Unnamed Post-Nova Nebula in Deep Space

In the dark recesses of the glowing noxious gas clouds, the sleek battle cruiser waits.

"Sir, the citron chloride gasses are hell on our scrubbers. We can change them out one more time before we'll have to exit and restock," the young ensign crisply salutes then reports.

"Duly noted. When is the next Aegis patrol due around Flindara?" a gravelly unpleasant voice comes from under the voluminous midnight hood.

The messenger tries to look anywhere but at the shriveled hand expertly flipping a perfect crystal sphere back and forth. "In two cycles, Sir." Perhaps the floor is safest to examine right now. Why is that movement from the master so mesmerizing? Must... not... stare... Oh, damn...

"Ensign, I had such high hopes for you. It's rare we have such a lovely face among our ranks. But your inability to control your mind is a fatal flaw," the rasp is almost snakelike.

Shaking violently the young man tries to offer assurance, "I... it w... w... won't happen ag... gain, Sir!"

"No it won't. Control is imperative to my operatives. And you could have been so useful in the black market. A handsome face is deemed more trustworthy. Such a shame, really," the ominous hiss stops on a sigh and the free hand snaps it's fingers.

Clutching his throat, the ensign crumples to the floor and robot guards haul the body off to the extraction chamber. The hooded figure just makes a note to the captain that the crew is down by one more.

Wardraven (Jupiter's third planet), Voodoo System

"Ambassador, if we are to initiate trade with under developed Earth, we have to help the planet modernize and it will be a long process. I know it seems unfair. But I have to act in the best interest of each of my protectorates," Jupiter counters the nimble ebony skinned, raven winged man and rearranges her white wrap to better protect her arms in the chill air.

The Ravenite tries to cover his disappointment. "We understand Your Majesty. Please remember, the Wardraven host has much experience in first contact, even with planets such as Earth. Our techniques are proven to help a suspicious simple population."

"I will Gunri, I will."

He bows and takes his leave.

Dropping his leather jacket over her shoulders, Caine joins her as she walks the lush grounds of the embassy. She slips her hand into his, "Thank you for accompanying me."

"Gladly. Being separated from you last time... never want to repeat it," he brings her hand up and kisses her fingers where they intertwine with his. "Your Majesty looks tired. Should I walk you back to the ship?"

"Yeah, my head hurts from trying to think of all the angles in every sentence," she leans on his shoulder. His presence has such a calming effect. "So any leads in the hunt?" she watches him out of the corner of her eye.

"Tracking down each of the rumors is time consuming and we suspect only allows him time to move to another sector." Muscles twitch in his jaw, then he shakes his head. "The one thing we've found that's certain is that when I killed Drantab, it opened the way for this Deep Echo character to move against several worlds."

"Don't blame yourself, please Caine." She stops directly in front of him to make sure he hears her and isn't stuck in his own thoughts. Seeing he was, she cups his face in her hand and runs her thumb over his cheekbone. It brings him back to focus on her. "If I understand it right, Drantab himself would have harvested them. We just have to work on stopping the current threat and get the ball rolling to outlaw harvesting all together."

"Your Majesty makes it sound so easy, when this bastard has been giving us the slip for months."

"I didn't say easy, silly. But I hope the pack feels it's worth the effort. They have no planetary ties apart from their relationship with me," her big brown eyes accentuate the concern on her face.

Closing the gap between them, he wraps one arm around her waist and tucks her head into his shoulder with the other. Then he nuzzles his face into her hair and takes in her scent. "Your Majesty knows you have my love and my loyalty - more than the loyalty bred into lycantants with the wolf gene. They look up to you as the one who rescued them. They'll follow us no matter what."

"Will we be asking too much of them?" she mumbles into his chest.

"No. A pack needs a purpose, or they become wild and unpredictable."

"Kind of like a working dog? If it's bored, it gets in trouble?" she tries to understand what he means.

He gives a little snort of laughter. "Tell me Your Majesty didn't just compare me to a dog again."

Butting her head into his chest, she can't suppress a giggle.

"What's with you and dogs anyway?" he playfully complains and sticks out his bottom lip in a mock pout.

She can't play fight curled up next to him, so she pushes him away a bit to see his expressions. "You're not ever gonna let me live that down are you?" She runs a finger over the lip he's sticking out so it smacks back into place, and makes him crack a grin.

"Not a chance."

"Well, if you must know - I always wanted a dog. But we couldn't risk having one. Everything was so tenuous as illegals."

"So you think you have one now?" He lifts a single brow conspiratorially.

"Only if you want me to scratch you behind the ears and tell you what a good boy you are..."

As she reaches to do just that, he bats her hand away repeatedly and his wings close reflexively around himself. "Hey, hey, hey!"

Holding her sides after laughing so hard as they banter, she stops to catch her breath. Then she takes him in appreciatively from head to toe.

"What?" He's suspicious of her motives now.

Her expression softens and she asks, "How do you do it?"

His head turns slightly, unsure of what she means.

"You always know how to make things better," she beams.

He shrugs then holds his palms out. "We're both stressed. Better to laugh than to fight?" Switching modes, he offers his arm, "Shall we, Your Majesty?"

She obliges and hugs his arm as he leads the way.

Incoming transmission to the HMS Fluffy Unicorn (Jupiter's ship, name chosen over Commander Caine's severe objections)

'This is Aegis Outpost 27-60 on Earth's Moon broadcasting on all frequencies. Requesting backup. Zeros on alert, but they won't last long against the large number of cloaked vessels that just entered the solar system. The royal family and associates, along with Kiza Apini have been evacuated. Code Red! I repeat Code Red!'

Wardraven High Council Chambers

Jupiter can't stop shaking as she speaks and it shows in the wavering of her voice. How many times did Chouli have to do this? Caine is by her side, but never has she felt so helpless to aid her planet. All she can do is beg and trade rights to it at this point. "...My associates are farther from the approaching battle. I had hoped to never have to ask such a thing. But, I as your Queen am requesting assistance for your sister planet, Earth. My pack and the Aegis outpost will not be enough to fend off the incoming armada. In return for your help, I offer the right of first contact AND trade at your discretion." Hanging her head, she continues quietly so she can keep her voice level, "This may be a very costly fight, so I'm prepared to offer other rights as well. Of all my protectorates, Earth is the least suited to defend itself."

Cacophony ensues and rises to a deafening crescendo in the acoustically designed chamber as the raven delegates argue among themselves. Some outright refuse to fight, sighting that they had to learn to defend themselves. Some wish to help the commonwealth because it's mutually beneficial. Some complain that Jupiter only really cares for Earth. Other Ravenites squawk for support of their new queen.

Gunri touches her shoulder with his wing's primary feathers, a very sympathetic offering in his hands-off culture. The gesture isn't lost on her.

"Your Majesty, my people squabble over much, but when we make up our minds - we can't be stopped. I believe it may work in your favor. As those on Earth would say, 'Chin up.'"

Jupiter pats the offered wing before he pulls back, then she stands erect with her chin high. "Thank you, Gunri. Out of curiosity, have your people ever had contact of any kind with Earth?"

His head bobbles in his birdlike manner and an odd caw like chuckle emanates from him. "Realized that, did you? May I ask Your Majesty what gave it away?"

"I only suspected. There are ravens in several human mythologies."

"Alas, two of our survey ships were destroyed in orbit during an attack, several escape pods landed. Some in northern Europe, some on the Pacific coast of North America. We retrieved the survivors as quickly as possible, but not before they influenced the cultures... Ah... they're calling for questions to Your Majesty before the vote." Gunri steps back and gives her a wink of support, which causes Caine to bristle and move closer to HIS queen.

She fields the questions as best she can. They don't seem very friendly.

"Your Majesty, is it true you own a mixed pack of lycantants and other splices and races?" the red eyed representative of the southern districts queries.

Caine tries hard to look impassive despite the implications of the question, but his eyes meet hers in warning. Jupiter takes a deep breath. How can she find the words to explain to a people so different from those she's known? Keep it simple Jupiter. "I am the female alpha of the pack. When I chose Caine as my mate and he agreed, it started our pack. This means I am part of the pack. I do not own anyone. Not even my mate. Each member joins of free will and works for the benefit of the whole. Tonight I was able to confirm a suspicion that the Ravenites had contact with Earth over a millennia ago. The relationship your people had with the earthlings became legend - part of their mythology. Your ancestors worked for the benefit of both peoples in a mutual agreement. That's pack thinking. Does that answer your question?"

"So Your Majesty is hoping that we will work with you as part of your pack?" a gold eyed grey feathered representative from the east asks with a dangerous tone in his voice.

"I would be grateful if you would agree to work along side my pack for a time in mutual benefit. The Ravenites are a very independent and strong people. Long term pack life would likely not be suitable."

"And the benefit to our people is only pertaining to the planet Earth? Your Majesty is asking our people to willingly die for a planet, not our home," another asks.

Gunri whispers in her ear, "What she is suggesting, none too tactfully, is full membership in the Commonwealth. As non-humans, we've been denied full representation rights."

Nodding understanding, then locking eyes with the questioner she proceeds, "I believe you are aware of my position on equality of races - natural or genetically engineered, human and non-human. I stand firm and am more than happy to help push for full membership in the Commonwealth."

Gunri whispers again patting her back, "Well done, but know it will be a very difficult thing." He ignores the warning growl from Caine.

Back in their personal quarters on the HMS Fluffy Unicorn

"I need to know if you knew he was flirting with you." Caine purses his lips, trying hard to not raise his voice.

"I didn't. Really. Besides, you and I are mates. He knows that," her arms cross and her posture becomes defensive.

"His people are much more free when it comes to casual flings. As long as one returns to his or her mate in the end all is well. Chouli knew this when she gave you the planet. Didn't she warn you?" the volume rises in his voice and he pounds the table next to him.

"No she didn't. I suspect my dear friend has many secrets she won't reveal. She and Titus have shared a bed on many of their meetings. I found that tidbit out from Titus himself. Beyond her flings, I still look up to her. Now, you're frustrated because I didn't turn him down instantly, aren't you?" she tries to cut to the quick before things get uglier.

"He'll be less helpful if you do. But it's damned hard to stand there impassive while he flirts with you, right in front of me. Shit. He actually touched you! His culture just doesn't do that!" His fists are clenched as tightly as his jaw as he explains.

Wrapping her hand around his static fist she tries to soothe him. "I love you, Caine. You're the only one for me, EVER. Could it have been some misunderstanding?"

He turns away. "The Ravenites are very calculating. No misunderstanding. It's an embarrassment to the pack."

"Then I'll speak to him to make my intentions clear. The rest of the pack isn't here. So it's embarrassing you. And you're having a hard time even finding the words for it, aren't you?"

His lack of a response is her confirmation.

She slips her arms around to hug him from the back, hoping to help diffuse his tension. She can feel his muscles twitching and hear his barely controlled breathing. "Stinger told me you were complicated. What he didn't tell me is how difficult it is for you to say what you're feeling. I'm not always going to be able to guess and I almost missed this one, Caine. It really scares me." She tries to hold back a sniffle, but isn't successful and her tears end up soaking through his shirt.

His shoulders slump as he realizes the implications of his jealousy. He'd never made her cry before. Turning around and cradling her, he admits, "I wanted to rip his throat out."

She squeezes him tighter in reassurance. "But you didn't."

"I couldn't stop myself eight years ago."

"But this isn't then. You've changed so much. And I have a horrid headache from fighting and crying."

He nuzzles into the crook of her neck, rocking to comfort her and absorb the wonder of her dedication and belief in a defective splice. Before she came into his life, 'defective' had defined him.

...

Author's note: Now that Caine is an alpha, he'd be a Commander for them. POOF! Instant promotion. (Some how that managed to slip under the radar in the last story.)