Coming Home Again
By Cassandra Foxx
To Find One's Self Often Means Travelling Far
In Chapter Six, Cassie had shipped out aboard the Darkstar, a huge deep space exploration vessel. Seeking to escape her unreasonable, and to Cassie, partially-insane mother, she chooses to renounce her links with her immediate family and dedicate herself entirely to Star Fleet, which she now considers her family. Now, she is headed with the ship outbound on a course beyond the rim of known space, to find whatever lies out there...
Cassie was on duty at her post, the helm of the Darkstar, as it moved slowly through empty space. The loose particle density of the region the ship was passing through was rather significantly lower than normal, and the captain had ordered studies to find out why this was so.
Three years had passed since Cassie had boarded the Darkstar after leaving her birthplace for the last time as far as she was concerned. She was watching the monitors and studying for her exams. Cassie had been chosen to be one of six candidates to sit for exams that could boost one of them to full Commander's rank, and Cassie was working hard to be that one. Five of the six tests had been already held, and the final one was only a few days away.
"I wonder what fiendishness the Captain has up his sleeve for us this time?" She wondered softly. "There can be only one real possibility left: General knowledge. If it is, I'll do alright. But he's been shifting things around so much, it'd be like him to do something completely different." Cassie sighed and put her display on hold, doing her ten-minute check. "Hello, what's this?" she said to herself as she watched the long-range sensors. She augmented her control of the sensors and focussed onto the area in question. "That looks like what we've probably been looking for." She called the captain. "Captain, there's something you ought to see."
"I'll be right there," came the reply. Three minutes later, he emerged from the bridge lift and walked down behind her. "What have you found, Commander?"
Cassie brought up the anomaly on the main screen. "This, sir. It's almost right in the center of this region. It reads as a massive lens-shaped particle cloud, almost a nebula except there's no activity within it. It appears to be where all the matter in this region has concentrated itself."
"Interesting. Are there any gravitic anomalies within it?" Captain Tornson turned to one of the other sensor stations.
"Nothing really spectacular, sir, although what there is shows there is possibly a star and maybe planets contained inside the cloud, which appears to be hollow. It's almost as if the cloud has surrounded the system," was the reply.
"Now that's extremely interesting. Mr Whiteclaw, do you think you could pilot us through the cloud?"
"Can a foxtaur trot, Captain?" Cassie smiled at Captain Tornson.
Tornson grinned at her, then ordered "Very well then, take us in, dead slow."
"Aye, Captain." Cassie replied, then changed course for the nebula. When the Darkstar closed on it, Cassie slowed the Darkstar right down, and she very carefully started to guide the huge vessel into the dust cloud.
"Captain, this dust seems to be almost alive," the sensor operator spoke. "It seems to be moving out of our way, then reforming in our wake, as though we'd never passed through it."
"Hmmm, that is unusual. What's the cloud's construction?"
"Some neohydrites and tetra-molecular compounds, but mostly cosmic debris. There is a highly-charged magnetic field, though, running right through the cloud. However, It can't affect our systems. However an older class of ship from any more than a few years ago would find it very disruptive," the sensor operator added.
"I see. Very well, forward then. Let's see what's at the core of this cloud." The captain replied as he leaned back in his chair.
As the Darkstar progressed forward, the cloud grew thicker and denser until the sensors were blinded, then it thinned slowly until the Darkstar emerged out of the other side, inside the cloud's center. There, spread out before the ship's sensors, was a planetary system with a sun not unlike Chakastra in its intensity and output. Two large asteroid belts and seven planets soon were charted, and then, "Captain, I have lifeform readings on the second planet out. Not many, but they are confirmed."
"Interesting. Are the lifeforms known?"
"Scanning... Captain, I'm reading... Chakats, Foxtaurs, Quange, Voxxans, just about every type of lifeform in the Federation!"
Then Cassie spoke up "Captain! Sensors detect a group of ships moving in on the planet from the other side of the cloud. They scan as armed and appear dangerous."
"Move us forward, Mr Whiteclaw, half impulse power."
"Aye, Captain." Cassie's hands flowed over the control console, then she strapped herself into her cradle. The Darkstar surged forward as her massive sublight engines shoved her bulk up to half the speed of light. Cassie concentrated on dodging asteroidal debris as they passed through the outer belt.
Then came an announcement from the tactical station. "Captain, the planet has sent up defence ships, and they are being fired upon! The planetary ships appear to be displaying the old Terran Confederacy symbol on their hulls."
"What's that? Helm, move us in there. Tactical, arm all weapons and stand by to render assistance. If the people there are Federation, then we must aid them." Captain Tornson and everyone else began strapping themselves in. Cassie maneuvered the Darkstar to come in behind the attackers as they watched the defenders being blown apart. "Those small ships aren't doing too badly, considering they seem to be patched up and cobbled together." Cassie thought. But they were losing far too many ships for every enemy ship they took out. Tornson then said calmly "Steady, helm. Bring us into them. All weapons, fire at will!"
As Cassie plunged the Darkstar right into the enemy formation, all the weapons on her hull opened fire. The strange ships seemed to panic as the center of their formation was destroyed, the Darkstar's weapons carving the enemy ships up like they were made of clay. Once they'd passed through once, Cassie slid the Darkstar around to face them again, and again all their forward weapons blazed away. The enemy, now thoroughly disorganised, turned and ran at barely sublight speeds. "All weapons stations to stand-by. Mr Whiteclaw, put us in orbit of the planet."
Soon, the Darkstar was floating above the planet below, which proved to be an interesting phenomena to the planetology department. There was a fairly moist atmosphere, and small rivers of water flowing from mountains down across plains, like most planets, but there were no visible oceans on the surface. What would normally be huge ocean basins were vast plains of crystal that stretched between the fertile continental areas. But there was no sign of the vast amounts of water that were essential for a habitable planet like this one. "This is one very unusual planet," was the planetology department's verdict.
"Very well," the captain replied. "Assemble a study and contact team. Mr Whiteclaw, would you like to accompany them?" The captain grinned at her.
Cassie grinned back. "I would indeed, sir. Thank you." Cassie rose and proceeded to her quarters, making ready for the mission on the planet below. Her xenobiology and planetology courses were about to pay off. Reaching the main shuttlebay, she took the pilot's position in the assigned runabout as the rest of the team arrived. After performing the usual checks and gaining clearance, Cassie lifted the runabout off the deck and headed out of the bay, revealing the world below. "How strange," Cassie thought, "It's so unlike Earth, in some ways. Those huge plains of crystal taking the place of oceans, with only the continents being green. I wonder how they survive without water?"
She located the inhabited settlement by following one of the fightercraft that was re-entering in front of her. Observing it at close range, Cassie could see it had been cobbled together out of a collection of parts that, under normal circumstances, would have been recycled long ago. She thought that it was amazing that it could have held together, let alone have fought back as well as they had done. Her sensors told her there was one lifeform on board, and it was a foxtaur, a male. Cassie smiled to herself. "At least he's not showing any aggressive signs towards us," she thought as she followed him down into a very narrow valley. High winds rocked the runabout, but the fighter pilot seemed to know how to get through them, so Cassie stayed on his tail until she could see the village coming up in front of her. She peeled off from the course she'd followed in and landed the runabout close to the village. The fighter, she noted, landed some distance away. After doing the standard checks, Cassie opened the main door and looked out.
The smell of the air hit her first. Its purity and smells filled her head like fine wine, fragrant and rich. Disembarking, she looked around. The village was about 200 metres away, and it seemed to consist mostly of single-level buildings made of stone and wood. The only building that was taller was on the other side of the village, at the end of the main thoroughfare, and it appeared to be a hospital. Getting closer to one of the houses, Cassie could see that the homes were open, airy and spacious, with wide windows and doorways and large verandahs surrounding them. Vegetable gardens seemed to be a normal thing here, as it seemed almost every house had at least one behind it.
As the team began setting up their equipment, Cassie decided to walk into what she took as the main square of the village. Before she did, though, she tapped her communicator and said "Lieutenant-Commander Whiteclaw to Darkstar. We've landed successfully and the Star Corps team are setting up their equipment. I'm about to approach the village and see what the local reaction is like to our presence. Over." She waited patiently for the reply.
"Darkstar to Whiteclaw. Permission granted to approach the villagers. Keep your com-link open and link in your minor scanner unit as well, so the sociology department up here can monitor what happens. Over."
Cassandra did so, linking in the small scanner unit she had on her belt into the comlink, so those on the ship could monitor things. "Done, Darkstar. You should be getting readings by now. Over." She told them.
"Affirmative, Commander," came the answer. "Just play it easy and the captain says: be natural. Over."
Cassandra smiled as she walked forward. "Affirmative on that, Darkstar. Will be my natural best. Over." And she walked forward with a smile on her face, and not all because of the captain's joke, either.
When Cassandra walked into the village, it brought back some rather sad memories for her, as it looked so much like a typical taur-village layout, Cassie was reminded of the home she'd been forced to leave. There was even a market set-up in the square, with the smells and sounds that goes with such. Cassie listened closely to the language being used, and found it to be almost pure standard, which pleased her no end. That made things a lot easier to make enquiries. She walked into the markets and began looking around. Some of the people looked at her askance and some avoided her, but most of the stall-holders just smiled and presented their wares as if she'd been coming here all her life. Cassie found her stomachs rumbling, and she stopped at a stall where a chakat was serving meat shishkabobs on wood skewers. Cassie sniffed, then asked "How much for one?"
The chakat replied "Well, normally I charge two locals for the large, and half-a-local for the small ones, but I bet you don't have any locals, so here," shi handed Cassie a large kabob, "Try it and tell me what you think."
Cassie scanned the meat and, not detecting anything wrong with it, took a bite. The flavour hit her like an explosion, as the juices and spices filled her taste and smell centres. As the meat melted in her mouth, Cassie purred. "Mmmmmm! This is absolutely delicious!" She commented. "Where does the meat come from?"
"A medium-sized herbivore that multiplies very rapidly without predation," was hir reply. "It reminds me of what I've heard about the animals known as rabbits. The pelts are also very soft and easy to work with, too."
"Interesting." Cassie finished off her skewer and traded a small piece of jewellery she had for three more. "Is there such a place as a currency exchange here?"
"There are the council chambers, over there. They should be able to help you, Lieutenant-Commander." Shi replied.
Cassie was surprised that shi recognised her rank, but "If these people were originally Fleet or Corps, that would explain it well enough," she reasoned as she thanked the chakat and walked towards the strange-looking building. The council building was large, raised off the ground about 30cm, and circular in design. She went inside and looked around as she disposed of the wooden kabob skewers. The interior reminded her of official government buildings, and the lights that were ensconced in the ceiling Cassie recognised as corridor lights from a very old ship. Then she noticed the main support beams weren't wood. Scanning them, she realised they were structural titanium-termanium alloy, which was used in early ships for their structural frames. "This looks like it was constructed out of an old ship hull," she said softly. She brought up the schematics of one of the old Colony ships, and found that, indeed, the building's shape and its structural design matched one entire section of its hull, one of the recreational areas. Cassie marvelled as she walked along. Then she saw a sign that read 'Currency Exchange and Assay Office.' Smiling, Cassie walked in.
There was a vulpine behind the desk. He got up when Cassie approached and asked "Can I help you?"
Cassie returned his pleasant smile. "I hope so," she replied. "I'd like to exchange some Federation credits for locals, thank you." She passed him over some of the small platinum rectangles that the Stellar Federation used as currency on less settled worlds than Terra was.
He looked them over, noting the value stamped on them, then weighed them. Finally he began to count out a number of strange twelve-sided coins that reminded Cassie of the old Australian fifty-cent piece she kept as a lucky token. "There. Your coins are worth about three locals to the Credit. I hope that's satisfactory." He wrote the exchange rate on a chalkboard behind him.
"That will be fine." Cassie replied and thanked him. As she walked out of the chambers, she had almost confirmed her suspicions as to which one of the lost colony ships that had founded this colony. Recalling the old records from just after the Gene Wars, she found that four colony ships were still unaccounted for, and Cassie estimated that the one that most closely matched this particular ship was the Termeculum, captained by a foxtaur named Daniel Silverstripe and one of the last to leave Terra for the unknown. She wondered if any of his descendants still lived here. One other anomaly she noticed as she stood outside and looked around: Nowhere could her tricorder detect any humans, even though the crew manifest told of at least three hundred joining the many morphs, even some of the earliest chakats ever born. She wondered what had happened to them, whether they were elsewhere or were all dead.
As she stepped down, Cassie saw an older vixetaur, as old as her own mother, walking towards her. The stranger had the caduceus symbol on her vest, which marked her as a doctor or medic. "Hello. Welcome to Holme." The vixetaur said. "I'm Maia Silvertip, the senior doctor here. Are you from the Terran Confederacy?" She asked.
Cassie knew from her history classes that that's what the Federation had been called at that time. "Well, yes, but it no longer uses that name." Cassie explained. "I'm Lieutenant-Commander Cassandra Whiteclaw of the Stellar Federation ship Darkstar. I hope our presence here isn't unwelcome?" She asked.
Maia grinned. "No, young Cassandra, you're not unwelcome here." She moved to beside Cassie. "Actually, a lot of us are dying to hear what's happened in the last hundred years. We've been pretty isolated, as you probably know already."
"Yes, the cloud that surrounds this system is what attracted us to it in the first place," Cassie explained. "How did you all end up here, anyway?"
"Oh, it's a long story," Maia said, "But I'll be happy to tell it to you over lunch, if you're hungry."
"Well, I guess I am," Cassie admitted.
"Good, then. Come with me and we'll have lunch." Maia smiled and led Cassie past the markets to the edge of the village and into a very well laid-out home that Cassie liked the style of. Maia sat her down and headed for the kitchen. As Cassie looked about, she saw a lot of things here, including fur rugs and covers, hand-woven rugs and hangings as well, and very well-made furniture that was constructed out of a wood that Cassie didn't recognise. All in all, it told Cassie of someone who was very tasteful and who'd lived a rich life.
The food that Maia brought out also told Cassie that she was a vixen who'd had many children. It was absolutely delicious, and filling even in small amounts. "What is in this, Maia?" Cassie asked. "The flavours are quite different, but very lovely."
"Local herbs, my dear," Maia replied. "I grow them myself in our back garden, as do most families here. It means that we can not only supply ourselves, but they're great for trading too."
Cassie nodded. Then the front door swung open, and Cassie saw a large male foxtaur enter. He was black all over, save for the silver body markings in the classic patterns all over him and, Cassie would learn later, a wide silver strip down his back. She rose at the sight of him, for his body spoke of strength and his demeanour of someone trained either in Command or in Combat. He looked at Cassie with narrowed eyes, but she could tell that there wasn't any real hostility in them, just wary curiosity.
Maia stepped between them. "Cassie, This is my son, Daniel Silverstripe." She looked to the male she called Daniel. "Daniel, this is Lieutenant-Commander Cassandra Whiteclaw of the Stellar Federation vessel Darkstar, who is our guest for the moment."
Daniel nodded, then walked away. Cassie noticed that he was carrying an all-over bodysuit that appeared to be part of a space-worthy flightsuit. Cassie then realised that he had been one of the pilots who'd been trying to defend the colony from the invaders. She looked at Maia. "He's not very talkative at the moment, is he?"
Maia smiled. "He's always like this after a battle with the Others," she explained. "We're lucky that we have a transporter in working condition, albeit probably an ancient model by your standards, but it does allow us to rescue our pilots when they're shot up before their ships are destroyed, but every ship we lose is one less to defend us." She sighed. "Daniel hates losing ships, but hates losing people more. Luckily, the Others' ships aren't as manoeuvrable as our fighters or your... shuttlecraft?"
"It's a runabout," Cassie corrected Maia. "It's warp-capable and long-ranged."
"Ah!" Maia smiled. "Also, Daniel's adrenaline levels will be really high at the moment. Wait until he's showered and calmed down, and I'm sure he'll feel much more like talking."
"I'm sure," Cassie replied. She continued to chat to Maia until Daniel emerged a half-hour later wearing a leather vest, looking freshly washed and much more relaxed. Cassie rose as he came in and he walked up to her and held his hand out. "I'm sorry I was... untalkative before, Lieutenant, but I had just come in from battle."
"I understand completely... Commander?" Cassie answered, unsure of his rank but improvising.
Daniel chuckled. "You are perceptive, aren't you?" he replied. When Cassie looked confused, Daniel explained "I am the Commander of the River Glade Settlement, seeing as how I'm.. descended from the original captain of the Termeculum, and I was honoured to be named after him."
Cassie noted the pause in his explanation, but let it pass at the time. "Then I'm very glad to meet you, Commander."
Daniel smiled at her, then sat down between Cassie and Maia. "I guess we have you and your ship to thank for driving off the Others. There were more of them than there's ever been before." He said. "I'd like it if you would pass on my thanks, and that of my people, to your Captain."
"I'm sure Captain Tornson would be most grateful." Cassie replied. "We'd followed your projected course out of the Federation by chance, really. The Darkstar is a deep-space exploration vessel on a twenty year mission to explore coreward into the Galaxy. We were surprised to find your colony inside this dust-cloud, but now that we have made contact, then at least the Federation can arrange for acknowledgment of your planetary holdings and maybe even supply you with some things that you may not have, as well as new equipment to upgrade what you do have, as per standard Federation policy, if you meet the requirements for full colonial status."
"Which are?" Maia asked.
Cassie smiled at her. "Basically, there's a minimum population base, which you just have according to the scans we did earlier on. Then there's time spent developing this world. From what we saw, you seem to have developed this area very well. And there's genetic diversity, which is the number of different species settled, which you also seem to have, except I noticed there were no humans here. Were there none with your original ship?"
Maia looked slightly saddened, while Daniel looked positively sullen. "There were some humans on the Termeculum." Maia answered. "But something here affected them after the first few years." She looked at Cassie, who could see the sadness in her face. "The original doctor for the colony, Abrams Blackpaw, found that, while it didn't affect their health, it rendered them all sterile, male and female, and no-one but the humans were affected. They all died out when their natural lifespans came to an end, and the last human died here about seventy years ago."
Cassie nodded. The fact of the humans dying out was regrettable, but since it was a natural occurrence, it shouldn't affect their status as a full colonial settlement. "I understand," she replied, her voice a little sad as well. "But I can't see, given the circumstances, that it should affect your status. Of course, the Colonial Assistance Department will take everything into account if you'd like to have others join your colony to help swell your numbers, but that's up to you, of course."
Daniel seemed satisfied by her reply, Cassie noticed, and Maia positively brightened up. "Will your ship be staying long?" Daniel then asked.
"I'm not sure." Cassie answered truthfully. "Captain Tornson probably wants to do a full survey of the nebula, and the Star Corps scientists are always interested in new worlds to study. How long we spend here depends on what their recommendations are to him."
Daniel nodded as Maia removed the plates and headed for the kitchen. "Will your captain give us any aid in stopping the Others invasion?" he asked rather bluntly.
"Again, I'm not sure," Cassie replied. "He can, according to regulations, supply you with a lot of different equipment, according to the assessment of the investigating team. I'd personally recommend that you get all the assistance in that area you need." Cassie smiled. "From what I saw of your pilots, they're some of the best fighter pilots I've ever seen in action."
Daniel gave a small smile. "They'll like to know that." He looked at her. "You're a pilot yourself, aren't you?"
Cassie nodded. "I've been checked out on all Federation small craft, and was top in my class at small ship piloting and astrogation," she answered with a little blush in her ears. "I've also had some combat experience under simulated conditions, flying against other fighters in live combat exercises."
Daniel nodded appreciatively, Cassie assessed. He seemed a little impressed. "I hope you enjoy your stay here, however long it might be," he said to her. "Maybe you'd like to see our rather battered old fighters sometime?" he asked.
Cassie was starting to like this black todtaur. She read a strength in him that was like Garrek's, but even more so. "I'd like that a lot. It'd help me see which fightercraft might be suitable for your pilots to use."
Daniel was smiling as he rose from the cushions around the table, Cassie rising as well. 'Then until we meet again, my young Lieutenant." He reached out so quickly that Cassie had no time to react and he stroked her cheek and muzzle gently. Then he turned around and walked off down a corridor.
Cassie watched him go, her hand where he had stroked her. She marvelled in the gentleness he also showed. He was a male foxtaur in the prime of his life, she estimated, and not much older than she was, either. Cassie caught herself thinking of what their cubs would look like when Maia returned and broke her reverie. Cassie sat down again as Maia put another tray of snacks on the table.
Later, as Cassie left, heading for the Runabout, she realised that Maia had treated her not only as a guest would be treated, but she could swear that Maia was mothering her a little, as if she was Maia's daughter. Cassie smiled at this. Maia and Eillanna were complete opposites of each other, so much so that Cassie almost felt drawn to Maia, as if she was seeking a replacement for the mother who had rejected her. "Am I really that desperate?" Cassie asked herself. "Do I really need a mother-figure that badly that I'd be willing to trust an almost-complete stranger in that way?" She sighed and returned to the Runabout, contemplating what she had learned, both about the River Glade settlement and about herself. On the way, she said to seemingly no-one, "How was that, Darkstar? Over."
Most interesting, Commander," came the reply. Cassandra knew the voice, it belonged to the leader of the sociology department on the ship, an older wolf-morph who had helped tutor her on occasion. "What you've found out about them, just by being amongst them the way you have, is more than my team down there would have in the same time. You can be proud of yourself. I'll leave you to get some sleep. Darkstar out." She felt the com-link cut and go dead. After having it on all day, it was somewhat of a relief. She entered the runabout and moved into one of the cabins, undressed, then lay down on the big bed she'd put on for herself and went to sleep, content that one of her first away missions was a fairly good success.
After two days, Cassie was sitting, writing a report about River Glade for the captain when she saw Daniel walking up to her. She smiled, put the PADD away and walked to meet him. "Good morning, Commander," she said as she reached him.
"Good morning, indeed, Lieutenant." He replied. "I've come to see whether you'd like to inspect our fighters today."
"I'd be honoured," Cassie replied. "My time is at your disposal."
"Very well, then. Come with me." He turned and led her around the village. Cassie found that, as they walked, he asked her lots of questions about the Federation in its present form. Obviously he was trying to learn how the Federation had advanced since they'd left, she surmised. She was open and honest with her replies. He also seemed interested in the Furrderation and the expansion of the Federation after the Gene Wars. Finally, they came to a clearing next to a large cliff face. Cassie could see several wide holes carved into the sides of the cliff face at ground level, and she realised their base was in the cliff itself. "Sensible," she thought as they walked in.
Inside, the expanse was quite large and lined with ship hull plating, she noticed. There were twenty fighters in all sitting there, Cassie observed, and while they shared a common design, none of them were perfectly identical. She learned, as she looked them over, that they'd been built out of the remains of the Termeculum's shuttlecraft, as well as pieces of the ship herself. Each fighter's main engine was an auxiliary engine from the ship, while its control thrusters had also been recycled. It was obvious to Cassie that they'd almost dismantled the entire ship in order to supply themselves with parts and materials, not an uncommon practice for colony worlds of this type. They were fast and fairly well armed, considering they had none of the modern weapons systems that were in standard usage in the present. Cassie assessed them to be most similar in shape to the Raiden-class Tactical Fightercraft, a new fighter that was a product, like the Darkstar, of the technology interchange between the Federation and the Furrderation, which had resulted in a lot of upgraded and brand-new capital ship and small craft designs being proposed, designed and construction being begun at a lot of the shipyards on both sides. Cassie spoke her honest assessment of the cobbled-together fighters, and Daniel looked appreciative of it.
As they walked back, Cassie moved closer to Daniel, wanting to see what his reaction would be. She was delighted when he accepted this and smiled at her with a lot more feeling than he had used at their first meeting. She felt she had made a good impression on him, and she wanted to continue that trend. He had stopped being slightly condescending towards her and was treating her almost like he had known her for some time. Cassie decided she wanted every opportunity to keep improving on this rapport she'd established with him, as well as get to know him better herself. All she needed was the opportunity to spend more time with him.
To be continued in Chapter Eight
Chakats, The Stellar Federation, Star Fleet, Star Corps and the Mountain Glade Community village are the creation of, and are Copyright © 2003 Bernard Doove and are used with his permission.
Daniel Silverstripe and Holme are the creation of, and is Copyright © 2003 Daniel Charne and are used with his permission.
All the rest of the story and names are Copyright © 2003 Cassandra Foxx.
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