At home again
By leonardo maffi
Version 1.0, March 6, 2004
(I've put myself into this short story; with chakat stories this is an old tradition ^_^)
I enter into the big shared room, and I scan some parts of the hull with the ultrasound probe. There are small hidden cracks here too. This isn't good. I'm in a group of living quarters cut away from an old space station now in dismantlement, where more than twenty very old humans live with three young carers. None of them has younger relatives.
"Do you always tail-wag so much, taur?" asks someone behind me. I rotate to face him; he's a very old man. I'm worried, and I don't know what to answer, but I have to tell them the truth.
"The hull is like a bubble, right?" he adds, smiling a bit, showing his deep wrinkles.
"Yes sir," I admit quietly, "Much of the external hull is compromised."
"We know it, but we aren't worried, we'll leave this station in two days, and many of us are too old or too depressed to care."
I nod, and he offers me his hand. I shake it, "My name is Chakat Goldfur, sir, I'm a kind of herm felitaur. I'm the technician that has to monitor the structural integrity and vital support of this part of the space station during its travel."
"I'm leonardo. I'm an ex-astronaut. I know your race, I used to call you helpers. Many years ago I've seen many of your kind die of radiation exposure during... after a big cleaning of nuclear wastes on Earth."
I nod again, and he sits on a chair, looking at me while I resume the scanning of the hull. He keeps smiling at me until my mood improves. He tells me some things of his past, while I patch a part of the heating. A few hours later, I consume my rations and I sleep on a rug in the common room. During such missions I need very few things with me.
* * *
I awake suddenly, my ears hurting. I shake my sleepy head, I am floating; the gravity is off. The vacuum alarm! Hull breached! The hole must be big, the air is already thin, and I sniff smoke too. The automatic fire extinguisher isn't working well. But how can I have kept sleeping with this smoke in the air? Why didn't my nose awaken me before? I rotate while floating, and I grab a nearby floating cup with the tail, I pass it in my hand and I hurl it hard to the other wall, this gives me the kinetic energy to slowly reach the wall in front of me. I grab the handrail and I go to a nearby panel to grab the oxygen mask, but the plastic mask is rotten.
I follow the handrail to exit the shared room into the corridors. It's 3.20 AM, and most humans are still into their room. Most of them cannot walk, but it doesn't matter now. We have to leave this piece of station, we have to move now into the cargo ship that is towing us to a nearby solar system. The cargo ship doesn't have any working teleporters.
The exit to the pressurised umbilical that connects us to the cargo ship is few meters away into this corridor, I am tempted to run away, but I have to help those people. The three young carers go into the umbilical; they run away and say that the people here are 'just too old'... I'd like to bite them, but I let them go. Now I'm the only one who can save the other people, so I go to pry open the nearby room. I grab the old scared woman and I carry her into the corridor. I grab some other helpless people from their rooms, and make them grab each other in the corridor, then I carry them to the exit. The air is getting thinner and full of smoke. The old humans grouped here are very slow, and the umbilical cord cannot contain too many people. I have to put the other ones into the emergency pods.
I have left leonardo helping the other people to enter the umbilical. I greet him as I strap to my arm a very small PADD loaded with my personal settings. I go looking for the other humans left, about eight, I suppose.
I slowly find most of them. I put pairs of them into the small pods, and I go back searching for the last ones. The air is getting so thin that I have to breathe with all four lungs, I must hurry. I look into the last three rooms; there's just a very old woman. She is already unconscious... I grab her...
There's a huge vibration... The wall! Crush! Bra-crash! "Owww!" OUT! SDUMP!
OW, my head... Fire! Out Out!
I exit the room and I close the door behind me. Something has hit me... I shake my head to see better... Ohhhufff! I cannot breathe... And my lower side hurts. I have a bad burn. Something had hit me in the head, and I was unconscious for few minutes. I've had to leave the woman in the room; she is probably dead now. I cannot see well, but I have to go! Go! Into the pod section!
I grab the corridor handrail, and also grab the nearby oxygen box. The mask is absent, but I suck directly from the nozzle. I leave and go ahead, the air is finishing and fires are dying, but this oxygen will suffice for me. I feel better, and in a couple of minutes I enter into the pod area, but all capsules are missing! Gone! They have left me behind as dead! The PADD confirms for me what my eyes have already seen.
I turn back to go to the umbilical. I still have a lot of oxygen in my oxybox, but my eyes and lungs hurt, and I feel cold, the air pressure is minimal.
The corridor to the umbilical is blocked by an airtight door, and I can see on the PADD that the umbilical is already detached, because the cargo ship is leaving this wreck to avoid damage in the case it explodes. I am trapped!!
Calm down girl, I am not an animal, I can think still, I must find something... I go back, searching something useful. I look into every hatchway. I find an old spacesuit, but it's for bipeds and I can't fit in, and the helmet is missing.
When I've almost lost any hope, I find something in the heating room - a very old escape pod designed for two humans. It seems airtight still! This must do. I pressurise it, I find some hissing holes from the outside, and patch them with some strong filler. I can keep my eyes open just for moments because water sublimates quickly. I am on my last legs, but I must finish! I find new batteries for the pod and I change them. I restart its simple control circuits... it shows that there are some small problems, but on the small display its old Expert System says it's still usable. I crawl inside; the space is tiny. I close the hatchway, and after a final control, I fire the expulsion engine for just a moment, to go some tens of meters from the station wreckage...
Ouch! I bumped my head because of the excessive acceleration. The small engine of this capsule has gone full power and it won't switch off!
The ES says that it cannot switch off the engine. I keep moving away from the space station faster and faster. After some time, the piece of the space station breaks in two, but it doesn't explode.
Ouch! Again! Something has hit us!
I put my PADD at the small window, and with its optics I can see that the cargo ship is very far away. The lifepods are far away too. They are all linked together and they will survive. The fuel finishes, and the engine stops, but I am like a bullet now.
The ES shows me the diagnostic, something big has hit us, the generator is damaged, and it has reduced its power to 10%. This is very bad. But the batteries are still fully charged and they will last about two hours. The generator can last years, but now it cannot produce enough power. The ES says that when the battery is exhausted, the pod won't have enough energy to both give me the life support and transmit the emergency signal.
I ask the ES how much life support time I can have if I switch off the radio now... about 130 minutes. It's a bad deal. It also suggests for me to go into stasis. It says that if I do it, the life support will require very low power and the generator will produce enough power for me and the radio, if it doesn't break completely.
I search the pod for the stasis equipment. It's really primitive, it's for an awful kind of cryostasis, the body fully frozen to very few Kelvin degrees. It's also dangerous and painful. But probably they will save me in a few minutes, so I just have to wait.
I grab the small medkit and I take care of my big burn and my small wounds, then I wait, relaxing myself with the standard breathing exercises, to lower the energy required to produce the oxygen.
* * *
105 minutes have passed and still no one has saved me and the air is getting bad and really smelly. I cannot see the ship and pods anymore. I've recorded into the PADD some farewells for Forest, Quickpaw, Garrek, Malena... I'm so scared that I've emptied my intestine into bags twice, my life can finish like this... Now my probability to be saved is very low. I'm desperate, but now I've finished all my tears. I must try to face death.
The ES says that I must go into stasis now, to have some probability to survive.
I look outside another time, the PADD helps me to spot my beloved Sol. My probability of being found is going down every hour, but the ES is right. This cryostasis is a really awful and dangerous process. It's designed for humans and I hate it, but I have to overcome my chakat instincts and try it, because some people need me over there. I have to attempt surviving for them too.
Let's start; the process requires many minutes and the batteries are almost exhausted. I open the cryostasis kit, and switch on the old cryostasis equipment that is still fully operational. Then I follow the ES instructions. First of all, I swallow a couple of pills of strong painkiller, about twice the human dose is right. This will help me cope with the first pain. The pills are dry, but they are very active and designed to be absorbed very quickly. I attach the wires and tubes to the pod, the ES shows me an image of a human arm, but I push the needles into my forelimbs, because they are bigger and closer to the middle of my body. I wrap the cooling tubes all around me. I swallow the second couple of big pills, a complex mix of protective drugs and other things. The equipment pumps other chemicals into my blood and I feel sleepy already. It also pumps a lot of antifreeze into my blood to reduce the size of ice crystals that can break my cells. I feel dulled and in pain. I'd like to vomit, but I can't. My eyes close, but I must finish. I put a bag on my shaft and I empty my bladder into it, to remove that water from my body. I attach the sensor to my body after changing the ES to chakat body parameters, my PADD knows us chakats and it will help the ES designed for humans. I am nude, so I put protective cream on my genitals, nipples, lips and anus. I strap myself to the pod, I feel very bad and sleepy. I hope the fluids of the system are still good after all this time. My body temperature has already dropped, but I'm not shivering. I cheek the stasis equipment one last time, it's all okay and operational. I take the last couple of pills, a really strong painkiller mixed with sleeping draught, to sleep before the real pain will hit me. The oxygen is almost finished. I take one last look outside and I say goodbye to my PADD. That is encouraging me. I feel really cold. I switch off all the unnecessary things, the batteries are exhausted, I close my eyes and I put the last protective cream on them and into my mouth, with a very weak hand. I don't feel the cold anymore. See you dear Forest, Quickpaw, Garrek, Malena, cubs... I've really done all I can. I hope to see you again...
Shi is out of hypothermia now, and shi shakes again. Good. Shi whimpers... "Come on, girl..." When I touch hir mouth hir lips bleed. Shi is quite fragile. Hir head moves, and slowly shi opens an eye...
"Do you hear me?" I ask hir. Shi nods slowly.
"...mh... hur...shit," shi whispers.
"Yes, I know. Your body hurts like hell because of the cryo damage. But you have to bear it, I don't want to give you a painkiller because I don't know how damaged your body is."
"You have slept for sixteen days, chakat."
I help hir remove the last cream from the eyes, and I clean hir tongue very carefully.
Shi shakes hir head to clear hir mind; shi has very strong fibre. I still remember my awful cryo many years ago. "Ouwwwr... I... feel really bad..."
"But you are safe now. Medics will fix you soon."
"Are you the..."
"Yes, I am leonardo, the astronaut that you saved in the station."
Shi looks around for the first time... and yawns hugely, again and again. "Where are we?"
"This is an old sentient shuttle that you repaired once during your free time; it has accepted using all its accumulated holidays to help me escape, to search for you all these days, rescue you from the pod and defrost you."
"But why you..."
"All the regular pods were found. The ship and the station hadn't registered your ejection, and Forestwalker and Quickpaw said that their empathic link with you was lost."
"Because of the cryo."
"At that temperature your link stops, I think. No one but me knew of the existence of your very old inoperative pod, and they didn't believe me. I am very old, and sometimes my mind has some problems. So after about ten days they stopped searching for you. But I knew the existence of this pod, and I know you can fix an old pod in few minutes, so I've kept searching you. They haven't found you because you were far away from the incident, and your emergency radio signal had very low power. I've sent a message, and a nearby ship will pick us soon to help you. During your de-cryo, a foxtaur... I don't remember his name, sorry... he has already contacted me and you will meet him soon. Maybe the shuttle can show you the recording of his message."
* * *
They removed both of us from the shuttle, and it has gone back to work. During the rescue I stressed my frail heart some more, and now it's in a quite bad shape. They cannot transplant me a cultured heart, and in the end I've refused the other external options, and I just take some drugs. However I've lived enough.
Less than three days after my rescue, Goldfur is in a better shape and shi can finish hir convalescence at hir home on Earth.
Goldfur offers me a room in their big house, and I accept because I have no relatives and I am really poor now. I received a fine for using the shuttle at my age. Ironic. They show me a big room that I can share with that beautiful foxtaur. Everybody is very kind. They have already bought me an active bed for old bipeds, and they give me tasty food for free and a lot of warm hugs. They even let me caress their cubs. Sometimes I feel like being in a madhouse, a savannah, or into a den full of animals, but I don't care. Those animal morphs are better than most of the humans that I've met; and I can still adapt myself to hear beastly roars during the night. They even say that one taur cub has a human father, an Admiral, but I don't believe them fully.
The next morning I sit near Goldfur's bed, shi is looking at the decoration shi has received for hir heroic actions inside the space station.
"I don't deserve this, I've just done my duty," shi says, "But the assistants that left you there deserve a reprimand."
"In a land of blind... Cough! Who is blind in one eye is a seeing person," I recite. The doctor says Goldie's body soon will heal back perfectly. Hir fur is already growing back on the burn. I grab the side of hir bed because I feel nauseous.
"How are you? You aren't that old..." asks Goldie.
I caress hir forehead, I've always loved big cats, "I was an astronaut. I'm ninety, I've worked hard all my life, and radiation has damaged my body; I have aged quicker."
I keep caressing hir head, shoulder, the arm, hir side, the side of hir breast, and shi relaxes and closes hir eyes. Shi is nude, I caress hir forepaws, hir wonderful pawhands, and soon shi starts to purr strongly and to wag like a very big housecat...
A sound that brings tears to my eyes. I caress hir lower body... Shi just accepts all, shi is easy like a dog; shi doesn't refuse me at all, and in few minutes I can see that shi is getting aroused. A biped fox passes near our room and just smiles, no one seems to mind, so I keep caressing. This is the closest thing to sex I've had in the last ten years. I am really envious of hir youth and health... even during hir convalescence. Can shi empathically feel my envy? Hir body is firm and hir feline muscles are so strong. Hir lower heart is powerful and regular, hir breath slow, hir glossy cougar fur seems alive and almost full of electrical energy, shi is the most beautiful person I have seen in the last dozen of years, "Thank you Goldfur," I whisper. Shi just smiles a bit, purring and keeping the eyes shut. Now hir penis is fully grown out of hir sheath.
Their kind is very open about such things, so I can say it, "Sorry for the teasing. If I had twenty years less, I would show you how much I like you."
"I love your caresses, don't stop. I am just near my rut, and I become aroused easily."
I can even see a bit of hir femsex now. So soft, very different from a feline one, bigger and more similar to a filly's, or a young black woman. Shi pants a little, with eyes still shut, and wraps hir tail around my leg. Shi is really horny, the head of hir penis becomes bigger; maybe shi shall even come if I keep caressing hir like this... this is incredible.
But soon I have to slow down, because my other arm hurts, I am stressing my heart again. I try to hide my pain, but shi opens hir eyes and looks at me worriedly; shi can feel my pain empathically.
I smile a bit, "You cannot live beside an old one like me; my body is full of pain. I just make your life full of pain like mine."
Shi shakes hir head, "We can mute our empathy if and when we want to. You like us, you still appreciate life and even sex, your mind is still open. I know someone that can transform humans into young chakats using teleport technology. Maybe there's still time to do it, if you want."
Is this true? Shi cannot tell me lies like this. I don't care. The world is full of magic today. I smile and I shake my head again, "A young chakat is a beautiful being. Wonderful. But I am a human, I've had a long life, and a good career. I don't want to become something different, or a young one. I cannot start over again. The universe is for the young people of today, not for rejuvenated people. Thank you anyway." I keep caressing hir.
* * *
After nine curious days in the beautiful house of Goldfur's pride, my stomach hurts and I feel bad, so the white vixen carries me to my bed. I feel very weak.
The spotted chakat checks my chest with something, then shi says that my heart is very weak and it could stop soon, "We can take you to hospital now," shi says.
"After all these years... I feel at home again... so I don't want to die in a hospital..."
I go into unconsciousness for a lot of time, maybe hours. Then I open my eyes... Goldie and the spotted one are beside me. I try to talk, "Please... hold my hand..."
A few minutes later the spotted one cries silently.
"Don't cry. I am happy. I am amongst people who are fond of me..."
I go into unconsciousness, and when I open the eyes again it's sunset, but the spotted one is still holding my hand. There's a small bird at the window. They look at me...
This has to finish, I am only giving pain to them and myself. I dial a sequence on the two buttons under the skin of my left arm... AH! I feel a flash of pain in my chest and my heart stops, but I keep smiling at them until the very end.
Chakats and characters (c) Bernard Doove.
Thanks to Alessio "Scale" Scalerandi and Bernard Doove for their corrections.
Story based on "Forest Tales" setting by Bernard Doove.
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