A round-robin story
Part 4 by Gregg Anderson © 2006

Hyjinx held the box against hir, shifting it until it was at least slightly balanced in hir paws before grinning and waving at the departing feline. "You sure you don't want to come in and see what the shuttle looks like? You were awfully curious about its outside and I have full access to everything inside it."

Mary paused a moment before looking back at the small chakat cub. "Everything? Even the Command Console?" She smiled as she asked, already suspecting what the response will be.

The chakat looked down for a moment before admitting, "Well... maybe not everything. But I can show you what the command console looks like and let you see what the Blowfish looks like. We've a really nice holographic picture of her."

Mary hesitated for a moment then gave in and with a smile returned to the shuttle. "To be honest, my parents wouldn't trust me with something like that either yet." She paused as the chakat cub opened a panel and began punching the access code into the buttons within.

"No peeking now. My sire would have my hide if anyone learned this." Shi quickly closed the panel as the portal slid open and a short series of steps unfolded down to the hard tarmac. "Come on in. My parents won't be finished with the contract signing for another hour or so. If we hurry, neither of us will get into trouble."

Shi led hir new friend into the shuttle, quickly hiding the package inside a small storage bin set inside the airlock. "They won't have any reason to check here until the next time they have to use the shuttle for an open space excursion. They used it today because they're picking up some special medications that don't do well in a transporter." Shi opened the airlock into the shuttle itself and proudly swept hir paw out. "It's small but VERY fast, my Sire even won a bet with someone in a race last week." Shi led Mary down the narrow central hall pointing out the access doors to the various storage and sleeping compartments. "Most of the Guppy is set up for cargo, but we've two sleeping rooms. One for us and one for a passenger, though we don't get a lot of those. Some of the cargo spaces can be opened to space if need be, sometimes we get things too big to haul inside so we load them from outside." Then shi paused, a transparent but very solid door separating the Command Bridge from the rest of the shuttle. "You were right though. I can't go in there; not yet, not unless my Mother or Sire are with me." Shi hid hir brief embarrassment and pointed towards a small frame set against the wall next to the entrance. "But there's that picture of the Blowfish I promised you."

Mary looks over at the image in surprise. "I... I don't think I've seen anything like that before. It's really your ship? It looks like, well, a fat fish with lots of silver scales. I've seen round hulls before but not with that odd cone like tail end. I can see the warp nacelles on the end of those thick fins at the bottom of the cone, but what type is ship is it?"

Hyjinx shrugged as shi replied; "To be honest, I'm not really sure. My Sire called it a third generation torch ship, and that Shi and Mom got it really cheap as it had been laying in orbit for over a hundred years. They added a warp core and two drive units to it so it could travel at warp speed. They also kept the torch thing as a surprise in case they had an emergency or got jumped by pirates. I don't know all the details, but they seem happy with it."

Mary only shook her head as every word just passed over her, having never heard of torch ships or anything except warp drive. "If it works, I guess that's all that matters." Looking up at the clock over the sealed door she gasped. "Hyjinx... you said your parents would be back in an hour! It's almost that now, I've got to get out of here before we both get caught!"

The chakat cub quickly nodded and guided the feline back to the airlock. "Hurry! If they see you, we might both be in a world of..." Hir words were cut off as the outer airlock door opened to the surprised expressions of two adult chakats. The large, lynx-tailed chakat asked in a low voice; "Hyjinx, youngling, have you been up to your games again?"

"No, Sire," shi quickly replied. "I met a new friend and was just showing her the Guppy. She's really very nice and loves the way you painted her." Shi looked over to Mary for support who quickly nodded.

"I'm sorry if I intruded, but your ship was so pretty I had to look at it, and Hyjinx let me see it, but shi didn't let me touch anything. Please, don't be upset with hir."

Both chakats look at each other and nod. "Very well, I trust you enjoyed your tour but we're expecting an important delivery and all of us..." Shi looked directly at the chakat cub, "ALL of us, are going to be rather busy as we load the cargo and run through preflight so we can return to the Blowfish." Shi stepped aside and gave Mary a clean escape route. "Please give our best to your parents, but you might want to be careful when wandering around a starport. Not everyone you might meet here is as trusting or trustworthy as our kit."

Mary nodded quickly and gave the chakat cub a hug and a whispered 'thank you' before she dashed down the ramp and hurried off, hearing the ramp retract and airlock seal behind her. "Oh Jinx, I hope I didn't get you into trouble."

It was several hours as the Guppy maneuvered outside the large globe of the Blowfish and entered the open cargo bay, settling down and locking onto the cargo floor as the massive door closed and the cargo bay repressurized. "Okay, let's get the cargo sealed and stowed. We've a long trip to Starbase 16 and the sooner we start the better."

Hyjinx looked up at hir sire in surprise.. "I thought we were going to Chakona?"

"We are, but it seems Star Fleet has discovered a small outbreak of some new illness and they want us to drop off some new medications for them. It will only add a month or two to our trip to Chakona and they're paying well over the standard rate so we couldn't turn them down. Business is business, right youngling?"

The kit's expression dropped as shi tried to not show hir disappointment or, more importantly, the reason for it. "I... I understand." Shi watched as hir parents opened the fourth shuttle access port and stepped out to oversee the transfer of the delicate medications. As they did this, shi sneaked back to the storage bin and pulled the rectangular box out and began to sneak it into the Blowfish's living space. Sadly, shi was not quite as stealthy as shi had wanted to be.

"HYJINX!!" came a shout as hir mother walked over to hir before whispering so that the cub's sire wouldn't overhear. "You have some explaining to do, little one. What are you holding?"

Then the more solidly built outline of hir sire moved in behind hir mother and gave hir ear a quick lick. "You know how good my hearing is, love, so maybe I should be part of this as well?"

The cub felt like trying to find a hole to hide in but could only clutch the box closer to hir. "It's... it's a present that my friend is trying to get to Chakona. It's from someone very special to her and for that friend's Aunt. They can't afford to ship it and Mary asked if I could help them get it there for them."

"A friend, this... Mary feline?"

"Yes, I trust her, father. You told me how important it is for a trader to learn how to tell when someone's being honest or not. I'm positive she was being honest with me, that she's trying to do a good thing and... well, I wanted to help her. It's a family present, you told me how important family is."

This set both adults back for a moment, surprised at the sincerity and force of their cub's statement before hir sire nodded. "Very well, both are important, but trust is also something that is earned, and you KNOW the rules. Nothing comes onto the Blowfish without being scanned first. True, youngling?"

Hyjinx's expression drops as shi softly replies.. "Yes sire. I wasn't sure how to do that though and hoped we could sneak it to Chakona without anyone knowing. I was wrong, wasn't I?"

"Wrong only in how, not in why." The two chakats looked at each other, then hir sire reached out to the package, taking from the cub. "Okay, come with us to the processing room. As I said nothing comes onboard without scanning. So let's get that out of the way first." For the first time since getting caught, the cub's expression lit into a bright smile. "Yes sir. May I watch?"

The trip to the cargo intake section took only a few minutes and in no time the small box was laid out under a wide tube-like scanning unit. As hir mother pressed the activation button the scanner began running over the box, sweeping up and down its short length. "Hmmm... Nothing explosive, no lifesigns, no obvious toxins or radioactive compenents." Shi studied the display then smiled. "Hmm... someone has good taste in what to send someone far away." As Hyjinx tried to step closer, shi shut the display off. "No dear, this is someone else's present. I think it's safe enough to take with us, though I do regret the delay our diversion will cause its getting to Chakona."

Hyjinx's sire cleared hir throat. "Okay, then we've additional cargo to deliver. The question now is who will be paying for that delivery?" Shi fixed hir child with hir eyes. "You accepted this new cargo, and as such it is up to you to handle that bill, do you understand?"

HyJinx gulped and nodded. "I... I think so."

"Then to settle that bill, you're going to be handling double chores, youngling, two weeks worth. I also think a second shift with your Mother on scanner maintenance will help you understand how critical it is not to allow untested cargo onboard. " Shi smiled at the cub's expression. "Don't give me that look, we both know you've been neglecting that particular duty, but if you're going to assume command of this ship one day, you've got to know every inch of it. Bow to stern, including the cargo scanner." Shi began to chuckle as hir mate interrupted.

"You know, speaking of the scanner. Since we've cleared the contents, we may as well put the ship's seal on it to certify its contents and safety. That might..." shi looked at hir cub, "might keep someone else from getting into trouble for bringing something untested onto their ship."


Continued in The Package, part 5.

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