Coming Home Again
By Cassandra Foxx
Last time, we left Cassi just as she received the letter she'd been waiting for, the letter that told her of her admission to The Stellar Federation's Star Corps Space Academy, proving her plot had worked as she'd hoped. Now, all she had to do was get there, but travelling for the first time can be fraught with perils for a young Foxtaur....
Partings and New Beginnings
The time came for Cassi to leave her home. Her parents, although finally resigned to this, were still saddened to see their daughter go. Despite all of Tergar's assurances, Eillanna had still been reticent to allow Cassi to leave.
"But Tergar, it isn't right!" She exclaimed to her Lifemate, as Cassi growled softly to herself while listening in. "She is too young to leave the village!"
"Now, Eillanna, you were her age when I brought you here, remember?" Tergar reasoned with her, "She needs to broaden her horizons. And there's the other thing we discussed too. Don't forget that."
Eillanna seemed to visually deflate at this. "Yes, you are right." she finally replied. "She's a big vixen now, not a young cub anymore." She turned away and stared out the balcony's large glass doors, the decorative patterns frosted into them making them visible. "Very well, Tergar, but whatever happens will be on your head and hers. If things go wrong, I will hold you to blame first, and her second. Remember that." And Eillanna turned and walked out of the lounge room and down the ramp leading outside. Tergar let out the breath he'd been holding in his lower lungs, and grinned. He'd never thought it would be that easy to convince Eillanna, not that it had been easy. She was a stubborn matriarch, and it took most of his charm to turn her to his way of thinking most of the time. He was glad to see he hadn't lost the touch.
Cassi went up to the sleeping level, happy, but yet confused. "Other thing? What other thing?" She thought as she entered her room. "Father's planned something with Mother. I don't like this, but then again, what could they plan that could take me from the Academy?" Content, Cassi resumed sorting and packing the few items she wanted to take with her.
* * *
Now, as she went up the jetway to the transport that would whisk her halfway around the world, Cassi was finally feeling a little anxious. This would be her first time on an aircraft, let alone out of the country where she'd been born. She entered the cabin with much trepidation, her ticket held in front of her like a talisman against all evils. "Hello?" she said, her voice just barely trembling.
A female steward, a feline-morph at that, came up to her and smiled warmly. "Hello. Welcome aboard. May I see your ticket?" Cassi held it out and the steward took it gently from her. "Ah, yes. We have your seat ready, Miss Whiteclaw. Please, if you'll follow me?" She led Cassi down the aisle to the First-Class section, where Cassi could see a taur cradle had been fitted in place of two seats. After having her hand-luggage put away, Cassi sighed with relief as she settled into the padded cradle. "If you need anything, just ask." The Steward, who's name was Alaine, said as she returned to duty.
Cassi was pleased. This airline had obviously carried taurs before. She adjusted the cradle to her dimensions and relaxed. She was glad Father had given her the money to upgrade her fare from Economy to First-Class. "I'd have probably been sitting in the aisle, otherwise." She muttered to herself as she did her belts up and watched as the plane started to fill. The wait seemed interminable as the aircraft filled, uncoupled, taxied, and waited it's turn to take off. Then Cassi felt the rush as the plane raced down the runway, and that fantastic feeling as it rotated towards the sky. She could almost tell what angle they were on and how far they were climbing. Later, as the aircraft levelled off, Cassi relaxed and filled out the documentation she'd need for Customs in Australia, then felt herself slowly drift off to sleep, her body exhausted after her not sleeping the night before.....
* * *
It seemed only minutes had passed as Cassi felt the aircraft start to turn. She opened her eyes and saw the bustle of the stewards around her, and realised something was happening. Turning to the window, she looked out and saw a city below, and she realised the aircraft was turning to land. Coming fully awake, she checked her harness and waited for the aircraft to touch down.
Cassi felt the jolt of the wheels hitting the tarmac, but she then realised that she'd actually flinched a split-second before the jolt. She had little time to think on this as the stewards relayed final instructions to the passengers and made ready to disembark. Cassi unfastened the straps of her harness and helped them to retract, then she rose and stretched, the relief of being released from sitting all that time visible on her face. She retrieved her bags from the luggage holders, then Alaine was there as the stream of bipedal passengers thinned.
"Hello, Cassandra. Are you ready to disembark?" She asked with a smile.
"Yes, thanks." Cassi replied, grateful for a friendly face.
"Okay, then. You're transferring to a domestic flight, right?" Alaine asked, and Cassi nodded. "Alright then, after you get through Customs, you'll need to take the rail-link from the International Terminal here to the Domestic Terminal. It's a five minute hop, so it'll be quick. The railway station is on the first level, while you'll get out on the ground level." Alaine explained as they walked through to the door. "Good luck, girl, on what you're here for." Alaine smiled and waved as Cassi walked onto the jetway.
"Thanks so much, Alaine. Goodbye." Cassi replied. She felt much better after Alaine's comforting talk. She walked with a firm, easy stride, sure things would be well from then on.
Cassi sighed as she walked from Customs two hours later. The officials there had insisted on her being tested for a whole range of things. She'd known that Australia still practised some strange restrictions on bringing in foreign animals, due to their unique wildlife, but Cassi couldn't help wondering if all Furry races went through this when they came here. She didn't see any of the other ‘morphs there waiting. Finally, they were satisfied and stamped her documents. As she walked from the area, she realised it was because she was a foxtaur. She realised from what they were saying, they'd seen extremely few of her kind before. Then she realised why. Foxtaurs rarely strayed from their villages, and those that did, probably took shuttles from the Academy and the aerospaceport. She now knew she'd been silly to take the first commercial flight available, instead of waiting for the proper flight direct to the aerospaceport. It was possible she was the first foxtaur they'd ever seen here. That mollified Cassi somewhat, especially as she found a rail-car just pulling up as she reached the station platform. Smiling at her luck, her face fell as she saw the banks of huge clouds forming in the sky outside, menacing with the threat of rain and lots of it.
Cassi's worst fears were affirmed when she reached the domestic terminal. "All flights are postponed, due to the approaching storm. We will try and make arrangements for you while you are waiting until the storm passes. Thank you." Came a message over the P.A. system that made Cassi's good mood sink out of sight.
It was imperative that she make that connecting flight, for even with the speed it travelled at, it would leave her only half-an-hour before she was due to check in at the Academy, and she desperately didn't want to be late. Going to the lady at the bookings counter, she asked "Is there any other way I can reach the Star Corps Academy from here? I have to be there today!"
"Well, let me see....." She replied. Darting through her database, she concentrated, then a smile broke across her face. "I have just the thing, dearie. The XPT will get you to the city of Cooktown, and it's only a short ride from there to the Academy. It's a little longer than the plane, about seven hours travel time. Is that alright?"
Cassi sighed. She'd be about two hours late, but that was better than twelve. "That'll be fine. Can I book passage?"
"Of course." The lady replied. After asking Cassi some details and typing away, she presented Cassi with a ticket. "Now, you get back on the railway and take the next car to Brisbane City, dearie. It goes right through the Transit Centre. You should make it to the XPT departure platform with about ten minutes to spare. Alright?"
"Thank you very much." Cassi said, wearily. Then giving the lady a big smile, she turned and cantered through the terminal for the railway. Just managing to catch the sleek, little cars as they were about to depart, Cassi sat and watched the suburban areas of Brisbane City roll by under her as she headed towards the City's heart.
The Transit Centre loomed ahead as the rail-car moved into it's confines. A massive structure of steel and black glass, it instilled Cassi with a sense of foreboding. But, as she cantered comfortably from one platform to another, she saw the XPT sitting there and her mood lifted measurably. Minutes later, as she settled into a large room, with a bed that looked built for taurs, she let her anxiety slip away. Sighing with pleasure, Cassi took her panniers off and lay down, letting all the tension drain out of her as the train moved off.
Cassi had to admit that, what she saw of the Australian countryside was vastly different from what she'd known. It had a beauty that, in some ways, was almost alien. She ate a good meal, which was cooked for her right on the train. She didn't have to go to the dining car, because she couldn't have fitted behind the tables, so the staff kindly brought her meal to her cabin. Then, as the city encroached on the country, Cassi knew her journey was close to an end.
An hour-and-a-half late, Cassi sighed to herself as she walked out of the station in Cooktown. The climate was mild here, but she realised that it was because this was winter here, and the climate being so tropical, it was like a cool spring day back home. "Oh, well, that's not too bad. The base is supposed to only be half-an-hour from this city, so I guess I can still make it with out being in too much trouble." She looked around for any public conveyance like the monorail, but only saw a line of brightly-coloured ground vehicles. Cassi was walking by them, when the driver of a large vehicle got out and asked her "Hey Lady! Need a ride somewhere?"
Cassi stopped in surprise and blinked, then smiled and answered "Yes, I need a ride to the Space Academy, as quickly as possible." She climbed in the proffered back door, to find a comfy re-arrangement of the basic seats that made what approximated a Taur-couch. Seating herself as best she could, she couldn't help feel apprehensive at the lack of safety belts that fitted her in this vehicle, unlike the aircraft's cradle. She wrapped what belts were available around her as best she could, then braced herself as the anti-grav field came on. The taxi rose and moved gently out of it's parking spot, then thrusted forward much harder than Cassi had expected. She'd driven vehicles like this herself, but this human was driving extremely recklessly compared to her sedate driving style! Powering through the ground traffic, the driver raced along the roads, and eventually made it out on the open highways. Then, to Cassi's consternation, he sped up! Cassi had never travelled at these speeds in a ground vehicle other than the train she'd just been on, but this was a far more intimate and frightening experience. Soon, virgin forest loomed all around her. As things settled down, she realised that the other drivers on the road, with few exceptions, had been driving much the same way. Trying to relax, she pulled out one of the tourist brochures to read. It showed a map of the area she was now travelling through. Now interested, Cassi tried to work out how far the Academy grounds were from Cooktown. But, after checking her calculations, Cassi was aghast! There was no way that any ground vehicle doing the local speed limit could possibly make the trip in half-an-hour! She called to the driver "You said you could get me to the Academy in half-an-hour! But you can't if you drive under the speed limit!"
"Don't worry about that, Lady!" He yelled back. "Just relax and leave the driving to Old Pete, eh? I know how to get you there, just when you want!" Cassi wanted to try and get more information out of him, but he seemed to ignore her questions about his speed. He did ask her a lot of his own, though. Who she was, why she was going to the Space Academy, and he told her a lot about the local scene and what there was to do. Cassi finally gave up and hung on, her claws trying to dig into the fabric.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, He stopped at the main gates of the Academy and let her out. Cassi was a little shaken, but otherwise alright. "Told you, Cassie. Got you here in twenty-five minutes, as promised." Cassi paid him, then noticed the name on his nametag. P. Brock III, it read.
"Thank you, Peter. Have a good day." She replied civilly, a smile on her face.
"You too, girlie. If you ever need a ride into town again, let me know, and I'll come and get you. OK?"
"Okay!" Cassi answered, trying hard not to giggle. After a final grin to him, she turned and trotted over to the main gates. Holding out her papers, she said "I'm Cassandra Whiteclaw." to the guard on duty. "I know I'm a little late, but..."
"That's alright, Miss" The large dark human male answered her as he looked over her papers quickly. "Registration's down the drive, and the building beside the Main Office. Go in and they'll help you."
"Thank you very much." Cassi replied, relieved that it wasn't going to take forever to get past the gates. Trotting on, she looked around as she moved to the grass verge. Things looked lovely here, with plants everywhere. Subtle scents wafted through the air, not the full array that Summer would bring, but a range that was unique in her experience. Cassi couldn't help but stop and sniff a rather fragrant bush, just for a second. Heartened, she proceeded on at a good pace.
Reception was huge! And extremely crowded, too. Cassi looked around, a little confused, until a foxy face caught her eye. The person behind the desk gestured to her and, gratefully, she trotted forward, making her way through the crowd until she reached that particular desk. Pushing the chair to one side, Cassi seated herself and sighed.
"Rough trip?" The vixen asked. Cassi nodded, noting that this vixen, unlike Cassi herself, was bipedal. That and other clues told Cassi that this was a Voxxan female. Cassi smiled warmly at her, and she continued. "Well, we all get those occasionally. Here, let's see your credentials, and we'll get you sorted and into a room for a rest."
Cassi handed her ID packet over, along with the letter and other papers that had been sent to her. The vixen who's nametag said she was Alt'hea Mrrisaart, spent a few minutes going through her essentials, while Cassi hoped the new ID she'd gotten only a few weeks earlier would stand scrutiny. When Alt'hea turned back and said "Well, you're late, but you're here, at least. What happened?" Cassi became hesitant at her tone, which wasn't too friendly anymore.
"Well, you see...." Cassi explained about the flight, her time in Customs, the train trip and the taxi ride here.
Alt'hea sat listening, then asked for Cassi's train tickets and the other documentation Customs had given her. After reading them, her attitude changed and she said "I bet you're out-of-pocket with buying the ticket, yes?"
Cassi looked confused, then realised what Alt'hea meant. "Yes." Cassi replied. "Considerably, actually."
"Well, then, we'll fill one of these forms out and see if we can get the ticket price reimbursed to you." Alt'hea said. Then she handed Cassi her documents back, plus an electronic PADD (Personal Access Data Device, for those of you who didn't know) with a room map and key. "This is your room, number 221. It's fitted out for taurs. I hope you don't mind sharing?"
"No, not at all" Cassi answered. With one last smile, Cassi hauled herself to her feet and shook.
"Good. Also, the padd contains a map of the Academy grounds, and a list of what you'll have to do before you attend orientation. Good luck, and welcome to the Star Corps." Alt'hea shook Cassi's hand in the human gesture of welcome, and Cassi turned and walked away.
* * *
The dormitory complex was large and multi-storeyed, but ramps and elevators made it easy for the students who weren't bipedal to get around. Cassi found her room on the second....no, first floor, she corrected herself, Australian terminology being slightly different to what she had grown up with. It had a larger door than the normal rooms. Cassi used the "key", actually an ultrasonic transmitter, to access the security system and imprint her voice and handprint on the room's electronic lock. Inside, the rooms was large and spacious, and it had furniture that was suitable for taurs: very few chairs, low-slung tables and other conveniences. The kitchen also was big enough for two taurs to fit inside simultaneously. The bathing facility was between the two bedrooms, and featured the large, sunken pool most taurs favoured, as well as a huge fur-drying unit. Cassi purred. She wanted a relaxing bath right now. She set the controls to fill the pool while she unpacked.
"Which bedroom?" Cassi asked herself. Undecided, she finally did something she had seen in old movies: she pulled out one of the local coins she'd purchased as a souvenir and tossed it. It landed with the coat-of-arms the coin was stamped with facing up. "Alright, then. That means I take the one on the right." Cassi set her ID in the door, then hauled her panniers and bags inside. she'd managed to unpack a little of her belongings, when the chimes from the bathroom sounded. Forgetting her unpacking, Cassi grabbed her toiletries and brushes, then headed into the bathroom.
"Ooooooooooooohhhhhh, this feels heavenly." Cassi sighed as she settled into the very warm pool. The pool was definitely big enough for two, she realised, and deep enough that she could float comfortably without the water slopping over. She washed herself all over, and even enjoyed the jet-spa function. After what hardly seemed like any time at all, Cassi finally walked out of the pool and scraped the water out of her fur. "Ohhh, I needed that. Now I feel almost like myself again." The furdrier was efficient and generous, and Cassi fluffed her fur dry in the hot air currents, then went back to her bedroom after setting the pool to empty.
Brushing down her luxuriant fur coat, Cassi purred in pleasure. That is, until she noticed the time. Gasping, she grabbed the padd from the bedside table and checked through it. "Oh no! Orientation's in five minutes, and I haven't even been to the Quartermaster's stores yet!" Cassi rummaged through her belongings. "It's got to be here, I know I packed it...YES!" She pulled out a top that was identical to the Cadet uniform top, even down to a fake locater-comm-badge. Sighing with relief, Cassi slipped into it and headed off at a very rapid pace, with her padd in her waist-bag and her Orientation folder under her arm.
The Orientation hall was huge inside, almost as large as a transport hangar, Cassi estimated. She raced up the steps and just slipped through the closing double doors before they shut. Panting slightly, she took a few minutes to calm down, then walked calmly in as though she'd been standing inside all the time. There were a very large number of cadets inside. Cassi made her way down the front, to where she could see a gap in the chair-table array. Sliding into a vacant position, she found herself sitting next to another taur, a feline taur by her looks. Cassi relaxed, and laid out her folder and padd for the lecture. The felitaur looked at her, smiled, and said "Hi, I haven't seen you around here before."
Cassi returned the smile. "No, I just got here... three hours ago?" Cassi couldn't believe it had been that long. it seemed like only a few minutes.
"That's okay. You're probably mixed up with the time-changes." She, Cassi surmised, answered. "I'm Chakat Dawnbright, daughter of Blacktail and Firestreak," she introduced herself.
"Ah, so this is a chakat!" Cassi thought to herself. She, no, shi Cassi remembered, was definitely as lovely as she'd read. "I'm Cassandra Whiteclaw, daughter of Eillanna and Tergar." Cassi answered in kind.
"Well met, then, Cassie." Dawnbright answered, somewhat surprised and pleased at the phrasing of Cassi's answer. "You are a foxtaur, I take it?" shi asked.
"I am if you're a chakat!" Cassi answered cheekily. Both of them giggled, then fell silent as all stood. Commodore Abram Altandi, the Commander of the Academy walked in, with his aides, which Cassi noticed were not all human. A Voxxan and Chakat walked with the others who followed the Commodore in and seated themselves on the podium. The Commodore indicated they could sit, then he opened the lecture:
"Welcome. Welcome, to you who are here for the first time today......"
* * *
The welcoming address and subsequent orientation briefing seemed to drag on for ages. Cassi could feel Dawnbright fidgeting beside her as the Commodore and the other department heads droned on. But Cassi made sure she paid attention to the Voxxan, who was a Lieutenant-Commander and in charge of the Technical Education section, and the Chakat, who was a full Commander, and in charge of the Biological Studies and Alien Sciences department. Cassi knew that those sections were going to be very interesting!
Finally, the Commodore finished, and everyone stood again. Cassi had to tap Dawnbright to alert her: Shi looked as if she'd almost fallen asleep. Later, as everyone filed out of the Assembly Hall, Cassi found Dawnbright was sticking beside her. "Hey Cassie, you want to go and relax a bit? I know a good place on the base to relax and have some lunch." Dawnbright asked.
Tempted as she was, Cassi knew she needed to finish off her preliminary duties before she could relax. "Sorry, Dawnbright, I have some things to do first, OK?"
"Sure. See you around." Dawnbright stroked hir hand down Cassi's back and walked away. The gesture both comforted and confused Cassi. Dawnbright was acting very male-like. As Cassi headed for the quartermaster’s stores, she reviewed what she knew of Chakats. Then she realised why Dawnbright was so friendly. "Shi must be coming into hir male phase." Cassi surmised. "I hope shi doesn't want me as a partner. I don't think I could handle that at the moment." Still, shi seemed to be a very pleasant individual, Cassi mused as she entered the quartermaster’s stores.
Inside, it seemed nowhere as huge as Cassi would have thought a major installation like the Academy would have. Then she saw this figure come out from the shadows. It was huge, towering over her. It's feet made clacking noises on the formcrete floors. And it looked very Equine-esque in it's appearance. Cassi could tell by the rhythm of it's footsteps that it, too, was a taur. "GODDESS," Cassi thought, "It's a Quange! And a shire Quange at that! I never thought I'd meet one here!" Then she smiled to herself. "Where else would I be more likely to find one?" she mused. He stopped at a counter, then noticed her standing there. In an extremely deep voice, he asked "Can I help you, Cadet?"
Nervously, Cassi moved to him and asked "Yes, Staff Sergeant. I need a full Cadet's kit, thank you." She noticed the rank insignia on the sleeves of his shirt.
He smiled down at her, his manner seemingly gentle, but it was his eyes that caught Cassi's attention. They were huge and twinkled, as though realms of vast thought were lodged behind them. A look of deep serenity filled them, and Cassi's nervousness vanished as he held her gaze for what seemed like an eternity. Then, Cassi drew a deep breath as he broke eye contact and looked her over. He then turned, and in a voice louder than any she'd ever heard unamplified, he shouted "MYRA!!!" Cassi cringed as the name echoed through the building, but the smile was back in his face as he looked back at her. "My assistant will help you." He said in a soft tone.
"Th.. thank you, Staff." Cassi stammered. She went and sat down beside a row of seats that were obviously for those waiting. Then a human female walked out of the rows, her manner bright and brisk. "What have you got for me, Sarge?"
"See to this young vixetaur, will you, Myra? She needs a full Cadet's kit." 'Sarge' replied.
Myra beamed at Cassi and her smile struck Cassi like a bright torch in a black room. "Sure, Sarge. Come this way, Cadet, and we'll get you kitted out." Cassi rose and followed Myra, who, Cassi noted, was a corporal. She led Cassi down to a huge floor-mounted scanning-booth and had her stand in it after removing her top. As the scanners ran up and down on her, measuring her far more precisely than any human could, Cassi noticed Myra fingering her top.
"This isn't standard issue." Myra said. "It's not even replicated material. But I would swear it's one of our uniform tops, if I hadn't seen it up close. Did you make this?" she asked Cassi, who nodded. Myra looked impressed. "This is nice fabric. Where did you get it from?"
"My family makes it." Cassi replied. "It's part of what we do to earn the credits we need for things we can't make ourselves."
"Good work." Myra finished, as the scanner also finished measuring Cassi. Then Myra was all business again. "Right. Here's your measurements, make sure to get them updated half-yearly until you stop growing, okay? Now, let's go get your kit." Then Myra tossed Cassi her top and marched off.
As Cassi trotted with her, putting her top back on, she noticed that Myra had a very long stride and a fast pace. "Probably from trying to keep up with Sarge." Cassi reasoned. Then they were at a row of large replicators.
Myra marched over to one that had a flashing light over it and started to remove items of clothing. "Lessee, three formal tops; six duty tops; three dress tops; two utility vests; six sets of leg protectors, you taurs get these instead of boots, you know; two comm-badges; survival gear; Camo-gear; wet-weather gear; packs...." the list seemed endless. Cassi was wondering how she'd get it all back, until Myra showed her how to fit it into the packs. "You taurs have it easier than us bipeds. A lot more room to carry stuff." She commented as she helped Cassi on with her twin backpacks. "There, ready to go! Just sign here, please."
Cassi signed the requisition slip, then smiled at Myra. "Thanks ever so much, Corporal."
"Hey, girl, just call me Myra. Everyone else does."
"Including the Commodore, right Myra?" Came a comment that could only have come from Sarge.
"Yep! Even him." Myra flashed those teeth of hers again proudly. She led Cassi out of the Stores again and saw her off. "Now, you come back again if you need anything else, you hear?"
"I will!" replied Cassi. She felt much better after encountering Myra. She had a disposition that could cheer anyone up. Cassi returned to her quarters, noting that the sun was setting in the distance. She come into her dorm to find that the other bedroom was now occupied. But there was no name on the door yet. Shrugging, Cassi went into her room and started unpacking again. Several hours later, she yawned widely as she finally finished. Everything was put away neat and tidily. Cassi yawned again, this time a deep double-lung yawn. "Goddess, I must be tired." She murmured to herself, then she saw the bed. It looked just so inviting, Cassi took off her top and lay down, closing her eyes and smiling softly as she fell asleep almost immediately.
* * *
To be continued in Chapter Three
Chakats, Garrek Redfox, Purteshka, the Mountain Glade community, and The Stellar Federation, Star Fleet and Star Corps (as related to this story) are copyright © 2002 Bernard Doove, and used with his permission.
Voxxans are the creation of, and are copyright © Brian Miller and are used with permission.
The Quange are the creation of, and are copyright © Roy D. Pounds II and are used with his permission.
The Furrderation is the creation of, and is copyright © Terry Knight and is used with permission.
All the rest of the story and names are copyright © 2002 Cassandra Foxx.
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