The cubs who had led the charge on the midday feast, got the privilege of "volunteering" to clean up afterwards. We decided to move our gathering outdoors because, the day that started out grey and frosty, had turned into one of those beautiful mid-winter afternoons. The sun gave some welcome warmth and cheer to the forest clearing that was our backyard.
The remaining cubs and several adults started a ball game. A full stomach in addition to a pregnant belly restrained me from joining in. As pleased as I was to have twins, they were already proving to be somewhat of a burden at times. I often wondered how two-legged females coped as they did. Our four-legged stance enabled us to carry the unborn with relative ease. I let out an 'oomph' as I lowered myself into a comfortable position beside Goldfur.
"Serves you right for trying to outdo me," shi said to me with a grin.
"Believe me, I won't try to do it again," I replied with sincerity.
One of my aunts, called Silverpelt for hir wonderful silvery grey fur, asked, "How are they affecting your work now?"
I replied, "I have been able to do everything I normally do up until now, but I won't be doing any arduous field trips any more until after their birth. What about you, Goldfur? Are you having any difficulties?"
"No. In fact, this pregnancy has been totally normal despite the sire being a foxtaur. Garrek and I will be taking on another short tour of duty with a starship crew and plan to be back 2 or 3 weeks before I'm due. I'll take it easier from then on."
Silverpelt said, "Then Forestwalker will have hir cubs a few weeks later."
"Not quite," Goldfur denied, "It will be more like a couple of days."
"But you told us that you conceived about a month before Forest did. Which is correct?"
"Both." Goldfur laughed at the confusion shi had caused, but let them off the hook quickly. "One of the odd things about working in space is that you spend a lot of time just travelling to and from distant destinations. Much of this is spent under FTL drive, but there is still much done at near-light speed in normal space. That's when we are subject to relativity and at high relativistic speeds, time slows down for us. Forest is actually catching up to me because my pregnancy is stretching out a few weeks longer by your time measurement. I estimate that after this trip, we will be 2 or 3 days apart at most."
"Amazing, but convenient. We will be able to arrange a birthing party for both of you then."
"Yes, it would be lovely to be able to celebrate the coming into the world of all our cubs at one time."
Just then, Garrek came over and plonked himself down next to Goldfur, panting a bit from his exertions. "Darned chakats and their prehensile tails," he grumbled good-naturedly. "Those slippery limbs keep stealing the ball from me!"
We laughed at that. The game that they were playing was a unique mixture of football and 'keepings-off'. Almost anything goes in that game, short of violence. Garrek was definitely at a disadvantage there.
Goldfur put hir arm around him and gave him a cuddle saying, "Don't worry, I'll still love you, even if you aren't a great star player."
I interjected, "Just think how Kris must feel. He has to try to keep up with only two legs to get him around."
"I don't know how he does it," Garrek admitted. "He has got to be one of the fittest people that I have ever met."
"He's always been very fit, but I think that trying to keep up with a chakat life-mate helps keep him on his toes. Although, I think he's just about reached his limit now." I witnessed him make a point for his team, then stop to pant for a while. He gave a sign to indicate that he was quitting the game and headed over towards us. He sat down next to me and I pulled him over to hug him and said, "My hero!"
He grinned and said, "What I go through to win the heart of my fair mate!" He was already breathing easily, a testament to his fitness, so I gave him a long kiss as a reward. Then we just enjoyed being together for a few minutes whilst conversation flowed around us. Then he asked, "Speaking of mates, have you seen Trina lately?"
"I saw her having a cuddle with Midnight a little earlier," I replied. "I think that they are glad to see each other again but I think it's also because shi is coming into season and is looking for a little bit of the stress relief Goldfur talked about earlier. I think you should go see Midnight later too and offer your services."
Kris gave a deep sigh, drooping his ears and said melodramatically, "The things that I have to do for my mate. Okay, it's a sacrifice, but I'll do it."
I swatted him for hamming it up so much.
"Ouch! See the abuse that I have to put up with?" he protested to my sister.
"How you must suffer," Goldfur agreed.
"Keep it up and I'll be forced to kiss you again," I threatened.
Kris couldn't keep a straight face any more. He burst out laughing, his tail flicking mischievously, and said, "Better yet, I'll kiss you first, my love." He proceeded to do so and very thoroughly too. I decided to forgive him.
The game started breaking up. It was one of those perpetual games with no winners or losers. Some players would switch sides next time they started. It was all done just for the fun of it, so no one was keeping score. Everyone started grouping together again for some lazy conversation and it wasn't long before Starshine came over and asked, "Are you going to tell us the rest of your story now?"
Goldfur replied, "I think it's Garrek's turn to speak now. After all, he knows as much as I do and I think we'd all like to hear things from his perspective for a change."
There was a chorus of agreement. "Okay, okay," agreed Garrek. "You've talked me into it. Now where were we..."
* * *
"Good morning, my love!"
I opened my eyes to see the face of my beautiful lady on the pillow next to mine. It was almost too good to be true, waking up with the one that I loved after an evening of celebration. Right then, I felt that all was right with the universe and I didn't want a single thing to change. "A very good morning it is, Goldfur." I reached over to pull hir over to me to give hir a kiss. Shi responded with enthusiasm, but shi was also the first to break and bring me down to earth.
It's time that we got up, Garrek. It's important that we don't have any more incidents so soon after our little affair."
I sighed, but shi was right. I needed to go back to my cabin to get a fresh uniform too. We got up together and Goldfur headed for the bathroom, saying, "I'll meet you in the mess hall for breakfast. We need to discuss some things."
"Right, I'll be there soon.
It didn't take me long to freshen up and I certainly had quite an appetite, so I made it to the mess hall fairly quickly. Goldfur was only moments behind me and we went together to a table carrying our meals. We both were ravenous and ate in silence for a short while, then Goldfur said, "The captain said to me that he had gained a mated team. I think that he is right and we should take advantage of that and apply for a change in status. We could continue working together on a regular basis then and we would be eligible for other benefits. A larger, shared cabin is the first thing that comes to mind."
"It would make more sense than travelling between cabins," I agreed, "And anything that will give me more time with you is a great idea."
"Thank you, dear. I like that idea too." Shi gave me that joyous smile of hirs that I liked so much.
We did not have duties that enabled us to work together that morning, but at our lunch break, we submitted our form for status amendment. We proudly wrote our names as declared mates and added our request for upgraded facilities. Only then did we head off to have our meal. We had only just sat down to eat when our communicators announced a message for us. "Status amendment approved. Please see Lieutenant Forbes after your shift for details of new facilities."
I looked at Goldfur. Shi shrugged and said, "It seems that we were anticipated."
It suited me. This gave unspoken approval for our union and would mean that our being together would not be a problem. The meal that I ate that lunchtime never tasted so good.
The trip to the planet code named RDP2 took us 35 days all up. In the time between our mating and arrival, Goldfur and I worked together almost constantly, then our evenings were spent arm-in-arm while socialising or in more intimate contact in our bed. In those days, we learned much about each other and shi forewarned me about chakat customs for when we got back home.
One thing that I noticed was how hir male/female cycle affected hir. It was definitely an unusual feeling for me to observe how hir interactions with hir friends changed subtly. It still caught me by surprise the first time that shi eyed a pretty female in my presence. I was determined not to be bothered by that. I knew how it was going to be and hir affections towards me never wavered. I was still wondering how I deserved such a wonderful mate even at the height of hir male cycle.
A most important milestone in our sexual relationship came at that time. We were making love as we had done every night since first mating. I had mounted hir and we were enjoying a relaxed and lengthy coupling, when shi said, "Garrek, my dearest love, would you do something special for me?"
"Anything," I replied, "Just name it."
"I am now at the peak of my male cycle and I have needs. I am truly enjoying our joining but I would find it even better if you could do one more thing. I know that this might be hard for you, but I would like it if you could stroke my sheath. Just put your forepaw on it and give me the pleasure of your touch."
I had known that something like this would happen one day, but I had put off thinking about it because I really did not know how I would react when it did. It turned out that I was strangely excited. I had never had the slightest inclination towards males and never considered such sexual activity, but here was my bisexual mate who had lovingly requested this of me and I had no qualms about trying to please hir. My only hesitation was due to my inexperience. Without withdrawing from hir, I reached down wit h my right forepaw and put it on hir sheath. I heard hir intake of breath as I touched hir and felt the quiver of a reaction there. I immediately felt the beginnings of an erection. As I slowly stroked my cock within hir, so I also urged hir penis from its sheath. Then I gently started pleasuring hir cock directly. Shi moaned in delight and I could not help but get excited myself at making hir feel so good. This went on for some minutes, then I felt the tensing with which I was more familiar. Shi was coming to male orgasm and this was turning me on tremendously. Hir incipient climax was stimulating mine and then we both started bucking reflexively. I growled in pleasure as I came, but it was Goldfur's yowls of ecstasy that really reverberated through the room. God, this had to be the best orgasm we have had together yet. Finally, we were done. We were both panting, but Goldfur looked absolutely spent. I was concerned, so I asked hir, "Are you okay my love?"
Shi gave me a dreamy smile and replied, "Never better, dear. That was even better than I had dared hope. Thank you so much for this, you have made me a very satisfied lover."
"But you look exhausted," I protested.
"I am. Don't you realise what happened? You did such a good job that you gave me a double orgasm. Both my male and female sides came to climax simultaneously. That is pleasure that borders on overload and leaves us very drained. However, this is the ultimate in love-making for us and we strive for it whenever possible. As I said, you have been an excellent lover and I couldn't ask for anything more. Now just lie with me my love and let me just bask in your presence."
What male could not be proud of giving his mate ultimate satisfaction. This had been the best sexual experience of my life and I wanted to revel in the memory of it too. I snuggled up to my mate and we put our arms about each other and enjoyed just being together. We drifted off to sleep together that way knowing that all was right in the universe.
* * *
In the days that led up to our arrival, we continued making love each night, each time learning something new about each other. Goldfur didn't feel the need to see anybody else and it seemed that Midnight's needs were being attended to by Tom, whom shi had taken to be with whenever possible. I knew that there would be times when the two chakats would need their own kind, but I was pleased that Goldfur was still satisfied with just me so far.
We were now officially assigned as a mated team. Our skills being complementary, we were almost always given the tasks that required at least two personnel. Those days spent working together were amongst the happiest of my life and the time spent getting to our destination just flew by. Finally we dropped out of hyperspace and coasted at near light-speed through the star system. This part of the journey could have been done under warp also, but we were able to do more effective system scans in normal space. Because we needed time to collate and analyse the results, it did not matter that we could have done that portion of the journey much faster. Therefore, we spent a few days under minimal power before we started decelerating for our rendezvous with planet RDP2.
These were very busy days for us. We got the updated data about the planet at a briefing that involved all the department heads and personnel who would be working planet-side. This was a very recently discovered world which showed a moderate amount of promise. It was a young planet, geologically speaking. There was a large degree of vulcanism still, but not enough to prove a problem. The atmosphere was quite dense and had an adequate oxygen level. Surface gravity was only about 0.8G, which allowed the luxuriant plant growth to grow to outstanding heights. Unfortunately, much of the land surface was either rocky or swampy. An initial team of planetary surveyors and assessors had been left there a few months ago to determine its viability as an agricultural planet or whether there were any exploitable resources.
We were bringing fresh supplies and relief workers. The tasks that Goldfur and I were expected to perform were the repairs and maintenance of the teams' equipment. The survey teams were scattered over several promising sites which meant that we would have to shuttle between them and the main landing site. Matter transporter would be used to do the bulk movement of supplies from the ship to the surface depot. From there, it would be distributed to where it was most needed. This would be done mostly by shuttle because the ship would be away for a couple of weeks doing more in-depth exploration of this solar system.
When it came for us to go down to the planet, I was feeling extremely excited. This would be only the second strange new world that I would stand on, and the first had been an already developed world. This promised to be something vastly different. The ship transported us to the surface. It was a bit of a let-down to realise that we were inside an ordinary-looking building, but this was soon dispelled when we stepped out the door. The view was magnificent. The landing site was set up in a natural clearing in the midst of unspoiled forest, a sparkling lively stream flowing down one side and pouring over some rapids before plunging back into the forest. Not too far away, the trees could be seen climbing the sides of a low mountain range. The air was rich with scents and pleasantly warm and the lighter gravity was putting quite a spring in my step. All up, it was good to be alive and on this beautiful world with my new mate.
A weathered looking man with an engaging smile stepped up to us and said, "You must be the maintenance team that I was told to expect. Glad to meet you. I'm Gareth Hunt, chief of operations here."
We introduced ourselves and then Goldfur asked, "How did you know that we were the maintenance team?"
"Tom told me to look out for the most unusual pair of engineers coming down this shift. I thought you most easily fit that description."
I smiled and replied, "Not a particularly difficult guess then. So we have to get our assignments from you?"
"Yes, and believe me, we've got plenty to keep you occupied for quite a while. This world is nice to look at, but rather hard on equipment. Come over to our magnificent base of operations and we'll start handing out your chores."
The "magnificent" building was actually just another of the sturdy and functional huts that had been erected for the duration of the survey. As we entered, we almost bumped into Midnight on hir way out.
Goldfur stopped for a moment to say, "You got down here quickly, Midnight."
Shi grinned and replied, "After being stuck with little to do for so long, I'm eager to get out on a scouting expedition. My team and I will be gone very soon. I won't be seeing you for several days, but I hope you enjoy this new world. You know I will!"
"Have a safe journey then, Midnight." Goldfur gave hir a parting hug and let hir depart. We walked over to the desk behind which Gareth had sat waiting for us. We sat ourselves on our haunches as he handed over a sheaf of print-outs.
"We have a few very important repairs that need to be done here first. The rest of the maintenance and non-urgent work will be done after you have done the rounds of the field teams. The lists show you who most desperately requires your services. When you have completed the tasks here, I will assign a shuttle to you. Let me know in advance any special equipment you need or stocks that you want to withdraw and I'll have it loaded and ready to go when you are. I've included some maps to this area and a layout for the base buildings."
He stopped to dig out a couple of communicators from his drawer. "These comms are linked to the base computer. Your ship comms will be useless while it is gone and these ones will be able to guide you around to various worksites and camp facilities. I was told that you were a mated pair and you have been assigned a cabin to which your comm can point the way." He leaned back into his chair and grinned. "I admit that I was a bit surprised to realise that a chakat and a foxtaur were mated, but I must say that you make a nice couple. Welcome to Pounds' World."
"Thank you, Chief," I said.
"Just call me Gareth, please. I'm only 'Chief' to any of my staff that get into trouble." He got up and indicated that we should go outside. "I'll introduce you to some of the others, then you can get to work."
We went to the largest building at the site where all the heavy equipment was stored. There we met several staff who handled the day to day running of the camp. Most were humans but there was a leopard morph who handled security and a petite squirrel femme called Miki who apparently was the base jack-of-all-trades. Her small size enabled her to get at equipment that we had to disassemble to access. We were told that there was wolf morph who was an analyst at the base laboratory and several more on the various field teams.
For the rest of that day, we got stuck into the repairs that had been awaiting our arrival. Miki, showed us the equipment that was beyond her ability to fix and then helped us do the work. She had a razor sharp mind and I was betting that she was soaking up all the things that she was learning while watching us. Her wit was sharp too and she kept us entertained with a steady supply of jokes.
The day passed swiftly, then Miki told us it was time to quit. We had been rather caught up in our work and hadn't noticed the time. Goldfur and I headed for our cabin, guided by our comms. There we found all the belongings that we had chosen to take with us already placed inside. We cleaned up, brushed our fur and left for the mess hall. Like many such, this was also the focal point of social life at the base and we chatted with the local crew for many hours. They told us about various discoveries that had been made so far, although nothing truly exceptional so far had been found. Of course the biologists disagreed and said that this world was full of exciting new lifeforms, which was the start of a big debate on just what constituted a significant discovery.
Goldfur eventually pleaded tiredness. Chakats tended to need more sleep than the average person, but I was feeling worn out too. We said our Goodnights and left for our cabin. Gareth mentioned as we passed, "Don't forget that these cabins aren't as soundproof as your regular rooms."
Goldfur grinned and thanked him, adding with a wink, "I don't plan to test its limits tonight."
As we walked under a sky full of alien constellations, I remarked, "There's someone who's familiar with your kind, I think."
My mate giggled and agreed, "Yes, as a species, we tend to be vociferous in our love-making. Hmmm, I wonder if he's ever dallied with a chakat?"
"Only a few days and shi is already bored with me," I said in my best melodramatic fashion.
"Well there's only so much absolute pleasure I can cope with," shi countered.
"In that case, may I suggest spending a few totally dull moments just sitting together under the stars?"
"That sounds wonderfully boring," shi agreed.
We wandered over to a clear grassy area in full view of the brilliantly clear night sky and settled down together. I put my arm around hir waist and drew hir against me. Shi put hir head on my shoulder, wrapped hir long tail about mine and we both leaned back to look at the alien constellations. This was the fulfilment of a dream for me. A new world with strange and exciting things to learn and someone with whom to share the experience. I felt the gentle rumble of my mate's purr start up and together we enjoyed the mild evening's magic.
* * *
"Rise and shine!"
I woke with a start, disorientated for a moment. There was a human security officer standing in front of us and, as Goldfur stirred in my arms, I realised that we had fallen asleep together out there in the open. Our fur had kept us comfortable during the pleasant weather of the night.
"Er... what time is it?" I asked.
"0600 hours and time for breakfast!" he grinned at us. "I saw you two there on my patrols last night, but I didn't have the heart to disturb you. I trust that you had a pleasant rest?"
We started getting up, a bit stiffly at first. Goldfur spoke up, "Well, the grass isn't my first choice for a mattress, but I wouldn't trade last night for a dozen nights in a bed!"
"I will have to try it sometime, but right now, it's the end of my shift and I'm hungry. Care to join me?"
It sounded good to us, so we headed straight for the mess hall. I brushed off a few leaves that were clinging to our fur. "We will have to make it a fairly quick one. Both of us are going to have to clean up a bit before going on duty."
We had a brief but enjoyable meal in the company of Brett, the security officer. We promised to get together for a more leisurely dinner sometime, then headed to the cabin we didn't reach last night. We grabbed our toiletries and fresh uniforms and headed for the communal bathing facilities. Because they were set up with morph personnel in mind, we were able to have showers and quickly dry ourselves off in time to start our shift promptly.
We were able to finish the balance of the urgent repairs by mid afternoon and we spent the remainder going over the requirements for the work we would be doing at the survey sites. I took the lists to Gareth who promised to have everything ready for departure first thing the next morning. He gave me an authorisation for the use of one of the ship's shuttles and advised me to check it out and get any personal items in it that we would want for the weeks that we would be absent. "Sergeant Taleta is the person to see. She is in charge of the shuttles and communications with the away teams."
"Taleta?" She was the foxtauress security guard who had come upon Goldfur and me after we had made love in the battlemech. Relations with her had been rather strained since then.
"Yes. I was surprised to find out that she and you weren't involved."
"I only met her several days after meeting Goldfur. I can't say that we really hit it off, and when she found out about my involvement with Goldfur, well, she really didn't take it very gracefully."
"I see." Gareth thought for a moment then said, "I'm afraid that you won't be able to avoid dealing with her for a while. Keeping tabs on you is her responsibility. I will call you up regularly anyway so that you can keep that to a minimum."
"Thanks. I had better get this over with now, I suppose. We'll check in with you before we depart."
I used my comm to locate Taleta, then made my way straight to her. Shi was sitting behind an operations desk, her attention on something on her monitor. Shi looked up and her expression hardened. "What is it you want?" she asked coldly.
"I'm here to get a shuttle checked out." This wasn't going to be a very comfortable situation. I didn't want any hard feelings between us, but it seemed that she was determined to carry a chip on her shoulder. I didn't understand why she had to be this way. I barely knew her and I had never made any expressions of interest to her. All I could think of was that she could not accept that I'd prefer the company of a chakat to a female of my own species. I handed over my authorisation chit and she took it and processed it without speaking further.
After keeping me waiting for as long as possible, she then said, "You have been assigned shuttle 12. Report when you are going to depart and when you arrive." She then turned her attention back to her monitor and proceeded to ignore me. I took the hint and left immediately. Goldfur and I had plenty of time to load the shuttle with all the supplies and we were ready well before the end of the normal quitting time. There was no point in departing then, so we went back to the base's maintenance shed and helped Miki with some of the less urgent repairs.
The base threw a party that evening. They had little excuse for social events usually, but the presence of so many new faces was a good enough reason for them. We had a very pleasant evening. Goldfur coaxed me to tell a few humorous stories and we talked ourselves hoarse with our new friends. We didn't make too late a night of it, as we wanted to get off to a prompt start in the morning. After a kiss and a cuddle, we finally got to sleep in the cabin bed, which was certainly more comfortable than a patch of grass.
The next morning, we had an early breakfast, said goodbye to Gareth and departed without any fuss. We headed at a leisurely pace to the campsite of the team whose equipment most needed urgent repairs. Goldfur took the controls saying, "This is the best opportunity to have a look around. Seeing as you haven't been anywhere like this before, you can concentrate on sight-seeing." I agreed without argument and spent the trip with my eyes glued to the viewport. This was a beautiful world. There was plenty of lush growth everywhere from the rain forests to the swamps. Only the high peaks were devoid of trees, but even there, life continued to cling tenaciously. The journey seemed to pass in no time whatsoever.
The next few days were spent going from camp to camp, repairing when we could, replacing when it was beyond our ability to fix in the field. We met many interesting characters along the way and spent many fascinating hours listening to some of their exploits. The nights we spent in the shuttle, comfortable and safe from indigenous nasties. Each night we made love, buoyed up by the enjoyment each day was bringing us. When Goldfur came back into heat.
All day, Goldfur was in a touchy-feely mood. I enjoyed hir attentions but I had to wonder how it was going to affect us when we went to bed. The time came and for a little while, little unusual happened. I was enjoying hir mating scent which did not induce an overwhelming desire within me to mate with hir, but instead heightened the excitement of being together. Then shi pulled away from me a bit to look at me squarely and said, "How do you feel about having a cub?"
"Last time I looked, males can't have cubs," I joked.
"Silly tod! I meant do you want to sire a cub?"
I realised that shi was completely serious about this, but the question had caught me by surprise. "I hadn't given it any thought. I mean, you're a chakat and I'm a foxtaur; how could I sire a cub without going to find another of my species? You don't expect me to go with Taleta, do you?"
"Good grief, no! What you might not realise is that due to our common background from the genetic engineering laboratories, most 'taur species can interbreed to a limited degree. Chakats and foxtaurs can produce offspring, although the chances of a successful impregnation are much smaller. The resulting cub would be a chakat every time though because of our dominant genetic structure. What I am asking you is: do you want us to try for such a cub?"
I was silent for a moment. Because of our differences, I hadn't even given any consideration towards it. Would this really be a good idea? I started to think of all the possible problems that this could cause, which only served to confuse me more. Then instead of trying to think with my head, I started thinking with my heart. I looked at how I felt about having a cub and realised that the prospect excited me. Goldfur was still looking at me, watching my expressions as these things occurred to me and I saw how shi was in fact asking my permission to have a cub. Shi wanted my child. Finally, I answered hir with full conviction. "I would love to sire a cub by you, beloved."
Shi smiled wonderfully at me. "I was truly hoping that you would feel that way. I want us to try for a cub now, while I am in heat. Do your marvellous best and perhaps we will beat the odds."
That evening of lovemaking was our most passionate yet. We were united not only in body but in the spirit of our undertaking. The following morning, we coupled again, as we did that evening and the next morning. Each time, it was an act of beauty and hope, and a truly incredible experience. However, despite all this, Goldfur did not become pregnant. Hir inner sense soon told hir that our efforts were unsuccessful, but they weren't a waste of time. Our love had been strengthened further in the striving for this goal and we would try again until we did succeed.
We were not saddened by our failure. We would continue trying and each time would be a token of our love and our dreams. Indeed, the weeks we spent together were both happy and fulfilling. We travelled from site to site, repairing some equipment, replacing others and occasionally making a run back to main base for supplies. We met many people, making new friends and spending nights around campfires, chatting, telling jokes and singing. I had brought along my flute, and after being caught practicing, I was constantly being asked to perform. I like to think that my appreciative audience pushed me to improve my skills with the instrument. In any event, there were no complaints.
This assignment was proving to be close to idyllic, and like all such, something eventually comes along to shatter it. We were taking a badly damaged piece of hydraulic machinery back to the workshop at the main base and we were cruising at normal altitude and speed under auto pilot. I was watching the scenery as usual when suddenly there was a massive thud and the shuttle started losing way. Goldfur grabbed the controls and began trying to regain altitude.
"Garrek, we've lost all power in starboard engine. Did you see what happened?" she asked urgently.
I caught a glimpse of something. I think it was a Glasswing." We seemed to have been a victim of this world's version of birdstrike. Normally our sensors would enable this to be avoided, but Glasswings were different from the birds that were normally encountered. They were nearly totally transparent. They were similar in some ways to bats in as much as they didn't have feathers. The flesh and organs were translucent and their light bones were hard to pick up either visually or by navigation sensors. Worse still was that on this world of light gravity and thick atmosphere, aerial lifeforms could grow amazingly big, and the Glasswings were amongst the biggest. They were quite a hazard to aircraft and we were probably guilty of putting too much dependence on the automatic equipment under these circumstances. Our luck seemed to have run out.
"Damn," shi cursed softly, "I can't hold us up."
"What about the port engine? That should be able to keep us aloft."
"Collateral damage is causing it to fail. Brace yourself, we're going in for a crash landing. I'm looking for the best place to set down. Try to send off a distress signal."
I tried the comm, but was blasted by a burst of static. The communications array must have been damaged in the accident also, so I hit the automatic distress beacon. That was on a totally independent circuit and should get through. Then the ground was rushing up to us. I saw that Goldfur had found an open stretch of swamp, a far better alternative to the dense jungle nearby. Goldfur was still trying to kill some of our speed when we impacted and we were thrown forward. I managed to have braced myself sufficiently and came through basically intact. A groan from my mate told me that shi might not have fared so well. "Goldfur! Are you okay?" I cried.
"I'll live," shi replied, "But I'm sure going to feel this for a while." shi started to right hirself when shi let out a yelp of pain. "Garrek, dear, could you give me a hand? I seem to have hurt a hind leg."
The cabin was lying at an angle and I had to carefully slide down to hir to help hir right hirself. Shi tested the injured left hind leg and winced.
"It doesn't seem to be broken, but I won't it very useful for a while," was hir verdict. "We had better check out our current situation before worrying about it for now. Did we get a signal out?"
"Yes, although it may have been rather brief. I don't know how our beacon fared after the crash." The cabin lurched just then, reminding us of the instability of our hastily chosen landing site. "I will go outside and assess our situation first, I think"
"Good idea. I'll try our communicators in the meantime."
I went to the main door but a glance was sufficient to tell that it was unusable because it was mostly underwater. I realised that I would have to try the emergency roof access which would require me to use a ladder, something which was not designed with foxtaurs in mind. Fortunately the lean of the cabin actually assisted me there and the hatch gave me no trouble. I crawled on to the roof and looked around. Goldfur had managed to give us the softest possible landing, but this was now going to work against us. There was little firm footing to be found until the swamp reached the edge of the forest. The shuttle settled down a bit further and I started checking out how far the swamp had encroached upon us. It took only a few moments to realise that we had a major problem. I put my head down to the hatch and said, "Forget about repairs, you've got to get out of there! We are sinking fast. If we continue going down at this rate, the water will reach the hatch in mere minutes."
"I'll grab a couple of emergency packs," shi replied and hobbled over to the storage lockers. Shi hauled out two packs and heaved them up to me, then started climbing the ladder.
"Do you need any help?" I asked hir.
"I can still climb better than you, even with one bad leg," shi reassured me. The swamp-water was lapping at my paws by the time shi climbed out onto the roof. I closed the hatch and sealed it. Perhaps we could salvage the vessel later. Goldfur eyed the scenery and said, "We are going to get wet, no matter what route we choose. Make sure your pack is sealed tight and let's head for that islet over there so we can plan our course of action."
With barely any room left to do a run-up, we leapt in the direction of the small piece of semi-stable ground. Goldfur made quite a creditable distance despite being limited by hir injured leg. We splashed down and started paddling for the bank. I hovered near Goldfur, concerned for hir, until shi said, "Don't hang back for me. I'm comfortable in the water, but I might need a helping hand when I try to get out." I forged ahead and scrambled through some plant growth onto firm footing. I stood ready to help haul my mate from the water. I took hir hand and assisted hir up, though it proved not too difficult after all. Shi shook the excess water from hir fur and I followed suit.
We turned around to look at our craft, just in time to see it disappear beneath the water. We were definitely on our own now. I turned to Goldfur and asked, "Did you have any luck with the comm in that short time?"
"No, I have no idea if they even heard our original distress signal. Our personal comms certainly don't have the range, although they will come in handy as homing beacons. As for the automatic one on the shuttle, I don't know how effective it will be down there." Shi nodded in the direction our shuttle had gone.
"So what now? Normally we should stay by the crash site, but that is utterly impractical. Travelling, however, could be a chancy business."
"I think we should head directly for the base camp. We know exactly where it is from here and we stand a better chance of meeting searchers once they notice that we are overdue."
"What about your leg?"
"I can get along without it. After all, not only do I have many more strong limbs, but I have a concerned mate looking out for me." Shi grinned and went on, "Look at it as an unexpected adventure. We've got emergency supplies and we've also got a world full of resources. Times wasting! Let's get going!" With that, shi turned and crossed our small island in the direction of the next nearest. A slightly unsteady, but still powerful leap put her on its shore. Shi turned back to me and cal led, "Come on, slowpoke!"
Hir enthusiasm was infectious and I grinned and followed hir. We spent most of an hour working our way through that swamp, sometimes on fairly solid ground, many times wading through muck or forced to swim again. At last, we reached the edge and I climbed up on truly firm footing at last. I hauled Goldfur out of the mire that was close to defeating hir. Throughout that short, but arduous trek, shi had been keeping up with me. However, shi had spent much of hir energy in doing it and was on the verge of exhaustion.
"Lie down and rest while I prepare us a meal," I insisted.
"Thank you, love, I think that's a good idea." Shi settled hirself on some grass, gingerly placing hir abused leg. Shi then let out a sigh of relief and relaxed. "Right now, those high energy rations are looking very good."
I fetched some water from the swamp and ran it through the miniature purifier. I used a heating element to bring it to the boil and made us both some hot coffee. We both could use something to warm ourselves after the chilly waters of the swamp. I portioned out some of the rations, then we both ate in silence for a while.
"I hope we make a lot better progress now that we are out of that swamp, otherwise we'll never get back."
"Don't be down-hearted, Garrek. This forest doesn't look too bad for travelling purposes."
"What about navigating? It's nearly impossible to make out landmarks here."
"Don't worry about that. I have an excellent sense of direction. The only person that I know is better is my sister, Forestwalker, and shi does this all the time. Next you are going to bring up my leg again, aren't you?"
I had been, but stubbornly, I wasn't going to admit it.
"I would like to rest it, but I think we should keep moving while we have good light. I have excellent night vision, but even so, I would not like to walk around in unfamiliar territory in the dark. I will rest properly then."
Reluctantly I had to agree. I packed our stuff again and then set off, Goldfur leading the way and setting the pace. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. It was difficult at times to make progress, but for the most, we followed game trails and crossed naturally open areas. We set up a camp in one of those clearings where we found enough dry wood to make a decent fire. This would keep away curious or hungry fauna, we hoped. This wasn't a secure, patrolled compound like the base camp. It was a nervous night for both of us as we took turns to keep watch.
* * *
"How's the leg this morning?" I watched my mate experimentally putting weight on it.
"Very sore, but usable," shi pronounced the verdict. I sighed with relief. Shi noticed and said, "You've got to remember that my species was specifically designed for survival. Amongst our capabilities is fast healing. If I didn't have to continue using it so much, this leg would be fine in no time." Shi came over and gave me a reassuring cuddle. "Cheer up! We should be seeing search parties today. We'll be back in our cabin soon; just you wait and see."
Unfortunately, unknown to both of us at that time, there were no search parties. We had sent a message ahead when we departed the campsite of the away-team. It was an automated message requiring no response. The coordinator at the base would either deal with it appropriately or pass it on to the responsible person as the situation required. It was our misfortune that Sergeant Taleta was that coordinator. She was departing her post for a meal break when her equipment told her that a message had arrived. Upon seeing who it came from though, shi said to herself, "Screw them. They can bloody well wait." She then stalked off determined to put it off for as long as possible. This was to be quite a while. She succeeded in forgetting about the message entirely and the automatic systems merely filed it until someone chose to read it. Nobody knew that we were making an unscheduled visit and therefore didn't realise we were overdue. The emergency beacon had failed to get its signal past an intervening mountain ridge in the short time it had been operational. It was to be a few more days before the next field team on our list called up to complain about our not turning up. Then all hell broke loose when it was realised that we had been missing for days.
We assumed that we would be soon found, of course. Instead, we spent a few days getting pawsore, trying to bridge the distance between us and the camp. When we realised that there didn't seem to be any search parties about, we assumed the worst and started rationing the supplies.
"I should start foraging for myself," Goldfur decided. "I can eat almost anything that grows."
"What about poisonous plants?" I objected.
"We have a high resistance to poisons and can detect them reliably. I can select some that I'm sure will be safe for you. For instance," shi plucked some purple berries from a nearby bush, "These could be a heavenly snack." Shi popped a couple into hir mouth and chewed. Then an awful expression crossed hir face and shi violently spat them out.
"Goldfur, are you okay?" I demanded worriedly.
Shi stopped trying to get the remains of the berries out of hir mouth and replied, "Stop panicking! I'm not poisoned. Just because I can eat anything, doesn't mean that I will. Those have got to be the vilest tasting things that I've ever tried to eat in my life!"
Relief made me light-headed. I started laughing, and then shi joined me. For a couple of minutes we just held each other, unable to stop giggling. When we finally got ourselves back in control, I felt a lot better. Things certainly weren't grim yet and I had renewed confidence in our ability to get back soon.
We continued our trek towards the base camp and, in truth, the journey wasn't exceptionally arduous. Goldfur's leg was as good as new after only a couple of days, healing in the rapid manner of all hir species. Although there was plenty of wildlife, we were never bothered by any major predator. The terrain was slowing us down a bit, but the scenery was enjoyable. Goldfur continued sampling the plantlife with mixed results. Shi rejected several, but came up with a couple of very acceptable fruits. All up, this was proving to be an unexpected, but rather enjoyable adventure.
We had just reached the base of the mountain ridge that had been blocking our comm signals when we spotted one of the other shuttle craft. Not long after that, our comms picked up a signal. The search parties had come at last. I switched up my comm to full gain and sent a reply. We watched the shuttle immediately start to veer in our direction. Leaving my comm sending a homing signal, we climbed onto a small rocky ledge to enable the searchers to see us clearly. They evidently spotted us quickly as they steered directly for the ledge and landed. The hatch opened to show that our rescuer was a very relieved vixetaur. Taleta had been one of the first people to go out looking for us. She had recognised that it was her fault that our absence had not been noticed sooner and this had finally made her realise how stupidly she had been behaving towards us.
It was a contrite foxtauress that brought us back to base. She explained her actions without leaving out anything, taking full responsibility. She would have to submit to corps disciplinary action, but her genuine regret would count in her favour. Goldfur & I had not suffered from our march and were quite happy to regain her good will. As time went by, Taleta became one of our best friends and eventually gained what she wanted originally, much to everyone's satisfaction.
Our shuttle was able to be located and successfully salvaged. The watery landing had prevented further damage and the closed hatch had kept the inside sealed from harm. Goldfur and I spent most of a day getting it back in order and then used it to complete our repair and maintenance runs. The remainder of the stay on that world was interesting but uneventful. On the evening before we were due to ship out again, the base personnel threw all the ship crew a farewell party. There was much joking, singing and dancing with our new friends as we prepared to leave them in the morning.
My mate and I went to our cabin much later than normal, but not alone. Taleta shared our bed that night. Neither she nor I had been with one of own species for quite a while and we had quite a pleasant time remedying that situation. Later, Goldfur joined in and showed her some of what I had found so interesting about hir. We were a very tired and happy trio that night. Goldfur and I were secure in the love we had for each other. Taleta wasn't seeking any commitment but had succeeded in making some life-long friends. Her possessive impulses had been supplanted by a more meaningful caring for me and we were both the happier for it.
The ship came back as scheduled. The scientists on board were filled with the excitement of the discoveries they had made on the system survey, but I would not have traded my experiences on this world for anything in the universe. The journey home was quite routine. Goldfur and I worked on salvaging materials brought from Pounds' Planet and then did the regular maintenance routines. We actually had time to spare which we usually put to use studying all the latest engineering updates and technical journals. We had plans to take this mated team far in the future.
There was one other thing that we planned on when the time was ripe. A few days into our return trip, Goldfur came into heat again. My love and I were determined to succeed in our quest for a child of our own and we spent many deliriously happy hours pursuing that goal. The second morning after estrus had started, shi woke me with a glorious smile on hir face.
"You are going to be a wonderful sire," shi said, and gave me a most happy hug.
"You're pregnant? Are you sure?" I asked, hardly daring to believe.
"We know these things. I am sure." Shi gave me a lick-kiss and then laid hir head on my chest ruff and purred.
I almost broke down with tears of happiness. My world was now complete. I had the love of the most wonderful person in the universe, a new family, so many new friends, and soon, a child to call our own. We were late starting our shift that day, but absolutely no one could blame us.
* * *
"That was so beautiful!" Starshine exclaimed.
Garrek smiled and said, "Thank you, little one. I'm glad you approve."
"Soon the story will be completed with the birth of your cub," I said. "Have you given thought about how you are going to name hir? Are you going to go for chakat traditional or a foxtaur clan name?"
"We have been thinking about that," Goldfur replied. "We think we have the answer, but we will be waiting for the birth before deciding."
My mother spoke up then. "All this talk of cubs puts me in the mood to have another too. Quickpaw has reached adolescence and I miss having little paws about the place. What do you think 'Stripe?"
"I know how you feel, Sandy," shi replied. Let's talk about this later."
Judging by the smiles my parents exchanged, I had to rank a further sibling as a definite possibility. The conversations began to fragment then, little groups forming, discussing the events that had just been related and what the future would hold. Most of the cubs trotted off to start another game. The rest of the afternoon was your typical family get-together. Later, several of my relatives took their leave of us and went home. Several stayed for dinner and more conversation before departing also.
Eventually, besides my parents and Quickpaw, there were only Midnight, Goldfur, Garrek, Trina, Kris and myself. Midnight bade me a fond good evening, then walked off in the company of my lifemates. Having no mates left with whom to snuggle, Goldfur and Garrek asked me to share their den that night. Garrek reckoned that he had never been cosier, comfortably positioned as he was between us. We had just finished our goodnight snuggles when a faint yowling was heard coming through the sound-proofed walls of Midnight's den. We all glanced at each other, then chorused, "Chakat Maneuver!" We all laughed at that. I went to sleep in the arms of my loved ones knowing that my mate's well-being and happiness were in good hands.
Forest Tales is continued in FT#8: Birth
The next story in chronological order is The Admiral & The Chakat #4.
Glasswings were inspired by Katherine Phelps.
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