The crashing of the ocean and the sound of crying sea birds was all that could be heard after the storm had passed on the Pacific coast. A man in his late thirties sat on his deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, reveling in the near quiet after too many years listening to the sounds of warfare. A light breeze tossed his grey-shot black hair as he thought quietly to himself.
David McKenna would not have been one most would have connected with the terms ‘thinking’ and ‘quietly’. His early life had been one of conflict, not within his family but rather with others. He never sat by and let a larger individual inflict pain or suffering on a smaller one, and often ran headlong into a problem before actually thinking it through. It was a trend that followed him throughout his pre-university education. Fortunately for him, David never took it far enough to cause legal problems, and after completing his pre-university education, he enlisted in the Star Fleet Marines.
He had a good twenty-year run in the Marines until an incident happened that would change his life. Thinking on that one event, David snorted to himself. Almost reflexively he looked at a PADD that was in is left hand:
PATIENT: David V. McKenna
DIAGNOSIS: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Combat-Related Amputation of Right Leg, Combat-Related Excision of Right Eye.
AGGRAVATING FACTORS: Emergence of previously latent E-2 abilities.
Actual rating would be E-3 due to ability to ‘read’ empathic residue from inanimate objects (psychometry). E-2 rating is granted due to narrow band of receptive empathic ability limited to directed emotion or tactile reception of empathic emanations.
RECOMMENDATION: Removal from duty pending medical and psychological review.
The date on the PADD was three months prior, the date he returned from the hellhole known as Amazonia. It was there that his ‘abilities’ began to manifest themselves. It was there that he started to trust his ‘gut instinct’ on if there was going to be an ambush or not, and it was there that he stepped on a mine after not feeling any sense of ‘danger’ until his foot made contact.
A brief flashback of agony, darkness, then a sudden flare of ‘danger’ as his squad was attacked while transporting him back. That flare of anger almost overwhelming him once more, the memory being that sharp.
"It’s over David, let it go…." David’s voice was soft, almost not to be heard over the crashing waves. Slowly the emotions faded again, leaving a mix of relief and grief. Relief for himself for surviving and escaping the killing fields, grief for his companions that still remained there.
Shaking himself, David opened another page on the PADD. "Well, I had better get started on getting ready for tomorrow. After all, classes start in a week, and I need to register." He let a soft chuckle out as he realized how many of the ‘core curriculum’ for university had been taken care of by his military training. It still left a great deal for him to do though.
As he went to sleep he hoped the nightmares would not come that night. They did.
Late August on the northwest coast of Oregon was a busy time for many. No less busy for college students as they made their way across the campus. David was amongst them himself, a spring in his step not caused by this prosthesis. He started whistling a tune as he walked, feeling a bit at peace for the first time in a long time.
One of the reasons for his good mood was the simple fact that he was able to face taurforms without flinching. His biggest fear about returning to school was the simple fact that he was near a confluence of foxtaur and wolftaur communities and tribes, and after his experiences on Amazonia, he had not been sure that he would feel at ease amongst the Terran morphs.
A soft sound caught his ear, and he turned to face the person that had cleared their throat. Standing just off to his right was a young (and pretty!) cattaur femme, and an equally young (and pretty!) wolftaur bitch. The cattaur’s pelt color was predominantly black with white on the underside, a bit lopsided on the muzzle, and white ‘toes’ on her paws. The wolftaur was the standard brindle that fairly screamed ‘timber wolf’, though the darkest color was dark silver rather than a black or a brown. "Pardon us, but could you tell us how to get to Cascade Hall? We’re rather new here and we don’t want to miss our class."
The cattaur’s voice was light and full of life, and her expression open and honest. The wolftaur, in comparison, seemed a bit shy and quite ready to let her friend carry the conversation. A grin worked its way across David’s face as he shook his head. It was obvious that they had assumed that his age meant he was a professor or a more advanced student. "Sorry ladies. I’m a freshman just like you are." Seeing panic creep into both faces, he quickly continued speaking, "But I’m pretty good with a map, and I think my first class is there too. Mind if I look at your map?"
The cattaur promptly handed over the map. David wasted no time orienting the map to their current position. "My name is David, by the way. David McKenna."
"I’m Chakat Oceansong, daughter of Clearbrook and Redtail. And this," Oceansong grinned as shi hauled hir friend up next to hir, "is my Companion, Sitsi." Sitsi blushed and tried to hide her face against Oceansong’s shirt. "Please forgive her, she’s a bit shy."
"Nothing to forgive, Oceansong. Ah, here we go… the hall is off this way. I think if we push it a little bit, we should make it in time for our classes."
As it turned out, they all shared the same class that time. It was a class to orient new students to university life, as well as to help them succeed in their chosen program. After a brief introduction the class was released early so that they could learn their way around the campus.
"Mind if we walked with you?" Oceansong’s smile was infectious, and David couldn’t help but smile back. "We wouldn’t want to lose a skilled navigator like you when we’re trying to figure out our way around!"
"’Skilled navigator’ my foot. You just don’t want to have to figure out the map for yourself!"
Sitsi smiled a bit wickedly and murmured, "Busted." Her blush went up a notch and she again tried to hide when both David and Oceansong started laughing at her comment.
"Okay, okay… you got me. I have a hard enough time navigating the mall, much less a university campus. Heck, I even let Sitsi drive most of the time. I’m just really bad with directions."
David winked at the chakat, "Well, that just tells me to ask for directions for anything from her, not from you. Knowing my luck, you might have me dunking myself in the Columbia River!"
As they toured the campus, the buildings his new friends were interested in surprised David. Oceansong, it turned out, was a Physics major and thus wanted to see the physical sciences building. Sitsi, on the other hand, was a Literature and Music double major. For one so quiet and introverted, it was surprising to David that she would want to perform in front of others.
It turned out that the three of them shared two classes on the campus: University Life and Success, and Interpersonal Communications. They also discovered they had a common hour that they could share lunch, and did.
The lunch conversation was light, and quite enjoyable. Far different than the types of conversations David had had over lunch the past four years. David even paid for the meal for all of them, which startled the two morphs. "Well what do you know, Sitsi… we found us a real gentleman. Should we keep him?"
Once more, Sitsi started to blush, her ears pinking to almost a deep scarlet. David saw and couldn’t resist a playful teasing comment. "Oh, look Oceansong… a red wolf!" The comment caused her to blush deeper as Oceansong giggled and David just grinned.
"So, ladies… what are your plans once you complete your schooling?" David steepled his fingers in front of his face and grinned at the two of them, his glance moving from Sitsi to Oceansong so that the wolftaur could compose herself.
Oceansong fairly bounced in place as shi smiled. "Well, I’m actually going to go all the way to my doctorate. I want to work in high-energy particle physics, mostly focusing on theoretical enhancement to warp propulsion systems. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind being a physics teacher. Both work well for me, after all, one requires brains, the other requires patience, and I have both!"
Sitsi snorted quietly at her Companion’s comment, her eyes not leaving the table. After a few moments, her quiet, husky voice came forth again from her. "I don’t have any plans really. I just enjoy poems and music. I might become a songwriter, or maybe a teacher for cubs, but I don’t think I could be a performer."
"What about you, Mr. Mystery? You haven’t even told us your major!" Oceansong teasingly poked David in the ribs. "Details! We want details!"
"Well, I can’t tell you what I don’t know myself, can I? I’m currently undecided on a major, and thus a job after college. After my last employment experience, I can tell you I’m not up to ‘adventure’ or ‘excitement’ any more."
"Is that right? And what did you do before this?" This time, both morphs were looking at him curiously. David started to shake his head, and then stopped himself. If he were ever going to get over the scars that were not visible, he would have to start talking about it.
"I was, I am, a Star Fleet Marine. I’m currently on indefinite leave due to medical issues." He waited a few moments to gauge their reactions. Both were radiating curiosity in high amounts, though he was picking up more from Oceansong than Sitsi. He could tell that neither had picked up his artificial leg or eye. Fortunately, neither appeared upset by his profession.
"A Marine, huh? That must have been exciting in a totally different way than anyone else here would know. What was it like? I mean, I have a sister in the Star Corps, so I know what that sort of life is like, but what is Marine life like?" Oceansong leaned forward onto hir hands, hir ears focusing on him to pick up every word he said.
"I’d, I’d rather not talk about it right now. My last assignment was… bad and that’s where I was injured." With an effort of will, David pushed away an image from Amazonia of a Wemic child, looking at him in much the same way as Oceansong was. A child that was later found dead, a victim of violence against those that cooperated with the Stellar Federation and those that fought against them.
Shaking himself, David finally cleared his mind of the images and looked at his companions. Oceansong’s ears were down and she looked worried, where Sitsi looked nervous, almost ready to bolt. Forcing an unsteady smile on his face, David tried to reassure them. "Sorry. Just a bad memory, that’s all. It happens from time to time, but I won’t do anything except sit here. I promise."
Oceansong looked dubious, but whether it was from his claim of it being ‘just a bad memory’ or if it was from him saying he wouldn’t harm them, David wasn’t sure. After a few moments of eating in silence, Oceansong started talking about their classes, and everything seemed to smooth out for the moment.
Once the meal was finished, David bid the two good afternoon and turned to leave. Oceansong’s voice stopped him before he got two steps away. "David?"
Turning back, he faced the chakat. "Yes?"
"Same time tomorrow? This time we will buy."
David blinked, and then smiled. "Certainly. I don’t have any classes tomorrow, but I’ll be here."
Oceansong’s smile, and Sitsi’s blush, was all David needed to see. He knew he had made the right decision, and that he had two friends that might be able to help him heal.
Oceansong and Sitsi’s rented house was a small affair, small for taurforms at any rate. Once through the doors they both removed their saddle packs with their books and folders to relax from their experiences. After a shared moment of relaxation and cuddling, Sitsi got up to start to work on a snack for the two of them.
Oceansong smiled as shi watched hir Companion move about. It was a marked change from the young wolftaur shi had met the year previously. Sitsi had been the runt of her litter and the omega wolf amongst the cubs. That meant that she got teased unmercifully by the other cubs, and short of violence or extremely hurtful taunting, the adults did little except encourage her to ‘toughen up’.
Unfortunately, Sitsi was not the sort to ‘toughen up’. A gentle person by nature, she was temperamentally unsuited to coping with the teasing she received and had been close to some sort of mental collapse. To help protect her, Sitsi’s parents asked Oceansong’s parents to foster Sitsi. The two sets of parents had known each other from joint woodlands management programs between the government, wolftaur tribes, and foxtaur communities.
"Are you just going to lounge there, or are you going to come help me?" Oceansong looked up from hir reverie to see Sitsi looking through the doorway at hir. "You know it’s your turn to do the dishes, and you still haven’t done them."
Oceansong was hard pressed not to laugh at Sitsi. The Sitsi from the year prior would never have thought to criticize the chakat, much less demand that shi do hir share of the work. It was true that, in public, Sitsi still tended to shut down on the social level, but in private she was starting to get quite assertive.
"Coming dear. I just forgot to do them in the rush this morning. Forgive me?" Oceansong batted hir eyes at the wolftaur, who just snorted and turned back into the kitchen.
"We’ll see. You might be sleeping on the couch tonight."
"For the dishes?"
"Sure. I’ll think of something worse if you disappoint me even more." Oceansong picked up the hint of laughter in Sitsi’s voice, and proceeded to tickle her.
After cleaning the dishes, the two worked together to make dinner that evening. As it was a slow-cooker chili, they both retired back to the living room to work on their reading and first papers for their classes. After working in silence for a while, Oceansong set hir books aside and looked over at Sitsi. "What do you think of our new human friend?"
Sitsi didn’t even bother to look up. "Which new human friend. We did meet a few today after all."
"David. What do you think of him?"
After marking her place, Sitsi stared at the book cover for a moment before looking up to Oceansong. "I don’t know. He seems like a nice person, but it seems like he’s hiding something too." Cocking her head for a moment as she thought, Sitsi added, "He seemed upset about something too."
Oceansong nodded, "He was. Towards the end there he was very upset about something. Something that’s very hard for him to get a hold of mentally. I think he’s tearing himself up about something he did or saw wherever he was at last."
"I think I know when you were talking about. He had me scared there for a moment, to the point that I was almost worried he was going to lash out at someone."
"I doubt he’d lash out at anyone that didn’t deserve it, Sitsi."
"I know, I know. But he is trained to kill, and he did say he was injured somehow, I just worry that he might… you know… snap." Sitsi shivered briefly where she sat; her own tastes of violence were more than enough to assure her she didn’t want to see David on a rampage.
Oceansong got up and walked over to Sitsi and hugged her. "Well, don’t worry. David won’t attack either of us. I may not have the abilities of some, but what I got from him is a basically decent guy. I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt."
"And besides that you think he’s cute for a human." Sitsi looked up to her Companion and grinned slightly. "You had that look in your eye."
"Oh, like I didn’t see you watching him as he walked away. I didn’t know you were into bipeds." Oceansong’s grin widened as Sitsi blushed for the umpteenth time that day.
"I didn’t know either. But you’re right, he is cute for a human."
The two of them laughed together for a moment before getting up to get their dinner. Later, as they settled to sleep, Oceansong smiled to hirself. Things were looking to get interesting, very interesting indeed.
To be continued in Part 2.
Copyright © 2007 Adrian Nunenkamp
The Chakat Universe is the creation of Bernard Doove and is used with his permission.
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