Adrift in Space and Time

Chapter 2

“I’ve got a surprise for you!” Jess grinned the next morning while trying to wake me up for breakfast.  “Does it require me to stand up?” I sighed, giving in to her gentle prodding.  “Unfortunately yes.” She laughed “We’re going to be reaching one of our re-supply ports today, so we get to go planet-side for some R&R!”  “Planet-side?” I questioned, rapidly growing enthusiastic “As in we’re going to land and explore a new planet?”  “Pretty much, yep.” Jess nodded “I was thinking that since this is your first new planet we could go do the touristy stuff first, then when you get bored with that we could maybe have a little picnic or something…”  “That’s making some very big assumptions about my attention span.” I grinned “I mean, I would never have thought someday I would be visiting new planets and civilizations!”  “Ah, the enthusiasm of the novice…” Jess laughed as we went to get some breakfast.

Grabbing our food in the dining hall we sat down at a table with Diller, the badger Jess had introduced me to earlier.  “So, have you kits made any plans for this afternoon?” Diller grinned, seeing my obvious enthusiasm and having a pretty good idea about it’s cause.  “Is it that obvious?” I nodded.  “Oh, don’t worry about it.” He explained “Everyone feels like that their first time down.  Just try to not bring the entire planet back with you…”  “Souvenir hunting the first trip usually gets pretty…enthusiastic.” Jess explained “Though I didn’t have that problem myself…”  “Sure you didn’t.” Diller nodded seriously.  “It must be kind of tricky to land this thing…” I mused “I mean, the ship has got to be huge…”  “They don’t.” Diller explained “Think a second and I’ll bet you’ll get why…”  “Gravity!”  I realized.  “Got it in one!” Diller grinned “They design these ships to produce the most effective artificial gravity, which requires them to be rather…interestingly shaped.  Since aerodynamics and structural mass are irrelevant in space it doesn’t matter, but if you tried to land it, the ship would be torn apart under its own weight.”  “They dock the ship at an orbital facility, and we ride down on shuttles.” Jess explained.

I continued listening to their conversation while working on my breakfast, until I was interrupted by someone behind me tapping me on the shoulder.  Looking over I saw Dr. Farran.  “I’d like you and Jess to drop by the medical bay before you go on R&R, just to go over everything and make sure we’re clear about what you can and can’t do.”  “Okays.” I nodded.  “That’s a good boy.” Dr. Farran grinned, patting me on the shoulder before heading back out into the ship.  “You’re not going to weasel out of it.” Jess said sternly, seeing my contemplative look.  “Fine.” I sighed theatrically before returning to my breakfast, mind awash in various plots to weasel out of it.  “I’m serious.” She sighed as we were finishing up with our meal.  (Or more specifically, as I rapidly scarfed down the last of my food and watched her with a hintingly impatient expression as Jess continued at a more reasonable pace.)  “Better listen to them.” Diller advised “Dr. Farran can confine you to the ship if she thinks it is medically advisable, and then you’ll miss getting to go exploring!”  “Fine, I’ll behave.” I sighed “But, for the record, only under protest.”

“Under protest is fine.” Jess agreed as we took our leave of the dining hall and went back to our quarters to get ready for our excursion.  “What’s the climate like down there?” I questioned, realizing that I didn’t exactly have a lot of choice in wardrobe anyway.  “Pretty nice where we are making planet fall.” She informed me cheerfully as she went through her closet trying to decide on what to wear. “Seasonally it’s getting in towards the latter part of fall, so we can expect it to be mild during the day and a bit chillier at night.”  “So I should take my jacket then.” I decided before joking that “Since that is pretty much the only clothing option I have, it looks like I’ve once again proved to be far more efficient at making decisions than you.”  “I had overlooked that actually.” Jess sighed “We’re going to have to get you some more appropriate clothing first thing.  At the very least you’ll going to need a good pair of shoes, those slip-on medical bay ones really were not intended for any serious kind of use…”  “I had been thinking about complaining about them, but I didn’t want to be a pest.” I agreed “A good pair of practical shoes are one of the most important things for one to own.”  “Truer words were never spoken.” Jess agreed.  Having finally decided on what she was going to wear, she ducked in to the bathroom to change quickly, then grabbed my hand and hauled me off to visit Dr. Farran.


“You’re lucky,” Dr. Farran explained a short while later while performing her now familiar routine of poking and prodding. “Most of the crew had their physicals when we left the ship’s home port for this tour, so there isn’t a line of furs needing to get current before going on leave.”  “That, or I’m the only one who didn’t manage to find an excuse to get out of it.” I sighed, feeling a little bit irritable for some reason.  “Not if they plan on going anywhere.” Dr. Farran grinned evilly “It’s about the best incentive I’ve found to get everyone in here regularly, so I am quite draconian about it, I assure you!”  “And you don’t enjoy it, even a little bit.” Jess teased as the doctor was finishing up with me.

Choosing to ignore Jess, Dr. Farran made a few notes in my file.  “Right, we’ve got that all in order, so you’re good to go.”  Hastily putting out a paw to prevent my eager leap off the examination table, she quickly went on to qualify her statement.  “Not quite!  We need to establish some ground rules first!”  “Aww…” I began to complain before Jess cut me off with a look.  “Firstly,” Dr. Farran explained “You need to dress warmly.  I don’t want you coming down with pneumonia or some such.  Your jacket is fine, but Jess will take you to get some warmer pants too.  Second, try not to eat anything too…exotic, we don’t want any tummy troubles, okay?”  Nodding my agreement, I let Dr. Farran continue uninterrupted.  “Finally, no getting drunk and starting any bar fights, and stay away from strange females!” she joked, partially trying to gauge if I had been paying attention.  “He’d better stay away from strange females!” Jess growled with mock ferocity.  “But I like strange females.”  I sighed with equally mocking disappointment as I climbed down from the examining table.  “Well, I’ll leave that to the pair of you to work out,” Dr. Farran smiled, waving us out the door “But if you were planning on watching the ship dock I would recommend sorting it out quickly…”  “A valid point.” Jess nodded, setting a somewhat brisk pace down the corridor “You really don’t want to miss seeing the station your first time around, things are usually pretty scenic…”  “Scenic is good.” I agreed as we took a turn I wasn’t familiar with “I like scenic…” 

 “This is the observation room.” Jess said as we stepped through the door of a room I had yet to visit.  An entire wall of the long, rectangular area was made up of an enormous, curving, window which stretched upwards a distance easily twice my height.  Laughing with delight, I quickly circled the end of the long conference table dominating the center of the room and stared with wonder at the amazing view of space spread out before us.  “We don’t use this room all that often.” Jess explained, pulling a chair out from the table and sitting down next to me.  “It’s great for meetings and parties and things, but mostly the crew just uses it when they want somewhere quiet to relax by themselves.”  “This is by far the coolest thing I have ever seen!” I disagreed “I’m not sure I’ll ever leave.”  Looking around I quickly spotted the ship’s destination swinging in to view as we lined up to enter the planet’s orbit.

The blue and green orb quickly grew to encompass the whole of the window as the ship approached.  “You could almost convince yourself it was earth if you could ignore the continents being wrong…” I said, feeling too amazed to stop and feel bad about it.  “We don’t have any geological survey data for your world, so I can’t do much more than generalize, but habitable planets tend to be more than a little similar…that’s why they’re habitable.” Jess explained.  “How did they figure out what happened to my world anyway?” I wondered curiously. “If it was a burned out shell before they found it there probably wasn’t exactly anyone there to ask.”  “They backtracked your video transmissions.” Jess explained “Radio waves will essentially keep traveling forever in space, all you really have to do is move just a little bit faster and you can intercept them as you go along.”  “Ah.” I nodded before lapsing in to silence again.  The planet below us, meanwhile (or, more accurately our ship) had rotated enough that we began shifting towards the night-time side.  As the sky darkened, the clusters of lights that set out the towns and cities below became visible.  Jess and I stood in silence on the observation deck for a minute before a realization hit me: “I can still tell the difference between the land and the water…” I mused, tracing the outlines of the coasts along the window.

“Bio-luminescent algae.” Jess filled in obligingly before pointing to the very top edge of the window “And coming up right there is the station.” Craning my neck upwards, I caught a glimpse of a latticework of reinforcing bars reflected in the glass before a dull bump rumbled through the deck plates nearly made me lose my balance.  “And…We’ve arrived!”  “How come we didn’t see any other ships, it just kind of snuck up on us.”  “Most traffic comes in through facilities on the other side.” Jess explained “Since we’re a research and exploration vessel we need more specialized maintenance, so they sent us over here.  As for other ships, the flight lanes are at a higher altitude so they don’t interfere with the docking facilities.”  “Makes sense.” I agreed, following Jess back in to the ship proper.

After a long and somewhat roundabout walk we ended up in what was obviously the ship’s receiving bays, then passed through a huge pair of lock doors into what was equally obviously the station’s receiving bay.  (I know because the paint was a different color…I’ve always had a fine grasp of the obvious…)  “Well, that was a bit less dramatic than I was hoping for…” I sighed.  “Hooray! Congratulations on your arrival!” Jess laughed, ruffling my hair before dragging me towards a group of furs at the other end of the room.  I recognized Diller right away, as well as a few faces that I hadn’t been introduced to but who were familiar from the dining hall.  “As long as we’re all waiting to catch a drop shuttle down let’s see if we can’t catch up with your introductions a bit.” Jess grinned.


By the time the door in front of our group slid open I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the procession of new (though thankfully universally friendly) faces and eagerly followed Jess on to the shuttle.  It turned out to be set up along the same lines as a smallish commuter airplane, with rows of seats on either side of a main isle leading up to the front of the shuttle, where the pilot’s seat obstructed the view out of the windshield.  Feeling a little disappointed that there wasn’t going to be much to look at during the ride I followed Jess down the isle to the first pair of seats behind the pilot and settled down to try to figure out the harness-like safety belt.  “Hold on a minute and I’ll help you with your harness.” Jess instructed as she stowed her backpack in the bin under her seat “There’s a trick to getting them put on right.”

“First time down?” a cheerful female voice asked from over the top of the pilot’s seat.  “Is it that obvious?” I sighed to the shuttle in general.  “Susan?” Jess asked, sounding a bit nervous.  “Yeppers!” our pilot agreed “Since we got here during third shift the station was a bit short of on-duty pilots, and the flight chief was more than happy to let me get in some flight time on a less barge-like vessel than my usual wings!”  “Susan is our pilot.” Jess whispered, checking her harness with a sense of extreme urgency before turning her attentions to mine.  “She’s hyperactive, even by squirrel standards, and unless there’s a C/O standing behind her an absolute lunatic behind the stick!”  “I’m not that bad!” Susan replied defensively from her seat in the front.  “What about that time you broke an engine off a Mk. IV orbiter?” Jess shot back.  “That was a Sky Hauler.  Everyone knows they make some of the worst ships in the air…besides, maintenance said the strut must have been bending for a week before it broke.” Susan defended cheerfully.  “You had been flying it for a week before it broke, and it had just been inspected before Central transferred it over to…” The rest of Jess’ sentence was cut off as the docking clamps released with an ominous ‘clunk’ and a few seconds of really nifty zero-G before the shuttle began a rapid and far less nifty freefall.

As the planet’s gravity well pulled us away from the station I got another disconcerting surprise: the roof of the shuttle, which I had first thought was the typical metal I had begun to associate with ships’ interiors was actually a curving, translucent, window, which had been showing the bottom (or was it the top?) of the docking bay.  Watching a planet fall towards you like that is a really disconcerting experience, and the loud giggling coming from the pilot’s seat did nothing to relieve my trepidation.  As soon as we had vaguely cleared the dock Susan hit the thrusters, turning our unpleasant freefall into more of a demented rocket-sled ride.  I quickly decided that I’d just keep my eyes closed until we got to the scene of the crash.  It seemed nominally less scary that way.  Jess, meanwhile had slapped her paw down over my hand on our shared armrest, and judging by the amount of claws finding their way into my hand she was not enjoying herself either.  Susan, I noted, seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.  Funny what your mind latches on to when facing becoming a permanent, inseparable part of the landscape…

Then, just as I was almost getting accustomed to my circumstances, I felt an enormous reversing thrust followed by a jarring halt.  “Whew! That never quits being fun!” Susan laughed from up front.  Slowly trying to convince my eyes to open up again I felt Jess’ paw relax and heard the creaking and general hubbub of the passengers sorting themselves out.  “Are we dead yet?” I heard some fur mumble as I finally convinced my eyes to cooperate.

I found Jess to be fiddling around with my harness.  “I’m going to kill that squirrel.” She informed me cheerfully while continuing to fight with my harness.  “You managed to get this thing jammed even though it was already fastened!”  “I try to impress.” I joked weakly, still trying to get my bearings.  “Actually” she grinned lewdly “We could have a lot of fun with you helplessly tied up like this if I didn’t want out of this tin can so badly.”  “Well, maybe later…”I laughed as she finally got the harness to release “For now let’s all be thankful I went to the bathroom before we left!”  “I love your optimism.” Jess grinned as she grabbed her bag and we worked our way to the exit.  Not surprisingly quite a few passengers, myself admittedly amongst them, were looking very relieved to be back on solid ground again after the rollercoaster ride down.  “I’ll never admit it in front of her” Jess confided “but Susan really is the best pilot everyone I’ve talked to has ever seen.”  “She’s just insane.”  “There is that, yes.”  “We have an expression back home, ‘Any landing you can walk away from is a good one’.” I mused.  “”Please don’t tell that to Susan!” Jess groaned.

“You should ask her to teach you to fly next time we’re outside regulated space…” Jess mused, ignoring my horrified expression “You might enjoy it, flying is actually pretty fun.”  “You must be kidding.  Why would I willingly…” I began, only to have Jess cut me off as we reached a pair of sliding doors.  “Here we are!” she grinned “Your first steps on a new planet!”  “How quickly they grow up.” Diller laughed from behind us, gently pointing out we were blocking the door. “It seems like only yesterday we were bringing you two little spacers home from the medical bay…”  “Well, time flies when you are old and senile.” Jess joked back, waving the badger past.  “You two have fun!” he nodded before disappearing in to the crowd.  “Well, here it goes…” I nodded solemnly before hopping decisively through the door to the sidewalk on the other side.  “So, what do you think, my intrepid interstellar explorer?” Jess questioned seriously “We’re going to need a full report…”  Looking around critically, I announced that “It’s dark, and kind of smells like it may rain soon.  Aside from that, it seems safe enough.”  “That’s good to know…”

Stepping outside, Jess took my hand and began leading me down the sidewalk.  “First and foremost we’re going to get you some decent shoes.” She decided “Then I’ve got to see to a delivery that is being sent to the ship, so I was thinking we could find somewhere for you to spend the time while I’m off taking care of that.”  “I can’t go with you?” I questioned, not sure I liked the idea of being on my own in such a new environment.  “I’m sorry.” Jess sighed “I don’t exactly like it either, but it’s one of those ‘authorized personnel’ sort of places, so we really don’t have a lot of choice in the matter.”  Seeing my scowl Jess gave me a consoling hug. “We’ll find somewhere harmless and entertaining for you to hang out, I promise.”  “Well, if it can’t be avoided, then it can’t be avoided.” I shrugged in resignation. “Being by myself for a couple of hours wouldn’t be the end of the world I guess.  Come to think of it, my world already ended and truthfully I’m not all that concerned about this one as long as it doesn’t end while we’re on it…”  “Well, that’s looking at things positively.  Sort of.” Jess sighed.

Changing the subject, Jess pointed out that “One of the nice things about transportation hubs is that the stores don’t typically close, which is handy if you need to buy a pair of shoes at 03 local time.”  “Agreed.” I nodded as Jess pulled me into the store which apparently had been our destination.  Shoe stores it turned out look a lot different elsewhere: walking inside I had expected the familiar racks and wall displays.  Instead I saw several tables with built-in video screens spaced around the room.  The walls were mostly decorated by fairly standard looking advertising posters (standard, except for them being semi-holographic and displaying rotating views of the products) and a large display board of material swatches dominating the far wall.  The counter was occupied by a somewhat bored looking female bat, who immediately perked up upon our arrival.  “I’m guessing someone needs a new pair of shoes.” She grinned, sitting down across from us at one of the tables.  “That I am.” I agreed a bit nervously.  I couldn’t quite place what it was, but something about her struck me as being a bit disconcerting.  “Okay, just take off your slippers and step on to the white circle on the floor for a second…” she instructed.  Looking down as I complied, I discovered that what I had thought was a decorative motif in the floor tiles was actually made of a different material altogether, which as I stepped on to it lit up red for a few seconds before blinking and turning back to its original color.  “All done!” she explained cheerfully, waving me back to the table, where the display had activated, showing a grid of several dozen different sorts of footwear.

“So, do you already have some idea what you would like?” the saleslady asked as I stared somewhat dumbly at the tabletop.  “We’re going to need something in a space boot.” Jess explained, tapping one column on the screen, causing the others to fade away and be replaced by larger images of the remaining shoes.  “I’d rather have something that isn’t too much taller than maybe ankle high.” I decided, tapping another column, which once again expanded over the others.  “You don’t want laces either, just tabs or latches.” Jess explained, narrowing the list again “So pretty much any of these.”  Looking over the remaining selections, I poked one that looked like a slightly higher version of the hiking boots I usually wore, declaring that “I think those will do.”  Nodding, the saleslady tapped a button on her screen and the shoe pictures were replaced by an extremely thorough color palate.  “Okay, now pick two colors, one for the main color and one for the accent trim.”  Deciding against a neon green and orange motif I settled on a black on grey, which seemed a lot less retina scarring in the long run.  “And what sort of material would you prefer?” she prompted.  “He’d like hard-shell with reinforcing bands and grav-soles.” Jess interjected about the same time I started staring off into space in confusion again.  Giving Jess an appreciative nod, I watched curiously as the saleslady punched a few buttons and declared “They’ll be done in a minute or two, I can run the charge while we’re waiting…”  She and Jess moved over to the counter to take care of things, and sure enough not too long after they were done a buzzer in the back summoned the saleslady, who returned with my new boots.

Jess tossed my old slippers in her backpack while I tried on my new boots, which, after the saleslady had explained how to work the latch closures, fit extremely well.  After thanking the saleslady for her help, we headed back outside and on to our next stop.  “So, where to next?” I asked as I followed Jess down the sidewalk.  “Well, assuming that you don’t accidentally walk in to something while you’re admiring your boots…” Jess teased gently, causing me to look up in time to narrowly avoid a lamp post.  “Point taken.” I sighed.  “Seriously though.”  Sighing a little awkwardly Jess reminded me that “I still have to take care of some things for my department back on the ship, remember?  So while I’m doing that we are going to need to find somewhere for you to entertain yourself for a bit.”  “Can’t I go with you?” I sniffed, sounding a bit whiney, even to myself “I’ll stay out of the way or sit in the waiting room or something, really.”  “We went over this before, remember?” Jess refused gently, sounding pained to have to do it.  I guess I’d not thought about it from her perspective, but she obviously didn’t like the situation any more than I did.  Quickly deciding that I would feel pretty bad if I accidentally made her get upset about the whole thing, I did my best to put a positive spin on it.  “If that’s the way it must be, then can we at least find somewhere fun?” I shrugged, doing my best to grin about it.  “I was planning on finding a local StudyPlace branch to drop you off at.” She explained, doing her best to keep a straight face “I thought we could sign you up for a remedial math tutoring session, see if we can get you caught up a bit educationally…”  “That sounds good.” I agreed “Or I could go catch a movie instead…” 

“I thought about that actually.” Jess explained “But I wasn’t sure how that would work out logistically since I don’t know how long I will end up taking, and meeting up afterwards could prove to be a bit of a challenge.”  Seeing my somewhat disappointed expression she hastily continued “We are, however, in luck.  And once again the all-hours spaceport shall provide!”  Stopping in front of a gaudy but quite busy building, Jess led me through the entrance.  As the doors slid open they revealed an interior that looked like some sort of a cross between a mall, a casino, a truck stop, and a carnival.  “I present to you the entertainment complex.”  “I…see…” I nodded, very obviously overwhelmed at this point “It’s really…something.”  Ruffling my hair, Jess couldn’t help but giggle a little.  “It’s not going to bite, I promise.”  Dragging me to the food court (conveniently located right next to the entrance, presumably to make it easy for furs in a hurry to get in and out) and plopped us down at an empty table overlooking the rest of the complex.

“Okay, against my better judgment I’m going to leave you here while I run my errands, but we need to get a few ground rules laid down first.” Jess started out severely. “I set you up a banking account and put some credits in it, but they are going to have to last you until I get back, so don’t waste them.”  Handing me a little plastic card, she briefly explained how to swipe it and then verify my identity with a fingerprint before continuing her lecture.  “I don’t want you getting any snacks while I’m gone since you weren’t paying attention when Dr. Farran was explaining what you can and can’t eat…and stick to the video games.  If you wander around in the gambling hall you will end up getting yourself in to trouble.”  “Yes mommy.” I agreed somewhat halfheartedly.  “I won’t be gone too long, you’ll be fine, really.” Jess reassured me gently.  Then, after patting me on the head she was on her way.


Receiving the new equipment took quite a bit longer than Jess had expected, and she was a little bit worried as she went to locate Nick in the entertainment complex’s food court.  Eventually she found him at an out of the way table where he was industriously attempting to balance a straw on end.

“I’m back!” Jess grinned, taking a seat across from me at the table.  “Did everything go well?” I questioned, brushing aside my pile of straws.  “Not too bad.” She shrugged “It’s never perfect, but it could have been worse.  What about you, did my little guy enjoy himself?”  “Mostly.” I nodded, doing my best to be evasive without sounding like I was being evasive.  “You’re looking pretty guilty for someone who has been a good little boy.” Jess observed, tapping at the table vendor, which promptly produced a drink of some sort.  “What have you been getting yourself in to?”  “I kind of found my way in to the gambling hall.” I admitted, doing my best to look appropriately sorry.  “Well, at least you were just losing credits.” Jess nodded, looking relieved “I was worried you had found the snacks and made yourself sick.”  “Nope.” I agreed, relieved to be getting off the hook with just a mildly reproachful look “Just that game with the spinning ball thing.”  “So how badly did it go?” Jess sighed patiently.  “Well, it was fun for a while, but then everyone quit wanting to play with me.” I shrugged “I’m not sure why they were all doing so badly, I just kind of watched it really hard and sort of ‘felt’ where it would stop.  It really isn’t hard at all if you concentrate.”

“Hmm…” Jess nodded, humoring me “How much did my little guy win then?”  “I’m not really sure.” I sighed, sliding my card across the tabletop to her “I can’t read the text on the terminal menus, so I couldn’t figure out how to check the balances.”  “That’s a problem we will have to work on.” Jess agreed as she fed my card in to the slot on the table and pushed a few buttons.  Taking a look at the numbers on the screen, Jess did a double-take. “How did you…” she began before trailing off. “I mean you would have to have been consistently winning most of the time I was gone to work up a balance like this…”  “Yeppers.” I agreed as I snagged her unattended drink, not really understanding what her confusion was all about.  It really was a simple game, one just had to guess where the ball would end up when it stopped.  “Short of some sort of precognitive ability…never mind.  We should probably leave, the management can’t possibly like you after that…”

A short tactical withdrawal later found Jess and I checking in to our hotel room, which to my surprise could easily be described as ‘excessively large’.  “This place is huge!” I marveled as I wandered around the three room suite.  “What did you do, get the biggest room they had?”  “No, actually.” Jess explained, grinning at my enthusiasm. “They’re all like this one, if not larger, at spaceport hotels.  The furs that run them discovered years ago that when spacers have some down time outside the tin cans they almost universally want to spend their time in places as close to a polar opposite of their ship’s quarters as they can get.”  “Understandable.” I nodded.  As I thought it over for a bit I decided that it should have been obvious.  If you spend weeks or even months on end living in a place where space was at an absolute premium not being able to touch more than one wall at a time becomes a very attractive feature of a hotel.  Plus, having a bathtub that could easily be mistaken for an inland sea is a nice touch as well…  “It’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference.” I joked “A little extra space here and there, a steak the size of a toilet seat…”  “Is that really the best you can do in the subtlety department?” Jess teased

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”  I disagreed.  Flopping down on the bed, I stretched out, doing my best to use up all the available space as I worked out the last little post-landing stresses.  “Well, considering that you promised me earlier that you hadn’t had any illicit snack foods I find that a little hard to believe.”  “Okay, maybe I do have a vague idea what you’re talking about.” I conceded, scooting over a bit to give Jess somewhere to sit down.  Taking advantage of my offer she sat down next to me with a little sigh of relief.  “I didn’t realize how jittery I still was from the ride down.” She mused, sounding more than a little bit cranky.  “Want to sit down for a bit before we see about food?” I offered, sitting up and scratching her behind the ears.  “Mmm… If you don’t mind…” Jess nodded, obviously enjoying the attention.  “I’m not opposed…” I agreed.

Looking her over critically, I decided that Jess really did look like she could use a little bit of down time.  I guess that no matter where one is or what one does getting run down by work tends to be a constant.  “My turn to be the big one for a while.” I decided aloud, undoing Jess’ boots and setting them aside.  “I can…” she began to argue halfheartedly.  “Hush, you.” I disagreed firmly.  “Okay then.” She yawned, shrugging out of her jumpsuit and tossing it to me.  I couldn’t help but stare a little bit as she snuggled down in to bed in only her underwear, apparently having decided that she wasn’t going to bother changing in to pajamas for just a nap.  Catching me staring, Jess stuck out her tongue and laughed as I reddened in embarrassment.  “You and your modesty.”  Rolling my eyes at her, I undid my boots and jumpsuit, then turned out the lights and snuggled up next to her under the covers.  I had left the curtains open, and the room remained bathed in a gentle glow coming through the full-length window that made up the room’s outside facing wall.  All in all it created a rather peaceful sort of mood, not at all harsh or invasive as I would have expected.  Snuggling up against Jess’ back, I rested my chin on her head and wrapped my arms around her, sighing happily.   Not surprisingly Jess’ back was really soft and warm against my tummy, and I soon found myself drowsing as I stared out the window.

One of the flight lanes to the spaceport apparently passed over our hotel, I discovered as I watched a steady stream of little lights scurried by far overhead on their way to parts unknown.  “They almost look like little fireflies.” I thought to myself, not bothering to stifle a yawn.  I never would have thought I would someday find watching traffic soothing, but time very rapidly slipped away from me, only catching my attention again when my tummy made itself known.  “If we’re going to go find something to eat we probably ought to go now before it gets any later.” I suggested.  Not receiving a response, I realized that Jess was sound asleep.  “Ah well…” I whispered to myself “It will keep until the morning.”  Snuggling a little deeper in to the blankets I resigned myself to it being bedtime, and sooner than I would have expected was quite thoroughly asleep myself.


“You should have woken me up, I didn’t mean to starve you!” someone chided, interrupting what had been up until that point a rather enjoyable nap.  I never particularly feel like waking up, and since today wasn’t an exception I did my best to ignore the attention being focused on me.  Unfortunately, there is really only so far one can retreat on a bed before succumbing to the inevitable force of gravity, and before it was all over I found myself staring up at Jess’ amused expression from an unwanted piece of accidentally conquered floor.  “I meant to do that.” I assured Jess as I extracted myself from the mess of bedding which had followed me on my unscheduled departure.  “If you say so.” She shrugged, helping me up.  “Thanks.” I sighed, sitting back down until I was sure all the cobwebs had found their way out of my head.  “You were tired and I wasn’t really all that enthusiastic about the idea of getting up again myself.” I explained “Besides, you’re really cuddly.”  “I can’t get mad at you for being considerate, can I?” Jess grumbled as she got dressed.  “That would be considered bad form, yes.”  “Breakfast first then.” She decided “Then, depending on how long that takes I was thinking we could visit a beach I read about back on the ship.”  “I hardly think breakfast will take all day…” I laughed, looking for signs Jess was joking.  Oddly enough, by all appearances she was quite serious.  Seeing my confusion, Jess explained that “It’s most of the way across the planet, and it won’t be daytime on that side for a couple of hours still.”

Nodding in understanding, I did my best to get dressed as quickly as I could.  Aside from being hungry, I was also eager to get out and do some exploring.  Following Jess to the elevator, we were soon pillaging the buffet table in the hotel restaurant.  (‘Pillage’ was probably a good choice of words: between Jess and I a sizable amount of the available food disappeared in a very short amount of time…)  After we had put away enough food to last for a while, Jess looked at her watch and decided that “We have a couple of hours before the sun comes up in Astarn province, so why don’t we wander around the bazaar for a while first?  Port shopping districts are always worth a look, you never know what you might find.”  “Sounds good.” I agreed “I have to find something patently ridiculous to buy.  I’d hate to disappoint Diller by coming back empty handed…”  “I’m sure we can find something.” Jess laughed “Not to put any undue pressure on you, but the crew usually takes an interest in what new members haul back their first few trips.  Sort of a community anthropological study of sorts.”  “Sounds like an excuse to be nosy to me.” I grumbled, absentmindedly trying to remove a bit of some kind of rather fibrous fruit (which looked like a pear but tasted like a bell pepper) from between my teeth.  “Polite society prefers you don’t pick your fangs with the silverware.” Jess chided, reaching across the table and confiscating my fork before finishing up the last of her breakfast.  “Yes, you are a rather touchy lot, aren’t you?” I grumbled.

“Anyway…” Jess sighed, changing the subject as we found our way back outside “Do you have anything particular you would like to start out with shopping-wise?”  “Not really.” I decided “I shall bow to your superior experience and judgment in the matter of strange alien impulse buys.”  “A wise choice.” She laughed as she led us down a side street and in to the shopping district.  It turned out that Jess’ description of things as a ‘space bazaar’ wasn’t exactly accurate, instead it far more resembled some of the open air malls I had visited in the past: a large and well manicured park-like area bordered by small shops and interspersed here and there with kiosks selling a variety of odds and ends.  “You look a little bit disappointed…” Jess observed.  “A little.” I admitted “I was kind of expecting dingy back alleyways lined with tents and shacks run by mysterious and disreputably shady characters.”  “Nick, Nick, Nick…” Jess laughed “Nobody uses tents any more.” “I guess.” I sighed theatrically as we wandered down a path at random.

Nothing really caught my attention for quite a while, I guess partially because I didn’t know what the stuff most of the shops sold was for, and the things I could identify were mostly clothing of one sort or another.  I was on the verge of completely losing interest in the whole endeavor when a strangely somber looking shop caught my attention.  Scurrying over to the storefront’s window I eagerly looked over a stunning array of decorative crystal and glass figures on display.  “Ooh, shiny!” I giggled as Jess caught up to me.  “Yes they are.”  She nodded.  “We can go inside, but you have to keep your hands in your pockets, okay?”  “My jumpsuit doesn’t have pockets…well except for that little ID card pocket on the sleeve.” I observed as we went inside.  “We need to buy you some pants next.” Jess grumbled “Just don’t break anything, okay?”  The inside of the shop was richly appointed in dark wood and brass with a thick carpet so red it was almost purple.  Throughout the middle of the room a series of carved pillars held larger pieces while shelves and countertops along the walls offered smaller examples, with everything being bathed in bright spotlights that never really seemed to come from anywhere, no matter how hard I tried to find their source.  The highly vaulted ceiling was also being put to good use displaying thirty or forty intricately cut crystal chandeliers.  As I bounded around the store enthusiastically I could tell that Jess wasn’t comfortable being around such a large collection of fragile and expensive things.  Making a conscious effort to slow down a bit I could see her eventually begin to relax as time passed without me damaging anything.

Having as short an attention span as I tend to there were quite a few things that I thought I would like to have for our cabin, but as I was starting to try to make a decision something off to one side caught my eye.  Sitting on a plainly made silver stand was a two foot glass sphere illuminated from within by gently glowing colored crystals of various shapes and sizes.  As I watched, intrigued, it became apparent that they were slowly moving and changing as if floating in a thick liquid of some sort.  Watching the sculpture had a relaxing, almost hypnotic effect, and I decided right away that it would make a truly fascinating nightlight. 


“Well, it was a bit expensive, but I must admit it’s really neat.” Jess admitted as I lugged my purchase out of the store as we resumed our shopping.  “I’m just glad I’m not the one carrying it!”  “I think I need a backpack.” I grumbled, already developing the telltale little muscle twinges foreshadowing a rough evening.  Apparently my body had decided that in its opinion I wasn’t anywhere near recovered enough yet to be hauling a large and heavy chunk of crystal around for any length of time.  “It couldn’t hurt.” Jess agreed “Everyone ends up needing luggage at one point or another.  Though it would probably be better to finish up getting you the clothing you will need before you pick one out…besides, it will give you something to do while I get you a few things for later!”  “I’m not sure whether I should like the sound of that or be terrified of it.” I teased playfully as Jess led me to a cluster of shops we had passed by earlier.  “Well, I think I’ll leave you in suspense for the time being.” She grinned back.

Deciding to leave things at that, Jess herded me towards a section of the mall which was mostly made up of clothing stores directed towards males.  “Not that I would mind being able to change clothes without having to do laundry, but I kind of thought that we were issued clothes for shipboard use… I don’t think I’ve ever seen crewmembers wearing anything but these things.” I questioned, indicating the jumpsuit I had been making due with since my arrival.  “Yes and no.” Jess explained “It’s actually a lot more complicated than it has any right to be.  Basically they are required but we have a certain amount of leeway in selecting them, and when we are off duty.  Plus when we hit the ground on leave we can wear whatever we want.”  “You’re right.” I grumbled “It doesn’t make much sense.”  “Just use your best judgment.  As long as it’s relatively practical it will be fine.”

After loaning me her watch (which thankfully was an old analog design that I could ‘read’ without being able to read) Jess turned me loose with instructions to stay out of trouble, not wander too far away, and not even think about being late meeting her back here for lunch.  I was feeling more than a little grumpy about the vagueness of Jess’ ‘appropriate dress’ explanation as I started hunting down somewhere that sold backpacks, and was contemplating buying the least practical, most gaudy pieces of clothing I could find just to be contrary, but ended up writing off the idea as kind of pointless.  Eventually I stumbled across a store that sold luggage and travel accessories, more by chance than any sort of coherent wandering, and once I had a convenient way of carrying my crystal ball thingy my mood improved markedly.  The store clerk seemed a little bit put off that I wanted something as primitive as a backpack rather than some wheeled monstrosity, or, say, a forklift, and I was more than a little relieved to get my errand over with so I could get back to my wandering.  Casual clothing proved to be markedly more difficult, though admittedly my lack of interest really didn’t help my attention span all that much.

Unlike with footwear, clothing was apparently something that one picked off of racks and were expected to try on.  Add to that the huge variety of sizes and shapes they came in, and my inability to read the labels, and the whole endeavor was largely doomed from the start.  “No wonder Jess wanted to duck out on this one.” I griped as I was debating whether the whole mess was really worth the trouble.  While I was growing inclined to just blow the whole thing off, I felt kind of obligated to at least get something to wear while the rest of my clothes were being washed.  Perseverance eventually paid off in the end, and I found myself walking with a collection of things that for the most part almost could be mistaken for fitting properly, and directions to a shop nearby that did alterations while you waited.  Looking at my borrowed watch (I’d need to end up getting my own, but I decided it would be one of those things that I should get Jess’ advice on) and decided that I had plenty of time to get my new clothes fixed up before I met Jess for lunch.  I guess I was probably just being stubborn but I really wanted to show her that I could at least handle some simple tasks on my own without messing them up.

The only problem was it turned out that ‘directions’ weren’t one of those simple things I could manage.  I could probably make a case for it being because of the thick accent of the cat who gave me directions to the tailor, but on the other hand I never did have any kind of decent sense of direction.  Regardless of where the fault lay, I ended up wandering around in a seedier part of the shopping center, quite a distance away from anything even vaguely resembling a tailor.  Deciding that I was going to have to swallow my pride and ask someone I examined my options, which consisted of something that looked a lot like a nail salon and a business which didn’t seem inclined to go out of the way to explain to the illiterate what it was.  Opening door number two, I stepped inside and couldn’t help grinning widely.  “Whoa, score!  Interstellar gun shop!”

Aside from the fact I didn’t have the foggiest idea what any of the products were, the store in general had a really comfortable familiarity about it, with racks and cases lining the wall and various random bits and pieces stacked in corners and on top of whatever flat surfaces were available.  Meanwhile, as I looked around the wolf seated in a chair behind the counter was looking me over in a manner which would have made me decidedly nervous if I weren’t happily preoccupied with more interesting matters.  “Can I help you?” he finally questioned, obviously not sure what to make of me.  “What do you have in a laser gun?” I grinned enthusiastically.  “I don’t stock hard-mounted equipment, but I can order pretty much whatever you’d like.” He shrugged.  Recognizing the confused expression of the novice, he sighed before explaining.  “Lasers require a significant power source so they have to be mounted to a vehicle of some sort.  All the hand-held stuff is going to be projectile based of one sort or another.”  “Aww…” I sighed, visions of a toy out of a science fiction movie quickly evaporating.  “Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of other goodies around here!” the wolf laughed, waving expansively around the store.  “Well, what would you recommend then?” I asked, obviously still a little bit disappointed. 

“That depends on where you are planning on using it.”  The wolf questioned, dragging himself out of his chair with a sigh.  “On a spaceship probably.” I explained after giving it a bit of thought “Maybe somewhere we hit dirt for a while.”  “So nothing that requires oxygen or a pressurized atmosphere to function.”  He explained  “Which leaves you with two general choices, magnetic repulsion or a plasma based weapon.  A plasma rifle is exactly what it sounds like: it superheats a copper cartridge and fires the results. Somewhat unreliable, and has a very limited range in extremely cold environments.  Like space.  Magnetic repulsion on the other hand uses magnetic fields to accelerate a high density metallic bullet to extremely high velocities.”  “Basically a miniature rail gun.” I nodded, somewhat familiar with the theory.  “Coil gun actually.” The wolf corrected “The rail gun concept was a dead end, the parts wore out too rapidly and had to be constantly replaced.  There’s no actual physical contact in a coil gun, so there isn’t anything to wear out over time.”  “That sounds like the way to go then.” I agreed as he directed me to the proper counter.

A short while later I was happily leaving the shop with a small but rather nifty little sidearm in a padded wooden display box carefully tucked away towards the bottom of my backpack of new clothes.  I was pretty sure that Jess wouldn’t exactly approve of my new toy, so for convenience’s sake I decided it would be best not to mention it until we had left orbit and it was too late for her to make me return it.  There was a fair chance I was going to find myself in timeout as a result of it, but I did my best to put that out of my mind until it actually came up.

Checking Jess’ watch I discovered that it was getting pretty close to the time we were supposed to meet up for lunch, so calling an end to my impulse buying for the day I made tracks back to our designated rendezvous point.  Jess had arrived before I did, also laden down with a selection of shopping bags.  “Well, I see you made it back okay.” She laughed.  “Barely.” I agreed, giving her a hug “So where to next?”  “It’s almost time for us to catch our shuttle.” Jess explained “We can drop our bags off at the transit station, and they’ll run them up to the ship for us.  Then its off for more fun and adventure.  At least until we have to get back to the hotel for bedtime.”  “Excellent.”  I agreed in my best evil genius voice.  Jess didn’t get the reference unfortunately, and rather than getting a laugh I ended up having to convince her I wasn’t choking on something.  Which is more than a little hard on the ego, but at least I could console myself with the fact she was concerned with my wellbeing.


I was pleased to discover that the local transit system was efficient enough to be running on time, and even though I was initially more than a little hesitant to get onboard, the scenic views of the islands and beaches we passed over quickly distracted me from my concern.  (I get the feeling that our shuttle trip down from the ship was going to haunt me for quite some time to come...)  “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Jess observed, looking over my shoulder out the window.  “Many things are, from a distance.” I agreed.  “A gas giant or light reflecting off ice in an asteroid field are pretty too.  Doesn’t mean you should rush out and visit…”  “That’s awfully pessimistic of you.”  “I’m feeling kind of achy.” I sighed “I guess it’s making me a little cranky.”  “It’s nothing serious, is it?” Jess questioned quickly, looking a little concerned.  “No, I don’t think so.  It just probably wasn’t the best idea in the world for me to lug that giant space marble around with me all over the place earlier.”  “Silly boy.” Jess sighed “You’re going to have to promise me you’ll keep closer track of things or else we will have to go back to the ship early…”  “I will.” I nodded before we lapsed in to a comfortable silence until the shuttle began its decent.

“Here we go again.” I grimaced, involuntarily clutching the armrest.  “This one won’t be so bad.” Jess assured me, probably in the hopes of avoiding any costly stress-induced damage to the shuttle.  “I’ll believe you when we are on the ground, thanks.” I disagreed.  Jess just put her paw over my hand reassuringly, giving up on convincing me that my trepidation was unwarranted.  She was right of course, and I really couldn’t help feeling a bit sheepish a short while later as we walked out of the shuttle terminal, nowhere near as dead as I had anticipated being.  Which was nice really since it was shaping up to be a really pleasant morning to be outside, and being gooshed tends to put a damper on one’s enjoyment of such things.  “Onwards to the beach!” Jess declared, taking the lead for the relatively short walk down to the shore.

The beach turned out to be the idyllic stereotype I used to see in travel brochures back home: crystal clear water meeting an undisturbed expanse of pristine sand punctuated occasionally by a shell or this planet’s version of a palm tree: a short bush-like plant with leaves very similar to a fern.  There was also, I noticed approvingly, a distinct lack of anyone else in sight.  “What do you think?” Jess grinned, seeing my appreciative expression.  “Well, I guess it will have to do.” I grumbled, feigning mildly disappointed apathy.  “Brat.” Jess accused, cuffing me gently.  “It’s nice.” I conceded as I helped Jess lay out a large towel in the shade of a cluster of the odd little local trees.  “All we need is some see-through beer and a lime.”  “What’s a lime?” Jess asked curiously as she settled down in the little spot we had made.  “What’s a lime?” I repeated indignantly “There aren’t any limes here? You poor, deprived fur.”  “Yes, but what exactly is a lime?”  “A lime” I explained “is this odd, sour green thing that one puts in a variety of  interesting  consumables.”  “A sour green thing.”  Jess stated, obviously unimpressed “I’m not convinced I’m missing anything…”  “Well you are.” I sulked, feeling somewhat obligated to stick up for limes everywhere.

“How about a swim?” Jess asked, steering the conversation back to less random grounding.  “I suppose we ought to.” I joked “Seeing as how that was the entire point of the excursion…”  Rooting around in her backpack, Jess eventually produced a swimsuit for me.  “This should do.  I picked it up for you while I was running my errands earlier.”  Taking it, I waited awkwardly for a few seconds before she realized the issue and turned the other way with a sigh.  “I swear if you don’t start getting over this whole self-consciousness thing I’m going to parade you around the ship naked until you get the point.” She grumbled as I quickly changed in to my suit.  “No you won’t, you’re far too nice for that.”  “And don’t think it doesn’t get on my nerves now and then…”

Tentatively walking out in to the surf, I discovered that the water was actually quite mild, just a few degrees below body temperature.  “Oh! That’s nice!” I grinned wading out a little ways and sitting down in water about up to my shoulders.  “Yep.” Jess agreed, joining me “And the oceans here are freshwater too.  I really hate swimming in saltwater, when you get out and start to dry off you always end up with kind of a salty crust all through your fur, which not only itches but is a real pain to get washed out later.”  “Doesn’t sand do the same thing?” I questioned.  “A little, but sand is pretty easy to brush out once it dries.”

Jess and I spent an hour or so romping around in the surf until I started getting a little bit tired and she declared it time for a break.  Settling down on the towels she had brought, I stretched out and closed my eyes to try to take a little nap while she dug out her electronic tablet to catch up on some of her reading.  “I hope I’m not spoiling things any…” I asked, yawning a little.  “Nope.” Jess assured me “I was getting bored with swimming anyway, and some quiet outdoors time will be nice.”  “Okay.” I nodded as we drifted off into a comfortable silence.  The warmth of the sun and gentle sound of the waves proved to be dangerously relaxing, and before any time at all I was sound asleep.

When I woke up again I discovered that several hours had passed, Jess having apparently been quite happily occupied with her reading.  The planet’s sun had made a good bit of progress on its journey to its opposite horizon, though it was by no means dusk.  “Well,” I yawned as I stretched out a bit “That was nice.  Did you make some progress getting caught up on things?”  “Somewhat.” She agreed cheerfully.  “To be honest with you I actually took a nap as well, I just woke up before you did.”  “No work ethic.” I sighed, giving her a poorly faked look of disappointment “What would our crewmates think?”  “Probably that you are doing a poor job of watching out for me, letting me take work along planet-side.”  “I know, I’m horrible.” I agreed, plucking the reader from her paws and glaring at the incomprehensible symbols on its screen.  “The stupid thing is mocking me too.  I ought to chuck it out there into the ocean, that would teach it.”  “A little bit of water wouldn’t even faze it, these things are practically indestructible.”  Jess informed me, taking the reader back and tossing it in to her bag.”  “Spoilsport.”

“I think I can make it up to you…” Jess teased as she shooed me off the blanket and packed it back up before beckoning me a ways further down the path we had walked in on.  “Is that so?” I asked incredulously “You should know I take an inability to damage or destroy equipment as a grave personal affront, and one which will not be easy to redress…”  “Well…” Jess teased, stretching the word out in to about a dozen syllables.  Her timing was a little bit off, I noticed in amusement, and she very nearly ran out of breath before we rounded a bend in the path which revealed her big surprise.  “Ooh…!” I giggled enthusiastically looking over a very sizable playground.  The first thing which struck me was the sheer size of it, covering what I could only guess to be the better part of an acre with pretty much every sort of amusement I could imagine spread across a multicolor ground covering of some sort. (I guess gravel is a bit passé in a society where space travel is commonplace.)  “Dibs on the swings!” I declared, taking off at the best pace I could manage without my various physical unpleasantries being more vocal than they already were.

To my great surprise, as soon as my feet hit the rubbery surface of the playground I found myself flying through the air.  “What the…” I began, feeling perplexed.  “It’s a low gravity playground!” Jess yelled as she caught up to me.  “Well, that would explain how I suddenly learned how to fly!” I laughed gleefully.  Taking a few experimental little hops I determined that with a very minimal amount of effort I could easily jump several feet off the ground.  “This is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”  “I thought you might say something like that.” Jess laughed, gingerly stepping onto the playground surface and following me to where I had scrambled up the playscape.  “Get back here, you.” Jess instructed firmly “Before I turn you loose you have to promise me you won’t overexert yourself, okay?”  “Fine, but only for you.” I agreed, giving up the playscape in exchange for the swings by way of a compromise.

“You needn’t look so cheerful…” Jess joked.  “Huh?” I questioned before realizing that I had developed a rather dour expression.  “Oh.  Right.” I sighed “It’s just that I’m getting kind of tired of operating with limited capacity.  I’m ready to get back to feeling normal again.”  “Well, you are getting better.” Jess pointed out as she sat down a few swings down from where I was working at getting airborne.  “True enough I guess.” I agreed.  Swings make it quite difficult to stay annoyed about much of anything and I was quickly preoccupied with more cheerful pursuits.  One thing I had always wondered about on the playgrounds back home was if it would be possible to make it up over the top and do a complete loop around the pole.  Gravity, probably to my benefit, never seemed to want to cooperate, and anything too much greater than 180 degrees always remained tantalizingly out of my reach.  Intellectually, I was well aware of the fact that trying it in greatly reduced gravity would be a ‘Really Bad Idea(TM)’ and yet I found myself toying with the idea of seeing how it would work out as my swing slowly crept up over the horizontal.  Just as it looked like I might manage it, the swing’s cables hit a point where they were stopped from going any further.  Noticing my semi-confused look of disappointment, Jess rolled her eyes and explained that “They have a little arrestor up by the pole to keep you from being able to do that.  Which is good because apparently you don’t have the sense not to on your own…”

“You do realize that the concept of a ‘bad idea’ is a cultural judgment, and that your commentary about my perceived ‘lack of sense’ is just serving to illustrate your rampant insensitivity.” I explained loftily.  “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?” Jess laughed, with an exasperated expression on her muzzle.  “I’m full of wisdom, yes.” I agreed cheerfully.  “Oh, you’re full of something all right…”  “That was somewhat less than charitable.” I tisked before adding contemplatively “Though I really can’t argue the point.”  “Good of you to admit that.”  Sticking out my tongue at Jess playfully, I decided to be a showoff since the playground was keeping physics from rearing its ugly head.  The next time the swing reached the apex of its route I jumped, managing to do a rather impressive summersault on my way to the ground.  I even managed to stick the landing, and for a second it seemed like my little display had worked out pretty well.  Right up to the point where I realized it hadn’t.  Jess, meanwhile, seemed more inclined to focus on my pained expression rather than the impressiveness of my trick.  “I think I broke something…”


“I thought you were going to keep an eye on him.” Dr. Ferran reproached as Jess helped me hobble in to the medical bay.  “I tried, but he doesn’t make it easy.” Jess sighed as I flopped down on one of the exam beds.  “Okay, I’m willing to admit that maybe that wasn’t one of my best ideas.” I conceded “But in exchange I demand that you two quit trying to make me feel guilty about it.”  “Well, you should.” Dr. Farran accused severely “It’s not nice to get poor Jess all stressed out like that.”  “She doesn’t look stressed, maybe mildly concerned…” I argued halfheartedly.  “Look at her tail.” Dr. Farran explained, seamlessly shifting over to lecture mode “Canids express a lot of body language through it, see how its fur is fluffed up and how the end twitches every now and then?  Those are signs of agitation or excitement…”  “Do you mind?” Jess grumbled, self consciously pulling her tail behind her “I’m right here…”  “Aww…” I nodded sympathetically patting the bed beside me.  Sitting down next to me, Jess put her arm around my waist as I snuggled in to her shoulder.  “I’ll forgive you, but next time you have a bad idea you need to consult with me before you get all impulsive.”

Dr Farran meanwhile was fiddling around with an odd little gizmo that I was pretty sure I had seen before but couldn’t quite place where.  Staring curiously I watched as she put a little disk on my knee then turned back to one of her computer terminals.  Shortly afterwards I began to feel a warmness radiating from the device on my knee, followed rapidly by a unpleasant sort of stinging sensation.  “That’s the tail fixer!” I declared, finally placing it.  “Yep.” Dr. Farran nodded, not taking her eyes from the terminal “Though I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described like that before…”  “Is it supposed to sting?” I asked, sounding more whiney than I would have liked.  “Typically.” Jess nodded, hugging me.  “Just bear with it, it usually doesn’t take all that long to get everything fixed up.  Dr. Farran should be done pretty soon.”

“So did you two have a good time groundside?” Dr. Farran asked, trying to move the conversation away from my rapidly increasing discomfort.  “Let me guess.  Besides the playground you went to the beach, did some shopping, and…hmm…something else…”  “How can you tell?” I asked curiously.  “I can smell you.” The collie laughed, tapping her muzzle. “I smell ocean, and plastics from the shopping center, and a sort of chemical odor I can’t quite place…”  “…which is why you are getting a bath after we are finished here.” Jess finished.  “You probably need one too.” I grumbled a bit defensively.  “Yep, me too.” She agreed.  Dr. Farran just grinned, obviously amused by the two of us.  “So did you find anything to bring  back?” She asked “That is the big question of the occasion, isn’t it?”  “I bought a sparkly lava lamp thingy and a space death ray.” I nodded, trying to sound cute enough not to elicit further questioning.  “That’s nice.” Dr. Farran agreed, before being distracted by an insistent beeping from her computer console.  “And we’re done!” she declared, waving regally.  “I thought there would be a little more to it than that…” I mused as the collie removed the pieces of her equipment from my knee.  “Nope, but that doesn’t mean you should make a habit of this, okay?”

After we wrapped things up in the medical bay, Jess drug me back to our quarters, declaring that “The next stop is going to be a bath!”  “Probably not a bad idea.” I agreed, flopping down on our bed as she went to start the water running.  “Take your boots off first!” Jess corrected from the bathroom “You don’t want to get the bed dirty!”  “Sorry.” I sighed contritely as I sat back up and fumbled open the tabs.  “…And stow them, don’t just toss them in a corner!”  “I was going to.” I agreed, lying less than convincingly as I drug myself out of what I had hoped was going to be a comfortable little spot.  My storage space wasn’t exactly brimming over with personal possessions, and I was just beginning to toss the boots in to the first convenient drawer when I felt Jess tapping me on the shoulder.  When I turned around with a little start I found myself nose to muzzle with a rather…corrective…expression.  “I keep forgetting that you haven’t sat through the ship orientation lectures.” Jess sighed.  “The short version of the lecture goes something like this: since space is at a premium shipboard the powers that be invented the personal storage unit.  The idea being that it’s sort of a horrible mutation of a wardrobe, desk and bookshelf.  Shoes go in the little cubby in the bottom, then you have a couple of wide dresser drawers, on top of which is the two cabinet halves.”  Opening up the two doors theatrically, she revealed a tall space with a clothes rod and collection of hangers on the right and a series of shelves and smaller drawers on the left.  “Coats, dress uniforms and the like get hung up on the right side, and the left is for random personal items.”  “What was the first part for again?” I joked as I put my boots away in their designated space.  “Don’t be a brat…bathwater!” Jess realized, dashing back in to the bathroom which was shortly emitting some really scathing commentary.

Deciding that I should leave well enough alone as Jess dealt with the minor flood in the bathroom I found our packages from planet-side neatly stacked in the corner of the room, and decided I might as well put my things away in my ‘horrible mutant’ furniture.  After stowing my new clothing (and hiding my semi-impulsive space gun in the back of the bottom drawer) I found myself a little bit annoyed that I hadn’t bought more stuff so I could fill up all the little spots.  Remembering something else I gently unpacked the salvage crate the crew had found with me.  It was a little bit depressing rehashing it again, but the crate was a lot bigger than it needed to be, and there really wasn’t any good reason to leave the thing taking up so much space in the room.  Plus, it was a good bet that I would end up breaking a toe on the thing stumbling around in the dark half awake and looking for the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Wasting Dr. Farran’s time patching up my stupidity-induced injuries constantly would probably eventually run her out of patience, and it’s never good to have one’s designated medic annoyed with you.  While Dr. Farran struck me as completely the wrong type to be that sort of mean, my previous experiences with various health care providers had left me firmly convinced that nothing exists which can not be just a little more unpleasant if one’s practitioner wishes it to be.

When she found her way back from the recovery efforts in our bathroom Jess gave me a pleased look when she discovered that I had neatly packed everything away already, including hanging my light sphere up in the far corner of the room.  “It looks good there.” She decided. “Now on a completely unrelated note, who is ready for their bath?”  “That would be me I guess.” I nodded, stripping down and settling into the comfortably warm water with a sigh of contentment.  “Actually I suppose technically it’s both of us…”  “Only so as not to insult your sensibilities.” Jess joked.  “Good of you.” I agreed seriously as she efficiently scrubbed me down then helped me rinse off.  “All clean!” she declared.  “Your turn then.” I agreed, getting out and toweling off enough to avoid soaking everything around me as Jess found her way into the tub.  “You know…” I commented after spending considerably longer washing her fur than it had taken to get me clean “As soon as we finish up getting you rinsed off here we could have a nice, enjoyable sit in front of the air dryer…”  “That sounds like a great idea.” Jess agreed “Though it doesn’t take much to convince me to sit in front of the dryer…”  “Comfy warm air is good, yes.” I agreed as I finally convinced myself that I’d gotten the last of the sand and other miscellaneous beach detritus rinsed away.  Then after  motioning for Jess to sit on the edge of the bathtub I launched in to the rather formidable task of toweling as much excess water out of her fur as I could manage.

“That’s probably good enough.” She decided, helping me round up our (at this point) rather large pile of damp towels and toss them into the laundry chute.  “Lucky then.” I nodded “Because that was about the last of the dry ones…”  The air dryer was an interesting device I had discovered by accident while fumbling around for a light switch a few nights back.  Sort of a cross between a fur dryer and a climate control system, it consisted of several panels of floor to ceiling vents built in to the wall by the sink.  A control panel built in to the wall rather resembling one of the more complex central air thermostats one would occasionally run in to back home adjusted the temperature and fan speed, while the vents themselves could be moved to direct the air wherever you wanted.  While Jess was getting everything turned on and the temperature adjusted, I made myself useful pointing all the vents towards the little rug on the floor in front of the sink before settling myself down comfortably on it.  “Don’t hog all the warm air.” Jess sighed happily, flopping down next to me.  “There’s plenty to go around.” I laughed “I’m pretty sure that if Diller can fix a spaceship he can keep us supplied with warm air…”  “Probably true,” she nodded as she propped herself up against my shoulder and fluffed her tail out in front of us “but is that really a chance you are willing to take?”  Assuming it was a rhetorical question I just grinned happily at her.

It took considerably longer for Jess’ fur to begin to dry out than I would have expected, but eventually things started to be less obviously damp (and the mild smell of wet dog, which I tactfully didn’t mention began to subside).  I really enjoyed just sitting quietly in the pleasantly warm breeze with Jess, though the lack of things to fidget with got to me pretty quickly and I ended up amusing myself by running my fingers through her fur, leaving random fluffed up lines behind them.  “That’s nice…” she yawned, enjoying the gentle contact.  “As long as it’s not bothering you…” I semi-questioned, shifting around a little bit so I could skritch behind her ears.  “It would bother me if you stopped…” she laughed “Though I do feel as if I’m taking advantage of your short attention span.”  “I don’t mind.” I assured her “I’m used to it at this point, I’m very put upon.”  “I never will understand how you suffer so without complaint.” She joked.  “It’s just my forgiving nature.” I yawned “Or I’m too tired to care right now.  It could go either way…”

“I think between the two of us we barely have a half-fur’s worth of awake right now.” Jess grumbled “We probably ought to go to bed, but I really don’t particularly feel like moving out of the warm air…”  “Well…” I began “There really isn’t any reason why we couldn’t just go to sleep in here tonight.”  “There’s a very good reason.” She disagreed sternly “I’m supposed to be the responsible one and watch out for you, and I would hardly be doing that if I let you spend the night sleeping on the hard deck plates.  You would end up feeling horrible in the morning.”  “Yeah, but right now I’d keep feeling warm and happy.”  “Which is why I’m the one making the decision about it.” Jess nodded sternly “At least one of us has to have some common sense.”  “…said the one who wants to go back out in to the cold.” I teased.  “Wanting has nothing to do with it.” She sighed.  With a grudging effort Jess extracted herself from the comfortable spot we had settled in to and turned off the dryer.  “Aww…” I sighed as I got up and followed her back in to our bedroom where she had flopped down on the bed and was burrowing her way under the blankets.

I was quick to follow Jess under the blankets.  After the pleasantly warm air from the dryer the cooler air of our room came as a bit of a shock to both of us, but as I didn’t have the benefit of a built-in fur coat I had grown uncomfortable a lot quicker than Jess did, the goosebumps developing on my exposed skin only encouraging me more to settle down for the night.  Curling up against Jess’ back I sighed contentedly as I began to warm back up.  “You know, I didn’t give it any thought earlier, but it seems like the ambient temperature onboard is a lot lower than I remember it being.” I mused, idly brushing my nose with the tip of Jess’ tail.  “Hmm?  Oh, it is.” She explained “When we dock they shut down a lot of the systems to save energy or do repairs.  Since there is mostly nobody around to complain maintenance doesn’t bother with keeping things livable.”  “That’s a bit inconvenient.” I yawned “They’re not being considerate of the needs of the non-fur-bearing among us…”  “I’ll let them know, I’m sure they will take it under advisement for next time.”


Within a few days of returning from ground-side we were once again well into one of the less occupied regions of space setting up to do more of the research that was the ship’s primary mission criteria.  ‘Less occupied’ was apparently the preferred term as Susan explained over dinner one evening.  “Space is pretty much universally empty, so referring to things as being ‘more’ or ‘less’ empty really isn’t that great a description of any particular piece of it.”  As fascinating as it all was in a great existential way, the fact of the matter was that I found myself spending a great deal of time with nothing in particular to do as the crew went about their day to day business.  For the first day or two I hung around in the lab with Jess, but I pretty quickly noticed that I was distracting her from her workload, so I voluntarily banished myself to unoccupied nooks and crannies of the ship where I wouldn’t be under paw constantly.  Even exploring the ship eventually grew tiring as anywhere that proved to be interesting was inevitably occupied, leading back to the original problem of me being in the way.

After three or four days of abject frustration I gave up and launched in to the far less than fascinating task of working my way through the stack of basic ‘learn-to-read’ books Jess had picked up for me during our shore leave.  The simplistic picture books would have been relatively easy for a kit to figure out, but having not had the experience of growing up in the world I now found myself in I kept having problems with not recognizing things that the authors had assumed would be self-explanatory.  This quickly turned what should have been a fun intellectual exercise into a frustrating morass that I could only slog through for an hour or two at a time before losing interest.  (Not exactly a situation conducive of learning.)  It was while I was trying to decide if what I was looking at was a picture of a video phone or some sort of space toaster when, to my great relief, I was interrupted by the cabin door sliding open and Susan cheerfully letting herself in.  “Right then, time for a break!” she informed me “Grab your boots and let’s get going!”  “Umm…” I questioned in my usual hyper-intelligent manner.  Jess hadn’t told me about ‘going’ anywhere today before she left for her duty shift.  “Flight training.” Susan explained, seeing my obvious confusion.  “Flight training?  Nobody told me anything about flight training…  Why am I getting flight training?”

“Well I think Jess is probably looking for something to keep you occupied while she is busy in the survey room.” Susan explained “Plus the captain likes to have anyone with even a vague aptitude to have flight certification…you never know when it will come in handy.”  Remembering all the fun I had the last time I set foot in a ship with Susan I was more than a little bit dubious about having anything to do with this new and disconcerting idea.  “I’m bored, so you don’t get a say in the matter.” Susan explained as if it made all the sense in the world before hustling me away from the monotonous safety of my picture books.  I tried to take some solace in the fact that at least I had a certain amount of ‘special preparation’ for what was sure to be a bladder shaking experience.  “We’re going to start you out on the most basic type of ship, an A3 class, which is the lightest and smallest sort of supra-orbital vehicle.” Susan was lecturing as she pointed at the collection of small utility ships she lead us between as we maneuvered across the hangar deck.  “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I asked, trying to change the subject a little in the hopes of talking my way out of another flight with her.  “I think it’s a great idea.” She nodded “As a matter of fact I’m so confident you’ll be a great pilot that I’d start you out on something more complicated if I wasn’t certain the deck chief would try to have me grounded again.  Now stop trying to weasel out of this or I’ll sneak into your cabin and shave you bald as you sleep!”

“Hey!” I grumbled, to my great surprise being matched in both tone and sentiment by a second voice coming from around the side of the nearest shuttle.  Rounding the corner we found, coincidentally enough, a weasel working under the engine cowling.  “I retract my statement.” Susan sighed “I’ve never known of a weasel trying to get out of anything.”  “That’s better.” He nodded seriously.  “That’s John, the deck chief.” Susan sighed “He exists solely to squelch my fun.”  “Well, maybe if you actually brought a ship back undamaged for once…”  “Now, there’s no need to get personal.” Susan grumbled.  One of the great diplomatic truisms is that a wise man does not put himself in to other people’s arguments.  Not all wars can be won, and it tends to be best to not thrust oneself in to others’ issues, which are none of one’s business in the first place.  “You’re taking an A3, right?” John asked, almost accusingly.  “We are, yes.  Don’t worry, I’ve got the paperwork taken care on already and everything.”  Susan nodded, consolingly.  “Okay then.”  He agreed, ducking back under the cowling to resume work on whatever it was that he was maintnancing. 

Following Susan further in to the hanger, we eventually arrived at a ship which looked nothing like the other specimens in the docking bay.  Where the others were boxy looking and generally gave the impression of boring, work related utility vehicles, the one Susan had led us to was sleek and streamlined, making me think more of a pleasure craft than anything else.  “I get the impression that this one is a lot different than the others, my tone a mixture of appreciation and suspicion “I thought we had to take one of the simpler ships…”  “Technically this is a class A3 ship.  Technically.  It’s the same weight class as a smaller hauler or transport but these scout/survey rigs are something else entirely…” Susan grinned “If we’re going out joyriding it may as well be joyful.”  “And you’re sure they will let us leave in this?”  “Of course.  We have all the correct paperwork, why wouldn’t they?” Susan grinned “The trick is to get the deck chief to sign the authorizations a half hour or so before the shift change.  That way he’s tired and inattentive, but it doesn’t seem like you are trying to sneak something by him.  Serves him right for not making sure all the blanks were filled in before he signed it anyway…”  I couldn’t help but grin at that.  It would seem that Susan was technically right, which really is the best kind of right if you stop and think about it.  Besides, it looked quite a lot more fun than the cargo haulers parked to either side of it.  “Lead on, oh intrepid captain.” I laughed, following Susan in to the shuttle

A short time later Susan was proven to be entirely correct about the paperwork and we were sitting out quite a way from the ship as she went about explaining the purposes of the various controls and readouts needed to safely operate (or at least effectively operate…) the scout shuttle.  I was pleased to find out that it was a lot more straightforward than I anticipated and in short order Susan had me puttering around behind the controls.  “That’s pretty good.” She declared after a time “Why don’t we go find somewhere with some obstacles and give you a bit more of a challenge…”  “Okay.” I agreed “But if I mess up and crash us in to something I’m blaming it on you.  It’s only fair I let you know that up front…”  “Well, if that’s the way it must be…” she grumbled before launching in to a quick lecture on how to work the sensor array built in to the scout ship.  I couldn’t help but be impressed with the detail of the scans the equipment produced, showing not just the physical layout of the large asteroid field Susan was piloting us to but also giving readouts on the geological makeup and even thickness of various surface mineral and ice layers of the rocks.  “We use this ship primarily for geological scouting missions.” Susan explained “So mostly it’s designed to move fast and look carefully at stuff.”  “That makes sense.” I nodded “Maybe we should have seen if they needed anything scouted while we were going out anyway.”  “Oh, they’ll just send us a message on the comm. if there’s anything which needs looking at urgently.” She shrugged “They’re not shy about it or anything.”  “Straightforward and to the point is good.” I agreed.

“Well, this looks suitable.” Susan decided as she brought the ship to a halt.  Sliding her seat back she hit the locking button for her controls, activating the set in front of me.  “Now just go ahead and ease into the ice field and fly around the outside edge a bit.” She instructed.  Looking at the twinkling field of what was essentially space icebergs I couldn’t help but feel a little bit overwhelmed until Susan reached across the cabin and smacked my chair’s headrest.  “Well go on then!  You aren’t going to get any better at this just sitting here and contemplating your navel.”  “I hadn’t given that any thought actually…” I mused.  “Learn by doing.”  “Huh?  Oh, I meant that other species probably have belly buttons.” I explained.  “Every species that doesn’t lay eggs has a navel, they just tend to be buried in our fur.” Susan said, sounding exasperated “Now how about flying the ship, huh?”  “Oh, right.  The ship.”  Taking the controls, I hesitantly guided the shuttle forward, gradually gaining confidence when things didn’t immediately go catastrophically wrong.  “And away we go!” Susan laughed.

“Shh!” I grumbled “Don’t distract the people on the learning curve.”  “Aw, why so serious?” she encouraged “There’s nothing particular out here to hit.”  “Besides the huge chunks of drifting ice.” I disagreed.  Now really wasn’t the best time for me to be painfully reminded that the fur in charge of keeping an eye on things was a lunatic.  “They’re not as close as they look.” She explained, tapping a rather busy-looking display in front of me.  “You usually don’t get these, so technically it’s cheating, but if it’ll settle you down a bit I guess that’s okay just once.  This is a three dimensional imager we use for surveying.  Besides being the usual proximity detector it maps gravity to show density and material composition…”  “Great, so we won’t hit a black hole this time out.” I nodded as I slowly weaved around a floating chunk of rock a good bit bigger than our ship.  “Don’t get smart with me.” Susan chastised, tapping a few buttons on the display, causing it to project an image of various rocks and boulders of one severity or another moving around a glowing white reference point in the center.  “Colors represent density, which indicates thickness, among other things.”  “I see.” I nodded, growing a bit more impressed as I began to understand what it was I was staring at.

Susan was absolutely right about her magical little screen being a profoundly useful confidence builder, and soon I was zipping around the ice field with an exuberance which Jess would have probably declared a bit unhealthy.  With Susan though any time she even looked at a ship it was bound to be unhealthy anyway, and she didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned by the possibility I might introduce the two of us to a horrible, splattery, and ultimately freeze-dried death.  As a matter of fact her unflappable sense of unwavering cheerfulness began to grow aggravating after a while (or possibly the occasional bursts of hyperactive giggling every time we had a near miss) and I found myself cutting things just a little bit sharper in places than I should have, trying to get a rise out of my instructor.  “Don’t you ever get nervous out here?” I finally blurted out in exasperation “I don’t get how you can sit there so calmly while someone who doesn’t really know what he’s doing is flying at high speeds around huge chunks of rock…”  “Oh please.” Susan snorted “You aren’t anywhere near as bad as a lot of my students.  Actually you’ve got rather a knack for this…”  “Yeah, but…” I began before she cut me off.  “If you can make me nervous without killing us in the process I’ll owe you a shiny thing.”  “Fair enough.” I nodded, allowing the subject to lapse for the time being.

After quite a bit more practice, punctuated by the occasional comment or bit of advice from Susan we were about ready to call it a day.  Heading out of the ice field however I noticed something on the scanner which reminded me of Susan’s earlier comments.  On the one hand I could see it being quite a bit of fun having something to lord over Susan with for a while, on the other hand it would probably be more than a little impolite to be the one who was responsible for making us spend the rest of the day dead.  Making up my mind, I double then triple checked the materials analysis unit before pulling the shuttle upwards into what, had there been gravity to create a solid point of reference, would have been a very steep climb, very nearly reversing direction in the process.  “What the…” Susan began before letting out a yelp as we rapidly accelerated into a particularly large chunk of ice, crashing into the surface at close to the shuttle’s maximum speed…only to burst through the thin layer of ice covering the massive hole through the middle of the almost planetoid sized mass, emerging (with a disconcerting screeching sound) out the other side in a spray of sparkling ice shards.

The nice thing about being the one piloting the shuttle was having an excuse not to have to acknowledge the alternating looks of displeasure and amusement Susan was throwing in my direction until after I had gently set the shuttle back down on the flight deck and heard the thumps of the docking clamps engaging.  “I probably ought to decide if I’m going to smack you one before you have time to scurry off and find somewhere to hide until I forget about it.” Susan informed me as we unlatched our harnesses and were immediately met by the scowling deck chief.  “You scratched my paint.” He accused, automatically directing his wrath at Susan.  (Obviously having had enough practice for it to have become force of habit.) “Why do you automatically assume it was me?” she countered in her usual cheerful tone.  “It’s always you.  You generate probably a quarter of our workload by yourself.”  “Well” Susan beamed, putting her arm around my shoulder as if she had discovered a prodigy on a street corner “the good news is that I think I can safely say that statistic is going to go down in the near future.  The bad news, however, is that there is probably going to be a sharp uptake in your workload.  But thinking positively you will have job security…”  “I don’t find you reassuring.” John informed us as we retreated off the flight deck in to the ship proper.  “I should probably get back to my reading exercises.” I sighed, not really feeling like returning to my frustrations.  “Probably so.” Susan agreed “I doubt Jess will consider flight training a good reason to fall behind in your studies.”  “It would surprise me as well.” I agreed.  “Same time tomorrow then.” Susan informed me as she took her leave at Jess’ and my door “And I’ll see what I can do about that shiny thing I owe you…”


When Jess got back to our quarters that evening she found me intently digging through the bathroom cabinets reading aloud the labels on the various random toiletries I produced.  “Now I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for this…” she mused aloud from the bathroom doorway.  “For some reason this seems to be more useful practice than the story books.” I explained.  “Got bored with them?”  “Oh yeah.  I can put in maybe two hours with them before my brain starts to feel like putty and I have to go do something else for a while.  Plus it seems like I have gotten enough of the basics down to be able to make sense of some more complex things.”  Nodding understandingly Jess helped me to get everything packed away in the cabinets again (no small feat since I had the better part of the room spread out all over the floor) then went and flopped down on the bed to relax a bit before we had to start thinking about finding something for dinner.  “Anything fun and eventful happen at work today?” I asked idly.  “Nothing good.” She sighed “We’re testing out the new hardware central has us experimenting with, and it doesn’t seem like it’s working the way it should.”   “So how do you find out for sure?”  “Ah, that’s the not good part.” She explained “There’s a really simple way to find out exactly what it should be telling us: we go out and physically take samples of what we were looking at and analyze them in the geology lab.”  “That’s pretty straightforward.” I shrugged “What part is problematic?”  “Aside from the part where we have to drag all the way out there to take a look at whatever there is to see?”  “So what?” I asked, not seeing the problem “Isn’t that what the ship does anyway, explore and map things?”  “Some parts of space are a bit…tedious.” Jess explained, choosing her words carefully.  “Some areas have a lot of  magnetic interference, so communications…and entertainment feeds…are disrupted; other areas can be a little bit dicey as far as safety is concerned, and some areas are just flat uninteresting.”

“What do you mean ‘a little bit dicey’?” I wondered unenthusiastically.  “On the good side, hard to navigate.  Far less pleasantly, inhospitable natives.”  “Space pirates.  Fun.” I laughed.  Conjuring up a mental image of a peg-legged, eye patch wearing fur with a robotic parrot on his shoulder made it a little hard to take the idea seriously.  “Don’t laugh.” Jess glared severely “We found you on what was basically a pirate ship.”  “Oh.” I sighed, starting to feel a little bit ashamed about making fun of it.  Suddenly living on a spaceship was getting less romantic and adventurous.  (Or alternately too adventurous, depending on one’s point of view.)  “I’m not trying to scare you unjustifiably or anything like that.” Jess sighed “It’s not that I’m trying to take the fun out of everything in your life, it just seems to work out like that.”  “Ah well, what’s life without the occasional risk of horrible death?  After all, I am taking flying lessons from Susan…”  “How is that going, by the way?” Jess asked “I was getting dire predictions of doom and gloom from some of the deck crew down in the mess while I was grabbing lunch earlier…at least I think they were predictions, they could have been threats.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell with weasels, they tend to be quite high-strung.” 

“That second part sounds about right.” I nodded ruefully, not sure that I wouldn’t be better off steering the conversation towards safer territories “John, the deck chief, seemed a bit miffed when we got back from my lesson…”  “Do I even…no, I’m responsible for keeping you out of trouble, I should know what you’ve been getting yourself in to.”  “Me?!  Flight training was your idea, you get at least sixty percent of the blame!” I argued.  “Sixty percent?  By no means!  I won’t take a percent over fifteen.” Shaking my head I decided to seize the logical high ground.  It was far too late for me to be right, so settling for a coherent argument would have to be a functional second in this case.  “The fact that you were the one who created the potential situation in the first place when you knew full well that Susan was likely to get me in to trouble makes anything that results from it more your fault than mine…” I offered hopefully.  “You have both free will and self-determination.” Jess countered shrewdly “Twenty, but quickly before I change my mind.”  “Twenty-seven and we agree anything I tell you does not construe an admission of guilt.”  “Lawyer!” Jess accused.  “I didn’t make it quite that far.” I sighed “And at this point it’s too late for me to go back to school and finish up.”  “Heh.” Jess sighed.  “I’ll give you twenty-five percent with guilt or innocence to be determined at a future date.”  “Done.” I agreed good naturedly.  “So, were you planning on telling me what we were negotiating about then?” Jess prompted.  “Aww, that’s not strictly necessary…” I yawned “It’s a pretty boring story and I’m sure you had much more interesting things to tell me about your day.”  “That’s not going to work.” She said, crossing her arms and looking at me expectantly.

“Okay, okay… I scratched the paint on the shuttle, and I feel a little bit self-conscious about it.” I understated.  “Well, it happens.” Jess shrugged “I’m sure you will do better next time…”  “Well, the thing of it was that Susan had been getting rather…boastful over the course of the afternoon, and I got the urge to bring her down a peg so she would maybe tone her commentaries down a little bit.  So technically it was inarguably my fault.”  “That is a little more concerning, yes.” Jess agreed “But at least it was for a good cause, right?”   “I’m not sure that the deck crew sees it that way.”  “They will forgive you eventually.” She consoled me “After all, how bad could it possibly be?”  “Hypothetically?  Susan referred to me as ‘gifted’ and said that as soon as we get back to civilization she was going to put in to get me trained as a fighter jockey.” I groaned.  “Really.”  Jess said flatly, raising an eyebrow at me.  “If I pull the flight camera am I going to see things I don’t like?”  I wasn’t going to lie to Jess, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I had done something that was very obviously tremendously stupid.  Shuffling my bare feet on the deck plates I silently avoided making eye contact, my expression of shamed embarrassment speaking volumes.  Jess found herself at a loss about what to do at this juncture.  On the one paw she didn’t want to cause any more distress than she could help, on the other the thought of losing the inseparable friend she had somehow made was terrifying.  After a few moments to think things through she reached a decision.  “Okay, we’re going to let it drop this time, but you need to know that I will be very disappointed with you if you do something Susan approves of again.”  “Yes momma.”

“Right.” Jess nodded, putting the subject to rest “It would seem that you should keep out of the deck crew’s way as much as possible for a while, so I’m thinking eating dinner in our quarters would be a good idea tonight.  Plus, anyone attempting to make me put my boots back on right now is going to have violence inflicted on their person.”  “Did you really have that bad a day?” I asked sympathetically as Jess selected food from the access terminal built in to the surface of the desk occupying one corner of the room.  “Not really I guess.  It’s just that it throws my entire day off when the equipment isn’t working right.  Then I fall behind on my work, and suddenly it’s a week later and I’ve barely gotten things straightened out enough to be back where I started.  It just makes me want to smash the piece of junk in to smaller but more numerous pieces of junk.”  This, I observed, was the closest I had ever seen Jess come to showing any kind of a temper.  Her fur had begun to get all frizzy and her tail lashed back and forth, showing none of its usual composure.  “Aww…” I consoled “Poor fuzzy-mom.  If it will make you feel any better you can borrow my ray-gun for a while…”  “Ray-gun?” Jess questioned, giving me ‘the look’ for the second time in a day.  “Crap.” I groaned; realizing too soon that I had misspoke.  “Not exactly your day either.” Jess grinned, visibly feeling better now that she had something else to focus on.  “It doesn’t seem like it, no.”

To my absolute delight I was spared the forthcoming lecture and confiscation of the space hardware in question by the arrival of dinner.  Jess set everything out neatly on the floor in the middle of the room, while I idly wondered how exactly it had found its way from the mess hall to outside our door.  The ship was a great deal too utilitarian to have a porter floating around.  When I gave it a little thought it was kind of a no-brainer that if they could make an entire spaceship then a way of distributing food throughout it wouldn’t exactly be a comparable scientific challenge.  “There we are!” Jess declared, interrupting my train of thought “Come on down here and dig in!”  Food is good for eating you see, and in this case it turned out to be a very passable lasagna.  “Umm…tell me this isn’t a coincidence.” I asked, stumbling upon questions both intriguing and mildly disturbing at the same time.  “It’s not.” Jess agreed, taking a curious bite of the food before her.  “This stuff is pretty good.” She decided before taking a far less experimentally sized portion.  “Television cooking shows?” I hypothesized.  “I’ve a clever little boy.” Jess beamed proudly.  “I thought you might appreciate adding some more familiar selections to our rotation, and our chef, who fancies himself a culinary genius by the way, was more than happy to tackle a challenge.”

As Jess watched expectantly I gave our dinner a try.  Chewing slowly I mulled over its flavors.  It really was a pretty good approximation too…my guess would be that the trick lay in finding a decent replacement for tomatoes.  “Well, I’m sure the cook will be happy to know that this is what lasagna is supposed to taste like.” I declared.  “Unless you have an open ended amount of time to be lectured I would recommend you don’t let Matthew hear you calling him a ‘cook’…” Jess cautioned “He is strongly of the opinion that a chef creates meals while a cook just rehydrates self-heats…”  “So I guess I shouldn’t refer to him as a ‘slop jockey’ then…” I grinned.  “Not unless you plan to be eating self-heats three meals a day for the next standard year.” She agreed.  “More importantly, try to keep in mind that if he decides he’s going to sulk for a week or two the entire crew will be eating them right along side of you.  Which is not a good way to make friends.”  “Point taken.” I agreed.  “Besides, he was nice enough to go through the effort to come up with a workable lasagna recipe. I really do appreciate him taking the trouble.”  “Heh.” Jess sighed, rolling her eyes “It’s not exactly like that…Matthew will get an idea into his head and nobody on this ship can get him away from it until he gets bored.  We’re in for at least a week or two of recipes he pulls off the old signals.”  “I’m not so sure he can stretch it out that long.” I shrugged.  “It has to be at least mildly problematic that the ingredients for a lot of these don’t exist any more…”  “Historically he’s never let a little thing like ‘impossible’ stand in the way of a project.”  “That’s a good thing, right?” I wondered, kind of wishing that we had acquired garlic bread along the line as well.  “Usually.  There have been a few occasions when it worked out less well than it could have.  For civility’s sake we can just leave it at that.”

 Jess failing at tact for some reason struck me as the funniest thing I had heard in quite a while, and before I could squelch the urge I found myself trying to laugh through a mouthful of lasagna while avoiding making a huge mess of things.  “What?” Jess wondered, mildly concerned I would choke before it was all over.  “I love that…” I grinned as I gulped down some juice in the hopes of washing everything down in a dignified manner “It looked almost painful for you to say that.”  Sighing, she rolled her eyes at the ceiling.  “The short version is that at one point he made something that gave me a week of horrid tummy aches.  I’ve still not quite forgiven him for that one.”  “Ah.” I nodded.  “Might not it have been easier to put hot sauce on his toothbrush or something instead of holding a grudge?”  “I’m not holding a grudge, I just developed a healthy sense of caution around…untested recipes.  Plus Susan shaved off most of his fur in the middle of the night, so I kind of had that part covered.”  “I see.” I nodded, taking mental note to make sure our cabin door was locked properly before we settled in for the night.  I wouldn’t put it past Susan to still be a bit irked about my stunt earlier.  “It wouldn’t have quite the same effect with you.” Jess laughed as she read my expression.  “Though it might be interesting to glue fur onto you in the middle of the night.  That would at least be mildly ironic…” “Bare in mind that you would be the closest source of fur for her to harvest.” I pointed out.  “I’ll double check the lock before I go to bed.” Jess agreed seriously.


Later, when dinner was finished and the dishes had been sent back from whence they came Jess explained that “I have some reading that I need to get done for work before I go to bed, but you should probably start settling down for the night.”  “Only if you do too…” I nodded as I climbed in to bed, snagging one of the paperback novels the crew had found with me on the way.  “That sounds nice.” She agreed.  We had just gotten settled in comfortably when a slight problem came to light: while Jess’ electronic reader had its own built in illumination, my old fashioned paper version still required some.  Jess had only dimmed the cabin lights, not turned them off, it still wasn’t quite bright enough for me to read without giving myself a headache.  Sighing, I was just about to give it up as a bad job when Jess noticed my problem.  “Oh!  Sorry, I forgot you don’t know how to work these on your own.” She reproached herself mildly.  Pointing out a slightly recessed spot on the bed frame she pressed what it turned out was a button, turning on a small built in light.  “Quite a number of furs still use old fashioned types of reading materials as a matter of preference, so it’s really common to have built in reading lights like this.” She explained “Bibliophiles versus technologists is actually a rather significant point of contention in the literary world.  I really don’t care one way or another myself, but you will run across rabidly militant advocates of both stances.”  “I’m not sure I don’t find that deeply disturbing.” I laughed before we lapsed into silence again, each pursuing our individual projects.

I got bored before Jess got finished, and ended up resting my head on her tummy and staring off in to space for a while.  It wasn’t so much that anything was particularly wrong or objectionable in a general sense as it was that I really just didn’t feel like concentrating on anything particular.  On top of that I didn’t want to disturb Jess while she was concentrating on work related things.  She, meanwhile, was pretty engrossed in her task, which was apparently quite interesting to boot.  If I spent a minute to think about it, it would probably strike me as being pretty weird, but I really kind of felt jealous about Jess having something important and productive to do like that.  Humoring myself a little, I gave in to the daydream of the day’s flight training being more than prearranged babysitting intended to let Susan and I keep each other occupied and out of trouble for a while.  (Which, depressingly, didn’t seem to have worked out quite as well as all involved had hoped…)  Doing my best to go over the day’s flight training in my head I reviewed all the advice and commentary that Susan had provided, not really convinced that it was earthshakingly crucial, or even interesting, but almost tricking myself in to a sense of accomplishment when I remembered a piece of a conversation I had with Susan which was both mildly relevant and satisfyingly actionable.

It didn’t take Jess very long to notice that I was staring intently at the lower bit of her tummy.  “Can I help you with something?” she asked in amusement, tapping me on the head “You seem rather occupied down there…”  “Sshh.” I chided “We would appreciate you not interrupting the scientific inquiry.”  “Care to elaborate?” Jess asked patiently, watching me with amusement.  “Susan told me that everyone has a navel, it’s just they are usually hidden in their fur.”  “Except for avian and reptilian species we do.” Jess nodded “Furs that hatch don’t need them…”  “That makes sense.” I nodded, continuing to poke at her tummy fur.  “Umm…I see you’re not taking my word for it…” she laughed, beginning to sound a little exasperated.  “Nope.”  I agreed “Don’t mind me though, you can carry on with your business if you would like.”  Plucking up my hand by the wrist using two fingers in an exaggeratedly delicate manner, she moved it over a little bit before placing it down again.  “Right there, see?”  “Well what do you know…” I declared in feigned surprise.  “Yep.  Happy now?”  “I suppose.” I sighed “Though truth be told I’m a bit disappointed my tasks for the evening were finished so quickly…”  “I’m sure you’ll survive.” Jess grinned, gently poking me in the tummy “Though you will have to live with the fact I found yours quicker!”

“In your opinion.” I disagreed as I set aside my book and snuggled in a bit closer.  “When in doubt go for confusion.” Jess observed.  “Can’t hear you, sleeping now.”  “Brat.”  “Space alien.”  “Right back at you.”  “Okay, you’ve got me there.” I conceded “But don’t you have something you should be reading for work instead of picking on poor, homeless, endangered species?”  “Technically yes, but I’m putting off dealing with the whole having to go all the way out to the middle of nowhere just because Fleet research and development can’t seem to engineer themselves out of an equipment locker.”  “You do know that they’re blaming it on the incompetent research ship crew as we speak, don’t you?”  “I’m pretty sure blame rolling downhill is a universal concept.” Jess agreed.  “Always has been, always will be.”


Jess wasn’t the only one on board who was disinclined to wander around in the middle of nowhere to look at uncommonly common chunks of rock, and over the course of the week or so we were pointing in the wrong direction the mood of the ship steadily degenerated to downright cranky.  I didn’t get off unscathed either: for security reasons that were never completely explained to me Susan’s lessons were put on hold for the duration.  Since Jess was pretty much constantly busy with the geological survey work I ended up spending most of my time either working on my literacy or following Diller around as he tried to track down a long running problem with the oxygen scrubbers in the life support system.  Mostly that appeared to involve pressure testing various pipes and valves that ran through the cargo and docking bays.  For practical purposes, however,  it meant learning dialectical profanity as Diller banged around with what I had the sneaking suspicion was a high tech version of a pipe wrench.

I was minding my own business in the cabin the afternoon of the tenth day in to our detour when my attempts to read an outdated office supply catalog I had found shimming up a table leg in the mess hall was interrupted by the most brain-liquifyingly high pitched alarm I’d ever had the misery of hearing.  Pulling on my boots, I barged out the cabin door to go who knows where to do who knows what when I ran smack in to Jess.  “What’s going on?” I yelled, trying to be heard over the din of the alarm.  “It’s the ‘hostile natives’ we talked about.” She yelled back “We’re being boarded.  I need you to get as far from the docking bay as you can and hide until I come and get you!”  Giving me a long, intense hug, she turned back in the direction she had come from.  “I love you.  I’m sorry.” She almost whispered, with tears beginning to mat little trails down her muzzle.  Watching her disappear around a bend in the corridor, I realized that I couldn’t seem to feel scared.  All that I could find was a deep, overwhelming anger.  How dare they threaten me and mine?  If they thought for a second they were going to hurt my new friends, my love, all I had left to me, they were in for an extremely unpleasant correction.  Pulling on my jacket and grabbing the little coil gun from where I had stashed it in the bottom of my locker, I grimly stormed out in the direction of the docking bay.

I arrived from the ship side entrance about the same time that the raiders had finished cutting their way through the airlock.  There were a lot of them, they didn’t run a small operation.  The shuttles and repair equipment along with their unfamiliarity with our ship meant that I got a good look at them before they knew I was there.  A mixed lot, about the only trait they all shared was the fact they looked unfriendly.  They appeared to be led by a cat of  indeterminate origin who barked out orders in the manner of one who was used to being obeyed.  As more of their crew made their way through the airlock, I came to the conclusion that the only way things were going to work out is if this was a one way trip.  Thinking over the weeks since I had found myself thrust into this unfamiliar new existence, I smiled wistfully to myself remembering the last few sad, lonely years Before.  During some of my more cynical spells I had made a decision to a hypothetical question which I always felt was a defining characteristic of my psyche: trading a year of life for a day of contentment would be a steal.  Even trading ten years for a day would be something I could accept with cheer.  And when all was said and done I find myself here.  And looking back on it, I regretted nothing.  “Well” I sighed, making my way to the venting mechanisms I had been watching Diller try to repair for the last week “time to pay the piper…”


As the heavy doors to the docking bay slammed shut, the crew of the raider’s ship jerked around to see Nick standing next to the smashed locking mechanism, calmly lighting a cigarette from the small pile of things that remained from his home planet.  “Just outside and a little to the left.” He said matter-of-factly, drawing on his cigarette.  “What in the universe are you babbling about?” the raider’s captain growled, striding towards him “You may think you’re cute, but it’ll only take a minute to bypass the locks on that door…you’ve not saved your friends, only delayed things!”  “There was a joke my grandfather always used to tell, and that was the punch line, ‘Just outside and a little to the left’.  Oh, the joke doesn’t matter; the point is that it was always a little frustrating to him that it lost so much when it was taken out of the context of his culture.  He could explain the joke, but the irony was something which could never be translated.  You just would have to have been there for it to truly make sense.”  “What does that have to do with anything?” the scruffy looking cat glared, looking at Nick as if he were completely insane.  “Now I know how he felt.” He laughed in a tone that held no humor.  Holding the still-smoldering cigarette butt up for the raiders’ inspection, Nick continued in a monotone “They always told me these things would kill me.”  Motioning with it towards the light haze floating along the cargo bay’s ceiling, he flicked the ember upwards in a slow arc before dropping flat on the deck plates.  The next thing he knew, the world turned upside down, then everything went black.


I must have been drifting in and out of things for days after the attack, I couldn’t begin to tell what happened over the next little while, the only thing I remember distinctly was pain and an unbearable coldness that seemed to stretch all the way down into my bones as if I would never be warm again.  I remember bits and pieces of voices, darkness and blinding light, and the distinct smell of a medical facility.  If this was what the afterlife was all about I really felt like there had been a great deal of misrepresentation in their advertising campaigns over the years.  When things finally pieced themselves in to some sort of sense I opened my eyes to find Jess looking down on me in a sick bay that wasn’t the one on our ship.  “Hey little guy.” She smiled “It’s been a while…”  “Didn’t think I would be waking up again…” I yawned, doing my best to focus my eyes on her. “The way I feel right now, I’m not sure it’s a good thing.”  “I’m not surprised.” Jess shuddered “When we finally cut our way back in to the docking bay…well, you’ve looked better.”  Giving in to my inability to see straight I just let my eyes unfocus and gaze up at the roof.  “Care to fill me in on what I missed?”

“You can probably piece it together yourself pretty well.” Jess snorted, sounding mildly annoyed.  “You lit our oxygen scrubbers on fire and it burned out the entire docking bay, including the raiders’ crew.  Not to mention the fact you were part of the collateral damage.  Which we’ll have to discuss here in a minute.  You also kind of blew a large hole in our hull and left us dead in space until the fleet sent out a rescue ship looking for us.”  “How long has it been?” I questioned, feeling like I was missing something.  “More than a week.  Dr. Farran and the medical team from the cruiser they sent out looking for us kept you out until you could breathe on your own again.”  “Which begs the question: how am I still alive?”  Beginning to cry softly, Jess hugged me tightly, completely ignoring my pained intake of breath.  “Your heart stopped at least twice before Dr. Farran could get you onto life support.  It was bad.  The smell of fire and burned…I couldn’t keep from throwing up, but I couldn’t leave you either.  I was so afraid of what was going to happen.  What if I lost you?”  “I won’t.” I whispered, hugging her back as hard as I could, despite the pain it caused. “I won’t ever.”  “We didn’t know what to do to keep you alive.” Jess explained “Dr. Farran had an idea.  They’ve got a drug the medics use to keep the body from rejecting tissue grafts.  I don’t know the details, but it basically allows DNA to mutate slightly so the tissues mesh better.  Dr. Farran gave you a massive dose of it, but we didn’t know enough about your species physiology to put you back together, you were just hurt too badly.”

Shyly she held up a mirror for me, very obviously expecting an explosion.  Managing to focus again for a moment, I saw an oddly familiar looking fox Fur looking back at me from the mirror.  “Great, and I just got finished sewing up all the tail holes in my clothes.”  “Please don’t be mad.” Jess practically begged with a thoroughly miserable expression on her muzzle “They gave me the choice, and Dr. Farran thought it would be your best chance for survival.  I just couldn’t stand to let you go, even if it meant taking the you from you.”  “Jess” I smiled, touching her muzzle gently “You’re okay, and I’m still alive.  I’m still me.  Just a little bit different me.”  “You’re not mad?”  “I’m not mad.  I love you, I couldn’t stay mad at you even if I wanted to.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look horrible.” I observed.  ‘Horrible’ was probably being charitable.  Jess was obviously exhausted, everything that could droop did, and her fur seemed to have even lost a little of its usual luster.  “I haven’t been sleeping all that well lately.” Jess admitted “Besides worrying about you getting mad and never talking to me again I’ve also been having a reoccurring nightmare about you being killed…”  “Great. Now I’m the stuff of nightmares.” I laughed, genuinely amused by the idea.  “That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She smiled weakly.  “Tell you what” I yawned, sensing that the conversation was going to be cut short regardless of what either of us wanted “There’s enough room here for both of us, hop up here and we can take a nap.  That way you won’t have to wake up and check if I’m still here.  Plus it’s damn cold in here and even if I could get up I’m not sure I’d recognize the thermostat.”  “So basically you’re saying I could be replaced by an electric blanket.  You really do know how to make a female feel appreciated, don’t you?”  “I know.” I joked as she did her best to climb into bed without jostling me any more than strictly necessary “I hope you appreciate how lucky you are…”  “You’re so modest too…” she yawned as she snuggled up to me as much as possible without causing any further injury.  We cuddled in a comfortable silence for a while until another thought crossed my mind.  “So why are we over here instead of in the sick bay back home?” I wondered aloud.  “Two reasons.  Firstly this is a much bigger ship than ours and their medical facilities are more advanced.”  “And secondly?”  “You blew up our sick bay.”  “It was for a good cause.” I explained patiently.  “That doesn’t make it any less blown up…”

“On the other paw, we’re going to have to remain in the docks for a while to get everything put back together again, so your popularity amongst the crew has never been higher.”  “Heh. So saving everyfur’s life is all well and good, but nowhere near as appreciated as dropping a free shore-leave in everyone’s laps.”  “Exactly.” Jess agreed. “Well, mostly…”  “I sense an impending complication.” I observed, noticing a slight change in her tone.  “You really don’t want to start into that right now, do you?” she sighed.  “Well if something is going to come back and bite me later I’d rather know about it ahead of time…” I decided.  Only the paranoid survive, and after nearly being blown into oblivion by space pirates I was feeling pretty inclined to survive at the moment.  After fishing around for a few moments trying to figure out how best to begin, Jess eventually just shrugged and went with the shortest distance between two points.  “Fleet ships have a very diverse crew made up of many species and cultures, they are put together that way on purpose for a variety of reasons.  Well, our crew compliment included several dire wolves.  They are an ancient and militaristic society: very clannish socially, almost feudal.  In their cultural beliefs your…solution to the raiders, who were almost guaranteed to have killed us all, was extremely admirable.  It also indebted them to you.”  “So tell them to send a fruit basket.” I yawned, failing entirely to see what Jess could possibly be so concerned about.  “You’ve been adopted in to clan Whitepaw by our security chief, Lough.”  “That’s nice…wait, what?”  For some reason my complete confusion struck Jess as being hilarious, and she was soon doing her best to stifle a fit of giggles.  “Yep.  Congratulations, you have a large and very scary family.”  “Don’t laugh, they’ll be your in-laws.” I grumbled “Keep that in mind when you’re being amused by my pain…”  Sadly, my revelation didn’t seem to do much to dissuade Jess’ rampant amusement, and she was still suffering from sporadic bouts of uncontrollable snickering when I drifted off to sleep again.


I awoke to find a young cheetah in a lab coat poking at me.  He didn’t seem hostile, just kind of annoyed at my refusal to wake up.  “Told you.” Jess sighed from her chair next to the bed “That one won’t wake up until he’s good and ready.”  “Not so much, no.” I agreed, sitting up as much as I could.  “Meanwhile, who are you and why are you poking me?”  “I’m Seth, the medical specialist here on the Colibri.” The cheetah explained, his enthusiasm in no way dimmed by my terseness “It’s good to finally get to talk to you!  Comatose patients get depressing after a while.”  “Glad to help.” I nodded seriously.  Seth was one of those personalities you meet every now and then who are impossible to not like, even if they had been disturbing a perfectly good nap just minutes before.  Seth puttered around a bit, making small talk with Jess while he looked over the collection of monitoring equipment alongside my bed.  I mostly tuned the two of them out, I wasn’t feeling all that great.  Well, less so than I would have expected: whenever I moved too much I felt pretty dizzy, and my tummy couldn’t seem to make up its mind if it wanted food or was planning to escape and go on a rampage.

“…hauler will be here in a few hours to tow the Silver Moon and the raiders’ ship in.” Seth was saying.  “Hey” I interjected, having caught the last bit of their conversation “When do we get to go pillage their ship?  I want to pillage damn it!”  Noticing that my new fur was starting to stand up and get all spikey as I got excited, I was a little startled to feel something wiggling around down along the side of my leg before I realized my new body must have come with a tail.  I filed that thought away at the moment in the face of more pressing concerns, but it was certainly something which would have to be investigated in detail later. “Hmm…” Seth mused, sounding mildly surprised by my outburst “It must be the painkillers making him a little loopy.  They do that sometimes.”  “No, he’s pretty much always like that…” Jess informed him. “When isn’t he?”  “Well, sometimes he takes a nap…” she shrugged, not entirely kidding.  “Hello, sitting right here…” I grumbled, getting slightly miffed that they were talking over me. “Hush you.” Jess reprimanded “By all rights you should be in time out for scaring everyone like that. I know you’re not feeling well, but try not to get testy with everyone, okay hun?” “It was just a little explosion.” I sulked.  “You don’t even remember the explosion…” Jess reminded me patiently, once again bringing logic into things.

“You’re not planning on getting this worked up every time I nearly die, are you?”  I yawned, trying to figure out a way to cut the doctor’s prodding session short.  “That’s not even funny.” Jess snapped, giving me a poisonous look.  “I retract the attempt at a joke.” I placated “I promise that I will in fact go out of my way not to be killed any time soon.”  “See that you do.” She nodded, attempting to come off as at least a little severe.  “Sorry to interrupt.” Seth interjected, then did his best to ram a tongue depressor down my throat.  “Hmm… Everything looks okay down there.” He nodded, then produced a stethoscope.  Bracing myself for being poked with the freezing cold end piece, I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t nearly as cold as past experience had left me to expect.  “Fur is a great insulator.” Seth laughed, guessing what I was bracing myself for.  “That was my first assumption.” I nodded “But I’ve been pretty cold since I woke up the first time around, so I’d been assuming that it was more decorative than I had thought.”  “Huh.” Seth mused, looking a bit perplexed. “The temperature is set at its default, you should be comfortable.”  Rooting around in one of the drawers in his instrument cart he produced a thermometer.  Popping it under my tongue, he instructed me to “Hold that there for a bit.”  Opening up a closet on the far side of the room, Seth pointed out a large pile of blankets and other miscellaneous bedding to Jess.  “Just help yourselves to whatever you need.” He explained  “Oh, and while I’m thinking about it I was going to have them send in some privacy screens as well if you were planning on staying here with him overnight.  We can make you two a nice little room, as long as you’re not too picky about things like doors and ceilings…”  “Is that going to be okay?” Jess asked, sounding more than a little relieved.  “You’ve been camping out here for more than a week.” Seth shrugged “If I was going to try to enforce visiting hours I’d have done it a long time ago.  Frankly I’d be a little worried if I did you would sic that lunatic squirrel who was here earlier on me…”  “Susan dropped by I take it?” I laughed around the thermometer.  “I guess I should be glad that ‘lunatic squirrel’ isn’t something which requires more details to pin down.”  “No, Susan is pretty identifiable.” Jess agreed “Small mercies, yes?”  “Knock on wood.” I nodded.

Popping out the thermometer, Seth nodded “Yep, that’s why you’re chilled: your body temperature is down quite a bit lower than it should be.  I suppose it should be expected considering everything you’ve been through.”  Staring off into space for a second, Seth reached a decision.  “In the grand scheme of things I think it would probably be best if we just left well enough alone for the time being.  I could try bringing your body temperature up with medication, but it would be safer in the long run to just give you some extra blankets.”  “Can you prescribe lots of snuggling?” I joked “I’m slightly concerned that my caretaker there will require coercion…”  “Brat.” Jess laughed “Maybe if you didn’t insist on being so unpleasant to be around you wouldn’t require doctor’s orders to get somefur to spend time with you.”  “Well, if that’s the way you feel…err…umm.  I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence.” I sighed “Be a dear and think up a witty comeback, would you Jess?”  “Hmm… ‘Well at least I’m not a gorgeous, witty, intelligent and wildly popular vixen.’ How’s that, love?”

“I hope I find someone half as compatible as you two.” Seth laughed “You two really do seem made for each other…”  “So, how is your love life doc?” I grinned “If you’re not seeing anyone I know of a really hot single female squirrel I could introduce you to.”  “Don’t you dare.” Seth groaned.  “And you really shouldn’t try to play matchmaker.” Jess chided “I doubt even your new clan could save you if it didn’t work out and Susan decided to blame you…”  A wrathful Susan was pretty high up on my list of things I would prefer not to think about, so I was more than happy to accept a new subject of discussion.  Any subject of discussion.  “So when do I get released back to my own recognizance?”  “My recognizance.” Jess corrected.  “Not for quite some time.” Seth explained, shaking his head. “I don’t want to hear about you being anywhere that isn’t here or the zero gravity facilities for at least a week.  That will put it right about the time we get in to the docks.  Then I’ll turn you over to Dr. Farran, since she’s pretty much your family doctor at this point.  After that it’s up to her.”  “That brings up a good question: where is Dr. Farran?  I mean, not that I don’t appreciate everything you’ve been doing for me, but she is kind of my primary doctor at this point…”  “She’s back on the Silver Moon, taking care of her duties there.” Seth explained “Your crew has a lot of minor medical issues from the raider incident, and she’s pretty swamped with that, so since the Colibri has a bigger medical facility she transferred you here.  I still consult with her every day and everything, it’s not like she abandoned you or anything like that…”  “She actually dropped by yesterday.” Jess informed me “But you were asleep and I wasn’t about to wake you up for anything less urgent than an explosive decompression.”  “Ah.” I nodded.

“So what is this zero gravity thing of which you speak?” I questioned, changing the subject.  “Exactly what it sounds like.” The cheetah grinned, pleased by the fact I was beginning to take an active interest in things again.  “It’s a gym facility without artificial gravity.  Besides being a whole lot of fun it’s also a good rehabilitation tool for furs that need to keep active without exerting themselves too much.”  “Keeping active without exerting yourself?” I questioned, raising an eyebrow at the apparent contradiction.  “My point exactly.” Seth nodded as if it made perfect sense.  “It’s pretty much like that playground we went to last time we hit dirt.” Jess added cheerfully.  “I guess if the two of you are planning on imposing on me anyway I could make the time to look it over at some point.  It will be an inconvenience fitting it into my horribly busy schedule, mind you…”  “I suppose that if your schedule is tight I could substitute some more expedient but somewhat less pleasant therapies instead.” Seth offered dubiously.  “If you’re going to be snippy about it I guess I can go with the original plan.” I grumbled “But I hope you can live with the knowledge of the trouble you’re causing me.”  “I’ll survive somehow.” He laughed as he excused himself “But just barely…”

“That will give me something to do later…” I mused as Jess settled back down in her chair.  “I’m guessing that you don’t have anything to do at work for a while.  You could always come with me.  If I have to get exercise inflicted on myself I don’t see why you shouldn’t have to suffer right alongside me…”  “Oh don’t think I’m going to let you out of my sight…last time I left you unsupervised for a couple of minutes you nearly blew us out of the sky!”  “Nobody is going to let me forget that any time soon, are they?” I sighed.  “Nope, probably not.” Jess assured me.   “At least I’m memorable I guess.” I sighed.  I really was starting to get tired of rehashing things I only vaguely remembered, so a change of subject was in order.  “Can we go take a look at the zero-g facility?” I questioned Jess hopefully.  “Not until Seth clears you for it.” She rejected firmly “I’m not going to give you the opportunity to keel over dead on me, so don’t plan on trying anything new without a doctor’s note for a long, long time.”  “Did the muzzle and tail come with an instruction manual?” I joked “Maybe there are ‘care and feeding’ instructions in it somewhere…”  “I’ll check the shipping carton.  There were quite a lot of packing peanuts in there, so we may have missed something.”

Seth was apparently absurdly busy, and after the second hour or so of sitting around quietly while Jess tried to get some work done on her portable computer tablet (which it turned out you could plug in to a slot on any of the shipboard computers and piggyback on their hardware) I was growing pretty restless.  Our little corner of the medical bay had a video screen hooked up to the entertainment feeds, which unfortunately turned out to not be all that entertaining.  I guess they didn’t put any more effort into mid-afternoon programming than was typical back home, and while the results had some novelty value to them nothing managed to hold my attention for very long.  Sneaking a look over my shoulder, I discovered that Jess was quite deeply involved in her work, so with a mischievous little grin I tentatively stood up, and tested out how bad an idea trying to walk around a little bit would be.  When the first few steps didn’t cause agonizing pain or arterial spray I quickly gained more confidence until I decided that I was largely as mobile as I had been before I blasted myself into charred kibble.

Between my newfound mobility and Jess’ preoccupation with her project it wasn’t long at all before I was rooting around in the medical bay’s cabinets looking for something interesting to play with.  The first couple of cabinets I looked in were filled with all sorts of electronic bits and pieces that I couldn’t identify let alone make work.  Since I didn’t have a screwdriver, wire cutters, or anything like that taking apart Seth’s diagnostic equipment was ruled out as a possibility and I moved on to hopefully more fruitfully entertaining drawers.  Likewise tongue depressors and gauze didn’t keep me occupied for very long and I was soon starting to despair of finding anything worthwhile in the neatly organized racks of boring junk that seemed to be the sole contents of the medical bay.  “What are you up to over there?” Jess asked somewhat suspiciously from her seat in front of the computer terminal.  “Nothing particular.” I sighed, slamming the last drawer I had gone through as I officially gave up on it.  “Well if you’re bored you can help me categorize rock samples.” Jess offered.  “Aw, they’re all just alluvial sediments.” I teased, flopping back down on the bed.  “Explain to me how river gravel would end up out here in space?” Jess questioned.  “Magic probably.  Or they could have gotten lost on their way somewhere else.” I mused.  “It’s physically impossible for you to sit still for very long, isn’t it?” Jess observed “Hopefully Seth will get back soon, I’m starting to think you need exercise before you’ll be able to go naptimes tonight…”

With all the timing of a bad sitcom Seth chose that moment to poke his head back in to the room.  “My ears are burning.” He laughed, having caught the last bit of our conversation.  Since he seemed to be one of those furs that always insisted on being diabetically cheerful I leapt on the opportunity to give him a hard time.  “That’s not very damn funny, all things considered.” I glared, crossing my arms and doing my best to not break out laughing.  “Aw no, I’m sorry…” he stuttered, looking mortified and (I was pretty sure) even turning a little bit pale under his fur. “I didn’t mean…I mean I didn’t think about…umm…” he trailed off lamely once he reached the conclusion that he would probably be better if he just shut up instead of making things worse.  “Naw.” I laughed “It’s okay, I’m just messing around with you.”  “Brat.” Jess accused without bothering to try not to laugh as she cuffed me gently “If you give him embarrassment related heart issues you’ll both be stuck in Dr. Farran’s line back on the Silver Moon!”

“Oh, speaking of bad news,” Seth sighed “Lough Whitepaw cornered me for interrogation in the mess hall earlier and was interested in when he would be able to meet his new family member and unfortunately I wasn’t able to put him off any longer.  So you can probably expect a visit at some point today.”  “Well it was inevitable I guess.” Jess shrugged.  “What is so bad about them?” I wondered aloud “They can’t really be as bad as all that, can they?”  “They really can be actually.” Seth informed me, his fur involuntarily beginning to frizz up.  “The whole lot of them are raving insane and unpredictable enough that dealing with them is like navigating an asteroid field blindfolded!”  “The two of you are utterly failing to instill a sense of confident optimism in me, you know that, right?” I grumbled “I’m the one laid up in the hospital bed, I shouldn’t have to be the positive one in the room…”  “I’m very positive.” Seth disagreed firmly “I’m positive I’m going to be somewhere else if you have dire wolves dropping in to visit later.”


The cheetah was as good as his word an hour or so later when my much maligned visitor finally put in an appearance.  I was drowsing a bit, somewhere between tired and bored when the door slid open and a jet black wolf strode in with an air of a fur who owned the place.  At first glance he may have passed for some of the other wolves I had seen over the recent weeks, but under any less cursory examination there were some obvious differences.  Looking him over curiously in what I hoped wouldn’t be considered a rude manner for some reason the first thing which drew my attention was that a light interspersing of white and grey hairs actually gave his coat an almost dappled appearance rather than being a pure black hue.  He was only slightly taller than what I had come to expect from a wolf but was significantly more heavily built with a muzzle which was elongated a bit more than typical, but not disproportionately so.  Probably the most noticeable thing about him though was the air of self-confident authority with which he carried himself.

“Lough Whitepaw.” He nodded by way of introduction.  “Nick.” I nodded politely.  Pulling a thick and very homey looking patchwork blanket from the bag he was carrying Lough explained that “I was going to bring you the more traditional gift of a blade, but your mate vetoed that when we spoke earlier.  She can be a very…formidable fur.  Since medical bays always have unpleasantly sterile things I thought you might like to have something more comfortable.”  “Thank you.” I grinned, really pleased with his choice.  For a notoriously scary species Lough had very considerate taste.  “I can’t say I’m surprised by Jess’ ‘no blades’ ruling.” I shrugged, giving her a mild version of ‘the look’, deciding to push my luck a little bit (she wouldn’t smack a cripple, would she?) “You know what they say about mates and mothers…”  “And you’ve got them rolled in to one.” Lough nodded sympathetically “I’m honestly not sure if I pity or envy you…”  Seeing my startled expression he laughed before explaining “I’m the ship’s security chief, there’s not a whole lot that occurs onboard that I don’t know about, it’s my job.  And before we get any further into this, both of you should know that while my species’ views on a lot of things differ from many other species’ we’re actually quite a bit more progressive in regards to a lot of things than most.  So don’t get yourselves worked up over nothing, okay?”  “It was that obvious?” I sighed.  Lough just pointed at my tail, which I hadn’t even noticed had puffed up to two or three times its original size.

“That’s going to take some getting used to.” I grumbled “It’ll probably be years before I can play cards again…”  To my not quite annoyance both Jess and Lough laughed at that one.  “Sure, make fun of my pain.” I sighed, starting to sulk a little.  “I think I’m going to like having a little brother.” Lough grinned “All my siblings were elder females, so I kind of missed out in that respect.”  “Well, I’m sure you were fun to force into playing dress up.” Jess teased.  “Why do you think I went into the space service?” he laughed “You would have too if you were in my position…”  Settling down into one of the extra chairs with a weary sigh, Lough explained that “You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff I’ve had to deal with over the last couple of days.  I may move in here if you think your doctor could manage to keep everyone scared off for a while…”  “Suits me fine.” I nodded “You do a pretty good job keeping the visitors down yourself apparently.”  “We cultivate that image.” He grinned “You can read all about it in the pamphlet you’ll get in the mail ‘So you’ve been adopted into the clans.’.  Actually though I should probably make myself useful here…  I thought the standard lecture would be easier to sit through if you were already good and bored.”

“I’m a horrible teacher, so try to bare with me here, okay?  Hmm…where to start with this.  Our culture is a strict matriarchy, so for practical purposes a great deal of the government and social organization can wait.  Clan Whitepaw has existed for all of our recorded history, and we’re one of three elder houses on the ruling council.  Our ancestral territories are in some of the northernmost mountains, so hopefully you are at least somewhat cold-tolerant.  Also, as the newest member of the clan you will be responsible for fighting the ritual duels our species use to settle inter-clan disputes.  …I made that last part up by the way.  Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention…”  Giving Lough a withering look, I could tell Jess was considering smacking him with something, preferably freestanding and heavy.

“All things taken in to account it will probably be quite some time before the Silver Moon is anywhere near enough for it to be considered rude if we don’t put in an appearance back home, which is the good news.  Don’t get me wrong, I love our clan dearly but it’s much easier to do from a distance.” Pausing for a second, Lough got a decidedly dangerous glint in his eyes “Now that I think about it, it might not be a bad idea to blow the ship up every couple of months…extend the mean time between visits a bit…”  “Why is it that I can’t seem to run into anyfur today who isn’t horribly discouraging?” I grumbled “Between furs warning me about you and you warning me about everyone else I’m really starting to think I should find a convenient hole somewhere to crawl into and pull shut behind me…”  “Life can be difficult, yes.” Jess nodded seriously.  It was probably getting close to the time where a change of subject would be warranted.  “So what happens next?” I wondered “I mean in the grand scheme of things, not necessarily locally…”  “We get towed in for repairs.” Lough shrugged “It will probably take a couple of weeks, so they’ll issue the crew guest cabins at the dock facility while the ship is being worked on.  Which means we will all be living out of our suitcases for the duration, but it will still be better than staying on board while the ship is being repaired.  I actually did that once, it was almost a funny story excepting that it wasn’t.  The moral to take away form the experience was that umm…yeah, just don’t do it.”  “So then once they’ve got everything patched back up we get sent back out here to take the rest of the dust samples?” I wondered.  I didn’t really care for the idea, this particular chunk of space had proven itself to be quite inhospitable, and I would be more than happy to leave it alone in the future.  “Hardly.” Jess almost spat “I sent Susan out in a shuttle to collect the samples we needed yesterday, and none of us have any intention of setting a paw in this quadrant again.  If Central has a problem with it they can take it and…what are you grinning at?”  Lough had developed a massive grin during Jess’ tirade, which she very obviously didn’t appreciate.  “And I’m supposed to be the violent and unpredictable one…”

“I don’t think you could have picked a better fur to look after you.” Lough explained, turning serious for a moment. “She’s kind and patient and fiercely protective.  If you had to be thrust into a strange new world all by yourself you could do a lot worse…”  “Yes well if he had to pick an adoptive older brother he could have done worse there too…” Jess teased, lightening up the mood again “After all Lough is….uhh… And then there’s…  Well… Ah! He’s not a space pirate!”  “Gee, thanks.  It means a lot to me, really.” Lough nodded.  “Just trying to make you feel appreciated.” Jess agreed “It’s good to make sure that everyone feels appreciated now and then.”  “That is important, yes.”   “So no meeting the relatives for a while then.” I sighed, trying to keep the subject in non-hostile waters.  It would really not be fair if I had to referee a dispute while I was feeling as not great as I was…  “Not unless someone gets it into their head to visit the Aransa repair yard.” Lough nodded “Which really isn’t likely.  It’s largely a resupply post for whomever is unlucky enough to have to pass through the area.  Aransa doesn’t have a dominant sentient species, so there isn’t anything planet-side to speak of, the repair yard is basically there because there’s nothing else in that quadrant of space.”  “No natives to be hostile sounds pretty positive to me, all things considered.” I nodded.  “I’ve never been there before personally, but from what I’ve been told it’s a pretty nice place, temperate and heavily wooded.” He explained.

“Sounds like a good spot to spend some time.” I agreed.  “That’s completely up to the doctors.” Jess reminded me “I would try not to get your hopes up, you’re probably not going to be in any condition to go much of anywhere any time soon…”  “Aww…” I sighed “I really kind of want to see sky for a while.”  “Depending on how your recovery is progressing I may be able to authorize a day trip or two.” Seth offered, having drifted back in from wherever it was he had evacuated to earlier.  “Two overnighters and a weekend pass or no deal.” I responded immediately.  “Don’t even start.” Jess sighed with her usual long-suffering patience.  “Dr. Farran would give me a weekend pass…” I wheedled.   “No she wouldn’t.” Jess disagreed firmly “And I’ll be more than happy to get her on the comm. and ask her if you would like.”  “That won’t be necessary, I’ve got a pretty good idea what she would have to say.” I lamented.  “I thought not.”


I had been sulking off and on for the better part of four days when Seth finally decided that I had progressed enough to be able to leave the medical bay on my own.  Which came as a great relief to me: bed rest gets boring very quickly when there really isn’t anything to do but study or stare at the ceiling.  Once our interstellar wrecker got everything sorted out and we were on our way pretty much everyone ended up having something that they needed to be doing during the day, so my visitors dropped off significantly.  Even Jess found herself having to work rotating duty shifts helping to sort out the mangled bits and pieces of information the computer techs had begun to salvage from her department’s data cores.  Seth had also been doing his part to stifle my fun, having quickly learned to lock things up when he was out assisting Dr. Farran.  (He had been…less than enthusiastic about me trying to build a canopy bed from a collection of random supplies and instruments the first time I had been left unsupervised.)

I was still sore enough that walking was pretty tiring, but it seemed to be a small price to pay for something to occupy myself with, so after getting up from my habitual morning nap I set out in search of  the zero gravity gym Seth had told me about the other day.  It turned out to be farther from sick bay than I had assumed from the map Seth had drawn out for me that morning and by the time I had gotten there I was pretty winded.  The entrance to the gym was a sort of airlock-like almost-hatch with a little antechamber between the gym proper and the outside hallway.  It made sense after I thought about it for a minute that whatever hardware they used to isolate the space from the ship’s artificial gravity would have to encircle the space in question.  Stepping through the second set of doors I found myself in an open space almost as big as the cargo bays back on the Silver Moon.  The walls of the spherical room had a variety of bars and handholds (which could apparently be unlatched and reconfigured) which looked very similar to the rock climbing walls I had occasionally played on back home.  At various points in the open parts of the huge room were what looked like jungle gyms or miniature playscape equipment somehow tethered in place without actually being connected to anything.  The door I had come in I noticed, glancing back as I stepped off the entry sill into weightless nothing, was clearly marked as to which direction was up in the outside world.  “Handy.” I nodded to myself, visions of falling off the ceiling on my way back to sick bay evaporating.  It really would be pushing the painful side of irony if I accidentally killed myself on the way back to sick bay.  Plus I’m pretty sure that my crew wouldn’t let me get away with not hearing about it for the rest of my natural life.  Which, all things considered, was probably part of the reason I had been acting much more cautiously than usual.

Gently drifting through the air I laughed in amazement.  Here I had been living on a spaceship for several weeks (or several hundred years, depending on your perspective) and this was the first time that I had gotten to experience weightlessness.  The only way I could describe it was wonderful: somewhere between swimming and flying but without having to put any effort into the process.  Grabbing on to one of the floating jungle gyms as I drifted past, I found myself overcompensating for the movement and consequentially pivoted around the bar, banging my shoulder on the opposite side of the structure.  The stinging in my shoulder was a good lesson, and after a few more cautious tries, I had pretty much gotten the hang of things and was having a splendid time maneuvering through the various obstacles.  

All things considered, it really surprised me after an hour or so when I realized that I had done a pretty good job of wearing myself out and that I was actually tired.  I was debating dragging back to sick bay when a thought struck me.  There really wasn’t any reason I couldn’t just take a nap right where I was.  It’s not like there were a bunch of furs using the gym so I wouldn’t be getting in the way, and it would be a nice change of scenery from the medical bay.  What exactly scenery has to do with taking a nap I had not decided, but it really didn’t have much to do with anything at this point.  I tried to stretch out and get comfortable, and after a little bit of experimentation it quickly became apparent that the best way to go about sleeping in zero gravity was to just kind of curl up in the fetal position as much as my huge collection of varied and interesting pains would allow.  The tail made for a pretty good substitute snuggly, and also served the very necessary purpose of covering up my muzzle to hide the mildly disconcerting fact that my lazily random drifting was making the room seem to spin around me. I was just beginning to idly contemplate if my (significantly larger and more dynamic) inner ears were similar enough anatomically to my old form to cause motion sickness, or for that matter if furs were ever allergic to each other, when despite my preoccupations I drifted off to sleep.


“You know, I really hate to disturb things when you’re looking so incredibly cute, but if we don’t get you back to the medical bay pretty soon Seth may revoke your travel privileges.” Jess informed me kindly after spending several minutes trying to prod me awake.  “He’ll have to find me first.” I grumbled, willing myself to drift out of range of Jess’ cute but rather disruptive paw.  “There’s not all that many places for him to look.” She reasoned, deftly unwrapping my tail from where I had been using it as a pillow and beginning to tow me back towards the door with it.  “Besides, if you go missing he’ll just get ship’s security out looking for you.”  “It just so happens that I have a relative on the security force.  I’ll bet I could lean on him to make the whole mess go away.”  “It just so happens” Jess countered “that I have a brother-in-law whom I’m quite sure would be willing to cooperate fully with the search to keep me from smacking the nose off the end of his muzzle.”  “You did seem to make an impression on him, yes.” I agreed as Jess helped me to get lined up with the ‘this way is down’ markings at the entry way.  Stepping back out into the hallway with a little ‘bump’ as the artificial gravity kicked back in, I followed Jess back down the hall.  After the first couple of turns in the corridor, I couldn’t help but sigh.  “It’s probably a good thing you came to get me…” I nodded I’m not sure I could have found my way back on my own.”  “You’ll get the hang of it before too long.” Jess explained confidently “All fleet ships are built with the same general floor plan,  once you get one of them figured out  it becomes a very simple matter of looking things over before you head out for a walk in to uncharted territory.”  “Please don’t use that phrase.” I groaned “I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to go anywhere that doesn’t have a tourist bureau and brochure maps any time soon…”

“I’ll see if the station happens to have any.” Jess nodded as we arrived back at the infirmary. “Where are we, by the way?” I yawned.  “We docked while you were taking your nap.” She informed me.  “So do I get to see a third sick bay then?”  “Yep.  Seth is going to hand you off to Dr. Farran tomorrow morning and the Colibri will be on it’s way.”  “Aww…” I sighed “I was just starting to get used to things here.”  “My little kit needs stability while he’s trying to recover.” Jess agreed “It’s kind of tough isn’t it, trying to recover in the middle of all this flux…”  “Uh huh.” I nodded, settling in to bed, then snuggling in with a sigh after Jess flopped down next to me.  “Well then I guess that my news could be considered good news…” Lough mused as he pulled up a chair to the bedside and joined our little group.  “The two of you have been proving difficult to locate all morning…”  “So what’s the good news…eep!” I began, only to end up rather hastily trying to find whatever had started squirming around under the blankets.  “Tail, little brother.” Lough reminded me with a patient grin “and it looks like you had better get used to it: by the look of things it has decided it’s healed up enough to work right…”  “And the news” he continued “is that we’ve been summoned back to the Dire Wolves’ home-world for a family meet and greet.  The Matriarch feels that we should have a week, two easily, to spend while the Silver Moon gets overhauled and recertified.  Unfortunately, Dr. Farran was our last hope to get out of it, but she somehow got it in to her head that the medical facilities on the repair station are neither staffed, nor kept up to her satisfaction, and she’s thrilled to be able to send the worst off amongst us off to alternative facilities until our sick bay is fixed.”  “That sounds pretty final.” Jess sighed.  “Yep, that it is…  In her defense though, she does have a point about the…dubiousness of the station’s medical facilities…”  “That’s really not what I as a patient want to hear.” I grumbled.

“It’s a shared feeling, we all assure you.” Diller informed me, having made a far more stealthy entrance than I would have guessed possible given his size.  “This whole place is one enormous swamp-burrow.  Apparently high command had originally planned to scrap it some time ago but ended up needing the funds for a project closer to civilized space.  And here we sit.  At least until the hull finishes rusting through.”  “But we can get the ship fixed here, right?  I mean they have all the parts and equipment?”  “They do.” He sighed, pulling up a chair from the other side of the room and joining our little bedside conference “And they also have some really good reasons why we should be quick about it and get ourselves back into the air…”  “Is it really that bad?” I asked, searching Diller’s muzzle for some hint that he was joking with me.  “It is.  Which is why you are going to go visit a nice civilized planet with stably powered medical facilities while we get everything back to normal on the Silver Moon…it’s hard to work when I’m distracted worrying about my charges.  At least visiting Lough’s family we will all know that you will be well taken care of.”  “Plus we are pretty sure that the station’s crew will function quite a lot better without Lough staring over their shoulders the whole time.” Jess grinned.  “Hey, I’m very motivational!” Lough insisted, feigning being deeply wounded by Jess’ comment.

“So when are we to depart?” I wondered, expecting to hear in a few days at the earliest.  “Right after lunch.” Jess explained.  “We still largely can’t get to any of the crew’s quarters on the Silver Moon because of the damage to that part of the ship, so there isn’t anything to pack, short of whatever we can scrounge up on the Colibri and the refit station….anything I can scrounge up, you are staying right here until we leave.”  “Luggage isn’t a big deal.” Lough explained to Jess “We can just get whatever we need planet side anyway, so I wouldn’t go to any trouble…”  “I was hoping to get his stuffed doggy and a few of his other…things.” Jess tried to explain discretely, She, Lough, and I being the only ones in the room privileged with that particular bit of information.  “Oh, that’s not a problem.” Lough shrugged airily “I boxed up some of your more personal items before that deck was put under lockdown, so there is a quite well equipped travel locker waiting for you two in the hangar bay.”  “So I guess all that is left is a quick lunch and checking in with Dr. Farran in the hangar bay…” Jess agreed “We’ll meet you on the flight deck in an hour or so then…”  “And away we go!”

To Be Continued...