A round-robin story
Part 9 by Bernard Doove © 2006

Isaut felt a little smug at getting one up on her ‘uncle’. Eduonda was going to owe her big time for this. He'd blundered and she was going to pull his fur out of the flames, and she wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. She looked forward to teasing him some more.

She beamed back over to the Starwave and greeted the Transporter Operations Chief. "Well met, Pardaska!"

Pardaska smiled at the young voxxan girl. "You too, Isaut. What have you there?"

Isaut held up the package for the chief to inspect. "I'm delivering a package for my uncle, Eduonda. See, it has the ship's seal on it, so it's okay." Isaut wasn't going to let a slip with protocol mess up her plans.

"Hmm, so it is. I'll just pass it under the scanner and add ours also. Looks like this package has been bouncing around a bit."

"Yeah, but I'll make sure it gets where it needs to go. Thanks, Pardaska!" Isaut said as he handed the package back to her.

She made her way back to her cabin and left the package on the table before going out again to watch the Ripclaw through the observation lounge windows. There she could see the buzz of activity by spacesuited crewmembers effecting temporary repairs to the battered starship. She didn't realise how long she was there until the Starwave suddenly moved away, proceeding with its mission. Isaut then wandered back to the cabin and found her parents there, looking a bit exasperated.

"Isaut!" her mother began. "Have you been daydreaming all day again? We've been ready to have dinner for the past ten minutes!"

"Sorry, I was watching the repairs on the Ripclaw, and I didn't notice the time."

Her father spoke up, "That's no excuse. With both your mother and I on duty, we get to be a family for a limited amount of time, and eating dinner together is part of that precious time."

"I know! I know! I didn't mean it." Isaut had had this lecture before and was getting a bit tired of hearing it.

"And what is this package?" her father continued undeterred.

Isaut explained how it came to be there.

Her mother sighed and rubbed her temples as if she had a headache. "Isaut, when will you start paying attention? I mentioned this morning when you got up that because the Starwave had to be diverted to attend the Ripclaw, and the scientists going to study the nebula have an extremely tight schedule, they are now going to be shuttled out to meet us halfway. We're not going back to Chakona at this time."

Isaut gaped at her mother. All she could say was, "Oh." All she could think was how Eduonda was going to kill her for screwing this up.

Isaut watched the ship dock in the the Starwave's cavernous main hangar. Far from being a mere shuttle, she realised that it was more likely a fast courier ship, which explained how it was able to rendezvous with them so soon. She leaned her arms on the sill of observation window to watch the people and equipment unload. She counted seven chakats, two skunktaurs in male phase, a wolfmorph couple, a female caitian, and two unusual-looking foxtaurs. What grabbed her attention though were the crew of the ship. At first glimpse, she thought that they were voxxans, but when she saw that they were digitigrade, she knew that they had to be Terran foxmorphs. If they had been plantigrade, she would not have known that because they and voxxans looked so similar that they were often confused.

When she had seen the ship, Isaut had become discouraged. She was hoping to be able to persuade someone to take the package back, but this was a ship that specialised in shipping goods like hers, so they they almost certainly wouldn't do it for free. Then she noticed two rather small foxes also in crew uniform. Kits! It must be a family business, and their children traveled with them. Hope dawned, and Isaut made her way down to the hangar deck.

The hangar crew admonished her to stay in the safety zones, but otherwise let her alone. She approached the two kits, whom she could now see clearly as a tod and a vixen, both of the same age which she estimated at being nine Terran years. They were helping to unload the smaller stuff and, despite their young age, treating their job fairly seriously.

"Hi! My name is Isaut," she addressed them in Terranglo. "You look a bit young to be working crew."

The kits paused. "So do you," retorted the tod with a grin.

"And everyone on our ship works when we're in port," added the vixen.

"Or docked with a ship in this case," continued the tod.

"So why aren't you helping?" finished the vixen.

Isaut blinked, a little startled. "Do you always talk like that?"

They just grinned a more widely. "Talk like what?" the tod asked.

"We're talking as we always have," the vixen declared.

"But everyone seems to think we're odd," the tod noted.

"While we think that they're strange for not being able to," the vixen stated.

"Just like my sister, Sandra, and I have done all our lives," explained the tod.

"Because Matthew and I are twins and have done everything together," finished Sandra.

Isaut stared for a moment, then laughed. "Okay, I believe you're teasing me now. I don't believe you always talk like that."

"No, not always," admitted Matthew.

"But often," qualified Sandra.

"But if you want to talk with us more," said Matthew.

"It'll have to be later when we've unloaded everything," continued Sandra.

"And after we've loaded our return cargo," Matthew added.

"Then we'll have some personal time," Sandra concluded.

"If you can, will you come up to the observation lounge?" Isaut asked. "I have something important to ask you two, and I'll treat you to whatever this ship can make that your ship doesn't have."

The twins looked at each other as if reading each other's thoughts, then they faced the voxxan again.

"We'll meet you there," Sandra said.

"But we don't promise anything," Matthew warned.

"That's okay. I'll be waiting! Seeya!" Isaut then waved at the unusual twins and scampered off to her cabin to fetch the package. It was a long shot, but maybe she was going to get out of this with her hide intact after all.

Because the Starwave was assigned to the Voxxa sector, the ship had a large majority of voxxan crewmembers, and the replicators had a wide selection of voxxan delicacies available. The twins seemed to know a bit about voxxan foods, and ordered some delicious treats which they ate while Isaut made her pitch. Being trader folk, she knew it wasn't going to be easy to convince them to take something out of sheer good will though.

However, the long and unusual string of carriers and the nature of the task intrigued the twins, so they were receptive to Isaut's offer. They had some qualifications though.

"Although we travel to Chakona regularly," began Sandra.

"We're not going back there directly, continued Matthew.

"Because we have to take some salvaged materials to Starbase 2 first," explained Sandra.

"And our next destination depends on what happens there," concluded Matthew.

"However we can ensure that your package will be forwarded to Chakona," reassured Sandra.

"And far quicker than waiting for you to come back from the dark nebula," Matthew confidently promised.

"In exchange for due consideration, of course!" Sandra declared, waving her spoon for emphasis.

Isaut made her way back to the cabin with relief. It had cost her a large chunk of her replicator allowance in special treats, but the package was now back en route to its destination. She only hoped that it would get there before Eduonda asked about it. She laughed a little mirthlessly. What a poor deal - all those Voxxan treats for one packet of Terran delicacy. "Might as well try it now," she thought.

A couple of minutes later, she was thinking of the best way of murdering her uncle while trying to put out the fire in her muzzle.


Continued in The Package, part 10.

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