Flight of the Phoenix
Chapter 12 Faleshkarti Catch-22
By Bernard Doove © 2012
Two and a half years passed after the marriage of M'Keera and R'Kassaran with the Caitian mel fitting in with the Phoenix family as if he had always belonged. Two and a half years of kitsune and tiger cubs growing up together like siblings. Shintaro had never sought another companion since hir beloved’s death, but shi had drifted into a de facto relationship with Anastasiya. It filled the gap in hir heart that the loss of hir lifemate had opened, and Anastasiya acted as a surrogate father to Kiku-chan. Valentina never begrudged the relationship between the two – shi had recognised kindred spirits from the first time they had met.
The fortunes of Phoenix had steadily improved, and their lives had settled down to a comfortable normality that had been frequently missing during their first two years. In retrospect, they were overdue for some drama.
Over the years, Martin had chatted with all the crew members many times as they relaxed in the recreation room. Sitting around on one of the comfy chairs, mats, or sofas, watching the streaking trails of hyperspace with a mug of one’s favourite brew in hand was conducive to conversation, and that was true as much for the alien Faleshkarti as it was for the Terran species. Therefore the coyote had learned much of the fennec-like race in the four years that they had been part of the crew. Nevertheless it came as a surprise to him one day when he accidentally bumped into Loander as he was leaving his office, and he realised that something had drastically changed.
“When did you get so tall?” Martin asked.
Not counting their exceptionally long ears, the Phoenix’s Faleshkarti crew members were only about 120 centimetres tall (about 4 feet), except now, Loander was not. Shi had put on about fifteen centimetres in a remarkably short time.
“It's the growth spurt that precedes the Change,” Loander explained.
“Oh. That would explain why you've been so ravenous at meal times lately.”
“Exactly. And that's what I was coming to talk to you about. Do you have a moment to spare, Captain?”
“More than a moment, actually. Come on in.”
They made themselves comfortable, and Martin said, “So, you've kept me informed on the state of research into your species. Has that drug the Federation produced proven effective in stopping your loss of intelligence?”
Loander nodded. “Since they started the program, the drug has proven to be 100% effective and reliable. No Hona has lost hir intelligence since reaching sexual maturity, and their sex drive has been brought under control. I'm told that they desire sex only twice a day now, instead of six to eight times. Of course the most important benefit is that we can exercise contraception for the first time in our history, and start reining in the runaway population growth.”
“Only twice a day,” Martin repeated with a grin. “How will you cope?”
Loander smiled. “I'm sure Presaith and I will be able to bear that burden.”
Martin laughed, then said, “Has Presaith shown signs of the Change yet?”
“Yes, it has just started for hir, so you won't notice anything obvious yet, but hir appetite will soon match mine, and hir growth will be rapid also.”
“I suppose you have to arrange to get a shipment of that drug sent to you when we arrive at Earth?”
“Actually, we want to return to Namath,” Loander said a little reluctantly.
Martin was shocked. “But I thought you wanted to stay on Phoenix?”
“We do, but it's something that we learned here that makes us want to return to our home world.”
“That sounds… contradictory,” Martin said in puzzlement.
“We've told you about how we are raised in nurseries from birth, and nobody ever knows their parents. The concept of family was literally alien to us. When we joined Phoenix, it was with the intention of learning about the Federation and its cultures. One thing that we found was universal amongst the sentients is family. Parents raise their children. Mates support each other. Children grow up and support the family, and become parents in turn. On Namath, we have a saying – “Only the Hona can know love”, but this is not true for any other intelligent species we've encountered. And amazingly, it doesn't even have to be within the species. Phoenix has many species, but we are all family. That is the most amazing thing that Presaith and I have learned while we have been with you. The sense of belonging, the real love we have for one another, is what drives us. Presaith and I have agreed to be mates when we have made the Change, and we intend to have our own children to raise within a family, and that is why we must return to Namath.”
“I understand your motivations, but not why you have to go to Namath to achieve it.”
“Because like you, we want our children to have the best future that they can, and that means not having to go through what we will have to put up with. The drug that is our salvation, is only a stop-gap. We will need to use it for the rest of our lives, or else we will revert and become dull-witted Zora. The only permanent solution is a change to our genes. The Federation has begun a gene-surgery program that will alter our reproductive system so that our children will be permanently free from this curse. However, it has to be done before the Change happens, or else it will be too late.”
“Then have them do that for you on Earth. Even if you have to pay for it, you should be able to afford it.”
“It's not a matter of being able to afford it. It's a matter of having the expertise to do it, and every person that they can find who can do it, and is available, has been taken to Namath to undertake the biggest gene-surgery program in the history of the Federation. There are 70 billion Faleshkarti on the home-world alone, and many more in our colonies. About a third of them have not made the Change as yet, and that is a huge number to try to deal with. An impossible number, actually. Many will make the Change before they get the chance of gene surgery. The Federation simply cannot spare someone to deal with us here, so we must go back to Namath.”
“But won't you run the risk of missing out on the gene-surgery too?”
“For our services to Namath, all envoys have been guaranteed a place in the queue, and we will be on time. But first we must get to Namath. We have a standing reservation with Star Fleet to be taken back whenever our missions were complete, but while they were complete for us a long while back although we chose to stay on Phoenix, the offer still stands.”
“I see. Then we will have to get along without you for several weeks until you can return. Well, it won't be easy, but we did it before you joined, and I'm sure that the rest of the crew will be understanding of the need.”
Loander looked sad. “Captain… Star Fleet guaranteed to take us back to Namath. They did not say anything about bringing us back home here. I honestly don't know if we can return.”
Martin was stunned. He had not even given a moment’s thought to the possibility that the Faleshkarti would leave, let alone not come back. It had become clear years ago that Loander and Presaith were more than happy to make Phoenix their permanent home.
“Is there… might there be some way that you can persuade Star Fleet to send you out again?” Martin knew that this was a slim hope – the duo’s official mission had ended a long time ago. They were still on Phoenix because they wanted to be, not because it was their assignment.
Loander shrugged. “I don't know, but we will certainly be trying to find a way back. It is our dream to raise our children here on Phoenix.
“Maybe we can pick you up ourselves?” Martin suggested.
“Captain, do you know where Namath is? We've never needed to go out that way, so you've probably never looked it up, but the Federation only came to our world after one of your exploration ships encountered one of ours coming from the opposite direction. It’s at least half again as far as Sylvania is from Earth. How are you going to cover the cost of going out all that way just to pick us up?”
Martin had to admit that Loander had a point. It was not one that he liked, but neither could he afford to ignore it. The budget was still tight despite years of good business. Nevertheless he had no intention of giving up. “You keep looking at your options, and I'll look at mine. We'll find a way – just you wait and see.”
Loander smiled. “I know you will. I have great confidence in you.” Shi got up, and Martin followed suit, but instead of leaving, shi walked up to him and gave him a warm hug. “Thank you, Martin.”
The Faleshkarti never used his name normally. To do so now indicated that shi was very emotional – touched by his desire to get them back again.
“You're welcome, Loander,” Martin replied softly.
By the time that they reached Earth, Loander had grown another ten centimetres, and Presaith had grown twelve. After a farewell party with the crew, the two Faleshkarti were officially put on indefinite leave. They disembarked at Earth’s Gateway station, and met up with the Star Fleet officer who would see to their transport back to Namath.
Just hours later, they departed for Namath, along with four other Faleshkarti who had also remained in their Federation posts after their missions had been completed. Loander and Presaith were the last of the envoys to arrive, so there was no need to delay departure.
All six Faleskarti got acquainted, and found out that they had similar stories – they had all liked their postings so much that they had not wanted to leave until biology had forced it upon them. None of the other four had had quite the family experience that the Phoenix crew had though, so they spent much time talking about that, comparing it to the experiences of the others. All expressed the same intentions however – to return and continue their lives in the Federation. Sadly, none of them knew how to accomplish that as yet.
The return to Namath came as a bit of a shock to Loander and Presaith. After nearly five years away from their home world, they were surprised to discover that they had gotten used to the lack of crowds, and the degree of privacy that this world could not afford. For the first time in their lives, they felt cramped – their sense of personal space had grown. Thankfully as Hona, they could still get a room to themselves, tiny though they were.
As promised, both were immediately placed in line to be treated by the gene techs. That happened the day after they arrived, and Loander took the opportunity to ask the Federation tech a question that had been puzzling hir.
“Why can't you treat the Hona who have made the Change? I’m sure that there are many who have been taking the drug who would want to bear children who would be without the curse of the Change hanging over their heads.”
The med tech was a male hare – they had long ago run out of qualified herm personnel to send – and he had heard this question several times from the returning envoys. Patiently he explained, “It's not so much that we couldn't, it's that it's more complicated. The Change introduces factors that makes it more difficult to treat you reliably. There are changes to your ovaries and testes, and there are more hormones to make things more difficult. Still, I'm sure that we could crack those problems too. However, we already lack the time and manpower to treat all the Hona who have yet to make the Change, so we certainly can't spare the people to work on something we simply can't find the opportunity to use anyway. We are training Faleshkarti techs just as fast as we can to speed up the process, but there are still billions of you, so it's going to be a project measured in many years.”
“I see. I’m grateful to get this opportunity,” Loander said fervently.
The hare grinned. “You're hardly the first to say that. Now hold still for this next bit….”
With all the cross-training that the crew had done over the years, it was easier to take up the slack left by the two absent Faleshkarti. However, the extra workload was still harder on everyone. Martin was not yet prepared to write off Loander and Presaith though, so he was reluctant to consider hiring replacements. He decided to put it to the rest of the crew, and the response was unanimous – they wanted to see if the Faleshkarti could find a way to return, so they were happy to put up with the extra work for a while.
Martin was glad that everyone was in agreement, but he was not going to just wait and see if things worked out. He began researching what worlds and colonies lay out that way. After all, if the Foster network could find the opportunity to set up FTL communication relays to Namath, surely there had to be freight opportunities out that way also?
Loander was bored. Shi had been assigned a computer job as befitted hir skills, but it was incredibly simplistic compared to the work on Phoenix. There were just too many other Faleshkarti to ever get enough work to occupy hir mind. Shi wondered how shi had ever been satisfied before the opportunity to be an envoy had come along. Shi shared hir troubles with Presaith a few days after returning to Namath.
“I understand completely.” Presaith said sympathetically, “although I'm not in the same position as you. We're still building colony ships as fast as we can to alleviate the population problem, so my skills are needed more than yours. However, with so many others under me doing the grunt work, I'm not being as utilised as much as I was on Phoenix. Still, I'm not bored like you. Have you found out anything from the council about returning to our Federation jobs?”
“Not really. All I've learned so far is that there are no plans to send out envoys again. There will be ambassadors, but we aren't considered to be qualified for that.”
“What about trading opportunities? If ships come here, maybe we can leave with them?”
“Under negotiation still,” Loander reported glumly. “Official word is that they are ‘excited at the future possibilities’, which seems to mean that sometime in the distant future, they might do something about it.”
Presaith gave Loander a hug. “Don’t be so pessimistic, Lo'. I’m sure that something will come up. Tell you what – let's go to the play that the Federation support staff are putting on. It ought to be fun, and it might cheer you up a bit.”
Loander smiled at hir mate-to-be. “Yeah, I think I’d like that.”
Loander had reached hir full height of 148cm, and hir breasts had filled out after two weeks back at Namath. Other than that, shi still felt little different from normal. Shi knew from talking to hir friends on Phoenix that this was not how they experienced puberty, with a steady growth of sexual interest. For hir species though, it was more like turning on a switch. One day the brain would decide that shi was old enough and turn on hitherto dormant organs, and hir body would be flooded with sexual hormones. Then shi would know sexual desire for the first time. Shi hoped that it would be as pleasant as hir friends said it would be. All shi was familiar with were the Zora, and their sexual compulsiveness. They seemed to enjoy it, but there was no love in it at all. They were little more than rutting animals. Shi was so very glad that shi got to escape that fate.
Loander wished that shi could share hir first sexual encounter with Presaith, but shi was two to three weeks behind hir in physical maturity. Loander would have to seek out another Hona who had made the Change at the same time because shi would not be able to wait for Presith. Shi literally could not. Shi had been told that the compulsion to have sex for the first time was as strong in the treated Hona as it was for the untreated. It saddened hir that shi could not make it a moment of bonding with hir intended mate, but shi consoled hirself with the thought that shi would be able to do so when Presaith made the Change, and neither of them would become dull-minded Zora as trillions of others had done throughout the history of their race.
On the fifteenth day, the final sign of imminent Change happened – spontaneous lactation. Loander was working at hir desk in a half-hearted way when hir chest suddenly felt odd. Looking down, shi saw two damp spots spreading on hir shirt where milk was leaking from the nipples. Shi closed off the work that shi was doing on the computer, checked with the department head who dismissed hir from duty, and then shi made hir way to a new facility that had been created specifically for the Hona who had been treated, and were making the Change.
Half the facility was little more than a giant waiting room. Row upon row of chairs filled a huge hall. There was a steady flow of Faleshkarti coming into the room, with a roughly equal number leaving by another door that led to a multitude of tiny private rooms. While the Zora did not care where they had sex, and frequently had it in public, the Hona did not want their first sexual experience to be a public spectacle, and the treated Hona retained their desire for privacy. Several Faleshkarti were seated at desks at the entrance, ensuring that each new arrival got their first dose of the protective drug before they were allowed to proceed further.
Loander found a vacant seat and sat down. There was a terminal that offered various forms of diversion while shi waited, but like the majority of those present, shi was too keyed up to take advantage of it. Instead shi spent hir time watching the others. Shi saw some who seemed nervous, others excited at the oncoming Change, and others were just bored. However, every one of them had the same reaction when the Change hit. Their eyes widened, their jaws dropped, and their bodies trembled as the sex hormones coursed through their bodies, and their pants started to bulge as their first erection filled them. They stood up and looked around for another who had made the Change. It did not matter who it was – the first one that they laid eyes on was good enough. They came together in an awkward embrace, then hastened off to find an empty private room.
Loander waited for about three farnigs (around 2.5 hours) before shi got to find out for hirself what that was like. It happened so fast that it startled hir. No wonder everyone’s reaction was the same. Then shi felt the sexual urges grow, hir penis react, and burning need that could not be resisted. Shi stood up and looked around. Two rows over, shi locked eyes with another, and they both moved to meet in the aisle.
“I am Loander,” shi said as they embraced. Oh! The feelings that touch stirred in hir!
“My name is Kartaiss,” the other replied.
Without further preamble, they headed for the exit to the private rooms. An indicator board showed which were available in green. They selected the nearest one, and it changed to yellow. They walked down the indicated corridor past many doors with red lights on them until they reached their room with a yellow light illuminating the number. They entered and closed the door, and the light (and indicator board) changed from yellow to red.
Inside the room was a simple bed with a pad and replaceable cover. They had passed a Zora who had a cart full of the covers whose task apparently was to replace the covers after each use of the room. Loander was barely able to appreciate that fact with the desire to have sex growing constantly. However, a huge sign still managed to gain hir attention. It said in bold red letters: ‘REMEMBER TO TAKE THE CONTRACEPTIVE FIRST!’
The only other objects in the room were a shower stall, and the contraceptive dispenser unit. The latter was unique in the history of Namath as no generation had ever used, nor been able to use, contraceptives. It was a simple oral medication designed by the Federation med techs, and each Faleshkarti swallowed one before frantically stripping off their clothes and getting on the bed. There was some amateurish fondling and groping before they settled on Kartaiss mounting Loander first. The experience was intense, and as physically pleasurable as promised, but relief from the incessant urges only came when Kartaiss ejaculated into hir, passing along the special hormone that not only signalled sexual success to hir body, but also would have doomed hir higher intelligence but for the special drug that counteracted it. Despite all the reassurances and the unfailing efficacy of the drug so far, Loander had been nervous about this moment. It was necessary to let the semen-borne hormone be taken in by hir body or else shi would never be relieved of the need for sex, but its side-effects would have been disastrous for hir if the drug had failed. However, as the glow of orgasm spread through hir body, shi realised that hir mind was not fading, and shi finally relaxed.
But not for long, for Kartaiss’ needs had yet to be fulfilled. Only then did Loander get to experience the male orgasm also. Once both had their immediate urges quelled, they started to more carefully explore each other’s body and learn more about having sex. That was the sole thing that bothered Loander now – it felt really good, but it was fairly empty emotionally.
When their sexual needs were completely satisfied at last, the two stepped into the shower stall to clean up. As they washed and dried their fur, they took the opportunity to talk for the first time since they introduced themselves.
“Have you got someone you want to have a relationship with after the Change?” Loander asked.
“Maybe,” Kartaiss replied. “We weren't sure what it would be like for us after the Change, so we haven't committed ourselves as yet. What about you?”
“Oh, yes. Presaith and I were envoys to the Federation, and what we learned there made us very much want to be what they call mates – a long-term committed relationship. Shi is still a couple of tansa (Namath week) or so from the Change though, but when shi does, I’ll be there for hir.”
“I've heard how many of the envoys came back with that same desire. It makes me a bit envious of your experience.”
“It was the best part of my life so far, and Presaith and I want to go back very much. The Council has no plans to send us out again, but I am hoping that I can persuade Star Fleet to take us back with them when their next ship comes to relieve the staff stationed on Namath.”
“Will that get you back to where you were assigned?”
“Not quite. We were assigned to a commercial starship, but its home base is on Earth. If we can get to that world and to the right spaceport, eventually the ship will come back.”
“You sound very determined. I wish you luck with that.”
“Thank you. I hope that you find a true mate and a good future also. Umm… I don't really want to have sex with lots of different people while I wait for Presaith to make the Change, so would you like to spend that time with me until then?” Loander asked hopefully.
“I understand. I’m not keen on asking strangers to meet my needs either. I can meet you in your room each evening if you wish.”
“That sounds like a good plan. I’m told that we will be needing sex twice a day, so if we do it before we go to sleep, and again when we wake, that should be the minimum inconvenience for both of us.”
“I agree. Let's do that.”
When they had finished drying off and redressed, they exited the room. Loander noted that the light on the door had turned blue. As they walked away, a Zora with a cart hastened up to the vacated room to get it ready for the next couple.
The work shift was almost over when Loander left the facility, so shi decided to go meet Presaith. Shi took the train reserved for the Hona because although shi had made the Change, shi was not a Zora, but a new designation called a Kana-Ra. In fact shi got a couple of challenges from Hona, but hir obvious intelligence soon confirmed hir right to use their designated transport.
While shi rode the train, shi took time to take stock of hirself. Despite the extended sexual activity, shi still felt a background urge that shi realised would be with hir for the rest of hir life. That urge would build up into that twice-a-day need, and still leave hir capable of more if shi desired. Shi noticed that the scent of the Hona seemed different to hir now, and when a Hona who was at the cusp of making the Change also boarded the train, hir body reacted to the sight and the smell of the almost fully sexually mature Faleshkarti. Shi wondered if shi would ever get used to the feelings that they stirred in hir.
Presaith was surprised but pleased to find Loander waiting for hir as shi exited the factory to which shi had been assigned. Shi gave Loander a hug, not realising the strong reaction that engendered. “I'm happy to see you, but why are you here?” shi asked.
“I was dismissed from work for the rest of the day because I made the Change today, so I thought that I'd meet you and we could go to the food hall together.
“You’ve Changed?” Presaith asked, looking intently at Loander. I didn't notice anything different… oh…” Shi had stepped back to look over Loander, and only then noticed the bulge in hir crotch that hir hug had caused.
“Believe me,” Loander said, “you'll notice a lot more things after you've Changed that you've never noticed before.”
“What was it like?”
“The physical pleasure was not exaggerated. The urge to have sex was utterly irresistible, and I had no hesitation whatsoever in taking Kartaiss as my partner when it happened.”
“Kartaiss was another to make the Change?”
“Yes. Shi has agreed that we'll meet each other’s needs until you make the Change also. I'm sorry, Presaith, but my evenings must be spent with hir until then.”
“We knew that something like this would have to happen. I'll miss having you around, and I'll be counting the days until I can take hir place.”
“As will I, dear one.”
As promised, Kartaiss turned up each evening at Loander’s room, and they took care of each other’s urges. Although the Hona beds were not designed for two, they slept together each night, and then made love again in the morning. After freshening up, they then went to the food hall together where they met up with Presaith. In this manner, they got more acquainted with the Faleshkarti, and became good friends. It made Loander’s time spent with hir more pleasant now that shi had some emotional involvement. Nevertheless, when Presaith called Loander one day to tell hir that shi had just spontaneously lactated, and would be heading for the Change facility, Loander was nearly overcome with relief and happiness that at last they would be together. Shi asked to be relieved from hir task, and headed to the facility to rendezvous with Presaith. Along the way, shi called Kartaiss to let hir know that the time had come to end their arrangement.
“I admit that I will regret the end of our nights together,” Kartaiss said, “but I am pleased that you will be able to bond with your… mate. Don't be a stranger, Loander.”
“I won't. Goodbye for now, Kartaiss.”
Presaith beat hir to the facility, and was waiting outside for hir. Loander embraced hir, and they proceeded inside. Loander had to explain to the desk attendants that shi did not need another dose of the drug because shi had one already that day because shi had already gone through the Change. This bemused them, but they could not see any reason to not to let hir in. They managed to find two empty seats together, and sat down to wait. Unlike any of the others, they held hands while waiting for the Change to hit Presaith. Loander knew immediately when it had because the hand that held hirs suddenly tightened its hold. Shi looked around to see the same wide-eyed, slack-jawed look that hit every person making the Change. Their eyes met and Loander smiled.
“Come with me, love,” shi told hir.
As shi had before, Loander found an empty room, and they both took contraceptives. This time though, Loander was more familiar with what to do, and shi soon had hir lover writhing in pleasure as shi mounted hir. Because Presaith had the need to be fulfilled, Loander quickly brought them both to coitus, and they both cried out in the ecstasy of their first time together. Then, with much more time to be intimate, Loander made love to Presaith with much more imagination and less haste. A lot later when Presaith was satiated at last, Loander took Presaith’s hands and looked into hir eyes.
“Presaith, my companion, my lover, my beautiful Kana-Ra, will you consent to be my lifemate?” shi asked formally.
“I will, Loander, my beloved. May our lives together be long and filled with happiness.”
Their fervent kiss to seal the commitment was in many ways so much more pleasurable than the sex had been.
Loander and Presaith were hardly the first Kana-Ra to make a permanent relationship, and because Hona quarters were not designed for couples, they had to be relocated to another place. A newly constructed building that had been intended to house Zora was repurposed to deal with the Kana-Ra, and the mates moved into it just as quickly as they could move their meagre possessions from their old quarters. The bed was much larger than they needed, but not all Kana-Ra were settling for a monogamous relationship, so the standardised beds were all made to cope. Aside from a bit more cupboard space and an extra desk, the room was not much greater than their old one, but to the average Faleskarti it was palatial in comparison. Their species simply did not have the luxury of wasted space, but a couple made more efficient use of the slightly larger room than two single person rooms.
For a while, their lives slipped into a bit of a routine. They would make love each morning before going to the food hall for breakfast, then going their separate ways to their assigned jobs. Then they would meet up after work to indulge in some form of entertainment before having the evening meal and going back to their room to make love once more. It may have become a bit boring after some time, except that they both continued to entertain hopes of leaving Namath again, and they spent their free time trying to find ways of achieving it.
It was Loander who had the less taxing job and the greater amount of time to devote to the task, who found their way out. Using hir skills with computers, shi was able to access some information that the Federation did not tell just anyone, such as their staff rotation schedules. Shi got in contact with one of the staff who was due to leave on the next staff turnover, and befriended her. Thus shi was able to be on hand when it was announced that the starship had arrived at Namath. Loander contacted Presaith and told hir mate to rendezvous at the landing site of the shuttles. They were going to get on one of those shuttles whatever it took, whether it took begging, bribes, or working their way back to Earth. They still had access to the fedcreds that they had earned as starship crew, and they were willing to give it all away in exchange for passage.
Each Faleshkarti had pre-packed a bag with all the things that they wanted to take with them off-world. Amongst them were supplies of the drug they needed. The med techs had assured them that standard replicators could reproduce the drug as needed, but they wanted to have a back-up supply anyway. There wasn’t much else in the packs. Most of it were mementoes that they had brought with them from Phoenix. There really was not much on Namath that they needed, or wanted to remember.
When the doors opened to access the shuttle landing pad, Loander and Presaith shuffled along with the rest of the group in the hopes of stealing aboard without being noticed as not belonging. Although they got a few curious looks from the other passengers, they wore their Phoenix uniforms to make them look more like they belonged in the Federation rather than Namath. Their small stature made them less conspicuous amidst the group, and they actually made it onto the shuttle before someone spotted them.
“Hey, you two! What are you doing here?” The voice was incredibly familiar.
The two Faleshkarti’s heads whipped around to behold the familiar coyote grin of Martin Yote. “Captain!” they both cried in unison, and nearly knocked over some people in their rush to hug him. There were a few amused chuckles from the passengers as they took in the obvious delight in their reunion.
Loander belatedly realised that they were in Phoenix shuttle Alpha. In trying to be inconspicuous, they had not gotten a good look at the vehicle before now. What it was doing here though was still a mystery. “Captain, how did you get here?”
Martin’s grin never faltered. “Remember when we picked up the people from Asahikawa? Star Fleet does not do taxi service – they contract that out to others. Guess who won that contract?”
The two laughed and hugged him again. “We knew you'd find a way here,” Presaith said.
“Ha! Says the Faleshkarti trying to sneak on board my shuttle.” Martin winked. “I knew you two would not let yourselves get stuck on Namath too long. Looks like I was just in time.”
They looked a bit sheepish but unrepentant.
“Anyway, find yourselves a seat – we’ve got lots of pick-ups to do, and time is money!”
“Yes, sir!” they chorused, and headed for available seats.
Apparently Martin had called ahead to inform the crew that he was bringing their two lost sheep home, because every one of them except Madeline were crowded into the shuttle bay to welcome them home, and she voiced her welcome over the ship’s PA. M'Resk was allowed to be one of the first as she had to take care of the passengers immediately, but the rest took their time. Martin had to shoo them out of the shuttle bay so that he could do another run down to the surface.
“Go on! It’s about time you both got back to your posts. You're long overdue back from your leaves of absence.”
You could not have wiped the grins of happiness from the faces of the Faleshkarti if you tried.
Continued in Chapter 13.
Characters and story copyright © 2012 Bernard Doove
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.
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