Richter: Adventures in Northrock
By Vaahn

The flight to Halkat had been a short one. Civilian ships tended to coast along at Warp Six, but both governments disliked the idea of having the infamous Richter Saccard vulnerable in space for prolonged periods of time. Thus, their journey was conducted by a Starfleet vessel cleared for transwarp speeds. They barely had time to settle into their cabin before they were coasting into orbit of the estranged Karrian colony.

As a penitatas, and one serving the harshest sentence Earth had handed down in living memory, Richter was not travelling alone; his parents, Harvey and Elizabeth Tanner had joined him on the venture, along with his ever-present therapy puppy, Othello. The last member of the party had been brought at the suggestion of their hosts; “Master Richter will be alone in unfamiliar surrounds. Having a companion to help ground him would be beneficial; we would prefer the boy's focus was not split between his appointed work and trying to fill some social need within our own criminal class.” Thus, Richter found himself staring out of the window with a young Aspatrian at his side. Zachary seemed delighted to be aboard ship again; his foxy tail had scarcely stopped wagging the whole trip.

Boys, can I have your attention for a minute?” Harvey spoke up. “I know you're probably sick to death of me saying this, but it can't be said enough: Halkat is an alien world, with its own ways of doing things. Their penitatas system is markedly different to what you are used to, and I suspect neither of you would enjoy finding out about the 'quirks' of this world's justice system. That means the absolute best of behaviour from here on out!”

Yes, Mr Tanner!” Zachary squeaked, unable to suppress his eagerness despite the serious tone of his temporary parent.

Richter merely nodded. “I acknowledge that improper behaviour will jeopardise the merits this volunteer work is intended to earn me. I shall comport myself accordingly, Harvey.”

That's another thing,” Elizabeth cut in. “We allow you certain amounts of leeway at home, but people here might not be as understanding. At least while we're here, I'd encourage you to call us mum and dad. When speaking to adults, try to speak respectfully; sir or ma'am would be a wise bet.” The boy nodded in acceptance.

I will try, Elizabeth. I mean, 'mum',” the word felt odd on his tongue, but it earned him a smile for his trouble.

The shuttle arched downward from its mothership, swinging wide along the equator as it burned altitude and slipped into the upper thermosphere. Internal dampeners kept the ride smooth, and shielding ensured not a lick of paint was marred by the friction-flames born of the atmosphere's attempt to resist their passing. The small craft banked north as it descended, winding round the planet and pressing northward. As the shuttle slowed for its final approach, a long, thin strip of beach hove into view, marked by a small town flanked by isolated clusters of buildings spread along the coast. Farmland and woodland flanked the settlement on the inland faces.

As he leaned forward to peer out of the forward window, a thin sneer formed on Richter's lips. “I'm impressed, you've managed to find somewhere that looks more miserable than Liverpool.”

Richter!” his father hissed. “Remember what we said about behaving!”

The Roferian responded with a dismissive 'Tch!', but leaned back in his chair all the same, arms folded across his chest.

They came down over a long, wide road that separated the farmland from the beach. The landing had a small audience present, some who had clearly expected the shuttle, most who had come running at the sound of the engines. A smartly dressed Karrian male met them with a respectful nod. “Mr and Mrs Tanner? I'm Mr Daon. We've got a house ready for you just up the road here.”

Thank you,” Elizabeth accepted both the greeting and the proffered claw to help her down the ramp.”

Richter's attention first went to the houses. There were seven of them, formed in a horseshoe cul-de-sac. All had two floors and matching blue roofs, with organic curves being popular in their designs. Next, his eyes went to the Karrians who gawped from a safe distance, only to spy two anomalies in the group; a pair of children of similar age to Zachary and himself. One was blond and wolfish in form, the other an amphibian whose pale, beige front blended through shades of yellow and green towards her back. The general demeanour of the rejuves as a whole suggested the shuttle had put pause to some communal play session.

Mr Daon tilted his head towards the crowd. “The first house on the left is yours for the duration of your stay. Fully furnished, of course. This might be a good time to get to know your neighbours?”

Richter's snout turned upward to his parents, who caught the anxious, wordless pleading in his eyes. “I think we should go inside and settle first. We can perhaps visit-”

Puppy!” the frog girl's squeal cut across the street. Her parents had to physically hold her back from rushing at Othello, who was performing giddy spins at Richter's feet.

Glancing down, Richter let his emotive sense focus on the puppy. He was overwhelmed by purest excitement – Halkat was a whole new world of strange and wonderful smells for the four-legged explorer to, well, explore. His tiny mind could barely keep to his training. Looking up sharply once more, Richter spoke in as firm a tone as the young boy could manage. “Othello needs to be walked. I will accompany him.”

Let's get settled first,” his mother said, but Richter was having none of it.

Elizabeth, caring for Othello is one of my primary duties on your farm, correct? I see no reason why it is any different here. He will not settle without a chance to learn these new surroundings, and he needs the exercise.”

Mr Daon stepped in to offer some local advice. “If Master Richter wants to walk the dog, we can arrange for someone to walk him as well.” He began tapping on his datapad without confirming, a grin on his face. “It'll be a good chance for him to learn some of the rules about Northrock.”

After a brief, whispered debate, the Tanners relented. Othello, meanwhile, simply couldn't resist any longer and ran to meet the locals, much to the absolute delight of frog girl. It stung the Roferian boy to see his oldest friend seeking the attention of another, so he sought solace in his second-oldest. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves if we ever want to get Othello back.” Zachary's beaming grin was agreement enough.

As Richter and Zachary approached the group they spied an odd drone uncoupling from a stand at the junction of the road. It looked like a white egg laid on its side, with camera lenses dotted around its circumference. It spoke in a male voice, but with a cadence that was subtly off. “Identity Confirmed. Good Morning, Richter. I will be escorting you on your walk. Please turn around.”

What is that?” Richter asked, turning to Mr Daon, who seemed far too pleased with himself.

That is a 'Watchdog'. It's an automated drone used to escort Pennys around when a parent isn't available.”

A Harness is not detected,” the Watchdog announced.

Yes, I know! I have one here!” Mr Daon replied, waving the assortment of black straps at the machine. “Put this on, Richter. Please?”

Though he briefly considered protesting, a look at his parents and their judging stares made him rethink the act. “Yes sir,” he growled as he slipped the flimsy garment on over his regular jacket. The clasps clicked shut across his chest as he felt something apply pressure to his back.

Harness secured. You may now depart,” the Watchdog announced, hovering behind the boy.

One of the Karrian parents pushed her alien charges forward. “Bubbles, Kost, why don't you go along as well? I'm sure it'll be easier to keep an eye on the dog if there's a group of you.”

His name is Othello,” Richter replied, his tone just a little too aggressive for his parent's liking.

Harvey tapped Zachary's shoulder. “You should go as well. Make sure you both behave,” the latter was unequivocally aimed at Richter.

With Othello's lead clasped firmly in one claw, and the other hovering off his hip just shy of touching Zachary, Richter led the way for the little band. He vaguely recalled the bulk of town was to the north, so he turned left and began up the road at a leisurely pace. “I know you'd like to run, Othello, but I think we should start slow.”

How did you get a dog anyway?” The blond wolf-like boy asked. Richter presumed his name was 'Kost'. It fit him far better than 'Bubbles'.

He is my therapy dog. He has a remarkable talent for gauging my moods and-” as if to prove the point, Othello turned back and ran to Richter's side, nuzzling against his leg. The boy paused to place a paw upon the puppy's head, letting his anxieties fade away through the simple contact of warm, soft fur on his paw. “Thank you, Othello,” he said. The heartfelt tone in his voice sent the puppy off again to sniff at yet another wonderful new plant.

Oooh! You are so lucky! You're like the luckiest Penny on the planet!” Bubbles squeaked.

That's rich coming from you, Miss 'Our Whole House Is Designed For Me'!” Kost extended a paw to the pair of guests. “I'm Kost, by the way. This is Bubbles.”

I heard your mother say your names earlier,” Richter said as he accepted the paw. “I'm Richter.”

And I'm Zachary, his 'emotional support Penny'!” the Aspatrian giggled at his own joke.

Kost added a chuckle of his own. “Wow, a pet puppy and a pet friend? Who did you suck off to land this arrangement?”

A defensive sneer formed on Richter's maw. “I did not whore myself out to anyone! Othello was a gift from my therapist, and Zachary is here because your government thought I would work better if I had a friend to keep me company.”

Work? What are you working on?” Bubbles asked, her wide eyes ogling Richter with eager curiosity.

A sharp 'snf!' escaped the boy's nostrils. “I'm not allowed to discuss that.”

Wait!” Kost's eyes widened, his gait faltering as a revelation hit. “You're not that Richter, are you?”

The moment he'd been dreading had finally arrived. He slowed to a halt, Othello dutifully rushing to his side, Zachary taking hold of his free paw with both of his own. “Yes, I am Richter Saccard. I'm the one who tried to take control of Earth's defence systems.”

Of all the reactions Richter had anticipated, Kost's barking laughter was not one of them. “Oh man! At the risk of getting my hide tanned, I really liked how much you rattled the Humans with that stunt! Glad you didn't go through with the whole genocidal rampage bit, but I certainly won't complain about seeing Team Earth on the backfoot.”

We had quite a few run-ins with Starfleet,” Bubbles explained. “We were pirates, you see.”

Really? Me too!” Zachary chimed in. “I was an engineer on the Bah'vira.”

I was an engineer too!” Bubbles bounded around to the other side of the group so she could walk next to Zachary. “The Bah'vira was an Aspatrian built ship, right? You got to tell me about them! What kind of warp core assembly did you use?”

And she's off!” Kost chuckled, casting a glance down at Othello as he passed in front to explore a yellow flower. “Between the dog and the fox I'm never getting her back.”

I take it you have no interest in warp cores?” Richter asked, glancing sidelong at the smiling boy.

Kost shook his head. “Nah. Not exactly the technical kind of guy. I was more the 'kick down the door and solve problems with guns' kind of pirate. I still would be if it weren't for her.”

The Roferian shifted his focus to Zachary and Bubbles, who were both deep in jargon-laden discussion about their similar careers. “Did she sell your crew out, too?”

What? No! She almost died saving us!” Kost paused, flicking a brief, yet suspicious glance at Zachary. “Look, round here there's a rule – our past is our own. I'm sure our parents, teachers, and the occasional goody two-shoes fox would tell us that we have no right to ask either of you about the crimes that landed you here. Same applies in reverse, you get me?”

Richter studied the boy's expression for a moment. The kiddy emotions of the pair to his right acted as a form of mental interference, but as best he could tell there was nothing outwardly malicious about Kost. The boy was less at ease than he acted, but nothing more. “What was that about a 'goody two-shoes fox'?”

The wolf-boy flicked his muzzle towards Zachary. “We've got a few Aspatrians of our own around here. One of them's a friend of mine; a girl named Isabelle. She's a completas. Been here-” he paused at a snort from Richter. “What's so funny?”


Uh huh. You need to work on your liar's face, mate. I'd rinse you at the card table.”

Again, Richter wondered if the barbs were meant to build camaraderie, or had a more malicious intent. “I have a history with a certain Aspatrian girl. She was a penitatas until recently, now paroled.”

Well ours has been here for about a hundred years, so unless she travels a lot more than she lets on I'm guessing it's a different fox.”

The world around the group slowly became more urbanised. Isolated, rounded houses gave way to more primitive looking rectangular structures that crowded closer together. The cloudy skies had parted somewhere along the way, allowing warming rays of sunshine down into the streets. The warmth appeared to draw out the locals of all ages, and Othello continued to be the centre of attention. Every Penny they passed gawped and tugged at a parental hand for permission to come over and pet him, while less strictly supervised groups drew as close as they dared without breaking whatever restrictions their outside playtime involved.

Othello, walk between me and Zachary,” he tapped his thigh for emphasis, and Othello fell into step. His actions were prompted by his local colleague; Kost had quietly, but firmly asked Bubbles to hold his paw and walk with him as they reached the busier parts of town.

So where are we going, exactly?” the Aspatrian asked.

We're going... this way,” Richter announced, picking a street largely at random.

Halfway down, they were beset by yet another ambush, and for once it wasn't Othello that had drawn the attention – at least not initially. A pale white Aspatrian girl called to Kost and Bubbles before falling into the same puppy-centric pronouncements everyone else had. She invited herself over, allowing Richter to catch a glimpse at the 'C' on the back of each paw. “You must be Isabelle,” he grumbled.

Caught off guard, the nine-year-old fox's brow furrowed. “Do I know you?”

A claw waved towards Kost and Bubbles. “Your friend mentioned you.”

With a bounce in her step, Bubbles waved her own arm and announced, “Isabelle! This is Zachary! He's an engineer, too! And his friend is Richter, who's visiting for some top secret reason!”

Subtlety is an alien concept to you, isn't it?” the Roferian sighed under his breath. If Isabelle heard, she showed no sign. A paw was offered to both of them.

Nice to meet you both. Newly sentenced?”

We're visiting,” Zach replied. “Once Richter's done with his community service we'll be heading back to Earth, but we're staying here in the meantime.”

I'm sure you have many questions, but we're out here giving Othello his much needed exercise. Excuse me.”

Isabelle stepped aside to let the Roferian pass, but to his annoyance she tagged along behind them. “I don't mean to be rude, but are you... Richter Saccard? Sorry, I really shouldn't pry,” she added, noting the frustrated sigh the boy let out.

If every fucking person I meet is going to ask if I'm really the monster they've heard about on the holo, this trip is going to become irksome exceptionally quickly!”

Isabelle scurried back into his field of view. “I'm really sorry! For what it's worth, I have some idea what that feels like; it was hard being 'Isabelle Holdenthorpe' when that name was still plastered on every screen.

Well then, you'll be delighted to know that name means absolutely nothing to me.”

Zach's brow furrowed in brief recollection. “Were you from Aspatria?”

I was. A long time ago. Before my family decided I wasn't of any use to them.”

The boy nodded. “Thought the name sounded familiar. One of the old families, right? We might have done some work for them once.”

You wouldn't be the first Penny in town I've had past dealings with.”

So what mischief is our little princess up to today?” Kost asked, putting a dirty amount of inflection on 'mischief'.

I'm visiting... a penny. A 'Black P' who doesn't have any friends.”

Kost made a theatrical gagging noise. “Urgh! Isabelle! Your goody-two-shoes nonsense is killing me! Go... go smash a window! Or snort a line of drugs! This 'being a good person' routine is ruining the vibe of our criminal community!”

Fair enough. Maybe I'll hook up with your best friend. That 'naughty' enough?”

Good luck – she's asexual!” Kost jabbed a thumb towards Bubbles, who giggled at the argument.

I meant Ki'reth!”

He's not my friend anymore!”

You were playing line-tag together yesterday!”

And I lost because of him! That's a betrayal I cannot forgive!”

As the argument devolved into playful laughter before moving on to other topics, Zachary leaned in and whispered to Richter, “She seems nice.”

Tch! I've had quite enough of 'redeemed' Aspatrian girls for now, thank you very much!”

What's wrong with Kayla?”

Richter glanced at Zach's enquiring expression. “I realise she's your friend, but you know our history is more... complicated.”

Look, maybe-”

Hold on,” Richter shifted focus to Isabelle, glaring intensely as he tried to parse the memories of a conversation he'd not been listening to.

Excuse me, but what was that about 'getting naked in a cage'?”

A hint of a blush formed on Isabelle's muzzle. “Oh, it's something we did a few years back. A fundraising idea where some of us Pennys-”

-including Isabelle!” Kost butted in. Smut dripped from every syllable.

-Yes, including me. We were all members of House Sea Fox in school, so we thought it'd be fun to run a zoo exhibit about sea foxes. Of course, we couldn't get any sea foxes, so instead three of us painted ourselves in body paint, or fur dye in my case, and played the role of animals. It was extremely popular, and there's been more than a few requests to bring it back. I suspect the fact we only wore paint was a big draw,” she added with a chuckle.

Let me make sure I understand this: a group of penitatas, presumably Karrians, yes? A group of Karrians and yourselves took off all your clothes, painted your bodies, and then sat in a cage all day? For the amusement of others?”

Isabelle's tail adopted a playful flick. “Pretty much, yeah. We were really committed to the bit, you see. Including having to cock our legs in front of everyone. Plus there was a boy in the cage, and he got awfully flustered by the end so... we were given permission to help him out.”

Richter briefly imagined Isabelle in grey fur, her canine tongue running along a Karrian's erect shaft. The flash of fancy caused a brief, yet profoundly embarrassing tingle in his crotch. He kept his focus firmly on the ground until the sensation went away, which allowed Othello to take point. The little pup raised his head in alarm, turning back and forth for a moment before setting off with as urgent and forceful a tug on the lead as he could manage. “Hey! Othello! What's gotten into you?” Richter hurried along after the pup, with the other rejuves following under the shadow of the Watchdog. Richter's own ears pricked at a curious combination of sounds ahead; jaunty carnival music, and the desperate wails of a child in distress.

The boy came to a halt in front of the fairground ride, Othello growling at his heel. “It's okay, Othello,” he hushed the dog, kneeling down to pet him. “It's a Penny town. Pennys get-” his explanation was halted as he began to process what he was actually seeing. The animals weren't merely decorative seats; they had restraints, with mechanical arms ending in paddles and straps of varying sizes and thicknesses. A look of horror crystalised on Richter's features as he saw a child swing into view, bound helpless to the back of a sea-horse. The paddles and straps belted the lizard boy's rear in time to the music. “What the actual fuck is this?”

Zachary fell in beside him. The Aspatrian's jaw fell open, trembling as he, like Richter, struggled to make sense of the attraction. Isabelle stepped up to fill their gap of knowledge. “Welcome to the Penny-Go-Round,” she announced. “Someone's idea of a bad joke, and now an ever-present reminder of why a penitatas has to behave while out and about in town.”

Someone decided to convert a carnival ride into a public torture device?” Richter gawped in disbelief.

The 'seats' are basically the inside of a spanking booth. They were popular around here once upon a time, but fell out of favour as the town grew. Someone decided it was a shame to waste the tech, and here we are.” The girl paused to rub her backside. “As crazy as it sounds, I actually preferred it this way.”

Richter's focus shifted swiftly to Isabelle. “Are you saying you enjoy this?”

A hint of fang appeared between her lips. “What I meant was that this ride, as unpleasant as it is, usually only lasts a few minutes. Plus it's in the open, so people can see you. The old booths were sealed and sound-proofed; you had no way to call for help, and no way of knowing if anyone was even still there. Let's just say a lot of Pennys had borderline claustrophobia back in the day.”

I want to go home.” The words slipped out not as pleading, nor a pained, childish whine, but almost as a promise to himself. “I have seen enough of this planet. I want to be back home on the Tanner farm where things make sense.”

The Penny-Go-Round ceased its terrible waltz, and the howling boy was released by the operator. A male, presumably his father, came to pick the boy up and carry him to a nearby bench where they cuddled, the older Karrian holding the howling youth in a way that minimised the pressure on his well-spanked rear. “I guess some things aren't so different here,” Zachary noted, though it wasn't enough to clear the dark cloud over Richter's head.

Let's go back. You, floating egg thing! How do we get home?”

A chime rang from the Watchdog as it turned to face the way they'd come. “Please proceed forwards. At the end of the road, turn left.”

I should get going, got my 'charity work' to do,” Isabelle waved to the four of them as they set off. “See you both at the party, if not sooner!”

See ya'!” Bubbles waved back with a bounce in her gait. Kost flicked a two-finger salute and fell in behind the dour Richter, who grumbled as he walked.

I know my parents said this place was different, but 'different' doesn't even come close! Putting naked kids in cages? Binding them to a public torture device and making a fucking game of it? What kind of freaks run this place?”

Hey!” Kost cut in sharply. “You need to be careful what you say! The Watchdog has ears!”

Of course it fucking does! Spying on us every hour of the day is the norm here, I take it?”

Kost snorted at the question. “You wouldn't be asking that if you'd seen your room.”

A disgusted growl rumbled in Richter's throat at the comment. Zachary tried to hold his paw, but with a petulant little grunt he pulled away, wrapping his free arm around his own chest. Even the empathetic nuzzling of Othello did little to improve his mood.

Returning to their temporary home, Richter was finally released from his leash. The Watchdog bumbled back to the docking tower and slotted in, leaving Kost and Bubbles to make their goodbyes and head for the house at the bottom of the road. Richter drew in a long, deep breath and held it for the count of six before letting it out slowly, trying to find his centre. “Let's see what horrors they have for us here,” he said, inviting Zachary to take the lead with a casual gesture.

Both parents were sat on a curved sofa when the boys returned. They rose together, both smiling towards their young charges. Richter might have been fooled where it not for his empathic sense; they radiated anxiety. Still, a brief glance around seemed promising. “Spacious. I don't dislike the décor. Kitchen and dining room... yes, this will do.”

Why don't we go upstairs?” Elizabeth asked. Her stilted smile made Zachary's ears fold low against his skull.

The family headed up together. To Richter's right was an open door that appeared to lead to the bedroom his parents had chosen for themselves. To his left, however, was a room that could only ever have been meant for a penitatas. “Why is the fucking wall transparent?” he snarled at the offending barrier.

Even Zachary couldn't stay enthusiastic in the face of their living arrangements. “Why is our bathroom right there in the open?”

I'm sorry, boys. This is how Northrock houses are built; they think privacy is a luxury for penitatas, not a right.”

They're a bunch of voyeuristic freaks!” Richter snapped. “Do you know what we saw when we went into town? They've got spanking machines melded to a merry-go-round so they can watch Pennys suffer to the tune of carnival music! And some weird girl we met said that was better than the alternative!”

Richter, we tried to warn you-” Elizabeth began.

No, you said this place was different! You never said it was perverted!”

Richter, that is enough!” It was only with that last outburst Richter saw the paddle Elizabeth had brought upstairs. “We will do our best to give you both your privacy, but you are going to be surrounded by penitatas who have to put up with this for their entire sentence. I think you can manage for your visit.”

Richter's eyes remained locked upon the paddle. “Is this an 'unearned' spanking, or have I done something to bring this on myself?”

Your sentence still applies, Richter. Just be glad you're still held to our rules and not theirs. In fact, we've been wondering if you might benefit from visiting a 'Black P' while we're here; it might give you some idea of what others have to deal with. Maybe even make you glad you have us to look after you.”

Shf!” the rasping sound slipped from between clenched teeth as Richter stormed into his bedroom. It was at least a spacious room, if utterly devoid of privacy. “Let's just get this over with. Where do you want me?”

Over my lap, please,” Elizabeth settled onto the bed, waiting patiently as Richter undressed and lay down as instructed. “Thank you. I'm glad that, despite your frustration, you're still willing to cooperate.”

Just get it done already,” the Roferian whined.

The sharp crack of the wooden paddle echoed off the walls. Richter was no stranger to harsh punishments, gritting his teeth and trying his best not to make a sound. Crack! The paddle struck again, swift and fierce, making his eyes water. Crack! A soft grunt slipped out as Richter struggled against the childish need to cry out. He suspected that his mother was putting a little extra force into the swing, though he kept such things to himself.

Twenty hard swats left the boy sobbing, tears soaking the fur on his draconic snout and forming a small puddle beneath him. Yet, true to form, he bore the punishment without the loud bawling that would be expected from most penitatas. Elizabeth shifted him into a cuddling posture and wrapped her arms around him, rocking the lad gently as he calmed himself.

I'm afraid this is something you can't escape, despite your good deeds,” she whispered. “Now, when we're done with our cuddles I'm going to put you in the corner for a while, and then we can all sit down for a family meal. You'll be getting an early bedtime as well, so that you're well rested for tomorrow.”

Yes, Elizabeth,” Richter sighed, burying his frustrations as deeply as he could, and resolving to endure with his head held high.

The 'work day' for Richter began early, and lasted well into the afternoon. Although he was offering his aid willingly, the demanding hours took a toll on the boy; he would come back to Northrock barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to eat his dinner before asking to go to bed. Two days of that was more than his parents were willing to tolerate before they insisted he be given a reprieve. He only found out about this mercy when he opened his eyes to find light coming in beneath the curtains, and not a parent to the found.

Morning, sleepy!” Zachary whispered in his ear. The shared bed was spacious, but the Aspatrian had chosen to snuggle up close to Richter. Between him and Othello, the Roferian boy was left with surprisingly little room. “Did you sleep well?”

I suppose I did,” Richter mumbled as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Shifting, the boy was at first dimly, then acutely aware of the full-bodied erection he was sporting. To his acute embarrassment, Zachary seemed to notice his sudden tension, and was aware of the cause.

A little morning wood's nothing to be ashamed of.”

Normally I'd have dealt with it days ago. I've not had time, or a proper place.”

You could deal with it now?” the fox suggested. “I don't mind. We're both guys, we both have needs.”

Tempting, but my parents would know where the stains on the sheets came from.”

A soft chuckle tickled his ears. “Then we can clean up after. Just... finish in your paws and the evidence can be disposed of.”

I guess.” Richter's fingers closed around his member, stroking the morning wood at a brisk pace, wishing to finish as quickly as possible to avoid any detection. His free paw hovered awkwardly over his stomach.

Do you want me to lend a hand?”

I'm comfortable providing my own relief. But I am a little concerned I might... make more than a pawful.”

Accepting the explanation with a knowing smile, Zachary cupped both his paws around the head of Richter's shaft. The boy's breathing grew more urgent as he drew near to his release, letting his mind focus on the warm, handsome face of the fox-boy beside him. The pressure built at the base of his shaft, precum bubbling at his tip, yet moments before climax he was thrown off pace by Othello jumping up and bolting for the door to the room, barking loudly.

Zachary's ears pricked. “Someone's coming!” he hissed. The boy jumped from the bed and raced over while Richter, in a fit of panic, rolled onto his side to make what he was doing less obvious. He gasped as his cock began to twitch, his paw flinging up just in time to catch the spurt of ejaculate that would have otherwise stained the bed. Hidden, trembling, red-faced with shame at being caught, he listened to Zachary speak with his mother.

I was just taking Othello outside to do his business! He's getting desperate! Richter... he wanted a few more minutes. I think he's still worn out from the other day. Okay!”

Thank you, Zachary,” Richter gasped, shivering as the last twinges of his climax faded. He glanced down at the creamy blob in his paw. “Guess there's only one way out of this,” he mumbled, and scooped his own cum into his mouth. He counted to thirty before getting out of bed and crossing to the bathroom space, where he cleaned himself off as best he could before putting on some underwear and heading downstairs for breakfast.

Othello bounded to his side as the boy took his seat. Elizabeth crossed to him with a plate of sausage, toast and scrambled eggs. “I'm sorry about the past few days, Richter. I'll make sure you aren't pushed so hard in future.”

It's fine,” he answered, forking up some of the egg. He paused his chewing when a thought struck him. “Thank you for letting me sleep in today. I do appreciate it.”

His words earned him a smile, and the rest of the family tucked in. “Your little friends up the road are having a party later today. It starts at lunchtime and you've both been invited.”

Richter glanced to Zachary. “I would rather stay here and read, but you can go if you want to.”

Why don't you want to come?” the Aspatrian asked.

I'd rather not have yet more people trying to figure out if I'm really the infamous terrorist they've all heard about on the holo.”

His mother interrupted, “You've had to deal with it back home when volunteering in the library. Why is it so different here?”

It just is, alright?” The snapped reply was accompanied by a sharp, deliberate twist of his head away from Elizabeth. Othello, ever mindful of the boy's emotions, came to nuzzle his leg and was rewarded with a pat on the head.

Try for us, Richter. Please? We'll have a talk with the other parents there to make sure people respect your boundaries. On Halkat, the other Pennys aren't entitled to know your past.”

I know that. Didn't stop them asking all the same!”

Then we'll make doubly sure nobody else asks. Richter?”

An ebony paw came to rest on Richter's forearm. “I'd like you to be there with me. Please?”

Tch!” Richter hid his face once more, but his tone softened as he spoke. “Very well, for your benefit if nothing else, I shall go and be sociable with the deplorables of Northrock!”

When lunchtime came, Harvey went on ahead to forewarn the gathering, giving Elizabeth time to dress her two charges in comfortable summer clothes. Shorts and T-shirts donned, the rejuves headed for the house at the end of the row and stepped into a familiar building, bar one glaring exception: the back wall was transparent, revealing a spacious conservatory built over a swimming pool.

Hello, Richter. Zachary.” The Karrian parent greeted them as Kost and Bubbles were waved over. Both of them were nude. “I'm sure your friends will be happy to introduce you to everyone.”

You have a pool?”

You have a puppy!” Kost shot back with a playful grin. “Come on then, meet the gang.”

A circle of rejuves were idling by the door to the pool. The closest was an older Aspatrian boy, who seemed happy to be nude like his hosts. The others wore clothes; Isabelle, two Karrian girls, and a Karrian boy. They talked and joked together, eagerly welcoming the return of their friends.

I think introductions are in order,” Isabelle announced, and the circle sounded off their names: Ki’reth, Lusu, Rilka, and Talek.

Richter and Zachary introduced themselves, with Zach adding, “we're on an exchange program from Earth.”

Any further discussion was interrupted by a parental announcement. “Okay, everyone! Remember to keep all the moisture in the conservatory! No running around the pool, and no funny business! Go on in.”

Kost led four of his friends through the airlock style doors first, while Bubbles attached herself to Zachary. When it was their turn, she all but pulled the boy through. “You can leave your clothes here. That's the shower, which you should use before and after swimming! Mom says it helps keep the pool clean.”

It's also a handy place for a wee,” Kost smirked as he stepped out and into the drying arch.

Eww! Gross!” The girl squealed, but it got a smirk from Zach.

I don't have a bathing suit,” Richter mumbled, but a brief glance at the pool made him realise he wasn't the only one; Isabelle and both Karrian girls were stood by the pool in bare fur and scale respectively. The sight made the Roferian blush. “I'm not comfortable with exposing myself in company.”

You must have had to do it before though?” Bubbles asked.

Yes, but never by choice!”

Umm, I'm not sure I know how to swim,” Zachary confessed as he studied the pool from a safe distance.

Bubbles pounced immediately. “I'll teach you how! I'm the best swimmer in Northrock!”

Kost, meanwhile, had begun whispering to Isabelle, whose giggles felt like a directed insult to Richter. She wandered over, somewhat coy. “You aren't the first boy to get a boner in public, Richter, and you won't be the last. Us girls get just as excited, I promise you.”

Talek's at half mast already!” Kost shouted over, promoting an explosion of laughter and an insincere ‘my bad!’ from Rilka.

See? We're all in the same boat, and if you're not a confident swimmer we'll look after you.”

Squirming on the spot, Richter's decision was ultimately made for him by Zachary’s puppy dog eyes. “Fine!” he snapped, turning his back on the group to undress and showering quickly. Once cleaned and dried, however, there was no escaping the reveal any longer. A shameful little spike of pinkish flesh protruded from the grey fur of his genital slit, something far too obvious to miss. The fact that Rilka was so blatantly staring made the ordeal all the more humiliating.

I fucking hate this planet,” Richter growled under his breath as Isabelle waved him to the shallow end of the pool.

Come on, Rick! Turn around, spread your arms out, and lie back in the water.”

Richter's paw went immediately to his peeping member. “I'd rather not.”

With a grin, the white Aspatrian turned to gaze at Talek. “We've done this before, haven't we, Talek?” The boy glanced over, caught Isabelle mouthing 'swimming lessons', and blushed. Rilka pounced on him, the pair vanishing under the surface with a splash, only to resurface pressed together and snickering.

Richter continued to stare as the pair of lizards climbed out of the pool and sat at the edge. There was certainly no hiding Talek's arousal; his boyhood twitched happily as the girl beside him whispered, giggled, and occasionally flicked a teasing finger across his privates. “Do they do this kind of public display often?” he asked as he turned away, trying to will himself to fully soften.

All the time. They've gotten pretty shameless about it. I'd give it another year before they start humping on the playground!” Isabelle cackled with a subtle hunger in her eyes as she flicked one last glance at the pair. “Come on then, bite the bullet! Once it's done you'll see you had nothing to be ashamed of!”

Letting out another sharp, throaty tic of irritation, Richter finally relented and let himself float. Isabelle moved to support him, pressing herself against his back and wrapping her arms around his chest. “Okay, breathe in. Keep your lungs full as best you can to make floating easier. Now, just kick. Slow and steady. You might be able to use your tail for a little extra boost.”

The lessons progressed with surprising swiftness. Floating came easily enough, followed by a forward stroke that Richter was glad to perform, seeing as it kept his stiffy out of view. He and Isabelle tread water together while Zachary swam his first length, cheered on from the edge of the pool and with Bubbles swimming escort beneath. Once he was safely out of the pool, soaking wet and cheering at his own success, the little frog banked around and torpedoed towards Richter. He glanced down through the rippling surface, acutely aware of his half-mast member once again, and saw her beaming up at him. “She can hold her breath a long time,” he mumbled.

She's not holding it. She can breathe fresh-water as well as air. Don't ask me how,” Isabelle said, pushing herself away to give Richter some distance. “Go for it! She'll lend a hand if you struggle!”

His first attempts were sloppy, struggling to find a comfortable pace and rhythm, but he joined Zachary at the pool's edge and was rewarded with a strong, supportive hug. “Nice one!” the little fox cried.

It hardly felt 'nice'. To be honest, I felt like I could barely keep my head above the water!”

Maybe we don't need to then? Come on, another lap!” Zachary hopped back into the water and kicked off the wall, submerging and swimming as fast and far as he could before breaking the surface again. It was impossible to miss how attentive Bubbles was to him, never more than a fingertip's distance from the orange-and-ebony fox. Richter set off again, keeping to the surface, and the pair swam back together from the far side. Any self-conscious concerns melted away as the simple joy of being in the water with a friend took over. A few laps later, Richter eased himself out of the water and shook off some of the wet weight, heading for the water dispenser in the corner of the conservatory. All that exercise in the warm had built up a third.

The boy's ears couldn't help but prick as he drank; Talek and Ki'reth had their backs to him, whispering conspiratorially. “So the rumour around town is we've got a new Penny around. Real monster, too.” Richter's jaw set into a snarl at the fox's words.


Yeah. Apparently, this party's for their benefit. We're going to have to play nice with a mass murderer.”

A stab of pain shot through Richter's chest. Tears welled in his eyes, his paws curling into fists. It took all his willpower not to turn and scream at the Aspatrian. Instead, he span sharply on his heel and marched for the changing room, retaining just enough self awareness to stop in the drying arch rather than track water into the house proper.

Richter? Where are you going?” Zachary called, rising from the pool behind him. He didn't answer, instead storming into the living room and drawing all parental eyes to him.

He fixed his mother a wet-eyed stare. “I want to go home!” he whimpered.

What's wrong, dear? What happened?”

I want to go home!” He snapped again, unable to keep back the tears this time. Zachary hurried to his side, with the rest of the rejuves slowly filtering out. The press of the boy's paw in his own drew another pained blub from the Roferian. “Please, mum! I want to go home right now!”

The Tanners gave their hosts apologetic looks. “Thank you for having us, really. It's been a pleasure. But it seems our lad needs a little attention.”

As soon as their front door opened, Richter fled to the bedroom, hurling himself onto the mattress and letting the pillow drink his tears. Othello whined in sympathetic distress, burrowing under his arms so he could nuzzle her as he wailed.

He could sense his parents drawing closer. Without waiting to be prompted, he raised his head and blurted out, “They think I'm a monster!”

Why do you think that?” Elizabeth asked.

I heard them talking! The Aspatrian boy said the party was for the benefit of a mass-murder who'd just arrived in town!”

Zachary crept closer, ebony ears flat against his skull. “Are you sure they were talking about you, Ricky? They seemed to like you.”

Who else could they be talking about?” Richter snapped, regretting it instantly. “I didn't... sorry...”

A sympathetic paw came to rest on his forearm. “It's okay, I can see you're hurting.”

If they were saying such horrible things about you, then rest assured they'll be punished for it.” Elizabeth promised.

They had lunch after Richter calmed down, but his black mood persisted. Zachary and Harvey volunteered to give Othello his afternoon walk so as to honour the boy's request for some time alone. He tried to find solace in literature, but he was too wrapped up in his own anxieties. His mother's return only made it worse, if anything. “Richter? I went over the road to find out what happened. Your friends weren't talking about you at all!”

Really?” he snarled, “then who were they talking about?”

Another child came to visit after we left. I understand why you thought they were whispering behind your back, but it was all a misunderstanding.”

The boy's furred snout dropped towards the floor. “That's almost worse! Now I've gone and made myself look like a total bloody fool for nothing!”

There are worse things than making a prat out of yourself,” Elizabeth reminded him. “I suggest you try a little honesty. Explain why you acted like you did, they'll understand.”

I... I hope so,” the boy sighed. “But not today, alright? I'll... I'll no doubt see them again on my next day off.”

Okay. Next time,” she said with a nod, and left him to his books.

After another day of decrypting files and dismantling malicious code-forms, Richter's hovercar home dipped down into the streets of Northrock once again. Paying little heed to its course, the boy was surprised when the cabin's screen lit up with an incoming call announcement. Seconds later, his mother's face appeared on the screen. “How was your day, Richter?”

Long. Why are you calling?” the boy asked, fatigue stripping any semblance of decorum.

We had a request for you to visit-”

No!” Richter snapped, not caring to hear any more. “I am not visiting anyone, or anywhere! I am done being paraded around for people to gawp at, mock, and belittle! I'm coming home and staying in my room until this stupid mission is done!”

He could tell by the line of her shoulders that Elizabeth's hands were now firmly on her hips. “Richter, in case you haven't figured it out already, the Halkat authorities were eager to get their own claws into you for your many, many crimes. They want you to see how things work here as a reminder of what could have befallen you if they got to you first. So you're going, Richter. End of discussion.”

I won't-”

You can go along of your own accord, or you can be 'persuaded' to go along. We know where that fairground ride is.”

A furious snarl slipped from Richter's maw. “I can't fucking believe you're doing this to me! You're supposed to care about me!”

The woman's expression softened. “I do care, Richter. I'm not blind to how difficult this trip has been for you, and I promise we've got something special planned for when it's over. The good kind of special. So please, just for a few more days, put on a brave face. Okay?”

Snf! Fine! I'll be your good little ambassador! But your reward better be amazing!”

It will be. See you in a few hours,” she touched her lips, then pressed her fingers to the camera just as the screen went black.

The car settled on an unassuming street somewhere near the centre of town. A pair of grey-scaled Karrians were waiting outside a house that looked more akin to the rounded, rural homes than most of the old town buildings. “So you're the boy our little pet won't stop talking about!” the male called. His tone was friendly, but Richter's empathic sense recoiled at the thoughts churning inside his head. “I'm Ross, this is Avelyn. Come inside.”

The boy had to take a moment to steel himself. The pair before him didn't feel like 'Penny Parents' as he knew them; there was something malicious about the way they studied him. Richter's memories went back to that terrible day in Liverpool where he and Othello were beaten to within an inch of their lives. If he'd been able to sense the mind of the bastard who'd ambushed them by the fountain, he imagined it would have felt like Ross and Avelyn.

Come on, hurry along!” Ross called, an edge added to his voice that suggested further dallying was    unwise. Richter scurried through the door, fighting panic at every step. “Head upstairs. You can't miss her room.”

It was a relief when neither parent followed him. It was no surprise to see the Penny Room had a transparent wall and bathroom facilities out in the open, just like his temporary accommodations did. The sole occupant was a little white fox, age four or thereabouts judging by her size, playing in the nude with cheap wooden blocks more suited to a child a few years younger. Her head snapped up as he opened the door, eyes wide and frightened, only to soften when she realised the visitor was not one of her parents. “Took you long enough, Richter,” she said, letting her half-built block tower topple as she stood up from the floor.

Of course you know me,” Richter growled under his breath. “Did you want to tell me what a monster I am? Or maybe you want stories of how I almost wiped out the birth-world of humanity?”

The little fox snorted with short-lived laughter. “You have no idea how happy I'd have been if you'd actually succeeded. The human race has done nothing but made my life miserable. Although I suppose the Karrian race would be at the top of my hit-list these days.”

What the fuck do you want?” Richter snarled. The little girl's mind was little better than her parents; far more confused, her emotions in constant flux, but there were certainly sharp spikes of malice jutting from out of the childish fog.

Do you know who I am?”

No. Why should I?” Richter's eyes narrowed. “Wait, you do look similar to another Aspatrian I've met. Isabelle.”

My twin sister,” the fox confirmed. “Does the name 'Francesco Holdenthorpe' mean anything to you?”

Not a damn thing.”

To Richter's surprise, the girl's expression softened. The sharp edge to her words blunted when she spoke again. “I've not exactly met many people since I got here. That little pool party yesterday is the first time I've interacted with any other rejuves, save my sister. Even then, she runs hot-and-cold; the bitch can't decide if she's forgiven me, or wants me to suffer more than my parents do.”

Richter took a few steps further into the room, circling slowly towards the bed. “Let me guess: around here, everyone knows who 'Francesco' was, what crimes he committed, and they're all eager to see you suffer for them?”

Sounds like you've been put through the same. I go by 'Francine' now, for what it's worth.” She beckoned Richter closer with a lazy flick of her paw.

He crossed to the girl as she hopped onto her bed, little legs kicking idly in the air. He found a seat next to her. “Why exactly did you want to meet with me?”

The little fox bared her teeth. Calling it a smile was overly generous. “I heard you're super smart. Guess.”

Tch!” the Roferian considered storming out then and there, but that meant crossing paths with the parents downstairs. “Fine. I'll play your stupid game. You're a notorious criminal, like your twin. Someone said she'd been here a hundred years, so either you're serving an even longer sentence or you evaded the law up until recently. The latter, I think: you said you'd only met other people yesterday. You admire what I tried to do to the Federation. I suspect you think of me as a kindred spirit. If that's the case, you are mistaken. I've resolved to atone for my mistakes, and earn some reprieve from my existence. Somehow, I doubt you feel the same.”

Francine whined softly, stung by his final words. “Trust me, if you had any idea what I suffer you'd know I'm trying to 'earn some reprieve' any fucking way I can!”

Rolling his eyes, Richter sighed, “Oh, of course. I'm supposed to come to you and learn what twisted fate the local sadists would have inflicted upon me if I were in their custody. Alright, spit it out. What do the degenerates downstairs do to punish you?”

The outburst earned him an honest smile from Francine. “I like that. Talk about my 'parents' more that way.”

A sudden chill ran down Richter's spine; the logical core of his mind jumped to the notion that parents who revelled in overt surveillance would not be above more covert methods. “I suspect that would be unwise,” he muttered.

Fine. Okay. You want to know what I go through? Three punishments per day, minimum. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, and one in between. All on top of anything I 'earn' for breaking a rule... rules like being rude, talking back, taking too long on the potty, fidgeting in the corner... they are really good at finding things I've done wrong.”

The litany made Richter's spines quiver. “How severe are these punishments?”

I don't know how they compare to other people. But I know my 'specials' are so much worse!” Richter felt his stomach knot as Francine shifted her posture. She had seemed unconcerned about her nudity up until now, but at the mention of special punishments her paws had moved to her crotch. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat. “They abuse you? Sexually?”

Daddy's little treat,” Francine's jaw trembled as she answered, and a sniffle provided punctuation.

The Roferian boy leaped from the bed in a fit of fury. “I am done with this vile planet!” he barked to the world at large. “I don't care what it costs me to break our contract, I'm not lifting another finger to help such vile people! I'm going home, to Earth! Tonight!”

Richter, wait!” Francine darted after him as he stormed towards the door. “Stop! Please!”

No!” he shook off her grasping paws. “I am not a penitatas of Halkat! I am a penitatas of Earth! My parents are harsh to me, but they would never allow anything like this to happen! I tried to kill billions of people, yet I get a third of what you do? And you are violated on top of that? It is beyond tolerable!”

And I don't get to storm away from this!” the words made Richter pause at the door. He turned back to the trembling, crying kit. “Y-you get to go back to Earth! You get t'leave! I'm s-stuck here!”

I... I don't know what crimes you committed, Francine, but I struggle to imagine what could justify such barbarity. Regardless, I cannot help you.”

Yes you can.” the girl took hold of his paw and tugged him back into the room. “Come back here.”

Following, confused, he allowed himself to be returned to the bed. Francine took a moment to wipe her eyes and steady her breathing. “I begged my parents to let us meet. I thought... I don't know what I thought! I had this idea you and I would...” she sighed, shaking away the thoughts she struggled to form. “Doesn't matter. What I care about now is the other... arrangement.”

A fresh chill ran down Richter's spine. His young mind began to imagine the setting of some elaborate trap, Francine keeping him pinned here as the Karrians below readied themselves to inflict some unspeakable act of abuse upon him. “What are you planning?” he snarled, but his hostility bled away as a soft touch caressed his claw.

Like I said before, I get 'special' punishments. Usually about once a week. Daddy's treat. I... I'm overdue. I persuaded my parents that... that you could...”

The blood rushed from Richter's face so fast it made him dizzy. “You want me to sexually assault you?”

Trust me, you'd be doing me a favour,” the girl put on a brave face as she turned to look him in the eye. “Besides, with how pissed off you got at the very idea of my 'specials', I don't imagine you'd be into playing rough. Don't take this the wrong way, but your dick's got to be smaller than what I'm used to.”

I... I can't do something like that! My parents would skin me alive!” Richter protested, though his eyes couldn't help but follow Francine's paw as she stroked her own stomach, moving slowly down to her tiny mound, and curled a finger between her thighs.

You're smart, you'll figure out how to explain it,” Francine snickered. “Do you want me to warm you up?” She took his embarrassed silence as consent, slipping between his legs and easing his fly open. The little fox looked puzzled at his slit for a moment, but her curious fingers teased his furred lower lips apart to find the shy boy meat within. The girl's tongue was softer than Zachary's, but the sensation of being licked while soft was a new and alien one, sending shivers up and down Richter's spine. His internal doubts about the coupling quickly began to lose ground to his raw libido, having been denied his usual masturbation routines; a pink, pointed tip of flesh slipped from the furred slit, growing and swelling as Francine's tongue worked along its length.

She leaned back to admire her work, seeming quite proud of the twitching erection she'd created. “You look ready,” she said, though there was a tremble in her tone. Richter let her settle on the bed, head on the pillow and legs tucked up and out of the way to give him full access. Rather than climb on top of her, the boy slipped his snout between her legs and returned her attentions, slowing licking his long, moist tongue over the girl's pale flesh. Her fur bristled at the contact, a shudder escaping from her vulpine maw as Richter slowly, patiently ate her out. There was little taste to her, and only a faint scent; a truly different experience to his experiments with Zachary. He tried to coax up more saliva to the front of his snout as he licked, wishing to lubricate her passage for what would surely follow.

Yet despite the twitching cock between his legs, Richter found himself quite content, and in no rush to move. His eyes slid closed as his tongue found an easy rhythm; a long lick, followed by a soft suckling on the twist of flesh that hid Francine's clitoris. Lick, suckle, lick, suckle, repeated with sensual patience. The fox girl's breathing changed as he worked, becoming less ragged, becoming deeper. Her emotional cloud settled as well, both rejuves finding a shared groove in the moment.

The boy's spell broke when he felt a bead of precum dribble from his tip. Moving slowly, he crawled over the smaller girl and positioned himself, waiting for her subtle nod before easing himself inside. Her paw helped guide him in, little by little, Francine giving soft, short huffs each time he pushed more of his member inside. Richter was surprised how much of him she could take; he felt her resistance increase sharply, and used that as the guide for how far to go. Cock tingling from the warm folds of her passage, he pulled back a little, then began to thrust.

As with his oral, Richter kept his motions slow and careful. This may have been a 'punishment' for her, but he had no desire to push his luck with regards to explaining himself. Besides, taking his time meant he could enjoy the sensations for longer, and Francine seemed at ease with his efforts. “This is going to ruin your reputation,” she whispered as he massaged her cunny with his long, slender meat. “No-one will ever believe you're a bad boy again when I tell them how gentle you're being!”

I never wanted a 'bad boy' reputation,” Richter growled back. “I can go faster if you want me to?”

Give it a try,” the girl answered, though a few quicker thrusts drew a grimace, so he slowed himself again. “Coward!” she chuckled, but he knew she was glad of his consideration. Even so, he was getting greedy; pulling himself further out to allow a longer slide back in, eager to relieve the mounting pressure inside of him.

D-do I need to pull out?” he gasped between hungry breaths. Francine merely snorted at him, her expression mocking his innocence. He set his own jaw in a snarl and dared to hump a little harder. “Fuck! I'm-”

Francine clenched down on his cock as hard as she could, and gave a soft purr as she felt herself fill with seed. Richter trembled through the climax, panting like a dog, humping and pumping until the post-nut clarity kicked in. “That... that was...”

The best sex you ever had?”

It did feel exponentially more satisfying than my paw.” Richter eased himself out, trying to catch the dribble of seed with his paw to spare the bedding any mess.

Don't worry about that, just wipe your paw on the sheet. It proves you 'punished' me,” she wriggled to the edge of the bed and patted the vacated space, smiling as Richter lay beside her.

Not that I want to sound ungrateful for that, but why me? There are surely plenty of other boys who'd have 'punished' you?”

Francine nodded. “There are. But you'll be leaving soon. I... I honestly didn't know how I'd feel afterwards. This was me hedging my bets; if it went bad, at least I'd never have to look you in the eye again.”

Did it 'go bad'?”

To the boy's astonishment, Francine leaned in and planted a kiss on his snout. Tears welled in her eyes as she whispered, “I don't think I want you to leave now. If I had to do this once a week, I'd... I'd be a much happier girl.”

An all too familiar sense of bitterness welled back up inside him. He turned his frustration away from Francine and growled into the room, “I can't stand the things this place does to penitatas. I never thought I'd say this, but I am glad to be serving time on Earth!”

Francine's white paw pressed on his cheek, steering him back towards her. “We've probably got more time before your parents come get you. If there's something else you'd like to try?”

Blushing, Richter curled a claw protectively over his softening boyhood. “I think I've had more than enough fun today.”

Smiling, Francine shuffled onto her back, slipping both paws beneath her head. “Okay. Then... tell me about your world. I want to know what's so different that you threw a toddler-tantrum over learning about my fate.”

Letting the barb slide, Richter settled on his stomach and closed his eyes. “I live on a farm in the Northwest of England, just outside of a little town called Frodsham. The place is practically just one big crossroad. Along the main roads are lines of houses and businesses, more grocers and butchers than the place really needs, that's for sure; and a couple of buildings in town look a thousand years old! One's a restaurant, I think. The other is a museum with a little garden area Elizabeth took me too once.”

And that's home?”

Frodsham? Not really. Home's the farm, in the hills just outside of town. It's rustic, low tech as much as they can manage. We have animals there, which I have to feed. Some of the neighbouring farms keep horses; I see them ride past sometimes if I'm out by the front gate. Big, stupid animals that spook at everything, with terrifying teeth! I don't get why anyone would climb on one!” Francine began to giggle at his outburst, and Richter had to admit that sound was growing on him. “I think in really ancient times there was some kind of noble's manor somewhere there, but I don't think it exists now. There's a hunting club or something though, so maybe the aristocracy still hang about.”

So when you're not feeding your horses or whatever, what happens then?”

Richter guessed what she was aiming at. “I get spanked once a day, no matter how well behaved I am, unless they swap the spanking for some especially arduous chore. I want to try and earn a reduction in my sentence, so I volunteer for community work. That's what brought me to Halkat. I had hoped, when this was done, I might be able to reduce my mandatory punishments to six per week, so I can have a day just to read, or play, or visit somewhere. There's a major city not far away by hoverbus called Liverpool. They're home to a few famous sports teams, and they have a lot of maritime museums along the river. Built some famous boats, apparently, but one's famous for sinking so I wouldn't trust their craftsmanship. They also have a lot of libraries. I volunteer at the largest in the city. There are so many books there I don't know if I could ever read them all...” the boy's wistful expression hardened. “Then I have my own 'special' punishments, which come all too soon for my liking. They often involve a blistering paddle. Because of how harshly I'm treated I have regular visits with a therapist, who gave me an emotional support dog, Othello.”

Mhmm,” the little fox nodded. “I have therapy too. And... after a... you don't need to know the details of how I earned the perk, but if I'm a good girl I get to go out for a meal once a week to a place called Wu's. Mr Wu always tries to make me smile, and never judges me despite my crimes. He wants his restaurant to be a place where a Penny never has to be scared.”

Sounds like Northrock could do with a lot more people like that.”

The two hard-timers drifted into a comfortable silence for a time, letting Richter 'listen' to the emotions bubbling inside of Francine. Some of the peaks and flares were the sort to make a boy's crotch tingle. “So, farm boy, I did have a few observations about my 'punishment'. For one, you seemed quite content pleasuring me for no gain of your own.”

The girl's words made Richter blush. “I enjoyed myself. I think that counts as a 'gain'.”

You know what I mean. You could have stuck your cock inside me and pounded away, but instead you were eating me out, then trying to rock me to sleep with your gentle little pokes! Am I right that you like being used?”

I don't think I'd put it that way, but it... felt... right.”

The smirk on her muzzle was downright predatory. “You wanted me to take charge, didn't you? Order you around? Maybe call you a bad boy? Maybe even punish you?” She raised an eyebrow at how defensive her Roferian friend had suddenly become. “Few steps too far, huh? Fair. Well, you're boring me now! So get back between my legs and entertain me!”

A hot, crimson blush formed beneath Richter's facial fur. The order entered through his ears, surged down his spine and zapped him firmly in the crotch, making his tip poke free. He scrambled into position, to the amusement of Francine, and picked up where he'd left off earlier. This time, his slow licks drew out a saltier flavour; knowing the source only made his little meat twitch and grow all the faster. “You want to go again, don't you?” Francine purred, savouring the shameful blush on his face, and giggling as he mumbled a shy affirmative into her slit. “Well, keep licking! Clean me up nice down there, and I might decide to ride you...”

Francine 'kept' him between her legs for fifteen minutes, delighting both in the tender tonguing and the power she had over him. He didn't object to either; though he was less comfortable with the things she seemed eager to make him do. The prospect of being forced to drink her pee repulsed him, which she thankfully did not go through with. When he timidly asked if he could 'have another turn', she ordered him to lie on his back and straddled him, licking her lips as she eased herself onto his reinvigorated cock.

I have bad news for you, Richter,” she snarled as his cock was enveloped inch by delightful inch. “You aren't allowed to cum this time. If you put a single drop of seed into me, you'll be punished!”

Punished how?” he whimpered, ashamed at how his cock pulsed upon hearing the threat.

I think you ought to learn how a Northrock Penny is supposed to get his rocks off!” she laughed at how Richter squirmed beneath her. “If you blow your load in me again, you have to go nude on your next day out! And you'd better have that cock swinging free for everyone to look at!”

You're joking!” Richter barked, but Francine's grinding only became more energetic.

Oh yes! And since Pennys aren't allowed to wank, you're going to have to ask mommy and daddy to help you if you want relief!”

I... I...” the boy's face scrunched up in shame as he felt his cock pulse. Francine slowed as his hips began to buck, gasps that verged on sobbing slipping out of the Roferian's maw. She eased off his hips, wincing a little as she moved, and settled down beside him.

Good boy,” she purred. “I can't wait to see you make a mess in public!”

The summons to return downstairs came soon after. Richter struggled to hide his anxiety as both parents escorted him back towards home, Francine waving him goodbye with a look of deepest loss on her little muzzle. “Did you have a nice visit?” Elizabeth asked.

Richter nodded slowly, chewing over his thoughts as they walked. “Mother, father, I have something I need to say to you. I know you won't like it, so I ask you to please let me fully explain myself before passing judgement. Will you agree to this?”

What's wrong, Richter?” his father asked, worried at this cryptic announcement.

I need your word that I will be allowed to fully explain the situation, or I won't say another word.”

You have it, dear. What's happened?” Elizabeth placed a worried hand upon his shoulders.

Trying to calm his hammering heart, Richter glanced up at his mother and said, “the girl I visited, Francine, is subject to... unacceptable punishments. Sexual punishments. Inflicted upon her by her 'father'.”

The Earth parents shared glances. “We know, Richter. That sort of punishment fell out of favour within the Federation a long, long time ago, but Halkat isn't a Federation member. They still consider sexual punishments acceptable.”

Another in a long line of anti-Halkat sneers crept over Richter's muzzle. “Yes, but the reason I bring it up specifically is that Francine... requested I take part in her latest punishment.”

You had sex with that girl? Richter-”

Turning sharply toward his mother, heckles raised, he barked back, “Elizabeth! You gave me your word you would allow me to fully explain myself! Please, let me do so!”

Stubborn hands went to her hips. “This had better be good,” she said in a voice that was laden with impending spankings.

Francine wanted me involved because the alternative was her father; a truly sadistic individual, I assure you! I could sense how much he enjoyed the idea of making her suffer! I did everything I could to make the process pleasurable for her, and I apparently did a good job because...” a blush formed upon his cheeks, “...because she asked to have sex a second time shortly after. I know and accept that by your rules I am not permitted any kind of sexual activity, but you did make an exception once for Zachary and myself. I did what I did because it was the only way I could spare her from something unimaginably worse, and her response was genuine gratitude. In no way did I force myself upon her – quite the opposite, in fact!”

The silence as his parents considered the testimony was agony. “You accept that such behaviour would be totally unacceptable back home, consenting partners or not?” his father asked.

I do. If I am to be punished, then all I ask is you punish me as you did before, when you found I had been masturbating. I would consider that fair under the circumstances.”

More grim silence followed before Elizabeth began to voice her considerations. “When you say 'requested', were her parents a part of these negotiations?”

Francine said she'd bargained with them, and they were not at all surprised when I had to clean up upon your arrival.”

She took the answer with a nod. “Then in this case, I believe the fault is ours for not laying down stricter guidelines with our hosts. But there will be no more of this, Richter! You know the rules you are expected to live by!”

Thank you, Elizabeth,” there was a touch of a bounce in the boy's step after her words. “I will do my best to avoid any more sticky situations for the rest of our stay, which will hopefully only be a day or two more!”

True to Richter's hopes, he only had one day's work left to do before being released. The announcement saw him showered with praise from his parents and Zachary alike, all of whom were glad that he had stuck to his word and helped undo some of the damage he'd inflicted as 'Velius'.

We'll need a few days to make arrangements for the journey home,” Harvey explained to the boys. “Tomorrow, we'll organise a day out for you both. You can spend it with your new friends so you have a proper chance to say goodbye.”

The next morning, Richter and Zachary awoke with butterflies in their stomach; it was hard for young boys to resist the call of a full day of play. Yet as they sat in the nude and made make-believe with their collection of toys, it became clear the Roferian's mind was elsewhere. “Zacky, I never told you all the details about my visit with Francine.”

A playful smirk crossed Zachary's muzzle. “You've told me a lot of spicy details already!”

Blushing, he pressed on, “I didn't mention the 'punishment' she gave me. For finishing the second time. She wants me to be nude when we go out.”

The Aspatrian boy raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to do it?”

I don't know if I want to, but I... sort of... promised.”

Zachary shook his head. “Ricky, don't. Don't put yourself out for other people! If it's a promise between Pennies then you know it won't stick!”

Richter blushed softly as another thought came to him. “Would you enjoy it if I went bare?”

I... I might?” Zachary giggled. “But you really don't have to on my account!”

The song of the doorbell played. Both boys hurried to the stairs, peering down to see which of their friends was waiting. The Tanners both answered the door together, revealing a green-scaled Karrian beyond.

Mr and Mrs Tanner? I'm Shon Dafron, Talek and Rilka's father,” the Karrian introduced himself. Richter spiked Talek and Rilka stood next to him, partially obscured by the angle of view.

Elizabeth turned to call up the stairs and spied the boys, who straightened up and descended together. Othello bounded over to join them. The sight of the Roferian raised eyebrows from all present. “Richter, why are you undressed?” his mother asked.

He tried to appear confident. “I'm told public nudity is normal here in Northrock, and you've encouraged me to observe local customs.”

You aren't a local Penny though, are you?” Shon offered his own thoughts before swinging his backpack off his shoulders. “Why not go get a pair of shorts for me to hold, just in case?”

An acceptable compromise,” Richter acknowledged. He returned with a pair for Zachary as well, just in case. Harvey, meanwhile, fixed Othello's lead to his collar, offering the grip loop to Richter as he returned.

Now ready to depart, Shon gave a smile to the Tanners. “We're planning to swing by Wu's diner for lunch. If you're all done with your travel arrangements by then, I hope you can join us.”

We'll do our best,” Elizabeth answered. “Be good for Mr Dafron, boys. Stay safe, and keep a close eye on Othello!”

The group of six stepped into the road to find another Karrian, a woman with blue-green scales escorting Kost and Bubbles. The former wore only black shorts, the latter a dark blue wetsuit. Richter glanced to the Karrian children, clearing his throat awkwardly as the other rejuves came into earshot “I wanted to apologise to you all for the other day. I misconstrued the conversation you were having with Ki'reth. I shouldn't have stormed out like that.”

No problem,” Talek answered. His smile was shared by Rilka, Kost and Bubbles; Richter had the distinct impression they had all been told ahead of time about the misunderstanding at the pool party.

A clap of Shon's claws brought all the rejuves to attention. “Okay! Just one thing before we all set off. Talek, Rilka, you seem a little overdressed.”

Talek's face twisted into an embarrassed grimace. Rilka, meanwhile, shot an accusatory finger towards Richter, who flinched at the gesture. “We have to strip because he wants to be nude?”

No, you have to strip because you're talking back to me!” Shon countered, making Rilka shift instantly from indignant to contrite. She bowed her head and mumbled an apology. “If you're sorry, prove it. Top and bottoms in the bag.”

Once both lizards were clad only in shoes and socks, the group set off. Despite their reluctance to bare all, it was impossible to miss Talek's half-hardened member, as it pointed straight ahead of him. Rilka kept smiling and licking her lips whenever her gaze caught her “brother's” arousal. Zachary kept his focus on Richter as much as he could, having to split his attention between his friend and Bubbles.

The chosen route took them via the beach, heading north. The cool sea air was pleasant contrast to the baking summer sun, keeping their sweat to a minimum. Othello tugged and strained so much that Richter staggered trying to keep him in check, eventually relenting and letting the puppy run free. Rilka darted after him for a full five paces before realising what she'd done and halting, turning sheepishly towards her father with a timid blush upon her face.

Nice of you to wait for us,” Shon chuckled as the group caught back up. A fatherly claw came to rest upon her shoulder, the other striking her backside. The single, sharp smack drew a yelp from the girl, but no further punishment followed; outright merciful, as penitatas punishments went. By the time it was all over, Othello had come bounding back with a piece of driftwood in his mouth. “Richter? Can Rilka throw it for him?” Shon asked on behalf of his daughter, whose desire to play with Othello was palpable.

Be my guest,” his generosity earned him a gleeful squeal from the cream-scaled girl, her single spank forgotten. She spent the rest of the walk grinning ear-slit to ear-slit every time the little puppy came back with the stick, throwing it over and over, radiating joy every step of the way.

The rest of the gang were waiting at the edge of the sea wall, within sight of a pier under which a group of older rejuves gathered. Isabelle hurried over, the only one of the trio wearing clothes; Francine and Ki'reth were both in bare fur. The completas girl was armed with buckets and plastic shovels, while Ki'reth carried an inflatable ball. Othello fell in love with it immediately, practically climbing up the fox's body to get it; bounding away, yapping madly as the ball was thrown clear.

I hope you appreciate how lucky you are to have that dog!” Liki laughed as several of the penitatas joined Othello in chasing the ball around. You didn't need an empathic sense to know the little pup was in paradise.

Richter's gaze was drawn up the beach to the pier, but Isabelle pounced as if she'd been waiting for this exact moment. “Don't pay them any mind, Rick. You'll have much more fun if you pretend they don't exist!”

Accepting the advice with a curt nod, Richter turned to find Francine looking up at him with a wicked grin across her muzzle. “Remember our deal, Richter?”

What deal?” Isabelle cut in, suspicion dripping from every word.

I... earned a punishment when I visited her,” Richter confessed, hoping no-one but the girls heard him.

Right! This little furred-drake has to ask daddy for some fun!”

No, he doesn't!” Isabelle snarled, putting herself between Richter and Francine. “Ignore her, Rick. Just go have fun.”

Hey! We had a deal!” the little fox cried, stamping her foot in the sand.

The outburst drew more of the group in, with Talek and Rilka peeling off to check. “What's this about a deal?” Talek asked.

An accusing finger thrust at Richter, who had to hide his face. “He said he was going to put on a show for us! Get your dad to jerk him off!”

The blush appeared contagious, as the two Karrians came down with it. Rilka leaned on Talek and cooed, “That sounds like a lot of fun, don't you think?” The boy's member twitched at the comment, and only hardened more as Rilka filled his ear with filthy whispers.

Well, if our friends want a show...” Talek scurried over to Shon, who seemed to be engrossed in watching the seabirds. The boy pulled on his father's sleeve. “Dad? I... I need a little help.”

So it seems,” Shon replied, smirking at how his boy pointed nervously at his half-formed erection. “Are you asking for a paw?”

Yes please,” the boy glanced shyly over to Richter's little circle, focusing mostly on Rilka's filthy grin.

Shon knelt down, turning the boy slightly as if wishing to give his guests a better view, and cupped Talek's boyhood in his paw. Squeezing softly, he began to stroke, slowly, deliberately. Talek's eyes fluttered closed, his breathing growing heavier as his father's paw sped up, finding a steady pace of long, stimulating strokes. The rest of the group slowly gathered, forming a captive circle around Talek's exhibition. Richter found himself staring, even if he knew he shouldn't, his paws curled protectively around his crotch.

The boy began to rock his hips, earning a soft reprimand from his father. “Stay still and take what you're given,” Shon's whispers were accompanied by a subtle tap of Talek's balls before returning to the stroking, building speed as Talek's huffing and panting became more urgent. The boy bit his lip and began to shiver, moments later letting out a long, thick stream of semen that pattered softly into the sand. Rilka let out a long cheer; a few of the others, Isabelle included, began to clap playfully as Talek was released from his father's grip. The boy, blushing beetroot, took a bow.

Richter waited until the focus has shifted back to play before approaching Shon. “Sir? I think I'd like my shorts, please.”

Everything alright?” Shon asked.

The boy took a sharp interest in the sand. “I'm just feeling a little exposed.”

Shon nodded, fetching out the garments and handing them over. “Maybe we should have a talk? I get the impression your feelings have been running close to the surface since you got here. There's a little hotel just up the road, perfect place to talk in peace and quiet. Sound good?”

That... is acceptable,” Richter answered.

Great. Zachary! Bring the puppy over, please!” The Aspatrian trotted over, Othello bounding at his heels. Shon then called to his wife, “We're going to get the dog some water and a place to rest in the shade. We'll be back soon.”

The rest of the group seemed disappointed, but Liki assured them their new friends would be back soon. Richter took Othello's leash, steering the pup up the stairs to the road that followed the sea wall. The three walked together to a glass-fronted building. A brief chat with the young woman at reception granted Shon a keycard. “This way, everyone.”

The room was a straightforward design, clearly intended for short visits only; most of the space was taken up by a double bed, with a tiny bathroom at the far end. Shon settled into the seat in the room's corner. “I haven't had to use this place since my Rilka turned eight,” he said casually. “Poor thing was getting anxious over her birthday swats and begged for a little privacy.”

I'm surprised you'd give her any such considerations,” Richter grumbled, earning a raised eyebrow from the reptilian adult.

Now why would you go and say something like that?”

Richter knew he was walking on thin ice, but the frustrations of his visit to Northrock were bubbling too close to the surface. They had to be let out. “Everything I have seen of this place is cruelty built atop perversion! You use unthinkable methods of punishment that all civilised planets outlawed long ago! And you turn torturing Pennys into a game, like that twisted fairground ride!” Zachary stared at him in horror, no doubt expecting an incoming paddling just as much as Richter now was.

To the boy's great surprise, Shon calmly responded with a question of his own. “What's so cruel about a swimming pool?”

The simple question derailed Richter's train of thought. “What?”

Your friend, Bubbles, lives in a house with a swimming pool. That was installed for her benefit. We're not used to dealing with her species, you see; we had to improvise a lot of stop-gap measures to make sure she was okay. She can live outside of water, but it would severely impact her quality of life, so we made provisions to take care of her. She's never forced out of her wetsuit, even for spankings, unless its for bathing or swimming. Her parents even let her sleep in the pool rather than force her to go to bed like a normal Penny.”

One example of kindness hardly changes the rest,” the Roferian boy grumbled, clinging defiantly to his assertions.

Alright, let's talk about the Penny-Go-Round. You haven't ridden it, have you?”


But have you been threatened with it? Yes? Did that threat get the desired outcome?”

I chose to accept my parent's requests rather than suffer needlessly,” Richter countered.

His answer made Shon chuckle. “You and every other Penny in town! I'm going to let you in on a secret, one that we normally wouldn't share with a penitatas. I'm telling you because you will be leaving in a few days, and I'm willing to trust you to hold your tongue on the matter. The Penny-Go-Round isn't as bad as you think. I've spoken to the experts, folks who've been on the receiving end of every punishment Northrock can throw at them, and they told me straight up the Penny-Go-Round isn't the worst by a country mile. But he used to fear it just as much as you do. Why? Because it was designed to be memorable.”

Shon drew a long, thin paddle from out of his bag, holding it up for both boys to see. “This is a 'Helper'. No doubt you've felt something like it. In fact, I know for a fact you've both endured far worse. You fear it, I can see that, but you fear it in the abstract; it is a symbol of the routine discipline that is the core of your little lives. This is the paddle that puts you to bed. This is the paddle that teaches you to hold mommy and daddy's hand when crossing the road. This is the paddle that warms your bottom when you talk back to a grown-up.” His last words hit Richter's gut like a cannonball.

But the Penny-Go-Round? That's not something we'd break out on a whim. That's an adventure you have to earn; a spanking full of pomp and circumstance, a 'special occasion' in the worst possible way. You'll remember the Penny-Go-Round, Richter. You'll remember how hard you fought when your parents dragged you over, how you begged and pleaded with them not to go through with it, and then the awful anticipation as the machine begins to spin and the music rises... and the straps and paddles fall. You'll be left crying your little heart out when it stops, unsure of whether your parents are about to release you, or the punishment is just on pause while some other unfortunate soul joins you. It stays with you for your whole sentence, and a cold shiver will run down your spine every time your parents remind you it exists.”

Shon rose from his seat, a look of satisfaction on his green snout as he crossed to the increasingly timid looking boys. “Do you understand its purpose now, Richter? It's the threat of the punishment that makes it work. It's theatrical so it becomes the focus of your attention; a unique, and wholly memorable experience that will stay with you long after your bedtime spankings have all blurred together.”

Sensing his fate was sealed, Richter dove off the deep end. “What about the abuse you inflict on them? My friend Francine is raped by her father! I watched you jerk off your own son in front of everyone!”

Talek didn't seem to mind, did he?” Shon asked calmly.

What choice did he have?”

The question drew a hearty laugh from Shon. “I seem to recall overhearing some mumbling about a punishment you had earned. That's why he stepped in, wasn't it? To take a bullet for you?”

Yes, that's precisely it.”

Who set that punishment?”

It... it was Francine. We...” Richter turned away, embarrassed by the confession.

Do you honestly think a punishment 'set' by a penitatas has any actual standing? Come on now, Richter, you're smarter than that. Little Francine could stamp her cute little feet all she liked about how you 'had' to humiliate yourself for her pleasure, and we'd have just ignored her. Or if not, we'd have swatted that fluffy little tush to remind her of her place! Talek knew full well there was no 'punishment' to jump in front of, not really; he volunteered for that public display because he wanted to. Because he knew Rilka would get off watching him.”

Shon made a space for himself on the bed, his free claw gently wheeling Richter around to stand beside him, ready to come over a fatherly lap. “I suspect you are a lot like Rilka in a lot of ways. She makes an awful fuss when forced to bare her scales in public. She's even burst out in tears a few times when she spied Vs and Ms pointing and laughing, or getting off on her misfortune. She wasn't tearing up when we left her, was she?”

No, sir. She wasn't.”

Why not? I'll tell you – because when she gets out of her own head and stops caring what other people think, she focuses on what matters; her friends, and the little boy she loves. She enjoys her 'punishments' a lot more than she lets on. They all do, under the proper circumstances. I'll grant you that your friend Francine is suffering, but she isn't a good-hearted kid like you are. Maybe she will be, given enough spankings, but not yet. If you are genuinely worried for her, you can take some comfort in knowing her situation will get easier in time. If she plays her cards right and actually tries to become better, her 'specials' can be curtailed drastically. But she has to earn it. Just like you have to earn your own breaks.”

The paddle in Shon's paw began to tap a slow count upon his knee. “Now then, is there anything else you'd like to say to me?”

Richter's eyes were locked on the thin wooden board. “I apologise for my rudeness, sir. I should not have said what I did. I... appreciate you taking the time to explain your system to me.”

The tapping stopped. “Apology accepted, Richter.” Shon stood up, moving slowly back to his original seat. “If you'll accept a little more advice? You are both early in your sentences. You have no idea the kind of hardships that lie ahead of you. I know you think it gets easier; that your spankings will become less frequent, and your good conduct will earn you merits that reduce them even more, but that's not where the real hardship lies.”

Then... what is it that makes our sentences so difficult?” Richter asked, his paw reaching for Zachary on instinct.

Shon's eyes creased with pain. “Take my pair, Talek and Rilka. They love each other, they really do, and we let them express that love far beyond what you've seen them get up to so far. I am convinced that Talek will earn parole when he turns twelve, but Rilka? That's practically impossible. The best she can hope for is Soft Time. That means he'll be twelve and she'll be six. If she's unlucky enough to get Hard Time again, he'll be in his twenties by the time she makes parole. You see the problem, don't you?”

Richter nodded. “Their disparate ages will make continuing their relationship impossible.”

That's right. For you, Richter, you've got a lot more pain to come. I can't imagine you'll see freedom for another century at least, no matter how well behaved you are. Like our little Isabelle, and like Francine for that matter, your fate will be to watch the world move on without you. To see the rest of us grow and change while you live out the same few years over and over. You might change families between cycles, but ultimately, people will leave you. They'll make parole, grow up, and move on.” The Karrian lowered his head, his claws meshing together almost as if in prayer. “I won't give Rilka her welcome home spanking when she rejuvenates. She'll be crying her eyes out as it is.”

Clearing his throat, Shon reached into his bag once more and pulled out a small, clear tube of colourless gel. “You two can stay here if you need to. I'm happy to let you sit and talk, take a nap, whatever you want, at least until lunchtime. I'm sure your parents have put certain rules in place about what you two are allowed to do together, but-” he tossed the tube onto the bed between the boys.

The pair blushed at the implications of the gesture, but still Richter felt compelled to ask. “This isn't some trick to set us up for punishment, is it?”

You'd really think that after what I just told you?” Shon asked. “Given how prudish you Federation types are, this might be the last chance the two of you have to be 'physical' for a long, long time. I won't take that from you. What happens in Northrock stays in Northrock. I've got a book to read.”

The boys looked to one another, one's smile far more timid than the other. His Roferian claw trembled as Richter reached up to stroke the soft fur of Zachary's chest, hoping it was a suitably tender gesture. “I would certainly enjoy being able to... umm...” he stumbled into silence as a vulpine paw tilted his chin, followed by a soft and tender kiss.

We've shared enough messages for me to know what my Ricky likes,” Zachary whispered with a grin before planting a second kiss upon his lips. Soft, tender strokes of Richter's neck and shoulders made the often spiky child tremble, tearing down his walls with a feather-like caress.

The pair climbed onto the bed, Richter easing his shorts off as their bodies pressed together, the soft kissing, nuzzling, and stroking of one another's fur stirring a growing arousal in both. Their lips broke apart, each boy gazing fondly at the other, paws reaching for one another's hardening members and caressing, slowly, seeking to stimulate without haste or urgency. “I wish we could do this more often,” Zachary whispered.

I know,” Richter felt the warm blush forming under his facial fur. “I suppose this sort of leeway is one promising feature of this planet.”

They kissed once more, the mutual stroking sending warm, pleasing shivers up each other's spines. Between tender kisses, Richter whispered, “I wouldn't object to you... taking me.”

You sure?” Zachary asked, as the Roferian boy shifted to give his Aspatrian friend better access under his tail. Ebony paws traced between his spines, drawing a soft murring from Richter's oft-scowling snout. He raised his hips, shifting posture a little to give Zachary a better angle, and shivered as he felt the cool lubricant touch his puckered rear. “Just treat it with a little care, please?”

Zachary couldn't help but chuckle. “You know I wouldn't dream of breaking your things, Ricky!”

Richter felt the Aspatrian's cock press against him, then slowly stretch him open. Zachary paused, letting the Roferian adjust and settle before easing in futher; soft, trembling yips of pleasure slipped from the fox-boy's maw as he was enveloped, pushing deeper into Richter's anal passage until his orange furred hips met grey Roferian cheeks. “You good?” Zachary asked.

A soft shiver ran through Richter's body. “Feels like I need to take a leak,” he answered, glancing shyly over his shoulder.

The fox grinned. “That's not unusual. Just relax and-” he tossed a brief glance to Shon, whose eyes were fixed on the puppy in his lap. The man's grin clearly widened as Zachary watched. “-just let what happens, happen. Okay?”

Agreed,” Richter nuzzled into the pillow, letting his eyes drift closed and breathing deepen. “I... I trust you.”

Spurred by those simple, honest words, Richter felt Zackary begin to grind and thrust. The boy was in no rush, for like Richter he was a gentle lover; whatever cruelties and harshness might have earned them their penitatas status, none of it was present in how they treated one another.

Long, trembling moans began to slip from Richter's maw as his mind began to drift, allowing himself to be lost in the warm fog of the moment. The thick, thrusting cock inside his back passage was all he cared about, and with each twitch and grind it seemed to drive away more of his doubts and insecurities. He forgot the presence of their Karrian guardian, and his lips began to move of their own accord, forming words that soon became shameless, lustful admissions of inner fantasies. “That's good... my beloved Sea Fox...” his imagination drew from some of his favourite pornographic images he'd tucked away on hard drives and datachips over the years, painting Zachary as a broad-shouldered, muscular male with furs of deep, tropical blues.

Beneath him, Richter's cock began to twitch and throb, leaking precum as his fantasies grew in intensity. Yet through the blissful fog a jolt of urgent pressure lurched him back to reality, then another. His eyes snapped open, a frightened little yelp slipping out. “Zacky! I think... I'm going to wet myself!”

Trust me, Ricky, don't fight. Just let it happen,” the fox purred, his own breathing hot and heavy from his lustful labours.

If it were anyone else, Richter would have fought. Instead, he tried his best to blot out the feeling, and summon back the fantasies. His beloved fox was taking him, forcefully, passionately...

There was a single, terrible moment where he felt something give inside of him. Yet instead of a warm, wet spray of shame, Richter felt his boyhood spasm sharply, and a streak of draconic sperm pattered against the bedsheets. His body tensed, muscles curling as this new, and wonderfully unfamiliar form of climax took hold of him. He was only dimly aware of Zachary's own yiffing yelps, and a subtle warmth inside.

That... has never happened before,” Richter gasped as the pair separated.

Pretty sure you've had an orgasm before!” the Aspatrian giggled in reply.

I mean like that. Without... usual stimulation.”

Did you enjoy it?”

Richter shared a bashful smile. “It was wonderful. Thank you.”

The pair cuddled for a while, basking in their shared relief, before agreeing to clean up and consider returning. Shon merely smiled at them, though he did raise and eyebrow when Richter offered back his shorts. “I think I will be alright playing in 'Northrock' fashion.”

Glad to hear it,” Shon answered. “Come on, everyone should still be on the beach.”

None of the other rejuves commented on their absence; Othello's return was met with far more fanfare than either of the boys, but Richter did not begrudge his canine friend's fun. He joined in the ball game until his puppy's attention span ran out and shifted to playing with sticks, which gave Richter an excuse to join Zachary building sand-castles while Bubbles babbled about technobabble. Kost and Ki'reth saved them by summoning everyone to the sea, where the rejuves tried to jump the shallow waves that rolled in onto the beach. Despite the heat of the day, the water was still bitterly cold, sending the girls and Zachary shrieking from the water. Kost boldly announced he could go further in than anyone, and to his own surprise, Richter found himself joining Talek and Ki'reth in challenging the bold Kyyreni boy. He had almost swam level with Kost by the time Shon and Liki ordered them all back to shore, threatening blistered backsides for any boy that dallied.

The day of summer fun continued for what seemed like forever. The sun dried boys were eventually summoned to gather for the walk into town, and only then did the cost of their excess hit them; forced to calm down, fatigue and aching limbs set in, leaving all of them panting and eager for a meal.

The Tanners met them in Mr Wu's restaurant. The older Karrian beamed at the group, crying out greetings to each child as if he knew them personally, which given how Rilka and Talek called him 'Uncle' was likely the case. Even Francine, who was normally timid around adults threw herself at the man, who hugged her tight as if she were his long-lost daughter.

And who are these new faces?” Mr Wu turned his unrelenting smile to the boys.

Zachary took point. “I'm Zachary, and this is Richter. We're here on an exchange program, but we're going home soon.”

Well, it's a joy to meet you both! Exchange program, eh? How exciting! Never knew we did such things! Come on, everyone grab a seat and a menu! Now, just so the grown-ups know, we've completely run out of our 'Penny Standard' menu selections. So sorry!”

You do seem to run out an awful lot, Mr Wu,” Liki said, flashing a smile to Rilka as she giggled at the comment.

Mr Wu shrugged. “What can I say? I'm terrible at running a business! Now, I already know what my precious little fluff-ball wants: a big bowl of dauphin potatoes! What can I get everyone else?”

Soon enough, plates of food sat steaming in front of hungry young boys and girls, while Othello wolfed down diced sausages under Richter's chair. While they ate, the group chatted amongst themselves; before long, Ki'reth ventured a question Richter's way. “If you don't mind my asking, what did you guys do to earn your letters? I'm guessing Zach's a pirate seeing as Bubbles won't shut up about ship-stuff around him, but what about you?”

You don't already know?” Richter asked. He glanced around the table, noting the Karrian trio seemed equally clueless.

Why would we?” Ki'reth asked.

Well... Isabelle knew.”

The girl in question was carefully silent. It fell to Rilka to fill the gap. “Would you mind us guessing, then? Are you two an item, like Kost and Bubbles?”

The question made Richter blush. Zachary, however, was quicker on the uptake. “No, we'd never met before becoming penitatas.”

Did you rob a bank?” Talek asked.

Lusu tapped her temple, “got to think, guys! They came here on 'business', right? So that makes you... a hacker! I bet you're one of the really famous ones! Maybe... Loic? Or ID_Unknown? Or... what's the other one... Packet Storm?”

Both boys broke into snorting giggles, much to Lusu's confusion. Isabelle met her gaze and kindly informed her, “Packet Storm is an Aspatrian, Lusu. It was on the news a few years ago.”

Her eyes went wide as she shifted focus to Zachary. “Wait, then are you Packet Storm?” Richter and Zachary laughed so hard they almost fell out of their chairs.

They left Lusu and the others guessing, and finished their meals with Richter's true nature unremarked. They filed out, with the Tanners speaking to Shon and Liki about their imminent departure. Isabelle, meanwhile, brushed gently against Richter to draw his focus. “I wish you could have stayed for the school fair. It's a big deal round here, and I bet you'd have really liked some of the stalls they put on.”

Kost couldn't resist butting in. “Yeah! Lusu, Isabelle, and Ki'reth are all running the Zoo again! I'm sure she mentioned it?” he added with a filthy wink.

Richter's imagination filled in the blanks; two older Aspatrian Pennys, fur dyed like sea foxes, nude... he turned at what he hoped was a casual rate and spoke up. “Eliz- mum? Is it possible for us to stay in Northrock a little longer? To see their fair?”

It's next week, over two days,” Isabelle confirmed.

His mother shook her head. “We'd like to let you stay, Richter, but we can't justify it. Taking you on a holiday isn't on the cards, and staying a week longer than needed would be exactly that.”

What if you enrolled them in school for a week?” Liki offered. “We've got friends in the local department, and the boys would have been put on the system for security reasons. I'm sure we could make them 'Northrock Pennys' for a week.”

Harvey stroked his chin. “There are consequences to being a 'Northrock Penny' we're not too comfortable with,” he said.

Richter and Zachary, meanwhile, had come to their own conclusions. “Mother, father, I find the terms acceptable. We both do. Besides, Sandy has remarked how she would like me to make more friends, which I have been trying to do.”

The Tanners whispered to one another before Elizabeth addressed them again. “Perhaps you should ask your friends what living like them will entail first?”

They have made that abundantly clear already, El- mum. Please let us stay?”

Elizabeth slumped her shoulders in surrender. “Alright, we'll contact the school when we get home.” The Pennys of Northrock whooped and cheered at their little victory.

They were walked to school with Kost and Bubbles, splitting off upon reaching the main building. Richter had been told that a teacher would greet them, but he had certainly not expected the tall, lithe figure who blocked their passage.

Young Masters,” the Roferian purred. His fur was bone white, his eyes a sharp emerald green, with the black spines along his back poking out through short, coarse hair the colour of dried blood. Yet for Richter, the most alarming aspect of the man was his mind; utterly cold, devoid of emotional aura. The snarling muzzle dripped of barely-suppressed rage, but behind the eyes there was nothing for Richter to latch on to. He may as well have been trying to sense the emotions of the building itself. Yet after the initial surprise, a curious thought crept into his mind: Are you like I was?

I am Mister Titus,” the teacher announced, dropping the 'Mister' into place like a power-pack slammed into an energy rifle. “You are my charges for the duration of your stay. This is most unfortunate for you. Come!”

Mister Titus wasted no time in laying out the nature of his classroom; it was a place of harsh discipline, where the worst of Northrock were brought for education. Richter could read the room with his extra-sensory perception, and the emotions of the gathering were primal; half the class were sharp, hostile little things, doubtless kept in line only by the maliciousness of their teacher. As if to prove the point, Mister Titus introduced the pair; “Class, this is Master Zachary, and Master Richter. They are exchange students from Earth. Take those two desks there, and log in to the school system. I am assuming, Master Richter, that you can be trusted to access a computer without trying to murder an entire planet?”

The comments made the spiky-minds turn all the sharper. One in particular began to boil with cold fury, but the boy hadn't uttered a single word before Mister Titus bounced. “Master Jin, do you have something you'd like to say to your new classmate?”

Even Richter knew this was a trap. The boy should have kept his mouth shut, but he was only four, like Francine. “Yes, I do,” he snarled. “My daughter was on Earth! She served in the Federation Science Division!”

I'm touched at how deeply you care for your daughter,” Mister Titus said, the insincerity so thick it could bludgeon a whale to death. “Makes me wonder why your sons weren't deserving of that same love.”

Fuck off!” Jin snapped, and the little Karrian boy's fate was sealed.

Richter and Zachary watched, along with the rest of the class, as Mister Titus took a paddle meant for a seven year old and beat the boy's rear a deep, agonising shade of purple. It took a long time, but Mister Titus was determined to do it, and do it properly. “Anyone else care to make comments?” he asked jovially as Jin was banished to a corner-spot, the sound-dampening fields not able to fully silence his tortured wailing. No-one else rose to the bait. “Excellent! Now, let us spend the rest of the morning discussing morals and ethics; alien concepts to each and every one of you, I'm fully aware, but at least two of you are here to experience new things...”

How the pair got out of the classroom alive, let alone unspanked, neither boy could say. But at least they met with friends in the cafeteria, and found they were not the only ones familiar with the walking nightmare that was Mister Titus.

The rest of the day was more of the same; lessons provided by the computer's timetable, interrupted by lectures from Mister Titus directly, and another spanking session for a girl who apparently wasn't working hard enough on her assignments. Once more, the visiting boys escaped with unharmed backsides, though Richter found himself unable to shake one nagging thought. When the hometime bell rang, he took the risk.

Sir?” Mister Titus glanced at Richter, still sat at his desk as the others filed out. “I wanted to ask you a question, if I may? About... your mind.”

My mind?” the teacher parroted. He approached the boy, yet as Richter tried to clarify the teacher's paws closed around his head. Mister Titus leaned in close, pressing his forehead to Richter's. The boy shuddered at the touch.

Mister Titus pulled away. “Ah. No, Master Richter, I am not afflicted by your condition. The emotions of others do not imprint upon my psyche, and never have.”


Because I have no wish for the likes of you to scry my thoughts,” Mister Titus cut in, not needing to wait for the question. “I rarely have to teach empathic penitatas, but when I do it is useful for them to be unable to read me. It unnerves them. It unnerves you.” He leaned forwards, smiling his predatory smile. “I like unnerving you, Master Richter. Now, run along.”

Maybe sticking around was the wrong choice!” Zachary cried once the pair felt far enough away to speak openly.

I know what you mean. I know why they put me in his class, but you? I'd have thought you'd be in with our friends; their teacher sounds almost friendly.”

The next day was more of the same; Zachary fell below standards and had to cry it out in the corner, but the spanking he got was 'normal' – a six year old's paddle for a six year old's bottom, and not all that many swats either. When it was Richter's turn to feel the paddle, Mister Titus pulled no punches; if anything, he seemed to take Richter's stoicism as a personal insult, laying the paddle on extra hard until Richter was sobbing to his satisfaction.

The memory of the spanking was lingering at home-time, and so a chill ran down Richter's spine when the teacher calmly said, “Master Richter, remain behind.”

Richter tried to calm his mind and blot out the fear-born imaginings as to what his teacher wanted of him. The albino Roferian smiled coldly. “I have a request from Radio Northrock. Are you familiar with them?”

Not really, no. Sir.”

A community program. They play music for the Pennys who are kept home, broadcast plays, news about the town, and so on. Word has spread about your presence, and they would like to interview you. Ostensibly, they're curious what an outsider thinks of Northrock, but I suspect they'd rather talk to Velius than Master Richter.”

Of course they would,” he sighed.

One O'clock tomorrow, if you're interested. I'll give you leave from class, and you can take your emotional support fox with you. It's not a live broadcast, so be as guarded or candid as you like. We like to see community spirit from our penitatas, Master Richter. No doubt your planet holds a similar view.”

Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”

Mister Titus smiled all the wider. “There is also a small event on this weekend; a community fair. You should attend.”

We'd planned to. I've already been invited by Isabelle and the others.”

Ah, Miss Isabelle. She does have a fondness for Roferians,” Richter disliked the look in the teacher's eye, but he had no idea of the feelings that drove the snarking comment. The teacher flicked his wrist toward the door. “Be gone, Master Richter, before your parents begin to worry.”

The weekend came, long overdue and much sought after. The family walked together, dressed in summer clothes and with a happy little puppy trotting at Richter's side. They came via the beach, which seemed to be the preferred way to access the waterfront. As they walked, Elizabeth spoke softly to her penitatas. “One of the teachers was kind enough to give us a copy of your radio interview. You were surprisingly open about your crimes, and your desire to do better.”

I thought you would want me to be forthright.”

We do, and we appreciate it. You've done well, Richter, and not just with your official work.”

Zachary's paw found his own, making Richter smile at the contact. Their pleasant feelings ebbed away swiftly, however, upon ascending the stairs up from the beach to find Mister Titus idling by a nearby spanking booth. “Do not be alarmed, Master Richter. This is not for you. But you are inappropriately dressed.”

We weren't told there was a dress code,” Harvey answered.

Mister Titus shrugged. “Nevertheless.” He fetched a pair of bags from behind the spanking machine. “The boys will wear these.”

Each bag had a paper name tag attached. Inside were a pair of black shoes, a white shirt, silver shorts, a crimson pullover and a pair of matching socks. They were correctly sized for the boys, who bagged their regular clothes and handed them off to their parents. Once wearing the red and silver uniforms, Mister Titus produced a pair of ties from his pocket. He fastened the first around Zachary's collar, then Richter's. The ties were red, with the emblem of a local bird of prey. “Welcome to House Red Kestrel,” Mister Titus announced.

Thank you, sir,” Richter replied, stroking the emblem on his tie as he glanced about, noting a pair of Karrians nearby wearing the same colours.

The teacher's brow furrowed. “That might be the first time anyone has been thankful for joining my House, Master Richter. What a curious sensation this is.” He shook off his confusion and pointed down the road. “Your friends are waiting that way. You can't possibly miss them. Mr and Mrs Tanner? There are some final matters we need to resolve, formalities of discharge, that sort of thing. Perhaps we should resolve them now?”

We would prefer to stay with the boys, and deal with the admin later.”

Mister Titus smiled. “My colleague, Mr Hachi will take full responsibility for your charges. I assure you, what I require will not take long.”

Well, if you are so insistent,” Elizabeth sighed, turning to the boys. “Go and find Mr Hachi, please. And don't wander off once you do!”

The pair headed into the fair paw in paw, glancing about the stands and stalls. It was a mixed bag of options; traditional games and vendors shared space with more 'inventive' activities, such as a pillory in which a young, female Karrian was bound. The teacher stood next to her was inviting passers-by to test a variety of punishment tools upon her exposed backside. Many stalls involved penitatas, and those lucky enough to be dressed appeared to be mostly wearing blue and orange, or grey and green.

Finding Mr Hachi was simple enough, though they spotted Talek and Rilka first. The pair were stood by a large, circular cage, and as the visitors drew closer they spied two familiar occupants; Isabelle and Ki'reth. Their fur had been dyed the colour of the Halkat sea fox, grey for the girl and tropical blue for the boy. Both Aspatrians were nude, crawling around in the straw and shavings that lined the cage bottom.

What on Earth is happening here?” Richter gasped, jaw hanging open at the pet-play display that unfolded as he drew near. Isabelle picked up a length of rope in her jaws and crawled to Ki'reth, who bit on the opposite end. The pair began to tug and growl, fighting one another, while Richter was dimly aware of Lusu speaking to an adult nearby. He paid her no heed; Isabelle was yanked off-balance and tumbled, rolling onto her back and giving Richter a pleasing glance between her legs in the process. Ki'reth pounced on her and the pair rolled about, pretending to bite at one another. When they paused for breath, Isabelle playfully licked Ki'reth on the muzzle and scampered away, leaving the boy on his back with a good inch of pink sticking out of his sheath.

Mesmerised by the display, Richter was barely cognisant of Mr Hachi's approach. The elderly Karrian placed a gentle paw on the shoulders of his guests. “How are you enjoying your last day in Northrock?”

It's been... informative so far,” Richter replied. He could take his eyes off Ki'reth's blue crotch. “A-are they doing this willingly?”

The teacher gave a short, throaty chuckle. “Young Ki'reth needed a little persuading, but it takes no effort at all to convince Miss Isabelle to make a spectacle of herself!”

As if to prove the point, Isabelle flashed a quick glance toward her friend before presenting her rear to them, tail raised and all. The view became all the more revealing as she cocked her leg against the post in the middle of the pen. Once she'd finished relieving herself, she crawled over to the red-faced Roferian and winked at him. “Something to remember me by,” she whispered.

If you planned to try and get anything more memorable, I'd say you've got ten minutes,” Mr Hachi announced, noting the other adults move away. “If that.”

Memories of a long-lost porn folder flooded Richter's mind. Getting a blowjob from a sea fox sounded like too good an opportunity to miss! Humiliation be damned, he pulled down his shorts and presented his growing boyhood to the foxes, who set to work with tongue and lips. “Got a preference?” Isabelle asked, noting Zachary was hastily offering a second option.

Richter glanced to his friend. “You want Ki'reth?” Zachary nodded, his bashful smile turning to a gasp of delight as warm, male lips enclosed his arousal.

As service went, it wasn't the most refined of oral sessions, but all parties knew they were on the clock. Richter watched as Ki'reth sucked upon Zachary's length, practically salivating as his friend and lover's cock slipped in and out of the longer, blue-furred muzzle of the older boy. Richter's gaze wandered down the alien blue of the Aspatrian's fur, lingering on his own obvious arousal, watching as Ki'reth began to paw himself off as he sucked. As a final indulgence, Richter let himself focus on Zachary's emotions, drinking in the haze of pleasure, tinged with an unfamiliar joy of public exposure.

A gasp and shudder later, Isabelle was hastily swallowing his seed, purring softly as she did so in clear satisfaction of a job well done. The two male foxes finished shortly after; Zachary and Richter barely had their pants back up by the time Mister Titus returned with the Tanners in tow. Elizabeth and Harvey both looked on in quiet shock at the naked rejuves in the animal enclosure, but kept their opinions private.

Mr Hachi, with your permission I'd like to close this display down for an hour or two. There's an important matter that needs to be attended to, and these-” he pointed to each member of the social clique “-are all required.”

Of course, Mister Titus. Isabelle, Ki'reth, hurry out of the cage! Open the door for them, Lusu.”

Gathered together, the group headed inland. There was an air of anxiety about them all, which Richter was certain came about due to Mister Titus being present. Isabelle was the only person who wasn't the least bit afraid of what might follow; being a completas has its perks, Richter supposed. They found Kost, Bubbles, and Francine all waiting by the infamous Penny-Go-Round; the former two dressed in the yellow and black uniform of their school House, and Francine in bare white fur as usual.

Line up there,” Mister Titus ordered, pointing to the fence in front of the punitive ride. “I sincerely regret your leaving, Master Richter. It would have been a true pleasure to sculpt you from galactic terror to respectable Roferian. Alas, before long you will be gone. Still, I am and shall remain your House Master until you embark upon your shuttle, and with that in mind...”

Mister Titus reached for a black leather bag at his hip, drawing an unfamiliar, rectangular device from within. “Stand up straight, Master Richter. And do at least try to smile.”

The shuttle moved slowly until it was out over open water, then turned for the equator and throttled up, gaining speed and altitude as it made the long, winding climb to the waiting starship. The Tanner family and their Aspatrian guest were sat comfortably, their luggage safely stowed, and Othello napping on Richter's lap.

Cradled in the boy's arms was a souvenir, a thin, transparent rectangle of plastic. Encased within was an image of a line of children stood before the Penny-Go-Round, Northrock's most infamous attraction. On the left of the picture were three Karrian children, all wearing the blue and orange house colours of the Sea Foxes. On the other side were a pair of Aspatrians, both nude, whose fur had been dyed to match the namesake animal; the girl was a dull grey, the boy a tropical blue. Neither seemed at all perturbed by their nudity, given the wide smiles on their muzzles and shameless, energetic poses. Next to them, and clinging tightly to the only clothed Aspatrian in frame, was an amphibian girl wearing yellow and black. On the opposite side of the two central figures was a Kyyreni boy, also in yellow and black, with a nude, white-furred fox of much younger age kneeling at his feet. She was fighting with Othello, frozen in the act of trying to lick the girl's face. And in the middle, surrounded by the smiling, lauging rejuves of Northrock, was Richter and Zachary. Both wore a crimson pullover and tie over a white shirt, with silver shorts. The emblem of a red bird of prey displayed upon their breasts. Richter appeared to at least be trying to look smart, while Zachary's tie had been donated to the little white cub to wear, so she wouldn't feel left out. One of his arms was wrapped tightly around the frog-girl's head, the other was looped around Richter's left elbow.

He turned the picture frame over. The back face was blocked by a piece of card, with signatures written over the characters barely visible beneath. Ki'reth, Isabelle, Bubbles, Zachary, Richter, Kost, Francine, Talek, Rilka, Lusu. Below their signatures was a simple phrase: Northrock Correctional Elementary Class of 2892.

Carefully, so as not to disturb the slumbering puppy, Richter eased the picture back into his bag, where it softly clinked against a datachip on which his Radio Northrock interview had been recorded. Zachary had his own copy of the picture, as did all their Northrock friends. Richter's hand cramped at the memory of signing his name over and over. It had been worth the fleeting discomfort. He glanced across to Zachary, whose head lolled downward, a trickle of drool leaking from his mouth as he snored quietly in his chair. Richter's eyes then flicked across to Elizabeth, who had turned in her seat to smile at him. Whispering so as not to disturb anyone, Richter said, “Thank you for letting us stay. It means a lot. More than I can say. It really does.”

His mother beamed at him. “I made sure all the parents have our contact details. Who knows? Maybe you'll have a few more pen-pals soon.”

I would like that very much,” he replied, gently stroking Othello. The puppy twitched his little legs, dreaming of running along the beaches of Northrock, pursued by laughing, squealing children. Richter's paw went to the bag again, fishing for the picture so he could look at it yet again. “I'm going to miss this planet,” he sighed as the sky outside shifted from vivid blue to the black of space, and the glittering star head morphed into the sleek form of a Federation starship.