FLIGHT OF THE SPARTAN

Chapter 1




       “Captain Misty?” the child asked, looking up and trying not to shiver, “How long are we going to be in here?” The pod in which she sat was so cold that her breath clung to its transparent panels, and she had crossed her arms to keep her hands warm. Normally she would have a thick, glossy, black coat of fur to protect her, but the adults had been forced to shave everyone as a precaution. She looked pitiful without that birthright, and it was heartbreakingly apparent how thin she had become. The child was covered in wires and sensor pads. Some fifteen needles had been inserted under her skin, including two in the top of her head and one only an inch from her right eye. She was doing her best to be brave.

       “We don't really know, Shade,” Aremist replied, her voice a gentle thing despite her fangs. She carefully stroked the child's ear. “It should be only until we clear the patrolled zone. I'll be watching you and Desha all the time, in person or on the monitors. And Lulu here will be waiting as soon as you wake up.” She held up Shade's ragged wolf doll, which couldn't be left in the pod with the child.

       Shade stretched her neck to peek out. "Is Desha asleep now?" Her pod could accommodate a hundred kilogram occupant, and its size only emphasized how small she was. “He usually stays up a long time. I don't want him to get scared.”

       Aremist nodded and gently pressed the child back down, guiding her onto her back. “Uh huh, we helped him fall asleep just a few minutes ago. You two might get to play in your dreams. Now close your eyes,” she brought up a container of salve that her Fathers had prepared and applied it sparingly to Shade's eyes and naked muzzle. The child obeyed, although she had to fight hard to keep from wiping it off her nose. “Don't touch this stuff, okay? You'll only have to put up with it for a minute or two.”

       Shade nodded, her eyes tightly shut, and took in quick gulps of breath through her mouth. She's so trusting, Aremist thought, and the tall wolf woman felt tears on her own face. Please, let her not look at me. Aremist glanced to the next pod, which had almost completely fogged over. Shade's twin, Desha, was inside it, his body cooling in a state of induced hibernation. Aremist prayed that they would both be alive when the ship found a safe port.

       “You're very brave,” Aremist told the child as she finished up, “Just lay your head back now and you'll be asleep before you even know it. Keep those eyes shut.” She leaned down into the pod, cooed in Shade's ear, and gave it a lick. Shade giggled, but didn't open her eyes. Aremist stood and turned a tiny valve on one of the tubes leading into the child's right arm. Within ten seconds, Shade's form went limp. Aremist ran a tube into the child's mouth, wrapped a soft sealing tape around the muzzle and applied more salve to her lips. She carefully arranged the wires, and then sealed the pod with a few taps on the control panel adjoining it.

       Aremist looked around the storage bay. All the children were asleep, and her sibling was aiding the adults through the same procedure now. The last two Fathers were there as well, checking connections and giving advice, though they were groggy and weak. Each had a dangerous cocktail of painkilling drugs in his system, but they were determined to see this task through. She admired them so much, and had to close her eyes and fight to contain her emotion. Aremist thought her implants must be in need of adjustment. She rarely had this much trouble concentrating.

       She walked through the storage bay, looking in each pod. The people within them were so still, their faces slack and pale. If not for the steady beeping of the wall of monitors that ran the length of the bay, Aremist would have thought that her ship had been converted into a morgue. A flash of movement from one pod drew her eye, but it was only her own reflection. The wolf woman thought that she had rarely looked so good. She was momentarily captivated by the image: fine golden fur coated a tall, nubile lupine form with athletic limbs and a dancer's grace. Her bright green eyes were of a curious intermediate shape between canine and feline, and managed to seem proud and kind at the same time. Long, fox-red bangs draped about her ears, and the braid trailing down her back had been growing out since the day of her 'birth'. Aremist smiled at her reflection, and it returned the favor. It had even, perfect teeth and a cunning, sexy smile that would be the envy of the worlds one day. She tilted her head and raised her ears in a fetching manner, then looked around to see if anyone was paying attention.

       Save for the pods, the storage bay was empty. Aremist looked both ways, then walked towards the far end and stopped at the exit. She punched the switch to open the double doors and stepped through, but didn't see any of her family-crew there either. Instead she looked around the storage bay stretching ahead. She walked through, noting the hibernation pods and the sleepers within. The exit doors beckoned, and she punched the switch and stepped through.

       The storage bay stretched out before her. She walked through in a rush, trying to touch the deck as little as possible. The bay was chilly, and she could barely feel her toes on the metal floor grates. Her hands were becoming numb from the cold. At the far wall, she punched the switch and stepped through the exit doors and into the storage bay. The monitors had all stopped beeping. The only noise was the click of her toenails echoing behind her. She rushed through the bay and saw that all of the medical readouts along the wall had flatlined. She reached the far wall, punched the switch, and ran into the storage bay, looking for help. Her feet were cold. At the far side, she punched the switch and ran through the double doors. She screamed for help from her crew to open the pods, even though she could plainly see that only bones were left inside them. She reached the far wall, punched the switch, and ran through the double doors.

. . .

       Captain Aremist Baker-Jones awoke to darkness. She could see nothing around her, but a slow red data stream began to scroll down her vision, obscuring her blindness with sensor readings, warp drive status and a duty list of a dozen ship's systems in need of maintenance. A mental command activated her sight, and the world came into stark view. Aremist lay on a makeshift cot just inside the entrance to her vessel's main engine room. It was a bit too small, and her animal legs were drawn up. Her arms were folded protectively over her chest, with her muzzle tucked down over them. Her body, what remained of it, was a mass of disassociated twinges and internal aches.

       She rose and stretched, regarding the glowing tower of the ship's warp core as she did so. It was the only source of light in the engine room; anything else would be a waste. There was a powerful, omnipresent humming in the room that made one's skull ache, but Aremist had learned to ignore it long ago. The wolf woman reached back and carefully detached a pair of cables and a diagnostic scanner from the base of her skull. She tapped a few buttons on the scanner and studied the results on a monitor beside her cot with an expressionless face. Her right eye zigzagged along as the information raced down the small screen, absorbing words and numbers with an unnatural steel-gray gleam. The left eye held no sign of life. It was a gray, translucent orb, lidless and fearsome, embedded in a molded plate around the eye socket.

       My implants are out of sync after all, Aremist thought, and tapped a few more buttons. No surprise that I would have nightmares with the way my brain is lit up. My body was trying to warn me. She brought up her personal duty list and made room on it to adjust the devices. As she worked, the hum of the main power core altered in tone for a brief second. Her golden-fuzzed ears, rather than twitching, swiveled mechanically towards the sound. She glanced back at her monitor and spent several moments studying the field data before concluding that nothing was amiss with the main drive.

       The wolf woman visited her makeshift bathroom nearby, cleaning herself no more than was necessary and making sure her eyes were in proper working order. Aremist picked up a toothbrush that she thought had belonged to her sister, Theana. She peeled back her lips with one hand, brushing as gently as possible with the other. The gums ached all the time now. She spat into a small basin, tinging its white finish with red. Aremist paused to examine herself in the mirror.

       She was too thin by far, and with her fur trimmed almost to fuzz for practical reasons, she could barely pass as her own species anymore. Her eyes didn't blink or tear up, her nose was rarely wet, and her cheeks were as hollow as those of any malnourished prisoner. Not a bad analogy, Captain, she thought, and spat into the basin again, disgusted. Those adjustments would need to be moved to the top of the list. She couldn't work effectively if she was this distracted.

       Aremist's mane of hair was trimmed down to a half-inch length, both to simplify cleaning it and to ward off accidents. She could vividly recall having part of her scalp torn out once, when her hair had been caught while forcing open a frozen hatch. She ran her right hand over the short reddish patch on her head. That hand was sheathed in a metallic glove that extended halfway up her forearm. Inside the glove were only a few nerve bundles connected to a complex system of artificial joints, musculature and sensor pads.

       The entire left arm, shoulder, and leg were very similar to it, though somewhat bulkier. They were unwieldy-looking cybernetic limbs, whose attachment points had been hidden deep under the surrounding flesh. The limbs seemed rough in design, almost unfinished, but they were deceptively dextrous and strong. The outside of each was covered in flat gray touch pads, and sealed with a flexible, transparent 'skin'. That seal served both to protect the inner workings of the limbs, and to muffle the constant whirring noises that the artificial muscles emitted. She thought she could still hear them anyway, though, late at night...

       Aremist shook her head, hard, and forced her thoughts to clear. She suffered not a moment of fuzziness or vertigo from the action. Her eyes could not lose their focus, and her implants compensated too quickly for dizziness to ever be a factor. She finished her business and left the engine room, shrugging on a faded red tank top and velcroed shorts out of habit rather than any need for them. A chill permeated most of the vessel, but even without her fur, the wolf woman scarcely noticed. She hung her communicator around her neck and a pistol on her belt. They were items she never needed, but could never allow herself to forget. She donned flat shoes, and a small scanner went around her left ankle to insure that her balance was calibrated properly; it was a chore to maintain an artificial paw, but the alternative was to remove and replace her organic leg, then convert both to a plantigrade design. Aremist didn't have the resources to waste on that.

       Strange dream, though, she thought. I didn't look like that even when we set up the pods. I'm not sure I ever looked like that. Aremist's rarely remembered dreams were usually very literal, more like replayed events than anything else. She forced herself to think about her duty list. Brooding introspection would be the death of her.

       In the storage closet that she had converted into a mess hall, Aremist revved up the recycling devices that she had salvaged from other parts of the vessel. They doled out a thick sauce for her to eat, as well as a small portion of gelatinous slurry to replenish her vitamins. The food made her teeth ache as well. If only the replicators still functioned... but they had used up too much memory and power anyway. When the last one had broken down, she had stripped it for parts. She hung a bottle around her neck, her ration of water, and sipped some through a straw. Aremist picked up her dental chew before leaving. Made from a tied-off piece of synthetic leather, it helped to keep her jaw and teeth strong despite the lack of solid food.

       She chewed absently on it, paying no mind to the thin lines of spittle that ran down her muzzle, and walked to sickbay. The adjustments to her implants took almost an hour, far longer than she had expected. She was beginning to hear the subdued voices of her crew, and they grew louder as she recalibrated the devices in her skull and parietal lobes. When she finalized the adjustments and the program took effect, there was no true feeling of relief, only a sudden lack of sensation. She would sit and wait a few minutes, then take new readings to be certain, but the voices were gone again. The only sounds to be heard throughout the vessel were the hum of the warp core, and the steady beepings of the wall of monitors in the main storage bay.


*      *      *


       “Captain's Log, date zero-five zero-four two-three-three-one Terran standard, six-one one-two three-one-nine-nine Osidon Beta standard. Acting Captain Aremist Baker-Jones reporting, random encryption active.” The synthetic voice echoed hollowly on the darkened bridge of the ship she called Packmaster. Nearly all stations were inactive; most were splayed open, circuits exposed as if some wild beast had gutted them. Long trails of wiring led from each one to the central tactical station, located behind the command seat. Tactical was now an abomination of cobbled-together screens and parts, designed to allow a single person at least partial access to all ship systems. The light it cast made its operator seem a gaunt ghost, a wolf with pale, naked skin and shadows for eyes. She did not look down at the monitor recording and transcribing her words, but rather stared at the main screen on the far wall. The screen was blank; it still functioned, unlike many devices aboard Packmaster, but the more vital systems begrudged even the small amount of power it consumed. As well, Aremist did not want to be reminded of the last thing she had viewed on that screen.

       The wolf woman continued, her artificial larynx producing tones less natural than any ship's computer. “It has been… twenty-two Terran standard days since my previous log entry. Nine hours after that entry, the Packmaster dropped out of warp without warning. Plasma vents on the port nacelle had failed to open due to corroded connections, and the ship's computer automatically began core shutdown procedures as per my previous commands. I was awakened by the alarms and initiated emergency protocols; Packmaster was under control sixteen hours later. However, the pursuit vessel Magister Vos Milistisith had detected our presence during the shutdown and intercepted us before the core could be brought back online and the sensor refractors engaged.”

       “Operating under minimal power, I offered surrender. I do not know if the Osidon vessel intended to capture me alive, or if they simply wished to close to optimum firing range. When they drew close enough, I activated reserve power and initiated my previously programmed and readied maneuvers. As expected, it destroyed Packmaster's decks Nine and Ten as well as eighty percent of the backup cells, but the Vos Milistisith was crippled.” Aremist stood silent. “I had sufficient power to arm the remaining weapon battery and finish the battle.”

       A warning alarm sounded, and the wolf woman turned to a monitor on her left and began entering commands. Several minutes later, she turned back to her log with a heavy sigh. “I have been working to salvage Packmaster since the battle,” Aremist intoned in her mechanically regulated voice, “and we are underway once again. However, our stabilizers are degrading rapidly and I can no longer keep up with the demands of the ship. Awakening crewmembers to assist me would be counterproductive. I cannot spare the time or the consumables for their medical needs.

       “My options have been reduced to surrender, or planetfall. Soon the ship will be incapable of controlled descent, so I have chosen planetfall while choice remains. In approximately two hours, Packmaster will attempt a landing on an apparently uninhabited planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Just prior to entering the atmosphere, I will launch observation satellites in the hopes that a… sympathetic vessel will pass through the system before our status changes.

       "End log.”

       Aremist walked around the tactical station and settled into the command seat. Her shoulders slumped and she dropped her muzzle to her chest. The wolf woman raised her hands in front of her eyes and turned them slowly. It seemed that they should be shaking; in fact, it would have been comforting to know that her artificial appendages could tremble.

       “What am I going to do, Fathers?” she mumbled to the deserted bridge. Seized by impulse, Aremist tapped the control pad under her right hand and brought up a list of lectures recorded by the two who had most contributed to her upbringing. She picked one to play, seemingly at random. The main screen came to life, bathing the bridge in a vision from seven years ago. It was one that she hadn't seen before. The doctors Maxwell Baker and Leonard Jones, both vulpinoids of Terran origin, were discussing various childcare techniques with which they themselves were barely familiar. The doctors were nervous and more than a little foolish-looking, their tails twitching as they tried to explain proper grooming while holding up furry dolls.

       The wolf woman watched them for several minutes, and grinned when Doctor Baker managed to drop his doll. She reached up and felt her muzzle. Only the right side was smiling. Most of the left half of her face had lost its fine motor function when the eye and socket were destroyed. That's why I missed this recording, she mused. I was blind that day. Aremist shut off the monitor, stood, and strode back to the tactical station. Her implants would need to be adjusted immediately after planetfall. One more thing to add to the list.


*      *      *


       Aremist should have been horrified by the amount of damage brought about by her vessel's presence. Standing at the base of a ramp leading from the belly of the Packmaster, she couldn't even recognize the plateau upon which she had touched down a month ago. Regular venting of plasma from the ship had baked the land for several hundred meters in every direction. The ground in a thirty-meter patch nearest the vents had melted into dull, ashen rivulets, as if lava had poured from the earth around the vessel.

       Nothing had survived the ship's presence. The tall grass that was so prevalent in this region had burned away in a radius of over two kilometers, set aflame by the terrific heat of the engines or destroyed by the radiation that permeated the ship's hull. Aremist herself was basking in it now, but she knew that the radiation was well within the level of tolerance with which her Fathers had managed to endow her. Of more immediate concern was the temperature. She needed to get away from the vessel as soon as possible, before she risked heat exhaustion. But moving quickly would endanger her as well.

       The wolf woman spoke a few words into the remote module that hung over her heart, and the ramp raised up behind her. Her readings told her that the wind most often came from the east, so she set off in that direction. Aremist was no hunter, but she reasoned that the animal life in that direction would be less contaminated by radiation, and less spooked by the sounds and scent of her vessel.

       The journey was not a short one. Aremist couldn't lope along, low to the ground, as she might have wished. It would have been faster, but would have also dehydrated her quickly, and increased the chances of some unknown predator ambushing her. Instead the wolf woman held an antiquated medical scanner before her, searching for lifesigns large enough to be of use. In her other hand was a handmade, long-barreled needle rifle, simple in design and lacking any kind of sights or targeting system. The rifle's strap was slung over her shoulder, and she moved the barrel slowly from side to side, always pointing it exactly where she was looking so there would be no delay if she had to fire. Her personal energy weapon was hung at her side, but Aremist saw no need to waste its power cell. She could easily fashion simple alternatives from the thousands of unused parts inside the Packmaster.

       Apart from her ranged weapons, Aremist carried a square-edged machete cut from a length of scrap metal, the scanner, a remote module, and a double water ration, all hung from a thin utility belt. She otherwise hunted almost nude to help keep her temperature in a tolerable range. She had shaved almost all of her fur. Aremist had tried to jury-rig a heat dissipation system that she could wear, but some of the essential components were needed to ensure the operation of the remaining pods. The remote module hung over her chest had been set to give warning if any vessels were detected in orbit around the planet she had chosen as her 'bolthole'. Aremist again wondered if the satellites that she had launched before planetfall would be her saviors or betrayers. But the deed was done, and now there was meat to catch.

       Choosing to leave the ship had been difficult. It seemed as if every system was in constant need of repair. Aremist spent seventeen hours out of her twenty-seven hour day servicing it and monitoring the hibernation pods. Fifty-eight out of sixty-four pods were still intact; when her implants were operating correctly, she found that acceptable. But she had calculated that within two weeks at the most, she would no longer be strong enough to make the decision to hunt. The ship's supplies had been recycled countless times, and now Aremist had only a few scraps of nutritious food stored away. This trip had the potential to worsen her situation. If the local fauna proved inedible, she would have wasted enough energy to reduce her survival time by several days.

       After an hour, the wolf woman had descended from the plateau and the region of burnt or radiation-corrupted ground, and she warily stepped into the first large patches of grass. Some of the growth was half again as tall as Aremist, and could easily hide creatures large enough to swallow her whole. Her medical scanner had been set to give a proximity alert, but it was no longer dependable. Entropy and radiation had taken their toll on nearly everything Aremist touched.

       The scanner seemed to have a reading on a larger lifeform, and Aremist tracked it with painstaking care. The grass made her trek slow and difficult. It was too thick to easily break or cut through, and too dense to just push aside. Once or twice the wolf woman saw what she guessed to be game trails, but what little instinct remained to her was enough to make her avoid them. The unreliable scanner was a better option than walking into some predator's waiting jaws.

       Finally she came upon a clearing, formed by several patches of bare rock. Aremist found the rank spoor of some native fauna, probably an animal as large as herself, and the medical scanner indicated that it was nesting among the rocks. Aremist's artificial eyes magnified the scene, and she soon spotted its lair, a deep crevice among the stone. The wolf woman skirted the edge of the clearing and took up a position with a good view of the crevice, not far from the grassline. Slowly and in absolute silence, she set the scanner aside and checked her weapon. She took a seat, using the knee of her artificial leg to support the rifle barrel.

       Aremist's furred ears swiveled to either side and locked in place. She settled her rifle and locked a programmed action into her cybernetics with a few mental commands. Her limbs and eyes would now function in near-perfect coordination. She took careful, easy aim on the crevice, set her finger against the trigger, and waited. Her heart rate and breathing slowed, and within a minute, Aremist was as still as the stone underneath her. To an outsider she might have seemed the very epitome of the Hunter, one who lived in harmony with nature, who believed in the sacred bond between predator and prey and for whom the hunt itself was an act of meditation. Her ears did not twitch; her eyes did not blink.

       Aremist possessed no more spirituality than a spring-loaded bear trap as she waited. Even if she fell asleep from exhaustion, her eyes and hands would still aim and fire at the first creature to enter her field of vision. The wolf woman had spent six years practicing with her implants and cybernetics. Aremist's eyes and ears and limbs and implants were useful in many ways. But as she had discovered over time, they were best suited to killing. Her Fathers had rebuilt her unsalvageable portions as well as they possibly could with the limited tools and time aboard their ship, and she had managed to improve on their design. They had expected her to have to protect everyone after they were gone. They needed her on her feet, more than anyone else. She was the oldest; it was only right. Her finger remained absolutely motionless, poised across the rifle's trigger.


*      *      *


       The animal actually managed to look in Aremist's direction before it slumped to the ground. She picked up the medical scanner beside her, but did not lower her weapon until she was certain that no other significant lifesigns were near. She rose and made her way towards the dead predator, which lay only a few steps from its home. The beast was reptilian in general outline, about half again as heavy as Aremist and solidly built. It had a skin tone similar to the gray stone of its lair. As the wolf woman watched, its color gradually faded to a nauseating blue-green. That made her pause. If the species was capable of camouflage, she needed to be more cautious. Aremist walked up to the beast, while rescanning the nearby area for sign of any of its kin.

       It nearly gouged her ankle open. The corpse convulsed reflexively, and its eight-centimeter long claws lashed out. They scarred the stone around its feet and fanned out in a deadly arc. Aremist's mechanical leg kicked off the ground and launched her over the body just as its claws scraped the skin of her organic paw. She landed, and immediately fired a shot into the animal's skull. More shots went into each of its legs, and then the weapon was empty. The echoes hung in the air unnaturally.

       Aremist knelt behind the corpse and scanned it for a time, eventually deciding that it was edible and free of parasites. She considered her options. A large portion needed to be returned to the Pack Master, in case she did not find more prey for a while. But she was weak, and not sure that she could haul even a quarter of the meat back with her. Furthermore, she had not thought to bring a rope or pack of any kind to simplify the task. Survival training had never been deemed necessary in her upbringing.

       After a minute's thought, she began hacking at the corpse with her square-edged machete. When Aremist had removed several strips of meat from its flank, she drew her large, decrepit laser pistol, adjusted the setting, and charred the meat on the spot. The combined stench of burnt flesh and the beast's natural internal odor was appalling. The wolf woman gagged, then put a rough lump of meat in her mouth and tugged at it. Despite its rancid taste, it was almost a welcome change after the recycled mush to which she had grown accustomed.

       As she worried the meat, Aremist contemplated her problem. She fired again, this time at a small stone near the corpse, and trained the beam on it until the surface of the stone was quite hot. She placed more chunks of meat on that stone to cook them. The effect was pitiful, but Aremist needed a full stomach, and doubted that she could hold down meat that was completely raw. The meat in her mouth now was so charred as to be nearly inedible, and she had to waste water swallowing it.

       The wolf woman ate slowly. She gagged several times, but managed to avoid vomiting. When her shriveled stomach was almost full, she rested just inside the crevice that had served as the creature's home. Half an hour later, she chopped meat from the animal's sides and belly to carry back to her ship. In a fit of grotesque brilliance, she cut strips from the skin and gut of the corpse and knotted them together, then used the longer strips to bundle as much meat as she could safely carry.

       Aremist was filthy from the gore and innards of the predator, and stank like a baked corpse. She began the march back to the Packmaster, while calculating how long this limited food supply could last her. Her mouth ached badly.


*      *      *


       The corroded power cell in Aremist's medical scanner was almost the death of her. While hauling the animal meat, she had no free hand to observe the scanner, and never noticed that it had shut down. The proximity alarm stayed silent, and the wolf woman walked blindly past the second predator.

       Two sets of long, curved claws came to bear as the beast charged from the underbrush, attacking from behind and below her. It aimed for her hamstrings. One set of claws skittered harmlessly down her cybernetic leg. The other set would have torn out the tendon of her right knee, but Aremist was already turning to her attacker. Instead the claws dug deep gashes down the side of her leg, and it buckled under her weight.

       When Aremist's implants were functioning, she was not even capable of feeling surprise. Even as she toppled over and the beast readied its claws for another swipe, her body was in action. Her right hand moved to draw the laser, while her faster left arm broke her fall. She landed on her side and drew her legs up. Aremist's mechanical leg shot out like a piston into the beast's shoulder as it tried to close in. It was shoved back half a meter by the impact. Before it even reacted to the blow, Aremist leveled her pistol, stroked the trigger, and set its head aflame.

       The wolf woman grunted in pain and pushed well away from the predator's twitching remains. She did not want its nervous reactions to endanger her. She snapped her head around, looking for any signs of another animal, and then shoved herself to a standing position while checking her useless medical scanner. She whined vaguely and closed her right eye, realizing that she had not brought even a basic medkit on her hunt.

       Balance was simple to maintain. Her gyroscopic implants were so precise that she did not even need a tail to keep a perfect stance. But the pain of her wounds made her organic leg shiver, and she was losing a good deal of blood. Too much, considering that Aremist's organic body mass was small to begin with. Any wound was relatively larger for her. The loss of so much of her marrow in favor of artificial bone made the situation even worse. She had to get back to her ship immediately.

       Aremist sat back down and used the short belt that held her pistol and machete to tie off her leg. She gritted her teeth and pulled it painfully tight. It wasn't safe, but she could not spare any more blood loss. She laid the machete down and fired her laser at it intermittently, on low power. When it was red hot, she picked it up, and let out a low whine against imaginary pain. All this time, and you still expected to burn your hand.

       The wolf woman allowed herself a few moments to think about the pods back aboard her ship, and then pressed the machete blade into the first claw wound. She screamed until she was gasping for air. She looked around, grabbed a strip of warty skin from her supply, and put it between her teeth. When she cauterized the second and third gashes, she bit down on the meat, and it helped.

       That task complete, Aremist leaned over and breathed heavily for several minutes. She shuddered, and vomited up the meat that she had downed earlier. The wolf woman lay in that spot for a while, trying to focus her mind by counting prime numbers. She panted heavily, and occasionally poured water on her lips. The world felt very far away.

       Something touched her breastbone, prodding insistently. Aremist pushed herself up to a sitting position and put a hand to her chest. The remote module was vibrating over her heart. The wolf woman gained her feet with a cry, snatched up her weapons and limped off in what she thought was the direction of the Packmaster's landing site. The satellites were shrieking alerts, trying to warn her of an intrusion into the planet's orbit.





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Continued in Chapter Two

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Chakats, Chakona, Voxxans, and Voxxa are copyright Bernard Doove
The Quange are copyright Roy D. Pounds II
Story is copyright © 2006 Coyotenose