Characters and Text © 1999, 2000, C Sandwalker
Arrallins © Dee Dreslough

Kira awoke from her unconscious state slowly, as if she were swimming through molasses. From somewhere she scrounged the energy to open her eyes.

It took a few seconds for her vision to clear, and when it had the first thing she saw was a large beak, accompanied by a pair of intensely blue eyes.

"What the hell..." she muttered hoarsely, her eyes widening in a mixture of shock and surprise. She tried to back away, but soon dimly realized she was still strapped into her command chair.

The eyes and beak moved away, allowing Kira to see more fully what was standing in front of her. Her thoughts began to churn around, albeit slowly, putting bits and pieces together to form a more complete picture. I'm alive, and looking at something that has the head of an eagle, the body of a large cat, wings... I've either suffered some mental damage in the crash, or I'm staring at a real, live gryphon.

The creature's beak opened, and emitted something incomprehensible.

"I hope you're not hungry," Kira murmured, eyeing the sharp edges of the gryphon's beak. She had a fair idea of what such equipment was capable of doing. Keeping watch on the thing's activities, she unbuckled her belt and, moving slowly, she attempted to get out of her chair. Almost immediately she fell forward onto the floor. "Ow. Jeez, I must be weaker than I thought."

Before she could make any attempt to get up, the gryphon laid a paw on her shoulder, its eyes closing in concentration. A few seconds later Kira felt a strange tingling sensation throughout her body, uncomfortable, but bearable.

It lasted about five minutes, though she really couldn't tell. The gryphon opened its eyes, and said something again. "Man, we're going to have a fun time learning to speak that language of yours," muttered Kira, standing up and looking around the incredibly damaged bridge.

"Wait a minute...I'm standing! Hey! I don't hurt any more!" Kira twisted around, doing physical exercises to test out her newly-regained strength. "Ouch. Maybe not," she said as she bent to touch her toes.

Straightening, she stepped over to Keryss, who still appeared to be breathing, but barely. He was sprawled over his console, now crudely decorated with a network of cracks and dents. A splatter of blood stained the white fur on his head. "Keryss." Kira gently shook her Officer. "Keryss?"

She turned to the gryphon. "Can you help him?" she asked. Thinking hard, she mimicked its movement of putting paw on shoulder, gestured at Keryss, and tilted her head in inquiry.

The gryphon nodded, and repeated her odd healing process.

Almost immediately Kira noticed an improvement in Keryss' breathing, and a few minutes later he was muttering about a headache.

"You okay?" she asked, almost immediately thinking of how stupid a question that was.

"Did anyone get the number of that planet that hit us?" He groaned when he sat up. "I feel as if someone's taken a hammer to the inside of my head, and started renovations. I have such a headache."

Kira smiled. "Little wonder, considering that we were doing well over Mach 3 when we hit. Luckily this ship was built to last." She stopped and glanced around, taking note of the damage wrought. "Well, at least stand up to a severe beating." She began walking around the bridge, gesturing for Keryss and the gryphon to follow.

Together, they made a circuit, checking on each person who had been on the bridge, letting the gryphon heal those who were in need of urgent attention.

Kira and Keryss were gratified to learn that of the ten on the bridge, only one had died, and he had been killed by large shards of the viewscreen flying through the air when it shattered on impact. In view of their current situation, he was expendable, lacking any particular skills needed for survival.

"Keryss, help me get these people outside, will you?" All were capable of walking, some with a noticeable limp. Kira put an arm around Etayne, and guided her to the bridge doors. Stepping through, she was taken aback at the havoc wrought in her ship. Behind her came the gryphon, who Carston was leaning on for support, being rather short and just the right height, then Keryss.

The gryphon pushed ahead, disappearing down the warped corridor. "Well, she seems to know where to get out, so..." She started walking after the creature, Keryss right at her heels.

At every doorway along the corridor Kira put her head in, looking for any casualties, mentally tagging each one for future retrieval. She shook her head at the immense destruction wrought.

"This is the way to the infirmary," she remarked, as the gryphon turned a corner. At the end of the second corridor Kira could see bright light, coming from a large hole in the ship's foot-thick skin, right where the infirmary was.

Looking around she saw medical instruments scattered all over, cupboards and drawers open, spilling their contents out into the room. "I hope no-one was visiting here," Kira whispered in an aside to Keryss.

She blinked in the bright sunlight when she stepped out onto the beach, pulling Etayne through after her. "Wow," she muttered swivelling her head around to survey their surroundings. With the exception of the large group of gryphons standing nearby, it looked much like a beach on old Earth.

She took Etayne a few more steps, and eased her down onto the soft yellow sand. Turning around she cringed at seeing the full extent of the collision's damage. She looked from one end to the other, and even before she got halfway, she knew the ship would never fly again.

Taking a deep breath, she strode back into the ship through the hole they had exited from to fetch more people out. When she got back in, she suddenly remembered the people in cold storage. Surely that would be extensively destroyed.

Almost breaking her neck on debris that had spilled into the numerous corridors, she dashed to the cargo bay, whose doors had been shunted out of their guiding tracks. With almost every ounce of strength she had in her body, she managed to force open the doors enough for her to slip through.

At first glimpse she wasn't sure whether to be relieved or aghast. A lot of the cold sleep capsules were in disarray, but on closer inspection she found that the most damage they had suffered were cracks in the strengthened glass.

Sighing with relief, Kira ran back up stairs and through corridors until she got to the outside again. Spotting Keryss and a few others who had recovered sufficiently to be of use, she shepherded them, plus a few willing gryphons, back into the ship to help her retrieve the Muscarians, and any other people they might come across.

Several hours later, after a thorough search of the wrecked ship, everyone was accounted for. Kira, looking a bit dishevelled, stood facing the surviving crew and cargo. To one side was a carefully laid out row of bodies, numbering no more than thirty or so.

Brushing wayward strands of hair away from her face, Kira spoke in a tired voice. "As you can plainly see, we've landed ourselves in a slight predicament." A small titter of laughter rippled through the crowd. Kira smiled. "Overall, most of us are more or less alive, with the exception of those unfortunate souls over there." She gestured with one arm while she thought. "I'm sure these gryphons won't object too much to our abrupt arrival, and hopefully we can come to an understanding of sorts about living arrangements. Of course," and Kira grinned wryly, "we'll have to learn each other's languages first."

As if it understood, the gryphon that she had woken up to find staring at her stepped forward. Sitting on its haunches, it lifted a paw, and lightly thumped its chest, muttering a word. It then pointed with the same paw at Kira, tilting its head in an expression of inquiry.

It took her only a moment to realize that it was telling her its name, and was asking for hers. Imitating the same movement Kira pointed to her chest and said clearly, "Kira." Pointing at the gryphon, she tried repeating the word the gryphon had said, "Alla."

The gryphon nodded, and turned to look at her fellows, saying something to them, which included 'Kira' in it. Turning back, she slowly spoke more words, accompanied by gestures at various gryphons.

Kira repeated each name, as she understood them to be, and committed them to memory, so she might recognise each gryphon. When Alla had finished Kira did the same, pointing out Keryss, Etayne, and some of the more important crew members.

After that round of introductions, the slow but fascinating process of learning each others' language began in earnest. Kira started off by hunkering down on the sand, and scooping up a handful. "Sand," she pronounced.

The afternoon wound down, and let night encroach on the language lesson. The Arrallins were quick learners, and had picked up enough Gryphish, as they termed it, to hold simple conversations. The humans had absorbed somewhat less, but could make themselves understood using accompanying gestures.

As the moon rose, Keryss and Etayne both stepped up to Kira to broach the subject of sleeping arrangements.

"Oh. That's a point. I hadn't thought that far ahead." She frowned. "Well, it's warm enough to sleep under the stars, as it were. I'm sure one night in the open won't hurt us." She turned and stared at the crowd of injured people, who were being attended to by humans and gryphons alike. Some patients had suffered no more than superficial bruising and cuts, but a few had more serious injuries, requiring stitches and painkillers. The infirmary had been ransacked, and everything usable salvaged, which, thankfully, was most of the doctor's armoury. "Tomorrow we can sift through the ship and salvage what we can, but for now, let's just get all the rest we can. It'll be a long while before we can get back to some resemblance of normality."

Keryss nodded, his nose wrinkling as he thought. "Yes, well, like all humans, you'll make the best of the situation." Changing the topic completely he casually said, "I suppose you'll be wanting to collect on your bet, then? We've definitely found intelligent life, haven't we?"

Kira laughed. "The bet has been indefinitely suspended until further notice. How would you pay me?" She tilted her head, looking at Keryss sideways.

"Ah. I see your point."

A shake of the head, and Kira was stalking off to see to sleeping arrangements. She grabbed a few people, spoke briefly to them, and a few minutes later they were bringing out of the ship any coverings they could find, including blankets, rugs, and thermal sheets used to keep cargo at a constant temperature.

Kira came back to Keryss, who had just stood and watched the goings on. "There. That should do, don't you think?"

A quiet whuffle was all the answer Keryss gave.

On to Chapter 9