(This slips in right after Folly gets her tail shot up by pirates.)
She was in that halfway state between sleep and consciousness when the soft beeping started. Having always been a light sleeper it took only the time of a deep breath and opening her eyes for her to be ready to react. The foxy nose sticking into her helmet didn’t surprise her, as it had been that close before though normally that was in her bed and not in this small one-seat cockpit of a fighter.
She was a pirate, one that was very good at fighter escort/support of her little pack of thieves and cutthroats. The little fox was someone she had claimed as a ‘prize’, though there was a bit more to it than just that. The freighter was supposed to be deserted, the crew having fled in the ship’s lifeboats when the pirates attacked. She had found the little fox hiding in one of the rooms she was searching for valuables. She never had understood why she had decided this kit was of value, but it was the sole thing she had taken from that ship.
The kit had been female, and just over seven years old in Earth years. This had caused some issues with the pirate ship’s all human crew, problems enough that the fox never left her side, even when she was ‘working’. A small crash seat had been added to her fighter for the kit, though there was no suit for her if the craft was breached by enemy fire. With the fighter shut down around them she was cocooned in a thermal wrap with her head as close as she could get it to her human’s open faceplate, frost forming on the tips of her face fur.
The next beep brought her back to the present; her suit air that they had been sharing was almost gone. Time to bring her powerless little ship back to life and see who’d won.
She found she still had mixed feelings on which group she wanted to win, though the decision had been removed from her hands early in the engagement. Her fighter/carrier ship and several other pirate vessels had joined a cruiser that had been taken over by ‘Humans First’ extremists, their target was to be a massive freighter known as Folly. The extremists had their own reasons for wanting the ship, but they were offering the pirates all the cargo they could move. The plan had been to bring Folly to an unoccupied system by using another freighter in distress as bait. All the ships together would be more than enough to swamp the Folly’s shields and limited defenses, and then the looting would commence.
Her mixed feelings had stemmed from having to work with the extremists; no fur was safe with them around, and that was just another reason the kit was currently sharing her dwindling air supply. She had grown fond of the little fur, treating her more like a daughter or little sister than a slave or pet.
"Wake up Luna," she softly said. "We need to see if we can get out of here."
"Fran?" the kit murmured before jolting awake. "C-Cold in here," she added as she pulled her arms out of the wrap and shifted herself out of the pilot’s way.
"Let’s see if we can’t do something about that," Francis told her as she started bringing systems back on line – or trying to, her ship remaining stubbornly dead around them. "Luna? Try the breakers under your seat. Start with the primaries and then the life-support."
Luna did as asked, and some of the systems started to respond.
"Okay…" Francis muttered, "Heat and some fresh, or at least fresher air is first. Then we’ll see just how bad it is…."
Having lost her weapons and flight controls early in the battle, Francis had turned her ship into a silent ‘rock’ to reduce the odds of either side thinking they were worth shooting at. She now brought up her passive sensors to see who the ‘victors’ were. The view wasn’t encouraging; the extremists’ cruiser was still there, though it seemed to be emitting little in the way of a power signature. The Folly was in pieces, the double sphere segment was clear of pod carrying shaft section. The pod section carried the warp engines, one of which looked to have been badly damaged. Another ship, smaller than the cruiser, was docked to one of the Folly’s spheres. There were several of the small drones that the large ship had been using to intercept missiles and phaser fire zooming around, with a few of them towing loose pods back to the damaged shaft. Of the pirate ships there was no sign, unless you counted the debris in near space. She was just absorbing this when the fighter was gently rocked as one of the drones suddenly took an interest in them. Another minute confirmed that they were being towed toward the spheres.
"We’re in trouble," Luna whispered on seeing Francis’s face fall.
"How much depends on who won," she told the little fox. "The human extremists might let me keep you as a ‘pet’. That ship docked to the sphere had furs onboard, so you might be able to convince them I’m your prisoner…. We need to wait and see…."
Their tow vehicle didn’t seem to be in any hurry, or it was just conserving fuel as it took its time dragging them to one of the ports on the sphere. An umbilical mated with their hatch and sensors soon showed a breathable atmosphere.
"Pop your head up real fast and tell me what you see," Francis said as she set her phaser to light stun. If they had to ‘prove’ their loyalty she didn’t want to do Luna any real harm, nor did she really want to be harmed if Luna had to use it on her.
Luna’s looked out the window, and then had to go for another look. "Fran? There’s a big Rakshani out there… and a human… and he’s holding a chakat cub."
Francis snorted softly before putting the phaser back in its storage compartment. Giving Luna a grin she wasn’t feeling, she said, "Go ahead and pop the hatch. Looks like we play this one by ear, hmmm?"
The Rakshani male just stood there as they disembarked, seemingly frowning slightly. The human male looked even less friendly, though the chakat cub seemed to be happy enough to see them.
"Permission to come aboard?" Francis asked.
"And you are?" the Rakshani inquired, his growl sounding almost neutral.
"Francis Abigail Torsion," she replied as she almost came to attention. Deciding to get it out without them forcing it, she added, "Lately of the pirate ship Cock-in-Hand."
"You mean of the late pirate ship," the human growled. "No ships have left the area yet."
"Calm down Neal," the Rakshani said. "Tess said this one seemed to have been trying to disable and not kill her targets."
"To better capture more slaves?" the human countered.
"I’m not a slave!" Luna retorted as she moved closer to Francis for comfort and support.
"Brother…" the Rakshani growled softly, "you’re in no state to judge things right now…."
Before Neal could reply, the cub in his arms leaped for the floor and then dashed for their visitors. "Stormy!" Neal shouted just as the little chakat’s charge almost knocked Luna over.
Kit and cub hugged and rubbed noses before Firestorm reached out for Francis, who received the same hug and nose-to-nose before shi turned back to Neal.
"That’s one vote," the Rakshani commented.
"Don’t rub it in, Derikk," Neal griped. "Okay… I’ll let you and the others decide what to do with them," he added before turning away.
"Why is he mad?" Luna asked once the human was out of sight.
Derikk shrugged. "I understand it’s been over a hundred years since he’s had a ship shot out from under him…. I guess it hasn’t gotten any easier for him."
"I don’t understand," Francis admitted.
"That was the captain… he’s had a rough day," the Rakshani told them as he waved them forward, Firestorm clinging to both of them.
"What will happen to us?" Luna wanted to know.
Derikk gave her a smile before indicating the cub she was helping to hold. "The captain’s daughter says you’re okay, it’ll just take longer for hir father to accept it."
As they followed Derikk into the ship, Luna looked over Firestorm to Francis. "It’s lucky we were powerless during the fight."
"Yes, lucky indeed," Derikk murmured from in front of them. There had been something he’d seen in the replay of the battle. A single Zulu had darted behind their fighter as it fired on one of the Blade fighters trying to help defend Folly. The fighter had gone dead at that point and had been ignored by all other combatants. Derikk didn’t know for sure, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if there hadn’t been just a little deity inspired ‘luck’ involved.
Tapping the comm badge he wore, Derikk said, "Tess, ask Lighttouch to meet me in interrogation room one, and tell Shady and Song I have a task for them."
"Can do," Tess replied. "Neal needs to vent," she added.
"I’m open to suggestions," Derikk admitted.
"He needs to take his frustration out on something, but he doesn’t want to bash anything he’ll just have to fix," Tess told him.
Derikk was silent for a moment before saying, "Ask his mates. If they say okay then you can let him pound on the ‘Scott." Chuckling he added, "Surely one little human can’t do too much more damage to what’s left of that cruiser."
"You don’t know Neal," Tess replied. "His mates have agreed, provided he’s not allowed to use power tools."
"Well that should keep him occupied for a little while then," Derikk agreed as they entered the turbolift.
The doors opened on two chakats who looked them over carefully. The larger one then said, "I take it the little one’s ours…."
Derikk nodded as his large paw gently but firmly nudged Luna out of the lift. "Take good care of her. Her friend will be with Lighttouch," he said as the doors started to close.
Fran’s spirits sank as the lift moved to its next stop. The first step was always separating a party before picking at the pieces. At the next stop Derikk ushered her down the corridor to a door with a red band around the doorframe. He lifted Firestorm out of her arms before waving her in while they remained outside.
Inside was a small office looking room. A chair sat on her side of an empty desk; a skunktaur lounging on a taur pad occupied the other.
"Well Ms Torsion," hy said in a calm voice that sounded like it was often used to set others at ease, "tell me a little about yourself."
Francis had intended to just give hym a basic synopsis of her life up to that point, instead she found herself going into details she had never told anyone else, things she hadn’t even thought about in years. Her early life, her career, her first mistake that had ultimately led her to losing everything and joining the pirates, the more telling fights and battles both of the pirate activity as well as against her fellow pirates. Every time she’d start to slow down, a few words from the skunktaur seemed to have her confessing of other sins and transgressions.
Francis never even noticed when she’d stopped talking, just sitting there feeling drained, like she’d just finished running a marathon. An empty glass and a nearly empty pitcher sat by her hand, but she didn’t remember them appearing or having drunk anything since she’d come onboard. Looking up at the skunktaur who was still watching her with interest, she asked, "What happens to Luna now?"
Lighttouch’s ears perked up at the question. "What? No questions about what will happen to you?" hy replied. When she didn’t rise to the bait, hy smiled. "She will be well taken care of. The information you and she provide may help us get her in touch with her family. From what I sense of her, Luna will still want to keep you in her life."
"You haven’t even met Luna, so how would you know her feelings?" she snapped back, feeling even more afraid with the lies coming so soon.
The skunktaur settled back a little bit before replying, "No, I am not lying to you Francis, and yes, I do know quite a bit about Luna. She is currently being fed ice-cream by the chakats you saw earlier. I share a mental link with them, and they have been telling me just how much you mean to Luna. Would you like to join her?"
Her stomach growled before she could nod her head. Lighttouch nodded as hy got up. "Our session did run overlong. What would you like first, food or a bathroom break?"
Getting up reminded her that her bladder had been protesting for some time now. Lighttouch led her just two doors down to a small bedroom and bath. She wasn’t surprised to see it had taur facilities, but she was pleased to see a swing down seat that would insure she didn’t fall in. at Lighttouch’s suggestion, she also took a quick shower to help wash away the ‘I’ve been in this dang skin-suit too long’ smell. Wearing a robe several sizes too big for her, Francis was then led to the galley. Her nose was just telling her there might be food somewhere close by when Luna almost knock the breath out of her.
"Where were you? I was getting worried they wouldn’t let you come back," Luna almost cried as she hugged her human tightly. Francis noted that not only had the kit been cleaned up as well, but it looked like someone had even given her hair a minor trimming.
Not wanting to worry Luna, she just said, "I’m sorry I’m late. Lighttouch and I had a lot to talk about."
"You mean hy had lots and lots of questions," Luna scolded, having known Francis long enough to know when she was really worried.
"Enough questions that hy let me take a break! Now, what do they have here that’s good to eat?" she fired back, trying to get Luna off that train of thought.
Between mouthfuls she quizzed Luna on what she’d seen and done. It seemed there was a teenage fox onboard named Cindy that had helped trim her hair, as well as several chakat cubs to play with.
Her meal over, Francis half feared another session of questioning, not that she could remember much of what she’d said earlier. Instead Luna led her to what turned out to be a very large holosuite, and into a heavily forested area. A path led to a waterfall fed lake with a sandy shore. A full stomach and the sound of the nearby falls after what had already felt like a long day soon had her asleep under a shade tree.
Francis awoke with a start as something ‘plopped’ near her face. The sun in the holosuite had set and the area was in twilight. A small frog sat just a foot away; it seemed to study her for a minute before hopping off into the woods. She found Luna on her other side sound asleep. Picking up the sleeping fox, she started for the exit, only to realize she didn’t know the way out. A firefly buzzed her face before starting down a path, only to buzz her again when she didn’t immediately follow. Once out of to holosuite, the corridor’s emergency lights did a slow ‘runway lights’ pattern which led her to an unused room. She laid Luna on the oversized bed before dialing the lights down and joining her.
She woke slower than she normally did. It taking another minute to realize she was waking slowly, almost as if speed and alertness didn’t matter this morning. She was nose to nose with the chakat cub from the day before, said cub giving her a nose-lick. Rolling over, she found there were more, older chakat cubs in bed with her and Luna, as well as a foxtaur kit.
"Time to get up!" proclaimed the dark gray chakat of about five or six years of age.
The cubs ‘herded’ them to the galley, where they met up with another group. This one had a human male and a handful of chakats. The cubs sat on either side of their human, almost protectively. The adults were sitting a little apart, watching the cubs and their human.
Francis and Luna were led to one of the neighboring tables as a pregnant rabbit doe and a female Siamese cat entered.
The cat spoke first, "Good morning, I’m Jackie and this is Stew. Who wants what for breakfast?"
Tensions rose a bit when the chakats found out Francis was a pirate, though they backed down when Jackie then pointed out that they were harboring a Humans First participant.
"To quote one of my mates, everybody take a chill pill," Stew told them. "Both of these humans are here because they were defending furs…. The only reason our captain – who also just happens to be human, hasn’t spaced either of you was at the request of furs. Luckily our captain is indisposed for the time being, so you have a little time before a decision is made on what to do with you."
"What happened to your captain?" one of the chakats asked.
Jackie grinned as she softly snorted, "He was a bit wound up last night, so his mates let him beat up on what’s left of the Scott. He exhausted himself and they put him to bed."
"I would think Star Fleet would be a little upset about that," Francis commented.
"I think they’ll just be happy to have it not attacking ships and stations in their name," Stew replied. "Getting any parts of the ship back would just be icing on the cake."
"Can we have cake?" one of the chakat cubs asked.
"Sure!" Jackie told hir. "And then you kids can play in the holosuite while we talk to your grownups."
"I want to stay with Fran!" Luna protested.
"You’ll see her again," promised a voice from the door. The very large chakat and hir coppery companion from the day before entered the room.
"Would you introduce me to your friends?" Francis asked Luna.
Looking up at the large tiger striped chakat first, Luna said, "This one’s Shady. Shi’s a telepath." Looking to the smaller coppery chakat, she added, "Shi’s Song. Shi’s a telepath too, and a astral projectionist."
Song smiled. "You forgot one," shi teased the little fox. At Luna’s look of confusion, hir eyes unfocused for a moment.
Luna jumped a little at the gentle tug on her tail. "Oh yeah, shi does telekinesis too!"
"Came in handy during the fight," Shady said. "The cruiser missed at least one shot due to Song’s little tricks."
"You helped!" Song shot back. "And now you can help me wrangle these cubs to the holosuite."
"No, you can help me," Shady fired back.
"Enough," Stew said, "either get moving, or I’ll have Tess tell the cubs you need to be wrangled."
"Anything but that!" Song begged with a laugh. "Come on kids, let’s leave the grownups to their talking."
This time Francis was sequestered with a pair of chakats named Quickwind and Shortdash. While the day before Lighttouch had asked very personal questions, these questions were more on her pirate activates. What ships she had helped attack, what was done to the crews and cargos. She had half expected them to hard double-team her, or play the old good cop-bad cop, but they were polite throughout the questioning.
Francis was allowed to join Luna for the midday meal and then spend some more time with her in the holosuite. With Luna playing hide and seek with some of the other cubs, she went for a walk down the meandering trails. Walking around the lake she came up to where the waterfall poured into the lake, and found Neal sitting at the base of the small mountain.
Over the noise of the falls she said, "Credit for your thoughts, Captain."
Just as she was deciding he wasn’t going to answer, he grumbled, "You…. You’re a pirate, and that needs to be dealt with. But that kit depends on you, and that too needs to be dealt with…."
"Her family –" she started, only to have him cut her off.
"Neither her ship or crew was ever heard from after your attack, so your fellow pirates may have done more than you were aware of, or something else happened to them. Either way, she has no immediate family for me to return her to."
Francis digested that in silence for a minute before asking, "Will you guarantee her safety?"
Neal’s laugh was a hollow one. "I can’t even guarantee the safety of my own ass, much less that of my family. Or didn’t you notice my ship is in pieces?"
"What I noticed was that you’re still here, unlike a pirate force that thought you’d be easy pickings!" she shot back. "What I’ve also noticed is that you do indeed care for furs. Luna means a lot to me. Do I have your word or not?"
Neal stared at her for almost a full minute before replying. "Very well," he said. "If something happens that you won’t be there for her, I will see that she’s taken care of. You have my word on that."
Francis nodded; it was the best she could hope for at this point. She was thinking of asking Neal more when a door opened into the side of the mountain. Several chakat cubs came running out of the opening, giggling as they ran past her and back down the path.
"I thought this was a holosuite," she said as the door to the mountain closed.
"It is," Neal replied. "But a few things were added to amuse the cubs. A tangle of pipes and a maze of wires, valves and switches to help them think they’re really making things happen."
"Like what?" she asked, intrigued in spite of herself.
Neal grinned. "How much water comes over the falls, temperature, color, consistency. I came in one evening to find them almost walking across the lake, it was like well-set jello."
"So you can smile," Francis accused him.
"Yes, I can smile," Neal grumbled. "It’s just been a rough couple of days."
Francis nodded. "For all of us it seems…. Shouldn’t you be running your ship?"
"What’s there to run?" Neal asked her. "This section’s been designed to be a stand alone station, not much to do since it’s in the wrong place. I’m still waiting on the ship section to cool down so I can see how much of her cargo can be salvaged."
"Can’t your ship be repaired?"
"No… one of the antimatter containment systems was partially breached by phaser fire as it was ejected. Most of the engineering area was turned to slag and is still glowing brightly on infrared scanners. A couple other shots cut through the aft third of the ship. Even without the destroyed nacelle, her back’s broken and buckled."
Not having anything she could say to that, Francis got up to go find Luna.
Francis was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of something hard hitting a wall just before she and the bed crashed into the far wall. Struggling out of the tangled sheets she called out to Luna. The gravity shifted again, but there was no reply from the little fox. A hasty search came up empty and Francis was getting ready to ask the computer for help when the door opened.
Derikk blocked the doorway, looking like he’d just been in a fight. Holding a Rakshan power rifle in one hand, he tossed her a phaser with the other as the door closed. "The extremists got loose, they’ve taken parts of the station including one of the engineering sections," he growled.
"Luna?" Francis demanded.
"We don’t know," Derikk admitted. "The late word we got from Tess said she and the older cubs were in the little galley, but that’s blocked off to us." Francis backed up at the look he gave her as he said, "They overran the nursery, killing the smaller cubs and their keepers. The Captain went mad when they killed his chakat, his mates are trying to keep up with him."
A rumbling boom shook the room. Derikk tapped his comm badge. "Tess? Status please." The badge remained mute. He tried again with no better results. "Hopefully we just lost her communications, if we’ve lost her then we’re in real trouble." The door also failed to open for him and he had to use the manual release.
Once in the corridor he led her towards the center of the ship. "Neal sent the kids to secure one of the smaller ships to get us out in case we need to evacuate. I think it was to try to keep them safe while we deal with the humans."
Francis ignored the inadvertent dig and followed Derikk past the next two junctions. At the third junction Derikk scanned both side passages before proceeding, only to be hit as he moved forward. Francis fired on and killed the attacker before checking Derikk. He had been hit in the neck, his head almost removed from his shoulders. Retrieving his heavier weapon and comm badge, she continued in the direction he had been taking.
At the next junction the computer interface on the wall was flashing her name. Tapping the control keys brought up the station’s schematics, green and red dots showing friend and foe and grayed out sections where the sensors no longer reached. "Where’s Luna?" Francis demanded. A green light started flashing four decks up, it and several other greens were heading towards the ship bays. Between them and Francis were entirely too many red dots and grayed out sections. Below her was another group of green dots; they looked like they were in a running firefight with another bunch of reds.
Luna and the green dots with her had gained another level. "Can you buy them more time?" Francis asked the terminal.
‘DECK LEVEL FORCED LOCKDOWN’ flashed on the screen.
Francis quickly tagged the levels that had only red dots on them. "Activate lockdown," she commanded. Nothing happened on the screen. "Did you lock down those levels?" she asked after a minute.
‘MANUAL OVERRIDE REQUIRED FOR LOCKDOWN: WARNING – ONLY CAPTAIN CAN CLEAR LOCKDOWN’ below it was a key sequence and a flashing cursor.
The red dots were almost to the access to the next level, so Francis quickly keyed in the code and pressed ‘commit’. The doors on those decks each went to a solid red. The sensors in a couple of those sections recorded weapons fire just before the sensors were destroyed, changing those areas to ‘unknown’. Another explosion shook the ship, the computer interface going blank.
"Good luck Luna," Francis whispered before she turned to head towards the access for the lower levels, checking her weapon’s charge.
She was preparing to open the next access junction down when it opened on its own. Neal was on the other side, he yelled as he swung what looked like a shotgun around to fire on her. Her weapon had almost been pointing at him when the door had opened, but Francis ducked for cover rather than firing. She huddled in the corner and waited for the shotgun blast, but it never came. Getting up, she carefully looked around the doorframe.
"Why didn’t you fire?" Neal demanded when he saw her trying to look into the room.
"Because you’re not my enemy!" she shot back. "Luna and your kids should have gotten to the ships by now. Before the displays died they showed you had more hostiles the next level down."
"That’s Derikk’s weapon," Neal said.
"They killed him," she admitted.
"I’m empty. Give it to me," Neal ordered. Francis hesitated a moment before passing the power rifle to him.
"Go though that door," he told her.
"That leads down," she said.
"Trust me," Neal replied.
Extremists to the fore, a possible madman aft. Screwing up her courage Francis hit the door release. A blur moved at her and almost knocked her down.
"FRAN!" Luna happily squealed as she hugged her friend.
Francis stared in shook because behind Luna had been Derikk, alive and intact, holding the same little chakat cub she’d seen the first day. She turned to stare at Neal. He tossed the rifle into the air – where it disappeared.
"End simulation, Tess," Neal said as Firestorm leaped into his arms.
"Sure thing, boss," Tess’ voice said from all around them. The damaged passage melted into a large blank room, only to fade into a forest scene moments later.
"Sorry, Francis, but if I was going to let you loose, I had to know which way you’d jump," Neal said, actually sounding a little apologetic.
"That was mean!" Luna told him.
"It had to be," Derikk informed her. "You won’t try your hardest if you know it’s a test. Francis could have pulled her punches or just done what she thought we expected of her."
"So… can she go with me?" Luna asked.
"Yes," Neal said. "Get something to eat, you leave in an hour."
An hour later saw them step through the connecting umbilical into Mystic. The hatch was closing when Francis felt the semi-shiver she was used to feeling when being transported. Once the stasis field comes up there’s nothing to feel as time stops for those in the field, but this time she swore something was crawling up and down her spine, a tingling that went everywhere at once. The stasis field collapsed and she almost collapsed with it, her legs not wanting to support her. Luna’s shriek brought her back to her senses, the kit staring at her in shock and confusion.
"What?" Francis started to say before realizing she was looking down a long thin muzzle to see Luna. She brought up a hand to touch it, only to stop again, for a furry paw had ascended into her view. She was staring in fascination at the paw whose digits seemed to move at the same time she was telling her fingers to move.
"Fran?" Luna didn’t quite whisper.
Francis felt her ears turn to the sound. "I… think so," she murmured. Looking over where the chakats had been with their human, he was missing – but there was an extra chakat they were now surrounding.
Two of Mystic’s crew had been standing watching the sudden change. One of them shook her head before saying; "I guess we don’t have to ‘hide’ them from other humans."
The other chuckled. "Do we tell Folly some of her cargo just transformed?"
Looking at each other they said, "Naa!"
Copyright © 2009 Allen Fesler Redbear1158@hotmail.com
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
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