"Sir, Commander Polarís shuttle has landed with our passengers," the foxtaur said, tapping her combadge.
Digs sighed to hirself at a loss why they had used a shuttle instead of the transporter. The shuttle bay looked much like the shuttle bay on every other ship shi had been on with their subtle, soft colors. A vixentaur dressed in a security uniform quickly entered the room and approached the shuttle. Her fur was in a classic red-fox pattern, and on her chest was a combadge.
"Very good, Ms. Blacktip, send our passengers to sick bay immediately," a voice replied over her com badge.
"Permission to come aboard?" Alicia asked, standing in the doorway of the shuttle.
"Permission granted Commander. Welcome back, Mr. Foster. Shir Digs, welcome to the Columbus," the vixentaur stated formally as they exited the shuttle. "I assume you still know the way, Commander Polar. Mr. Foster, Shir Digs, your luggage will be in your rooms by the time you get done."
"Of course, thanks Ms. Blacktip. Please let the Captain know we'll report to his ready room after Dr. Cottontail and his nurse get finished," the commander stated.
"Very good, sir. I'll let your mate know and congratulations. Any idea what youíre expecting? Is it a boy or a girl?" Ms. Blacktip asked excitedly.
"That information I prefer to wait and find out the natural way. Though with this mission, I'm sure the doctor or his nurse won't keep that secret for long," she sighed, leaving the shuttle bay and motioning for Shir Digs and Doug to follow.
"He might respect your wishes ma'am. I know I would as long as it doesn't endanger yourself or the ship," the ensign said softly, as they left her to what hopefully would be a quiet shift.
"So, whoís my first victim?" the rabbit asked, grinning.
"I believe neither Shir Digs nor Mr. Foster have recent checkups on file. I did receive a recent file for Mr. Foster, but the rules are not satisfied to Star Fleetís standards without my scan as well. We aren't doing this just to find out about your cub, regardless of your wishes on that matter. Commander, the Captain has already made it extremely plain that if information leaks out, I better start walking without a spacesuit," the doctor stated, his face completely serious. He turned towards Doug. "Lets start with Mr. Foster Ė it seems like he's been abusing himself lately."
"I was only taking part in an obstacle race and fell Ė danged cubs greased the rope," the slightly built Siamese-colored cat sighed as he sat on the bed with a slight grunt of pain as he accidently twisted the wrong way. "The doctor requested I take it easy for a few days."
"I see. Computer note in Mr. Fosterís file he is off-duty for the next three days. Iím assuming the doctor in the foxtaur village gave you something for pain," he said, looking over the displays quickly. "Unless the pain gets worse, Iíll see you for a follow-up day after tomorrow. Now what is your assignment on this ship, Mr. Foster? Youíre next, Shir Digs."
"I don't know at the moment, I was ordered to report, and that's it," Doug stated, quickly getting off the diagnostic bed. "He did give me a pain-killer, but itís wearing off. Iíll take some more when I get back to our room."
The doctor considered for a few minutes before agreeing to Dougís statement, "All right. If necessary, I can give you something to tide you over till the other drugs can kick in."
"It shouldnít be, Doc, but if it is Iíll make sure Mister Foster follows orders," Alicia stated, sitting on the diagnostic bed. "Considering none of us know what is going on, I'll go first so the doctor will get over his drooling curiosity over my expected cub."
"Everything is right whereÖ You're expecting two cubs, they appear to be of polar stock! Sorry thatís your own business. As it is, all three of you appear healthy so thatís all Iím telling you just to protect my own hide."
"Yes, our cubs are of polar stock. The foxtaurs have a problem with more vixens being born than tods so they developed a system so vixens without a mate can have cubs. Bear morphs are expected to have at least one cub with another bear morph of the same sub species. Beyond that we are free to mate with whomever with we desire, as you know there isn't that many of us," Alicia stated firmly. "Their biological father does have a right to see them but they are Geoffreyís and my children."
"I'm sorry if we brought up a taboo subject. Now if you'll move yourself out of the way, I might as well get this over with so your mate can explain what the heck weíre doing here, or more practically what I am doing here instead of going home or back to the dig," Digs commented, laying on the diagnostic table once it had finished reconfiguring itself for taur usage once more.
"No it's not a taboo Ė it's just something we don't discuss," Alicia commented, knowing Digs was worried that shi might have upset her, but academic curiosity had to be satisfied. The polar bear grinned easily reading the conflicting emotions in Digsí body language; she would let Digs know she wasnít offended in the least later. Just like foxtaurs they didnít make a big issue of the matter as there was some people that would never understand it.
"Now how long have you been pregnant, Shir Digs?"
"THAT is NOT a public issue!" shi snapped, almost snarling.
"No, it affects your readiness for duty. You aren't caring for just one life but three and itís my duty to assure all three of you come through this hardy and hale," the rabbit snarled, his voice getting louder as he forced Digs to lean back on the table. "I told you last time you need to eat more, and this time it's not a request but an order. I want to see you at least once a week, and you will take the vitamins I'm going to give you regularly!"
"So this is why the doctor at the festival was watching you like a hawk. I didn't think he was going to be happy until you ate your weight in food and then some. Will this affect hir ability to go on duty, sir?" Alicia commented looking at Digs who quickly turned away, knowing the polar bear was going to make sure shi followed the doctorís order to the letter. "I certainly enjoyed the feast Ė it was all very fresh."
"No more than it will affect yours, Commander. The same order applies to you and, in your case, the captain will demand answers," the rabbit commented eyeing her. "You didnít bring anything back to share did you? I will get my revenge, Commander, count on it."
"I'm surprised he hasn't told you to contact him once you're done with us. He finds out Digs is pregnant as well, and you better be prepared with answers about hir condition as well. Iím sure you will realize my mind was on fulfilling my orders, Doctor," she commented dropping into a whisper. "The good doctor prefers fresh vegetables over stuff from the replicator."
"Well don't keep him waiting, and to your statement, Commander, no comment is my comment. That's it, all three of you are dismissed," Dr. Cottontail said, handing bottles to Digs and Alicia as he shooed them out of sick bay. "Thanks for the advice, Commander. Iíll make sure I have those answers about both of you then, because Iíll have to tell him about it."
"Welcome aboard the 'Columbus' Mr. Foster and Shir Digs. As Iím sure you both remember, Iím Captain Geoffrey Ursus. I like to keep things informal, so unless we on duty, please call me Geff," the huge brown bear stated. Standing up as they entered the room, by Digsí estimation the captain was at least eight feet tall. His dark blue eyes taking in every detail, the fit of his uniform dispelling any chance of anyone thinking he was simply overweight in the least. "Please take a seat all of you. Commander Polar, youíll get a more personal welcome this evening, not to mention weíre both on duty. Mr. Foster, you are not on active duty, as your duty is to assist Shir Digs. The doctor has informed me of your condition, Digs, and not a word its something I need to know, he's assured me it will not affect you fulfilling your duties on this mission. Heíll also let me know if you aren't following his orders to the letter."
"Sir, what are we doing here? I am on leave and Digs is toÖ I'm not sure," Doug stated.
"Report back to the campus to teach classes again starting Monday. I myself have several other obligations," shi stated firmly.
"I know and they've been dealt with. Your TAís are covering all your classes and the dean is explaining it to your other obligations. Now as to the mission, well that is classified for the moment, but that is only to prevent others from leaking it," the captain commented.
"Great! Another floating junkyard and you shove me on a shuttle before I have a chance to pack more than the skivvies I took to the foxtaur village with me!" Digs snapped with more force than shi really felt inside. "I would've brought my haz-mat suit if I had known."
"You wear skivvies!" Alicia exclaimed grinning.
"Well it is part of Star Fleet's mission is to make new discoveries. You know how this works Ė you need a haz-mat suit, weíll make sure you have one," the captain replied. "Computer Ė register Shir Digs in Dirt and Lt Doug Foster as part of the ship's crew. I believe their voice prints are already on file."
"Working, voice prints on file records adjusted," the computer responded.
"I'll brief you on the mission later in the week," Geff commented, looking the pair over carefully. "Now do either of you have any questions or concerns, other than the mission itself?"
"SoÖ" Digs started to say as a brown bear cub dashed into the room and leapt onto hir back shouting, "Horsie ride!"
"Let go, Theo. Shir Digs is not a horse," Alicia said looking confused, as she pulled the cub off Digsí back. "Lo... Sir, what is going on here? Are you all right Digs?"
"Fine. I didn't know you had a cub," shi replied more confused than hurt by the incident. Digs was shaken as shi could see Alicia's surprise and felt sure there was more going on than either Alicia or her mate were willing to admit. Until they had spent time with Dougís family, Digs hadnít experienced hir own maternal instincts and how strong they could be.
"I'll give you the full details later, Commander. He's spending some time with us," the captain replied, his expression making it plain that something was bothering him.
"Well I think maybe we better leave the three of you alone. Where are we staying?" Doug inquired.
"I'll have someone show you to your room. I have you both in the same room if that is all right?"
"That's fine, sir. I hope it's nothing too serious with your son," Digs responded before Doug could open his mouth.
"Con, could you have Ensign Smith report to my ready room to escort Mr. Foster and Shir Digs to their room," the captain stated, tapping a button on the com.
"Aye, aye sir," A voice responded.
"Whatís going on love?" Alicia asked once the room was quiet once more. Teddy had held onto her, slowly falling to sleep in her arms. The large polar bear smiled, it wasnít the first time it had happened. Teddyís parents refused to listen to any argument that she wasnít mother material considering how easily she handled him. "Come on, out with it. I don't mind him visiting us, but the restrictions of this mission mean we wonít be able to contact his parents if we need to."
"They won't mind," he sighed deeply, tears matting the fur under his eyes and edge of his muzzle. "They were killed while inspecting a new world for Star Corps. I was the nearest relative. I don't think he realizes that yet."
"He isn't even three years old yet if memory serves me right. Iíll support you whatever you decide to do, Geff," Alicia sighed, hugging him close.
"There weren't that many options, love. As far as family goes, it was either me or sending him back to Earth. Youíre correct Ė Theo isn't three yet, which is why he was traveling with them," he commented softly, as she wiped the tears from his muzzle. "I didn't feel much better about the other options, having him sent back to Earth which meant him traveling alone or leaving him on the Star Corps ship until they completed their mission. I could've refused this mission due to a family emergency, but as a whole, this is a low-risk mission."
"I see, did you have a chance to talk with any of them?" she inquired slowly blinking her eyes sure he or someone had tried on his behalf.
"As long as I don't deny them the right to see him as his remaining family, they will accept my decision. At least those we could contact before the mission started."
"I'll talk to the ship's counselor and see if he has any recommendations on how to explain it to him. Itís all right, we both know you cared about her deeply. I was just lucky to get you," the polar bear stated solemnly.
"I'll be fine. She was my first love, but you knew that, Alicia. It was an accident. I read the reports Ė they lost an entire six-man team."
"Well I'll be careful, you can count on it," she stated, giving him a bear hug. "Iíll miss her as well. Teddyís mother was one of the last people I expected to ever take a career in space."
"Lizzie swore she never would either, but plans change over time," Geff responded. "What is it about plans never surviving the first encounter of the enemy? It was their belief Earth was getting overdeveloped again."
"Captain we are approaching the coordinates in our orders. Sir, I'm picking up three unidentified ships, they are firing upon us."
"Shields up! Take evasive action, and where are those fighters we were promised for this mission!?" Captain Ursus snarled. "Return fire as soon as possible. Where did they come from?"
"Aye, aye sir. The fighters are already returning fire. I'm picking up another ship just beyond weapons range in the direction the fighters appeared out of. As a guess sir, they were hiding in the debris from the fourth planet that broke up during a meteor impact. I believe there was at least one science ship studying the impact."
"Any chance they'll be able to track us?" the captain asked. "There was a science vessel in the area, they also tried an experiment in trying to deflect the meteor at the last minute Ė it wasnít successful."
"I doubt it. The fighters have disabled their sensors, propulsion, and communications when they refused to surrender. They aren't going anywhere without assistance. According to the fighters, the ship that delivered them will deal with the pirates. Itís a freighter."
"We'll deal with the pirates; thank that freighter for its assistance," Captain Ursus stated.
"Sir, the freighter is hailing us. They are reminding you of orders, including the communications blackout."
"All right, tell them itís not necessary, they can have the pirates. Helm Ė all stop. Lieutenant Folsm, you have the con. Once everyone is aboard set course 273 mark 4."
"Aye, aye sir," the human manning the science station said.
"Sir, that will take us into LNAW territory," the Voxxan manning the helm said.
"It takes us closer than I like, but we should be well outside of it according to the latest maps," Lt Folsm commented. "The last scans of the systems show no inhabited planets, moons or stations."
"I'll be with the new arrivals in sick bay if anything comes up. The bridge is yours."
"Aye, aye sir," he replied, moving to the captainís chair.
Digs sighed to hirself, looking at hir room mate. Shi was thinking about what Purtska had said to hir only a day ago. And there was little doubt that shi felt something. Did Doug feel anything? Could shi risk losing the friendship? Shi found hirself already feeling lost just at the thought of losing it.
The room seemed very spacious, far larger than Doug and shi needed, but shi had been assured it was a standard taur room. It seemed larger than the main cabin of the shuttle they had traveled back to Earth in. The room reminded hir of many hotel rooms Digs had stayed in over the years; they had chosen soft muted colors. According to the physiologists not designers, those colors helped relax the occupants. Digs hated them as it took away all the wonder of travel seeing the local variety. It wasnít always possible to find a hotel that hadnít been redone to the standard peaceful colors.
"I wish I was little more sensitive," shi mumbled to hirself.
"Did you say something, Digs?" Doug asked, thinking he had heard hir say something. Right now he was facing what dad would call a mid-life crisis and he still felt too young for that. Recent events made him question whether staying in Star Fleet was the right thing for him to do on many fronts. There was going to be more fighting between morphs and humans or at least some humans. The writing was on the wall, no doubt about it. He was too much like Neal in several ways, not counting saying what he felt without regard to who was offended to make further career advances unlikely beyond minor ones.
"No, just talking to myself. You OK? You seem troubled," Digs stated, sitting on hir haunches. "I'll ask for another room if you want."
"No, you don't have to do that, just a lot on my mind," he replied, carefully playing with the towel that was all he was wearing after his shower, before sitting on the extra large bed.
"Doug, it really isn't a problem. I'll leave the room if you want some privacy."
"Stay!" he snapped, dropping his voice. "I'm sorry Digs, I really am. My teaching assignment didn't go as well as I could've hoped. I taught them what I know but I felt as welcome as an outbreak of Voxxan Flu at the academy. Another teacher took over the class and is going to keep teaching it, apparently they couldn't argue with the results."
"So you're going to back to school yourself, and still unsure about the future," shi said softly. "Well I've had Voxxan Flu before, so if I need to catch it again to be in your company, so be it."
"Very funny. It was horrible the last time I caught it."
"Well without treatment, I've heard it compared to the Spanish Flu or worse on Earth, and about as welcome to non-Voxxans. I've had all my shots recently Ė never know what you might find on this job," Digs stated unemotionally.
"Did you meet up with the Chakats on the ship?" Doug inquired
"Not yet, but I will soon enough. Iíve heard there are a few more coming aboard with the fighters that will be joining us soon. Thereís at least five others working the dig currently, like my friends would ever let me relapse. Getting to spend a night alone is the challenge now, not finding company."
"Something I can agree with them on," Doug grinned, lurching to his feet, before being thrown to the floor as the ship turned faster than the systems could compensate for. "What in the world?"
"I didn't see any or hear any alerts!" Digs exclaimed, struggling to keep on hir feet as they rapidly changed directions.
"Well I can hear it now, better late than never I guess!" Doug snapped, lying on the floor with Digsí hindquarters lying across his midsection. The flashing red lights filled the room with a surreal glow.
"Are you two all right?" Alicia asked from the doorway. "Sorry I didn't knock, we found some pirates the hard way. They've been dealt with but weíve had to take evasive action rather suddenly."
"I think we're fine, Commander," Doug stated. "I gather they took offence at us appearing without warning."
"You can say thatÖ" she replied, trailing off as she noticed his apparent lack of clothing, "Excuse me, sorry to intrude I wasÖ we were worried about your safety."
"Thank you, we'll be up to the mess hall shortly," Digs stated, not really wanting to move at the moment.
"Right see you soon then," the bear said quickly moving out of the doorway, and setting the privacy seal from the outside.
"At the moment I'm thankful you need to gain some weight, Digs," Doug commented, the inside of his ears turning red, and exhaling. "Would you mind standing up? Something is poking me in the side, and it isnít a bone."
"Well if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black," shi retorted softly, lifting hir hindquarters up. "I'm sorry Doug, I'll ask for another room right away."
"You have nothing to be embarrassed about, Digs. You change rooms because of this, I'd be the one that failed," he said, hugging hir closely. "Think about my family, I'm dealt with pregnant chakats before. Ouch, either the doctor is wrong about your due date or you really need to eat something soon. It felt like something kicked me while I was down there. Now tell me what is bothering you, or I'll get one of my sisters to worm it out of you."
"Might be hard to do remotely during a long-range communications blackout," shi whispered softly, sure Doug would still find a way to do it. "I value you as a friend and I like your company, but I'm not sure how to go from here. I'm not even sure who is the father of my cubs, though from the due date it happened after we got back to Earth, Iím sure of that."
"That's easy, take our time and see where it goes. Personally I enjoy your company as well, Digs, I might be on leave but I could've insisted upon a room of my own as an officer instead of a contractor on this mission. I know you're worried about losing something you value if this goes south, Iíd like to believe no matter happens we can still be friends," he responded, kissing hir muzzle. "I think we're both rusty in forming relationships. The doctor might be able to help you figure out who the father is, if you really want to know, though I'm not sure if I've ever met another chakat in the same situation."
"Thatís really helping, but nothing more than the truth. Thanks, Doug," Digs sighed, getting to hir paws and helping him up as well. "We better get moving before they bust down the door to find out what is going on."
"I doubt that. The Commander set the privacy seal and we aren't on alert any more."
"Good, I didn't have to send someone to chase you down, since I know neither of you have eaten yet," the doctor said, scanning the tray Digs was carrying. "I hope that isn't all you're having for supper."
"I might have rabbit if someone doesn't stop pushing," shi retorted, before leaning over and whispering something into the rabbit's ear.
"Umm, threatening to eat the crew isn't a good way to avoid doctor appointments," a black chakat stated, startling both of them.
"Shi made a valid point that I'll concede. What is supper without dessert and shi doesn't have dessert yet. By the way you can call me Bones or Dr. Cottontail," the light grey rabbit replied. "We really canít do much about answering that question till after we finish this mission. Sorry, Shir Digs, but I will give you every assistance my office can offer."
"All right, but what is your name?" Digs asked, sure he hadn't mentioned it earlier.
"Eugene Cottontail," Doug whispered into hir ear.
"I remember you as well, Mr. Foster, and you were right if not the most diplomatic in telling me off when I was assigned to the Earhart. Shir Digs, if you stumble upon some of the things they called me in school, I might be having chakat for a future meal."
"Umm, si,r likewise eating the help is frowned upon," a vixentaur said, sitting down next to the black chakat. "Especially when it's specialist help highly qualified."
"Chaser, what are you doing here?" Doug exclaimed, looking over at the chakat sitting at a nearby table. "By the way, Digs, this is my sister Shadowchaser. The last I heard shi was chasing pirates."
"Well pull up a chair and we'll talk about it," shi stated cautiously, unsure of how Doug was going to react to the details of that assignment. "That was two assignments ago; got to talk to dad for a while."
"I'm still deciding if this is a reward or a punishment for that last drill, Chaser," Redpaw stated.
"Mind if Shir Digs joins us?" Doug asked Shadowchaser, switching tables. "Dad told me several months ago, Digs and I visited with him on the way back to Earth. I see heís picking up strays again and I see youíre worried about something, sis."
"Not at all Ė there is plenty of room. Feel free to join us, Shir Digs. A little of both I think, but Captain Autumnbreeze wanted us force the night crew to wake hir up," Shadowchaser retorted, hir tail-tip twitching rapidly. "They didnít seem like strays to me but rather a crew. And the Folly seems so much more lively with them there."
"They do at that," he commented softly as Digs moved hir tray, taking a seat at the table. "Sis, this is Professor Digs in Dirt. Shi likes to be informal most of the time. Chaser twitches the tip of hir tail when shiís worried before anyone asks. Dad and I are on speaking terms again, though considering my last assignment with Digs here, we wonít be for a while."
"Not because they overloaded the system trying to hit my fighter we both know that, maybe we shouldn't have used those drones as additional targets. We are part of the fighter detail assigned to make sure unwanted eyes don't get too close to what this mission is," Redpaw stated. "I wonder how long this assignment will last. More than a couple of weeks without hearing from me and my side of the family thinks Iím mad at everyone for some reason."
"How bad was it?" Digs asked grinning. Shi had no doubt considering their teacher, Chaser, was just as much a master of understatement and surprise as their father. "I will say as for myself, it was an eye-opening experience."
"They kicked out the safeties on several systems and woke the commander by going to red alert even after the scanners assured them it was a fighter assigned to the station. I think the captain was worried what they might do to the station if you did it again, Chase. DigsÖ that name sounds familiar. Hey Bolt, where's Gunny? He's our commander and one of the other pilots on this mission," Redpaw stated.
"You make it sound like it was all Chase's doing, Redpaw. As Chaser just pointed out, Iím Bolt, the way I heard it you were just as involved as hy was. He's chewing out the rookie Ė great pilot, just a little too trigger happy. I guess that fits considering her call-sign is Trigger. Here they are," the cat said, pulling up a chair as a Voxxan tod, chakat, and a tiger-colored cat entered the room. "Gunny a.k.a. Grumpy Gunther, Tigger aka Trigger, andÖ."
"I'll introduce myself," shi said. "Chakat Greypaws a.k.a. Grey. Actually I'm part skunktaur but in my case the chakat genes won out. In hir case, Chaser has left hys manners at home again. Chakat Shadowchaser Foster, a.k.a. Chaser and his mate Redfoot a.k.a. Red."
"All right, Grey, that is enough. Besides, Mr. Foster is Chaser's brother. There is another ship coming, but they've been delayed for a few minutes," Gunny stated. "DigsÖ now why is that name so familiar. If you were older I'd say Chakat Digs in Dirt."
"You mean that history professor from Earth whose finds you like reading about?" Red quipped grinning.
"Really, IĎm working on getting older, just not gotten there yet. Recent experiences have encouraged me not to rush, like Iíve done most of my life. Shir Digs in Dirt Ė pleased to meet you Gunny, Grumpy Gunther?"
"Well as drill instructor I'm always grumpy, and Gunther is the closest anyone can pronounce my last name," he replied, shaking his head. "Good joke, guys, but I know for a fact shi is still working a dig on Earth. Shiís worked several digs on Cait and Raksha as well.
"Don't me remind of the digs on Raksha, most of which resulted in the team still finding sand in their luggage and equipment a year later," Digs chuckled. "The people and company that was all right. Iíd be working on Earth right now or should be except for Commander Polar's kind 'invitation' to join this mission. The INGG has put a hold on most of the work at that dig. The last I heard they were buried in bones."
"Really? I better tell the captain and first officer. I can't believe Commander Polar made such a mistake," the doctor quipped. "I'll need all of you to report to the sick bay as soon possible for a complete physical."
"What? I grabbed the wrong chakat? Shi must've pulled a fast one on us. Gunny, the captain thought his orders were clear. Medical first, then youíre free," Alicia said glaring down at the Voxxan and others sitting around the table. "No, this is Shir Digs in Dirt genetically confirmed. Sorry to ruin your evening with more work doctor."
"It's not your fault, commander, and I already received their medical records. They transferred from the carrier Slingshot to the freighter to here without any other stops using several drop tanks to extend their range," he replied scanning the room with his tricorder. "Everything looks good."
"Fleet didn't want to risk the extra attention a carrier headed this way would attract," Gunny added. "Would you advise the captain we need to wait a little while on the last ship. They only told me before we left."
"Of course, that shouldn't be a problem, as long as we don't get anymore unwanted company," Alicia said alerting the bridge.
"We didn't pick up anything coming in, sir," Chaser stated. "The freighter went active once we saw the fire fight."
"All of you report to sick bay immediately. Anyone needs me, I'll be on the bridge. Doctor, they are free to go once you're done. I should put you all on report. My orders to Gunny were sent on an open channel," Geff snarled, spotting them sitting in the mess hall. "Actually I think maybe I should escort you personally. Computer register the fighter pilots as part of the crew."
"Can someone explain the small cargo pod in the middle of the landing bay?" Captain Ursus asked, entering the bridge.
"Captain on the bridge! The last ship towed it in loaded with specialty equipment," Lt. Folsm responded, turning to face the person that had just entered the bridge. "Commander Polar has requested your presence in the conference room, along with Shir Digs and Lt Foster."
"You still have the con, Lieutenant. Please alert Shir Digs and Mr. Foster that their presence is needed in the conference room."
"Yes sir, Ensign Blacktip is watching Theo currently."
"Acknowledged Ė please let them know Iíll be there momentarily."
"Aye, aye sir."
"Hello, Captain Ursus. My team was added at the last minute," a young foxtaur tod said. "A closer examination of your sensor logs indicated this is a larger job than intended for just a few people to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. There appears to be a base of some sort built into a nearby asteroid. Digs and her team will examine the base; my forensics team will handle the derelict ship."
"Excuse me, but who are you to be making decisions like that?" the captain snapped at the young foxtaur, who looked too young to be so far from home without his parents, if he was any judge of such matter. The orange-pelted taur had the standard black tipped tail, and black socks on all four feet. Gregory was slightly surprised the foxtaur didnít have matching gloves on his hands but otherwise there was absolutely nothing special about the young tod in the least.
"Sorry, Captain. Professor Bryan Smithson at your service. The ship appears to be newer than the base," he replied, scanning the room and the shocked looks that greeted him. "By the way, good to see both of you again."
"That's impossible! Professor Smithson is a human, secondly I already saw news reports of his death on Chakona two weeks ago," Doug stated firmly, reaching for the phaser that wasn't there.
"Calm down, Doug. Iíve confirmed his identity and orders personally," Alicia said, putting a paw on the cat's shoulder. "That goes for you as well, Digs. I don't know the whole story either. Professor Bryan Smithson from Cambridge University, currently on loan to Star Fleet in an undetermined capacity, died in a terrorist attack on Chakona according to the newspapers and yet here he is."
"Darn! That story wasn't to be released for another week," the tod sighed. "After visiting the dig on Earth, I went to Chakona for a vacation and to talk with a few old friends. Officially I was still on assignment. The part about terrorists is true Ė they set off a bomb. I should be dead by any measurement you want to use. Anywhere other than Chakona I would be. My body was crushed from the neck down; honestly I can't tell you much about it from the time the bomb went off till I woke up looking like this, not my first choice for a new species."
"Basically they put him into the transporter and once it was determined he was beyond medical assistance they considered alternative plans. Chakat Lightfoot at your service, I'm a member of the professor's team; weíll also be assisting Digsí team. Captain, sorry you weren't told earlier Ė the small cargo pod in the landing bay is a forensics lab that your engineer promised to have moved out of the way. It has its own power supply and computers so we can use it as field lab without any extra support," a yellowish brown chakat with white socks on hir paws added. "You dealt with it better than waking up as a herm. Either way you're thankful to be alive and don't you deny it, Bryan. Maybe turning you into a vixentaur would've been a good thing."
"I didn't think they could hold a pattern in a transporter buffer that long," Alicia stated.
"True, but Professor Oceanwalker is working on Chakona. Shi is researching using transporters to change species. In the simplest terms, they beam the original body out and transport in a new one making up for differences in mass as necessary and overlay the mental pattern of the original body," Doug added. "I read about it in the last issue of Scientific Chakat I got."
"Simply speaking, that is correct," Lightfoot said. "Oceanwalker wasn't happy about rushing everything and shi didn't get a chance to test Bryan beforehand. Shi used the only form that fit with the available bio mass on hand. There wasn't even time to reconstruct Bryan's original pattern."
"I'm thankful there was a solution other than my ending up six feet underground. Captain, I know how young I look."
"You busy tonight?" Digs asked grinning.
"I'll get back to you on that," he stammered, the inside of his ears turning red.
"If you want company tonight I'm free," Lightfoot stated. "Besides, depending on how you look at it, Bryan is either too young or too old for you."
"I'll certainly take you up on that offer another night. I think I'll just cuddle up with a fuzzy cat I know," Digs commented grinning.
"Well that seems to be true or at least Digs is another point in the Ďforí column," Doug chuckled, eyeing Digs. "Or did you have another fuzzy cat in mind."
"Well I could see if the doctor is done with your sister, but I think you'll do. If thatís everything for the moment, we'll be leaving. With your permission that is, Captain," Digs stated picking Doug up and starting to carry him out of the room.
"I think so; we'll go over the mission later this week. What seems to be true, Mr. Foster?" Geff asked, fairly sure of what Doug was speaking about from the expression on Digsí face.
"How certain appetites are affected by pregnancy," he replied grinning as they left the room.
"Remember you do need to sleep and so do those in the nearby cabins!" Alicia called out before the door slid shut. "I like the way shi's thinking right now."
"Not till we are off duty, love," he responded softly, as Bryan snapped his fingers.
"Well, Bryan, will you settle for a consolation prize, namely myself?" Lightfoot queried, as he tried pouncing hir.
"Get out of here! We have to get back on duty."
"Well I can't carry you off like shi did; otherwise it's a good offer. I guess the question is Ė my cabin or yours?"
"All right, were you informed of the mission, Professor?" Geoffrey asked looking nervous.
"Not beyond the assignments, according to the admiral's direct orders given to me personally. The admiral said he wanted to be sure there was no misunderstanding of his orders," Bryan sighed. "Stop feeling guilty. Theo didn't hurt me when he leaped on my back, though heíll have to learn the difference between a taur form and a pony. That is one I'm still struggling with myself."
"So that explains why you tried to put yourself into sickbay sitting in one of the mess hall chairs," the captain stated.
"Indeed it does. Anyways on with the briefing. As it stands I doubt Doug or Digs know what is going on here," Bryan quipped. "No harm done in either case."
"True enough. About six weeks ago, a probe was scanning this system when it discovered a derelict ship. Normally Star Fleet wouldn't take a second look since it's not interfering with trade or posing any hazard to navigation. The things they have cadets do as projects Ė I think most of us have been subjected to them. Anyways the sensor data was reviewed." The captain sighed. " They determined the derelict was made up of several other ships including a few that Star Fleet would like to know what happened to them if possible. That was the original mission. Apparently that has changed, so if you'll explain that once more, professor."
"Right. During the review, someone noticed an anomaly in the probe data, so they reviewed it again. This time we found signs of construction in a nearby asteroid. The ship is a known factor, the construction is unknown. The computers and experts suggest we use the cargo pod as a base to explore the derelict while the other team uses the Columbus as a base for their explorations. Digs has more recent experience with unknown cultures and is more up to date with the latest finds." Bryan sighed. "I really should go back to school someday."
"I'm not sure I like that option Ė it puts your team out of transporter range if something were to go wrong," Geoffrey stated.
"I know, but without extending the mission, how would you purpose to do it?" Lightfoot inquired. "We can also use the shuttle we used to transport the pod from the freighter to the Columbus."
"I didn't realize we were under a time limit of any kind. Then again, this is first that Iíve heard about this mission beyond assuming I wasn't brought out here for nothing," Digs commented. "I mean the company isnít bad, but at the moment the scenery is rather bland."
"Well the longer we are out here, the greater the chances someone will find us and that is something Star Fleet would like to avoid till we know what the probe discovered, if at all possible," the tod stated firmly. "It goes without saying there arenít any records of any Corps or Fleet activity in this system, and they searched even the classified records in case it was something else."
"Something they would prefer to keep a secret. Lightfoot is right Ė they can use the shuttle," Gunny stated in a tone that brooked no argument. "I thought that is why we were here. I know you'd prefer not to actually need us. I am still going to insist we run patrols, captain; if nothing else we can be a safety net for the second team."
"Fine, but we are going to remain on station for at least a day in case anything goes wrong," the captain said.
"Very well, though I think that is a waste of time," Bryan sighed.
"Bryan, I know why you want me away from here. We received a complete copy of your orders, youngster. I canít blame you wanting to explore that derelict, but letting you do so isnít worth the trouble Iíd be in. If you wonít stay in the pod as ordered, I already have permission to keep you on the Columbus and let you work from here."
"I don't think it's a waste Ė the chief engineer already told me it's going to take at least twenty four more hours to finish checking my team's safety equipment," Digs commented softly. "He isn't going to let you on that ship, so cut it out with those Sad Sack eyes. I'm interested in seeing what they find as well, and I'm not going on board either. Just think Ė you get to monitor both digs without getting your paws dirty."
"I want to get my paws dirty, darn it, Digs. Why am I here then? Answer me that," he replied almost snarling.
"Orders Ė same as me if no other reason, and they don't need another one. Honestly, I'm glad you're here; your knowledge is invaluable," Digs replied, grinning at the tod. "You once confided to Doug and me that you felt your youth was wasted. You've got a second chance now. No one is going to let you destroy that chance by risking your neck on a derelict ship."
"Speaking of hazards, doctorís orders Ė Digs, you are to wear a full suit while working in the field."
"He already told me, and that is standard procedure for working with an unknown site in space. Orders received, sir. Iíll remain in suit till informed otherwise."
"Good, considering itís either that or you'll be working remotely like Bryan," Alicia commented. "I'm under the same orders. If it wasn't for orders and lack of proven risk, both of us would be working remotely as well."
"Is this accurate?" the tod asked, looking around the empty space in the holodeck. "Thereís nothing here; they even rolled up the floor."
"This is completely accurate based on data sent from the research team," Alicia stated firmly. "Hello, Sweetgrass."
"Hullo, Commander." the hologram of a space-suited Chakat said. "Actually, considering how little is left, weíre surprised they left the hull. Ted already found a new exit; we're walking on the ribs of the hull in a lot of places. The hull plating might as well be paper as thin and weak as it is. We've already scanned this whole ship. How about it, Professor? I don't think thereís any purpose in remaining on this site."
"Do another scan and if nothing shows up, then we'll call it done."
"Excuse me, Bryan, our orders put Digs in change of the archeological work," Commander Polar stated. Sure, Digs understood that command didnít extend to anything that might endanger the ship or its crew, then again she had never met a suicidal chakat, even one as focused on hir professional life as Digs was.
"Really? You forgot to tell me that Alicia. I assume Ted was recovered without injury. Sweetgrass, letís go through it again and if we don't find anything I'll recommend not to waste any more of your time with this site," shi responded, "Is there any tech left over there?"
"Just what weíre carrying; they didnít even leave the engines."
"Ted is fine, just a little embarrassed he isn't the only one that found weak points over there. Digs, consider your decision as logged and accepted," Geoffrey said from the doorway. "As to what we are going to do with the ship itself, I don't know. My orders include recovery."
"Only if feasible and considered to be worthwhile. I don't think it is worthwhile," Bryan commented.
"I don't know Ė there might be some value to that shell," Digs commented. "I think there might be a few things it could tell us yet, but we'd have to take it apart."
"You can't do that!" Digs snarled at the large bear, hir hackles raised.
"I believe I am still the captain of this ship, which means I can do this," the large bear replied calmly.
"It is my mission to personally examine the site along with my team and I am in charge of it," shi snarled, attempting to back him into a corner.
"I didn't say you weren't in charge of the site. I only said you weren't going on board. Alicia isn't either until the doctor is perfectly sure it is absolutely safe."
"There is no way you can be sure any planet-side site is absolutely safe. You think one in space could ever be that? This is why we wear space suits."
"Good, youíre being reasonable now," Geoffrey stated.
"Iím not being reasonable. If it were possible, I'd report you to Star Fleet!" Digs snarled.
"You still have that option but not till the mission is over. You are completely right about our orders. But they don't say you have to be present on the site. I do have a civic obligation to keep you from not only risking your own life unnecessarily or that of your children born or otherwise. I know the Admiral didn't know you were pregnant when he requested you for this mission," he replied. "With the professorís team free to work on the asteroid as well, we have more than enough people without risking Commander Polar or yourself."
"PROVE IT!!" shi growled finally backing Geoffrey into the corner.
"I donít have to, but there isnít any mention of the fact till the day we picked Doug and you up," he stated firmly, easily picking hir upj "No wonder the doctor isnít happy with your weight. Once the doctor confirms there are no biological hazards, Iíll clear you visiting the site. Don't bother asking. Bryan cannot for any reason visit the site, besides which I believe the Admiral made it clear personally."
"Why not? I'm legally old enough!" he retorted.
"Under what standards? Physically I shouldn't have you on this ship without parental consent; chronologically letís not go there. Either way youíre not going on site," Geoffrey stated.
"RATS! Can't blame me for trying." Bryan sighed deeply looking downcast.
"Of course not, and if the positions were reversed, I hope weíd both be in each otherís positions," the bear commented. "There will be other digs. As I understand it, you need time to get used to your new body. You are probably feeling more active than youíve felt in years as well. Weíll see if we canít find something to channel that into."
"Doug, turn back to the left please?" Digs asked out loud.
"Roger that. Turning back to the leftÖ not really much to report Digs. We just got the docking bay open this morning; well at least what we think is the docking bay," Doug replied, looking at panel that had come from a starship. "Dang! How did I miss that? Or rather how did you catch it in the holodeck? I guess like their ship, this base was made from recycled parts."
"I just caught a glint of different material out of the corner of my eye. Iím surprised they found it. Just from the video that door almost blends in after all this time," shi replied. "Either that or they stripped the ship to make the base. Thatís a question we might never fully answer. Maybe they expanded the base using parts of the ship. Wait, is it just me or does it seem extra dusty over there?"
"I doubt the probe only used video to scan the area, but it is possible. Everyone is reporting a good quarter inch of dust on everything, I donít think we encountered this much dust examining those ships," Doug reported. "Our suits have a negative ionization to them help keep dust out of the joints and filters. Dusty set up other systems to make sure we donít carry any dust back to the ship not to mention what too much of it will do to our other equipment."
"Hello, Alicia, did you talk to the captain about getting probes to scan the outside? Better safe then sorry, Doug. It does seem dustier than the other stations Iíve explored. Most of them didnít have any atmosphere to speak of. You could be right about that; we donít know the circumstances behind this station being abandoned either. Be thankful youíre in a suit. That much dust getting stirred up would leave your mouth like it was stuffed with cotton," Digs stated as the polar bear entered the holodeck. "Wait, let me guess Ė someone else reserved the deck?"
"I don't think so. Besides I believe he said it's your duty station during working hours. Your shift was over almost two hours ago, which isnít acceptable as you know. It does seem dusty compared to most bases I've visited but who knows how long itís been sitting abandoned."
"I'd guess at least 150 years based on the part Digs just spotted," Doug's hologram said, looking relieved. "Didn't the 'Tin Goose' vanish with all hands shortly before that? The ĎTin Gooseí was an experimental ship with three warp nacelles. The bay doors certainly took a pounding over the years. Iím surprised they werenít holed. It could be we stirred up activity in the asteroid belt."
"Really? I lost track of time. I need to get going Ė Iím supposed to meet up with Shadowchaser and hir mate for supper," shi stated, dashing for the door. "Computer Ė door. Doug, we'll talk about this again."
"Don't you want to know about your request?" Alicia asked, teasing the chakat who stopped in the doorway midstride. "The captain agreed first thing in the morning once we make sure there aren't any visitors in the system."
"Thanks! We'll see what they find then," Digs stated, rapidly leaving the room and dashing down the hallway.
Digs sighed, reaching the mess hall. Shi was almost thirty minutes late. Shi quickly scanned the room hoping hir dinner dates hadnít gotten tired of waiting on hir, as had happened many times in the past, though most of the time shi was running hours late, not minutes. Digs smiled, spotting Shadowchaser and Redpaw as shi went to the replicator banks to get supper.
"I think you have an ulterior motive for having supper with us," Redpaw said, looking at Digs as she handed something to Chaser. "You won."
"You really thought the captain wouldn't monitor hir working hours," shi stated grinning. "Don't judge too quickly Ė we all need company from time to time."
"She's right. Commander Polar chased me out of the holodeck; I lost track of time," Digs admitted only feeling slightly guilty. "I did feel the need for some company; most everyone else I know aboard ship is still on duty. It doesn't feel like I'm working without getting in there and getting my paws dirty."
"Doug should be back shortly. He started around the same time you did today."
"They are working a long shift; I on the other paw, long shift Ė forget it. Doc finds out I worked over, he'llÖ I don't know what heíll do."
"I can guess rule you unfit for duty for a few days, and limit your working hours even more," Redpaw commented. "I doubt you'd like that very much to say the least. I do understand Digs, but it is your duty post, so by definition you are working. There will be other digs. I've had the same issue at times flying fighters before I was paired up with Chaser here. What does an engineer do on a fighter? Depending on the pilot, weíre either just a tool or a helper, which is how it should be."
"No I wouldn't, not in the least," shi sighed deeply, looking around the mess hall slowly, more dull colors picked to be calming. Unlike larger ships that had a lounge area, the mess hall also seemed to fulfill that function. "I'll have to watch it. I guess this is the shipís gathering area."
"Well Doug's shift should be over in a couple of hours at most. The mess hall on most ships, especially smaller ones, are social areas as well as eating ones. At least the doctor isn't keeping as tight a rein on you as he is on Bryan," Shadowchaser commented. "I donít have enough fingers and toes to count up the number of times you saved my tail fighting pirates. We protect each otherís backs."
"What do you mean?" Digs asked shocked, "What did Bryan do to get on his bad side?"
"Nothing, but he is only fourteen years old now i.e. a minor. Currently the laws of Federation don't cover what happened, so the captain and the doctor are erring on the side of caution, so no more than six hours of work a day," Chaser commented. "Give it time Ė I'm sure the doctor will start keeping a tighter eye on both Commander Polar and you as your pregnancies progress."
"Wonderful. I guess I should look at the positive side. The holodeck can't replicate smells that it isn't familiar with. That brings up the downside as well; I can't feel anything they find in its proper location."
"I'd argue that I already heard some of those parts were stripped from other ships," Redpaw commented.
"You're speaking as an engineer. Digs is more interested as a historian in where it is now. The fact it was recycled from a ship is important."
"Both are important as where it came from helps tie the history together and we can finally figure out the final fate for ships that we didnít know before. Documenting where it is now is very important in my profession. Enough shop talk, or at least talk about my profession," Digs stated. "So you're a fighter pilot and this is your mate Redpaw, whoís an engineer."
"I see Doug has told you a few things," Shadowchaser replied. "I guess you want to learn more."
"Maybe, but maybe I just wanted to spend some time with people that I believe I can be friends with, more than what I might learn from attempting to pump you for information."
"Wakey, wakey! Someone drink a little too much last night?" Doug asked, shaking Digs gently.
"I didn't think they allowed alcoholic beverages on ships this small," shi mumbled struggling to wake up. "On second thought I don't remember ordering or drinking anything like that."
"They allow some, otherwise it causes potentially more problems than it solves. You passed out on us," Shadowchaser said, startling hir. "I'll admit it didn't help that Gunny showed up and was talking your ears off. I think maybe you should see doc if you can't remember any of that. Then again it was a long day and you seemed to be enjoying yourself."
"Did you spend all night there?" Digs asked, looking over hir shoulder at the black chakat. "Like Prohibition on Earth, a failed attempt to make an entire nation Ďdryí as they called it. It only created an illegal market that helped make organized crime rich."
"Yes, I hope that was all right. My mate already woke up. I think Doug was the only one put out since he had to find another bunk," Shadowchaser commented grinning. "I donít know Ė they found some interesting way of hiding their bars and shipping their product."
"What you talking about? There was plenty of room; it was like old times," Doug stated grinning, from the foot of the bed. "So don't worry about me. The question is how did Digs sleep?"
"Well if anyone snored or talked in their sleep, it didn't bother me. They were called speakeasies and there are a few recreations around. Sadly the original entrances werenít designed for taurs. Sorry, sorry, I sometimes I forget that Iím not teaching a class," shi commented, getting out of bed and stretching. "So how soon do we get this show on the road?"
"Well that would be up to the captain," Chaser responded. "I think breakfast would be first thing on the agenda, at least for us. I would avoid Gunny for a while Ė he was rather put out when you passed out last night. As long as you donít attempt to spring a pop quiz on us, I think we can live with it, Professor."
"Iíll take your word for it, not that I remember everything we talked about," Digs said, grinning as shi threw a salute at Chaser. "If I donít want Doc after my hide, breakfast better be on my agenda as well. No pop quizzes Ė got it; no problem."
"Are the scans reporting any traffic in the system?" the captain inquired walking onto the bridge.
"No sir, we are already scanning the asteroid. The duty officer last night had the scans started; there hasn't been any traffic since we arrived other than the fighters. The probes have done two complete circuits of the asteroid and we haven't found any other openings. We havenít detected any emissions from the base since we arrived."
"Any idea of how large the base is?" the captain inquired, staring at the large rock hanging in space. It had all the ear marks of a classified base. He wasnít sure is if the door was always coated to blend into the surrounding the rock or over the years dust had covered the door.
"Not a clue, sir. We barely detect some hollow spaces. Unless we use active scan, I doubt we'll get anything more," the officer replied. "Potential volume is estimated at 5,000 cubic meters, a good size for a small mining base. We detected mostly solid rock similar to granite with quartz and a few high quality veins of iron, copper and gold."
"Unless the scans indicated something dangerous, keep it passive," Geoffrey commented. "Anyone know if the archeological staff is active yet?"
"Well as you know I'm up. The only two I haven't heard anything from is Lt Foster or Shir Digs," Alicia responded. "Nothing to write home about then."
"Absolutely Ė mining would cost at least twenty times the potential return according to computer estimates. The last report I had was when Digs passed out in the mess hall, after which Redpaw and Shadowchaser escorted Digs back to hir cabin," the science officer reported, looking up from his screens.
"Digs skips breakfast and Doc will have all our hides," Commander Polar said firmly, rounding upon the foxtaur that had just left the translift. "Who let this minor on the bridge? I know for a fact he hasn't had breakfast either this morning."
"I don't know sir, but I'll have him removed," the security officer stated, glaring at Bryan who grinned, quickly backing onto the translift. "Sir, considering he is a senior member of the team, was that exactly proper?"
"Nothing said I had to give him access to the bridge, according the orders I remember receiving. Did you receive something different, Commander?"
"You received more than I did, sir. My primary orders were to round up Digs and Doug and then report back to the ship with them," she responded. "I didn't know he was going to be a part of this mission. If you'll excuse me, I'll see how soon Digs and company are going to get started."
"Dismissed, commander. Also please advise Gunny we would appreciate if he would refrain from trying to keep people up all night in the future, especially when they have to work in the morning."
"Hello, Shir Digs, mind if I sit here?" Bryan asked timidly.
"No, but Iím not the only one sitting at this table," shi replied softly.
"You are more than welcome to join us, Professor," Doug stated, pulling up a chair. "Digs, are you all right? None of us are upset about last night in the least, rest assured of that."
"I think shi is worried about another issue. Nothing happened beyond the four of us sharing a bed, Digs. Who cares if it had? You don't have a chakat as a mate without realizing sooner or later love shared isn't love divided but rather love multiplied. I have yet to meet a chakat that didn't love large families. Look at Doug and Chaserís family if you don't believe me."
"I'm not upset, Redpaw, I don't want you to feel that you had to do that. Letís just say people aren't trying to force themselves on meÖ"
"It's not an inconvenience; the only issue is, did we upset you?" Doug asked, hugging hir. "I imagine people are starting to wonder where we are. Personally I miss occasionally being part of a big old fur-pile. Basically people want to make sure Digs doesn't fall into old habits, so getting time to hirself isn't that easy, nor do they trust hir making certain decisions."
"Not really, though if all of you could finish breakfast and get started with your shifts, the captain might be a little happier overall," Commander Polar said, startling them. "Frankly as long as you aren't abusing yourself and the doctor is happy, what you do on your personal time is just that Ė your personal time, and if people are getting too pushy, security will deal with it."
"Thanks; I'm not upset. I slept very well last night actually. I'm not sure about going any further but I wouldn't mind sleeping together like that again, if it isn't an imposition?"
"Just let us know when, provided we aren't on duty," Redpaw answered before Shadowchaser could do more than open hir muzzle. "Shut it, Chaser, before you start to catch flies."
"I was just going toÖ never mind. It would be our pleasure Digs," hy stammered momentarily before kissing Redpaw. "I do have to occasionally get in the last word."
"Well I think something can be worked out," the commander stated. "As long as there are no objections from the involved parties."
"I wish you wouldn't keep doing that, Digs," Doug groused, getting out of bed after extracting himself from Digsí paws.
"Huh, sorry about that," shi replied, looking at the mess Doug's face was in. "I see they already left and it looks like we woke up on time."
"I still don't believe you. I am tempted to ask you if your other companions had to deal with this every night."
"I think it looks cute," Shadowchaser quipped from the doorway to the bathroom. "We hadn't gotten that far."
"I told you we were too loud; it appears we woke them," Redpaw added, her head peeking over Chaser's.
"Good thing they designed the bathrooms in taur rooms for quange. I'm not sure about Doug but you didn't wake me; he did," Digs commented, looking at the cowlick Doug was sporting. "I donít remember any of my past lovers having this issue. Chaser looked fine yesterday morning, as did Redpaw."
"Well I didnít have your attention like Chaser either and Doug wasnít around."
"No comment. Would you two please hurry up before Digs and I are late. The captain promised to make me miserable if I'm late again. Digs has an appointment before starting hir shift," Doug stated.
"Good thing we're done then."
"Doug?" Digs started to ask, washing his back.
"Iím not upset with any of you seriously," he stated, water from the shower soaking their pelts as he hugged hir tightly. "You act differently if Iím around; weíve all noticed. You needed what my sister gave you last night. I think you feel like youíre betraying me by giving into your needs. Even if we were lifemates, I have no right nor would I deserve a mate like you if I tried so demand that."
"There is no need to say anything," Doug said turning off the shower. "Now we have to get moving."
"All right Digs, we've gotten into the upper level."
"Good. Doug and his team have gone down to the lower levels," shi replied, looking at Alicia.
"Don't worry, we're making progress. Geoffrey is perfectly happy with our progress. He has read enough archeology reports to know most problems come when things are rushed; it is an unknown environment after all. I know you're used to people thinking itís like they show in the entertainment shows."
"Indeed, Doug. Everyone in their suits still?"
"Sure thing. Why?"
"I might be wrong, but that looks like a genetics lab."
"Hopefully no one left anything nasty laying around and they certainly left more in here than we found on the main level."
"I think that was more storage and landing bay. There appears to be more up here as well. It appears it was the command level; there are windows looking into the landing bay," Sweetgrass stated looking around the room filled with dusty consoles with swivel chairs firmly bolted to the floor in front of each one. "Video feeds are active from both levels, holographic data won't be ready for a few more minutes. There is a heavy layer of dust on everything up here as well. I think based on the chairs and layout, we can assume furs werenít working up here. Well, certainly no one with a tail or a taur could work here easily."
"Understood, Sweetgrass, your views have been entered into the record, and personally I agree with that assessment," Digs commented, looking at Alicia who nodded in agreement. "Well we can assume if nothing else that furs werenít in charge."
"Holodeck one to Captain Ursus," the polar bear said, tapping her com badge as she reviewed the video Doug had shot since entering the lower lever. "Considering this find, Iím glad everyone is working in suits. Hopefully anything over there should be dead."
"Iím glad weíre not betting on that chance. There were reports of archeologists finding live bacteria when they excavated the pyramids in Egypt," Digs stated, sighing. "Most of that information was lost with the destruction of the attacks on the capitals of the world during the Gene Wars."
"Go ahead, Commander," he replied almost immediately. "Please advise Shir Digs that the doctor has put hir on report for skipping meals."
"We found a potential bio lab, with equipment for genetic work. Really? Iíll follow up on that, though with everyone looking over hir shouldersÖ" She stated sounding surprised, as she was sure Digs hadnít skipped a meal since boarding the ship. "Whoops! I know what happened. On more than a few occasions others have taken meals to Digs without reporting it. Iím guilty of that as well."
"Digs, we have a room of skeletons in what appears to be old cryo-tubes," Doug gulped, feeling like he was going to throw up. Doug stumbled out of the room shaken by what he had seen. Death and the aftereffects werenít new to him after several decades in Star Fleet, but it was the idea of being trapped like that unable to escape that scared him the most. "I'm not sure what species they were, but we have a few taurs and the rest appear to be furs."
"Roger that, we'll look at your space right away, and not a word. You know I havenít skipped a meal though the Commander is correct about bringing me meals," Digs stated firmly, looking at the hologram and wishing shi could hug the visibly shaken cat. "Computer, switch primary focus to feed from Lieutenant Foster."
"Aye, aye Shir Digs, and Iím guilty as well. The trouble we cause just wanting a few private moments and making sure shi doesnít over do it," Doug sighed, calming down now that he was out of the storage room. "Iím sorry I never intended to get you into trouble with the doctor."
"Make sure everyone stays in suit till we confirm if anything dangerous is there and viable," the captain stated, cutting into the conversation. "Well all of you need to stop it and Iíll talk to him."
"Roger that, sir. Sweetgrass, Doug, all teams confirm that order," Commander Polar responded, looking at the chakat sheepishly. "There is a replicator in your room, and if there is something wrong with it, we need to let engineering know right away."
"Not used to having a replicator so handy and Doug never mentioned it," shi commented looking surprised.
"Confirmed, good thing we didn't put an atmosphere in here," Sweetgrass responded.
"Got it; my team has confirmed as well. All teams will remain in till we get through decontamination," Doug stated "Most rooms on ships the size of the Columbus donít have replicators."
"What happened!" Digs screamed as the deck pitched under hir paws, almost tossing the scared chakat to the floor. Shi had ran many simulations over the years in the universityís holodeck, but the safeties had always prevented such violent actions.
"Computer was that our environment or the whole ship?" Alicia stammered, falling to the deck on her hands as the deck pitched and rolled faster than the system could react.
"Environmental Ė there was an explosion on the asteroid centered on the top level," the computer responded as Digs helped Alicia to her paws. Emergency teams are already beaming over to verify everyone is all right."
"Are both of you all right? The safeties were overwhelmed momentarily," Geoffrey roared, storming into the room along with the doctor.
"We're fine." Alicia stated firmly.
"I barely stayed on my paws. Alicia fell over but she fell on her hands."
"Confirmed neither one was injured. Their cubs are fine as well before anyone asks," Bones stated, looking at his tricorder. "I'm not sure what either of you can do till we get more information from the emergency teams, but both of you need to calm down and relax."
"We lost communications with everyone over there," Captain Ursus informed them, knowing they might have lost everyone on the station and that wasnít going to be an answer to take for anyone, especially Digs.
"We'll review the data we've already collected," Digs responded firmly, catching the glares both Alicia and the doctor were giving hir. "Till lunch, all right? I need to do something till we know what is going on. Please? Iíll go stir crazy just sitting around."
"Good. So I won't have to take other measures like this, computer Ė shut down holodeck from noon till one pm ship's time."
Digs looked over the three small containers sitting in the shuttle bay critically. The hastily assembled white boxes weren't tied into the ship's systems for some reason that no one would explain to hir. A few people on the upper levels had suffered concussions, but currently Dr Cottontail expected everyone to recover completely. There had been a few other injuries on the other levels mainly caused by unsecured objects falling.
"Digs, we need you," Geff said softly, knowing shi wasn't going to accept what was happening in the least.
"I know you found some records, and I assume all of you can read. Why do you need me? I want to know why Doug is isolated like this!" shi snarled, rounding on the large bear, hir fur standing on end.
"It's a safety precaution, that's all," Alicia said softly, standing unmoved by the show of emotion. To her it was completely understandable. The polar bear was thankful Digs didnít realize the full meaning of the protocols they were following. "Digs, the more people we have looking over the records, the better the odds if something is wrong we have a chance to correct it."
"My mate is right. I could say itís your duty but I know better. Doug was exposed to anything that might have been in the lab, so it's protocol to isolate him and the others that were exposed."
"I wish I knew a better way to express this," Alicia stated hugging the chakat. "For you it couldn't have been worse. For the ship, thankfully only three people were exposed. We have people waiting in the conference room to work on this. Engineering and biology teams are standing by to work with anything we can give them."
"All right; you will keep me in the loop?"
"I donít see how we could keep you out of it," Geff said softly also hugging hir. "Not even counting orders, itís almost impossible to keep a secret aboard a ship, and youíd never believe how fast it travels throughout the ship."
"We got Digs to join us. Any idea on what caused the explosion, Dusty?" Alicia asked, entering the conference room along with Digs.
"Whatever caused it burned off completely apparently. As ordered, our first priorities were the isolation rooms and rescue," he reported, plainly upset. Till they knew the cause, they were helpless to prevent a repeat, and this time someone might be killed. They were lucky Ė open doors and an almost complete lack of atmosphere had helped dissipate the explosive force through out a larger area.
"Methane from the decomposing specimens Ė itís lighter than air and would rise to the top," Digs said suddenly. "Iíve read about similar incidents in other enclosed locations, and some of those teams were killed."
"How would it get up there and not into the landing bay?" Dusty asked critically, attempting to figure out the entire scenario, but Digsí statement certainly fit the facts as they had them. "What set it off? Shi's right Ė once the seals on the cryo-chambers failed, the dead specimens would start decomposing."
"What set it off is your department. I've seen it several times, even on the first stations. Just because they had to pressurize and depressurize it so often, most landing bays are on separate environmental systems except for during emergencies," Digs replied looking at the other chakat. "If they designed the station with that capacity."
"Shi's right and without power, the system that keeps the air circulating isn't working. All it took was a single spark; anything near the gas that powered up Ė boom. We'll try and confirm that. It will take another three days to fill the asteroid with inert gas without venting anything already there," Dusty commented, sighing. "We tend to learn from our mistakes. The other question is what caused the spark. We havenít found any traces of power on the station."
"That might contaminate the site, and it will stir up the dust which I'd rather avoid," Digs replied.
"Understood Ė that is part of why we are going so slowly," Bryan said, finally speaking up. "Digs, that explosion already stirred it up big time; I donít think there is any dust left in the ventilation system now."
"Point taken. Letís use an inert atmosphere, Dusty. We still donít know what we are dealing with, if anything," Capitan Ursus ordered, standing in the doorway.
"Aye, aye sir. Any issues with that, Digs? You are still in charge of the dig," he replied, looking at Digs.
"No; the captain is more familiar with the latest protocols in dealing with this situation than I am," Digs stated.
"So, what is everyone doing here so early?" Shadowchaser asked, entering the mess hall.
"I declared it lunchtime Ė you have a problem with that?" Bones retorted grinning.
"Not at all. Let me guess Ė they all started extra early?" shi stated, backing away from the syringe the doctor was holding up.
"I think the others did; we both know when I got up. Iíve been told to take two days off. Bryan has already put in his hours for the day, apparently, and we are going to call in the scientific and medical experts," Digs commented softly. "Now I just have to figure out what to do with the rest of today and tomorrow."
"That about sums it up. We know they were pirates that did a little legitimate trading. Trading for what they couldnít get by piracy. We are assuming their victims who it appears were predominantly furs never left; they became test subjects and slaves. What they were testing we donít know yet."
"Think again, Shir Digs. The next two days, not including today. You were working earlier, so today doesnít count as one of your days off. Same thing goes for you, Commander Polar, immediately after your duty shift," Bones amended smiling evilly at hir. "If youíd like to argue, we can make the time off longer. It isnít like it would hurt you in the least Iím sure, Shir Digs."
"After Teddyís visit in the conference room, Geff is having Dusty fix a few things. Digs is right Ė we normally donít have children on board," Alicia said, remembering how Teddy had slipped into the conference room, hiding under the table till he had pounced onto Digís back. "Well I can spend some of that time with my son, though the sooner we complete this mission, the sooner we can go home."
"And if you get hurt because of overwork, I get the blame," the rabbit replied. "We both know that. Itís not only your mate that will have to personally answer to the Admiral if something happens to Digs, but myself and a few others."
"You really know how to ruin my day, you know that?" Digs sighed, looking at her lunch. "Something was telling me I shouldnít have gotten out of bed this morning."
"Well at least I can keepÖ no, please! Iíve been following the rules. All we did the whole trip out here is sit on our asses!" Bryan yipped, seeing the grin on the doctorís face as he turned to face the foxtaur.
"Those are my orders and I already have permission from the Captain that security will ensure that they are carried out," he stated grimly. "I have already alerted security to those orders as well."
"Well I guess we are all in the same boat now. On a positive note, we were going to turn things over to the science teams to decipher," the bear grinned, holding Teddy on her lap as they ate lunch.
"So, Digs, you never said what research project you are working on lately since most of the work on your last major dig was taken over by the INN," Gunny said approaching the table. "It appears you have time to chat right now."
"Watch it, Gunny! As far as Iím concerned, talking about archeology is working, considering Digs is also a professor of history," the doctor quipped, fixing the Voxxan in his gaze. "I mean that, Sarge."
"Yes sir!" He gulped, hoping Digs would answer the question. There was little doubt the doctor was enjoying his little power trip right now.
"Sorry, I canít tell you. Star Fleet already ruled it classified top secret," shi retorted grinning. "Why? I have no idea why, but who understands the military mind? The dean, the admiral and I swore it was a perfectly harmless topic, but no."
"Where is Digs?" Doctor Cottontail snarled, entering the conference room. The rabbit quickly dived under the table, seeing Teddy playing with a large pile of blocks. "Who gave him those danged things? Iíve still got lumps on the back of my head from my children tossing them."
"I replicated them for him," Digs said, hidden by the table as shi played with the blocks as well, "My visit to the Folly was quite educational. Teddy is being very well behaved. Beyond knocking over my wall, he hasnít tossed a thing."
"They are made of soft foam," Alicia stated, grinning. "I was worried about that as well till Digs tossed me one without Teddy seeing. No need to set any bad examples for him. It would take a very lucky shot to hurt someone even if they fell on them. I figure its only a matter of time before he tries tossing a few of them though."
"Doctor, beyond a few notes for my research project, I havenít worked on a thing. Well, unless you want to count getting stuck watching Teddy earlier," shi commented, sighing as Teddy knocked over hir wall once more, laughing.
"Iíll let that go, though in my opinion that is harder work than youíve done most of this trip," the doctor said, playing with the block in his paws. "I need to get some of these for my kittens. What in the world could you be researching that earned a top secret classification by Star Fleet and yet they are letting you still work on it."
"Believe it or not, toys. I think someone got their information screwed up, personally. I really canít say any more and I might be in trouble for what I told you," the chakat stated, shrugging hir shoulders as shi started rebuilding the wall as Teddy watched excitedly.
"Donít bother confirming it, but those blocks are a part of your research, arenít they," Alicia stated, sounding worried.
"Potentially; they or something very similar are made on almost every planet the Federation has contacted," Digs added. "Childrenís play that just might be a universal rule, regards of what we call our offspring. Iíll send you the replicator pattern, doctor. Itís fairly simple to customize as well."
"Is shi sane now?" Doctor Cottontail asked. "I still think you shouldíve let me sedate hir."
"Iíll behave," Digs sighed, laying in between Commander Polar and the Captain, with Teddy sitting on hir back. The room was still in shambles with bits of glass all over the floor, claw marks in the wall paneling and the twisted metal frames of the table and chairs laying against the wall and windows where they had been flung during hir fit of rage. "Iím sorry about your conference room."
"That wasnít the first time thatís happened. Call me old fashioned, Doctor, but it was easier to let Digs tear apart the conference room and restrain hir than take any risk with drugs. Besides, we needed the exercise," Geoffrey responded, grinning. "What is the latest? In retrospect, we shouldíve warned Digs beforehand."
"I doubt that wouldíve helped. Sweetgrass and Ted are dead. Iím almost afraid to ask about Doug," Digs stated, glad both Geoffrey and Alicia had insisted shi have a protein shake and something to eat, once shi was restrained.
"I donít know why heís still alive, according to the data from his pod. Captain Iím officially asking that probes be used to finish the investigation. We still have no idea what is over there but it reduced two healthy individuals to dust in a matter of seconds," Doctor Cottontail stated firmly, stopping just sort of demanding. "Iím honestly worried about the logs we brought over, even though they were sterilized several times. Other than the fact Doug is still with us, Iíd say weíre passed the critical point based on what happened with Ted and Sweetgrass."
"It could be his exposure was slightly different from theirs," Digs offered, quietly thinking about what shi had heard about the fate of Ted and Sweetgrass. There was nothing left Ė even their clothes was reduced to dust within seconds. "He was in the lab area while Sweetgrass was in the command area, and Ted had located what I guess was their mess hall. It explains what happened to some of them Ė all the dust everyone commented on."
"Some of them? Why are you saying that?" Alicia asked concerned.
"Iím assuming there had to be at least one other ship. There wasnít anything in the landing bay and the hulk we investigated wouldnít have carried them anywhere. We all know no one couldíve lived there without suits."
"Shiís right, though if they caught whatever killed the others, I doubt they made it out of the system alive," Geff stated firmly. "At least I hope so."
"Iíve never encountered anything like this in the records," Dr Cottontail commented. "Dusty, itís safe to enter."
"I checked all the engineering sources I could access right now and there was nothing there either," the folf responded. "I agree with Boneís statement, anyone infected never left the system alive. Digs is right about there being another ship in all likelihood. We found traces for several types of tech that is no longer on the station, and nothing in their records to indicate it was sold or traded. They couldíve used it to build another ship or used it as spare parts."
"Any chances at all they couldíve escaped the system with their information?" Digs pleaded, looking at the rabbit and folf intently. Shi still wondered if Dustyís fur was naturally like that or a really complex fur job. Beyond his light yellow eyes and fur, there was nothing to indicate he wasnít a fox, As Dusty jokingly put it Ė he was the runt of the litter. The folfís fur was completely black except for when the light hit it just right; then it looked faded like that spot was covered in his namesake.
"Dusty and I have discussed this at length. There is no known technology today or then that wouldíve gotten them out of the system in the necessary timeframe. There is no guarantee they didnít send the data to someone else. Iím only guessing they left in a panic since they left so much behind," Alicia said, looking around the room. "Dusty, tell Snow Ė shi plays with the chairs this time, Iíll fill hir bed with ice."
"You sure neither one of you have anything to do with destroying the conference room this time?" Dusty asked, grinning. "I think shi got that message already that people donít like sitting in the hot seat literally."
"I didnít mind the cold seat so much at times," Geff added grinning. The room was trashed. There were claw marks in the sound dampening panels on the wall, the glass table was shattered and its frame was bent out of recognition. Digs had destroyed the chairs as well before they had contained hir. Digs hadnít stopped struggling till Teddy had somehow slipped into the room and leaped into hir paws. Geff gulped, noticing the gouges in the carpet as well, "I think someone might need their claws trimmed. We were wearing gloves, Dusty."
"Indeed we were. Is there any news?" Alicia asked, tossing several pairs of heavy gloves at the engineer. It was a fact of life that even with their claws blunted, both Geff and she were strong enough that their claws could still seriously injure someone. "We are all worried."
"There isnít any news from the medical front. Iíll schedule an appointment for you, Digs," Bones sighed. "What little information we do have is that Doug is infected with the same viruses we found in both Ted and Sweetgrass."
"I guess then the question is why he hasnítÖ" Digs sobbed, hugging Teddy.
"We donít know. I found inactive nanites all over the station. That isnít something we normally look for and we have no idea what activates them or what they are programmed for. We also found nanites in all three suits. Personally I recommend till we find some more answers, no one enter the station," Dusty added. "Iím sorry, Digs; we donít have any more information."
"Thatís all right; itís a risk we take on all digs," Shi responded sighing deeply, knowing hir only responsible decision could doom Doug to death. "I agree with Dusty and Doctor Cottontailís assessment Ė no one else enters the base. Can we do anything else remotely? How do we make sure we donít contaminate the ship?"
"Sure? The big question is how much equipment will Star Fleet accept us losing?" Captain Ursus stated, looking them over. "Your opinions are so noted and the rest of the exploration for the moment will be carried out remotely."
"We can replace most of it with replicators. It will just take time and energy, and right now the engines are just idling," Dusty stated firmly. "My question is Ė what are we going to do about the asteroid itself?"
"Weíll discuss that later," the Captain stated firmly. "You can all rest assured beyond the journals weíve recovered, we are not taking any samples home. Dusty, Bones, I want plans for neutralizing what weíve encountered and making sure the ship is clean inside and outside. You two are dismissed for that."
"I better leave as well, and leave the scene of the crime as it were, before someone attempts to take the costs of repairs out of my hide."
"Hold up a moment, Digs?" Alicia asked as the engineers and doctor left the room.
"You want Teddy back. No problem, I forgot he was there, sorry," Digs stated noticing the sleeping cub on hir back his arms attempting to reach around hir neck.
"Well that is one thing, but not the biggest at the moment. I really doubt youíre going to run off with him," Alicia stated with a sigh, removing Teddy from Digsí back. "I am so loath to disturb him, but if he sleeps too long now, heíll keep us up all night."
"Shir Digs, I wanted to assure you we arenít taking a single sample of those nanites home. Iím sure youíve heard the phrase plausible deniability; well I want you to keep that. So you arenít going to be involved with the final disposition of the asteroid, beyond Iím sure youíd love to blow it into little pieces," Geff stated firmly. "Weíll just take the cost of the repairs out of your fees if you do it again. All things considered, your reactions are completely understandable."
"No, dropping it into a star works better for me. I doubt anything could survive that."
"Really that is an idea. Now get out of here before I assign you to watch Teddy for several shifts," Geff quipped, grinning at the chakat.
"I could probably use more practice at least. Teddy is only one cub compared to all those on the Folly," Digs commented, leaving the room.
So whatís for supper?" the rabbit asked softly, happy to see the chakat eating something. Digs hadnít eaten hardly since shi went on a rampage in the conference room. Dr. Cottontail was worried about hir health, efforts by most of the chakats and others on board hadnít gotten hir to eat. He wasnít happy about hir weight but nothing in his scans indicated shi or hir cubs were in any danger beyond what a simple vitamin shot in the next few days would correct.
"Hasenpfeffer," Digs stated looking up. "Well youíve been scanning me. Iím eating; what else you want?"
"In the words of the greats, you are despicable!" Bones responded, smiling broadly. "I donít know who helped you out of your funk youíve been in, but I canít thank them enough."
"You donít have the bill for it," Digs stated softly, tossing a towel at him. "You might want that. Pull up a seat if you want; everyone else is busy. I woke up with the feeling that everything will be all right."
"Really? You wonít think so once you get my bill. I donít know how many around us got that little joke," he retorted grinning. "You need a vitamin shot, otherwise weight not withstanding, I have nothing to complain about."
"Well, you get too close with that injector and this chocolate rabbit gets its head bit off."
"Really? Well let me help you with that," the doctor said, picking up the desert and biting its head off before noticing something special about the chocolate rabbit, "A doctorís outfit? You know for that Iíll have to go old school with your shot. There are a few procedures that require a hypodermic. I think I can get the replicator to make a chocolate chakat in the right uniform. I know you want to pump me for information about Doug; thatís why you offered me a seat."
"No, they wonít let me in the shuttle bay, and no one else is tracking me down, so I assume everything is still status quo," Digs commented softly. "I just wanted to sit and maybe enjoy a little company, but everyone seems a little nervous around me. At least I hope theyíd tell me as soon as possible if anything changes."
"You are on the list to be notified. Whoís first depends on where everyone is, of course. Weíve been worried about you acting moody and not eating. Youíve been barely going through the motions of living. That isnít something Iíve seen with chakats. You might want to get that," Bones said, finishing off the chocolate rabbit as Digsí combadge started chirping. "Dusty is playing with a few ideas that might rescue Doug, but we arenít sure yet."
"Where would we be without hope, doctor? Personally I donít want to know. Digs here," shi replied, tapping the badge.
"Could you report to the holodeck as soon as possible? And if you see Bones, weíd like to see him as well. The little rascal figured out how to turn off his com badge when heís off duty," Alicia voice said out of the com badge.
"Iíll be there in three minutes. Iím in the mess hall," Digs responded, tapping hir badge once more. "Shall we go? Supper will wait, and maybe I can get a little more company. Shame on you, doctor."
"Darn it! You finish your meal! Goodness knows you probably need it," came the reply. "Commander Polar didnít tell the whole story Ė they can find me easily enough if it is an emergency. I shall have to get that recipe deleted from the computer in the meantime. Iíll let the commander know what is going on. Besides I think I ate your desert," he retorted, getting to his feet. "I for one shall accompany you when supper resumes since I havenít had mine yet, though my wife might get jealous."
"Just supper nothing more."
"Rats! And here I was hoping to snuggle up with someone tonight."
"I might be willing to snuggle with you tonight, but no promises yet. Wonít your mate get upset?" Digs inquired as they walked down the hall.
"She doesnít mind if I snuggle. Occasionally she joins me on these trips. She has snuggled with a few people herself. The downside to that is like this trip, Iím left all alone." He sighed as they entered the holodeck.
"So what did you..." Digs started to ask, staring at the image in front of them.
"How is that possible? Is that real?" Doc stammered.
"As far as every sensor probe we got over there can, tell itís real all right," Geff responded, staring at the cryo-tube with a chakat inside. "The engineering staff is attempting to figure out how to safely retrieve hir. Snowy thinks if they can safely transport the chakat out with filtering to make sure they donít get any nanites, we might be able to use that to save Doug."
"Provided he survives that long," Digs sighed. "Can shi survive outside of the cryo-tube, provided shi is still alive?"
"They are building a duplicate. All the indicators say shi is still viable," Alicia stated, staring at the hologram. "The engineering and medical staff are sure they could revive hir without it. The big thing is they need to be ready for revival unless shi is going right back in."
"Well excuse me, but unless there is something I can help with directly, Iím going back to my supper. Does anyone want to join me?" Digs asked softly. "The rest of the data can wait till morning when Iím officially allowed back on duty, I think."
"That should be acceptable. as I stated earlier I will join you for supper if that is okay? I donít know what I can do till Dusty and his team get the new chamber done and that chakat brought over. I only have one question Ė why did that chamber survive when the others didnít?"
"Not a clue, Doc, not a clue," Snow said, startling them. "It looks like the other chambers over there."
"Actually itís not," Digs stated firmly. "The others are contemporary units, at most a hundred and twenty five years old intended for short term cryo-stasis. The other unit is at least a hundred and fifty years old, designed for long haul colony ships."
"How short term are we talking about? I assume youíve seen similar units before," Geff added, shutting down the holodeck. "Supper sounds pretty good right now."
"The better units, a couple of decades; others were made as knock-offs. Iíve seen journals that reported units failing after a year. Given a choice, I wouldnít trust my life to them," Digs stated as they left the holodeck. "The other unit is basically two complete units Ė a primary and backup. How long someone could survive in there, I donít know. They were designed with the idea it might take five hundred years to reach a suitable planet."
"What is going on? Computer, turn on the heat!" Digs exclaimed, waking up shivering in hir room, shocked to see hir breath in the air.
"Climate control access denied," the computer voice responded from the wall as the cabin door opened.
"Digs, are you all right?" Alicia asked from the doorway. "Apparently you were the last one notified. Dusty turned off the heat while they scan the ship inside and out for any nanites. The best guess is they activate with body heat."
"But what do they do Ė anyone find that out?" Digs asked, getting out of bed. "A little late donít you think?"
"As Doug has said, closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out. Youíre right. Well apparently they didnít like furs and were following several avenues to destroy them. There was more data on their biological attempts. Bones is already working on the necessary counteragents. The technological attack is another matter. There were several hints Ė the nanites are powered by body heat or electrical energy from the body. What they doÖ well there were several ideas there, all of them very nasty, but we can assume they went with the option to just get rid of us all together. Once there are enough nanites in the host subject, they turn the host into dust. Rather scary idea; a terror weapon if you will, considering they could just break down their targets into individual molecules. None of that explains Dougís survival thus far or a surefire way to save him other than Dustyís ideas without risking exposure of the whole ship."
"Commander, interior is clear. We are scanning the exterior. Dusty and the Captain are considering methods to make sure the exterior is clean," Snow reported from the engineering station on the bridge.
"Well if we donít freeze, it sounds like we roast then," the polar bear stated with a grin that made Digs nervous.
"Theyíre not going to do what I think they are, are they?" Digs inquired, having visions of the ship roasting as it got too close to the nearest star.
"Well it might leave a few scorch marks, but that should make sure the exterior is clean. The fighters are getting the worst of it."
"I can well imagine, along with their pilots, I assume," Digs said with a grin.
"Along with their pilots. At least this is a very quiet system."
"Digs, you could watch from the gallery," Dusty offered again, his fur like most of the crews over the last week having filled with their winter coats. All attempts to repair the heating system after they had lowered the settings as a precaution in case any of the nanites had gotten aboard the ship had failed. The shipís doctor was really annoyed as his winter coat came in, making him gain several clothing sizes. Under Digsí suggestion, with agreements from engineering and medical, all the materials recovered from the asteroid were quarantined. Scans of the recovered notes had been put into the computer along with complete holograms of the asteroid inside and out.
"Iíd rather be here, Dusty. I think Bones is happy with his winter coat now."
"Iíve heard rumors that the medical computer keeps recommending he be put on a diet. The captain has to keep deleting that entry from the doctorís official records. I gather heís gained three sizes and even then the uniform isnít the most comfortable," the folf said, dropping into a whisper." You know what we had to do as safety precautions to try this and what that means could happen."
"I do. Whether Iím here or watching from the gallery makes little difference. I might be warmer up there, but at least you canít cut the video or delay the video to spare me. I donít want that," shi stated firmly. "Thank you for the attempt though."
"All right, and Digs Ė thanks from the crew for helping with the Doctor."
"No problem. Besides heís nice and fluffy like this."
"I heard that, Shir Chakat," the rabbit growled, winking at Digs. "Iíve got a huge needle extra long with your name on it for that. Come on, Dusty, letís get this travesty on the move. I might be one of the least uncomfortable in the shuttle bay, but the cold is still seeping into my bones."
"You mean the needle you have to use since the injector wonít penetrate your fur right now."
"Ouch! Right, getting the show moving. Besides the sooner this is done, the sooner we can go home," Dusty said, setting to work on the modified transporter. There had been nothing in any of the recovered data to indicate the nanites could work on computers, but they refused to take any chances in case the filters missed something. "Transporting Lieutenant Foster will take the longest with the level of scan Iím doing to filter out the nanites."
"Understood. Besides I have to decide to revive the chakat right away or put hir into the new cryo tube. Do we have any idea how long shiís been like that?"
"Not a clue. A lot depends on the technology the ship transporting hir used. It might not have even been a true colony ship but an older ship that lost its engines and had the misfortune to drift close enough for them to see it. The speed of starships has been increasing dramatically. Iím surprised we havenít reached planets and had ancient colonists show up on us. They didnít plan on reaching their destination for centuries, and it was guaranteed to be a one way trip."
"Shiís right. I plan on trying to access the chamberís computer after we get hir out of there. No sense in risking lives needlessly," he replied softly, his paws dancing over the control panel. "Here we go, everyone, and this should be the easy one."
"For you, not necessarily for me," Bones retorted watching the transporter pad, along with Dusty, Digs, and a full trauma team. They were prepared for the worst scenario beyond neither patient surviving the transport and that was that they too became infected with nanites. To that end, the entire cargo bay was sealed till they received an all clear, and the cargo transporter wasnít going to be used again till it was completely serviced. Bones held his breath as a figure appeared on the transporter, "All right, move it team! Letís scan hir and make our decision now."
"On it, boss. Recommend manual revival Ė there are a few oddities in my scan," the nurse said, grabbing an injector off the cart they had in the room as a portable medical unit.
"Theyíve made improvements over the years, and there were drugs that could used as substitutes," Digs offered. "If you can give me the drugs detected when youíre done, that might help me date when hir ship left Earth."
"Roger that," the nurse responded, glad that the chakat and everyone else in the room quickly got out of their way after offering to assist.
"OK, I think Iíve got everything ready, Iím just glad weíre taking this transporter offline once weíre done. Digs, it will take several minutes. I fully expect that, and I can assure you Doug wonít be hurt by this in the least."
"You hope, and everything you know says that is how it is supposed to work," shi stated. Looking around the shuttle bay, the floors were mottled dark gray material designed to provide excellent traction for either shoes or bare paws. At the far end of the room shi could see the large red striped doors that opened into space and the yellow and black striped area that marked the area normally covered by a force field when the doors were retracted. "I understand."
Digs stopped short, hir jaw hanging slack at the figure sitting on his haunches on the transporter platform. Dusty was likewise shocked, but lacked the time to respond as several messages attempted to come into his combadge at the same time and he was attempting to communicate with engineering and the captain as well.
"Dusty, I thought you were going to start and youíve stopped already," Snowís voice said coming out of the combadge as hy over rode the other signals, and a video played on the small transporter monitor. "I hope you saw that."
"Roger, I need to communicate with captain. We have a problem down here as well. Snow, did we actually get the chakat?"
"Affirmative. All probe data says we did. Why?" shi asked sounding perplexed.
"Weíve got something down here," he replied.
"What is going on here?" Doug asked as scanner beams played over his body and the force field around him remained in place glowing red. "Youíre making sure Iím no longer contaminated, arenít you. Digs, are you all right? I feel great; just a little hungry."
"Dusty, we saw the video from the shuttle bay. What is going on?" the captainís voice exclaimed from the intercom panel.
"Iím not sure, sir. If it wasnít for the obvious differences, Iíd say we replicated Lieutenant Foster," the folf stammered, as the doctor had started scanning the figure on the platform as well. Bones had noticed what was happening on the transporter platform when one of his team had gasped, seeing what had surprised everyone else in the room.
"Sir, I think that needs your attention right now. Weíve got hir for the moment."
"Digs, I canít confirm mental patterns, you know that?" Bones stated, ignoring the figure on the platform. "Dusty I want a full sensor scan of the platform to go with my tricorder scans."
"I know. Dusty, I just want to know what happened. I gather there was the figure here and one still in the isolation chamber, at least that is what it sounded like. I can only assume it might be a side effect of the changes you made," Digs stated, as Lightfoot added hir opinion from the intercom.
"Dusty, if we can confirm the mental matrix, Iíd say you duplicated Professor Oceanwalkerís work," shi stated over the intercom. "How this happened, Iím not sure as most of the changes only isolated the cargo transporter from the rest of the shipís systems."
"Possibly, but where did the extra material come from and the new body pattern?" he responded.
"Good questions, Doctor. Does he match anyone on the ship?" the captain asked joining in the conversation.
"No, without a doubt this new pattern doesnít match anyone on the ship," the doctor responded, as Doug finally looked himself over shocked at the changes. "Pelt on the upper torso matches Lieutenant Foster, shi is a chakat."
"Doc, are you kidding? Iím a little lacking in at least one department to be a chakat. Well that certainly puts me in my place, as a lab rat," Doug sighed looking at hirself and the force field covering the transporter platform. "At least I donít need to ask for a chair, because I doubt youíre going to let me out till both Dusty and the doctor are satisfied. Well, am I going to survive and are the others all right? Someone turned off my communications to the other pods."
"Well, my tricorder isnít up to this task. According to my tricorder, youíre healthy. Ted and Sweetgrass didnít survive. Till we are sure of who you are, thatís all Iím telling you. Lets try and have you stand up. What sort of range does heÖ errÖ shi have?"
"The entire platform, Bones. All right everyone, Iíve got sensors concentrated on the platform. We canít use any more power without risking Mister Foster," Dusty stated, as Doug stood up and attempted to walk on four legs. "Confirmed internal structure and layout chakat standard approximate age thirty five years old, pelt on upper torso and rest of the body matches his coloration. Captain, I located the source of material used, the biomass from your strawberries went into him. The scans are clean Ė no viruses or nanites detected."
"You had strawberries hidden!" Alicia exclaimed, laughing. "Well you arenít going to be making yourself sick this time, are you?"
"Donít you think we have other more important issues to worry about than me and strawberries?" Geff asked.
"I think Bones and Dusty have things well in paw. They have plenty of others to help," she retorted.
"Youíre just upset because I hid them from you," he replied, playfully snarling back at her as the crew also in the room tried to keep from laughing. "All right, all of you back to work!"
"Aye, aye sir. I think the pattern from beaming them up is still in the computer, sir," a technician responded, her fingers quickly dancing over the keyboard as she tried to appear busy.
"They donít taste the same without the original mass," Geff sighed deeply. "I guess theyíre lost now."
"I think provided everything works out, at least three people aboard the ship will object to you attempting to recover that mass."
"Aye, aye commander. Lightfoot, is there any way you can help medical confirm whether or not that is Mr. Foster? Computer Ė till further notice, Lieutenant Foster is removed from duty on medical leave," the bear stated seriously, saluting his mate. "You seem to know a lot about Oceanwalkerís procedure."
"Just a little more than was in the issue of Scientific Chakat, Captain. One of my duties was to provide assistance to your shipís doctor in case anything went wrong with Bryanís conversion. Professor Oceanwalker wasnít happy about how it was done. This is closer to the accident that proved it could be done; just not a single clue where the body pattern came from."
"Understood. Any help you can provide will be welcome though."
"Of course one of the first steps is confirming what he remembers," shi sighed grinning. "Well, the professor will be very interested in seeing this Ďaccidentí as well, I have no doubt, so I better have a full report for hir."
"What in the world was that?" Doug exclaimed, trying to leap out of bed and tripping over hir rear paws as their bed shook for a few moments.
"Iím not sure, at least they arenít sounding an alert. Of course it might be like earlier," Digs responded sleepily.
"I hope not. Iím still getting used to having four on the floor as dad would put it," shi replied softly, looking out the window. "Something happened to the asteroid."
"That is an understatement if there ever was one. It looks like they got a force field up. I know Dusty put up one as a safety precaution but I didnít think it was that strong," Digs stated, watching the explosions in the now open bay in the asteroid.
"A lot would depend on how much power they fed into the generators. I still canít believe how much they knew about me, all those questions just to prove who I am. I did see the video Snow shot, I canít explain it," Doug sighed.
"Neither can we. Someone left the door open. Still having issues with your tail, Doug?" Alicia asked from the open doorway. "Looks like Dustyís attempt to restart the generators so we could try to read more of the computer core failed. How are you doing, Doug?"
"Iím not sure how to answer that; everything is a little disconcerting," shi replied. "According to Bones, medically Iím in just as good as shape as I was before the mission started beyond the obvious that is. I need to get used to using the proper pronouns and a few other things, but it appears Iíve got plenty of willing if not always welcome assistance between my sister, Bryan, Lightpaws and Digs here."
"He was trying to put on a pair of pants earlier, not on his front legs but his rear legs, and cover one of his best features," Digs quipped.
"So thatís the only part of me your interested in," he sighed as Alicia giggled, "Really need to get that door fixed before we get uninvited guests. Shi removed them with hir claws, then shredded every pair of pants I own."
"I wish someone had been that firm with me, young man," Bryan added standing in the doorway, "You were right about an open doorway attracting uninvited guests. Digs, you promised we could snuggle one of these nights. Dusty isnít going to live this one down is he? I guess those reactors had a hidden fault."
"Iíll let the captain know that opinion; it is highly possible," Alicia commented, seeing a few more people in the doorway. "Well at least they gave you one night. Your brother is fine, Shadowchaser, Redpaw."
"So how you going to explain this one to dad?" Shadowchaser asked, knowing as Doug did beyond wanting to know how it happened, as long as Doug was all right Neal wouldnít care one bit about the change.
"I think Iíll leave that one to you, sis, not like I can explain it myself," shi said, hir stomach rumbling.
"I guess I can do that, though we both know heíll ask you about it the next time he sees you," Shadowchaser replied.
"I think weíre being reminded of what the first order of business should be this morning," Digs quipped, hir stomach rumbling as well. "Iím glad we only snuggled last night since apparently the door was left open. Please inform the captain since our primary reason for this mission has been destroyed, my official recommendation is this mission is finished or rather there isnít any reason for us to stay here, since everything left is stored in the computer or on board the ship already."
"Iíll pass that along as well. Officially I agree with you," Commander Polar stated. "Everything checked out and Dustyís attempt was approved by the Captain. Maybe we shouldíve asked you first, anyways. Geoffrey made the decision and will take the blame for it. Iím sure there will be people upset at this turn of events."
"The outcome wouldíve been the same even if you had asked. Iím not about to argue with an engineer about engineering matters," Digs stated. "Personally I hope it sterilized the entire asteroid."
"All right, we are headed home as recommended and agreed to by the mission heads," Geoffrey stated, standing at the head of the table. "What do we know, all this information will be pored over by the experts at home, of course."
"We donít know much about the ship that originally brought us out here; there wasnít enough left for a proper investigation. It was destroyed in the explosion. In retrospect, we shouldnít have left it so close to the open bay," Bryan commented, plainly annoyed they didnít have any more answers than when they started. "The hull wasnít from any known culture, though we did identify parts from several missing ships. We did find other parts from the same ships in the asteroid."
"We are still working with the chakat recovered from the station," Bones stated looking at his PADD. "So far shi hasnít been able to tell us much, and canít remember anything beyond being put into the chamber when they left Earth. Digs, any idea of when shi might have left Earth?"
"Not completely; the drugs used arenít a combination that has been recorded before," shi replied. "Dusty was able to access the chamber, but there was damage to the log files. We are assuming lacking any other information from the recovered logs, shi was the only survivor when the pirates removed the cryotubes from their ship. Right now all I can offer are guesstimates. Lacking more information, shi is at least a hundred and seventy five years old. Any younger and several of those drugs were no longer used on Earth. The station records indicate it was started around a hundred and fifty years ago by people with a grudge against anything that wasnít human."
"Actually I did get a few more records. The stationís computers came online a hundred and forty years ago. They started construction a little over a hundred fifty years ago which is when the logs were started," Dusty offered. "That was about all I got before the station went critical."
"Maybe the probes missed something after so long, maybe the stationís computers were booby-trapped. What we do know, the pirates believed furs were keeping humans from their proper place in the universe. They were studying several methods to achieve the goal of, if not eliminating furs from the universe, putting them in their place permanently. At least one of those experiments got out of control around a hundred years ago. They were perusing both technological and biological means. Bones and Dusty can tell us what little we know about that," Bryan stated, looking at his PADD, unsure why Digs had deferred most of the report to him.
"Their biological experiments were a joke. Iíve already treated the crew for everything we detected. Maybe there was something more, but it wasnít in their records and it didnít survive to be a threat," the rabbit added without looking at his notes. "They were playing with the common cold and a few other viruses to little effect. The most dangerous were flu strains Ė highly virulent and mutate rapidly."
"Technologically they were playing with nanites. I believe they made a programming error which caused their downfall. As Bones stated, we detected nothing biologically able to produce the results we saw," Dusty said, falling silent for a moment remembering those that had died. "We donít know all the details and can make a few guesses. We are monitoring the ship inside and outside for any traces of nanites. Iíve adjusted the bio-filters on the transporter to filter them out as we did with Mister Foster. They are powered by either body heat or electricity produced by the nervous system and replicate till they reach a critical mass before, for lack of better terms, they tear the victim apart. The time to critical mass varies but it appears no more than three days."
"That explains why they were dormant and fits the facts, which Doug doesnít in any manner. Do we have any idea why he survived let alone came out like this?" Alicia asked, glad they were away from a mission that had turned out far more dangerous then they expected.
"That does fit the facts as we know them, I doubt they were finished. The nanites attacked anything able to power them. I have no idea of what they would use to keep it from attacking humans, nor do I care to investigate it further other than how to counter this threat!" Dusty growled loudly, his claws sinking into the wooden tabletop, causing everyone in the room to attempt to back away from the table. "The entire engineering staff agrees with me. If the idiots that created this nightmare hadnít already been killed by their own folly, Iíd take great pleasure in ensuring they did. No, commander, weíve already confirmed where the extra mass came from but why the transporter which worked perfectly moments before did thisÖ That is something that we currently canít answer unless there is a medical reason."
"Iím still adapting to the results, but this is preferable to the other potential outcomes," Doug added speaking up.
"We have found nothing medically before or after that explains what happened," Bones stated, "Beyond the obvious, Doug is just as healthy today as when he boarded the ship. There are no genetic abnormalities recorded in his file that might explain this either. The medical staff agrees with engineering. I still have nightmares from seeing what happened to those we lost."
"Thank you both. Your opinion will be entered as part of the official record along with my agreement. I understand the shipís counselor and Lightfoot are available if anyone wants to discuss this," the captain stated, shuddering for a moment before he grinned at the folf. "We can restrain you if necessary."
"That wonít be necessary. Besides Iím still attempting to fix the environmental systems before anything else goes wrong," he replied, holding up his paws in surrender, finally noticing the deep gouges he had put into the table. "Whoops! I think I need to replace a table. I knew there was a reason we didnít have a wooden table in here."
"Well just donít make it worse, thank you very much. Besides, werenít you the one complaining about all the replicator usage during the last departmental meeting," Alicia quipped, sitting comfortably in the chilly room. "I might like it cold, but I donít want it as cold as it is outside."
"in other words if Iím not sure, donít touch it and make things worse. Aye, aye mon captain. Right Ė well if there is nothing else, I need to get back to engineering," Dusty stated, standing up, "While I might not be able to resolve the situation, I need to make sure it doesnít get any worse."
"I think that covers everything. Mister Foster, even though youíve been cleared medically, you are on medical leave till we can get those results confirmed someplace with better facilities. Digs, Bryan, it looks like other than reviewing the data we recovered, your job is finished as well," Geff stated, standing up as well. "Unless there is anything else, this meeting is dismissed. People, it goes without saying till we are informed otherwise, the results of this mission are classified."
"Thanks for coming so quickly, Shir Digs, Mr. Foster. We are out of the communications blackout. I sent our report to Star Fleet last night. They sent a reply this morning, along with a communication for you, Digs," the captain said, handing Digs a print-out as Doug and shi entered his ready room.
"I'll be leaving you at Starbase 2, it appears, Captain," Digs said looking over the communication shi had just received.
"I'll argue with them if you like, Shir Digs. You are entitled to some family leave time. Alicia and I will be taking some once we get back to Earth."
"Don't worry about it, Geoffrey. I will only be supervising and inspecting the final setup of an exhibit the University is lending to Chakona for a couple of months. As the dean put it, absolutely nothing to get my paws dirty this time, well at least till my cubs are born, that is." Digs grinned, or at least he hopes it will be a relaxing assignment for me. "What about Bryan?"
"Shi is playing baby-sitter," Doug stated. "Well that determines where I'll be leaving you as well. What about Bryan, I assumed he was staying with the ship headed back to Earth."
"You sure about this, Mister Foster?"
"I believe so, Commander. For the moment I am on leave. Digs and I have agreed to be companions. You won't accept my answer without me taking time to think about it," shi sighed. "The reasons I joined up no longer apply, and I'm not sure if that fits in with my future plans."
"Others might not think so, but that is Star Fleet's loss. You could change specialties or request a transfer to a larger ship."
"I'll consider it sir."
"That's all I can ask. All right, both of you are dismissed. I'll let the navigator know we are dropping you off at Star Base 2. We could drop you off at Chakona Gateway, Star Fleet owes you at least that much, Digs, if you prefer," Geff stated, looking at the pair with a grin. There was little doubt in his mind Doug wasnít about to change his mind for the foreseeable future, and that really was Star Fleetís loss in his opinion. "Oh, Digs, your suggestion is approved as is, so Bryan will be getting off at Star Base 2 as well."
"That's all right sir, we're meeting the freighter taking the exhibit to Chakona at Star Base 2," Doug said firmly as they exited the room. "What was that about?"
"Thatís simple Ė Bryan is going back to school as a student. I talked it over with the Geoffrey. They arranged for him to be a history student at Dewclaw university," Digs replied
"Iím not sure how he is going to take that."
"Well considering his apparent age, there isnít anyway he could go back to teaching right now," shi stated firmly. "What about the chakat we found?"
"Currently Earth government and Chakona are arguing about that. We havenít located any living relatives as of yet. Itís possible they were all on the transport when the pirates caught it. Earth says shi never officially emigrated to Chakona," Captain Ursus commented. "Chakona is saying shi was their responsibility once the ship left the solar system as their stated purpose was colonization. Star Fleet isnít taking a position right now, though personally I think of it as a rescue which means we should take hir to Chakona."
"So why donít you do that?" Digs inquired.
"Because he doesnít have any orders one way or the other," Bryan said, entering the room holding up several papers in his paws. "Iím not sure whether to thank you or strangle you, Digs. Going back to school is bad enough but as a freshman at least they didnít assign me a guardian."
"Donít complain, Iím sure that is an oversight on someoneís part," Alicia added chiming in.
"Digs how did you slip hir onto the ship?" Doug asked looking shocked at the small chakat sitting in their cabin. "Captain Ursus is going to have to answer so many questions along with the crew on Star Base 2."
"Please, that was the easiest part. How long were we on Star Base 2?" Digs retorted.
"Long enough to pay our respects to the station commander," Bryan quipped. "Our luggage was transported from the Columbus to our rooms. Captain Smith was chomping on the bit to leave. Did either of any of you notice he launched as soon as the first mate closed the hatch behind us? Doug knows as well as I do that protocol states they arenít to launch till all passengers are in their cabins. Digs, did they ever figure out hir name?"
"Yes. Bryan, this is Snowflower which is about all shi remembers. The only thing engineering and medical can figure out is shi suffered some trauma when the pirates removed hir cryotube from the colony ship," Digs said to the white chakat with pale yellow belly and fur running down hir neck.
"Pleasure to meet you, Snowflower," the tod said, grinning as he turned to look at Digs and Doug. "Well, you have hir Ė do you have hir future planned as well?"
"Well at least I donít," Doug stated, giving the little chakat a hug. "If Digs has anything planned, I donít know about it either."
"I have a few ideas. We were able to figure out which ship shi was from the serial numbers on the cryotube. That information didnít give us any living relatives. We are guessing most if not all hir closest relatives emigrated," Digs replied, noticing the little chakat had drifted off. "We did find a few possibilities from the genetics, so you might have some family out there; most of them are on Chakona now."
"Spill the beans Ė youíre hiding something Digs," Doug said once they went back into the sitting area of their cabin.
"I agree. Iíve never seen you act like this before, Shir Digs," Bryan commented suddenly, his eyes becoming wide in surprise. "Shiís related to you from the genetics, isnít shi? That makes you the closest relative. The Captain surrendered hir to you, didnít he?"
"Not by much, but yes, shi is related to me. Youíre right, Bryan, the captain took the easy way out, lacking any orders one way or the other. There are others with stronger ties on Chakona, so thatís where weíre taking hir," Digs stated.
"Next challenge will be getting hir through Chakona Gateway," Bryan said grinning. "I canít wait to see how you pull that off without getting us all tossed in jail."
"As long as we get hir there, my contacts have assured me officials from Chakona will be there to take over," Digs replied grinning, pulling Doug out of the room. "Shi isnít used to the idea we need more sleep than most furs."
Chakats and the Chakat Universe created by Bernard Doove and used with the greatest respect.
Chakat Shadowchaser, Redpaw are copyright of Allen Fessler.
Story copyright © 2010 Daniel Davis.
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