In retrospect, shi probably should have worn a top or something.
Darktoes frowned as shi crossed hir arms over hir bare breasts and kept running, pulling hir cart loaded with various pieces of agricultural research equipment, along with hir personal tent. This, of course, wasn't the first time shi, or any of the other colonists on the planet, had experienced bad weather, but hir fellow Veldts preferred to keep out of it as much as possible. Not so today. They, as a group, needed to start their more southern wanderings before they got too far behind in their work.
But damn it was cold!
The central plains shi and hir fellow Veldts were currently living in, were, for the most part, fairly warm, but to get to the more southern section, they had collectively decided to take a shortcut along a relatively thin section of the plain that bordered a desert on one side and the mountains on the other. When they had set out it looked it as if they'd be suffering from blazing heat from the desert, not cold mountain winds, and, glancing around, Darktoes could tell a lot of hir clan mates were, at least in part, suffering from the cold.
The clan wasn't all that large, but they were pretty close, even though they technically weren't related. They typically took turns at sharing the duties involved with pulling the large carts around, and there were even a couple of fully mechanized ones that carried things like water supplies. Aside from the pulling Veldts, there were free-roaming ones, typically mates or friends of the ones pulling, talking to them until it was their turn to pull. Others, typically pullers who had already done their share, rested in some of the carts, or wherever space was available.
"Cold, sweetie?" asked a brilliantly red-coated Veldt, trotting up beside Darktoes.
"Very!" shi grunted. "Where were you? I'm pretty sure you were supposed to relieve me about half an hour ago, Crimson."
Crimsoncoat pouted and let out a mock whine. "Sorry Darkie, I forgot. I was having some fun with Quinoa, and then the mail came in...."
Darktoes grinned; perhaps today wasn't going to be so bad after all! "Well you're here now, so take over the cart." Darktoes slowed and pulled off to the side so that shi wouldn't interrupt the flow of hir clan-mates on the road. "And I'll take my rest."
Crimson smiled and helped Darktoes unbuckle hirself from the cart, then gave the somewhat frantic-acting foxtaur a lick-kiss on hir cheek and a hug. "Go read your mail m'dear; I hope you get what you're looking for."
Darktoes returned the favor and smiled back. "Me too!" shi exclaimed, hurrying to the back of the cart. Veldts, like their fellow Stellars, generally tried to minimize their reliance on technology, perhaps not to the extreme as their distant foxtaur cousins, but there was something to be said for being able to live off the land without so much as a PADD at hand. That being said, the clan had the use of three highly mechanized and self-propelled carts, which were designed to keep up with the rest of the clan while providing a place to store the more delicate equipment the clan used.
More importantly for Darktoes however, was that the remaining space within the carts was used as a sleeping/dining area for members of the clan who were either not pulling a cart of personal belongings, or walkers simply trying to get out of the weather. Acting quickly, Darktoes leapt onto the back of one of these vehicles and hopped inside.
Out of the wind, the ambient temperature quickly rose, and Darktoes could tell it was going to be one of those trips. Hir clan's next camp was relatively new, and quite far away from their former one. When they had begun to prepare for the colonization of the planet, the plan of attack for the Veldts was to form camps as far away as possible from one another, and with good reasoning — although the planet had technically already been surveyed by Star Corps to determine whether or not it was a good candidate for the final test of the Stellar project, that data was being withheld, forcing the colonists to do all the work themselves. By spreading out their camps, the hope was that they'd be able to gather greater amounts of data more quickly. Needless to say, Darktoes had been on hir fair share of nomadic movements over the last year and a half, and if shi had learned nothing else, shi'd learned that when the weather outside was less than ideal, the insides of the vehicles became not only crowded, but almost unbearably hot.
However, Darktoes was far more preoccupied with the task at hand – getting hir mail. Pushing through the crowds, shi made hir way to hir ‘room'. All-in-all it was a pretty sorry state of affairs; while the Veldt breed was nomadic in nature, they certainly didn't need to be sitting around with such large vehicles parked in their proverbial backyards, so when they weren't being used on one of the bug outs, they were off being used by some other clan, or, more often, being used by of one of the other breeds, such as the Mountain Stellars, who were in need of large trucks for moving equipment to and from mining sites. All of this contributed to the fact that Darktoes' room was more or less a large pile of soft cloth serving as a bed, walled off from the other ‘rooms' by mere heavy sheets. Slipping through the flap that shielded the room from the ‘hallway', Darktoes very nearly ran face first into one of hir ‘bunkmates', Quinoa.
The nearly yellowish foxtaur managed to sidestep quickly enough, however, to avoid such an accident . "Hi Darkie! Heard the news, I see!" shi remarked in an afterglow-cheerful manner.
"I will, just as soon as I can get my PADD!" Dark gave the other taur a quick hug and a nuzzle on the cheek, before positively diving into hir small pile of personal effects and items that were best kept on one's person, and not on the back of a cart. Grabbing the palm-sized object, Darktoes eagerly logged onto the camp's mail delivery system, hardly noticing when Quinoa laid down beside hir and began to brush hir back.
After a minute of so of scrolling through unimportant mail, Darktoes found it – a letter from hir lost lover, Browneyes. Eagerly, Dark pressed on the touch screen's surface, to bring up the letter.
The PADD's display of the inbox disappeared and was replaced with a note, which read quite plainly, "Contact the post office."
Darktoes swore under hir breath, or so shi thought.
"What's the matter Darkie?" In hir haste, Darktoes had completely forgotten about hir bunkmate, who was looking now sitting only a foot or so away.
Darktoes sighed heavily; leaving Browneyes had been one of the most difficult things shi had done, and for the first few months on this test world, shi had earned hirself a rather insensitive nickname of ‘Mopingpaw' by lying about and doing very little outside of hir required work. Of course, few of hir fellow taurs really understood what shi was going through; their loved ones, if they had been so luckily to encounter hir, were either with the camp, or at least somewhere on the planet. Quinoa and Crimsoncoat had, however, become two of hir closest friends, and while they didn't perhaps ‘get' the problems shi was facing, they were at least willing to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on.
"Oh I don't know," shi said, hoping shi wasn't sounding too whiny. "I got a letter from Brown, but it looks like there's some sort of hold up at the post office."
Quinoa leaned over and gave hir friend a warm hug. "Well the solution is easy enough – just call them up!"
Darktoes giggled. Shi was being completely pigheaded about this whole affair. It wasn't all that odd for the post office to ask to be contacted; emails would often be accompanied by packages, and the receiver would have to make arrangements to pick the package up, or have it delivered.
Not missing a beat, Darktoes dialed up the post office's number, as indicated by the message, and spent several minutes jumping through hoops with the AI, to get access to a live person who could hopefully tell hir what was going on. After a few minutes, the bust of a Starwalker appeared.
Finally, Dark thought to hirself. All this modern technology, and dealing with the post office is still a pain in the ass.
"You're Shir Darktoes, child of Pond and Spadespot, Colonist ID 21061749, correct?" said the Starwalker, in a faintly bored voice. Not even waiting for confirmation, the black-furred taur continued: "It says here you've got a package from one Shir Browneyes, child of …."
"Yes, yes," Darktoes said hastily, cutting the other taur off. "I know who it's from. What I would like to know is why it's not in my inbox. Do I have a package or something?"
The Starwalker frowned. Despite the Stellar's fairly good temperament, shi still got a fair share of verbal abuse from inquiring colonists. "As a matter of fact, you do have a package here, Shir. We'll have to make arrangements for the delivery of it. Would you like to do that now?"
"In a moment." Darktoes could almost see the letter now. "First, however, could you remove any holds on any mail that was sent with the package?"
The postal worker typed something in front of hir, and frowned even more so than before. "I'm sorry, Shir, but there doesn't appear to be any letters attached to the package. Perhaps it got lost…"
"WHAT?!" Darktoes nearly chucked the PADD across the room in anger. "What do you mean there isn't a letter?"
The Starwalker cringed, and braced hirself for more abuse, before trying to explain. "It would appear that the package IS the letter, Shir."
Darktoes paused at that. Handwriting wasn't a lost art, per se, but the art of writing out letters on physical paper and sending them certainly had become nearly extinct as a practice. "What is the standard procedure for such things, Shir?" Darktoes asked of the postal worker. "Will it be delivered?"
"Not without a hefty fee, I'm afraid," the Starwalker replied, somewhat relieved that Dark had apparently calmed down. "We have to treat it like any other package."
"What about couriers? I know a few people do that sort of stuff."
The black-furred foxtaur rubbed hir face before replying. "That's quite true, but the new camp your clan is headed to is literally so new we haven't had a chance to establish any sort of connections to it."
Dark swore. "So now what? That letter could be important you know."
"Well, there is one possible solution...."
Dark give the worker a quizzical look. "Which would be...?"
"Coming and getting it yourself? I could have it sent to this small Marine village, called Silverscale, I believe. It's the nearest we have in terms of courier's routes, but it'd still be more then a few day's trip for you from your camp."
The Veldt only took a moment to think it over, before replying with a resounding ‘yes'. The black foxtaur was more then willing to help out, and by the end of the discussion, Darktoes found hirself somehow in charge of a number of packages for hir clan. By the time shi had wrapped up the call and discussion, it was the early evening, and the convoy of Veldts had stopped for the night and set up a temporary camp, which was more or less just a couple of cooking fires (for those who enjoyed fire-cooked meals) and lots of huddled-together groups of foxtaurs discussing various things... or making out. The drivers could be seen running a lap or two around the edge of the camp, to get out all the cramps that came with sitting all day.
For Darktoes however, it was the perfect time just to take in the fresh air, and from hir resting spot on top of a slight bump in the otherwise flat surface of the plain, slightly beyond the camp, shi gazed up at the stars, looking for, shi hoped, Chakona. But the wild weather from earlier had apparently blown in quite heavy cloud cover, and most of the stars were hidden. The nearly full moon was more then able to light up the ground fairly well, even with the clouds.
"What ya up to, Darkie?" said Quinoa, coming up behind hir.
"Not much Quinoa," Dark said, hugging the yellowish Veldt. "I was trying to see if I could find Chakona, but I guess the weather isn't going to cooperate tonight."
Quinoa gave hir friend a lick-kiss, and cuddled hir. "That's sweet, hun. Speaking of which, were you able to find out about your letter?"
Darktoes nodded, and explained the deal shi had made. ".So anyway, to make a long story short, I'll be leaving tomorrow. If I make a beeline for Silverscale, it'll hopefully cut a day or so off my overall trip."
Quinoa smiled. "That sounds good. I'll dig out your harness tonight."
"Thanks my friend. I hope you and Crimson don't mind having to pull the cart the rest of the way."
The Veldt stuck out hir tongue. "I won't. Crimson, of course, will whine and complain like a little cub."
Dark grinned. "Shi does act a bit spoiled sometimes. You'll have to cope."
Quinoa stroked the chest fur of hir companion. "Maybe when you get back, you can make it up to me, hmm?"
The Veldt giggled. "Maybe if you're good."
After a few minutes of such banter the two taurs stood up and joined the rest of the convoy in evening merrymaking; it was going to be a tough few days getting to the new camp, and any excuse to let off some steam was good enough.
It wasn't very long until Darktoes had reached a gently flowing river, which was clearly marked on the map shi had downloaded to hir PADD and brought along as a makeshift map.
What was a surprise, however, was the fact that it was sitting in the middle of a grove of trees, which wasn't marked on hir map. Nevertheless, any break was welcome after the last day and a half of running through the plains, and the water looked extremely inviting.
Stripping off hir harness, which held the various supplies that shi was carrying on hir trip, shi strolled into the river until the water reached hir knees. Shi sighed as the cool water flowed over hir toes, thankful the river bed was quite sandy, and had few sharp stones upon which shi could hurt hirself.
After a few minutes of letting hir paws cool, shi strolled back out onto the bank and shook off the water on hir legs, laid down on the moss near the river, and reached over to open one of the packs on hir harness, pulling out a pack of rations wrapped in paper. Tearing off the wrapping, shi realized that someone had replaced the normal replicated sandwich with a more homemade sort, on top of which was a note:
Thought you would like something a little different. – Quinoa
The Veldt smiled slightly and made a mental note to thank hir friend when shi got back to camp. And Quinoa was right; shi did enjoy it very much. After shi was finished, shi flopped onto hir back and gazed up at the clouds shi could see through the canopy. It was early afternoon, and shi still had quite a way to go. Darktoes sighed contentedly, and just let hir mind drift, dozing off...
...only to wake about an hour later. Opening hir eyes shi could see the formerly clear skies were now filled with dark clouds, but that was not the worst of hir problems – hir nap had given hir morning wood! Smiling to hirself, shi curled up and gave hirself a lick along the length of hir cock, before engulfing it in hir muzzle. Autofellatio was one of hir favorite ways of masturbating, and the skill of reaching one's own genitals was quite useful on the plains, where one could get quite dusty, and without a reliable source of water, bathing was often more of a luxury, and one that wasn't enjoyed all that often. So naturally being able to clean one's genitals was helpful...and more than a bit fun!
Shi could feel hirself getting close to coming, and shi began to finger hir slit, focusing on hir clitoris which, like all taurs was located more inside the vagina than out of it, when shi heard a twig snap.
"You enjoying yourself, Veldt?" said a rather amused voice.
Darktoes looked up at a Forest breed wearing what appeared to be some sort of heavy environmental suit, with the hood flipped back. "A bit. Why?" Dark replied with a grin.
"'cause you're about half an hour away from a raging fire, hun," the Forest said with a smile, holding out a hand to the Veldt, "and I was just wondering if you wanted to get cooked or not?"
Darktoes frowned and rolled to hir feet. "What fire?" shi asked, fetching hir harness and strapping it on.
"We're doing a controlled burn of these woods," said the Forester, waiting until Dark had finished with hir harness before grabbing hir arm and pulling hir away from the encroaching fire.
"That would seem to be rather... destructive; I don't believe the forest fire risk is all that high." Darktoes yanked hir arm out of the shorter taur's grasp; one thing shi didn't like was being man-handled.
"It's not," the Forester said with a sigh. "My name is Longclimb, but you can call me LC." Shi plucked a leaf from one of the nearby trees and showed it to the Veldt. "Does this look familiar to you?"
"Nope; I'm not into trees much," Dark said. "I'm Darktoes, by the way. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"I'm sure," LC said. "Anyway, this is a leaf from a Bekker's Forest."
"Wait, Bekker's? As in from Bekker's World? We trained there years ago." Dark said. They were nearly clear of the trees now, but they weren't heading out of the woods, but rather into a fire break teeming with other taurs of various breeds in the same environmental suit as LC wore, all with the hoods raised, completely covering their faces and preventing any sort of breed identification. One of the taurs hailed them and walked over. "Who's shi?"
The Forester replied, with a touch of aggravation in hir voice, "Some idiot. I found hir sucking hirself off."
Darktoes blushed at that last part.
"Oh? How big is shi?" the masked taur said.
Darktoes' blush deepened.
"I didn't get a good look; shi had most of it in hir mouth."
At this point, Dark was wondering if hir ears would fall off from the heat.
"Likes to take it deep huh?" the taur said, glancing at Dark. "Well, put hir on the barge with the Mariners." The taur promptly turned and went off to help one of the other taurs with some task.
Dark and LC continued their walk. "You didn't have to tell hir that! I've never been so embarrassed," Darktoes complained.
"Yeah? Well, you didn't have to be in the middle of our fucking burn."
Darktoes frowned. "How the hell was I supposed to know? The forest wasn't even marked on my map!" Dark let out a sigh and tried to calm down. It wasn't unusual for Stellars to be frank, but this was fairly extreme. "Why are you burning these Bekker's Forests down anyways?"
"Bekker's Forest," LC corrected hir. "We're burning it because it's not supposed to be here. Apparently, when we first landed here a pod from an original Forest got brought along, and somehow got into the local environment. The whole grove is one big organism, and the only way we're going to kill it is if we burn the whole thing down and salt the earth."
"Sounds serious," Darktoes commented, as they came upon a moored barge, like those that Marines typically used.
"Dead serious. Australia had a serious issue with invasive species back in the early few centuries of their founding, and the Federation would rather not have such an ecological disaster on their hands. We're damned lucky really; the Bekker's Forest needs an extremely wet environment to grow; if it didn't, it could be ten times larger." LC stopped at the edge of the barge's makeshift ramp. "I'm sorry about embarrassing you, Darktoes, but this job's just damned unpleasant enough, without people putting themselves in danger like that. Anyway, take this barge; she's headed away from here. Good luck on your travels."
Darktoes moaned. ‘Away from here' also happened to be away from Silverscale, but there wasn't much shi could do about that. Shi thanked the Forester and walked across the ramp; the Mariners just nodded and said their hellos if they could, but most of them were too busy getting the barge ready to move to say anything to hir, so shi found hirself leaning on the railing, with not much to do.
It wasn't long before someone noticed hir presence.
"What sort of Mariner are you?" said a small voice, as someone tugged on hir hindleg's fur.
Darktoes glanced behind hir and saw a small Mariner cub, probably only a year old, with a very curious look on hir face. Dark smiled and lay down on the deck to be at eye level with the child. "I'm not a Mariner, sweetie; I'm a Veldt." Dark could tell the little one had no idea what shi was talking about from the expression on hir face, and decided to change tracks. "What's your name little one? Where's your mommy?"
The cub smiled. "My name is Lapis, and my mommy is...uh...." The cub glanced around, only to see another Marine, this time an adult who looked strangely familiar to Dark, moving towards hir. "Mommy!" Lapis ran to the Marine, who wore a look of somewhere between annoyance and deep concern.
"So this is where you ran off to! I've told you a thousand times, my dear, don't run off like that. Not when we're departing from shore; you wouldn't want to get lost all alone in the wilderness." The Marine bent down and picked the child up, giving hir a nuzzle and a lick-kiss. From the way shi moved, shi was clearly pregnant. "Now who is this you were talking to…" Shi looked at Dark, hir jaw dropping in a look of total astonishment. "Darktoes?!"
"Swimmer?" Darktoes hopped up and ran over to hir old friend and gave hir a hug. "It's been forever!"
"I know!" Swimmer exclaimed, returning the hug the best shi could while still maintaining a hold on Lapis. "Me and Lapis were just about to have some afternoon snacks. Would you care to join us?"
"I accept!" Dark smiled.
A little while later, the two friends were sprawled out on the deck (Lapis was allowed to go play with some of the other cubs), catching up on each other's lives.
"...so that's been my life thus far, and why I'm out in the middle of nowhere," Darktoes said, finishing hir drink of water. "So tell me, Swimmer, how'd you come into being little Lapis' mother?"
"Well, about a few weeks after we last saw one another, I met this wonderful Polar breed Stellar by the name of Escarcha. Ah, shi was wonderful!" Swimmer replied with a look of contentment on hir face.
"So you two are mates?" Dark said, remembering hir own far-away lover.
"No…" Swimmer said with a sigh. "I wanted to formalize it, but you know the Polari; they have this weird thing going on when it comes to mating. Anyway, when we see one another we have lots of frenzied sex. This will be my second child by Escarcha," shi said, patting the slight bump in hir stomach.
Dark leaned over and gave hir friend a hug. "Have you sired any?"
"One. Shi isn't born yet, but I hope I'll be there for hir birth." Swimmer returned the hug.
Dark enjoyed the few minutes of quiet contemplation shi shared in hir friend's arms, before asking the unavoidable question: "Swimmer, I need to get to Silverscale. Any ideas?"
Swimmer grinned and gave hir friend a kiss. "You're in luck than. We're headed to Silverscale."
"But how?" Dark was rather confused. They were headed away from Silverscale – and the controlled burn. They might have been headed to Silverscale at one point, but shi didn't see how they could still be.
The Marine pointed to the other side of the river, opposite from the one Dark had boarded. "It's hard to tell from the ground level, but that's really an island. We're heading back now, but we'll be at a fork in the path before sunset, and by this time tomorrow you'll be at your village, my dear!"
That made Darktoes very happy.
Later that night, Darktoes was once more staring up at the stars. The weather had improved quite a bit, the stars were clearly visible, and this time shi had no problems spotting Chakona's star, something shi quickly shared with hir friend.
"You must be getting pretty good at stargazing if you can pick out Chakona like that," Swimmer commented softly. It was relatively late, and far past hir cub's bed time, but luckily Lapis had managed to fall asleep in hir mother's arms after such a long day of excitement.
Darktoes shook hir head. The two taurs (three if one counted Lapis) were sprawled out on their backs at the edge of the barge, the weather was warm, and neither taur had any difficulty sleeping outside Indeed, a good number of the crew was also outside on the deck, engaged in various stages of sleep. "Not really, I've just got used to spotting it."
Swimmer scuffled closer to the Veldt, and gave hir friend a one-armed hug and a lick-kiss on the cheek. "What do you think is in this letter, hun?"
Darktoes returned the gesture, although shi was careful not to wake the sleeping cub hir Marine friend had nestled beside hir. "I don't know, really. I hope it's not bad news." The Veldt rolled over onto hir belly and looked more directly at hir friend. "I hope it's not a ‘Dear John' letter."
"A what?" Swimmer asked, stroking hir friend's cheek fur with hir hand.
"It's an old Earth term. Basically it's a letter that a woman would send to her lover to break off the relationship," Dark explained, smiling at hir friend. "I can't really see Brown doing that though. Chakats aren't really known for being exclusionary with their relationships like humans are sometimes, but you know how one's mind can jump to such conclusions when it's left to its own devices."
Swimmer leaned up to hir friend and gave hir a kiss. "Perhaps I should try to distract your mind for a bit, eh?"
Darktoes returned the kiss with interest, before breaking it off momentarily. "Are you sure you want to make love with Lapis here, and in front of everyone?"
Swimmer shrugged. "I doubt shi'd see anything shi hasn't seen before if shi woke up; space is a bit of a luxury on these boats, you know, and we're not really that shy. Besides...." Swimmer leaned up and whispered in Darktoes' ear. "Shi sleeps like a goddamn rock."
Darktoes giggled; although shi didn't have any cubs of hir own, shi had been enlisted to kit-sit within hir clan a number of times, and it would have been a godsend if some of them would sleep half as soundly as Swimmer said hir cub did. "Well... if you insist."
Needless to say, Lapis was the only one who slept soundly that night.
Silverscale had been described in the database as a medium-sized town situated on a relatively large lake, and of great economic importance, being the only current port this far north, and depended upon by all the surrounding clans and taskforces of Stellar Foxtaurs, for both the movement of goods out of the area, and the supply of items that weren't readily available. What wasn't described in the information Darktoes could cull from hir PADD was exactly how chaotic Silverscale was. Although the Starwalker working at the post office had described Silverscale as a small Marine village, in reality its existence as a trade hub for the area prevented it from being anywhere that simple.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Swimmer said. The two of them were standing at the front of the barge as it entered the lake. On the left-hand side of the body of water there was the port; even from a distance the amount of activity on the shore and on the water was quite impressive. The other side of the lake was dominated by several large mountains, which hosted an ongoing mining operation, run undoubtedly by groups of mountain breed Stellar Foxtaurs, but from this distance it was nearly impossible to make out anything other than the large ore extraction machines moving about.
"Certainly not what I was expecting," said the Veldt. "I take it you've been here before."
"Yup," the Mariner replied cheerfully. "When we're not doing specialty jobs like moving bands of firefighters around, we're typically moving some of this ore down to the space port."
The barge gently moved across the surface of the lake, passing another one of many vessels that were loaded with ore, which appeared to be literal silver scales about a third of a meter in diameter.
"What sort of ore is that?" Dark asked, while several Mariners all around them jumped off the side of the barge and swam over to meet the other vessel, clearly going to greet friends of theirs.
"It's what this village is named for; it's a crystalline form of Xorium-225," Swimmer explained to hir friend. "Xorium-225 is used as a base for most starship computer processors, so 'Fleet was rather pleased to find such a rich deposit."
Darktoes nodded as the barge continued to the dock. It was a simple thing, made of wood. All around the two friends, Mariners jumped off and quickly moored the vessel to the structure. Within minutes, Darktoes found hirself on dry ground once more.
"Are you sure you don't want to stick around some more, hun?" Swimmer was struggling with Lapis, trying to keep the squirming cub from escaping and getting into trouble or, worse, injured.
"It's really not a matter of want." Darktoes shrugged. "I want a great number of things, including spending more time with you, but at the moment I'm late; I should be setting out for the new camp about now, not just arriving!"
Swimmer finally gave up trying to hold the cub, and pulled a leash out from hir belt pouch, and fashioned the harness around hir child. It wasn't perfect, but it would give Lapis more freedom. "I hope you'll keep in touch this time."
Darktoes nodded, and made sure hir friend had hir proper contact information, as well as making a mental note to call Swimmer when shi got home. Shi then left and wasted no time locating the local post office.
The post office, like much of the architecture in the village, was distinctly Marine-influenced; the weathering of the structure's exterior suggested that it had been there for some time. The inside, however, was clearly better looked after than the outside, and was relatively airy, with a number of clerestory windows. At the center there was a bored-looking Mariner leaning on hir desk, evidently with nothing to do. Shi looked up as Darktoes entered, and broke into a smile. "You must be Darktoes, yes?"
The Veldt nodded and strolled up to the desk as the Mariner continued. "We don't get many of your breed here; mostly Mountaineers and Mariners, and some Foresters every now and again. Wait here and I'll go get the package."
Darktoes smiled and made a small affirmative noise as the post-taur turned and left through a door at the back of the building. Shi was never one to get overly excited about anything, but now that shi was here, so close, shi could hardly bear to wait to get hir hands on this letter.
Moments later the Marine returned with a medium-sized package, designed to be strapped easily to hir lower back and carried, under hir left arm, and a small envelope in hir other hand.
"This," shi said, placing the package on the desk, "is for various people in your clan; the packages are individually wrapped and labeled inside; try not to lose it." Shi chuckled. "And judging by the look on your face, this letter is for you."
Darktoes delicately took the envelope, and read hir address on the front of it, in Browneyes' handwriting (although shi had only seen Brown write a handful of times it was very distinctive: very loopy). Shi turned it over, used a claw to break the seal, and pulled out the letter shi had traveled so far to get, flipped it over, and began to read.
The last year and a half have been, like, so horrible, separated by such distances. The other day I was cleaning up, and I found a photograph of us eating supper together, and the pain was nearly unbearable. We were so happy together, so complete, and now I fear that it is gone forever.
My friends and family tell me I should move on, find other people, and be happy, but somehow I doubt it will ever be the same without you beside me, holding me, loving me.
I wrote you this letter because, in many ways, it felt more personal, it felt as if perhaps a little bit of me would fly across the stars, and be with you. A silly idea perhaps, but it eases the pain, at least temporarily. I hope it hasn't caused you any undue trouble.
I simply cannot express how much I miss you, Darktoes, and I can only hope that we'll one day be reunited.
Darktoes tore hir eyes away from the letter, and tried to conceal the fact that shi was crying from the postal worker, although judging from hir face, and the tissue shi was holding out to hir, shi wasn't doing a very good job of it. Shi thankfully took the offered tissue and used it to dry hir eyes; shi'd have to finish the letter later, but all the same shi was careful about folding it and placing it into hir pouch. Steeling hirself, shi gently picked up the package, and asked the postal worker for some help strapping it on, which shi gladly did.
After bidding goodbye to the kindly Mariner, shi was once more on the road, this time to home.
Several weeks later...
"Are you coming to bed, sweetheart?" Quinoa asked.
"Soon," Darktoes replied, looking down at the piece of paper shi had been writing on, then glancing over at hir PADD with hir fully written letter on it. Darktoes was once more with hir fellow Veldts, and at the moment in hir tent, with hir friend and newfound lover.
When shi had finally finished Browneyes' letter (shi could only seem to stomach three or four paragraphs before bursting into tears), shi decided to reply to hir love in the same manner. At the same time, however, Brown had suggested in hir letter that, even though they missed one another dearly, they shouldn't let their relationships with others fall apart. (Browneyes illustrated hir point by telling hir how shi had nearly pushed several of hir friends away, and regretted it.) And, after some soul-searching, Darktoes had asked Quinoa to be hir formal companion, although now shi doubted they'd stay at that level for very long.
Quinoa walked up behind hir and placed hir arms around hir lover's upper torso. "Still working on that letter, hun?"
Darktoes nodded. "I need to get this done, before I set out tomorrow." After shi had returned several weeks ago, shi had gotten a letter from the postal service asking hir to become a full time contracted mail courier, which came with a handsome sum of extra pay. Although shi hadn't told Quinoa yet, shi was thinking of using the extra income to save up and buy Browneyes, and their families, tickets to come visit hir on Arisia (shi had been told in the time shi was gone that the higher ups had finally picked a name for the planet, something about some 20th Century science fiction novel or some such).
Quinoa licked Darktoes' ears. "If you don't come to bed soon, you're not going to be in any condition to travel tomorrow anyways. You can finish it on your trip, hun."
Darktoes sighed and finally relented, putting away hir PADD and half-transcribed letter, dimming the lantern that provided hir with illumination, and joining Quinoa in bed for some much needed rest (and other things!).
To be continued in Diplomatic Issues.
Stellar Foxtaurs and other concepts © 2009 Bernard Doove
Skunktaurs (Chakat-kin) are © Robert Reijns
Browneyes, Darktoes and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com
And a special note of thanks for Sandwalker for his help putting these stories together.
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