DI-MAN: EPISODE 6
KITTENS AND CAT-NAPPINGS
by Kyle Johnson
"Okay, where is it?" I muttered to myself. Flying blind through the multiverse is not really a good thing to be doing. All there is, is the inside of a big blue sphere with an occasional speck of gold where a portal has been formed. In the center of the ball is a core of energy that looks like a cross between ball lightning and a pulsar. So what am I doing flying through the multiverse with no clue as to where I am going. Simple, I am looking for the first portal I went through so I can get a clue as to where I am going; okay, not so simple.
You see, I have sort of been drafted into this job of dimensional traveler; and from the first dimension I landed in, I got this neat little device called a Scouter. What is a Scouter you ask, well a Scouter is a combination Heads-Up-Display, power sensor, and navigation unit that fits on the side of your head over one ear. On my last trip out of the multiverse, I became embroiled in a battle with a powerful demon named Lu Yueh. Lu was so powerful, that he overloaded the Scouter, totally destroying it. So now I have to find the first portal to get my Scouter replaced, now if I can only remember which portal it was.
As I try to make up my mind between the five golden tears, I see the one I am looking for. It's a bit larger than the other four and it's sort of off by itself while the others are in a loose cluster together by themselves. As I channel my powers to maneuver towards the portal, the sudden tug of gravity around my ankle stops me. I look to see that I am slowly being pulled towards the core of the 'verse. That means a new portal, I won't be able to get a replacement for my Scouter…unless… I maneuver around until I am lined up with the portal behind me, then dive towards the blazing light of the core. As I pass around the heart of this nexus, I just hope I Know WHAT I AM DOING!!
Going through a new portal is louder than a sonic boom. As the ringing in my ears subsides, I can see that my idea didn't work. If it had, I would be flying over a meadow; not racing through thick clouds in the sky, and I am still flying blind. Suddenly I break through the clouds and see that I am heading at a downward angle at about mach three. I seriously need to slow down.
I concentrate and let my powers manifest as a huge shockwave. "BLAST FORCE!!" The sound of the shockwave echoes through the air as I feel myself slow down some, but not enough to regain control of my descent. I let my powers rise once more and channeled them ahead of me. "BLAST FORCE!!" I had slowed down, but still not enough for level flying. As I tried to gather my energies for one final burst, I suddenly found myself lacking in power. "Jeez, I can't be out of power already," I muttered quickly, "C'mon, just one more little surge of power." As my arms tingles with my last few ergs of energy, my sight became filled with deep blue as I found myself over a lake. If I couldn't slow myself down, then maybe I could just change course and land there. I rolled over in midair and channeled my powers once more. "BLAST FORCE!!"
Suddenly, my angle quickly changed as I tried to head for the lake. So far, my plan was working. As I went down, I rolled over and spread-eagled my arms and legs to try and slow down even further. Then I could see that I was indeed heading for the lake, in fact I was about fifty yards from it. It was then that I realized that as a choice for an emergency landing, in my case...
A good ways from the lake, two large forms moved silently through the forest. Paws and hand paws picked their way through the underbrush. Leading the way was a large felitaur with an ocelot's coat, and thick bronze colored hair on hir head tied back into a ponytail. Following hir was a smaller taur, shi had a calico coat and a mop of likewise colored hair. Shi wore a pair of saddlebags on a pack harness with various pieces of equipment hanging off of D-rings and carabiners. In hir hand shi held the end of a leash in her hand.
"This is getting heavy, Silence," said the calico, "How much longer before we get there?" Chakat Silence stopped for a moment. "Another hour maybe," shi replied, "We can stop here and rest for a while if you want to, Patch." But Patch had already flopped down bonelessly in a thick patch of cool shade.
"Much better," shi said.
Silence padded over to hir sister and gently lay down beside Patch. As they rested, Silence looked over at the leash that Patch held in her hand; it was slack and lying on the ground. "What do you suppose shi's doing?" Silence asked. Patch shook her head and tugged slightly on the lead. "Last I saw of hir, she was stalking something," Patch said. Suddenly there was a rustle in a patch of grass at the end of the leash. In a flash a chocolate colored blur zoomed out of the brush and took cover behind Patch and Silence. A moment later, the blur's pursuer stumbled out of the brush.
It was a small two-legged bundle of quills with a long neck and a beak. The emu chick then wobbled unsteadily towards the two full sized chakats, looking for what it was chasing. A moment later papa emu came looking for the little bird and gently herded the chick back towards the rest of the brood; all the while ignoring the two chakats just ahead of him.
"Ahh the power of projective empathy," said Patch; with a little concentration, shi and Silence projected a sense of ‘We mean you no harm,’ all the time the big bird was present. An emu might be harmless under normal circumstances, but the big birds could be dangerous when it came to protecting their young, just as any other mother (or father) would be. Silence giggled as the little hatchling stumbled back into the woods. "How cute," shi thought.
Patch turned hir torso around gave the end of the leash a tug. "You can come out now," shi said, "Your playmate has gone home." Slowly a chocolate colored head with a mop of red hair peeked over Patch's barrel. Then, still just as slowly, the little chakat cub creeped around Patch to see that the emu was indeed gone. Shi was a chocolate colored cub with a pattern of gray wisps up and down her coat. It was this pattern that gave hir name, Firewisp. But due to her penchant for mischief, hir sisters called hir Imp.
Silence picked Imp up and held her tightly. "What's the matter dearheart," shi asked the cub. Imp looked down and picked up the end of hir tail and held it close to her. Silence examined the cub's tail, and found that part of hir tailtip had been pulled out. Now Silence understood what had happened, the emu chick must have plucked at Imp's tail and startled hir. "It's alright dearheart, he didn't mean it." Silence said soothingly. Imp licked at hir tailtip none the less.
Just then, "Silence, did you hear thunder?"
Squish… Squish… Squish… Squish…
That's me, with water in my shoes, walking along the lakeshore. I am holding my satchel by the straps in one hand, and a fish the size of a pike in the other. I am cold, wet, and I would like to find a place to warm up. The only good thing I can say, is that for some reason, the air smells like cough drops. If my luck holds, it will keep me from catching a cold.
The smooth rocks of the lake shore make it easy going, but the stuff in my backpack and my satchel do get heavy after a while; especially the coin bags, they are filled with gold and silver marks. I shouldn't complain really, it could have been worse. I could have landed on the rocks instead of in the water. Maybe instead of walking, I should have built a fire to warm up. However, there wasn't any driftwood on the shoreline to build a fire with. There were trees beyond the lakeshore, maybe some of them had lost a few branches.
As I stepped into the trees, the cough-drop smell became thick to the point of stifling. I knew the smell from somewhere, but I just couldn't place it. As I searched along the ground for wood, I found that the forest floor was all but bare, all I could find was leaf litter, and not much at that. "Maybe it's all hung up in the trees." I lashed out with a foot and kicked the trunk of one of the trees. There was a rustle in the branches as a gray bundle fell from a limb. I dropped both the fish and the satchel and raced to catch what ever it was, and hoped that it wasn't a wasp's nest. I snatched the bundle out of freefall with only a few inches to spare. As I tucked the whatsit into my arms, I looked down to find that I had knocked a koala out of the tree.
It could only mean one thing; I was in Australia. I don't know how I got there, but I was definitely there. I mean where else could you knock a koala out of a tree? "How the heck did I get to Australia?" I asked the confused bear. The koala looked a little dazed from its trip to the ground. As I was about to put the little guy back on his tree, a gray head popped out of a pouch on the bear's tummy. It seemed that he was a she. I put mama bear back on the trunk of her tree, and watches as she quickly climbed back up to the branches.
I picked up my satchel and my fish, and walked on; the sun was beginning to set. As I walked further into the woods, I found myself once again at the lakeshore on the edge of a cove. The trees on the side of the cove shaded much of the sunlight from me. I couldn't see a lot of the bigger rocks on the shore. About halfway across the cove I tripped and fell over something. I was about to pitch it a county mile when I noticed it was a log. I had stumbled onto someone's pile of firewood. Looking around I couldn't see a tent or a shelter, just a circle of rocks that was used as a fireplace.
I thought, surely they wouldn't begrudge a lost wanderer a fire if they were here, and if they came back I could share the fish. I set a good-sized log in the ring of stones and concentrated. With my powers as low as they were, it took a lot more effort for me to use them than it normally did, but eventually my hand crackled slightly with energy. With a trip of a mental trigger, a bright yellow beam raced from my hand and set the log ablaze.
"Okay mister fish, it's time to get ready for dinner."
"Just how did I wind up carrying all the equipment?" asked Patch.
"Hey, it was your quarter," Silence replied, "Next time you won't be so quick to accept."
"At least take the Imp."
"Alright," said Silence as shi took Firewisp's lead. Patch stretched out hir shoulders and repositioned the canteens. "I can't believe it," said Patch "We hike for hours and not one stinking euro. Are you sure this is the right side of the lake."
"I'm sure," Silence replied, "The fisherman who called the university said that there was a colony of wallaroos around here. He said the west side of the reservoir, just beyond the northern most cove."
"Humph probably a GPS junkie," complained Patch, "Never read a map in his life. This would be a lot easier without the Imp along."
"Well, we couldn't leave her with Sandstorm," Silence replied, "What with hir legs as bad as they are." Sandstorm was Patch's and Firewisp's mother and Silence's father, and one of the forest's more experienced rangers. While scouting a new trail, the ground gave way beneath hir and shi slid down a fifty-foot hill. The experience broke both "wrists" of hir hand-paws so badly, that a bone-knitter wasn't able to help hir. So with both forelegs bound in casts up to hir ‘elbows’, Sandstorm now had to walk with a pair of crutches to keep hir weight off of hir wrists until the small bones knit. Shi was not light, though; Sandstorm was well over seven feet tall and weighed just a bit more than a Siberian Tiger. It made walking with hir crutches a severe task.
Soot, Sandstorm's mate was serving a term in the Star Corps as a scout when this happened. Shi had gotten an emergency leave when shi had heard about Sandstorm's accident.
"When does Soot get back from the Corps," Patch asked.
"Two more weeks," Silence replied.
"Maybe we can come back here and try this then." Patch griped.
"Then we'd only get the college credits," Silence explained, "We wouldn't get paid, and we need the money now."
"You're right," Patch replied, "Just wish we had someone to look after the Imp, then this would be easier." Firewisp suddenly bounded in front of Silence, stopped, and looked at her sister. "M'ow," shi mewed.
"Uh-oh," said Silence, "Hir tummy tank is empty." Shi undid the clasp on hir halter, and took the Imp up in hir arms. Firewisp glommed onto Silence's nipple and slurped noisily from hir sister's breast. "Do you have to do this now," Patch griped, "You could have waited until we were back at camp." Shi then stalked off towards the campsite.
"Patch!" Silence called out, but hir sister was gone. Patch was often moody for chakat, and a sore subject for hir were hir breasts. Patch was nineteen, exactly three years younger than Silence; but when shi was twelve, Patch developed a hormonal imbalance that prevented hir breasts from developing. Medically, there was nothing wrong with hir, however part of hir physical maturity had been stunted and with it, much of her emotional maturity. After their sister 'Wisp was born, Patch became even moodier, especially around the Imp's feeding times. Whenever Soot or 'Storm would feed the kitten, Patch would go outside to brood for hours, broadcasting enough misery for even a non-empath to feel. That or shi would roar hir frustrations to the four winds until shi felt better.
The Imp released the nipple and declared hirself done with a short burp. "Shi's right though," said Silence to the kitten, "We should have waited." 'Wisp mewed and hugged hir sister's arm. Silence then picked the kitten up and let the Imp ride on hir back. 'Wisp purred with delight.
Earlier that same day:
Sheba dragged Chalk through the Market with lots of vigor. "Easy Sheba," begged the Chakat, "We have all day to look." Sheba Ninetales switched her tail around with excitement. "I know, I know," the foxtaur replied, "But there is so much to see." Indeed there was, especially for the booth sellers, who had never seen a Chakat dragged through the market by a Japanese foxtaur.
"Sheba, slow down," Chalk repeated, "You're going to cause an accident."
"I know," Sheba replied, "But she's only going to be here for the morning and she goes back to California this afternoon." Chalk decided not to fight her. The booths of the market place became a blur as Sheba flowed through the market's patrons, without knocking anybody over. Half a minute later, they found themselves in the center of the market, and in sight of Sheba's obsession.
Her booth was set between a Navajo selling silver jewelry and an Aborigine selling hand-made didgeridoos. Her rich red tail swished slowly like a flag in the wind. Her green eyes contained a look of both love and wisdom. Hands that were still quick and nimble danced across the table as she laid out replacements to the garments she had just sold. This was whom Sheba had been waiting to meet ever since her friend Malena had told her about the artist, Purteshka the leather maker.
As the Sheba walked up to the leather maker's booth, Chalk could see that the two of them were complete opposites. Sheba had just turned eighteen, while Purteshka was probably a grandmother. Purteshka was cool and collective, while Sheba was as nervous as a long tailed…okay, maybe Chalk should have come up with a better expression. Then there was the most obvious, Purteshka was red, with black socks and gloves and Sheba…Sheba was blue! Not gray to the point of being bluish, Sheba's fur was a rich undyed Royal Blue!
Sheba hadn't always been blue; when she was twelve, her class field trip took her to a Starfleet museum aboard the USS Vega, a decommissioned deep space explorer. The children were being transported three at a time due to the older model transporters being used on the ship. Sheba being the only taur of any kind in her class had to be transported last due to her mass requirements. When it was her turn to teleport up, there was a small power surge in the pattern buffer. Everyone was surprised when the foxtaur appeared; the color spectrum of Sheba's fur had been completely reversed. Poor Sheba had to miss the rest of the field trip as the doctors tried to determine if the incident had done anything more than change her fur coloration.
"I'm so excited," Sheba said as Chalk followed her to the booth. Chalk had a sense of impending disaster as the two foxes' eyes met; however, it was when Sheba said, "Malena told me all about you." that the chakat knew that they would hit it off almost immediately.
"…they wanted samples of my works, so I decided to take the opportunity as a working vacation." said Purteshka as she poured Sheba a third cup of tea. Sheba drizzled honey into her cup and then reached for a lemon wedge. "Malena has told me so much about you, that I just had to meet you," Sheba repeated for the third time. She was still very nervous at having so close a connection to her friend across the sea.
"I am still surprised that such things as Internet chat rooms and email pen-pals are still so popular these days," said Purteshka, "I had thought such things obsolete." Sheba shook her head in disagreement. "It's still quite a necessity these days," she explained, "From a starship, you can't have a direct communiqué whenever you want one, so new forms of email and voice mail are used by family's to keep in contact. My brother, Taro, is the Ex.O. on the Potomac, Mother would go Screaming Yellow Zonkers if he didn't send a letter every now and then."
"Excuse me for bringing it up," Purteshka said, "But you have such a lovely fur color, how did you come by it?"
"Transporter accident," Sheba said, she told the leather worker about her mishap aboard the Vega. "But when I got to high school all the girls loved it. It was like I was a walking fashion statement. A few of the paler colored girls tried dyeing their fur the same color; I didn't feel so alone any more. It was like there was more of me around. High school's where I met Chalk."
"Chalk?" asked Purteshka, "Oh, your chakat friend. I have two in my family, my granddaughter's lifemate, Stargrey and their child, Nikol. They are such wonderful people. Better company than some foxtaurs even." The artisan looked around for a moment. "Umm where is your friend anyway?"
Sheba looked across the marketplace and saw Chalk at a booth selling mirrors. "There he is," said Sheba, "He's found a mirror to look at, he'll be there for hours."
"He?" said Purteshka slightly confused; "I thought chakats preferred shi or hir."
"It's just that he's not ready to think of himself like that just yet," Sheba explained.
"Uhh," said Purteshka, "I think I had better hear this story out." Then she put on another pot of tea.
Alexander Chalke stared at his reflection in the mirror. From the whitish blonde hair to the tawny white fur on his chest, then to the tuft of white hair on his tail tip, he took stock of his body. Four paws, two hands, two hearts, but he still didn't feel right in this body. "Better to feel odd in a new body," he said to himself, "Than lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out every which way." A year and a half ago, he thought that his life had ended; he had been diagnosed with Lupus.
Chalke had decided to live to his fullest before he had to be permanently interred in a hospital, he wanted to go where life was always celebrated, even after you were gone. So, with a trust fund left to him by a maiden aunt, Alex went into space to find somewhere like that. The world of Chakona was just such a place. That's where he met Soot.
Soot was a chakat on an extended tour of duty in the Star Corps. Shi had been saving up hir leave time to spend an extended vacation with hir mate and cubs. Alex had met hir in a twentieth century style bar in Amistad, though he almost missed the shadow colored 'taur standing next to him. In the dimmed light of the bar, shi was all but invisible. The two spent half the night toasting each other with real Irish coffee, then telling and then retelling stories of their adventures and families and such.
"I thought chakats weren't happy until they had a house big enough to hold every cat and kitten in their families and still have room for all the friends and lovers they had made over their life." Soot almost snorted coffee through hir nose when Alex said that. "It's true," Soot agreed between giggles, "You wouldn't believe the size of some chakat families, and they are not all purely chakats. These days there are many dens with a mix of human, morph, foxtaur, and even the occasional wolftaur mate." Shi took a slow sip of hir coffee. "You should have been born a Chakat," Soot said, with a giddy giggle, "You would fit in well at any den."
"So," replied Alex as his mood swung to a low point, "I would still have the same problem, just more people to care about it." What Soot said next sent Alex's mood into orbit. "Chakats don't get Lupus."
Alex stood speechless for a moment and then ran back to his hotel room, after excusing himself from his chakat companion. He had read something in a magazine about transporters and shifting species when he had first gotten to his room. As he opened the door, Alex found the magazine, a dog-eared copy of Scientific Chakat that had been left under a couch, and leafed through the pages until he found what he was looking for. There was an article on a new procedure using a transporter for species transmutation. The article read that they were looking for subjects for the clinical procedures.
The next morning, Alex keyed in the number for a Professor Oceanwalker. A tiger-striped chakat's face filled the comscreen as the call was answered. "Yes," shi said. Alex held up the magazine. "Please ma'am," he said, "I am calling about the ad in the magazine. It said that you needed subjects to test your new procedure." The next day, Alex was at the building, filling out forms and getting his pattern scanned. "Shi must be special for you to do this," Oceanwalker said.
"Whomever it is you want for your lifemate," the professor clarified. Alex put the form down and laid his pencil on top of it. "Professor, I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong idea," he said, "As much as I wish this was a matter of love, it's not. If this procedure is successful, you will have saved me from a long and painful death sentence." Alex told the professor of his condition, and shi agreed to his choice. "If this doesn't work; is there anyone, anyone at all, that you want us to contact?" Alex typed in an address on her touchpad "That's my grandfather's address on earth," he said, "His name's Gerald Halifax." Oceanwalker made a note of the name. "Anyone else?" Oceanwalker asked. Alex thought for a moment before he answered. "There's a chakat named Soot on the Star Corps ship Ivan Vasselli," Alex said finally, "Tell hir thanks for giving me hope." Then he gave the command. "Energize."
The world dissolved into a shimmer of sparkling dust as Alex was deconstructed in the transporter-beam. For a moment, the currents of the matter stream swirled and twisted around him before he faded back into reality. As the sparkles disappeared, Alex stumbled forward as the dizziness washed over him. Fortunately his new hindquarters kept him from falling over forward.
Alex examined his hands closely; the fur that covered them was a tawny off white like the rest of his body. His new tail had a tuft of fur on the end and his hair looked disheveled and ruffled like the mane of a lion. "Wow, said the professor, "Looks like you'll be able to keep you own name."
Now he was Chalk, not Alexander Chalke, but simply Chalk, a name that went well with the white lioness's pattern that he had been transformed into. He was thankful the procedure had worked; though he still didn't feel like a real chakat. More like a man in cat's skin.
Chalk felt a tug at his shoulder. "Excuse me miss," someone said, "Could you help me with my package?" Chalk turned. He was a medium-sized unobtrusive looking man, in his forties, he had a workers tan and a face that had been worn away with time. Beside him was a flat package that was almost as tall as Chalk. "I chust need your help to get it to my van around the corner," the man said.
"Certainly," Chalk replied. He took the front end of the package, swiveled his hindquarters around to let the package rest on his back, and then swiveled his torso around straight so that he could walk normally. Slowly, Chalk led the way through a side alley that lead to another street. "Right," said the old man, "It's the blue Novan." Chalk turned. "I see it," he replied. It was another block before he reached the van. As he approached, Chalk saw the tailgate of the van open up. The old man must have a remote, he thought. As Chalk started to put the box in the van, he felt a touch at the base of his torso. His body went stiff, then limp as he fell unconscious from the sudden shock. As he dropped the box, Chalk heard the sound of glass breaking; the old man had bought one of the full-length mirrors to keep up the illusion. That was the last thing he thought of before he finally passed out.
"I had hoped to see some of Goldfur's clan before I left," Purteshka said with some regret, "But business got to be too good. And tomorrow my flight home leaves, early in the morning. I do hope my next trip is longer though."
"That would be great if you could," Sheba replied, "I could show you our den and everything. I know Chalk wouldn't mind you being there."
"A tempting offer," Purteshka said, "But we shall have to see what the fates will bring."
Sheba nodded as she set her teacup on its saucer. "I had better find Chalk before I get too caught up in our chat." Purteshka smiled and replied, "And I have packing to do. I hope I see you again, Sheba."
Sheba waved goodbye and started walking towards where she had seen Chalk standing before. As she walked over to the mirror booth, Sheba saw a blue Novan drive down the street, from between the booths. By the end of the day, Sheba had found no trace of Chalk. He had vanished.
The aromatic scent of the fire filled my nose as the fish cooked on its spit. As I cleaned my knife up in the lake, I realized that I needed to find out exactly I was capable of in this dimension. I knew that I could start a fire with my powers, but what else, I needed to test my control. As I tucked the knife away in my pack, I stood straight up with my feet slightly apart, and concentrated.
One of the flat river stones by my foot slowly began to rise into the air. It slowly bobbed up and down like a glob of wax in a Lava Lamp. Then another stone slowly floated into the air. One by one the rocks began floating in the air until I had seven or eight palm-sized rocks just hovering in the air. Still concentrating, I centered on one of the flatter stones and gave it a little push out into the lake. The stone sailed out like a Frisbee, it skipped on the water six times before plunking in the lake. "Not bad," I said, "Now for speed."
I stopped concentrating and let the stones fall back to earth. As they dropped, I lashed out and tried to grab them before they hit the ground. "One…two…three, four…five…six, sev-ah nuts." The last stone had drifted beyond my reach, and I couldn't catch it in time. Still, six out of seven isn't bad, now what next? I spread my hands flat out and ‘pushed’ against the water. The lake receded in a spoon shaped depression. I used my powers to push the water back as far as I could. The result was a fifteen-foot circle in the lake and a foot away from the bottom. My abilities were looking better. Now for one last test.
I set my feet together and balled my right fist save for the first two fingers. I swiveled my elbow around until my fingers pointed up. Slowly, I felt my feet leave the ground. I put as much power as I could collect into lifting myself off the ground. I may not be able to fly, but I could give myself a lift if I needed to.
As I slowly settled back to the ground, I could smell my fish starting to burn. I dashed back over to the campfire, and pulled the spit out of the ground. I pulled a hunk out of the fish's middle and found that it was hot all the way through. I bit into the meat, it didn't taste that bad; though I didn't think at the time fish-flavored cough drops would catch on in any way.
It was a half-hour before Silence caught up with Patch at the foot of the rise. "Patch I'm sorry," shi said, "I wasn't thinking." Patch seemed to be ignoring her. It was then that Silence noticed that Patch's tail was twitching back and forth. Something was wrong and shi was alert to it.
Silence padded up to hir sister and put hir hand on Patch's shoulder. The calico jumped at the sensation, causing the gear hanging off her harness to rattle. "What's wrong, Patch?" Silence asked. Patch looked at hir sister oddly. "You can't smell it?" asked the calico. Silence stopped for a moment and smelled the air. The scent of smoke and eucalyptus drifted past hir nose, there was a fire, not a big one tough. Like someone had left a campfire burning.
"We didn't leave a fire burning did we?" asked Silence. Patch shook hir head and shrugged out of hir harness. Shi then opened one of the saddlebags and pulled out an extinguisher and what looked like an old paintball gun. Patch then handed the extinguisher to Silence and then loaded the gun with a tube of white spheres. Silence then sat down and let the Imp slide off of hir back. Shi then unclipped the leash from the harness and looped it around a tree before threading the end through the hand-loop and then clipping it back on the Imp's harness. With the cub secured, Silence went over and joined hir sister.
Slowly the sisters climbed over the rise. There was a human cooking a fish, at their campsite. He was kind of average looking with a rugged appearance, not really handsome but not bad looking either. He was dressed in jeans and a denim jacket over a T-shirt. Some how he'd caught a barramundi from the lake and now he was eating it with gusto, for half of the fish was gone.
"It seems that our campsite has been raided," Silence said. Patch rolled hir mismatched eyes. "Duh," shi whispered sarcastically, "I told you we should have left the tent up. Now where are we going to sleep?"
"There," Silence replied, "He may just be there temporarily. Maybe he'll let us join him. He might share some of that fish."
"He could be one of those Earth Firsters that we've been hearing about on the vid', too," Patch whispered, "This whole trip could have been a trap to catch a couple of chakat's off guard." Patch aimed hir gun at the fire. "What are you doing?" asked Silence. Patch's gun coughed and a moment later the fire went out. The calico chakat giggled at hir deed as shi ducked back below the rise.
"Real mature Patch," Silence said with disgust. Patch's gun fired Extinguitabs, paintball-sized spheres that contained two liquids that, when exposed to heat, produced a set volume of carbon dioxide gas. Designed to smother fires, the spheres could extinguish anything from a small campfire to a small wildfire, anywhere normal extinguishers would do little good.
I was surprised when my campfire went out. Just one moment it was blazing merrily away, and the next poof. As I stood up to light the fire again, I breathed in a lung-full of something that made my chest burn. There was a taste like baking soda in the air. I coughed heavily as the wind blew the smoke from the fire and the mysterious gas in my face. Stumbling away from the fire, I fell to my knees by the lake and splashed the cold water into my face.
Once I had my wits about me, I stood upwind of the firepit before I attempted to relight the fire. Then in the trees beyond the cove, I heard it. A deep rumbling sound drifted towards the lake. It sounded like the growl of a big cat, but there were no big cats in Australia. "Unless I've landed in a wild animal park."
"That's not funny patch," Silence chided, "Cut it out."
Firewisp pulled at hir leash as she tried to get loose. The sun had gone down and there were all these scuttlings and rustlings out on the ground that hir kittenish curiosity was just begging to find out what they were. Unfortunately, the leash was too strong. As she flopped down in disgust, she felt something fall on hir back. It wasn't heavy, but it did have a lot of legs, they sent tickles up hir spine as it crawled along.
'Wisp tried to reach around and catch the Huntsman that was crawling up hir back, but the spider eluded hir grasp. Instead hir tiny fingers found the metal clasp that held hir harness to hir lead and wrapped around it. Shi pulled and fidgeted with the bit of metal until finally it came loose from the harness.
As 'Wisp looked at the shiny bit of metal, shi felt the Huntsman bunching its legs up on top of hir head. As the spider settled down on hir head, Firewisp wandered off into the bush in search of all the mysterious scratches and scurries that hir little ears would pick up.
"That was great," Patch snickered into hir hand. Silence shook hir head and sighed. "Your being childish, Patch," shi whispered, "Soot would even go so far as to say you were being a brat."
"It's his fault, what with taking over our campsite," said Patch indignantly. Shi then bent down low and began to creep around the rise through the underbrush. "Now what are you doing?" asked Silence, but hir sister was gone. Silence's night vision found Patch creeping along the tree line. Shi was slinking around to the end of the cove.
Silence turned around to go and fetch the Imp. As shi began to walk away, Silence heard Patch bellow with a full signal roar. Silence then gave a start at the cyan flare that beamed over the rise. In a heartbeat, Silence let hir worst fears take over hir instincts. "Powergun!"
I wasn't sure what the growl I heard was. I remembered that Australia had bitterns, wading birds with loud deep voices, but this didn't sound like one of them. I needed to get a better look at my surroundings. I needed to be calm. I let my powers rise up once more and concentrated them into a bea-
It was loud, like a lion's roar of challenge to the pride leader. The outburst of sound made me lose my control over the power beam though. As I raised my hands to defend myself, the beam was loosed into the base of the tree line. The impact scattered a few rocks and sent up a puff of smoke, but I didn't do any real dam-
Another one, over the rise. That or the first one had found a way to outflank me. In an instant, something bounded over the rise and was on top of me before I could do anything. I found myself having the breath squeezed out of me by a powerful pair of arms. Suddenly I was helpless. Whatever it was that had me rumbled with a deep growl and didn't sound too friendly. I must have startled it with my power beam.
I was beginning to have trouble breathing; I needed to get the creature to let go before I passed out. I ran the list of my techniques through my mind, and mentally crossed out the ones that might hurt the creature. A Solar Flare might distract it long enough for me to slip through the creature's arms; but I needed my hands free to use it, so scratch that one too. Finally, I couldn't hold my breath any longer. In that instant I made a decision, and I hoped it was the right one. "TATAIODOKEN!!!"
Silence rushed over the rise with hir hackles raised. Shi didn't know if Patch had been hit by the blast or not, but shi would make sure that this human wouldn't get another shot. Silence launched hirself into the air and tackled the strange human. As shi held him down, Silence wrapped hir arms around him in a tight bear hug and tried to squeeze him into unconsciousness.
Silence's captive turned out to be stronger than shi thought. He tried to slip out of hir grasp so he could breathe, but the chakat wouldn't give. Instead shi squeezed harder and tried to force him to exhale. As shi flexed hir muscles, hir quarry's lungs gave out. However instead of a wheezing gasp, the man called out something. A strange word that sounded Japanese. Was he calling for help?
In a heartbeat, Silence's whole body went pins and needles as a strange numbing sensation traveled through hir body. Suddenly shi couldn't feel hir hands anymore.
The technique is called the Tataiodoken. What it does is boost your powers at some point when you are short on energy, or faced with a more powerful opponent than yourself. What I didn't expect to happen was that the power boost would affect the creature holding me. Its grip loosened and I was able to slip through its arms.
Quickly I turned around and pointed both of my fore and middle fingers at my forehead. "SOLAR FLARE!!" The blinding flash allowed me to see what it was that I was fighting. She was a beautiful creature that resembled a feline version of a centaur. Her pelt had an ocelot's pattern. I thought she was a female due to the prominent breasts that hung from her torso. In shape and form, this creature was magnificent.
As she shook her head to clear her vision, I dashed to get my pack. The affects of the flare would wear off in a minute or two, and I didn't want to be around when she could see again.
Another one. The creature burst through the trees and charged towards me. I dropped the pack and broke into a sprint. As I ran along the shoreline, I could hear the creature following me. Its paws landing hard on the smooth stones. It may have been a mate to the first creature, but right now I didn't care. I just knew that I had to get away. As I ran, I felt something brush against my pant leg. I looked behind me just long enough to see the feline raise its hand and make a swipe at my feet. It was trying to make me stumble so it could overtake me.
I suddenly remembered that I hadn't used the energy from the Tataiodoken; it was still inside me just waiting to be used. I just reached through my mind, tapped into the energies, and let them flow through my body. My aura ignited in a blaze of power as the stones beneath my feet were scattered into the air behind me. I heard the footfalls of the creature following me trail behind me, but I was unprepared for what lay ahead.
The bandicoot showed no concern at being followed by the cub. Firewisp loved finding odd looking creatures shi had never seen before. Shi bunched hir legs up beneath hir and pounced, landing just behind the odd looking creature. Still the bandicoot showed no interest in the cub. 'Wisp leaned over and on all six paws, shi followed the little thing through the woods. The Huntsman still on hir head scuttled its legs in slight protest.
A moment later, the bandicoot waddled onto the shore of the lake and was heading for the water. As the mouse-like creature dipped its snout into the water, Firewisp suddenly found that shi was thirsty too. As the kitten began to lap up the water from the lake, hir ears perked up at the sound of hir sisters roaring. 'Wisp turned to see a strange ball of light heading hir way. The little kitten was suddenly more concerned for the bandicoot than shi was for hirself. 'Wisp picked the little creature up and tried to run back to the trees; but the light was on top of hir before shi got half way.
I saw it long before I could do anything about it. A shadow in my path, a rather sizable one too. It could have been a log or a rock; until I saw it move. It was an animal, about the size of a small deer. At the speed I was going, if I so much a bumped it, it would probably be killed or injured very badly; and running at this speed, I couldn't turn or stop on a dime.
In a second I was on top of the little beast, the next, I was diving under it and scooping it up in my arms. With the warm, furry bundle safely in hand, I scrambled to my feet and took off along the shore of the lake.
Patch skidded to a stop to avoid being hit in the head with a stone. Shi watched as the blazing flare of light sped around the lake before vanishing into the trees. As Patch turned around to go back to the campsite, shi heard Silence cry out.
Patch stopped short of the fire ring. As shi paused to catch hir breath, shi looked around to try and find Silence. "Over here," Silence called out from over the rise. Patch climbed over the rise; Silence stood by a tree, holding the end of Firewisp's leash. "Where's the Imp?"
"Shi's gone Patch," said Silence, trying not to cry, "I can't find hir anywhere."
"I can't find him anywhere," Sheba told the officer, "We agreed to meet back at the hotel at four if we got separated." The officer, a female panther morph, wrote the foxtaur's report down on a touch screen with stylus. "You know we can't do anything until he's been missing for twenty-four hours," said the officer, "What species is Mister Chalk."
"Chalk calls himself a quasi-chakat," Sheba replied. When the officer gave Sheba a look that reflected "crank", she told the panther about the procedure Chalk went through, though she left out the why. Chalk's lupus was his business alone, and not that of some smug panther. "I'd heard about that," said the officer, "Hey, maybe I can help you after all." The panther keyed up her vidphone and touched in a three-digit number. The phone ‘breeped’ a couple of times before someone answered. "Guma," a voice answered.
"Hey Gum, it's Sari," the panther said, "I gotta girl here-"
"Good send her back, I'm lonely," Guma answered. Sari covered her eyes. "This is business, Joe," she said, "She may have some information about your case in Sidney; the missing chakats."
Guma's voice took on a colder tone. "Send her back," he said. Sari nodded and then reached under the desk to push a button. There was a loud buzz from a speaker as the door to the back offices swung open. "Just go right in," the officer said, "Guma's office is the one on the far back right. If he's in, you can't miss him."
Sheba walked through the door and into the large room that made up the back offices. It was strangely quiet except for the occasion ring of a vidphone or the rustle of old hard copy files. Behind the desks were security officers in neat crisp uniforms: taking reports, interviewing witnesses, or booking suspects. As Sheba walked down the path between the desks, she saw the office she was looking for; and the occupant couldn't be missed if he had a cloaking device.
He was a large man, plump but not portly. His hair was a greasy black color that matched his olive colored skin. He smelled like herbs and spice. Instead of a Starfleet security uniform, he wore an old fashioned three piece suit with a button down shirt. On a tall coat rack in the back corner hung an old-fashioned trenchcoat. On the desk, encased in lexan, was an old NYPD badge.
"Excuse me," Sheba said, "But are you who I was supposed to see." The officer gave Sheba the once over and then leaned back in his chair. "Look lady," he said, "I am in no mood for psychic predictions, tarot readings, or whatever cup of tea you use to get your insights. Just say your piece and leave, I'm very busy."
Sheba was aghast; here she was to report a missing person, and this jerk blows her off before she can get a word out. Suddenly Sheba was angry; she snatched the lexan-shrouded badge off of his desk and threw it at the officer. The clear square just missed the officer's head, and smashed the glass on a framed citation that was hanging on the wall. Sheba then set her forepaws on the desk and then grabbed the officer by the lapels of his shirt. "Listen you fat slob," she growled, seething with anger, "I came here because my friend has gone missing. The officer at the desk said that you might be able to help find him. Now can you help me or not?" Sheba let him drop back into his chair.
The officer sat up and straightened his tie. "I'm sorry," he said, "It's just that this case has brought all the kooks and weirdoes out of the woodwork today. That blue fur color doesn't exactly give you an air of credibility."
"If you want some credibility, you can talk to my brother," Sheba replied, "His name is Taro Ninetales, he's the executive officer on the Star Corp. vessel Potomac. If you want the Comm. address, it's…"
"Alright, alright," the officer interrupted, "Look lets start over; Fiorrelo G. Guma, detective first grade New York Police Department retired. My friends call me Joe."
"Sheba Ninetales," the blue foxtaur replied.
Chalk tried to wake up but it was like his brain was shrouded in cotton. As he tried to move he found that his feet were hobbled. His hands were free, but they were so heavy he couldn't lift them. Chalk relaxed and tried to concentrate of finding out all he could and how he could get out of here.
"Have you fed za beast yet, Holt." Chalk's ears perked up, it was the old man. "Shi hasn't woken up yet Mister Van der Lyne," came the reply, "I think the stunner was set too high."
"No matter," said Van der Lyne, "Just feed it when it comes around, it will fetch a fine price from our customers."
"Yes, Mister Van der Lyne," Holt replied. Then once more Chalk fell unconscious from the effects of the stunner.
"I wasn't aware that the NYPD was still in operation," said Sheba, "I thought all that fell onto Starfleet security." Guma shook his head. "Cities like New York and Chicago are still mostly urban sprawl," he said, "They still need their own private police force to take care of the crime problems."
"Sounds like a dangerous profession," said Sheba.
"My old man thought so," Guma replied "He took early retirement, and he groused at me for wanting to be what he was, a good cop."
"But enough about me," Guma said changing the subject, "Tell me about this friend of yours." Sheba sat down and made herself comfortable. "His name is Chalk," she started.
"It's a quirk he has," Sheba fibbed, "He's about six feet tall, and about twice that long. Chalk's coat is that of a white lion."
"Yeah that fits with my information," said Guma, "In fourteen weeks, Six chakats went missing. They were all from different backgrounds and they had nothing in common." Guma moved a few sheets of paper off of his desk and revealed a touch pad. The detective touched a section of the pad and a small hologram of a chakat appeared on his desk. Shi had blue-black hair and a jaguar's fur pattern. In between hir breasts hir spots formed a heart shape "Chakat Heartwood, disappeared April 3rd, 2332." Guma narrated, "Shi was walking home from hir job when shi vanished. Next…" The holo changed; now a panther coated chakat stood on the desk she was completely black save for a star-shaped blotch of white on hir cheek. "Chakat North Star, disappeared April 15th, shi was dancing in a nightclub with a bunch of friends when a man came up and asked hir to dance. That was the last they saw of hir." Sheba listened to Guma's reports on all the missing chakats. The next three reports did not affect her, the last one did. "Chakat Lilybit," Guma said. Sheba winced. "Kami no," she prayed silently, "Not a cub." But it was, a tiny thing not quite a year old. Shi had a margay's coat, and mismatched eyes. Sheba's heart went out to the cub.
"Abducted June 24th, 2332. Two weeks ago," Guma continued, "They shot hir mother in hir primary heart with a needler. They then stole the cub right there in broad daylight. The only thing Lilybit's mother remembers is that they were driving a blue van." Sheba's ears perked up. "Was it a blue Novan?" she asked. Guma tapped on the touchpad for a few seconds. "Yeah it was," the detective replied, "Why do you ask."
"When Chalk disappeared today, I saw a blue Novan driving down the street," Sheba explained, "It must have been them." Guma tapped on his touch screen. "I must be part Japanese lady, cause you just brought me a peck of good luck," he said. A cube of text appeared in place of the holo of the chakat cub. Suddenly several bands of light appeared on random spaces all around the block. "Yeah, the third disappearance, Chakat Willow. One of the neighbors reported seeing a Novan drive up to hir house that night. She couldn't tell the color because the street light was out." The cube rotated to the left. "Chakat Heartwood, the first one, a witness walking down the other side of the street said that she stopped to help someone who was having car trouble. A young man driving a blue Novan. This is getting interesting. I can't believe that no one thought to get the plate number."
"What do you want to bet they have a new set of plates for every time they do this?" Sheba asked.
"Half of my pension," Guma replied, "But what I want to know is why they want with those chakats. Cause what ever it is it has to be-"
A tiny howl began to echo through the offices as Sheba saw Sari the panther weaving through the desks with a furry spotted bundle in her arms. As she entered Guma's office, the bundle slipped out of Sari's hand and scrambled behind Sheba for protection. A pair of mismatched eyes peeking over the foxtaur's barrel, made Guma laugh with joy. "Well, well, well," said the detective, "Might your name be Lilybit? Where'd you find hir, Sari?"
"Some campers found hir walking beside the road on the edge of the outback," the morph replied, "They recognized hir from the flyers we posted. We just happened to be the first police station they saw, so they brought hir here." Lilybit m'owed loudly, shi was Hungry. "Ohh," Guma cooed, "Are you starvakitty, ohhhh. Sari, see if there are chakats that are off duty that can give this little girl something to eat." As Sari left, Lilybit zipped around and glommed onto Guma's arm for a security blanket.
"Campers," Guma said as he fuzzled under Lilybit's chin. Sheba swished hir tail with revolt. "Your right," Guma said, reading her body language, "We're gonna need a lot more than campers to help us before this is over."
My leg hurt like hell. I woke up face down in the dirt with a tongue load of sand. Right now my body ached too much to do anything about it.
Something touched my head; it felt like a tiny soft hand. I looked up in time to be licked in the face by a little tongue. As I slumped back down into the sand, I found myself the receiver of a cat bath by the little creature I rescued last night. I rolled over to see where we were and saw the sun just peeking over the horizon. Now if I could only remember what happened.
Let's see, the last thing I remember was running along after that she cat attacked me and then…nothing. As I sat up and waited for the sun to get bright enough, the little beast crawled into my lap and tried to snuggle. "Well," I said, "You're a trusting little thing. How do you know that I am not just going to up and eat you the first chance I get." The little beast just hugged my neck and purred.
As the sun came up, I saw what had happened. About twenty-five yards from where I was lying was a rock about twice the size of a basketball and beyond that were the tracks I made during my escape. I must have missed it in the dark and tripped over it when I was trying to slow down. No wonder my leg hurt like hell.
As the day got brighter, I saw that we were no more that two miles from the edge of the forest. The way my leg felt, it might as well be two hundred miles. I moved the beast off of my lap and leaned over to pull up my pants leg. My shin was bloody, but other than that everything seemed to be intact. I shakily pulled myself to my feet and tried to put my weight on my injured leg.
The pain that raced through my mind was enough to make me collapse to the ground and send my stomach into spasm. I covered my mouth and hoped that I didn't blow my dinner from last night all over the sand. After my stomach settled down, I rolled over on my back and covered my eyes with my arm. Right now I didn't care much about anything else. I then: sat up, pulled my jacket off, and covered head and shoulders with it. Maybe with the sun out of my eyes, I could get a little sleep...
"YEAOW," I shrieked. I suddenly sat up and saw the beast hunker down as though it was trying to hide from me. As I laid back down and wondered what had caused that jolt of pain; the beast slowly slinked up to my leg, stuck out its tongue, and- "YEEEEAOW!" Before it could bolt away, I managed to grab it by the tail and then grab the leather straps that were around its shoulders. I turned it around and waggled a finger under its nose. "No," I said firmly.
I realize that I shouldn't have scolded it. It saw that I was hurt and it was trying to help me. As I turned loose of the straps, I wrapped an arm around where its torso met its lower half. I stroked its tummy and tried to soothe the little beast. "What are you?" I asked the wide-eyed cub, if indeed that's what it was. It stared at me with a pair of the greenest eyes I had ever seen. It's coat was a chocolate color with tufts of gray appearing here and there, and it's head had a shock of fiery red hair that went down to its shoulders. As I examined it further, I thought about the harness that was the beast's shoulders. Was the little beast a pet, and if so who did it belong to.
Silence carefully followed the Imp's tracks through the woods. There was the scent of a bandicoot as well as hir sister's on the trail. Firewisp must have gotten loose when shi heard the bandicoot nearby and went to chase it. Silence followed the tracks until she came to the edge of the bank. Patch was waiting for hir there.
"God, Silence," the calico said, "He came by here all right. If Firewisp was here, he might have hurt hir or killed hir." Silence shook hir head. "Then there would be blood or a body," Silence said, "No, he took hir for some reason."
"For a hostage most likely," Patch said, "He shot at me with a Powergun, it that's not dangerous, I don't know what is."
"Where is it then?"
"The Powergun," said Silence, "I didn't see it back at the camp."
"He took it with him," answered Patch. Silence shook hir head. "Have you even held a Powergun?" Shi asked, "I have and they are not light. The battery-pack alone weighs two pounds. And if he outran you and had the Imp in his arms, he would have had to drop his weapon. I don't know what it was he was using, but it wasn't a Powergun."
"I wish Sandstorm were here," said Patch, "Shi could find them both before tea time."
"You know one of us is going to have to tell hir don't you," said Silence. Patch winced and reached into her belt pocket. "Call it," shi said flipping the coin into the air
"Holt you idiot!"
Chalk's ears perked up at the commotion; the old man, Van der Lyne, was upset. "How could you let hir get away?"
"I'm sorry Mister Van der Lyne," Holt replied, "I had to take hir out of hir cage to feed hir. I didn't know the hatch was open or I would have been more careful."
"Idiot, zat margay pelt would have brought us a fortune from our buyer," the Boer fumed, "And now our entire operation could be in jeopardy because of your bungling. I have just learned from the newscasts zat ze police have recovered our little lost lamb."
"So who's shi gonna tell?" Holt replied, "Shi's only a kitten."
"Holt, if you continue to think like that, I vill have to find myself a new assistant." Chalk played possum as the voices approached. "Za police have telepaths, they can scan the beast's mind for clues to our operation. Vhy are you bleeding?"
"Ahh damn it," said Holt, as he came into the room. Chalk saw the henchman roll back his sleeve to reveal a blood soaked bandage that was wrapped around his wrist. "So zat's how shi got away from you," said Van der Lyne. Holt opened a drawer near Chalk's cage. "Yeah, shi may have been small," said Holt as he took a medkit from the drawer, "But hir claws were sharp."
"You are lucky I still have need of you at zis moment," sneered Van der Lyne, "Bind up your vounds before you make a mess. I will find us a new location for us to set up."
Holt took a roll of gauze from the medkit and set it on the table. As he set the other things from the kit onto the table, he turned his back on Chalk's cage when he set about to repairing his bandages.
Slowly, the chakat measured the distance mentally, from the bars of the cage to the henchman. "Perfect," thought Chalk as he got to his feet, "He's just within my reach. Maybe he has the key to my cage, and if he doesn't, maybe I can get Van der Lyne to bring it to me." Slowly, he approached the bars and with the speed of a rattler shot his hand through the bars.
Half a heartbeat later the cage came alive with arcing electricity. Chalk's fur was singed as he was thrown against the back of the cage with a clatter. The chakat shook his head as he tried to get back up.
"Ha," Holt guffawed, "I knew you weren't asleep. Your kind has tried that before, so I fitted that cage with the zapper off of a Proximity Gate. It's been toned down a bit so you don't get hurt, badly."
A Proximity Gate, Chalk had seen one in a museum. It was a twelve-foot high duridium fence used in the days before forcefields were invented. They were designed to keep wild animals away from the colonies. If any animals got too close to the gate, a proximity sensor would activate a battery-powered tesla coil that would charge that section of the gate and either stun or kill the intruder. "Yeah, and I got the sensor rigged real neat, too," Holt babbled, "It's a one way deal, so it only keeps you from sticking your hands out." Holt stuck his hand in between the bars, and waggled his fingers in Chalk's face. "Nya, nya, nya, nya, nya."
Chalk reached out and touched one of the bars with his finger. The cage door crackled to life and sent Holt flying over the table. "Van der Lyne was only half-right," Chalk thought to himself, as he stuck his finger into his mouth, "The man is a complete idiot."
When I woke up next, my leg didn't hurt so much. My watch said that it was ten in the morning, and the position of my shadow agreed with it. The beast was leaning against my side, purring contentedly. As I stirred, the cub yawned and then stretched its back as it got to its feet. "Pur'row?" the cub mewed. It climbed up and rubbed against my chin. "What's the matter?" I asked. A slight growl rumbled from the cub's belly. "Oh," I said, "You're hungry. Well, I am afraid that you're out of luck. When your friends were chasing me, I had to leave my pack and other things back at my fire. You probably could have eaten some of my jerky if I had some."
The cub yawned, and I put a finger across its gaping mouth, ruining the moment. As the beast clomped down on my finger, I noticed just how sharp the cub's teeth were. "Milk teeth," I said, "You are a baby aren't you." If this creature still required milk for its nutrition, then we were in worse trouble than I thought. Meat I could probably get even with my bad leg, but milk would require a cow or a goat or something. Right now I had to work on how I was going to get mobile, I couldn't even walk much less fly in this dimension. How was I going to move about.
The beast snuck up on me and hugged me around my neck from behind. I didn't really know why it was being so sweet to me, after all I had put it through. "I have to find us a way out of here," I told the beast, "If I had four legs like you, this shin wouldn't be a prob…lem." I banged my head duh, and then checked the watch on my wrist. I lifted the watch face up on its hinge to reveal a small panel with a set of buttons underneath. In the shade of the watchface cover, the battery indicator light glowed green; that meant that the batteries were fully charged. "Here kitty," I said patting my lap. The kitten bounced around in front of me until I held it still for a moment. "Okay Kitty," I said, "Now just hold still for a moment." I pointed the face of the panel at the cub and touched a button on the side of the watchdial.
A beam of green light streamed over the kitten from right to left. It was followed by a similar red beam going in the opposite direction. The watch beeped a minute later as the process finished. "Okay kitty," I said "Just one more thing and we can get on our way." I tapped on the big orange key in the center of the panel.
A sensation like being dipped in warm honey flowed through my body. As the device implanted in my watch did it's work resculpting my form, I thought about how much less traumatic my use of the device, called a Transband, was this time. The first time I used it my whole body went into spasm, sort of a cross between constipation and a Grand Mal seizure. Now it felt almost natural, like it was supposed to be this way. I hoped that all my future transformations go this smooth.
As the sensations subsided, I opened my eyes to see what I looked like, and I liked what I looked like. The fur was a lot different than the Moonbeast's; his was coarse, this was soft, like a rabbit's. The color was sort of a black on silver-gray pattern that reminded me of a storm cloud. My hind legs and tail were bound up in my pants and underwear, so I turned around to try and slip them off. As I did, I noted how far I could turn around. With a little difficulty, I managed to get my pants off and folded them and my socks and shoes into a neat little bundle that I tucked under my arm. As an afterthought, I checked on my damaged leg; the transformation had healed the cut, but the bone was still sore. I couldn't put all my weight on it. Fortunately, most of my weight was on my new forepaws. I took a few steps to see if I could walk like this. I was a little shaky, but I could manage. Besides, if I needed it, I could get a little more help from the Transband if I wanted it.
I turned around to find the kitten staring at me oddly. I padded over and ruffled the beast's hair. As I touched its head, I picked up an odd sensation in my mind. It was like a hazy picture of a deep purple swirl in the back of my mind. It was weird. When I took my hand away the picture vanished. Then I noticed something, the beast now came up to my chest. I had shrunk. From what I could tell, I was usually about six feet tall, now I was about half that. As I thought about it, I realized that my mass must have been a factor in the transformation.
"Meow?" the cub looked at me confusedly.
"It's me," I said, "I just had to grow an extra pair of legs before I could go anywhere." She reached out and touched my flank. "It's me," I repeated, "Come on, let's see about finding some milk for your tummy." She "m'owed," loudly and was hot on my heels in a heartbeat.
'Wisp was confused; first there was the strange human, and now there was a strange chakat who came out of nowhere. All this was making hir head hurt, and hir tummy was still empty.
"It's me," said the strange chakat, "I just had to grow an extra pair of legs before I could go anywhere." But 'Wisp still wasn't sure. Shi reached out to stroke the fur on the chakat's leg. The new chakat giggled. "It's me," shi repeated, "Come on, let's see about finding some milk for your tummy."
Milk! 'Wisp knew what that was; that was what made tummies full. Shi raced over to the chakat's side and started following hir. Shi didn't care who this stranger was now, 'Wisp just knew shi would find a way to fill the little chakat's tummy.
Patch swished hir tail back and forth as shi searched for the trail of 'Wisp's abductor. She couldn't smell anything except for a faint smell of ozone, from where that came from she didn't know. Patch skirted the shore of the lake where the strange light had gone. It made hir wonder if hir sister's kidnapper was even human. "Maybe I should have gone with Silence," Shi thought. Patch pulled the Imp's leash out from hir saddlebags, shi hoped to find a small comfort in the red length of leather. Patch then closed hir eyes and thought of hir little sister.
"What?" Was there someone there? No, no one shi could hear, or smell for that matter. There was nothing around other than a few animals. Well then what had she picked up with hir senses? Patch's thoughts returned to hir missing sister once more.
Patch's eyes shot open. "Yummy?" This was weird. It was like she was picking up the feelings of someone outside of hir range of focus. What the heck was going on? "I think of the Imp, and I pick up odd feelings and emotions," shi thought to hirself, "Hmmm." The Imp had some how gotten loose from the lead, but shi was still wearing the harness. The leash had been Patch's before the Imp started wearing it. "It can't be that could it?" she asked hirself. Patch concentrated on Firewisp intently.
Yes, she could pick up the Imp's emotions through hir empathic connection with the leash. Now maybe shi could use this to find hir sister. Patch then wrapped the leash around hir wrist and started running along the lakeshore. "I'm coming, baby sister," shi said to hirself.
Sandstorm stirred hir broth on the oven. As the soup came to a boil, she opened the fridge with hir tail and grabbed hold of a couple of cans of biscuits. As she set the cans on the counter, shi laid down so as not to put any weight on hir forelegs. Sandstorm then put hir crutches aside and set about opening the cans. Shi pulled on the paper corner at the top of one of the cans. The cardboard tube popped open with a bang, like it was supposed to. Sandstorm unrolled the biscuits, placed them on a sheet of wax paper, and cut them into quarters before tossing them into the pot of broth.
Sandstorm loved cooking; she loved taking cookbooks from the library and adding hir own blends of spices to the recipes. Tonight, it was chicken and dumplings; Sandstorm scooted on hir belly, over to the cabinet and reached up to open the door. On the back of the cabinet was a three tiered spice rack. "Now then," shi said, "Where did I put the oregano? There it is." It was in the middle of the top tier.
Sandstorm reached up to get the oregano, only to find that it was out of reach by a few inches. She stretched hir arm out and tried to grab hold of the bottle between hir fingers. No good. Shi then put hir weight on hir hands and then pushed down on the counter top. The chakat lifted hirself up a few extra inches. Sandstorm then reached up with one hand and grabbed hold of the bottle. Suddenly hir supporting hand slipped and Sandstorm came rushing down to bang hir elbow on the counter top. Shi roared at the pins and needles that ran from hir funny bone.
"Chi chi chi." The noise had startled Rosey, Sandstorm's Galah Cockatoo. "Chichichi chichichichichichichichichichichichichichichi!!!" the pink bird chattered from the next room. Sandstorm set the bottle down and turned off the stove. "Rosey, I'm sorry," shi apologized to the fluttering bird, as shi grabbed hir crutches off of the floor. Sandstorm knew how high strung the bird was and didn't want her flying against hir cage.
As the bird calmed down, Sandstorm heard a key access the front door's maglock; the girls were home. "'Storm?" It was Silence. "I'm in here Silence," the elder chakat called out. 'Storm's daughter padded softly into the dining room. "I thought you three would be gone for another day or two," said Sandstorm. Shi turned and found that only hir eldest daughter was in the house. "Silence," shi said, "Where are your sisters?"
"Who would do this," Storm growled, "Who would steal a cub so young?" Silence put a hand on hir father's shoulder. "I don't think it was this guy's intentions to take Firewisp in the first place," Silence explained, "I think he took hir to keep hir from getting hurt. This human outran Patch, and I think he could have really hurt me if he wanted to; when I had him in my grasp, he did something to me that made my whole body go numb. He had me where he could have killed me, but he didn't."
"Then why did he take my baby," asked Sandstorm.
"When we were looking for hir, Patch and I found that the Imp wandered into our mystery man's path," Silence continued, "From what shi has told me, he was going at least twice as fast as shi was. If he hadn't taken hir, Firewisp could have been hurt or even worse. He could have kicked hir out of the way or stepped on hir back and 'Wisp would have been hurt beyond repair. So at least shi should be all right with him. And anyway Patch is following them, shi's as good a tracker she you are, so they should be found soon."
"You haven't seen the news lately," replied Sandstorm, "There has been a rash of chakat abductions. They are stealing us right off of the street, even our cubs."
"But that's in Sidney," said Silence, "Isn't it?"
"Vhat vas that commotion I heard a moment ago?" Van der Lyne asked. Holt sat done in his passenger seat and buckled his safety belt. "The sensor on the cage malfunctioned," said Holt, "I got to close and got zapped." Van der Lyne chortled into his hand. He had seen the animal get the better of Holt on his security monitor. The Boer then keyed in the ignition sequence to start up the ship's engines.
With a roar, six powerful VTOL engines were brought to life lifting the immense ship into the air. Van der Lyne had been ecstatic when he had found his ship. It was Kenjen C-46 Starhauler, a heavy built cargo ship designed by a Kenyan engineering firm in the last half of the twenty-second century; the company was trying to get in on the budding Low Orbit Cargo Hauler market with these easily modified ships. The Starhauler was so easy to modify that it found favor with the smugglers and cargo pirates of the time; the Kenjen Company went out of business due to the bad press alone.
The ship was two-thirds the size of a class two Quange hauler, yet was simple enough for a one or two man crew to operate. Inside was a cargo bay that was as wide as a semi-trailer was long. Van der Lyne had divided it into three rooms: the workroom, the garage for the van, and the mess. The whole ship was streamlined, it looked like a twenty-first century sports car the size of a tractor-trailer. But what had endeared it to Van der Lyne's heart were her engines.
The Starhauler was equipped with Royce Vectorburn hydrogen powered super-turbine engines. The Royce was one of the last pre-warp engines ever made, its air intakes could draw in all the hydrogen it needed to run from the air alone; therefore Van der Lyne's mobile base camp never needed a refueling station. However if the Boer needed to make an escape into space, the ship fuel system had been modified with full tanks of LOX and Liquid hydrogen for prolonged space travel. If they had to, they could make it to one of the hole in the wall strongholds inside the asteroid belt; but for now, all Van der Lyne needed was a brief retreat.
"Where are we going, Mister Van der Lyne?" asked Holt. Van der Lyne keyed in the coordinates on a small keypad. "Our buyer for the margay has a parcel of land in ze south- eastern desert, he agreed to let us use it if we retrieved ze item for him at a discount," the Boer said, "It's a few miles west of za forests of Victoria. We shall be there by sundown." Van der Lyne raised the throttle on the engine; he wasn't worried about the noise. Only a few old time haulers would recognize the sound of the Royce, to anyone else, it would be mistaken for thunder; and if they happened to be picked up on sensors, the ship's streamlined hull and exhaust would cause them to only be registered as a weather disturbance. They would merely be considered beneath notice.
We had walked all day until the sun went down. The beast followed me all the way; occasionally the kitten would pounce on my tail. I didn't mind, it let me know that he was still there. Despite being in the desert, it wasn't very hot; maybe it was winter here; that would explain it. At least the weather was pleasant.
When we approached the edge of the forest, I couldn't find the path I had used to escape the cat-taurs. So we turned north and headed along the edge of the forest until I could find an easy way in. Three hours later, we came to a small river, it must have either fed into the lake or somewhere near it. Right now I didn't care, right now I was thirsty. I leaned down on my hands and stuck my tongue in the water. It was easy, I just lapped it up like a cat. I looked over at the cub as it was drinking. It was doing it the same way I was, so I must have been doing something right.
Something was wrong. That odd sensation kicked in again. The "color" was different, a dull red that rippled like waves on water. This was still so new to me I wasn't sure how to read into it. Suddenly my now keen eyes picked something up in the water, a long sinuous shadow drifting along the bottom. As I leaned over to drink once more, the color picked up in intensity, brighter, more vibrant. The shadow stopped just short of where the kitten was drinking. The intensity came up, red again, but what was red. Love, and hate ironically, rage…
Suddenly the brightness of the red came to its fullest intensity.
…Lust, blood, blood lust...
Crocodile! There was a splash and flash of white. I lashed out, grabbed the kitten by the hair, and pulled it away from the jaws that closed with a resounding snap. The croc's head then snapped to the left and caught the tail of my T-shirt in its mouth. The reptile rolled over and over in the mud, the croc then lashed its head from side to side until it had torn my shirt asunder. The crocodile half-lumbered up the bank and snapping at the kitten's feet. Fortunately the cub had enough sense to back away from the snapper.
There was no time for tact. Summoning what power I had left into my cupped hands; I leaped over the back of the crocodile and brought the blazing sphere down on the croc's back. "BALL LIGHTNING BLAST!!!" The energy crackled along the crocodile's wet skin; it thrashed back and forth as the energy from the attack racked its body with spasm.
As the last of the energy dissipated, I finally got a good look at our attacker. I suddenly realized that he wasn't much of a threat. At the most, he was only seven feet long, and for a crocodile, he sure was scrawny. Maybe half of what he was supposed to weigh. There must not be much that comes to drink at this part of the river. I put my ear to its body and listened; it was still breathing and its heart was still strong. With a bit of effort, I managed to drag it back into the river. As the water came up to it's forelegs, I let go and went back to the kitten. It dashed out of a clump of brush and hugged me around where my torso met my lower half.
"It's alright little one," I said soothingly, "Are you okay?" I looked the cub over from head to tail, it appeared to be unhurt. Me on the other hand, I was feeling the beating the crocodile's death roll and the twisting of my shirt inflicted on me. I reached up to rub some of the stiffness out of my shoulder and felt something brush against my forearm.
"Hello," I said looking down.
Breasts… I had breasts… I'm not sure how this happened, but I had grown a pair of breasts. They weren't that large I grant you, just under a C cup maybe, but there they were. I had to sit down.
"Okay Johnson, don't panic," I said to myself, "I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this." As I thought the problem over in my head, my eyes drifted over to the kitten. A sudden spark of intuition went through my head. "And the only logical conclusion I can come up with is, you're a girl." I reached over and fuzzled the kitten up and down its- no her- back and under her tummy. "Yeah, you're a girl kitty," I said as the cub rolled over to be scratched. She then rolled over and pounced on my tail.
The Transband must have read the kitten's DNA as female and restructured me as one too. Now I had a bustline and a slender form with curves and female plumbing. Great, now how do I take a leak?
Sheba tapped on Guma's touch screen. She was hoping to find some connection between Chalk and the other missing chakats. She went over the bios, the medical files, the finance reports, even their horoscopes, but there was nothing that obvious that connected the six missing chakats. Sheba ruffled her hair and tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. She got up from the desk and went to get herself a cup of coffee.
Guma was in the outer offices, keeping an eye on Lilybit. He was rolling a ball of string across the floor and shi was pouncing on it; and getting tangled in the loose string. Sheba walked across the office to the break room and poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot perking on the counter. After stirring in the cream and sugar, Sheba brought the cup to her muzzle "YIPE!" Sheba turned, Lilybit had followed her into the breakroom and was now chewing on her bushy blue tail. "Hey! That hurts you know," the foxtaur exclaimed. The little chakat shied under the breakroom table. "With a little work though, you could be a real margay," Sheba chuckled.
As the blue foxtaur sipped her coffee, an odd thought crossed her mind. She could be a margay, from the waist down anyway. The more she thought about it the more sense it made, and suddenly a sickening needle of horror went through the fabric of her thoughts. Sheba threw her cup in the trash, scooped the little cub into her arms, and ran back into Guma's office. Rummaging through the detective's desk drawers, she found an dimensional scanner.
The scanner was a little box that consisted of a laser scanner and a digital measuring system. Sheba was scanning Lilybit's size and weight into the box when Guma came in the door. "You got something," he asked.
"Just a thought, Joe," Sheba replied, "Just a real sickening thought. Umm how do you input the readings from this thing into your computer?" Guma touched a button on the side of the touch screen, causing a gap to open in the side. Inside the gap was a section of holes that looked like a cross between a computer outlet and the cartridge slot on an Atari 2600. Guma took the scanner from Sheba and slotted the device inside the touch screen. "Okay," said Guma, "Now what?"
Sheba told Guma to call up the holo image of Lilybit from before complete with all her vital stats. "Okay," said the blue foxtaur, "Is this holo fully interactive?"
"Not quite," Guma replied, "You need a stylus to affect the image." The detective rummaged in his desk and came up with a silver stick the size of a thin pen. "Thank you," said Sheba as she took the device, "Now can you change the image from a holo to a two-dee front and side?" Guma tapped on the screen a few more times; what now appeared on the screen looked like a full-body, color mugshot of the little chakat. "That's perfect," Sheba said.
Sheba took the stylus and then drew a line across the front image where Lilybit's torso met her taurso. Next she drew a similar line across where the cub's head and neck met hir shoulders. After Sheba repeated the process on the side image, she erased all the data between the two lines, leaving a head floating over a disembodied torso. A quick cut and paste later and Sheba had the image she wanted. It was a crude frankenstein-ish picture of a feline with a head full of long spotted hair. "Okay Guma, now give me the dimensions on this holo.
"Okay," said Guma "From nose to tail, it's about a hundred and three centimeters long. It's mass, if a hologram had any, it about 17 kilos."
"Okay," said Sheba as she took the screen from him. The foxtaur then activated the screen's modem and then punched up an address after the screen finished dialing. A moment later, a second holo image appeared next to the first, and then slid over to super-impose itself over the first. "You want to let me in on the bit," said Guma. "The first one is the modified image I made of Lilybit," Sheba explained, "The second one is a picture a called up from the Encyclopedia Britannica. It's of a rare animal called a margay. One of the reasons it's so rare is because it's hunted for its fur." She then called up the missing chakat's images. "Look at them, Guma," she said, "It's the one thing they all have in common. Their fur patterns, they are all patterned like wild cats; tiger, jaguar, Black Panther… These aren't radicals, they're just bloody fur poachers who've found a new source for their product." Sheba's knees went jelly as a thought went through her head. "My god, what are they going to do to Chalk?"
Chalk relaxed and let his senses tell him all they could. The chakat had to learn all he could without Van der Lyne finding out what he was up to. Chalk's whiskers tingled as they detected the edge of the sensor field. He slowly leaned his body to the left along the edge of the field trying not to trip the electronic trigger. Suddenly the tingle was gone.
The field ended at the edge of the door. Chalk slowly leaned back the other way until he came to the other edge of the door. Like before, the tingle stopped at the edge; that meant that the field only covered the door. The sides of the cage should be safe to work with. Chalk carefully slipped his hand between the bars of the cage. The charge didn't ignite. The chakat gave a sigh of relief as he pulled his hand back into the cage. "Okay," thought Chalk, "Now what?"
The near white panic of fear racing through her mind caused Patch to go down on one knee. She had never been so scared in her life. The terror was so great, shi had to rip the lead off of her arm. Then shi dashed back into the forest and hid there until the sensations faded.
When shi could found she could breathe again, Patch slinked out of the trees to find the leash again. "Please be alright," shi prayed silently as shi concentrated on hir little sister. The feelings of fear were still there, but they were fading slowly.
Someone else was there, with the imp. Patch was sure of it, it was their emotions shi was picking up, Wisp's and who ever took her.
Yes, it had to be him, these emotions were to complex for a kitten her age to be feeling. "At least he's taking care of her," Patch thought to hirself, "But just who is this guy and what is he doing here?"
I hate loud noises. That's why I always wake up when I hear thunder. Now I won't be able to get back to sleep until it quiets down. I leaned up from the rock I was snoozing on and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. The beast was still slumped against my barrel and purring her little heart out. Since I had the time, I decided to give my new body the once over.
My night vision was excellent. Everything was so crisp and clear, I could even make out fine details in the rock I was leaning on. My new hands were slim and dexterous looking; where the should have been fingernails, were a set of feline retractable claws. Except for those and the fur, the looked like perfectly human hands. The forelegs were another matter
The feet there had finger like toes that I could flex and grab hold of anything within reason. And the were strong too; I grabbed onto I latched onto the end of a stick with one of my hand-like paws and tried to pull it loose with both of my humanoid hands. The stick snapped in half right in the middle. Wherever these creatures were from, the were certainly well evolved.
As the thunder rolled, the beast woke up and rolled to her feet hungry. "Oh no," I said, "There's nothing in these that you want." She didn't care, she just wanted to suckle. The beast then pounced at me and latched onto a nipple. "Okay fine, don't listen to me ," I continued, "Just don't complain whe…" My eyes widened; there was a slight trickle of fluid seeping through the nipple and into the kitten's mouth… I was lactating.
As the beast continued to drink, I sat there stunned. It was either that or seriously freak out; I definitely didn't want to do that. So I just sat there. In a sense I sort of felt like a surprised victim in a vampire movie, with a strange creature draining the life force out of me. The thunder didn't help the feeling any either. Sure was a long roll of thunder though.
As I settled down from the beast sucking my bodily fluids out of me, something happened. It looked like the reflection of sunlight that you see in the mouth of a cave; only this was on the ground. I looked up to see a ribbon of light shimmering across the sky. An aurora, I had never seen one before. It was beautiful, its colors shimmered across the sky shifting from pearl pink to a peacock blue just hanging there in the clear bright sky.
Wait a minute…
The Clear Bright Sky?
Looking around I confirmed my thought, there was enough light from the aurora for me to see that there wasn't a cloud for miles. So where was the thunder coming from?
The cub released my nipple; so I took that as an opportunity to stand up. I found how handy it was to have directional hearing. I could rotate my ears around to pick up on which direction the thunder was coming from. I switched my ears about and found where the sound was coming from. The cub was after me for more milk, so I figured I would be able to keep her with me. Headed towards the sound and sure enough the cub started following me.
It looked like I was heading south, but I wasn't sure. I tilted my head and the sound grew louder. Looking up I could see a small speck soaring across the light of the aurora. A plane; no a spaceship. This must be some kind of future timeline or something. That's it, I have officially become Dr. Who.
As I watched the ship, I could see it begin to make a descent, it was going to land, and if it landed somewhere near here, then maybe I could find a ride to civilization. Then maybe I could get my stuff back and get a certain little girl back where she belongs.
Van der Lyne carefully set the Starhauler down on the hard packed earth. As the landing gear settled under the ship's weight, Van der Lyne shut down the engines. "Have we been detected, Holt?" he asked.
"No, Mister Van der Lyne," Holt replied, "Save for the weather satellites, we haven't been noticed."
"Good," the Boer replied, "Zen I will get down to the business at hand. Have you got our net broadcast connection operational yet?"
"That will take another fifteen minutes," Holt replied, "due to interference from the aurora."
"Well call me when it's up," Van der Lyne ordered "I need to speak to our clients about our latest acquisition. A white lion's skin should fetch a handsome price from the international market."
"Yes, Mister Van der Lyne."
After a long run, the beast and I found where the ship had landed. The ship had set down on a stretch of flat land that ran next to a deep arroyo. I was about to get a bit closer, when the beast chased something down into the dry wash. I dove after the cub and cut her off before she could get too far away. As I grabbed her by the arm, I felt something strange.
The colors in the back of my head suddenly went from bright to dim; like an orchid dying of dehydration. As we headed for the ship, the sensation got stronger. I didn't know what I was feeling, all I knew was I didn't like it. It was cold and dismal. I stood up on my back legs to see if I could see over the rim of the wash.
It took a bit of a leap, but I peeked my head over the edge of the wash. Stepping out of a hatch in the ship's side came a wiry man with skin like a worn shoe sole. He had a bundle of firewood under one arm and a coffeepot in his free hand. I watched as he arranged the wood into a pile and set it on fire with some kind of laser. A moment later, he had a pot of coffee brewing on the fire.
The sensations were coming from him. This dull rage I couldn't explain, and never hoped to encounter again. I took the runt by the paw and slowly herded her back towards the end of the wash where we came in. Something told me that creatures like us weren't welcome.
Guma tapped through the files on his screen muttering; "No, no, no…" Occasionally he would utter a "Maybe…", but for the most his thoughts were negative.
Sheba Ninetales was curled up on the couch in Guma's office, asleep with Lilybit tucked away in her arms. Guma looked up from his files and thought how natural it looked for the two of them to be together. As Guma reached for his coffee, he brushed against a small stack of folders causing them to fall to the floor. The commotion caused Sheba's ears to perk up and stirred her from her sleep.
"What's going on," she asked trying to stifle a yawn.
"Sorry about that," said Guma, "I didn't mean to wake you. I was just checking up on an idea I had."
"I was thinking about how you said they were poaching the fur from those chakats, and I had a thought," Guma explained, "You'd need a big location to keep something like that a secret. So I used a map of the city to try and see if there was a pattern to where they could be operating."
"Did you find one?" asked Sheba. Guma nodded. "All of the locations lead to a pattern that takes them outside the city," he said, "All that's out in that area is a landing strip for a freight company that went out of business twenty years ago. That means either my guess was wrong…"
"Or they had a ship," finished Sheba.
"Right," said Guma, "I've been going through these files looking for possible ships that they might be using; Quange Cargohaulers, dropships, surplus ferryships…"
"It won't be any of those," said Sheba, "Those all use either impulse engines or repulsor fields. They'd be too easy to detect by sensors. If these poachers put as much thought into this as I think they have, then they're using something else. An old pre-warp ship of some kind."
"You mean like a Vector Goblin," said Guma, remembering one of the more common EVA craft.
"I'm thinking of something bigger," Sheba replied, "Like a Renraku Usagi or a Tylo Pachyderm. Something like a light cargo ship so they could take their van with them. Usagis and Pachyderms use magnetic engines and they might be mistaken for an atmospheric anomaly."
"Yeah, said Guma "Something that's not quite as big as a Cargohauler but has old tech engines." Guma tapped out a staccato on his touch screen, then suddenly gave a cheer that woke Lilybit from her slumber. "I am good," said Guma gleefully.
"Why?" asked Sheba "What do you have?"
Patch rubbed hir eyes as shi washed them out with water from hir canteen. It was all shi could do to keep awake. An aurora began to ripple its way across the sky, displaying colors that are only found in pearls and abalone shells.
"There you are," Patch said. It had been a while since shi had picked up anything from hir sister. Patch concentrated on the feeling and found the direction hir sister was in. A moment later, Patch was into a full run and heading south.
"Guma where are we going?"
"I know someone who might be able to help us," the detective replied, "She's a real pack-rat, never throws anything away. Makes a good living selling engine parts, including parts for starships."
"I see," Sheba replied, "So we ask her if any one has been looking for parts for an Usagi or a Pachyderm, and if so who?"
"Right," said Guma. He pulled into the driveway of a huge Quonset hut type building that looked as though it had seen better days. "But why did we have to bring hir along?" asked Sheba.
"You'll see," said Guma, as he picked a sleepy Lilybit up out of the back seat of the car. Guma then knocked on the door of the Quonset hut and then stood back. The door opened to reveal canine taur with dusky yellow fur and pointed ears. She was wearing a saddle blanket over her barrel. For a moment Sheba thought she was looking at one of her relations but the newcomer's scent said otherwise.
"Nadira Quartzsand this is Sheba Ninetales," Guma introduced. Nadira wrinkled her nose. "You better have had a good reason for getting me out of bed Joe," she said, then she saw the furry bundle on his shoulder. Sheba's jaw dropped as Nadira's attitude did a one-eighty. "What do you have there," Nadira cooed. She took Lilybit from Guma's arms and took hir inside.
Sheba followed the suddenly affectionate taur up the stairs. As she went in, she saw Nadira wrap Lilybit up in a blanket and let hir snuggle into a big soft bed. "Shi's adorable Joe," Nadira said softly so as not to wake the kitten, "How long will they let me take care of hir?"
"Hir mother will be up and around in a couple of days," the detective said, "But shi will be in no shape to look after a kitten alone. Starfleet security has made arrangements for them both to move in with you, if you don't mind." Nadira's eyes suddenly sparkled as she hugged Guma tightly.
"Ha-dir ah kat bret whe ya du tha."
Nadira flipped through her files on a large flat wallscreen. "So you think they are using an old pre-warpdrive ship huh?"
Guma nodded as Sheba poured coffee into his mug. "It was Sheba here who thought of it," the detective replied, "Something that could get through a sensor scan with out arousing suspicions."
"Well, let's see," said Nadira, "There are no Pachyderms around here, you usually find them in America. I did have an order for reentry plating for an Usagi, but I've known that pilot for years. Burt Reams burnt out a thruster on his Onibochi, I'll have to send away for those parts; and oh well this is interesting…"
"What is it?" asked Sheba.
"Someone in a very big hurry," Nadira replied, "I forgot to check my messages today after I got back from grocery shopping. Seems someone with a big checking account is looking for parts to an old Royce Vectorburn."
"I've never heard of that type of ship," Sheba said.
"That's cause it's not a ship, it's an engine," Nadira clarified, "It's the powerplant for a Kenjen Starhauler. They are very fuel efficient, because they collect atmospheric hydrogen for their power."
"Oh man that sounds like just the ship we're looking for," Sheba said excitedly, "Starhaulers are as big as a cargo ship gets before you get into the heavy-classes. They would have plenty of space to work and still have room for the vehicles and other things. And their engine exhaust would only look like some kind of abnormal cloud build up."
"So we can ask some one at the weather service if they have seen any unusual cloud buildup over the past few days," Guma concluded.
"Your going to have trouble," Nadira replied, "Weather anomaly files are now under a Grade V security clearance."
"Two weeks ago a security team broke up an earth first rally in front of the town hall," Nadira explained, "Someone left a briefcase there. When they opened it up, they found plans for acts of terrorism, including crashing a stealth-rigged, Class IV cargo hauler into the Brisbane airport."
Sheba mouthed a silent wow.
"Hello, the camp."
Van der Lyne looked up from his coffee into the darkness as a husky figure strode towards the fire. "May I come in?" the figure said.
"Chure," Van der Lyne replied. He wasn't very old, the Boer observed, maybe just out of his teens. Not as husky as he first thought, but certainly bigger than the norm. As he came towards the fire, the boy took a seat on the log Van der Lyne had rolled by the fire.
"Nils Van der Lyne," he introduced himself.
"Kyle Johnson," the boy replied.
"What brings you out so far into the desert, my young fellow."
"I'm on walkabout," the boy explained, "Well I was anyway." Van der Lyne took a sip of his coffee. "Vat happened?" the Boer asked.
"A rather large animal of some kind ousted me from my campsite," Kyle explained, "It took my fish, and made a shambles of my bedroll and my backpack." The boy held out his hands to warm them by the fire. Van der Lyne held out his cup. "Coffee?"
"That would be nice," Kyle said taking the cup. Van der Lyne poured the rich dark drink into a fresh cup and passed it to the boy. "Milk?"
"Never been a coffee drinker eh?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"Relax," said Van der Lyne passing the milk, "This is Kenyan/Chipinge half and half, tastes almost as good as it smells."
"Still," he said as he took the bottle, "Even the best coffee in the world needs a little sugar."
"This is true," said Van der Lyne, "But until I get some, this will have to do." He reached into his shirt pocket dug out a pair of little blue packets. As Van der Lyne passed them to the boy, a stray spark popped up from the fire and ignited the paper. Kyle cursed his scorched fingers and stuck them in his mouth.
"Are you all right?" the old man asked. Kyle nodded and then blew on the tips of his fingers. "I wanted to get warm," he said, "But this wasn't what I had in mind."
"I haf some more in the ship," Van der Lyne said, "wait right there." The old man walked up the catwalk and into the ship. He walked down the corridors and in to the galley "Now where did I put the sweetener?" Van der Lyne searched through the cabinets for a minute or two before he found the box of blue packets. He tucked a handful into his shirt pocket and headed to the door.
Well, so far so good. I really hadn't expected to burn my fingers when I did my trick with the sweetener packets, but then again…
I waved my hand and a clump of grass in the distance suddenly sprouted legs and dashed over to the log where I was sitting. The beast meowed softly as she saw the bottle I was holding. She wrapped her little hands around the neck to drink noisily from the container; when she was done her chin was covered with milk. She gave a soft burp, then her ears perked up. The beast dashed off and wrapped herself into a clump. I set the bottle on the log and ‘accidentally’ knocked it over, just as Van der Lyne returned.
"Dagnabbit," I said as I caught the bottle by the neck. I had spilled enough of the bottle on the ground, and in my shoe, to cover up the kitten's feeding. "I am sorry," I said, "I am so sorry."
"It's alright, it's alright," Van der Lyne replied, "There's another bottle in the galley." He took the bottle with the remnants of the milk, and poured some into his cup. He then took a couple of those blue packets from his shirt pocket, tore them open, and poured the contents into his coffee. He then passed me a couple and I did the same. I was about to ask for something to stir the sugar in with when I saw foam rise in my cup and then disperse. I sipped the brew to find it well sweetened. "Better living through chemistry," I thought.
Back in Guma's office, the detective flopped down on his old leather couch. "I thought we had something," the detective said, "It's gonna take me a week to get the kind of clearance we'll need to get those files."
Sheba sauntered over to the desk and called up the detective's phone on the touch pad. She tapped out a number and waited. The phone rang three times before it was answered. The response she got caused Guma to fall out of the couch.
"Admiral Halifax's office," said the receptionist.
"Yes, has the admiral gone home for the day?"
"No ma'am," the secretary replied, "Would you like me to connect you?"
"Would you please," said Sheba.
There was a slight buzz as the line was connected and a moment later the line was answered. "Halifax."
"Admiral, it's Sheba Ninetales," the foxtaur said, "It's about Chalk."
Asking for a way to communicate my problem with the rest of the world was now definitely out of the question. As I had my doubts about the old man; his hired hand clinched them for me. He, Van der Lyne had called him Holt, had come out of the ship to bring Van der Lyne a message of some kind. His face had a look about it that simply shouted dumb and mean; a combination that usually led to bad ends. Van der Lyne seemed a good judge of character; and if Holt was the kind of man Van der Lyne wanted for help, then something indeed sinister was going on.
As Van der Lyne went back into the ship, Holt stayed behind for a cup of the old man's coffee. He ran his eyes over me like a stoat would a fat rabbit; as he sipped the thick brew. If that's what he thought about me, I didn't even want an inkling about what he would think of the
Beast. I slowly began to bring my power to the surface, not to quickly; if I did that, then I might send up a sandstorm that would definitely give my nature away. Then I remembered; in this dimension, I was only working with a few dregs of energy. But even with these few dregs, any fight with Holt would be an unfair one, in my advantage.
It had been a long run, but Patch was now at a place where the scent of her little sister was strong. Not the empathic scent Patch was receiving through the lead; but the pure physical scent of a chakat kitten was on the breeze and it was blowing in Patch's direction. 'Wisp's; and another chakat's scent as well. Well at least shi knew hir little sister was in good hands, but why hadn't this other chakat taken 'Wisp to some place civilized?
Patch followed hir sister's scent until shi came to a dry wash with a large cargo ship parked next to it. There was a campfire a few yards away from the entry hatch, with two humans sipping coffee. One looked like he might have been on a rugby squad or a football team, while the other…
"Holy-," she started to say aloud, only to stifle hirself before hir words came within earshot. It was the human from hir campsite, the one who had taken Firewisp. What was he doing here, and where was hir sister?
"Oh man," said Guma "One little phone call, and we get all this. I should bring you in on all my cases, I'd get a lot more done."
"Don't push it," Sheba replied, "Chalk is Halifax's grandson; and the admiral loves him dearly. They are about the only family they have left."
"How does a Star Fleet Admiral, wind up with a chakat for a grandson?" asked Guma.
"That's Chalk's business, not yours," the foxtaur replied sternly, "If he wants to tell you, then fine; Chalk is very dear to me, and I would feel like I betrayed his trust."
"Fine," said Guma, as he went back to scanning through the sheaf of hard copy pictures Admiral Halifax had sent over.
"So why did you take Lilybit with us when we went to see Nadira?" Asked Sheba in return.
"It's not really a secret," said Guma "Nadira is thoroughly addicted to cute. She loves children, puppies, and kittens. That, and I felt safer leaving Lilybit there than anywhere security would place hir. Like I said, she's a pack-rat, collects anything that catches her fancy."
"Like exotic firearms," Guma corrected, "We weren't in that part of her house, but Nadira has a license to collect weapons and she's well versed in their use. She even has a few things that could punch a hole in the hull of a starship. So if out poacher friends come looking for Lilybit, Nadira will have a few surprises waiting for them."
"Who is Nadira anyway," Sheba asked.
"She used to be Starfleet security," Guma replied, "I first came here after I resigned from the NYPD. My partner had gotten killed in a shoot out and I just couldn't do the job anymore. About three months later this job turned up and I jumped on it."
"You should have seen me on my first day; I was a complete klutz. I had no clue as to what I was doing. On my third day, my supervisor partners me up with this cute little taur. She's about half as old as I am, real sweet too; and she starts to show me the ropes. Everything was great for about a year."
"What happened?" asked Sheba.
"We were investigating a smuggling ring in the Emjay asteroid belt, when one of the small ones slammed into the side of our shuttle. One of the nacelles ruptured and there was a small plasma fire in the cabin."
"So the blanket she wears…"
"…Covers a shunt," Guma finished, "A set of cybernetic vertebrae."
"Oh my," said Sheba. There was a long pregnant pause in the air before she spoke again. "Chalk used to be human," the foxtaur said.
Patch was stalking low on all six of her paws. Hir ears were alert and hir eyes wide open. Shi slithered through the grass and around the berms. Patch's night vision wasn't that necessary due to the combination of the aurora and the campfire.
"I thought I saw something." That voice belonged to the rugby player. Patch looked towards the fire and saw the huge man get up off of the log. He slowly gazed over the terrain, but he didn't notice anything. "There's nothing out there." That was the stranger, the one from the lake. Patch slinked to a stop and let her pattern blend into the terrain. It might be wiser to wait for them to go to sleep and sneak aboard the ship. In the meantime shi would wait right there and hope hir little sister was alright.
Silence and Sandstorm waited in the police waiting room for hours before anyone would see them. Another two hours before they got through the paperwork. Then another hour before they got to talk to anyone. Silence was beginning to think that they should have just waited for Patch to call before they went to the police.
It was almost midnight now; Silence yawned and cat-stretched, shi then stood up and went to get coffee for the two of them. As shi returned with the coffee, a gray fox came up to hir and nearly made hir drop the cups. "Shir Before the Rains," the fox said, "There has been a development. We need to get you to Sidney. Would you please come with me?"
Silence and 'Storm were bundled onboard a small shuttle and flown to the shuttle pad of the Sidney police station where they were met by a police van that took them to the Sidney Security Office. A pot-bellied man and an oddly colored foxtaur met then at the station.
"My name is Joe Guma," the man said, "And this young lady is Sheba Ninetails. She has been assisting me on a series of cases involving missing Chakats. We have some questions to ask you."
"They're doing what?"
Guma had seen chakats in a rage before; but this one had him a little worried. To say that shi was huge could be considered an understatement. The truth was, this chakat was enormous. Despite the crutches shi needed to assist hir walking, this chakat would be a force to be reckoned with if shi caught whoever stole hir child. Guma was beginning to think that the only thing that would calm hir down was a stunner on full.
Beside the massive feline was a more normal sized chakat with an ocelot fur pattern; shi was sitting calmly on her hindquarters. Guma kept an eye on hir; if shi ever started to look nervous, then Guma would worry.
"They're kidnapping them," Guma explained, "Stealing all the wild patterns, like your mate's, and-"
"Daughter," 'Storm repeated, "Silence is my daughter. My mate, Soot, is a scout with the Star Corp. Shi's off planet right now, but shi will be here soon."
"Detective, what is being done to these stolen chakats?" asked Silence.
"They are being poached for their fur," Guma replied, "They're being passed off as tiger leopard, they even tried to get a margay pelt, but shi got away."
"Margay," said Silence, "That means that they would have had to-"
"They did," said Sheba as she entered the open door, "Lilybit is a sweet little thing, but shi has a curious habit of mistaking swishing tails for chew toys." Silence giggled out loud, mostly out of the relief that at least one cub had been recovered. Sheba laid a stack of hard copies on Guma's desk.
"That still doesn't explain why my daughter was taken," Sandstorm explained, "Shi doesn't have that kind of pattern, she's just chocolate colored."
"Plus it doesn't track with what we found at the lake," Silence finished.
"What did you find at the lake?" Sheba asked. When Silence told the foxtaur what had occurred at the lake, Sheba's jaw dropped. "He managed to outrun my little sister," Silence said, "Do you know how fast he would have had to be running?
"Are you sure he wasn't using some kind of booster?" Guma asked. Silence shook hir head. "No," shi explained, "Patch and I went through his belongings at the lake. There was nothing to indicate a metabolic booster or anything like that." Just then shi remembered. "I still have his pack and satchel in the back of the van," Silence said with some exasperation, "I forgot all about them. They could probably tell us who this guy is."
"Then if you'll give us permission, and the keys to your vehicle, we can have the items sent here," said Guma.
"Right now that can wait," said Sheba; "I just got through sorting out all the weather reports. There was an unusual line of scud being blown to the east by the wind."
"Scud," asked Sandstorm
"Thin clouds driven by the wind," Sheba explained as she pulled a map out of the sheaf of papers, "According to the weather satellites the scud line ended about here." The odd colored foxtaur pointed at a mark she had made on the map. "This could be the Star-Hauler's exhaust trail. If we start a search pattern where the trail ends and work our way eastward…"
"We may find the poachers' ship and the missing chakats," said Guma. The detective thumbed a button on his intercom. "Mister Wumpindi," he said, "Prep the Tomohagne for take off."
As the fire started to die out, I thought Holt would never go to sleep. As he did, I quietly got to my feet and sent out the call to the beast. In a burst of kittenish energy, she zoomed over to the other side of the log and sat down immediately. Now if Holt would stay asleep for the time being, maybe I could get some milk for the beast.
Van der Lyne said that he had another bottle of milk in the galley. But how to get into the ship? Using my powers to cut my way in would make way too much noise and take too much time. I wish I had been paying a bit more attention when Van der Lyne went back inside, but Holt might have become suspicious. For the beast's sake, I had to play it cool and keep quiet. Well, what was quieter than a cat?
After undressing, I opened the face on my transband and keyed the transformation sequence. I was getting to like the warm honey sensation that flowed over my body when I changed into this feline. I padded over to the stairs that led into the ship and stepped up them quietly. As my night vision adjusted, I found that where there should have been a doorknob or something similar, there was a keypad with numbers and letters on it. "Hmm," I thought, "Some kind of coded lock." I thought about touching the keys, but decided against it, as I didn't know what would happen when I did. I could smell the old man's scent on the keys, but not well enough to know which ones he touched. Hmmm…
Chalk thought carefully about his predicament. "There had got to be something I can do to disarm this stupid door," he thought. The cage was just big enough for him to turn around in. Chalk reached through the back bars and pushed against the wall. The cage moved forward a few inches. Chalk smirked as he hit upon a plan.
On the table on the other side of the room, was a gooseneck prybar. "Perfect," the chakat thought. Chalk turned back around in the cage and scooted it across the floor with his hind legs, while he held onto the sidebars with his hands and handpaws. A few seconds later Chalk was close enough to the table to lash onto the bar with his tail and slip it into the cage; now for the second part of his plan.
It took a bit of effort on his part, but Chalk managed to get the cage turned around and pushed the door flush against the wall. "I hope to heck this works," he said and then threw the bar like a spear into the plating of the outer bulkhead. As the point of the bar penetrated the plating, the cage door crackled to life with the energy from the Tesla coil. Chalk suddenly slammed himself against the back of the cage; causing one of the live bars to catch in the gooseneck. Now there was a direct current feed heading into the ship. Chalk hoped it would either short out something vital in the electrical system or cause the cage's to power source to meltdown. Either way, something was going to happen soon.
All of a sudden, the keys on the pad lit up for a moment and then just as quickly went dark as a plume of smoke curled out from behind the panel. Then part of the panel slid into the door. I carefully pushed it the rest of the way in to reveal a handle of some sort. I just reached in and grabbed it.
Push, no, pull, no, twist… The door gave a loud clank as a bolt of some kind disengaged. The door pushed in, and I found myself in a three-way corridor. I went up the center hallway and found another door with the twist handle. I pushed the door open, stuck my head in, and scanned the room. In one corner of the room was a white shape. I cautiously stepped into the room and walked towards the ghostly form. As I approached, I saw that the figure was in some kind of cage. It took another few steps before I realized what it was, another cat 'taur like the Beast.
The 'taur turned to look at me as I came up to the cage. I put a finger up to my muzzle in a hope that the beast would be quiet. It must have understood, it didn't make a sound. I looked and found that for some reason the door of the cage had been turned to face against the wall. I grabbed hold of the cage and turned the door so I could open it. As I latched onto the bars of the door, I received a shock of electricity. With a moment of concentration, I absorbed the stray erg of energy and used it to pull the door off of the cage. The new beast bounded out like a cat who had just avoided a trip to the vet.
Something bothered me though; all that noise. Van der Lyne hadn't come in with guns blazing, nor were there any alarms going off. If it were just Van der Lyne and Holt, then they wouldn't need things like that. On a hunch, I rapped a knuckle against the floor. The taps were barely audible. The room had been soundproofed. That made me more nervous; Van der Lyne must have put in a security system to make sure what ever was kept in the room didn't escape.
I dashed out of the room and into the hall to see Holt outside the outer door stalking the Beast. The next thing I hear is this thunderous roar; I can't tell where it's coming from, but as soon as I hear it I am barreling out the door as fast as my legs will carry me. For the next quarter of an hour though, everything else is a blur.
Holt's ribs hurt from the impact, he thought a few of them might be broken. He looked up to see what looked like a storm cloud in the shape of a cat. As he rubbed the dust from his eyes though, he found he was looking at another chakat, a tabby with silver and black fur. It was only slightly bigger than the kitten that had come to the camp. Its handpaws were red with fresh blood, probably some of his.
"Scratch me will you, you animal," Holt snarled. He pulled a shocker rod from his belt and thumbed the switch. The club crackled to life with electricity. As he swung the rod at the chakat, it sidestepped and sucker punched him in the ribs. It felt like a one or two had been broken. Holt charged the kat once more and tried to connect with the shocker's electrodes. The chakat blocked Holt's arm to one side and threw him like a martial artist. Before Holt could get to his feet, the chakat swung hir hindquarters around and reared like a horse. It lashed out with both feet and struck Holt's already injured ribs, sending him rolling across the ground. The chakat started to stalk towards the injured Holt when a flare of green cut hir off. Van der Lyne must have noticed the commotion and had manned the Pulse-Lasers. This was good, because Holt didn't think he could go another round with that little chakat. It was strange though; for a moment, it looked as though its fur was alive with electricity.
The ship is called The Tomohagne; the name comes from a river in Japan where iron was gathered to make steel for katanas. It's a Class VII security shuttle armed with a pair of fire linked medium lasers and directional phaser bank. In the right hands it is a force to be reckoned with; and its pilot is one of the few with those hands.
"Anything on the scanners Mister Wumpindi," asked Guma.
"Nothing as of yet, Detective," Wumpindi answered, "However, the aurora may be affecting our sensors."
"Keep me posted," the detective replied. Guma turned around and went into the back of the craft. "You didn't have to come with us, you know," he said. Sheba looked up from her pad. "I want to be there when you find Chalk," she said, "No matter what condition he's in, I have to be there."
"Oh for the world if it had a friend like you," Guma said as he ruffled her royal blue hair. Joe remembered many a long time when no one would come to identify the dead. However growing up in the ruins of the Bronx he could understand why. Even in this day and age, long after the Gene Wars, new ways to die still appeared out of the shadows of New York ; be it mutant, disease, or some thing that just crawled out of the dark.
Guma stormed up to the cockpit. "What is it Mister Wumpindi," the detective asked.
"My sensors are reading Pulse-Laser fire," Wumpindi explained, "It looks as though someone found them for us."
"Full speed mister," barked Guma.
"Five more minutes, 'Storm," Muttered a sleepy Patch. Sandstorm would always cut loose with a signal roar when hir family overslept. This time though it didn't sound like hir. More like the scream from an American cougar, real high pitched. Patch opened hir eyes to the light from the aurora, and then remembered where shi was and why shi was here.
About two yards away from the steps that led up to the ship's main hatch, was the human Holt. He was nose to nose with a runt of chakat with a silver and black tabby pattern. Between the two was… "Firewisp," Patch whispered
Suddenly the big human pulled a black club out of his belt and swung it at the chakat. Patch watched as the chakat dodged the big man's attack and brought him to his knees with a punch. The chakat amazed Patch as shi weaved around Holt's attacks and then kicked him in the side with hir hindpaws. As the strange chakat moved towards the man shi'd incapacitated, Patch saw a ball shaped turret emerge from the side of the ship and send a blazing green ray towards the tabby. The beam did a sweep towards the strange chakat, as though it were a spotlight; but Patch knew it was much more lethal than that.
Patch had seen a pulse-laser before, the sickening green from it's argon gas tubes was something shi remembered vividly from a class trip to a factory where hull plating was being prepared. Now that same green was being used to try to destroy one of hir kind, maybe even hirself, and definitely The Imp… The Imp!
Patch came out of hir daze as she realized that the sweep of the beam had missed hir little sister by a foot. As the beam followed the tabby, Patch dashed out, bundled the Imp up into hir arms and made a mad dash to the other side of the ship. After shi tucked hir sister in a safe little nook, Patch looked to see that the silver and black chakat had run out of places to run. Patch turned away so shi wouldn't see what was going to happen.
"Mister Wumpindi, fire!"
The Aborigine pilot thumbed the trigger and strafed along the hull of the freighter with the shuttle's medium lasers. A moment later the sickly green beam from the freighter's turret faded and died out. "First pulse-laser bank disabled, detective," said the pilot. Guma nodded and then looked at his own console. The sensors showed one, two, three, four chakats gathering on the grounds around the ship. Was this some kind of organized escape?
"Detective," Wumpindi called out, "They are powering up their engines."
"Shields up, Mister Wumpindi," Guma replied, "See if you can keep them on the ground.
Van der Lyne had begun the start up procedure for the engines when Holt stumbled into the cockpit. The big man was both broken and bleeding. "You were just in time with that laser," he told Van der Lyne, "But why didn't you finish the little witch off?"
Van der Lyne turned to the big man and mumbled something quickly at him. The only words he made out were "man" and "lasers", the rest he assumed. Holt climbed into the gunner's chair and took hold of the joystick. The broadside turrets had been rendered inactive, leaving the roof and belly turrets active. All the targeting screens were synchronized to follow the movements of the gunner.
On the roof gun's target screen appeared a green triangle that, according to set of numbers beside it, was getting closer. Holt moved the joystick up and to the right, causing a bright orange crosshair to move up the screen. As the crosshair lined up with the triangle, it matched the triangle's color and Holt pulled the trigger.
The Tomohagne shuddered in midair as the shields took the brunt of the pulse laser attack. Guma was slammed into the chair's armrest so hard by the force, that it bruised his ribs. "Are you alright back there," he shouted into the intercom. When Sheba replied that she was, Guma turned his attention to more serious matters.
"They have a lock on us detective," Wumpindi told Guma, "Roof turret. It must be their secondary system. Mark II heavy pulse-laser"
"What about our shields?"
"Holding," said Wumpindi, "We can take this for a while, they will have to quit firing before long or their gun will overheat."
"Noted," Guma replied, "Let's see if I can get a phaser lock on that turret."
Holt kept an eye on the temperature gauge as he maintained his aim on his target. In another minute or two, the weapon would overheat and wouldn't be any use until it cooled down. Holt kept the trigger depressed until the very last second, then released the trigger and then tapped a little button on top of the joystick. This caused the pulse lasers turret to retract back inside the ship and doubled the shields on top of the hatch. A moment later, the shields took the impact of a phaser burst. "How did I know they were going to try that?" he thought to himself.
"Can we take off yet, Mister Van der Lyne?" Holt asked.
"Not yet," Van der Lyne replied, "That first volley depolarized the auxiliary batteries. I vil need anoter two minutes. Can you hold zem off until then?"
"I can try." Hold raised the turret once more and started tracking the shuttle.
The next thing I remember was the shriek of weapons fire. I looked up to see a small craft dive under the blast of a laser, then return fire with a strange orange beam that fired at an odd angle. Van der Lyne's engines began to rev up louder and louder, kicking up one heck of a cloud of dust. Slowly the big ship began to rise into the air.
The smaller ship swung around and strafed along the side of the heavier craft with a volley of blue laser fire. As Van der Lyne's ship turned towards its escape, the lower part of the nose opened as if it were going to swallow its aggressor. As the small craft turned to make another pass at the starship, the heavy vessel fired a salvo of five dense beams that seemed almost the color of blood. The little ship tried to outmaneuver the attack but the center ray scored a hit on aft section. The smaller ship spun a moment as it tried to regain control.
"What was that?" asked Guma as he was slung against his damaged ribs.
"Particle beams, detective," Wumpindi replied, "Heavy ones. Our shields won't hold up against them for long."
"Can you avoid them?"
"I can try," said Wumpindi, "But that last hit took out our main stabilizer and some of the maneuvering circuits."
"Alright," said Guma, "Keep us out of range, and I will see if I can get another lock on that big bitch."
"We hit him, vhe hit him!" Van der Lyne smacked his hand on the console. "It was just a glancing blow," Holt replied, "They saw the energy flare before the cannons discharged. They are coming around again."
"I vil elevate us higher and see if you can hit him again."
"They are maneuvering for another blast, Detective," Wumpindi reported, "We can't withstand a direct hit."
"Dive hard, and try not to crash."
"Will you settle for one out of two, detective?"
The smaller of the two ships suddenly dipped down to get under the larger ship's heavy weapons. As it tried to pull up, the small vessel's engine sounded as though it had failed. One of the ship's nacelles dimmed as the craft slid across the ground and into the wash. Van der Lyne's starship turned around as a turret emerged from underneath. It swiveled around and began to zero in on the downed craft.
"It was a good try," Guma said as he helped Wumpindi out of his chair; or rather tried. The Aborigine's head drooped at an odd angle, the force of the crash had broken his neck. Guma carefully closed the pilot's eyes and left him in his seat. "I'm sorry David," the detective apologized.
Guma then turned his attention to the intercom. "Sheba, are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," the foxtaur replied, "Just a bit bruised."
"Good," said Guma "Can you get the shields back online. Something tells me that we're going to need them." A section of console flashed green for a moment then faded to a dull orange. "That's the best I can do," Sheba said "Ten percent power."
"It will do," said Guma as a sickly green glow began to fill the cockpit, "Now help me get the door open, we need to get out of here."
The big ship opened fire on the downed craft; this time the sickly green laser came from a port under the behemoth's belly. As the beam hit the downed ship, what looked like a faint blue soap bubble covered the craft and held the beam but inches away from the hull. In the dispersed light from the beam and with my enhanced night vision, I could see people moving inside the little ship, trying to get out. Van der Lyne was trying to get rid of witnesses, probably anyone who saw his ship or his operation; that meant the white taur; that meant me; that meant…the Beast.
What ever had come over me when I barreled out the door of Van der Lyne's ship had returned; but this time I held a rein on it, tapped into it, and used it to my advantage. It was a maternal instinct, one that could be tapped into when cubs were in danger, but it still took a lot of effort to control. I could feel my powers rising up, but I didn't think they would do anything to Van der Lyne's ship; what I needed was another power source to tap into. A moment later I realized that there was one right in front of me.
An aurora occurs when particles from the solar wind strike against a planet's ionosphere; charged particles, energy that I could use. With my mind, I found my center and reached out to the aurora.
Holt watched the temperature gauge on his heads-up display; it was only reading fifty percent, the shuttle's shields would give out long before the weapon overheated.
"Zis is very odd," said Van der Lyne.
"What's that?" Holt asked.
"There's a particle build-up in ze aurora," the Boer replied, "It looks like it's concentrating into a…" The Starhauler was rocked by the shock of an impact hitting the shields. "Ionic blast," shouted Van der Lyne, "The forward shields have been depolarized."
"Weapons are down," Holt replied, "Where did that blast come from?"
That was amazing. I didn't even have to take in any of the power, I just drew it towards me and it struck what ever was between myself and the aurora. I reached out again and touched the pearlescent nimbus. Tapping into the aurora caused the light to spiral into a vortex. A moment later, a bolt of energy raced out from the nexus of the vortex and slammed into the side of Van der Lyne's ship once more. Tendrils of energy rippled along the ship's hull as the cruiser lurched to the side.
"That last hit took out main navigation," Van der Lyne shouted over the ship's alarms. "Back up power is online, and the secondary navigating array is booting up."
Holt monitored the sensors though the heads-up display. The ripples of light from the aurora were beginning to coalesce again. Holt opened a panel on the arm of his seat and tapped a few buttons. Control of the maneuvering thrusters was switched over to his control. "Vhat are you doing?" asked Van der Lyne.
"Ever see a scorpion sting itself to death?" As the energy surged from the vortex, Holt pulled up hard on the controls.
A flare of brilliant light surged through the windows of the shuttlecraft, as a magnetic pulse caused all of the circuits to come to life for a brief instant. In that instant, the door to the cockpit slid halfway open and stopped. Guma stuck his hands through the opening and heaved, just as a set of blue furred fingers did the same.
There was a sudden snap as the door gave way and slid into its alcove. "Are you alright?" asked Sheba as she offered her hand. Guma nodded and took the foxtaur's hand. With a little effort, the two of them opened the main hatch to see what happened.
The Starhauler had begun to make a turn. As it did, Guma could see that the ship was listing to one side. A moment later the back of the ship blazed with an orange flare, as the Starhauler sped away at escape velocity.
"Guma!" Sheba called out. She was standing next to a scorch mark that was twice as long as the shuttle. At the foxtaur's feet was what looked like a body. The detective then ran over to find that Sheba was standing next to a silver and black chakat who looked as if shi had seen better days. As Guma looked over the injured taur, a white chakat bounded over and threw hir arms around Sheba's torso.
"Chalk," she said with great relief.
"Sheba, I hate to interrupt your reunion," said Guma, "But we need a medic. Do you think you can get the communication system on the shuttle working?" Sheba gave a quick nod and then disappeared into the wreck.
I hurt all over. I think I am conscious, but I'm not sure. I know I am alive; you couldn't be dead and in this much pain. I can't open my eyes though. They feel like they are stuck together.
* * *
Mowraow, howled Firewisp as shi fought with the tongue depressor the doctor held in hir mouth. Patch giggled at hir sister’s commotions as the doctor tried to hold the cub’s head steady. Finally the doctor gave up and let 'Wisp spit the depressor out of hir mouth. A moment later Detective Guma came into the room followed by a rather imposing figure.
Tantum, said 'Wisp as shi bounded off of the table. Shi headed straight for the huge chakat, stood up on hir hindpaws, and hugged hir mother as tightly as hir little arms could. Even though Firewisp had only been away from hir mother for a day and two nights, to hir it seemed like an eternity. But the greatest pleasure was reserved for Sandstorm, who for the first time heard hir youngest daughter speak hir name.
So how is shi, Redears? the detective asked. The chakat physician stood up and showed hir bandaged thumb. The little cub is fine, Redears replied, I'm gonna need stitches. Now I know why I never wanted to go into pediatrics, those little teeth are sharp. Guma gave a slight chuckle and then fuzzled the Imp’s head. 'Wisp ducked under hir mother’s barrel to avoid the detective’s fingers.
I'm more worried about the chakat you had brought in, Redears continued, From hir symptoms I would say that shi was hit by the blast from an ion cannon.
You're close, said Patch. Shi then told the others what shi had seen. I've never heard of that happening during an aurora, said Redears, Maybe a little com. interference, but nothing like you describe. Shi scratched an itch behind hir ear. I had them take DNA sample for an identity match, Redears continued, Shi has no identification anywhere. Not so much as a birth certificate.
Could shi be feral, Guma asked, I've heard of some chakats just going off into the wild and never coming back.
That's just an urban legend, said Patch, If it were true, I wouldn't be here.
That's just your youth talking, Redears said with a smile Wait until your breasts grow out and your life will have an entirely new outlook. The look shi received in return was near murderous, as Patch got up off of the floor and stormed out of the room.
Did I say something wrong? asked Redears.
* * *
This bed has no sheets. That's alright, at least there is a mattress. It's soft, softer than anything that I have slept on for a long time. It feels good.
There's someone watching me. I don't know how I know that, I just do. Two someones. Watching kindly, like they wish me well, but I do not know them. And yet there's something familiar about one of them…
* * *
Chalk put his hand on Sheba’s shoulder. Has there been any word, he asked Sheba shook her head. Sheba had been watching the doctors care for the storm-colored chakat ever since they brought hir in. No response, the foxtaur replied, but shi's not in a coma, just unconscious according to hir EEG.
How old would you say shi is? Chalk asked. Sheba shook hir head. Thirteen, fourteen maybe, the foxtaur guessed, Why?
I snuck a peek at hir cellular make up chart, Chalk said, According to the oxidation readings, shi's twenty three.
You're kidding, replied Sheba, Shi's not much bigger than a cub. Chalk nodded. Have you ever heard of a runt? he asked. Sheba had to think for a moment before the word came to her mind. My father used to call me Runt cause I was the smallest, she said finally, Why?
That's what shi is, Chalk said, A runt chakat, had shi been a wild animal, shi probably wouldn't have survived to adulthood. I wonder is shi's a runaway or orphaned? Sheba gave Chalk an odd look. Right, Chalk replied, Just be thankful shi's alive.
As they watched through the window to the room, Sheba silently prayed to the kami that shi would survive.
* * *
Van der Lyne secured his ship in a rented hangar on one of the Tasmanian coastal towns. He and Holt would have much to do before the ship left its sanctuary. The hull would need to be repainted, the identification number would have to be changed to a new set on file in the shipping guild’s offices; there was just so much to do.
Holt’s console beeped and he responded to the signal quickly. Strings of digital text swam across his small screen relaying all sorts of information to him. What are you reading, Holt, Van der Lyne asked. Holt looked up from his musings. I called in a marker I had with an information broker, the henchmen, I thought it might help if we found out all we could about who the crew on that shuttle was, what they did after we escaped, or if any of them could identify us. More strings of text raced across the screen.
Call in one more marker, Holt sneered, And we can say goodbye to that black and gray bitch.
* * *
I hear a nurse come in; she's been in here before, I recognize her perfume. I hear her pick up the chart off of the end of my bed. She then leaves and comes back a moment later. She takes my arm and gently shaves part of the fur off with a razor. I know what's coming next; I hate shots.
I'm an odd one when it comes to needles; if I don't see the needle go in, I will flinch and make it worse. This time, for some reason, I don't flinch. There's a warm sensation in my arm, not unpleasant, but something in the back of my mind is warning me to be careful. I can't really be sure but I think it's telling me that something's wrong.
* * *
Silence walks into the room just as the nurse is leaving. So you are the one who saved my little sister, shi says to the silver and black figure. Do you have a name, a home, a family? The still chakat suddenly stirred. I guess not,
Silence said, Well, if you didn't before, you have one now. Sandstorm won't take a chance on you getting away without saying thank you. My father will probably make you a huge dinner, and you won't be allowed to leave the table until you have eaten at least half of it. And if Soot is home by then shi will do hir best to make sure you are cared for one way or another.
You think shi can hear you, said Redears as shi walked into the room. Silence turned to the doctor. You never know Redears, Silence replied, They say talking helps people in comas. Since shi's not in coma, I figure it can't hurt. Redears smiled and then picked up the pad the injured chakat’s chart was on.
Did they put Jane Doe as hir name on the chart? Silence asked. Redears shook hir head. No, the doctor replied, They just gave hir an ID number.
Shi should have a name, Silence said, That number just means that there is no one here to care about hir.
On that we agree, Redears said, So how bout we give hir one until we find out hir real one.
Now that's a good idea, Silence replied, Hmm what should we name hir? Lets see, shi's silver and black; what's colored silver and black?
Umm, the fish in my mother's aquarium, said Redears. Silence gave hir an ‘are you serious,’ look. Okay, okay, Redears amended hastily, I know, a cloud. Just before a storm.
Stormcloud? Silence replied, I don't think so, I think it's already been taken.
O.K., Redears said, We're lucky to be naming hir anything at all the way that energy bolt chased hir. Silences ears perked up a moment, Chased hir, the dark haired chakat mused, Hmm, what do you think of Stormchaser.
Oh that's good, that is perfect for hir, Redears replied, Think it describes hir perfectly. Redears touched hir thumbpad to the chart and added the name next to the semi-anonymous ID number. There we go; Chakat Stormchaser.
As shi put the chart back in its rack, Redears jumped at the sound of the being pushed in by four orderlies surrounding a gurney. There it is, one of them said, and headed for the newly named chakat. Silence quickly slipped past the startled doctor and stood directly in the orderlies. I believe you've got the wrong room, shi said. The big orderly took a pad out of his pocket and shoved it into Silence’s face with obvious disrespect. Patient Number one-one-three-six-two, scheduled for full scale neuromancy, the orderly indicated forcefully, as though he were some kind of superior being. Ordered by Doctor Volsung and to be performed by Doctor Schnieder.
Redears recognized the name of Doctor Volsung; she had been assigned as temporary surgical administrator while the doctor she was replacing was on Chakona at a medical conference, but who was this doctor Schnieder? Redears had never heard of him. Hir question was answered when a lean and extremely gaunt man entered the room.
Is this my patient? the thin man asked in a voice so neutral that it was utterly devoid of the slightest trace of an accent. Redears then suddenly moved to intercept the newcomer before he could pick up Stormchaser’s chart. Excuse me, Redears said with some aggression, But who are you and what are you doing here?
Pardon, how rude of me, the thin man replied, Doctor Gideon Schnieder, neural surgeon. I was asked to come down and perform a neuro-omancy on a Jane Doe. They said shi was some kind of important witness; and by the way you are acting your sister, niece, daughter, or cousin?
Try patient, the red eared chakat replied, Doctor Redears, young Stormchaser is my patient; I wasn't told about a neuromancy.
I was called in to treat a chakat who had been in an incident with a massive energy discharge, Schnieder replied, That happens to be my speciallity; treating people who have been injured by discharges. Redears swished hir tail back and forth. Still I should have been informed of any kind of surgury, shi told the gaunt surgeon.
Alright then, said Schnieder, How about this; we consult with your superior, find out what the SNAFU is, and then see what Dr. Volsung says. How's that?
That should be fine, Redears replied.
In the mean time, we shall leave the orderlies here in case your patient needs anything, Schneider continued. And afterward I will treat you and miss…
Shir, said Silence, attributing the mistake to inexperience. Shir Before the Rains.
Then I will treat you and Doctor Redears to lunch, Schneider finished. Redears rubbed hir chin, thinking for a moment.
Fine, shi said finally.
* * *
Strange, it was like something was wrong and now it's gone away. I wish I knew what was going on. I feel someone picking me up and putting me on a gurney or a table. Now I am moving. Down the corridors, into an elevator, and going down.
Now I am in a room. It's cold, sterile not like where I was before. In that last room; I could smell the people, feel the care they gave, and know that someone was there. This place feels like I have been exiled into the heart of a black hole.
* * *
Celia Volsung carefully studied the chart before her and then signed the bottom with a stylus. As she set the PADD on her desk, she bent her arms behind her head and stretched for as long as her shoulders could stand it. Celia then checked hir watch. Oh good, she thought It's lunchtime. She had been dying to try that new little coffee shop across the street; but every time she tried to go, something major would come up and Celia would have to settle for stale chips from the snack machine. Then by the time her shift ended, the coffee shop would already be closed.
Today, however, Celia had finsihed everything; dotted all the I's, crossed all the T's, and marked every detail from circles to arrows to underlinings. Now if her luck would hold, she could take her lunch break now.
There was a knock on her door. So much for lunch, she thought. Come in.
The doors slid open to a thin man who could have easily doubled as a scarecrow. A pair of chakats, one of whom Celia knew immediately, followed him in. Hello there, Red, Dr. Volsung said in her thick Nigerian accent, Is there something I can do for you? Hopefully something quick, as I am about to go to lunch.
Sorry about this Celia, Redears replied, But we seem to have a problem and-
Good day miss, my name is Gideon Schnieder, the gaunt man interrupted rudely, We need to see Dr. Volsung, is he in?
* * *
It was Talbot’s first time preparing a Chakat for surgery. He'd prepared many a human and morph, once he had even helped prep a foxtaur, but this was his first Chakat.
Shi certainly was pretty enough, silvery gray with squiggles of black running through out hir fur, black hair that went all the way down hir back to where it joined with hir lower half; Talbot thought she was simply breathtaking. Carefully he bundled up the black hair and tucked it into a surgical cap. Next he lay a sheet over hir body and made sure it covered hir thoroughly.
Just as he finished, the nurse came in to give the patients their shots. Heya Ernie,she said with a smile, Is shi ready? Talbot turned towards the young woman. This one is ready, he replied, Do you know what they are operating on hir for?
Someone said that they needed to examine hir spine, the nurse replied.
* * *
I don't understand, Schnieder said in confusion, Are we going to see Doctor Volsung or not?
Sir, Celia replied with furor, I am the only Doctor Volsung working in this hospital. Just because last name is German, you do not get the right to assume that I am white.
Please dear lady, Schnieder replied, Just because I have a Teutonic surname of my own, do not assume that I am a bigot. The Doctor Volsung who requested me was a man.
A man? Celia said with some confusion.
Ja, ah, an older man, about forty, Schnieder said as he described him.
This Doctor Volsung you talked too, said Silence, Did he have sort of leathery skin, like he'd worked in the sun all his life? Schneider thought for a moment. As a matter of fact he did, the doctor said finally, In fact I couldn't help but think of how his face reminded me of a baseball glove.
That's how Chalk described Van der Lyne, Silence said.
Who's Chalk? asked Celia
And who is this Van der Lyne? Schneider said in turn.
Chalk is the white lion chakat that was brought in with Stormchaser, Redears said.
And Van der Lyne’s the bastard who was holding hir captive, Silence finished with a growl. He wanted hir fur.
But I checked out his file, Schnieder said, He works here. C. Volsung, 45, B.A. Mynarsky Polytech…
With a minor in Astromedicine. Three years with Starfleet Medical; presently assigned to Melbourne General Hospital Trauma/Surgery Ward, Celia finished. Those are my credentials.
Neat trick, Silence finished, Probably replaced your photo, age, and gender with his and voila.
Gott in Himmel, Schneider said, I would have butchered that poor girl’s spine for nothing.
The procedure he called me in for, Schneider said, It was for a full vertebral neuromancy.
Just then the security alarm went off.
* * *
It happened before anyone knew it was going to happen, the orderly told Celia Volsung as they headed through the hospital corridors. They were heading to the number eighteen operating room where there was everything short of a riot going on.
Tell me what happened, Volsung asked.
When Doctor Schneider didn't show up on time, someone told us that he'd gone to see you, to sort out some kind of mistake, the orderly explained, So Dr. Krylos-
Krylos, Celia shouted What the hell was Krylos doing on the surgical team.
He was assigned, the orderly replied, The chart said by you.
Van der Lynn, again, said Redears as shi all but raced down the hall. He's still trying to get rid of the witnesses, and he's using the hospital to do it.
He picked someone good to do it with, Volsung replied, I wouldn't let Krylos pet my dog much less operate on her.
You don't have to worry about that, the orderly replied, A heartbeat after Krylos asked for a scalpel, hir eyes are open and shi's awake, fully conscious. Shi looks at the scalpel in Krylos’s hand and it's gone with the swipe of hir arm.
* * *
It's cold, the floor is cold, the table they had me on is cold, the walls are cold. The only thing that's not cold is the blood on the floor. I can smell that, it smells hot; hot with pain, hot with fear. I want nothing to do with it.
The cart they had next to my table is still standing. There are instuments on it, knives, probes,scalples,needles,razoooOOAAARRR!!!!
* * *
The were setting up the gun just as Celia and Redears walked in. What the Hell is this? Redears asked. One of the orderlies looked up from his work. We borrowed it from the psych ward, he replied, It's a sleep inducer. We're about ready to activate it.
Over my prone corpse, Dr, Volsung announced.
Doctor you weren't here a few minutes ago, the senior orderly replied, For no reason at all shi attacked the instrument table. Look at it, shi shredded it with hir hands. There's no way we are going to get in there to sedate hir.
And that thing you're going to use looks like a cross between a bazooka and a blunderbuss, Redears growled, No way is shi going to sit still long enough for you to hit hir with it.
Shi doesn't have to sit still, the orderly replied, This is a sonic device, all shi has to do is listen. The orderly pointed his finger at his assistant, who then pressed the button to open the door to the operating room. As the door panels slowly opened, the sleep inducer was turned on; it started emiting a pleasant low pitched hum into the room. Everything appeared to be working.
Suddenly a gray blur flew over the orderlies’ heads and landed behind them. Shi landed low on all six of hir legs with hir ears laid back, as thought shi were readying for a pounce. One of hir hands was red with blood, but they knew that it wasn't hirs. Redears stepped forward with hir hands raised.
Easy Stormchaser, easy, the chakat said. Stormchaser loosed a growl from hir throat. Has shi said anything at all? Redears asked the orderlies.
Not a word, said one.
Totally non-verbal, the other said. Redears gave a nervous chuckle. Great, shi muttered. A heartbeat later, Stormchaser zipped underneath the larger chakat’s barrel and raced past the orderlies and over Doctor Volsung. Somebody throw a net over that chakat, Celia said as she tried to ignore the tingling from her coccyx.
Wait Celia, Redears said, Let hir go for now.
Shi could be dangerous Red, Celia replied, Shi might hurt someone.
That's not what I picked up from hir, Redears replied, Shi's afraid of something, not someone.
* * *
People, there are people here. Now I feel safe. I can hide here, maybe blend in. I just have to take things slowly, not attract attention. If I am lucky I can find an empty room. One with a bed and a screen and hide there for a while, just long enough to get the blood off of my hand.
* * *
My head has stopped pounding, and the memories are locked back where they belong. I managed to find an empty room with a washroom. It was actually pretty easy to get in, I just hid under a gurney with a sheet over it and waited for someone to move it. Then I just slipped into the washroom.
It took a little effort, but eventually I got all the blood out of my fur. Whatever they used for soap certainly did the trick. With my hand clean now I would probably be able to slip out of the building unnoticed.
As I slipped into the hall, I kept repeating a mantra to myself. I'm not here, repeated itself over and over in my head. Strangly enough, it seemed to be working. Now I just had to go to the end of the hall and, according to the fire/emergency map on the wall there would be an exit. Time to go.
* * *
'Wisp had found a plaything in mama’s tail. Sandstorm was twitching it back and forth, and the Imp started to pounce on the jittery tip. When shi saw what hir daughter was doing, Sandstorm began to gently lash hir tail back and forth. 'Wisp giggled as shi fought against hir mother’s tail. Then in a flash, the Imp pinned hir mother’s tail to the floor and was biting it playfully.
Ow! said Sandstorm, That's too hard, little one. The Imp released hir mother and began to look hurt. Sandstorm reached over and fuzzled the kitten’s head and in response, Firewisp grabbed hir mother’s arm and gave it a good mouthing before hugging hir mother at where hir torso joined hir taurso. Sandstorm chuckled and ran hir finger through hir daughter’s hair in delight.
A moment later, the Imp’s ears went up as thought shi had been alerted to something. Shi slowly stalked over to the wall and peered around the edge of the door to the hall. Sandstorm stood up on hir crutches to try and figure out what what was going on.
* * *
I was doing well, I just had to get around the corner at the end of the hall and there would be an exit there. Hopefully not a fire exit though, just what I need right now is for an alarm to go OFF!
I turned around in startled surprise to see the Beast with her arms wrapped around my middle in a hug. I reached down to fuzzle the kitten’s head. Couldn't let me leave with out saying goodbye huh? I whispered. She m'owed and rubbed her head against me until I finally had to pry her hands loose. I have to go little one, I told her, I don't think it's safe for me around here anymore.
Someone was coming out one of the doors on crutches. The heavy clack clack of the metal braces got louder and louder, as the walker appeared at the door. It was another of those feline taurs; she was the color of the desert at sunset and she was Huge. Her head brushed against the top of the door frame while her shoulders barely fit through the sides. Now that I thought about it, huge was an understatement.
There you are, she said as she came towards the beast. As she came closer, I saw the reason she needed the crutches; both of her forelegs were bound up in casts from ankle to elbow. As she came over to the kitten, I started to back away slowly.
Oh, the big taur said, Who are you? She reached down to scratch my head. I ducked out of her reach and she quickly pulled her hand away for some reason. I wasn't going to hurt you, the big 'taur said, I realize that I am kind of big, but that no reason to be afraid of me.
With some effort, she lay down on her belly and looked into my eyes. I am Chakat Sandstorm, child of Riverwind and Dusk, she said. She put her crutches down and wrapped her arms around me for a hug. I did the only thing I could think of at the time, I hugged back.
I don't know how shi does it, Silence told Redears. The two observed a thirty second pregnant pause when they saw that Sandstorm had the previously rogue Stormchaser under some form of control. The silver tabby was lying on the floor on hir stomach being groomed by the chakat matron. Silence noted the odd look on the strange cub’s face; it was like 'when in Rome, do as the Romans.
As Silence entered the room, Stormchaser ducked down and disappeared behind Sandstorm. 'Storm reached down to fuzzle hir head. It's alright, shi told the cub, Shi's my oldest daughter. Stormchaser slinked into the open staying low but alert. Redears then stepped into the room wearing a lab coat. Shi had hir hand in one of the pockets with hir finger wrapped around a hypospray. If the cub, if that's what shi was, went out of control again, Redears had the means with which to stop hir; without hurting hir.
Well now, said Redears, Stormchaser will you come over here so I can take a better look at you? The cub looked up at the strange name; a moment later shi walked towards an examination table after deciding they meant hir. As Stormchaser leaped onto the table, Redears pulled an instrument tray over with the standard examination instruments. Stormchaser looked apprehensively at the tray until shi saw that there was nothing sharp on it; hir ears then perked forward as shi relaxed.
Alright, Redears said Open your mouth and say ‘Ahh’.
* * *
I didn't mind the examination, I figured that it would get me out of the building faster if I just submit to the procedure. The eye exam and the ear thermometer weren't too terrible, the tongue depressor was less so; but at least no one had snapped on a rubber glove. As the doctor feline picked up a medical sensor and ran its beam over my body; a slender black woman, also clad in a lab coat, walked into the room. She was followed by a short portly man who smelled like sausage and old spice, he had to be Italian. In her hand the woman held what looked like a PDA.
You're not gonna believe what the techs found, the woman said. She then handed the PDA to the doctor. It's a computer virus, the man said.
That's why Krylos went to operate on herr instead Schneider, the woman said, It was like a time bomb. If no one operated on herr at the time registered, it would switch the procedure and the doctor doing the operation. Krylos was going to do a vertoscopy on herr.
But that means- started the doctor.
The would have cut herr spine in half, the woman replied, Straight down the middle. The examining feline gave a shudder at the mention of the procedure. There are still some surgical procedures that give me the willies, she said, I didn't even like doing them on the holo-cadavers. She then gave me a gentle scratch down my back.
She ran her fingers up and down my back; the doctor could feel the old scars through my fur. How'd you get these? she asked. They feel like… Suddenly she covered her mouth and dashed into the washroom. I heard sounds coming out of there as though she was coughing up a hairball.
Red, the ebon woman said, Redears, what's wrong?
Herr back, the feline said as she emerged from the toilet. She looked a little weak in the knees. Look at the scars shay has on herr back, the doctor said, They are old but they are there. The black woman ran her fingers along my back and found the scars. Oh my god, she said, Shay's been vivisected.
* * *
How long ago do you think that was that done to hir, asked Guma. Redears sipped hir tea to settle hir stomach. Looks like they were done a couple of years ago, shi replied, What puzzles me is why hir fur isn't white over the scars.
One thing's for sure, said Sheba as she stirred hir own cup of tea, Stormchaser's not safe here anymore.
This is true, said Chalk, So where can we put hir?
We can't take hir, Sheba said, Chalk and I live in a one bedroom walk up. What about your ex-partner?
Not with Nadira, Guma said, She's got hir hands full with Lilybit alone. As they spoke Silence walked by with Firewisp trying to catch hir sister’s tail. As Silence went over to the dispenser to get hir cup of coffee, the Imp caught hir tail; this time, however the kitten didn't employ hir teeth. Hello everyone, said Silence as shi settled by the table, What are you all talking about.
What to do with Stormchaser, Chalk said.
Shi's not safe in the hospital anymore, Guma said, We need to find hir a safe place to put hir. Silence gave a slight chuckle. I think the problem may have been solved for you, the ocelot said. Silence pointed out the canteen window; Sandstorm was clacking along on hir crutches, Stormchaser was slowly following hir at length.
I think my sire plans to adopt hir, Silence said. Chalk snickered. That's chakats for you, he said, Can't have their own kittens then they'll adopt a whole gaggle.
That may solve our problem, Guma said, You have got to have some extra room somewhere in your house.
Well, said Silence Shi's small enough, maybe we can stick hir with the Imp.
Then this could work, said Sheba. Silence shook hir head. Soot's gonna love this when shi gets home, shi said.
* * *
Coaxing Stormchaser into the PTV turned out to be a bit of a chore. Stepping out of the hospital into the bright Australian sun caused hir eyes to blink and smart before they adjusted to the light. The sliding side doors caused Stormchaser to hunker down as the noise the doors made startled hir. Shi finally calmed down when shi saw Firewisp leap into the vehicle without fear; Stormchaser finally climbed into the van and settled down into a corner.
Patch followed the little ones and settled beside the door while Silence climbed into the driver’s ‘seat’. Sandstorm had the most trouble getting into the vehicle with hir casted forelimbs. Shi required help getting hir hind quarters into the van. Both of hir daughters took a haunch and lifted hir into the vehicle. The van wasn't exactly cramped, even with Sandstorm’s immense body inside; but there wasn't a lot of room to move around either.
Stormchaser looked around the PTV. Shi looked out the windows to watch the trees and other people. Patch fuzzled the new chakat’s head as a new reaction passed over hir face. It was seeing a mother foxtaur with hir cubs on a leash that caused hir to look odd. After that, shi looked out the other windows at the cars until they arrived at the house.
It was a rather nice house. It was dome-shaped about two stories high with a balcony on the second floor. Behind the house was a tree that looked to be at least a couple of centuries old; and perfect for climbing.
As they came to the front door, Silence pulled out what looked like a printed circuit board and plugged it into a slot on the door. An LED above the slot went from red to green as the lock on the door clicked open. Patch pushed the door open and led the way inside.
The house looked bigger inside that it did outside. Most of the first floor was a family room; it had deep pile carpet that had obviously suffered the ravages of little claws in places. To the left was a nice fireplace with a few pictures on the mantlepiece. In one ‘corner’ of the room was the vidscreen. The right revealed the immense kitchen that was Sandstorm’s private domain. And nestled in her cage in a nook besides the kitchen was Rosey, Sandstorm’s galah. The bird obviously didn't know what to think of the new chakat. Chi?
Well, what do you think? asked Patch. Stormchaser walked around the room, and then stopped when shi came to the cockatoo’s cage. Rosey tasted a finger that was stuck between the bars and then pushed it out with her bill. She then whistled at the new cub as Stormchaser turned away to resume hir explorations.
Shi snaked hir way through the legs of the dining room table and then snuck upstairs for a better look. These rooms were big as well. Silence touched the cub on the shoulder and then led hir into a bright blue room with a bed that resembled a crib in some respects. This is where you will be staying, shi told the cub, It's Firewisp’s room, but you don't have to sleep in hir crib. We can get you some blankets and such so you can sleep on the floor.
Stormchaser only went far enough into the room to turn around and leave. Shi went down the hall and stopped at the big room at the end. Silence followed hir and asked: What is it? Inside the room was a big mattress on the floor, big enough for a pair of chakats. Stormchaser then bent over at the waist and started sniffing the carpet. This is Sandstorm’s room, Silence said. Stormchaser put a paw on the mattress and then sniffed a little more, before climbing up onto the bed and curling up into a lump. Now just one minute, said Silence, but the cub was already asleep.
* * *
Shi's asleep on your bed, Silence reported as Sandstorm began the process of making dinner. Sandstorm chuckled as shi looked for hir big frying pan; shi felt like cooking shrimp tonight. And you are surprised, why? asked Sandstorm.
Silence started to say something before shi realized Sandstorm was about to make a point. Right now shi's tired, the chakat matron continued, Shi's not going to want to sleep where shi doesn't feel safe. Shi went someplace where there is something shi knows is familiar and friendly.
So shi picks your mattress?
It smells like me, Sandstorm replied, I don't know why, but shi seems to trust me a bit more than anyone else.
That's an interesting thought, said Silence.
* * *
I don't know why I was acting this way, it was like my instincts were in control and I wasn't. I was acting just like a kitten who had lost her mother and didn't know what to do.
The smell of food woke me up from my nap. It was about six thirty. I got out of the bed I was sleeping in and padded slowly down the hall. I looked in each door until I found what I was looking for. It was an odd looking contrivance a long low porcelean bowl that looked a bit like a shallow bathtub. The bowl sort of flowed from halfway up the wall. Well what was I expecting, a litter box.
Now just how was I supposed to work this? Let's see one leg over or from the front, or maybe- no that won't work either. I'll just have to change back, I thought to myself, And just hope no one comes up here. Then I reached for my transband…and it was gone. How could I have not noticed this before?
Panic…no, don't panic stay calm. Think, what is the most likely think to have happened to the transband. Let's see... Of course, the hospital, whenever you get checked into a hospital, they take your personal affects. They must have assumed it was a normal watch and taken the transband. So in all likelyhood, I would get the band back, I would just have to be patient.
Now back to my present problem. Maybe if I just step up on the rim and-
Knock Knock Knock. Plunk!
Toilet one; Dimensional Man zero.
* * *
Patch trotted up the stairs to see how their houseguest was getting along. As shi came to the top of the stairs shi found the door to the bathroom closed. Slowly shi reached up and politely knocked on the door. The sound shi heard on the other side made hir realize that shi had surprised someone on the other side.
Patch opened the door to see a very peeved Stormchaser sitting in the bowl of the toilet. Patch tried very hard not to laugh as shi helped the cub out of the water. What were you trying to do, Patch asked, hir question accented by slight giggles. Stormchaser walked onto the bathmat and raised one of hir hind legs in a canine fashion.
I see, said Patch, Never had to use a toilet before huh? Shi took a towel off of the rack and dried the smaller chakat’s legs off. The bowl is a little tall for you, Patch continued, Maybe you can use Firewisp’s training bowl. Until then, maybe I can give you a hand. Patch helped Stormchaser back up onto the toilet. As Stormchaser releaved hirself,
Patch said: Now look what you have done.
* * *
I had no idea what was wrong. First she's helping me use a toilet that's too big for my body now she's scolding me for going to the bathroom. This family is very confusing. As she helped me off of the toilet, Patch had me sit down while she took a washrag out of a drawer. After she rinsed out the rag, I saw what it was that had upset hir. When I urinated, it had made a mess of my belly fur. I had obviously done something wrong, but what?
I took the rag from Patch and washed where I'd peed on myself. I guess no one taught you how to urinate properly, she said. Now what did she mean by that.
* * *
Shi didn't know how use the toilet? asked Sandstorm as shi deveined the shrimp shi was about to cook.
Not only that but shi peed all over hirself, Patch reported, I don't think shi knows how to extend hirself.
Extend hirself, 'Storm said casting a sly gaze towards hir daughter.
I am trying not to embarrass hir, Mother, Patch said, Shi won't talk to us now as it is; I am afraid that if I do the wrong thing, shi'll go into some kind of shell and never come out.
All right, all right, said Sandstorm, I didn't mean anything by it, it's just that your choice of words struck me as kind of… odd.
I'm trying not to hurt hir feelings, Patch said Shi can understand us well enough, I just don't want hir to hear the wrong thing. Shi might think we're making fun of hir.
Patch is right, Sandstorm, Silence said as shi took a coke out of the fridge, Shi might think we're insulting hir when we are trying to be kind. We do have to be careful what we say around hir.
Patch, could you get the sage down for me, asked Storm, then, I don't see why, but I will make the effort. Storm then reached up, opened another cabinet, and pulled down a bottle with a lingering of brown fluid in the bottom. Rats! Could one of you go to the store and get me another bottle of soy sauce? Storm asked.
I'll get it, Father, Silence said. As shi reached for the keys on the rack, Silence saw the flash of a silver and black tail. Had Stormchaser been listening?
* * *
Shi called Sandstorm father. Sandstorm is a female and Silence calls her father. This doesn't make sense. Did she say it by mistake or is there something I am missing in the meaning.
I am so lost in thought that I don't hear the Beast sneak up on me. She pounces on me like I am a kill. At least her jaws aren't that strong yet. Firewisp is holding on to me and playbiting for all she's worth. I grab hir forelegs, pick her up on my back, and take her to the kitchen where I unceremoniously dump her off of my back and into the middle of the floor.
I don't think shay wanted to play, Imp, I heard Patch say as I left the room. I wandered into the middle of the den and flopped on a big pad that served as the sofa. And that's where I stayed until Sandstorm announced that dinner was ready.
* * *
The shrimp were huge; they could have been small lobsters from what I saw. I wasn't sure how to eat them until Patch showed me how. Just pick them up, peel, and slurp. Just like eating Cajun mudbugs. The flavor was exquisite; Sandstorm was the true mistress of her spice rack. Everyone was relaxed and the mood seemed to be elevated. Maybe it was time to break my silence.
Father, I said bringing up the subject that confused me.
What? said Sandstorm.
She called you father, I said indicating Silence.
You spoke, said Patch. Sandstorm put her shrimp back onto her plate. That's right, said the matriarch, I'm Silence’s father.
You're a girl, I said.
Well it's been a while since I was that young, said 'Storm, then, Wait, do you even know what a chakat is? I shook my head. This is getting interesting, said Silence. Sandstorm threw her napkin at her daughter. Well, she started, We are Chakats, that's our species, race, or whatever you want to call it. We respect life and love overall, though sometimes passion tends to control our lives, sometimes.
Sometimes? This time Patch got the napkin in the face.
But Silence called you Father, I repeated. Sandstorm nodded. That's because I am herr father, she said, We're a hermaphroditic species, we are male and female but not at the same time. We don't place the same values of mother and father that humans do on their parental roles. Both mates can have cubs whenever they feel the time is right.
Sometimes, Patch again.
When they pay attention, Silence added.
You two can cook your own meals you know, Sandstorm replied with a sullen humor. The two sisters smiled innocently before leaving the table. I should have kept my mouth shut, I said humbly, I fear that I have caused you to be ill at ease.
No fault of yours youngster, Sandstorm replied, But tell me why didn't you speak to us at the hospital.
Speaking sometimes raises questions, I said rubbing a scar on my shoulder that had picked an odd time to start itching, And there are people who would do anything to get their answers.
Aiee, Holt cursed as he stuck his burned fingers into his mouth. Part of the insulation on the wires had cracked exposing the metal. So when he reached into the compartment to reattach the loose wire…
I need the electrical tape, Holt told his boss, Could you pass it down? Van der Lyne dropped the little black roll to his henchman. You have a message from your hacker chum, the Boer added.
Read it to me. My hands are full.
Hospital techs found my virus, Van der Lyne read, Barely missed being traced by same. Your problem is no longer where you thought shi was. Is there anything else I can do? Humbolt.
Ahh shit, Holt swore as he banged his fist against the bulkhead.
What did all of that mean anyvay, asked Van der Lyne.
It means that the little gray bitch is still alive, said Holt as he crawled out of the compartment. He then stood over the communication console and then typed out a message on the touch pad. Find hir if possible, he typed, Then get back to me with any available data.
* * *
It was morning when Soot called from the starport. Sandstorm told hir about the past weeks events, and the temporary adoption of Stormchaser. The matriarch left out the part about Stormchaser’s scars and the surgeon Krylos’s hand. Just don't expect hir to be too talkative at first, said Sandstorm, Shi isn't really that trusting yet.
Silence drove the van as they went to pick up Soot. Sandstorm stayed at home to prepare the feast that was a regular chakat supper. Patch rode in the passenger seat while Stormchaser and Firewisp shared the back. The drive to the starport took longer than the drive from the hospital, about three hours longer. When the got there, Stormchaser took a moment to watch a starship blast its way out of the atmosphere. Impressive isn't it, Patch asked. Stormchaser nodded slowly.
The inside of the airport was kind of crowded. Stormchaser held onto Patch’s hand while Silence put the Imp on hir leash. A moment later they were walking down the corridors to the receiving gates. As they passed through the weapon scanners, 'Wisp started to pull at hir leash. Oh dear, said Silence, Would you take hir, while I wait for Soot? Patch nodded and took the lead. This I don't mind doing, shi said. Patch led the cubs over to a trio of doors that were marked as the restrooms. The trio went into the middle door, it was a unisex reserved for 'taur species.
Patch took the Imp over to what looked like full-length urinal. It extended into the floor about a foot from the bottom. Wisp sat at the base and then manipulated a sheath between hir hind legs with hir handpaw. As the tip of hir penis emerged from the sheath, the imp relaxed hir muscles and peed much to hir relief.
Stormchaser watched the cub somewhat uncomfortably. Still getting used to the idea of being a herm? asked Patch. Stormchaser nodded and went over to one of the other stalls and tried to copy the Imp’s actions, but to no end.
Stormchaser turned around to see an odd looking 'taur looking at hir. She looked to be as tall as a chakat, but her front feet looked like a normal pair of paws while her hind feet were the odd hand paws that chakat sported on their forelegs. Her fur was black with white socks and jagged white stripes running down the length of her back. Over one breast she had a red mark shaped like a paw.
Hello, she said, My name is Raiden of Clan Redpaw, son of Hiro and Silverblaze.
They call me Stormchaser, the tabby replied. Umm daughter of no one important.
Everyone's important, Raiden said, Like pieces in an ever changing jigsaw puzzle. You may not be as vital as one person or another, but without you the picture is incomplete, none the less.
Stormchaser was left a bit speechless. Raiden waved hir hand in front of hir breaking the daze. Stormchaser shook hir head a moment and then resumed hir attentions. I ask again, problem?
It doesn't work right when I've been sick, Stormchaser replied, I have been in the hospital.
Hospital, said Raiden, Ahh, I thought you looked familiar. You're the little one who did such an interesting job on Krylos’s hand. Stormchaser shied away from her. No no, Raiden said, You didn't hurt him too badly. Besides you may have improved the quality of care at the hospital.
Dimitri Krylos is the Frank Burns of Melbourne General, Raiden replied, He is arrogant and conceited. We cannot stand the man. She straightened out a clump in her fur. Maybe I can help you with your present problem, as a thank you for getting Krylos away from us for at least a week or so. Raiden reached out and touched Stormchaser lightly on the temples. The cub’s eyes widened as though shi had been shocked. Shi gasped as a new set of memories splashed into hir mind. What did you do? asked Stormchaser. Raiden tapped the side of her muzzle and gave a thoughtful smile. That was just a quick version of what I do at the hospital, she explained. I'm a telepath and a physical therapist. I use my mental abilities to help paraplegics and quadriplegics learn to reuse their arms, legs, whatever. All I did here is just give you a little cut and paste memory to help you get things working right again.
Thank you, uh sir, Stormchaser said, then shi bolted around the skunktaur and headed to a stall further in the back. Raiden chuckled and then stopped to chat with Patch. Shi's cute, the skunktaur said, Is shi your sister? Patch shook hir head. The imp here is my baby sister, the calico said, And my older sister is ocelot patterned. Stormchaser is sort of an orphan we adopted.
You know the urban myth about feral chakats? Patch asked, shi then pointed over at Stormchaser. Raiden rubbed her chin with interest.
* * *
Umm, why is she coming with us, I asked casually, Or is it shi?
When referring to skunktaurs, said Raiden, It's hy. The word had an odd inflect at the end that implied that his-hys species was something else than the chakats were. I'm coming along because you are interesting, Raiden finished. I held my head in my hands and sighed.
I see Silence over there, said Patch, I can't see Soot though. Silence was standing at a table ordering a soda when Soot stood up. I suddenly felt like I was looking at a shadow that had sprung to life. Soot was only slightly taller than Silence with a lean muscular build that gave hir a very fluid movement. Hir fur was an odd length that was a cry short of being long. Soot’s color was indescribable, gray didn't quite cover it, neither did charcoal. It was…
Soot, Patch called out over the crowd. The shadow looked up and waved at us to come over. We squeezed our way through the throng and wound up in the starport’s small café. The minute I was through the door, I knew what Soot was drinking; Irish coffee, the smell of the crème de mint was unmistakable. As I approached hir, shi looked at me with a pair of golden eyes that on a dark night might have been spooky. Hello, shi said, I am Chakat Soot, daughter of Flare and Sunshower. Shi wrapped hir arms around me in what I learned was the customary chakat greeting. Hir fur was softer than any other I had felt. And who is this, Soot asked after releasing me from hir embrace.
Raiden of Clan Redpaw, the skunktaur introduced hymself, Son of Hiro and Silverblaze. Soot then extended a hand. Join us then, shi offered. Raiden then settled down and lodged me between hymself and Silence. Don't mind if I do, he said.
Bottles of soda and more coffee were brought to the table. Raiden sipped hazelnut café while Silence preferred something that didn't sit right with my nose. Is something wrong? shi asked. I didn't want to ruin the mood. I'm sorry, I said, It's not you, it's just that I'm not too fond of that coffee your drinking. The smell sort of gets to me.
You don't like Chipingne, Silence asked in return, How can you not like Chipingne? Chipingne is rich, it's smooth, it's full flavored.
It's twenty-three credits a pound, Patch added.
It's the perfect coffee, finished Silence.
I just don't like the smell, I said, I stood up and went around the table and settled down next to Patch. For the next hour we discussed family, friends, new planets, lost loves, found loves, and everything in between. Seeing that I didn't have anything to bring to the table, at least nothing wanted to, I simply sat back, listened, and watched as the beast argued with the straw in hir soda.
You've been the quiet one, Stormchaser, Raiden said, Don't you have anything to say?
I don't know, I replied, I haven't been around you all long enough to know what to say. Raiden reached over and ruffled my head. Tell us about your family, your hopes, your dreams… I raised a hand and shook my head slowly. No, I said, Not yet anyway. Besides, we don't have the time. Sandstorm is fixing lunch and we don't want to miss out. Soot’s stomach gave a loud growl at the thought of food. Maybe that would be a good idea, shi said, They don't serve meals on courier ships and I am hungry.
It was a pleasure talking to you then, said Raiden as hy slotted a card into a slot on the table. A display on the wall made me realize that hy'd just paid our bill. We left with out a word, not realizing the importance of what our company gave to him.
Maybe we should have invited hym to lunch, Patch suggested, There'll certainly be enough food. Soot chuckled and then hir ears perked up. The shadow colored chakat stopped as the rest of the group moved on. Silence noticed that hir mother had stopped. I turned around to see Soot’s ears perked up and listening for something.
What's wrong? asked Silence.
Listen, was Soot’s only reply. I listened. And I heard. The world had grown louder for some reason. The loudest was the whine of a ship’s engine starting up. The SDT's are off-line, Silence said finally.
The what? I asked.
The Sound Dampening Towers, Silence explained, The tall poles between the streetlights in the parking lot. Whenever a ship comes in for a landing, the Towers detect and analyze the amount of noise and then send out a wall of buffer noise that cancels out the sound the engines make.
Many of the larger ships still have to use booster rockets to get them into orbit, Silence continued, They kick out a lot of low level sound. The can even shatter transparent aluminum sometimes.
Then, as if on cue, a huge transport roared by on approach, it had been too late for the terminal to warn the ship about the sound dampeners being off line. The whole building shuddered as the huge vessel passed by. The sound of glass breaking caught my attention, as I looked up a saw that several of the high windows had broken into shards and were falling out of their frames. The glass was falling too fast for anyone to get out of the way; and somewhere in the back of my mind, instinct took over.
* * *
Silence didn't know what shi was alarmed by more, the sound of the falling glass or hearing the words that came out of Stormchaser's mouth. It was the same strange battle cry the stranger had used when he had escaped the hold shi put him in and left hir stunned on the shore. Now shi heard it again from the mouth of this young chakat who was Firewisp’s friend. There could only be one conclusion; Stormchaser and the stranger were one and the same. All at once, Stormchaser’s fur crackled with energy that was of a nature Silence couldn't recognize. A heartbeat later the energy surged out from hir body to form a bubble that swelled to cover all of the chakat family. Seconds later the shards from the windows slammed into the bubble and shattered to bits. At the acme of the dome, a long slim shard had penetrated the shield and was slowly continuing its way inside.
Soot tucked the Imp under hir body to protect hir daughter, but it wasn't necessary. Halfway into the dome, the blade of glass shattered into a scattering of glass crumbs. As the last of the falling glass clinked against the tile of the floor, the dome vanished and Stormchaser collapsed to the ground. What just happened, asked Soot.
I just blew my electrolytes, said Stormchaser. A moment later shi threw up.
* * *
Patch wiped the vomit off of Stormchaser’s chin as they found themselves back in the starport coffee shop. One of the wait staff brought hir a big bottle of Gatorade and a glass. Stormchaser was on hir third cup when Soot asked: What was that?
It's the same kind of energy you find in a Kirlian Aura, the tabby chakat explained, I just happen to have a whole lot more than the average person and I learned how to control it.
The word you used, Patch asked. Stormchaser set hir glass down. Think of it as a cross between a meditative mantra and a post-hypnotic trigger, Stormchaser explained, It helps you concentrate on controlling the energies.
Does it always leave you this sick? asked Soot. Stormchaser shook hir head and poured hirself another glass of Gatorade. This caught me off guard, Stormchaser replied, I acted out of instinct more than anything else. That's what caused me to blow out my electrolytes. I boosted myself into exhaustion, amplified my energies when hadn't gathered enough to do so.
Are you gonna be all right? asked Patch. Stormchaser nodded. If I don't fall over and bang my head I should be fine, shi replied. Silence stood up and put a hand on Stormchaser’s shoulder. I think we can keep that from happening, shi said.
* * *
I found myself being given the chakat equivalent of a piggyback ride. Patch and Soot jut picked me up and set me on Silence’s back. It was a fairly smooth ride, but for one thing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, that odd puddle of color was churning up again and had turned an odd aqua color. I knew whom it was coming from and I thought it would be better to put aside hir doubts. Yes, I whispered into Silence’s ear, It was me at the lake. The puddle suddenly turned a warm rosy color as though it was suddenly embarrassed then the odd swirl of color that came with confusion. I knew what shi was confused about, but the middle of a parking lot wasn't exactly the place to be discussing it. I'll explain later, I whispered.
When we got back to the house we had found that the Mistress of the Spice Rack had gone berserk. There was enough food on the table to feed ten chakats, and I heard three more pots boiling on the stove in the kitchen. In the kitchen there was an extra chakat and a blue colored fox…taur? It took me a moment to recognize the chakat doctor, Redears, without hir lab coat. The foxtaur was familiar, but I didn't really recognize her at all.
You're back, the foxtaur said as she turned around. We didn't get a chance to talk at the hospital, you were kind of unconscious. My name is Sheba Ninetales. She stuck out a hand covered in a thick mitt.
I took her hand gently and shook it. They call me Stormchaser, I replied.
Redears brought you something, said Sandstorm. Shi was chopping veggies by the sink and dumping them into a wok. Redears turned around and handed me a small bag with a ribbon tied around it. I took the bag, opened it up and pulled out: My watch!
You forgot to pick up your personal affects when you were checked out of the hospital, Redears explained, I decided to bring them to you. I slipped the transband back on to my wrist. The band shrank down to fit my wrist once more; I immediately lifted the face up and checked the power display. Red LED, not enough power to transform, but maybe enough to let me add a little mass to my form.
But what are you doing here? Soot asked the foxtaur, as shi came into the room.
Chalk wanted to meet you, Sheba replied, He wanted to see if you were the same Chakat Soot he met on Amistad. Soot gave a slight giggle. If he's Admiral Halifax’s grandson I am, the shadow colored Chakat replied, How is he doing?
Better than when you last saw him, Sheba replied, He may look a little different from when you last saw him, but he's basically the same Chalk that I went to high school with.
Sandstorm, the soap dispenser in your bathroom is empty, said a familiar form as shi padded into the room. It was the white chakat from Van der Lyne’s ship. Where do you keep…the… shi trailed off as shi laid eyes on Soot. Somehow, each knew who the other was. Chalk backed into the den as Soot turned around to look hir over.
You've changed, said Soot. Chalk tilted hir head as though shi were embarrassed. Someone told me that Chakats don't get Lupus, the white chakat replied, I thought I would look into it.
So how do you like being a Chakat? Soot asked
It's changing my world, Chalk replied, I still feel mostly human, but much of me… It's like there are subtle changes going on that I can't quite account for. Then there's the Heat and things like that I am still getting used to. It's all very confusing.
And the sex?
That's still the same, Chalk replied, It's a little more passionate than from when I was human, especially with Sheba. I still haven't...
When you feel it's right, you will, Soot replied as shi gave hir friend a nuzzle.
* * *
What are they talking about, I asked. Sandstorm looked up from hir cooking. Old times, most likely, shi said. Maybe even a future together. Soot may even invite Chalk to stay the night.
This last comment surprised me. But, I stammered, Shi's your mate.
And we usually mate for life, Sandstorm explained, But that doesn't mean we just stick to one mate. I forgot that you don't know what it means to be a chakat socially. We sometimes have huge prides, for lack of a better term, of mates and cubs, often of different species. But the most important thing is the love we have for each other, and making sure that love lasts; not who's been with whom the longest.
Besides in a Chakat house, the more the merrier, said Sandstorm, For the past couple of years it's just been me, Soot, and Patch, Silence, and Firewisp. But with Soot gone most of the time I've been wondering if we shouldn't seek new mates and add to the household. I wouldn't mind Chalk being a part of this family; and Sheba would be more than welcome.
Frankly, I'm surprised neither of my daughters has gone looking for a mate, Sandstorm finished, They're both that age. Redears who had been helping Sheba make a salad suddenly paused in hir activities. Patch is eighteen? shi asked.
Shi's nineteen, said Sandstorm, Why do you ask?
At the hospital I thought shi was just coming off of a growth spurt, Redears explained, Patch’s breasts never developed?
We took hir to an endocrinologist, Sandstorm replied, Said that is was an occurrence of a key hypoactive hormone development.
Who'd you take hir to, asked Redears. It took Sandstorm a moment to remember. Helena Verde I think it was. Redears nodded. I know her she's very good, shi replied, But why isn't Patch on a replacement therapy? She couldn't find out which hormone was missing, Sandstorm explained, So they didn't think it would be such a good idea playing find the hormone. Redears nodded. It might have made things worse, shi said, and then, I think we're finally ready.
I think we're all going to gain twenty pounds from this, said Sheba who finally spoke up, Apiece.
* * *
The luncheon turned into a longer get together than anyone had planned. It lasted much of the afternoon and well into the evening. Firewisp was full of lots of good food, so full shi didn't want to play with anyone. A first from what I understand.
I too ate way more than I should have. It made me a bit sleepy, and I thought about an afternoon nap. But before I could I had something to take care of. As I left the room, I opened the face of my watch and activated the transformation sequence. The warm honey sensation returned and I felt my feline body growing a few more inches in height and the bone density in my legs growing a bit heavier. I was a bit steadier on my feet and a little more confidant; plus my stomach didn't feel so full.
Is this a bad time for that explanation?
No, no it's not, I said turning around.
* * *
How many dimensions have you been in, Silence asked.
This is my sixth emergence, I answered as honestly as I could, I have been to five other dimensions. Four of them my abilities were the same; one left me virtually without any power at all. Here I am about a third of my normal abilities.
What was all that at the lake about?
I was trying to relight my campfire when your sister startled me, I explained, I lost control of the beam and you saw what happened. As for the Imp as you call hir…
We figured that part out, Silence said, We tracked both you and Firewisp to where you picked hir up. I nodded solemnly. If I had even so much as brushed hir at the speed I was going I would have hurt hir very badly. I would have brought hir home sooner, but I hurt my leg and couldn't travel very fast.
Shi survived the trip without so much as a scratch, I finished.
Firewisp ripped into the room after hearing hir name. I gave hir ears a fuzzle and let hir glom onto my tail. I try to stay out of trouble wherever I go, Silence, I told hir, But trouble always seems to find me; be it what happened at the lake, losing my scouter in the last dimension, or getting… My scars started to itch again.
I stood up to rub against the wall, hoping to stop the itching. You're taller, said Silence. I looked down to see that shi was right. I had turned the transband back on to add some mass to my frame and maybe a few inches of height; only I left it on for too long. Now I was about half an inch shorter than Patch. I quickly deactivated the watch. Explaining this is going to be a little awkward, I said.
I don't think you'll have to worry about it, Silence replied, One thing about chakats that's most commonly known.
We're notorious eavesdroppers, chorused up from the den and through the hall. I gave Silence a nasty glare as I heard the rest of hir family and guests started to chuckle. Fine, I could pull a fast one just as easily. I stood with my arms akimbo and started gathering the ambient energies. Nothing too strong, just the negative ions and static electricity that was constantly drifting around the room. This wouldn't take much.
About a minute later, my hands started to glow faintly as the energy coalesced around my hands. I stepped out into the hall and onto the landing at the top of the stairs. I smirked a grin and launched myself into the middle of the room. Fye, betrayers, I said not really seriously, Feel the Ultimate Revenge. MEGA FRIZZ BOMB!!!
I loosed the energy down into the den and watched as it haloed out through the room. As the bluish nimbus touched each of the chakats in the room, the energy crackled along their fur causing it to fluff up and stick out. Ack, said Patch as shi tried to comb hir fur down. I gently floated to touch down on one handtoe, and then let the rest of my feet touch to the floor.
The only one who hadn't been affected by my ‘assault’ was Sheba. Her short coarse fur had made her immune to it. Chalk was trying to brush down hir lion’s mane, as Sandstorm tended to hir thick tail. Soot simply looked like one big pouf.
* * *
Come here you little stinker, Nadira Quartzsand called out as she chased down her chakat ward. The young cub was still wet from hir bath and was leaving wet footprints all over Nadira’s hut. She then tossed the towel she was carrying over the kitten’s head, pounced, and seized the dripping furball before shi knew what was going on.
At least getting you to take a bath is no problem, Nadira said as she fought with the squirming cub. It was nice having someone else around, even if it was a chakat cub. Nadira secretly longed for her own kind, but as rare as they were, Nadira knew that it was almost impossible.
Nadira’s species was that of a breed that had been created by accident. Someone had been trying to create a version of a wolftaur using Australian dingoes. Nadira had been part of the only natural born litter to come out of the whole experiment. She missed her brothers and sister and would have loved to know where any of the other eighty dingoes were. But they were spread out all over the world.
Lilybit pounced on the frayed part of the towel and then shook it around in hir mouth fiercely. Nadira finished drying of Lilybit’s hind legs, then picked hir up and took hir outside. The sun was just going down, turning everything a deep red. It was lovely.
Beside Nadira’s porch was a large doghouse that held Nadira’s junkyard dog. Cirrocco had been four months old when he had been trapped in a wildfire on the grasslands near Ayer’s Rock. He survived his burns long enough to be found by firefighters and taken to veterinary hospital. Nadira had heard about the badly burned dingo and made a request to adopt the pup if it survived. He did; but both forelegs had to be replaced by cybernetics, as did his left eye. Now, after a year, Cirrocco had grown into a fearsome looking blend of metal and flesh that could have starred in a horror film; yet shared his mistress’s love for children.
As Cirrocco lumbered out of his doghouse he lumbered over to sit beside Nadira. He leaned over for a scratch and squeezed under Nadira’s arm. A moment later the big dog had chakat kitten on his back trying to wrap her arms around his neck for a hug. Cirrocco swung his head around and gave Lilybit a wet slurp. All was well with the world, at least around Nadira’s junkyard, until…
Cirrocco, what is it?
The dingo had his ears laid back as a low growl formed in the beast’s throat. It took a lot to make Cirrocco growl; children would get him to pant happily while people would barely get a snort. He didn't chase anything smaller than a cat and rarely got into fights with strays; so whatever was making him act this way, was nothing she wanted to mess with. At least not unarmed.
Nadira wrapped an arm around Lilybit’s barrel and tucked her back inside the Quonset hut. After she secured the cub in a back room, Nadira moved aside a loose board on the wall to reveal a palm scanner. As she pressed her hand to the scanner, the wall opened up to reveal a rack of small arms that would have made any collector jealous. Nadira removed a Russian tri-barreled Squad Automatic Weapon, and loaded it with a belt of 7.62X54mm rounds. Nadira then removed a heavy revolver in a gun belt from a drawer under the rifle rack and wrapped it around her waist. She then closed her secret closet back up before sidling back to the door. Nadira peered through the window to try and see what was out there. Nothing-wait there was someone moving out there, holding some kind of- A flare of light blazes across the junkyard and strikes Nadira’s porch; Nadira’s ears flattened as she heard the sound of Cirrocco’s yelp of pain. You sons of bitches, she shouted then smashed the window open with the muzzle of her gun before squeezing the trigger. The barrels of the SAW gave a soft whir before spitting out ten thirty-caliber rounds a second. The bullets sliced through the air and started to shred the sheet metal of the wrecked shuttle that lay across the junkyard.
Nadira eased off of the trigger and waited a full minute before moving towards the porch. She carefully opened the door and peered outside. Cirrocco lay sprawled on top of his doghouse, unconscious but alive. Some of the fur remaining on his body was burned and still smoking. What have they done to you boy, she asked as she stepped off the porch.
Nadira’s ear perked up as a thin whine pierced the air, like the recharge on a photoflash. She leaped out of the way just as an arc of energy scorched the ground where she had been standing a moment before. A tesla cannon, Nadira said to herself, Where did they get that? She drew her revolver and fired three heavy caliber rounds back towards the wreck of the shuttle. The first two ricocheted off of the shuttle’s hull, the last one raised a yelp of pain as it struck something humanoid.
Nadira pointed the SAW in the direction of the yelp and pulled the trigger. Bullets rattled along the hull of the shuttle until the last of the belt was chewed up. She then pulled out the revolver once more and then charged around the shuttle. There she found a modestly built man on the ground bleeding from one shoulder. He was dressed in work clothes and had a scarf over his face.
Who are you, Nadira barked, What are you doing he-HLAAAUUUUGGGGGHHH. The scream that came from Nadira could have been described as demonic. The charge from the second Tesla cannon ripped through her body like a razor through crepe paper. Her killers watched as the energy charge arced between the teeth of Nadira’s open mouth. Then as quickly as it began, it ended. Nadira collapsed to the ground; her fur was burnt, the circuitry in her shunt fried, the saddle blanket she used to cover it smoldering. A trickle of smoke drifted up from one ear.
You took your sweet time, the first killer said.
I didn't have a full charge, his partner replied, I wanted to savor the moment. I told you those police personnel files would pay off. There's nothing between us and our margay pelt now is there?
* * *
Silence padded through the hallway with a bit of a lopsided grin on hir face. Sheba and Chalk had stayed the night; Sheba in Patch’s room, Chalk with Sandstorm and Soot. Stormchaser, now the size of a young adult chakat, slept in Silence’s room on hir own mattress. Silence loved the look on hir roommate’s face when both Sandstorm and Soot gave Chalk a lesson in the advantages of being a Chakat. The roar he let loose in the middle of the night woke the whole house at once. Silence knew that they were practicing one of the few passionate techniques that only a Chakat could accomplish.
When Silence woke up, shi noticed that Stormchaser wasn't in hir bed. Chaser, shi called out softly, Where'd you go, Chaser? Now shi was walking down the hall of the house looking for the black and silver chakat. And enjoying the passionate aromas that wafted from hir parents’ room.
A whiff of that same aroma drifted out from Patch’s room. Sheba must not have been able to get back to sleep after Chalk woke her up. As shi walked on, Silence picked up another scent. Someone's in heat, shi said aloud. As Silence walked past the rooms, shi smelled it coming from the bathroom. The door was slightly ajar, so Silence just pushed it in. Chaser, shi said, Are you in- oh my god!
I guess I was glad to see Silence. I was feeling as though I had been beaten in a bag and then thrown in the crick. My fur was soaked with sweat, and my nose was bleeding for some reason. Come on, said Silence as shi slipped under my arm, Back to bed with you.
Tissue please, I said not wanting to drip blood everywhere. Silence reached for a box on the way out of the bathroom. A ways down the hall Silence knocked on the door to Sandstorm’s bedroom. A few more steps down the hall, I felt someone else slip under my right shoulder. It must have been Soot, for shi was all but invisible in the dark hallway.
Silence then laid me back down on the mattress and covered me with a sheet. About fifteen minutes later, Soot came back in and brought me a cup of strong herb tea that didn't taste very good; but I drank it anyway. That was the last thing I remember until some time in the afternoon.
* * *
Sandstorm clacked down the stairs on hir crutches in search of hir beloved mate. Soot had left their bed sometime during the night and hadn't returned. Shi wasn't there when 'Storm had woken up, and the matriarch usually awoke at dawn.
Sandstorm heard hir beloved in the kitchen. As shi reached the bottom of the stairs, Sandstorm saw Soot’s tail sticking out from the doorway. The dark chakat was washing something in the sink; Sandstorm could hear the water running.
You weren't in bed when I woke up, Sandstorm teased, I had to use Chalk for my morning exercise. Shi tried get a nuzzle from the dark chakat, until shi noticed the grim expression on Soot’s face. Sandstorm then noticed the remains of the herbs shi was washing out of the teapot. Who's in heat? Sandstorm asked.
Stormchaser, Soot replied grimly, It's making hir sick.
Sick, Soot replied, Hir nose is bleeding cause hir blood pressure is so high and shi's soaked to the bone with sweat. I called Redears to come over as soon as the sun came up, so shi should be here soon.
Oh my, said Sandstorm, then shi began to fix breakfast. Sausages and eggs with hash browns; and a nice bowl of hot rice cereal, with sugar and cinnamon in it, for Stormchaser when shi woke up. Sandstorm put the food in a thermal crock, the outside would be cool to the touch, but the inside of the dish would absorb and redistribute the heat and keep the cereal hot for hours.
Soot took the cereal up to where Stormchaser was sleeping. Shi then set it on the night table and then slipped back out. As Soot left the room, the doorbell rang. That will be Redears, shi thought; but as shi got to the door, Soot found not the chakat doctor, but the stocky Italian detective, Joe Guma. The man’s face looked as though it were carved from solid stone; a harsh change from his usual attitude.
Yes, said Soot.
My name is Fiorello Guma, the detective explained, I am here to see Chakat Sandstorm.
Storm, Soot called out, Someone here to see you.
A moment later Sandstorm clacked hir way into the living room on hir crutches. Detective Guma, the oversized chakat said, What bring you our way.
I'm here to place Chakat Stormchaser into protective custody, the grim Italian said.
Chakat Lilybit was taken from the safehouse we had hir in last night, Guma explained, The woman we had protecting her is now in Melbourne General’s critical ward with severe electrical burns.
Nadira, no… Guma looked up to see the blue foxtaur standing on the upper landing of the stairs. Joe…
They hit her with a Gaki V-138, the detective said, The circuit breakers in her shunt were all that saved her.
A V-138, said Soot, You don't see those outside of a military base, they are mainly used for anti-vehicular purposes. For burning out the circuits on shuttles and courier ships, and for ground teams to disable terrain based weapons such as mass drivers and rail cannons. These guys must be really well connected get one of those.
How do you know about these things, Soot? asked Sheba.
Standard training for any and all off world scouts includes two months of weapons training with any and all weapons that can be carried by at least one person, Soot explained. You never know what weapons you are going to need and what's available, so they train you with practically everything.
Look, I don't mean to be an ass about this, said Guma, But I need to get Stormchaser to a new safe house as soon as I can. Right now shi's the only witness I have and right now shi needs to be taken somewhere safe.
Well your timing could have been better detective, said Sandstorm, Last night, Stormchaser became very sick. I don't think shi could stand to be moved anywhere right now.
* * *
Redears ran hir medical sensor over hir patient. I have never seen anything like this in all my years as a doctor, the chakat doctor said, Your first heat has triggered one hell of a hormonal imbalance. I can't tell how to stop-huh? Shi aimed the sensor up my arm. Ah-ha, Redears said finally, Stormchaser, can you tell me why the levels in your left arm are higher than they are in the rest of your body?
I then stuffed my face into the pillow. I then raised my arm and let Redears take the transband off of my wrist. It looks like part of this thing is a passive medical sensor, Redears explained, Your heat must have activated it and it started pumping you full of more hormones than you needed. Shi smiled to which I replied by pulling down the bottom of one eye.
Is it me, I asked, or do I smell an Italian detective?
Is shi saying that I stink? asked Guma.
No, the doctor replied, then to me, Guma's here to take you into protective custody.
What, I asked, Why?
Guma says that a chakat cub that was rescued from Van der Lyne and Holt was taken again, Redears explained, They hacked the personnel files at Starfleet Security and found where Guma was hiding hir.
They blasted the place with Tesla Cannons, Guma said after the last. At the word Tesla I realized how cruel Holt and Van der Lyne could be. My father once did a lesson on the Tesla Coil for his chemistry class. I remembered the sparks it made and then thought of the horror if such a thing was used as a weapon. Lightning in a bottle, I thought to myself, For a molotov cocktail.
* * *
About three hours later I had realized that I had fallen asleep and woke up with a jolt. I felt a little better, I even felt like eating. There was a bowl of cereal on one of the small tables; it smelled of cinnamon. No doubt one of the clan had brought it to me when I was semi-conscious. Right now it smelled wonderful.
I slinked over to the table and picked up the bowl. The food inside was still steaming hot. I scooped up a spoonful and stuck it in my mouth; it tasted wonderful and felt good when it hit my stomach I all but devoured the bowl in an instant. With my stomach full I began to feel a little stronger, little more human.
The room I had been left in was beginning to feel a little stuffy; I wanted to be somewhere cooler. As I got to my feet, I found my knees a little wobbly, but they eventually became a little steadier. As I opened the door to the room, I was welcomed with a gust of wonderfully cool air, it felt good. I walked through the hall and began to make my way down the stairs and into the den. Better still, I didn't feel confined. I yawned, licked my chops, and found myself thirsty. I padded my way into the kitchen and… Bliss! Tile; wonderfully cool tile. It was heaven; I flopped to the floor and stretched out on the cool bit of heaven that had been provided for me. I sighed with relief.
Mmmmhmmm, I murred.
Nothing like a cold tile floor to take the edge off of your heat, the shadow chakat commented. I wholeheartedly agreed. I don't think I'll ever get used to this duel gender thing, I replied, It has too many surprises.
I got used to it, Soot replied, Sandstorm got used to it. Patch, my daughter, they're used to it.
They're real chakats, I said, I'm just a copy.
Chalk is also like you, said Soot, A human turned chakat to avoid a slow lingering death.
This is his world, he belongs here, I replied, I don't. Soot lay down beside me and put hir hands on my shoulders and began to rub along the length of my spine. More of the heat edge began to dull and soon it was all but non-existent. Acupressure, Soot said as I looked at hir, It helps when there are no suppression herbs available. Feeling better? I nodded contentedly.
My daughter is much more talented at this sort of thing, Soot replied, Shi's still a little nervous about you, my daughter.
It's understandable, I said, Shi's felt what I can do, had the power run through hir. There are days when I am still terrified by the things that I can do.
Anything shi doesn't understand makes my daughter nervous, Soot said, Has shi told you how we came to name hir.
Hir full name is ‘The Silence Before the Rains’, Soot said, The day shi was born was beautiful; sun shining, a cloud here, there. Flowers in bloom, a perfect fall day. My dam and sire are there as are Storm’s, a midwife, a few friends. Smooth as silk, a half-hour after the first contraction, I gave birth to this tiny wet cub that was all but perfect. But…
Shi wouldn't cry, Soot continued, If there's one thing I know, it's that cubs cry when they are born. I have three younger half sisters and I was present for two of the birthings. But my cub, shi wouldn't make a sound. We clean hir up, give hir a feeding, nothing. An hour later the sky starts to cloud up and there this huge roll of thunder. Soot was beginning to giggle at this point. Still nothing, I'm beginning worry that my daughter has been born a mute. The first drop of rain, the very first one, lands on the tip Silence’s nose. Hir little eyes bolt open and shi yowls, Shi Howls. Just then my mother, mistress of glib says ‘And thus the silence before the rains hath ended’.
Somehow the name just seemed right, Soot said. I oozed along the floor looking for a better patch of cool. Three years later, Patch came along, Soot continued, Our life has been quite good, if a little routine. Until about two years ago.
What happened? I asked.
I had been away on a scouting mission for half a year longer than usual, Soot explained, For three months I had been trying to get my usual leave in; but our missions had taken us out further than usual.
Finally our ship, The Mulligan, gets called back to Earth, Soot continued, Sandstorm and the cubs are there to meet me at the spaceport. We go home and have the usual celebrations, and then Sandstorm and I go to our room to make up for lost time. Sometime during the night, while we were asleep, Sandstorm goes into heat. And if you remember your basic biology you know how long…
How long they stay viable, I finished. Soot rolled hir eyes at the thought. If you didn't know, Chakats have an internal sense of well being that tells them if something is wrong with their health. Imagine being woken up by your beloved early in the A.M. to tell you shi's pregnant.
So that's what Silence meant by not paying attention. I couldn't help but chuckle. And along comes Firewisp, Soot finished, Proving that even for chakats there is such a thing as an unplanned pregnancy.
I imagine your daughters had a field day with that, I said.
Oh indeed they did, Soot replied as shi rolled hir eyes. How's your heat?
Better, I said, More tolerable at least. The cravings are there, but I can manage them now. I got to my feet and shook out my fur, I definitely felt better. In a couple of days I would be back to a hundred percent, but something told me I didn't have a couple of days.
* * *
It took a quick snack from the kitchen and a shower before I felt good enough to talk to Guma. I still had no idea as to what was going on with Van der Lyne, but maybe the detective could fill in some of the blanks for me. I tracked his scent to the back verandah; he was sipping that damn coffee that Silence liked. It reminded me too much of Van der Lyne and the odd sensations I picked up from him.
You wanted to see me, I said stepping into the sun. The detective put down his glass, which clinked with ice cubes. I shuddered, iced coffee, revolting. I understand you managed to get inside Van der Lyne’s ship, when you rescued Chalk, Guma said.
Yeah, I replied.
Tell me what all did you see in there? the detective asked. I sat down on my haunches and looked him straight in the eye. I saw a room with a chakat in it, I said slowly, Shi was being kept in an electrified cage of some kind and I got hir out of it.
What else did you see? the detective asked. I shook my head not knowing what the detective wanted. Just the room, a countertop, a hole in the wall with a crowbar through it, I replied, The room was soundproofed for some reason.
And that's all, asked Guma, No guns, no drugs or pelts?
Oh god I thought you knew, the detective explained, They are poaching wild patterned chakats for their fur. Leopard, tiger; the reason they had Chalk was because of his white lion pattern.
If I had been human at the time, the detective would have seen the color drain from my face. As it was, I think he got the hint of what I was feeling, total disbelief at what I was hearing. Suddenly that feeling of when Holt tried to grab Firewisp returned only then it was a trickle compared to that I felt now. This was a flood.
* * *
If there was one thing Fiorello G. Guma hated, it was being the last one told about anything. So he could understand this young chakat’s anger at what the Italian detective had just told hir; but he wasn't expecting anything like the reaction he got. The slits of the chakat’s eyes began to glow a faint amber; Joe had seen a chakat’s eyes glow before, but that was in the morning or evening from reflected sunlight. Now it was early afternoon, there was no light that would cause what he was seeing.
As he stared, Stormchaser began to radiate an aura of something not unlike heat ripples on hot asphalt. A loose board behind Guma started to shake and rattle on its remaining nail as Stormchaser’s eyes glowed brighter. Some of the tightly nailed boards on the wooden porch began to loosen as motes of dust began to rise through the crevices between them. Stormchaser took a deep breath in through hir nose and let it out with a loud Hah! The ground under the porch exploded in a huge rushing cloud of dirt. As the dirt settled, Guma could see the chakat’s eyes glowing through the dusty haze. Right now, describing hir as pissed would have been an understatement. As the rest of the dirt settled, Guma saw that shi had hir canines bared in a snarl. As shi slowly uncurled hir lips, Stormchaser gave a deep sigh. Shi then sat down on the porch and hung hir head.
Now what do we do, shi asked.
Holt stropped the edge of his big skinning knife against a thick piece of buffalo hide. After he was done the big man laid the knife next to a rabbit skin that he had stretched and tanned the previous week. Holt then smoothed out the hide then picked up the big knife. He then placed the tip of the blade at the nose tip of the fur and drew it to the tail in one swift motion. The fur looked unchanged from before, until Holt picked up half of the rabbit-skin to examine the cut he had just made. He inspected the edge of the skin before hanging up the strop again and running the edge of his brand over the thick hide of the buffalo.
* * *
Van der Lyne was starting to have regrets about ever hiring the man he knew as Holt. Van der Lyne had hired the American after the Boer’s previous partner, a man named Vorst, had been arrested for trying to smuggle a kilo of uncut diamonds out of Johannesburg on his own, without telling Van der Lyne.
Vorst was trying to make some extra capital for the old Boer to retire on, when the starport security forces nicked him after a random inspection of his luggage. Three days later, Vorst was put under the Jo'burg Prison Complex where three days later he would be killed in a prison riot. But two days before that would happen Vorst had gotten a message to Van der Lyne, telling him what Vorst had done and to skip the country on one of their regular runs and never come back to South Africa.
So Van der Lyne put his ship down in Canada, sold it, and then traveled down the Pacific Northwest where he found himself in the Oregon territories, hiding out in a bar known as The Trail in a town called Fort Clatsop.
For two days, he never moved from the table in the back. He had enough personal cash to buy George Dickle's and Jack Daniel's, two of the five brands of good whiskey to survive the Gene Wars. For three nights and two days, Van der Lyne was the first one in The Trail and the last one to leave. He watched as rough men, rougher than he and Vorst, did their best to drain the kegs of beer from the taps; until one night it got so loud and raucous he decided to leave and go back his rented room when…
You look like a man who's run out of luck, said a voice. Van der Lyne turned to see a thin to the point of skeletal man in the dim lamplight. Behind him he heard another man, slip up behind him on light feet. And you say this why, the Boer replied.
Cause we're gonna take it from you, said the man Van der Lyne couldn't see, Starting with that wad you've been using to buy yer hooch with. Suddenly, Van der Lyne was pushed into the alley between the bar and the general store, and shoved against the wall. He could have fought them off; but the larger of the two men had his fist between Van der Lyne’s shoulderblades, while the weasel went through his pockets.
This guy's loaded Gierich, the weasel told the thug, This is all free trade currency, we can spend it anywhere, no worries about traces or such.
Really, Gierich replied, Get his magkey and go search his room. See if he has anymore of this stuff. The weasel scooped up the key and then vanished into the night; only to be thrown back into the alley, and into Gierich; knocking the thug into the dirt.
I thought I told you two shitheads; I didn't want to see you on my side of the road. The voice belonged to a massively built man with hair that was just beginning to bald. He wore a heavy flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off and the collar up. In a heartbeat, Gierich was on his feet and charging the newcomer. The thug threw the first punch, only to have it blocked by the newcomer who then twisted Gierich’s arm to the breaking point, then beyond it. The mere sound of the bone breaking brought a surge of bile to Van der Lyne’s throat.
Suddenly, the weasel was up on his feet with a knife in his hand. He ran towards the newcomer and cut a slash along the length of his ribs. Take that, you mother fu- Van der Lyne’s rescuer released Gierich and clubbed the weasel with his forearm, before doubling over in pain. Gierich learned the better part of valor and ran, before the big man he knew as Holt could recover and finish what he started.
* * *
Van der Lyne had taken Holt on as a swamper and general roustabout after that night. The Boer had come to rely on the big man for lifting most of the heavy cargo on their legal business and manning the lasers for other business. But now he wondered if he should regret that choice. Holt is becoming cruel, crueler than the time he'd saved Van der Lyne from the thugs in Oregon.
Van der Lyne himself was not that cruel. He believed that death should be quick and painless. A shot to the base of the brain with a needler or a lethal injection of opiates were how he preferred to relieve his captives of their lives, quick, painless. Holt, on the other hand, would terrorize the Chakats like he was now with his pig sticker and strop. When the opportunity arose, Van der Lyne would put the big man out of the world’s misery. Quick.
* * *
I never thought I would be doing anything like this; training someone how to use my powers. At the most, I thought I would be trading techniques with another fighter or giving pointers to one of somebody’s more promising students. But teaching someone from scratch…
I decided to take advantage of the remoteness of the chakat’s home and practice my katas. Partly because I needed something to relax me and partly because I wanted to see just how well I could fight in Stormchaser’s form. The basics were kind of easy; it was just like using the basic horse stance. Kicking was a little harder to do. I had rear like a horse to do anything that was remotely effective and I had to brace myself to keep from tumbling ass over elbow when I kicked too high. Now for something more serious.
Breath… Center… Focus…
I let the power rise until I could feel it in my back molars. It's like chewing foil when you have fillings, only a bit stronger. My fur started to crackle with static as I let the energy collect into my hands and formed it into a ball. BALL LIGHTNING BLAST!!! The ball crackled loudly as I let it fly into the atmosphere. It widened until it dissipated into a cloud that hung above the horizon.
The puddle of color in the back of my mind started churning again. It swirled into that pale aqua that I had come to associate with Silence. I turned slightly to see hir watching me out of the corner of my eye. There was something I had to do…
* * *
Alright, I'm gonna do it slowly, I said, Let me know when you feel it in your teeth. POWER FLUX… I placed my hand on the small of Silence’s back and channeled my power into hir body. Ooh! shi yipped suddenly.
Feel it yet? I asked.
Yeah, Silence replied, But just where you're touching, it's kinda numb.
All right. I let the power flow into hir a little faster. There, said Silence, But just barely. A few more seconds and shi was ready. All right, now just read the flow of the energy, I explained, Like you read the flow of a current in a river or the wind in a canyon. Slowly, Silence’s hands began to glow. Now let it pool and it will usually form into a ball all on it's own. A moment later shi had a crackling ball of energy floating between hir hands.
I taught hir how, with practice, you can form it into a blade or a beam; and then showed hir some of my own basic techniques: the Disrupter Blade, the Fastball, and the Solar Flare among them.
I have two ways of boosting my power levels, I explained, The first is the Kamei Corridor. This technique collects and enfuses your energies directly into your muscles, it triples your fighting power and greatly increases your size. If I used it right now I'd probably wind up being bigger than Sandstorm. The puddle in back of my mind told me that shi was impressed. The other way, which you know very well, is called the Tataiodoken. That's what I used at the airport and at the lake. That technique is a little more complicated. The best way I can describe it is it's like squeezing a tennis ball. You compress your energies in to a tight mass and then release it. And the energy is enhanced by the backlash.
That sounds more dangerous that the first one, Silence said. I nodded. In places where I am at my norm, I explained, The strain can be too much for my body.
Then why do you use it?
Because, I said summoning up my powers, With this technique, your body is optional. I demonstrated this by letting my consciousness sink into the concentration of energy before I released it. The aura of Stormchaser’s body flared for a moment before I channeled it out. As my body slumped to the ground, I let the fulgeration I had temporarily become, hover in front of hir.
You want to try it? I asked.
* * *
This is so amazing, Silence said as shi raced through the sky. I followed hir closely just in case she needed help of any kind. It's like I am made of lightning, shi said, I feel so alive.
Be careful, I told her, If you run out of power too far from your body you can wipe yourself out.
You mean I might never get back into my body, Shi asked frantically. I shook my head. It's like what happened to me back at the airport, you just get totally blitzed out, I said, You blow out your electrolytes basically. It's not fun but you'll survive it.
But I can still get back into my body, Silence asked again.
You don't really have a choice in the matter, I explained, Your body has a connection to this form kinda like a cross between a magnetic field and a bungee cord. When your power runs out the attraction pulls you back like a bowstring. That's what blitzes your electrolytes. But we can go a good distance on the power we're using.
And we did. Silence and I had nearly made it to the coast when…
What is it? I asked.
It's like there are more people around than there are, Silence replied, Too many people, too many emotions. So many…
Silence, I said not knowing if she needed help, Silence just relax. Let your body pull you back.
No, it's alright, shi replied, There are memories here, old emotions left by people that had come here before. Joys, sadnesses, passions; hmm lots of those, hmm hmm hmm. Hir energy form started to ripple around the middle of her energy form, it took me a moment to figure out that Silence was purring. The 'Doken must be enhancing your empathy as well as the energy I loaned you. I explained.
They are very old, Silence said through a haze of bliss, But still so alive. The ripple was beginning to vibrate faster. That was a serious purr.
Suddenly I noticed my fingers starting to tingle, our energy forms were beginning to run low. I reached out to touch hir on the shoulder and received a pleasant shock, almost galvanic. Some of the sensations Silence was feeling trickled up my arm and spread into my mind. It was kinda like the warm honey sensations I felt when I used my transband to become Stormchaser. It wasn't unpleasant, but right now we needed to get back to our bodies. I had an idea.
Silence, relax, let the sensations just come, I instructed carefully. Suddenly the ripply purr began to tone down as shi started to be pulled back to hir corporeal form. I relaxed a little to and let the pull take me back to field we were lying in. I made sure Silence was securely in hir body before I even thought about going back to mine. As I slowly settled back into my body Silence slowly got to hir feet. I feel wonderful, shi said as though shi were coming out of a dream. I don't suppose you could do me a favor?
What? I asked warily.
Shi then whispered it in my ear.
* * *
Patch tried not to giggle as Redears ran the Medi-sensor over the younger chakat’s slender torso. So you've had essentially no hormonal breast growth at all since you hit puberty? the chakat doctor asked.
Yeah, Patch replied, I thought I was just naturally flat until the Imp came along. Shi paused as a giggle slipped through her lips. I took a drink of Sandstorm’s milk. Patch’s mood seem to become a bit more downcast. Redears took out a tissue sampler and took a single cell from both portions of Patch’s mammary tissue. Shi would then clone the cells until shi had enough for a decent sized tissue sample to work with.
Do you want to know what it feels like to be me, Patch asked, There's an emptiness that I can't even begin to fill. These are the years that I should be blazing with the passions of young love, but I can barely get a decent smoulder. Redears looked up at hir. And there are other things, Patch continued.
Other things? asked Redears.
I can't orgasm, Patch said, Vaginally I mean.
Are you sure, Redears asked. Patch nodded. Silence keeps a toy in her top drawer. And because of these I get depressed a lot, the calico explained pointing to her slender chest, One night when I was in the depths of a blue funk, I borrowed it. I wore down the batteries and all I got was sore.
I see, said Redears. It could just be psychosomatic, have you ever thought of that?
Sometimes, Patch replied, I just hope it goes away or comes back or whatever.
* * *
Holt was up to something. He'd made a phone call a couple of hours ago, and now there was a crew of workmen repainting the ship and rewiring the areas damaged by the ion blasts. Oddly they stayed out of the room the chakat cub was in. Van der Lyne didn't like it. There were too many faces here faces that he didn't know and they were being oddly cooperative.
It was unsettling.
* * *
It had taken time to get back in contact with his old connections in oregon, but the time had been well spent. An hour and a half after he finished the call, a good dozen workmen appeared in front of the hangar with paint cans and supplies necessary for repairing the ship. Holt was there to meet them and instructed them to their tasks and to what areas they were to stay out of.
Holt would have to send a few bottles of Van der Lyne’s whiskey to Mel Lloyd, the head of Oregon’s largest Humans First chapters. Holt’s call to Lloyd had gotten the American the number of the head of the Adelaide HF chapter; who also happened to be the head of the local dockworker’s union, where the chapter got most of its members. Twenty minutes later, Holt had a paint crew and a full work detail at the Starhauler’s rented hangar going over the whole works with a fine toothed comb and wirecutters. The workmen followed Holt’s instructions to the letter; they stayed out of the workroom where the chakat cub was kept and kept their questions to a minimum.
But Van der Lyne was being edgy for some reason.
* * *
Hiram Lancaster had been very careful these days. He knew something big was up and Harlan wanted to make sure no one got hurt from it. It had been almost three years since he started this assignment; working undercover could often be a thankless job, but Lancaster happened to be very good at it.
It had been many years since starfleet security had needed undercover agents; but with the rash of hate crimes caused by the Humans First movement, the need for the plain-clothes policeman had been reinstated. When a friend of his, a sweet bunny morph named Kayla, was assaulted and covered in spray painted slogans; Lancaster volunteered for the job the very next day.
It had started out as just a plain vanilla ‘go to the bars and keep your ears open’ assignment. Lancaster’s ears had been fitted with a pair of cybernetic enhancers that made his ears rival those of a Chakat. The enhancers also doubled as a receiver for a sublingual communicator he had implanted next to his larynx. Combined with a microchip recorder implanted at the base of his skull; Lancaster had for all wants and purposes become a living bug. However, after about three weeks of listening to the I'm gonna skin that cat,s and the Say hello to my wife’s new fur coat,s; the whole assignment started to get dull. Until…
You did a sweet job on that 'taur bitch…
Lancaster did a sweep of the room until he could zero in on the conversation.
Yeah, someone said, I'm just glad she fought back. More fun that way.
After listening to the conversation for a couple of hours, Lancaster determined that these must have been the rioters that injured a wolftaur name Lupu at a humans first riot, and killed one of her cubs. Lancaster was about to call Starfleet Security, when he picked up something else.
What are we gonna do next, one of the rioters asked
Dunno, another replied, But the boss told us to lay low until Friday. He has something big in the works. Friday turned out to be the abduction of a fox morph that happened to be a prominent neighborhood businessman. This time the victim wasn't harmed merely humiliated; they dumped him in front of his business after shaving his tail clean.
Lancaster, after making good use of these Firsters as a source of information for two months, infiltrated them with the help of a Chakat fighting instructor named Lotus; and some liberal applications of stage blood, fur dye, and makeup. He'd then arranged a ‘bashing’ in front of the bar just as the bruisers from the riot were coming out. The well ‘bloodied’ Lotus then ‘fell’ into the Firsters, dragging them into the ‘brawl’ and, after a few minutes of fighting in which the Firsters received a few severe bruises and lost teeth, were all arrested by a ‘passing’ police cruiser. It was perfect.
The five of them were booked while the ‘assault’ victim was taken to the hospital. Lotus hadn't gotten out of it completely unscathed, one of one of hir lower floating ribs was cracked and hir tail had been trod on accidentally, it later turned out, by Lancaster. The five of then were thrown into holding. Hiram took the opportunity to make nice with the rioters and apologized for getting them involved in his personal matter. Lancaster told them of how he'd been fired and how his company had hired ‘Chakat Windreaper’ as his replacement at a quarter less his salary.
The Firsters ate it up with pepper and salt and started him on their subtle recruiting spiel; and as Hiram pretended to listen to them, he made a couple of calls on his sublingual communicator; one to his supervisor, and one to a friend who owed him a favor. Six hours later Lancaster and three of the Firsters were bailed out and released. One of them, a thin man named Breer, was held back for questioning. Breer was transferred to the general population of the local pen. The next day he was in the infirmary after being beaten senseless by a wolf doing time for battery. It might have taken a while, but Lancaster’s sense of justice was finally appeased. After the arrest, and Breer’s incarceration and mugging, the group became a bit more sedate in their activities; limiting them to spray painting slogans and handing out fliers. Occasionally, a fur would be waylaid and graffitti dyed into their fur that would take weeks to come out; but most of the violence had been curbed.
But now, most of the Adelaide’s Humans First, chapter were assembling in a rented hangar to work on an obsolete type cargo ship that had obviously taken heavy damage. What was going on here?
Hey you, Manchester, Someone called. Hiram looked up to see the American, Holt, meandering towards him.
Lancaster, Hiram corrected.
Whatever, Holt said, Can you rewire an L-36 peripheral.
Panel 167, Holt directed, It needs new circuit breakers and a complete rewire. Hiram nodded, grabbed up a toolbelt, and headed into the ship.
* * *
Lancaster found the right panel quickly enough. He pulled up a small crate to sit on, then removed the panel cover to examine his task. As he went over the damages in the panel, Hiram turned his enhancers up all the way to try and find out what was going on.
Lancaster’s enhancers had two modes, broadband and directional. Broadband allowed Hiram to selectively hear conversations going on in a crowded room or a heartbeat in an empty one. The directional mode allowed Hiram to track down odd noises using his ears alone. It could come in handy when listening for a bomb timer or a trapped crash victim. As Hiram started working on the rewire, he listened.
I need a seventeen to rebuild the exchanger units, this is a sixteen. It's too small.
Looks like there's a coolant leak in the number four line. Get me the detector and some cryo-solder please.
I checked the box; it didn't come with a seventeen.
I sent that Manchester guy to do the rewire on the peripheral.
The numbers have to be red; this is supposed to be an ore hauler not a medship.
Try it now!
One sixty-eight and seventeen minutes. It's still off.
Be careful with that plasma cutter. If there's a leak in this room, it could set off the hydrogen and then where would we be?
A cat? Lancaster thought to himself. Some ships still had a Ship’s Cat to take care of vermin that would scurry onboard; but Holt didn't seem the type. Lancaster switched his ears to directional and started ‘looking for parts’. As he wandered around the ship, he kept one ear pointed towards the cat’s meow, to try and find where it was coming from. It was coming from the room Holt had told him and the others to keep out of.
Hiram turned up the sensitivity on his directionals. Beyond the door he heard something. It was muffled as thought the room had been soundproofed, but even the best soundproofing was no match for his cybernetic hearing. It was there, like a pair of watches wrapped in cotton, the heartbeats of a chakat.
Oh my is right, I told Sandstorm as we rode along the street. You have a very lovely daughter Sandstorm, but I can't see myself making love at the drop of a hat, in the middle of your backyard.
We were going to the shop where Sandstorm bought all her herbs. Cooking for so many people at once had caused her spices to run low. I just wanted an excuse to get out of the house and see more of this world. Right now their van was on some sort of auto-nav system that allowed Sandstorm to go which ever way she wanted without using any of the controls. All shi did was tell the unit the address and the system did the rest.
I can imagine, Sandstorm replied, Your attitude might change the longer you stay in that body.
I'll change out of it as soon as I am sure I'm not in heat anymore, I said I don't want the transband screwing up because of my new hormones. Not that I don't like being a chakat but there are just too many surprises in it for me.
Like what? asked Sandstorm
Breast feeding your youngest, I said. Sandstorm’s eyes went wide at what I had said. I kinda felt like I was in a Dracula movie. It wasn't unpleasant, but...
"Wait until you really begin to fully lactate," shi said, "You'll find yourself in three kinds of heaven." Patch had told me about chakat milk and milkwater; I wasn't totally against the idea but... The PTV pulled up to the store just then.
The doors on the PTV open like a cross between gull-wing and sliding van doors. This way the doors are out of the way of traffic and you have optimum room for getting in and out; a must when you have four legs. Sandstorm’s crutches clacked against the asphalt as shi came around the vehicle. We had to park the car a few meters away from the store; all the close places were taken. Knowing Murphy’s Law, as soon as we walked up to the store, someone would pull out of his or her parking space just as we got there.
Sandstorm reached for the door. Shi then turned the knob only to find that the door was locked. "That's strange," said 'Storm, "Kim's usually open by now." As Sandstorm tried to peer through the shop’s painted display windows, my nose caught a whiff of something. "Do you smell something?" I asked. Sandstorm took a deep whiff. "Herbicide," shi replied sharply, "Weed killer; Kim doesn't use weed killer."
There was an alley to the side of the store; I dashed around hoping to find a door or a window or something. There was a back door with a vent window. I stood up on my hind legs and looked through the glass to see a pair of feet lying on the floor. I assumed that the feet were still attached to the owner and that said owner was unconscious but alive.
I let my power rise and put my fist through the wooden door. I then pulled the door off of its hinges and was blasted with the smell of poison. Entering the room I saw that there were more people in here than I could get out in the time allowed. I needed to clear the air here and fast.
I stuck my head out the door and sucked in as much air as my lungs would hold. It was more than I was used too, I had forgotten that I now had two pairs of lungs. I dashed back into the shop and ran into the front room. Sandstorm was still in front of the display windows. I waved my arms to get hir attention; shi then looked at me as I pointed where she should move.
As Sandstorm leaped out of the way with hir hind legs, I turned to the side and opened my hand flat out. I then channeled a sudden burst of energy through my palm. The display window exploded away from me and the sudden change in pressure caused most of the herbicide fumes to be sucked out with the glass.
Sandstorm came in the back door and started to pull an attractive young oriental female to an upright position. "Chang Kim!" shi said "Chang Kim, are you alright?" The girl coughed a couple of times before muttering the word "Bastards". As 'Storm tended to Kim, I looked to the other people in the store. One was a Chow fur with a turquoise earring; another was a foxtaur with a dull silver coat, and the last one a strange, teenage crossing of what looked like chakat and foxtaur with an orange marmalade tabby pattern. Shi was the first to come to.
"Sons of bitches," shi fumed before coughing loudly. Shi got to hir handpaws but was still a little woozy from the fumes. "Jerks!" the Chakat continued to fume.
I offered hir my hand. "There are enough fumes in here already without you adding more," I said. Shi looked at me sort of crossways that's when I noticed one of her eyes was a different color blue than the other. Then shi started to giggle. When shi finally stopped shi opened hir arms for a hug.
"Chakat Foxfire," shi said finally, "Daughter of Magdalane Foxglove and Chakat Dawnfire."
When in Rome... "Chakat Stormchaser," I replied, "Adopted daughter of Sandstorm and Soot."
* * *
When the com beeped, Patch was half-asleep and half keeping the Imp amused by letting hir pounce on hir older sister’s tail. Silence was in the shower freshening up from hir martial arts lesson when the call came. Patch slowly lumbered to her feet and swaggered over to the com panel. "Hello?"
"Patch?" said Redears as the chakat doctor’s face popped onto the screen.
"Yeah I'm here," the calico colored chakat replied, "The camera on my end is out. Whatcha need?"
"I may have a way of fixing your little chest problem," the doctor replied "I just need the answers to a couple of questions. First, how much chocolate do you eat?"
"According to my mum, not enough," Patch replied.
"Second question," Redears said, "Do you know if there are any alpha chakats in your family tree."
"Yes I do," Patch answered, "I have an alpha grandparent on each side of my family and an alpha great-grandparent from Soot. Why what does it mean?"
Redears told hir
The shriek of joy could be heard all through the house.
* * *
"That was embarrassing," I said as we got back in the PTV.
"Shi was being sweet," Sandstorm explained, "In fact I don't think shi expected your reaction."
"I am never going to get used to being in this body," I replied. The oversized matron placed hir hand on my shoulder. "You're not alone," Sandstorm explained, "Despite our passionate nature, lots of chakats get a little confused about their bodies and their hormones. Especially if they are going through puberty like Foxfire."
"But with hir mother right there!!!" I said excitedly. Foxfire’s mother, Magdalane, had been the foxtaur on the floor. She had needed the services of an ambulance to get her conscious, but it hadn't been necessary to take her to the hospital.
"Shi just asked if you wanted to go and wash up with hir," Sandstorm replied, "Shi wasn't asking you to bear hir kits. Public bathhouses are a necessity these days and they can often be social gathering places for chakats and many other species of fur. It's good clean fun."
"And besides you still smell of that weed killer," the matriarch replied, "I'm not riding home with you stinking up my van."
"Alright, alright I yield!" I replied. Sandstorm was right. I was being a little silly, even for a chakat. Most of them went about without a stitch of clothing on and here I was worried about a little bath. "Here," Sandstorm said, handing me a plastic device shaped like a thick ballpoint pen with a tether. "There are about a hundred credits on that credstick. That should take care of any incidentals you run into."
"Sandstorm, you don't have to…"
"Go, go..." shi scolded back, "Before you miss out."
With that I skeedaddled.
"Some place, huh?" asked Foxfire.
Indeed. I had seen pictures of a bathhouse before, but this was more than I was expecting. There was a traditional section for regular bathing with tubs and washbuckets, but in the next room… The walls had been done up in pink tiles and in the middle of the room was a nine foot square bubble bath.
I put the credstick Sandstorm gave me into the slot of a vending machine for a fresh towel, then put both the stick and the towel into a locker on the far wall. Easing my way into the bath, I was grabbed by my forelegs and pulled into the middle of the pool. Foxfire’s head suddenly popped up in front of me. I gave hir my best scowl before I dunked hir into the suds.
"That wasn't nice," the Chakat griped.
"Neither is being pulled into a bath when you're not ready," I retorted. Foxfire then pounced on me bodily, wrapping hirself around me like a squirrel on a tree. I lost my footing and we both fell headlong into the suds.
"Having fun, Fox?" I popped my head up to see a golden brown creature that looked like a cross between a cougar and a lemur. Foxfire’s head appeared a moment later. "Always, Jenga," Foxfire replied, "Jenga, I want you meet Stormchaser; Stormchaser, this the boss of the place, Jenga."
"Charmed I am sure," Jenga replied, "Is there anything I can do for you while you are here."
"Do you have any more of those chlorophyll bubbles?" asked Foxfire.
Jenga flicked an ear and suddenly the bath smelled different, cleaner. Foxfire dunked her head under the water and began to scrub her hair thoroughly. As shi finished hir shampoo, Magdalane walked in. She slipped into the bathwater and began to scrub the poisonous smell out of her fur. "Will there be anything else?" asked Jenga.
"You could have your lovely sisters come to scrub our backs," said Foxfire.
"Oh what a lovely idea," said Magdalane. Foxfire’s eyes bolted open with sheer terror; during hir shampoo, shi hadn't heard hir mother come in. "Why don't you have the lasses come around." Just when I think it couldn't be any stranger.
They appeared out of nowhere, they moved with a fluid, sinuous motion on all fours. Their eyes were a brilliant shade of green. Slow and seductive; they looked to be the same species as Jenga. There were six of them.
Jenga’s sisters slithered into the water and headed towards us. Magdalane strode forward through the water and intercepted two of them. The sisters then took the foxtaur over to the side of the pool and began to scrub her fur and massage her back. The remaining four swam over and began to give Foxfire and I the same treatment. It felt good, but there was something not quite right here.
"They are not real," Foxfire said finally, "That's why you're not picking up on them empathically." That's what it was. Save for the blush of arousal I was picking up from Magdalane, the puddle of color in the back of my mind was still as air. Arousal, oh my...
"Jenga and his sisters are holograms," Magdalane explained, "Jenga runs the water temperature and such while his "sisters," take care of the other necessities."
"There's an ordinance against solicitation in a business in Melbourne," Jenga explained, "But since my sisters and I do not officially qualify as biological; the customers are free to do with us as they please."
"Only sisters," I asked.
"Most of our clientele is male," Jenga replied, "Though I do have a few brothers for our occasional feminine clients. Then there are those like Lady Magdalane who prefer my sisters."
"Which makes me wonder how I ever got conceived," Foxfire quipped. The remark pulled my attention away from my attendants; ooh that massage felt good. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"In my society, I am referred to as a Vulpamour," Magdalane explained. "It translates as ‘Fox Lover,’ I know. But for me it means that I am a lesbian, or rather I was."
"When I met Fox’s father I had no idea what a chakat was," Magdalane continued, "Our colony is in what used to be Texas near the coast. The most we'd ever seen were humans, morphs, and other foxtaurs. About three weeks after my twenty-first birthday, Dawnfire arrived at our village to do an ecological study. The minute I saw hir I was smitten. There was what I thought was the most beautiful female that I had ever seen. It didn't matter that she was a feline. Three days after she arrived I introduced myself and we eventually hit it off. And then I discovered..."
"Chakats were hermaphrodites right?"
"I prefer to think of my Dawn as the girl with something extra," she replied. There was something in the way she smiled as she said it. Then I remembered the massage. Mmmmm…
* * *
Joe Guma didn't want to come here. He'd been here once before and it sucked just as much. It was even the same room number. God, how he hated hospitals!
Nadira was hanging in a harness that had been designed for paralyzed taurs and hooked up to several monitors. Some of her fur had been shaved away to treat the burns on her face. According to the EKG she was conscious but her eyes were closed and her arms were limp. Guma just hoped she could hear him. "Hey 'Dira."
Nadira’s eyes fluttered open.
"They did a job on you, huh?" Nadira nodded slowly.
"Does it hurt?"
"They have my shunt deactivated," Nadira replied, "That and they got me doped up pretty good; I'm feeling no pain. What about Cirrocco?"
"He wasn't grounded when the blast hit him," said Guma, "But the shock took out his cybernetics."
"They took hir, Guma, they took Lilybit from me," Nadira told him.
"Shi was the reason they attacked your place," Guma replied, "They took hir for hir fur."
"Get hir back for me Joe," Nadira replied, "I had someone I liked having around."
Joe Guma carefully hugged the suspended Dingo and then left the room. The news he'd been told was not good. Even with a new shunt, Nadira would never be able to walk again.
* * *
I didn't realize how clean I was until I stepped out of the bath and dried off. I couldn't smell anything and this accurate nose of mine could smell a mouse in a cheese factory; at least according to Sandstorm.
"I told you those chlorophyll bubbles would get the smell out," said Foxfire.
"You were right," I replied, "I have to agree with you there. After that bath, the world smells a whole lot better." I opened the door for the two ladies, followed them out, and then led the way back to the herb shop. Sandstorm was waiting for me. As we made our way back Foxfire started a conversation and told me about hirself and hir family. And then shi wanted to know about my kinfolk and me. Needless to say I quickly changed the subject; and fate provided me with a convenient excuse. My nose picked up the smell of herbicide.
"Smell that?" I asked. Foxfire lifted hir muzzle and took a deep sniff. "We are getting close to the shop," shi replied. I shook my head. "This is coming from over there," I said pointing. I was learning to use my nose a bit better.
The herbicide smell was coming from a pub on the corner. Foxfire and I crossed the street and crept up to the pub door. We pulled the door open to look inside; the smell of weed killer was much stronger in here. "Look," said Foxfire.
"Where?" I replied.
"Those two guys," she said, "At the end of the bar. Those are the ones who threw the bottle into Kim’s shop."
"You sure?" I asked.
Foxfire nodded firmly. "Yeah," shi replied, "The one on the left threw the bottle. I got a good look at him." The one on the left had a face like a pit bull. On the right was a younger kid who, for some reason, reminded me of a scared rabbit. He was nursing a pint of beer slowly while dogface looked as though he was downing a shot every three minutes.
Two minutes later, a rat faced man slinked out of the bathroom and clapped the rabbit on the shoulder. The kid practically jumped out of his skin. "You know him?" I asked Foxfire. Shi shook hir head. "I think he's the boss of them, though," said Foxfire, "Carries himself like one."
"From what I can see, the rabbit on the right doesn't really want to be here," I told Foxfire. Shi immediately agreed with me. "Yeah," shi said, "He's probably kin to one of them. Probably trying to ‘make a man,’ out of him."
"Well, why don't I just introduce myself to those Good ol' Boys."
"No way," Foxfire replied, "See that sticker?" I did. "That means humans only in layman’s terms. No Furs, No Morphs, No Chakats…"
I jerked my head to the left to get the kinks out of my neck. I thought it was time I introduced myself.
* * *
Kip was feeling nauseous, and it wasn't from the smell of the weed killer on his stupid cousin’s clothes. As he sipped his mug of beer, his uncle, York, came out of the loo and clapped him on the shoulder. It gave him a start, causing him to spill his drink. On Kip’s left, his cousin, Dorian, dumped another shot of whiskey down his throat and slammed the glass back down on the bar. "'Nother," he slobbered.
"I'm not paying," Kip replied, "Buy your own for once." God these two made him sick. If Dorian wasn't bullying Kip out of his money, York was trying to weasel it out of him. Dorian slapped his hand into Kip’s chest before he grabbed the boy’s shirt and pulled him into his stinking mutt face. "Nother!" he sprayed in Kip’s face.
The chimes above the door jingled as it was opened. Shi walked in with hir own form of grace, a chakat. Kip had seen them on the streets but Dorian would scare them away before he could get a chance to talk to them. But there was something different about this one.
The bartender, a large man with a shaved head that was kept well waxed, turned to his new customer. "Can I help you ma'am?" he asked politely. The chakat looked around the room and then turned hir eyes back to the bartender. "I seem to be a little lost," shi said.
"My nose told me that this was the Gardener’s Club meeting," shi finished. Shi was staring straight at them.
Dorian threw Kip to the floor before picking up a high bar stool and throwing it at the silver and black chakat. The chakat caught the stool with a fluid motion just as Dorian grabbed Kip by the scruff of his shirt and bolted out the back door; followed quickly by York. Kip was dragged bodily by his brute of a cousin through the back alley behind the pub. Dorian was monstrously strong; poor Kip was banged against a dumpster in the alley as his brute cousin bulled his way through.
Near the end of the alley, it was as if shi appeared out of nowhere. One minute the mouth of the alley was empty and then the next that silver chakat appeared, seeming to float in midair. Just as hir toe touched the ground, shi rushed towards Dorian with one handpaw doubled up into a fist. Hir fist sunk up to the wrist in Dorian’s gut as shi then slammed her elbow into the back of the brute’s neck. "That's got to come in handy," Kip thought to himself, "Having more than one set of fists to fight with. LOOK OUT!" This last he shouted aloud.
York had pulled a board off of a broken pallet and was swinging it at the mysterious chakat. Shi suddenly stepped forward to catch the plank in the crook of her elbow and wrest it from Kip’s uncle before shi planted hir elbow in York’s face. The rat landed in a pile of garbage bags. Kip was about to approach the chakat when he saw Dorian pick up a heavy trash can. Kip couldn't say a word before his brutal cousin threw the metal bin at hir.
The chakat, however, turned hir head slightly to one side and then reared like a horse, striking the trash with both feet and sending it flying back to strike Dorian in the chin. The brute’s head snapped back as he was thrown off his feet to land hard on his back.
"Ouch…" Kip muttered.
"Double ouch," the chakat replied. "So what should we do with them?"
"You're asking me?" Kip asked somewhat astonished, "Why?"
"You're the one who's been getting the most grief from them, unless my senses are deceiving me" the chakat replied, "So it's only fair."
Kip looked at his semi-conscious relations and then glanced at the dumpster his shins had been banged against. The chakat, getting his meaning, grabbed York by the scruff of his and then tossed the rat in the empty metal bin. Shi then heaved Dorian over hir shoulder and then dumped him in the bin with a resounding thump. The chakat then picked up the trash can Dorian had thrown at hir, emptied it into the dumpster, and then tossed in a few choice bags of garbage from the heap York had landed in. Shi then slid the lid to the dumpster shut.
"Think that will hold them?" shi asked Kip.
"For a while at the least," Kip replied, "If I could, I would at least weld that thing shut so they couldn't get out for a while."
"You must be psychic," the chakat replied. Shi then flicked out hir index finger that was suddenly ablaze with some form of energy. Kip was startled and amazed as he watched the chakat trace the glowing digit along the seams of the garbage can. The metal softened and then fused together as the lid of the bin was sealed.
Kip was about to leave when the chakat said, "Think they have enough air?" The chakat had a look of mischief in hir eyes. "Uhh," Kip started.
"Me neither," shi said. Suddenly hir claws were out and shi slammed them into the side of the dumpster, leaving a set of five neat little holes. Shi did this five more times each on a different side of the huge bin. Kip examined the holes and saw that there wasn't any sign of a surrounding impression. They had been made by sharpness alone.
"So," shi then started after wrapping hir muscular tail around Kip’s waist, "What's your story?"
* * *
"…two weeks after she died, York and Dorian show up on my doorstep," Kip told me, "York says that he's my uncle from Beta Colony Three and that Dorian’s his son. I have an uncle in the Beta Colonies, but if it's York; I'll chug a quart of that weed killer that Dorian threw in that shop."
I swished my tail as I took a drink of my beer. I had taken Kip back into the pub, mainly because he looked as though he needed the last of that beer he was drinking. Foxfire had been outside the door swishing hir tail nervously until the bartender took a putty knife from under the counter and scraped off the sticker that had made hir so nervous earlier.
"So why didn't you contest York’s claim?" I asked, "I mean in this day and age, surely a DNA scan isn't impossible?"
"Dorian," Kip replied, "He was on me like a watchdog the day after he got there. I couldn't go outside without him following me. And you saw how easily he could drag me along when he wanted. That's how he would bring me home whenever he wanted. Dorian's dumb but he's also mean. And as strong as he is he had to have spent time on a high gravity moon, a penal colony or something."
"Between them, Dorian and York are like that pair from that old Mad Max movie," Kip finished, "The Dwarf and the Giant…Umm, Master Blaster." He then took a long pull from the beer the bartender had poured him. Foxfire slid up to the bar and squeezed in close. "Wow," shi muttered, "That has got to suck."
"It's been like that for two or three months," Kip said, "Until shi mopped up the alley out back with them. How did you do that with your finger."
"You mean my Sparkler Trick?" I asked. I flicked out a glowing finger that was crackling with energy. Foxfire scooted back at the sight of the burning digit. "Great for parties or just lighting up a cigarette, but then I don't smoke."
"Uhh, yeah," Kip murmured, "Shouldn't we be calling Security by now?"
"What time is it?" I asked. Kip looked at his watch. "About five minutes to six," he replied, "Why?"
I drank the last of my beer and ordered another. "Give it another hour…."
* * *
"Confirm last transmission control?"
"Confirm, any units in the area of Whitehall and Chapel street," the dispatcher replied, "Reports of two men being welded into a trash bin by a chakat in the alley behind The Corner Pub."
"It's hir," Guma said to himself as he turned his car around. "It's got to be hir."
After about half an hour Guma pulled up to the alley where a crew of workers were cutting into a durasteel dumpster with a plasma cutter. On all sides of the bin were neat little arrangements of holes in groups that looked as thought they had been made by human fingers with very sharp claws. "It's got to be hir."
Guma opened the door at the dead end of the alley and walked into the bar. "I knew it, I knew it was you."
* * *
I was giving a whole new meaning to roaring drunk, but then it didn't take much to get me soused. Then again it doesn't take much to get me loaded when I am human; two, three beers tops. Right now I am about double my human mass, and on my third beer so...
About half an hour after I welded Kip’s relations into the dumpster, Sandstorm came looking for me, and found me the same way I found them. "You smell like you have been rolling around an alley," shi said. The bartender offered the chakat matron a glass of the house red as I told hir what happened.
"Are you going to call Security?" Sandstorm asked.
"After you finish your wine," I replied.
As we waited for 'Storm to finish her wine, Kip and Foxfire were striking up quite a conversation in a corner booth. My sensitive ears were telling me that the subjects were of a rather friendly nature. Kip enjoyed getting to talk to a chakat without his mutt ‘cousin’ barging in. Foxfire looped hir tail around Kip’s middle in a sort of discreet hug. A few minutes later we drew straws for who would call Security, the bartender lost.
Twenty minutes later the back door of the bar opened. I smelled Old Spice.
"I knew it, I knew it was you."
"Hiya, Joe," I replied to the Italian detective, "Care for a drink?"
"I'm on the clock," he replied, "What are you doing here?"
"We're starting a refuse company for assholes of the extreme variety," Foxfire replied lushly, "It's an idea that's looooonnnnng over(hic) overdue."
"Cute," Guma replied. I chuckled a bit and then gave the detective a run-down of the events that had happened earlier. Sandstorm emerged from the restroom and rubbed against the detective with her cheek. "Anyway," Guma continued, "I was on my way to get you."
"Why," I replied.
"We found Van der Lyne," Guma replied, "One of our undercover officers found his ship and Lilybit."
"Can he get her out?" I asked. Guma shook his head in response. "The hangar they rented is crawling with ‘Humans First’ alumnis. Looks like they called in every favor they were owed."
"Well, then what're we waiting for?"
"You wouldn't get one toe in there before they were on you like ugly on an ape," Guma said with some flourish.
"You just give me a lift back to the house," I replied, "I'll worry about being recognized."
The jumpsuit was a bit of a loose fit but it would do. It had built in shoes and deep pockets and would hopefully keep me from being noticed until I found the undercover man. Guma also offered me a sidearm but that I declined. My powers might be weak here but I could still hold my own in a firefight.
"I still can't believe it," Guma muttered, "And I watched you do it." We were traveling in a shuttle at a low altitude. The pilot was a cautious sort whose hands trembled a bit as he fed the instructions into the ship's computer. As the ship went on, I explained the reason for the transband. About David's world and the now mad Dr. Decai. I hated the scars on my back when I had been dissected in some vain attempt to find the reasons that I was still human.
"About two miles out," said Guma. Our pilot nodded and lowered the shuttle to the ground in a vacant lot. The grass parted from the force of the repulsers and I jumped out the back of the ship. "Which way?" I shouted over the engines. Guma whipped out an arm and pointed east. "That way," he replied. I took off in a dead sprint.
It didn't take me that long to run as far as I did, about five minutes maybe. As I came within sight of the hangar, I saw worklights on stands and workmen going in and out of a big building shaped like a rounded version of home plate. There didn't seem to be any guards, then again…
A tall fence surrounded the building with some nasty looking insulators around the base. The fence could be electrified. A quick look around allowed me to find what I needed, a litter basket. I walked over and gave it a quick rummage. After a few moments I had what I needed, a newspaper and a half full bottle of yuppie water. I doused the paper with the water, rolled it up, and threw it at the fence. The structure suddenly came alive in a shower of crackling sparks. Several of the workmen came over to see what the had caused the fence to ignite without noticing me. Okay, I just had a great idea.
There was a gust of wind blowing as I kicked up my powers. I was probably setting off sensors everywhere in the hangar, but with what I had in mind it probably wouldn't matter. I dashed a quarter of a mile into the brush and cupped my hands. "BALL LIGHTNING BLAST!!!" The plasma sphere ripped through the grass and slammed into the fence sending the circuit into overdrive. The second the fence started to overload, I went into a full dash, that's too fast to be seen by the human eye, and stopped behind the other side of the fence. As I expected, most of the workmen were watching the fireworks by the fence. I balled my fist and concentrated as I swivelled my elbow around and pointed my two fingers up.
My feet quickly left the ground as I used my power to lift myself over the fence. It all went very smoothly; no one noticed I was in here. They were all too busy watching the other side of the fence. After I was over, I just slipped up behind the crowd and blended in until the power from the ball-lightning wore off. And I was in.
* * *
"The guy working on panel one six seven needs a coil of fiber optic cable," I told the quartermaster; as he was in charge of all the tools, parts and supplies. I had been milling around the hangar helping out with the odd jobs here and there until I could get into the ship and find the guy I was looking for.
This had all been Guma’s idea; he'd set up a rendezvous with me and the undercover agent. This way we could find Lilybit, the chakat cub, and get her out of the ship while the security crew came in to mop up. That's how it should have gone, but I am getting ahead of myself.
I walked through the ship looking for the right panel. I occasionally stopped to ask where the right panel was; then I found him. He looked like he belonged on the back of a Harley Davidson, or maybe walking through the outback hunting whatever came his way. He looked to be in his late thirties with a ratty beard that covered his chin and the sides of his mouth. His eyes were clear ice blue and his hair was reddish-brown. Except for his broad jaw he looked a little like Ray Stevens.
"Someone told me to bring this to you," I said, handing him the coil.
"Thanks mate," he replied as he turned back to the panel he was working on, "You don't get to work on one of these very often. There aren't many of these old girls flying anymore."
"Yeah?" I replied, "You want to talk about old? Have you ever been to the British Aerodrome museum? Now there are some old flyers. They even have an old World War Two bomber flying, a Halifax."
"Actually," he replied, "It's a Lancaster."
* * *
"What's he doing here?!"
Holt was watching the workmen on the monitors, he was making sure that no one came near the workroom. So far nothing, until he saw something that wasn't quite right, or rather someone.
* * *
"There's a room above us that they denied access too," Lancaster told me as we moved the accessways under the ship, "It's been sound-proofed to the nth degree, I could barely hear through it. Plus there are security monitors on that level, on every door."
"Yeah I know that room," I replied. "I did a bit of sabotage there when I found this thing out in the desert." Not a whole lie, but better that explaining how I used an aurora to disable a ship. "So do you have a plan?"
"I did before I did some investigating," Lancaster replied, "I was going to just cut through the floor and take the cage out of there, but…"
"The floor's too thick," he replied, "It'd take too long for a regular cutting torch to go through."
"Show me," I replied. Lancaster took me to a part of the ship where I had to hunker over and skooch through. After about a meter, the conduit widened out a bit and I was able to stand up. "That's where her cage is," Lancaster said. I looked up and saw a square chalked out on the ceiling of the tube. "If I had a plasma cutter I could do it in about a minute." I already had my fingers pointed at the center of my forehead. "DISRUPTOR DRILL!!!"
I never realized how bright this technique was; in the dark conditions of the conduit the tips of my fingers were blinding. I traced around the chalk outlne and put my free hand against the ceiling as the panel came free. I slowly lowered it and the small cage into the darkness of the conduit. I had never seen Lilybit before and she was a cutie; a bit scared, but a cutie none the less. I grabbed hold of the bars on the door and pulled it off of its hinges.
Lilybit was still a bit skittish as she gingerly stepped out of her cage. I picked up the cub and snuggled hir closely. "We're going to have to get her out of here," I told Lancaster, "Before we have company over for tea." I pulled down the zipper on Lancaster’s jumpsuit and tucked the skittish kitten inside. "I'll give you a distraction," I then said. "You just start running before the fireworks get too serious."
* * *
"How serious," asked Lancaster. He just smiled and then darted up the hole he cut in the ceiling. Hiram turned and walked away slowly with the cub in his coveralls. Shi was wrapped around his body in a sort of twisted snuggle. Perhaps so shi wouldn't slip down his leg. Lancaster went back to the peripheral he had been rewiring and picked up the coil of cable he was using. Better to have an excuse for being outside. Hiram headed down the gangplank and turned to go to the quartermasters stand when…
It sounded like a cross between cloth ripping and a string of fire crackers going off. Hiram looked up to see a panel in the side of the ship start to dimple in more than one place. Then with a sudden bang, the panel burst open as the force behind it was released.
They looked like high density plasma. They swarmed through the breach in the panel like a horde of golden meteors. As they impacted into the far hangar wall, the missiles shattered into fragments and fell slowly to the ground, ending their existence with a loud report.
Lancaster took this as his cue to leave. As Hiram started to run he turned to see his distraction leap out of the breach and charge into the middle of a group of very pissed workmen. And when Hiram looked back…
He was there… The American… Holt… The knife slid in easy… There was pain… And a scream… But it wasn't from Hiram…
* * *
"RADIAL BLAST!!!" I slammed the palm of my hand against the concrete floor, the shockwave sending the workmen flying in all directions. One of the few that remained standing received a knee in his gut and an elbow to the side of his head.
A scream of pain ripped through the air like a razor through tissue paper. I turned to see Holt standing over Lancaster pulling out his bowie knife, the blade covered in blood. Before Holt could raise the knife for another thrust, I snaked out my hand and loosed a Fastball right into his chest. It's like being hit by a shotgun blank at close range; Holt went flying before his back slammed into the wall.
I rushed over to Lancaster and tore open his jumpsuit, only to find my worst fears confirmed. It had been Lilybit who had been stabbed, the blade went clean through the left side of her chest, probably through a lung. There was dark blood everywhere.
A sensation washed over me like a cold sweat, I didn't know how to describe it, it was like being full and empty at the same time. Burning hot and yet somewhat cold as well. I tore the top half off of my jumpsuit and tried to fold it into a pressure bandage to wrap around Lilybit’s tiny body, but it just wasn't enough; she was still bleeding.
"I bet you thought you could get away with it," Holt said as he staggered to his feet. "I saw you come in on the camera. I didn't think you were with Security though."
"I'm not," I replied, "Never was."
"Bullshit," Holt replied, "It doesn't matter anyway; you're dead, he's dead, and that little bitch with the sharp teeth is gonna wind up as a pelt on someone’s wall. Hey!" He held up his hand as someone tossed him a huge monstrosity of a weapon with a squarish barrel. Holt thumbed a switch on the grip and the cannon started to charge up. Electricity started to arc across the mouth of the barrel. So this was a Tesla Cannon.
"I'll never understand why you think that thing is so damned important," The brute said finally, "It's just a stupid animal."
Then Holt pulled the trigger…
I could finally place it, that cold sweat feeling in the pit of my stomach. It had a name.
* * *
Lancaster watched as Holt fired the Tesla Cannon, he covered Lilybit with his body hoping to protect the tiny chakat from the brunt of the assault; only to find that shi didn't need Hiram’s protection after all. The energy from the blast was channeled around the three of them. Anyone behind the trio however felt the full force of the charge.
"Shi is not an animal," he said finally, "Shi is a person." His eyes started to glow as some sort of energy started to crackle around his feet. "Shi is important, just as important as me, just as important as her family, and a hell of a lot more important than you."
"You believe that garbage," Holt replied, "Then you are sadly mistaken. In case you didn't know, we humans created them. We brought them into this world, and that means we have the right to take them out as we see fit." Before Holt could trigger the charger on the Tesla Cannon again, the Dimensional Man exploded.
His eyes blazed as his body became a living firestorm. Streams of auric energies streamed off of his back and arms as though he were doused with kerosene and set alight. The ribbons of energy shredded through the back of his jumpsuit, looking like a cross between the wings of a phoenix and a tattered cape blowing in the breeze.
He stood with his arms akimbo, and bent at the elbow while the energies started to swirl around his forearms. In a few seconds, the energies formed what looked like glowing swirls of glass, straight out of the furnace ready to be blown. Then, for one moment, his hands were too bright to look at.
"RAGE BUSTER!!!" He stuck his hands straight out in the fashion of a one-two punch sending the energy flying. The huge bolts soared forward in a spiral and slammed into the far wall, missing Holt by mere inches and setting his clothes on fire. Instantly there was no longer any wall, just a big hole. The trails of energy began to spiral around his waist and legs; wrapping around him in a similar fashion like before. Then they too became too bright for Lancaster to look at. "BURNING RAGE!!!"
He launched into the air like a shot; then looped around so his course would take him straight towards Holt. His fist caught Holt in the chest; as the two of them rushed through the hole, Hiram could see a bright flare of orange light every now and again. Lancaster thought that it was the energy that would flare every time he threw a punch at the American. And Hiram hoped it hurt.
* * *
I'm not exactly sure what happened; one minute I'm shielding Lilybit and Lancaster from the blast of the Tesla Cannon and the next thing I know Holt is lying at my feet bruised, broken, and bleeding, the remains of the cannon in a death grip in his hand and part of his clothes burned away.
I feel like I have been doused in rubbing alchohol, like I have been on fire for an hour and it's suddenly subsiding. It feels like something's been burned away
In the distance I can hear the security team collect the bigots from the hangar. For once, I don't want to go home.
I’m Stormchaser again.
Four hands, four paws, two hearts, no hatred.
I’m going to stay like this until the next portal comes by, I may leave in this form. I may even stop being human all together, I dunno… All I know is right now I hate being human.
The puddle of color in the back of my mind starts to ripple as a waft of chocolate drifts across my nose. Chocolate?
I turn to see Patch saunter up next to me as I watch the sunrise. "Someone told me you were busy last night," shi said, "That you stopped a bunch of very nasty people and that you saved a chakat cub."
"What newspaper you been reading," I told hir, "The only thing I did last night was go totally berserk and nearly beat a man to death after he put a foot of steel through a little girls chest. No one was saved Father Mackenzie."
"Wanna bet?" Patch flipped a sheet of some kind of plastic in front of my handpaws. Lilybit’s picture was emblazoned on the front. "Shi survived Storm". The blade missed her lung just barely."
"Still," I replied, "I can’t accept what happened. It was just pure blind rage; I was-"
"An animal," Patch replied, "No that I can assure you of. It’s something all chakats can tap into. It’s a protective maternal instinct; you might have been human, but you had been chakat long enough for it to stay somewhere in the back of your mind just in case you needed it. It’s normal."
"But I’m not," I said plainly, "Patch, I can blow a hole in a wall with a gesture or slice through solid steel with a blade of pure energy."
"And somewhere in this galaxy, there is a ‘Taur who can use a Durasteel girder for a scratching post," the calico chakat replied, "Normal is a relative term."
"I almost killed him."
"But you didn’t."
"I wanted too."
"But you didn’t."
"It still scares me, Patch," I replied.
"Don’t worry," was all shi said.
* * *
Redears called Patch in for a consult; something to do with a new treatment shi was on. I only went with hir because I wanted to see how Lilybit was doing.
As I went into Lilybit’s room, shi perked up hir ears, wobbled to her feet, and raised hir as though shi were going to be picked up. "I didn’t think you would recognize me like this," I told hir, "Chalk one up for chakat empathy."
Lilybit bounced on the mattress of hir bed, wanting to be picked up. "No little one," I said touching hir bandage gently, "You are not ready to be picked up by me or anyone. Not til those stitches heal." I gave her head a fuzzle and stroked along the back of hir hindquarters.
"So you got out more or less in one piece?" I asked hir as shi wrapped hir little hands around my wrist and rubbed hir cheek up and down my arm. "So why do I feel like the one who screwed up. I am so glad you didn’t see what I did. I think for a moment I was more terrible than Holt ever was. And it scared me little one."
Lilybit tried to climb out of hir ‘crib’ only to bump hir nose on a one way force field. Things could go in, but they couldn’t go out once they were all the way in. I gently picked Lilybit up and took hir out of the field. It felt oddly comforting to hold a chakat kitten in my arms; the puddle in my mind took on a soothing hue. "I truly became a beast that night, little one."
"You were protecting someone from death," someone behind me said, "That is part of being a chakat." It wasn’t Patch. I turned my head to see what I thought was the most beautiful chakat on this earth. Shi was snow white with long silver hair that had a slight wave to it. "If you hadn’t done what you did, my niece would be dead, and I would have lost a member of my family."
"Umm, Stormchaser, adopted daughter of Sandstorm and Soot," Shi had me a little off guard. Shi strode into the room with a grace that was beyond my belief. "Chakat Silvermane, daughter of Winter and Starlight," the way shi said it implied that I should know hir, or at least of her, but for me shi was a complete stranger.
* * *
"Is it working?" asked Patch.
"I’ll say it is," Redears replied, "I have hormonal activity in all you tissue samples. How much chocolate did you eat?"
"I bought a big bag of chocolate chips and melted them over half a gallon of chocolate ice cream," Patch answered proudly. An incredulous look passed over Redear’s face. "That explains the readings I have been getting," the Chakat doctor replied, "You may have overdone it a bit."
"I was going to recommend you have like a chocolate bar or two a day," Redears continued, "Just enough to get your system going. But the overdose you took put enough Phényléthylamin into your body, that when you finish developing, you are easily going to be mistaken for a wet nurse." The smile of bliss on Patch’s face told Redears that hir words were lost on hir. Time to change the subject.
"How is Stormchaser doing?" Redears asked.
"Shi’s doing very well," Patch replied, "Shi went in to see how Lilybit is doing."
"What?" Redears told hir.
"Shi’s Lilybit’s aunt?" Patch blurted out with surprise.
"Mmmhmmm," the grin on Redears face was almost naughty.
"I think we should warn hir," Patch said with a giggle.
"Yes!" Redears replied.
"After we get through with the tests," said Patch with a smile.
* * *
"I nearly beat him to death," I told Silvermane, "If the rage or whatever it was hadn’t played itself out, the man who stabbed your niece would be dead."
"He was a monster," shi replied, "You reacted as a chakat should when defending a life." We had gone to the hospital’s coffee shop so Lilybit could get some rest.
"The worst part of this is that the man who started all this, Van der Lyne, got away," I said feeling a little bit sorry about it.
"You got the monster," Silvermane replied, "Be content with that."
"I can’t," I replied, "It feels like I left something unfinished, a loose end to tie…" Suddenly hir hands were on my shoulders and shi was staring deeply into my eyes. "Be content," shi said. And I suddenly was. I didn’t know why, I just knew that I had done the right thing by taking down Holt.
"You saved a life," Silvermane continued, shi was still staring at me with those mysterious eyes of hirs, "That’s what matters, not who got away." Then shi blinked and I snapped out of whatever it was shi had me under. I took a long pull on my cola and licked my muzzle. It tasted good.
"I am grateful for what you did," Silvermane said sipping her coffee, "Lily and hir mother are all the family I have left. I would like to thank you for what you did." Hir last words had the rumble of a deep purr underneath them. "Have you ever been to the bathhouse on Chapel Street?"
* * *
Back at Sandstorm’s house.
"So where did you two go?" Patch asked, "I couldn’t find you after I got done with Redears."
"Shi took me back to the Chapel Street bathhouse," I replied, "Shi has her own private bath there." Patch’s smile widened a bit. "And did you and shi…"
"Aren’t you the curious one." Silvermane and I had indeed explored our passions, shi taking the role of a lusty female, letting me be secure in my maleness. After that I asked hir to show me the secrets of my new feminine side, but with hir fingers; I was not ready to be totally feminine. I was about to tell Patch when…
"…nd the wreckage of a cargo ship wanted by Starfleet." It was a news broadcast on the vidscreen. "The Kenjen 146 Starhauler was found twenty miles off the western coast, when a hydrogen explosion alerted authorities to it’s location. Authorities speculate that due to its state of disrepair, one of the ship’s hydrogen lines ruptured and ignited. The ship crashed into the water at 03:25 hours, no survivors have been found as of yet." I clicked of the vid and crouched down on to the floor.
It was Van der Lyne’s ship, it had to be; Guma told me that there were no other ships of that kind in Australia. And now it was over, his ship had ignited and crashed into the ocean. And for some reason, something felt very, very wrong with the world.
* * *
It’s night now. I’m sleeping in Silence’s room. And the world still feels very wrong. Silence is in the bathroom brushing hir teeth. I can hear Patch in there gossiping with hir sister, thanks to my now ultra keen hearing. And now I know why Patch was so curious where I went. It seems that Chakat Silvermane is somewhat of a minor celebrity in this town. Shi’s a Courtisan, a chakat who takes the techniques of sexual desire and turns them into a finely honed art. Shi then teaches hir craft to others, those who are more adventurous than the norm or just want a change from the ordinary. Sort of like a feline geisha.
I hear Silence enter the room, I pulled the sheet up to my neck. Silence slips under the cover and wraps hir arms around my middle.
"What’s wrong?" shi asks concerned.
"What makes you think that their’s something wrong?"
"You’re not the only empath in the house," shi replied, "C’mon, ever since you saw that news broadcast, you’ve felt drained to me."
"Van der Lyne is gone, that was his ship on the news," I explained.
"It’s like I had a job to do," I explained, "Only the job took care of itself without me. I was the one who found him, I should have been there to help finish it. "
"One of the hazards of being a human turned Chakat," Silence explained, "It’s called closure, Chakat’s don’t have anything like it, except maybe at a funeral. You just have to go with it. It’s like a river, sometimes the waters are smooth, and sometimes you hit a bump and lose half your supplies, either way you have to go on wherever the current takes you."
I sighed heavily as shi held me a little tighter. "I can take you mind off of it," shi said finally. Shi reached into a drawer by the bedstand.
"How?" I then heard a click and a low hum.
I allowed Silence to place the vibrator within me and felt the effect instantly. It wan’t arousing, more like the warm afterglow after an orgasm. Silence was right, it did take my mind off of things.
"It’s all in where you place it," shi said. I felt sort of dreamy eyed as sleep began to close in on me. Some time during the night I was aware of Silence being within me. It must have happened sometime in our sleep. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t in heat anymore. As I drifted back to sleep I thought: "In the morning…"
Sandstorm was in the kitchen making breakfast. Sometime during the night, the casts on hir legs cracked and split open, as they were supposed to, freeing hir from the torment of walking on hir crutches. Soot was up in the bedroom gathering up the bedding and putting it in the closet. After shi was done, Soot went down the hall past Silence’s room; and heard a very bizarre argument.
"…out, get it out."
"I can’t, it’s gone all the way in." *giggle*
"This isn’t funny."
"I’m sorry." *hee hee hee* "Wait, I think I have it. Oops..."
"Off, turn it off."
Soot covered hir eyes as shi started to chuckle, and headed downstairs to breakfast.
* * *
He walked up the ramp of the transport, carrying just a duffle full of clothes and a credit chit that contained the most credits he could carry legally. Van der Lyne hated losing his ship but that was the price of what was to come. After what he had seen; simply being arrested or turning himself in would not do. No, a penance must be exacted, a willing penance.
Half of the hangar had been destroyed, and Holt had been absconded with. Whether that man was Engel or Teufel, he closed the book on a very violent life. It had to be this way, Van der Lyne realized; he had helped kill four people (not beasts, not animals, people) for their skin. All for money. No, it had to stop.
The liner would take him to the Coro System after which he would book passage via tramp freighter to Chakona… And the Damien Island Convent; where they took care of the orphans. But before the convent he had to see someone, the magazine said hir name was Oceanwalker.
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