Love means never having to say you're soggy.
Sorry, folks, but that cornball remark pretty much sums up a rather amusing little story that happened here just last week in wonderful, downtown New New York City, Chakona. The new real estate, Chakona, is the colonial home world of the genetically engineered chakat species, and of all furry morphs in general. The planet is all theirs, except, not so much in these parts.
There exists a small human town on Bonifacio, north-northeast of Eucla City. It is called New New York, although due to its size, coastline location, unhurried lifestyle and unusual cleanliness, (due to Chakonan environmental regulations more than anything else), it more resembles the Terran city of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan in North America. There is even a large companion aeroport, called Aquila Interstellar, nearby, because it connects directly with the central spaceport in Amistad. This is the Human Quarter, and due likely to that, not too many morphs live near here.
The most prominent feature in New New York harbour is a line of huge surface hangars for the Chakonan Freight Air Systems (CFAS) Ekranoplan transports. Housed in one of those hangars is a very touchy subject we simply refer to as The Project.
That's why my wife and I came here. We are employed as human guest Stellar Federation workers, along with some chakats, on a scientific research team, dealing with The Project. One of our own logistics engineers, Chakat Silvertip, got hirself into quite a pickle, lately.
You really should go to The Chakats Den website to learn about these truly amazing sentient creatures. To sum it up, they are a felinoid, taurform, hermaphrodite species that appear roughly like a cross between a human being and a puma. If that sounds intimidating, bear in mind that they are also highly intelligent, even-tempered, and far more interested in making friends than creating conflict.
That's the most refreshing thing about working with them, and I am actually having a tough time getting used to it. After many years of working in antiseptic corporate engineering departments, we now can hug our co-workers when we meet each morning, discuss some of our personal feelings with them without worry, and get though our workday with an astonishing amount of cooperation and camaraderie. Chakats hug and nuzzle a lot. They are amusingly unrestrained in their expressions of affection, and are often seen wearing a wide, mischievous, shark-like grin.
One of our first chakat friends was Silvertip, mostly because we met hir unloading our stuff just a few days after we arrived here. I have daily contact with hir now, and as shi is in male phase at the moment, we ended up talking about guy things over lunch.
Specifically, this concerns a strikingly beautiful, long-haired, crystal-blue eyed, pure white chakat appropriately named Snowdrifter. Silvertip made a point of describing hir companion to me.
"Shi is really something," Silvertip explained, "All shiny white and really built, with an hourglass figure that just sways when shi walks like willows blowing in a soft summer night breeze."
Silvertip, as if seeing an apparition of hir beauty in front of hir eyes, sighed dreamily while staring into thin air.
"You've got it bad," I told hir, smirking a little, "and you've got excellent taste in companions. I know 'cause I've seen hir. Shi met you here for your lunch break one day last week, and then you two left together. I seldom see such a fabulous figure, even on a chakat."
"Then you remember hir?" Silvertip asked, brightening further still.
"I have trouble with names and faces, but I'll never forget a body like hirs," I assured Silvertip. "Look, Tip, I ain't that human."
"I just wish I made a better impression on hir mother," Silvertip said glumly. "I don't think shi approves of us being together."
"Hey, hey, wait a minute!" I said, pausing with my cup of coffee halfway to my mouth, "I thought chakats are very social and tactile people, without sexual hang-ups and prejudices that we humans display."
"We are," Silvertip replied, smiling a little, "but, you see, Snowy is a pretty sharp article. Hir mother and sire apparently have some big plans for hir. Shi's really smart, Jim! I think shi could even be accepted at Dewclaw University way off in Berdoovia. And, that's probably why hir mother doesn't want hir to get all emotionally involved with somebody like me, and want to remain here in town."
"Come on, there are ways to work that out," I assured hir.
"Not with me," Silvertip said sadly, now looking at the floor. "Hir mother thinks I'm just an ordinary dock worker."
"But, that's not true! Can't you, you know, just sort of hint at what you're really involved with?" I asked hir, struggling a bit.
"With the security lockdown we have here?" Silvertip asked in return while looking back up at me, a stern expression on hir muzzle beneath hir flattened ears and typically worn baseball cap.
"I guess not," I sighed.
"We've got to get it together somehow," Silvertip said wistfully.
You see, that's just the thing. Chakats change male to female phase about every couple of weeks, or so. It's just one more thing that I am trying to get used to. At work, Silvertip usually wears a ball cap and flannel shirt. Shi appears male, most of the time, but once in awhile, I'll see hir with hir long black hair done up in a braid and a fresh looking blouse that fits much tighter than hir baggy shirts do. It's a reminder for me that this person has a feminine bust line, (rather well built hirself, I might add), and also tips me off shi is now in female phase. (Please pardon the bad pun.)
Snowdrifter must be exactly opposite in phase, because I never see hir dressing in more masculine attire while Silvertip is in hir rumpled plaid flannel shirts. They make an attractive couple. Silvertip has a grey tabby-striped pattern, from hir pink nose down to hir tail tip, which is so brightly marked, you would think someone dipped it in silver paint. Chakats like expressive names, and that's obviously where shi got hirs.
As a mental crutch, I try to call our friend "Silver" when in shi is in female phase, and "Tip" when shi is in male phase. Also, I should mention that chakats don't really need clothing over their full coat of fur. It does help to make them distinctive, though. It also does provide them with a good set of pockets. However, some of the more alluring attire, as I have seen on Snowdrifter, convinces me that many chakats know how to dress to complement their bodies, and the very pleasant result serves to attract even us humans.
It's just like I told my wife; what little you can see causes you to think about what you can't see. The biggest sex organ in your body really is your brain.
When I crossed the hotel parking garage pavement on my way to the hangar a few days later, I saw a group of chakats and a couple of humans, my wife included, grouped around one vehicle in the lot.
"It's Silvertips new wheels," one of the chakats informed me very enthusiastically, "one of those cool little Reflex PTVs."
The PTV designation stands for Personal Transportation Vehicle, and they come in a wide variety of sizes and styles; the Reflex being a sort of pocket-sized mode of transport for two taurs. Very quick and manoeuvrable, the Reflex is just the thing for city driving. Silvertip had the doors open and was proudly displaying some of the features to hir friends. The boxy little car was silver, of course. I wandered over and poked my head inside.
"Nice choice, Tip!" I told hir, "I've read good things about these."
"Thanks, but it's just a used one," Silvertip said and shrugged. "I was looking for a good car I could afford for quite a while, now."
I squatted down in the drivers side door jamb and looked at the odometer. "Not much on the clock," I observed.
"No, and the former owners took good care of it," Silvertip told me. "In fact, the only reason they traded it in is because one of the mates is now pregnant, and they needed a larger car, or there would be no place to put the cub!"
I wondered if the blessed event had been conceived in this vehicle, knowing what I did about the cars interior functions, but thought I should mention a few other things to Silvertip, first.
I noticed a steering wheel and pointed out that Tip didn't buy a CS version. That means Chakat Special; with complete controls under the dashboard that they can operate with the handpaws on their forelegs, because chakats really don't require a steering wheel.
"No, I figured that, working here in New New York, I'd better have something we could swap in a standard seat, in case a human needed to drive it," Silvertip told me. "There's a lot of you around here. Although only about two percent of the population of Chakona is human, most of it lives right here in New New York, and at that, most of the humans you'll meet are on visas or are just visitors."
I nodded my head in agreement.
"I bought the electric version, so I can go anywhere," Tip said.
Only zero emissions power plants are allowed on Chakona, and noise pollution rules are so strict, in many places, biomass diesels and CNG or hydrogen engines are still considered off limits, although they don't pollute the air. Electric vehicles are silent.
As we all were about to close up hir new pride and joy and head off to work, I pointed out that I worked for an Adaptive Engineering Department on Aaltona, and we helped to design the taur seats in Silvertips Reflex PTV. Did shi know how to fold them down?
"No, not really," shi admitted. "I haven't read that far into the owners manual, yet."
"This, you have got to see," I told hir, including a quick wink. I bent over toward the centre of the car, where the control levers were, and Silvertip kind of crouched down beside me, thumbing hir muzzle thoughtfully while hir ears rotated sideways.
"The headrests retract into the ceiling," I instructed, releasing a roof-mounted catch and swinging them away, "Side armrests slide into the door while the backrests and centre armrests pivot toward the middle of the car, and then collapse down in between the seats."
I knew the sequence by heart, and had no trouble pulling the various levers and manual latches that broke down the two taur couch seats.
"Goes very quickly once you learn how to do it and get used to it," I concluded, "and what you end up with is a two-place taur-sized bed on a nice, flat floor."
Silvertips thoughtful grip on hir striped muzzle relaxed as shi began considering the possibilities. Hir ears rotated forward as hir fingers slowly branched out and hir wrist dropped. I could just feel hir thinking about it! The typical fascinated twinkle in hir green eyes fanned into flames of passion, and those eyes were growing wider. Hir expressive tail swished back and forth.
"For...uhhh... for camping, right?" Silvertip finally snapped out of hir trance. Hir head bobbed up so suddenly that the ball cap almost fell off from between hir ears and hir flannel shirttails flapped as shi jumped straight up from hir crouch.
I eyed hir slyly, and put on my best, widest Chakat Grin.
"Or, just in case you have to spend the night somewhere," I said smoothly, "because you got stuck in a snowdrift."
"I heard that, James," my wife told me, poking her head in the side window so that I could see her little smirk. "Behave yourself."
Not long afterward, on the last day of our work week, I got a chance to receive the full introduction, right there in the parking lot.
"James, I'd like you to meet my companion," Tip told me proudly, presenting the alabaster beauty hirself. Snowdrifter was clad only in a light blue bare shouldered halter top, a fine testament to the warm summer weather we'd been having around here, lately.
"Hi, I'm Chakat Snowdrifter, daughter of Springmist and Cloudcoat."
"Greetings! I'm James Brandt, son of Therese and Anton. Very pleased to make your acquaintance, and I'm happy for my friend Silvertip that he has companioned up with such a wonderful person."
Then, we shared an embrace. It's the hugs and nuzzles bit. Guys, have you ever had the opportunity to run your fingertips down that gracefully sculptured groove that divides the feminine back when the body in question is coated in a fine, satiny white fur? That is not to mention a long shock of white hair that tickles both of your forearms as you do so. No wonder Silvertip was so smitten.
I even seized the opportunity to deftly take hir right hand and kiss the back of it, playing the gentleman thing to the hilt. Actually, I think I just might have a paw fetish for these delightful creatures. It's another character flaw of mine, but one that I bear gladly.
"Oh, my!" Snowdrifter giggled, "Silvertip warned me about you! What an enthusiastic greeting you have, there!"
"All the better to…" I began a wisecrack, then thought better of it. "Never mind. Please pardon me if I go for all I can get."
"Well, James," Silvertip announced, "I hope to make hir mother as impressed with me. We're off to dinner and a concert tonight on the shoreline. The chakat clubs there are unsurpassed."
I didn't bother to mention that Tip won the tickets in an office promotion at work. Shi probably couldn't afford it, otherwise.
"I told mother we'd really make a night of it," Snowy told me while smiling sweetly at Tip. "And, I'd even get Silvertip to lose the baseball cap and plaid flannel shirt for the evening."
"I'll wear a solid coloured flannel shirt!" Silvertip promised.
Some travelogue information is appropriate to relate at this point. Two good-sized moons orbit around Chakona, and that accounts for some major influences on the oceans of Chakona. We're talking tide, here. Chakona is unique in being the only planet in the Federation that has six tidal variations every day. Highest tides occur when Chakastra, the sun, and the two moons, Cha'turna and Ka'turna are in alignment. This happens only once every one hundred and twenty-seven days.
Poor Silvertip and Snowdrifter must have hit it just right.
It must have been some enchanted evening, because Tip assured me that dear Snowdrifter was most decidedly not requesting a ride straight home after the show. Definitely not, in fact. Shi wanted to do some late night stargazing instead, suggesting that on such a nice evening, the view over the water was much better than the view over land.
"It's a crystal clear, starry night, and the sky will be so lovely," Snowdrifter assured hir.
"You want me to drive right out onto the strand?" Silvertip asked as they drove past the boat landing, heading for the beach.
"Have you ever seen those two, round, white full moons rise right up over you?" Snowy asked in a sultry voice, hir eyes half closed.
"No, but I think you're going to show me," Tip said breathlessly.
Snowy found a place out on the strand with a view unencumbered by the New New York skyline. They opened up the sunroof, and even Tip was amazed at how many stars they could see in the Chakastra system. There were the bigger, brighter ones; Pelagica, Haribon and Bateleur, (which are planets), many smaller lights in the Dinornis Belt, and even a large reddish orb called Harpagornis.
Snowdrifter was effortlessly naming stars and performing a regular astronomy lesson, while Tip decided to retract the headrests and pull down the seats. Snowy paused and looked over hir shoulder, watching what Tip was doing, a smile coming to hir muzzle slowly.
"So we'll be more comfortable," Tip offered, arms spread wide. "Mister Brandt taught me how to do it."
"Mister Brandt," Snowdrifter said my name as shi folded hir arms under hir fine bust line and nodded. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"Aww, come on," Silvertip said, as shi drew closer and offered hir a little lick kiss on the cheek, "You know I'm crazy about you, Snowy."
"Sure, and the feeling is mutual," shi whispered, then gave Tip a little lick in return. "That means you have to do two more things."
"Something, anything," Tip whispered, holding both of Snowdrifters hands in hirs, closing hir eyes as the two drew even closer.
"You have to lose that damn flannel shirt," Snowy whispered, hir muzzle so close, it was almost touching the inside of Tips left ear, "And, you have to help me out of this blouse."
You know, one thing a steering wheel is good for in a chakat-owned vehicle is that it makes for a dandy clothes hanger. Two tops were draped over Silvertips steering wheel on that night.
Without getting too personal, I can assure you that they made fabulous love out there. It was the first time they had been alone together for any great length of time in their young lives. It was the first time they had gotten away from The Project, the hangar, work, crowds, busy families and city life in general to snuggle up together under the stars. Now, it was Silvertip who was draped over Snowdrifter as the two spooned together on the two levelled couch seats. Lying there on hir side, hir chin resting gently on Snowys shoulder, their tails intertwined passionately, Silvertip wrapped hir arms and legs around hir lover, experiencing pure peace as shi casually gazed up at a galaxy of tiny nightlights above them through the sunroof.
"It's like slow music," Snowdrifter whispered, "how they drift into view and away again. See them moving, so gradually, overhead?"
Silvertip watched a couple of white lights pop into view, slide across the sky, then disappear beyond the border of hir sunroof.
Hir feeling of pure peace became realisation of sudden alarm.
"Snowy!" shi yelped, "If the stars are moving, then they aren't drifting; we are!" The two chakats quickly untangled themselves.
Silvertip stood up abruptly and poked hir head through the sunroof. Hir distant view of the coastline confirmed hir worst fears.
"Oh, honey, look how far off shore we are!" Silvertip moaned.
"Gee, when I felt the bed move underneath me," Snowdrifter admitted, glancing around the car, "I thought it was because I came so hard."
"Whattaya know?" Silvertip exclaimed in amazement. "All those TV commercials are right. These things do float!"
"But, not forever," Snowdrifter observed, stepping one handpaw into a rather squishy, sponge-like wet carpet.
Tip didn't take notice, even though shi was back inside the car. Shi was busy punching numbers on a keypad mounted to the dashboard.
"I sure am glad I joined the Motor Club when I bought this car," Silvertip explained. "With auto emergency GPS call for help system, it notifies the closest available tow service. I just didn't think I'd be using it quite so soon."
Silvertip reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a large flashlight. Shi watched the shoreline going by, temporarily devoid of life, hoping someone would turn up that they could signal to.
"Come on up," Tip invited Snowy. "Let's both stand up on the roof so that we can flash to anyone who approaches."
"I feel awful," Snowdrifter said, sulking. "I talked you into driving out here. Seduced you, actually. I should have known better."
"No, Snowy, it's going to be all right," Silvertip comforted hir. "We're not sinking very fast, and help is on the way for certain." Shi grinned and went on. "Look at it as an unexpected adventure."
"Where've I heard that before?" Snowdrifter wondered, rolling hir eyes.
The quiet night found a high, long, muscular-looking black brute of a biomass turbo diesel-powered Super Duty wrecker resting next to the curb near Plank Street and Shoreline Drive, its engine idling almost noiselessly to provide a little cab air conditioning to its occupant. The summer days had been warm, but an overnight chill started coming off of the waterfront, where temperatures dropped considerably after sunset. One wanted to keep that fan on low, just to take advantage of the refreshment. This was important when the driver was a grey and black wolftaur, having a thick, rangy fur coat. He was on call and working the overnight shift.
On the side doors of the black truck cab were the bold white letters: "Midnight Auto Recovery." On the sideboards were beautifully painted pictures of a wolfs head baying at a full moon behind it, captioned with the words: "We're the People Your Bank Called Last Night."
The brusque old wolftaur named KoVaulk was parked in his tow truck, just finishing off his dinner break. He had a half-eaten strip of beef jerky in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in the other. Wide open on the steering wheel was a magazine. He was reading the latest issue of SFL by the interior cab lights. An ancient song by Warren Zevon on the radio was suddenly interrupted by a call from KoVaulks dispatcher.
"Home base to truck three," a soft, feminine voice came through on the speaker. He recognised it as Gretchen, a comely auburn foxtaur vixen, with whom he'd struck out at dating attempts on numerous and assorted occasions, and grabbed his microphone.
"You got me, sweet tail," KoVaulk replied, in character, as usual.
"I have a Motor Club alert call for you, very close by," Gretchen reported, then gave KoVaulk GPS coordinates for a vehicle location.
The wolftaur tossed his beef jerky and magazine on the dashboard and deposited the coffee mug into a cup-holder. He leaned forward, called up a geodetic survey map of the local area on his dashboard computer monitor, double-checked the coordinates and wrinkled his muzzle, laying back his ears in concern. "Gretch, you sure about those numbers?" KoVaulk asked through the microphone, becoming suddenly polite and professional, "Because, that puts the vehicle location just out into the ocean."
"Positive," the dispatcher replied coolly.
"I better get on it," KoVaulk replied, pulling himself back into his drivers seat couchchair with his hind legs. He pushed into his suspended seatback and latched into his safety harness with his hands while he put his forepaws down on the accelerator and clutch pedals. He gave the dispatcher one more message before hanging up his mike: "I'll call you if we need the police or emergency backup."
"Affirmative," the dispatcher answered.
KoVaulk turned on every exterior warning switch and the big truck lit up like a flashing amber and white Christmas tree, rotating beacons sending long rays of light into the darkness as his rig roared away from the kerbside.
As KoVaulk approached the beach, driving down the frontage road beyond the boat landing, he peered past the nose of his rumbling truck out over the water. Wolf night vision is not as acute as that of a feline, but in the faint light from the nearby harbour, he could see it, outlined on the water. There was a car out there! What full-time fool got their vehicle that far off the beach during high tide, he wondered.
Still, it might be sinking. This could be an emergency. He steered the big tow rig off of the pavement and onto the beach, then dragged it down a gear to get some grip. The dual rear wheels were breaking loose, throwing huge clods of sand into the air as the shaking truck slewed back and forth, hunting for traction. "Some damn whining pussy head environmentalist is going to bitch me out for leaving my tracks on the shoreline," KoVaulk growled to himself, "but this isn't exactly the time to worry about it."
The thundering turbo diesel, accompanied by a cavalcade of flashing amber and white lights, became quite conspicuous on the quiet, calm moonlit seascape. Silvertip and Snowdrifter could see their rescuer swing his big, black rig around, then back up toward them, the long, extendable boom and car claw now facing their little, drifting steel box of a lifeboat beneath their paws. KoVaulk stopped just short of the waterline, and kicked on the rear-facing floodlights.
The immediate area lit up like daybreak, but only the vague shadow of the two chakats standing on their waterlogged car could be seen against the horizon line. KoVaulk threw open the door, struggled out of the long crew cab and pulled on a pair of work gloves out of one of the large, square pockets of his grey uniform work shirt. He tugged his black ball cap down snugly, then clambered up onto the wide truck cab roof, where he fired up an auxiliary spotlight.
He swung the spotlight over the still water, and when he could very clearly discern what exactly was floating out there, the silhouette of two chakats, their excited tails thrashing, their pointed ears pricked up, he began laughing hysterically, pounding one fist on the truck cab roof.
"Well, hello there, you two cuddle kittens!" he called out at last. "What happened to you? Wait, wait... don't tell me. Let me guess."
The big wolf squeezed his eyes shut and put a glove over his muzzle in a vain attempt to stifle even more laughter.
"You were out there on the strand, alone together, and well, you two just got a little too busy to notice the tide come in, right?" KoVaulk concluded his chuckling pronouncement; fully entertained.
"Oh, no!" Snowdrifter moaned and put hir face into hir hands. "Of all the tow truck drivers in New New York, why did it have to be him?"
"You know this guy?" Silvertip asked, growing very annoyed.
"Yes," Snowy said under hir breath.
"Hey, lupe!" Silvertip shouted across the water. "Knock it off! You're paid to drive the recovery truck, not to do stand up comedy!"
"No extra charge for that, pal," KoVaulk replied, then he stopped short. He recognised that voice. "Silvertip! Is that you? Man, I thought you'd be too smart to get caught in this predicament!"
"Oh, no!" Silvertip moaned and put hir face into hir hands. "Of all the tow truck drivers in New New York, why did it have to be him?"
"Now you recognise him?" Snowdrifter asked, exasperated.
"Yeah," Silvertip sighed. "KoVaulk is a heavy equipment operator we had on The Project when they had to move some big energy cells with cargo loaders. A powerful worker, but he's got an attitude to match that comes along with him, whether you want it or not."
Meanwhile, that powerful worker had dismounted the cab and was heading for the tool storage compartments on the left side of the truck, snickering to himself as he undid the paddle rotary latches.
"It's past midnight," KoVaulk commented to no one in particular. "Does momma know where all of hir playful little kitties are?"
He hauled out a long, pivot-mounted apparatus that roughly resembled a huge telephoto lens. It actually required two handles; one on each end. After wrestling it out of the storage compartment, he then walked it back to the rear bumper, where he heaved it onto a pivot mount that looked like a second trailer hitch. KoVaulk plugged in a coaxial cable off of the rear wiring harness, powered up the device and checked all of his function lights, making sure each was green. This invisible lifeline producer was a tractor beam gun.
He then returned to the side of the truck where he activated yet another device. It had a view screen that lit up in a familiar blue computer monitor light and an odd looking pair of antennae on top of it.
"Exactly what's keeping you?" Silvertip asked of the wolf.
"Cool it, Tip," KoVaulk replied in an irritated voice. "I'm taking a loran reading to find out if there's any underwater structure in between you and the shore before I pull you in. A sunken tree stump or an old pier piling would sure bung up your little love machine, now wouldn't it?"
Silvertip had to nod in grudging agreement. Like shi told Snowdrifter, KoVaulk had an irascible attitude, but was extremely competent once he was about his business. He would have to have been, or they would not have hired him for The Project.
When the view screen assured him that he had a clear path between the floating PTV and his truck, KoVaulk was impressed with himself. "Dynamite!" he remarked, snapping his fingers, "You got them right where you want them on the first try, big guy."
"Okay!" KoVaulk called out from the shore. "We got a clear path. I'm gonna pull you in with a low-grade tractor beam. First thing you two gotta do is get back into your seats. Pull the seat backs up, first. I'm sure you've had them folded down for your extracurricular activities." He began to snicker again.
"I wish he'd just lay off a little," Silvertip grumbled as shi and Snowdrifter climbed back down into their vehicle.
"Him? Forget about it!" Snowy snarled. "We're easy targets, now. We're going to hear nothing but sex jokes until daybreak."
"Awright, we're just about ready," the two chakats could hear the wolf call over the water. "Hold on tight, just in case one of the wheels hits a sandbar and you start to tip, Tip."
"Oh, he's so clever," Snowdrifter said ruefully.
"Better put our shirts back on," Silvertip sighed in resignation as shi handed Snowdrifter hir blouse, "No sense in giving him more of a show than the one he's already attending."
Back on shore, KoVaulk crouched next to his tractor beam gun like a soldier lining up a bazooka. He punched one of the side buttons and a bright red laser track beam squirted out. He adjusted the pivot on the gun until the laser zeroed in on the right rear fender of Silvertips PTV, then activated the tractor beam.
Inside the car, static electricity generated by the beam made Snowy and Tips coats puff up as their hair and fur stood on end. It was all very comical, but neither one was laughing.
"Bad fur day," Snowy said as a tuft of white came floating past.
"It sure didn't start out that way," Tip said, sighing mightily.
After it was clear that Silvertips PTV was on a slow, steady course back to shore, KoVaulk sauntered up to the open truck cab door and grabbed his microphone to call his dispatcher.
"It's okay, Gretch, I got it all under control. You called just the right guy for the job." KoVaulk announced proudly to the microphone, "I'm bringing in a couple of stray cats. Wet stray cats!"
"What?" Gretchen exclaimed, but KoVaulk had already hung up his radio mike and returned to the rear of the tow truck.
Sure enough, Silvertips PTV glided smoothly toward the trucks rear bumper. As it approached, KoVaulk extended the big car claw out and down, pressing the long pincers into the soft sand below the surf. He controlled the pair of hydraulically boosted arms by means of a set of levers mounted in the truck bed. He aimed the tractor beam precisely enough that the rear wheels of the PTV bumped onto the long pincers right where they should be, and he cut beam power by stabbing the off switch with one forepaw, while working the hydraulic levers with his hands. KoVaulk smiled smugly as the PTV rose up out of the surf, water pouring out of its wheel wells, along with the occasional small fish or two.
"Leave it in neutral," KoVaulk called out to Silvertip as he secured the safety tethers and disconnected the tractor beam gun, returning it to its designated off-duty place in the side tool box. "Although, the traction motors are probably shot, anyway."
Silvertip did as shi was told, then soundlessly helped hir rather shaken white companion out of the swaying vehicle, now suspended off the back of KoVaulks wrecker like the prize catch of the day.
As the wolftaur returned to the rear of the vehicle to face the two chakats, he broke out again in gales of laughter.
"Snowdrifter!" KoVaulk said at last. "So, you got no time for the poor, old grey wolf until he bails your pretty white tail out of the drink, is that it, now?"
"KoVaulk, please…" Snowy began, but Silvertip interrupted hir.
"You mean, him and you, and..."Silvertip stammered incredulously until shi turned toward the wolftaur with aggravation showing on hir wrinkled muzzle. Shi pulled hir StellarEX credit card out of hir flannel shirt pocket with one hand and held it up to KoVaulks nose.
"As I told you before, you're paid to drive the recovery truck!" Silvertip snarled. "Things are bad enough already. Quit trying to rub our noses in it."
"I'll be right back," KoVaulk said smoothly, switching to a low, quiet voice. He eyed a few undone buttons on Snowdrifters blouse for a moment before grabbing Tips credit card, turning and heading up to the truck cab and the credit card processing machine.
When he returned, the three said nothing, until Silvertip had finished signing the paperwork and KoVaulk handed hir the receipt shi would need for Motor Club reimbursement.
"May I say, at least, that you've got excellent taste in companions?" KoVaulk asked as his eyes met Silvertips eyes, while he came across with the customer copy of the receipt.
"Thank you," Silvertip said flatly, regaining some composure. "I think you're the second wolf that has told me that, now."
The three of them climbed into the truck cab, with Snowdrifter making Silvertip lie down in the middle of the taur seat, so as to be as far away from the big wolftaur driver as possible.
;"Will you please drop me off at home?" Snowdrifter asked him wearily.
"But of course, my lady," KoVaulk chortled, and then smiled in mock sweetness until his upper incisors showed like shining stars popping through the dark grey cloud cover of his thickly furred face. "You are the lady this time around, right?"
"Yes," Snowy said, so far under hir breath that it became a sigh. Hir face was hidden in hir hands again.
"Just drive the damn truck!" Silvertip growled.
KoVaulk sat up tall in the saddle of his couchchair, set the backrest, clicked in his safety belt and put the recovery vehicle in gear. He gradually pulled the waterlogged PTV across the beach and up onto the pavement, before turning onto Shoreline Drive and heading for the agency to drop the car off first. He drove proudly along, smug in his self-assurance that he had somehow made a point.
He was King of the Road. Well, he was for that night, at least.
Silvertip missed work one day after that weekend, and I was pretty concerned for hir, so I made a point of asking hir about it first thing the next morning, when we met hir in the cafeteria for coffee, before going to the hangar for a days work. Needless to say, after hearing this tale, the least I could do was buy breakfast.
"Man, I've got real trouble now," Silvertip groaned.
"From what?" I asked. "The Motor Club won't pay the tow?"
"No. They got the receipt and will reimburse me fair and square," Silvertip answered. "Man, I've got real trouble now."
"From what?" I asked. "The dealer can't fix your car?"
"No. They need only to dry everything out and rebuild the motors," Silvertip answered. "Man, I've got real trouble now."
"From what?" I asked. "The insurance won't pay for it?"
"No. They're mad at me, but they're bound by our contract to pay," Silvertip answered. "Man, I've got real trouble now."
"Tip, tell me, what is your real trouble?" I implored.
The beleaguered chakat gave me a long, sad look from those weary green eyes, peering out from under hir ragged, old baseball cap.
"Snowdrifters mother," shi said finally, "owns the towing company."
Chakat characters and Chakona are copyright Bernard Doove and are used with permission. Big thanks also go to Terry Knight.
Appreciation and admiration expressed to Julie "Blackfrost" Wondra, Tess "Kenket" Garman and Mayra "Huskie" Boyle for their wonderful internet artwork. You ladies are teaching me how to draw, even though we haven't met, yet.
Chakat Silvertip, Chakat Snowdrifter, KoVaulk, Reflex PTV, and this story are copyright © 2006 James L. Brandt. firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is based upon a contributor to Tom and Ray Magliozzis call-in show CarTalk on National Public Radio in the USA.
Some Notes on Midnight Rescue
My Contributions to the Chakat Universe
1. I put New New York City and Aquila Interstellar Aeroport on the map. It is vitally important to my WIP that we create a small and mostly human populated city, where The Project takes place and the opportunity for conflict between human species supremacists and morphs exists. It not only forms the basic plot, it offers a chance to write about compelling issues we all face in modern society.
2. The CFAS Ekranoplan. An energy efficient means of transporting large items and shipments up and down the coast, between the air and sea ports of the coastal cities. These craft give me a convenient place to put the focal point of my WIP. The Project is huge. It requires an airship hangar.
3. The Reflex PTV. James L. Brandt worked in the automotive industry dealing with Adaptive Engineering; that is, the business of designing vehicles that both bipedal and taurform drivers can operate. He worked on taur seats for VW; for twenty-third century models called the Ensign, (a hatchback) and the Reflex, (designed specifically as a PTV). Like his RL counterpart, he drives the same type of car for which he does design work.
4. The wolftaur KoVaulk. I understand these creatures usually have much longer names. I guess we could call him Vaulkaisharten. The Ko- prefix means he no longer lives on Terra, where his pack had originated, and he also has no intention of ever rejoining it. Pronounced KOE-vawk, the Ko- prefix could stand for knocked out just as the Ex- prefix stands for formerly.
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