The Fiora's Fury dropped out of warp into an uncharted solar system, the usual rainbow of radiation quickly fading out as the small ship re-entered normal space. Heading towards the inner planets, the ship's impulse engines fired, picking up speed and settling into a sun-neutral attitude as it continued its cruise.
"What do you think, Ranthe? Any idea where we are yet?"
The jumpsuit-clad vixen looked up to her partner, another vulpine, this time male and wearing a patchy black-and-white jacket that made him look more like a magpie than a fox. "Still no joy, sir," Ranthe sighed, after some more adjustment of the nav control panel. "We've lost all contact with Nighthawk and any Furrderation beacons. We have to land somewhere stable to realign the guidance systems, but I think there's simply nothing to pick up out here - wherever 'here' is."
MayFurr silently stared out the cockpit window at the planet they were approaching. "And probably no-one's explored this far out either." he finally replied. He looked around the rest of the cockpit, his eyes taking in the bent and buckled panelling, dislocated consoles and occasional blackened streaks - mute testament to the severity of the ordeal they had both endured two days ago. His eyes came to rest on his co-pilot, Ranthe's eyes meeting his for several wordless moments before he had to turn away. "The fourth planet in this system looks good for a landing though..."
Ranthe nodded. "Similar gravity and atmosphere to Furry Prime, two moons, abundant life signs if the instruments can be believed." Suddenly, the vixen frowned. "Hold on, sir... I'm picking something up on the EM sensors... bearing..." She paused. "From the planet, sir. It's inhabited."
Foxy paws flew over the sensor controls. "Yes. And the signals... they're coming from a platform in geostationary orbit around the planet. Whoever they are, they've got spaceflight."
"Damn," MayFurr softly breathed. "Just our luck."
"What do you mean, sir?"
MayFurr swivelled in his pilot chair to face Ranthe, and smiled. "Normally, I'd be happy about discovering a new civilisation an' all that, but normally we'd have the Nighthawk as backup with a whole team of specialists in First Contact procedure. In this case..."
"... I understand, sir." Ranthe finished. "We're not able to deal with it by ourselves."
"Exactly. All we want is to inspect the damage from the transition, stabilise the nav gear, and get some sort of supplies to stock the ship up. We can do that ourselves." MayFurr leaned against the flight console. "Any of the other planets suitable for us?"
Ranthe shook her head, her ears twitching. "No. All others are gas giants or have limited atmosphere. I'm afraid sir, this world is it."
The male fox considered for a moment or two. "Plot course for the planet, Ranthe, and land us someplace remote for now."
Ranthe brought the ship down in a forest clearing on a landmass in the southern half of the planet, the noise of the landing jets causing all the local wildlife to scatter as the "Fiora's Fury" touched down. After the usual checks had been carried out, MayFurr and Ranthe opened the main hatch and climbed out onto the brick-red soil. Turning around to look back at the ship, both foxes gasped...
The ship had taken a terrible beating in the 'transition' accident - the formerly pristine-white skin was pockmarked with dents, scrapes and burns. As the foxes examined their craft, each found signs of the terrible stresses the Fury had endured as it had been sucked into the spatial distortion created by the explosion of the Kilrath'i mothership. Buckled mounting pods and fins, scratched and dented panels... the damage list seemed to go on and on.
Still, despite its damaged appearance, the ship was pretty much intact, causing MayFurr to sigh with relief. "It's not as bad as we thought, Ranthe," he said, sitting down on one of the main ladder rungs as Ranthe flopped down onto the ground beside him. "We've still got our ECM and sensor pods attached, and the engines look okay. No leaks either, thank god."
"We did lose the weapons pod though, sir," Ranthe reminded him. "We've only got the inbuilt light cannon for defence if we need it, and we still don't know who's friendly or not around here."
MayFurr grimaced. "Yeah, yeah, I know Ranthe.. but the point is, we can at least fly and find out way around without too much trouble."
"I know," Ranthe sighed. MayFurr was right - it could have been worse, a lot worse. She breathed a silent prayer of thanks to the Furry Aerospace designers. "So... what do we do now?"
MayFurr stood up. The yellow sun was starting to set below the trees, and the light grew steadily dimmer. "I think first we try and conceal the ship, get it under the trees a bit more, then we get some rest. After what we've been through, I think we need it."
He was in flying in space, Ranthe at his side, attacking the Kilrath'i raider with the rest of the Nighthawk fighters...
"Beta wing, take out the port side - "
"I'm onto him, I'm onto him..."
The confusion of space combat -
"Direct hit on their reactor, sir!"
"Nighthawk to <bzzzzzzt> get <bzzzzt> -"
"Beta twelve Nighthawk, repeat!"
"Beta <zzzzt> out, <bzzzzt> gonna blow -"
The ship turning away from the exploding battlecruiser... stars whirling in the viewscreen as the Fury attempted to pull away...
Ranthe calling to him - "She's going up, sir! We can't - "
A flare of white - tumbling with the shockwave -
"Controls won't respond, Ranthe - "
" - picking up spatial distortion at the blast centre, sir! We're getting - "
Urgent calls on the comm channel - "Beta twelve, get out of there!"
"Engaging the emergency transporter -"
"MayFurr! It's not working! We're going in! - "
"Beta ten Beta twelve, GET OUT!"
"Hold on... oh my GOD!"
A terrible pain throughout his body, squeezing him, stretching him -
- beside him, a voice shrieking out in agony -
MayFurr woke up with a start, his eyes jerking open as he gasped for breath, his body shaking. He frantically looked over to the copilot position in the darkness, sighing with relief and visibly relaxing as he saw her peacefully sleeping in her seat. Groaning quietly, he closed his eyes and tried to curl up in the somewhat uncomfortable pilot chair, nervously attempting to return to sleep.
The sun dawned over the forest next morning, light filtering through the branches and leaves, casting speckled shadows on the Fury's hull. The ship now rested completely under the canopy of the forest, invisible to any airborne observer, the only clues to its existence the tracks of the landing gear in the soft red soil and some scorched trees.
MayFurr and Ranthe had awoken, and had built a small fire a short distance from the ship, each chewing on emergency rations from the opened survival kit.
Ranthe finished her ration off with one last swallow, and made a face. "They sure didn't include good taste with those, did they?" she grumbled.
MayFurr laughed at that. "I'd have to agree there, Ranthe" he chuckled, idly fiddling with the survival knife he'd found. "Anyway, with any luck we'd be able to hunt something up, and have some real food."
"Like our ancestors, you mean?" Ranthe asked, shaking her head and brushing her long flowing head-fur through her claws as she dropped the ration wrapper into the fire.
"Yeah... but we're got more than teeth and claws." MayFurr answered. He smiled at the vixen. "We'll be okay for now - don't worry."
Ranthe watched as MayFurr rummaged through the rest of the survival kit. Despite his assurances, she knew he was worried - and with good reason. They were lost, in an uncharted part of space, maybe not even in the same dimension anymore. They had no idea where they were, or where home was... and that was only half the problem.
She looked over her shoulder at the ship, the dappled light through the trees making strange and even beautiful patterns on the hull. The Fury was a short to medium range attack and reconnaissance craft, based to a carrier ship like the Nighthawk or a starbase. Even though it had remarkable range and endurance compared to the rest of Beta squadron, it still wasn't in the league of a proper starship for interstellar travel. Even if we did find out where we are, Ranthe thought bleakly, would the Fury have the range to get us home?
Her train of thought was interrupted as MayFurr closed the survival kit. He slung a small laserifle onto his shoulder, and picked up his battered old wide-brimmed hat, placing it on his head. "I'd better do a check of the area, and see if I can get something for dinner," he said. "You want to come with me?"
Ranthe shook her head. "I'll stay here, sir, and see if I can get a fix on something that'll tell us where we are."
MayFurr nodded. "If anything happens, get inside the ship and close the hatch. I'm carrying a comlink so you'll be able to alert me. Good luck, Ranthe."
"And to you, sir."
An hour or so later, MayFurr leaned against a tree, taking a rest and feeling pleased with himself. He'd located a creek with fresh-flowing water a few minutes from the clearing, and had managed to shoot a couple of interesting looking bird-like creatures to take back to the camp. If I'd kept up marksmanship, I should've got the other five as well, he grinned to himself.
The fox looked up through the canopy to the blue sky above, fanning himself with his hat. Gods, but this place was beautiful! All unspoiled as far as he could see, pleasantly warm, and an abundance of different trees and bushes. He hadn't seen anything like this since his last leave planetside on Furry, and even there the parks were all carefully laid out and maintained instead of running so wild and lush...
And Ranthe has said she had detected signs of intelligent life? He hadn't seen any sign of habitation yet... He shrugged. After all, he had told her to land somewhere remote, and she was very good at doing what she was told in these situations. She certainly hadn't counted on this as part of checking out the lead SR-146, had she? MayFurr smiled as pleasant though unprofessional thoughts regarding his companion ran through his mind, encouraged by the appeal of the forest and the fresh clean air. He sat down against the base of the tree, and began to examine his day's catch.
About two kilometres away from MayFurr, Sundown was also enjoying the pleasant summer's day, hir paw feet padding softly through the undergrowth as shi made hir way through an uncharted part of the national park. The tawny-red chakat liked taking the opportunity to 'go bush' as often as shi could on Chakona, finding wandering through virgin forest to be a healthy contrast to hir normal desk-bound job. Even though the centauroid feline race had colonised this planet many years ago with the benefit or advanced technology, there was still no substitute for simply getting down on the ground and exploring, and Sundown liked mysteries. In fact, the old phrase about curiosity and cats would have perfectly suited hir, had anyone been rash enough to use it within hir hearing. And now shi had three whole weeks to hirself to explore!
Shi paused for a moment to enjoy the scenery, wiping her muzzle, before reaching back to the saddlebag on hir lower body to pull out a canteen and take a long drink. Mmmm, hot work!
Sundown was just about to continue on hir way when hir sensitive ears picked up a soft 'zing' off in the distance, pulling hir up with a start. Shi listened again, and sure enough the sound repeated itself - three, four... five times.
Bloody idiot, shi swore to hirself under her breath. Don't they know this is a national park? All firearms, including energy weapons, were barred as any cub knew.
Someone had to do something. So, having worked out where the sounds were coming from, shi continued working hir way through the bush.
Ranthe sat at the nav console, taking deep breaths of the fresh air gently flowing through the open hatchway. Even accounting for the admittedly tedious job she was doing, she felt wonderful. After breathing recycled shipboard air for about the last month during her tour on the Nighthawk, the clean planetary air was positively invigorating. And it was such a nice day too!
She shook her head-fur around some more, brushing it back, her nose quivering as she scented the air. Fresh pine-like aromas floated through the breeze, reminding her of home.
Home... so long ago, so far away, she sighed. Even accounting for the shakedown tour she had contracted to do for MayFurr in checking out the Fury, it had been a long time since she had returned to her ancestral home and her family.
A beep from the console attracted her attention. Ranthe looked at the panel, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, that's the alignment successfully started," she murmured to herself, "hopefully in a few hours we'll have some sort of fix on our position." She leaned back in the cockpit seat to wait, before deciding she would be far more comfortable outside in the fresh air. This was far too nice a day to waste inside in a stuffy old jumpsuit...
By now, MayFurr had managed to complete a circuit of the Fury's position, and was satisfied that there was indeed no habitation in the vicinity. He looked down at the tracker beacon, noting the bearing back to the ship, and decided to head back. As he walked, dry sticks and twigs snapped under his weight as he stumbled through the forest undergrowth.
Sundown heard the sounds of movement as shi silently crept up on the stranger, her sensitive ears flicking and listening. Shi crouched down on all four legs, retrieved a pair of binoculars from hir saddlebag, and scanned through the underbrush.
There... a shadowy looking form with an old looking hat... and vulpine ears. Probably a dumb offworld tourist, shi thought. Shi adjusted hir halter top, and moved to stand up, pulling against a tree-trunk with hir arms while hir four legs stretched out below. Hir hindleg pressed against a dry stick as shi raised hirself to hir full height...
MayFurr whirled around in shock, frantically looking for the source of the sound - and spotted what looked like a female feline 'morph rising out of the underbrush. Hastily, the fox dropped to the ground.
Sundown saw the fox turn to face hir, then drop out of sight, but shi could still hear the fox's movements. Cursing hir clumsiness, shi stood up the rest of the way and pushed hir way through the brush towards the stranger. "Hey! Hey! What on earth do you think you're doing?" shi called out...
The fox poked his head up for a brief instant, only to see the feline advancing on him. "Shit!" MayFurr whispered under his breath, his heart sinking as he realised whoever was out there had spotted him. He heard the feline call out in a harsh growly sort of language he couldn't understand, getting louder by the minute. He couldn't get away in time!
MayFurr's eyes flicked to the gun he was carrying - then dismissed it in a second. It would take too long to get it off his shoulder, let alone set it to stun... Instead, he crouched lower on the ground, wriggling into the bushes...
Sundown was almost upon the stranger, shi could tell. He'd moved off to the right a bit, obviously hoping shi would pass him by. Out of the corner of hir eye shi saw movement -
MayFurr leapt out from the bushes, aiming to bring the feline down in a rugger-tackle -
The chakat staggered under the surprise attack, almost toppling over as the strange fox lunged and grabbed at hir waist from the side, trying to wrestle Sundown to the ground. Hir lower limbs scrabbled to regain hir balance...
A few minutes later, MayFurr kneeled gasping for breath at the side of his unconscious opponent, slowly starting to think that he'd gotten in over his head on this one. It had been a close fight with this...this... whatever it was.
For a start, the surprise he'd given the felinoid was almost neatly cancelled out by discovering that 'she' was double the size he was expecting, and had an extra pair of legs! She had managed to withstand MayFurr's attempt at tackling her, her two sets of legs giving her incredible stability, and the only reason he'd been able to beat her was by climbing over her lower torso and wrestling her from behind where she couldn't reach. Even so, the fox had been lucky - the feline had almost bested him when she hit her head on a low branch and stunned herself...
MayFurr rolled the unconscious feline centaur onto her back - or, to be more precise, backs - and discovered something else unusual. 'She' had a very male-looking sheath between the hind legs, and if beyond that was what he thought it was... Good grief, what WAS this thing? A feline centaur? Male and female together - a hermaphrodite?
"Oh god... now what?" MayFurr groaned. He couldn't leave this creature here. Even apart from the fact that when 'she' came to she would almost immediately bring in the authorities - which was the last thing he and Ranthe wanted - he also knew that simply abandoning the feline 'taur in the forest wouldn't be safe for 'her' either, and he didn't want that on his conscience. He had enough to cope with as it was.
Only one thing for it. The fox struggled to his feet, and took his jacket off. Fashioning a crude travois from some dead branches, MayFurr rolled the creature onto it, and lifted up one end. He set off back to the ship, his legs straining under the load.
Gods, this thing was heavy!
Ranthe was startled out of her daydreaming by MayFurr crashing through the edge of the clearing. She looked up as he staggered back under the cover of the trees towards the ship, pulling a shapeless looking form behind him. "MayFurr, how did it..."
"Don't ask!" MayFurr panted, pulling the travois up to the nose of the ship, dropping it with a relieved groan onto the ground. "Had some trouble..."
Ranthe clambered to her feet and ran over to support the panting fox, who was wheezing and puffing from his exertions. Catching sight of the unconscious chakat, her eyes widened. "What... IS that?" she whispered.
"A guest." MayFurr gasped, leaning onto the vixen, grateful for the support. "One of the locals caught sight of me <pant>... had to stop it <gasp>... couldn't leave it there, so had to bring it back... <pant pant>" He started coughing uncontrollably for a few moments before recovering. "Gods, it put up a good fight as well!"
Ranthe knelt down, carefully examining the strange creature lying on the ground. There certainly was a lot of it, she noticed, with two torsos - one animal-like, the other smaller but much like her own - joined at the 'waist', with two sets of legs on the lower body and a pair of relatively normal-looking arms on the upper. The vixen ran her paw over the feline face of the sleeping stranger, feeling the soft if coarse fur, before reaching down to touch what looked like very generous breasts. Funny, they felt different to her own, firmer and more rigid somehow. "So what do we do with her, sir?" she asked.
"It's not a she, Ranthe," MayFurr answered, kneeling down beside her. "Check between its hind legs and you'll see what I mean." He drew a deep breath and pushed his hat up. "As for what we do now... I dunno. Sedate her or something I suppose."
"What with?" Ranthe snorted. "Sir, we've only got a basic medkit..."
"That's got sedative in it, right?" he asked.
"Yeah, but look at the SIZE of her - I mean, he, um... whatever. I'm a tech-rep, not a doctor!"
"Well, you try working out what'll keep this thing asleep for however long we're here."
"Ah." MayFurr had to concede that one. "Any other ideas?"
"Well, there's always the old-fashioned method..."
He nodded. "Yeah, that should do it. There should be something in the aft compartments - I'll get it." He stood up, and clambered up into the open hatchway. Just before entering the ship, he turned and called out, "Hey - what happened to your jumpsuit?"
The vixen blushed underneath her fur, her tail twitching with embarrassment.
"I was hot, okay?"
Sundown woke up, and tried to move... and found shi couldn't.
Shi shifted hir aching head, drunkenly trying to remember. Shi had been tracking some idiot tourist through the forest when something leapt at hir.. or had shi jumped at something instead? She almost won something, but... what?
The chakat opened hir eyes, and struggled to focus. Shi was in a camp of some sort, that much shi could work out, and there was a fox couple working on... on... Sundown shook hir head to try and clear hir vision, but to no avail.
Shi experimentally moved hir legs, one at a time, and found that while shi couldn't move them very far at all, nothing was broken or damaged as far as shi could tell. Shi managed to roll onto one side, and found the reason for hir lack of movement.
Shi was hog-tied to the ground.
Both sets of legs were tied together, and a rope of some alien description tied that to two stakes, one of either side of hir. Shi reached for the knot, only to find shi simply couldn't bend that far forward, and flopped back onto hir side. What the ...
"Hey! HEY! What's going on?"
Ranthe heard the alien yowling first, and ran over to the bound creature, kneeling down next to it's head and stroking it, trying to reassure and quieten their 'guest'. MayFurr poked his head around from the ECM pylon of the ship and groaned. "Oh great - it's awake. Try and calm it down, Ranthe... we don't want it attracting attention."
"I'm trying that!" Ranthe retorted, her efforts at pacifying whatever their guest was failing miserably. "I think it's trying to talk to us, but I can't understand a word it's saying!"
"Terrific," MayFurr muttered. "Where's a universal translator when you need one?"
Where's a universal translator when you need one? Sundown angrily thought to hirself. Despite hir best efforts at communicating, hir two fox captors obviously didn't understand hir repeated requests for an explanation. Earth Standard, Esperanto, Australian, and a dozen other languages in which shi was fluent went by without any acknowledgment from either of the two vulpines. And the way the female was trying to calm hir down by treating hir like some overgrown house-cat - that made hir even MORE irritated! Who on Chakona WERE these people? What the hell had shi done to deserve this?
Continue to Chapter 2
Copyright 1996 Terry Knight.
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