Lord's quarters was always her last duty for the day, and was by far her favorite. It had been a long time since she had come across someone who seemed as interested in her as the ship's Lord did. Riit often asked her to sit with it as it ate and they exchanged stories of their travels. The Lord had been to many distant and exotic places that she had only vaguely heard about, like spiritual Delvia and martial Sebacea.

She also loved to just sit and listen to its voice. Sometimes, for all she cared, as she let the musicality of it wash through her, Lord Riit could have been reading the repair manual for a hech drive to her and she still would have blissfully listened all night.

And Riit, in its turn, seemed amused by her stories of her life as a thief and saddened by her tales of what living in the Nebari Hegemony had been like for her.

This night had started no differently. After she set the platter of food in front of Riit, the Lord had motioned with one of its dark green limbs for her to sit on the cushion it put on the floor for her use. Usually Chiana would have been insulted by such an arrangement but the pillow was comfortable and made it easier for her to obey the strictures placed upon her. Sitting like this she could just barely see Riit out of the corner of her eye.

She took no chances where the Lord was concerned.

They talked for a while about each other's day. The entire arrangement, she concluded, would have been quaint if it wasn't for the powerful effect the Lord had on her.

Then Riit surprised her.

"I have to say I am very satisfied with your work, Chiana. Everyone is," he began.

"I'm glad I've pleased you, Lord," she answered truthfully. "It's the least I can do to repay your kindness."

"Do you dislike being among us?"

*Where did that come from?* she wondered.

"No, Lord, just the opposite. I'm sorry if I've given you the wrong impression."

"It's alright, Chiana. Given the limitations we place on others and your alien nature, it is difficult for us to assess your true feelings. I am pleased to hear you say that, though, as I have an offer for you. The cook and others in the crew are not relishing the prospect of you leaving us any time soon. I must say that I am in agreement with them. Therefore, if you are willing, we'd like you to formally join the crew."

She caught herself before she looked up at him. "I... I don't know what to say, Lord."

"You've told me you want to travel and see the galaxy. This is an opportunity for you to do that. And I promise you that you will be well paid." Riit paused for a moment and then continued, "It is also, as you have seen, a chance for you to be free of your pursuers and the hand-to-mouth existence you have been living. We offer you a place to belong."

"But I don't belong here. Not really."

"No, sadly, I suppose that is true," Riit replied, the regret in its voice palpable to her. "It is unfortunate the Impermissibles set you so apart from us. You must be very lonely."

"No, no. I'm not. I've been completely on my own for a long time, with no one to rely on and nowhere to go. Here I have those things - even if just a little. It's been very comforting."

"But it is not enough for you?"

Chiana began to sense the Lord's personal stake in the conversation. It cared about her and appeared to genuinely want her to stay.

*I don't want to hurt Riit's feelings but I have to be honest.*

"No, I guess it isn't enough," she finally answered. "I mean, look at me sitting here at your feet," she added, gesturing at her deferential position. "I don't think I can keep being everybody's little servant girl forever. I don't like not being able to look at you as an equal."

*And I want to have someone I can touch, someone I can love,* she added silently. *I _am_ still lonely for that.*

"Your spirit is a strong one," Riit said after a moment. "All of us have sensed this about you. It is not surprising that you chafe at your station among us, but I don't believe there is anything I can do about it."

"Are the Impermissibles really that important?"

"Yes, and they are for your protection, not ours."

"They are?"

"Absolutely. Tell me, have you noticed anything odd when you've accidentally caught the eye of one of us?"

"Yeah, I get this strange chill down my spine."

"I'm not surprised. Very few creatures are immune to that effect. For some species it can be quite numbing."

"Where does it come from? What's it for?"

"Do you remember what I told you about our homeworld Trevul and how we evolved from creatures that hunted in the dense tropical swamps there?"


"These swamps are dark, murky places. Because of this our ancient ancestors developed a number of unusual abilities, all related to sensing their prey's electromagnetic fields and manipulating their neurological systems. Do you recall how you told me how surprised you were that this ship's sensors could locate and identify you in your hiding place? It was not any instruments that did this. Their sixth sense allowed Hamarr and Sussen to find you by your body's electromagnetic noise."

"I understand. There are predators in the oceans on Nebari Prime that have a similar ability. But that still doesn't explain why I can't touch you or look you in the eye."

"Those were two ways our ancestors subdued their prey. Fortunately, today we only have vestigial remnants of these abilities, but their effects can still be quite pronounced on other beings. For example, the silvering of our eyes comes from the reflectors of tiny structures that used to allow us to project stunning beams at will at our prey simply by looking at it. Now they only function autonomically when we actually look our 'prey' in the eye. As you might expect, we are immune to it - otherwise our ancestors would have walked around stunning each other all the time."

"So that's why I feel the tingling."

"Yes. Similarly, our skin is able to affect the nervous system of any animal we touch; though we have lost the capacity to kill with it. We need the Garment Worn Among Infidels to enhance it to do that. Our entire body can do it to some extent but, not surprisingly, by far the strongest and most finely-controlled ability is in our hands."

"Are you immune to it as well?"

"Not entirely. Fortunately, with our now more-highly-evolved intellect, we can consciously manipulate its effects to bring about a variety of results." With that Riit reached out a finger and tried to gently stroke Chiana along the line of her jaw.

However, the first slight touch caused her to recoil as if she been burned.

"You said we shouldn't touch!"

Riit was taken aback by her reaction. "The Impermissibles apply to you, not to us. I only wanted to demonstrate what I was talking about. It wasn't unpleasant, was it?"

*Gods, no!* she thought as her grey cheeks took on the slightly blue tinge that another Nebari would have recognized as a blush.

"Do you have any idea how that felt?"

Before Riit could respond she stood and grabbed the dinner tray. "Is the Lord finished?" she asked. Again she didn't wait for Riit's answer and hurried from the room.

After unceremoniously dumping the platter in the galley, she ran to her quarters and buried herself in her bunk, feeling like she wanted to cry.

*I can't believe how that felt. It's been so long since anyone touched me with anything like tenderness in mind.*

To her Riit's slight touch had felt like the very embodiment of tenderness.

*I have got to do something about my social life,* she laughed to herself just as she heard a knock at her cabin door. She knew who it was without having to open it.

"My Lord," she said in a near whisper, coloring slightly again as she retreated to her bunk.

"I am sorry if I caused you any distress," Riit said, closing the door behind itself. "I did not mean to harm you."

"Don't worry. You didn't."

"I would have thought a professional thief would be a better liar," Riit amiably chided her as it sat down in the chair beside her bed.

She rolled over to face away from Riit before answering. "You didn't hurt me... physically, anyway. Your touch felt wonderful. Too wonderful..."

Now the tears came, silently sliding down her face.

"Oh, Chiana," Riit sighed as it reached out to her again. She tensed for a moment as two of its fingers caressed the side of her face. She soon relaxed, though, as this time she felt nothing but warm comfort in the touch.

"I am sorry," Riit continued after a moment. "I did not mean for the sensation to be so powerful. That sometimes happens when strong feelings are involved."

Chiana was unsure of the implications of his words but the sudden surge of sensuality from Riit's fingers left little doubt. Without thinking she reached up to snatch the Lord's hand away.

For a moment, just as she made contact, it was like a small electric shock. Then she felt as if the sensation from Riit's fingers had been magnified drastically. A small moan escaped her lips and she jerked her hand away, causing Riit to groan musically.

*Gods, I touched him!*

She curled into a ball. She was terrified now. "Forgive me, Lord! I didn't mean to!"

"It's alright, Chiana," Riit replied soothingly. "I should not have behaved so presumptuously. You had every right to do what you did."

Her fear abated somewhat, replaced by questions. "What just happened?" she asked as she sat up and faced Riit.

"When your hand touched me, you completed a sort of neurological feedback circuit. You were feeling not just your own sensations, but some of mine as well, and through them, your own again."

She blushed again, recalling the lustful heat of his fingers - and how her touch had only deepened it dramatically.

*It's almost like we can read each other's thoughts and feelings,* she concluded.

"Does that mean you want me?" she asked forthrightly, turning her head away from Riit shyly.

He turned her head back to him. She wouldn't meet his gaze, of course. "Was my desire for you that obvious?"

"Yes, Lord. And I... I can't say I don't share it," she admitted as much to herself as to him.

"I think we are well past the point where you have to keep calling me 'Lord,' Chiana. At least in private!"

She laughed.

"Will you have me then?" he asked.

*How do I keep getting myself into these situations?* she asked herself. *First he wanted to space me, now he wants to frell me.*

Deep down, though, she knew what she wanted. "Yes, I will, yes," she told him as she ran a hand along his jaw.

He again trailed a finger down her face. "You are still frightened. I can feel the tension in you." He brought several hands up to her and began to lightly massage her temples, scalp, neck, shoulders and back. "Close your eyes," he whispered to her.

She complied and he began to sing to her. It was wordless, haunting and filled with longing. Between his hands and voice he pulled the anxiety from her. Soon she could not remember when she had last been so at ease or had felt so secure and cared for.

She awoke alone, feeling very sore all over. *Ugh. My head hurts.* She sat up and noticed just how shaky she was. *Gods, girl, you'd think you'd never been well and thoroughly frelled before.*

The mere thought of Riit and her together sent a shockwave of desire through her. For a long moment all she wanted was to find him and get him back into her bed.

She shook the thought from her head. *That would probably kill me,* she concluded with a crooked grin as she staggered to the shower and the welcome relief of the warm water. She emerged feeling much better. It was only then that she noticed the chronometer by her bunk.

*Hezmana!* She immediately signaled the cook. "Crewman Victan, I'm sorry I overslept. Why didn't you call down to me?"

"Lord Riit said you were not to be disturbed... that you needed rest."

*In other words, the entire ship knows he worked me over but good last night. Wonderful...* Another wave of heat coursed through her. *It was wonderful.*

"Thanks," she managed to choke out. "I'll try to be there for dinner."

"Only if you feel up to it, Chiana," the cook replied as she closed the connection.

She wrapped her hair in a towel and flopped back on her bunk. It still smelled of him, of them. The hunger swelled within her. She began to caress herself, but all she really wanted was to feel his touch, to touch him. She found herself panting simply at the thought.

*What's happening to me?*

She sat up. She was suddenly trembling and achy again. She broke out in a cold sweat. Instead of waning, this time the feeling quickly grew and grew. She hugged herself, threw her head back and wailed at the emptiness and pain.

She collapsed back down into the cushions. Slowly the sobs, shivering and waves of pain exhausted her and her body fled into unconsciousness. All the while her mind was filled with the thought of Riit's touch.

She was still lying in her bunk arns later, feeling the last of the tremors pass through her, when there came a soft knocking at her door.

"Come in," she said weakly as she pulled a sheet up over herself. She didn't have the energy to make it all the way to the door.

The ship's quartermaster entered, carrying garments of some sort.

"Crewman Sussen, what can I do for you?"

"You may now simply call me Sussen, Chiana. After all, you are one of us now."

Her mind was too numb to grasp the basis or implications of its statement. "What have you got there?" she asked.

"This is your first crew's uniform," it said, holding up the familiar dark blue garment. "I hope it fits you. If it doesn't, come to my office and I'll make the necessary adjustments. The same goes for this," it added holding up a large piece of what looked like simple black cloth.

"What is that?"

"Why, it is your Garment Worn Among Infidels, of course."

"Of course," she mumbled as her head slid back down onto her pillow.

"You are indisposed," Sussen said graciously, laying the clothes over a chair. "I will leave you to recuperate."

She was fast asleep before the quartermaster made it out the door.

She awoke well into the ship's night, finally feeling more or less like herself again. She was also hungry, so she decided to put on her new uniform and raid the galley. She arrived to find Hamarr there.

"Getting a late night snack?" she queried.

"I was going to ask you the same thing. Are you feeling well enough to eat?"

"How come everyone knows I was so out of it?" she inquired as she took some food from Hamarr's plate.

"Lord Riit informed us all at breakfast about what transpired between you last night."

"He didn't strike me as the sort who'd brag," she said sadly. "Guess I misjudged him."

"He wasn't bragging. He had to tell us, otherwise there would have been no way he could have justified giving you that," Hamarr answered, pointing to her uniform.

"What does frelling the captain have to do with me getting a uniform?" she asked angrily. "And you still haven't told me why everyone knew I was sick!"

"One thing at a time, Chiana. To answer your second question first, your 'frelling,' as you so charmingly put it, with Lord Riit means that you are now considered a part of our society. That is how you became fit to wear a Fotok uniform. You are no longer an infidel, but are now a chosen of the Chosen. So you see that he had to tell us."

"I suppose," she responded petulantly. "It doesn't mean I like it, though. What happened was private."

"And from now on it shall be. You must understand, Chiana, that what has happened between you and Lord Riit is taken very seriously by our people; all the more so because of the strong emotional connection apparently involved. To us you are now, and always will be, Fotok. It does not matter if you leave this ship at our next stop or stay with us for the rest of your life. For us that will never change.

"And if you are ever in need or trouble all you have to do is tell any Fotok you are one of the Chosen's chosen and they are honor bound to help you in any way they can. This is our way."

"I had no idea."

"I know. We are a very secretive people... with infidels. We trust you to keep these secrets, by the way, including those about your place among us."

She laughed. "I'm pretty good at keeping secrets. Now please, tell me how you all knew what was up with me."

"For a species such as yours our touch is strongly addictive. You've been going through withdrawal."

"What?" she asked incredulously. "And Riit knew that would happen?"


"Then how could he--"

"I cannot answer that for you. Only he can. But I will tell you this - he was not using you simply for his own pleasure. He is too caring and decent to do that. Believe me, I know."


"Lord Riit and I have been intimate at times in the past. He is still one of the best friends I have ever had."

"So you're a female of your species?"

"Of course. I am black, aren't I?"

Hamarr paused, considering the Nebari woman. "I think you should go to him. You both need to come to terms with what has happened and decide where you will go from here." She took one of Chiana's hands in one of her own. At first Chiana wanted to pull away, but the feelings of strength and concern that Hamarr conveyed through her touch were too comforting. "If you need someone to talk to, I am always available to you, Chiana. Now go to Riit."

She knocked on his cabin door. To her surprise Riit immediately called out "Enter."

She stepped in and closed the door behind her. "My Lord," she said, not looking at him. "I'm surprised you're awake at this arn."

"I haven't been able to sleep since last night," he informed her. There was a great sadness in his tone. "I haven't been able to get you out of my mind."

His voice and the sight of him had a blinding effect on her. She flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around him.

His uniform kept her from what she wanted, what she desperately felt she needed. She grabbed at it, trying to tear it off him, but the fabric refused to yield to her.

"I want you! I've got to have you!" she cried. "Please, please! I need you to touch me. Give yourself to me. You have to. Please," she begged, her voice trailing off into a hoarse whisper.

He grazed her neck with a finger. She jumped back. "Ow! That really hurt!" she scolded him.

"I trust your mind is a little clearer now."

Her baffled expression changed to one of rage. She again threw herself at him, however this time she beat on his chest with her fists.

"How could you do this to me? Gods, I hate you!"

He picked her up and held her away from himself as she continued to flail at him with her arms and legs.

"You bastard! You stinking piece of dren! When I get my hands on you, you're dead!"

Slowly her assault slackened until, finally, she hung limply in his grasp. Tears streaked her face as he lowered her gently to the floor. "How could you do this to me?" she mumbled over and over.

"Chiana, I am so, so sorry."

"Why did you start turning me into your personal wirehead?" she asked him resentfully as she slumped to her knees.

"Wirehead?" he asked as he knelt down to face her.

"Don't play stupid with me," she snapped. "You know what I mean."

"No, Chiana, I don't."

"A wirehead is a current addict. You know - someone who's had a wire run into the pleasure center of their brain."

"Chiana, please, believe me when I tell you I had no intention of doing anything like that to you."

"Yeah, right," she scoffed. "You knew full well what would happen to me after last night."

"Yes, I did, and I'm truly sorry to have inflicted it on you. It is not my goal to make you addicted to me. As much as I might desire you, what happened last night must _never_ happen again. We must never even touch. As long as we hold to that you will soon be back to normal."

The pain in his voice went right through her, dissolving her anger.

"Then why, Riit?"

"I wanted you and you wanted me. You were ignorant of the consequences and I was weak."

There was something very odd in his tone. "You're lying," she concluded.

"Not really. I just wasn't telling you the whole truth. But, unfortunately, I seem unable to hide things from you."

"It's this uniform, isn't it?" she asked, suddenly knowing the answer. "You knew that having sex with me would remove the Impermissibles."

"Who have you been talking to? Your friend Hamarr?"

"You wanted to give me the chance to really fit in here, didn't you?"

"I... We don't want you to go. I also sensed that you wanted to stay if only certain things were slightly different for you. I hope..."

"No, Riit, I can't stay. Don't you see that? What's happened between us should make that clear to you. Before, I only felt a little ill at ease. Now I know staying here is dangerous for me. I don't think we could resist the temptation indefinitely. Not after last night. It was too..." she trailed off, unable to find the words.

He slipped to the floor as if wilting. "I know."

She eventually rose to leave. "I'd gladly be your lover, but I won't be your slave."

"Nor would I want you to be. We will be leaving the Nebari Hegemony soon. We will let you off at our first stop outside it."

She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Beautiful, sweet Riit," she whispered and then was gone.

The good-byes had been very hard. She would miss them all. The sadness in Riit's voice had torn at her heart. She knew that he understood and accepted her reasons for leaving him but that had not made it any easier. They had embraced one last time.

"We have some things for you," Sussen had said as she stood at the transport's door. He handed Chiana a leather pouch. "This is your pay for your labor since you joined us."

"Wow, thanks! This will make life a lot easier."

"Now I believe our Lord has something special for you."

She had been shocked when Riit had presented her Garment to her.

"I thought I wasn't supposed to keep it if I left you," she had told him.

"You will always be part of us, part of me," he had said as he fastened it around her and pulled the hood up over her head. "I'm sure a talented thief like you can make good use of it," he added as she stepped out onto the landing area tarmac.

She had fought back tears as she waved goodbye when the small transport took off, leaving her alone once again.

Now as she walked through the spaceport she almost felt like laughing out loud at the looks she was getting. *I guess all Fotoks, even we strangely short ones, scare people.*

*But I can't rely on fear,* she quickly concluded, knowing that the defenses built into the Garment would not all work for her. She felt the money purse on her hip. *I guess it's time to do a little knife shopping. I've always wanted a good wtsai. Maybe even a small blaster...*

She stepped onto an escalator to go to the street level of the terminal. She glanced down. There, standing at the foot of the escalator, was Salis. She turned to run back up the moving stairs, but Durka was there blocking her way.

*I guess a short Fotok didn't fool everybody.*

"How did you know?" she asked sullenly as the small transport lifted off.

"That cloak didn't hide your biosigns very well, Chiana," Durka told her. "Of course it was meant to conceal Fotok. Our hand scanners had no trouble detecting you."

"But did you have to destroy it? The Garment was a gift. It meant a lot to me," she pointed out as she thought of the pile of cloth strips they had reduced it to.

"We couldn't allow for the possibility you might use it in an escape attempt. We know how resourceful you are."

"If I'm so clever then how'd you find me?"

"It was a simple process to determine which cargo transport you had hidden yourself on. We deduced that, given the opportunity, you would not get off it while it was still inside the Hegemony. Quick checks of the flight plans they filed as they went directed us here. It is fortunate that it is still so close to home."

"Yeah, great."

"Calm yourself, Chiana," Salis advised evenly. "We will be rendezvousing with a Host Vessel very soon."

They ascended out of the atmosphere quickly and were soon well on their way out of the system.

Suddenly there was a brilliant ring of bluish-white light above them.

"What is that?" Salis asked Durka as an enormous shape emerged from within it.

"It appears to be a Leviathan."

"Look out!" Chiana screamed.

They were all tossed about the small cabin as the ships collided.