Nightrose, a member of the savannah cat-like alien species known as Caitians, read the incoming message for a second time as she approached the Midnight Starís bridge, though she wondered more than once if it was large enough to be called a bridge. It was barely large enough for the central control station with all of the primary controls and a taur-form seat and the secondary control station in front of that one its seat usually kept in a biped configuration. At the primary controls was the captain of the vessel, a dual-gendered feline tauroid, that is a being with an anthropomorphic feline upper body and a lower body resembling that of a more feral-like feline body though much larger to fit the size of the upper body. Or in short, the captain was a Chakat, a largely pacifistic species that used the pronouns shi and hir in place of he/she and him/her respectively.
Captain Blackstar was unusually tall for hir species at a towering 5í10", hir fur was completely white except for a black star-shaped patch of fur on hir back, a crescent shape under hir right eye, and three claw marks on hir left forearm. Shi had a rather unusual childhood, most of which shi preferred not to talk about, even to Nightrose whom shi considered hir best friend. Most of hir older friends were missing, or in one case angry and not talking to hir. Blackstar and Nightrose had met at the academy, both hoping to join the noble ranks of the Star Services, preferably as Star Fleet officers. They had been reluctant roommates but for their first and only year they had grown from rivals to friends. Shortly after their first year, Blackstarís father, Stareye revealed some falsified information on Blackstarís application resulting in hir expulsion from the academy. As the academyís top first year student, Nightrose had resigned in a failed protest.
Nightrose found Blackstar a few months later in a bar fight. After saving her friendís tail for what seemed like the umpteenth time in that fight, they had decided to strike out on their own. With the help of an old family friend of Blackstarís, they recovered the Midnight Star which Blackstar had hidden a while back. They founded the Blitz Team, a team of mercenaries, or to use the politically correct term: "private security firm". If Nightrose convinced Blackstar to take on the newest job request, something she was already counting on, this would only be their third job. She presented the data pad to Blackstar.
Blackstar was silent as shi read the data, hir brow furrowing in anger. The job request started with a news report about a group of terrorists who had a number of hostages at an old water facility, including the five staff members on duty at the time as well as a teacher and five young cubs that had been part of a school tour of the facility. The tour had run late and the five cubs and the teacher had been trapped inside when the terrorists locked down the facility, trapping them all inside. The group was making demands that certain political prisoners be released. "Damn terrorists," spat Blackstar. "Donít they know theyíll never win in the end?"
The feminine voice of the Blitz Teamís third member, Layla came over the speakers. "Actually they have a surprisingly high success rate. They regularly have success among poorly defended civilian planets." Layla was essentially a cyborg, born crippled to the point of barely being able to move at birth her father grafted her into a capsule and linked her into the computer of his ship, making her a non-artificial computer entity. The Midnight Star was just her latest incarnation, an evolution of the design of her two previous "bodies" known as the Twilight Star and the Twilight Maru.
"But this planet, itís near the Sixth Fleetís area of operations isnít it?" asked Blackstar.
The left side of the large wrap-around window that covered three fourths of the bridgeís walls lit up with a tactical screen displaying the system in question and the surrounding area for several light years, a series of Star Fleet insignias appearing several light-years away. Layla began explaining, "The sixth fleet is participating in war games over a week away from the planet. With our Slipstream engine we can make it in an hour or so."
Blackstar nodded and took the pilotís seat. "Layla, begin powering the slipstream drive and tell Tortuga flight control that weíre taking off." The facility, which appeared to be an asteroid with docking scaffolding sticking out at seeming odd angles, responded to their request, releasing the magnetic claw that had held the Midnight Star in place while docked. Using thrusters, the ship crawled from the station until they were at a safe enough distance to engage their six sublight engines mounted in two columns to either side of the outside of the shipsí main body.
At the aft end of that ship was a cone that hid the shipís faster than light propulsion system known as a Slipstream drive Ė an engine that neither Blackstar nor Layla fully understood that allowed them to travel far faster than the traditional Warp drives used by the Stellar Federation. The only trick was that this slip-drive system required a live pilot at the controls. One of the advantages of having Layla integrated with the shipís computer was that since she needed no rest, she could fly the ship anytime, though Blackstar was a better Slipstream pilot than her.
Blackstar took each control stick into hir hands and handpaws, the handpaws being a Chakatís front paws having a crude grip allowing them to grab things, for picking things up off the ground or using a steering mechanism. Though all four control sticks werenít necessary, Blackstar preferred using them for more precise control of the shipís direction and speed. The sleek black ship leapt into the twisting tunnels of slipspace. Nightrose sat down and closed her eyes as watching the trip through slipspace always made her dizzy.
After only a half-hour, Nightrose opened her eyes, recognizing the noise of the slipdrive powering down. She opened her eyes, and raised an eyebrow in surprise. "That was pretty fast. Did you cut a few corners, or does Layla need to run a diagnostic on her calculator?"
"Youíre still with us back there? I wouldíve thought youíd passed out by now," teased Blackstar.
"What makes you think I used a calculator? Maybe Iím just that smart," said a miffed sounding Layla.
Blackstar growled a bit as shi said, "Cubs are at stake, so I may have made a slingshot or two that wouldnít be on anyoneís recommended list. Anyone sane at least. "
"What makes you think that only the insane would slingshot a black hole?" asked Layla.
Blackstar shrugged and wordlessly began the landing approach. After landing and being parked in the cheapest dock that could fit a 75 meter long ship, they were approached by the local Mayor, a pudgy anthropomorphic cat named Manx and the Police Chief, a well built Siberian Tiger named Feral. While the mayor looked very relieved to see the two mercenaries, the police chief looked pissed off to put it lightly.
"Greetings Mayor Manx. Your reputation precedes you." Blackstar figured that an ego stroking wouldnít hurt any. "Iím Captain Blackstar, leader of the Blitz Team and captain of Midnight Star. My Caitian partner here is Nightrose, an approximation of her name as I butcher her real name in a way that comes out as an insult. Iíve got the scars to prove it." The three black lines of black fur on hir left arm were from their first meeting when Blackstar had mispronounced hir name. Had Blackstar had a slower reaction time those marks wouldíve been across hir face.
The mayor nodded to Blackstar and Nightrose, "we are greatly relieved that your security forces responded so quickly."
The police chief interrupted, "By we, Mayor Manx means the politicians. I believe my SWAT team could handle this with no problem. Better than a team led by a Chakat." The chief said the species, clearly frowning upon the pacifistic nature of Chakats. Blackstar intended to show him that pacifist didnít mean unwilling to fight.
Blackstar smirked having seen this reaction from local police before. "I believe this is a win-win for you, chief. Either the hostages are rescued by us and you can claim credit or we fail, hopefully without the death of the hostages, and say ĎI told you soí. So give me the sit-rep so we can get to work."
"Is it just the two of you?" asked Manx, beginning to have second thoughts about hiring the two mercenaries.
"Mostly," replied Blackstar. The forward belly phaser cannon on the Midnight Star, or rather itís only belly cannon rotated to aim at Blackstar. "Oh, except for Layla. Sheís pretty much the ship for all intents and purposes. An explanation can wait until the job is over. But we are good at what we do. We havenít failed a mission yet." Shi left out that they had only had two missions so far.
Feral nodded, silently applauding Blackstarís attitude. Shi may be a lowlife mercenary, but at least shi was serious about hir job rather than a common thug looking for a quick buck. "There are a half dozen of them with phasers and rifles, and wearing body armor. Our weapons will have reduced effect against it, enough that they could kill the hostages before we can disable them. They have six adult and five child hostages, the hostages held in an empty water silo where theyíre guarded by four of the terrorists and two in the facilityís control room. They also shut down the primary water source for the city, but the back ups are holding out, for now at least. They werenít designed to serve the whole city for too long though. If we donít resolve this quickly, we could have a water shortage in a matter of hours. The silo only has one entrance, so itís near impossible to enter it without getting slaughtered. We donít have the armor to defend ourselves against that much firepower for any extended period of time. They have transport scramblers so we canít beam them out or beam ourselves in."
Blackstar nodded and considered the options. Shi pulled out a data pad and looked at the schematics of the facility and the surrounding area. "Well they arenít stupid, but I do have a plan. Iím going to walk in there and negotiate." Blackstar saw Feral turn to the Mayor and spoke before he had a chance. "Not the moment to say it Chief. Just leave it to me." After a moment shi looked at the two felines and said, "You can go now. The Blitz Team is on the job."
As the two felines moved out of listening range, Nightrose turned to Blackstar and asked, "Were you joking about the plan?"
"Me joke? Nah, never," said Blackstar. "In fact I was being quite serious."
Nightrose sighed, "One of these days I wonít be there to cover your back."
"Itís my front Iím worried about. Thatís the part theyíd be shooting at," said Blackstar.
It was less than an hour later when Blackstar walked into the control room, wearing hir standard field vest, with pockets on the outside and holsters for a variety of weapons on the inside. Shi raised hir hands to show shi wasnít holding any weapons. "Hello boys. I hope you donít mind me dropping by. I was hoping to talk you out of all this craziness and tell you that if you give up now, you can get much lower charges brought against you than if you fight."
The dingo morph and red fox morph in the room pointed their battle rifles at Blackstar. "Sorry, but we have other plans. And now we have another hostage to use. Now keep your hands up."
Blackstar sighed and said, "Damn. I was hoping you wouldnít say that, ícause now you have to go down the hard way. Iím not a fan of the hard way. "As shi lowered hir hands the morphs fired their weapons, one a phaser beam weapon and the other a projectile weapon, both passing through BlackstarÖ and passing through to the other side as if Blackstar wasnít there. It was probably because shi wasnít. The holographic projection shook hir head. "I wish you had taken my offer." The holographic projection glowed until the two enemiesí were blinded by the light.
The two mercenaries, while wearing sunglasses to defend their eyes, burst in firing stunners and knocking them both out easily. "We rock," said Blackstar, "and weíre doing it in style."
"Thatís two down, four to go," said Nightrose. "How do you take down four guys with the perfect defense set up?"
Blackstar grinned and giggled a little bit. "I just got a fun idea that might actually work."
"I know that grin," said Nightrose. "Nothing ever ends well with that grin."
"Name one time," dared Blackstar.
Nightrose started listing things, "The time you got into a bar fight, the time we broke Star Fleet academyís hologrid, the time we almost got sucked into a black hole, the time you got shot in the ass, the time we ended up in 1947Ö"
"I said name one," Blackstar said defensively. Blackstar set to work on the controls. "I know this will work."
"If you swear that nothing can go wrong, I swear I willÖ" Nightrose started.
Blackstar interrupted with, "I didnít say nothing could go wrong. This could go horribly wrong, but every time we act on a plan that I say canít go wrong it goes wrong, so this time Iím saying it can go wrong so that the hostages or you donít get harmed."
"What about you, Blacky?"
Blackstar backed away from the controls and as shi walked towards the door, shi gave Nightrose a cocky grin. "You know me. Iím the kind of person who always gets by the skin of hir teeth."
Blackstar led Nightrose into the water treatment facility where the terrorists were in an empty cylindrical container, except that there was some yelling coming from there as a ton of water came flooding out of it with the hostages and terrorists alike being washed out of the chamber. The terrorists were easily spotted by their camouflage fatigues which Blackstar found odd since the forest camouflage actually made them more visible in the grey and metallic environment.
"Iím Blackstar and this is Nightrose of the Blitz Team and weíll be your rescuers for the evening."
"Everyone whoís not dead, sound off," said Nightrose. Several groans and complaints indicated that the former hostages were fine other than a few bumps and bruises. A massive groan from the far back of the massive room containing rows upon rows of water treatment chambers, prompted Nightrose to ask, "What was that?"
Blackstar looked towards the back of the chamber. "Something very bad is gonna happen," said Blackstar.
"Worse than being held hostage?" asked one of the cubs.
"Who are you?" asked Blackstar.
"Shadowcrest," replied the cub.
"No one likes a smart ass. Stay in school, donít do drugs," said Blackstar. Blackstar noticed Nightrose staring at the back of the facility and focused all hir senses towards the back. At the back of facility the wall cracked under stress from the water pressure. The controls that Blackstar and the terrorists had been playing with earlier had resulted in pressure building against the back wall of the area they were in, and due to the company that constructed that specific addition to the facility about ten years earlier having cut corners to save money, the wall was too weak to hold the pressure back and was now cracking under the stress. "Okay, time to go," said Blackstar.
Blackstar and Nightrose led the hostages to the main exit at their end of the facility; reaching the huge safety door and taking a head count on the safe side of the door. With the pressure and water being spread out through the whole room, dissipated by the size and the emergency water drains, it wouldnít present a threat to anyone on the other side of the safety door, once it was closed at least. Nightrose took a head count of the hostages and noticed they were one short. "Blacky, whereís that cub you were talking to?"
The cub, Shadowcrest had tripped and was nursing hir hand, cut on one of the roomís emergency drain grates. Blackstar yelled, "Shadowcrest move! On the double! Before that huge wall of water hits you."
Shadowcrest picked hirself up and ran towards the falling emergency door. Blackstar figured out the speeds in hir head and knew the cub wouldnít make it. Shi dropped to the ground, putting hir arm to hold the door as the cub crawled between the closing door and the floor. The arm actually held the door for the moment it took Shadowcrest to get hir tail past it. Unfortunately the doorís auxiliary motor kicked in and crushed Blackstarís arm. The last thing shi heard before passing out was the sound of hir bones shattering as hir left arm was crushed.
Two days later Blackstar woke up in the hospital to the sight of Nightroseís face. "Well, clearly Iím not dead, because I wouldnít be dizzy on pain killers. How bad is it?"
"You lost your entire left arm. It was crushed by the safety door," said Nightrose.
Blackstar looked at the missing arm, using hir remaining arm to prop up hir upper body. "I meant the hostages."
"Theyíre okay. A few bruises, and that cub sliced hir hand open pretty good, but other than the huge wall of water destroying half the water treatment and storage facility and your arm being crushed, it was all good," said Nightrose.
A cubís head popped in. "Hello Blackstar."
"Shadowcrest, right?" asked Blackstar.
The cub nodded and said, "I just wanted to see how you were doing and to thank you for rescuing us."
"Hey, anything for a cub in need," said Blackstar. "If youíve got time, maybe Iíll show you around my ship later."
"Thank you but I got classes all week. Another time maybe?" said the cub.
Picking up a communications badge built in the design of the Blitz teamís squadron patch out of hir shirt laying on the table next to hir. It was a circle with one half red and the other half black, divided by a zig zag with an empty white circle in the center. Blackstar tossed it to the kid. "For when you want to visit. That recognizes you as an honorary member of the Blitz Team."
The cub grinned at the prize in hir hands. "Thank you. And thank you again for saving my life. I gotta go now." The cub backed out of the room, apparently chatting with hir parents outside the room.
Nightrose started telling Blackstar about what the situation was, "The mayor was very forthcoming as far as pay, and we already have an engineer offering you a new arm. Hyís actually here right now with an arm that should work for you at least temporarily. Though hy was mum about what hy wanted in return."
Blackstar frowned as most people wanted something big in return for these types of favors. "Send hym in." Shi examined the stub where hir right arm had been, medical bandages covering it. While Chakats might be able to regenerate a finger or toe, maybe even an entire hand with enough time and medical technology, it would take a lot to grow back an entire arm and probably impossible in a single lifetime without using cloning technology to create a new arm.
Blackstar looked up as a Skunktaur, specifically a Chakat-kin type in hys female phase, walked in wearing a low cut vest with several pockets, some with small engineering tools sticking out. Like Chakats, the Chakat-kin were dual-gendered but they usually switched between physical genders rather than be both at the same time. Hy also had a blue paw on hys left breast indicating that hy had the telekinetic talent or in laymanís terms the ability to move physical objects by thought. The Skunktaur nodded towards Blackstar. "I am Sky child of Starflight and Rasoio of the Blue Paw House," hy said, handing Blackstar a prosthetic arm. "This is a prosthetic I built, it has twice the strength of a normal arm, and the metal shell is resistant to corrosion and is far stronger than your old arm. And this is what I did in a few days. Give me a month or two and I can build you a realistic looking arm with synthetic skin, maybe even a small personal shield."
Sky helped fit the armís socket to Blackstar, the neural relays easily picking up hir bodyís instructions as Blackstar flexed the elbow and finger joints. "And what exactly are you asking for in return?"
"Something I need help with and would prove profitable to both of us," replied the Skunktaur.
"If itís something illegal, I should warn you that Iím not that kind of mercenary," said Blackstar. "I signed the FLT and as such I would lose my license."
"Iím afraid thatís no longer possible," said a newcomer standing in the doorway. At first glance she looked like a large tiger morph, but in reality she wasnít from earth at all. She was from the warrior species known as the Rakshani. "I am Sasha ap Jakkan na Nabane, and I am here to avenge my father's honor and that of our fallen house."
"OhÖ son of a bitch," said Blackstar.
To be continued...
Story and Characters are copyright of Alex Wiegerling unless otherwise stated.
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove.
Shadowcrest is copyright Allen Fesler
Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns.
Sly Wacoon is used with the permission of his player.
If Iíve managed to step on anyone elseís toes (or paws, claws, tails, or other various appendages) let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and Iíll either give you credit or change my 'tale'.
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